September 24, 2020

Jem Fundano

What is Gender Identity? The Terms and Definitions

You don't have to be part of the LGBTQ+ community to become an ally. What you can do as an ally is to stay informed about their community. You can be part of their cause by learning what you can to help them out and show respect. One important term you have to know is 'gender identity'.

What is the Definition of Gender Identity?

Your gender is how you see yourself in relation to the world's construct of 'female' and 'male' roles. Your gender identity is how you feel, internalize, and experience your gender. This means that the standards, behavior, and beliefs you have can be a stereotyped 'female' role even if you're naturally born as a 'male'.

It's common for people to assume that when someone is born male, their gender follows the norms of a 'male' role. However, your sex is only a biological feature or a sex assigned by your doctor in your birth certificate, while your gender is your own sense of self. Your gender affects your relationships with other people and the behaviors you show.

What are Some Examples of Gender Identity Terms?

As gender identity is a sense of self around gender, it has different terms or meanings. Gender identity is a spectrum that varies on the individual. Since every person has a different sense of self, one definition can be different from another. Here are some examples of gender identity:

  • Transgender - 'Trans' people or transgenders are those who were born either a 'girl' or 'boy', and they identify as the opposite because that's their sense of self or gender identity. They have no desire for surgery or hormones compared to transsexuals.
  • Cisgender - An individual whose gender matches their biological sex. They are those who have a gender identity similar to their assigned sex at birth. They are usually called 'straight' or 'hetero'.
  • Androgynous - A term for people who have a neutral gender identity. This means that they have mixed masculine and feminine gender expressions. The terms androgyne, agender, and neutrois is used for a person to identify as genderless, non-gendered, or between genders.
  • Non-Binary - A gender identity that doesn't particularly identify as man nor woman, and it means differently to people. It's an umbrella term for other gender identities that don't fit into the 'male' and 'female' social norms.
  • Genderqueer - It's also called as 'third gender' or 'gender fluid'. When a person identifies oneself between female or male roles, one may match with this term. They may feel restricted by gender labels so they see the roles as a spectrum, and it depends on what roles they're most likely inclined to.
  • Two-spirit - A term for a person embracing the Native American tradition. They characterize members in their community to have a spirit that is both male and female.
  • Transsexual - Historical term used for people who medically and legally changed their sex, or those who wish to do so. Labels within this group are MtF (male-to-female) or 'trans woman', and FtM (female-to-male) or 'trans man'.

It's important to note that while these terms can help guide you, how a person identifies, gender-wise, depends on their view and experience about the term. Some in the genderqueer cluster don't like being called 'queer', while others do. The terms are not only confined to the examples above. The definitions are also updated by the community.

What are the stressors that can affect your gender identity?

Every individual has a unique combination of struggles. However, there are common stressors that can affect your gender identity.

  • Discrimination. Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia exist. When you identify as trans, bi, or gay, it's common to experience criticism or unwanted hatred from others. Bullying, harassment, and violence are experienced by individuals in this minority group.
  • Gender questioning. When you're still figuring out your gender identity or sexual orientation, it can be a stressful process. It can establish fundamental shifts in your identity.
  • Coming out. It's normal to feel anxious or torn when you're coming out to your loved ones. Even when it feels liberating, it's normal to feel worried about how they would react. You also know that this can affect relationships, so it's a very delicate stressor.
  • Family or relationship challenges. It's normal to fight with your loved ones. However, when your identity is in conflict with the beliefs of those around you, ideas can clash. This can result in prolonged or persistent fights, which can create stress.
  • Cultural or religious identity. When you're figuring out your gender identity, other aspects like your spirituality or culture can affect you. If your environment doesn't allow you to freely express yourself, it can create problems.

When feelings of anxiety or distress invade your life, it can develop as mental disorders. Most individuals who are struggling with their gender identity are diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or gender dysphoria. Mental disorders arise when psychological stress is present over long periods.

It's important to seek help when you feel like you need support. Here are different hotlines that can help you out.

LGBT National Help Center- 888-843-4564

Trans Lifeline- 877-330-6366

LGBTQ+ Online Resource List

National Institute of Mental Health- 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Related: Identity Development in Adolescents and Adults

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