So, what is gender all about? What does it mean to be transgender?
Lots of folks tend to use sex and gender interchangeably, although they are indeed distinct. Sex is “what is between your legs,” or, the biological sex you are assigned at birth. Gender is “what is between your ears,” or, the gender with which you identify. For many transgender people, the sex assigned at birth is opposite the gender with which they identify. For other transgender people, there may be a discrepancy with their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity, although it may not be that they are opposite each other. Gender identity is a spectrum – it is not black and white, as many people believe it to be.
I remember the first time I ever heard about the existence of more than two genders – I was in my Introductory Sociology course my freshman year of college. The professor began talking about gender, and announced to the class that not only were there more than two genders, but that there are an infinite number of genders. My mind was absolutely blown. How can there be more than two genders? There are only two genders – male and female. How can there be more? It was as if someone had just told me that there are actually more than 24 hours in a day. It wasn’t until I had moved to New York City, began working in the LGBT community, and met people who were gender-variant that my professor’s lesson became real to me. It all made sense – gender is a continuum. Every single person could have a unique gender identity, because we are all unique – like our fingerprints. No fingerprint is the same, just like how each person feels about their gender is different.
Another thing that often confuses people when someone transitions, and is a question I am asked frequently, is the sexual orientation of a person and how it relates to their gender identity. I’m often asked, “So, you transitioned – does that mean you like women or men now?” The truth is, gender identity and sexual orientation are completely unrelated. A person can be transgender and their sexual orientation can be straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, queer, or any other way they may choose to identify. Just like a cisgender person can have any sexual orientation, so can a transgender person.
Here is a fantastic infographic that shows the continuums of gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation, and how they are distinct from one another:
Another fantastic way to get familiar with these concepts is by watching the video “Transgender Basics,” which was produced by the Gender Identity Project of the LGBT Community Center in New York City.