Research found that 5.6% of U.S. adults identify as LGBT, 0.6% as transgender, and 0.2% as other (queer, etc.), according to Gallup’s 2020 update on lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender identification.
These percentages are rising, with each younger generation often feeling more comfortable identifying as a gender other than cisgender. The increase in differing identifications makes it essential for people to better understand gender identity to be accepting of and respectful to others.
You may be familiar with the types of gender identities that exist in society today, but understanding the different types of gender identity is critical to being a respectful person. This post will explain some of the most common types of gender identity and expression, why gender identity is important, and what to do if you’re on your own exploration of gender.
Sexual Orientation vs. Gender Identity
It’s vital to understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation refers to who someone is attracted to. Gender identity is who someone feels themselves to be. A saying you may find helpful to understand the difference is “sexual orientation is who you go to bed with, gender identity is who you go to bed as.”
What Are the Types of Gender Identity?
Here’s a brief description of some types of gender identity so you can increase your understanding of the variations that exist. Keep in mind, terms within the trans and gender-nonconforming community are ever-changing and evolving as our understanding of gender becomes more nuanced, so some of these terms might change in the future.
- Agender – People who identify as agender describe themselves as not having a gender or lacking gender altogether. They may describe themselves as having no gender to express.
- Bigender – A person who identifies as bigender has two unique gender identities. It’s usually categorized as a type of transgender identity.
- Cisgender – Cisgender is the term used to describe someone whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. “Cis” in Latin means “on the same side as.”
- Gender Expansive – Gender expansive refers to anyone who is not cisgender. Someone might also describe their identity as gender expansive if they fall into more than one category or simply want to describe it that way.
- Gender Fluid – Gender fluid refers to someone whose gender identity is not fixed or doesn’t stay the same from day to day or even hour to hour.
- Genderqueer – This term is an umbrella for people who don’t identify as cisgender. People who identify as genderqueer may also identify as agender, gender fluid, or another category in addition to this descriptor.
- Non-binary – The gender binary is the system that separates the category of gender into two: man and woman. Those who identify as non-binary feel that you can’t describe their gender in binary terms. Therefore, they are non-binary.
- Transgender – Someone who identifies as transgender feels their gender is different than their sex assigned at birth. Trans people don’t have to receive gender-affirming medical treatment (hormonal treatment, surgeries) to identify as trans.
What is the Difference Between Gender Identity and Gender Expression?
Gender identity is how someone feels themselves to be — man, woman, genderfluid, agender, or otherwise. Gender expression is how a person chooses their aesthetic to express how they feel regarding their gender. That might include wearing makeup, dresses, and heels for some people. For others, it could be a combination of masculine clothes, feminine mannerisms, and other aesthetic looks that feel authentic to them in the way they want to express themselves that day.
Why is it Important to Know Your Gender Identity?
The expression of your gender is an integral part of your self-identity and is central to your mental health and well-being. Understanding your gender identity can help you understand how you relate to those around you, what your place is in your community, and how you can express yourself in authentic ways.
Whether you choose to go with traditional gender norms or express yourself in entirely different ways, knowing your gender identity helps you understand yourself. Knowing yourself is key to mental health.
Why It’s Critical to Respect Someone Else’s Gender Identity
Contrary to some people’s ideas, it’s not necessary to completely understand another person’s gender identity for you to be able to respect them. It’s helpful to have some background information on gender, but it’s not critical that you have a complete history of a person’s gender milestones and growth process.
Being affirming toward the trans and gender-nonconforming community is considered common decency. Respecting people’s gender identity is central to respecting them as a human. Even if you don’t fully understand someone’s choices, don’t be unkind to people based solely on the fact that their gender identity is different from yours.
What to Do If You’re Confused
This post merely skims the surface of gender studies. If you find that you’re still confused, wanting to learn more, or questioning your gender, these tips can help you in your journey toward understanding gender identity.
- Do Research and Educate Yourself – Many free resources provide good information regarding trans and gender nonconforming identities and communities. Spend some time finding local groups or resources that can connect you directly to communities made up of experts.
- Listen and Show Respect – What’s the best thing to do when you don’t know the answer to something? Ask someone who does, then listen! You may understand the nuances of gender and gender identity, but if you’re speaking with someone in the community, know that they are the expert on their own experiences.
- Keep Their Confidences – If someone confides in you about their gender identity, sexual orientation, or anything else personal about themselves, don’t assume it’s your job to tell the whole world what that person told you. They will announce what they want and to whom they wish to when the time is right for them.
- Volunteer Your Help – Get involved in your local LGBTQ+ community organizations. Maybe you can volunteer to help with fundraisers, raise awareness, or be involved in a way that works for you. Showing support through these organizations is a wonderful way to signal to others that you’re an ally.
- Get Support if Needed – Many therapists specialize in gender. They can help individuals questioning their gender identity work through emotions, find support, and develop healthy coping strategies that promote mental health and well-being. Mental health professionals can specialize in gender issues, the LGBTQ+ community, and other populations. They may be helpful for someone struggling with their own gender identity or who just wants to learn more about it.
Let All Counseling Can Help
All Counseling’s therapist directory offers a full list of therapists who specialize in gender identity issues. This list can help you connect you to a therapist who will assist you in expressing your thoughts and feelings related to gender identity, exploring your concept of your gender identity, or making meaningful progress in your mental health journey.