One thing that seems to confuse people outside of the community, or who are first coming to realise their own gender identity, is the relationship between gender identity and sexual orientation. Many even make the assumption that they are interlinked or try to undermine the gender of trans people by denying or confusing their sexual orientation as being related to their gender. Here we explain a bit more about why gender identity is NOT the same thing as sexual orientation.
How is gender identity defined?
There is no one way to define gender, especially given that there are so many identities and their definition differs based on each person. However, to understand the concept of gender more generally, it can be useful to view it as something personal.
Gender identity is a way through which you define how you feel about your own gender. This can coincide with the sex you were assigned at birth or not. You can identify within the gender binary of either man or woman, outside or in between it.
While sex is often referred to as something more biological, gender is a social construct. Nevertheless, gender being socially constructed does not equate to invalidating all gender identities. It simply states that social norms have associated certain behaviours and modes of appearance with manhood and womanhood.
Pronouns are a way to describe a person which sometimes correlates with one’s gender. However, pronouns do not always equal gender. For example, you can use she/her pronouns and still identify as non-binary.
We interviewed two of our lovely pathway advisors at GenderGP to ask them how they would define their gender identity.
The first person interviewed identifies as gender fluid. They described their gender as ‘having to deal with three people’ at the same time. Most of the time they feel androgynous while other days they feel more masculine or feminine. Essentially, their gender identity is fluid and fluctuates depending on how they feel.
The other pathway advisor identifies more closely with the term Agender. During the interview, they explained how they had always identified with the label of ‘queerness’ and after gaining more knowledge on queer and trans issues, they became aware of how they performed femininity due to social gender norms. Upon realising this, they were able to distance themselves from this kind of performativeness and explore non-binary gender identities, such as agender. Being agender for them means that they ‘sort of consciously occupy an empty position’.
Here is a short list of terms which are useful to know in regard to gender identity, including the definitions of different genders.
· CISGENDER/CIS = Cis is a term used to refer to people whose gender identity aligns with the one they were assigned at birth.
· TRANSGENDER/TRANS = Trans is an umbrella term used to refer to people whose gender identity does not align with the one they were assigned at birth. This term includes trans people who identify with binary genders like male and female as well as trans people who identify as outside and/or within the gender binary.
· NON-BINARY = Non-binary is an umbrella term which describes any gender that does not align with the gender binary of man and woman. This means that non-binary people’s gender identity can lie within and/or outside of the binary as well as fluctuating between the two.
· INTERSEX = Intersex is an umbrella term used to refer to people who develop sexual characteristics which do not align with the binary sex of male and female. For example, intersex people who were assigned male at birth can develop both female and male sexual characteristics.
· AGENDER = This term usually describes people who do not identify with any particular gender. Agender people’s identity may also fall within the umbrella of non-binary.
· GENDERFLUID = People who are genderfluid tend to have a fluctuating gender identity, without them necessarily identifying with a fixed gender.
For a more comprehensive list of terms relating to gender identity and the LGBT+ community, check out GenderGP’s glossary of terms.
How do you define sexual orientation?
Unlike one’s gender identity, sexual orientation (often also referred to as sexuality) has to do with who you love and/or are attracted to. Some people fall in love with a person of the same gender, some with a person of the opposite gender, some with all genders and to some, gender does not matter when it comes to who they love. Sexuality can be fluid just like gender; however, it is mainly in relation to the other person.
While sexuality usually refers to romantic and sexual attraction, not everyone feels both forms of attraction. Some are only romantically interested in someone, others only physically, and some do not experience either.
Here is a short list of sexual orientations and their definition.
· HETEROSEXUAL/STRAIGHT = In a binary way, this term is used to describe a person who is attracted to and falls in love with the opposite gender. For example, if you identify as a straight woman, you are attracted to men.
· HOMOSEXUAL/GAY = This term defines a person who loves and is attracted to someone of the same gender. It usually defines men who love other men, however, ‘gay’ can also be used as an umbrella term for other non-straight people, such as women who love women.
· LESBIAN = A lesbian is usually defined as a woman who loves and is attracted to other women. However, the term now also includes other genders and therefore, describes non-men who fall in love with other non-men.
· BISEXUAL = Bisexuality describes a person who falls in love with people from the same gender as well as other genders. While bisexuality usually means being attracted to and loving both men and women, this definition is outdated as it does not include non-binary identities.
· QUEER = Queer is an umbrella term which describes someone who is not straight and it allows for more fluidity. Its definition can vary depending on the person. It used to be used as a slur against the LGBTQ+ community, so ask before you start referring to someone as queer.
· ASEXUAL = This term is used to define a person who has a lack or a low physical attraction to others. People who are asexual can still be in relationships and form emotional connections but they might not necessarily desire a physical one.
For a more comprehensive list of terms relating to sexual orientation and the LGBT+ community, check out GenderGP’s glossary of terms.
What is the main difference between gender identity and sexual orientation?
Gender identity is how you define yourself in relation to your own gender, whereas sexual orientation is how you define yourself through the people you fall in love with and/or are attracted to.
In short, sexual orientation is about who you want to go to bed with, whereas gender identity is about who you want to go to bed as.