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National Geographic Does Gender

To a degree unimaginable a decade ago, the intensely personal subject of gender identity has entered the public square. Introduction to The Gender Issue. National Geographic January 2017


I remember the first time my framework for gender was put to a test. I was in grad school. I had a classmate who looked like what I would call a "tom boy" at that time. To me it appeared that "she" was a lucky person who looked younger than her age and liked to wear pants.

I had a mother from the generation that started to wear pants and pantsuits. I remember as a girl begging to wear a dress. My mother insisted that dresses were uncomfortable and that pants were the way to go. She had been liberated from having to wear dresses. Yet, I loved dresses. So my framework was set that there were women who liked to wear dresses and those that don't.

Back to my classmate. I showed my ignorance about gender pretty quickly. In a group work session, I vaguely heard "her" announce "my name is Hunter and I prefer to be referred to as he".

What? I was in grad school learning to be a better sex therapist and so I made a note to self. "Okay, good to know!—What?"

I will never forget how embarrassed I was when in discussion I referred to Hunter as she and he piped up quickly and said "HE!".

What I have learned since 2006 is that gender is not necessarily he or she. It is a continuum of frameworks. It is what a person says it is. The ability to define yourself is a basic right and an expression of autonomy.

Regarding gender and sexuality there are a lot of new words out there. I would like to highlight a few helpful descriptions from the article's glossary of terms. They are in alphabetic order.

Cisgender: (pronounced sis-gender): A term to describe a person whose gender identity matches the biological sex they were assigned at birth. (It is sometimes abbreviated as "cis.")

Gender expression: A person's outward gender presentation, usually comprising personal style, clothing, hairstyle, makeup, jewelry, vocal inflection, and body language. Gender expression is typically categorized as masculine, feminine, or androgynous.

Gender marker: The designation (male, female, or another) that appears on a person's official records, such as a birth certificate or driver's license. The gender marker on a transgender person' documents is their sex assigned at birth unless they legally change it, in parts of the world allowing that.

Genderqueer: Someone whose gender identity is neither man nor woman, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.

Pronouns: Affirming pronouns are the most respectful and accurate pronouns for a person as defined by that person. It's best to ask which pronouns a person uses. In addition to the familiar "he," "she," and "they," newly created nongendered pronouns include "zie" and "per."

Sexual orientation: A person's feeling of attraction toward other people. A person may be attracted to people of the same sex, of the opposite sex, of both sexes, or without reference to sex or gender. Some people do not experience sexual attraction and may identify as Asexual. Sexual orientation is about attraction to other people (externally), while gender identity is a deep-seated sense of self (internal).

Transgender: Sometimes abbreviated as "trans," an adjective used to describe a person whose gender identity does not match the biological sex they were assigned at birth. It can refer to a range of identities including transgender boys and men, people who identity as a boy or man but were assigned female at birth, and transgender girls and women, people who identify as a girl or woman but were assigned male at birth.

Transsexual: This is an older term that has been used to refer to a transgender person who has had hormonal or surgical interventions to change their body to be more aligned with their gender identity than with the sex that they were assigned at birth. While still used as an identity label by some, "transgender" has generally become the term of choice.


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