Steph's Place

Gender Identity isn't Gender Stereotypes

By Co-Editor Claire

‘Gender Identity is nothing more than what gender stereotype you like’, or words to that effect, is another one of those misleading trans hostile activist claims used against trans people.

 And as usual, it’s repeated mantra like, often without any real understanding of what sex, gender or gender identity actually are - and because most people often conflate all of these as the same thing, they get away with it.


The first thing to note is that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are completely different things, but they overlap.

 This overlap is why sex and gender tend to be used as substitutes for one another, both socially and legally - because for most people - it's true. It's a socially formalised rule of thumb that ‘sex’ equals ‘gender’.


Don’t believe me? Next time you have to fill in a form and it asks for gender, ask the person what it means.

Watch every gender reveal video cisgender people put out. When they say 'gender' they mean 'my baby's sex is this'.


Trans hostile activists usually get that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are separate. Where they fail is in refusing to acknowledge that both have a degree of overlap, and that overlap is dependent on the situation and on the individual - otherwise known as context.


If we look at the term ‘sex’  - it can mean ‘genitals’, ‘reproductive capacity’, ‘biological category’ or ‘intercourse’, among others.

If we look at ‘gender’ it's the same - it can mean 'sex', 'genitals', ‘role’, ‘stereotype’ or ‘place in the social hierarchy’, ‘among others. As we noted above, its also synonymously used to describe a person’s sex, or gender identity.


 Context is the situation that these terms are used in - and it's really important in any discussion about trans people, because when losing an argument trans hostile activists will change the context to try and make it seem like they’re right - one of the reasons why debate and discussion with trans hostile activists is circular, and ultimately futile.

If you make them define and stick to context they quickly fall to pieces.

So let’s have a look, pull the whole ‘gender identity is just liking gender stereotypes' claim into its component bits and see if it has any merit. Stop laughing at the back.


What is ‘sex’?

This probably needs a whole article in itself, because the biology of ‘sex’ is highly complex and not at all binary.

Because of this complexity and the overlap with gender, instead of ‘sex’ I’m going to use ‘anatomy’ instead - which encompasses all physiological traits assocated with ‘sex’.

i.e. the whole body.

Context. This will be important when we get to ‘gender identity’.


What is ‘gender’?

Ok, so what about gender?

‘What is gender’ is an argument that’s been going on for decades, but has broadly settled down to mean ‘social constructed, cultural aspects of sex’.


The World Health Organisation describe it as:

‘the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed.  This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.’


 Essentially, gender stereotypes are the broad social attributes applied to ‘anatomy’ - how we are expected to dress, act, speak and essentially ‘perform’, which in turn tells others what anatomy we are ‘supposed’ to have according to our society. We commonly use labels such as ‘man’ or ‘woman’ to denote gender, and ‘male’ or ‘female’ to denote sex.

 Socially, these labels and stereotypes are applied as social shortcuts, mainly for cisgender people to be able to easily identify those they can reproduce with, especially in western society. This has led to the social imposition of the sex / gender false binary - the idea that there are only two ‘sexes’ or ‘genders’

 I call it the ‘false binary’, because simple observation of our own and other cultures show that people exist outside of that regressive binary classification - but western society desperately tries to ignore that.

 What we call ‘gender’ is better described as ‘social gender’, which is hierarchical. As we know, hierarchies (ranking people according to values) result in inequalities, and those inequalities then intersect with others, such as social and economic inequalities.

 Over time, social value has been applied to each of the false binary categories, which has led to disparities in social treatment, especially for women.

 In essence, gender stereotypes are overly broad, often restrictive groupings where both anatomy and gender intersect and interact at a social level. These interactions generate social expectations which are enforced from an early age, forming the basis of cultural rules we call society. 


Stereotypes can be benign, but are more often harmful.

  • ‘Women wear dresses’ is a stereotype, and on it’s own is fairly harmless, describing a common, shared cultural aspect that applies to many women
  • ‘Only women wear dresses’ or ‘Women should only wear dresses’ is the harmful application of that stereotype because it imposes rules, restrictions and expectations.

Context again.

But whether you call it ‘anatomy and social gender’ or ‘sex and gender’ the result is the same. Two different things that overlap and interact in different ways. You can't use one and ignore the other.


So, where does that leave us?


What is ‘gender identity’?

As we noted previously, the term ‘gender’ can also be used at an individual level. A good way to describe this would be ‘Gender is your personal belief to your rightful sex’. 

More commonly, ‘gender identity’ is used to differentiate ‘personal gender’ from ‘social gender’.

The term ‘gender identity’ is a bit of a misnomer though - because rather than being one distinct ‘thing’, it’s the result of both anatomy and social gender, existing firmly in that space where both interact at an individual, personal level.


If you struggle a bit visualising that, think of gender identity this way:

You know that mental self image you get when you shut your eyes and try to envision ‘you’ in your mind? What body you have, how you look, how you dress and what you’re doing?

That’s your gender identity. In some people, that’s different to their anatomy, socially assigned gender identity, or both.


Unlike social gender, gender identity is personal, and it has two components - ‘anatomical, or sex identity’ and ‘social gender identity’ - we call both ‘gender identity’, and it’s built in to all of us.


The World Health Organisation describe it as:

‘Gender identity refers to a person’s deeply felt, internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond to the person’s physiology or designated sex at birth.’


 For some people, that internal experience means that they wish to change physiological aspects of their gender identity in order to feel comfortable in themselves (anatomical or sex identity) - and that is achieved through a variety of medical means such as hormone treatment and surgical interventions. In other words, aspects of gender identity are aspects associated with physiological ‘sex’ - and we used to use the term ‘transsexual’ to describe this when it aligned exclusively along the false sex / gender binary.

 For others, that internal experience means they only need to change some or all of their social expression of their gender identity, such as how they dress, or names and pronouns (social gender identity). For some of those, that will be reflected along what is perceived as stereotypical lines, and for others it wont.

 And for many Trans and Non-Binary people, it will mean changing aspects of both anatomical identity and social gender identity to express who they are, what their ‘gender identity’ actually is. 


So it’s not just about stereotypes?

In short, no.

 If ‘gender identity’ was just about ‘identifying’ with the various social aspects of gender or gender stereotypes, then people wouldn't want or need to make physical changes in order to alleviate gender dysphoria.

 But it doesn't, which means that what we call ‘gender identity’ exists at a fundamental, innate level in the same way as sexuality. This is easily proved, because otherwise medical interventions just wouldn't work at all, let alone have the highest satisfaction and lowest regret rates of any medical procedure known to science.

 The reality is that some trans people do express their gender identity through gender stereotypes - and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as we also acknowledge that trans people, especially trans women, are affected by many of the same inequalities as their cisgender counterparts, which are caused by the regressive imposition of gender stereotypes, and not necessarily the stereotypes themselves.


Why do some people fall back on stereotypes?

 There are as many reasons for this as there are trans people, however, in western society many of us are often only exposed to a binary gender environment  - man or woman - the social gender rules for those are deeply entrenched, and conformity is highly encouraged.

 It should be noted that the vast majority of cisgender people conform to gender stereotypes without it being questioned or challenged. When was the last time you saw a cisgender woman challenged for wearing a dress, or a cisgender man challenged for wearing a suit?

 Some trans people’s experienced gender identity is completely opposite to the anatomy they were born with, and so they dress and act accordingly - often, but not exclusively, along those very same stereotypes as cisgender people. Many do so because it makes being accepted and treated with respect in a binary coded society a little easier.

 However, people who subvert those rules - cisgender non-conforming people, transgender non-conforming people and non-binary people for example, are generally treated much worse than those who conform to the false binary.



 So as we can see, the claims made by trans hostile activists in this regard have no merit. ‘Gender Identity’ and ‘Gender Stereotypes’ are completely different things that overlap.

Conforming to gender stereotypes often acts as a method to prevent abuse, a tool to increase individual acceptance, and because that’s just who some people are.

Stereotypes are often a tool used by trans people, not a reason trans people exist.


Why do trans hostile activists use this claim?

 Those that use the whole ‘reinforcing gender stereotypes’ or ‘it’s just stereotypes’ argument focus solely on what they believe - that everything gender is all social, rather than a complex interaction of both social and personal - and ignore any other evidence or experiences to the contrary because it disrupts their argument and limited worldview. 

 They try to impose their own limited understanding, or more often a deliberate misrepresentation of their limited understanding of social gender, onto trans people as justification for discriminatory and bigoted behaviour.

 And that is used by trans hostile activists to justify trying to ‘change’ trans people, to remove rights, and to refuse to acknowledge trans people for who we are - because they cannot accept their own understanding and limited worldview are fundamentally flawed.


There’s a term used when we try to force a change to someone’s identity.


Conversion ‘Therapy’

Like with sexuality, which is also known to be innate, or built in - Conversion ‘Therapy’, better known as ‘Conversion Abuse’, simply does not work.

For either sexuality or gender identity, at all. 


 We know, because it’s been tried unsuccessfully on both gay, trans and non conforming people for at least a century by the medical professions, longer by religious zealots, and socially for as long as western society has existed.


It’s time to stop trying, and to start accepting reality.


  • You cannot force a change to someone’s innate sense of self, you only force them to hide who they are, often causing lifelong trauma in the process.

  • You have absolutely no right to try and change someone else’s innate sense of self.

  • And you have no right to insist or coerce others to endure attempts at changing their innate sense of self in order to be accepted in society.


Conversion Therapy is unethical, and downright immoral.


Most people have the empathy and intelligence to understand that. It’s a shame that trans hostile activists don't.


Authored by Claire - Twitter:@ClaireExists


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