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Sexual Orientation vs Gender Identity vs Sexual Identity

Sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual identity are independent of each other. A person may express any variation of each of these in any combination. To discourage the free expression of identity and orientation by an individual is to impose a damaging burden of conformity.

Sexual Orientation describes someone’s emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to another person or group of people. Sexual orientation doesn’t tell us anything about the types of sex someone prefers or what body parts someone has. It simply gives us an idea of the range of people someone is attracted to - i.e. opposite (hetero), same (homo), or both (bi).

Sexual Identity is how you see yourself physically: male, female, or in between. If someone is born female, but wishes to see their body as male in all respects, their sexual identity is male. It is generally rude to speak of such a person as female, since it denies their right to inhabit the social and physical role of their choosing. We call such a person a transsexual, whether or not they have had any surgery. Many FTM transsexuals do not undergo genital surgery, often because of disappointing results or extreme cost. As surgical technique improves, this may change. Since it is healthier for these people to live in accord with their wishes and heartfelt need, we call them men, though they may have a vagina where one would expect to find a penis.

The situation for MTF transsexuals is equivalent, except that the surgery produces a much more satisfying result, both cosmetically and functionally. Nonetheless, many MTF transsexuals elect to not have the surgery, most often because of risk, pain, or cost. Those who retain male sexual functioning may refer to themselves as transgenderists, since it is only their gender which is changed. Those that disown all male sexual function (surgery or no) tend to identify as transsexuals, since they change their sexual function, and therefore their sexual identity.

Gender Identity is one component of gender and refers to the internal state of being a male, female, some combination of both, neither, or something else completely. Gender also includes gender expression and gender roles. Gender is different from sex, which is related to biological traits such as chromosomes, organs, and hormones.

While a medical professional attending a birth assigns sex by looking at an infant’s genitals, gender is something each person comes to understand about themselves. It’s important to remember that gender has to do with who someone is, and sexual orientation has to do with who someone is attracted to.

©2007 Nancy Nangeroni and Gender Education & Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with Permission

Note:  Some adaptations/changes and additions have been made by Mary