Gender is an interesting topic. Most people assume gender is the same as your sex. If you’re a female then you’re a girl/woman. If you’re a male then you’re a boy/man. But gender and your biological sex are not the same thing. Gender is a social construct – an identity that you feel. It isn’t something anyone else can identify for you. No one can tell you what your gender is, because it isn’t something that can be seen. Your sex, on the other hand, has to do with your genetics. This has actually proven to be a lot more complicated than previous thought (I’ll address that in more detail later). Also, when it comes to gender there is the gender you identify as, and then there is gender expression. Gender expression is how you express your gender, though it may not match up societies prescribed ideas of what gender may look like (I’ll address this later as well). For now let’s focus on identifying your own gender.
You and Gender
Since it’s impossible to identify someone else’s gender (please just ask and don’t assume), we should probably focus on what our own gender is. In fact, we should focus on what gender even means to us. Some people don’t feel the need to think through what gender is. They’re happy with who they are and so they don’t see gender as something of any importance. Typically, however not always, these individuals are those whose sex and gender align, and whose gender expression fit neatly into the stereotypes society has created. But what happens when you’re a little bit different? Whether other people point out that you’re doing something that isn’t for “your” gender, or you just feel somewhat different inside and aren’t sure why, dealing with gender discovery and exploration can be intimidating.
Luckily there are a lot more things out in the world these days that cover the topic of gender. Browsing at the library (mainly the online catalogue) I am able to find multiple different resources for learning about gender, and just learning about your own identity in general. Of course, like I said, no one can determine your gender for you. Coming to that conclusion is a personal process. But being able to read about other people’s experiences with gender identity and exploration, being able to find resources that help explain different terms, or being able to connect with others who are different, can be a huge help in allowing yourself to open up and figure yourself out. Until you figure yourself out, sometimes it is hard to embrace who you are. When you’ve got a million questions about why you’re different it’s hard to stop and see how those differences make you special. But they do! Every little thing that varies from what you assume “normal” is, that is what makes you unique. And if you want to know a little secret… no one is really normal anyway.
I’d like to put a couple resources out here. These are helpful, but definitely do not cover the entirety of the topic of gender. Nothing can, really. I just found them to be interesting. So here we go. First, the book The Gender Quest Workbook by Rylan, Deborah, and Jayme. I think it is beautifully written. They put a lot of their own experiences into it, which makes it very relateable. This book has a lot of information and covers multiple subtopics of gender (finding yourself, coming out, dating, sex, etc.). I personally like this one because it gives you exercises to do that help you better understand yourself. If you’re at all confused about your identity, or are ready to take your identity to the next level, I highly recommend this book. Even if you figure yourself out years ago and have been openly living with your true identity since then, it can still be insightful. Mainly this book is geared towards teens and young adults, but I think it can be useful and insightful for anyone. You can purchase it on Amazon by clicking here.
The second book I would like to recommend is called Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin. This book has tons of resources in the back for transgender individuals, as well as others in the LGBTQ communities or on the gender spectrum. I personally love it because it has stories, in each person’s own words, about their experiences with gender and sexuality. It’s really eye-opening. Being someone who considers themself non-binary or genderqueer (having no gender), I felt right at home in its pages. Even though I am very aware of myself it actually helped me sort of rediscover who I am. It’s an amazing book. It’s also available on Amazon, and you can get it by clicking here. I highly recommend it, not only for transgender individuals but for everybody. Even if it doesn’t help you along your own journey it will help you understand others who are also different, which can allow you to find community within the more diverse. Finding community within others is something I find extremely important in keeping your own sanity through a life full of being “different”.
Gender: Who Am I?
Feeling unsure of yourself? It can happen. Not sure where you fit into the spectrum? That’s okay. There are most likely an infinite number of ways to identify when it comes to gender, which clearly represents the diversity within the human population. Yes, our culture, our family, our friends, the media, our thoughts…it all shapes who we are and who we see ourselves as. And if those feelings or thoughts keep changing, it can be even more difficult. Am I really who I think I am?
Gender is fluid. Let me just say that again – gender is fluid. It flows this way and that way, round and round in circles, up and down and all around. Maybe you’ll move through a ton of different gender identities in your life time. Maybe you’ll just stick to one. It’s really up to you. But chances are that you’ll feel slightly different each day than you did the day before. You are always changing, always adapting, always evolving into a better version of yourself. You’re never the same you twice. So don’t try to be. It’s perfectly fine to discover yourself and be out and proud about it, and then rediscover yourself and be out and proud about that too. Discover yourself as many times as you want. That’s what life is all about – self discovery. So drink that in for a moment. You’re allowed to change who you are as many times as you want to. Only you can truly be you.
Ah yes, good ol’ gender expression. This one trips people up quite a bit, especially those who don’t consider themselves different than the status quo. It can be confusing if you don’t understand the difference between gender and gender expression. Gender is how you identify, and gender expression is how you express the gender that you feel inside. Someone may identify as a man, but they may choose to express that identity by wearing makeup and dresses. There are as many ways to express gender as there are genders. Infinite.
It’s one thing to be born male and to identify as a man, and then to dress in a more feminine way. Or to be born female and to identify as a woman, and then to dress in a more masculine way. (I’d like to point out here that the way you dress isn’t all that is encompassed within the idea of gender expression! Gender expression covers literally anyway you express yourself – the clothes you wear, the way you talk and act, the things you do, the music you like, the pets you choose to have, the way you do your hair, the food you like, etc. Anything that is you expressing who you are.) But it is a whole other thing to be transgender. So I’d like to stop and make a point to say that even if you were born a female and you transitioned into a male, you can still identify as a woman (though maybe you’ll identify as a man), and you can still express yourself in a feminine way. The way you look and act do NOT determine what your gender is. And I want to make this very, very clear. Because there are people out there who fall all over the spectrum. And it is NEVER your place to tell them if they’re acting accordingly to their gender. Gender is a label that we use to identify ourselves in the way we see ourselves. No one else gets to decide how we see ourselves. This is only for us to decide.
Genetics and Biological Sex
Okay, here is where it gets really tricky. Science, in a sense, is not an exact science. Ha! Yeah, I know. But truly it really isn’t. Science is ever evolving and changing just as you are. We’re figuring out new things everyday and disproving old beliefs all the time. Perhaps something that we think we know now will prove to be ridiculously false in the years to come. Who knows? But when it comes to the basis of genetics and biological sex this can be a touchy topic.
If you’ve got a penis then you’re a male, and if you’ve got a vagina you’re a female, right? Well…maybe. But not necessarily. It seems there is a lot more going on genetically, or internally, that we were unaware of. Our cells, and our brains, tell a different story than what is shown on our cover. There are tons of varieties of female/male characteristics being expressed in each person (internally as well as externally). No one fits neatly into a package or a label. No one. Why would we assume we would anyway? Don’t we know how genetics work? We get half our DNA from our father and the other half from our mother. Obviously we are going to inherit traits from the both of them. Why would we assume otherwise?
But let’s focus on the area of genitalia. There is a major diversity just within this area of the body, which include difference in sizing, look, operation, etc. Some people have things that don’t function the way other people’s do. Like ovaries that don’t produce eggs. Some testicles are inside the body instead of outside. Some clitorises are very large and more like a male penis. Some people have genitalia that is characteristically from both genders, and some people have genitalia that doesn’t quite fit into either. And there are all kinds of mixes in between. With this idea I am tempted to say that sex is on a spectrum as well, though I don’t know how most people would take that. For now I’ll just say – no matter what you have going on down there (or anywhere in or outside your body), you are YOU. You are not a mistake. You are not malfunctioning. You aren’t broken. Everyone is different. No one is 100% the same. Embrace who you are. There is no shame in who you are.
In conclusion, I’d just like to say that you are special and unique (no matter your sex or gender, or the way you express it). You are the only you out there. Don’t worry about trying to fit into something that no one truly fits into. There is no normal. There is no misfit. We are all beautiful and diverse. Diversity is strength. Don’t be afraid to figure out who you truly are, and live your life as the truest version of you.
If you have any questions or comments, or you’d like to speak with me personally about any of this or yourself, feel free to message me. Click over to the Contact page and I’ll be so happy to help you out or lend an ear.