In the interest of raising our collective “gender awarenesses,” did you know there are over 50 genders to choose from? If you thought that gender was as cut and dried as checking off “male” or “female” on a form, read on.
Though I may want to rebel, I’m personally not confused what box to check off on a form that asks whether I am male or female. I assume the form is asking for my cis-gender (biological sex), and for me, that’s also how I happen to show up in the world (well, generally.) There are some people who are born intersex, or a combination of male and female, so their cis-gender might more accurately be reflected by checking off a third box that reads “both.” In the old days when forms were paper, one could simply confound the form-takers and check off both boxes, allaying the need for a third. In the digital age, it won’t allow both to be checked, so we need another option.
Cis-gender aside, there are many of us who challenge the idea of choosing between sexual binaries regardless if that is how our bodies read. Our gender may appear more as the opposite sex or something in between. It may even fluctuate over time. A box reading “androgynous” might work best for us.
Some folks may choose to permanently live as a gender/sex other than the one they were born with, so a fourth box called “transgender” might be most appropriate – that is, if they want a separate category than “male” and “female,” which might work just fine for many. Form-makers of the world could simply add a third box labeled “other” for those who don’t fit neatly into the male/female binary model. Or take a tip from Facebook regarding relationships and add a box that simply reads “It’s complicated.”
As we go through life, things may indeed get more complicated when it comes to choosing how to express our gender. When we are children, we naturally express our true nature, if our parents allow it. As we grow older things are often shunned that we could “get away with” as children. I was talking with a gay man the other day about transgender, as we made plans to create a new program for an organization in which we both belong. He mentioned not wanting to turn off the “vanilla gays and lesbians,” who might not relate to the concept of gender being fluid. It made me smile a little that we now live in a world where being gay can be called “vanilla.” He was not saying he didn’t want a program that worked great for the gender fluid and trans people in our community. He is very dedicated to that mission. He was merely saying he didn’t want to exclude those who are not fluid or trans. Being gay does not necessarily mean we are “gender-fluid” people, after all, and I almost heard a tinge of “am I boring?” when he used the term vanilla.
There are many of us (gay and straight, if the term “straight” even really applies here) who may find we feel more comfortable living with a gender that does not match our biological sex, because in reality gender and sex are too very different things. Sex is just our physical body and gender is more about how we show up in the world. As Judith Butler said “Gender is performative” and is based on many complex factors. While Facebook may have taken a somewhat “easy-way-out” approach on the relationship front with the “it’s complicated” label. It has not done so with gender, and I applaud their efforts on this front!
Facebook currently offer 56 variations of gender to choose from in your profile. In case you are having trouble deciding, they allow you to pick up to 10. With so many flavors to choose from, I asked the tongue-in-cheek question in the title of this piece of “Why are you being so boring?” In reality, “vanilla” is a perfectly valid flavor, as it pairs with so many delicious other flavors after all. And while gender expression is not a fad (or for that matter a flavor,) it can be fluid in my opinion, and we may try something on for size only to discard it later for something that is a better fit. Some people know from a very early age which gender they want to express and it may be more fixed for them. For more androgynous folks like myself, we may play among the margins for awhile before we find ourselves settling there, or somewhere on either side of the imaginary gender dotted line. If it hasn’t become clear yet, like the Kinsey scale of sexual attraction, gender performance runs along a continuum.
Fifty-six may sound like a lot of options, but many actually are variations on a theme such as “cisgender woman” and “cisgender female,” as well as “cis woman” and “cis female.” In terms of broad categories, according to Peter Weber, there just under 20. Here is his high level listing of what they mean:
1. Agender/Neutrois — These terms are used by people who don’t identify with any gender at all—they tend to either feel they have no gender or a neutral gender. Some use surgery and/or hormones to make their bodies conform to this gender neutrality.
2. Androgyne/Androgynous — Androgynes have both male and female gender characteristics and identify as a separate, third gender.
3. Bigender — Someone who is bigender identifies as male and female at different times. Whereas an androgyne has a single gender blending male and female, a bigender switches between the two.
4. Cis/Cisgender — Cisgender is essentially the opposite of transgender (cis- being Latin for “on this side of” versus trans-, “on the other side”). People who identify as cisgender are males or females whose gender aligns with their birth sex.
5. Female to Male/FTM — Someone who is transitioning from female to male, either physically (transsexual) or in terms of gender identity.
6. Gender Fluid — Like bigender people, the gender-fluid feel free to express both masculine and feminine characteristics at different times.
7. Gender Nonconforming/Variant — This is a broad category for people who don’t act or behave according to the societal expectation for their sex. It includes cross-dressers and tomboys as well as the transgender.
8. Gender Questioning — This category is for people who are still trying to figure out where they fit on the axes of sex and gender.
9. Genderqueer — This is an umbrella term for all nonconforming gender identities. Most of the other identities in this list fall into the genderqueer category.
10. Intersex — This term refers to a person who was born with sexual anatomy, organs, or chromosomes that aren’t entirely male or female. Intersex has largely replaced the term “hermaphrodite” for humans.
11. Male to Female/MTF — Someone who is transitioning from male to female, either physically (transsexual) or in terms of gender identity.
12. Neither — You understand this one: “I don’t feel like I’m fully male or fully female. ‘Nuff said.”
13. Non-binary — People who identify as non-binary disregard the idea of a male and female dichotomy, or even a male-to-female continuum with androgyny in the middle. For them, gender is a complex idea that might fit better on a three-dimensional chart, or a multidimensional web.
14. Other — Like “neither,” this is pretty self-explanatory. It can cover everything from “I’d prefer not to specify how I don’t fit in the gender dichotomy” to “My gender is none of your damn business, Facebook.”
15. Pangender — Pangender is similar to androgyny, in that the person identifies as a third gender with some combination of both male and female aspects, but it’s a little more fluid. It can also be used as an inclusive term to signify “all genders.”
16. Trans/Transgender — Transgender is a broad category that encompasses people who feel their gender is different than their birth sex—sometimes known as gender dysphoria. They may or may not choose to physically transition from their birth sex to their experienced gender.
17. Transsexual — Transsexual refers to transgender people who outwardly identify as their experienced gender rather than their birth sex. Many, but not all, transsexuals are transitioning (or have transitioned) from male to female or female to male through hormone therapy and/or gender reassignment surgery.
18. Two-spirit — This term refers to gender-variant Native Americans. In more than 150 Native American tribes, people with “two spirits”—a term coined in the 1990s to replace the term “berdache”—were part of a widely accepted, often respected, category of gender-ambiguous men and women.