Gender Identity

Gender identity refers to a person's private sense of, and subjective experience of, their own gender. This is generally described as one's private sense of being a man or a woman, consisting primarily of the acceptance of membership into a category of people: male or female. All societies have a set of gender categories that can serve as the basis of the formation of a 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. In all societies, however, some individuals do not identify with some (or all) of the aspects of gender that are assigned to their biological sex.

In most Western societies, there exists a gender binary, a social dichotomy that enforces conformance to (and often refuses to acknowledge anything outside of) the ideals of masculinity and femininity in all aspects of gender and sex - gender identity, gender expression and biological sex. Some societies have so-called third gender categories that can be used as a basis for a gender identity by people who are uncomfortable with the gender that is usually associated with their sex; in other societies, membership of any of the gender categories is open to people regardless of their sex.

While many may think gender identity and confusion forms when a child is going through puberty, gender identity in children begins to form around the age of three. Gender identity is affected by influence of others, social interactions, and a child’s own personal interest. Understanding gender can be broken down into four parts: (1) understanding the concept of gender, (2) learning gender role standards and stereotypes, (3) identifying with parents, and (4) forming gender preference (Newman 243). A three year old can identify themselves as a boy or a girl, though they do not yet know gender is permanent.

Gender identity is formed as children search for social cues and display approval for others based upon the gender with which the child identifies, though gender identity is very fluid among young children. Studies suggest that children develop gender identity in three distinct stages: as toddlers and preschoolers, they learn about defined characteristics, which are socialized aspects of gender; the second stage is consolidation, in which identity becomes rigid, around the ages of 5-7 years; after this "peak of rigidity," fluidity returns and socially defined gender roles relax somewhat.

Although the term "gender identity" was originally a medical term used to explain sex reassignment surgery to the public, it is most often found in psychology today, often as core gender identity. Basic gender identity is usually formed by age three and is extremely difficult to change after that. Although the formation of gender identity is not completely understood, many factors have been suggested as influencing its development. Biological factors that may influence gender identity include pre- and post-natal hormone levels and genetic makeup. Social factors which may influence gender identity include ideas regarding gender roles conveyed by family, authority figures, mass media, and other influential people in a child's life. Child are often shaped and and molded by the people surrounding them by trying to imitate and follow. One's gender identity is also influenced by the social learning theory, which assumes that children develop their gender identity through observing and imitating gender-linked behaviors, and then being rewarded or punished for behaving that way. In some cases, a person's gender identity may be inconsistent with their biological sex characteristics, resulting in individuals dressing and/or behaving in a way which is perceived by others as being outside cultural gender norms; these gender expressions may be described as gender variant or transgender.

Since the development of gender identity is influenced by so many factors, it is understandable that there are disorders and conditions associated with it as well. One of the major disorders is gender identity disorder (GID). Gender identity disorder is defined by strong, persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender and discomfort with one's own assigned sex. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (302.85) has five criteria that must be met before a diagnosis of gender identity disorder can be made. "In gender identity disorder, there is discordance between the natal sex of one's external genitalia and the brain coding of one's gender as masculine or feminine." Interestingly, gender identity disorder is also made up of more specific disorders, each of which focuses on the disorder in people of certain age groups. For example, gender identity disorder in children is specific to children who experience gender dysphoria.

Read more about Gender Identity:  Gender Identity—below The Surface, Gender Identity and Sex

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