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Updated 23 August 2013

Chelsea Manning: what is gender identity?

This article explains what is meant by gender and gender identity.

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The issue of gender identity is in the spotlight after US soldier Bradley Manning, sentenced for leaking classified US documents, said he is female and wants to live as a woman named Chelsea.

When a child is born, the midwife or doctor looks at the baby’s genitals and declares it a boy or a girl accordingly. In most cases, this method of assigning gender at birth fits the person without any problems. However, a person’s gender is actually quite complicated and as a result this simple method of assigning gender doesn’t always work.

A small number of people find the gender they are assigned does not match their gender identity - that is, their internal sense of where they exist in relation to being boys/men or girls/women.

A wide variety of terms can be used to describe a person whose gender identity is different from their birth gender label. In some countries, it is currently common to use the term transgender people as an ‘umbrella term’ to cover these many diverse labels. However, it is important not to end up overlooking the huge diversity in identity, experiences and concerns between the various types of transgender people.

Not sexual orientation
Put simply: gender refers to who you are, while sexual orientation refers to who you are attracted to.

Transgender people can be straight, gay or bisexual just the same as everyone else.

Male-to-female transsexual women can be described as straight if they are attracted to men, lesbian if they are attracted to women or bisexual if they are attracted to both men and women. Likewise, female-to-male transsexual men can be described as straight if they are attracted to women, gay if they are attracted to men or bisexual if they are attracted to both men and women.

Different to intersexed
Sometimes a baby’s external genitals, their internal reproductive system or their chromosomes are in between what is considered clearly male or female. People born with these kinds of variations are often referred to as intersex people and there are many different intersex conditions.

The issues faced by intersex people can sometimes be similar to those faced by transgender people. For example: both intersex and transgender people might face being labelled by others as a gender that doesn’t match their gender identity. Also, both may perhaps undergo hormone treatment or surgical procedures in order to bring their physical appearance more closely into alignment with their gender identity.

However, there are also very significant differences between the experiences of transgender people and intersex people so it is important not to get intersex and transgender confused with each other.

- Adapted from Gender Identity - An Information Booklet For Transgender People In Scotland and Their Families and Friends

Read more:
Opening the closet doors
Helping teens who come out

 
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