Excerpt from the Amnesty International Book Club discussion guide for Today I Am A Boy. Find the guide here.
Gender identity refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, or with the way they are made to express their gender, including the personal sense of the body and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech, and mannerisms. An individual’s gender identity may be male, female, or a gender which is neither male nor female; it may also be more than one gender, or no gender.
Gender expression refers to the means by which individuals express their gender identity. This may or may not include clothes, make-up, speech, mannerisms, and/or surgical or hormone treatment.
Transgender people are individuals whose gender expression and/or gender identity differs from conventional expectations based on the physical sex they were assigned at birth. Commonly, a transgender woman is a person who was assigned ‘male’ at birth but has a female gender identity; a transgender man is a person who was assigned ‘female’ at birth but has a male gender identity. However, not all transgender individuals identify as male or female; transgender is a term that includes people who identify as more than one gender or no gender at all. Transgender individuals may or may not choose to undergo some or all possible forms of medical or social gender transition.
Cisgender people are individuals whose gender expression and/or gender identity aligns with conventional expectations based on the physical sex they were assigned at birth. In broad terms, cisgender is the opposite of transgender.
A common misconception is that gender identity and expression are linked to sexual or romantic attraction. However, as with cisgender people, transgender people may be gay or lesbian (attracted to people of the same gender), straight (attracted to people of a different gender), bisexual or pansexual (attracted to people of multiple genders), or asexual (not experiencing sexual attraction). Who you are attracted to is your sexual orientation; who you are is your gender identity. The idea behind these different forms of identity and expression is that traditional gender roles — how people are expected by society to act based on the gender assigned to them at birth — are a social construct, not a biological one. *
He, She, Ze, They?
In the English language, if you’re referring to one person, you have to gender them. We have no gender neutral terms. But pronouns are important for those fighting for trans rights. Being referred to in a pronoun which reflects one’s gender identity is very important.
If you aren’t sure what pronoun to use, just ask. Some people may use she, he, ze, they, or some other pronoun. We should always be sure to use the words we’re asked to by our trans friends, even when we’re not around them. The more we use the correct gender pronouns, the faster the words and their meanings will spread through our communities.
Using the right pronouns in our own daily language and asking others to do the same isn’t enough to change the extreme transphobia, discrimination, and violence that trans people experience, but it’s a simple way to use language to show respect for our friends, to make transissues visible, and to challenge gender-based oppression.
He, she, ze, they – it’s well worth the work of getting it right. **
Learn more about our July book, For Today I Am A Boy, chosen by Bif Naked, on our discussion guide page. For more great reading ideas, sign up for our monthly newsletter and book/perk/event announcements.