Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Read our research on:

Full Topic List

Regions & Countries

  • Publications
  • Our Methods
  • Short Reads
  • Tools & Resources

Read Our Research On:

gender identity issues essay

The Experiences, Challenges and Hopes of Transgender and Nonbinary U.S. Adults

Findings from pew research center focus groups, table of contents, identity and the gender journey, navigating gender day-to-day, seeking medical care for gender transitions , connections with the broader lgbtq+ community, policy and social change.

  • Focus groups
  • The American Trends Panel survey methodology
  • Panel recruitment
  • Sample design
  • Questionnaire development and testing
  • Data collection protocol
  • Data quality checks
  • Acknowledgments

Introduction

Transgender and nonbinary people have gained visibility in the U.S. in recent years as celebrities from  Laverne Cox  to  Caitlyn Jenner  to  Elliot Page  have spoken openly about their gender transitions. On March 30, 2022, the White House issued a proclamation  recognizing Transgender Day of Visibility , the first time a U.S. president has done so.  

More recently, singer and actor Janelle Monáe  came out as nonbinary , while the U.S. State Department and Social Security Administration announced that Americans  will be allowed to select “X” rather than “male” or “female” for their sex  marker on their passport and Social Security applications. 

At the same time, several states have enacted or are considering legislation that would  limit the rights of transgender and nonbinary people . These include bills requiring people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth, prohibiting trans athletes from competing on teams that match their gender identity, and restricting the availability of health care to trans youth seeking to medically transition. 

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary – that is, their gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This includes people who describe themselves as a man, a woman or nonbinary, or who use terms such as gender fluid or agender to describe their gender. While relatively few U.S. adults are transgender, a growing share say they know someone who is (44% today vs.  37% in 2017 ). One-in-five say they know someone who doesn’t identify as a man or woman. 

In order to better understand the experiences of transgender and nonbinary adults at a time when gender identity is at the center of many national debates, Pew Research Center conducted a series of focus groups with trans men, trans women and nonbinary adults on issues ranging from their gender journey, to how they navigate issues of gender in their day-to-day life, to what they see as the most pressing policy issues facing people who are trans or nonbinary. This is part of a larger study that includes a survey of the general public on their attitudes about gender identity and issues related to people who are transgender or nonbinary.

The terms  transgender  and  trans  are used interchangeably throughout this essay to refer to people whose gender is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This includes, but is not limited to, transgender men (that is, men who were assigned female at birth) and transgender women (women who were assigned male at birth). 

Nonbinary adults  are defined here as those who are neither a man nor a woman or who aren’t strictly one or the other. While some nonbinary focus group participants sometimes use different terms to describe themselves, such as “gender queer,” “gender fluid” or “genderless,” all said the term “nonbinary” describes their gender in the screening questionnaire. Some, but not all, nonbinary participants also consider themselves to be transgender.

References to  gender transitions  relate to the process through which trans and nonbinary people express their gender as different from social expectations associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. This may include social, legal and medical transitions. The social aspect of a gender transition may include going by a new name or using different pronouns, or expressing their gender through their dress, mannerisms, gender roles or other ways. The legal aspect may include legally changing their name or changing their sex or gender designation on legal documents or identification.  Medical care  may include treatments such as hormone therapy, laser hair removal and/or surgery. 

References to  femme  indicate feminine gender expression. This is often in contrast to “masc,” meaning masculine gender expression.

Cisgender  is used to describe people whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth and who do not identify as transgender or nonbinary. 

Misgendering  is defined as referring to or addressing a person in ways that do not align with their gender identity, including using incorrect pronouns, titles (such as “sir” or “ma’am”), and other terms (such as “son” or “daughter”) that do not match their gender. 

References to  dysphoria  may include feelings of distress due to the mismatch of one’s gender and sex assigned at birth, as well as a  diagnosis of gender dysphoria , which is sometimes a prerequisite for access to health care and medical transitions.

The acronym  LGBTQ+  refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or, in some cases, questioning), and other sexual orientations or gender identities that are not straight or cisgender, such as intersex, asexual or pansexual. 

Pew Research Center conducted this research to better understand the experiences and views of transgender and nonbinary U.S. adults. Because transgender and nonbinary people make up only about 1.6% of the adult U.S. population, this is a difficult population to reach with a probability-based, nationally representative survey. As an alternative, we conducted a series of focus groups with trans and nonbinary adults covering a variety of topics related to the trans and nonbinary experience. This allows us to go more in-depth on some of these topics than a survey would typically allow, and to share these experiences in the participants’ own words.

For this project, we conducted six online focus groups, with a total of 27 participants (four to five participants in each group), from March 8-10, 2022. Participants were recruited by targeted email outreach among a panel of adults who had previously said on a survey that they were transgender or nonbinary, as well as via connections through professional networks and LGBTQ+ organizations, followed by a screening call. Candidates were eligible if they met the technology requirements to participate in an online focus group and if they either said they consider themselves to be transgender or if they said their gender was nonbinary or another identity other than man or woman (regardless of whether or not they also said they were transgender). For more details, see the  Methodology . 

Participants who qualified were placed in groups as follows: one group of nonbinary adults only (with a nonbinary moderator); one group of trans women only (with a trans woman moderator); one group of trans men only (with a trans man moderator); and three groups with a mix of trans and nonbinary adults (with either a nonbinary moderator or a trans man moderator). All of the moderators had extensive experience facilitating groups, including with transgender and nonbinary participants. 

The participants were a mix of ages, races/ethnicities, and were from all corners of the country. For a detailed breakdown of the participants’ demographic characteristics, see the  Methodology .

The findings are not statistically representative and cannot be extrapolated to wider populations.

Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity or to remove identifying details. In this essay, participants are identified as trans men, trans women, or nonbinary adults based on their answers to the screening questionnaire. These words don’t necessarily encompass all of the ways in which participants described their gender. Participants’ ages are grouped into the following categories:  late teens; early/mid/late 20s, 30s and 40s; and 50s and 60s (those ages 50 to 69 were grouped into bigger “buckets” to better preserve their anonymity).

These focus groups were not designed to be representative of the entire population of trans and nonbinary U.S. adults, but the participants’ stories provide a glimpse into some of the experiences of people who are transgender and/or nonbinary. The groups included a total of 27 transgender and nonbinary adults from around the U.S. and ranging in age from late teens to mid-60s. Most currently live in an urban area, but about half said they grew up in a suburb. The groups included a mix of White, Black, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial American participants. See  Methodology  for more details.

gender identity issues essay

Most focus group participants said they knew from an early age – many as young as preschool or elementary school – that there was something different about them, even if they didn’t have the words to describe what it was. Some described feeling like they didn’t fit in with other children of their sex but didn’t know exactly why. Others said they felt like they were in the wrong body. 

“I remember preschool, [where] the boys were playing on one side and the girls were playing on the other, and I just had a moment where I realized what side I was supposed to be on and what side people thought I was supposed to be on. … Yeah, I always knew that I was male, since my earliest memories.” – Trans man, late 30s

“As a small child, like around kindergarten [or] first grade … I just was [fascinated] by how some people were small girls, and some people were small boys, and it was on my mind constantly. And I started to feel very uncomfortable, just existing as a young girl.” – Trans man, early 30s

“I was 9 and I was at day camp and I was changing with all the other 9-year-old girls … and I remember looking at everybody’s body around me and at my own body, and even though I was visually seeing the exact shapeless nine-year-old form, I literally thought to myself, ‘oh, maybe I was supposed to be a boy,’ even though I know I wasn’t seeing anything different. … And I remember being so unbothered by the thought, like not a panic, not like, ‘oh man, I’m so different, like everybody here I’m so different and this is terrible,’ I was like, ‘oh, maybe I was supposed to be a boy,’ and for some reason that exact quote really stuck in my memory.” – Nonbinary person, late 30s

“Since I was little, I felt as though I was a man who, when they were passing out bodies, someone made a goof and I got a female body instead of the male body that I should have had. But I was forced by society, especially at that time growing up, to just make my peace with having a female body.” – Nonbinary person, 50s

“I’ve known ever since I was little. I’m not really sure the age, but I just always knew when I put on boy clothes, I just felt so uncomfortable.” – Trans woman, late 30s

“It was probably as early as I can remember that I wasn’t like my brother or my father [and] not exactly like my girl cousins but I was something else, but I didn’t know what it was.” – Nonbinary person, 60s

Many participants were well into adulthood before they found the words to describe their gender. For those focus group participants, the path to self-discovery varied. Some described meeting someone who was transgender and relating to their experience; others described learning about people who are trans or nonbinary in college classes or by doing their own research.  

“I read a Time magazine article … called ‘Homosexuality in America’ … in 1969. … Of course, we didn’t have language like we do now or people were not willing to use it … [but] it was kind of the first word that I had ever heard that resonated with me at all. So, I went to school and I took the magazine, we were doing show-and-tell, and I stood up in front of the class and said, ‘I am a homosexual.’ So that began my journey to figure this stuff out.” – Nonbinary person, 60s

“It wasn’t until maybe I was 20 or so when my friend started his transition where I was like, ‘Wow, that sounds very similar to the emotions and challenges I am going through with my own identity.’ … My whole life from a very young age I was confused, but I didn’t really put a name on it until I was about 20.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s

“I knew about drag queens, but I didn’t know what trans was until I got to college and was exposed to new things, and that was when I had a word for myself for the first time.” – Trans man, early 40s

“I thought that by figuring out that I was interested in women, identifying as lesbian, I thought [my anxiety and sadness] would dissipate in time, and that was me cracking the code. But then, when I got older, I left home for the first time. I started to meet other trans people in the world. That’s when I started to become equipped with the vocabulary. The understanding that this is a concept, and this makes sense. And that’s when I started to understand that I wasn’t cisgender.” – Trans man, early 30s

“When I took a human sexuality class in undergrad and I started learning about gender and different sexualities and things like that, I was like, ‘oh my god. I feel seen.’ So, that’s where I learned about it for the first time and started understanding how I identify.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s

Focus group participants used a wide range of words to describe how they see their gender. For many nonbinary participants, the term “nonbinary” is more of an umbrella term, but when it comes to how they describe themselves, they tend to use words like “gender queer” or “gender fluid.” The word “queer” came up many times across different groups, often to describe anyone who is not straight or cisgender. Some trans men and women preferred just the terms “man” or “woman,” while some identified strongly with the term “transgender.” The graphic below shows just some of the words the participants used to describe their gender.

gender identity issues essay

The way nonbinary people conceptualize their gender varies. Some said they feel like they’re both a man and a woman – and how much they feel like they are one or the other may change depending on the day or the circumstance. Others said they don’t feel like they are either a man or a woman, or that they don’t have a gender at all. Some, but not all, also identified with the term transgender. 

“I had days where I would go out and just play with the boys and be one of the boys, and then there would be times that I would play with the girls and be one of the girls. And then I just never really knew what I was. I just knew that I would go back and forth.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s

“Growing up with more of a masculine side or a feminine side, I just never was a fan of the labelling in terms of, ‘oh, this is a bit too masculine, you don’t wear jewelry, you don’t wear makeup, oh you’re not feminine enough.’ … I used to alternate just based on who I felt I was. So, on a certain day if I felt like wearing a dress, or a skirt versus on a different day, I felt like wearing what was considered men’s pants. … So, for me it’s always been both.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s

“I feel like my gender is so amorphous and hard to hold and describe even. It’s been important to find words for it, to find the outlines of it, to see the shape of it, but it’s not something that I think about as who I am, because I’m more than just that.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“What words would I use to describe me? Genderless, if gender wasn’t a thing. … I guess if pronouns didn’t exist and you just called me [by my name]. That’s what my gender is. … And I do use nonbinary also, just because it feels easier, I guess.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s

Some participants said their gender is one of the most important parts of their identity, while others described it as one of many important parts or a small piece of how they see themselves. For some, the focus on gender can get tiring. Those who said gender isn’t a central – or at least not the most central – part of their identity mentioned race, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic class as important aspects that shape their identity and experiences.

“It is tough because [gender] does affect every factor of your life. If you are doing medical transitioning then you have appointments, you have to pay for the appointments, you have to be working in a job that supports you to pay for those appointments. So, it is definitely integral, and it has a lot of branches. And it deals with how you act, how you relate to friends, you know, I am sure some of us can relate to having to come out multiple times in our lives. That is why sexuality and gender are very integral and I would definitely say I am proud of it. And I think being able to say that I am proud of it, and my gender, I guess is a very important part of my identity.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s

“Sometimes I get tired of thinking about my gender because I am actively [undergoing my medical transition]. So, it is a lot of things on my mind right now, constantly, and it sometimes gets very tiring. I just want to not have to think about it some days. So, I would say it’s, it’s probably in my top three [most important parts of my identity] – parent, Black, queer nonbinary.” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s

“I live in a town with a large queer and trans population and I don’t have to think about my gender most of the time other than having to come out as trans. But I’m poor and that colors everything. It’s not a chosen part of my identity but that part of my identity is a lot more influential than my gender.” – Trans man, early 40s

“My gender is very important to my identity because I feel that they go hand in hand. Now my identity is also broken down into other factors [like] character, personality and other stuff that make up the recipe for my identity. But my gender plays a big part of it. … It is important because it’s how I live my life every day. When I wake up in the morning, I do things as a woman.” – Trans woman, mid-40s

“I feel more strongly connected to my other identities outside of my gender, and I feel like parts of it’s just a more universal thing, like there’s a lot more people in my socioeconomic class and we have much more shared experiences.” – Trans man, late 30s

Some participants spoke about how their gender interacted with other aspects of their identity, such as their race, culture and religion. For some, being transgender or nonbinary can be at odds with other parts of their identity or background. 

“Culturally I’m Dominican and Puerto Rican, a little bit of the macho machismo culture, in my family, and even now, if I’m going to be a man, I’ve got to be a certain type of man. So, I cannot just be who I’m meant to be or who I want myself to be, the human being that I am.” – Trans man, mid-30s

“[Judaism] is a very binary religion. There is a lot of things like for men to do and a lot of things for women to do. … So, it is hard for me now as a gender queer person, right, to connect on some levels with [my] religion … I have just now been exposed to a bunch of trans Jewish spaces online which is amazing.” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s

“Just being Indian American, I identify and love aspects of my culture and ethnicity, and I find them amazing and I identify with that, but it’s kind of separated. So, I identify with the culture, then I identify here in terms of gender and being who I am, but I kind of feel the necessity to separate the two, unfortunately.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s

“I think it’s really me being a Black woman or a Black man that can sometimes be difficult. And also, my ethnic background too. It’s really rough for me with my family back home and things of that nature.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s

gender identity issues essay

For some, deciding how open to be about their gender identity can be a constant calculation. Some participants reported that they choose whether or not to disclose that they are trans or nonbinary in a given situation based on how safe or comfortable they feel and whether it’s necessary for other people to know. This also varies depending on whether the participant can easily pass as a cisgender man or woman (that is, they can blend in so that others assume them to be cisgender and don’t recognize that they are trans or nonbinary).

“It just depends on whether I feel like I have the energy to bring it up, or if it feels worth it to me like with doctors and stuff like that. I always bring it up with my therapists, my primary [care doctor], I feel like she would get it. I guess it does vary on the situation and my capacity level.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s

“I decide based on the person and based on the context, like if I feel comfortable enough to share that piece of myself with them, because I do have the privilege of being able to move through the world and be identified as cis[gender] if I want to. But then it is important to me – if you’re important to me, then you will know who I am and how I identify. Otherwise, if I don’t feel comfortable or safe then I might not.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“The expression of my gender doesn’t vary. Who I let in to know that I was formerly female – or formerly perceived as female – is kind of on a need to know basis.” – Trans man, 60s

“It’s important to me that people not see me as cis[gender], so I have to come out a lot when I’m around new people, and sometimes that’s challenging. … It’s not information that comes out in a normal conversation. You have to force it and that’s difficult sometimes.” – Trans man, early 40s

Work is one realm where many participants said they choose not to share that they are trans or nonbinary. In some cases, this is because they want to be recognized for their work rather than the fact that they are trans or nonbinary; in others, especially for nonbinary participants, they fear it will be perceived as unprofessional.

“It’s gotten a lot better recently, but I feel like when you’re nonbinary and you use they/them pronouns, it’s just seen as really unprofessional and has been for a lot of my life.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“Whether it’s LinkedIn or profiles [that] have been updated, I’ve noticed people’s resumes have their pronouns now. I don’t go that far because I just feel like it’s a professional environment, it’s nobody’s business.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s

“I don’t necessarily volunteer the information just to make it public; I want to be recognized for my character, my skill set, in my work in other ways.” – Trans man, early 30s

Some focus group participants said they don’t mind answering questions about what it’s like to be trans or nonbinary but were wary of being seen as the token trans or nonbinary person in their workplace or among acquaintances. Whether or not they are comfortable answering these types of questions sometimes depends on who’s asking, why they want to know, and how personal the questions get.

“I’ve talked to [my cousin about being trans] a lot because she has a daughter, and her daughter wants to transition. So, she always will come to me asking questions.” – Trans woman, early 40s

“It is tough being considered the only resource for these topics, right? In my job, I would hate to call myself the token nonbinary, but I was the first nonbinary person that they hired and they were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, let me ask you all the questions as you are obviously the authority on the subject.’ And it is like, ‘No, that is a part of me, but there are so many other great resources.’” – Nonbinary person, late 20s

“I don’t want to be the token. I’m not going to be no spokesperson. If you have questions, I’m the first person you can ask. Absolutely. I don’t mind discussing. Ask me some of the hardest questions, because if you ask somebody else you might get you know your clock cleaned. So, ask me now … so you can be educated properly. Otherwise, I don’t believe it’s anybody’s business.” – Trans woman, early 40s

Most nonbinary participants said they use “they/them” as their pronouns, but some prefer alternatives. These alternatives include a combination of gendered and gender-neutral pronouns (like she/they) or simply preferring that others use one’s names rather than pronouns. 

“If I could, I would just say my name is my pronoun, which I do in some spaces, but it just is not like a larger view. It feels like I’d rather have less labor on me in that regard, so I just say they/them.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s

“For me personally, I don’t get mad if someone calls me ‘he’ because I see what they’re looking at. They look and they see a guy. So, I don’t get upset. I know a few people who do … and they correct you. Me, I’m a little more fluid. So, that’s how it works for me.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s

“I use they/she pronouns and I put ‘they’ first because that is what I think is most comfortable and it’s what I want to draw people’s attention to, because I’m 5 feet tall and 100 pounds so it’s not like I scream masculine at first sight, so I like putting ‘they’ first because otherwise people always default to ‘she.’ But I have ‘she’ in there, and I don’t know if I’d have ‘she’ in there if I had not had kids.” – Nonbinary person, late 30s

“Why is it so hard for people to think of me as nonbinary? I choose not to use only they/them pronouns because I do sometimes identify with ‘she.’ But I’m like, ‘Do I need to use they/them pronouns to be respected as nonbinary?’ Sometimes I feel like I should do that. But I don’t want to feel like I should do anything. I just want to be myself and have that be accepted and respected.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“I have a lot of patience for people, but [once someone in public used] they/them pronouns and I thanked them and they were like, ‘Yeah, I just figure I’d do it when I don’t know [someone’s] pronouns.’ And I’m like, ‘I love it, thank you.’” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

Transgender and nonbinary participants find affirmation of their gender identity and support in various places. Many cited their friends, chosen families (and, less commonly, their relatives), therapists or other health care providers, religion, or LGBTQ+ spaces as sources of support.

“I’m just not close with my family [of origin], but I have a huge chosen family that I love and that fully respects my identity.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“Before the pandemic I used to go out to bars a lot; there’s a queer bar in my town and it was a really nice place just being friends with everybody who went and everybody who worked there, it felt really nice you know, and just hearing everybody use the right pronouns for me it just felt really good.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“I don’t necessarily go to a lot of dedicated support groups, but I found that there’s kind of a good amount of support in areas or groups or fandoms for things that have a large LGBT population within them. Like certain shows or video games, where it’s just kind of a joke that all the gay people flock to this.”  – Trans woman, late teens

“Being able to practice my religion in a location with a congregation that is just completely chill about it, or so far has been completely chill about it, has been really amazing.” – Nonbinary person, late 30s

Many participants shared specific moments they said were small in the grand scheme of things but made them feel accepted and affirmed. Examples included going on dates, gestures of acceptance by a friend or social group, or simply participating in everyday activities.

“I went on a date with a really good-looking, handsome guy. And he didn’t know that I was trans. But I told him, and we kept talking and hanging out. … That’s not the first time that I felt affirmed or felt like somebody is treating me as I present myself. But … he made me feel wanted and beautiful.” – Trans woman, late 30s

“I play [on a men’s rec league] hockey [team]. … I joined the league like right when I first transitioned and I showed up and I was … nervous with locker rooms and stuff, and they just accepted me as male right away.” – Trans man, late 30s

“I ended up going into a barbershop. … The barber was very welcoming, and talked to me as if I was just a casual customer and there was something that clicked within that moment where, figuring out my gender identity, I just wanted to exist in the world to do these natural things like other boys and men would do. So, there was just something exciting about that. It wasn’t a super macho masculine moment, … he just made me feel like I blended in.” – Trans man, early 30s

Participants also talked about negative experiences, such as being misgendered, either intentionally or unintentionally. For example, some shared instances where they were treated or addressed as a gender other than the gender that they identify as, such as people referring to them as “he” when they go by “she,” or where they were deadnamed, meaning they were called by the name they had before they transitioned. 

“I get misgendered on the phone a lot and that’s really annoying. And then, even after I correct them, they keep doing it, sometimes on purpose and sometimes I think they’re just reading a script or something.” – Trans man, late 30s

“The times that I have been out, presenting femme, there is this very subconscious misgendering that people do and it can be very frustrating. [Once, at a restaurant,] I was dressed in makeup and nails and shoes and everything and still everyone was like, ‘Sir, what would you like?’ … Those little things – those microaggressions – they can really eat away at people.” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s

“People not calling me by the right name. My family is a big problem, they just won’t call me by my name, you know? Except for my nephew, who is of the Millennial generation, so at least he gets it.” – Nonbinary person, 60s

“I’m constantly misgendered when I go out places. I accept this – because of the way I look, people are going to perceive me as a woman and it doesn’t cause me huge dysphoria or anything, it’s just nice that the company that I keep does use the right pronouns.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

Some participants also shared stories of discrimination, bias, humiliation, and even violence. These experiences ranged from employment discrimination to being outed (that is, someone else disclosing the fact that they are transgender or nonbinary without their permission) without their permission to physical attacks.

“I was on a date with this girl and I had to use the bathroom … and the janitor … wouldn’t let me use the men’s room, and he kept refusing to let me use the men’s room, so essentially, I ended up having to use the same bathroom as my date.” – Trans man, late 30s

“I’ve been denied employment due to my gender identity. I walked into a supermarket looking for jobs. … And they flat out didn’t let me apply. They didn’t even let me apply.” – Trans man, mid-30s

“[In high school,] this group of guys said, ‘[name] is gay.’ I ignored them but they literally threw me and tore my shirt from my back and pushed me to the ground and tried to strip me naked. And I had to fight for myself and use my bag to hit him in the face.” – Trans woman, late 20s

“I took a college course [after] I had my name changed legally and the instructor called me out in front of the class and called me a liar and outed me.” – Trans man, late 30s 

gender identity issues essay

Many, but not all, participants said they have received  medical care , such as surgery or hormone therapy, as part of their gender transition. For those who haven’t undergone a medical transition, the reasons ranged from financial barriers to being nervous about medical procedures in general to simply not feeling that it was the right thing for them.

“For me to really to live my truth and live my identity, I had to have the surgery, which is why I went through it. It doesn’t mean [that others] have to, or that it will make you more or less of a woman because you have it. But for me to be comfortable, … that was a big part of it. And so, that’s why I felt I had to get it.” – Trans woman, early 40s

“I’m older and it’s an operation. … I’m just kind of scared, I guess. I’ve never had an operation. I mean, like any kind of operation. I’ve never been to the hospital or anything like that. So, it [is] just kind of scary. But I mean, I want to. I think about all the time. I guess have got to get the courage up to do it.” – Trans woman, early 40s

“I’ve decided that the dysphoria of a second puberty … would just be too much for me and I’m gender fluid enough where I’m happy, I guess.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“I’m too old to change anything, I mean I am what I am. [laughs]” – Nonbinary person, 60s

Many focus group participants who have sought medical treatment for their gender transition faced barriers, although some had positive experiences. For those who said there were barriers, the cost and the struggle to find sympathetic doctors were often cited as challenges. 

“I was flat out turned down by the primary care physician who had to give the go-ahead to give me a referral to an endocrinologist; I was just shut down. That was it, end of story.” – Nonbinary person, 50s

“I have not had surgery, because I can’t access surgery. So unless I get breast cancer and have a double mastectomy, surgery is just not going to happen … because my health insurance wouldn’t cover something like that. … It would be an out-of-pocket plastic surgery expense and I can’t afford that at this time.” – Nonbinary person, 50s

“Why do I need the permission of a therapist to say, ‘This person’s identity is valid,’ before I can get the health care that I need to be me, that is vital for myself and for my way of life?” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s

“[My doctor] is basically the first person that actually embraced me and made me accept [who I am].” – Trans woman, late 20s

Many people who transitioned in previous decades described how access has gotten much easier in recent years. Some described relying on underground networks to learn which doctors would help them obtain medical care or where to obtain hormones illegally. 

“It was hard financially because I started so long ago, just didn’t have access like that. Sometimes you have to try to go to Mexico or learn about someone in Mexico that was a pharmacist, I can remember that. That was a big thing, going through the border to Mexico, that was wild. So, it was just hard financially because they would charge so much for testosterone. And there was the whole bodybuilding community. If you were transitioning, you went to bodybuilders, and they would charge you five times what they got it [for], so it was kind of tough.” – Trans man, early 40s

“It was a lot harder to get a surgeon when I started transitioning; insurance was out of the question, there wasn’t really a national discussion around trans people and their particular medical needs. So, it was challenging having to pay everything out of pocket at a young age.” – Trans man, early 30s

“I guess it was hard for me to access hormones initially just because you had to jump through so many hoops, get letters, and then you had to find a provider that was willing to write it. And now it’s like people are getting it from their primary care doctor, which is great, but a very different experience than I had.” – Trans man, early 40s

gender identity issues essay

The discussions also touched on whether the participants feel a connection with a broader lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community or with other people who are LGBTQ+. Views varied, with some saying they feel an immediate connection with other people who are LGBTQ+, even with those who aren’t trans or nonbinary, and others saying they don’t necessarily feel this way. 

“It’s kind of a recurring joke where you can meet another LGBT person and it is like there is an immediate understanding, and you are basically talking and giving each other emotional support, like you have been friends for 10-plus years.” – Trans woman, late teens 

“I don’t think it’s automatic friendship between queer people, there’s like a kinship, but I don’t think there’s automatic friendship or anything. I think it’s just normal, like, how normal people make friends, just based on common interests.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s 

“I do think of myself as part of the LGBT [community] … I use the resources that are put in place for these communities, whether that’s different health care programs, support groups, they have the community centers. … So, I do consider myself to be part of this community, and I’m able to hopefully take when needed, as well as give back.” – Trans man, mid-30s

“I feel like that’s such an important part of being a part of the [LGBTQ+] alphabet soup community, that process of constantly learning and listening to each other and … growing and developing language together … I love that aspect of creating who we are together, learning and unlearning together, and I feel like that’s a part of at least the queer community spaces that I want to be in. That’s something that’s core to me.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“I identify as queer. I feel like I’m a part of the LGBT community. That’s more of a part of my identity than being trans. … Before I came out as trans, I identified as a lesbian. That was also a big part of my identity. So, that may be too why I feel like I’m more part of the LGB community.” – Trans man, early 40s

While many trans and nonbinary participants said they felt accepted by others in the LGBTQ+ community, some participants described their gender identity as a barrier to full acceptance. There was a sense among some participants that cisgender people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual don’t always accept people who are transgender or nonbinary.  

“I would really like to be included in the [LGBTQ+] community. But I have seen some people try to separate the T from LGB … I’ve run into a few situations throughout my time navigating the [LGBTQ+] community where I’ve been perceived – and I just want to say that there’s nothing wrong with this – I’ve been perceived as like a more feminine or gay man in a social setting, even though I’m heterosexual. … But the minute that that person found out that I wasn’t a gay man … and that I was actually a transgender person, they became cold and just distancing themselves. And I’ve been in a lot of those types of circumstances where there’s that divide between the rest of the community.” – Trans man, early 30s

“There are some lesbians who see trans men as being traitors to womanhood. Those are not people that I really identify with or want to be close to.” – Trans man, early 40s 

“It’s only in the past maybe dozen or so years, that an identity like gender fluid or gender queer was acceptable even within the LGBTQ+ community. … I tried to go to certain LGBTQ+ events as a trans man and, you know, I was not allowed in because I looked too female. The gay men would not allow me to participate.” – Nonbinary person, 50s 

“Technically based on the letters [in the acronym LGBTQ+] I am part of that community, but I’ve felt discrimination, it’s very heavily exclusive to people who are either gay or lesbian and I think that’s true … for queer or bisexual or asexual, intersex … anybody who’s not like exclusively hardcore gay or lesbian. It’s very exclusive, like excluding to those people. … I feel like the BTQ is a separate group of people…. So, I identify with the second half of the letters as a separate subset.” – Trans man, late 30s

gender identity issues essay

When asked to name the most important policy or political issues facing transgender and nonbinary people in the United States today, many participants named basic needs such as housing, employment, and health care. Others cited recent legislation or policies related to people who are transgender that have made national news.

“Housing is a huge issue. Health care might be good in New York, it might be good in California, but … it’s not a national equality for trans folks. Health care is not equal across the states. Housing is not equal across the states. So, I think that the issues right now that we’re all facing is health care and housing. That’s the top, the most important things.” – Trans woman, early 40s 

“Definitely education. I think that’s very important … Whether you identify as trans or not as a young child, it’s good to understand and know the different things under the umbrella, the queer umbrella. And it is also just a respect thing. And also, the violence that happens against trans and nonbinary people. I feel like educating them very young, that kind of helps – well, it is going to help because once you understand what’s going on and you see somebody that doesn’t identify the same as you, you’ll have that respect, or you’ll have that understanding and you’re less likely to be very violent towards them.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s 

“Employment is a big one. And I know that some areas, more metropolitan progressive-leaning areas, are really on top of this, but they’re trans people everywhere that are still being discriminated against. I think it’s a personal thing for me that goes back to my military service, but still, it’s just unfortunate. It’s an unfortunate reality.” – Trans man, early 30s

“I think just the strong intersectionality of trans people with mental health issues, or even physical health issues. … So in that way, accessing good health care or having good mental health.” – Trans man, late 30s

“I honestly think that the situation in Texas is the most pressing political and policy situation because it is a direct attack on the trans community. … And it is so insidious because it doesn’t just target bathrooms. This is saying that if you provide medical care to trans youth it is tantamount to child abuse. And it is so enraging because it is a known proven fact that access to gender affirming medical care saves lives. It saves the lives of trans youth. And trans youth have the highest suicide rate in the country.” – Nonbinary person, mid-40s 

Participants had different takes on what gets in the way of progress on issues facing transgender and nonbinary people. Some pointed to the lack of knowledge surrounding the history of these issues or not knowing someone who is transgender or nonbinary. Others mentioned misconceptions people might have about transgender and nonbinary people that influence their political and policy perspectives. 

“People who don’t know trans people, honestly … that’s the only barrier I can understand because people fear what they don’t know and then react to it a lot of the time.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“Sometimes even if they know someone, they still don’t consider them to be a human being, they are an ‘other,’ they are an ‘it,’ they are a ‘not like me,’ ‘not like my family,’ person and so they are put into a place socially where they can be treated badly.” – Nonbinary person, 50s

“Just the ignorance and misinformation and this quick fake social media fodder, where it encourages people who should not be part of the conversation to spread things that are not true.” – Trans man, late 30s

“Also, the political issues that face nonbinary people, it’s that people think nonbinary is some made-up thing to feel cool. It’s not to feel cool. And if someone does do it to feel cool, maybe they’re just doing that because they don’t feel comfortable within themselves.” – Nonbinary person, mid-30s

“There’s so much fear around it, and misunderstanding, and people thinking that if you’re talking to kids about gender and sexuality, that it’s sexual. And it’s like, we really need to break down that our bodies are not inherently sexual. We need to be able to talk with students and children about their bodies so that they can then feel empowered to understand themselves, advocate for themselves.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

When asked what makes them hopeful for the future for trans and nonbinary people, some participants pointed to the way things in society have already changed and progress that has been made. For example, some mentioned greater representation and visibility of transgender and nonbinary people in entertainment and other industries, while others focused on changing societal views as things that give them hope for the future. 

“I am hopeful about the future because I see so many of us coming out and being visible and representing and showing folks that we are not to stereotype.” – Trans woman, early 40s

“Also, even though celebrity is annoying, it’s still cool when people like Willow [Smith] or Billie Eilish or all these popstars that the kids really love are like, ‘I’m nonbinary, I’m queer,’ like a lot more progressive. … Even just more visibility in TV shows and movies, the more and more that happens the more it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we are really here, you can’t not see us.’” – Nonbinary person, late 20s

“We shouldn’t have to look to the entertainment industry for role models, we shouldn’t have to, we should be able to look to our leaders, our political leaders, but I think, that’s what gives me hope. Soon, it’s going to become a nonissue, maybe in my lifetime.” – Trans man, 60s

“I have gotten a little bit into stand-up comedy in the last few weeks, and it is like the jokes that people made ten years ago are resurfacing online and people are enraged about it. They are saying like, ‘Oh, this is totally inappropriate.’ But that comes with the recognition that things have changed, and language has changed, and people are becoming more intolerant of allowing these things to occur. So that is why I am hopeful, is being able to see that progression and hopeful continued improvement on that front.” – Nonbinary person, late 20s

“I think because of the shift of what’s happening, how everything has become so normal, and people are being more open, and within the umbrella of queerness so many different things are happening, I think as we get more comfortable and we progress as a society, it’s just going to be better. So, people don’t have to hide who they are. So, that gives me hope.” – Nonbinary person, mid-20s

For many, young people are a source of hope. Several participants talked about younger generations being more accepting of those who are transgender or nonbinary and also being more accepted by their families if they themselves are trans or nonbinary. 

“And then the other portion that gives me hope are the kids, because I work now with so many kids who are coming out as trans earlier and their families are embracing them and everything. … So I really am trusting in the young generation.” – Nonbinary person, 60s

“I mean kids don’t judge you the same way as adults do about gender, and they’re so expansive and have so much creativity. … So it’s just the kids, Gen Z, and it just makes me feel really, really hopeful.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“The youth, the youth. They understand almost intrinsically so much more about these things than I feel like my generation did. They give me so much hope for the future.” – Nonbinary person, early 30s

“I think future generations, just seeing this growing amount of support that they have, that it’s just going to keep improving … there’s an increase in visibility but there’s also an increase in support … like resources for parents where they can see that they don’t have to punish their kids. Their kids can grow up feeling like, ‘This is okay to be this way.’ And I feel like that’s not something that can be stopped.” – Trans man, late 30s

Additional materials

  • Methodology

Lead photo: (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

1615 L St. NW, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036 USA (+1) 202-419-4300 | Main (+1) 202-857-8562 | Fax (+1) 202-419-4372 |  Media Inquiries

Research Topics

  • Age & Generations
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Economy & Work
  • Family & Relationships
  • Gender & LGBTQ
  • Immigration & Migration
  • International Affairs
  • Internet & Technology
  • Methodological Research
  • News Habits & Media
  • Non-U.S. Governments
  • Other Topics
  • Politics & Policy
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Email Newsletters

ABOUT PEW RESEARCH CENTER  Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of  The Pew Charitable Trusts .

Copyright 2024 Pew Research Center

  • Search Menu
  • Advance articles
  • Analysis Author Guidelines
  • Analysis Reviews Author Guidelines
  • Submission site
  • Why Publish with Analysis?
  • About Analysis
  • About The Analysis Trust
  • Editorial Board
  • Advertising and Corporate Services
  • Journals Career Network
  • Self-Archiving Policy
  • Dispatch Dates
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Journals on Oxford Academic
  • Books on Oxford Academic

Issue Cover

Article Contents

1. introduction, 2. gender identity first, 3. the no connection view, 4. contextualism, 5. pluralism, 6. further and future work.

  • < Previous

Recent Work on Gender Identity and Gender

  • Article contents
  • Figures & tables
  • Supplementary Data

Rach Cosker-Rowland, Recent Work on Gender Identity and Gender, Analysis , Volume 83, Issue 4, October 2023, Pages 801–820, https://doi.org/10.1093/analys/anad027

  • Permissions Icon Permissions

Our gender identity is our sense of ourselves as a woman, a man, as genderqueer or as another gender. Trans people have a gender identity that is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Some recent work has discussed what it is to have a sense of ourselves as a particular gender, what it is to have a gender identity ( Andler 2017 , Bettcher 2009 , 2017 , Jenkins 2016 , 2018 , McKitrick 2015 ). But beyond the question of how we should understand gender identity is the question of how gender identities relate to genders.

Our gender is the property we have of being a woman, being a man, being non-binary or being another gender. What is the relationship between our gender identity and our gender? According to many people’s conceptions and the standards operative in trans communities, our gender identity always determines our gender. Other people and communities have different views and standards: some hold that our gender is determined by the gender we are socially positioned or classed as, others hold that our gender is determined by whether we have particular biological features, such as the chromosomes we have. If our gender is determined by our gendered social position or whether we have certain biological features, then our gender identity will not determine our gender.

There are several different ways of approaching the question what is the relationship between our gender identity and our gender? We can approach this question as a descriptive or hermeneutical question about our current concepts of gender identity and gender: what is the relationship between our concept of gender identity and our concept of gender? ( Bettcher 2013 , Diaz-Leon 2016 , Laskowski 2020 , McGrath 2021 , Cosker-Rowland forthcoming , Saul 2012 ) Rather than focusing on descriptive questions about our gender concepts, many feminists, such as Sally Haslanger (2000) and Katharine Jenkins (2016) , have proposed ameliorative accounts of the concepts of gender which we should accept; these are gender concepts which they argue that we can use to further the feminist purposes of fights against gender injustice and campaigns for trans rights. We might then ask the ameliorative question, what is the relationship between our gender identity and our gender according to the concepts of gender and gender identity that we should accept? However, some of the most interesting recent work on the relationship between gender identity and gender has focussed on the metaphysical issue of the relationship between being a member of a particular gender kind G (e.g. being a woman) and having gender identity G (e.g. having a female gender identity). As we’ll see, we can answer these different questions in different ways: for instance, we can hold that we should adopt concepts such that someone is a woman iff they have a female gender identity but hold that metaphysically someone is a woman iff they are treated as a woman by their society, that is, iff they are socially positioned as a woman.

Four positions about the relationship between gender identity and gender that give answers to these ameliorative and metaphysical questions have emerged. This article will explain and evaluate these four positions. In order to understand these different views about the relationship between gender identity and gender it will help to have a little understanding of recent work on gender identity. The two most well-known and popular accounts of gender identity in the analytical philosophy literature are the self-identification account and the norm-relevancy account. On the self-identification account, to have a female gender identity is to self-identify as a woman. One way of explaining what it means to self-identify as a woman is to hold that such self-identification consists in a disposition to assert that one is a woman when asked what gender one is. 1 On the norm-relevancy account, to have a female gender identity is to experience the norms associated with women in your social context (e.g. the norm, women should shave their legs) as relevant to you ( Jenkins 2016 , 2018 ).

A first view of the relationship between gender and gender identity is what we can call gender identity first . According to a metaphysical version of gender identity first , what it is to be gender G (e.g. a woman) is to have a G gender identity (e.g. to have a female gender identity). Talia Bettcher (2009 : 112), B.R. George and R.A. Briggs (m.s.: §1.3–4), Iskra Fileva (2020 : esp. 193), and Susan Stryker (2006 : 10) argue for gender identity first or views similar to it. And the view that our gender is always determined by our gender identity is, as Briggs and George discuss, part of the standard view in many trans communities and among activists for trans rights. One key virtue of gender identity first is that it ensures that gender is always consensual: on this view, we can be correctly gendered as gender G (e.g. as a woman) only if we identify as a G , and so we can be correctly gendered as a G only if we consent to be gendered as a G by others ( George and Briggs m.s. : §1.3) ( Figure 1 ). 2

Gender identity first

Gender identity first

Elizabeth Barnes (2022 : 2) argues that we should reject gender identity first as both a metaphysical and as an ameliorative view. She argues that

(i) Some severely cognitively disabled people do not have gender identities, but

(ii) These severely cognitively disabled people without gender identities have genders and should be categorized as having genders.

And in this case, although having gender identity G is sufficient for being gender G , it is not necessary for being gender G nor necessary for being categorized as a G according to the concepts of gender that we should accept. So, we should reject gender identity first as both a metaphysical view and as an ameliorative view.

Regarding (i), Barnes argues that gender identity

requires awareness of various social norms and roles (and, moreover an awareness of them as gendered), the ability to articulate one’s own relationship to those norms and roles, and so on. But many cognitively disabled people have little or no access to language. Many tend not to understand social norms, much less to identify those norms as specifically gendered. (6)

The norm-relevancy account of gender identity implies that this is true, since on this view having a gender identity involves taking certain gendered social norms to be relevant to you. And the self-identification account also seems to imply that having a gender identity involves having capacities that many severely cognitively disabled people do not have, since self-identification as a particular gender involves a linguistic capacity to say or be disposed to say that one is, or think of oneself as, a particular gender, and many severely cognitively disabled people do not have these capacities.

Barnes has two arguments for

(ii) Severely cognitively disabled people without gender identities have genders.

First, Barnes argues that severely cognitively disabled people who do not have gender identities nonetheless have genders because they suffer gender-based oppression ( 2022 : 11–12). For instance, severely cognitively disabled women are subject to gendered violence and forced sterilization to a greater degree than severely cognitively disabled men. This argument may seem strongest as an argument for (ii) as a metaphysical claim: the view that severely cognitively disabled people without gender identities have genders is the best explanation of what we find happening in the world.

Second, Barnes argues that holding that some severely cognitively disabled people do not have genders because they do not have gender identities would involve othering, alienating or dehumanizing these severely cognitively disabled people. Gender identity first implies that agender people do not have genders because their gender identity is that they have no gender. But Barnes argues that gender identity first’s implication that severely cognitively disabled people without gender identities lack a gender is more pernicious. Agender people have the capacity to form a gender identity but they opt-out of gender. Gender identity first implies that severely cognitively disabled people without gender identities fail to have genders because they do not have the capacity to form a gender identity. So, it implies that they fail to have a gender in the way that tables and animals fail to have a gender – by failing to have the right capacities to have a gender – rather than in the way that agender people do so; for agender people have these capacities. Therefore, Barnes argues, gender identity first others and alienates severely cognitively disabled people from other humans, since all other humans have the capacity to have a gender and having a gender (or opting out of it) is a central part of human (social life). 3 This second argument seems best understood as an argument that we shouldn’t adopt concepts of gender that imply that one is gender G iff one has gender identity G because there are moral and political costs to adopting such concepts.

A second account of the relationship between gender identity and gender is the opposite view; this view understands gender identity and gender as entirely disconnected. On this no connection view, the fact that a woman has a sense of herself as a woman is never what makes her a woman; other features of her, such as the way that she is socially positioned, the way she was socialized, or her biological features, make her a woman.

Several accounts of gender imply the no connection view, including Haslanger’s (2000) influential account of gender. Haslanger’s account was originally proposed as an ameliorative account of the concepts of gender that we should adopt rather than as a metaphysical account of gender properties. But in later work Haslanger also endorsed her account of gender as a metaphysical account of gender properties ( 2012 : e.g. 133–134). On Haslanger’s account, to be a woman is to be systematically subordinated because one is observed or imagined to have bodily features that are presumed to be evidence of a female’s biological role in reproduction; on Haslanger’s view, women are sexually marked subordinates. This view of what it is to be a woman implies that one’s being a woman is never determined by one’s female gender identity. Since, whether one has a sense of oneself as a woman, is disposed to assert that one is a woman or takes norms associated with women to be relevant to one, is neither necessary nor sufficient for one to be a sexually marked subordinate.

Although our gender is not directly determined by our gender identity on Haslanger’s account, one’s female gender identity can indirectly lead one to be a woman on Haslanger’s account. For instance, a trans woman’s female gender identity may lead her to take estradiol which will make her have female sex characteristics, which may lead to her being assumed to play a female biological role in reproduction, to be oppressed accordingly, and so to be a woman on Haslanger’s account. In this case, on Haslanger’s account, someone’s female gender identity can indirectly lead to their becoming a woman ( Figure 2 ).

The no connection view

The n o connection view

Other accounts of gender similarly imply the no connection view of the relationship between gender identity and gender. According to Bach’s (2012) account of gender, to be a woman one has to have been socialized as a woman. But one can have a sense of oneself as a woman without having been socialized as a woman and one can be socialized as a woman without forming a sense of oneself as a woman. So, having a female gender identity is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a woman on Bach’s account (although it may be more likely that A will have a sense of themself as a woman if A was socialized as a woman). Biological or sex-based accounts of gender on which our genders are determined by our biological features, such as our chromosomes, also imply the no connection view, since to have a female gender identity is neither necessary nor sufficient for having XX chromosomes. 4

The no connection view implies that many trans women are not women. For instance, Haslanger’s version of this view implies that trans women who are not presumed to have female sex characteristics by those in their society are not women; so trans women who are not recognised as women, or who ‘do not pass’, 5 are not women. This is because such trans women are not observed or imagined to have features that are presumed to be evidence of a female’s biological role in reproduction. There are many such trans women. So, no connection views such as Haslanger’s imply that many trans women are not women ( Jenkins 2016 : 398–402). Some have argued that this is an unacceptable result for a metaphysical view about the relationship between gender identity and gender, either because all trans women are women or because this view would marginalize trans women within contemporary feminism ( Mikkola 2016 : 100–102). These implications are even more problematic for ameliorative no connection views, that is, for views of how gender identity and gender are related according to the concepts that we ought to accept. For we should not adopt gender concepts that imply that we should not classify many trans women as women ( Jenkins 2016 ).

Furthermore, trans communities and trans-inclusive communities ascribe gender entirely on the basis of the gender identities people express or which people are presumed to have. Another problem with the no connection view is that it may seem to imply that there are no genders being tracked or ascribed in these communities ( Jenkins 2016 : 400–401; Ásta 2018 : 73–74).

These problems do not establish that Haslanger’s account of gender should be abandoned entirely. Elizabeth Barnes (2020) has recently argued that we can rescue Haslanger’s account of gender from the problem that it excludes trans women by understanding it as an account of what explains our experiences of gender. According to Barnes’ version of Haslanger’s account, our practices of gendering people, and our gender identities, are the product of Haslangerian social practices of subordinating and privileging people on the basis of perceived sex characteristics. Barnes’ version of Haslanger’s account does not imply that one is a woman iff one is systematically subordinated because one is observed or imagined to have bodily features that are presumed to be evidence of one’s playing a female’s biological role in reproduction. This is because Barnes’ account is only an account of what gives rise to our experiences of gender rather than an account of who has what gender properties or of the gender concepts that we should accept. Barnes might rescue a version of Haslanger’s account from the problem that it excludes trans women. But if she does, she does this by revising Haslanger’s account so that it drops the no connection view of the relationship between gender identities and gender; Barnes’ revised version of Haslanger’s account of gender is instead silent on the issue of the relationship between having gender identity G and being a member of gender G . So, Barnes’ rescue of Haslanger’s account of gender does not rescue the no connection view of the relationship between gender identity and gender.

Gender identity first and no connection views such as Haslanger’s are invariantist views of the relationship between gender identity and gender: they hold that the relationship between gender identity and gender does not vary across different contexts. A third account of the relationship between gender identity and gender is the opposite of invariantism, contextualism. According to this view, the features that determine our gender, and so the relationship between gender identity and gender, is different from context to context.

Ásta (2018) and Robin Dembroff (2018) have proposed and/or defended forms of (metaphysical) contextualism. On their views, the gender properties that we have, or the gender kinds that we are members of, are determined by the way that we are treated in particular contexts. We are a member of gender G in virtue of our gender identity G in certain contexts, namely trans-inclusive contexts where people are treated as genders based on their (avowed) gender identities. But in other contexts, we are never a member of gender G in virtue of our gender identity G : in contexts in which people are treated as a gender based on features other than their gender identities – such as traditional or conservative societies – we are not members of genders based on our gender identities. For instance, trans woman Amy is a woman in the context of the support group Trans Leeds – she is a woman (Trans Leeds) – but she is not a women in the context of her conservative parents in Henley who don’t recognize her as a woman and who treat people as women based on the chromosomes that they believe them to have – she is not a woman (family-in-Henley) . And Alex is non-binary in the context of the support group Non-Binary Leeds, where one is conferred a particular gender status based on one’s avowed self-identification – they are non-binary (Non-Binary Leeds) – but Alex is perceived as male in most contexts and is treated as male regardless of their self-identification at school, work and in public, and so Alex is not non-binary in most contexts – e.g. they are not non-binary (Alex’s school) . Importantly, on this view, there is no such thing as being gender G simpliciter , that is, beyond whether one is a G -relative-to-a-certain-context – and the way one is treated or the standards that are operative in that context. So, it is not the case that Alex is non-binary simpliciter or genuinely non-binary; they are merely non-binary relative to one standard or context and not non-binary relative to another.

Contextualism can explain why the way that some people are gendered varies from context to context: in explaining her contextualist view, Ásta (2018 : 73–74) gives an example of a coder who is one of the guys at work, neither a guy nor a girl at the bars they go to after work, and one of the women – and expected to help out like all the other women – at their grandmother’s house (85–86). Contextualism also allows us to explain how sometimes people are gendered on the basis of their perceived biological features and sometimes gendered based on their avowed (or assumed) gender identities. Dembroff argues that a contextualist view is particularly useful in explaining how, in many societies and contexts, trans people are unjustly constrained, or as they put it ‘ontologically oppressed’, by being constructed and categorized as a member of a category with which they do not identify; identifying such ontological oppression is essential to explaining the oppression that trans people face ( Dembroff 2018 : 24–26, Jenkins 2020 ) ( Figure 3 ).

Contextualism

Contextualism

However, there are several problems with contextualism. One problem is that it implies that gender critical feminists are, in a sense, right when they claim that trans women are not women and trans men are not men because trans women are not women according to the standards of many people and of many places: in many places trans women, for instance, are not treated as women, and in many places trans women are not women relative to the dominant standard for who is a woman, which is sex-based or biology-based. So, for instance, when in 2021 the then Tory UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that ‘only women have cervixes’, according to contextualism, what he said was true in a sense: only women (dominant UK-standards) have cervixes; and only women (Tory party conference) have cervixes. Even though it is false that only women (Trans Leeds) have cervixes because trans men have cervixes. This conclusion may seem problematic and paralyzing because it implies that Javid’s claim is true in a sense in certain contexts, and we cannot truthfully claim that it is just plain false ( Saul 2012 : 209–210, Diaz-Leon 2016 : 247–248). 6

Ásta (2018 : e.g. 87–88) and Dembroff (2018) argue that we can solve this problem by holding that, although it is true that trans men are not men relative to most dominant UK contexts, we should still treat and classify trans men as men. We should classify trans men as men because facts about how we should classify someone – the gender properties that we should treat them as having – are established by moral and political considerations. But although we should classify trans men as men, they are not – as a matter of social metaphysical fact – men (dominant UK contexts) . So, we should accept contextualism as a metaphysical view about the relationship between gender identity and gender but not as an ameliorative view about the gender concepts we should accept; we can call this combination of views purely metaphysical contextualism.

Dembroff (2018 : 38–48) recognizes that purely metaphysical contextualism may seem to have problematic implications. It may seem to imply that many trans women (for instance) are mistaken when they say that they are women in many contexts, such as dominant UK and US contexts, where there are chromosomes-based or assigned-sex-at-birth-based gender standards. Yet Dembroff argues that purely metaphysical contextualism does not have this problematic implication because trans women are women relative to the gender kinds operative in trans-inclusive contexts.

However, this will not always be a helpful form of correctness. Suppose that Alicia is a trans woman in London in 1840. There are no trans-inclusive societies, communities or contexts that she knows of. But she takes herself to be a woman, and suppose that according to both of the accounts of gender identity that we discussed in §1, Alicia has a female gender identity. We can say that Alicia’s judgement that she is a woman is correct in the sense that it is correct-relative to the gender kinds operative in future contexts and fictional contexts. But any judgment that we might make is true relative to the standards in some future or merely possible context. And we might wonder why it matters that someone’s judgment about their own gender is true relative to the standards operative in some future context that they could not possibly be aware of. This form of truth is not what they want and it’s hard to see why it should be relevant in this context. Furthermore, trans people are widely held to be misguided, mentally unstable, suffering from a delusion or making believe ( Bettcher 2007 , Serano 2016 : ch. 2, Lopez 2018 , Rajunov and Duane 2019 : xxiv). If the only interesting way in which Alicia is correct about her gender is that she is that gender according to standards far in the future that she is not aware of, then it would seem that Alicia is misguided about her gender – given that she could not know about these standards – and that she is in a sense making believe. This seems like an undesirable consequence, especially if we think that Alicia is really a woman, that is, that she is not misguided.

There are two further, more general, problems for contextualism. 7 First, contextualism seems to clash with how many of us think about our own and others’ genders. For instance, many trans men think that they should be classified as men because they are men, and not just because they are men-relative to the standards of trans-inclusive communities and societies ( Saul 2012 : 209–210). 8 Gender critical feminists think that trans women are not women, that standards which align with this view track the standard-independent truth, and standards which don’t align with this view do not.

Second, contextualism seems to be in tension with the idea that many of our disagreements about gender are genuine disagreements. Suppose that contextualism is true and that we (and everyone else) accept it. In this case, it is hard for us to sincerely genuinely disagree with Javid about whether only women have cervixes. Since, when he says that only women have cervixes we know that he means that only those who count as women, relative to the dominant UK standards or relative to the standards operative amongst Tory MPs and members, have cervixes. And we agree with him about this, since we know that according to these standards trans men are women. So, if contextualism is true and we accept it, it is hard for us to genuinely disagree with Javid. Contextualism could be true without our knowing or believing it. In this case, we could genuinely disagree with Javid. But our disagreement here would only be possible because we are significantly mistaken about what kinds of things gender kinds are; we think gender kinds are not all context- or standard-relative but in fact they are. And attributing such a significant mistake to all of us is a significant cost of a metaphysical theory, for other things equal we should accept more charitable theories that do not imply that we are significantly mistaken rather than theories that do imply this ( Olson 2011 : 73–77, McGrath 2021 : 35, 46–48).

These problems with contextualism about the relationship between gender identity and gender are analogues of problems that contextualist views face in other domains such as in metaethics. According to metaethical contextualism, moral claims, their meanings and their truth are always standard-relative. There is no such thing as an act being morally wrong, only its being morally-wrong-relative-to-utilitarianism or morally-wrong-relative-to-the-standards-of-Victorian-England. But metaethical contextualism faces a problem explaining fundamental moral disagreement. Act-utilitarians and Kantians agree that pushing the heavy man off of the bridge in the footbridge trolley case is wrong (Kantianism) and right (act-utilitarianism) but they still disagree and they take themselves to be disagreeing about which of their moral standards is correct, and which standard tracks the truth about which actions are right and wrong simpliciter ( Olson 2011 : 73–77, Cosker-Rowland 2022 : 57–59). If there are no non-context- or standard-relative properties of right and wrong, then although Kantians and Utilitarians do disagree – they think there are such properties – there is in fact nothing for them to disagree about. So, metaethical contextualism seems to be committed to a kind of error theory about morality that, other things equal, we should avoid: Kantians and Utilitarians think that they are talking about which of their moral standards is independently correct, but there is no such standard-independent moral correctness. Contextualists in metaethics have developed several types of resources to mitigate this kind of problem or to enable contextualism to explain what’s happening in these disagreements better. Perhaps these proposals could be used to mitigate the analogous problems with contextualism about the relationship between gender identity and gender. McGrath (2021 : esp. 42–49) considers this possibility and argues that these responses are not plausible, and that they face similar problems to the problems faced by the analogous responses proposed by contextualists in metaethics. 9 More broadly, whether contextualists’ proposals to mitigate these problems for metaethical contextualism do, or could, succeed is contested ( Cosker-Rowland 2022 : 59–64). 10

Contextualism holds that the features that determine our gender vary from context to context and so whether our gender identity determines our gender varies from context to context. Invariantist views such as gender identity first and the no connection view hold that one feature (e.g. gender identity or whether one is a sexually marked subordinate) determines our gender in every context. But we need not adopt such a monist invariantist view; we can instead adopt a pluralist invariantist view that holds that multiple features are relevant to, or determine, our genders across different contexts ( Figure 4 ). A version of pluralism that has been proposed is what we can call the two properties view. According to the two properties view, two and only two properties determine our gender in all contexts: our gender identity and our gendered social position or class. Gender identity first and Haslanger’s no connection view hold that one of these two properties determines our gender in every context; the two properties view holds that both of these properties can make us a particular gender in every context. 11

Views of the relationship between gender identity and gender

Views of the relationship between gender identity and gender

Katharine Jenkins (2016) proposes an ameliorative version of the two properties view. She proposes that we accept gender concepts according to which there are two senses of woman . In one sense of woman , to be a woman is to have a female gender identity; in another second sense, to be a woman is to be socially classed as a woman, which we can understand in terms of Haslanger’s account: to be a woman in this second sense is to be a sexually marked subordinate. Jenkins argues that if we accept gender concepts according to which there are two senses of ‘woman’, we do not objectionably exclude trans women, since trans women who are not socially classed as women do have female gender identities and so are still women on this view. So, Jenkins argues that we should accept gender concepts such that A is a woman iff A is socially classed as a woman or has a female gender identity. She then argues that, although we should accept gender concepts on which there are two senses of gender, we should, at least primarily, use ‘woman’ to refer to people with a female gender identity rather than those who are classed as women.

Jenkins’ two properties view avoids the problems with the ameliorative gender identity first and no connection views. It does not imply that severely cognitively disabled women are not women and it does not imply that trans women are not women. Yet if we adopt a concept of ‘woman’ with two senses but use ‘woman’ to refer to people with female gender identities, it still seems that we adopt concepts according to which trans women who are not socially classed as women are not women in an important sense. We may want to avoid this consequence with our ameliorative proposals, since trans women want to be thought of as women, and many trans women want to be thought of as in no way men, rather than merely being referred to as women rather than men (see e.g. Wynn 2018 ). We might also worry that adoption of Jenkins’ view would create a hierarchy of women on which someone who is a woman in both senses is more of a woman than someone who is a woman in only one sense: we might worry that if such concepts of gender were adopted, a trans woman who does not have her womanhood socially recognized would be seen as less of a woman than a trans woman who is socially positioned as a woman. 12

Elizabeth Barnes (2022 : 24–25) briefly articulates a similar metaphysical two properties view. On this view, there are two different properties that one can have that can make it the case that one is gender G : the property of being socially classed as a G and the property of having gender identity G . And the relevant gender identity property takes priority when A is socially classed as a G1 (e.g. as a man) but has gender identity G2 (e.g. a female gender identity): in such a case A is a G2 (a woman) rather than a G1 (a man) ( Figure 5 ).

The two properties view

The two properties view

However, the two properties view needs to explain why our gender identities take precedence over our gendered social position in determining our gender when the two conflict. Without further supplementation the metaphysical two property view does not do this; it does not explain why A is a man when A has a male gender identity but is socially positioned as a woman. If the two properties view does not explain this, it has an explanatory deficiency, and this deficiency gives us reason to accept competing views that do not face this explanatory problem over the two properties view.

One natural way to supplement the two properties view to try to solve this explanatory problem is to hold that moral and political considerations determine that gender identity takes priority over gender class when they conflict. 13 . First, it is controverisal that there is moral encroachment on gender metaphysics, that what's morally best makes a difference to what gender we metaphysically are. For instance, Ásta (2018) , Dembroff (2018) and Jenkins (2020) argue that morality does not encroach on gender metaphysics in this way.

Second, we can think of this as the moral encroachment explanation. However, moral encroachment does not look like a plausible explanation of how, metaphysically, gender identity takes priority over gendered social position in determining our genders. To see this, suppose that Alexa understands herself to be a woman and is treated by those around her as a woman. An evil demon will kill 2000 members of Alexa’s community unless we hold that Alexa is a man, treat Alexa as, think of Alexa as, and assert that Alexa is a man for the next hour. In this case, moral and political considerations establish that we morally ought to treat Alexa as a man for the next hour, but this doesn’t mean that Alexa is in fact a man. 14

It might seem that a nearby view on which moral and political considerations play a smaller role is more plausible. On this view, moral and political considerations only come in to determine whether, metaphysically, A is a member of gender G1 or of gender G2 when A is socially classed as a G1 but has identity G2 . But this view would also generate counterintuitive results. To see this, suppose that Beth has a female gender identity and she was assigned female at birth, but she is socially classed as a man – she doesn’t resist this because of the strong economic advantages she receives, which outweigh the discomfort she feels by being constantly misgendered. Now suppose that an eccentric, very powerful and malevolent millionaire brings these facts to light but will torture everyone in our society unless we continue to classify, think of and refer to Beth as a man. In this case, plausibly, moral and political considerations establish that we should classify Beth as a man, but these facts do not seem to bear on whether Beth is a man or a woman; intuitively Beth is a woman, and intuitively the fact that morally we should think of, treat, and classify Beth as a man does not make it the case that Beth is a man – and really has nothing to do with Beth’s gender in this case. So, if moral and political considerations play this more limited role in determining our genders, they still sometimes generate the wrong result because there are cases in which the social and political considerations side with someone’s gendered social position rather than their gender identity, but in which this does not seem to be relevant to, or establish that, their gender lines up with their gendered social position. So, the moral encroachment explanation does not seem to solve the explanatory problem for the two properties view. 15

These evil millionaire cases may be too fantastical for some. But the same point can be made with real world examples too. Norah Vincent (2006) disguised herself as a man for 18 months so that she could investigate men and their experiences. She became socially positioned as, and treated by others as, a man. While she was effectively disguised as a man, moral and political considerations seem to have established that everyone should treat her as a man: those who didn’t know her real gender had an obligation to take her assertions that she was a man as genuine and those who did know her real gender had an obligation not to blow her cover. But although everyone ought to have treated Vincent as a man, she was not a man: she did not identify as a man at the time, nor prior or subsequent to her journalistic project. Moral and political considerations favoured treating Vincent in line with her social position as a man rather than in line with her female gender identity. But these factors do not establish that she was a man rather than a woman. So, the moral encroachment explanation generates the wrong results in this case too.

One way to respond to this problem for the two properties view is to drop the view that gender identity takes priority. But this would be problematic for then trans women who are socially positioned as men would be both men and women on this view – and not just people with female gender identities who are socially positioned as men. This is implausible. This view is also different from contextualism since contextualism holds that such trans women are women-relative-to-the-standards-of-trans-inclusive-contexts and men-relative-to-other-contexts; a version of the two properties view that drops the priority of gender identity holds that such trans women are both men and women tout court .

In this paper I’ve discussed metaphysical and ameliorative inquiries into the relationship between gender identity and gender. I’ve discussed four different views about this relationship. All four views face problematic objections. Gender identity first seems to objectionably exclude some severely cognitively disabled people from having genders. No connection views seem to be objectionably trans exclusionary. Contextualism seems to be in tension with how we think about gender and implies that trans people are not the genders that line up with their gender identities in many contexts; despite contextualists’ best efforts, these implications still seem problematic. Pluralist views struggle to plausibly explain how their plurality of features interact when they conflict to determine our genders.

One avenue of future research involves examining the extent to which these objections really undermine these different views. For instance, we might question whether Barnes really shows that we should reject gender identity first. Barnes has two arguments for the view that, contra gender identity first, severely cognitively disabled people without gender identities have genders.

The first argument was that, if we reject this view, we cannot explain the gendered oppression that severely cognitively disabled women face. But we might wonder whether this is really true. All we need in order to explain the oppression that severely cognitively disabled women face is the claim that they are socially treated or understood to be women. But we can be socially treated or understood to be a gender other than the gender we are: e.g. many non-binary people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) are discriminated against because they are understood to be women even though they are not women. We might think that we should explain the gendered oppression that AFAB severely cognitively disabled people without gender identities face and the gendered discrimination that AFAB non-binary people face in the same way: we should say that although they are not women, they are assumed to be women and are treated as women and this is why they face this gendered oppression. Barnes’ second argument was that the view that severely cognitively disabled people without gender identities do not have genders others and alienates these severely cognitively disabled people. However, we might wonder whether this is necessarily true. Perhaps we should think of the capacity to have a gender as inessential to human personhood just as we think of the capacity for membership in other categories as something that is not required for personhood: perhaps we should think that just as some severely cognitively disabled people lack the cognitive capacities to identify as a Christian or as a punk, and so are not Christians or punks, they similarly lack the capacities to identify as a woman and so are not women. If gender need not be central to human life, as religion (or music) need not be, perhaps we might reasonably claim to not other anyone by holding that they could not have a gender.

A second avenue of further work concerns genders beyond the gender category woman . Most of the work on the relationship between gender identity and gender has concerned the relationship between being a woman and having a female gender identity. But views about this may not straightforwardly generalize to provide plausible accounts of other genders such as genderqueer and other non-binary genders. 16 In one of the few published articles in analytic philosophy discussing genders beyond the gender binary, Dembroff (2020) argues that non-binary and genderqueer are critical gender kinds, which should be understood as kinds, membership in which constitutively involves engagement in the collective destabilization of dominant gender ideology. One way to destablize dominant gender ideology is to destabilize the idea that there are two mutually exclusive genders. Such destabilization of the binary gender axis can involve using gender neutral pronouns, cultivating gender non-conforming aesthetics, asserting one’s non-binary gender categorization, queering personal relationships, eschewing sexual binaries and/or switching between male and female coded spaces. Dembroff argues that to be genderqueer is ‘to have a felt or desired gender categorization that conflicts with the binary [gender] axis, and on that basis collectively destabilize this axis’ ( 2020 : 16). This understanding of the category genderqueer does not quite fit into the typology that I’ve explained in this article. For, on this account, a particular kind of non-binary gender identity is necessary but not sufficient for membership in the kind genderqueer .

There are issues with this account. For instance, Matthew Cull (2020 : 162) argues that this account misgenders agender people because many agender people have a felt or desired gender categorization that conflicts with the binary gender axis and are engaged in the collective destabilization of the gender binary but are not genderqueer; they are agender. 17 However, in general, more work is needed on gender kinds beyond the gender binary. This work may also provide new avenues for conceptualizing and/or complicating the relationship between gender identity and gender more generally. 18

See Bettcher (2009) ( 2017 : 396) and Jenkins (2018 : 727). cf. Barnes (2020 : 709).

See also Bornstein (1994 : 111, 123–124).

On the centrality of gender for social life see Witt 2011 .

See Bryne (2020) and Stock (2021 : ch. 2, ch. 6).

There are problems with using this terminology of passing. For instance, we typically think of A as passing as an F only if they are not an F . But if all trans women are women, then there are no ‘non-passing’ trans women. For discussion of issues with the concept of passing see e.g. Serano 2016 : 176–180.

Many gender critical feminists will want to reject contextualism for a similar but opposite reason: they believe that there is no sense in which Javid is mistaken, but contextualism implies that there is a sense in which he is mistaken.

For problems along these lines see McGrath 2021 : esp. 42–49.

Cf. Bettcher 2013 : esp. 242–243.

Cf. Dembroff 2018 : 44–45.

According to Jenkins’ (2023) ontological pluralism, there are a plurality of gender properties. For instance, there is the property of being a woman in the sense of having a female gender identity, and the property of being socially positioned as a woman in a particular context, but there is no further property of being a woman. Ontological pluralism about gender properties is a slightly different view about gender properties from the social position account of gender properties that Ásta and Dembroff propose; see Bettcher 2013 and Jenkins 2023. But ontological pluralism similarly implies that being a woman (social position) is not determined by one’s gender identity but being a woman (gender identity) is; and that there is no such thing as being a woman tout court beyond such a plurality of more specific gender properties. Since it has similar implications about the relationship between gender identity and gender to Ásta and Dembroff's views, it faces similar problems.

Other work on the metaphysics of gender, such as Stoljar’s (1995) nominalism or a view similar to it, could also be understood as a form of pluralist invariantism; although cf. Stoljar 1995 : 283 and Mikkola 2016 : 70.

Cf. Mikkola 2019 : §3.1.2 and Jenkins 2016 : 418–419.

Cf. Jenkins 2016 : 417–418 and Diaz-Leon 2016 .

Cases like this may also cause problems for Ásta’s and Dembroff’s social position accounts of gender.

Heather Logue suggested to me that a more specific form of moral encroachment might solve this problem: our autonomy might establish that our gender identities trump our gendered social positions when they conflict, without establishing that Beth is a man. However, we can imagine a version of this case in which Beth autonomously chooses to waive her right to be treated in line with her gender identity. In such a case Beth is still not a man.

We may also wonder whether this work will generalize to the category man given that human beings are still by default understood to be men in many contexts.

Another worry is that analogous accounts of the kind non-binary will either: (a) make the conditions for engagement in collective resistance too onerous and thereby exclude non-binary people who are not able to engage in this resistance due to oppressive circumstances; or (b) make these conditions too easy to satisfy, in which case it is unclear what work engagement in collective resistance is doing in this account; that is, it is unclear why we should prefer an account of the kind non-binary like this to a gender identity first account of the category non-binary . For work relevant to (a), arguing that trans people in the past who could not express their gender identities or resist the binary gender axis due to hostile circumstances may still be correctly considered to be trans, see Heyam 2022 : ch. 1.

I am grateful to a reviewer, who revealed themself to be Ray Briggs, for wonderful extremely thorough comments on a previous draft of this paper. I would also like to thank an audience of my colleagues at the University of Leeds for comments, thoughts and objections that shaped the final version of this paper.

Andler , M.S.   2017 . Gender identity and exclusion: a reply to Jenkins . Ethics   127 : 883 – 95 .

Google Scholar

Ásta . 2018 . The Categories We Live By . Oxford : Oxford University Press .

Google Preview

Bach , T.   2012 . Gender is a natural kind with a historical essence . Ethics   122 : 231 – 72 .

Barnes , E.   2020 . Gender and gender terms . Noûs   54 : 704 – 30 .

Barnes , E.   2022 . Gender without gender identity: the case of cognitive disability . Mind Online First: 1 – 28 .

Bettcher , T.M.   2007 . Evil deceivers and make-believers: on transphobic violence and the politics of illusion . Hypatia   22 : 43 – 65 .

Bettcher , T.M.   2009 . Trans identities and first-person authority . In You’ve Changed: Sex Reassignment and Personal Identity , ed. L.   Shrage . Oxford : Oxford University Press .

Bettcher , T.M.   2013 . Trans women and the meaning of ‘women’ . In Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings , 6th edn., eds. A.   Soble , N.   Power , and R.   Halwani . London : Rowman and Littlefield .

Bettcher , T.M.   2017 . Through the looking glass: trans theory meets feminist philosophy . In The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy , eds. A.   Garry , S.   Khader , and A.   Stone . London : Routledge .

Bornstein , K.   1994 . Gender Outlaw.   New York, NY : Routledge .

Byrne , A.   2020 . Are women adult human females ? Philosophical Studies   177 : 3783 – 803 .

Cosker-Rowland , R.   2022 . Moral Disagreement . London : Routledge .

Cosker-Rowland , R.   forthcoming . The normativity of gender . Noûs .

Cull , M.   2020 . Engineering Genders: Pluralism, Trans Identities, and Feminist Philosophy . PhD thesis, University of Sheffield .

Dembroff , R.   2018 . Real talk on the metaphysics of gender . Philosophical Topics   46 : 21 – 50 .

Dembroff , R.   2020 . Beyond binary: genderqueer as critical gender kind . Philosophers’ Imprint   20 : 1 – 23 .

Diaz-Leon , E.   2016 . Woman as a politically significant term: a solution to the puzzle . Hypatia   31 : 245 – 58 .

Fileva , I.   2020 . The gender puzzles . European Journal of Philosophy   29 : 182 – 98 .

George , B.R. and R.A.   Briggs . m.s. Science fiction double feature: trans liberation on twin Earth . Unpublished manuscript. https://philpapers.org/archive/GEOSFD.pdf .

Haslanger , S.   2000 . Gender and race: (what) are they? (What) do we want them to be ? Noûs   34 : 31 – 55 .

Haslanger , S.   2012 . Resisting Reality . Oxford : Oxford University Press .

Heyam , K.   2022 . Before We Were Trans . London : Basic Books .

Jenkins , K.   2016 . Amelioration and inclusion: gender identity and the concept of woman . Ethics   126 : 394 – 421 .

Jenkins , K.   2018 . Toward an account of gender identity . Ergo   5 : 713 – 44 .

Jenkins , K.   2020 . Ontic injustice . Journal of the American Philosophical Association   6 : 188 – 205 .

Jenkins , K.   2023 . Ontology and Oppression . Oxford : Oxford University Press .

Laskowski , N.G.   2020 . Moral constraints on gender concepts . Ethical Theory and Moral Practice   23 : 39 – 51 .

Lopez , G.   2018 . Transgender people: 10 common myths . Vox.com . < https://www.vox.com/identities/2016/5/13/17938120/transgender-people-mental-illness-health-care >, last accessed 14 November 2018 .

McGrath , S.   2021 . The metaethics of gender . In Oxford Studies in Metaethics , vol. 16 , ed. R.   Shafer-Landau . Oxford : Oxford University Press .

McKitrick , J.   2015 . A dispositional account of gender . Philosophical Studies   172 : 2575 – 89 .

Mikkola , M.   2016 . The Wrong of Injustice: Dehumanization and its Role in Feminist Philosophy . Oxford : Oxford University Press .

Mikkola , M.   2019 . Feminist perspectives on sex and gender . In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , ed. E.N.   Zalta . Fall 2019 edition. < https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/feminism-gender/ >.

Olson , J.   2011 . In defense of moral error theory . In New Waves in Metaethics , ed. M.   Brady . Basingstoke : Palgrave .

Rajunov , M. and S.   Duane .   2019 . Introduction . In Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender Identity , eds. M.   Rajunov and S.   Duane . New York, NY : Columbia University Press .

Saul , J.   2012 . Politically significant terms and philosophy of language: methodological issues . In Out from the Shadows: Analytical Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy , eds. S.   Crasnow and A.   Superson . Oxford : Oxford University Press .

Serano , J.   2016 . Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity , 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA : Seal Press .

Stock , K.   2021 . Material Girls . London : Fleet .

Stoljar , N.   1995 . Essence, identity, and the concept of woman . Philosophical Topics   23 : 261 – 93 .

Stryker , S.   2006 . ( De)subjugated knowledges: an introduction to transgender studies . In The Transgender Studies Reader , eds. S.   Stryker and S.   Whittle . New York, NY : Routledge .

Vincent , N.   2006 . Self-Made Man . New York, NY : Viking .

Witt , C.   2011 . The Metaphysics of Gender . Oxford : Oxford University Press .

Wynn , N.   2018 . Pronouns . Contrapoints   31 : 55 . < https://youtu.be/9bbINLWtMKI >.

Email alerts

Companion article, citing articles via.

  • Author Guidelines
  • Contact Analysis Trust
  • Recommend to your Library

Affiliations

British Philosophical Association

  • Online ISSN 1467-8284
  • Print ISSN 0003-2638
  • Copyright © 2024 The Analysis Trust
  • About Oxford Academic
  • Publish journals with us
  • University press partners
  • What we publish
  • New features  
  • Open access
  • Institutional account management
  • Rights and permissions
  • Get help with access
  • Accessibility
  • Advertising
  • Media enquiries
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Languages
  • University of Oxford

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide

  • Copyright © 2024 Oxford University Press
  • Cookie settings
  • Cookie policy
  • Privacy policy
  • Legal notice

This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

For full access to this pdf, sign in to an existing account, or purchase an annual subscription.

SEP home page

  • Table of Contents
  • Random Entry
  • Chronological
  • Editorial Information
  • About the SEP
  • Editorial Board
  • How to Cite the SEP
  • Special Characters
  • Advanced Tools
  • Support the SEP
  • PDFs for SEP Friends
  • Make a Donation
  • SEPIA for Libraries
  • Entry Contents

Bibliography

Academic tools.

  • Friends PDF Preview
  • Author and Citation Info
  • Back to Top

Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender

Feminism is said to be the movement to end women’s oppression (hooks 2000, 26). One possible way to understand ‘woman’ in this claim is to take it as a sex term: ‘woman’ picks out human females and being a human female depends on various biological and anatomical features (like genitalia). Historically many feminists have understood ‘woman’ differently: not as a sex term, but as a gender term that depends on social and cultural factors (like social position). In so doing, they distinguished sex (being female or male) from gender (being a woman or a man), although most ordinary language users appear to treat the two interchangeably. In feminist philosophy, this distinction has generated a lively debate. Central questions include: What does it mean for gender to be distinct from sex, if anything at all? How should we understand the claim that gender depends on social and/or cultural factors? What does it mean to be gendered woman, man, or genderqueer? This entry outlines and discusses distinctly feminist debates on sex and gender considering both historical and more contemporary positions.

1.1 Biological determinism

1.2 gender terminology, 2.1 gender socialisation, 2.2 gender as feminine and masculine personality, 2.3 gender as feminine and masculine sexuality, 3.1.1 particularity argument, 3.1.2 normativity argument, 3.2 is sex classification solely a matter of biology, 3.3 are sex and gender distinct, 3.4 is the sex/gender distinction useful, 4.1.1 gendered social series, 4.1.2 resemblance nominalism, 4.2.1 social subordination and gender, 4.2.2 gender uniessentialism, 4.2.3 gender as positionality, 5. beyond the binary, 6. conclusion, other internet resources, related entries, 1. the sex/gender distinction..

The terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ mean different things to different feminist theorists and neither are easy or straightforward to characterise. Sketching out some feminist history of the terms provides a helpful starting point.

Most people ordinarily seem to think that sex and gender are coextensive: women are human females, men are human males. Many feminists have historically disagreed and have endorsed the sex/ gender distinction. Provisionally: ‘sex’ denotes human females and males depending on biological features (chromosomes, sex organs, hormones and other physical features); ‘gender’ denotes women and men depending on social factors (social role, position, behaviour or identity). The main feminist motivation for making this distinction was to counter biological determinism or the view that biology is destiny.

A typical example of a biological determinist view is that of Geddes and Thompson who, in 1889, argued that social, psychological and behavioural traits were caused by metabolic state. Women supposedly conserve energy (being ‘anabolic’) and this makes them passive, conservative, sluggish, stable and uninterested in politics. Men expend their surplus energy (being ‘katabolic’) and this makes them eager, energetic, passionate, variable and, thereby, interested in political and social matters. These biological ‘facts’ about metabolic states were used not only to explain behavioural differences between women and men but also to justify what our social and political arrangements ought to be. More specifically, they were used to argue for withholding from women political rights accorded to men because (according to Geddes and Thompson) “what was decided among the prehistoric Protozoa cannot be annulled by Act of Parliament” (quoted from Moi 1999, 18). It would be inappropriate to grant women political rights, as they are simply not suited to have those rights; it would also be futile since women (due to their biology) would simply not be interested in exercising their political rights. To counter this kind of biological determinism, feminists have argued that behavioural and psychological differences have social, rather than biological, causes. For instance, Simone de Beauvoir famously claimed that one is not born, but rather becomes a woman, and that “social discrimination produces in women moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to be caused by nature” (Beauvoir 1972 [original 1949], 18; for more, see the entry on Simone de Beauvoir ). Commonly observed behavioural traits associated with women and men, then, are not caused by anatomy or chromosomes. Rather, they are culturally learned or acquired.

Although biological determinism of the kind endorsed by Geddes and Thompson is nowadays uncommon, the idea that behavioural and psychological differences between women and men have biological causes has not disappeared. In the 1970s, sex differences were used to argue that women should not become airline pilots since they will be hormonally unstable once a month and, therefore, unable to perform their duties as well as men (Rogers 1999, 11). More recently, differences in male and female brains have been said to explain behavioural differences; in particular, the anatomy of corpus callosum, a bundle of nerves that connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres, is thought to be responsible for various psychological and behavioural differences. For instance, in 1992, a Time magazine article surveyed then prominent biological explanations of differences between women and men claiming that women’s thicker corpus callosums could explain what ‘women’s intuition’ is based on and impair women’s ability to perform some specialised visual-spatial skills, like reading maps (Gorman 1992). Anne Fausto-Sterling has questioned the idea that differences in corpus callosums cause behavioural and psychological differences. First, the corpus callosum is a highly variable piece of anatomy; as a result, generalisations about its size, shape and thickness that hold for women and men in general should be viewed with caution. Second, differences in adult human corpus callosums are not found in infants; this may suggest that physical brain differences actually develop as responses to differential treatment. Third, given that visual-spatial skills (like map reading) can be improved by practice, even if women and men’s corpus callosums differ, this does not make the resulting behavioural differences immutable. (Fausto-Sterling 2000b, chapter 5).

In order to distinguish biological differences from social/psychological ones and to talk about the latter, feminists appropriated the term ‘gender’. Psychologists writing on transsexuality were the first to employ gender terminology in this sense. Until the 1960s, ‘gender’ was often used to refer to masculine and feminine words, like le and la in French. However, in order to explain why some people felt that they were ‘trapped in the wrong bodies’, the psychologist Robert Stoller (1968) began using the terms ‘sex’ to pick out biological traits and ‘gender’ to pick out the amount of femininity and masculinity a person exhibited. Although (by and large) a person’s sex and gender complemented each other, separating out these terms seemed to make theoretical sense allowing Stoller to explain the phenomenon of transsexuality: transsexuals’ sex and gender simply don’t match.

Along with psychologists like Stoller, feminists found it useful to distinguish sex and gender. This enabled them to argue that many differences between women and men were socially produced and, therefore, changeable. Gayle Rubin (for instance) uses the phrase ‘sex/gender system’ in order to describe “a set of arrangements by which the biological raw material of human sex and procreation is shaped by human, social intervention” (1975, 165). Rubin employed this system to articulate that “part of social life which is the locus of the oppression of women” (1975, 159) describing gender as the “socially imposed division of the sexes” (1975, 179). Rubin’s thought was that although biological differences are fixed, gender differences are the oppressive results of social interventions that dictate how women and men should behave. Women are oppressed as women and “by having to be women” (Rubin 1975, 204). However, since gender is social, it is thought to be mutable and alterable by political and social reform that would ultimately bring an end to women’s subordination. Feminism should aim to create a “genderless (though not sexless) society, in which one’s sexual anatomy is irrelevant to who one is, what one does, and with whom one makes love” (Rubin 1975, 204).

In some earlier interpretations, like Rubin’s, sex and gender were thought to complement one another. The slogan ‘Gender is the social interpretation of sex’ captures this view. Nicholson calls this ‘the coat-rack view’ of gender: our sexed bodies are like coat racks and “provide the site upon which gender [is] constructed” (1994, 81). Gender conceived of as masculinity and femininity is superimposed upon the ‘coat-rack’ of sex as each society imposes on sexed bodies their cultural conceptions of how males and females should behave. This socially constructs gender differences – or the amount of femininity/masculinity of a person – upon our sexed bodies. That is, according to this interpretation, all humans are either male or female; their sex is fixed. But cultures interpret sexed bodies differently and project different norms on those bodies thereby creating feminine and masculine persons. Distinguishing sex and gender, however, also enables the two to come apart: they are separable in that one can be sexed male and yet be gendered a woman, or vice versa (Haslanger 2000b; Stoljar 1995).

So, this group of feminist arguments against biological determinism suggested that gender differences result from cultural practices and social expectations. Nowadays it is more common to denote this by saying that gender is socially constructed. This means that genders (women and men) and gendered traits (like being nurturing or ambitious) are the “intended or unintended product[s] of a social practice” (Haslanger 1995, 97). But which social practices construct gender, what social construction is and what being of a certain gender amounts to are major feminist controversies. There is no consensus on these issues. (See the entry on intersections between analytic and continental feminism for more on different ways to understand gender.)

2. Gender as socially constructed

One way to interpret Beauvoir’s claim that one is not born but rather becomes a woman is to take it as a claim about gender socialisation: females become women through a process whereby they acquire feminine traits and learn feminine behaviour. Masculinity and femininity are thought to be products of nurture or how individuals are brought up. They are causally constructed (Haslanger 1995, 98): social forces either have a causal role in bringing gendered individuals into existence or (to some substantial sense) shape the way we are qua women and men. And the mechanism of construction is social learning. For instance, Kate Millett takes gender differences to have “essentially cultural, rather than biological bases” that result from differential treatment (1971, 28–9). For her, gender is “the sum total of the parents’, the peers’, and the culture’s notions of what is appropriate to each gender by way of temperament, character, interests, status, worth, gesture, and expression” (Millett 1971, 31). Feminine and masculine gender-norms, however, are problematic in that gendered behaviour conveniently fits with and reinforces women’s subordination so that women are socialised into subordinate social roles: they learn to be passive, ignorant, docile, emotional helpmeets for men (Millett 1971, 26). However, since these roles are simply learned, we can create more equal societies by ‘unlearning’ social roles. That is, feminists should aim to diminish the influence of socialisation.

Social learning theorists hold that a huge array of different influences socialise us as women and men. This being the case, it is extremely difficult to counter gender socialisation. For instance, parents often unconsciously treat their female and male children differently. When parents have been asked to describe their 24- hour old infants, they have done so using gender-stereotypic language: boys are describes as strong, alert and coordinated and girls as tiny, soft and delicate. Parents’ treatment of their infants further reflects these descriptions whether they are aware of this or not (Renzetti & Curran 1992, 32). Some socialisation is more overt: children are often dressed in gender stereotypical clothes and colours (boys are dressed in blue, girls in pink) and parents tend to buy their children gender stereotypical toys. They also (intentionally or not) tend to reinforce certain ‘appropriate’ behaviours. While the precise form of gender socialization has changed since the onset of second-wave feminism, even today girls are discouraged from playing sports like football or from playing ‘rough and tumble’ games and are more likely than boys to be given dolls or cooking toys to play with; boys are told not to ‘cry like a baby’ and are more likely to be given masculine toys like trucks and guns (for more, see Kimmel 2000, 122–126). [ 1 ]

According to social learning theorists, children are also influenced by what they observe in the world around them. This, again, makes countering gender socialisation difficult. For one, children’s books have portrayed males and females in blatantly stereotypical ways: for instance, males as adventurers and leaders, and females as helpers and followers. One way to address gender stereotyping in children’s books has been to portray females in independent roles and males as non-aggressive and nurturing (Renzetti & Curran 1992, 35). Some publishers have attempted an alternative approach by making their characters, for instance, gender-neutral animals or genderless imaginary creatures (like TV’s Teletubbies). However, parents reading books with gender-neutral or genderless characters often undermine the publishers’ efforts by reading them to their children in ways that depict the characters as either feminine or masculine. According to Renzetti and Curran, parents labelled the overwhelming majority of gender-neutral characters masculine whereas those characters that fit feminine gender stereotypes (for instance, by being helpful and caring) were labelled feminine (1992, 35). Socialising influences like these are still thought to send implicit messages regarding how females and males should act and are expected to act shaping us into feminine and masculine persons.

Nancy Chodorow (1978; 1995) has criticised social learning theory as too simplistic to explain gender differences (see also Deaux & Major 1990; Gatens 1996). Instead, she holds that gender is a matter of having feminine and masculine personalities that develop in early infancy as responses to prevalent parenting practices. In particular, gendered personalities develop because women tend to be the primary caretakers of small children. Chodorow holds that because mothers (or other prominent females) tend to care for infants, infant male and female psychic development differs. Crudely put: the mother-daughter relationship differs from the mother-son relationship because mothers are more likely to identify with their daughters than their sons. This unconsciously prompts the mother to encourage her son to psychologically individuate himself from her thereby prompting him to develop well defined and rigid ego boundaries. However, the mother unconsciously discourages the daughter from individuating herself thereby prompting the daughter to develop flexible and blurry ego boundaries. Childhood gender socialisation further builds on and reinforces these unconsciously developed ego boundaries finally producing feminine and masculine persons (1995, 202–206). This perspective has its roots in Freudian psychoanalytic theory, although Chodorow’s approach differs in many ways from Freud’s.

Gendered personalities are supposedly manifested in common gender stereotypical behaviour. Take emotional dependency. Women are stereotypically more emotional and emotionally dependent upon others around them, supposedly finding it difficult to distinguish their own interests and wellbeing from the interests and wellbeing of their children and partners. This is said to be because of their blurry and (somewhat) confused ego boundaries: women find it hard to distinguish their own needs from the needs of those around them because they cannot sufficiently individuate themselves from those close to them. By contrast, men are stereotypically emotionally detached, preferring a career where dispassionate and distanced thinking are virtues. These traits are said to result from men’s well-defined ego boundaries that enable them to prioritise their own needs and interests sometimes at the expense of others’ needs and interests.

Chodorow thinks that these gender differences should and can be changed. Feminine and masculine personalities play a crucial role in women’s oppression since they make females overly attentive to the needs of others and males emotionally deficient. In order to correct the situation, both male and female parents should be equally involved in parenting (Chodorow 1995, 214). This would help in ensuring that children develop sufficiently individuated senses of selves without becoming overly detached, which in turn helps to eradicate common gender stereotypical behaviours.

Catharine MacKinnon develops her theory of gender as a theory of sexuality. Very roughly: the social meaning of sex (gender) is created by sexual objectification of women whereby women are viewed and treated as objects for satisfying men’s desires (MacKinnon 1989). Masculinity is defined as sexual dominance, femininity as sexual submissiveness: genders are “created through the eroticization of dominance and submission. The man/woman difference and the dominance/submission dynamic define each other. This is the social meaning of sex” (MacKinnon 1989, 113). For MacKinnon, gender is constitutively constructed : in defining genders (or masculinity and femininity) we must make reference to social factors (see Haslanger 1995, 98). In particular, we must make reference to the position one occupies in the sexualised dominance/submission dynamic: men occupy the sexually dominant position, women the sexually submissive one. As a result, genders are by definition hierarchical and this hierarchy is fundamentally tied to sexualised power relations. The notion of ‘gender equality’, then, does not make sense to MacKinnon. If sexuality ceased to be a manifestation of dominance, hierarchical genders (that are defined in terms of sexuality) would cease to exist.

So, gender difference for MacKinnon is not a matter of having a particular psychological orientation or behavioural pattern; rather, it is a function of sexuality that is hierarchal in patriarchal societies. This is not to say that men are naturally disposed to sexually objectify women or that women are naturally submissive. Instead, male and female sexualities are socially conditioned: men have been conditioned to find women’s subordination sexy and women have been conditioned to find a particular male version of female sexuality as erotic – one in which it is erotic to be sexually submissive. For MacKinnon, both female and male sexual desires are defined from a male point of view that is conditioned by pornography (MacKinnon 1989, chapter 7). Bluntly put: pornography portrays a false picture of ‘what women want’ suggesting that women in actual fact are and want to be submissive. This conditions men’s sexuality so that they view women’s submission as sexy. And male dominance enforces this male version of sexuality onto women, sometimes by force. MacKinnon’s thought is not that male dominance is a result of social learning (see 2.1.); rather, socialization is an expression of power. That is, socialized differences in masculine and feminine traits, behaviour, and roles are not responsible for power inequalities. Females and males (roughly put) are socialised differently because there are underlying power inequalities. As MacKinnon puts it, ‘dominance’ (power relations) is prior to ‘difference’ (traits, behaviour and roles) (see, MacKinnon 1989, chapter 12). MacKinnon, then, sees legal restrictions on pornography as paramount to ending women’s subordinate status that stems from their gender.

3. Problems with the sex/gender distinction

3.1 is gender uniform.

The positions outlined above share an underlying metaphysical perspective on gender: gender realism . [ 2 ] That is, women as a group are assumed to share some characteristic feature, experience, common condition or criterion that defines their gender and the possession of which makes some individuals women (as opposed to, say, men). All women are thought to differ from all men in this respect (or respects). For example, MacKinnon thought that being treated in sexually objectifying ways is the common condition that defines women’s gender and what women as women share. All women differ from all men in this respect. Further, pointing out females who are not sexually objectified does not provide a counterexample to MacKinnon’s view. Being sexually objectified is constitutive of being a woman; a female who escapes sexual objectification, then, would not count as a woman.

One may want to critique the three accounts outlined by rejecting the particular details of each account. (For instance, see Spelman [1988, chapter 4] for a critique of the details of Chodorow’s view.) A more thoroughgoing critique has been levelled at the general metaphysical perspective of gender realism that underlies these positions. It has come under sustained attack on two grounds: first, that it fails to take into account racial, cultural and class differences between women (particularity argument); second, that it posits a normative ideal of womanhood (normativity argument).

Elizabeth Spelman (1988) has influentially argued against gender realism with her particularity argument. Roughly: gender realists mistakenly assume that gender is constructed independently of race, class, ethnicity and nationality. If gender were separable from, for example, race and class in this manner, all women would experience womanhood in the same way. And this is clearly false. For instance, Harris (1993) and Stone (2007) criticise MacKinnon’s view, that sexual objectification is the common condition that defines women’s gender, for failing to take into account differences in women’s backgrounds that shape their sexuality. The history of racist oppression illustrates that during slavery black women were ‘hypersexualised’ and thought to be always sexually available whereas white women were thought to be pure and sexually virtuous. In fact, the rape of a black woman was thought to be impossible (Harris 1993). So, (the argument goes) sexual objectification cannot serve as the common condition for womanhood since it varies considerably depending on one’s race and class. [ 3 ]

For Spelman, the perspective of ‘white solipsism’ underlies gender realists’ mistake. They assumed that all women share some “golden nugget of womanness” (Spelman 1988, 159) and that the features constitutive of such a nugget are the same for all women regardless of their particular cultural backgrounds. Next, white Western middle-class feminists accounted for the shared features simply by reflecting on the cultural features that condition their gender as women thus supposing that “the womanness underneath the Black woman’s skin is a white woman’s, and deep down inside the Latina woman is an Anglo woman waiting to burst through an obscuring cultural shroud” (Spelman 1988, 13). In so doing, Spelman claims, white middle-class Western feminists passed off their particular view of gender as “a metaphysical truth” (1988, 180) thereby privileging some women while marginalising others. In failing to see the importance of race and class in gender construction, white middle-class Western feminists conflated “the condition of one group of women with the condition of all” (Spelman 1988, 3).

Betty Friedan’s (1963) well-known work is a case in point of white solipsism. [ 4 ] Friedan saw domesticity as the main vehicle of gender oppression and called upon women in general to find jobs outside the home. But she failed to realize that women from less privileged backgrounds, often poor and non-white, already worked outside the home to support their families. Friedan’s suggestion, then, was applicable only to a particular sub-group of women (white middle-class Western housewives). But it was mistakenly taken to apply to all women’s lives — a mistake that was generated by Friedan’s failure to take women’s racial and class differences into account (hooks 2000, 1–3).

Spelman further holds that since social conditioning creates femininity and societies (and sub-groups) that condition it differ from one another, femininity must be differently conditioned in different societies. For her, “females become not simply women but particular kinds of women” (Spelman 1988, 113): white working-class women, black middle-class women, poor Jewish women, wealthy aristocratic European women, and so on.

This line of thought has been extremely influential in feminist philosophy. For instance, Young holds that Spelman has definitively shown that gender realism is untenable (1997, 13). Mikkola (2006) argues that this isn’t so. The arguments Spelman makes do not undermine the idea that there is some characteristic feature, experience, common condition or criterion that defines women’s gender; they simply point out that some particular ways of cashing out what defines womanhood are misguided. So, although Spelman is right to reject those accounts that falsely take the feature that conditions white middle-class Western feminists’ gender to condition women’s gender in general, this leaves open the possibility that women qua women do share something that defines their gender. (See also Haslanger [2000a] for a discussion of why gender realism is not necessarily untenable, and Stoljar [2011] for a discussion of Mikkola’s critique of Spelman.)

Judith Butler critiques the sex/gender distinction on two grounds. They critique gender realism with their normativity argument (1999 [original 1990], chapter 1); they also hold that the sex/gender distinction is unintelligible (this will be discussed in section 3.3.). Butler’s normativity argument is not straightforwardly directed at the metaphysical perspective of gender realism, but rather at its political counterpart: identity politics. This is a form of political mobilization based on membership in some group (e.g. racial, ethnic, cultural, gender) and group membership is thought to be delimited by some common experiences, conditions or features that define the group (Heyes 2000, 58; see also the entry on Identity Politics ). Feminist identity politics, then, presupposes gender realism in that feminist politics is said to be mobilized around women as a group (or category) where membership in this group is fixed by some condition, experience or feature that women supposedly share and that defines their gender.

Butler’s normativity argument makes two claims. The first is akin to Spelman’s particularity argument: unitary gender notions fail to take differences amongst women into account thus failing to recognise “the multiplicity of cultural, social, and political intersections in which the concrete array of ‘women’ are constructed” (Butler 1999, 19–20). In their attempt to undercut biologically deterministic ways of defining what it means to be a woman, feminists inadvertently created new socially constructed accounts of supposedly shared femininity. Butler’s second claim is that such false gender realist accounts are normative. That is, in their attempt to fix feminism’s subject matter, feminists unwittingly defined the term ‘woman’ in a way that implies there is some correct way to be gendered a woman (Butler 1999, 5). That the definition of the term ‘woman’ is fixed supposedly “operates as a policing force which generates and legitimizes certain practices, experiences, etc., and curtails and delegitimizes others” (Nicholson 1998, 293). Following this line of thought, one could say that, for instance, Chodorow’s view of gender suggests that ‘real’ women have feminine personalities and that these are the women feminism should be concerned about. If one does not exhibit a distinctly feminine personality, the implication is that one is not ‘really’ a member of women’s category nor does one properly qualify for feminist political representation.

Butler’s second claim is based on their view that“[i]dentity categories [like that of women] are never merely descriptive, but always normative, and as such, exclusionary” (Butler 1991, 160). That is, the mistake of those feminists Butler critiques was not that they provided the incorrect definition of ‘woman’. Rather, (the argument goes) their mistake was to attempt to define the term ‘woman’ at all. Butler’s view is that ‘woman’ can never be defined in a way that does not prescribe some “unspoken normative requirements” (like having a feminine personality) that women should conform to (Butler 1999, 9). Butler takes this to be a feature of terms like ‘woman’ that purport to pick out (what they call) ‘identity categories’. They seem to assume that ‘woman’ can never be used in a non-ideological way (Moi 1999, 43) and that it will always encode conditions that are not satisfied by everyone we think of as women. Some explanation for this comes from Butler’s view that all processes of drawing categorical distinctions involve evaluative and normative commitments; these in turn involve the exercise of power and reflect the conditions of those who are socially powerful (Witt 1995).

In order to better understand Butler’s critique, consider their account of gender performativity. For them, standard feminist accounts take gendered individuals to have some essential properties qua gendered individuals or a gender core by virtue of which one is either a man or a woman. This view assumes that women and men, qua women and men, are bearers of various essential and accidental attributes where the former secure gendered persons’ persistence through time as so gendered. But according to Butler this view is false: (i) there are no such essential properties, and (ii) gender is an illusion maintained by prevalent power structures. First, feminists are said to think that genders are socially constructed in that they have the following essential attributes (Butler 1999, 24): women are females with feminine behavioural traits, being heterosexuals whose desire is directed at men; men are males with masculine behavioural traits, being heterosexuals whose desire is directed at women. These are the attributes necessary for gendered individuals and those that enable women and men to persist through time as women and men. Individuals have “intelligible genders” (Butler 1999, 23) if they exhibit this sequence of traits in a coherent manner (where sexual desire follows from sexual orientation that in turn follows from feminine/ masculine behaviours thought to follow from biological sex). Social forces in general deem individuals who exhibit in coherent gender sequences (like lesbians) to be doing their gender ‘wrong’ and they actively discourage such sequencing of traits, for instance, via name-calling and overt homophobic discrimination. Think back to what was said above: having a certain conception of what women are like that mirrors the conditions of socially powerful (white, middle-class, heterosexual, Western) women functions to marginalize and police those who do not fit this conception.

These gender cores, supposedly encoding the above traits, however, are nothing more than illusions created by ideals and practices that seek to render gender uniform through heterosexism, the view that heterosexuality is natural and homosexuality is deviant (Butler 1999, 42). Gender cores are constructed as if they somehow naturally belong to women and men thereby creating gender dimorphism or the belief that one must be either a masculine male or a feminine female. But gender dimorphism only serves a heterosexist social order by implying that since women and men are sharply opposed, it is natural to sexually desire the opposite sex or gender.

Further, being feminine and desiring men (for instance) are standardly assumed to be expressions of one’s gender as a woman. Butler denies this and holds that gender is really performative. It is not “a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow; rather, gender is … instituted … through a stylized repetition of [habitual] acts ” (Butler 1999, 179): through wearing certain gender-coded clothing, walking and sitting in certain gender-coded ways, styling one’s hair in gender-coded manner and so on. Gender is not something one is, it is something one does; it is a sequence of acts, a doing rather than a being. And repeatedly engaging in ‘feminising’ and ‘masculinising’ acts congeals gender thereby making people falsely think of gender as something they naturally are . Gender only comes into being through these gendering acts: a female who has sex with men does not express her gender as a woman. This activity (amongst others) makes her gendered a woman.

The constitutive acts that gender individuals create genders as “compelling illusion[s]” (Butler 1990, 271). Our gendered classification scheme is a strong pragmatic construction : social factors wholly determine our use of the scheme and the scheme fails to represent accurately any ‘facts of the matter’ (Haslanger 1995, 100). People think that there are true and real genders, and those deemed to be doing their gender ‘wrong’ are not socially sanctioned. But, genders are true and real only to the extent that they are performed (Butler 1990, 278–9). It does not make sense, then, to say of a male-to-female trans person that s/he is really a man who only appears to be a woman. Instead, males dressing up and acting in ways that are associated with femininity “show that [as Butler suggests] ‘being’ feminine is just a matter of doing certain activities” (Stone 2007, 64). As a result, the trans person’s gender is just as real or true as anyone else’s who is a ‘traditionally’ feminine female or masculine male (Butler 1990, 278). [ 5 ] Without heterosexism that compels people to engage in certain gendering acts, there would not be any genders at all. And ultimately the aim should be to abolish norms that compel people to act in these gendering ways.

For Butler, given that gender is performative, the appropriate response to feminist identity politics involves two things. First, feminists should understand ‘woman’ as open-ended and “a term in process, a becoming, a constructing that cannot rightfully be said to originate or end … it is open to intervention and resignification” (Butler 1999, 43). That is, feminists should not try to define ‘woman’ at all. Second, the category of women “ought not to be the foundation of feminist politics” (Butler 1999, 9). Rather, feminists should focus on providing an account of how power functions and shapes our understandings of womanhood not only in the society at large but also within the feminist movement.

Many people, including many feminists, have ordinarily taken sex ascriptions to be solely a matter of biology with no social or cultural dimension. It is commonplace to think that there are only two sexes and that biological sex classifications are utterly unproblematic. By contrast, some feminists have argued that sex classifications are not unproblematic and that they are not solely a matter of biology. In order to make sense of this, it is helpful to distinguish object- and idea-construction (see Haslanger 2003b for more): social forces can be said to construct certain kinds of objects (e.g. sexed bodies or gendered individuals) and certain kinds of ideas (e.g. sex or gender concepts). First, take the object-construction of sexed bodies. Secondary sex characteristics, or the physiological and biological features commonly associated with males and females, are affected by social practices. In some societies, females’ lower social status has meant that they have been fed less and so, the lack of nutrition has had the effect of making them smaller in size (Jaggar 1983, 37). Uniformity in muscular shape, size and strength within sex categories is not caused entirely by biological factors, but depends heavily on exercise opportunities: if males and females were allowed the same exercise opportunities and equal encouragement to exercise, it is thought that bodily dimorphism would diminish (Fausto-Sterling 1993a, 218). A number of medical phenomena involving bones (like osteoporosis) have social causes directly related to expectations about gender, women’s diet and their exercise opportunities (Fausto-Sterling 2005). These examples suggest that physiological features thought to be sex-specific traits not affected by social and cultural factors are, after all, to some extent products of social conditioning. Social conditioning, then, shapes our biology.

Second, take the idea-construction of sex concepts. Our concept of sex is said to be a product of social forces in the sense that what counts as sex is shaped by social meanings. Standardly, those with XX-chromosomes, ovaries that produce large egg cells, female genitalia, a relatively high proportion of ‘female’ hormones, and other secondary sex characteristics (relatively small body size, less body hair) count as biologically female. Those with XY-chromosomes, testes that produce small sperm cells, male genitalia, a relatively high proportion of ‘male’ hormones and other secondary sex traits (relatively large body size, significant amounts of body hair) count as male. This understanding is fairly recent. The prevalent scientific view from Ancient Greeks until the late 18 th century, did not consider female and male sexes to be distinct categories with specific traits; instead, a ‘one-sex model’ held that males and females were members of the same sex category. Females’ genitals were thought to be the same as males’ but simply directed inside the body; ovaries and testes (for instance) were referred to by the same term and whether the term referred to the former or the latter was made clear by the context (Laqueur 1990, 4). It was not until the late 1700s that scientists began to think of female and male anatomies as radically different moving away from the ‘one-sex model’ of a single sex spectrum to the (nowadays prevalent) ‘two-sex model’ of sexual dimorphism. (For an alternative view, see King 2013.)

Fausto-Sterling has argued that this ‘two-sex model’ isn’t straightforward either (1993b; 2000a; 2000b). Based on a meta-study of empirical medical research, she estimates that 1.7% of population fail to neatly fall within the usual sex classifications possessing various combinations of different sex characteristics (Fausto-Sterling 2000a, 20). In her earlier work, she claimed that intersex individuals make up (at least) three further sex classes: ‘herms’ who possess one testis and one ovary; ‘merms’ who possess testes, some aspects of female genitalia but no ovaries; and ‘ferms’ who have ovaries, some aspects of male genitalia but no testes (Fausto-Sterling 1993b, 21). (In her [2000a], Fausto-Sterling notes that these labels were put forward tongue–in–cheek.) Recognition of intersex people suggests that feminists (and society at large) are wrong to think that humans are either female or male.

To illustrate further the idea-construction of sex, consider the case of the athlete Maria Patiño. Patiño has female genitalia, has always considered herself to be female and was considered so by others. However, she was discovered to have XY chromosomes and was barred from competing in women’s sports (Fausto-Sterling 2000b, 1–3). Patiño’s genitalia were at odds with her chromosomes and the latter were taken to determine her sex. Patiño successfully fought to be recognised as a female athlete arguing that her chromosomes alone were not sufficient to not make her female. Intersex people, like Patiño, illustrate that our understandings of sex differ and suggest that there is no immediately obvious way to settle what sex amounts to purely biologically or scientifically. Deciding what sex is involves evaluative judgements that are influenced by social factors.

Insofar as our cultural conceptions affect our understandings of sex, feminists must be much more careful about sex classifications and rethink what sex amounts to (Stone 2007, chapter 1). More specifically, intersex people illustrate that sex traits associated with females and males need not always go together and that individuals can have some mixture of these traits. This suggests to Stone that sex is a cluster concept: it is sufficient to satisfy enough of the sex features that tend to cluster together in order to count as being of a particular sex. But, one need not satisfy all of those features or some arbitrarily chosen supposedly necessary sex feature, like chromosomes (Stone 2007, 44). This makes sex a matter of degree and sex classifications should take place on a spectrum: one can be more or less female/male but there is no sharp distinction between the two. Further, intersex people (along with trans people) are located at the centre of the sex spectrum and in many cases their sex will be indeterminate (Stone 2007).

More recently, Ayala and Vasilyeva (2015) have argued for an inclusive and extended conception of sex: just as certain tools can be seen to extend our minds beyond the limits of our brains (e.g. white canes), other tools (like dildos) can extend our sex beyond our bodily boundaries. This view aims to motivate the idea that what counts as sex should not be determined by looking inwards at genitalia or other anatomical features. In a different vein, Ásta (2018) argues that sex is a conferred social property. This follows her more general conferralist framework to analyse all social properties: properties that are conferred by others thereby generating a social status that consists in contextually specific constraints and enablements on individual behaviour. The general schema for conferred properties is as follows (Ásta 2018, 8):

Conferred property: what property is conferred. Who: who the subjects are. What: what attitude, state, or action of the subjects matter. When: under what conditions the conferral takes place. Base property: what the subjects are attempting to track (consciously or not), if anything.

With being of a certain sex (e.g. male, female) in mind, Ásta holds that it is a conferred property that merely aims to track physical features. Hence sex is a social – or in fact, an institutional – property rather than a natural one. The schema for sex goes as follows (72):

Conferred property: being female, male. Who: legal authorities, drawing on the expert opinion of doctors, other medical personnel. What: “the recording of a sex in official documents ... The judgment of the doctors (and others) as to what sex role might be the most fitting, given the biological characteristics present.” When: at birth or after surgery/ hormonal treatment. Base property: “the aim is to track as many sex-stereotypical characteristics as possible, and doctors perform surgery in cases where that might help bring the physical characteristics more in line with the stereotype of male and female.”

This (among other things) offers a debunking analysis of sex: it may appear to be a natural property, but on the conferralist analysis is better understood as a conferred legal status. Ásta holds that gender too is a conferred property, but contra the discussion in the following section, she does not think that this collapses the distinction between sex and gender: sex and gender are differently conferred albeit both satisfying the general schema noted above. Nonetheless, on the conferralist framework what underlies both sex and gender is the idea of social construction as social significance: sex-stereotypical characteristics are taken to be socially significant context specifically, whereby they become the basis for conferring sex onto individuals and this brings with it various constraints and enablements on individuals and their behaviour. This fits object- and idea-constructions introduced above, although offers a different general framework to analyse the matter at hand.

In addition to arguing against identity politics and for gender performativity, Butler holds that distinguishing biological sex from social gender is unintelligible. For them, both are socially constructed:

If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all. (Butler 1999, 10–11)

(Butler is not alone in claiming that there are no tenable distinctions between nature/culture, biology/construction and sex/gender. See also: Antony 1998; Gatens 1996; Grosz 1994; Prokhovnik 1999.) Butler makes two different claims in the passage cited: that sex is a social construction, and that sex is gender. To unpack their view, consider the two claims in turn. First, the idea that sex is a social construct, for Butler, boils down to the view that our sexed bodies are also performative and, so, they have “no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute [their] reality” (1999, 173). Prima facie , this implausibly implies that female and male bodies do not have independent existence and that if gendering activities ceased, so would physical bodies. This is not Butler’s claim; rather, their position is that bodies viewed as the material foundations on which gender is constructed, are themselves constructed as if they provide such material foundations (Butler 1993). Cultural conceptions about gender figure in “the very apparatus of production whereby sexes themselves are established” (Butler 1999, 11).

For Butler, sexed bodies never exist outside social meanings and how we understand gender shapes how we understand sex (1999, 139). Sexed bodies are not empty matter on which gender is constructed and sex categories are not picked out on the basis of objective features of the world. Instead, our sexed bodies are themselves discursively constructed : they are the way they are, at least to a substantial extent, because of what is attributed to sexed bodies and how they are classified (for discursive construction, see Haslanger 1995, 99). Sex assignment (calling someone female or male) is normative (Butler 1993, 1). [ 6 ] When the doctor calls a newly born infant a girl or a boy, s/he is not making a descriptive claim, but a normative one. In fact, the doctor is performing an illocutionary speech act (see the entry on Speech Acts ). In effect, the doctor’s utterance makes infants into girls or boys. We, then, engage in activities that make it seem as if sexes naturally come in two and that being female or male is an objective feature of the world, rather than being a consequence of certain constitutive acts (that is, rather than being performative). And this is what Butler means in saying that physical bodies never exist outside cultural and social meanings, and that sex is as socially constructed as gender. They do not deny that physical bodies exist. But, they take our understanding of this existence to be a product of social conditioning: social conditioning makes the existence of physical bodies intelligible to us by discursively constructing sexed bodies through certain constitutive acts. (For a helpful introduction to Butler’s views, see Salih 2002.)

For Butler, sex assignment is always in some sense oppressive. Again, this appears to be because of Butler’s general suspicion of classification: sex classification can never be merely descriptive but always has a normative element reflecting evaluative claims of those who are powerful. Conducting a feminist genealogy of the body (or examining why sexed bodies are thought to come naturally as female and male), then, should ground feminist practice (Butler 1993, 28–9). Feminists should examine and uncover ways in which social construction and certain acts that constitute sex shape our understandings of sexed bodies, what kinds of meanings bodies acquire and which practices and illocutionary speech acts ‘make’ our bodies into sexes. Doing so enables feminists to identity how sexed bodies are socially constructed in order to resist such construction.

However, given what was said above, it is far from obvious what we should make of Butler’s claim that sex “was always already gender” (1999, 11). Stone (2007) takes this to mean that sex is gender but goes on to question it arguing that the social construction of both sex and gender does not make sex identical to gender. According to Stone, it would be more accurate for Butler to say that claims about sex imply gender norms. That is, many claims about sex traits (like ‘females are physically weaker than males’) actually carry implications about how women and men are expected to behave. To some extent the claim describes certain facts. But, it also implies that females are not expected to do much heavy lifting and that they would probably not be good at it. So, claims about sex are not identical to claims about gender; rather, they imply claims about gender norms (Stone 2007, 70).

Some feminists hold that the sex/gender distinction is not useful. For a start, it is thought to reflect politically problematic dualistic thinking that undercuts feminist aims: the distinction is taken to reflect and replicate androcentric oppositions between (for instance) mind/body, culture/nature and reason/emotion that have been used to justify women’s oppression (e.g. Grosz 1994; Prokhovnik 1999). The thought is that in oppositions like these, one term is always superior to the other and that the devalued term is usually associated with women (Lloyd 1993). For instance, human subjectivity and agency are identified with the mind but since women are usually identified with their bodies, they are devalued as human subjects and agents. The opposition between mind and body is said to further map on to other distinctions, like reason/emotion, culture/nature, rational/irrational, where one side of each distinction is devalued (one’s bodily features are usually valued less that one’s mind, rationality is usually valued more than irrationality) and women are associated with the devalued terms: they are thought to be closer to bodily features and nature than men, to be irrational, emotional and so on. This is said to be evident (for instance) in job interviews. Men are treated as gender-neutral persons and not asked whether they are planning to take time off to have a family. By contrast, that women face such queries illustrates that they are associated more closely than men with bodily features to do with procreation (Prokhovnik 1999, 126). The opposition between mind and body, then, is thought to map onto the opposition between men and women.

Now, the mind/body dualism is also said to map onto the sex/gender distinction (Grosz 1994; Prokhovnik 1999). The idea is that gender maps onto mind, sex onto body. Although not used by those endorsing this view, the basic idea can be summed by the slogan ‘Gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs’: the implication is that, while sex is immutable, gender is something individuals have control over – it is something we can alter and change through individual choices. However, since women are said to be more closely associated with biological features (and so, to map onto the body side of the mind/body distinction) and men are treated as gender-neutral persons (mapping onto the mind side), the implication is that “man equals gender, which is associated with mind and choice, freedom from body, autonomy, and with the public real; while woman equals sex, associated with the body, reproduction, ‘natural’ rhythms and the private realm” (Prokhovnik 1999, 103). This is said to render the sex/gender distinction inherently repressive and to drain it of any potential for emancipation: rather than facilitating gender role choice for women, it “actually functions to reinforce their association with body, sex, and involuntary ‘natural’ rhythms” (Prokhovnik 1999, 103). Contrary to what feminists like Rubin argued, the sex/gender distinction cannot be used as a theoretical tool that dissociates conceptions of womanhood from biological and reproductive features.

Moi has further argued that the sex/gender distinction is useless given certain theoretical goals (1999, chapter 1). This is not to say that it is utterly worthless; according to Moi, the sex/gender distinction worked well to show that the historically prevalent biological determinism was false. However, for her, the distinction does no useful work “when it comes to producing a good theory of subjectivity” (1999, 6) and “a concrete, historical understanding of what it means to be a woman (or a man) in a given society” (1999, 4–5). That is, the 1960s distinction understood sex as fixed by biology without any cultural or historical dimensions. This understanding, however, ignores lived experiences and embodiment as aspects of womanhood (and manhood) by separating sex from gender and insisting that womanhood is to do with the latter. Rather, embodiment must be included in one’s theory that tries to figure out what it is to be a woman (or a man).

Mikkola (2011) argues that the sex/gender distinction, which underlies views like Rubin’s and MacKinnon’s, has certain unintuitive and undesirable ontological commitments that render the distinction politically unhelpful. First, claiming that gender is socially constructed implies that the existence of women and men is a mind-dependent matter. This suggests that we can do away with women and men simply by altering some social practices, conventions or conditions on which gender depends (whatever those are). However, ordinary social agents find this unintuitive given that (ordinarily) sex and gender are not distinguished. Second, claiming that gender is a product of oppressive social forces suggests that doing away with women and men should be feminism’s political goal. But this harbours ontologically undesirable commitments since many ordinary social agents view their gender to be a source of positive value. So, feminism seems to want to do away with something that should not be done away with, which is unlikely to motivate social agents to act in ways that aim at gender justice. Given these problems, Mikkola argues that feminists should give up the distinction on practical political grounds.

Tomas Bogardus (2020) has argued in an even more radical sense against the sex/gender distinction: as things stand, he holds, feminist philosophers have merely assumed and asserted that the distinction exists, instead of having offered good arguments for the distinction. In other words, feminist philosophers allegedly have yet to offer good reasons to think that ‘woman’ does not simply pick out adult human females. Alex Byrne (2020) argues in a similar vein: the term ‘woman’ does not pick out a social kind as feminist philosophers have “assumed”. Instead, “women are adult human females–nothing more, and nothing less” (2020, 3801). Byrne offers six considerations to ground this AHF (adult, human, female) conception.

  • It reproduces the dictionary definition of ‘woman’.
  • One would expect English to have a word that picks out the category adult human female, and ‘woman’ is the only candidate.
  • AHF explains how we sometimes know that an individual is a woman, despite knowing nothing else relevant about her other than the fact that she is an adult human female.
  • AHF stands or falls with the analogous thesis for girls, which can be supported independently.
  • AHF predicts the correct verdict in cases of gender role reversal.
  • AHF is supported by the fact that ‘woman’ and ‘female’ are often appropriately used as stylistic variants of each other, even in hyperintensional contexts.

Robin Dembroff (2021) responds to Byrne and highlights various problems with Byrne’s argument. First, framing: Byrne assumes from the start that gender terms like ‘woman’ have a single invariant meaning thereby failing to discuss the possibility of terms like ‘woman’ having multiple meanings – something that is a familiar claim made by feminist theorists from various disciplines. Moreover, Byrne (according to Dembroff) assumes without argument that there is a single, universal category of woman – again, something that has been extensively discussed and critiqued by feminist philosophers and theorists. Second, Byrne’s conception of the ‘dominant’ meaning of woman is said to be cherry-picked and it ignores a wealth of contexts outside of philosophy (like the media and the law) where ‘woman’ has a meaning other than AHF . Third, Byrne’s own distinction between biological and social categories fails to establish what he intended to establish: namely, that ‘woman’ picks out a biological rather than a social kind. Hence, Dembroff holds, Byrne’s case fails by its own lights. Byrne (2021) responds to Dembroff’s critique.

Others such as ‘gender critical feminists’ also hold views about the sex/gender distinction in a spirit similar to Bogardus and Byrne. For example, Holly Lawford-Smith (2021) takes the prevalent sex/gender distinction, where ‘female’/‘male’ are used as sex terms and ‘woman’/’man’ as gender terms, not to be helpful. Instead, she takes all of these to be sex terms and holds that (the norms of) femininity/masculinity refer to gender normativity. Because much of the gender critical feminists’ discussion that philosophers have engaged in has taken place in social media, public fora, and other sources outside academic philosophy, this entry will not focus on these discussions.

4. Women as a group

The various critiques of the sex/gender distinction have called into question the viability of the category women . Feminism is the movement to end the oppression women as a group face. But, how should the category of women be understood if feminists accept the above arguments that gender construction is not uniform, that a sharp distinction between biological sex and social gender is false or (at least) not useful, and that various features associated with women play a role in what it is to be a woman, none of which are individually necessary and jointly sufficient (like a variety of social roles, positions, behaviours, traits, bodily features and experiences)? Feminists must be able to address cultural and social differences in gender construction if feminism is to be a genuinely inclusive movement and be careful not to posit commonalities that mask important ways in which women qua women differ. These concerns (among others) have generated a situation where (as Linda Alcoff puts it) feminists aim to speak and make political demands in the name of women, at the same time rejecting the idea that there is a unified category of women (2006, 152). If feminist critiques of the category women are successful, then what (if anything) binds women together, what is it to be a woman, and what kinds of demands can feminists make on behalf of women?

Many have found the fragmentation of the category of women problematic for political reasons (e.g. Alcoff 2006; Bach 2012; Benhabib 1992; Frye 1996; Haslanger 2000b; Heyes 2000; Martin 1994; Mikkola 2007; Stoljar 1995; Stone 2004; Tanesini 1996; Young 1997; Zack 2005). For instance, Young holds that accounts like Spelman’s reduce the category of women to a gerrymandered collection of individuals with nothing to bind them together (1997, 20). Black women differ from white women but members of both groups also differ from one another with respect to nationality, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and economic position; that is, wealthy white women differ from working-class white women due to their economic and class positions. These sub-groups are themselves diverse: for instance, some working-class white women in Northern Ireland are starkly divided along religious lines. So if we accept Spelman’s position, we risk ending up with individual women and nothing to bind them together. And this is problematic: in order to respond to oppression of women in general, feminists must understand them as a category in some sense. Young writes that without doing so “it is not possible to conceptualize oppression as a systematic, structured, institutional process” (1997, 17). Some, then, take the articulation of an inclusive category of women to be the prerequisite for effective feminist politics and a rich literature has emerged that aims to conceptualise women as a group or a collective (e.g. Alcoff 2006; Ásta 2011; Frye 1996; 2011; Haslanger 2000b; Heyes 2000; Stoljar 1995, 2011; Young 1997; Zack 2005). Articulations of this category can be divided into those that are: (a) gender nominalist — positions that deny there is something women qua women share and that seek to unify women’s social kind by appealing to something external to women; and (b) gender realist — positions that take there to be something women qua women share (although these realist positions differ significantly from those outlined in Section 2). Below we will review some influential gender nominalist and gender realist positions. Before doing so, it is worth noting that not everyone is convinced that attempts to articulate an inclusive category of women can succeed or that worries about what it is to be a woman are in need of being resolved. Mikkola (2016) argues that feminist politics need not rely on overcoming (what she calls) the ‘gender controversy’: that feminists must settle the meaning of gender concepts and articulate a way to ground women’s social kind membership. As she sees it, disputes about ‘what it is to be a woman’ have become theoretically bankrupt and intractable, which has generated an analytical impasse that looks unsurpassable. Instead, Mikkola argues for giving up the quest, which in any case in her view poses no serious political obstacles.

Elizabeth Barnes (2020) responds to the need to offer an inclusive conception of gender somewhat differently, although she endorses the need for feminism to be inclusive particularly of trans people. Barnes holds that typically philosophical theories of gender aim to offer an account of what it is to be a woman (or man, genderqueer, etc.), where such an account is presumed to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for being a woman or an account of our gender terms’ extensions. But, she holds, it is a mistake to expect our theories of gender to do so. For Barnes, a project that offers a metaphysics of gender “should be understood as the project of theorizing what it is —if anything— about the social world that ultimately explains gender” (2020, 706). This project is not equivalent to one that aims to define gender terms or elucidate the application conditions for natural language gender terms though.

4.1 Gender nominalism

Iris Young argues that unless there is “some sense in which ‘woman’ is the name of a social collective [that feminism represents], there is nothing specific to feminist politics” (1997, 13). In order to make the category women intelligible, she argues that women make up a series: a particular kind of social collective “whose members are unified passively by the objects their actions are oriented around and/or by the objectified results of the material effects of the actions of the other” (Young 1997, 23). A series is distinct from a group in that, whereas members of groups are thought to self-consciously share certain goals, projects, traits and/ or self-conceptions, members of series pursue their own individual ends without necessarily having anything at all in common. Young holds that women are not bound together by a shared feature or experience (or set of features and experiences) since she takes Spelman’s particularity argument to have established definitely that no such feature exists (1997, 13; see also: Frye 1996; Heyes 2000). Instead, women’s category is unified by certain practico-inert realities or the ways in which women’s lives and their actions are oriented around certain objects and everyday realities (Young 1997, 23–4). For example, bus commuters make up a series unified through their individual actions being organised around the same practico-inert objects of the bus and the practice of public transport. Women make up a series unified through women’s lives and actions being organised around certain practico-inert objects and realities that position them as women .

Young identifies two broad groups of such practico-inert objects and realities. First, phenomena associated with female bodies (physical facts), biological processes that take place in female bodies (menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth) and social rules associated with these biological processes (social rules of menstruation, for instance). Second, gender-coded objects and practices: pronouns, verbal and visual representations of gender, gender-coded artefacts and social spaces, clothes, cosmetics, tools and furniture. So, women make up a series since their lives and actions are organised around female bodies and certain gender-coded objects. Their series is bound together passively and the unity is “not one that arises from the individuals called women” (Young 1997, 32).

Although Young’s proposal purports to be a response to Spelman’s worries, Stone has questioned whether it is, after all, susceptible to the particularity argument: ultimately, on Young’s view, something women as women share (their practico-inert realities) binds them together (Stone 2004).

Natalie Stoljar holds that unless the category of women is unified, feminist action on behalf of women cannot be justified (1995, 282). Stoljar too is persuaded by the thought that women qua women do not share anything unitary. This prompts her to argue for resemblance nominalism. This is the view that a certain kind of resemblance relation holds between entities of a particular type (for more on resemblance nominalism, see Armstrong 1989, 39–58). Stoljar is not alone in arguing for resemblance relations to make sense of women as a category; others have also done so, usually appealing to Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblance’ relations (Alcoff 1988; Green & Radford Curry 1991; Heyes 2000; Munro 2006). Stoljar relies more on Price’s resemblance nominalism whereby x is a member of some type F only if x resembles some paradigm or exemplar of F sufficiently closely (Price 1953, 20). For instance, the type of red entities is unified by some chosen red paradigms so that only those entities that sufficiently resemble the paradigms count as red. The type (or category) of women, then, is unified by some chosen woman paradigms so that those who sufficiently resemble the woman paradigms count as women (Stoljar 1995, 284).

Semantic considerations about the concept woman suggest to Stoljar that resemblance nominalism should be endorsed (Stoljar 2000, 28). It seems unlikely that the concept is applied on the basis of some single social feature all and only women possess. By contrast, woman is a cluster concept and our attributions of womanhood pick out “different arrangements of features in different individuals” (Stoljar 2000, 27). More specifically, they pick out the following clusters of features: (a) Female sex; (b) Phenomenological features: menstruation, female sexual experience, child-birth, breast-feeding, fear of walking on the streets at night or fear of rape; (c) Certain roles: wearing typically female clothing, being oppressed on the basis of one’s sex or undertaking care-work; (d) Gender attribution: “calling oneself a woman, being called a woman” (Stoljar 1995, 283–4). For Stoljar, attributions of womanhood are to do with a variety of traits and experiences: those that feminists have historically termed ‘gender traits’ (like social, behavioural, psychological traits) and those termed ‘sex traits’. Nonetheless, she holds that since the concept woman applies to (at least some) trans persons, one can be a woman without being female (Stoljar 1995, 282).

The cluster concept woman does not, however, straightforwardly provide the criterion for picking out the category of women. Rather, the four clusters of features that the concept picks out help single out woman paradigms that in turn help single out the category of women. First, any individual who possesses a feature from at least three of the four clusters mentioned will count as an exemplar of the category. For instance, an African-American with primary and secondary female sex characteristics, who describes herself as a woman and is oppressed on the basis of her sex, along with a white European hermaphrodite brought up ‘as a girl’, who engages in female roles and has female phenomenological features despite lacking female sex characteristics, will count as woman paradigms (Stoljar 1995, 284). [ 7 ] Second, any individual who resembles “any of the paradigms sufficiently closely (on Price’s account, as closely as [the paradigms] resemble each other) will be a member of the resemblance class ‘woman’” (Stoljar 1995, 284). That is, what delimits membership in the category of women is that one resembles sufficiently a woman paradigm.

4.2 Neo-gender realism

In a series of articles collected in her 2012 book, Sally Haslanger argues for a way to define the concept woman that is politically useful, serving as a tool in feminist fights against sexism, and that shows woman to be a social (not a biological) notion. More specifically, Haslanger argues that gender is a matter of occupying either a subordinate or a privileged social position. In some articles, Haslanger is arguing for a revisionary analysis of the concept woman (2000b; 2003a; 2003b). Elsewhere she suggests that her analysis may not be that revisionary after all (2005; 2006). Consider the former argument first. Haslanger’s analysis is, in her terms, ameliorative: it aims to elucidate which gender concepts best help feminists achieve their legitimate purposes thereby elucidating those concepts feminists should be using (Haslanger 2000b, 33). [ 8 ] Now, feminists need gender terminology in order to fight sexist injustices (Haslanger 2000b, 36). In particular, they need gender terms to identify, explain and talk about persistent social inequalities between males and females. Haslanger’s analysis of gender begins with the recognition that females and males differ in two respects: physically and in their social positions. Societies in general tend to “privilege individuals with male bodies” (Haslanger 2000b, 38) so that the social positions they subsequently occupy are better than the social positions of those with female bodies. And this generates persistent sexist injustices. With this in mind, Haslanger specifies how she understands genders:

S is a woman iff [by definition] S is systematically subordinated along some dimension (economic, political, legal, social, etc.), and S is ‘marked’ as a target for this treatment by observed or imagined bodily features presumed to be evidence of a female’s biological role in reproduction.
S is a man iff [by definition] S is systematically privileged along some dimension (economic, political, legal, social, etc.), and S is ‘marked’ as a target for this treatment by observed or imagined bodily features presumed to be evidence of a male’s biological role in reproduction. (2003a, 6–7)

These are constitutive of being a woman and a man: what makes calling S a woman apt, is that S is oppressed on sex-marked grounds; what makes calling S a man apt, is that S is privileged on sex-marked grounds.

Haslanger’s ameliorative analysis is counterintuitive in that females who are not sex-marked for oppression, do not count as women. At least arguably, the Queen of England is not oppressed on sex-marked grounds and so, would not count as a woman on Haslanger’s definition. And, similarly, all males who are not privileged would not count as men. This might suggest that Haslanger’s analysis should be rejected in that it does not capture what language users have in mind when applying gender terms. However, Haslanger argues that this is not a reason to reject the definitions, which she takes to be revisionary: they are not meant to capture our intuitive gender terms. In response, Mikkola (2009) has argued that revisionary analyses of gender concepts, like Haslanger’s, are both politically unhelpful and philosophically unnecessary.

Note also that Haslanger’s proposal is eliminativist: gender justice would eradicate gender, since it would abolish those sexist social structures responsible for sex-marked oppression and privilege. If sexist oppression were to cease, women and men would no longer exist (although there would still be males and females). Not all feminists endorse such an eliminativist view though. Stone holds that Haslanger does not leave any room for positively revaluing what it is to be a woman: since Haslanger defines woman in terms of subordination,

any woman who challenges her subordinate status must by definition be challenging her status as a woman, even if she does not intend to … positive change to our gender norms would involve getting rid of the (necessarily subordinate) feminine gender. (Stone 2007, 160)

But according to Stone this is not only undesirable – one should be able to challenge subordination without having to challenge one’s status as a woman. It is also false: “because norms of femininity can be and constantly are being revised, women can be women without thereby being subordinate” (Stone 2007, 162; Mikkola [2016] too argues that Haslanger’s eliminativism is troublesome).

Theodore Bach holds that Haslanger’s eliminativism is undesirable on other grounds, and that Haslanger’s position faces another more serious problem. Feminism faces the following worries (among others):

Representation problem : “if there is no real group of ‘women’, then it is incoherent to make moral claims and advance political policies on behalf of women” (Bach 2012, 234). Commonality problems : (1) There is no feature that all women cross-culturally and transhistorically share. (2) Delimiting women’s social kind with the help of some essential property privileges those who possess it, and marginalizes those who do not (Bach 2012, 235).

According to Bach, Haslanger’s strategy to resolve these problems appeals to ‘social objectivism’. First, we define women “according to a suitably abstract relational property” (Bach 2012, 236), which avoids the commonality problems. Second, Haslanger employs “an ontologically thin notion of ‘objectivity’” (Bach 2012, 236) that answers the representation problem. Haslanger’s solution (Bach holds) is specifically to argue that women make up an objective type because women are objectively similar to one another, and not simply classified together given our background conceptual schemes. Bach claims though that Haslanger’s account is not objective enough, and we should on political grounds “provide a stronger ontological characterization of the genders men and women according to which they are natural kinds with explanatory essences” (Bach 2012, 238). He thus proposes that women make up a natural kind with a historical essence:

The essential property of women, in virtue of which an individual is a member of the kind ‘women,’ is participation in a lineage of women. In order to exemplify this relational property, an individual must be a reproduction of ancestral women, in which case she must have undergone the ontogenetic processes through which a historical gender system replicates women. (Bach 2012, 271)

In short, one is not a woman due to shared surface properties with other women (like occupying a subordinate social position). Rather, one is a woman because one has the right history: one has undergone the ubiquitous ontogenetic process of gender socialization. Thinking about gender in this way supposedly provides a stronger kind unity than Haslanger’s that simply appeals to shared surface properties.

Not everyone agrees; Mikkola (2020) argues that Bach’s metaphysical picture has internal tensions that render it puzzling and that Bach’s metaphysics does not provide good responses to the commonality and presentation problems. The historically essentialist view also has anti-trans implications. After all, trans women who have not undergone female gender socialization won’t count as women on his view (Mikkola [2016, 2020] develops this line of critique in more detail). More worryingly, trans women will count as men contrary to their self-identification. Both Bettcher (2013) and Jenkins (2016) consider the importance of gender self-identification. Bettcher argues that there is more than one ‘correct’ way to understand womanhood: at the very least, the dominant (mainstream), and the resistant (trans) conceptions. Dominant views like that of Bach’s tend to erase trans people’s experiences and to marginalize trans women within feminist movements. Rather than trans women having to defend their self-identifying claims, these claims should be taken at face value right from the start. And so, Bettcher holds, “in analyzing the meaning of terms such as ‘woman,’ it is inappropriate to dismiss alternative ways in which those terms are actually used in trans subcultures; such usage needs to be taken into consideration as part of the analysis” (2013, 235).

Specifically with Haslanger in mind and in a similar vein, Jenkins (2016) discusses how Haslanger’s revisionary approach unduly excludes some trans women from women’s social kind. On Jenkins’s view, Haslanger’s ameliorative methodology in fact yields more than one satisfying target concept: one that “corresponds to Haslanger’s proposed concept and captures the sense of gender as an imposed social class”; another that “captures the sense of gender as a lived identity” (Jenkins 2016, 397). The latter of these allows us to include trans women into women’s social kind, who on Haslanger’s social class approach to gender would inappropriately have been excluded. (See Andler 2017 for the view that Jenkins’s purportedly inclusive conception of gender is still not fully inclusive. Jenkins 2018 responds to this charge and develops the notion of gender identity still further.)

In addition to her revisionary argument, Haslanger has suggested that her ameliorative analysis of woman may not be as revisionary as it first seems (2005, 2006). Although successful in their reference fixing, ordinary language users do not always know precisely what they are talking about. Our language use may be skewed by oppressive ideologies that can “mislead us about the content of our own thoughts” (Haslanger 2005, 12). Although her gender terminology is not intuitive, this could simply be because oppressive ideologies mislead us about the meanings of our gender terms. Our everyday gender terminology might mean something utterly different from what we think it means; and we could be entirely ignorant of this. Perhaps Haslanger’s analysis, then, has captured our everyday gender vocabulary revealing to us the terms that we actually employ: we may be applying ‘woman’ in our everyday language on the basis of sex-marked subordination whether we take ourselves to be doing so or not. If this is so, Haslanger’s gender terminology is not radically revisionist.

Saul (2006) argues that, despite it being possible that we unknowingly apply ‘woman’ on the basis of social subordination, it is extremely difficult to show that this is the case. This would require showing that the gender terminology we in fact employ is Haslanger’s proposed gender terminology. But discovering the grounds on which we apply everyday gender terms is extremely difficult precisely because they are applied in various and idiosyncratic ways (Saul 2006, 129). Haslanger, then, needs to do more in order to show that her analysis is non-revisionary.

Charlotte Witt (2011a; 2011b) argues for a particular sort of gender essentialism, which Witt terms ‘uniessentialism’. Her motivation and starting point is the following: many ordinary social agents report gender being essential to them and claim that they would be a different person were they of a different sex/gender. Uniessentialism attempts to understand and articulate this. However, Witt’s work departs in important respects from the earlier (so-called) essentialist or gender realist positions discussed in Section 2: Witt does not posit some essential property of womanhood of the kind discussed above, which failed to take women’s differences into account. Further, uniessentialism differs significantly from those position developed in response to the problem of how we should conceive of women’s social kind. It is not about solving the standard dispute between gender nominalists and gender realists, or about articulating some supposedly shared property that binds women together and provides a theoretical ground for feminist political solidarity. Rather, uniessentialism aims to make good the widely held belief that gender is constitutive of who we are. [ 9 ]

Uniessentialism is a sort of individual essentialism. Traditionally philosophers distinguish between kind and individual essentialisms: the former examines what binds members of a kind together and what do all members of some kind have in common qua members of that kind. The latter asks: what makes an individual the individual it is. We can further distinguish two sorts of individual essentialisms: Kripkean identity essentialism and Aristotelian uniessentialism. The former asks: what makes an individual that individual? The latter, however, asks a slightly different question: what explains the unity of individuals? What explains that an individual entity exists over and above the sum total of its constituent parts? (The standard feminist debate over gender nominalism and gender realism has largely been about kind essentialism. Being about individual essentialism, Witt’s uniessentialism departs in an important way from the standard debate.) From the two individual essentialisms, Witt endorses the Aristotelian one. On this view, certain functional essences have a unifying role: these essences are responsible for the fact that material parts constitute a new individual, rather than just a lump of stuff or a collection of particles. Witt’s example is of a house: the essential house-functional property (what the entity is for, what its purpose is) unifies the different material parts of a house so that there is a house, and not just a collection of house-constituting particles (2011a, 6). Gender (being a woman/a man) functions in a similar fashion and provides “the principle of normative unity” that organizes, unifies and determines the roles of social individuals (Witt 2011a, 73). Due to this, gender is a uniessential property of social individuals.

It is important to clarify the notions of gender and social individuality that Witt employs. First, gender is a social position that “cluster[s] around the engendering function … women conceive and bear … men beget” (Witt 2011a, 40). These are women and men’s socially mediated reproductive functions (Witt 2011a, 29) and they differ from the biological function of reproduction, which roughly corresponds to sex on the standard sex/gender distinction. Witt writes: “to be a woman is to be recognized to have a particular function in engendering, to be a man is to be recognized to have a different function in engendering” (2011a, 39). Second, Witt distinguishes persons (those who possess self-consciousness), human beings (those who are biologically human) and social individuals (those who occupy social positions synchronically and diachronically). These ontological categories are not equivalent in that they possess different persistence and identity conditions. Social individuals are bound by social normativity, human beings by biological normativity. These normativities differ in two respects: first, social norms differ from one culture to the next whereas biological norms do not; second, unlike biological normativity, social normativity requires “the recognition by others that an agent is both responsive to and evaluable under a social norm” (Witt 2011a, 19). Thus, being a social individual is not equivalent to being a human being. Further, Witt takes personhood to be defined in terms of intrinsic psychological states of self-awareness and self-consciousness. However, social individuality is defined in terms of the extrinsic feature of occupying a social position, which depends for its existence on a social world. So, the two are not equivalent: personhood is essentially about intrinsic features and could exist without a social world, whereas social individuality is essentially about extrinsic features that could not exist without a social world.

Witt’s gender essentialist argument crucially pertains to social individuals , not to persons or human beings: saying that persons or human beings are gendered would be a category mistake. But why is gender essential to social individuals? For Witt, social individuals are those who occupy positions in social reality. Further, “social positions have norms or social roles associated with them; a social role is what an individual who occupies a given social position is responsive to and evaluable under” (Witt 2011a, 59). However, qua social individuals, we occupy multiple social positions at once and over time: we can be women, mothers, immigrants, sisters, academics, wives, community organisers and team-sport coaches synchronically and diachronically. Now, the issue for Witt is what unifies these positions so that a social individual is constituted. After all, a bundle of social position occupancies does not make for an individual (just as a bundle of properties like being white , cube-shaped and sweet do not make for a sugar cube). For Witt, this unifying role is undertaken by gender (being a woman or a man): it is

a pervasive and fundamental social position that unifies and determines all other social positions both synchronically and diachronically. It unifies them not physically, but by providing a principle of normative unity. (2011a, 19–20)

By ‘normative unity’, Witt means the following: given our social roles and social position occupancies, we are responsive to various sets of social norms. These norms are “complex patterns of behaviour and practices that constitute what one ought to do in a situation given one’s social position(s) and one’s social context” (Witt 2011a, 82). The sets of norms can conflict: the norms of motherhood can (and do) conflict with the norms of being an academic philosopher. However, in order for this conflict to exist, the norms must be binding on a single social individual. Witt, then, asks: what explains the existence and unity of the social individual who is subject to conflicting social norms? The answer is gender.

Gender is not just a social role that unifies social individuals. Witt takes it to be the social role — as she puts it, it is the mega social role that unifies social agents. First, gender is a mega social role if it satisfies two conditions (and Witt claims that it does): (1) if it provides the principle of synchronic and diachronic unity of social individuals, and (2) if it inflects and defines a broad range of other social roles. Gender satisfies the first in usually being a life-long social position: a social individual persists just as long as their gendered social position persists. Further, Witt maintains, trans people are not counterexamples to this claim: transitioning entails that the old social individual has ceased to exist and a new one has come into being. And this is consistent with the same person persisting and undergoing social individual change via transitioning. Gender satisfies the second condition too. It inflects other social roles, like being a parent or a professional. The expectations attached to these social roles differ depending on the agent’s gender, since gender imposes different social norms to govern the execution of the further social roles. Now, gender — as opposed to some other social category, like race — is not just a mega social role; it is the unifying mega social role. Cross-cultural and trans-historical considerations support this view. Witt claims that patriarchy is a social universal (2011a, 98). By contrast, racial categorisation varies historically and cross-culturally, and racial oppression is not a universal feature of human cultures. Thus, gender has a better claim to being the social role that is uniessential to social individuals. This account of gender essentialism not only explains social agents’ connectedness to their gender, but it also provides a helpful way to conceive of women’s agency — something that is central to feminist politics.

Linda Alcoff holds that feminism faces an identity crisis: the category of women is feminism’s starting point, but various critiques about gender have fragmented the category and it is not clear how feminists should understand what it is to be a woman (2006, chapter 5). In response, Alcoff develops an account of gender as positionality whereby “gender is, among other things, a position one occupies and from which one can act politically” (2006, 148). In particular, she takes one’s social position to foster the development of specifically gendered identities (or self-conceptions): “The very subjectivity (or subjective experience of being a woman) and the very identity of women are constituted by women’s position” (Alcoff 2006, 148). Alcoff holds that there is an objective basis for distinguishing individuals on the grounds of (actual or expected) reproductive roles:

Women and men are differentiated by virtue of their different relationship of possibility to biological reproduction, with biological reproduction referring to conceiving, giving birth, and breast-feeding, involving one’s body . (Alcoff 2006, 172, italics in original)

The thought is that those standardly classified as biologically female, although they may not actually be able to reproduce, will encounter “a different set of practices, expectations, and feelings in regard to reproduction” than those standardly classified as male (Alcoff 2006, 172). Further, this differential relation to the possibility of reproduction is used as the basis for many cultural and social phenomena that position women and men: it can be

the basis of a variety of social segregations, it can engender the development of differential forms of embodiment experienced throughout life, and it can generate a wide variety of affective responses, from pride, delight, shame, guilt, regret, or great relief from having successfully avoided reproduction. (Alcoff 2006, 172)

Reproduction, then, is an objective basis for distinguishing individuals that takes on a cultural dimension in that it positions women and men differently: depending on the kind of body one has, one’s lived experience will differ. And this fosters the construction of gendered social identities: one’s role in reproduction helps configure how one is socially positioned and this conditions the development of specifically gendered social identities.

Since women are socially positioned in various different contexts, “there is no gender essence all women share” (Alcoff 2006, 147–8). Nonetheless, Alcoff acknowledges that her account is akin to the original 1960s sex/gender distinction insofar as sex difference (understood in terms of the objective division of reproductive labour) provides the foundation for certain cultural arrangements (the development of a gendered social identity). But, with the benefit of hindsight

we can see that maintaining a distinction between the objective category of sexed identity and the varied and culturally contingent practices of gender does not presume an absolute distinction of the old-fashioned sort between culture and a reified nature. (Alcoff 2006, 175)

That is, her view avoids the implausible claim that sex is exclusively to do with nature and gender with culture. Rather, the distinction on the basis of reproductive possibilities shapes and is shaped by the sorts of cultural and social phenomena (like varieties of social segregation) these possibilities gives rise to. For instance, technological interventions can alter sex differences illustrating that this is the case (Alcoff 2006, 175). Women’s specifically gendered social identities that are constituted by their context dependent positions, then, provide the starting point for feminist politics.

Recently Robin Dembroff (2020) has argued that existing metaphysical accounts of gender fail to address non-binary gender identities. This generates two concerns. First, metaphysical accounts of gender (like the ones outlined in previous sections) are insufficient for capturing those who reject binary gender categorisation where people are either men or women. In so doing, these accounts are not satisfying as explanations of gender understood in a more expansive sense that goes beyond the binary. Second, the failure to understand non-binary gender identities contributes to a form of epistemic injustice called ‘hermeneutical injustice’: it feeds into a collective failure to comprehend and analyse concepts and practices that undergird non-binary classification schemes, thereby impeding on one’s ability to fully understand themselves. To overcome these problems, Dembroff suggests an account of genderqueer that they call ‘critical gender kind’:

a kind whose members collectively destabilize one or more elements of dominant gender ideology. Genderqueer, on my proposed model, is a category whose members collectively destabilize the binary axis, or the idea that the only possible genders are the exclusive and exhaustive kinds men and women. (2020, 2)

Note that Dembroff’s position is not to be confused with ‘gender critical feminist’ positions like those noted above, which are critical of the prevalent feminist focus on gender, as opposed to sex, kinds. Dembroff understands genderqueer as a gender kind, but one that is critical of dominant binary understandings of gender.

Dembroff identifies two modes of destabilising the gender binary: principled and existential. Principled destabilising “stems from or otherwise expresses individuals’ social or political commitments regarding gender norms, practices, and structures”, while existential destabilising “stems from or otherwise expresses individuals’ felt or desired gender roles, embodiment, and/or categorization” (2020, 13). These modes are not mutually exclusive, and they can help us understand the difference between allies and members of genderqueer kinds: “While both resist dominant gender ideology, members of [genderqueer] kinds resist (at least in part) due to felt or desired gender categorization that deviates from dominant expectations, norms, and assumptions” (2020, 14). These modes of destabilisation also enable us to formulate an understanding of non-critical gender kinds that binary understandings of women and men’s kinds exemplify. Dembroff defines these kinds as follows:

For a given kind X , X is a non-critical gender kind relative to a given society iff X ’s members collectively restabilize one or more elements of the dominant gender ideology in that society. (2020, 14)

Dembroff’s understanding of critical and non-critical gender kinds importantly makes gender kind membership something more and other than a mere psychological phenomenon. To engage in collectively destabilising or restabilising dominant gender normativity and ideology, we need more than mere attitudes or mental states – resisting or maintaining such normativity requires action as well. In so doing, Dembroff puts their position forward as an alternative to two existing internalist positions about gender. First, to Jennifer McKitrick’s (2015) view whereby gender is dispositional: in a context where someone is disposed to behave in ways that would be taken by others to be indicative of (e.g.) womanhood, the person has a woman’s gender identity. Second, to Jenkin’s (2016, 2018) position that takes an individual’s gender identity to be dependent on which gender-specific norms the person experiences as being relevant to them. On this view, someone is a woman if the person experiences norms associated with women to be relevant to the person in the particular social context that they are in. Neither of these positions well-captures non-binary identities, Dembroff argues, which motivates the account of genderqueer identities as critical gender kinds.

As Dembroff acknowledges, substantive philosophical work on non-binary gender identities is still developing. However, it is important to note that analytic philosophers are beginning to engage in gender metaphysics that goes beyond the binary.

This entry first looked at feminist objections to biological determinism and the claim that gender is socially constructed. Next, it examined feminist critiques of prevalent understandings of gender and sex, and the distinction itself. In response to these concerns, the entry looked at how a unified women’s category could be articulated for feminist political purposes. This illustrated that gender metaphysics — or what it is to be a woman or a man or a genderqueer person — is still very much a live issue. And although contemporary feminist philosophical debates have questioned some of the tenets and details of the original 1960s sex/gender distinction, most still hold onto the view that gender is about social factors and that it is (in some sense) distinct from biological sex. The jury is still out on what the best, the most useful, or (even) the correct definition of gender is.

  • Alcoff, L., 1988, “Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory”, Signs , 13: 405–436.
  • –––, 2006, Visible Identities , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Andler, M., 2017, “Gender Identity and Exclusion: A Reply to Jenkins”, Ethics , 127: 883–895.
  • Ásta (Sveinsdóttir), 2011, “The Metaphysics of Sex and Gender”, in Feminist Metaphysics , C. Witt (ed.), Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 47–65.
  • –––, 2018, Categories We Live By: The Construction of Sex, Gender, Race, and Other Social Categories, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Ayala, S. and Vasilyeva, N., 2015, “Extended Sex: An Account of Sex for a More Just Society”, Hypatia , 30: 725–742.
  • Antony, L., 1998, “‘Human Nature’ and Its Role in Feminist Theory”, in Philosophy in a Feminist Voice , J. Kourany (ed.), New Haven: Princeton University Press, pp. 63–91.
  • Armstrong, D., 1989, Universals: An Opinionated Introduction , Boulder, CO: Westview.
  • Bach, T., 2012, “Gender is a Natural Kind with a Historical Essence”, Ethics , 122: 231–272.
  • Barnes, E., 2020, “Gender and Gender Terms”, Noûs , 54: 704–730.
  • de Beauvoir, S., 1972, The Second Sex , Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Benhabib, S., 1992, Situating the Self , New York: Routledge.
  • Bettcher, T.M., 2013, “Trans Women and the Meaning of ‘Woman’”, in The Philosophy of Sex , N. Power, R. Halwani, and A. Soble (eds.), Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc, pp. 233–250.
  • Bogardus, T., 2020, “Evaluating Arguments for the Sex/Gender Distinction”, Philosophia , 48: 873–892.
  • Butler, J., 1990, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”, in Performing Feminisms , S-E. Case (ed.), Baltimore: John Hopkins University, pp. 270–282.
  • –––, 1991, “Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of ‘Postmodernism’”, Praxis International , 11: 150–165.
  • –––, 1993, Bodies that Matter , London: Routledge.
  • –––, 1997, The Psychic Life of Power , Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • –––, 1999, Gender Trouble , London: Routledge, 2 nd edition.
  • Byrne, A., 2020, “Are Women Adult Human Females?”, Philosophical Studies , 177: 3783–3803.
  • –––, 2021, “Gender Muddle: Reply to Dembroff”, Journal of Controversial Ideas , 1: 1–24.
  • Campbell, A., 2002, A Mind of One’s Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Chodorow, N., 1978, Reproducing Mothering , Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • –––, 1995, “Family Structure and Feminine Personality”, in Feminism and Philosophy , N. Tuana, and R. Tong (eds.), Boulder, CO: Westview, pp. 43–66.
  • Deaux, K. and B. Major, 1990, “A Social-Psychological Model of Gender”, in Theoretical Perspectives on Sexual Difference , D. Rhode (ed.), New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 89-99.
  • Dembroff, R., 2020, “Beyond Binary: Genderqueer as Critical Gender Kind”, Philosopher’s Imprint , 20: 1–23.
  • –––, 2021, “Escaping the Natural Attitude about Gender”, Philosophical Studies , 178: 983–1003.
  • Fausto-Sterling, A., 1993a, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men , New York: Basic Books, 2 nd edition.
  • –––, 1993b, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough”, The Sciences , 33: 20–24.
  • –––, 2000a, “The Five Sexes: Revisited”, The Sciences , July/August: 18–23.
  • –––, 2000b, Sexing the Body , New York: Basic Books.
  • –––, 2003, “The Problem with Sex/Gender and Nature/Nurture”, in Debating Biology: Sociological Reflections on Health, Medicine and Society , S. J. Williams, L. Birke, and G. A. Bendelow (eds.), London & New York: Routledge, pp. 133–142.
  • –––, 2005, “The Bare Bones of Sex: Part 1 – Sex and Gender”, Signs , 30: 1491–1527.
  • Friedan, B., 1963, Feminine Mystique , Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd.
  • Frye, M., 1996, “The Necessity of Differences: Constructing a Positive Category of Women”, Signs, 21: 991–1010.
  • –––, 2011, “Metaphors of Being a φ”, in Feminist Metaphysics , C. Witt (ed.), Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 85–95.
  • Gatens, M., 1996, Imaginary Bodies , London: Routledge.
  • Gorman, C. 1992, “Sizing up the Sexes”, Time , January 20: 42–51.
  • Green, J. M. and B. Radford Curry, 1991, “Recognizing Each Other Amidst Diversity: Beyond Essentialism in Collaborative Multi-Cultural Feminist Theory”, Sage , 8: 39–49.
  • Grosz, E., 1994, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism , Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  • Harris, A., 1993, “Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory”, in Feminist Legal Theory: Foundations , D. K. Weisberg (ed.), Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp. 248–258.
  • Haslanger, S., 1995, “Ontology and Social Construction”, Philosophical Topics , 23: 95–125.
  • –––, 2000a, “Feminism in Metaphysics: Negotiating the Natural”, in Feminism in Philosophy , M. Fricker, and J. Hornsby (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 107–126.
  • –––, 2000b, “Gender and Race: (What) are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?”, Noûs , 34: 31–55.
  • –––, 2003a, “Future Genders? Future Races?”, Philosophic Exchange , 34: 4–27.
  • –––, 2003b, “Social Construction: The ‘Debunking’ Project”, in Socializing Metaphysics: The Nature of Social Reality, F. Schmitt (ed.), Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc, pp. 301–325.
  • –––, 2005, “What Are We Talking About? The Semantics and Politics of Social Kinds”, Hypatia , 20: 10–26.
  • –––, 2006, “What Good are Our Intuitions?”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society , Supplementary Volume 80: 89–118.
  • –––, 2012, Resisting Reality , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Heyes, C., 2000, Line Drawings , Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press.
  • hooks, b., 2000, Feminist Theory: From Margins to Center , London: Pluto, 2 nd edition.
  • Jaggar, A., 1983, “Human Biology in Feminist Theory: Sexual Equality Reconsidered”, in Beyond Domination: New Perspectives on Women and Philosophy , C. Gould (ed.), Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, pp. 21–42.
  • Jenkins, K., 2016, “Amelioration and Inclusion: Gender Identity and the Concept of Woman”, Ethics , 126: 394–421.
  • –––, 2018, “Toward an Account of Gender Identity”, Ergo , 5: 713–744.
  • Kimmel, M., 2000, The Gendered Society , New York: Oxford University Press.
  • King, H., 2013, The One-Sex Body on Trial: The Classical and Early Modern Evidence , Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
  • Laqueur, T., 1990, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Lawford-Smith, H., 2021, “Ending Sex-Based Oppression: Transitional Pathways”, Philosophia , 49: 1021–1041.
  • Lloyd, G., 1993, The Man of Reason: ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy , London: Routledge, 2 nd edition.
  • MacKinnon, C., 1989, Toward a Feminist Theory of State , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Martin, J. R. 1994, “Methodological Essentialism, False Difference, and Other Dangerous Traps”, Signs , 19: 630–655.
  • McKitrick, J., 2015, “A Dispositional Account of Gender”, Philosophical Studies , 172: 2575–2589.
  • Mikkola, M. 2006, “Elizabeth Spelman, Gender Realism, and Women”, Hypatia , 21: 77–96.
  • –––, 2007, “Gender Sceptics and Feminist Politics”, Res Publica , 13: 361–380.
  • –––, 2009, “Gender Concepts and Intuitions”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy , 9: 559–583.
  • –––, 2011, “Ontological Commitments, Sex and Gender”, in Feminist Metaphysics , C. Witt (ed.), Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 67–84.
  • –––, 2016, The Wrong of Injustice: Dehumanization and its Role in Feminist Philosophy , New York: Oxford University Press.
  • –––, 2020, “The Function of Gender as a Historical Kind”, in Social Functions in Philosophy: Metaphysical, Normative, and Methodological Perspectives , R. Hufendiek, D. James, and R. van Riel (eds.), London: Routledge, pp. 159–182.
  • Millett, K., 1971, Sexual Politics , London: Granada Publishing Ltd.
  • Moi, T., 1999, What is a Woman? , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Munro, V., 2006, “Resemblances of Identity: Ludwig Wittgenstein and Contemporary Feminist Legal Theory”, Res Publica , 12: 137–162.
  • Nicholson, L., 1994, “Interpreting Gender”, Signs , 20: 79–105.
  • –––, 1998, “Gender”, in A Companion to Feminist Philosophy , A. Jaggar, and I. M. Young (eds.), Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 289–297.
  • Price, H. H., 1953, Thinking and Experience , London: Hutchinson’s University Library.
  • Prokhovnik, R., 1999, Rational Woman , London: Routledge.
  • Rapaport, E. 2002, “Generalizing Gender: Reason and Essence in the Legal Thought of Catharine MacKinnon”, in A Mind of One’s Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity , L. M. Antony and C. E. Witt (eds.), Boulder, CO: Westview, 2 nd edition, pp. 254–272.
  • Renzetti, C. and D. Curran, 1992, “Sex-Role Socialization”, in Feminist Philosophies , J. Kourany, J. Sterba, and R. Tong (eds.), New Jersey: Prentice Hall, pp. 31–47.
  • Rogers, L., 1999, Sexing the Brain , London: Phoenix.
  • Rubin, G., 1975, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex”, in Toward an Anthropology of Women , R. Reiter (ed.), New York: Monthly Review Press, pp. 157–210.
  • Salih, S., 2002, Judith Butler , London: Routledge.
  • Saul, J., 2006, “Gender and Race”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Supplementary Volume), 80: 119–143.
  • Spelman, E., 1988, Inessential Woman , Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Stoljar, N., 1995, “Essence, Identity and the Concept of Woman”, Philosophical Topics , 23: 261–293.
  • –––, 2000, “The Politics of Identity and the Metaphysics of Diversity”, in Proceedings of the 20 th World Congress of Philosophy , D. Dahlstrom (ed.), Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University, pp. 21–30.
  • –––, 2011, “Different Women. Gender and the Realism-Nominalism Debate”, in Feminist Metaphysics , C. Witt (ed.), Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 27–46.
  • Stoller, R. J., 1968, Sex and Gender: On The Development of Masculinity and Femininity , New York: Science House.
  • Stone, A., 2004, “Essentialism and Anti-Essentialism in Feminist Philosophy”, Journal of Moral Philosophy , 1: 135–153.
  • –––, 2007, An Introduction to Feminist Philosophy , Cambridge: Polity.
  • Tanesini, A., 1996, “Whose Language?”, in Women, Knowledge and Reality , A. Garry and M. Pearsall (eds.), London: Routledge, pp. 353–365.
  • Witt, C., 1995, “Anti-Essentialism in Feminist Theory”, Philosophical Topics , 23: 321–344.
  • –––, 2011a, The Metaphysics of Gender , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • –––, 2011b, “What is Gender Essentialism?”, in Feminist Metaphysics , C. Witt (ed.), Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 11–25.
  • Wittig, M., 1992, The Straight Mind and Other Essays , Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Young, I. M., 1997, “Gender as Seriality: Thinking about Women as a Social Collective”, in Intersecting Voices , I. M. Young, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 12–37.
  • Zack, N., 2005, Inclusive Feminism , Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.
  • The Feminist Philosophers Blog
  • QueerTheory.com , from the Internet Archive
  • World Wide Web Review: Webs of Transgender
  • What is Judith Butler’s Theory of Gender Performativity? (Perlego, open access study guide/ introduction)

Beauvoir, Simone de | feminist philosophy, approaches: intersections between analytic and continental philosophy | feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on reproduction and the family | feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on the self | homosexuality | identity politics | speech acts

Acknowledgments

I am very grateful to Tuukka Asplund, Jenny Saul, Alison Stone and Nancy Tuana for their extremely helpful and detailed comments when writing this entry.

Copyright © 2022 by Mari Mikkola < m . mikkola @ uva . nl >

  • Accessibility

Support SEP

Mirror sites.

View this site from another server:

  • Info about mirror sites

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is copyright © 2024 by The Metaphysics Research Lab , Department of Philosophy, Stanford University

Library of Congress Catalog Data: ISSN 1095-5054

Gender Identity - Essay Examples And Topic Ideas For Free

Gender identity refers to a person’s deeply-felt understanding of their gender, which may be different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Essays could delve into the social, psychological, or biological aspects of gender identity, the experiences of transgender or non-binary individuals, or the societal and legal issues surrounding gender identity. A vast selection of complimentary essay illustrations pertaining to Gender Identity you can find at PapersOwl Website. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.

Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation Essay

Gender identity is how someone feels inside, which could be expressed in many ways, for example, by clothing, appearance, and behavior. There are a few gender identities other than the common two, female and male. When it comes to both terms, people tend to confuse the two, and although they may seem similar, it is two completely different things like being a masculine female or a feminine male, transgender and gender fluid. Some may not feel female or male and […]

Controversial Topic : Gender Identity

Transgender Identities bring up the controversial topic of gender identity in society. Gender identity is important because it is a way to self-identify based on expression of the internal self rather than just by the assigned gender at birth. Individuals who identify as transgender women are born male who later in life transition to female. Some argue that transgender women face the same oppression and sexism as cisgender women. Others, such as radical feminists, disapprove of transgender women entirely being […]

Issues of Social Constructs of Gender

Gender issues are some of the paramount social aspects in different societies. There have been different views in different communities, where some of the societies profile the male gender to be superior, and the female gender is quite inferior and subject to the male gender. Gender reveal, and gender reveals parties are some of the current trends in gender issues that might portray some level of gender stereotyping. In some workplaces, are gender issues where one of the genders might […]

We will write an essay sample crafted to your needs.

Gender Identity and LGBTQ Rights

In this piece I’m going to explain how the LGBTQ community are being treated because of their Sex/Gender/Gender identity/sexuality an article that shows this was the privileges article a how people that comes out as straight or gay can help the gay community’s when they come out. I’m going to do this by explaining the way Carbados thinks that there’s a new way that heterosexual people tailored as “coming out” as heterosexual and this could affect the homosexual community in […]

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Inequality

Social class has been traditionally defined by an individual’s occupation, education, and/or income and are then compared between individuals, if you fall somewhere within the same category as another you are then thought to be a part of the same social class (Hurst, 2013, p. 15). Something overlooked in terms of how we see the social class is the ignoring of intersectionality and its effects on a person’s social class.  Now, what is intersectionality? Intersectionality is how different aspects of […]

Gender and Sexuality in Sport in 21st Century

Gender and Sexuality in sport are two controversial subjects which have been analysed and discussed over the past centuries. Marginalization in sport is very complex and it is involving multiple power systems and players. The expectation of society for males and females is to adopt and fulfil specific gender and sexual stereotypes that have been already established. When these society demands are violated, it is common that certain individuals are being labelled. While the traditional gender and sexual stereotypes have […]

Sex Education and Gender Identity

Could you imagine a society in which we are all separated by gender? Single-sex schools might be the first step in this direction. Gender-segregated schools have both advantages and disadvantages, but the downsides are more notable. Although some people believe that single-sex schools are better for both male and female students, research has shown single-sex schools promote sexism and gender stereotypes, offer no significant benefits (,) and often cause students to be ill-prepared for life outside of school. One reason […]

Gender Identity & Roles

Abstract From birth, we as humans are grouped into two categories: male and female. Gender is the first and most basic way to define a person, not only in terms of physical attributions, but also through roles structured by culture and society. Gender roles are social constructs developed by cultures that put various expectations on each sex. They set a standard of what behavior is appropriate for a person according to whether they are male or female. These roles represent […]

Four Lenses of Gender Differences

People often view sex and gender as the same; however, that is not the case. Sex refers to the chromosomal and anatomical appearance of which a person was born with, whereas gender is the social role that one strongly identifies with, which may not always be the same as one’s assigned sex. Debates arise when people associate sex with gender, and while there may be correlations between the two, they are certainly not the same.  Sociologists view gender through four […]

Gender Identity and Freedom of Speech

The views of professor of psychology, Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto on the issue of gender identity and his beliefs, position and refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns has sparked debates. The arguments by the professor have arisen a lot of objective and subjective intuition on his stand that his freedom of speech and need to become politically correct cannot determine by use of pronouns. Discussions are presented in different articles by Ellen Brait, a staff reporter for the […]

The Effects of Sexual Differentiation of the Human Brain on Gender Identity

From toy-preference at an early age to the likelihood of developing schizophrenia, sexual differentiation of the human brain plays a critical role. In their research paper [1], Ai-Min Bao and Dick F. Swaab explain the difference between sexual differentiation of the brain and sexual differentiation of the genitals, as well as investigate the effects of sexual differentiation of the human brain on gender identity, sexual orientation, and neuropsychiatric disorders. As we have learned in Psych 212, testosterone exposure during early […]

Is Sexual Orientation Determined at Birth?

Over the years sexual orientation has been an issue in our world. This relates to people being gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. Many people are not educated about the history of the LGBT community. The first homosexual(lgbt) movement was in Chicago 1924 by a man named Henry Gerber a german immigrant, and it took place during the first World War. I was born African American and I was born with adhd but i was not born gay. In fact nobody […]

Police Violations of the Rights of Persons on the Basis of Racial and Gender Identity

Introduction Police violations of the rights of persons on the basis of racial and gender identity are global and ingrained practices of serious concern. Such violations include extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, sexual assault and rape, invasion of privacy, arbitrary detention, deprivation of work and education, and serious discrimination in the enjoyment of other rights and freedoms. These kinds of violations are often exacerbated by other forms of violence, hatred, discrimination and rejection, including on the basis of race, age, […]

About Gender Identity in Society

After careful consideration, I have decided that I am going with the article, School a hostile place for LGBTQ students, study says, Missouri and Kansas included by Mara Rose Williams. The article is talking about how students in the LGBTQ community do not feel like they can go to school and still feel safe. The reason for this is that the students in the LGBTQ community said that “when they went to school they would get physically or emotionally harassed […]

Gender Identity and Expression

Deep inside the young minds of our students are the seeds of growth and responsibility. They would like to foresee themselves as being productive and effective members of their community and our society. Parents and guardians of our young adolescents have profound provision of commitment of guiding and supporting them to reach their greatest potentials and significance to the nation. They offer their limitless and boundless care during the most precarious stage of being an adolescent; their identity and development […]

Sociocultural Beliefs of Sexuality – Essay

Have you ever been put into a bracket of how you are “suppose to act as an certain gender?” For example, throughout the years growing up males were always told you shouldn’t play with dolls with saying along with that statement “you aren’t a girl” “boys don’t play with dolls” no matter if these figures are action figures or not. Which developed a blockage of some type over the years to see whenever you see a doll it’s like a […]

The Family: Diversity, Equality and Social Change by Philip Cohen

The family unit consists of a great variety of different structures and different identities. It is common for one to view families as sharing the same values, goals and identities. When it comes to following the family tradition and norm, people within the family can be seen walking down a totally different path. In the book The Family: Diversity, Equality and Social Change, by Philip Cohen, in chapters 4, 5 and 6, the author analyzes families that include class identity, […]

Gender Equality and Gender Equality in Sport

Gender equity has been a problem in society since the beginning of your time. over many years, women faced issues with equity in relationships, education, their career, and athletic opportunities. Gender identity is the personal sense of one’s own gender. This identity can correspond with the assigned sex at birth or can be completely different. this subject is incredibly controversial and may cause several disagreements. Gender plays an enormous role in each society round the world. However, one would possibly […]

Suicidality in Transgender Teens

Gender identity is defined as one’s sense of being a male, female, or other gender. It is the individual’s own connection to their gender which defines who they are. Many people feel as if the sex they were born with does not match with the gender they identify with. In many cases, people may identify as transgender. Transgender individuals believe, “the sex assigned at birth is discordant with their gender identity” (Sitkin & Murota, 2017, p. 725). An example of […]

Gender Dysphoria & Identity: Teens

Have you ever wondered what harsh cruelties that some teens have to face, because of their gender identity? Gender fluidity is the belief that you feel male one day but feel like a female another day regardless of what sex you were born. Teens that discover they are gender fluid can experience bullying from peers and family. There are many cases of injustices against gender fluid teens experience. The older generations are usually unaccepting of the younger generations gender identity. […]

Sexual Prejudice Towards LGBTQ and Gender Differences

Sexual Prejudice Towards LGBTQ and Gender Differences: Literature Review Social Psychology Ana Esther Paulino Sanchez SUNY Geneseo Abstract There is a difference between the prejudice and attitude towards LGBTQ according to gender. Studies like Gregory M. Hereck (2000), Sarlo and Buodo (2017), Glotfelter and Anderson (2012), and Kiebel et al (2017) further explore these differences. In each study, the difference in sexual prejudice according to gender is analyzed differently. All of the results came to a similar conclusion that men […]

Medical Law & Ethics

Safe Haven Law The Save Haven laws which are also called the Baby Moses laws began in Texas in 1999. Since this time this law has expanded to other states; however, not all states have the same guidelines. The purpose of this law is to allow parents to surrender their newborn infant to a safe location, thus decreasing the number of abandoned infant deaths. Within this law, parents can stay anonymous and gives up their parental rights to the state […]

How Parenting Based on Gender?

Ever wonder if boys and girls get parented differently? Answer to this is a most definite yes, but the problem is you may not realize the horrible effects of parenting based on gender. You may not realize it yet, but you will soon. In this essay, I will explain how parenting based on gender is dangerous and harmful because it leads to inequalities, sexist stereotypes, and bigoted views of boy and girl. In an article I read called “Teaching Men […]

Representative Sean Patrick Maloney

"For this writing assignment, I will be analyzing a news article about the Representative Sean Patrick Maloney. In this article, Maloney and 63 co-sponsors introduce a bill to ban taxpayer funding of “conversion therapies.” Maloney states that this bill will “ensure taxpayer dollars aren't funding a fraudulent practice that has been roundly discredited by the medical community. That's exactly what my bill would do."" He believes that, until we can ban conversion therapies entirely, that we should not be spending […]

Final Paper: Gender and Reading Achievement

Introduction When it comes to reading achievement, there have been many studies that show that girls outperform boys. While there are other academic areas (such as math and science) where there are differences between achievement in boys and girls, gender gaps are comparatively wider in reading and English (Logan and Medford, 2011, p. 86). This is true not only in the United States, but among students in other countries as shown on international and national assessments (Brozo, Sulkunen, Shiel, Garbe, […]

People in the LGBT Community should have Equal Rights

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are not a choice, and anyone who knows me and my work over the years knows that I am a firm believer and supporter in the rights of LGBT Americans,” -Valerie Jarrett. (Brainyquote, 2019) People in the lgbt community should be treated like any other person. People that are in the lgbt community shouldn’t be treated differently because of the way they were born. Whether it be through Same sex orientation, Gender identity, or Questioning […]

The Term Sexual Orientation Analysis

The term sexual orientation refers to the sex to which a person is attracted on the emotional, romantic, sexual, and affective plane. If a person is romantically and physically attracted to a member of the opposite sex, then they are heterosexual. Conversely, if someone feels attracted to a person of the same sex, then they are homosexual. However, sexual orientation is not absolute. There is also bisexuality, when a person is attracted to members of both sexes. In this sense, […]

Interpersonal Trauma and Sexual Minorities

In recent years LGBT initials have been used to refer to all individuals and communities that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or those who have doubts about their sexuality or gender identity. In the United States of America, the term "sexual minorities" is commonly used. The word '' lesbian '' is used to call a woman who has an emotional, romantic and sexual attraction to other women. The term '' gay '' is used to describe a man […]

Queer in Latin America Luz Robinson Final Paper

Race, gender, and sexuality play important roles in structuring queer identities in Latin America. Queer studies are a new field, and the majority of the knowledge that exists has been developed by Western scholars in the U.S. and Europe. Since the existing literature on queer studies relies heavily on a Eurocentic lens, it fails to capture the complexities of queer gender and sexual identity in Latin America. Latinx and Black scholars have begun to introduce a different lens through which […]

Gender Stereotypes

I chose the film Miss Congeniality, which is a fictional movie produced by Sandra Bullock herself and filmed in 2000. The film opens at a school where a boy is picking on another. We see Gracie Hart as a child who beats up the bully and tries to help the victim, who instead, criticizes her by saying he disliked her because he did not want a girl to help him, an example of the gender stereotype that men should always […]

Additional Example Essays

  • Gender Roles in the Great Gatsby
  • The Yellow Wallpaper Feminism
  • Gender Inequality in the Medical Field
  • Gender Inequality in the Workplace
  • The Need for More Women in STEM Fields
  • Gender Roles In "A Doll House" by Henrik Ibsen
  • Feminist Critique in Pygmalion
  • Importance Of Accountability
  • Analysis of Letter from Birmingham Jail
  • The Road not Taken Poem Analysis
  • Homeschooling vs Public School
  • "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes

1. Tell Us Your Requirements

2. Pick your perfect writer

3. Get Your Paper and Pay

Hi! I'm Amy, your personal assistant!

Don't know where to start? Give me your paper requirements and I connect you to an academic expert.

short deadlines

100% Plagiarism-Free

Certified writers

Journal of Unification Studies

gender identity issues essay

Volume XXI - (2020)

Sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and worldview.

  • Fleischman, Jinil

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 21, 2020 - Pages 111-120

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) issues are one of the most important and contentious social issues in the world today. Beginning in the 1970s, gay activists in the United States have fought against rigid cultural norms and limitations to promote tolerance and acceptance of non-traditional sexual lifestyles and identities. Their ultimate victory was in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case in 2015, which guaranteed the constitutional right for same-sex couples to be married in the United States of America.

For most of western history, it has been assumed that there are two genders – men and women – and that the only natural sexual orientation is to be heterosexual, so sexual relations were only socially acceptable between a man and a woman. Anyone who’s lifestyle didn’t conform to those standards was viewed as dysfunctional. These values were informed primarily by Christianity and the Judeo-Christian worldview that was prevalent in the western world. The rise of the LGBT movement coincided with and contributed to many changes in American culture, and was bolstered by the prevalence of new worldviews, notably materialist worldviews like secular humanism and Marxism, as well as postmodernism. The turbulence of today’s America can be traced to the conflict between these different worldviews and the Judeo-Christian worldview. SOGI issues are one of the most important frontiers of this conflict of worldviews.

Different Worldviews

One reason that SOGI issues are so contentious is that they deal with an essential aspect through which people understand and identify themselves, and are thus very personal. Dialogue and debate about SOGI can be taken as personal attacks and intentional efforts to delegitimize LGBT people’s experiences and identity. Any conversation on this topic must be approached with sensitivity and compassion. Worldview can be a powerful lens through which to approach this topic because it encourages us to step back from our deeply held convictions and to examine the assumptions that inform those views. Examining worldview invites healthy reflection and discourse, and hopefully avoids differences of opinions being taken as personal attacks.

The LGBT and Judeo-Christian worldviews are based on assumptions and moral values that differ greatly from each other. The Judeo-Christian worldview believes that there is a God with a divine will and purpose for humanity. That purpose can be understood through knowledge of scripture and through understanding natural law, which is the observable laws of the natural (created) world. Both of these point towards heterosexuality: The Bible teaches that God created humanity as male and female in God’s own image, and reproduction of the human race only occurs through the union of man and woman. Virtue is attributed to that which is within God’s divine purpose; therefore, marriage between man and woman is affirmed, and any other expression of sexual orientation or identity – including adultery, homosexuality, and transgenderism – is viewed as sinful and contrary to God’s purpose.

The LGBT worldview is based upon a materialist and morally relative perspective. It is influenced by postmodern thinkers like Derrida and Foucault towards an orientation that casts serious doubts on claims to absolute truth. Rather, it affirms every person’s unique experience and right to define truth according to their personal experience. Each individual is the expert of their own experience and should have the freedom to live their life according to their judgments of truth, as long as it doesn’t harm others. This includes the right to live as a non-traditional sexual or gender identity. Purpose is not inherent in existence, but each person can define their own purpose for themselves. It views power as being exercised through the domination of language and cultural discourse. Thus, it sees Judeo-Christianity as having maintained a cultural hegemony that reinforces heterosexism, because Judeo-Christianity has set the cultural framework through which discourse and judgments about sex and gender have been made.

Most people of both Judeo-Christian and LGBT worldviews would agree that there are certain undeniable, scientific facts. There is a material reality which can be observed and measured, and about which we can make reasonable assumptions, truth claims, and generalizations. For example, we can say that human beings have two eyes, one nose, and one mouth, even though there are some people who don’t necessarily have all of those features. We can also say that new human beings come into existence through the fertilization of an egg cell by a sperm cell. Scientific facts are value-free. They don’t contain any moral or ethical judgments within themselves, but merely report about what can be observed through the scientific method.

Worldviews are the lenses through which we make judgments about the scientific facts presented to us. A person’s worldview might say that life is meant to be lived joyously by experiencing as much as we can through our five senses. When presented with the scientific reality of a person who is blind, they might see his situation as suboptimal because he cannot experience all that the world has to offer visually, and might think it valuable to conduct scientific research to heal and/or prevent blindness in humans. Another person might have a worldview that uplifts the worth of every person and accepts differences without seeing things as better than or less than. They might emphasize acceptance of people and making society more welcoming of blind people without seeing the need to cure blindness. A third person might have a worldview that sees individuals pitted against each other for survival and might view blind people as weak and as targets to be taken advantage of. All three of them are presented with the same scientific reality, but are led to very different conclusions and actions by their worldview.

The scientific fact related to SOGI issues is that while the majority of human beings fit comfortably within the traditional definitions of heterosexual man and woman, there are people who do not. In the case of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, they experience sexual attraction to people of the same sex. These are differences of sexual orientation that fall out of the heterosexual norm. Most other identities (the “TQ+” of LGBTQ+) represent variations of gender identity, where people experience their gender identity to be different than the sex that they were assigned at birth. Transgender and transsexual people experience their gender or sex as different than the sex designated by the doctor at their birth. For example, a trans man would have been born with anatomical features of a woman, but at some point in her life felt that she is actually a man. He may now use masculine instead of feminine pronouns, and he may undergo sexual reassignment therapy to change his body to present as a male. Intersex people also fit into those that deal with gender identity issues. Some intersex people were born with ambiguous genitalia that look like something in between male and female genitalia, while others have a different abnormality that produces an ambiguous gender, like a chromosomal or hormonal variation.

It is a scientific reality that there are people who experience the SOGI variations described above, and while they may be a small percentage of the overall US population, they number in the millions. It is a worthwhile endeavor to continue to seek scientific understanding of the cause and nature of these SOGI variations. Because this topic is very politically charged, research may become agenda-driven instead of being impartial and open to unexpected conclusions. As much as possible, such inquiry should be made from a value-neutral perspective. Once the scientific facts are clarified, they are interpreted according to one’s worldview.

Different Responses Based on Worldview

The Christian world and the LGBT world have had very different responses to these SOGI variations. The response of the Judeo-Christian world has often been to reject and persecute LGBT people. Because marriage and sexuality has always been seen as rightfully between a man and a woman, anyone who lived a lifestyle contrary to that was persecuted and judged. Homosexuals had to gather in communities that were secretive and always faced the threat of violence. It was frustration towards this violence that caused the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village which sparked the gay rights movement of the 20th century. The Christian response towards the challenges and confusion experienced by LGBT people has been severely inadequate and too often has lacked a demonstration of true brotherly, Christian love.

However, there has been a second narrative that has been growing increasingly, [1] which emphasizes having greater empathy and understand-ing for the situation of LGBT people. They stress the importance of demonstrating compassion for those not living a heterosexual lifestyle. Many denominations (i.e., the United Methodist Church) are facing crises about how to reconcile opposing views about LGBT people, where some say that those lifestyles shouldn’t be condoned by the church and some say that they should be accepted and embraced by the church. Some advocate for the acceptance of LGBT priests, saying that there is much that Christianity can learn from those who practice a queer lifestyle. [2] This response has a different risk than the first: the risk of compromising the most basic tenets of the Judeo-Christian worldview. Christianity believes in a divine Creator who made humankind according to a divine plan, which is revealed specially through scripture. Faith in God and in the Word of God as revealed in the Bible is fundamental to the Christian faith. The Bible has passages that explicitly denounce the practice of homosexuality. Thus, it seems that the answer to the problem of Christian persecution of LGBT people isn’t acceptance and endorsement of LGBT lifestyles.

There are certain assumptions about sexual orientation and gender identity that the LGBT worldview makes in order to support the opinion that variations of SOGIs are equally valid and legitimate lifestyles. One assumption is the belief that the existence of homosexual thoughts and desires, or of gender dysphoric thoughts or feelings, is proof that differences of sexual orientation and gender identity are inherent markers of a person’s identity equivalent to race and other markers of identity. There are many different psychological traits experienced by millions of people but which are outside the norm, many of which can be linked even more strongly to genetic and inherited factors than SOGI variations. Yet, we don’t claim that those traits signify a person’s fundamental identity.

For example, there is a strong genetic link to depression and addiction. Yet, no one would claim either of those two traits as a person’s fundamental identity even though they were born that way. Instead, we advocate for treatment and support so that a person can counter their inherited tendencies. [3] And many people are able to overcome depression and addiction, despite having a genetic predisposition towards them. One reason for this is that depression and addiction detract from a person’s ability to function optimally. A rough comparison can be made between this and SOGI variations.

Evidence of a genetic link does not logically signify a marker of one’s identity. If that were the case, even in terms of sexual orientation, then we would be left to conclude that pedophilia is an equivalent identity marker as homosexuality, and that we should accept those who feel sexual attraction towards children as they are, without helping them to overcome those feelings of attraction. Another assumption of the LGBT worldview is that it is impossible to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity if they are any of the LGBTQ+ identities. There has been a crusade to ban any forms of therapy, called conversion therapy, that would help a person to get rid of homosexual attractions and live an exclusively heterosexual lifestyle. It is true that there have been great abuses of individuals through types of conversion therapy, whether through electric shock therapy, aversion therapy in which homoerotic imagery is paired with repulsive sensations, or abusive counselors who denigrate the value of their client because of their homosexual feelings or actions. We need to take a stand against abusive forms of therapy and counselors.

However, the fact that certain forms of conversion therapy are unethical doesn’t mean that the theory behind conversion therapy itself is unethical. In fact, there is evidence that properly conducted conversion therapy (sometimes called reparative therapy) which is grounded in sound psychological theory, can be beneficial to people who desire to eradicate homosexual desires and live as an exclusively heterosexual individual. [4] The existence of such evidence should be reason enough to at least advocate further research and exploration of the possible benefits and risks of such therapy, rather than shutting it down because of individual cases of unethical treatment. But instead of providing clients various options of therapy to choose from that may match their values, they are pushed to accept gay-affirming therapy as the only option.

Also, a person may experience homosexual desires for a number of years of their lives, and then it may go away later in their life. But at the time in their life when they experienced those desires, they would have been told that they are gay, and that it can’t be changed. But the reality is that it wasn’t a fundamental part of their identity. Research is needed to understand why people experience SOGI variations and why they sometimes revert back to a heterosexual orientation and/or a cisgender identity.

Another assumption of the LGBT worldview is that it is possible and fairly easy to tell with absolute certainty when a person has a variant SOGI. Gay affirming counselors and counseling programs teach people that having any homosexual feelings is evidence of being gay, and then guide those people to accept a gay identity, claiming that if they’re not comfortable with that, it is because systemic and internalized homophobia and heterosexism has trained them to revile homosexuality. The reality is that it is not easy to define a person’s sexual orientation. [5]

The first effort to do was the Kinsey scale, whereby a person would be rated on a scale of 0 to 6, 0 meaning exclusively heterosexual and 6 meaning exclusively homosexual. But even with the scale, it’s not clear at which number a person is considered not heterosexual, but having a homosexual or bisexual identity. Is it at 1, when they have incidental homosexual tendencies? At 3, when they have equal homosexual and heterosexual tendencies? Homosexual tendencies can also be measured in very different ways. It could be measured as homosexual thoughts, feelings, fantasies, or actions.

Understanding a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity relies on their own self-report. Unlike other identity markers like race or biological sex, a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity may not be easy to discern upon observation. Also, as mentioned above, SOGI can change over time. It is even more difficult to define a person by any characteristic if it changes over time.

The category of SOGI persons that might be observable is intersex, where a person is born with ambiguous genitalia or has a kind of abnormality, like chromosomal or hormonal, that causes them to have traits that don’t match expectations of the gender binary. However, the existence of intersex people doesn’t mean that the entire system of defining sex and gender as a binary between male and female should be thrown out. There are people born with other physical abnormalities. For example, a person could be born with six fingers. They could live their whole lives with six fingers and function normally and in complete health. However, because the vast majority of people have five fingers, our society is designed for five-fingered people. It would be hard for a six-fingered person to find a glove that fits their hand.

Having an extra finger is not a moral failing, but is a biological condition that they were born with. But still, one might say that it’s best to find a way for people to be born with five fingers instead of six, and/or to find a way to harmlessly remove the extra finger. The same might be said about intersex people. Being intersex isn’t a moral failing. But it could be reasonably said that it is more optimal for people to be born and live with a clear gender and sex. It is true that great harm has been done to intersex people in the past, whether due to discrimination or harmful surgical procedures meant to remove ambiguity about a person’s sex. But just as was mentioned before, the existence of unethical practices doesn’t mean the purpose that was meant to be accomplished through that practice is also unethical.

One of the challenges of both the Judeo-Christian and LGBT world-views is that they lack clarity about the purpose for the gender binary between male and female. The Judeo-Christian perspective acknowledges that it was within God’s design for humankind to be man and woman, that this is the way that we can reflect God’s image. It emphasizes the idea that “form follows function,” [6] meaning that the form of male and female is necessary for the function of reproduction. It seems to imply that deviation from that design is due to the individual’s moral failure. Meanwhile, the LGBT worldview doesn’t believe that there is any purpose to the gender binary, even for reproductive purposes. They propose various, highly intellectual theories to demonstrate that gender is not inherent but is socially instructed. [7] But even feminist theorists criticize those theories of being inadequate to avoid ultimately relying on the division between reproductive roles of the genders. [8]

The LGBT worldview can be interpreted as a reaction to the injustice that people with SOGI variations have experienced historically. It doesn’t strive to find a unifying understanding of truth and reality, but pokes holes in the dominant Judeo-Christian discourse, while trying to affirm the validity of the individual experiences of LGBT people. This comes at the cost of maintaining a rational, coherent, scientific view of reality, as it is not scientific to adjust definitions and procedures that apply to the vast majority of people in order to compensate for outliers at the cost of the majority.

Unification Worldview Towards SOGI Variation

The Unification Worldview provides a clear and more detailed explanation than Christianity for the purpose of gender being binary. First of all, it offers more insights into the scripture that says that man was created male and female in God’s image. It explains that the metaphysics of the universe reflect God’s nature of harmonious interaction between the complementary parts of yang and yin (i.e. masculinity and femininity). Not only is this true in the animal kingdom, but even the molecular harmony between cation and anion and the atomic harmony between proton and electron reflect this dynamic. The conjugal union between man and woman is the pinnacle of this dynamic in the created world.

Secondly, the Unification Worldview highlights the importance of lineage. It explains that the most important thing in life is not money, knowledge, or power, nor is it even to have love or life. The most important thing is lineage. Lineage is the process by which love is multiplied and passed down through the generations. Offspring created through intercourse is the very way by which God is able to multiply His children and Himself. This directly counters the LGBT emphasis that places greatest value on personal satisfaction. According to the Unification Worldview, joy and purpose are greatest not when we live for our own self-centered pleasure, but when we live for a greater purpose like for our spouse, children, and descendants.

Thirdly, the Unification Worldview provides an explanation for the societal, systemic, inherited nature of sin and suffering. The Christian worldview tends to place the fault on individuals who don’t live as monogamous, heterosexual couples for choosing to live sexually deviant lives. It denies the systemic prejudice experienced by those who struggle to live that lifestyle, and it negates the personal experience of individuals who truly feel that they are not heterosexual and/or cisgender. The Unification Worldview explains that our current reality does not reflect the original ideal that God intended for His creation, but rather that sin has corrupted human nature and the natural world. Our personal struggles are not only our shortcomings, but are results of the shortcomings that we have inherited from our ancestors and from the original human ancestors.

Not only that, but the Unification Worldview believes in a spiritual world that can influence the material world. Thus, the spirits of people who have lived in the generations before may be acting out their unresolved issues by trying to influence us living in the physical world currently. Because science has struggled to produce an adequate explanation for the cause of SOGI issues, many Unificationists believe that it could be explained at least in part as the result of the influence of the spirit world. This perspective shifts the blame away from the moral failings of individual people, yet upholds their ability to exercise their free will in their situation.

No matter what perspective or worldview that a person has, when it comes to the issues that human beings face it is important to maintain an attitude of compassion and love. Worldviews have an important role in guiding how we as a society view and deal with issues that we face as a whole; however, too often we lose touch with human compassion in the attempt to convince others of our worldview. The greatest struggles that LGBT people have faced is the treatment that they have experienced from other people. In order to provide them with the best care, we must start by upholding the value and dignity of every human life, regardless of how a person may choose to live their lives. We must start from finding the place in our worldview that acknowledges that basic human value.

[1] Joseph Yi, Gowoon Jung, and Joe Phillips. “Evangelical Christian Discourse in South Korea on the LGBT: The Politics of Cross-Border Learning.” Society 54, no. 1 (March 2017): 32.

[2] Edman, Elizabeth M. Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know about Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity. Boston: Beacon, 2017.

[3] Ward, Thomas. “Unification Worldview: Formulating a Response to LGBTQ.” Lecture presented for the Unification Worldview class at the Unification Theological Seminary, New York, NY, January 2020a.

[4] Throckmorton, Warren. “Efforts to Modify Sexual Orientation: A Review of Outcome Literature and Ethical Issues.” Journal of Mental Health Counseling 20, no. 4 (October 1998): 283.

[6] Nicoll, Regis. “Don't Make a Right.” Salvo Magazine, 2014. https://salvomag.com/ article/salvo28/dont-make-a-right.

[7] Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 2015.

[8] Hawkesworth, Mary. “Confounding Gender.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 22, no. 3 (1997): 649–85.

  • Tools and Resources
  • Customer Services
  • Addictions and Substance Use
  • Administration and Management
  • Aging and Older Adults
  • Biographies
  • Children and Adolescents
  • Clinical and Direct Practice
  • Couples and Families
  • Criminal Justice
  • Disabilities
  • Ethics and Values
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Health Care and Illness
  • Human Behavior
  • International and Global Issues
  • Macro Practice
  • Mental and Behavioral Health
  • Policy and Advocacy
  • Populations and Practice Settings
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Culture
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Research and Evidence-Based Practice
  • Social Justice and Human Rights
  • Social Work Profession
  • Share This Facebook LinkedIn Twitter

Article contents

Gender identity and gender expression.

  • Jama Shelton Jama Shelton Hunter College, City University of New York
  • https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.013.1324
  • Published online: 21 June 2023

Gender identity and gender expression are aspects of personal identity that impact an individual across multiple social dimensions. As such, it is critical that social workers understand the role of gender identity and gender expression in an individual’s life. Many intersecting factors contribute to an individual’s gender identity development and gender expression, as well as their experiences interacting with individuals, communities, and systems. For instance, an individual’s race, geographic location, disability status, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, economic status, and access to gender-affirming healthcare are some of the factors that may impact experiences of gender identity and gender expression. Gender identity and expression are dimensions of diversity that social workers will interact with at all levels of practice. As such, it is important for social work educational institutions to ensure their students are prepared for practice with people of all gender identities and expression, while also understanding the historical context of the social work profession in relation to transgender populations and the ways in which the profession has reinforced the sex and gender binaries.

  • gender binary
  • gender equity
  • gender identity
  • gender expression

What Are Gender Identity and Gender Expression?

Every individual has a gender identity, and every individual expresses their gender (see Table 1 ). Gender identity and gender expression are often referenced in relation to transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive people, yet one’s gender and the expression of gender are dimensions of identity that every individual possesses. Gender identity can be understood as an individual’s internal sense of self as it relates to gender. One’s gender is a deeply felt, personal sense of self as a girl/woman, boy/man, both a girl/woman and a boy/man, neither a girl/woman nor a boy/man, or a combination of a girl/woman and a boy/man. Additional words people may use to describe their gender include (but are not limited to): nonbinary, gender expansive, agender, multigender, two-spirited, gender-fluid, genderqueer, and muxe. Importantly, there is no external source that can dictate an individual’s gender identity.

Gender expression refers to the ways in which an individual expresses their gender outwardly. Gender expression may include an individual’s dress, hairstyle, mannerisms, and behaviors. These are typically based on stereotypes about gender within a particular cultural context. An individual’s gender expression may or may not conform to social norms that are typically associated with an individual’s gender or with gendered assumptions based on an individual’s assigned sex. Importantly, an individual’s gender presentation may or may not reflect their gender identity. Issues such as personal safety and access to accurately gendered items may impact an individual’s ability to express their gender in a way that aligns with their gender identity.

Table 1. Additional Relevant Terms

The sex and gender binaries.

The terms gender and sex are often used interchangeably. While these terms may be related in some instances, they are not the same. An individual’s sex is connected to their chromosomes, hormones, and anatomy. Typically, an individual is assigned a sex at birth, if not prior to birth. A sex assignment is most often made based on the appearance of a baby’s genitals. The options for sex assignment have historically been either male or female, which is then listed on an individual’s birth certificate. This is still often the case in the United States, even though evidence demonstrates that sex is not a binary construct ( Fausto-Sterling, 2018 ). Some states in the country allow an additional option (X) for the classification of sex on the birth certificate. While it is beyond the scope of this article to examine the category of intersex (discussed in “XXX”), intersex people cannot be overlooked in discussions of sex and gender. The binary construction of sex assumes the existence of only two sexes. This is an inaccurate and limiting construct that ignores human variability. Not only is it inaccurate and limiting, it is also harmful. Intersex babies and children often undergo surgical procedures that they do not consent to, and are required to take hormones in order to make their bodies fit within a binary that their bodies directly challenge.

An individual’s gender is most often presumed based on their sex assignment, and is presumed to fall within the binary gender categories of girl/woman and boy/man. For instance, if a baby is assigned female, the assumption is that the baby is a girl and will grow up to be a woman. With this assumption comes a set of gendered norms and expectations, societally reinforced in myriad ways including options for grooming and dress, presumptions about appropriate behavior and presentation, and even the choice of language used to praise or discipline (“such a pretty girl” or “that’s not ladylike”). However, an individual’s assigned sex does not always predict their gender; gender identity is more strongly linked to an individual’s experience of gender than to assigned sex ( Olson et al., 2015 ). Yet, the connection between an individual’s sex and their gender and the binary constructions of both sex and gender are so widely taught that this misperception is pervasive in the United States and in many Western countries despite the fact that “defining gender as a condition determined strictly by a person’s genitals is based on a notion that doctors and scientists abandoned long ago as oversimplified and often medically meaningless” ( Grady, 2018 ). In addition to the limitations of these binary categories, sex and gender are often viewed as immutable and stable over time. The lived experiences of intersex, nonbinary, transgender, and gender-expansive people demonstrate the inaccuracy of the binary system of sex and gender categorization.

It is important to note that an individual’s identification within the gender binary is not itself problematic. Because many laws and policies in the United States are based on a binary construction of sex and/or gender, it is the classification system itself that is flawed. Binary classifications are problematic when identification with the gender binary and associated gender expressions are required for entry within social and legal systems.

Beyond the Binary: Reconceptualizing Gender Identity and Gender Expression

Some think about gender identity and gender expression as a continuum, with binary classifications marking the endpoints and a range of identities and expressions in between. More contemporary understandings assert that gender identity and gender expression exist more as a “galaxy” rather than a continuum ( Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, n.d. ). This thinking is more in alignment with moving beyond binary conceptualizations of gender altogether and situates all gender identities and gender expressions as equally viable, without relying on the containment of binary categories.

Moving beyond the gender binary not only improves the lived experiences of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive people but also opens up possibilities for everyone . The construct of gender carries with it prescribed ways of being ranging from what is “appropriate” physical and behavioral gender expression to what are appropriate fields of study and career choices. Truly moving beyond the gender binary can liberate all people from the constraints inherent in presumptive and prescribed notions of what is deemed socially, culturally, and politically appropriate.

How could moving beyond the gender binary be operationalized within the social work profession? Prior to discussing suggestions for moving beyond the binary in social work education, practice, and research, it is important to first examine the history of the social work profession as it relates to gender identity and gender expression.

Social Work, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression: A Brief History

Historically, the social work profession is rife with demands that nonconforming gender expressions and bodies adapt to mainstream gendered expectations. Examples include the profession’s support for the assimilative Native American Residential Schools, electroconvulsive therapies intended to “cure” homosexuality, and a host of welfare eligibility requirements that serve to police Black families for their deviation from White heteronormative standards ( Bowles & Hopps, 2014 ). Thus, common practices centered around promoting access to resources through acclimating and gaining membership to the status quo. As such, the profession of social work has been complicit in the policing of gender and the maintenance of the gender binary. It is important for the profession to reckon with this disciplinary approach to gender identity and expression in the past, while also developing equitable frameworks for the future.

The primary formal mechanism for the policing of gender and, thus the reification of the gender binary, is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Gender identity disorder was first included in the DSM-III in 1980 , and included the diagnoses “gender identity disorder of childhood” and “transsexualism.” When updated in 1987 , the new DSM-III-R included gender identity disorder of adolescence and adulthood, nontranssexual type ( Drescher, 2009 ). Gender identity disorder of adolescence and adulthood, nontranssexual type, was removed from the DSM-IV and replaced with the category gender identity disorder, a diagnosis encompassing both gender identity disorder of childhood and transsexualism ( Shelton et al., 2019 ). The most recent version of the DSM (the DSM-5) replaced gender identity disorder with gender dysphoria. This shift in diagnostic terminology signifies a change in the understanding of the root causes of the challenges individuals face when their gender identity and gender expression fall outside of the dominant societal norms prescribed to the gender associated with their assigned sex. Namely that societal definitions of and expectations surrounding gender do not accurately reflect people’s lived experience of gender. However, the fact that a mental health diagnosis remains in the DSM is considered problematic by many, as gender related dissonance continues to be constructed as individual pathology.

The DSM solidified the notion of a gendered norm any deviation from which required correction. For decades, the remedy was to fit an individual into a gender that aligned with the expectations associated with their assigned sex. Through modern medicine, a new type of “correction” emerged for those who could gain access, through hormone treatment and affirming surgeries. Though these interventions are medical in nature, the psychiatric diagnoses remain a driving force in accessing these treatments. Further, gender-affirming treatments have reinforced the necessity of binary gender conformity, by supporting an individual in their transition from one gender to the other gender. It is important to note here that these treatments have been and continue to be life-saving for many individuals, and that identifying with the gender binary is not in itself problematic. As already stated, the gender binary is problematic when a binary classification is imposed and/or presumed and is not in alignment with an individual’s stated gender and understanding of their own body ( Ansara & Hegarty, 2012 ), and when identification or categorization within the gender binary is required for entry into and acceptance within social and legal systems ( Shelton et al., 2019 ).

The National Association of Social Workers released a position statement denouncing the continued inclusion of gender identity related diagnoses in the DSM-5, stating that diagnoses such as gender dysphoria should be approached from a medical model rather than a mental health model. Because of the authority that the DSM holds in social work and related professions, the inclusion of gender dysphoria perpetuates the notion that the variability of gender is a psychiatric condition, reinforcing cisnormativity and the binary gender system. Advocacy organizations argue that until gender related diagnoses are removed from the DSM, transgender and gender-expansive people will continue to suffer from stigma, discrimination, and the invalidation of their identities and experiences.

Social workers may find themselves in a gatekeeping role when working with individuals whose gender identity and/or gender expression expand beyond binary classifications or stretch the boundaries of what is typically considered appropriate gendered behavior based on an individual’s sex assignment. For instance, according to the Standards of Care put forth by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health ( WPATH, 2012 ), in order to access gender-affirming care (such as hormone treatment or surgery), an individual must obtain a letter of recommendation from a qualified mental health professional diagnosing their persistent gender dysphoria and indicating their readiness for care ( Coleman et al, 2022 ). Thus, the notion that individuals whose gender identities expand beyond the binary cisgender norm are not only pathologized but also viewed as incapable of owning their own bodily expertise. The same requirements are not expected from cisgender individuals seeking body altering surgeries, such as breast augmentation, hair implants, or facelifts.

Notably, not every nonbinary, gender-expansive, or transgender individual desires gender-affirming medical procedures. There is no single way to be nonbinary, gender expansive, or transgender, just as there is no single way to be a girl, woman, boy, or man. Each individual person experiences and expresses their gender in their own unique way.

Social Work and Gender Equity

Social workers are charged with confronting injustice; social justice is a core value of the profession. In recognition of the social worker’s responsibility to work toward social justice, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) (2015 ) generated accreditation standards requiring social workers to understand diversity and difference in the context of privilege, power, oppression, and marginalization to eliminate biases (Competency 2). Because gender identity and gender expression are included as dimensions of diversity that professionals must understand and value, social workers have an ethical commitment to advance gender equity in all professional practice, education, and research activities. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics ( 2017 / 1996 ) includes gender identity and gender expression as specific categories to include when confronting discrimination. The Code of Ethics ( 2017 / 1996 , p. 21) states that “social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of ... sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

In order to meet CSWE’s Competency 2—that social workers must understand diversity and difference in the context of privilege, power, oppression, and marginalization to eliminate biases—it is important that the profession broadens its analysis from individual and interpersonal acts of discrimination to include social systems and institutions that permit individual and interpersonal acts of discrimination. In other words, the role of structural discrimination in the oppression of people based on their gender identity and/or gender expression must be addressed. Structural discrimination can be understood as “the policies of dominant race/ethnic/gender institutions and the behavior of the individuals who implement these policies and control these institutions, which are race/ethnic/gender neutral in intent but which have a differential and/or harmful effect on minority race/ethnic/gender groups” ( Pincus, 1996 , p. 186).

To engage from within a structural framework would require social workers to address the structural conditions that marginalize people on the basis of their gender identity and/or gender expression. For example, rather than working with people to cope with the gender identity and expression based marginalization they face, social workers would also address the systems and structures that produce and reinforce marginalization. This may include challenging policies and practices within institutions of social work practice and education that rely on a binary classification of gender as a way to organize and categorize people. It may include insisting that all gender restrooms are accessible to all clients in one’s agency, or becoming involved in advocacy efforts aimed at removing gender identity based diagnoses from the DSM.

Social workers can begin to move beyond the gender binary by taking an inventory of the policies and practices within their organizations, critically examining the ways in which they may be inadvertently marginalizing clients and communities based on gender identity and gender expression. By centering transgender and nonbinary people in their examinations of policy and practice, social workers can intentionally assess their inclusion of and impact on transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive people. Because societal systems and services were built on the premise of binary sex and gender, they are rooted in the presumption that every individual who comes into contact with them can be categorized within these binary constructions. Public restrooms provide a concrete example. Social norms around restroom use necessitate that males and females are separated in different rooms, even with the physical separation of locked and partitioned stalls. In instances when public restrooms are single occupancy, they are most often still labeled male and female. The rationale for this separation is often safety and privacy. As Davis (2014 , p. 53) asserts, “If privacy and safety are the main reasons for sex-segregated restrooms, then might alternative physical designs such as floor-to-ceiling stall partitions do an even better job of meeting that goal than the current design of most American public restrooms?”

With regard to social work education, Shelton and Dodd (2020 ) outline key strategies for challenging cisnormativity and moving beyond the gender binary, including:

Use all gender pronouns (they and them) when speaking and writing rather than only including she and he or his and hers, an example of binarizing ( Blumer et al., 2013 ).

Examine and review course syllabi for implicit cisnormativity. Include your name and pronouns, ensure gender identity and expression are a part of classroom nondiscrimination standards, avoid binarizing language, and identify any all-gender restrooms available in the building.

Examine and review content on course syllabi. Ensure readings by and about transgender people are included. Transgender topics and authors should appear in a unit on gender identity. When planning a session about parenting, for instance, include a reading about transgender, gender-expansive, genderqueer, or nonbinary parents.

Be intentional when planning classroom introductions. Some students may not use the names indicated on your class roster or on school records. Plan introductions in such a way that enables students to introduce themselves first (before reading names from the provided class roster).

Model the sharing of pronouns and give students the option to include their pronouns when introducing themselves. For example, you could say, “Please share your name and your pronouns if you would like to do so.”

When utilizing case examples in the classroom, make sure transgender people are included/represented.

When including transgender people in case examples, make sure they are included in a way that does not perpetuate negative stereotypes and misinformation. For instance, a case example including a transgender person does not need to be focused solely on gender dysphoria and does not need to be related to their transgender identity.

Engage students in nuanced discussions about the history of the pathologization of gender and sexual minorities and the role of social work in this history.

Social work researchers can concretely work toward gender equity throughout the research process, helping to ensure all gender identities and gender expressions are acknowledged as valid. From the design of demographic questions to the reporting of results, researchers can intentionally include participants with a range of gender identities and expressions. Demographic questions can include additional options for sex and gender beyond the binary categorizations of female/male, woman/man, or girl/boy. When analyzing quantitative data, researchers can opt out of collapsing sex and/or gender into a dichotomous variable. Though this may make the process of analysis less simple, making these variables dichotomous erases the lived experiences of participants. When reporting results, researchers can include the experiences of participants across a range of gender identities and gender expressions. In reporting only statistically significant findings, critical data about frequently marginalized and underrepresented populations is lost. Recruitment strategies should include specific outreach to individuals and communities of diverse gender identities and gender expressions. This will require community engaged research and a willingness to extend recruitment timelines to ensure adequate representation. A 2021 study from the Williams Institute reported that 1.2 million adults in the United States are nonbinary ( Wilson & Meyer, 2021 ). Expanding beyond binary conceptualizations of gender within social work research is imperative in order to address the health and well-being of nonbinary individuals and communities.

In summary, gender identity and gender expression are dimensions of identity that are relevant to and impact all people. Thus, it is important for social workers to understand the ways in which gender identity and gender expression impact the individuals and communities with whom they work, as well as the ways that systems and institutions may perpetuate bias and marginalization based on gender identity and gender expression. Although the profession of social work has a fraught history with regard to policing and pathologizing individuals whose gender identities and expressions exist outside of or in between the gender binary, contemporary practice charges social workers with confronting injustice, including dimensions of diversity such as gender identity and gender expression.

Further Reading

  • Bilodeau, B. , & Renn, K. (2005). Analysis of LGBT identity development models and implications for practice. New Directions for Student Services , 111 , 25–39.
  • Burdge, B. (2007). Bending gender, ending gender: Theoretical foundations for social work practice with the transgender community. Social Work , 52 (3), 243–250.
  • Butler, J. (2004). Undoing gender . Routledge.
  • James, S. E. , Herman, J. L. , Rankin, S. , Keisling, M. , Mottet, L. , & Anafi, M. (2016). The report of the 2015 U.S. transgender survey . National Center for Transgender Equality.
  • Kroehle, K. , Shelton, J. , Clark, E. , & Seelman, K. (2020). Mainstreaming dissidence: Confronting binary gender in social work’s grand challenges. Social Work , 65 (4), 368–377.
  • Sanger, T. (2008). Queer(y)ing gender and sexuality: Transgender people’s lived experiences and intimate partnerships. In L. Moon (Ed.), Feeling queer or queer feelings? Radical approaches to counselling sex, sexualities and genders (pp. 72–88). Routledge.
  • Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights . (n.d.). Gender galaxy .
  • Ansara, Y. , & Hegarty, P. (2012). Cisgenderism in psychology: Pathologising and misgendering children from 1999 to 2008. Psychology & Sexuality , 3 (2), 137–160.
  • Blumer, M. L. C. , Ansara, Y. G. , & Watson, C. M. (2013). Cisgenderism in family therapy: How everyday clinical practices can delegitimize people’s gender self-designations. Special Section: Essays in Family Therapy. Journal of Family Psychotherapy , 24 (4), 267–285.
  • Bowles, D. D. , & Hopps, J. G. (2014). The profession’s role in meeting its historical mission to serve vulnerable populations. Advances in Social Work , 15 (1), 1–20.
  • Council on Social Work Education . (2015). Educational policy and accreditation standards .
  • Coleman, E. , Radix, A. E. , Bouman, W. P. , Brown, G. R. , de Vries, A. L. C. , Deutsch, M. B. , Ettner, R. , Fraser, L. , Goodman, M. , Green, J. , Hancock, A. B. , Johnson, T. W. , Karasic, D. H. , Knudson, G. A. , Leibowitz, S. F. , Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F. L. , Monstrey, S. J. , Motmans, J. , Nahata, L. , Nieder, T. O. , … Arcelus, J. (2022). Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, Version 8 . International journal of transgender health, 23(Suppl 1), S1–S259.
  • Davis, H. (2014). Sex-classification policies as transgender discrimination: An intersectional critique. Perspectives on Politics , 12 (1), 45–60.
  • Drescher, J. (2009). Queer diagnoses: Parallels and contrasts in the history of homosexuality, gender variance, and the diagnostic and statistical manual. Archives of Sexual Behavior , 39 , 427–460.
  • Fausto-Sterling, A. (2018, October 15). Why sex is not binary. The New York Times .
  • Grady, D. (2018, October 2). Anatomy does not determine gender, experts say . The New York Times , 10A.
  • National Association of Social Workers . (2017). The NASW code of ethics (Rev. ed.). (Original work published 1996)
  • Olson, K. R. , Key, A. C. , & Eaton, N. R. (2015). Gender cognition in transgender children. Psychological Science , 26 (4), 467–474.
  • Pincus, F. (1996). Discrimination comes in many forms: Individual, institutional, and structural. The American Behavioral Scientist , 40 (2), 186–194.
  • Shelton, J. , & Dodd, S. J. (2020). Beyond the binary: Addressing cisnormativity in the social work classroom. Journal of Social Work Education , 56 (1), 179–185.
  • Shelton, J. , Kroehle, K. , & Andia, M. (2019). The trans person is not the problem: Brave spaces and structural competence as educative tools for trans justice in social work. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare , 46 (4), 97–123.
  • World Professional Association for Transgender Health . (2012). Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People [7 th Version].
  • Wilson, B. D. M. , & Meyer, I. (2021). Nonbinary LGBTQ adults in the United States . The Williams Institute.

Related Articles

  • Disparities and Inequalities: Overview
  • Social Justice
  • Transgender People
  • Discrimination

Printed from Encyclopedia of Social Work. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 15 May 2024

  • Cookie Policy
  • Privacy Policy
  • Legal Notice
  • Accessibility
  • [66.249.64.20|109.248.223.228]
  • 109.248.223.228

Character limit 500 /500

Jonathan D. Raskin, Ph.D.

Understanding Gender, Sex, and Gender Identity

It's more important than ever to use this terminology correctly..

Posted February 27, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina

  • The Fundamentals of Sex
  • Find a sex therapist near me

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene hung a sign outside her Capitol office door that said “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. ‘Trust the Science!’” There are many reasons to question hanging such a sign, but given that Rep. Taylor Greene invoked science in making her assertion, I thought it might be helpful to clarify by citing some actual science. Put simply, from a scientific standpoint, Rep. Taylor Greene’s statement is patently wrong. It perpetuates a common error by conflating gender with sex . Allow me to explain how psychologists scientifically operationalize these terms.

 geralt/Pixabay

According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2012), sex is rooted in biology. A person’s sex is determined using observable biological criteria such as sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia (APA, 2012). Most people are classified as being either biologically male or female, although the term intersex is reserved for those with atypical combinations of biological features (APA, 2012).

Gender is related to but distinctly different from sex; it is rooted in culture, not biology. The APA (2012) defines gender as “the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex” (p. 11). Gender conformity occurs when people abide by culturally-derived gender roles (APA, 2012). Resisting gender roles (i.e., gender nonconformity ) can have significant social consequences—pro and con, depending on circumstances.

Gender identity refers to how one understands and experiences one’s own gender. It involves a person’s psychological sense of being male, female, or neither (APA, 2012). Those who identify as transgender feel that their gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex or the gender they were assigned at birth; in some cases they don’t feel they fit into into either the male or female gender categories (APA, 2012; Moleiro & Pinto, 2015). How people live out their gender identities in everyday life (in terms of how they dress, behave, and express themselves) constitutes their gender expression (APA, 2012; Drescher, 2014).

“Male” and “female” are the most common gender identities in Western culture; they form a dualistic way of thinking about gender that often informs the identity options that people feel are available to them (Prentice & Carranza, 2002). Anyone, regardless of biological sex, can closely adhere to culturally-constructed notions of “maleness” or “femaleness” by dressing, talking, and taking interest in activities stereotypically associated with traditional male or female gender identities. However, many people think “outside the box” when it comes to gender, constructing identities for themselves that move beyond the male-female binary. For examples, explore lists of famous “gender benders” from Oxygen , Vogue , More , and The Cut (not to mention Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head , whose evolving gender identities made headlines this week).

Whether society approves of these identities or not, the science on whether there are more than two genders is clear; there are as many possible gender identities as there are people psychologically forming identities. Rep. Taylor Greene’s insistence that there are just two genders merely reflects Western culture’s longstanding tradition of only recognizing “male” and “female” gender identities as “normal.” However, if we are to “trust the science” (as Rep. Taylor Greene’s recommends), then the first thing we need to do is stop mixing up biological sex and gender identity. The former may be constrained by biology, but the latter is only constrained by our imaginations.

American Psychological Association. (2012). Guidelines for psychological practice with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. American Psychologist , 67 (1), 10-42. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024659

Drescher, J. (2014). Treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender patients. In R. E. Hales, S. C. Yudofsky, & L. W. Roberts (Eds.), The American Psychiatric Publishing textbook of psychiatry (6th ed., pp. 1293-1318). American Psychiatric Publishing.

Moleiro, C., & Pinto, N. (2015). Sexual orientation and gender identity: Review of concepts, controversies and their relation to psychopathology classification systems. Frontiers in Psychology , 6 .

Prentice, D. A., & Carranza, E. (2002). What women should be, shouldn't be, are allowed to be, and don't have to be: The contents of prescriptive gender stereotypes. Psychology of Women Quarterly , 26 (4), 269-281. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-6402.t01-1-00066

Jonathan D. Raskin, Ph.D.

Jonathan D. Raskin, Ph.D. , is a professor of psychology and counselor education at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

  • Find a Therapist
  • Find a Treatment Center
  • Find a Psychiatrist
  • Find a Support Group
  • Find Online Therapy
  • United States
  • Brooklyn, NY
  • Chicago, IL
  • Houston, TX
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • New York, NY
  • Portland, OR
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC
  • Asperger's
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Chronic Pain
  • Eating Disorders
  • Passive Aggression
  • Personality
  • Goal Setting
  • Positive Psychology
  • Stopping Smoking
  • Low Sexual Desire
  • Relationships
  • Child Development
  • Therapy Center NEW
  • Diagnosis Dictionary
  • Types of Therapy

March 2024 magazine cover

Understanding what emotional intelligence looks like and the steps needed to improve it could light a path to a more emotionally adept world.

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Gaslighting
  • Affective Forecasting
  • Neuroscience

MINI REVIEW article

Sexual orientation and gender identity: review of concepts, controversies and their relation to psychopathology classification systems.

\r\nCarla Moleiro*

  • Instituto Universitário de Lisboa ISCTE-IUL, CIS, Lisboa, Portugal

Numerous controversies and debates have taken place throughout the history of psychopathology (and its main classification systems) with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity. These are still reflected on present reformulations of gender dysphoria in both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the International Classification of Diseases, and in more or less subtle micro-aggressions experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans patients in mental health care. The present paper critically reviews this history and current controversies. It reveals that this deeply complex field contributes (i) to the reflection on the very concept of mental illness; (ii) to the focus on subjective distress and person-centered experience of psychopathology; and (iii) to the recognition of stigma and discrimination as significant intervening variables. Finally, it argues that sexual orientation and gender identity have been viewed, in the history of the field of psychopathology, between two poles: gender transgression and gender variance/fluidity.

Numerous controversies and debates have taken place throughout the history of psychopathology and mental health care with regards to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The present paper aims to review relevant concepts in this literature, its historical and current controversies, and their relation to the main psychopathology classification systems.

Concepts and Definitions

Concepts and definitions that refer to sexual orientation and gender identity are an evolving field. Many of the terms used in the past to describe LGBT people, namely in the mental health field, are now considered to be outdated and even offensive.

Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted ( American Psychological Association, 2012 ). Nowadays, the terms ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ are used to refer to people who experience attraction to members of the same sex, and the term ‘bisexual’ describe people who experience attraction to members of both sexes. It should be noted that, although these categories continue to be widely used, sexual orientation does not always appear in such definable categories and, instead, occurs on a continuum ( American Psychological Association, 2012 ), and people perceived or described by others as LGB may identify in various ways ( D’Augelli, 1994 ).

The expression gender identity was coined in the middle 1960s, describing one’s persistent inner sense of belonging to either the male and female gender category ( Money, 1994 ). The concept of gender identity evolved over time to include those people who do not identify either as female or male: a “person’s self concept of their gender (regardless of their biological sex) is called their gender identity” ( Lev, 2004 , p. 397). The American Psychological Association (2009a , p. 28) described it as: “the person’s basic sense of being male, female, or of indeterminate sex.” For decades, the term ‘transsexual’ was restricted for individuals who had undergone medical procedures, including genital reassignment surgeries. However, nowadays, ‘transsexual’ refers to anyone who has a gender identity that is incongruent with the sex assigned at birth and therefore is currently, or is working toward, living as a member of the sex other than the one they were assigned at birth, regardless of what medical procedures they may have undergone or may desire in the future (e.g., Serano, 2007 ; American Psychological Association, 2009a ; Coleman et al., 2012 ). In this paper we use the prefix trans when referring to transsexual people.

Since the 1990’s the word transgender has been used primarily as an umbrella term to describe those people who defy societal expectations and assumptions regarding gender (e.g., Lev, 2004 ; American Psychological Association, 2009a ). It includes people who are transsexual and intersex, but also those who identify outside the female/male binary and those whose gender expression and behavior differs from social expectations. As in the case of sexual orientation, people perceived or described by others as transgender – including transsexual men and women – may identify in various ways (e.g., Pinto and Moleiro, 2015 ).

Discrimination and Impact on Mental Health

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often suffer from various forms of discrimination, stigma and social exclusion – including physical and psychological abuse, bullying, persecution, or economic alienation ( United Nations, 2011 ; Bostwick et al., 2014 ; European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014 ). Moreover, experiences of discrimination may occur in various areas, such as employment, education and health care, but also in the context of meaningful interpersonal relationships, including family (e.g., Milburn et al., 2006 ; Feinstein et al., 2014 ; António and Moleiro, 2015 ). Accordingly, several studies strongly suggest that experiences of discrimination and stigmatization place LGBT people at higher risk for mental distress ( Cochran and Mays, 2000 ; Dean et al., 2000 ; Cochran et al., 2003 ; Meyer, 2003 ; Shilo, 2014 ).

For example, LGB populations may be at increased risk for suicide ( Hershberger and D’Augelli, 1995 ; Mustanski and Liu, 2013 ), traumatic stress reactions ( D’Augelli et al., 2002 ), major depression disorders ( Cochran and Mays, 2000 ), generalized anxiety disorders ( Bostwick et al., 2010 ), or substance abuse ( King et al., 2008 ). In addition, transgender people have been identified as being at a greater risk for developing: anxiety disorders ( Hepp et al., 2005 ; Mustanski et al., 2010 ); depression ( Nuttbrock et al., 2010 ; Nemoto et al., 2011 ); social phobia and adjustment disorders ( Gómez-Gil et al., 2009 ); substance abuse ( Lawrence, 2008 ); or eating disorders ( Vocks et al., 2009 ). At the same time, data on suicide ideation and attempts among this population are alarming: Maguen and Shipherd (2010) found the percentage of attempted suicides to be as high as 40% in transsexual men and 20% in transsexual women. Nuttbrock et al. (2010) , using a sample of 500 transgender women, found that around 30% had already attempted suicide, around 35% had planned to do so, and close to half of the participants expressed suicide ideation. In particular, adolescence has been identified as a period of increased risk with regard to the mental health of transgender and transsexual people ( Dean et al., 2000 ).

In sum, research clearly recognizes the role of stigma and discrimination as significant intervening variables in psychopathology among LGBT populations. Nevertheless, the relation between sexual orientation or gender identity and stress may be mediated by several variables, including social and family support, low internalized homophobia, expectations of acceptance vs. rejection, contact with other LGBT people, or religiosity ( Meyer, 2003 ; Shilo and Savaya, 2012 ; António and Moleiro, 2015 ; Snapp et al., 2015 ). Thus, it seems important to focus on subjective distress and in a person-centered experience of psychopathology.

On the History of Homosexuality and Psychiatric Diagnoses

While nowadays we understand that higher rates of psychological distress among LGB people are related to their minority status and to discrimination, by the early 20th century, psychiatrists mostly regarded homosexuality as pathological per se ; and in the mid-20th century psychiatrics, physicians, and psychologists were trying to “cure” and change homosexuality ( Drescher, 2009 ). In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association published its first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-I), in which homosexuality was considered a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” In DSM-II, published in 1968, homosexuality was reclassified as a “sexual deviation.” However, in December 1973, the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM.

The most significant catalyst to homosexuality’s declassification as a mental illness was lesbian and gay activism, and its advocacy efforts within the American Psychiatric Association ( Drescher, 2009 ). Nevertheless, during the discussion that led to the diagnostic change, APA’s Nomenclature Committee also wrestled with the question of what constitutes a mental disorder. Concluding that “they [mental disorders] all regularly caused subjective distress or were associated with generalized impairment in social effectiveness of functioning” ( Spitzer, 1981 , p. 211), the Committee agreed that homosexuality by itself was not one.

However, the diagnostic change did not immediately end the formal pathologization of some presentations of homosexuality. After the removal of the “homosexuality” diagnosis, the DSM-II contained the diagnosis of “sexual orientation disturbance,” which was replaced by “ego dystonic homosexuality” in the DSM-III, by 1980. These diagnoses served the purpose of legitimizing the practice of sexual “conversion” therapies among those individuals with same-sex attractions who were distressed and reported they wished to change their sexual orientation ( Spitzer, 1981 ; Drescher, 2009 ). Nonetheless, “ego-dystonic homosexuality” was removed from the DSM-III-R in 1987 after several criticisms: as formulated by Drescher (2009 , p. 435): “should people of color unhappy about their race be considered mentally ill?”

The removal from the DSM of psychiatric diagnoses related to sexual orientation led to changes in the broader cultural beliefs about homosexuality and culminated in the contemporary civil rights quest for equality ( Drescher, 2012 ). In contrast, it was only in 1992 that the World Health Organization ( World Health Organization, 1992 ) removed “homosexuality” from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), which still contains a diagnosis similar to “ego-dystonic homosexuality.” However, this is expected to change in the next revision, planned for publication in 2017 ( Cochran et al., 2014 ).

Controversies on Gender Dysphoria and (Trans)Gender Diagnoses

Mental health diagnoses that are specific to transgender and transsexual people have been highly controversial. In this domain, the work of Harry Benjamin was fundamental for trans issues internationally, through the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (presently, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, WPATH). In the past few years, there has been a vehement discussion among interested professionals, trans and LGBT activists, and human rights groups concerning the reform or removal of (trans)gender diagnoses from the main health diagnostic tools. However, discourses on this topic have been inconclusive, filled with mixed messages and polarized opinions ( Kamens, 2011 ). Overall, mental health diagnoses which are specific to transgender people have been criticized in large part because they enhance the stigma in a population which is already particularly stigmatized ( Drescher, 2013 ). In fact, it has been suggested that the label “mental disorder” is the main factor underlying prejudice toward trans people ( Winter et al., 2009 ).

The discussion reached a high point during the recent revision process of the DSM-5 ( American Psychiatric Association, 2013 ), in which the diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” was revised into one of “gender dysphoria.” Psychiatric diagnosis was thus limited to those who are, in a certain moment of their lives, distressed about living with a gender assignment they experience as incongruent with their gender identity ( Drescher, 2013 ). The change of criteria and nomenclature “is less pathologizing as it no longer implies that one’s identity is disordered” ( DeCuypere et al., 2010 , p. 119). In fact, gender dysphoria is not a synonym for transsexuality, nor should it be used to describe transgender people in general ( Lev, 2004 ); rather, “[it] is a clinical term used to describe the symptoms of excessive pain, agitation, restless, and malaise that gender-variant people seeking therapy often express” ( Lev, 2004 , p. 910). Although the changes were welcomed (e.g., DeCuypere et al., 2010 ; Lev, 2013 ), there are still voices arguing for the “ultimate removal” ( Lev, 2013 , p. 295) of gender dysphoria from the DSM. Nevertheless, attention is presently turned to the ongoing revision of the ICD. Various proposals concerning the revision of (trans)gender diagnoses within ICD have been made, both originating from transgender and human rights groups (e.g., Global Action for Trans ∗ Equality, 2011 ; TGEU, 2013 ) and the health profession community (e.g., Drescher et al., 2012 ; World Professional Association for Transgender Health, 2013 ). These include two main changes: the reform of the diagnosis of transsexualism into one of “gender incongruence”; and the change of the diagnosis into a separate chapter from the one on “mental and behavioral disorders.”

Mental Health Care Reflecting Controversies

There is evidence that LGBT persons resort to psychotherapy at higher rates than the non-LGBT population ( Bieschke et al., 2000 ; King et al., 2007 ); hence, they may be exposed to higher risk for harmful or ineffective therapies, not only as a vulnerable group, but also as frequent users.

Recently, there has been a greater concern in the mental health field oriented to the promotion of the well-being among non-heterosexual and transgender people, which has paralleled the diagnostic changes. This is established, for instance, by the amount of literature on gay and lesbian affirmative psychotherapy which has been developed in recent decades (e.g., Davis, 1997 ) and, also, by the fact that major international accrediting bodies in counseling and psychotherapy have identified the need for clinicians to be able to work effectively with minority clients, namely LGBT people. The APA’s guidelines for psychotherapy with lesbian, gay, and bisexual client ( American Psychological Association, 2000 , 2012 ) are a main reference. These ethical guidelines highlight, among several issues, the need for clinicians to recognize that their own attitudes and knowledge about the experiences of sexual minorities are relevant to the therapeutic process with these clients and that, therefore, mental health care providers must look for appropriate literature, training, and supervision.

However, empirical research also reveals that some therapists still pursue less appropriate clinical practices with LGBT clients. In a review of empirical research on the provision of counseling and psychotherapy to LGB clients, Bieschke et al. (2006) encountered an unexpected recent explosion of literature focused on “conversion therapy.” There are, in fact, some mental health professionals that still attempt to help lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients to become heterosexual ( Bartlett et al., 2009 ), despite the fact that a recent systematic review of the peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts concluded that “efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm” ( American Psychological Association, 2009b , p. 1).

Moreover, there is evidence of other forms of inappropriate (while less blatant) clinical practices with LGBT clients (e.g., Garnets et al., 1991 ; Jordan and Deluty, 1995 ; Liddle, 1996 ; Hayes and Erkis, 2000 ). Even those clinicians who intend to be affirmative and supportive of LGBT individuals can reveal subtle heterosexist bias in the work with these clients ( Pachankis and Goldfried, 2004 ). Examples of such micro-aggressions ( Sue, 2010 ) might be automatically assuming that a client is heterosexual, trying to explain the etiology of the client’s homosexuality, or focusing on the sexual orientation of a LGB client despite the fact that this is not an issue at hand (e.g., Shelton and Delgado-Romero, 2011 ). Heterosexual bias in counseling and psychotherapy may manifest itself also in what Brown (2006 , p. 350) calls “sexual orientation blindness,” i.e., struggling for a supposed neutrality and dismissing the specificities related to the minority condition of non-heterosexual clients. This conceptualization of the human experience mostly in heterosexual terms, found in the therapeutic setting, does not seem to be independent of psychotherapist’s basic training and the historical heterosexist in the teaching of medicine and psychology ( Simoni, 1996 ; Alderson, 2004 ).

With regards to the intervention with trans people, for decades the mental health professionals’ job was to sort out the “true” transsexuals from all other transgender people. The former would have access to physical transition, and the later would be denied any medical intervention other than psychotherapy. By doing this, whether deliberately or not, professionals – acting as gatekeepers – pursued to ‘ensure that most people who did transition would not be “gender-ambiguous” in any way’ ( Serano, 2007 , p. 120). Research shows that currently trans people still face serious challenges in accessing health care, including those related to inappropriate gatekeeping ( Bockting et al., 2004 ; Bauer et al., 2009 ). Some mental health professionals still focus on the assessment of attributes related to identity and gender expressions, rather than on the distress with which trans people may struggle with ( Lev, 2004 ; Serano, 2007 ). Hence, trans people may feel the need to express a personal narrative consistent with what they believe the clinicians’ expectations to be, for accessing hormonal or surgical treatments ( Pinto and Moleiro, 2015 ). Thus, despite the revisions of (trans)gender diagnoses within the DSM, more recent diagnoses seem to still be used as if they were identical with the diagnosis of transsexualism – in a search for the “true transsexual” ( Cohen-Kettenis and Pfäfflin, 2010 ). It seems clear that social and cultural biases have significantly influenced – and still do – diagnostic criteria and the access to hormonal and surgical treatments for trans people.

Controversies and debates with regards to medical classification of sexual orientation and gender identity contribute to the reflection on the very concept of mental illness. The agreement that mental disorders cause subjective distress or are associated with impairment in social functioning was essential for the removal of “homosexuality” from the DSM in the 1970s ( Spitzer, 1981 ). Moreover, (trans)gender diagnoses constitute a significant dividing line both within trans related activism (e.g., Vance et al., 2010 ) and the health professionals’ communities (e.g., Ehrbar, 2010 ). The discussion has taken place between two apposite positions: (1) trans(gender) diagnoses should be removed from health classifying systems, because they promote the pathologization and stigmatization of gender diversity and enhance the medical control of trans people’s identities and lives; and (2) trans(gender) diagnoses should be retained in order to ensure access to care, since health care systems rely on diagnoses to justify medical treatment – which many trans people need. In fact, trans people often describe experiences of severe distress and argue for the need for treatments and access to medical care ( Pinto and Moleiro, 2015 ), but at the same time reject the label of mental illness for themselves ( Global Action for Trans ∗ Equality, 2011 ; TGEU, 2013 ). Thus, it may be important to understand how the debate around (trans)diagnoses may be driven also by a history of undue gatekeeping and by stigma involving mental illness.

The present paper argues that sexual orientation and gender identity have been viewed, in the history of the field of psychopathology, between two poles: gender transgression and gender variance/fluidity.

On the one hand, aligned with a position of “transgression” and/or “deviation from a norm,” people who today are described as LGBT were labeled as mentally ill. Inevitably, classification systems reflect(ed) the existing social attitudes and prejudices, as well as the historical and cultural contexts in which they were developed ( Drescher, 2012 ; Kirschner, 2013 ). In that, they often failed to differentiate between mental illness and socially non-conforming behavior or fluidity of gender expressions. This position and the historical roots of this discourse are still reflected in the practices of some clinicians, ranging from “conversion” therapies to micro-aggressions in the daily lives of LGBT people, including those experienced in the care by mental health professionals.

On the other hand, lined up with a position of gender variance and fluidity, changes in the diagnostic systems in the last few decades reflect a broader respect and value of the diversity of human sexuality and of gender expressions. This position recognizes that the discourse and practices coming from the (mental) health field may lead to changes in the broader cultural beliefs ( Drescher, 2012 ). As such, it also recognizes the power of medical classifications, health discourses and clinical practices in translating the responsibility of fighting discrimination and promoting LGBT people’s well-being.

In conclusion, it seems crucial to emphasize the role of specific training and supervision in the development of clinical competence in the work with sexual minorities. Several authors (e.g., Pachankis and Goldfried, 2004 ) have argued for the importance of continuous education and training of practitioners in individual and cultural diversity competences, across professional development. This is in line with APA’s ethical guidelines ( American Psychological Association, 2000 , 2012 ), and it is even more relevant when we acknowledge the significant and recent changes in this field. Furthermore, it is founded on the very notion that LGBT competence assumes clinicians ought to be aware of their own personal values, attitudes and beliefs regarding human sexuality and gender diversity in order to provide appropriate care. These ethical concerns, however, have not been translated into training programs in medicine and psychology in a systematic manner in most European countries, and to the mainstreaming of LGBT issues ( Goldfried, 2001 ) in psychopathology.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Alderson, K. G. (2004). A different kind of outing: training counsellors to work with sexual minority clients. Can. J. Couns. 38, 193–210.

Google Scholar

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , 5th Edn. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

American Psychological Association (2000). Guidelines for psychotherapy with lesbian, Gay Bisexual Clients. Am. Psychol. 55, 1440–1451.

American Psychological Association (2009a). Report of the Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance. Available at: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/policy/gender-identity-report.pdf

American Psychological Association (2009b). Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. Available at: https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf

American Psychological Association (2012). Guidelines for psychological practice with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Am. Psychol. 67, 10–42. doi: 10.1037/a0024659

PubMed Abstract | CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

António, R., and Moleiro, C. (2015). Social and parental support as moderators of the effects of homophobic bullying on psychological distress in youth. Psychol. Schools 52, 729–742. doi: 10.1002/pits.21856

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

Bartlett, A., Smith, G., and King, M. (2009). The response of mental health professionals to clients seeking help to change or redirect same-sex sexual orientation. BMC Psychiatry 9:11. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-9-11

Bauer, G. R., Hammond, R., Travers, R., Kaay, M., Hohenadel, K. M., and Boyce, M. (2009). “I don’t think this is theoretical; this is our lives”: how erasure impacts health care for transgender people. J. Assoc. Nurses AIDS Care 20, 348–361. doi: 10.1016/j.jana.2009.07.004

Bieschke, K. J., McClanahan, M., Tozer, E., Grzegorek, J. L., and Park, J. (2000). “Programmatic research on the treatment of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients: the past, the present, and the course for the future,” in Handbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients , eds R. M. Perez, K. A. DeBord, and K. J. Bieschke (Washington DC: American Psychological Association), 309–335.

Bieschke, K. J., Paul, P. L., and Blasko, K. A. (2006). “Review of empirical research focused on the experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients in counseling and psychotherapy,” in Handbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Clients , eds K. Bieschke, R. Perez, and K. DeBord (Washington DC: American Psychological Association), 293–316.

Bockting, W., Robinson, B., Benner, A., and Scheltema, K. (2004). Patient satisfaction with transgender health services. J. Sex Marital Ther. 30, 277–294. doi: 10.1080/00926230490422467

Bostwick, W. B., Boyd, C. J., Hughes, T. L., and McCabe, S. E. (2010). Sexual orientation and the prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders in the United States. Am. J. Public Health 100, 468–475. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.152942

Bostwick, W. B., Boyd, C. J., Hughes, T. L., West, B. T., and McCabe, S. E. (2014). Discrimination and mental health among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. Am. J. Orthopsychiatry (Am. Psychol. Assoc.) 84, 35–45. doi: 10.1037/h0098851

Brown, L. S. (2006). “The neglect of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered clients,” in Evidence-Based Practices in Mental Health , eds J. C. Norcross, L. E. Beutler, and R. F. Levant (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association), 346–353.

PubMed Abstract | Google Scholar

Cochran, S., Drescher, J., Kismödi, E., Giami, A., García-Moreno, C., Atalla, E., et al. (2014). Proposed declassification of disease categories related to sexual orientation in the international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (ICD-11). Bull. World Health Organ. Bull. 92, 672–679. doi: 10.2471/BLT.14.135541

Cochran, S. D., and Mays, V. M. (2000). Relation between psychiatric syndromes and behaviourally defined sexual orientation in a sample of the U.S. population. Am. J. Public Health 92, 516–523.

Cochran, S. D., Sullivan, J. G., and Mays, V. M. (2003). Prevalence of mental disorders, psychological distress, and mental health services among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. J. Couns. Clin. Psychol. 71, 53–61.

Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., and Pfäfflin, F. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for gender identity disorder in adolescents and adults. Arch. Sex. Behav. 39, 499–513. doi: 10.1007/s10508-009-9562-y

Coleman, E., Bockting, W., Botzer, M., Cohen - Kettenis, P., DeCuypere, G., Feldman, J., et al. (2012). Standards of care for the health of transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people, 7th version. Int. J. Transgend. 13, 165–232.

D’Augelli, A. R. (1994). “Identity development and sexual orientation: toward a model of lesbian, gay, and bisexual development,” in Human Diversity: Perspectives on People in Context , eds E. J. Trickett, R. J. Watts, and D. Birman (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass).

D’Augelli, A. R., Pilkington, N. W., and Hershberger, S. L. (2002). Incidence and mental health impact of sexual orientation victimization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths in high school. School Psychol. Q. 17, 148–167. doi: 10.1521/scpq.17.2.148.20854

Davis, D. (1997). “Towards a model of gay affirmative therapy,” in Pink Therapy: A Guide for Counsellors and Therapists Working with Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Clients , eds D. Davies and C. Neal (Buckingham: Oxford University Press), 24–40.

Dean, L., Meyer, I. H., Robinson, K., Sell, R. L., Sember, R., Silenzio, V. M. B., et al. (2000). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health: findings and concerns. J. Gay Lesbian Med. Assoc. 4, 102–151. doi: 10.1023/A:1009573800168

DeCuypere, G. D., Knudson, G., and Bockting, W. (2010). Response of the world professional association for transgender health to the proposed dsm 5 criteria for gender incongruence. Int. J. Transgend. 12, 119–123. doi: 10.1080/15532739.2010.509214

Drescher, J. (2009). Queer diagnoses: parallels and contrasts in the history of homosexuality. Gender Variance, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Arch. Sex. Behav. 39, 427–460. doi: 10.1007/s10508-009-9531-5

Drescher, J. (2012). The removal of homosexuality from the dsm: its impact on today’s marriage equality debate. J. Gay Lesbian Mental Health 16, 124–135. doi: 10.1080/19359705.2012.653255

Drescher, J. (2013). Controversies in gender diagnoses. LGBT Health 1, 10–14.

Drescher, J., Cohen-Kettenis, F., and Winter, S. (2012). Minding the body: situating gender identity diagnoses in the ICD-1. Int. Rev. Psychiatry 24, 568–577. doi: 10.3109/09540261.2012.741575

Ehrbar, R. D. (2010). Consensus from differences: lack of professional consensus on the retention of the gender identity disorder diagnosis. Int. J. Transgend. 12, 60–74. doi: 10.1080/15532739.2010.513928

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014). European LGBT Survey: Main Results. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Feinstein, B. A., Wadsworth, L. P., Davila, J., and Goldfried, M. R. (2014). Do parental acceptance and family support moderate associations between dimensions of minority stress and depressive symptoms among lesbians and gay men? Prof. Psychol. Res. Pract. 45, 239–246. doi: 10.1037/a0035393

Garnets, L., Hancock, K. A., Cochran, S. D., Goodchilds, J., and Peplau, L. A. (1991). Issues in psychotherapy with lesbians and gay men. A Survey of Psychologists. Am. Psychol. 46, 964–972. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.46.9.964

Global Action for Trans ∗ Equality (2011). It’s Time for Reform. Trans ∗ Health Issues in the International Classification of Diseases. A Report on the GATE Experts Meeting. Available at: http://globaltransaction.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/its-time-for-reform.pdf

Goldfried, M. R. (2001). Integrating lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues into mainstream psychology. Am. Psychol. 56, 977–988. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.56.11.977

Gómez-Gil, E., Trilla, A., Salamero, M., Godás, T., and Valdés, M. (2009). Sociodemographic, clinical, and psychiatric characteristics of transsexuals from Spain. Arch. Sex. Behav. 38, 378–392. doi: 10.1007/s10508-007-9307-8

Hayes, J., and Erkis, A. (2000). Therapist homophobia, client sexual orientation, and source of client HIV infection as predictors of therapist reactions to clients with HIV. J. Couns. Psychol. 47, 71–78. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.47.1.71

Hepp, U., Kraemer, B., Schynder, U., Miller, N., and Delsignore, A. (2005). Psychiatric comorbidity in gender identity disorder. J. Psychosom. Res. 58, 259–261. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2004.08.010

Hershberger, S. L., and D’Augelli, A. R. (1995). The impact of victimization on the mental health and suicidality of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths. Dev. Psychol. 31, 65–74. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.31.1.65

Jordan, K. M., and Deluty, R. H. (1995). Clinical Interventions by psychologists with lesbians and gay men. J. Clin. Psychol. 51, 448–456.

Kamens, S. R. (2011). On the proposed sexual and gender identity diagnoses for dsm-5: history and controversies. Hum. Psychol. 39, 37–59. doi: 10.1080/08873267.2011.539935

King, M., Semlyen, J., Killaspy, H., Nazareth, I., and Osborn, D. (2007). A Systematic Review of Research on Counselling and Psychotherapy for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender People. London: British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy.

King, M., Semlyen, J., Tai, S. S., Killaspy, H., Osborn, D., Popelyuk, D., et al. (2008). A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. BMC Psychiatry 8:70. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-8-70

Kirschner, S. R. (2013). Diagnosis and its discontents: critical perspectives on psychiatric nosology and the DSM. Fem. Psychol. 23, 10–28. doi: 10.1177/0959353512467963

Lawrence, A. A. (2008). “Gender identity disorders in adults: diagnosis and treatment,” in Handbook of Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders , eds D. L. Rowland and L. Incrocci (New York, NY: Wiley), 423–456.

Lev, A. I. (2004). Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender-Variant People and their Families. New York, NY: Haworth Clinical Practice Press.

Lev, A. I. (2013). Gender dysphoria: two steps forward, one step back. Clin. Soc. Work J. 41, 288–296. doi: 10.1007/s10615-013-0447-0

Liddle, B. J. (1996). Therapist sexual orientation, gender, and counseling practices as they relate to ratings of helpfulness by gay and lesbian clients. J. Couns. Psychol. 43, 394–401. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.43.4.394

Maguen, S., and Shipherd, J. (2010). Suicide risk among transgender individuals. Psychol. Sex. 1, 34–43. doi: 10.1080/19419891003634430

Meyer, I. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual. (issues)and research evidence. Psychol. Bull. 129, 674–697. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674

Milburn, N. G., Ayala, G., Rice, E., Batterham, P., and Rotheram-Borus, M. J. (2006). Discrimination and exiting homelessness among homeless adolescents. Cultur. Divers Ethn. Minor Psychol. 12, 658–672. doi: 10.1037/1099-9809.12.4.658

Money, J. (1994). The concept of gender identity disorder in childhood and adolescence after 39 years. J. Sex Marital Ther. 20, 163–177. doi: 10.1080/00926239408403428

Mustanski, B., and Liu, R. T. (2013). A longitudinal study of predictors of suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Arch. Sex. Behav. 42, 437–448. doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-0013-9

Mustanski, B. S., Garofalo, R., and Emerson, E. M. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. Res. Pract. 100, 2426–2432. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.178319

Nemoto, T., Bodeker, B., and Iwamoto, M. (2011). Social support, exposure to violence, and transphobia: correlates of depression among male-to-female transgender women with a history of sex work. Am. J. Public Health 101, 1980–1988. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2010.197285

Nuttbrock, L., Hwahng, S., Bockting, W., Rosenblum, A., Mason, M., Macri, M., et al. (2010). Psychiatric impact of gender-related abuse across the life course of male-to-female transgender persons. J. Sex Res. 47, 12–23. doi: 10.1080/00224490903062258

Pachankis, J. E., and Goldfried, M. R. (2004). Clinical issues in working with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Psychotherapy Theor. Res. Pract. Train. 41, 227–246. doi: 10.1037/0033-3204.41.3.227

Pinto, N., and Moleiro, C. (2015). Gender trajectories: transsexual people coming to terms with their gender identities. Prof. Psychol. Res. Pract. 46, 12–20. doi: 10.1037/a0036487

Serano, J. (2007). Whipping Girl. A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

Shelton, K., and Delgado-Romero, E. A. (2011). Sexual orientation microaggressions: the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer clients in psychotherapy. J. Couns. Psychol. 58, 210–221. doi: 10.1037/a0022251

Shilo, G. R., and Savaya, R. (2012). Mental health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and young adults: differential effects of age, gender, religiosity, and sexual orientation. J. Res. On Adolesc. 22, 310–325.

Shilo, G. Z. (2014). The Impact of Minority Stressors on the Mental and Physical Health of Lesbian. Gay, and Bisexual Youths and Young Adults. Health Soc. Work 39, 161–171.

Simoni, J. M. (1996). Confronting heterosexism in the teaching of psychology. Teach. Psychol. 23, 220–226. doi: 10.1207/s15328023top2304_3

Snapp, S. D., Watson, R. J., Russell, S. T., Diaz, R. M., and Ryan, C. (2015). Social support networks for lgbt young adults: low cost strategies for positive adjustment. Fam. Relations 64, 420–430. doi: 10.1111/fare.12124

Spitzer, R. L. (1981). The diagnostic status of homosexuality in the DSM-III: a reformulation of the issues. Am. J. Psychiatry 138, 210–215. doi: 10.1176/ajp.138.2.210

Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.

TGEU (2013). TGEU’s Position on the Revision of the ICD z10. Available at: http://www.tgeu.org/sites/default/files/TGEU%20Position%20ICD%20Revision_0.pdf

United Nations (2011). Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence Against Individuals Based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/19session/A.HRC.19.41_English.pdf

Vance, S., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., Drescher, J., Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F., Pfäfflin, F., and Zucker, K. J. (2010). Opinions about the dsm gender identity disorder diagnosis: results from an international survey administered to organizations concerned with the welfare of transgender people. Int. J. Transgend. 12, 1–14. doi: 10.1080/15532731003749087

Vocks, S., Stahn, C., Loenser, L., and Tegenbauer, U. (2009). Eating and body image disturbances in male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals. Arch. Sex. Behav. 38, 364–377. doi: 10.1007/s10508-008-9424-z

Winter, S., Chalungsooth, P., Teh, Y., Rojanalert, N., Maneerat, K., Wong, Y., et al. (2009). Transpeople, transprejudice and pathologization: a seven-country factor analysis study. Int. J. Sex. Health 21, 96–118. doi: 10.1080/19317610902922537

World Health Organization (1992). International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (10th rev.). Geneva: World Health Organization.

World Professional Association for Transgender Health (2013). WPATH ICD-11 Consensus Meeting. Available at: http://www.wpath.org/uploaded_files/140/files/ICD%20Meeting%20Packet-Report-Final-sm.pdf

Keywords : sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender, discrimination, psychopathology, mental health care

Citation: Moleiro C and Pinto N (2015) Sexual orientation and gender identity: review of concepts, controversies and their relation to psychopathology classification systems. Front. Psychol. 6:1511. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01511

Received: 29 July 2015; Accepted: 18 September 2015; Published: 01 October 2015.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2015 Moleiro and Pinto. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Carla Moleiro, Instituto Universitário de Lisboa ISCTE-IUL, CIS, Avenida das Forças Armadas, 1649-026 Lisbon, Portugal, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

84 Gender Issues Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best gender issues topic ideas & essay examples, 👍 good essay topics on gender issues, ❓ essay questions about gender and sexuality.

  • Gender Issues in the Movie “The Stoning of Soraya M.” Gender roles and the discrimination of women have been the main topics of concern in most movies in the recent past. The movie shows women as inferior to men as illustrated by the differentials in […]
  • Gender Inequality as a Global Issue This essay will examine some of the causes that affect the gap in the treatment of men and women, and its ramifications, particularly regarding developing countries.
  • Gender Issues: Education and Feminism These experiences in many times strongly affects the individual’s understanding, reasoning, action about the particular issue in contention In this work two issues of great influence and relevance to our societies are discussed.
  • Gender Issues in the Movie “The Accused” by J. Kaplan Diffusion of responsibility could be used to explain his action in that Kurt’s action was as a result of the negative influence by his male counterparts who shouted to him that he holds Sarah down, […]
  • Gender Issues in Eastern Religions Coontz discusses these issues from the context of economic status of the American women and their limited role in society at the time.
  • Supporting Female Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse: NGO Establishment The presence of such a model continues to transform lives and make it easier for more women to support and provide basic education to their children.
  • Gender Issues in the School Environment Studies show that the school does not convene the needs of a child in the way that is expected because of the narrower understanding of the terms masculinity and femininity.
  • Gender Issues of Equality and Representation in the K-12 Education System This paper examines the gender issues of equality and representation in the K-12 education system and gives out the major findings based on the observed trends from the structured study of literature in the area.
  • Japanese Geisha and Gender Identity Issues The paper notes that geisha women/girls pamper male egos and thus play a role in upholding the status quo where the male gender is perceived as stronger than the female gender.
  • The Issue of Transgender in Sporting Activities Transgender women’s increased body strength and mass make it unfair for them to compete with cisgender women in the same sporting categories. The IOC sets the recommended testosterone level for transgender women to participate in […]
  • Sexuality and Gender Issues: One and the Same? People and media often state that sex and gender are the same issues and that a person can be identified as either male or female.
  • Comparing Liberation Discourses: Women’s and Gay/Lesbian Movements in the US and Latin America One of the major similarities between the liberation of women and gay/lesbian movements was the desire to change people’s mindsets.
  • The Issue of Gender Inequality Reflection Unfortunately, in the opinion of many, inequality in their treatment is even more pronounced, forming a third group from such persons in addition to binary people and positioning them at the end of the list.
  • Issues of Sex and Gender in Society Today: Equal Pay Over time, laws in the form of the Equal Rights Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Discrimination in Hiring Act of 1967 came into being.
  • Crimes and Victimization: Gender Issues Generally, a common way to perceive the dynamic between men and women in the context of crime and deviance underestimates women’s capacity to be self-sufficient and expects to see the predator-prey relationships between the genders.
  • The Issue of Gender Inequality After Covid-19 To date, the role of women in society has increased many times over, both in the economic, social, and political spheres of public life.
  • American Movies: Racial and Gender Issues Peel corrects for the Obama era and takes the situation to the point of absurdity – Rose’s parents and their friends, elderly rich whites, go out of their way to show their openness. The film’s […]
  • Gender Gap Issues: Case Study This area of the analysis will draw on experiences related to the use of the transformative leadership style in promoting reform in the education sector and the role that educational leadership plays in influencing its […]
  • Gender Issues in the Law and Order Arena This is therefore an analysis of the gender issues that affect the service providers and especially of the female gender during their duty of service in the law and order arena by critically looking at […]
  • Gender Issue in Büchner’s Woyzeck One of the reasons supporting this claim is the choice and use of characters in this play. The author uses a male to be the main character in the play.
  • Gender and Racial Issues as Portrayed by P. Mcintosh and S. Farough Despite acknowledging the fact that the white males also experience some of the things that the others do, he blames society for failing to eradicate the default existence of racial and gender superiority.
  • Gender Issue in Choosing and Hiring Candidates in the Healthcare Organization The issue of gender may therefore be a good consideration in hiring candidates to fill certain vacancies in the healthcare organizations.
  • Gender Issues in International Relations So the practices and protection of human rights depend largely upon the type of political system in place and the willingness of the people to support that political system.
  • Employee Issues: Gender Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Discrimination Sexual harassment is not always sexual in nature for instance, in a case where a man assaults women based purely on the woman’s gender.
  • Women in Developing Countries: Globalization, Liberalization, and Gender Equality Owing to issues of gender, the voices of women in developing countries are never heard when it comes to the creation of trade agreements and policies or in their negotiations.
  • Women Labour: Gender Inequality Issues Sexual category or gender is an ingredient of the wider socio-cultural framework that encompasses the societal attributes and opportunities connected with individual male and female and the conduit between women and men and girls and […]
  • Issues Surrounding Gender Inequality in the Workplace The main objective of the constructionist point of view is that it is aimed at uncovering how the individuals and the groups tend to participate in the creation of their perceptions of gender and women […]
  • Institutions and Gender Discrimination Issues In addition, parents buy clothes and toys that reflect gender issues in society and this contributes to the development of gendered stereotypes.
  • Sociology Issues: Language, Culture and Gender Sociology is, understandably enough, rendered as a study of society, i.e, the analysis of the links between the members of a society, the roles and functions of these members, and the relationships between them.
  • Diversity Organizations and Gender Issues in the US A lot has changed with regard to the status of women in the United States in the recent past. In the past, GLBT people had no say in society and in other parts of the […]
  • Trans-Bathroom Debacle as a Gender Issue in Law One of the issues on the LGBT movement’s agenda is the problem of the definition of “biological sex” and the “bathroom bills”.
  • Gender Equality Issues in the Workplace Environment Hence, the gathering of information to validate the allegations is central to the resolution of the gender issue in the case study.
  • Gender Equality: Plan to Address the Issue The vice president of administration and finance should use a powerful plan to address the issues affecting the institution. To begin with, I will use a powerful plan to address the issues affecting different female […]
  • Gender Issues and Sexuality: Social Perspective and Distinction It is rather interesting to note that society today has such a well-established preconception regarding genders that when presented with alternatives to such established norms the result has been subject to confusion, disdain, at times […]
  • Pressing Issues in Femininity: Gender and Racism When speaking of the current issues in femininity, women are not reduced to their roles of housewives to the extent to which they used to be.
  • Gender and Bullying Issues in Nursing A lack of tolerance for workplace harassment and bullying is likely to lead to the deterioration of the situation and further misunderstanding and tension in an organization.
  • Race, Gender, and Sexuality Issues in Sports On balance, it is possible to note that the world of sports can be characterized by such features as white and masculine dominance.
  • Hormone Therapy: Human Sexuality and Gender Issues For as long as we have reasons to suspect the opposite, I suggest prior evaluation as a necessary element of hormone therapy access.
  • Gender and Leadership Issues in Education The specified step will require the use of a different leadership strategy; particularly, the adoption of the transformative approach that will help alter the behavioral patterns of the learners should be suggested.
  • Gender Issues in the New Testament However, such attempts in the church are met with resistance and even use of the Bible verses to disapprove of women’s role in the leadership. The modern church needs to be progressive and allow women […]
  • Gender, Race and Class Issues in Education Learning process functions in a dynamic but systematic process that is greatly influenced by the main objective, sub objectives, and the environment in which learners are subjected to in the process of knowledge acquisition.
  • Racial and Gender Issues in the USA Only the events of the first half of the 20th century were able to change this image; however, it still exists, and unconsciously some people adhere to the ideas of the past.
  • Gender, Age and Racial Inequality Issues Despite a significant progress of developed European countries in that sphere, the childcare in the U.S.is considered more of a woman matter, thus a mother ends up having two jobs: first, the one where she […]
  • Gender Equality and Globalization’ Issues Since the world policies adopt a new progressive direction, the idea of gender equality enters the category of the ultimate Millennium development goals.
  • Gender Equity Issues in Work Practices The best way to proceed with the gathering of information is to arrange for individual discussions with members of the leadership team to discuss the allegations and core issues and values involved.
  • Gender-Based Violence in India: Issues and Solutions According to the pioneers of the campaign, every person can embrace the best practices in order to deal with gender-based violence.
  • Social Issues: Gender Segregation The Code recognizes the “inherent dignity and worth of every person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without discrimination”.
  • Gender Discrimination in the Workplace: Resolving Glass Ceiling Issue The enactment of this proposed policy will not only address the issue of women discrimination in organisations, but also in the top management positions. The implementation of this proposed government policy will require all the […]
  • Addressing Issues of Gender and Sexuality Men have dominated issues of leadership and this has lead to wide gender gap between men and women in the society.
  • Gender Issue and the Feminist Movement Nevertheless, the peculiarities of the relations between heterosexual parents and the division of their roles in families can influence greatly the child’s perception of the gender roles in the future.
  • Gender Issues and the Term “Queer” In the case where performativity is linked to the discourses ability to produce the named then power assumes the role of discourse in the performative domain.
  • Gender Issues and Post-Colonialist Mood in Supernova Dewi, however, does not interpret the given statement as the fact that knowledge is the source of power and power is the source of knowledge. The depth and palette of emotions that a single phrase […]
  • Inequality as a Gender Issue in the Workplace However, at the turn of the 20th century there was a rapid wave of social change that began to recognize and appreciate the role of a woman as an equal contributor to society, therefore, women […]
  • Addressing Gender-based Issues at the Work Place In order to successfully supervise across the gender divide in the work place, the supervisors in any organization should put the gender disparities into consideration.
  • Gender Issues and Feminist Movement There are much irony and repetition in Brady’s essay the author tries to resemble the style of a small child speaking about his wife and a family to compare his cognition and considerations with the […]
  • Analysis of Gender Issues in the Media The message in the advertisement simply showed that women are able to control men by using their bodies in a certain way.
  • Why Is Gender an Important Issue?
  • What Are Gender Issues in Education?
  • What Are Some Gender Issues in the Workplace?
  • How Does Gender Role Affect Society?
  • What Causes Gender Roles to Change?
  • Why Are Gender Roles So Important?
  • What Causes Gender Roles in Society?
  • When Did Gender Become an Issue?
  • What Is the Connection of Gender Issues With the Past and Present?
  • How Are Culture and Gender Issues Related to Education?
  • How Media Presents Gender and Gender Issues?
  • How Post War Countries Continue to Face Gender Issues?
  • How Does Gender Affect Public Relations Income?
  • What Are the Gender Issues in Online Gaming?
  • What Makes a Gender Identity?
  • When Was Gender Created?
  • How Does Gender Affect Health?
  • What Is Called Gender Bias?
  • What Is Gender Sensitivity?
  • What Factors Affects Gender Identity?
  • Why Is Gender Important in Society?
  • What Are the Benefits of Gender?
  • Why Does Gender Balance Matter?
  • How Can We Reduce Gender Discrimination?
  • What Is the Role of Gender in Socialization?
  • What Is the Role of Gender Stereotyping?
  • What Are the Triple Roles of Gender?
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2024, February 26). 84 Gender Issues Essay Topic Ideas & Examples. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/gender-issues-essay-topics/

"84 Gender Issues Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." IvyPanda , 26 Feb. 2024, ivypanda.com/essays/topic/gender-issues-essay-topics/.

IvyPanda . (2024) '84 Gender Issues Essay Topic Ideas & Examples'. 26 February.

IvyPanda . 2024. "84 Gender Issues Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." February 26, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/gender-issues-essay-topics/.

1. IvyPanda . "84 Gender Issues Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." February 26, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/gender-issues-essay-topics/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "84 Gender Issues Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." February 26, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/gender-issues-essay-topics/.

  • Feminism Questions
  • Gender Equality Questions
  • Women’s Rights Titles
  • Bisexual Essay Titles
  • Gender Inequality Research Topics
  • Bullying Research Topics
  • Civil Rights Movement Questions
  • Dress Code Ideas
  • Share full article

Advertisement

Supported by

As States Resist Federal Gender Rules, Schools Are Caught in the Middle

Conservative state governments are forbidding school districts from doing what the Department of Education says they must, under new Title IX regulations on students’ gender identity.

gender identity issues essay

By Amy Harmon

New civil rights regulations released last month by the Biden administration presented school districts across the nation with a clear choice: Either adopt policies that allow transgender students to use the bathrooms, wear the uniforms and be called by the pronouns that correspond with their gender identity, or risk losing federal funding.

But several Republican-led states have responded with an equally clear message for their schools: Steer clear of such policies.

The clashing state and federal directives have put school officials in a difficult spot, education officials said. School boards may face federal investigations, litigation from parents, threats of a state takeover or lost funding.

“No matter which way a school district goes, they’re going to possibly draw a lawsuit from someone in disagreement, whether that’s a federal regulator or a private person who doesn’t agree with how the district handled it,” said Sonja Trainor, managing director for school law at the National School Boards Association. “A lot of schools are going to be in no man’s land.”

The dispute centers on Title IX, the 1972 law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. The new regulations from the Biden administration interpret “discrimination on the basis of sex” to include discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes and gender identity. The regulations did not address whether transgender students should be able to play on school sports teams corresponding to their gender identity. A second rule on that question is expected later.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Miguel A. Cardona, the education secretary, told reporters when the new regulations were announced in April.

But in four separate lawsuits, filed in federal courts in Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky, attorneys general in more than a dozen states are trying to block the regulations from going to effect in August as planned.

And lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization, have filed a challenge on behalf of the Rapides Parish School Board in Louisiana.

“We would not want to put ourselves in a position where the federal government would take funding away because we follow the original purpose of Title IX,” Jeff Powell, the district superintendent, said in a statement. “We want students in our district to have privacy and safety when they access sex-specific facilities.”

Most school districts across the country receive federal funds for special education programs, and schools serving high concentrations of low-income families get federal support. But they get much more funding from state governments and, in some cases, local property taxes. Most school boards are directly answerable to their states.

“Schools are trying to ensure that kids are safe and that they have access to educational services,” said Francisco M. Negron Jr., founder of K12 Counsel, a school law advocacy and policy firm. “When there’s inconsistency in the law, it’s unsettling and it’s distracting.”

Several Republican-led states have passed laws that forbid transgender students to use school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. Gov. Brad Little of Idaho signed a bill last month that bars teachers from referring to a student by a name or pronoun that does not align with the student’s birth sex without parental consent.

Education officials in at least five states — Oklahoma, Florida , Louisiana , Montana and South Carolina — have urged school boards to maintain policies that “recognize the distinction between sex and gender identity,” as Elsie Arntzen, Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, put it in her letter to school leaders in the state.

For now, the new federal regulations supersede any state law or directive from a state official on the issue. But one or more federal judges, legal experts said, could issue an order blocking the regulations from taking effect locally or nationally while the lawsuits make their way through the courts. And the issue may ultimately reach the Supreme Court, which has so far declined to weigh in on how Title IX should be interpreted with regard to gender identity.

The new regulations are premised in part on the Biden administration’s interpretation of Bostock v. Clayton County, the landmark 2020 Supreme Court case in which the court ruled that discrimination based on transgender status necessarily entails treating individuals differently because of their sex.

But in the lawsuits, Republican-led states argue that the Department of Education exceeded its authority by issuing regulations that expand the definition of what constitutes sex discrimination. They point out that the Bostock decision was about workplace discrimination, and that Title IX includes specific exceptions for separating the sexes in certain educational situations, like sports teams. That shows, they argue, that Title IX was intended to recognize biological differences between males and females, not to address gender identity.

And some Republican governors are not waiting for the courts to act.

“I am instructing the Texas Education Agency to ignore your illegal dictate,” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to President Biden this week.

And Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas signed an executive order on Thursday stating that schools in her state would continue to enforce restrictions on which bathrooms and pronouns transgender students are allowed to use.

“My message to Joe Biden and the federal government,” Ms. Sanders said at a news conference, “is we will not comply.”

Amy Harmon covers how shifting conceptions of gender affect everyday life in the United States. More about Amy Harmon

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings

Preview improvements coming to the PMC website in October 2024. Learn More or Try it out now .

  • Advanced Search
  • Journal List
  • Front Psychol

Sexual orientation and gender identity: review of concepts, controversies and their relation to psychopathology classification systems

Numerous controversies and debates have taken place throughout the history of psychopathology (and its main classification systems) with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity. These are still reflected on present reformulations of gender dysphoria in both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the International Classification of Diseases, and in more or less subtle micro-aggressions experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans patients in mental health care. The present paper critically reviews this history and current controversies. It reveals that this deeply complex field contributes (i) to the reflection on the very concept of mental illness; (ii) to the focus on subjective distress and person-centered experience of psychopathology; and (iii) to the recognition of stigma and discrimination as significant intervening variables. Finally, it argues that sexual orientation and gender identity have been viewed, in the history of the field of psychopathology, between two poles: gender transgression and gender variance/fluidity.

Concepts and Definitions

Concepts and definitions that refer to sexual orientation and gender identity are an evolving field. Many of the terms used in the past to describe LGBT people, namely in the mental health field, are now considered to be outdated and even offensive.

Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted ( American Psychological Association, 2012 ). Nowadays, the terms ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ are used to refer to people who experience attraction to members of the same sex, and the term ‘bisexual’ describe people who experience attraction to members of both sexes. It should be noted that, although these categories continue to be widely used, sexual orientation does not always appear in such definable categories and, instead, occurs on a continuum ( American Psychological Association, 2012 ), and people perceived or described by others as LGB may identify in various ways ( D’Augelli, 1994 ).

The expression gender identity was coined in the middle 1960s, describing one’s persistent inner sense of belonging to either the male and female gender category ( Money, 1994 ). The concept of gender identity evolved over time to include those people who do not identify either as female or male: a “person’s self concept of their gender (regardless of their biological sex) is called their gender identity” ( Lev, 2004 , p. 397). The American Psychological Association (2009a , p. 28) described it as: “the person’s basic sense of being male, female, or of indeterminate sex.” For decades, the term ‘transsexual’ was restricted for individuals who had undergone medical procedures, including genital reassignment surgeries. However, nowadays, ‘transsexual’ refers to anyone who has a gender identity that is incongruent with the sex assigned at birth and therefore is currently, or is working toward, living as a member of the sex other than the one they were assigned at birth, regardless of what medical procedures they may have undergone or may desire in the future (e.g., Serano, 2007 ; American Psychological Association, 2009a ; Coleman et al., 2012 ). In this paper we use the prefix trans when referring to transsexual people.

Since the 1990’s the word transgender has been used primarily as an umbrella term to describe those people who defy societal expectations and assumptions regarding gender (e.g., Lev, 2004 ; American Psychological Association, 2009a ). It includes people who are transsexual and intersex, but also those who identify outside the female/male binary and those whose gender expression and behavior differs from social expectations. As in the case of sexual orientation, people perceived or described by others as transgender – including transsexual men and women – may identify in various ways (e.g., Pinto and Moleiro, 2015 ).

Discrimination and Impact on Mental Health

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often suffer from various forms of discrimination, stigma and social exclusion – including physical and psychological abuse, bullying, persecution, or economic alienation ( United Nations, 2011 ; Bostwick et al., 2014 ; European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014 ). Moreover, experiences of discrimination may occur in various areas, such as employment, education and health care, but also in the context of meaningful interpersonal relationships, including family (e.g., Milburn et al., 2006 ; Feinstein et al., 2014 ; António and Moleiro, 2015 ). Accordingly, several studies strongly suggest that experiences of discrimination and stigmatization place LGBT people at higher risk for mental distress ( Cochran and Mays, 2000 ; Dean et al., 2000 ; Cochran et al., 2003 ; Meyer, 2003 ; Shilo, 2014 ).

For example, LGB populations may be at increased risk for suicide ( Hershberger and D’Augelli, 1995 ; Mustanski and Liu, 2013 ), traumatic stress reactions ( D’Augelli et al., 2002 ), major depression disorders ( Cochran and Mays, 2000 ), generalized anxiety disorders ( Bostwick et al., 2010 ), or substance abuse ( King et al., 2008 ). In addition, transgender people have been identified as being at a greater risk for developing: anxiety disorders ( Hepp et al., 2005 ; Mustanski et al., 2010 ); depression ( Nuttbrock et al., 2010 ; Nemoto et al., 2011 ); social phobia and adjustment disorders ( Gómez-Gil et al., 2009 ); substance abuse ( Lawrence, 2008 ); or eating disorders ( Vocks et al., 2009 ). At the same time, data on suicide ideation and attempts among this population are alarming: Maguen and Shipherd (2010) found the percentage of attempted suicides to be as high as 40% in transsexual men and 20% in transsexual women. Nuttbrock et al. (2010) , using a sample of 500 transgender women, found that around 30% had already attempted suicide, around 35% had planned to do so, and close to half of the participants expressed suicide ideation. In particular, adolescence has been identified as a period of increased risk with regard to the mental health of transgender and transsexual people ( Dean et al., 2000 ).

In sum, research clearly recognizes the role of stigma and discrimination as significant intervening variables in psychopathology among LGBT populations. Nevertheless, the relation between sexual orientation or gender identity and stress may be mediated by several variables, including social and family support, low internalized homophobia, expectations of acceptance vs. rejection, contact with other LGBT people, or religiosity ( Meyer, 2003 ; Shilo and Savaya, 2012 ; António and Moleiro, 2015 ; Snapp et al., 2015 ). Thus, it seems important to focus on subjective distress and in a person-centered experience of psychopathology.

On the History of Homosexuality and Psychiatric Diagnoses

While nowadays we understand that higher rates of psychological distress among LGB people are related to their minority status and to discrimination, by the early 20th century, psychiatrists mostly regarded homosexuality as pathological per se ; and in the mid-20th century psychiatrics, physicians, and psychologists were trying to “cure” and change homosexuality ( Drescher, 2009 ). In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association published its first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-I), in which homosexuality was considered a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” In DSM-II, published in 1968, homosexuality was reclassified as a “sexual deviation.” However, in December 1973, the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM.

The most significant catalyst to homosexuality’s declassification as a mental illness was lesbian and gay activism, and its advocacy efforts within the American Psychiatric Association ( Drescher, 2009 ). Nevertheless, during the discussion that led to the diagnostic change, APA’s Nomenclature Committee also wrestled with the question of what constitutes a mental disorder. Concluding that “they [mental disorders] all regularly caused subjective distress or were associated with generalized impairment in social effectiveness of functioning” ( Spitzer, 1981 , p. 211), the Committee agreed that homosexuality by itself was not one.

However, the diagnostic change did not immediately end the formal pathologization of some presentations of homosexuality. After the removal of the “homosexuality” diagnosis, the DSM-II contained the diagnosis of “sexual orientation disturbance,” which was replaced by “ego dystonic homosexuality” in the DSM-III, by 1980. These diagnoses served the purpose of legitimizing the practice of sexual “conversion” therapies among those individuals with same-sex attractions who were distressed and reported they wished to change their sexual orientation ( Spitzer, 1981 ; Drescher, 2009 ). Nonetheless, “ego-dystonic homosexuality” was removed from the DSM-III-R in 1987 after several criticisms: as formulated by Drescher (2009 , p. 435): “should people of color unhappy about their race be considered mentally ill?”

The removal from the DSM of psychiatric diagnoses related to sexual orientation led to changes in the broader cultural beliefs about homosexuality and culminated in the contemporary civil rights quest for equality ( Drescher, 2012 ). In contrast, it was only in 1992 that the World Health Organization ( World Health Organization, 1992 ) removed “homosexuality” from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), which still contains a diagnosis similar to “ego-dystonic homosexuality.” However, this is expected to change in the next revision, planned for publication in 2017 ( Cochran et al., 2014 ).

Controversies on Gender Dysphoria and (Trans)Gender Diagnoses

Mental health diagnoses that are specific to transgender and transsexual people have been highly controversial. In this domain, the work of Harry Benjamin was fundamental for trans issues internationally, through the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (presently, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, WPATH). In the past few years, there has been a vehement discussion among interested professionals, trans and LGBT activists, and human rights groups concerning the reform or removal of (trans)gender diagnoses from the main health diagnostic tools. However, discourses on this topic have been inconclusive, filled with mixed messages and polarized opinions ( Kamens, 2011 ). Overall, mental health diagnoses which are specific to transgender people have been criticized in large part because they enhance the stigma in a population which is already particularly stigmatized ( Drescher, 2013 ). In fact, it has been suggested that the label “mental disorder” is the main factor underlying prejudice toward trans people ( Winter et al., 2009 ).

The discussion reached a high point during the recent revision process of the DSM-5 ( American Psychiatric Association, 2013 ), in which the diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” was revised into one of “gender dysphoria.” Psychiatric diagnosis was thus limited to those who are, in a certain moment of their lives, distressed about living with a gender assignment they experience as incongruent with their gender identity ( Drescher, 2013 ). The change of criteria and nomenclature “is less pathologizing as it no longer implies that one’s identity is disordered” ( DeCuypere et al., 2010 , p. 119). In fact, gender dysphoria is not a synonym for transsexuality, nor should it be used to describe transgender people in general ( Lev, 2004 ); rather, “[it] is a clinical term used to describe the symptoms of excessive pain, agitation, restless, and malaise that gender-variant people seeking therapy often express” ( Lev, 2004 , p. 910). Although the changes were welcomed (e.g., DeCuypere et al., 2010 ; Lev, 2013 ), there are still voices arguing for the “ultimate removal” ( Lev, 2013 , p. 295) of gender dysphoria from the DSM. Nevertheless, attention is presently turned to the ongoing revision of the ICD. Various proposals concerning the revision of (trans)gender diagnoses within ICD have been made, both originating from transgender and human rights groups (e.g., Global Action for Trans ∗ Equality, 2011 ; TGEU, 2013 ) and the health profession community (e.g., Drescher et al., 2012 ; World Professional Association for Transgender Health, 2013 ). These include two main changes: the reform of the diagnosis of transsexualism into one of “gender incongruence”; and the change of the diagnosis into a separate chapter from the one on “mental and behavioral disorders.”

Mental Health Care Reflecting Controversies

There is evidence that LGBT persons resort to psychotherapy at higher rates than the non-LGBT population ( Bieschke et al., 2000 ; King et al., 2007 ); hence, they may be exposed to higher risk for harmful or ineffective therapies, not only as a vulnerable group, but also as frequent users.

Recently, there has been a greater concern in the mental health field oriented to the promotion of the well-being among non-heterosexual and transgender people, which has paralleled the diagnostic changes. This is established, for instance, by the amount of literature on gay and lesbian affirmative psychotherapy which has been developed in recent decades (e.g., Davis, 1997 ) and, also, by the fact that major international accrediting bodies in counseling and psychotherapy have identified the need for clinicians to be able to work effectively with minority clients, namely LGBT people. The APA’s guidelines for psychotherapy with lesbian, gay, and bisexual client ( American Psychological Association, 2000 , 2012 ) are a main reference. These ethical guidelines highlight, among several issues, the need for clinicians to recognize that their own attitudes and knowledge about the experiences of sexual minorities are relevant to the therapeutic process with these clients and that, therefore, mental health care providers must look for appropriate literature, training, and supervision.

However, empirical research also reveals that some therapists still pursue less appropriate clinical practices with LGBT clients. In a review of empirical research on the provision of counseling and psychotherapy to LGB clients, Bieschke et al. (2006) encountered an unexpected recent explosion of literature focused on “conversion therapy.” There are, in fact, some mental health professionals that still attempt to help lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients to become heterosexual ( Bartlett et al., 2009 ), despite the fact that a recent systematic review of the peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts concluded that “efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm” ( American Psychological Association, 2009b , p. 1).

Moreover, there is evidence of other forms of inappropriate (while less blatant) clinical practices with LGBT clients (e.g., Garnets et al., 1991 ; Jordan and Deluty, 1995 ; Liddle, 1996 ; Hayes and Erkis, 2000 ). Even those clinicians who intend to be affirmative and supportive of LGBT individuals can reveal subtle heterosexist bias in the work with these clients ( Pachankis and Goldfried, 2004 ). Examples of such micro-aggressions ( Sue, 2010 ) might be automatically assuming that a client is heterosexual, trying to explain the etiology of the client’s homosexuality, or focusing on the sexual orientation of a LGB client despite the fact that this is not an issue at hand (e.g., Shelton and Delgado-Romero, 2011 ). Heterosexual bias in counseling and psychotherapy may manifest itself also in what Brown (2006 , p. 350) calls “sexual orientation blindness,” i.e., struggling for a supposed neutrality and dismissing the specificities related to the minority condition of non-heterosexual clients. This conceptualization of the human experience mostly in heterosexual terms, found in the therapeutic setting, does not seem to be independent of psychotherapist’s basic training and the historical heterosexist in the teaching of medicine and psychology ( Simoni, 1996 ; Alderson, 2004 ).

With regards to the intervention with trans people, for decades the mental health professionals’ job was to sort out the “true” transsexuals from all other transgender people. The former would have access to physical transition, and the later would be denied any medical intervention other than psychotherapy. By doing this, whether deliberately or not, professionals – acting as gatekeepers – pursued to ‘ensure that most people who did transition would not be “gender-ambiguous” in any way’ ( Serano, 2007 , p. 120). Research shows that currently trans people still face serious challenges in accessing health care, including those related to inappropriate gatekeeping ( Bockting et al., 2004 ; Bauer et al., 2009 ). Some mental health professionals still focus on the assessment of attributes related to identity and gender expressions, rather than on the distress with which trans people may struggle with ( Lev, 2004 ; Serano, 2007 ). Hence, trans people may feel the need to express a personal narrative consistent with what they believe the clinicians’ expectations to be, for accessing hormonal or surgical treatments ( Pinto and Moleiro, 2015 ). Thus, despite the revisions of (trans)gender diagnoses within the DSM, more recent diagnoses seem to still be used as if they were identical with the diagnosis of transsexualism – in a search for the “true transsexual” ( Cohen-Kettenis and Pfäfflin, 2010 ). It seems clear that social and cultural biases have significantly influenced – and still do – diagnostic criteria and the access to hormonal and surgical treatments for trans people.

Controversies and debates with regards to medical classification of sexual orientation and gender identity contribute to the reflection on the very concept of mental illness. The agreement that mental disorders cause subjective distress or are associated with impairment in social functioning was essential for the removal of “homosexuality” from the DSM in the 1970s ( Spitzer, 1981 ). Moreover, (trans)gender diagnoses constitute a significant dividing line both within trans related activism (e.g., Vance et al., 2010 ) and the health professionals’ communities (e.g., Ehrbar, 2010 ). The discussion has taken place between two apposite positions: (1) trans(gender) diagnoses should be removed from health classifying systems, because they promote the pathologization and stigmatization of gender diversity and enhance the medical control of trans people’s identities and lives; and (2) trans(gender) diagnoses should be retained in order to ensure access to care, since health care systems rely on diagnoses to justify medical treatment – which many trans people need. In fact, trans people often describe experiences of severe distress and argue for the need for treatments and access to medical care ( Pinto and Moleiro, 2015 ), but at the same time reject the label of mental illness for themselves ( Global Action for Trans ∗ Equality, 2011 ; TGEU, 2013 ). Thus, it may be important to understand how the debate around (trans)diagnoses may be driven also by a history of undue gatekeeping and by stigma involving mental illness.

The present paper argues that sexual orientation and gender identity have been viewed, in the history of the field of psychopathology, between two poles: gender transgression and gender variance/fluidity.

On the one hand, aligned with a position of “transgression” and/or “deviation from a norm,” people who today are described as LGBT were labeled as mentally ill. Inevitably, classification systems reflect(ed) the existing social attitudes and prejudices, as well as the historical and cultural contexts in which they were developed ( Drescher, 2012 ; Kirschner, 2013 ). In that, they often failed to differentiate between mental illness and socially non-conforming behavior or fluidity of gender expressions. This position and the historical roots of this discourse are still reflected in the practices of some clinicians, ranging from “conversion” therapies to micro-aggressions in the daily lives of LGBT people, including those experienced in the care by mental health professionals.

On the other hand, lined up with a position of gender variance and fluidity, changes in the diagnostic systems in the last few decades reflect a broader respect and value of the diversity of human sexuality and of gender expressions. This position recognizes that the discourse and practices coming from the (mental) health field may lead to changes in the broader cultural beliefs ( Drescher, 2012 ). As such, it also recognizes the power of medical classifications, health discourses and clinical practices in translating the responsibility of fighting discrimination and promoting LGBT people’s well-being.

In conclusion, it seems crucial to emphasize the role of specific training and supervision in the development of clinical competence in the work with sexual minorities. Several authors (e.g., Pachankis and Goldfried, 2004 ) have argued for the importance of continuous education and training of practitioners in individual and cultural diversity competences, across professional development. This is in line with APA’s ethical guidelines ( American Psychological Association, 2000 , 2012 ), and it is even more relevant when we acknowledge the significant and recent changes in this field. Furthermore, it is founded on the very notion that LGBT competence assumes clinicians ought to be aware of their own personal values, attitudes and beliefs regarding human sexuality and gender diversity in order to provide appropriate care. These ethical concerns, however, have not been translated into training programs in medicine and psychology in a systematic manner in most European countries, and to the mainstreaming of LGBT issues ( Goldfried, 2001 ) in psychopathology.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

  • Alderson K. G. (2004). A different kind of outing: training counsellors to work with sexual minority clients. Can. J. Couns. 38 193–210. [ Google Scholar ]
  • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , 5th Edn. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. [ Google Scholar ]
  • American Psychological Association (2000). Guidelines for psychotherapy with lesbian, Gay Bisexual Clients. Am. Psychol. 55 1440–1451. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • American Psychological Association (2009a). Report of the Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance. Available at: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/policy/gender-identity-report.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • American Psychological Association (2009b). Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. Available at: https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • American Psychological Association (2012). Guidelines for psychological practice with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Am. Psychol. 67 10–42. 10.1037/a0024659 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • António R., Moleiro C. (2015). Social and parental support as moderators of the effects of homophobic bullying on psychological distress in youth. Psychol. Schools 52 729–742. 10.1002/pits.21856 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bartlett A., Smith G., King M. (2009). The response of mental health professionals to clients seeking help to change or redirect same-sex sexual orientation. BMC Psychiatry 9 : 11 10.1186/1471-244X-9-11 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bauer G. R., Hammond R., Travers R., Kaay M., Hohenadel K. M., Boyce M. (2009). “I don’t think this is theoretical; this is our lives”: how erasure impacts health care for transgender people. J. Assoc. Nurses AIDS Care 20 348–361. 10.1016/j.jana.2009.07.004 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bieschke K. J., McClanahan M., Tozer E., Grzegorek J. L., Park J. (2000). “ Programmatic research on the treatment of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients: the past, the present, and the course for the future ,” in Handbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients , eds Perez R. M., DeBord K. A., Bieschke K. J. (Washington DC: American Psychological Association; ), 309–335. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bieschke K. J., Paul P. L., Blasko K. A. (2006). “ Review of empirical research focused on the experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients in counseling and psychotherapy ,” in Handbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Clients , eds Bieschke K., Perez R., DeBord K. (Washington DC: American Psychological Association; ), 293–316. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bockting W., Robinson B., Benner A., Scheltema K. (2004). Patient satisfaction with transgender health services. J. Sex Marital Ther. 30 277–294. 10.1080/00926230490422467 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bostwick W. B., Boyd C. J., Hughes T. L., McCabe S. E. (2010). Sexual orientation and the prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders in the United States. Am. J. Public Health 100 468–475. 10.2105/AJPH.2008.152942 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Bostwick W. B., Boyd C. J., Hughes T. L., West B. T., McCabe S. E. (2014). Discrimination and mental health among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. Am. J. Orthopsychiatry (Am. Psychol. Assoc.) 84 35–45. 10.1037/h0098851 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Brown L. S. (2006). “ The neglect of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered clients ,” in Evidence-Based Practices in Mental Health , eds Norcross J. C., Beutler L. E., Levant R. F. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; ), 346–353. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Cochran S., Drescher J., Kismödi E., Giami A., García-Moreno C., Atalla E., et al. (2014). Proposed declassification of disease categories related to sexual orientation in the international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (ICD-11). Bull. World Health Organ. Bull. 92 672–679. 10.2471/BLT.14.135541 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Cochran S. D., Mays V. M. (2000). Relation between psychiatric syndromes and behaviourally defined sexual orientation in a sample of the U.S. population. Am. J. Public Health 92 516–523. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Cochran S. D., Sullivan J. G., Mays V. M. (2003). Prevalence of mental disorders, psychological distress, and mental health services among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. J. Couns. Clin. Psychol. 71 53–61. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Cohen-Kettenis P. T., Pfäfflin F. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for gender identity disorder in adolescents and adults. Arch. Sex. Behav. 39 499–513. 10.1007/s10508-009-9562-y [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Coleman E., Bockting W., Botzer M., Cohen - Kettenis P., DeCuypere G., Feldman J., et al. (2012). Standards of care for the health of transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people, 7th version. Int. J. Transgend. 13 165–232. [ Google Scholar ]
  • D’Augelli A. R. (1994). “ Identity development and sexual orientation: toward a model of lesbian, gay, and bisexual development ,” in Human Diversity: Perspectives on People in Context , eds Trickett E. J., Watts R. J., Birman D. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; ). [ Google Scholar ]
  • D’Augelli A. R., Pilkington N. W., Hershberger S. L. (2002). Incidence and mental health impact of sexual orientation victimization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths in high school. School Psychol. Q. 17 148–167. 10.1521/scpq.17.2.148.20854 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Davis D. (1997). “ Towards a model of gay affirmative therapy ,” in Pink Therapy: A Guide for Counsellors and Therapists Working with Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Clients , eds Davies D., Neal C. (Buckingham: Oxford University Press; ), 24–40. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Dean L., Meyer I. H., Robinson K., Sell R. L., Sember R., Silenzio V. M. B., et al. (2000). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health: findings and concerns. J. Gay Lesbian Med. Assoc. 4 102–151. 10.1023/A:1009573800168 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • DeCuypere G. D., Knudson G., Bockting W. (2010). Response of the world professional association for transgender health to the proposed dsm 5 criteria for gender incongruence. Int. J. Transgend. 12 119–123. 10.1080/15532739.2010.509214 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Drescher J. (2009). Queer diagnoses: parallels and contrasts in the history of homosexuality. Gender Variance, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Arch. Sex. Behav. 39 427–460. 10.1007/s10508-009-9531-5 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Drescher J. (2012). The removal of homosexuality from the dsm: its impact on today’s marriage equality debate. J. Gay Lesbian Mental Health 16 124–135. 10.1080/19359705.2012.653255 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Drescher J. (2013). Controversies in gender diagnoses. LGBT Health 1 10–14. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Drescher J., Cohen-Kettenis F., Winter S. (2012). Minding the body: situating gender identity diagnoses in the ICD-1. Int. Rev. Psychiatry 24 568–577. 10.3109/09540261.2012.741575 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Ehrbar R. D. (2010). Consensus from differences: lack of professional consensus on the retention of the gender identity disorder diagnosis. Int. J. Transgend. 12 60–74. 10.1080/15532739.2010.513928 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014). European LGBT Survey: Main Results. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Feinstein B. A., Wadsworth L. P., Davila J., Goldfried M. R. (2014). Do parental acceptance and family support moderate associations between dimensions of minority stress and depressive symptoms among lesbians and gay men? Prof. Psychol. Res. Pract. 45 239–246. 10.1037/a0035393 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Garnets L., Hancock K. A., Cochran S. D., Goodchilds J., Peplau L. A. (1991). Issues in psychotherapy with lesbians and gay men. A Survey of Psychologists. Am. Psychol. 46 964–972. 10.1037/0003-066X.46.9.964 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Global Action for Trans ∗ Equality (2011). It’s Time for Reform. Trans ∗ Health Issues in the International Classification of Diseases. A Report on the GATE Experts Meeting. Available at: http://globaltransaction.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/its-time-for-reform.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • Goldfried M. R. (2001). Integrating lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues into mainstream psychology. Am. Psychol. 56 977–988. 10.1037/0003-066X.56.11.977 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Gómez-Gil E., Trilla A., Salamero M., Godás T., Valdés M. (2009). Sociodemographic, clinical, and psychiatric characteristics of transsexuals from Spain. Arch. Sex. Behav. 38 378–392. 10.1007/s10508-007-9307-8 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hayes J., Erkis A. (2000). Therapist homophobia, client sexual orientation, and source of client HIV infection as predictors of therapist reactions to clients with HIV. J. Couns. Psychol. 47 71–78. 10.1037/0022-0167.47.1.71 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hepp U., Kraemer B., Schynder U., Miller N., Delsignore A. (2005). Psychiatric comorbidity in gender identity disorder. J. Psychosom. Res. 58 259–261. 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2004.08.010 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hershberger S. L., D’Augelli A. R. (1995). The impact of victimization on the mental health and suicidality of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths. Dev. Psychol. 31 65–74. 10.1037/0012-1649.31.1.65 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Jordan K. M., Deluty R. H. (1995). Clinical Interventions by psychologists with lesbians and gay men. J. Clin. Psychol. 51 448–456. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Kamens S. R. (2011). On the proposed sexual and gender identity diagnoses for dsm-5: history and controversies. Hum. Psychol. 39 37–59. 10.1080/08873267.2011.539935 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • King M., Semlyen J., Killaspy H., Nazareth I., Osborn D. (2007). A Systematic Review of Research on Counselling and Psychotherapy for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender People. London: British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. [ Google Scholar ]
  • King M., Semlyen J., Tai S. S., Killaspy H., Osborn D., Popelyuk D., et al. (2008). A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people. BMC Psychiatry 8 : 70 10.1186/1471-244X-8-70 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Kirschner S. R. (2013). Diagnosis and its discontents: critical perspectives on psychiatric nosology and the DSM. Fem. Psychol. 23 10–28. 10.1177/0959353512467963 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lawrence A. A. (2008). “ Gender identity disorders in adults: diagnosis and treatment ,” in Handbook of Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders , eds Rowland D. L., Incrocci L. (New York, NY: Wiley; ), 423–456. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lev A. I. (2004). Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender-Variant People and their Families. New York, NY: Haworth Clinical Practice Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lev A. I. (2013). Gender dysphoria: two steps forward, one step back. Clin. Soc. Work J. 41 288–296. 10.1007/s10615-013-0447-0 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Liddle B. J. (1996). Therapist sexual orientation, gender, and counseling practices as they relate to ratings of helpfulness by gay and lesbian clients. J. Couns. Psychol. 43 394–401. 10.1037/0022-0167.43.4.394 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Maguen S., Shipherd J. (2010). Suicide risk among transgender individuals. Psychol. Sex. 1 34–43. 10.1080/19419891003634430 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Meyer I. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: conceptual. (issues)and research evidence. Psychol. Bull. 129 674–697. 10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Milburn N. G., Ayala G., Rice E., Batterham P., Rotheram-Borus M. J. (2006). Discrimination and exiting homelessness among homeless adolescents. Cultur. Divers Ethn. Minor Psychol. 12 658–672. 10.1037/1099-9809.12.4.658 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Money J. (1994). The concept of gender identity disorder in childhood and adolescence after 39 years. J. Sex Marital Ther. 20 163–177. 10.1080/00926239408403428 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Mustanski B., Liu R. T. (2013). A longitudinal study of predictors of suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Arch. Sex. Behav. 42 437–448. 10.1007/s10508-012-0013-9 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Mustanski B. S., Garofalo R., Emerson E. M. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. Res. Pract. 100 2426–2432. 10.2105/AJPH.2009.178319 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Nemoto T., Bodeker B., Iwamoto M. (2011). Social support, exposure to violence, and transphobia: correlates of depression among male-to-female transgender women with a history of sex work. Am. J. Public Health 101 1980–1988. 10.2105/AJPH.2010.197285 [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Nuttbrock L., Hwahng S., Bockting W., Rosenblum A., Mason M., Macri M., et al. (2010). Psychiatric impact of gender-related abuse across the life course of male-to-female transgender persons. J. Sex Res. 47 12–23. 10.1080/00224490903062258 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pachankis J. E., Goldfried M. R. (2004). Clinical issues in working with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. Psychotherapy Theor. Res. Pract. Train. 41 227–246. 10.1037/0033-3204.41.3.227 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pinto N., Moleiro C. (2015). Gender trajectories: transsexual people coming to terms with their gender identities. Prof. Psychol. Res. Pract. 46 12–20. 10.1037/a0036487 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Serano J. (2007). Whipping Girl. A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Shelton K., Delgado-Romero E. A. (2011). Sexual orientation microaggressions: the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer clients in psychotherapy. J. Couns. Psychol. 58 210–221. 10.1037/a0022251 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Shilo G. R., Savaya R. (2012). Mental health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and young adults: differential effects of age, gender, religiosity, and sexual orientation. J. Res. On Adolesc. 22 310–325. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Shilo G. Z. (2014). The Impact of Minority Stressors on the Mental and Physical Health of Lesbian. Gay, and Bisexual Youths and Young Adults. Health Soc. Work 39 161–171. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Simoni J. M. (1996). Confronting heterosexism in the teaching of psychology. Teach. Psychol. 23 220–226. 10.1207/s15328023top2304_3 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Snapp S. D., Watson R. J., Russell S. T., Diaz R. M., Ryan C. (2015). Social support networks for lgbt young adults: low cost strategies for positive adjustment. Fam. Relations 64 420–430. 10.1111/fare.12124 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Spitzer R. L. (1981). The diagnostic status of homosexuality in the DSM-III: a reformulation of the issues. Am. J. Psychiatry 138 210–215. 10.1176/ajp.138.2.210 [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Sue D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley. [ Google Scholar ]
  • TGEU (2013). TGEU’s Position on the Revision of the ICD z10. Available at: http://www.tgeu.org/sites/default/files/TGEU%20Position%20ICD%20Revision_0.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • United Nations (2011). Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence Against Individuals Based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/19session/A.HRC.19.41_English.pdf [ Google Scholar ]
  • Vance S., Cohen-Kettenis P. T., Drescher J., Meyer-Bahlburg H. F., Pfäfflin F., Zucker K. J. (2010). Opinions about the dsm gender identity disorder diagnosis: results from an international survey administered to organizations concerned with the welfare of transgender people. Int. J. Transgend. 12 1–14. 10.1080/15532731003749087 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Vocks S., Stahn C., Loenser L., Tegenbauer U. (2009). Eating and body image disturbances in male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals. Arch. Sex. Behav. 38 364–377. 10.1007/s10508-008-9424-z [ PubMed ] [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Winter S., Chalungsooth P., Teh Y., Rojanalert N., Maneerat K., Wong Y., et al. (2009). Transpeople, transprejudice and pathologization: a seven-country factor analysis study. Int. J. Sex. Health 21 96–118. 10.1080/19317610902922537 [ CrossRef ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • World Health Organization (1992). International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (10th rev.) Geneva: World Health Organization. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • World Professional Association for Transgender Health (2013). WPATH ICD-11 Consensus Meeting. Available at: http://www.wpath.org/uploaded_files/140/files/ICD%20Meeting%20Packet-Report-Final-sm.pdf [ Google Scholar ]

Updated federal workplace guidelines protect employee gender identity

In first change to the guidance in 25 years, federal agency says repeatedly misgendering employees or denying them access to a bathroom consistent with their gender identity amounts to workplace harassment

gender identity issues essay

Employers who repeatedly misgender their employees or deny them access to a bathroom consistent with their gender identity are committing workplace harassment under federal anti-discrimination laws, according to a new guidance released Monday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The changes released Monday mark the first update to the guidelines in 25 years by the federal agency. They are based on legal standards protecting employees from harassment under a protected characteristic: race, religion, color, national origin, disability, age, genetic information and sex. That last category includes pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The document reflects legal developments in recent years, including the 2020 Supreme Court ruling Bostock v. Clayton County , Ga., which found that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — which prohibits discrimination “because of sex” — protects gay and transgender workers.

Per the new guidelines, an employer who repeatedly and intentionally misgenders an individual by using the “name or pronoun inconsistent with the individual’s known gender identity” or by denying an employee access “to a bathroom or other sex-segregated facility consistent with the individual’s gender identity” is committing unlawful workplace harassment. This, the guidance states, is considered sex-based discrimination under Title VII, which the EEOC says “includes harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including how that identity is expressed.”

The guidance document released Monday consolidates and replaces five of the agency’s previous guidance documents issued between 1987 and 1999, which established guidelines on workplace harassment law. The document is the finalized version of a draft released at the end of last year by the EEOC that received “robust” public input, per the agency.

While the document is not legally binding, it serves as a standard for how the EEOC interprets and enforces anti-bias laws. The federal agency was created under the Civil Rights Act and is tasked with enforcing civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, investigating accusations and filing civil discrimination lawsuits on behalf of employees.

“The guidelines themselves don’t have the force of statute,” said Christopher Ho, the director of the National Origin and Immigrants’ Rights Program at Legal Aid at Work. “Unlike a law that Congress drafts and puts into writing, these don’t have the same effect — they are not legally binding. But that said, numerous courts, including the Supreme Court, have said: Because these guidelines are based on the expertise and careful reasoning of the agency that’s charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, they’re to be given deference by the courts.”

The guidelines, Ho noted, are “very carefully considered — they’re not out of thin air.” While the EEOC does not make policy, their guidance reflects “existing authority” applied to “the modern-day situation.”

“I think [an employer] would be very wise, taking the guidelines very seriously,” said Ho, who served on a 2016 EEOC task force on harassment.

The guidance also addresses unlawful harassment in situations involving older workers, immigrants and survivors of gender-based violence, as well as situations of harassment in virtual work environments — a result of the remote work era ushered in by the pandemic.

Charlotte A. Burrows, EEOC chair, said in a statement that the guidance “is a comprehensive resource that brings together best practices for preventing and remedying harassment and clarifies recent developments in the law.”

“As we commemorate this year’s 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the guidance will help raise awareness about the serious problem of harassment in employment and the law’s protections for those who experience it,” Burrows said.

Some Republicans were unhappy with the guidance. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, said in a statement that the EEOC “has detached itself from reality.”

“Today’s final guidance is nothing more than a homage to leftist activists who want Americans to conform to their warped political ideology,” Foxx said. “From the mandated use of pronouns to a denial of biological facts, the EEOC seems more interested in appeasing the mob than undertaking commonsense policymaking to protect workers.”

The agency said in a statement that the guidance was approved by a majority vote of the five-member commission and “reflects the EEOC’s commitment to protecting persons who are particularly vulnerable and persons from underserved communities from employment discrimination.”

EEOC Commissioner Andrea Lucas released a statement expressing her disagreement with the new guidance, saying it “effectively eliminates single-sex workplace facilities and impinges on women’s (and indeed, all employees’) rights to freedom of speech and belief.”

Subhashini Bollini, the co-chair of the National Employment Lawyers Association EEOC working group, said the EEOC’s guidance is on par with the precedent set by recent legal cases. Specifically in the case of the guidance including instances of harassment in the form of misgendering or barring a transgender employee from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity, Bollini said the EEOC is applying the precedent set by Bostock.

“What the guidelines provide is, in plain language, really what these categories of harassment mean in real life,” she said.

The guidance document includes several hypothetical scenarios in which an employer’s actions would amount to workplace harassment. In one scenario, a supervisor who mocks her pregnant employee by, among other things, tracking her use of the bathroom, calling her a “heifer” and berating her work as “shoddy” and “slow” is considered to be partaking in workplace harassment. In another scenario, a supervisor who repeatedly questions a transgender employee about her gender identity and expression and also refers to her using “he/him” pronouns is also considered to be harassing their employee.

Bollini said that, while the guidelines that deal with gender identity may draw more scrutiny than others, “transgender people are employees too, they’re in our workplaces and everybody — transgender people, people of different sexual orientations, people of different races and people of different sexes, are all trying to earn a living.”

“These laws enable people to support themselves, support their families and contribute to society,” Bollini added. “So to deny that … is really saying that certain classes of people should not have those fundamental rights.”

gender identity issues essay

Peru adds 'transsexualism' as mental health disorder covered by insurance

by JACKSON WALKER | The National Desk

The flag of Peru with the state crest (left/Getty Images) and the transgender flag (right)

LIMA, Peru (TND) — The government of Peru released a decree Friday declaring “transsexualism” a mental health problem covered by its universal health insurance.

The decree follows the release of the tenth edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) by the World Health Organization. Peru bases its Essential Health Insurance Plan (PEAS) on the document.

From the review of the ICD-10 diagnoses included in the Essential Health Insurance Plan, related to the condition, person with a mental health problem, the omission of seven (07) ICD-10 diagnoses has been identified,” officials wrote, according to Google translation. “In this sense, it is necessary to modify the Essential Health Insurance Planincorporating seven (07) ICD-10 diagnoses.”

Conditions being recognized as mental health disorders include “transsexualism,” “dual role transvestism,” “gender identity disorder in childhood,” “other gender identity disorders,” “gender identity disorder, unspecified, “fetish transvestism” and “egodystonic sexual orientation.”

Peru’s Ministry of Health (MINSA) later released a statement saying such a judgement should not imply these individuals should undergo “reconversion therapies.”

The Minsa ratifies its position that gender and sexual diversity are not diseases,” MINSA wrote. “In this framework, we express our respect for gender identities, as well as our rejection of the stigmatization of sexual diversity in the country.”

Peruvians expressed outrage over the decree, demanding the decision be reversed.

“100 years after the decriminalization of homosexuality, the @Minsa_Peru has no better idea than to include trans people in the category of mental illnesses,” Director of OutFest Peru Jheinser Pacya wrote via X. “We demand and we will not rest until its repeal.”

Transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney notably fled the U.S. to Peru “to feel safe” in the wake of a partnership with Bud Light which sparked a nationwide boycott of the brew.

Follow Jackson Walker on X at @_jlwalker_ for the latest trending national news. Have a news tip? Send it to [email protected].

gender identity issues essay

Transgender rights targeted: 18 states sue to block protections for transgender employees

gender identity issues essay

Red states are seeking to block a federal agency from expanding legal protections for transgender workers .

Eighteen states filed a lawsuit late Monday against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee, arguing the federal agency overstepped when it issued legal guidance that employers must accommodate transgender workers , such as using their preferred pronouns or allowing them use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Under the new guidance, employers who call workers by the wrong pronouns or name or who deny an employee access to a bathroom could face claims of workplace harassment under federal anti-discrimination law.

The guidance is not law but it indicates how the EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing workplace protections, will interpret harassment claims.

Conservative backlash hits Pride: Target will not sell Pride collection in all stores

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said the EEOC was misusing federal power “to eliminate women’s private spaces and punish the use of biologically-accurate pronouns, all at the expense of Tennessee employers” and opening up employers to complaints from the EEOC and lawsuits from employees.

Last month the EEOC updated its legal guidance on workplace harassment with a new position on transgender discrimination. The EEOC based that position on the 2020 Supreme Court ruling that discriminating against gay and transgender workers is a form of unlawful sex bias.

In their lawsuit, the states argue that federal law protects workers from being fired because they are transgender but does not require employers to accommodate them. That is an issue that should be decided by Congress and the states, they claimed.

“The Court held that terminating an individual simply for ‘being homosexual or transgender’ is prohibited employment discrimination,” the lawsuit alleged. “The Court did not consider or decide questions about any other workplace activity or employment action.”

Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio were among the states that joined the lawsuit. 

Similar claims were made in a lawsuit filed last month challenging an EEOC rule that gives workers who have had abortions the same legal protections as pregnant workers or workers who recently gave birth.

The EEOC said last year that it planned to update its legal guidance to include sexual orientation and gender identity, sparking a backlash from some conservatives and religious groups who say the guidance conflicts with state laws.

The guidance is significant because it serves as a blueprint for how the EEOC will enforce federal anti-discrimination laws. The commission had not updated its guidance on harassment since 1999.

The EEOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows, an appointee of President Joe Biden, said Monday that the EEOC guidance would help ensure “that individuals understand their workplace rights and responsibilities.” 

"Harassment, both in-person and online, remains a serious issue in America’s workplaces. The EEOC’s updated guidance on harassment is a comprehensive resource that brings together best practices for preventing and remedying harassment and clarifies recent developments in the law," Burrows said in a press release.

IMAGES

  1. Essay Summary of Gender Identity

    gender identity issues essay

  2. ⇉Gender Identity Research Paper Essay Example

    gender identity issues essay

  3. Gender Identity Essay

    gender identity issues essay

  4. 😊 Gender identity essay. Gender Identity Essays: Examples, Topics

    gender identity issues essay

  5. Sample essay on effects of gender inequality in society

    gender identity issues essay

  6. Essay on gender

    gender identity issues essay

VIDEO

  1. A Message For Those Dealing With Gender Identity Issues #shorts

  2. Leading doctors report HSE to HIQA over transgender care

  3. Tough Issues

  4. Form of gender identity & issues-Mortality inequality,Natality inequality,basic facility inequality

  5. Essay on Gender Discrimination in english// Few Sentences about Gender Discrimination

  6. Understanding The Intersex Condition

COMMENTS

  1. Gender Identity Essay

    Gender identity is defined as a personal conception of oneself as male or female (or rarely, both or neither). This concept is intimately related to the concept of gender role, which is defined as the outward manifestations of personality that reflect the gender identity. Gender identity, in. 1104 Words. 5 Pages.

  2. Americans' Complex Views on Gender Identity and Transgender Issues

    When it comes to issues surrounding gender identity, young adults are at the leading edge of change and acceptance. Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a man or a woman even if that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. This compares with about four-in-ten of those ages 30 to 49 and about a third of those 50 and older.

  3. Free Gender Identity Essay Examples & Topic Ideas

    The contrast between gender identity and gender role. Gender as a spectrum: what lies between masculinity and femininity. Dysphoria - a gender identity disorder. Breaking down the concept of heteronormativity concerning gender. The historical evolution of the female gender identity. Understanding equality in terms of gender identity.

  4. The Experiences, Challenges and Hopes of Transgender and Nonbinary U.S

    This is part of a larger study that includes a survey of the general public on their attitudes about gender identity and issues related to people who are transgender or nonbinary. Terminology. The terms transgender and trans are used interchangeably throughout this essay to refer to people whose gender is different from the sex they were ...

  5. The struggle of trans and gender-diverse persons

    Definitions Gender identity refers to each person's deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and ...

  6. What Is It like to Have a Gender Identity?

    Gender identity matters because we craft it from a substrate that matters to us. Gender identity matters, inter alia, because we experience distress at being misgendered; because we feel like we belong with some rather than others; because we feel strongly about how we are treated due to how our gender is perceived.

  7. Recent Work on Gender Identity and Gender

    Recent Work. 1. Introduction. Our gender identity is our sense of ourselves as a woman, a man, as genderqueer or as another gender. Trans people have a gender identity that is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Some recent work has discussed what it is to have a sense of ourselves as a particular gender, what it is to have a ...

  8. Transgender identities: a series of invited essays

    Essays published so far: Vic Valentine: " Self-declaration would bring Britain into line with international best practice ". Debbie Hayton: " Gender identity needs to be based on objective ...

  9. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Essay

    Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Essay. Cultural factors play an important role in a person's sexual orientation and gender identity, yet such influences may have a negative effect. For instance, many people tend to classify others as either female or male depending on their birth gender and treat them accordingly throughout their lives ...

  10. What Is Your Gender Identity?

    Gender identity has become an international conversation, especially among teenagers. In 2017, a University of California, Los Angeles study found that 27 percent (796,000) of California youth ...

  11. Students Exploring Gender Identity

    Gender identity is an individual's sense of their own gender (e.g., as a male, female, transgender, nonbinary). Gender expression is how an individual presents their gender to others through physical appearance and behavior—this may include, but is not limited to, dress, voice, or movement. Gender diverse is a term that addresses the ...

  12. Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender

    Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender. First published Mon May 12, 2008; substantive revision Tue Jan 18, 2022. Feminism is said to be the movement to end women's oppression (hooks 2000, 26). One possible way to understand 'woman' in this claim is to take it as a sex term: 'woman' picks out human females and being a human female ...

  13. How the gender identity revolution impacts society

    How the gender identity revolution impacts society. Heath Fogg Davis, Temple professor and former director of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, speaks about how using preferred pronouns and names can help create a more inclusive culture in the workplace, at school and beyond. Heath Fogg Davis spoke on how breaking from the tradition of ...

  14. Transgender Identity Issues in Psychology

    APA resolution supporting full equality for transgender and gender-variant people, the cultural context surrounding transgender issues, the national transgender discrimination survey, the world professional association for transgender health issues identity recognition statement, the new policy on gender change in passports announced by the U.S. Department of State and more.

  15. Gender Identity

    Essays could delve into the social, psychological, or biological aspects of gender identity, the experiences of transgender or non-binary individuals, or the societal and legal issues surrounding gender identity. A vast selection of complimentary essay illustrations pertaining to Gender Identity you can find at PapersOwl Website.

  16. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues, and Worldview

    Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 21, 2020 - Pages 111-120. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) issues are one of the most important and contentious social issues in the world today. Beginning in the 1970s, gay activists in the United States have fought against rigid cultural norms and limitations to promote tolerance and acceptance ...

  17. Gender Identity and Gender Expression

    Importantly, an individual's gender presentation may or may not reflect their gender identity. Issues such as personal safety and access to accurately gendered items may impact an individual's ability to express their gender in a way that aligns with their gender identity. ... Essays in Family Therapy. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 24(4 ...

  18. Understanding Gender, Sex, and Gender Identity

    Resisting gender roles (i.e., gender nonconformity) can have significant social consequences—pro and con, depending on circumstances. Gender identity refers to how one understands and ...

  19. Sexual orientation and gender identity: review of concepts

    The concept of gender identity evolved over time to include those people who do not identify either as female or male: a "person's self concept of their gender (regardless of their biological sex) is called their gender identity" (Lev, 2004, p. 397). The American Psychological Association (2009a, p. 28) described it as: "the person's ...

  20. 33

    Issues of identity and difference have had a profound effect on the writing of our age, and certainly on the essay, the most elusive of genres. This chapter considers the intersections of the essay, gender, and queer studies/consciousness over the last few decades, first in a general sense, and then through the lens of specific essayists who ...

  21. 84 Gender Issues Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

    Crimes and Victimization: Gender Issues. Generally, a common way to perceive the dynamic between men and women in the context of crime and deviance underestimates women's capacity to be self-sufficient and expects to see the predator-prey relationships between the genders. The Issue of Gender Inequality After Covid-19.

  22. Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity

    673. Page: 1. This essay sample was donated by a student to help the academic community. Papers provided by EduBirdie writers usually outdo students' samples. Cite this essay. Download. In todays age, sexual orientation and gender identities are quickly getting acknowledged in our general public. Notwithstanding this progressions numerous ...

  23. As States Resist Federal Gender Rules, Schools Are Caught in the Middle

    Conservative state governments are forbidding school districts from doing what the Department of Education says they must, under new Title IX regulations on students' gender identity.

  24. Sexual orientation and gender identity: review of concepts

    The concept of gender identity disorder in childhood and adolescence after 39 years. J. Sex Marital Ther. 20 163-177. 10.1080/00926239408403428 [Google Scholar] Mustanski B., Liu R. T. (2013). A longitudinal study of predictors of suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Arch. Sex. Behav ...

  25. Updated federal workplace guidelines protect employee gender identity

    The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released its first update to the guidelines to protect against workplace harassment in 25 years on Monday. (David Zalubowski/AP) Employers who ...

  26. Peru adds 'transsexualism' as mental health disorder covered by ...

    Conditions being recognized as mental health disorders include "transsexualism," "dual role transvestism," "gender identity disorder in childhood," "other gender identity disorders ...

  27. States sue to block transgender workplace protections

    At issue is guidance that employers must use transgender workers' preferred pronouns and allow them to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.