Gender Identity is a personal conception of self. Possibly different from sex assigned a birth, gender identity is how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. Most societies have set gender categories and blend biological sex and gender; today we understand that sex and gender are two different things and while linked, one does not determine the other. Along with separating gender from sex, there is also a movement to distance ourselves from the traditionally accepted gender binary of male and female which has acted as the standard for hundreds of years in many countries and cultures.
In this section, we will explore different terms relating to Gender Identity that were previously not included in the discussion of gender, gender identity, and gender expression. We know that there are many more genders and terms than the ones described on this page, but this section should help with a basic understanding of gender identity and can lead to discussions and deeper explorations of gender identity.
Cisgender is the allignment of gender identity with assigned sex (at birth). If someone is assigned female at birth and identifies as a female, they are a cisgender woman. The prefix “cis-” means “on this side of” and is the opposite of the prefix, “trans-” which means “across from.” (See “Transgender” section below).
A transgender person is an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex at birth. For example, a transgender woman is an individual who identifies as female but was not assigned female at birth. It is important to note that terms such as “cisgender” and “transgender” are used for classification and do NOT indicate the legitimacy of someone’s gender identity. Both cisgender men and transgender men are real men. Both transgender women and cisgender women are real women.
As stated in this section’s introduction, many societies only accept two genders, male and female, and try to force people to lean into this binary. Many people do not perceive themselves as male or female and instead identify as a blend of these two genders on a spectrum, an entirely different gender altogether, or no gender at all. There are many terms people who fall into these categories use to identify themselves with some of the most popular being non-binary, gender fluid, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming.
Gender Identity terms such as “cisgender,” “transgender,” or “gender fluid” do not imply an individual’s sexual orientation.
A pronoun is a word used to refer to someone or something. It replaces the noun in a sentence to avoid unnecessary repetition or clunky phrasing.
For example, instead of “Louie went to thesexbook.org to learn more about consent and found everything Louie was looking for,” the pronoun “he” can replace the second “Louie” to make the sentence, “Louie went to thesexbook.org to learn more about consent and found everything he was looking for.”
Gender pronouns specifically refer to people that are being addressed or talked about in a dialogue or conversation. While the he/him/his and she/her/hers pronouns have been used and accepted for centuries, they no longer effectively work or feel comfortable for many people. To help fix this problem, many people use neopronouns, which are pronouns not officially recognized in the language they are used in and typically created with the intent of being a gender neutral pronoun set. Examples of these pronouns are xe/xem/xeirs and ey/em/eirs.
Pronouns can change and do not always reflect a person’s gender expression or gender identity. What’s most important about pronouns is your comfortability. Find a space where you feel safe and try out different pronouns outloud or in your head. It is also helpful to see what pronouns other people with similar gender identities as you use understanding why they choose these specific ones.
People often make assumptions about a person’s gender identity based on many characteristics including clothing, behavior, or one’s name. It is important that you do not assume someone’s gender or pronouns because it can send a harmful message about “appropriate” gender expression. It is very easy to check someone’s social media bio for their pronouns or to ask them in private if you are meeting in person. Remember if you are ever in doubt, ask! These small steps can help normalize the use of terms in everyday conversations about gender identity.