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Gender 101

10 min
In this unit, we will unpack why it is important to understand one's gender identity, define terms that refer to someone's gender identity, and provide an opportunity to reflect on what you learned.

Content created by our partner OK2BME

A Map of Gender Diversity

Gender is one of the many components that can make up someone's identity. It is important to note that gender diversity exists beyond Canadian and American contexts. Many cultures recognize that there are more than 2 genders.

There are many different gender identities that we will define later in this unit. These gender identities include male, female, transgender, non-binary, gender-neutral, agender, pangender, genderqueer, Two-Sprit, third-gender, and all, none, or a combination of these. Gender diversity has been around for a very long time!

Interact with the map below to explore different regions' history with gender identity and diversity.

Some (but not all) gender identity terms:

Expand the drop downs below learn some gender identity terms. The terms people use to describe their gender identity are always evolving. The most important thing is to be respectful and use the terms that people prefer.

People can have different experiences and face different barriers in life depending on their gender identity. For example, transgender people can face challenges to develop a sense of belonging. We shared some statistics below that illustrate just a snapshot of the challenges that some transgender people go through.

  • 47% had to move away from their friends and family because of their gender identity.
  • 59% worry about growing old and alone.
  • 65% have been objectified or fetishized.
  • 73% fear they will die young.
  • 86% have tried to pass as non-trans.

(Outlook study, 2018)

People who are not cisgender can face what is called minority stress.

Minority stress = homo/bi/transphobia + Stigma (expectations of rejection and discrimination) + actual experience of discrimination & violence.

The higher the minority stress level, the higher the risk for mental health problems.

The increased challenges that non-cisgender people can face, including minority stress, are just a few of the reasons why cisgender people need to learn about gender identities.

One key step in learning about gender identity is understanding what makes up someone's gender identity. Over the next few sections, we will define the concepts listed below to unpack what gender identity is.

  • Gender schema
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression

Gender Schema Theory

By: Sandra Bem

  • Gender Schema Theory explains how individuals become gendered in a society or associate with one of the genders listed at the beginning of this unit, a gender not listed, or no gender at all.
  • A gender schema is an organized set of gender-related beliefs which lead people to perceive gender in the world. These beliefs can include what clothes someone wears, activities they like, or behaviors that are assumed 'acceptable' or 'unacceptable' for their gender.
  • Someone's self-esteem can be impacted as they try to match society's expectations with their personal preferences and gender identity.
  • It is important to understand gender schema theory as it explains some of the processes through which gender stereotypes become psychologically ingrained in our society.

Gender schema helps us understand gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes influence the roles that people feel they need to follow to be considered one gender or another. As people develop gender schemas, stereotypes can impact what a person believes to be acceptable or unacceptable for persons of their gender identity. Stereotypes are harmful; by being aware of some common stereotypes, we might be better equipped to recognize others.

Expand the drop downs below to see examples of each stereotype.

Let’s take a look at the Gender Unicorn and break down gender identity and gender expression.

It is important to note that gender identity is not always equal to gender expression and vice versa!

Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is a person’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned gender.”

(Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “Policy on Preventing Discrimination Because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression.”)

Gender expression is how a person publicly expresses or presents their gender. This can include behavior and outward appearances such as dress, hair, make-up, body language and voice. A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways of expressing gender. Others perceive a person’s gender through these attributes.”

(Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “Policy on Preventing Discrimination Because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression.”)

It’s time to reflect! Refer back to the Gender Unicorn:
Where do you fall on the gender identity scale?

It’s time to reflect! Refer back to the Gender Unicorn:
Are your gender identity and gender expression aligned?

Gender Identity:

Gender Expression:

It’s important to know that someone’s gender identity may not align with their gender expression.

Instead of assuming someone’s gender, it is always better to allow people to choose to share their gender or not. Someone's name and pronouns are two ways in which people express their gender identity.

Using inclusive language is important to accommodate and respect everyone. The words we use to refer to gender identity and expression are constantly evolving. You can visit sources like OK2BME to learn what words are commonly preferred and why. It is important to use inclusive, correct language because it helps you:

  • Avoid excluding certain groups and/or people.
  • Respect everyone’s unique identity.
  • Welcome diversity.
  • Lead by example to inform the actions of others.

Things to remember:

The language we use in reference to someone's gender identity and expression is important.

Gender diversity exists beyond Canadian and American contexts and has existed for a very long time.

2SLGBTQ+ folks face greater challenges than cisgender people.

How would you rate this education unit?
1 = would not recommend; 5 = would recommend

  • 5
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  • 2
  • 1

Did you learn something new?

  • Yes
  • No

Congratulations. Unit Complete!

“Call yourself a planet because all this space derives from punctured cells and this floatation device called gender is permitting you to wander.”

- Aimee Herman, Meant to Wake Up Feeling