The difference between sexual identity and gender identity, although interrelated characteristics, is the difference between physiological and psychological distinguishments. Every human being possesses both a sexual identity and a gender identity. In some individuals, both identities are in line with one another; in others, both identities are in conflict with one another. To understand the true distinction between sexual identity and gender identity, it is important to consider several points: the definition of gender identity; the definition of sexual identity; the role sexual and gender identities play in every day life; and the degree to which sexual and gender identities can be influenced, controlled or changed.
Gender identity is the way in which an individual identifies himself with a specific gender, based upon the physiological characteristics as well as outward manifestations including clothing, hairstyles and other attributes which are place plainly in public view. As the physiological component to a person’s gender and sexual identity makeup, a person’s gender identification is often, but not always, based upon innate physical characteristics. At times, however, individuals identity themselves with a gender that their physiological makeup does not support.
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This identification with a non-physiologically supported gender identity can be the result of a physical action – during the formation of a fetus, an effect on the baby’s gender – or the result of a preference for the gender roles assigned to the opposite gender. Identification with an opposing gender does not always mean that a person desires to be another gender – they may simply prefer characteristics more commonly associated with the other gender. Because these gender roles are often very stereotypical, it is not necessarily a sign of gender confusion if an individual prefers more roles of the opposing gender than of their own.
Sexual identity is the way in which an individual identifies himself in terms of sexual orientation. This is interrelated with gender identity, in that a gender-identified male will often carry the sexual identity of a heterosexual, preferring female to male partners. Going farther, when a male gender-identifies with the female gender, they will often carry the sexual identity of a homosexual, preferring male to female partners. Conversely, a female will associate with either the sexual identification of heterosexuality or homosexuality dependant upon whether they gender-identify with the male or female gender.
Sexual identity is truly a synonym for sexual orientation, and the extent to which is can be distinguished goes beyond heterosexual and homosexual to also include bisexual preferences, or preferring both female and male partners. As the psychological component of a person’s gender and sexual identity makeup, sexual identification can change over a person’s life. While a woman in her 20s may label herself and behave as a lesbian, she may later in life identify herself as heterosexual and begin a relationship with a man. In contrast, a man in his 20s may label himself as straight and marry and produce children, but may later in life begin to identify himself as homosexual, and either repress that identification or act upon it with a male partner.Gender and sexual identities play a major role in everyday life.
A person’s gender identification is what is first revealed about them to the outside world. The first characteristic that is almost always noted when meeting another individual – far before names are exchanged and personalities are discussed – is gender. While it is easier to identify a man who gender-identifies as a man and a woman who gender-identifies as a woman, it is also equally apparent when individuals with cross-identifications are encountered. A young girl who dresses more like a young boy will often be identified as a tom-boy. A young boy who has an effeminate appearance might become known as a sissy. These early gender-identifications are not necessarily indicative, however, of the role an individual will assume later in life. The tom-boy might grow up to become a model, the sissy a linebacker.
Special care should be taken, therefore, not to box people based upon their perceived gender identification, as that is a mutable characteristic certainly through childhood and also throughout adulthood.As such, it is apparently that both sexual and gender identities can be influenced, controlled or changed. Based upon the environment an individual is raised within, both their gender identity and sexual identity can be strongly influenced.
An individual raised in a household strongly homophobic may have tendencies towards homosexuality but will most likely repress them and sexual identify as heterosexual. Identities can often be controlled, as well. In certain areas throughout the world, individuals who are seen as deviants from “normal” gender and sexual identifications are often repressed within both their families and societies. Until the 1970s, homosexuality was defined as a psychological disorder in the United States, and to this day, “concerned” families will often seek intervention for “deviant” children who they wish to set back on another path. This type of control is almost always against an individuals will, but there are other types of control willingly exhibited by some individuals.
A married man with four children who finds himself fantasizing about other men may try to control his homosexual identification in order to continue in the life path he has already chosen. Conversely, individuals can also change both their gender and sexual identity. An example given previously illustrates a woman who in her 20s exhibited a preference for other women but in later life changed or modified her preference to men. A change in gender identity is often harder to permanently achieve, as individuals who wish to more strongly gender identify with the opposite gender may be dissatisfied simply to dress and act as that gender and may wish to change on a permanent basis, through very difficult surgery.Gender and sexual identification make up a person’s physiological and psychological preferences for the role in which they see themselves in as well as they partners they choose within that role. Although very different, they are interrelated, and one cannot exist without the other. After studying their varied definitions and the role they play in every day life, it is clear to see how important it is to understand one’s own gender and sexual identification.
It is also important to understand ways in which gender and sexual identification can be influenced, controlled and changed, so that an individual can take care to make the identifications most relevant to his own life instead of allowing undue influence to take away his own identity.