Understanding Gender Identity, Sex and Transgender People

| November 20, 2013 | 9 Comments

Gender Identity and Transgender People

Understanding Gender Identity

Gender Identity – At last, the “T” in LGBT is gaining visibility. You may have noticed that transgender issues have been more prominently featured in the news lately, most notably with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This bill is currently being voted on and would outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It is currently legal in 33 states to fire someone based on their gender identity. ENDA hasn’t been voted on since 1996, and it now includes transgender people. It has recently passed the Senate, but there’s this dick named John Boehner who thinks the bill is unnecessary.

Despite improvements in legislation and increasing acceptance, transgender people today still face widespread discrimination, bullying, hate, phobia and many other issues. YNA has come out and stated that we will not support any nudist club or resort that discriminates against trans* people. But we also believe in education as a means of promoting tolerance and acceptance.

understanding gender identity brain sex young naturists america

Understanding: Gender Identity

It seems as though there’s still a general lack of understanding around what transgender means and gender itself. As social activist Sam Killerman says, “Gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but most people don’t.”

If, like me, you’ve been confused by many of the old and new terms associated with gender, you’ve come to the right place. In the following article I will attempt to explain the basics of gender, gender identity and also sexual orientation. You should also read this if you don’t want to get caught asking idiotic and offensive questions of a transgender person.

Let’s start with a very important distinction: sex (not that kind!) vs gender. Sex is a way of determining whether someone is male, female or “other” from a physiological point of view – based on anatomy and genes (sex chromosomes). Determining one’s sex is usually pretty straightforward, based on whether there’s a penis or a vulva.

Gender is psychological – it’s in the mind. Gender is a much broader term that defines male and female based on certain characteristics, not limited to sex, such as appearance and behavior. Gender is typically seen as binary, meaning man or woman with nothing in between.

gender identity transgender trans* young naturists america

gender identity transgender trans*

This is like seeing gender as black and white, when it’s really more like a spectrum of colors. Most people are not 100% masculine or feminine, but have characteristics of both (which is also referred to androgyny).

Gender identity is a person’s own perception of their gender. It is based on how they feel and / or see themselves. There’s also a term called gender expression, which is how a person expresses their gender to others, usually through clothing, behavior, hairstyle, appearance etc.

In the nudie world, biological sex is usually obvious, but gender or gender identity, being psychological, isn’t always apparent. A person may have a penis, but not identify as a man. With clothes being absent, we might look at hairstyle, body hair, jewelry, mannerisms and behavior in attempt to figure out someone’s gender.

In the textile world, the genitals are hidden from view. So we rely on other social cues—style of dress, facial hair, name, voice, etc to determine gender. What if you can’t tell? More on that later. First, a few more key terms…

What Is Intersex:

Intersex refers to a person who is genetically undefinable as male or female. Sex chromosomes are mainly XY for male and XX for female. An intersex person’s chromosomes do not follow these patterns. Some (but not all) intersex people are born with ambiguous genitals. (Note: hermaphrodite is an outdated term for intersex, now considered offensive to use.)

Gender Identity Spectrum

Gender Identity Spectrum

What Does Cisgender Mean:

Cisgender is someone whose gender identity matches their biological sex, or the sex that was assigned to them at birth. Ex: a person who is born with boy parts, feels like a boy and presents themselves as masculine.

What Does Transgender Mean:

Transgender seems to have two definitions. One definition is someone whose gender identity does not match their sex. As a more general term, it’s also defined as an equivalent to trans* (see below) – ie, anyone who is not cisgender.

What Does Genderqueer Mean:

Genderqueer refers to people who reject the gender binary and classification system. They do not identify as entirely male or female, but possibly as a combination of genders, or may even invent their own terms.

What Does Transsexual Mean:

Transsexual is someone whose gender identity is the opposite of their biological sex, as assigned at birth. They may undergo surgery or treatment to change their anatomy or body so that it aligns with their gender identity. Ex: a person born with female anatomy, but who identifies as a man.

What Does Trans* Mean:

Trans*: The asterisk is not for a footnote, but part of the word! Trans* basically refers to anyone who is not cisgender. That includes transgender, genderqueer, transsexual, cross-dressers, and others. (Note: Intersex is not currently classified under trans*. However these terms are not mutually exlusive, as an intersex person may identify as trans* or transgender. But it would be false to say all of them are trans*.)

Being transgender is not a mental illness, nor a result of nature “making a mistake.” It is simply a natural variation in gender. It has commonly been referred to as “gender identity disorder” in the medical field. However this label was controversial in that it refers to a person’s identity as a disorder needing to be treated. So the new term is gender dysphoria.

How many transgender people are there? The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) says, “We don’t know for sure the answer to this question. There are a number of reasons for that. First, there really isn’t anyone collecting this data. It’s not something that the US Census or other agencies keep track of.

Second, many transgender people are not public about their identities, so they might not tell anyone about it. NCTE estimates that between 0.25 and 1% of the population is transsexual.” One scholarly online report analyzes several surveys and estimates .3% of the U.S. population is transgender, which means roughly 697,000 people. According to a Rolling Stone article, gender dysphoria is thought to affect as many as 1 in 10,000 people.

Gender Colors – Is Pink for Girls and Bluefor Boys?

Have you ever incorrectly guessed the gender of someone’s baby? We have that dress code rule of pink is for girls and blue is for boys, but that doesn’t really help. Why are we still magically supposed to know?

Why is it a faux pas to guess incorrectly? As a society we seem to be rather preoccupied with the gender binary. There are toys for girls and toys for boys. Female-only bathrooms and male-only bathrooms. Girls can wear dresses, boys cannot. Feminine is this, masculine is that. But these are all invented rules.

gender identity franklin roosevelt dress new york

Franklin Roosevelt wearing a dress as a young boy, circa 1880’s. Believe it or not, it was common for centuries to dress young boys & girls in white dresses. This was considered gender-neutral clothing.

It’s important to recognize that gender is a social construct. Most of us form our gender identity through social conditioning and also figuring out our own preferences. But then there are those who don’t fit neatly into the girl and boy boxes presented to them.

And this should be expected, given how rigid our system is in American culture and how diverse and complex we are as human beings. Gender variance occurs throughout the world, and some cultures have long embraced this.

One example is Native Americans who traditionally honored transgender people as “two-spirit” – blessed with the spirit of both masculine and feminine.

transgender gender identity cartoon sam killerman

Cartoon by Sam Killerman, itspronouncedmetrosexual.com

Trans* Etiquette

What is the proper etiquette when meeting a trans* person? We might find it awkward or disconcerting to meet someone and not know their gender right up front. But with a little knowledge and basic human decency, it’s not a difficult situation to navigate.

All you really need to know when meeting a trans* person is their name and what pronoun to use – whether they want to be referred to as he, she, ze, etc. Ze is one example of a gender-neutral pronoun.

Most of the time when we meet someone, we look at what gender they are presenting and say “he” if they look like a man and “she” if they look like woman. The same thing still applies to trans* people — look at what gender they are presenting.

If you can’t tell and really need to know, simply ask them what their preferred pronoun is. The pronoun “they” can also be a good gender-neutral pronoun to fall back on if you’re not sure. Some other rules of thumb:

  • Treat trans* people just like you would any other human being. Respect the person and their identity.
  • If you do make a mistake with a pronoun, just move on and don’t make a big deal out of it.
  • Respect their privacy. Don’t go blabbing to everyone you know about someone being trans*, or announcing it in social gatherings.
  • Educate yourself and use the right terminology. Tranny and she-male are examples of offensive terms you should not use.
  • Don’t assume they want to educate you about gender or that they are an authority on gender.
  • Don’t pry into their sex life or ask personal questions about their body unless the situation is appropriate.
  • Don’t assume that they’ve had surgery. Being trans* doesn’t automatically mean someone has surgically altered their body. Remember, gender is in the mind. People express their gender in many different ways.
  • Don’t make too many assumptions in general. Trans* people are all different!

A Brief Look at Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is the type of sex or gender that someone is attracted to.

Common types of sexual orientation:

Heterosexual (“straight”): someone who is attracted to the opposite sex or gender
Homosexual (“gay”): someone who is attracted to the same sex or gender
Bisexual: someone who is attracted to people of their own gender as well as the opposite gender

Queer: Formerly an offensive term referring to LGBT people, but now it’s been reclaimed by the younger generations. Queer is used in the context of both sexuality and gender and refers to anyone who falls outside of gender norms and sexuality norms. (So they’re not cisgender / heterosexual.)

Most of us know what it means to be heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual, but have you heard of these terms?

Pansexual: someone who is attracted to all sexes and genders. You could think of them as “gender blind.”

Asexual: someone who does not experience feelings of sexual attraction and doesn’t feel sexually attracted to anyone

Trans* People in Naturism & Conclusion

We don’t see many trans* people in the naturist world, and it’s easy to guess why. People who are transitioning from one gender to another may feel very self-conscious about their bodies. Some may rely on clothing to express their gender identity, and thus, the removal of the clothing would be like changing that identity. However, it doesn’t mean that trans* naturists don’t exist.

As society becomes more accepting, we may start seeing more trans* people in naturist circles. I suppose an important thing for nudies to remember is that gender is in the mind, so the physical body you see doesn’t necessarily indicate a person’s gender.

Hopefully this article provided a clear overview of sexual orientation, gender and what gender variance is all about. I have obtained much of this information through research and consulting various websites, listed below.

It’s possible you’ve seen definitions other than what I’ve presented above. Some terms have changed over the years, and it seems like new ones keep popping up! But if anything I’ve said seems off-base, please let me know in the comments.

Questions for my readers to comment on: Do you know any trans* naturists? Have you known anyone to shy away from naturism due to their gender identity / expression?


In all my researching, I somehow missed that today is national Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov 20th), a day to remember transgender people who were killed because of hate.

So it turned out to be the perfect day to educate and raise awareness about transgender issues! I sincerely hope this post will help eradicate ignorance, hate and phobia and that we can all move towards a more loving, accepting and tolerant world.

Please share this post, stay informed, speak up and support equality and transgender people. We can all lead by example. It’s all about the love.

This post about Understanding Gender Identity was published by – Young Naturists & Nudists America YNA

Sources & Links:

National Center for Transgender Equality: “Understanding Transgender

Smithsonian Mag: “When did girls start wearing pink?

Orientation Police” — cartoon by Bill Roundy about a gay man who dates transgender men

Rolling Stone (reprinted in the Huffington Post): “Coy Mathis: One Child’s Fight To Change Gender

More trans* etiquette: “Trans Etiquette for Non-Trans People” and “10 Things Not to Say to a Trans Person

The Atlantic: “My Son Wears Dresses; Get Over It

Genderfork – a site that features photos and stories of people all across the gender spectrum

Scarleteen: “Gender Palooza! A Sex & Gender Primer

It’s Pronounced Metrosexual (Sam Killerman): Informative site with cartoons like the one above and “Comprehensive List of LGBTQ+ Term Definitions

American Psychological Association: “Transgender today

My Personal Gender Identity as an Androgyne

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Category: Felicity's Nudist Blog, Feminism and Women's Issues, Sex Positive

About the Author ()

Author of Felicity's Blog. Co-founder of Young Naturists America. 3rd-generation nudie. Avid reader. Feminist. 70% vegan, 30% vegetarian. When I'm not busy eating, I'm writing about naturism, censorship, topfree equality, body image and other fun topics. I like feedback, so plz leave a comment when you've got something to say!
  • All-Nudist

    FelicityJones All-Nudist Kamododragon  Thanks Felicity, the change in your definition explains that one group is singled out as not being trans*, though it doesn’t explain why that exception is made.  But that’s ok. Not necessary to know the why, just the right terminology, and even those directly affected don’t seem to agree on that!  ;-)

  • All-Nudist Kamododragon I appreciate your effort at parsing through this, but not quite. An intersex person can be trans* or transgender, but intersex people are not inherently trans*. It would seem most intersex people identify as either male or female. They can be or look cisgender because not all intersex people are born with ambiguous genitals. Those who are might get surgery / hormonal treatment to match their gender identity. Though certain types of trans* people do this also, intersex is not currently classified under trans*. 
    I think the best way to summarize it is: Trans* is more about variations in gender while intersex is more about a variation in genetics & / or anatomy (sex). 
    Trans* is a very new term and is meant to be very inclusive, so honestly I think it might change at some point to include all or certain types of intersex people. 
    Identity is also very personal so there are some (like Nicky obviously) who are offended if they’re automatically labeled as trans* or transgender. 
    Does that make sense? I know this stuff is very confusing!  In the article I didn’t state intersex falls under trans* but I didn’t state the opposite either. So I’ll update my definition. We’re also working on an article of its own about intersex.

  • All-Nudist

    Kamododragon There may be a misunderstanding here.  As we read this,
    “Cisgender is someone whose gender identity matches their biological sex, or the sex that was assigned to them at birth.” (what would have been called ‘straight’)
    “Intersex refers to a person who is genetically undefinable as male nor female.”  (No physical evidence one way or another).

     “Trans*  basically refers to anyone who is not cisgender.”  (not ‘straight’)

    Nicky, are you objecting to the definitions?  Did you miss the part about:
     “Trans*: The asterisk is not for a footnote, but part of the word!  Trans* basically refers to ANYONE who is not cisgender.  That includes transgender, genderqueer, transsexual, cross-dressers, and others.”

    ‘Trans’ is not ‘trans*’.  At least, that’s what we got from this.  Apparently trans* is a created word to describe everyone who isn’t (old term) ‘straight’.  Nothing personal and not individually identifying.  Just a generic “not ‘cis'”.
    Is that correct, Felicity?  Or did we read it wrong also?  I think Nicky missed the asterisk on trans*, and its explanation.  Easy to do!

  • FelicityJones Kamododragon I think it does send the wrong message about Intersex people and that anyone else who reads this, will make the assumption that Intersex people are trans. That Harms Intersex people when people assume Intersex people are trans.

  • Kamododragon This article is not just about trans* people. It’s a general article about sex, gender and gender identity, so I mentioned intersex as well as trans*.  I do not equate intersex with trans*. They each have their own definition. Nowhere do I state that trans* includes intersex. I’m sorry you feel that way, but I think this article is very clear in its explanations.

  • I just think it sends the wrong message about Intersex people. Intersex people are NOT trans and by equating intersex people with trans. It sends a message that Intersex equates to Trans. When In reality, being born with an Intersex condition is not the same as being Trans. I think their needs to be a disclaimer on the Intersex issue.

  • All-Nudist

    Very useful, thank you!  We try to keep up with changes in terminology as society evolves, but most sources of information are either highly biased one way or another, narrowly focused, or needlessly technical.  More confusing that nseful.
    We live a diverse city with a strong  and visible trans* (is that right?) community plus our neighborhood is especially weighted in that direction (we’re jokingly referred to as the neighborhood’s ‘token straight people’).  Add to that friends and family members and we should be as well educated on the subject as anyone, but this article taught us a few things!
    And here we thought we were doing pretty good by having already heard of ‘ze’! 
    We’ll be adding a link to this on our site’s ‘LGBTQ’ section!

  • Elf_T Thank you! :) Yes I think it’s a subject that’s not discussed enough. 
    That should be everyone’s outlook – we are all human beings. People seem to forget that, being so focused on our differences. Thank you for your comment!

  • Elf_T

    Love this!! I am so glad you wrote this. I think it is a subject that should be discussed. I know for me gender and sexuality are on a sliding scale. I personally love humans and and all no matter what “sex” they are. I guess I am a try-gender….I will try any gender :-). Thanks again for sharing.