Gender Identity Primer

Transgendered people are perhaps the most stigmatized and misunderstood of the larger sexual minorities (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender). In order to better understand transgendered people, it is useful to make a sharp distinction between two terms that are often used interchangeably. Sex is the anatomy and biology that determines whether one is male, female, or intersexed (formerly called hermaphroditic). Gender is a psychosocial construct most people use to classify a person as male, female, both, or neither.

Gender Identity is a person’s sense of their own gender, which is communicated to others by their Gender Expression. Since most people conform to societal gender norms, they have a Gender Identity congruent with their Gender Expression. However, Gender, like sexuality, is fluid and can change over time, in individuals and in human society. For some people, Gender Identity, Gender Expression and sex do not correspond with each other. Those who cannot or choose not to conform to societal gender norms associated with their physical sex are Gender Variant.

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe Gender Variant people who have gender identities, expressions or behaviors not traditionally associated with their birth sex. Transgender is preferred over transvestite or transsexual, older terms which do not accurately describe all transgendered people, and which also have a clinical or stigmatizing connotation. Transgender also can mean anyone who transcends the conventional definitions of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Thus transgender also can include Butch Lesbians, Radical Faeries, Drag Queens, Drag Kings and many other kinds of gender variant people who use a variety of terms to self-identify.

Transgendered people are often categorized by their Gender Vector: Male-to-Female (MTF), or Female-to-Male (FTM). Although transsexual women (MTFs) have dominated the public’s perception of transsexualism and transgenderism, there may be just as many transsexual men (FTMs) and female-bodied transgendered people. There also are transgendered people who do not believe in gender at all, seeing many possibilities beyond the male-female binary system for living their lives and expressing themselves.

Transgender is often mistakenly understood to mean Transsexual. Transsexual men (FTMs) and transsexual women (MTFs) actually comprise a minority within the transgender community. They feel profoundly unhappy with their bodies and gender norms associated with their birth sex. This unhappiness, combined with feelings of frustration and anger, are all symptoms of Gender Dysphoria, a psychological condition commonly associated with transgendered as well as transsexual people. In order to seek relief from their Gender Dysphoria, transsexual men and women go through Gender Transition, in order to live full-time in the gender that corresponds with their Gender Identity.

Please check our Links or the Self Serve book selection for more resources, info, and insight into gender identity.

© 2001 Gender Education and Advocacy, Inc.