- The importance of being unique and special
- Sexual identity – what is it?
- Gender identity, sexual orientation and other dimensions of sexual identity
At times, you may have unknowingly found yourself confusing the word "gender" with a person's assigned sex at birth or with other dimensions of their sexual identity, or maybe you’ve found yourself taking their sexual orientation for granted.
While for many people gender identity and the sex assigned at birth are the same, they are actually two different things that shouldn’t be confused with each other. 🙅
If these dimensions sound similar to you and you’re not sure what makes them different, this guide should make everything much clearer! 👇🏻
The importance of being unique and special
Each person is made up of a combination of characteristics that distinguishes them from others and makes them unique and special.
Try thinking about how many qualities differentiate you from your family members, the people who are often described as the most similar to you – sometimes it can be surprising to realise that we all have qualities and attributes that make us extraordinarily unique! 😯
A very important part of who we are and our identity is the gender that begins to form at the age of three and impacts us in all areas of our lives, from the way we behave to our friendships and relationships. 💑🏽 Even though it's right in front of us, we may have found ourselves taking our gender for granted and not giving it the importance it deserves.
Despite it sometimes being overlooked, gender and sexuality education are part of the human rights of boys and girls, something deemed highly important by the United Nations. This doesn’t mean that we must teach children who they should love and how they should be or behave, but that we can make them aware of different sexual genders and identities, and educate them on what makes people unique, how no one is above any other and no one is better or worse. 🌈
Sexual identity - what is it?
When we begin to study gender, different fields of science intersect with each other, such as psychology, which examines psychological and relational processes, sociology, which considers gender norms and roles depending on the culture and context, and biology, which analyses the morphological, physiological and anatomical aspects of our body. Other disciplines also fall into the melting pot that is gender, such as history, economics and anthropology.
When we talk about sexual identity, it is important to recognise the many facets that it includes and their complexity. Some researchers and activists from the LGBTQ+ community (Cristina González, Vanessa Prell, Jack Riva, and Jarrod Schwartz) came to the rescue and summarised the central aspects of gender via the Genderbread Person, "a teaching tool for breaking the big concept of gender down into bite-sized, digestible pieces."
You can download your very own Genderbread Person to explain gender to your kids by clicking the button below:
The simplest way to understand sexual identity is to divide it into four dimensions: the sex assigned at birth, gender identity, gender role and expression, and sexual, romantic, and emotional orientation (also called attraction).
If you've always believed that these terms were interchangeable, this article’s for you because while they may be linked dimensions, they’re not the same!
Before going on to discover the dimensions of sexual identity, let’s consider the categories that affect our sexuality to which we are constantly exposed:
- Male/female bathrooms
- Male/female heterosexuals/homosexuals
- Males/females being assigned the colours blue/pink, respectively – the examples could go on and on!
We are regularly exposed to two options when choosing who we are and what makes up our identity; two options to describe every person who will read this article and “two options to describe every single human being who is present on this earth 🌎 – about 7 billion simplified individual identities in two options” says Sam Killermann.
As you can imagine, sexuality cannot be simplified to black or white – there are so many nuances within it. 🌈
Read on to find out what the different dimensions are that make up our sexual identity! 👇🏻
Gender identity, sexual orientation and other dimensions of sexual identity
What are the different dimensions that, together, form your sexual identity, your child’s, and everyone else’s? Here’s a guide for you as a parent!
Sex assigned at birth
Let's start with the sex assigned at birth which refers to your sex organs, hormones, sex chromosomes and the resulting body conformation, such as the size of your hips and even your voice.
Being male biologically means having male sex organs, a pair of X and Y chromosomes, and a predominance of the hormone testosterone. ♂️
Being female biologically means having female sexual organs, a pair of X and X chromosomes and the predominance of oestrogen hormones. ♀️
Do you remember we talked a little while ago about looking beyond the "two options"? This also applies to the assigned sex at birth: intersex, in fact, describes any person who is born with male and female biological characteristics, together. For example, a person may be born with female sex organs and one less sex chromosome (XO) which causes infertility.
While gender assigned at birth is a component of sexual identity, it is not a determining factor of our gender identity or our sexual orientation!
Gender identity indicates how you perceive yourself and how you think about yourself. 🧠
The terms you may be most familiar with are "man" and "woman" to describe a person's gender identity. Some people feel like a woman, others like a man, while some don’t relate to either of these options and feel trapped by the labels. 😶
Like sexual orientation, gender identity is made up of a multitude of other possibilities which are summarised under the umbrella of "transgender and gender non-conforming".
On the one hand, this term indicates when the gender of people deviates from their sex assigned at birth, such as when the sex assigned at the birth of a person is female but identifies with the male gender. On the other hand, it includes people whose gender deviates from the social and cultural norms that define how people of their assigned sex at birth "should behave".
Gender role and expression
How many times have you found yourself at home wearing a sweatshirt and joggers, looking, what social norms would describe as masculine? 👖 And how many times have you found yourself getting all dressed up, putting on perfume and caking yourself in make-up for a date with your partner, representing what social norms would define as feminine? 💄
These are prejudices about the role of gender, that is, prejudices about how society, norms and our culture say that we should behave according to the sex assigned at birth.
The gender role becomes visible through what we call "gender expression": how you and your child express your gender through your attitudes, your clothing and your behaviours. Gender roles and expressions change from culture to culture, but they can easily change even in the same person, sometimes from one activity to another, without them even noticing.
As with gender identity and sexual orientation, there is certainly room for flexibility. You may be swinging between characteristics of masculinity and femininity without realising it.
Attraction (or sexual orientation)
When we talk about attraction (or sexual orientation), we’re referring to who attracts us emotionally, romantically, and sexually. A person defines themself as heterosexual when they feel emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction towards people of the opposite gender. 👩❤️👨
A person defines themself as homosexual when they feel emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction towards the same gender. 👨❤️👨 👩❤️👩
A person defines themself as bisexual when they experience emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to both genders. 👨❤️👨 👩
Seems simple at first glance, right? But it doesn’t reflect the whole dimension of sexual orientation.
A study published in 1948 and 1953 by Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy and Clyde Martin showed that sexual orientation varies along a continuum: from exclusive attraction to the opposite gender, to exclusive attraction to the same gender, with many nuances in between.
Researchers asked people to describe their sexual stories, fantasies and behaviours and created the Kinsey scale, a measure that allows you to define your sexual orientation (with some limitations, of course). On the scale, people can indicate whether they mostly recognise themselves as exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual (which are the two extremes of the scale), or whether they recognise themselves as mostly heterosexual or homosexual or equally heterosexual and homosexual. 🧑🤝🧑
A limitation of this scale is that sexual orientation is usually thought of in terms of three categories: homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual. However, there are many other forms of sexual orientation that are important to know!
Some people may have an asexual orientation and have no sexual attraction to anyone else (and still feel romantic or emotional attraction to another person). While others may have a pansexual orientation and be attracted to other people, regardless of their gender or sex.
Our sexual identity is made up of many dimensions that intersect with each other and make us unique and special. We can learn to embrace this uniqueness, regardless of the labels that are placed on (and sometimes attached to) people! 🤗