Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Gender Identity

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Gender Identity

A fact which many people, including scholars and politicians, struggle to come to terms with is that the binary distinction of 'male and female' is far too restricting to encompass the vast diversity of the human experiences of gender.

  • In this explanation, we will introduce the concept of 'gender identity'.
  • We'll begin with the definition of 'gender identity', followed by a deep dive into the important distinction between 'sex' and 'gender'.
  • We'll also take a look at a (non-exhaustive) list of gender identities and their corresponding definitions, as well as the importance and use of gender pronouns.
  • Finally, we'll wrap up with some recommendations for fiction and non-fiction texts which we can use to improve our understanding of the concept and experience of gender identity.

Happy Pride! Let's dive in.

What is the definition of ‘gender identity’?

Words - especially labels - hold a lot of power. That’s why, for definitions of these key terms, it’s crucial that we turn to trusted, unbiased sources that can inform us of the social and academic implications of the words we use. Let’s take a look at the keywords and concepts we need to know to understand the concept of ‘gender identity’.

Sex versus gender

The very first and most important distinction that we must make in the discussion of gender identity is the distinction between sex and gender.

  1. The word sex refers to the label (either ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘intersex’) which most of us are assigned at birth based on our chromosomes and reproductive organs. This is a biological label.

  2. On the other hand, the word gender refers to the standard of socio-cultural characteristics and behaviours which people tend to associate with each of the sexes.

The term intersex describes someone whose internal and/or external reproductive anatomy doesn’t fit the typical ‘male’ or ‘female’ boxes. In many parts of the world, it’s standard practice for doctors to do surgeries on intersex babies to make their anatomy fit into the male/female binary. There is a lot of debate as to whether this type of intervention is ethical or medically necessary. Just as is the case with male or female-assigned babies, being ‘intersex’ does not relate to the gender identity that they will grow into.

We owe our awareness of this distinction between sex and gender, in large part, to the second wave of feminism in the 1970s. A major contention point of second-wave feminists was to reject essentialist explanations of sexual difference. In other words, activists wanted people to understand that the differences between ‘males’ and ‘females’ are not biologically determined, but socially constructed.

Gender, it became accepted, was the articulation of social expectations about how a person of a particular biological sex should behave, but that performance of gender could differ significantly across time and space” (Evans, 2006, p. 228).


While there are various types and complex experiences of gender identity, the definition of the term itself is generally widely agreed upon.

The term gender identity is defined as one’s personal, innermost sense of their own gender.

Let's now take a look at the many gender identities that exist!

What are the various types of gender identity?

Gender Identity, people gathered for a celebration of pride with rainbow flags, StudySmarterSomeone's gender identity isn't always as it 'appears' to us, in line with traditional expressions. As such, it's always best to just ask! Pexels.com

There is a large variety of gender identities which are uniquely experienced, which means it can be tough to assign gender identities to particular categories. It might seem straightforward enough to say that some gender identities fall under the gender binary, whereas some do not. While that is technically correct, it leaves out a whole long list of identities that cannot be lumped under one umbrella.

Is there a list of gender identities?

If you’re looking for a single, all-encompassing list of gender identities, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to find. Although it may not seem like it - this is actually a good thing!

It means that our sense of gender, the various ways in which we ascribe to (or reject) gender norms, and how we perceive the gender expressions of others are all constantly evolving. We are always learning and adapting our knowledge to include experiences that are unfamiliar (but usually more common than we think).

We can look to a variety of sources from trusted informants, such as non-profit organisations, gender specialists and - above all - the words of our gender-diverse friends. In all, the goal is not to memorise every single term associated with the coverage of gender, but rather to be open to listening and accepting the experiences of others.

That said, we can now take a look at the gender identities that are common across some of the most trusted sources on the web.

Agender

Agender-identifying people either tend to see themselves as gender-neutral or as not having any gender at all. In either case, they do not identify with any gender.

Androgyne

Someone who is androgynous encompasses both masculinity and femininity in different ways.

Bigender

Bigender-identifying people tend to have two genders (often, these are the traditional genders of masculinity and femininity).

Gender-expansive

An umbrella term for those who broaden their surrounding community’s cultural standards of gender expression, roles and identities.

Gender fluid (or ‘genderfluid’)

Genderfluid people experience gender in a dynamic way, such that their gender (or genders) may change from time to time.

Cisgender (or ‘cis’)

The term ‘cisgender’ refers to those whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.

Genderqueer

This is an umbrella term which encompasses those who don’t identify or align with traditional notions of gender (including aspects like expression and identification).

Non-binary gender identity

Another umbrella term, which describes those who do not identify exclusively with masculinity or femininity.

Questioning

A person in questioning is someone who is exploring and figuring out their gender identity.

Transgender (or ‘trans’) identity

The term ‘transgender’ tends to be used by those whose assigned sex at birth is not aligned with their gender identity. Sometimes, a transgender person may experience gender in a binary way, such that their assigned sex is the “opposite” of their gender identity.

  • FtM: someone who was assigned female at birth, but whose gender identity is boy or man.

  • MtF: someone who was assigned male at birth, but whose gender identity is girl or woman.

Gender Identity, people gathered for pride, drag queens, StudySmarterGender identity is expressed in many unique ways. Pexels.com

A pronoun is a linguistic feature which acts as a placeholder for a noun or noun phrase. At least in English, the most common type of pronoun is the personal pronoun.

According to Merriam-Webster, personal pronouns “refer to the person or people speaking or writing (first person), the person or people being spoken to (second person), or other people or things (third person)”.

Most of the languages of the world are gendered, often in terms of both living and inanimate references. As such, these languages also have gendered pronouns, which are used to refer to both living beings and inanimate objects.

Gender pronouns

Following what we know about pronouns in general, we can discern that gender pronouns are used to refer to oneself or somebody else in terms of their gender identity.

The traditional gender pronouns are:

  • she/her, and

  • he/him.

However, as we also well know, there is more to the gender identity spectrum than just the traditional binary of masculinity and femininity. Unfortunately, not all languages reflect the diversity of these experiences, which is why people have opted to create their own!

Just as we were careful to flag that our gender identity list was not exhaustive, the same must be said for gender pronouns! Remember: we are always learning and adapting our knowledge to include experiences that are unfamiliar, but usually more common than we think.

Some of the most commonly used gender pronouns include:

  • SHE/HER - you’re already familiar with this one!

  • HE/HIM - you’re already familiar with this one, too!

  • THEY/THEM - this is used as a singular pronoun, often as an indicator of gender-neutrality.

  • ZE/ZIR - also often used as a gender-neutral pronoun.

  • ZE/HIR - also often used as a gender-neutral pronoun.

  • SHE/THEY - can often be used interchangeably for those who identify as such.

  • HE/THEY - can often be used interchangeably for those who identify as such.

How to use gender pronouns

Not sure which pronoun to use? Just ask!

Asking someone their preferred name and pronouns is a way of affirming their gender identity and showing respect. It’s best not to assume!

What are some good books about gender identity?

Gender Identity, books on a book shelf, StudySmarterThe concept of gender identity has been extensively explored both historically and in contemporary research. Pexels.com

As we have understood through this explanation, it's important for us to keep learning and updating our arsenal of knowledge when it comes to gender diversity. There are both foundational texts which we can refer to, and more modern works that tell us about the gendered experience.

Non-Fiction/Academic Texts

Simone de Beauvoir | The Second Sex (1949 [trans. 1972])

Widely considered an ingenious and disruptive take on female liberation, The Second Sex is a book that every feminist (which, ideally, is everybody) should pick up. De Beauvoir's main premise through this seminal work is that "one is not born, but rather becomes, woman". Here, she means to say that gender is learned, as are the traditional expressions of sex and the subordination of women.

Judith Butler | Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990, 1999)

Butler's Gender Trouble is a legendary contemporary work to be sure and, as is the case with most sociological works, is also not without its controversies. Similarly to De Beauvoir, Butler rejects the essentialism of gender by suggesting that gender is a performance rather than an expression of reality.

Judith Halberstam | In a Queer Time & Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (2005)

Notably, In a Queer Time and Place is considered to be the first comprehensive study of transgender representations in popular culture (including books, art, film and music). It is a collection of essays which explores both the present and future of transgenderism in the context of social construction.

Sarah McBride | Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality (2018)

Sarah McBride is the first openly transgender state senator in the USA, and also the first transgender person to speak at a major US political convention. In her memoir, McBride recounts her own experiences as a transgender woman alongside her fight for gender-diverse legislation during her time in office.

Akwaeke Emezi | Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir (2021)

Emezi's memoir is structured as a compilation of letters to people they have met, and also to those that they haven't met - but all of whom have shaped their life and identity in some particular way. The author recounts their experience of sexual and physical violence, as well as poverty, growing up in the city of Aba, Nigeria.

Fiction Texts

Gender diversity has also been explored through works of fiction, which can tell us just as much as academic texts.

Virginia Woolf | Orlando: A Biography (1928)

Woolf wrote Orlando, based on the life of the poet and author, Vita Sackville-West. The novel is written as a form of satire, in which a poet changes sexes and meets key literary figures throughout their centuries-long life. Orlando is considered a key feminist work and has been examined in transgender studies.

James Baldwin | Giovanni’s Room (1956)

Giovanni's Room is a novel which follows the life of an American, bisexual man living in Paris. This book has been praised for dealing with the themes of sexual identity crises, gender roles and social isolation.

Sarah Waters | Tipping the Velvet (1998)

Tipping the Velvet is a coming-of-age historical novel, set in the 1890s, in England. It follows the story of a young woman who falls in love with a male impersonator. The main character shifts between masculinity and femininity, so that readers can experience a changing perspective of British society from a gendered lens.

Alex Gino | George (2015)

George is a children's novel which follows the life and coming out of a young transgender girl. While everyone sees George, this fourth-grader struggles to show her true self as Melissa. To help explain her identity to her mother, she opts to play the role of Charlotte in the school play of Charlotte's Web, by swapping roles with her friend.

Jordy Rosenberg | Confessions of the Fox (2018)

Confessions of the Fox is often branded as a historical-fiction novel. Rosenberg reimagines the life of the famous 18th-century jailbreaker and thief Jack Sheppard as a transgender man.

Gender Identity - Key takeaways

  • An important distinction that we must make in the discussion of gender identity is the distinction between sex (a biological concept) and gender (a socio-cultural construction).
  • The term gender identity is defined as one’s personal, innermost sense of their own gender.
  • Our sense of gender, the various ways in which we ascribe to (or reject) gender norms, and how we perceive the gender expressions of others are all constantly evolving. Therefore, there is no all-encompassing list of gender identities!
  • Gender pronouns are used to refer to oneself or somebody else in terms of their gender identity.
  • Works of non-fiction and fiction can teach us a lot about the existence and experiences of gender diversity.

References

  1. Evans, M. (2006). Gender. In B. S. Turner (Ed.), Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology (pp.228-232). Cambridge University Press.

Frequently Asked Questions about Gender Identity

The term gender identity is defined as one’s personal, innermost sense of their own gender.

Our sense of gender, the various ways in which we ascribe to (or reject) gender norms, and how we perceive the gender expressions of others are all constantly evolving. Therefore, there is no all-encompassing list of gender identities!

The word 'nonbinary' is used to describe something which comprises more than just two categories. In terms of gender identity, 'nonbinary' can refer to someone who doesn't conform to masculinity or femininity, but possibly a combination of both. 

An individual's gender identity does not necessarily align with their biological sex, as gender is a social construction. What influences a person's gender identity is how they feel, respond to and express their own understandings of 'gender'. 

Final Gender Identity Quiz

Question

The terms 'sex' and 'gender' can be used interchangeable. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

What does the word 'sex' refer to?

Show answer

Answer

The word sex refers to the biological label (either ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘intersex’) which most of us are assigned at birth based on our chromosomes and reproductive organs. 

Show question

Question

What does the word 'gender' refer to?

Show answer

Answer

The word gender refers to the standard of socio-cultural characteristics and behaviours which people associate with each of the sexes. 

Show question

Question

What is a common debate about medical intervention for intersex babies?

Show answer

Answer

There is a lot of debate regarding whether surgeries on intersex babies, which make their anatomy fit into the male/female binary, is ethical or medically necessary.

Show question

Question

The distinction between sex and gender can be attributed to...

Show answer

Answer

first-wave feminism. 

Show question

Question

What is 'gender identity'?

Show answer

Answer

The term 'gender identity' is defined as one’s personal, innermost sense of their own gender.   

Show question

Question

Why doesn't an exhaustive list of gender identities exist?

Show answer

Answer

Our sense of gender, the various ways in which we ascribe to (or reject) gender norms, and how we perceive the gender expressions of others are all constantly evolving. Therefore, it is difficult (maybe even impossible) to create an all-encompassing list of gender identities. 

Show question

Question

Someone who identifies as ______ tends to see themselves as gender-neutral or as not having any gender at all.

Show answer

Answer

Someone who identifies as agender tends to see themselves as gender-neutral or as not having any gender at all.

Show question

Question

When does an individual identify as 'cisgender'?

Show answer

Answer

An individual identifies at 'cisgender' when their gender identity lines up with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. 

Show question

Question

What is an example of an 'umbrella' term that is used to refer to gender identities?

Show answer

Answer

Any of the following:

  • gender-expansive
  • genderfluid
  • genderqueer
  • non-binary

Show question

Question

What do the terms "FtM" and "MtF" mean?

Show answer

Answer

FtM and MtF are transgender identities.

  • FtM: someone who was assigned female at birth, but whose gender identity is boy or man. 

  • MtF: someone who was assigned male at birth, but whose gender identity is girl or woman. 

Show question

Question

What are gender pronouns?

Show answer

Answer

Gender pronouns are used to refer to oneself or somebody else in terms of their gender identity. 

Show question

Question

We can assume that someone whose pronouns are she/they identifies as woman. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Which three pronouns are often used as indicators of gender-neutrality?

Show answer

Answer

The three pronouns often used as indicators of gender-neutrality are:

  • ze/zir
  • ze/hir
  • they/them

Show question

Question

Much of the work on gender diversity seeks to reject the _______ of gender. 

Show answer

Answer

Much of the work on gender diversity seeks to reject the essentialism of gender. 

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Gender Identity quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.