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Differences Between Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Many people are unable to identify the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, a significant number of people are convinced that there is an inevitable connection between the two.

Although sexual orientation and gender identity are linked in many ways – sexual orientation refers to one’s sexual preferences and gender identity refers to a personal categorization and expression of your gender based on your sense of self.

Researchers from various disciplines have made it a top priority to emphasize the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity are two different concepts that hold their own unique definitions. This is justified by the fact that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not exclusively determined by their sex.


What is Gender Identity?

Gender identity refers to the gender that an individual personally identifies with and the manner in which they express their gender through behavior and personal appearance. 

The process of understanding and expressing your gender identity begins at an early age. Often parents will assume the gender identity of their baby and make choices for their child regarding how they express their gender identity. For example, a female baby will often be dressed in pink clothing and given feminine toys to play with. However, once the child is old enough to express themselves, they may continue to express their gender accordingly or identify with another gender.  Parents should be open to each of these possibilities.

Furthermore, there is an ever-growing list of gender identities that reflects the intersectional nature of gender identity and the cultural shift that allows various gender identities to be acknowledged in research, mainstream media and so forth.

It should be noted that hundreds of gender identities have developed as a result of people from all over the world expressing themselves in a variety of different ways. 

Some of these gender identities include identifying as:

  • Transgender – a transgender person has a gender identity that differs from the sex they were assigned to at birth
  • Cis-gender – A cisgender person has a gender identity that matches their sex at birth. 
  • Genderfluid – A genderfluid person interchangeably identifies as different genders. 
  • Agender – An agender person does not identify with a gender at all. They can be considered genderless. 

Gender identity is linked to one’s personal understanding and expression of their identity.  It does not determine the sexual orientation of an individual.


What is Sexual Orientation?

Sexual orientation refers to the gender in which an individual is physically, sexually and/or romantically attracted to. This can be understood as a person’s sexuality. It is often assumed that an individual is heterosexual. A heterosexual person is attracted to a member of the “opposite” sex. For example, a woman being attracted to a man and vice-versa. We cannot limit our understanding of sexual orientation to heterosexuality because it does not acknowledge the definitive existence of the various other sexual orientations. 

There are multiple sexual orientations that have been extensively categorized according to the lived experience of people across the world. 

A person’s sexual orientation could be:

  • Heterosexual – sexual/ romantic attraction to someone of the opposite sex or gender 
  • Homosexual – sexual/ romantic attraction to someone of the same sex or gender
  • Bisexual – sexual/romantic attraction to men and women
  • Asexual – No sexual/romantic attractions
  • Any other sexual orientation that suits their sexual practices.

An individual’s sex is either male, female or intersex. It is often determined by the appearance and function of their sexual anatomy. Contrary to popular belief, the sex of an individual does not determine their sexual orientation or gender identity. A person can be born a male, identify as a man and be sexually attracted to men too. Furthermore, a person can be born female, identify as a man and be sexually attracted to females.  There is no specific combination of gender identities and sexual orientations. 

Sexual Orientation verses Gender Identity: Comparison Table


Understanding the Differences Between Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity 

Discussions surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity are often linked the LGBTQIA+ movement. Activists within this movement are pushing for all sexual orientations and gender identities to be acknowledged and accepted in society. Heterosexual and cisgender (cis-het) people have the privilege of being accepted in every space they enter. They are considered the norm. Therefore, every aspect of society works in their favor.  This includes documentation, marriage laws, employment laws and many other bureaucratic practices. On the other hand, people who are gender non-conforming or depart from heterosexual norms have been subjected to discrimination for centuries. Advancements in gender and sexuality studies make it clear that these norms are destructive and outdated. 

Sexual orientation and gender identity are multi-faceted concepts that stem beyond a basic understanding of male and female. It is important to develop a progressive, universal understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity in order to further understand the nuances of human identity in general. 

At first, all of these concepts may seem to be difficult to understand. Nevertheless, once you acknowledge the existence of various combinations of sexual orientations and gender identities it begins to make sense. 


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References :

[0]Conron, Kerith J., Matthew J. Mimiaga, and Stewart J. Landers. "A population-based study of sexual orientation identity and gender differences in adult health." American journal of public health 100.10 (2010): 1953-1960.

[1]"Understanding Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity." Plannedparenthood.org. 2018. Web. 17 Dec. 2018.

[2]"What's The Difference Between Sex, Gender And Sexuality?." Circlecarecenter.org. N.p., 2018. Web. 17 Dec. 2018.

[3]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sexual_orientation_-_4_symbols.svg

[4]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/women-men-people-human-gender-149577/

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