What is Gender Identity?

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Gender Identity mask
Gender Identity mask

Gender is not what is between our legs, that’s our physical sex. It is something that is in our mind & hard wired into the sense of being ourselves. Gender identity is more of a psycho-sociological identity of an individual. Gender identity is one’s experience of being himself/ herself.  It is how you cognize yourself as and want the society to recognize and accept you as.  It is the character or personality which the person wants to present to the society he/she lives in. The individual wants to build his/her social affiliations based on it. Gender Identity is a variance of innate human behavior that influences and conditions his/ her social interactions.

To simplify this let us take an example of another human trait that has few variations in the human population. Most people in this world have a dominant hand. For a majority of the population, it is their right hand. while a certain percentage of the population feel their left hand is naturally dominant.  For another group of people, their left hand is more dominant for everything except writing.  and for yet another group of people both their hands are equally capable of doing everything, hence no hand is dominant over the other. A lot of research is going on this subject by some of the world’s renowned scientists. Though there is basic idea of the entire variance phenomenon, adequate research is still required to understand the complete brain mechanism that does this. Till then, the Human hand dominance is a variance of innate human behavior.

Gender Identity Development

The core gender identity of a person is built by the age of two or three. It is something that a child recognizes even before he learns to speak human language. Scientists are learning how and when the concept of gender identity is formed in a child’s brain. But for the obvious reason, children do not speak any language at that age, learning gender identity development in toddlers is a challenging task.

Picture of two young children in bed
Gender Identity develops at early childhood

Gender development is a complex process. Several factors contribute to Gender Identity development of a child. Many scientists have studied the role of different social & environmental factors in the child’s family versus the innate biological factors in gender development. This is known as ‘Nature versus Nurture’ debate.  Socio-environmental factors may be depictions of gender roles in the family, dominant figures in the family and in child’s life, language etc. Innate biological factors that influence gender differentiation are hormonal level in the mother’s womb before the child’s birth, post-birth hormonal levels in the child, the genetic structure, development of certain areas of the brain before or after childbirth.

Dr. Money’s Gender Identity Experiments

One famous illustration of ‘Nature versus Nurture’ debate is David Reimer’s case.  David Reimer and his twin brother Brain Reimer were identical twins. Due to a circumcision gone wrong, David lost his entire male genitalia when he was 7 months old. Since during that time Dr. John Money from John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore was a reputed pioneer in the field of Sexual development and Gender identity, Reimers took David to Dr. Money. Dr. Money, a strong supporter of Gender neutrality at birth theory, believed that gender identity fundamentally developed due to social learning and culture observed during childhood and can be altered with relevant behavioral, psychiatric and medical interference.

When David was 22 months old, Dr. Money pursued Reimers through David’s Orchiectomy (surgical removal of testes).  Money suggested them to raise David as girl child without letting him know that he was born male. David was renamed as Brenda and brought up as a girl child, wore girly clothes and played with girlish toys. Dr. Money visited the family often. He tried to train Brenda to acquire feminine characteristics. Dr. Money would often force feminine characters on Brenda and document her life as his success.

Girly toys and cloths

For Dr. Money, this was a perfect test case to prove his theory of gender neutrality at birth for two important facts.

  1. Since David’s Identical Twin Brother Brain shared same genes, same family environment & same intrauterine environment (exposures to hormones in the womb), Brenda’s brother brain became the Perfect Test Control for the experimental comparison.
  2. David did not have any defect or abnormalities in his genitalia at birth.  And David was too young for any social gender differentiation to have already happened.

For many Years Dr. Money presented David’s case as a successful case of female gender development in a healthy male infant. And based on Dr. Money’s success story, several doctors repeated the procedure on many other infants.

But in reality, Brenda was deeply disturbed. Neither the colorful girly dresses or toys nor the Female Hormones could make her a girl. At 13 years of age, she came out to her parents saying that she would rather die than live as a girl. After which her parents revealed the true story of her birth and her sex change experiment.  At age 14, after having learned she was born with a male genitalia, Brenda surgically reconstructed a male genitalia.  Brenda assumed male gender identity and started living as David.

Current research findings

More recent studies and theories suggest that the social environment plays a very little role in gender development of an infant. Much of our gender identity is intrinsic. As the society or as a parent, it is essential for us to realize that Gender Identity is not a choice. it never was and never will be. None of us can imagine being the other gender than what we recognize with.  To sum up, I would remind us all of a fact which we all know yet we forget–
“Gender is not what is between our legs, that’s our physical sex. Gender is something that in our brain, our mind and is hard wired into the sense of being our self.”

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