|An editor thinks that this article may not be neutral. (April 2009)|
In sociology, gender identity describes the gender that a person sees themselves as. It can also be used to refer to the gender that other people treat the individual as, based on what they know from gender role indications like clothing and hairstyle.
Transgender and transsexual [change]
People who feel like they do not fit "normal" gender roles are called transgender. Some transgender people people feel like they were born with a physical gender that does not match who they feel they are. They are called transsexual. Some transsexual people change their body to make it more like their gender identity. These people may have surgery or take medicines to change their body.
Gender presentation [change]
Gender presentation or gender role means how a person dresses, looks, and acts. Someone who wears men's clothes, has a job that men usually have, and acts in a masculine way has a male gender presentation. This is different from gender identity because people can choose to act one way even if that is not how they feel inside.
Sometimes people just call this presentation.
Sex, presentation, and identity [change]
These can be confusing because most people have a sex (what they were born), gender presentation (what they show themselves as), and gender identity (what they think they are) that are the same. When we talk about 'male' we usually think this means all three things. We also usually assume that this means he likes women. In most people they are all the same – either male or female. But in transgender people they can be different.
A good way to look at it is this:
Sex is whether a person is biologically male or female.
Gender or Gender Identity is how a person feels inside.
Gender Presentation or Gender Role is how a person dresses, acts and behaves.
Sexual orientation is about the gender which a person finds attractive.
Examples of transgender people [change]
It is possible to have every different combination of sex, gender identity, gender presentation, and sexual orientation. Here are some of those possible combinations. (Pay special attention to the genders of the pronouns that are used. If someone has a male gender identity they wish to be seen and be treated as male.)
A person may be biologically female (have a vagina and an XX sex chromosome) but have a male gender identity. Many people like this may dress and act like men and take jobs that are usually done by men. This person may call himself transgender. If he has surgery or takes testosterone, he may call himself transsexual. He may not use any of these terms, but may simply call himself a man. If he loves men, he may call himself a gay man. If he likes women, he may call himself a straight man.
A man might like to dress up in women's clothes (drag). This is often done as a performance on a stage. This man may have a male gender identity and a male sex. He may also have a male gender role most of the time, but when he 'does drag' he may have a female gender role.
A lesbian woman is biologically female. Most lesbian women have a female gender identity. Some lesbian women may have some male gender roles. She may dress in masculine clothes, cut her hair short, and work in a job that men usually have. This is sometimes called being a 'butch' or 'butch lesbian.'
Some people may have a gender identity that is different from their sex. However, if they live in a place where transgender people are not accepted they may hide this. They may also hide it because they are afraid their family will not accept them. So a transgender woman like this might have a female gender identity, but have a male sex and a male gender presentation. She might want to have a female gender presentation, but does not because of fear.
Medical diagnosis [change]
When a person's gender identity and body do not match, they may go to see a doctor. The doctor may help them change their body if that is what they want. Doctors may diagnose by psychiatry this person with Gender identity disorder. Principle 18 of the Yogyakarta Principles, a document about international law on human rights insists that "any classifications to the contrary, a person's gender identity is not in and of itself, medical condition". And "Activist's Guide" to them says that "gender identity" or "gender identity disorder" exists still in categories of mental illness, contrary to the "sexual orientation" removed from such categories.
This is a very controversial subject. This means that people disagree about it. Some transgender or transsexual people do not think they have an illness or disease. They may feel like this because disease and illness can make it seem like something is wrong with a person. They see being transgender or transsexual as a trait or characteristic, like being left-handed.
However, some transgender people may not mind the words illness or disease. This is especially important for transgender people who get medical treatments. Some national health insurances pay for transsexual treatments. But if these were not seen as an illness, they might not pay.
- The Yogyakarta Principles, Principle 18. Protection from Medical Abuse, and its annotations, p. 43 saying that such diagnosis as mental disorder once made a cause to do electroshock therapy to "cure" a gender identity differing from body sex at birth
- Activist's Guide to the Yogyakarta Principles, p 100