Understanding Gender Identity, Sex and Gender Expression

For decades, there has been a very clear distinction between male and female genders; however, our understanding of sex and gender today has changed and some of us may find it difficult to navigate. We want to be sensitive and respectful but it can be confusing. For example, there are many people that identify as trans. What does that mean? If we go on what we’re seeing, we could get it wrong. Why is that? Well for starters the individual might present with long hair that they wear up in a ponytail, be dressed in black stockings, miniskirt, heels, low cut top and a lumber-jack shirt. They may have black eyeliner and lip stain but will identify as a trans male. Your brain might be fighting what you’ve been told versus what you’re seeing. Deeply ingrained patterns of thinking could have you stumbling and stammering to get the pronouns right. Sound familiar?

So, let’s first look at some of the definitions to help guide this conversation. Sex and gender identity are not the same thing. We define sex as biological and being used to classify humans into the categories of male, female, or intersex (a person born with a combination of male and female biological traits), with the categories being primarily associated with physical and physiological features including chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive and sexual anatomy. Whereas gender refers to socially and culturally constructed roles, behaviours, expressions, and identities.

Gender expression, on the other hand, is how someone presents themselves and their gender to the outside world, including their name, pronouns, style of dress, voice and/or hairstyle. The expression might be male, female, or androgynous. This expression can change regularly depending on the situation.

Gender identity is how one internally and psychologically senses themselves to be. They might be feeling male, female, both, in between or neither. Trans is a way to describe a range of people whose gender identity or gender expression are different from their assigned sex at birth. For example, a trans male was born female, but identifies as male. Their gender expression could be male, or a mix of both male and female. Their pronouns in the case above are he/him.

This might be difficult for many, and the adjustment may feel awkward and embarrassing, but any attempt to get it right is appreciated. Through being curious and asking questions the connection can be one of learning and growth.

For more information on this topic check out TransCareBC.com

Kim Kisyel, BSW MACP RCC
Walmsley EFAP