ELI5 - Gender

Not strictly about money, but this seems the best choice. Please explain to me like I’m 5 your understanding of how gender should function.

I’m not an asshole*, but I am almost 40 years old. I haven’t lived the transgender revolution the same way I lived the homosexual revolution. I’m too old to have intuitive understanding, but I’m not too old to be educated. So help me out.

To someone standing on the side lines, there appear to be 2 major, but contradictory themes.

  1. Gender is fluid, and strictly a societal construct. In fact, society needs to gtf over it, and discard the concept of gender. The post-gender society will be marvelous because misogyny and toxic masculinity will be dead.

  2. Gender is fundamental, and so deeply ingrained that a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity will destroy the psyche. Those who were born into the wrong body must be ushered into the gender expression as quickly as possible. The society that allows everyone to be the gender they’re supposed to be will be marvelous.

I struggle to understand these contradictions. I fully believe transgenderism (correct word?) exists, and I embrace the increasing acceptance. I’m happy kids are being diagnosed earlier, and allowed androgen blockers and cross-sex hormone therapy. I don’t think being transgender is a mental illness (yeah, yeah, I know. how big of me) but I don’t have the same fundamental understanding of transgenderism that I have for the cultural upheavals that happened during my youth. I’d like to learn.

*I am, actually. Just not about this particular thing.

Okay, I’d love to talk to this. :smiley: I hope other people chime in, too, especially people who are trans or GNB/GNC (non binary/non conforming) and feel comfortable doing so.
I’m only one voice, and I’m not… trans… probably (?! ?!) … But I’m more aware of some stuff than most.
I don’t have adequate time at the moment, but will write more soon.

1 Like

I’m cis, so no lived trans experience. I was Definitely A Tomboy growing up and have a lot of yells about gender (and think about it a lot), so will say some stuff. Am very happy to shut up and sit down.

First, yes, gender is very much a social construct, although one that seems common to pretty much all human cultures and which has at least some relationship to a perceived sex binary.* However, the actual construction of gender – how many roles there are, what is considered typical behavior for each role, etc – varies pretty widely across cultures. Proper behavior for men and women can be completely different based on culture, and some cultures have additional gender roles.

Gender is a gradient (which is what I think you may have meant by fluid?). You can post at various points along the gradient, whether you’re trans or cis – you can be a masculine man, a feminine man, a masculine woman, a feminine woman. There are also people who feel themselves to just not be on that gradient at all (often called “agender”). There’s a section at each end of the gradient that gets boxed as “man” or “woman”, and people typically get pushed to be inside that section of the gradient – they’re pushed to perform their gender “correctly.”

You can have issues with gender and not be non-binary or trans, but rather want to see a deconstruction of gender that allows people to perform behavior that’s considered “other gender.” You can feel like you’re in the right “box” but that it’s too narrow. You need to see the boxes expanded along the gradient.

You can also have issues with gender and feel like you just aren’t in the right box – or like none of the boxes fits at all. Even if the boundaries of the box are enlarged, it’s not enough. You need to be in a different box, at a different part of the gradient.

Gender is indeed fundamental because it’s totally hard-baked into our society. It pervades how we’re socialized, how people see us, how we interact, what our interests are, all of that. We’re utterly bathed in it. If your psyche is constantly rebelling against your socialization, your presentation, your interactions – well, I mean, fuck.

*The fact that sex is also not a binary is another discussion, and one that involves some pretty cool biology.



(those !! were because a post must be 5 characters long)

:smiley: I’m going to approach this conversationally. You experienced a side of America’s changing views on queer-ness/homosexuality/sexuality that I didn’t-- I came into this world a few years after you, and so the shift from simplicity towards complexity was what I grew up in, and what you grew up before.

I think that’s a little bit what’s going on here with gender.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but for a long period of time our understanding was that there were gay people and there were straight people. And now folks have decided that those two words aren’t big enough, and there are lots of people who prefer bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual, demisexual, etc. There are a lot of words!
The crux of the matter is that there are more words. There are not (probably) more feelings. People had all these feelings before, they just only had ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ as explainers. Now they get to use words that are more specific, and allow them to find others who more fully also have their experience to bond and connect with.

Now let’s apply this revolution to gender, because I think it’s basically the same thing. The cultural temperature has shifted away from simplicity (cis man, cis woman or trans man, trans woman) to complex (gender non conforming, male presenting, femme, non-binary, fluid, gender queer, butch presenting trans lady, etc.) The boggle box of words available has opened up!

That said, there IS a disconnect between the 1. and 2. points you outlined above. But I think these are more academic modes of thought than practical. At the end of the day, a person is a person who chooses how they present themselves to the world (as best they can-- sometimes the world sees what it wants to see anyway) and also has an internal view of what their true self is. Sometimes they match up. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people care. Sometimes they don’t. /o/
Like in everything else, there are people who feel very strongly about their gender. I.e. cis women who have always-always felt like women. And trans women who have always-always felt like women. And there are a lot of people who are finally able to be trans who haven’t felt so fully definitive before, but knew they were something Other. That’s the part that I think we should be embracing: that this new ‘fluid’ age (as you put it) allows more people to feel like they have permission to become comfortable in their own skin, even if they don’t fit the binary that the (2.) point indicates.

There’s also a disconnect between how medicalized it is (should it be in the DSM, etc) and how health care works in our country. To de-medicalize it and say being trans isn’t a clinical problem and shouldn’t be treated as such-- it’s just another way to be a healthy person… means that insurance will likely never cover gender confirmation surgeries or procedures or hormone treatments.

:frowning: It’s a problem.

Let me try to round up some posts by trans people that explain perspectives. After all, like @diapasoun , I am a bit outside this issue personally.

Did that make sense?


Recommended reading:
Kate Bronstein’s My Gender Workbook

(obv you don’t have to buy from Amazon, but just to show what it is).

Another rec’d one is: How to Understand Your Gender

ETA: My friend is creating a 300 page graphic novel about gender and is in the process of signing with a publisher. If you wait… a few years??? That will be available too. XD Hopefully.


Ohhhhh so many thoughts and so many questions about where the line is… How many of my thoughts do I get to share.

My biggest thought is that there is absolutely a correlation between gender and money. Historically it was legal to pay men more. Currently, there are still places in the world where it is legal to deny a job to someone who doesn’t conform to gender norms, and it is insanely banally Usual and Normal to illegally deny work or fair wages to people who are not cis gendered.

On top of that , presenting as a gender that is not free with birth is mind bogolingly(Sp?) expensive. My femmey expenses are a drip of water compared to those oceans and if anyone dares compare the price of a tampon and lipstick to gender reassignment I will scold firmly and flag a post.

My final thought is that I personally get gender as a spectrum and can conceive that it is fluid for some people. Sadly mine is fixed, and at a point that I cannot quite reach outwardly. But perhaps everyone feels small things like this? I’m too privileged here to fully know what I don’t know, and hope to continue to grow my knowledge.

If anyone has any concerns about my post, edits, clarification, or wishes to teach me something without public exposure, please feel safe reaching out to me. I only bite with permission


Okay, I’m following along at the primer level. A few major themes:

  1. Gender roles are a cultural construct. The proof of the construct is that assigned gender roles vary across time and across cultures. Beyond child squirting and child bearing, there is nothing in the world that is inherently female, and nothing that is inherently male.

  2. Gender used to be considered binary - people were either male, female, or the rare sport. Lately, western society has discovered the binary is both confining and biologically incorrect. We’ve moved to the idea of a continuum.

  3. On the continuum, most biologically XY people fall along the ‘masculine gender’ side of the continuum, most biologically XX people fall along the ‘feminine gender’ side of the continuum. Non-binary is an umbrella term for multiple sub-groups of people who slide along the continumm, or simply reject it all together.

  4. Even people who are happy with their point on the continuum can display individual activities or traits that are societal pegged elsewhere on the continuum - the dude who crochets, the dudette who earns an infantry badge. There are also people who almost exclusively display activities and traits that are pegged with the other gender, but have the same sex and gender - the butch woman, the effeminate man.

  5. Transgender people also fall along the continuum, but their biological chromosomes don’t match their gender. Each individual chooses if they’d like to socially transition, and how much medical intervention they desire to change their external appearance.

  6. The psychological health of all people will improve as society continues to remove the idea that traits and activities are pegged to any gender.



There has been some really good discussion thus far. I identify as she/her or they/them genderqueer, but generally perceived as a cis woman, but most of my exes are trans* so I’m pretty steeped in the culture. Things have changed a lot even within the community in the past couple years. My friend and one of my fav youtubers on trans* issues is Jackson Bird.

Generally yes this is true, though sometimes there are intersex people (.05% of the population is intersex) where their chromosomes don’t match any socially constructed gender (because there’s way more than 2 sexual chromosomes variations and most traditionally socially constructed genders only have 2 options) - OR they have chromosomes that don’t match their gonads (sometimes external genitalia that looks one way but chromosomes that don’t present that way); so they decide to transition their gender presentation to match how they feel best perceived by society. Or they identify as genderqueer. So sometimes chromosomes do match when people choose to transition. The existence of intersex folks break a lot of the biological “arguments” against the idea that gender s biological and only biological.

Actually, this is a pretty good radiolab episode on this, particularly intersex athletes.


Not even that! I’m not sure if there is a definition used by biologists of “biologically female,” but I doubt “in possession of ovaries and a uterus” is a required part of the definition, if there is. A woman could have one but not both, and surely that would not exclude her from the female sex, but she wouldn’t be able to bear children.

Chromosomes don’t necessarily enter into it. Have you ever come across the acronyms AFAB and AMAB? They stand for “Assigned Female At Birth” and “Assigned Male At Birth.” The way people’s genders are assigned is usually based on the appearance of their genitalia at (or before) birth–whether they seem to have a penis or vagina and/or labia. Parents aren’t usually getting genetic testing to look at their children’s chromosomes! So what happens is someone might be AFAB, but then they learn that they are intersex and their chromosomes don’t match the expected XX, and/or they are trans* and their sense of self doesn’t match the genitalia they have or were believed to have at birth.

And speaking of acronyms, thank you for posting this at a time when I could see it and actually look up ELI5, which is an acronym I’ve been confused about for a while. (If anyone else is wondering, it’s Explain Like I’m Five.)


Mercy, kind lady! We are agreed!

I was trying, perhaps with too much cleverness, to say that on the species level H. sapien reproduces using one small motile gamete (baby squirting) and one after stationary gamete (child bearing). And that even a post-gender society is going to have to continue to grapple with the reproductive part of our species’ sexual dimorphism. I was definitely not trying to imply that only people in full possession of ovaries and a uterus could be biologically female. Though, apparently that’s exactly what I managed. Oh well, language is an imprecise magic.

Duly noted that intersexed people who are assigned gender at birth, socialized in that gender, then need to be the other gender can choose the label trans.


We are indeed agreed! You were just being too clever for me. As usual.

It looks like I’ve passed gender 101. Cool, and thanks. Let’s move on to gender 201. @oro actually introduced the subject by saying:

It’s a spot-on summary. In the beginning there was straight. Then there was gay and straight. Then gay, bisexual, and straight. Then one or two more categories. Then the explosion of many, many, many categories and sub-categories and sub-sub-categories needed to describe exactly what people do or do not feel in their pants. The forward motion of the movement is a continual slivering of sexuality into tighter and tighter groups. And the goal of the slivering is to evolve society to the point where everyone’s pants feel tailor fit, with absolutely no chafing or pinching . And the ultimate goal of all this slivering and tailoring is to reach a place where every single method and mode of expressing non-predatory sexuality is a-okay.

It’s a lofty goal, that will save lives and psyches, but it will eradicate many of the groups we are currently celebrating. Like the moral of the star bellied sneetches - the placement and number of your preferred stars might be an interesting Sunday afternoon discussion, but it certainly won’t be heated or divisive. That conversation won’t be important, because the end goal is to circle back all the way back to the beginning where humans are united into a single theory of sex. If all consensual unions are acceptable, then how unnatural, how freakish, how perverted to create categories based around which particular flesh tubes are, or are not, inserted into what cavities. Urhg!

Obviously that final nirvana hasn’t been achieved yet, but it’s pretty clear that frictionless continuum is the desired final destination. It’s also pretty clear that this generation of sub-sub-categories has no idea that their categorizations are a waypoint, and not the final destination. I certainly didn’t understand this concept back when I was the bright young thing. Then I watched my 3 words - gay, bi, straight - become the semelparous spawning ground for the larval sub- and sub-sub-categories. My culture did not survive the birthing.

I no longer resent the destruction. It’s the circle of life to hand the reigns to the next generation, even when the inheritance is bloody. But the whole evolution has given me perspective on what a true sexual continuum means. In a world of completely free sexual expression there will be same-sex couplings. There will even be people who exclusive prefer same sex encounters. But the homosexual identity will not exist. It’s pretty easy to extrapolate that out to what a truly colorblind society means, or what a truly post-gender society means.

It’s disingenuous to say the contradiction between an unrestricted gender continuum and the transgender identity is merely academic. The years are long, but the change can be sudden. Look at the fall of DADT, or the demise of DOMA. One day you’re walking down the street just fine, and the next some tadpole is tearing out your liver and screaming that being transgender is a sign of the patriarchy. So let’s talk about it now, instead of being surprised later.

1 Like

As someone only à few short and sweet years younger, I largely agree. I’m between patients so I can’t fully articulate.

I think that in each emerging microcosm of society we had very little to care about in terms of gender and sexuality. One of my favourite theories is that marriage and firm gender roles evolved alongside the creation of property. And we can see many societies which did not and do not have the current Western ideas about gender. Including the rightful owners of the land I work on.

I academically see it as a good thing that we are moving beyond narrow definitions of gender and sexuality. I see already kids in urban liberal areas who have no sense of dis-ease exploring this. My aunt who didn’t acknowledge my gay wedding has managed to raise a son who has no question about his acceptance as a pretty witty gay young man.

Children today don’t understand the unity we needed to survive. And the loss of culture is real. Will our grandchildren’s generation watch the death of the last queer in the same way that we watch the passing of world war survivors and vets?

I can’t speak as strongly to what a gender less society would look like. But if we successfully eradicate discrimination on gender and sexual identifications, I wonder what the next battleground will be.

My academic research was a peek into these issues, and I saw how easily identity groups form and strengthen. And how their tribalism supports members and excuses the other

Will edit later


I teach GLBTQ+ youth between the ages of 16-24 and hang out on Tumblr on a pretty regular basis. Because of Tumblr’s demos and because of the specific fandom I’m in, most of my mutuals are in their late teens/early 20’s and most are queer.

I am blown away by how differently Gen Z perceives sexuality compared to when I was their age (early 2000’s which is god help me almost 20 years ago now)… I think we were just starting to push the boundaries with identities like pansexual but only among the most fringe folks, and books like the Gender Rebel Guidebook. I personally identified as a lesbian, then started dating trans* men and found that didn’t feel right anymore since it was discounting their identity, and bisexual (at the time) seemed to imply there were only 2 options, which I knew wasn’t true.

I found “queer” as a label that kinda felt like a nice “eff you” to all the systems and people that had told me my sexuality wasn’t acceptable and had beat me up while calling me queer on the school bus or at recess growing up. It felt… radical… to say I was “queer” as an angry GLBTQ+ teenager who lived in a conservative place.

But nowadays, queer is the school-approved umbrella term for a whole alphabet soup of identities in many places. I think it still fits me better than anything else, probably because it’s the vaguest and honestly who tf knows what my sexuality is besides girls are very very pretty and soft.

I think something I see a lot more in Gen Z is a willingness to accept that sexuality can be fluid within an individual as well. It can be okay identify as an aromantic ace, and then later change your mind and feel like you’re demi or pan, and it doesn’t invalidate your experience as ace at that time.

In my experience, there used to be a lot more pressure, in my generation, to “pick one and stick with it” and to “come out”. (Especially towards people like me that are pretty fuzzy around the edges with their sexuality, and biphobia is so rampant in the lesbian community). Nowadays there is kinda a belief you can exist in the grey area with all of these identities and that’s okay.



It’s fascinating to me as a GenXer listening to my kids and my former partners’ younger (HS age) kids compared to people even ten years older. Such a different world view!

I don’t have anything to add to the bigger conversation, but the concept of fluidity is one that is starting to be examined in healthcare, at least in my workplace. Specifically the ethics of irreversible therapies in patients younger than the age of consent. We allow parents to make these decisions in all other aspects of healthcare, but as discussed this is an area of understanding that has evolved so rapidly it is a very difficult area in which to determine guidelines or even how to evaluate on a per-person basis.


I’m selfishly glad that the umbrella is getting bigger and more nuanced. I’ve had a lot of internal angst over the years, because I’m someone who mostly is attracted to men but who is also very, very intensely attracted to some women. Between general societal disapproval making me scared (I grew up in a rural area and didn’t know anyone who was out until college) and the feeling that I wasn’t queer enough to claim a label, I’ve never felt part of the queer community, despite some very intense relationships with women. With societal changes re how sexuality and gender are approached, I’ve finally felt comfortable being at all honest about my full sexuality, even if I still don’t feel parry of that community. It’s freeing. And I know there are other folks out there with that feeling, and it makes me happy to see people publicly growing into their own.

All the same - I recognize how much this changes a community, especially one that was so necessary for simple survival for a lot of people. The loss of culture is real, and it’s a reason I still don’t describe myself as queer despite… being queer. I may be bisexual but I’m not part of that culture, and I don’t want to claim a culture that’s not mine. That’s rude at best.

Re: labels: I’m not sure that they’ll ever really go away, if only because they’re used to describe such important parts of our experiences. That moment when you discover the word that describes something about you is powerful, and I don’t think that’ll go away soon - just become easier and more de rigeuer.

^This is super splintered. I will come back and edit/add if I gather more words better.


Three years ago I was struggling with the decision to put my bigger kid in a catholic school. The education would be much better than anything he could get from public school in the MurderStabbyVille neighbourhood of Hoth, but I’m agnostic and our household’s friends are mostly some awesome kind of queer. At the time (and now) gay or some variation thereof seemed (seems) as likely as straight, for him. I didn’t want him to be squashed or repressed or harmed by the Catholic school.
@PAWG gave me kind and reassuring words and I put him in the school.
Three years later and half the kids in his class purport to be bi, and one kid is trans. His catholic school is a gay wonderland, apparently. My fears were entirely unfounded.
What’s especially cool is that these kids are 95% non-white, from the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. Acceptance of gender and sexual diversity isn’t exactly common in this area. These kids decided to be awesome all on their own.

Kids these days. shakes head and grins


I’m so glad your child’s school is inclusive! I am picturing the new Degrassi but with Catholic school uniforms.


Oh, hi there, are you me?