This series is written in collaboration with Glynnis Ritchie.
Welcome to part two in our June 2021 Pride series! Here we will take a deeper dive into the concepts of gender identities, gender expression, and how they relate to pronouns.
Gender is a social construct, something that exists as a result of human interaction and humans agreeing that it exists. The most widely accepted classification of gender is known as gender binarism, which describes the division of sex into two categories, Male and Female, and the division of gender into Man/Masculine and Woman/Feminine. However, there are many humans who disagree with or don’t feel that they fit into the gender binary and instead uphold the idea that a person’s gender identity is not limited to these categories.
Gender identity is a personal sense of an individual’s own gender - how they internally identify their gender (or lack of gender). This is not to be confused with sex, which is typically assigned at birth as male or female based on a person’s genitalia. However, scientists are seeing evidence that even the determination of sex is not a straightforward assignment based on chromosomes, hormones, cells, or the anatomy of a person. Sex is on a spectrum, and it exists as a mix of scientific, medical, and social constructs.
When it comes to gender identity, there exists a spectrum of identities including multiple genders, no gender, a mix of genders, somewhere in between man and woman, or as being outside of the gender binary. Across many different cultures on nearly every continent there are records of the integration and recognition of more than two genders. There’s a long history of the Hijras in South Asia, Two-Spirits in the Americas, the Mahu of Hawaii, the Muxes of Mexico, and countless more examples of groups of people who are neither men nor women. And the acceptance of people who exist outside the gender binary continues to grow.
Gender expression is how a person may show others their affirmed gender (the gender by which one wishes to be known). This can be expressed through their name, mannerisms, clothing styles, and pronouns. It is important to note that gender expression and gender identity are separate. A person may have a traditionally masculine name and facial hair, which are masculine expressions, while identifying as non-binary. As part of that identity they may feel that non-traditional pronouns such as zie/zim align with their affirmed gender. So their gender expression might be considered masculine and non-binary and their gender identity is non-binary.
One of the beautiful aspects of gender expression and gender identity is that they are both fluid and may change over time. Think of a childhood nickname you may have had; we sometimes grow out of these and choose to have our full names used when we are older. This is an example of how a person’s identity and name may change. In the same way a person may have had a gender identity that felt one way in the past but evolves over time. People may change how they express themselves as a result, including a different preferred name, how they dress, their pronouns, etc. Embracing such changes and making active efforts to use inclusive language is an important part of supporting LGBTQ+ people.
For queer, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender people, the two traditional pronoun options of he/him and she/her may not align with their affirmed gender. If that is the case, when either her or she is used to refer to them they may feel their identity is not being respected, affecting self-confidence and mental health. Some may choose to use the singular form of they/them which is officially recognized in the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary. Others may use other gender neutral pronouns such as sie/sir, zie/zim, ze/hir etc.
Misgendering is when a person refers to, relates to, or uses language to describe another person that doesn’t align with their affirmed gender. This can happen when someone makes assumptions about another person based on external characteristics that they associate with femininity or masculinity. These may include presence or absence of facial hair or breast tissue, tone and range of voice, and other presentational characteristics. There are no rules or limits to how sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation correlate. This is why not making assumptions about others is an important aspect to avoid misgendering.
We at NewAperio are committed to actively combating misgendering, and uplifting and embracing the diversity of people’s identities. Stay tuned for part three in our June Pride series to learn more about how we validate the the identities of our gender non-conforming teammates, clients, and users!
This post is part of our June 2021 Pride series, celebrating a small but important part of the queer community: people existing outside the gender binary.
- "Celebrating Pride": Introduction to important terminology, recommended media, and additional resources
- "More on Gender Identity and Pronouns": A deeper dive into the concepts of gender identities, gender expression, and how they relate to pronouns
- "Growing Our Team and Cultural Practices": How we implement and encourage sharing of pronouns in the workplace
- "Inclusivity in Our Work with Clients": How our core values and workplace culture manifest in our work with clients