Sex vs. Gender
While many people use the words sex and gender interchangeably, you may find it useful to distinguish between the two. Sex can be understood as a way of assigning living beings labels such as male, female, or intersex based on their anatomy, including genitalia and genetics.
On the other hand, gender identity can be understood as a person’s deeply-felt sense of themselves as male, female, both, or neither. Only you can determine your gender identity. A gender identity is not something that can be decided for you by a health care provider or anyone else. It is not based on whether you have had hormone therapy or surgery.
Gender identity is not a new concept. Societies around the world and throughout history have recognized and respected diverse gender identities. Partly as a result of colonization by Western European countries, there are now widespread expectations that a person’s sex must align with their gender identity. Those who do not meet these expectations experience higher rates of marginalization, harassment, violence, and discrimination. These experiences of oppression are amplified by factors additional to gender, including race, ability, class, religion, and sexual orientation.
Using language that recognizes and affirms both the general existence of gender diversity and the gender identity of the particular people we are interacting with is a crucial part of resisting these forms of oppression.
People express their gender in a variety of ways, such as through clothing, hairstyle, speech, and activities. Traditionally, some expressions have been identified as masculine and others have been identified as feminine. A mix of the two is commonly described as androgynous.
In many Canadian communities, there are widespread expectations that boys and men must be masculine, while girls and women must be feminine. Those who do not meet these expectations experience higher rates of marginalization, discrimination, harassment, and violence.
Broadening expectations of the way people of a particular gender should look or act is a crucial step toward resisting oppression based on gender expression.
What Does Trans* Mean?
We use the word trans* as an umbrella term to refer to the wide range of people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from traditional expectations based on the biological sex they were assigned at birth. The asterisk (*) is intended to include people with non-binary or fluid gender identities.
Some of the people who may identify as trans* include:
- People who were assigned male at birth but identify or express their gender as female all or part of the time (some use the term Male-to-Female or MTF)
- People who were assigned female at birth but identify or express their gender as male all or part of the time (some use the term Female-to-Male or FTM)
- People who identify their gender outside the construct of male/female (having no gender, being androgynous, having parts of multiple genders, etc. (some use the term Genderqueer)
- First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people who have dual gender identities, gender expressions or gender roles (some use the term Two-Spirit)
- People who explore gender for pleasure or performance (some use the term Drag King or Drag Queen)
- People who periodically wear clothing traditionally associated with a gender they do not identify with (some use the term Crossdresser)
Talking about Sexual Orientation
Many people mistakenly believe that being trans* is a sexual orientation. As previously explained, the range of identities in the trans* umbrella are gender identities, not sexual orientations. Sexual orientation has to do with who you are attracted to. For example:
- Women who are attracted to women might identify as lesbian
- Men who are attracted to men might identify as gay
- People who are attracted to men and woman might identify as bisexual
- People who identify as non-heterosexual might identify as queer
- People who are attracted to men, women, and those who identify outside of these categories might identify as pansexual or omnisexual
- People who do not experience sexual attraction to any gender might identify as asexual
- Men who are attracted to women and women who are attracted to men might identify as straight or heterosexual.
Everyone has both a gender identity and a sexual orientation. Like anybody, trans* people might identify as straight, pansexual, queer, asexual, bisexual, lesbian or gay (or something else).
Below you will find a link to a document about supporting trans* youth, created jointly by the Vancouver School Board and Vancouver Coastal Health:
- Chinese Version: Questions & Answers for Parents & Family members of Transgendered and Gender Variant Youth
- English Version: Questions & Answers for Parents & Family Members of Transgendered and Gender Variant Youth
If you are a trans* youth, or the parent of a trans* youth, these resources might be helpful: