How Many Genders Are There — And Why Does Talking About The Spectrum Of Identity Matter So Much?

Photo: Alberto Bobbera on Unsplash
How Many Genders Are There? List Of Definitions On The LGBTQIA Spectrum
Contributor
Self, Health And Wellness

Lack of representation in the media doesn’t mean you're not normal.

A person’s identity is so much more than a name scribbled on a ‘Hello My Name Is’ sticker. We are each complex beings made up of our histories, emotions, desires and values, and defined by our gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression.

Like humans ourselves, conversations around the spectrum of gender and human sexuality are constantly evolving.

It's becoming more common to see the option of “other” or “preferred” as choices when selecting gender and pronouns on registration forms.

To many of us in the LGBTQIA+ community, asking about our preferences — really, asking who we are — feels refreshing, even hopeful. It makes us feel respected and seen. But for others, it raises some big questions. How can you prefer something other than male or female?

How many genders are there?

There’s only one good answer to the question of how many genders there are: Gender is a spectrum, and there are as many gender definitions as there needs to for every person to have a label that feels true to themselves.

RELATED: What It Means To Be Genderfluid Or Non-Binary (As Written By Someone Who Is)

Maybe that’s confusing. Let me explain.

These three distinct and independent pieces of who we are — gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression — depend on each other; they weave in and out, touching and layering on themselves to form a complete identity.

Photo credit: The Trevor Project

How do we proudly display all of our components in safe and meaningful ways to strangers if there isn’t room to include more than a name?

We do it by making room in our society for identities that do not follow the heteronormative assumptions of what is "normal".

This may mean that we need to get a little uncomfortable while we learn about people and terms that are new or confusing.

Think of the sense of self as a spectrum with unlimited possibilities.

The first thing we either attach to or reject is our gender identity — that sense of being male, female, neither, or both.

When humans are born, they are given a gender assignment based on sexual anatomy. That assignment is usually limited to only two genders: male or female.

Even babies who are born intersex, "a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male", are given a gender assignment with the assumption that one needs a binary label.

But the label is just a suggestion, because sexual anatomy (traditionally used to define "sex" in terms of identification) does not equal gender, and gender is not limited to meaning only one or the other.

Gender is not the binary constraint of being a man or woman, boy or girl.

So while I can’t tell you how many genders there are, there definitely are more than two.

RELATED: What Is Gender Dysphoria, And Why Is It Different From Being Transgender?

It might help if you understand a little about my personal history.

Based on my anatomy, I was assigned female as my sex at birth. But since I was a kid, I knew I wasn’t just a girl. And as I got older, I knew I wasn’t a boy, either. I am both.

Once I discovered the language for this, I knew the word to describe me is nonbinary.

I can’t be placed into a box of being either male or female, though trust me, it would be easier to do this at times.

The world is not a kind place for those of us who know one of the key components of our identity is a gender many people and organizations do not recognize.

So, how do I know what my gender is?

Well, how do you know you are male? Or female? You just know — I do, too.

On most days I feel like a perfect mix of being both male and female; it’s a grounded feeling of knowing I am a hybrid of two genders.

On other days, I don’t feel overly connected to any gender. I am just me, but male pronouns are not right and female pronouns hurt.

Because of this, I use they/them pronouns.

There are other options for gender neutral and inclusive pronouns, and it’s anyone’s right to use what feels most comfortable.

Photo credit: UWM Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center

RELATED: Why Fewer People Are Officially Coming Out As LGBTQIA+

While it may seem confusing at first, you don’t have to “get it” to respect it.

In some countries and cultures, the people who know they are neither completely male or female are celebrated. In the United States, it’s hard for people to even get my pronouns correct, so I am not expecting mass celebrations.

Here is a list of some other important gender terms and definitions:

TRENDING NOW on YourTango

1. Genderfluid or Genderqueer

Some folks who don’t identify as either male or female may call themselves genderfluid or genderqueer.

A genderfluid person is someone who feels male one day, maybe one hour, and female the next. Their gender fluctuates, but what’s consistent is that they are not always one or the other.

Genderqueer folks may identify as neither or both male and female, much like a nonbinary person, and their gender expression may fluctuate, breaking stereotypical gender expressions of what it means to be masculine or feminine.

2. Transgender

If your gender assignment at birth does not match your gender identity, you are transgender, sometimes abbreviated to "trans".

My gender assignment at birth does not match my gender identity, so this makes me transgender, and my gender identity is nonbinary.

3. Cisgender

If your gender assignment at birth does align with your gender identity, then you are cisgender, sometimes abbreviated to "cis".

Being referred to by this label is not an insult; it’s simply a way to describe the fact that your assigned gender matches your true identity.

Note that the words transgender and cisgender are adjectives, not good or bad, just descriptors of gender.

Many transgender people still fall into the binary of being male or female. For example, a woman who was assigned male at birth based on anatomy knows she is a woman because of that inner sense of self. Therefore, she is a transgender woman.

4. Gender expression

Our gender expression is how we want to show the world who we are.

As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, we all have the right to do what makes us most comfortable and happy. This includes what we wear, how we style our hair, if we wear makeup or jewelry, the names and pronouns we wanted to be called and how we accessorize any other external aspects of ourselves.

While I am not male, I express myself in a masculine way. I consider myself trans masculine, even androgynous at times. Others express themselves in more feminine or femme ways; all genders can consider themselves masculine, feminine, neither or both.

5. Gender nonconforming

Some expressions, like a man wearing dresses, is considered gender nonconforming.

For example, a person might identify as being a female, but describe her gender expression as masculine.

RELATED: What You Need To Know About Pansexuality (According To Someone Who Identifies As Pansexual)

The important thing to remember is that there isn’t one way or a right way to be a man, woman, or nonbinary person.

It’s a bummer to feel like we are constantly compared to what many think is the “normal” way men and women and male and female-bodied people should present themselves.

Just because I am not represented in the media, movies, or books, that doesn’t mean I am not normal.

I am unique, perhaps. I am part of a minority. But I am normal and want pretty normal things in life and from others.

I want respect, kindness, and happiness. I want to feel safe and loved (because I fall in love, too).

My sexuality is an important part of who I am because it attracts people who see me for who I am. And for me, I want to find intimacy in vulnerable places with people who don’t question my identity.

The world can be pretty lonely for folks like me who are considered outliers.

What makes me feel most at home and sure of myself can make others feel uncomfortable.

My sense of self includes a gender outside of the binary, but my need for acceptance and compassion falls well within the range of deserved human decency.

What I really want is to feel more comfortable, and that can start with you.

Let go of assumptions and trust that the person you are talking to knows themself better than what you think you know about them based on stereotypes and heteronormative thinking.

And when you add your name to that ‘Hello My Name Is ...’ sticker, add your pronouns, too.

It shows that you don’t want anyone making assumptions about you and that you are happy to acknowledge any and all pronouns of the people who may be in your presence.

Hi, my name is Amber. I use they/them pronouns. I am a person who deserves kindness and respect.

There’s a lot to who I am.

For instance, I like tacos and books and I want good coffee and great friends.

And when we meet, I want to know what pronouns you use because I want you to feel good, too, while we search for the nearest library or taco truck together.

RELATED: I'm Not Male Or Female: What It's Like To Live Life Genderfluid

Sign Up for the YourTango Newsletter

Let's make this a regular thing!

Amber Leventry is a queer, nonbinary writer and advocate. They have three kids, including twins and a transgender daughter. Amber’s writing appears on The Washington Post, Ravishly, Longreads, PopSugar, and The Temper, and they are a staff writer for Scary Mommy. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram and visit their website for information on speaking engagements and LGBTQ training sessions.

Author
Contributor