A Basic Understanding of the Binary System of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Is it a boy or a girl? This is the first question asked about a new baby. The answer has ramifications throughout one’s entire life.
Sex is determined not only by external genitalia, but by reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones. These four factors can appear in any one person in an infinite number of variations. People with ambiguous genitalia or other biological complexities may identify as intersex. Until recently, it was a common medical practice for doctors to respond to intersex babies by simply choosing a sex and making surgical modifications to “resolve” the ambiguity. The parents may or may not have been consulted. As these children developed, they often experienced great emotional trauma, when the sex chosen for them did not align with their own sense of gender identity.
Gender identity is one’s own sense of self. For most people, our sense of our own gender aligns with the category on our birth certificate. This is referred to as cisgender. For transgender people, the self-experienced gender is in some way different from that on the birth certificate. Gender identity can be experienced as a combination of a woman and man or as neither woman nor man. This is known as nonbinary. Some nonbinary people are genderfluid, more male or female at different times,
Gender expression is how we live as a gendered person, including our behaviors, clothing choices, careers, and hobbies. In the gender binary system, gender expression is guided by a complex set of rules of behavior and presentation. These rules can be unspoken or taught specifically, “boys don’t cry,” for example.
So, sex, gender identity and gender expression can be experienced on a continuum, creating a nearly infinite combination of the three.
Our understanding of sexual orientation has also become more complex. Multiple researchers have found that sexual orientation is also on a continuum, with most people more in the middle, rather than only attracted to the same gender or opposite gender.
Because most of us have been so steeped in the binary gender system, these concepts can seem very foreign to us. We may wonder why we are suddenly hearing so much about these issues. As we know more, it has become safer to speak about them, just as it is accepted today to be left-handed, when it was once thought to be a mark of the devil. Still, transgender people are frequently victims of violence. Too often, we hear the stories of people who have been told that God does not love them as they are.
Realistically, it does not matter if you “get” it. It is about treating people with respect and understanding that people have different experiences. This can lead to a world where all of us, not just bisexual and transgender people, are free, to more fully become the “fearfully and wonderfully made” human beings, that God created us to be.
This article is largely based on, Building an Inclusive Church, Appendix Nine, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at
Glendale Library - Tulsa Race Massacre
One hundred years ago this week, mobs of white residents in Tulsa, Oklahoma, many of whom were deputized and given weapons by City officials, attacked black residents and destroyed businesses in the wealthiest Black community in the United States at the time. The event has become known as the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Last week, the Glendale Public Library hosted a discussion with author Hannibal B. Johnson regarding his book "Black Wall Street 100: An American City Grapples With Its Historical Racial Trauma" which examines the history and impact of the Massacre over the last 100 years. The recording is now available for viewing online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHXeTXoagQY&t=242s
We encourage you to watch the author talk to learn more.