The Spectrum of Gender

gender_spectrum_about_us_smallWhen I began my research for the writing of “B in the World” in 2009, one of the first organizations I contacted was Gender Spectrum. I can’t tell you how much I learned from these folks over the years. They offer such an enormous amount of information and resources, for families, teachers, and the greater community including an annual conference. Underlying everything is their primary mission to educate and foster a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens.

I’m pleased to say that Pamela Wool, Director of Family Services is currently reading an advance copy of “B in the World” and we are hopeful she will find great ways to utilize the story. “We greatly look forward to seeing it, as there is such a gap in available chapter books for young readers,” Pam told me.

One of the most useful guides Gender Spectrum offers to the greater community, and of particular interest to me as a writer, is their guide to gender language terminology. What follows here is their little cheat-sheet edited down from the Understanding Gender section of their website.

Biological/Anatomical Sex. The physical structure of reproductive organs used to assign sex at birth, determined by chromosomes, hormones, and internal and external genitalia. Given the potential variation in all of these, biological sex must be seen as a spectrum or range of possibilities rather than a binary set of two options.

Gender Identity. One’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Individuals are conscious of this between the ages 18 months and 3 years.

Gender Expression. The ways in which people externally communicate their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, haircut, voice, and other forms of presentation. Gender expression should not be viewed as an indication of sexual orientation.

Gender Role. The culturally-recognized set of two basic gender roles, activities, expectations and behaviors assigned by our society: masculine and feminine. People who step out of their socially assigned gender roles are sometimes referred to as transgender. Other cultures have three or more gender roles.

Transgender. Sometimes used as an umbrella to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms. More narrowly defined, it refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth gender. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation.

Sexual Orientation. 
Term that refers to being romantically or sexually attracted to people of a specific gender, separate and distinct from gender identity. Although a child may not yet be aware of their sexual orientation, they usually have a strong sense of their gender identity.

Gender Normative/Cisgender. People whose sex assignment at birth corresponds to their gender identity and expression.

Gender Nonconforming. Someone who steps outside the strict gender roles our society recognizes (masculine and feminine) either in their appearance, activities, expectations or behaviors.

Gender Fluidity. A term used to convey a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, with interests and behaviors that may even change from day to day. Gender fluid children do not feel confined by restrictive boundaries of stereotypical expectations of girls or boys. In other words, a child may feel they are a girl some days and a boy on others, or possibly feel that neither term describes them accurately.

In two weeks, Gender Spectrum will be hosting their first ever east coast conference Gender Conference East, an opportunity for parents, caregivers, teens, children, and the professionals that support them to come together to discuss the concepts of gender identity and expression.

Here’s a sampling of just some of the session topics for both families and professionals.

  • Collaborating with Schools to Meet a Child’s Gender Needs
  • Parenting the Non-Binary Child
  • I’m Here Too! Supporting Siblings of Gender-Expansive Youth
  • Exploring Intersections of Gender: Race, Class, Region and Religion
  • Gender Descriptions and Life Experiences of Gender Expansive Youth
  • Creating Affirming Groups for Children, Youth and Families
  • Creating Gender Inclusive Schools

Gender Spectrum was founded by Stephanie Brill, who is also the current Chair of the Board of Directors. Brill is a speaker and trainer on issues of the developmental stages of gender identity and expression in children for medical grand rounds, city and county health departments, early childhood specialists, health care professionals, mental health care specialists, and many other social service organizations as well as the co-author of The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals.

For more information, visit:

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