When a baby is born, “it's a girl!” or “it's a boy!” is often the first thing we learn about this new human. Because this label is given to us, it can be described as our “assigned gender”. In contrast, “gender identity” describes the gender that we know ourselves to be. Some folks grow up to feel that their assigned gender is a good fit for them – they may, in fact, never give it a moment's thought. For others, the gender they were assigned at birth feels uncomfortable, inaccurate, or just plain wrong.
People whose gender identity differs from their assigned gender may describe themselves as transgender. Conversely, cisgender refers to those whose assigned gender and gender identity match.
Transgender, or “trans” for short, is sometimes used quite broadly and can include people who identify as men, women, genderqueer, non-binary gendered, transmen, transmale, transmasculine, transwomen, transfemale, transfeminine, transsexual, mft (male-to-female), ftm (female-to-male), genderfluid, non-gendered, omnigender, thirdgender, two-spirit and more.
In Western cultures, gender is commonly understood to be a binary with only 2 genders – male and female – which are defined in opposition to one another. In reality, many people experience their gender as something that is neither female nor male, that is both male and female, or is totally unrelated to these two categories.
Furthermore, gender identity is not necessarily stable or fixed: it might change during the course of a person's life, even from day to day. Many people feel that a spectrum is a more accurate model for understanding gender.
The assignment of gender at birth is usually based on the external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, hormones and chromosomes – most commonly, the presence of a penis elicits an excited “it's a boy!” and if a vulva is visible, then “it's a girl!” We are usually led to believe that these various biological indicators always line up neatly with either a male or female sex designation.
But reducing anatomical sex to two distinct boxes is a biological misnomer that ignores the realities of between 0.05 and 1.7% of the global population. Being intersex might mean that someone's genitals or reproductive organs differ from what is usually expected of either male or female anatomy, that their internal and external anatomy would traditionally be seen as indicating different sexes, or that their cells are a mix of XX and XY. Intersex people might be cisgender (identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) or trans (identify with another gender).
While gender identity is felt internally, gender expression is about what is visible to the outside world, and can be comprised of everything from the clothes we wear and haircuts we choose to our body language and the cadence of our speech.
Gender expression and gender identity are often connected, but aren't necessarily so. Sometimes, how a person expresses their gender isn't actually a clue as to how they identify their gender.
Other Nature Binder Photoshoot, 2018
For example, a person who identifies as a woman may dress in a traditionally masculine way or a person who identifies as genderfluid may wear skirts and high heels sometimes. People across thegender spectrum may consciously subvert gender roles and societal expectations regarding gender expression, further destabilizing the connection between gender identity and its outward manifestations.
Other Nature stocks various products that may facilitate gender expression. We have breast and butt forms, binders, which flatten the chest, and compression underwear, which secures tucked genitalia – with both the latter also available as swimwear. You'll also find a range of packers (cock and balls worn in regular or special underwear), including pack-and-play dildos, and stand-to-pee devices.
If you're interested in trying on a wider range of gender expression gear, we also offer evening info sessions, which are designed to facilitate this process. For more details, check out The Fitting Room programme page.
Because it's not actually possible to know a person's gender identity based on appearances alone, in some situations, it can be appropriate to ask. But this question may seem too personal or intrusive, in which case it might be more appropriate to simply ask which pronoun a person wants you to use to describe them.
If you do make a wrong assumption about someone's gender or preferred pronoun, it's important to accept the correction openly, and not get defensive or argumentative.
For most people, regardless of whether we are trans or cis, having our gender identity recognised by others is an important part of feeling at ease, respected, and safe.
Trans folks may make changes in order to feel more comfortable and affirmed in their gender identity - a process often referred to as transition.
Transition might include letting others know which pronouns they should use (e.g. she, he, they, zi), choosing a new or altered first name, taking hormones (or hormone-blockers), making alterations to gender expression, or getting gender affirmation surgery.