One of the topics that we haven’t addressed directly is the issue of gender. Recently I have been seeing an increase in discussion on these topics and a change in how the mainstream is presented with gender. To that point Facebook supports between 50 and 71 choices for gender and OKCupid will soon have about 20 gender and sexuality options.
When I say gender I don’t mean biological sex, I mean your expression and what your culture expects based on how they perceive that expression. For example if I describe someone as a Man or as a Gay Man do you have different expectations about their behavior, dress, and appearance? That is part of your cultural expectation of gender.
Here is a rough estimation of my gender expression (as scored by Rose)
As you can see she sees me as having some very feminine qualities. This is a pretty comprehensive description of the categories that describe how I present to the world: my body shape, how I dress, how I speak/sound, my behavior, and what my interests are. This is what people see when they make an assessment of what my gender is. Overall, you can see I didn’t score particularly high on masculinity.
You will notice that this is very basic, it is the stuff that exists from across the street, or over the phone. Think about that for a moment. If you are talking to me on the phone (according to Rose) I am much more masculine than if you see me on the street and can’t hear me speak. Your interpretation of my expression can be entirely different from my internal identity.
Why are there so many gender identities?
Part of why there are so many gender identities is because that chart above is only part of the story. How we choose our label is more than just the behaviors that are readily observed, but also the motivations behind them. Factors like where we fall on a biological sex spectrum (see this article for more) and our identity in relation to sexual orientation can affect how we choose our gender identity, and how we express it.
This means that as we change various things about our behavior and appearance we may shift subtlety. Even though a person may spend their entire life in the same general area that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed. A wide variety of factors including changing cultural groups, medication, and parenthood (even a fathers hormones change in response to children) all can change the factors that make up your gender identity.
Remember this please, gender is not sex or sexual orientation, two people with exactly the same identity and expression can have different sexual orientations.
So, how can you tell what a persons gender is?
You can’t. You have to ask them. Viewing yourself as a man has nothing to do with being manly. Viewing yourself as queer has nothing to do with your sexual preferences. And, wearing short hair and a flannel shirt doesn’t make you any less a woman.