Culturally, we tend to think of boys and girls as different species: “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. For the most part, our culture conceptualizes gender as two separate categories. Thinking of gender as two opposites is called a gender binary. Gender binaries keep the genders separate and leave no room for overlap.
In an attempt to reconcile the “battle of the sexes”, and begin to understand that both males and females have more overlapping qualities than they do different and distinct qualities, it can be beneficial to think of gender on a continuum (or spectrum) as opposed to inherently different groups of people. The same way people can range from short to tall in height, people can range from very boy to very girl in gender identity.
You can start by imagining a horizontal line, with one end very masculine (“very boy”), the middle neutral, and the far end very feminine (“very girl”):
Very Masculine———————Gender Neutral——————Very Feminine
Now remember that masculinity and femininity are simply qualities about you (what you wear, how you define yourself, how others define you, the activities you participate in, etc.). So regardless of your born SEX, your gender identity and how you express that gender are your choices and you are free to place yourself wherever you feel comfortable on a gender continuum. Your expression of your gender identity (and how you choose to identify yourself!!) can have both masculine and feminine qualities. Your gender identity can remain mostly neutral and you may choose not to make your gender a statement about who you are; it can be totally fashionista or it can be sporty athletic jock.
The choice is YOURS and you should feel empowered to express yourself authentically along a continuum rather than try to fit every part of yourself into either a purely “male” or “female” category!
Did You Know? Many gender identity experts prefer a more circular concept of gender expression. On a line continuum, if you move in any direction, you become less of one thing and more of another. However, ideally, being more of one thing would not make you less of another. Thinking of the continuum as circular can help to change that a bit. For more information on this see the Bonus YSS: The Genderbread Person.
Some people are born with male sex characteristics, but feel very much like a female inside: they identify with and like things in our culture that are considered to be female. The opposite is true too – many girls born with female sex organs feel very masculine inside. How they wish to express themselves in terms of gender is different than how they are built sexually. You can read more about this in the next post…
Post Question: Name three ways you identify with the gender that is different than your designated sex!