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Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She’: What Is Gender Identity?

Multiethnic People Holding Different Type Of Gender Sign

Cultural perceptions and expectations about gender shape our lives in countless ways. Most cultures base a person’s gender on their sex, with two rigidly fixed options: male/female or boy/girl. We’re told that women are vulnerable, and men are strong—that girls should act modestly, while “boys will be boys.”

Yet, a growing body of research shows that rigidly enforced gender expectations are associated with a lifelong risk of mental and physical health problems.

People around the world are pushing back against these rigid constructs. These days, young people especially feel freer to openly identify as gender non-conforming, transgender, two-spirit, genderqueer, agender, and more. And one in five U.S. adults knows someone who goes by a gender-neutral pronoun.

This is a huge change from even just two decades ago.

Sex vs. Gender vs. Gender Identity

There’s a lot of confusion around sex and gender. These words are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same.

Sex (male or female) is a label you’re assigned at birth based on the genitals you’re born with and your chromosomes. This label goes on your birth certificate.