Photo Credit: Patrick Fore (via Unsplash), Sharon McCutcheon (via Unsplash)
A few disclaimers to start: This article is meant to introduce the differences between assigned sex and chosen gender identity. It is not intended to be exhaustive, and you are highly encouraged to continue researching these topics beyond this article. Information, understandings, and terms change all the time, especially with topics as personal as gender identity. When this article was published, the information was accurate to the author’s knowledge: the author identifies as Caucasian, nonbinary, and assigned female at birth.
A large part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community (I am extremely proud of) is challenging expectations and norms. It is sparking an openness to questioning if there is another way of something that society tells us is limited. So, you were probably told there are only two sexes, and there are only two genders. The idea of there being two strict categories for sex, female and male, and gender identities, man and woman, is called the sex or gender binary. Keeping these terms separate is very important because they are two very different concepts despite being related.
Assigned sex at birth refers to the category you are put into based on your sex characteristics, most often your primary sex characteristics or genitalia. The terms used for these categories are male, female, and intersex. Most are familiar with male and female; intersex, however, is an identifier used by those whose biology does not neatly fit into one of the traditional definitions boxes. Because these are assigned by primary characteristics alone, many people may never know they are intersex. This is the I in the 2SLGBTQIA+ acronym and is very important to include because it continues to be overlooked even in queer-friendly spaces.
Gender is a concept that is extremely hard to define. People have spent years studying gender roles and identities. An attempt to summarize is this: gender is a social construct based on the presentation, or the expression, of a person; how a person chooses to interact with the world in style and actions. Our society has decided that the gender identities of men and women are assumed for those assigned male and female.
What does that sentence mean? It means someone born with specific genitalia is assigned female or male (remember this refers to their biological makeup), called girl or boy (terms often used to indicate gender identity). The expectations for that person’s behaviour, interests, and personality are already being created. This may be a more familiar concept; in recent years, societal gender roles being inappropriately weighted have been discussed more.
Transgender, the T of the 2SLGBTQIA+, is one of the identities used by those who do not feel comfortable in these assumed gender identities. An example is someone assigned female at birth, and therefore assumed to be a woman, but who identifies as a man. And the opposite is true, of course.
As said in the beginning, the idea of there being two strict categories for sex and gender identities, female and male and man and woman, is called the sex or gender binary. Another part of the 2S, T, Q, and + of the acronym are an infinite amount of other gender identities. You may have heard the term Nonbinary; this is a gender identity used by those who do not connect with being a man or a woman. There is also Agender: someone who feels they have no connection to any gender; Bigender or Trigender, someone who connects with two or more genders at once; Genderfluid, someone whose gender identity changes. The very start of the acronym, 2S, represents Two-Spirit, an Indigenous gender identity that is carefully being revived. These are only a couple of the identities and only a few definitions.
So, if someone does not identify with being a man or a woman, how do you address them? Just like this, by asking and researching different identities. Those who do not fall neatly into the binary may feel more comfortable using neopronouns, neutral pronouns, or several pronouns interchangeably. A neutral pronoun used all the time in English is they/them/theirs. New pronouns have been created, such as xe/xem/xyrs, ey/em/eirs, or it/its. Some people do not feel any connection between gender identity and pronouns or other traditionally gendered terms. Therefore, it is always best to ask respectfully and not assume.
These identities result from questions that humans have always been inclined to ask. What if I do not fit into just one or any of these boxes? What if there is a third option? What if gender identity is a spectrum with masculinity at one end, femininity at the other, and androgyny in the middle? What if gender identity is personal, and instead of boxes to check yes or no, there should be a write-in box for everyone to voice an opinion? And why is any of this important?
The 2SLGBTQIA+ community is a minority group. The world does not account for us the same way it does for others, starting at fundamental human rights. This is especially the case for gender minorities, even more so for those who identify in other minority and overlooked categories. Based on demographics: think of all the studies, information, instructions, and decisions from professionals of all fields, especially medical and political ones. Very few have considered people who do not fit into the assigned sex at birth categories of male and female and the assumed gender identities from that assignment.
The first step is acknowledging and respecting the existence of gender and sex minorities through education, advocacy, and support. You are highly encouraged to research the topics only introduced in this article. The Memorial University Sexual and Gender Diversity webpage, found under Student Supports and Services and Respectful Campus Community, includes lists of resources and supports available on campus and in Newfoundland.