Gender Studies: Everything You Should Know

Have you ever been confused between different gender identities and sexual orientations? I know, I was. When I was new to gender studies and did not have much knowledge, I was confused between transgenders and gays. To be honest, I am still confused with few acronyms and I immediately google when I find something new. Do you know there are almost 100-200 gender identities, sexual orientations, gender expressions, and romantic relationships combined? And the acronyms are only seeming to be growing. I know it’s a lot to take in. So, before getting deep into the topic let us discuss why it is important for everyone to learn about different types of genders? Remember, the first thing we say when we talk about human behavior? That humans are social beings? Every human on this planet craves acknowledgment, acceptance, and belongingness. We all search for a group where we can fit in so we can feel ourselves the way we want to but then we also say every person is different. No two people feel the same or express the same. For instance, let’s say you and your best friend went out for a vacation, and both are happy. Now, do you both express your happiness in the same way? No. Are you both being happy because of the same thing that happened on that vacation? Maybe not. Maybe the night talks made you most happy and going out and clicking pictures made your best friend the happiest. So, as we all have different likes, dislikes, preferences, personalities, etc. it is always difficult to group people in just one or two. Do you know Psychologist Gordon Allport, who was the first to create a personality taxonomy, listed more than 4000 different personality traits? Although, many research studies after that narrowed down the types of personalities to 16 and then 5, still no two people who fall into the same personality type are exactly similar. I am an introvert so do my best friend but we both are introverts in completely different ways. Likewise, our gender identities, sexual orientations, and gender expressions also differ from each other. There are different types of gender identity and sexual orientation groups so people can find others who are similar to them, can understand them, and feel a sense of belongingness and now, that more and more people are coming out everyone needs to understand these concepts so there is easy communication and better relationships within the society. Having said that, now let’s talk about different concepts in gender studies.

Gender bread person:

Now, you might be confused about who is a gender bread person. Don’t be. Can you see the image down below? This is our friend and it helps us to understand the most basics that everyone should know.

Image source: Google

What can you understand by the above diagram? It takes about four different concepts gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression, and biological sex. Let us go into each topic one by one.

Biological Sex:

As clearly shown in the diagram, biological sex is about what you have. It includes reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics like a beard for men and breasts for women. Biological sex doesn’t include anything about gender. So how many are there? Male and female? That’s the most common answer but there is also another group called Intersex. We have studied in our biology class that XX chromosomes contribute to a female and XY chromosomes to a male but there also other variations in chromosomes like XO, XXY, XYY, XXYY, XXXY, XY/XO, XX/XO, XX/XY, and so on. People with such type of chromosomal variations come under intersex and according to studies roughly 1.7% contribute to intersex. One thing to be noted is Intersex is only confined to physical characteristics. It talks nothing about sexual orientation. For instance, a person with a male reproductive organ can develop breasts in later stages of life and can be straight i.e., a male. Most times when the baby is identified as Intersex at birth, parents are given the option for surgery so they can fit in one of the binary biological sex. If one feels they are Intersex, they can take a chromosomal or hormonal test to find out.

Image source: Google

Gender Identity:

Gender identity is about what you feel and how you see yourself as. People either identify themselves as cisgender – gender identity same as biological sex or, Transgender – gender identity opposite to biological sex, and non-binary – who feel they don’t fit in boxes of either male or female. They are also other acronyms like gender-fluid, A-gender, genderless, etc. Point to be noted that transgender men or transgender women are men and women. I have a friend who is transgender. I met her when I was new to gender studies. Although I never told her directly every time my friend wore a saree (traditional wear for women in India) and makeup, I thought I can never makeover like her even I am a born woman. Later, I realized that’s very wrong of me to think like that. There is nothing called normal or real women and distinguishing transgender women with such words is very offensive. Many times, people get confused between transgender women and cross-dressing gay men, and between non-binary and intersex. As mentioned earlier intersex is only confined to physical characteristics whereas non-binary is related to emotional, mental identity, and cultural norms. Cross-dressing gay men sometimes dress as women for entertainment purposes or as a gender expression. They are not transgenders. I know it is sometimes confusing to how to address non-binary and transgenders and the best way to avoid such confusion is to just ask them. No one gets offended if you ask the pronouns, they prefer for addressing.

Image source: Google

Gender Expression:

Wait! So, gender identity and gender expression are different? Yes, they are. Gender expression is all about how you present yourself. It includes your actions, clothes, appearance and is related to gender norms. Gender expression is changing all the time and it is becoming more and more neutral these days. For instance, decades ago women never wore pants but jeans today are neutral clothing. Other such examples are guys wearing heels or makeup and women shaving their heads etc. It is okay if few things feel strange to you but such things are becoming normal and neutral day by day. Look at the few celebrities normalizing gender expressions.

Johnny Depp, Exo – Baekhyun, Cara Delevingne, Harry Styles

Sexual Orientation:

By now, you must have understood what is sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to. There is straight, gays, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and aromantic. Straight people are attracted to their opposite sex, gays are attracted to same-sex. Asexuals are not sexually attracted to any sex or gender but few can engage in romantic gestures like cuddling or holding hands. Aromantic is not interested or has no desire in romantic relationships. Many usually get confused between bisexuals and pansexuals. Bisexuals are attracted to both men and women. It is to be noted that the attraction towards man and woman is not always 50-50. A person who is attracted 90% times to man and 10% times to woman or vice versa can be a bisexual too. Pansexuals on the other hand are attracted to people regardless of their gender. They do not care if the person is male, female, transgender, or any other. It is broader than bisexual and more related to personality than gender. There is no test to find out what sexual orientation a person has. Only a person knows how they feel. Only they know to whom they are attracted. No matter what we think a person is depending on their behavior, it is always wrong to assume a person’s sexual orientation. I see a lot of people assume celebrities’ sexual orientations and comment in every video of theirs. Trust me, it is very offensive if they are not what these people assumed, even if they are, it is human to respect their privacy. People come out when they are ready. No one needs to push the other.

Image Source: Google

Worth Mentioning:

There are also groups like queer, questioning, and allies. A person identifies as queer when they feel they don’t fit in already defined categories or if they identify themselves in two or more categories. For instance, a transgender woman who also identifies as lesbian can prefer addressing herself as transgender lesbian, or simply lesbian, or a queer. It also depends on the person how they address themselves. So, as mentioned earlier, it is always better to ask than assume. Questioning is used to describe people who are wondering about where they exactly stand i.e., people who do not know their gender identity or sexual orientation or still trying to figure out. Allies are used to describe people who support the LGBT+ community. So, does this mean a cisgender person who supports the LGBT+ community comes under allies? Yes, they are. Now, you might be wondering that questioning and allies aren’t like the majority of people? I understand. When I first heard about the allies’ group, I wondered why they formed it but unfortunately, they are still people who are not supporting and are disregarding others’ feelings. Although people are coming out more and more, supporting each other openly and the lines between the cisgender community and LGBT+ community are seeming to be blurring, sometimes, it still feels like the two communities are so distant from each other that they are poles apart. I believe especially with groups like allies and questioning it is high time for all of us to stop distinguishing between people and treat every person as equal. Honestly, it doesn’t matter which community is in majority. It is not a race. What matters is how the person feels, do they feel acknowledged? Accepted? Belonged? Loved? In society. It is okay if it is hard to understand a few of these concepts but remember one doesn’t need to understand everything to respect the other person’s feelings.

Image source: Google

One can address themselves as so and so if they want to and one doesn’t have to do it if they don’t want to. There is no compulsion to be always open and label yourself. A private person should be equally respected and being private doesn’t mean they are ashamed. One must keep in mind that a person is much more beyond these labels and being open or private is one’s choice.

‘I would like to believe an ideal world is where it doesn’t matter if you are cisgender, transgender, non-binary, gay, etc. and everyone starts seeing each other as who they are.’


Sravani Mangalampalli