What Is Gender Identity?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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Gender identity is a complicated term, roughly corresponding to the core belief people have about what their gender is, and about what they’re entitled by society to do based on societal concepts regarding gender. Outward or genetic matching signs frequently confirm the core belief. A woman believing she is a woman has evidence of this by her chromosomal makeup (two x-chromosomes) and the fact that she possesses breasts and a vagina. Men have similar proof of their gender identity. Sometimes the matter gets much more confusing because core gender identity does not match chromosomes or the exterior, and this makes some people feel genderless or as though they are trapped in the wrong type of body.

There are still many questions about the way people form their gender identity. Chromosomes may influence some of it, and other parts of it may develop as children are born and grow. It is unclear why identity is so often associated with physical adult signs of a specific sex. Neither young boys nor young girls have breasts, pubic hair or more enlarged genitalia, and yet they may view these things as part of gender.


More clear is that once children develop their own gender identity, what that comprises is likely reinforced by the society from macrocosm to microcosm. Everyone in a society receives messages about roles of the genders, and these are likely to influence a person’s decisions on what is possible based on the traditional values about his or her gender. There are always people who break through the mold and do something not normally ascribed to the gender, and these people may either have a role in changing thoughts about gender, or they may be criticized for acting unwomanly or unmanly.

With many societies holding a fairly liberal attitude about the shifting roles of women and men, there are still challenges for people with different identity issues. One of the biggest challenges in more permissive societies is faced by those who have an unmatching gender identity from within and without. Either the desire to live without gender or the strong conviction that a person really is a different gender than his or her physical self can prove highly difficult. In Western societies this issue gets addressed with greater frequency, and given the wherewithal, a person who truly feels he or she is the wrong gender can undergo sexual reassignment surgery, removing evidence of one gender and creating evidence of the other.

Taking this step is not always received well by a person’s family or his society. Additionally, there are some inherent physical difficulties that can be an issue for some people, like taking hormones, which are generally not produced by that particular gender, in large supply. These transitions are very challenging, and clinics that offer surgery often require a certain amount of counseling before and after because sexual reassignment is disorienting and permanent. Some who take this step report satisfaction because inner sense of gender finally matches outward appearance.


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