Gender identity is one’s personal experience of one’s own gender. Gender identity can correlate with assigned sex at birth or can differ from it. All societies have a set of gender categories that can serve as the basis for the formation of a person’s social identity in relation to other members of society. In most societies, there is a basic division between gender attributes assigned to males and females, a gender binary to which most people adhere and which includes expectations of masculinity and femininity in all aspects of sex and gender: biological sex, gender identity, and gender expression.
In all societies, some people do not identify with some (or all) of the aspects of gender that are assigned to their biological sex; some of those people are transgender, genderqueer or non-binary. There are some societies that have third gender categories. Core gender identity is usually formed by age three. After age three, it is extremely difficult to change and attempts to reassign it can result in gender dysphoria. Both biological and social factors have been suggested to influence its formation.
There is a pervasive pattern of discrimination and prejudice against transgender people within society. Both economic discrimination and experiencing violence could be the result of a larger social climate that severely sanctions people for not conforming to society’s norms concerning gender; as such, both would be strongly associated with each other. Many sexuality educators and professionals, even those involved in program development and planning, are not aware of the biological and social factors involved in gender identity development in youth.
Gender identity can lead to security issues among individuals that do not fit on a binary scale. In some cases, a person’s gender identity is inconsistent with their biological sex characteristics (genitals and secondary sex characteristics), resulting in individuals dressing and/or behaving in a way which is perceived by others as outside cultural gender norms. These gender expressions may be described as gender variant, transgender, or genderqueer (there is an emerging vocabulary for those who defy traditional gender identity), and people who have such expressions may experience gender dysphoria (traditionally called Gender Identity Disorder or GID). Transgender individuals are greatly affected by language and gender pronouns before, during, and after their transition.
In recent decades it has become possible to reassign sex surgically. Some people who experience gender dysphoria seek such medical intervention to have their physiological sex match their gender identity; others retain the genitalia they were born with (see transsexual for some of the possible reasons) but adopt a gender role that is consistent with their gender identity.
On the other hand, there are still a large number of clinicians who believe that there should be interventions for gender nonconforming children. They believe that stereotypical gender-specific toys and games will encourage children to behave in their traditional gender roles. Transsexual self-identified people sometimes wish to undergo physical surgery to refashion their primary sexual characteristics, secondary characteristics, or both, because they feel they will be more comfortable with different genitalia. This may involve removal of the penis, testicles or breasts, or the fashioning of a penis, vagina or breasts. In the past, sex reassignment surgery has been performed on infants who are born with ambiguous genitalia.
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