Cisters and Sisters

Today, we’re gonna have a quick review session on gender with some definitions to make everything clear.

  1. Gender: a socially constructed concept that categorizes people based off of their social and cultural roles (may differ cross-culturally). This term is not as rigid as sex is and can be seen on a fluid scale or a continuum.
  2. Sex: Biological differences between males and females. Not everyone fits into the category of male or female, some people may have a combination of X and Y chromosomes that don’t adhere to the “norm.”
  3. Cisgender: someone whose gender identity aligns with their assigned or biological sex. This comes from the Latin root “cis” which means ‘on this side of’ while “trans” refers to ‘across’ or ‘opposite’
  4. Transgender: someone whose self-perception of gender is not congruent with their biological sex. Trans people may go through gender reassignment surgery to correct this, but it does not always happen. Regardless of body parts, they are transgender and their pronouns and identity need to be respected. The flag on the left (referenced above) represents the transgender community, “The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, the traditional color for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional color for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.”
  5. Agender: Similar to the non-binary identity we talked about in my previous post, agender is a person who sees themselves as non-conforming to traditional gender identity. The flag on the right is the agender pride flag. The black and white represent the absence of gender, the gray is semi-genderless (between identifying with a gender or being agender), and the green is representative of being non-binary
  6. Pangender: is someone who identifies with more than one gender. The Greek prefix, “pan” means ‘all.’ This could be a fluidity within one’s experiences with gender in their lifetime. The middle flag is the pangender pride flag, here, the yellow stands for all genders that are neither male nor female, the light red color is the transition to the male and female genders, the third is a light violet pink which is a combination of male and female genders, and the white is a combination of all genders.

Important Links:

  1. Sex and Gender: What is the difference?
  2. Understanding Gender
  3. The History of the Transgender Flag
  4. The Language of Gender

Bi: Nary, Phobia, Sexual

The way that we categorize our world is typically in a binary standard. As humans, it makes everything easier to understand if we put it under labels. For gender, we think there’s either male or female. For sexuality, we expect people to either be heterosexual or homosexual. And when something doesn’t necessarily fit into that category or expectation, it makes us uncomfortable.

For this post, I’ve decided to put together the terms Binary, Non-Binary, Bisexuality, and Biphobia because gender and sexuality are never just one or the other, they are presented on a spectrum.

As I said above, gender is often viewed as a binary opposition, but there are people who do not always identify as one or the other or as a combination and identify as non-binary or genderqueer. Typically, non-binary or genderqueer folks use the pronoun they/them because it does not identify them as a man or woman. You should never assume what someone’s pronouns are if they haven’t told you and it is better to respectfully ask what someone would like you to call them.

Non-binary is not a new category of identifying oneself either and it’s not “just a phase.” Hundreds of societies have three or more genders including the Mahu in Hawaii, the Femminiello in Italy, and the Malmuk in Egypt. People who don’t identify as male or female in these societies are typically seen as spiritual leaders. For example, the Mahu are people that are born either sex but embody gender roles of both genders, they hold sacred roles and are valued members of society as educators, and often lead ancient traditions. Unfortunately, while third genders in some societies are values, many people are still persecuted for this and it is important to recognize that.

Moving onto bisexuality, just like gender, sexuality is on a spectrum. Not everyone is 100% straight or 100% gay, there are people who do fall in between. Just like non-binary people, bisexual people are not “going through a phase” or secretly straight or secretly gay. If someone identifies as bisexual and they are dating someone of the opposite sex, they are still bisexual. If someone identifies as bisexual and they are dating someone of the same sex, they are still bisexual.

Biphobia is the belief that this identity is just someone “going through a phase,” and unfortunately even members of the LGBTQ+ community discount bisexual identities telling them to “just pick a side.”

Being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community means recognizing these identities and not discounting them just because it is something foreign to you.

You don’t have to understand exactly what someone’s identity is to respect it. 

Other Useful Resources:

Understanding Non-Binary People: How to be Respectful and Supportive

A Map of Gender Diverse Cultures (uses some problematic language, so be aware of that but still helpful to see how different every culture is).