Boy, Girl, ?

What if I told you that the world is not made up of boys and girls, men and women but actually a spectrum of gender with many variations on a theme? Our view of gender is changing from black and white to various shade of gray. This is the surprising and unexpected changing view of what used to be a simple binary world.

First of all what is gender. It is not, as we have all been taught, the same as anatomical sex. Whether a person has a penis or a vagina does not determine their gender identity. Gender refers to a person's internalized, deeply felt sense of being male, female, both or neither. This identity may coincide with their anatomical sex but not necessarily. It is something that is determined by the individual alone and is not visible to others. This sense of gender develops early and if it does not coincide with their anatomical sex this is often voiced by age two to four.

Gender expression is how we show our gender to others. This includes such things as how we dress, hair styles, how we play, mannerisms, social interactions and roles. We can all think of examples of masculine women 'tomboys' and effeminate men.

Gender variance or nonconformity refers to behaviours and interests that fall outside what is considered normal for a person's anatomical sex. Girls with short hair who like to play football with the boys and boys who like to wear dresses and wear their hair long.

Transgender refers to individuals whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth gender. For example, a transgender girl self-identifies as a girl but is a biological male. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation. They may identify as straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Sexual orientation is yet another matter. This refers to the gender of the person one is attracted to romantically or sexually. Sexual orientation and gender are separate. An anatomical male may be attracted to other anatomical males or females. An anatomical male with female gender and gender expression, a transsexual, may still be sexually attracted to women.

Gender fluidity conveys a wider more flexible range of gender expression with personal appearance and behaviour that may change from day to day. They may feel like a boy some days, a girl others or they may not feel that either term really fits.

Genderqueer refers to a blurring of the boundaries around both gender identity and sexual orientation. This term is used in reference to adults not preadolescent children.

If you think this is confusing, you are not alone. This is a new frontier in many respects which the medical profession is only beginning to come to terms with. Much like attitudes have changed about sexual orientation in society so too will changes be necessary with respect to gender variance. Homosexuality was once considered a psychiatric disorder but is no longer. The diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder still appears in the official classification of psychiatric disorders. Members of the trans community and an increasing number of professionals no longer believe this is appropriate. This is a matter of lively debate as the official classification undergoes revision with a targeted completion date of 2012.

For those of you who would like to read more about this topic, I highly recommend a new book The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals, by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper.


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