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Gender Pronoun Initiative: What is gender?

Promoting diversity and inclusion is a key component of our healthy and productive workplace culture. The newest effort to nurture this culture is the UCOP Gender Pronoun Education/Awareness Initiative, which is focused on educating staff around how we can support trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming staff by implementing simple changes in how we use pronouns in the workplace.

This is the second article in a three-part series. The first article, “Introducing the Gender Pronoun Initiative,” was published on September 23.

Defining gender

When you first heard about the Gender Pronoun Initiative, it may have prompted you to consider your assumptions around what the word “gender” means. Here is a summary of helpful definitions, taken from Trans Student Educational Resources, an organization that seeks to promote the wellbeing of transgender youth.

Gender identity is one’s internal sense of being male, female, non-binary (neither male nor female), both, or another gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity, including you. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their own internal sense of gender identity are not the same. The terms “female,” “woman,” “girl,” “male,” “man” and “boy” are not necessarily linked to each other but are common gender identities.

Gender expression/presentation is the physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. However, being genderqueer/diverse or non-binary has nothing to do with looking queer or non-binary.

Sex assigned at birth refers to the assignment and classification of people as male, female, intersex or another sex based on a combination of anatomy, hormones and chromosomes. It is important we don’t simply use “sex” as a standalone word to describe this term because of the vagueness of the definition. Chromosomes are frequently used to determine sex from prenatal karyotyping (although not as often as genitalia). Chromosomes do not determine genitalia.

Sexual orientation refers to physical attraction. It is important to note that sexual and romantic/emotional attraction can be from a variety of factors including, but not limited to, gender identity, gender expression/presentation and sex assigned at birth.

Romantic/emotional orientation refers to emotional attraction. It is important to note that sexual and romantic/emotional attraction can be from a variety of factors including but not limited to gender identity, gender expression/presentation and sex assigned at birth.

Some people find it helpful to envision the spectrums of gender and sexuality with a visual resource. The Gender Unicorn, designed in 2014 by Trans Student Educational Resources, was adopted by schools, colleges and universities across the world as an educational model. It has been translated into over a dozen languages.

Image of the Gender Unicorn featured in this article is ©Trans Student Educational Resources.

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