What is “gender”?
Most of people find the terms “gender” and “sex” interconvertible which is basically is not correct. This common idea especially in western societies is accepted as absolute truth therefore rarely called in question. When we are born, quick glance between the legs is enough to assign a sex and to make a gender label that we will carry during all our life. For the most of people it doesn’t cause any problem, however biological sex and gender have different determination; gender is not essentially bounded with one’s physical anatomy.
Biological Gender (sex) is a set of anatomical, physiological and genetic characteristics such as external genitalia and internal reproductive structures, sex chromosomes, gonads and sex hormones. In complex these physical attributes let us identify individuals as male and female. While Gender is way more complicated. It is an inner sense of self as a representative of particular gender – male, female, both or neither (gender identity). In other words it’s how we perceive ourselves and present to others. Basically children begin to realize their gender identity between the ages 18 months and 3 years, and in most cases it matches their biological sex. For some individuals, however, their gender identity can be different and sometimes they seek to match it with their physical expression.
Gender expression is a way to announce to others about one’s gender identity through certain behavior, communication style, voice, clothing, interests and other forms of self-presentation, and it doesn’t indicate on person’s sexual orientation.
Sexual orientation describes specific sex or gender of people to whom a person has sexual or romantic attraction. And it would be wrong to believe that our gender identity determines our sexual orientation, these concepts are fully separated. Children usually have a strong feeling or their gender identity not being aware yet about their sexual orientation.
Western culture views gender through a binary concept, according to that people are strictly divided into two categories – males and females, – and it’s supposed to be a match between biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Depending on social conditioning and expectations we learn our gender role in society from the moment we are born. Following the rule “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” the society chooses for us certain clothing, toys, behavior typically associated with our sex. But sometimes personal preferences and self-awareness may fall outside the common conception of gender norms so deeply entrenched in our culture. Most people cannot imagine any other way different from fixed stereotypes.
However non-binary gender diversity does exist all over the world and documented by numerous researchers. Individuals who identify themselves with a gender not matching with their assigned sex, in other words – transgender people, – live in every corner of the globe. The calabai, and calalai of Indonesia, two-spirit Native Americans, and the hijra of India – all of them prove that gender identity can step outside narrow frames of simplistic binary model.
Living in society where strict rules dictate us to keep a gender role that we get from the moment we are born, transgender people face countless challenges. And even those who differs only slightly from commonly established norms usually are disapproved by others. And only considering how unique and diverse may be person’s experience of self, we can create an atmosphere of greater acceptance and celebration who they are.