In recent years the LGBTQ social movement has received a lot of attention throughout the media. With more and more states in the US knocking down legislation against same sex marriage, individuals who identify as LGBTQ have been given a platform to voice and express their fight for equal rights in American society. For those not familiar with LGBTQ, it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer. With increasing information becoming available to the masses, gender, sex, and sexuality are no longer just straight or gay, male or female; they have morphed into a complex, and incredibly interesting, discussion on what it means to be human in the 21st century, and how sex and gender fit into that discussion.
Many people confuse the meanings of sex and gender. Sex, as a noun, is simply the biological and physical characteristics that define a man or a woman. Sex refers to the actual physical body parts of a human. Gender, on the other hand, refers to the socially-constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes a specific society places upon men and women. It’s important to understand that an individual’s sex does not determine his/her gender; the two can be completely different. It’s also important to understand that gender is no longer distinctly man or woman: anyone with a Facebook account will see that the social media platform has 58 options for users to choose from when determining their gender on the site.
With an active discussion of gender throughout the United States, it’s important to point out some popular terms used in the conversation. Along with sex and gender, the term cisgender is widely used. Cisgender describes a person whose identity, gender expression, and biological sex all align. An example of this is a woman who identifies as a woman, displays feminine qualities (designated by societal norms), and has female sex organs. Another important term is queer. Originally used as a derogatory term for a homosexual person, queer has become a term of empowerment for the LGBTQ community and is used as an umbrella term for all of those who don’t identify with typical gender “norms.”
Other important terms to know:
Ally: Any non-LGBTQ person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBTQ people; though LGBTQ people can be allies, such as a lesbian who is an ally to a transgender person.
Gender Expression: A term which refers to the ways in which we each manifest masculinity or femininity; usually an extension of our “gender identity,” our innate sense of being male, female, etc.
Gender Identity: The sense of “being” male, female, genderqueer, etc. For some, gender identity is in accord with physical anatomy. For transgender people, gender identity may differ from physical anatomy or expected social roles. It is important to note that gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation are separate; and that you cannot assume how someone identifies in one category based on how they identify in another category.
Genderqueer: A term which refers to individuals or groups who question the socially-dominant notions of sex, gender, and desire in a given society. Genderqueer people possess identities which fall outside the widely-accepted sexual binary (i.e. “men” and “women”). Genderqueer may also refer to people who identify as both transgendered AND queer.
Transgender: An umbrella term that refers to all people who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth or the binary gender system.
We need discussions about gender, and they need to be heard. Gender and sex are no longer black and white, chocolate or vanilla. Millenials and boomlets understand this and are coming to the realization that gender is a gray area and can no longer be designated by an x or a y. Gender is the greatest exhibition of a person’s innermost self; and in a country witnessing a huge equal rights movement centered around sexuality and gender, it’s important for all people to be able to display their gender without judgement or criticism and have society recognize and understand the many different aspects of gender in this modern age.