What is Gender Identity?
There is more to gender identity than male and female. In this blog, we will discuss terms associated with gender identity. This blog only briefly discusses the most common terms, but please visit GLAAD to deeper understand these and other terms and additional resources.
- LGBTQIA+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual or aromantic. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+, LGBT, and GLBT are also often used. While lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, and aromantic refer to a person’s sexual orientation, transgender refers to their gender identity and is separate from sexual orientation. It is also used as an umbrella term to encompass agender, gender fluid, non-binary, and other gender nonconforming and diverse people. Queer is an umbrella term that can refer to either sexual orientation or gender identity. Historically, this term has been used as a slur to discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people, but some have reclaimed the word and use it to describe themselves. It’s always best to use the term that the person describes themselves with and gives you permission to use. You can learn more about sexual orientation here.
- LGBTQIA+ Healthcare. Every single one of us is deserving of world-class healthcare delivered in a safe and welcoming environment. Historically, members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been underserved. Ochsner is uniquely qualified to provide compassionate, individualized care to LGBTQIA+ patients.
What is Gender Identity?
SOGIE is an acronym for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Gender identity is a person’s sense of self as male, female, and a blend of both or neither. A person’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth. Everyone has a gender identity, but not many people think about it. Gendered practices vary between cultures so there is no “one way” to define any gender. Gender identity typically forms early in childhood, as early as two years old, but some people discover their gender identity later in life!
A related term is gender expression, which is how people express their gender externally. Gender expression is usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, which may or may not conform to behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being masculine or feminine. Gender expression can change from day to day depending on how a person feels. It is important to note that someone’s gender expression does not tell us how someone identifies their gender and you should not assume who someone is based on their clothing style. It is best to ask the person how they identify.
Sex is a label that a person is assigned at birth based on physical anatomy. Sex is often assigned before or immediately after birth. The most typical sex assigned at birth is either female or male, but there are other variations of sex. Variation in sex characters can be variations among hormones, chromosomes, or anatomy. The term intersex is an umbrella term for people born with varying sex characteristics. According to interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, the global percentage of births with intersex traits is approximately 0.05-1.7%, as there is no requirement for tracking intersex births. The term intersex is synonymous with differences of sexual development, which is more representative of the variations in sex as a spectrum instead of the scientifically inaccurate binary. Some people, who are born intersex, are incorrectly assigned male or female at birth only to discover that they have a difference of sexual development at the onset of puberty or when seeking medical care for fertility issues.
Cisgender people are those whose personal identity and gender correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth—for example, those assigned female at birth who identify as girls/women.
Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply a person’s sexual orientation. Transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, etc. GLAAD states that people in the transgender community may describe themselves using one (or more) of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) gender fluid, agender and non-binary. It is best to always use the term that the individual uses to describe themselves. It is important to note that the word “transgender” is an adjective and should never be used as a noun. To learn more, please visit GLAAD.org for resources, including tips for allies of transgender people.
Some transgender people experience discomfort with their physical body because it is not aligned with their identity. This feeling is called body dysphoria. As a result, someone with body dysphoria may seek to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity, which is a process called transitioning. As part of the transition process, physicians work closely with the patient and may prescribe hormones or perform surgeries, often called gender confirmation surgery. Unfortunately, access to gender-affirming medical care can be difficult and expensive, so it is not always an option for transgender individuals.
Not all transgender people experience body dysphoria or desire to transition physically. It is important to understand that being transgender is not dependent on undergoing any medical procedures.
Non-binary is a term that people use to describe a gender identity that does not fall into the gender binary of male and female. That said, others may use the term non-binary in a different way to describe their experience. Therefore, it is important to listen to how people describe themselves. In addition to non-binary, there are other terms to describe identities outside of the binary, such as agender, bi-gender or gender fluid.
Being transgender or gender-diverse does not equate to being intersex/having a difference of sexual development. Transgender and gender-diverse individuals may change their names and use varying sets of pronouns. While some people prefer she/her or he/him, others may choose they/them used in the singular or neopronouns, such as ze/zir or ey/em. Likewise, some individuals may use varying sets of pronouns, so it is good practice to ask the individual what pronouns they would like you to use for them and not make assumptions based on their outward appearance. Using an individual’s chosen name and pronouns demonstrates respect and caring. Making a mistake and using the wrong name, gender, pronouns or terminology is not uncommon. When it happens to you, apologize and move on. When people can live authentically and be affirmed in their identity, we will have a more diverse and inclusive world!