At some point last spring, I wrote a brief post about the Genderbread Person, an illustration of the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation. I was thinking about the Genderbread Person today, an thought it would be worth re-visiting and unpacking a bit for a second installment of Queer Terminology!! (I’m taking the definitions right off the handout, btw, which can be found at www.ItsPronouncedMetrosexual.com, and adding a bit about my own self-identification as a way of clarifying each category.)
- Gender Identity: Gender identity is how you, in your head, think about yourself. It’s the chemistry that composes you (e.g., hormonal levels), and how you interpret what that means. So, for me, the fact that I identify as a woman would put me more to the left side of the gender-identity spectrum.
- Gender expression: Gender expression is how you demonstrate your gender (based on traditional gender roles) through the ways you act, dress, behave, and interact. The fact that I prefer to wear ties instead of dresses, and have short hair puts me more in the middle of the “feminine – androgynous – masculine” spectrum.
- Biological sex: Biological sex refers to the objectively measurable organs, hormones, and chromosomes. Female = vagina, ovaries, XX chromosomes; male = penis, testes, XY chromosomes; intersex = a combination of the two. I am biologically female; and, as far as I know, I have XX chromosomes. However, as I am not aware of ever having had a karyotype, which is a chromosome analysis, I do not know of any chromosomal variations I may have.
- Sexual orientation: Sexual orientation is who you are physically, spiritually, and emotionally attracted to, based on their sex/gender in relation to your own. This is often the spectrum people typically identify when talking about attraction. Though the line runs from heterosexual – bisexual – homosexual, there are a variety of other sexual orientations, including pansexual (the attraction to people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions) and asexual (which is a lack of sexual attraction).
One of the key factors in each of these categories is that a person needn’t be on one side or the other. Each category is non-binary – and fluid. Just as we change and evolve over our lives, so do the ways we understand and express ourselves.
One of the most enlightening experiences I had about my own gender expression, identity, and sexual orientation was when I was training to work with LGBTQ youth. The other trainees and I each plotted ourselves in all four categories, and it was amazing to see how much variation there was – not one of our graphs looked the same! Various life experiences, background, race, class, etc, will all play into the way we understand ourselves. (For instance, what may be seen as “masculine” in one culture may be “feminine” in another.)