Sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression. For many these are new terms that make something complicated that once seemed so simple. You were born male or female. You were attracted to persons of the opposite sex. Everything was so simple. Now we are becoming aware how varied and fluid these matters can be. Our gender identity and sexual orientation can be on a scale that goes from one extreme to another. Unfortunately prejudice on matters of sex can make these differences more problematic then our other human differences. Here are some definitions of the different terms:
"Gender Identity - How one sees oneself as a gendered being. Gender identity is one of our innermost concepts of self and is frequently described using terms like “male” or “female”--though this binary view of gender is troublesome, as it is often credited for much of the oppression experienced by the LGBT community. It is important to note that gender identity is what we perceive and call ourselves, though most people develop a gender identity that matches their birth-assigned sex. Others, however, experience their gender identity as different or separate from their birth-assigned sex. Gender identity may be fluid or not, depending on the individual and their experiences."
Gender Expression - Everything we do that communicates our sex/gender to others: clothing, hair styles, mannerisms, way of speaking, roles we take in interactions, etc. Gender expression is separate and distinct from both gender identity and sexual orientation, but it often leads people to make false assumptions about the gender identities and sexual orientations of others. Gender expression is a continuum, with feminine at one end and masculine at the other. In between are gender expressions that are androgynous (neither masculine nor feminine) and those that combine elements of the two (sometimes called gender bending). Gender expression can vary for an individual from day to day or in different situations, but most people can identify a range on the scale where they feel the most comfortable. Some people are comfortable with a wider range of gender expression than others. (Excerpt from Center for Gender Sanity: http://www.gendersanity.com/diagram.html)
In a report called "Injustice at Every Turn" by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force the impacts of gender discrimination are clearly shown. Here are some of the findings:
• Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating. People of color in general are worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents faring far worse than all others in most areas examined.
• Respondents lived in extreme poverty. Our sample was nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.
• A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population,ii with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in
school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).
Those who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity while in grades K-12 reported alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment was so severe that it led almost one-sixth (15%) to leave a school in K-12 settings or in higher education.
• Respondents who have been harassed and abused by teachers in K-12 settings showed dramatically worse health and other outcomes than those who did not experience such abuse. Peer harassment and abuse also had highly damaging effects.
• Widespread mistreatment at work: Ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it.
• Forty-seven percent (47%) said they had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of being transgender or gender non-conforming. Double the rate of unemployment. Survey respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population at the time of the survey, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.
• Over one-quarter (26%) reported that they had lost a job due to being transgender or gender non-conforming and 50% were harassed.
• Large majorities attempted to avoid discrimination by hiding their gender or gender transition (71%) or delaying their gender transition (57%).
• The vast majority (78%) of those who transitioned from one gender to the other reported that they felt more comfortable at work and their job performance improved, despite high levels of mistreatment.
• Overall, 16% said they had been compelled to work in the underground economy for income (such as doing sex work or selling drugs).
• Respondents who were currently unemployed experienced debilitating negative outcomes, including nearly double the rate of working in the underground economy (such as doing sex work or selling drugs), twice the homelessness, 85% more incarceration, and more negative health outcomes, such as more than double the
HIV infection rate and nearly double the rate of current drinking or drug misuse to cope with mistreatment, compared to those who were employed.
• Respondents who had lost a job due to bias also experienced ruinous consequences such as four times the rate of homelessness, 70% more current drinking or misuse of drugs to cope with mistreatment, 85% more incarceration, more than double the rate working in the underground economy, and more than double the HIV infection rate, compared to those who did not lose a job due to bias.
Like so many things in life we as a society have to decide to accept that humans have many differences and not fall into the trap of shaming and discriminating against people who are different.
I am reluctant to draw a comparison to the prejudice shown to an individual with a different gender identity but I have seen a small example of this in my own life. I am ambidextrous. When I try a new sport I find that either hand works just as well for me. This came in handy when I played tennis or racquetball as I could switch hands and never use a backhand. This advantage was seen as a problem when I was in school and teachers told me I had to write with one hand or the other. I would use my left hand some days and my right hand other days. Finally in third grade in a sign of defiance I started only using my left hand to write because my teacher wanted me to only use my right hand. That is why I write with my left hand today.