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Gender Identity

A common question we ask when beginning gender training is for participants to write down on a piece of paper what they think sex means and what they think gender means. Although these are words we use every day their meaning is poorly understood. Commonly participants say that gender is a person’s ‘self identification with being a man or a woman’. This answer implies that we get to choose our gender role but this, of course, is not true. For the most part we are socially conditioned from a very early age to understand sex and gender and how they relate to each other.

As mentioned before sex refers to the biology you are born with, not that which you may choose and gender refers to the socially defined roles and characteristics of men and women associated with that sex. Neither sex nor gender refers to orientation or choice.

There are however a number of people for whom these associations don’t feel right. This feeling may arise in childhood, adolescence or adult hood and is referred to as Gender Identity Disorder and manifests as strong and persistent cross-gender identification and a persistent discomfort with their biological sex or a sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.

Gender dysphoria and issues of gender identity and choice are very poorly understood in mainstream popular culture and medicine alike. Although gender analysis can equally reveal gender inequity on the basis of atypical gender identity, we do not claim to be expert in this. We do however have collaborations with the Gender Dysphoria Clinic at the Monash Medical Centre. This site is linked to a website with information from the patient perspective.

For more psychologically orientated information The Harry Ben jamin International Gender Dysphoria Association of the U.S.A. has produced the guidelines which are considered best practice in the field. The reference is the 'Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders' (pdf) and it is available at:

General health information for transgender people is available at http://www.gender.org/

Content by Ann-Maree Nobelius, 23 June 2004