How many genders are there? The terms you need to know

“While it is generally assumed that people are born with the same sex and gender identity, this is not always the case. Worldwide, up to 4.5% of the population identify as transgender or non-binary. Meaning that their internal sense of self does not align with their body and/or gender role. So, gender identity is about how we see ourselves in terms of being women, men, or non-binary folk.”

Laura, who is passionate about gender diversity education, is the author of Gender Affirming Therapy: A Guide to What Transgender and Non-Binary Clients Can Teach Us – and founded, a training platform for mental health professionals who wish to learn ways to support transgender and non-binary clients. She notes that there are some key things to remember when discussing gender identity:

  • People can change between gender identities, and that’s okay. “It’s not unusual for individuals exploring their gender identity to undergo a process of self-discovery. For instance, someone might initially identify as non-binary and later, as they become more comfortable with their femininity, transition to identifying as a trans woman. This evolution can occur in any direction.”
  • Even cisgender individuals can experience changes in their gender expression. “For example, someone might present as a tomboy during childhood, adopt a more feminine presentation during adolescence, and then adopt a more neutral style as an adult.”
  • There are many gender identity ‘labels’, because gender is a social construct. “The variety of terms reflects the diverse ways people relate to the concept of gender. This opens up a myriad of possibilities for how we express ourselves, relate to our bodies, and want to be perceived.”
  • Understanding and respecting diverse gender identities is crucial. “Trans and non-binary people are an integral part of our society. And at some point, you are likely to meet the partner, the child, the friend, the mother of a trans person; or a trans person themselves. Moreover, we all have a gender identity, and questioning the roles we’ve assumed can help us understand ourselves better.”
  • There is an appropriate way to talk about gender identities with others. “If due a person’s presentation or manner you perceive that they might be gender non-conforming, you might want to ask what their name and pronouns are. If it is appropriate, you can also ask what their gender identity is. However, it is not ok to ask about a person’s genital configuration or access to treatments. You would not ask a co-worker if they have had a nose job or to describe their genitals to you, and so the same principle of respect and privacy applies here. If in the process of speaking with a trans or non-binary person you misgender them, you just need to apologise, correct yourself and continue talking.”


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