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Gender Identity

Gender identity is how a person feels and who they know them self to be when it comes to their gender. There are more than two genders, even though in our society the genders that are most recognized are male and female (called the gender binary) and usually is based on someone’s anatomy (the genitals they were born with). This is gender assignment and it is based on an assumption that someone’s genitals match their gender. However, gender isn’t about someone’s anatomy, it is about who they know them self to be. There are many different gender identities, including male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these.

There are many more gender identities then we’ve listed. Gender can be complex and people are defining themselves in new and different ways as we gain a deeper understanding of identities. Some terms may mean different things to different people. There are certain terms some folks may not like to use or call themselves and some terms that they may like to use or call themselves. If you’re not sure what to call a person, it’s best to ask the person what they would like to be called.  It is always up to us to decide how we identify, and how we express our gender. However you decide or identify deserves to be respected and supported.

Some (but not all) gender identity terms

Transgender

Someone whose gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth might identify as transgender. Sometimes trans or transgender gets used as an umbrella term for gender diverse people. However, not everyone uses it to describe themselves. When in doubt ask, and always honour someone’s personal terms when it comes to gender identities.

What do we mean assigned at birth? Think about one of the first things the doctor (or midwife) says when someone is born, “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy.” This is gender assignment and it is based on an assumption that someone’s genitals match their gender. However, we know this isn’t always the case and that each of us gets to decide what gender we know our selves to be. It may not align with the genitals we are born with or be part of the gender binary (male-female). For example, someone may be born with a vagina but know themselves to be male.

Two-Spirit
A modern English term that an Indigenous person might identify as that comes from the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples in Canada/Turtle Island/North America. It can mean a person who walks between genders; one who carries the gifts of both males and females, or one who is gender unique (not specific to any gender) and/or as a way to identify as 2STLGBQ+. When Europeans arrived in North America, they introduced homophobia and transphobia to many Indigenous nations and dishonoured the idea of what it means to be Two-Spirit. Today, many Indigenous Peoples are reclaiming the ancient understanding that there are more than two genders.
Cisgender
Cisgender is a term to describe someone whose gender matches what they were assigned at birth. For example, they were assigned female at birth based on being born with a vagina and know themselves to be female.
Non-Binary
Someone who does not identify as a man or a woman, or solely as one of those two genders. It’s often used as an umbrella term for identities that fall outside the male/female gender binary. Being non-binary means different things to different people, so this definition is purposely broad.
Genderqueer
Someone may identify as genderqueer if their gender identity is neither male nor female, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders. This identity is often related to or in reaction to the social construction of gender, gender stereotypes and the gender binary system.
Gender expression
Gender expression is about how someone acts and presents themselves to world. For example does someone wear makeup? Do they wear dresses? Do they prefer to only wear pants? Gender expression is not related to someone’s gender or sex, but rather about personal behaviours and interests. A cis man may wear nail polish or a trans woman may not like wearing dresses. Sometimes people don’t express their gender in the way they would like to because they don’t feel safe to do so.  This is why it’s important to not assume someone’s gender just based on how they look, but rather by checking in with them. Gender expression is also deeply tied to culture. What Euro-Canadian culture codes as being either ‘male’ or ‘female’ can be different than what other cultures may code as being ‘male’ or ‘female’. 
Gender fluid
Gender fluid may refer to a gender which varies over time. Someone who identifies as gender fluid may fluctuate between genders or express multiple genders at the same time. Their gender may also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances.
Gender neutral
Someone who feels they are neither male or female may identify as gender neutral.

Looking for support?

Rainbow Resource Centre
The Rainbow Resource Centre is a Winnipeg based support centre for 2STLGBQ+ people. They have information, free counseling, and lots of programs for youth including weekly meetups and a summer camp. Contact them toll free at 1.855.437.8523 or 204.474.0212
Two-Spirited People of Manitoba
Two-Spirited People of Manitoba is a community-based organization focused on helping Indigenous 2STLGBQ+ people improve their lives.  You can reach them at 204.330.8671 
GDAAY Clinic
 Gender Dysphoria Assessment and Action for Youth (GDAAY) is a health clinic for Trans and Non-Binary youth which provides youth (under 18) and their families with supportive services including assessment and treatment. They are based inside the Health Science Centre. Contact them at 204.787.7435 
Trans Health Clinic
Based out of Klinic Community Health, the Trans Health Clinic provides supportive health services to Trans and Non-Binary folks who are over the age of 18. Contact them at 204.784.4090.
Trans Lifeline
Trans Lifeline is a trans-led organization dedicated to improving the quality of trans lives. They provide a peer-support line, microgrants to help with the expense of updating ID and resources. The peer-support phone line is 1-877-330-6366. Officially it’s open 24/7, but because it is volunteer run, it can only guarantee someone is available to pick up 9:00am-3:00am central time. There’s often someone around outside these hours so when in doubt give it a call.

 

Questions about Gender Identity

What is a gender pronoun?
 A gender pronoun is the word someone uses to described their gender. The most common ones used in our society are she/her and him/he. However there are more pronouns, such as zi/hir or they. It is important to never assume which gender pronoun someone uses. If you aren’t sure what pronoun someone uses just ask them!
I feel like I don't fit with any of these terms. What does that mean?
 Gender is a complex thing. We’ve only listed a few of the terms that people may use.  We know that there are many other ways someone may define themselves and some people prefer to not label who they are at all. You get to decide who you know yourself to be and what (if anything) you like to be called.
Are gender identity and sexual orientation the same thing?
 No, gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing. Gender identity is who someone knows themselves to be.

Sexual orientation is about attraction. Attraction is the combination of the physical and personality traits that happen to turn your crank.  Someone may identify as trans and straight, or they may be trans and gay, or they may identity as something else.

Again, we each get to decide who we know ourselves to be and to crush on who we want.

How many genders are there?

The short answer is a whole bunch! Until recently, our society has only acknowledged two genders; male and female. But this has never been true. Many cultures and societies around the world have always known and embraced the knowledge that there are more than two genders. In some cultures there are 3 or 4 genders. Some have traditionally had 7 or 8 while others never bothered with settling on a specific number.  An example of gender knowledge on this land is the Indigenous Two-Spirit community.

It’s important to recognize the role that colonization has played in interrupting the knowledge (it tried to stop the knowledge) that there are more than two genders. It is only through the hard work of trans people and their allies that we are finally beginning to see a shift back to embracing, and supporting the gender diverse community.

In modern English language, someone whose gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth might identify as transgender. They also might use a different term, which we will get to in a moment.  Often trans or transgender is used as an umbrella term for the diversity of genders, however some people may not use the word trans at all, or may use it in partnership with a different word.

What do we mean assigned at birth? Think about one of the first things the doctor (or midwife) says when someone is born, “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy.” This is gender assignment and it is based on an assumption that someone’s genitals match their gender. However, we know this isn’t always the case and that each of us gets to decide what gender we know our selves to be. It may not align with the genitals we are born with or be part of the gender binary (male-female). For example, someone may be born with a vagina but know themselves to be male.

We know right now, as society begins to respect and honour trans voices we may be hearing and learning new terms. It might feel overwhelming or confusing. You may wonder why folks need so many labels anyways.  The thing with language is it is always changing and growing. Older generations use words that may mean something different then how you use those words. We bet at some point you’ve said something to a parent or grandparent and they’ve totally not understood what you were saying. That’s an example of words changing over time. We are seeing a growth spurt in the area of gender language because it is starting be safer for people to come forward and share who they truly are with the world.

I'm dealing with transphobia. What can I do?
 We know that being the gender we know ourselves to be should be one of our basic rights. Sadly, in our society, people who identify as transgender or some other gender identity may deal with transphobia. Transphobia is a type of discrimination people may face when they do not identify as cisgender. It is never the fault of the person experiencing discrimination.  Transphobia can be systemic, for example, having to choose between male or female washrooms or checking off ‘male or ‘female’ on an application form, or it can be in the form of verbal harassment and/or violence by individual people.

If you are dealing with transphobia it is important to talk with someone you trust. This could include a friend, teacher, parent or guidance counselor, who is non-judgemental and supportive of your identity. You could also contact the Rainbow Resource Centre which is a Winnipeg based support centre for 2STLGBQ+ people. They have information, counseling, and programs for youth. Contact them toll free at 1.855.437.8523 or 204.474.0212.