Who are We?
A person's sex does not determine their gender identity. For most people, their sex and gender identities are in alignment. In this case, they would be cisgender, and according to Flores et al (2016), they represent around 99% of the US general population. In other cases, people's sex don't match with their gender identity. This is what being transgender means. For instance, if someone assigned female-at-birth identifies as a man, he would be a transgender man. Transgender, or trans, individuals represent the other 1% of the population.
As our understanding of gender evolves, a growing number of people find that the traditional labels, "male" and "female", don't adequately capture their gender identity — these people are non-binary. While non-binary individuals fall under the transgender umbrella, it can also be an umbrella term for other non-binary identities. These include, but aren't not limited to, agender, bigender, genderfluid, genderqueer, and Third Gender.
You can read more about the difference between sex and gender in our blog post here.
Is Gender Binary?
Over time, our understanding of gender has moved away from a binary towards a spectrum. Other cultures have different traditional notions of gender. For example, some Native American tribes generally recognize five distinct gender identities: Female, Male, Two-Spirit Female, Two-Spirit Male, and Transgender Individuals (Robinson, 2019; Jacobs et al, 1997). While this aspect of their culture was disrupted with the arrival of colonizers on their land, their idea of gender is slowly coming back into mainstream consciousness.
Why is society today built on the rigid gender binary system? There's no clear answer, but there are a lot of theories. The functionalist perspective, for instance, claims that division of labor is necessary for society to function, and that this was division of labor was done on the basis of gender (Levitt, 2019). Some argue that this has allowed for a patriarchal society to develop.
Moving Past the Binary
It's clear that gender has a profound impact on our life, both personally and socially. That being said, it's important to dismantle the gender binary to understand its impact on our lives, regardless of our sex and gender identity.
One way forward is to acknowledge the wide range of people's experiences. While we have come a long way in terms of gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights, there are many that don't yet understand their importance. Communication and patience are key in these cases. Remember, change rarely happens overnight.
Robinson, M. (2019). Two-Spirit Identity in a Time of Gender Fluidity. Journal of Homosexuality.
Jacobs, S.; Thomas, W.; Lang, S. (Eds.): Two-spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality, and spirituality, page 4. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
Levitt, H.M., 2019. Applications of a Functionalist Theory of Gender: A Response to Reflections and Research Agenda. Vol. 43(3). Psychology of Women Quarterly.