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Transgender 101

What is Gender?
Most people view the terms “gender” and “sex” as interchangeable, especially in western societies. Yet gender differs from sex or "biological sex" and is not inherently connected to one’s physical anatomy.

Sex is biological and includes physical attributes such as sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, internal reproductive structures, and external genitalia. At birth, it is used to identify individuals as male or female.  Gender on the other hand is far more complicated. Along with one’s physical traits, it is the complex interrelationship between those traits and one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors related to that perception.

What does ‘Transgender’ mean?
Broadly speaking, transgender people are individuals whose gender, either through outward expression or how they identify inside, differs from conventional expectations based on their biological sex. The word “transgender,” or “trans,” is an umbrella term which is often used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, including: transsexuals, FTMs, MTFs, cross-dressers, drag queens, drag kings, two-spirits, gender queers, and many more.  Some Transgender individuals may identify with both sexes, also known as Transgender Fluid. 

What is the cause of Transgenderism?
There are many theories about how gender identities are formed, including ideas based on biological processes as well as those based on upbringing and developmental psychology. But the truth is that no one really knows what causes us to feel the way we do about our genders.  What is known is that different types of cross-gender and gender different behaviors and identities have been observed cross-culturally and throughout history. In some cultures, people who transgress gender boundaries have been accepted without stigma as respected community members. The use of the term “transgender,” however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Whatever the cause, gender variant people can simply be thought of as a part of the vast complexity and diversity that is produced by nature.

What is the Gender Spectrum?
Western culture has come to view gender as polar or binary, with only two possibilities: male or female.  When a child is born, a quick glance between the legs determines the gender label that the child will carry for life. But even if gender is to be restricted to basic biology, a binary concept still fails to capture the rich variation observed. Rather than just two distinct boxes, biological gender occurs across a continuum of possibilities. This spectrum of anatomical variations by itself should be enough to disregard the simplistic notion of only two genders.

But beyond anatomy, there are multiple domains defining gender. In turn, these domains can be independently characterized across a range of possibilities.  Instead of the static, binary model produced through a solely physical understanding of gender, a far more rich texture of biology, gender expression, and gender identity intersect in multidimensional array of possibilities. Quite simply, the gender spectrum represents a more nuanced, and ultimately truly authentic model of human gender.

What is Gender Variance?
Gender variance is when a person’s preferences and self-expression fall outside commonly understood gender norms. Gender variance is a normal part of human expression, documented across cultures and recorded history. Non-binary gender diversity exists throughout the world, documented by countless historians and anthropologists. Examples of individuals living comfortably outside of typical male/female identities are found in every region of the globe. The calabai, and calalai of Indonesia, two-spirit Native Americans, and the hijra of India all represent more complex understandings of gender than the simplistic model seen in the west.

Further, what might be considered gender variant in one period of history may become gender normative in another. One need only examine trends related to men wearing earrings or women sporting tattoos to quickly see the malleability of social expectations about gender. Even the seemingly intractable “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” notions are relatively new. While there is some debate about the reasons why they reversed, what is well documented is that until the 1950s, pink was seen as a more decided and stronger color, and thus more suitable for a boy, while blue, viewed more delicate and dainty, was commonly worn by girls.

Society's Expectations
Gender is all around us. It is actually taught to us, from the moment we are born. Gender expectations and messages bombard us constantly. Upbringing, culture, peers, community, media, and religion, are some of the many influences that shape our understanding of this core aspect of identity. How you learned and interacted with gender as a young child directly influences how you view the world today. Gendered interaction between parent and child begin as soon as the sex of the baby is known. In short, gender is a socially constructed concept.

Which picture is male and which is female?   

Like other social constructs, gender is closely monitored by society. Practically everything in society is assigned a gender—toys, colors, clothes and behaviors are some of the more obvious examples. Through a combination of social conditioning and personal preference, by age three most children prefer activities and exhibit behaviors typically associated with their sex. Accepted social gender roles and expectations are so entrenched in our culture that most people cannot imagine any other way. As a result, individuals fitting neatly into these expectations rarely if ever question what gender really means. They have never had to, because the system works for them.

Is being Transgender the same as being Gay or Lesbian?
No.  Not only is "gender" and "sex" two separate entities, so is "gender" and "sexual orientation."  Like all other people, transgender people can be gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, or anything in between. How each person defines and experiences their own sexuality is a highly individual process.  Sexual orientation should not be assumed about anyone, transgender or otherwise!

All the documents and information accessible from the links above are in the public domain and a matter of public record. Though we considered these resources to be helpful to the transgendered community when we posted the links, neither TransCentralPA nor its officers or members warrants or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or processes disclosed or provided on these sites, or for updated information or changes made to these sites. Various content on these sites may also be subject to copyright by authors, journals and publishers. Use of the copyrighted material is subject to the terms and conditions of use established by that author, journal or publisher.


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