Gender identity, as any transgender person can attest to, is inherently biological. It is not chosen by the individual or instilled in any way by family or society. It is important to understand the distinction between gender identity and gender expression. Gender is largely a social construct, however, the inherent gender identity of the individual will determine which end of the common bipolar gender spectrum the individual gravitates to as they develop. Gender expression is how we actually display gender. As a transsexual, I can attest personally that for over thirty-five years my gender identity and my gender expression were incongruent.
I believe the family is usually the primary source of our concepts regarding gender expression customs. As small children we learn from our parents and siblings what are acceptable social behavior, dress, and play for boys and girls. The typical gender expression constructs have been well instilled in my own children, primarily from their mother.
Although my two daughters have received this strong influence and know what the expectations are, my oldest daughter shows very strong indicators of gender variance. She dresses like a boy and detests anything pink or girly’. Many girls go through a tomboy’ stage, but most tomboys do not pee standing up. Most tomboys also probably do not claim to have male genitalia that have not grown out yet. Both of my daughters fully know and understand the social constructs of gender expression. My youngest is as girly’ as they get, and she loves it. My oldest is showing at a very young age dissatisfaction with her assigned gender.
From my own experience, my gender identity did not match my assigned gender. A primary difference between my oldest daughter and me is my generation and culture was extremely intolerant in all areas of race, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation and gender expression. The rural south of the 1970’s was not the place for an adolescent transsexual to ‘come out’. While my family was indeed the primary influence regarding acceptable standards and practices of gender expression, my actual gender identity did not match the expectations of the gender assigned at birth.
When I was born, my sex was male. My sex is still male, and no matter what procedures I undergo, I will always be genetically male. My gender has always been incongruent with my sex. While I am genetically and physiologically male, I am psychologically female. It has been this way from my earliest childhood memories. Growing up in an intolerant social environment that did not even discuss gender variance as a possibility is very frightening for a young transsexual. As many transgender people do, I learned to conform for my own survival.
Conformity to a gender expression construct does not, however, imply any affect on the inherent gender identity of the individual. Forcing my oldest daughter to wear dresses is not going to change her gender identity. Prohibiting me from wearing dresses will not change my gender identity either.
If this topic were rephrased to cite gender expression, I would agree the family is the primary influence. I do not agree that the family has any effect on gender identity. In my experience the family is the primary influence on gender expression expectations but has no effect on inherent gender identity.