We commonly differentiate ‘sex’ as biological identity, from ‘gender,’ which is the cultural, social, and psychological differences between males and females. Gender then refers to the patterns we associate with men and women in a cultural context. The relationship between sex and gender often seen as direct or compulsory, but is socially constructed. As I’ve previously posted, the Gender Unicorn illustrates the difference between gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, physical attraction, and emotional attraction.
Some other cultures have historically included gender identities outside of the male / female binary. This recognition of identity does not necessarily mean that they do not face discrimination.
Recently, Germany has recognized a third gender for intersex people. As I’ve previously posted, intersex people “do not fit the typical definition of male or female… biological characteristics.” Theorist Judith Butler argues gender is performative in that it “produces a series of effects” that “consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman.” We are not born as men and women, but that it is in social interaction that gender identities are reproduced.
Other terms that have entered the general vernacular around gender include ‘cisgender’ and ‘transgender’ people. Cisgender people are those whose sex assigned at birth does correspond with their gender identity. Transgender people are those whose sex assigned at birth does not correspond with their gender identity. Because transgender people encounter intolerance and violence, gender performance can be complex.
It is becoming more common for young people to identify as gender ‘non binary,’ meaning they do not identify as male or female, or ‘non conforming,’ meaning their gender expression does not correspond with the cultural expectations of their respective gender. A study recently found that 27% of teenagers in California are gender nonconforming. In Oregon and California, residents can legally identify as non binary on drivers licenses and state documents. In 2017, a baby in Canada became the first to have the gender status of ‘unassigned’ or ‘undetermined’ on their health records. Some celebrities, such as musician Sam Smith and actress Amandla Stenberg, have also come out as gender non binary.