Gender, Norms, and Diversity

Key messages from this page:

  • Gender and sex are two different parts of a person and their identity.
  • Don't assume gender by someone's appearance.
  • It's ok to not know everything, but it isn't ok to be judgmental of something you don't understand.
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When most people think of gender, they think of males and females, men and women, or boys and girls. What most people don't understand, although these discussions are becoming more mainstream, is that gender is not the same as sex, it isn't necessarily fixed, and the way we perceive it is actually more of a performance (we call these gender roles).

We could dedicate a lot of space to the topic of gender and sexual diversity, but we want to try to keep this concise and cover just the basics. We do strongly recommend that you seek out additional training in this space if you would like a deeper understanding of sexuality and all the aspects that fall under that umbrella term.

The key points that are important in this space is that gender is not what sexual anatomy someone possesses (this is called sex or sex assigned at birth), it is their innate self and how they interact with the world. This may fall within one of two larger groupings, man/boy and woman/girl, but it may not. There is a vast range of diverse genders including agender, bigender, genderqueer, gender fluid, etc. that people may identify with. You may see this referred to as gender identity, but in reality, it is easier to think of gender as an intrinsic part of someone instead of thinking of it as something someone identifies with. It isn't a preference, it is who they are.

Gender is a personal thing and you can’t always tell by looking at someone what their gender is. Try not to assume a person's gender. Avoid asking a gender diverse person any personal questions about their gender. This especially applies to someone you don’t know well. Questions such as “are you a man or a woman?” “have you had surgery yet?” or “what was your name before?” are inappropriate and intrusive. Instead, you can ask them what pronouns they use. Purposefully using the wrong name and/or pronouns for someone is called misgendering and is a disrespectful thing to do.

Finally, when we do see gender expressed, we call that gender expression. For a large proportion of society, they associate this expression with predefined gender roles (i.e. girls = pink, boys = blue). Different cultures have different expectations for what gender roles may look like. Generally, we feel that if a person is interested in an activity, profession, hobby, style, etc., they should be free to pursue that if they choose.