Demystifying Gender

Everything you wanted to know about sex (and gender) but didn’t know who to ask.

Binary vs Fluid

The concept of gender at a purely physiological level is fairly straightforward – you can either have a penis, a vagina or both (intersex individuals who have gential ambiguity i.e. they are born with both male and female reproductive organs). Simple, right? But throw sexuality into the mix and that’s when things get little more complex.

Gay, straight, bi, asexual, sapiosexual,  are terms being tossed around now more than ever. Leaving the uninitiated lost in this labyrinth of meaning, definitions and political correctness. Cause let’s face it, what you see is more than often, not what you get.

Let us be clear sexuality is fluid, you can like men, women and transsexuals and your preference can change on daily basis.

The ABCDs of LGBTQs..

Mumbai today, has a growing community of individuals who identify themselves as “LGBTQ.” For those who are less with it LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (some identify the ‘Q’ as questioning i.e. they are curious about their gender and sexuality). The term has also been extended to include Intersex in many communities. So what does this mean simply put, it boils down to sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation is who you are attracted to and perhaps may fall in love with. Gender identity is which gender you identify with.

In case you are still a little bit murky on the facts, Transgender is an umbrella term for those individuals who identify with a different gender than that of their biology. So a woman who has breasts and a vagina but identifies herself as a man is a transgender. Transsexual is someone who experiences a mismatch between mind and body, and who often undergo medical procedures to actively change their physiology. These medical procedures include hormone therapy as well as surgery. The surgery is called Gender Reassignment. Lets break down a few other terms while we are at it….

  1. Physically (F) +  Sexually attracted to (F) = Lesbian/Queer

  2. Physically (M) +  Sexually attracted to (M) = Gay/Queer

  3. Physically (F) +  Sexually attracted to (F & M) = Bisexual/Queer

  4. Physically (M) +  Sexually attracted to (F & M) = Bisexual/Queer

Let me be clear, anyone Bisexual or Homosexual by choice can call themselves Queer.

Love, lust and everything in between …

To further complicate matters for those who are unaware, gender reassignment surgery is becoming more and more common, which often leaves people even more confused. I have often been confronted the question.

Q: “What would an individual who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men typically identify as?”

A: They would typically consider themselves a straight woman, but that may not always be the case. If you are speaking to someone who identifies as LGBTQ and you are unsure, the best thing to do is ask (politely). It might be awkward, it might even offend, but at least you would have had the sensitivity to acknowledge your lack of exposure.  

Pop Quiz:

Q: “ When do Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender people first know?”

A:  The truth is sexual orientation and gender identity can be discovered at any point during a person’s lifetime. Some individuals grow up knowing their gender isn’t the right one or they find individuals from their own gender attractive. It is important to know that no incident can “turn” someone homosexual however certain events can be catalysts towards experimentation and sexual exploration and discovery.  

Q: “Aren’t Gay men girly and Lesbian women manly?”

A:  No. Your sexual preference does not dictate your mannerisms and fashion choices. It is unfortunate stereotype that has been constructed.

Jungle love

‘Let’s do it like they do on the discovery channel’, means something different that it once did. Gender and sexuality in the animal kingdom has been a buzzing field of research. Homosexuality is a regular occurrence in the animal kingdom (Bruce Bagemihl, 2001).  From the monogamous penguin to the polygamous bison, homosexuality a.k.a anal penetration and asexuality (the absence of sexual drive) have been documented on a regular basis. So for all those who argue it is natural, you can’t get any more natural than Mother Nature.

Make love not war…

LGBTQI kids are at a higher risk for mental health concerns of which suicide and depression are at the forefront. Whatever your personal beliefs, one should/must acknowledge and accept that there are multiple types of love and sexual urges other than heterosexuality.
Regardless, your gender or sexual orientation does not define your morality or your humanity, but your response to the difference does.

About Tanya Percy Vasunia

BSc in Psychology from the University of York and MSc in Psychoanalytical Developmental Psychology from The Anna Freud Centre, University College London. Tanya currently resides in Mumbai and is working as a full time counsellor at MPower. Tanya is passionate about working with issues pertaining to gender and sexuality, and aims to create a more accepting culture towards diversity.