Hi all. Breanna here, again, for part two of Sexuality, Gender, and Spirituality 101 – a conversation I’ve been leading with small groups of people. In the part one, we explored how using the name “Loving Creator” for God helps us to picture and understand a Higher Being that creates all sorts of diverse living things and looks upon each one with admiration and love. This section focuses on the different dimensions of sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation in humans.
The Complexities of Understanding Sexuality and Gender
When I introduce this section, I typically start with something that is difficult for most people to understand, like the following pictures.
The first says: “We are polysexual non-binary individuals.” And “We are a queer couple able to reproduce.”
The second says: “I am a lesbian trans woman.” And “I am a pansexual cis woman.” And “We are a queer couple able to reproduce.”
“Does this make sense to anyone?” I typically ask the small group. “If it does, you’re ready to teach the next section for me!” I say. Why? Because these images depict sexual identity (trans woman; cis woman; able to reproduce), gender identity (non-binary), gender expression (the clothing they are wearing, hairstyles they support), and sexual orientation (queer couple).
Meet the Genderbread Person
I think it’s easiest to talk about these different aspects of our selves when we use the “genderbread person” to help us visualize and sort out each different identity.
The genderbread person organizes the four different categories by placing them on a gingerbread person’s body. Let us begin by defining the different categories.**
When a baby is born, a doctor often picks up the baby, examines the visible genitalia and proclaims: “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” This is called one’s sex assigned at birth (SAAB). But sexual identity is not that simple… Rather, sexual identity is the physiological (biological) identity of oneself comprised of 1) hormones (male/female), 2) chromosomes (XX, XY, XXY, XYY), 3) internal sex organs (ovaries, fallopian tubes, prostate), and 4) genitalia (labia, vulva, penis, testicles).
That said, one can be born:
- fully male (all male hormones, chromosomes, internal organs and genitalia),
- fully female (all female hormones, chromosomes, internal organs and genitalia) or
- intersex (a combination of male and female hormones, chromosomes, internal organs and/or genitalia). To better understand what it means to be intersex, watch this short very informational video. About 10% of the population is intersex.
- One can also be transgender and have surgically changed genitalia (had gender confirming surgeries) or taken hormones to biologically alter the body in order to match the gender with which one understands oneself. Not all people who identify as transgender (to which we will explain in the gender identity section) have biologically altered their bodies to match their gender identity – some have not changed because it doesn’t feel right, others because they cannot afford the expensive surgeries, psychological testing, and hormone replacements to change to their affirmed gender.
Gender identity is who we, in our heads, know ourselves to be, based on what we understand to be the options for gender, and how much we align (or don’t align) with one of those options. Gender identity is our psychological sense of gender.
Most common gender identities are as follows:
- Cisgender: a gender description for when someone’s sex assigned at birth and gender identity correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, and identifies as a man). A simple way to think about it is if a person is not transgender, they are cisgender. The word cisgender can also be shortened to “cis.”
- Transgender: a gender description for someone who has transitioned (or is transitioning) from living as one gender to another. OR an umbrella term for anyone whose sex assigned at birth and gender identity do not correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, but does not identify as a man).
- Gender Non-Conforming: a gender expression descriptor that indicates a non-traditional gender presentation (masculine woman or feminine man). 2 adj. : a gender identity label that indicates a person who identifies outside of the gender binary.
- Bigender: a person who fluctuates between traditionally “woman” and “man” gender-based behavior and identities, identifying with both genders (or sometimes identifying with either man or woman, as well as a third, different gender).
- Agender: a person with no (or very little) connection to the traditional system of gender, no personal alignment with the concepts of either man or woman, and/or someone who sees themselves as existing without gender.
- Gender fluid: a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more man some days, and more woman other days.
- Genderqueer: a gender identity label often used by people who do not identify with the binary of man/woman.
- Third gender: for a person who does not identify with either man or woman, but identifies with another gender. This gender category is used by societies that recognize three or more genders, both contemporary and historic, and is also a conceptual term meaning different things to different people who use it, as a way to move beyond the gender binary.
- Two Spirit: is an umbrella term traditionally within Native American communities to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of both genders.
Gender expression is the external display of one’s gender, through a combination of clothing, grooming, demeanor, social behavior, hairstyle, name, and other factors, generally made sense of on scales of masculinity and femininity. Also referred to as “gender presentation.”
Therefore, one can be anything from a feminine woman to a masculine man or anything in between, including non-binary or one who identifies and/or presents oneself outside of the traditional male-female binary gender expressions.
Here are several common gender expression terms:
- Feminine: presenting in a traditional feminine way (dresses, long hair, make up, etc.)
- Masculine: presenting in a traditional masculine way (male clothing, short hair, muscular, etc.)
- Butch: a person who identifies themselves as masculine, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally. ‘Butch’ is sometimes used as a derogatory term for lesbians, but is also be claimed as an affirmative identity label.
- Crossdresser: someone who wears clothes of another gender/sex.
- Drag King: someone who performs (hyper-) masculinity theatrically.
- Drag Queen: someone who performs (hyper-) femininity theatrically.
- Dyke: referring to a masculine presenting lesbian. While often used derogatorily, it is also reclaimed affirmatively by some lesbians and gay women as a positive self identity term.
- feminine-of-center OR masculine-of-center: a phrase that indicates a range in terms of gender identity and expression for people who present, understand themselves, and/or relate to others in a generally more feminine/masculine way, but don’t necessarily identify as women or men.
- Feminine-of-center individuals may also identify as “femme,” “submissive,” “transfeminine,” etc.;
- masculine-of-center individuals may also often identify as “butch,” “stud,” “aggressive,” “boi,” “transmasculine,” etc.
Sexual orientation refers to whom one is physically, sexually, romantically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually attracted.
Common sexual orientations are:
- Gay: (1) a term used to describe individuals who are primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex and/or gender. More commonly used when referring to males/men-identified people who are attracted to males/men-identified people, but can be applied to females/women-identified people as well. (2) An umbrella term used to refer to the queer community as a whole, or as an individual identity label for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.
- Lesbian: a term used to describe females/women-identified people attracted romantically, erotically, and/or emotionally to other females/women -identified people.
- Queer: used as an umbrella term to describe individuals who don’t identify as straight.
- Straight: a person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to someone of the opposite gender/sexual identity.
- Bisexual: a person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to male/men and females/women. Other individuals may use this to indicate an attraction to individuals who identify outside of the gender binary as well and may use bisexual as a way to indicate an interest in more than one gender or sex (i.e. men and genderqueer people). This attraction does not have to be equally split or indicate a level of interest that is the same across the genders or sexes an individual may be attracted to.
- Asexual: having a lack of (or low level of) sexual attraction to others and/or a lack of interest or desire for sex or sexual partners. Asexuality exists on a spectrum from people who experience no sexual attraction or have any desire for sex to those who experience low levels and only after significant amounts of time, many of these different places on the spectrum have their own identity labels. Another term used within the asexual community is “ace,”meaning someone who is asexual. *Asexuality is not celibacy; celibacy is abstaining from certain actions and relationships because one chooses to. Asexuality is an orientation. Some asexual people still engage in romantic relationships.
- Aromantic: is a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others and/or a lack of interest in forming romantic relationships.
- Demisexual: an individual who does not experience sexual attraction unless they have formed a strong emotional connection with another individual. Often within a romantic relationship.
- Pansexual: a person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction for members of all gender identities/expressions.
- Same Gender Loving: a term sometimes used by members of the African-American / Black community to express an alternative sexual orientation without relying on terms and symbols of European descent.
- Skoliosexual: attracted to genderqueer and transsexual people and expressions (people who don’t identify as cisgender).
Sexual orientation is different than sexual preference, which refers to the types of sexual intercourse, stimulation, and gratification one likes to receive and participate in.
**It is important to note that all terms and definitions I’m using come right from The Safe Zone Project. The Safe Zone Project is a well developed LGBTQIA resource center with a list of vocabulary terms that is updated regularly. All their resources are free and available online for everyone to use. I reference their site often while also using their terms and definitions in my own presentations. A huge thanks to The Safe Zone Project for their great work!