Understanding Gender

Gender—or the different characteristics that begin to define a person as masculine or feminine—consists of several categories apart from the traditional binary ends of the male/female spectrum. It’s possible for someone to identify as transgender, for instance—with a gender identity that does not correspond to their biological sex—or cisgender, with a gender identity that does match up with their biological sex. Others, whose gender identity feels neither masculine nor feminine, may identify as non-binary.

Though the words are sometimes used interchangeably, gender is different than sex; while sex refers to certain genetic traits assigned at birth, gender is understood by many researchers to be influenced by a range of societal, environmental, and genetic factors.

In recent years, expanding the public understanding of gender has freed many to feel more comfortable in their own skin. Transgender or cisgender, male or female, there’s much more to be learned about the complexities of sex and gender.

What's the Difference?

Social and biological analyses of gender that stray from the typical male/female dichotomy offend some people. While it’s a common refrain that gender was much simpler in “the old days”—when men hunted, women bore and raised kids, and neither strayed from their assigned roles—in reality, many ancient societies had much more complex and fluid understandings of gender. Today, in cultures that deny the existence of transgender or non-binary individuals, or deny them rights, people who don’t identify with the gender binary are forced to live in secrecy or may be threatened with violence.

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