At some point last spring, I wrote a brief post about the Genderbread Person, an illustration of the differences between gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, 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!!
- 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 through the ways you act, dress, behave, and interact. Some folks wear dresses, others wear pants, or ties, or bows, or makeup, or not. Gender expression and gender identity are different things.
- Sex assigned at birth: Sex refers to the objectively measurable organs, hormones, and chromosomes present in a person. Sex assigned at birth is typically based on a quick observation of a person’s external genitalia.
- 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 folks traditionally think of gay, straight, or bisexual, there are many many more sexual orientations that exist, including pansexual (the attraction to people of all genders) 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 exist on on end 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.)