Non-binary and trans people have always been here, not least in every recorded society from the ancient world onwards. 

It's only been in recent years that we have a common language to explain how people experience gender:

  • Gender identity is a person's internal experience of gender

  • Gender expression is the way a person expresses their gender externally

Men and women traditional restroom sign Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Gaining deeper knowledge about gender identity and expression can help you support a friend, better define yourself, and understand others.

Gender Identity

Historically, sex and gender have been entwined and thought of in a binary masculine and feminine system. Babies are assigned a sex at birth, and that is assumed to also be their gender. That isn't always the case, as gender identity is a spectrum. According to genderspectrum.org:

Gender identity is our internal experience and naming of our gender. It can correspond to or differ from the sex we were assigned at birth.

Baby yawning with blue and pink blanket in the background. Photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

Types of Gender Identities

Understanding common terms can help you clearly express yourself. Here are a few from verywellmind:

  • Agender someone with no gender, or who does not identify with any gender

  • Cis or cisgender someone who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth

  • Genderfluid someone whose gender identity is not fixed to one gender

  • Nonbinarysomeone whose gender falls outside the male/female binary

  • Trans/transgender someone who identifies with a different sex than they were assigned at birth

Transgender flag being worn as a cape during a parade. Photo by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash

Gender Expression

Gender expression is how people present themselves through their clothes, hair, mannerisms, body language, and more. You can express your gender identity, go against expectations, or vary how you express yourself depending on how you feel on any given day.

For example, someone who identifies as a man can wear makeup as a form of gender expression and still feel masculine.

Man with makeup artist putting on his makeup; an example of gender identity vs. gender expression.

Quiz

Chelsea uses she/her pronouns. She wears masculine clothing at work. This is an example of:

Pronouns

Person holding a sign that reads: Hello my pronouns are (blank)/(blank) Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Pronouns are one way to express gender. Some common pronouns are:

  • She/her/hers — for people who identify as female

  • He/him/his — for people who identify as male

  • They/them/theirs — for people who identify as non-binary

  • She/they or they/him — for people with genderfluid identities

Use pronouns that people request you use, even if you haven't heard them before. Respect how others express themselves and don't make assumptions based on appearance alone.

Take Action

There are many ways to define yourself, and this is just the beginning of understanding gender identity vs. gender expression. Continue exploring the gender spectrum to better understand and support yourself and others.

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This Byte has been authored by

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Marilyn Day

Empowering Adult Learners