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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.
The term "gender identity" was originally a medical term used to explain sex reassignment surgery to the public, but is also found in psychology, 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 gene regulation. Social factors which may influence gender identity include gender messages conveyed by family, mass media, and other institutions. Though at least one of these factors have been shown to directly and largely effect an individual's gender identity. 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.
With the development of gender identity being influenced by so many factors, there can also be many problems associated with gender identity 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."
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Many people consider themselves to be cisgender, that is, belonging to either the man or woman gender corresponding to their assigned sex of male or female. Before the 20th century a person's sex would be determined entirely by the appearance of the genitalia, but as chromosomes and genes came to be understood, these were then used to help determine sex. Those defined as women, by sex, have genitalia that is considered female as well as two X chromosomes; those viewed as men, by sex, are seen as having male genitalia, one X and one Y chromosome. However, some individuals have a combination of these chromosomes, hormones, and genitalia that do not follow the traditional definitions of "men" and "women". In addition, genitalia vary greatly or individuals may have more than one type of genitalia. Also, other bodily attributes related to a person's sex (body shape, facial hair, high or deep voice, etc.) may or may not coincide with the social category, as woman or man. A survey of the research literature from 1955–2000 suggests that as many as one in every hundred individuals may have some intersex characteristic. Intersex phenomena are not unique to humans. In a number of species, even more striking examples exist, for instance the bilateral gynandromorphic zebra finch (half-male, half-female body along its symmetry plane).
Transsexual self-identified people sometimes wish to undergo physical surgery to refashion their primary sexual characteristics, secondary characteristics, or both. This may involve removal of penis, testicles or breasts, or the fashioning of a penis, vagina or breasts. Historically, such surgery has been performed on infants who are born with ambiguous genitalia. However, current medical opinion is broadly against genital assignment, shaped to a significant extent by the mature feedback of adults who regret these decisions being made on their behalf at their birth.Sex reassignment surgery elected by adults is also subject to several kinds of debate. One discussion involves the legal sex-gender status of transgender people, for marriage, retirement and insurance purposes, for example. Another involves whether such surgery is ethically sound.
The most easily understood case in which it becomes necessary to distinguish between sex and gender is that in which the external genitalia are removed—when such a thing happens through an accident or through deliberate intent, the libido and the ability to express oneself in sexual activity are changed, but the individual's gender identity may or may not change. One such case is that of David Reimer, reported in As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto. It details the persistence of a male gender identity and the stubborn adherence to a male gender role of a person whose penis had been totally destroyed shortly after birth as the result of a botched male circumcision, and who had subsequently been surgically reassigned by constructing female genitalia. In other cases, a person's gender identity may contrast sharply with that assigned to them according to their genitalia, and/or a person's gendered appearance as a woman or man (or an androgynous person, etc.) in public may not coincide with their physical sex. So the term "gender identity" is broader than the sex of the individual, as determined by examination of the external genitalia, but also includes the sex or gender one identifies with mentally.
In 1905, Sigmund Freud presented his theory of psychosexual development in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Freud gave evidence to the fact that in the pregenital phase children do not distinguish between genders or sexes: they assume both parents have the same genitalia and the same reproductive powers. On this basis, he inferred that bisexuality is the original sexual orientation, and that heterosexuality is resultant of repression during the phallic stage, at which point gender identity is ascertainable. According to Freud, during this stage, children develop an Oedipus complex where they have sexual fantasies for the parent ascribed the opposite gender and hatred for the parent ascribed the same gender. This hatred transforms into (unconscious) transference and (conscious) identification with the hated parent who both exemplifies a model to appease sexual impulses and threatens to castrate the child's power to appease sexual impulses. In 1913, Carl Jung proposed the Electra complex as he both believed that bisexuality did not lie at the origin of psychic life, and that Freud did not give adequate description to the female child. This proposal, however, was rejected by Freud.
During the 1950s and '60s, psychologists began studying gender development in young children, partially in an effort to understand the origins of homosexuality (which was viewed as a mental disorder at the time). In 1958, the Gender Identity Research Project was established at the UCLA Medical Center for the study of intersexuals and transsexuals. Psychoanalyst Robert Stoller generalized many of the findings of the project in his book Sex and Gender: On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity (1968). He is also credited with introducing the term gender identity to the International Psychoanalytic Congress in Stockholm, Sweden in 1963. Behavioral psychologist John Money was also instrumental in the development of early theories of gender identity. His work at Johns Hopkins Medical School's Gender Identity Clinic (established in 1965) popularized an interactionist theory of gender identity, suggesting that, up to a certain age, gender identity is relatively fluid and subject to constant negotiation. His book Man and Woman, Boy and Girl (1972) became widely used as a college textbook, although many of Money's ideas have since been challenged. In the late 1980s, Judith Butler began lecturing regularly on the topic of gender identity and, in 1990, published her seminal work Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, which imported significant contributions from philosophy after the late 1950s and led to a radical critique of the inadequacies in feminism. Butler's central thesis argues that gender identity does not oppose sexual biology but, on the contrary, performs the possibility of something otherwise than male or female. Gender Trouble is often regarded as the most groundbreaking work on feminist theory and gender studies.
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The notion of gender identity appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in its third edition, DSM-III (1980), in the form of two psychiatric diagnoses of gender dysphoria: gender identity disorder of childhood (GIDC), and transsexualism (for adolescents and adults). The 1987 revision of the manual, the DSM-III-R added a third diagnosis: gender identity disorder of adolescence and adulthood, nontranssexual type. This latter diagnosis was removed in the subsequent revision, DSM-IV (1994), which also collapsed the GIDC and transsexualism in a new diagnosis of gender identity disorder.
The Yogyakarta Principles, which is a document on application of international human rights law, provides definition on gender identity. In the preamble, "gender identity" is understood to refer to each person's deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the person's sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other experience of gender, including dress, speech and mannerism. Further, in Principle 3, that each person's self-defined gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and Freedom. These Principles influenced the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity.
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When the gender identity of a person makes them one gender, but their genitals suggest a different sex, they will likely experience what is called gender dysphoria. Some people do not believe that their gender identity corresponds to their assigned at birth sex, including transsexual people, transgender people, and many intersexed individuals. Consequently, complications arise when society insists that an individual adopt a manner of social expression (gender role) which is based on sex, that the individual feels is inconsistent with that person's gender identity. Complications can also arise with the stereotyping, or gender typing of behavior for individuals for behavior related to a specific sex, when they identify as a different gender. This dissonance can lead to gender identity disorder.
One reason for such discordances in intersexed people is that some individuals have a chromosomal sex that has not been expressed in the external genitalia because of hormonal or due to other abnormal conditions during critical periods in gestation. Such a person may appear to others to be of one sex, but may recognize himself or herself as belonging to the other sex. The causes of transgenderism are less clear; it has been subject of much speculation, but no psychological theory has ever been proven to apply to even a significant minority of transgender individuals, and theories that assume a sex difference in the brain are relatively new and difficult to prove, because at the moment they require a destructive analysis of inner brain structures, which are quite small.
In recent decades it has become possible to surgically reassign sex. A person who experiences gender dysphoria may then seek these forms of medical intervention to have their physiological sex match their gender identity. Alternatively, some people who experience gender dysphoria retain the genitalia that they were born with (see transsexual for some of the possible reasons), but adopt a gender role that is consistent with what they perceive as their gender identity.
The extent to which gender identity and gender-specific behavior is determined by socialization versus in-born factors is an ongoing debate in psychology. While gender roles and sex differences are both largely recognized as influential in behavior, it is often difficult to determine the separate impacts of socialization and genetic variables.
One study conducted by Reiner & Gearhart provides some insight into what can happen when genetically male children are sexually reassigned female and raised as girls. In a sample of 14 children born with cloacal exstrophy and reassigned female at birth, follow-up between the ages of 5 to 12 showed that 8 of them identified as boys, and all of the subjects had at least moderately male-typical attitudes and interests. This provides some support for the argument that biological variables have an impact on gender identity and behavior independent of socialization.
Furthermore, evidence suggests that differences in verbal and spatial abilities, memory and aggression are linked to differences in hormone secretions between males and females. One study claims that gender identity may be influenced by “hormonal imprinting” before birth, so that prenatal androgenization for example (exposure to high levels of androgen before birth) may lead to more masculine behavior. Importantly, however, prenatal androgenization has not been found to lead necessarily to male gender identity development. A recent study moves beyond hormones to examine so-called “direct effects” of genes located on the X and Y chromosomes. Mediated by brain functioning, these genes are linked to aggression, impulsivity, play behavior and language skills.
Some studies have tried to establish a link between biological variables and transgender or transsexual identity, but such studies have been limited and their findings largely uncertain. Zhou et al. suggested in 1995 that a sex difference in the central subdivision bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc) may serve as a biological marker for gender identity, as the volume of BSTc is larger in males than in either females or male-to-female (MtF) transsexual women.
Studies of gonads, genitalia, and hormone levels in gender dysphoric persons have not been able to propose any biological explanations for why some persons experience gender dysphoria. One study of the brains of six transsexual male to female individuals have shown a correlation between the size of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc) and gender dysphoria. The BSTc is normally 2.5 times larger in men than in women, but the average among the male-to-female transsexuals was only 52% of the reference non-transsexual males, which lies within the normal female range. Another study of the same group found that the number of somatostatin neurons in male-to-female transsexuals was also closer to the normal female range than to that of males, and one female-to-male transsexual was shown to have a neuron number within the normal male range.
In some Polynesian societies, fa'afafine are considered to be a "third gender" alongside male and female. They are biologically male, but dress and behave in a manner considered typically female. According to Tamasailau Sua'ali'i (see references), fa'afafine in Samoa at least are often physiologically unable to reproduce. Fa'afafine are accepted as a natural gender, and neither looked down upon nor discriminated against. Fa'afafine also reinforce their femininity with the fact that they are only attracted to and receive sexual attention from straight masculine men. They have been and generally still are initially identified in terms of labour preferences, as they perform typically feminine household tasks. The Samoan Prime Minister is patron of the Samoa Fa'afafine Association.
In the culture of the Indian subcontinent, a hijra is usually considered to be neither a man nor a woman. Most are biologically male or intersex, but some are biologically female. The hijra form a third gender, although they do not enjoy the same acceptance and respect as males and females in their cultures. They can run their own households, and their occupations are singing and dancing, working as cooks or servants, sometimes prostitutes (for men), or long-term sexual partners for men. Hijras can be compared to transvestites or drag queens of contemporary western culture.
The xanith form an accepted third gender in Oman, a gender-segregated society. The xanith are male homosexual prostitutes whose dressing is male, featuring pastel colors (rather than white, worn by men), but their mannerisms female. Xanith can mingle with women, and they often do at weddings or other formal events. Xaniths have their own households, performing all tasks (both male and female). However, similarly to men in their society, xaniths can marry women, proving their masculinity by consummating the marriage. Should a divorce or death take place, these men can revert to their status as xaniths at the next wedding.