What Defines One’s Gender?

PrintFor most of us on the planet determining gender is a very simple concept; when we are born, someone looks between our legs to check and see if we have an innie or an outie and proudly declares, “it’s a girl!” or “it’s a boy!” Then the father runs around putting cigars into everyone’s mouth, beaming in his new parenthood while the mother recovers and holds her freshly swaddled newborn.  (Well at least that’s how it goes if you believe the Bugs Bunny cartoons!)

Ah, if only the world were just as simple as that.  If you have an innie you are female and if you have an outie you are male.  Most of us humans do truly believe that life is as simple, straightforward, and black and white as that suggests.  And if people choose to deviate from that norm, then it is easy to shun them, to label them as weirdos, and to loudly declare that they are foolish for thinking that their gender does not match with their genitals.  If you have a penis, you are a male, end of story.  If you have a vagina, you are female, end of story.  If you think your gender does not match your bits, then it is simple as well: You have a mental problem and need to see someone, quick!

It all sounds so easy.  A quick check between the legs, and you receive your gender identity and all is right and just with the world.  Unfortunately, there exists an entire spectrum of our populace for whom the quick genital check does not answer the question. I personally identify as transgender, and for many in the world that means I suffer from immense mental problems that could easily be corrected with extensive amounts of therapy.  It is as if I suffer from some sort of nasty addiction and all I need to do is stay away from those evil dresses!

But what about all of the humans for whom the quick between the leg check draws a blank?  Unbeknownst to many – as it once was to myself – not everyone gets either an innie or an outie.  Sometimes what is there is clearly both an innie and an outie, and sometimes what is there is indeterminate.  What then?  What does the doctor proudly declare then?  What about the father with the cigars and the mother with the softly held swaddled newborn?  Well, sadly, generally what happens is a gender is chosen, the baby’s body is modified to fit that ascribed gender and the family is told to raise the child that way and that in the end everything will work out just fine.

But other issues exist with knowing someone’s gender from the quick leg check.  Some people are born with an extra chromosome and do not have the standard XX or XY, but rather an XXY.  What do we say about them?  Or how about humans that are born with androgen insensitivity syndrome?  Even with these birth differences, sometimes we humans in our infinite wisdom, always trying to better the human body, accidentally cause immense gender problems with things like botched circumcisions when too much has been removed and the family is instructed to simply raise their boy as a girl.

Oh, if only gender was so simple as too revolve around the seemingly easy-to-grasp concept of if you have _______ between your legs then you are clearly a ________.   Or to say that if you give them dolls, they will be conditioned to be a girl and if you give them fire trucks they will be conditioned to be a boy.

These things throw into disarray the normally very orderly perceived concept of gender.  Physical abnormalities, accidents, and genetic differences are often easier for people to understand than the seemingly normal structured male or female who chooses to eschew their assigned gender for what they simply believe that they are.  But for those of us who experience this reality, it is no less real.  It is no less difficult.  It is no less confusing.  I honestly have no idea why I do what I do.  I have no idea why I feel the way that I feel.  I have no idea what prompted me to mention to my mom that the pretty bracelet she was showing me, that belonged to my grandmother, was nice and that I wanted to wear it.  I know what prompted her response.  It was what was between my legs that made her tell me that no, I couldn’t wear that bracelet because it was for women and I was not a woman.

I also know how that made me feel.  It made me feel as though something was wrong with me.  It was one of the earliest memories that I have of me wanting something that I wasn’t supposed to want, because of what the quick between the leg check defined me as being.  I left that moment, when I was only about seven or eight years old, knowing that I was weird and different.  Thus began my years of self-doubt and personal ridicule.  All because I wanted things that both little boys wanted and things that little girls wanted.  Because of this, because of the subtle and overt messages our society puts out about gender, the vast majority of us who do not conform to society’s gender norms do not need to hear your condemnations.  We already tell ourselves most of the nasty, vile things you could possibly think of.  I have called myself a freak, an aberration, and an abomination amongst many other lovelies too many times to even count.  I have ridiculed myself year after year, month after month, day after day, and sometimes every single tick on that never ending clock.

I was quite well socialized in what males and females are supposed to do and I have always just  believed that I was wrong, like the vast majority of us with gender variances.  This knowledge never changed what I like though.  It only made me feel horrible, led me to try to hide my feelings, and to fear my fellow human beings.  Thankfully, something within me demanded that I stand up for my rights as a human being, even when I was so very young and asking my mother for a female’s bracelet.  Eventually my mother relented and allowed me to have the bracelet:IMG_9046c

She was quite amazed when I showed it to her again:


Maybe even at that young age I could understand that sometimes a dull patina develops over things and that to make them shine again, all they need is a bit of polish, a bit of time, and a bit of loving care.  Which in reflection is how I have tried to treat myself.

All we humans need to do to open up our concept of gender is to understand that it is way more complicated than what a quick check between the legs can show us.

_ _ _ _ _

Hi, I’m Nadine Spirit and I have been a lifelong gender non-conformer. I have always understood that I am a bit different than most but it was not until sometime in my thirties that I came to understand that I am transgender. While I spend most of my time presenting as a male I am always presenting in a gender non-conforming manner. 

I started my blog, Unordinary Style, with the idea of being able to show a stylish side to those who identify as transgender. Since that time my blog has evolved into showing my personal style, discussing a wide variety of transgender topics, as well as posts about my personal life. My personal style continues to evolve as I attempt to continually push myself to pick stuff off of the racks, take it into the dressing room, and try on as much as I can. I am a firm believer in ignoring tag sizes, never paying retail prices, and due to a terrific allergy – that nickel should never be in any jewelry!

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One Response to “What Defines One’s Gender?”

  1. KryptoBunny

    This article is so concise that I think it’s the type of thing I’d recommend to someone who was having a hard time understanding gender nonconformity, because you’ve described your experiences in a way I think almost anyone could relate to. Thanks for writing it!