Questions of Gender
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A Guide to Understand and Speak the Language of Gender (terms and other bits)

If someone told me that I would be writing those words, advocating for a more inclusive and accepting society, I would never have believed them. I would not have believed if someone had told me I would end up studying the complexities of gender and its impact on our society and modern world after a bachelor’s degree in International Relations either. But the point of it all is not to keep it for myself but to share it with the world; the broader impact of such knowledge is to educate and show how complex and yet beautiful life is.

Today’s society is very much different from the one my parents and grandparents lived and evolved in. People are much more fluid, embracing new forms and meanings of gender so quickly that many of us are just lost to it all. It becomes even more complex to interact with people and accept those divergent ones because WE DON’T KNOW. Don’t know who they are, what they are, what category they are into, for human needs this order; it needs to know. And the only thing that rises from this state of unknown is fear. For some people it then moves on to hate and for others, well, it is just lack of understanding.

If you find it hard to sometimes understand how it all works or if you are just interested to build some strong bases to understand gender and queer studies a little better, keep reading! Some might say that these are categories and that the point of feminist/gender studies is to move away from those. Well, in a sense, yes. But on the side, it is hard for someone considered different to feel like “something else”, undefined and therefore not worthy of considerations nor rights. Those definitions are at the core of our understanding of human nature and they help us understand where other people are actually standing. Whether you want them to be applied to you or not, this is your decision.

Note: These are the most commonly used expressions and definitions. If you are familiar with any other, please enlighten me with those in the comments, I am very curious – and I guess we should all be!

Gender vs Sexuality vs Sex – This is the most common misunderstanding so let me unpack this. Sex is a common biological attribute that every human being (apart from certain cases) present at birth – genitals – namely a vagina or a penis. Sexuality is going to determine which type of person an individual is going to be attracted to (we will later see that it goes beyond the male/female dichotomy). Gender is to be linked with the psychological aspect of a person’s individuality, with one’s behaviours, social and cultural conducts; we more commonly talk about femininity and masculinity but those two concepts are overrated, for everyone is made of certain levels of both and not solely one.

Gender assignment – A newborn’s classification as a woman or a man based on her/his genitals.

Gender expression – It refers to the ways in which a person enacts his/her/their sexuality, or acts in order to communicate his/her/their gender within a particular culture (i.e. clothes, behaviours, interests, etc.). It may not correspond to what is socially considered as normal or expected from this person.

Gender identity – This refers to a person’s identification as man, woman, or else. This is not only influenced by the individual’s perception but by the social structure and cultural expectations surrounding that individual, as well as one’s personal interactions. Gender identity could therefore be defined environmentally and biologically, but never is a choice.

Cisgender – A person whose gender identity corresponds to the gender this person has been culturally and automatically assigned at birth. It corresponds to expectations defined by society as appropriate or not. For instance, a woman who identifies herself as a woman attracted to men.

Genderqueer – An individual whose gender identity does not reside in the man/woman dichotomy. Those people redefine and remodel gender or declare themselves not gendered. Other terms included in this umbrella definition may be pangender/androgynous (both), gender neutral (neither) or gender fluid (moving).

Queer – In the past, it was used negatively to refer to “different” or “abnormal” people for centuries, in order to categorise them in a sense. However, it was reclaimed by a part of the community in the 60s, during the sexual revolution. It is now used as an umbrella term to designate individuals whose sexual identities/gender expressions are inconsistent with the dominant societal norms.

Pansexual – It is a person (or a “type of sexuality”) who does not consider sex (= genitals) when evaluating whether there is an attraction or not. The only thing that matters is the personality/soul of the desired individual. The contrasting term bisexual will however take sex into consideration.

BiromanticBiromantic means that a person is going to be attracted to both genders (or the entire gender spectrum no matter the other individuals’ place on it) but will only practice heterosexual sex (usually with the opposite sex).

Transgender – This is an umbrella term that includes people whose gender identities do not match the one they were given at birth. These people might believe or feel they are categorised in the wrong gender.

Transsexual – The difference with trangender is that transsexual people usually express a desire to change their sex, are in transition or have already transitioned to the opposing sex.

I hope this very tiny guide helped you in locating what is the core of gender studies. This is subject very close to my heart and I make it my duty to share what I learn through my studies. It is just the beginning of a series of gender talks that I hope will keep on enlightening you.

Bibliography: American Psychological Association (2015), APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd Edition), Washington DC, found here: https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf

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