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What is gender?

What is gender?

The word ‘gender’ is often used to indicate a person’s ‘sex’. But what is gender, and why do we only recognise two ‘kinds’ of it (male/female) in language? This language and our culture limit our ability to describe the variety that is naturally present. We are assigned a gender at birth, although in recent years, this no longer invariably happens when a person’s gender is unclear.

In addition to thinking in terms of a limited variety of genders, you may feel confronted with a hetero-normative mindset. The term hetero-normative may be used to express that we have grown up in a world with a very simple perspective: there are men and there are women, and they can engage in a relationship with one another. Plain and simple, and incidentally, taken for granted in this perspective. Similar to the way fish don’t question the nature of water; it’s simply always there.

Fortunately, knowledge and visibility are increasing, and openness about a world that isn’t quite so digital and consists of more than ones and zeroes is spreading. And so, too, is openness about being born and raised as a boy or a girl, but having feelings that are inconsistent with that upbringing.

Such feelings don’t have to be a problem, but they can cause confusion. And although the value of diversity is being recognised by more and more people, there is also a great lack of understanding and a fear of difference. So what is your place in this world? How do you handle your emotions? And how do you handle your environment, which reacts to them?


Because there have been courageous individuals, there is room for alternative possibilities. Born a male, living as a female. ‘Labelled’ a female during her childhood, even though ‘inter-sex’, for instance, suits her better if she is to be given a label at all. Asexuality as a lifestyle, because it’s possible to experience intimacy without sexual desire. Or, in some cases, having gender reassignment surgery to alter some or all of the sexual characteristics. And everything beyond and in between.