Factors Used by Individuals to Determine Their Own Genders

Preface

I conducted this research in 2015 as an undergraduate student in a sociology program. I had come out as agender the year prior. After several years of thinking carefully about how other people feel and experience gender, I had come to the conclusion that I must not have any gender to feel, but I was still curious about what exactly people with genders were feeling.

“How do you know your own gender?” is an unusual question but one that I know from my own experience is worth asking. In my survey, I tried to break down the feeling of a gender into more specific potential feelings of gender, while still respecting that feelings of gender might not be fully explainable.

In addition to contributing to our collective knowledge of gender, the survey responses made me feel more confident in my own agender identity. Most of the write-in responses by people with genders were unrelatable to me, while some agender responses felt more familiar.  My own identity and experiences are woven into this paper because I believe that no research is truly objective and that one’s own positionality can be a valuable source of insight.

I received my B.A. and do not plan to continue my academic education in gender studies or continue this research in any institutional capacity, but I still believe my findings and methodology as a trans researcher can be important contributions to our body of knowledge. I thought about trying to get published through an undergraduate research journal to make this paper more “legitimate” and citable, but that’s a long, arduous process, and frankly I’d rather spend my limited time on my artistic writing. I hope that academics will still be able to find and learn from this paper, but it’s most important to me that the broader trans community can access it. On that note, the paper is written in academic language that may be difficult or inaccessible to people without a formal educational background in research or gender studies, but I want everyone to be able to understand it. Please contact me at kaylarosenzines@gmail.com if you have questions about the language or anything else.

One more thing about language: In the survey and throughout this paper, I used the term “gender identity,” a term that is controversial within the trans community. Cisgender (non-trans) people often use the phrase “gender identity” in ways that imply trans people’s genders are just “identities,” while cis people’s genders are somehow more real. I chose to use “gender identities” for the sake of including people like me, who may have identities in relation to gender that are not, themselves, genders. If I were to do this over, I would likely phrase things in terms of “gender” rather than “gender identity,” as that choice seems less harmful for the majority of trans people. However, I have preserved the language of “gender identity” in my paper because that is how the questions were phrased to participants and therefore what the findings address.

Thank you for reading.
Sincerely,
Kayla Rosen (they/them)

Introduction

Gender shapes all aspects of social life, from oppression and resistance to how people casually refer to strangers. Often the processes of gender identification, expression, and regulation are taken for granted, simplified, or examined only in relation to people whose identities are considered pathological. Individuals are assumed to know their own genders, and this knowledge is assumed to be so straightforward and obvious that we need not even examine how people know their own genders. I challenge this assumption and instead assert that self-identification is vital to any discussion about gender.

Understanding how individuals know their own genders is a necessary part of understanding self-identification. Additionally, if transgender people’s ways of knowing their own genders differ from the commonly assumed ways of knowing, transgender people’s identities will be poorly understood and transgender people will lack prevalent narratives by which to understand themselves.

My research examines how cisgender and transgender people know their own gender identities, using a survey and ethnographic observation. For the purposes of this paper, “cisgender” refers to those whose gender identities are identical to the genders they were assigned at birth, and “transgender” refers to those whose gender identities differ from the genders they were assigned at birth, although individuals’ self-identification may differ and “transgender” is sometimes used as a broader umbrella term.

Research Questions

  • How do people know their own gender identities?
  • Do cis and trans people know their gender identities based on the same factors?
  • If cis and trans people’s ways of knowing their gender identities differ, which ways of knowing are most significant to each group?

Literature Review

While there is some research about how transgender people form identities as transgender, there is little about how they know which particular gender(s) they are. Previous studies of (trans)gender identity formation have found that identity formation is mediated through language, interpersonal interaction, and media provisions of information and role models. Researchers disagree about to what extent gender identity is stable or fluid in individuals, but overall there is agreement that gender is an ongoing process.

Language provides ways for trans people to identify themselves and their experiences, and to connect with others like them. Language can also be a constraint when existing labels and accepted (trans)gender narratives feel inadequate for self-description. In Heidi Levitt and Maria Ippolito’s 2014 study, learning the word “transgender” was essential for 10 of 17 self-identified transgender interviewees, but terms’ political histories could also create unwanted expectations. Seven participants described adjusting their self-identification according to the different meanings of labels in different contexts (1472). Patricia Gagne et al. (1997) position finding names for one’s feelings as one of three factors in the process of coming out to oneself as transgender (489). Later, when an individual seeks validation in their identity, using familiar narratives helps create an appearance of authenticity. Even when people create new identities, these are articulated relative what is already understood (490). Anna Corwin (2009) analyzes how people outside the male/female gender binary use language to construct identities, and her findings support Gagne’s assertion that new identities draw on existing cultural constructs. Her subjects refer to dominant readings of their genders and their bodies to establish reference points to which they can articulate counternarratives. Rhonda Factor and Esther Rothblum (2008) studied 166 transgender adults and found 35 gender identity labels (239). They also refer to the diversity in their subjects’ experiences as evidence of the need to be clear about gender-related terminology in trans-related research (249). Even the meaning of “transgender” itself is contested. Most transgender activists consider it an umbrella term, but there is no consensus about what range of identities it includes. Different definitions of the term correspond to different political and cultural goals (Davidson, 2007, 61).

Scholars of (trans)gender identity broadly agree that relationships with and comparisons to others are an essential part of identity formation and maintenance. Identity comparisons, first to various gender identities, then to transsexual and/or transgender identity, comprise two stages of Aaron Devor’s (2004) 14-stage model of transgender identity development, and other stages involve a variety of interpersonal processes, such as learning how to perform one’s newly accepted gender identity in an acceptable way and coming out to others (43). Devor’s article revolves around the idea that people seek approval from 1) those who are like themselves and have insider understanding of their identity group, and 2) those who identify differently and who are therefore perceived as impartial (46). Gagne et al. (1997) go so far as to assert that alternative genders can be achieved only through positive interaction with others (486). In their findings, discovering others who share one’s experiences is another of the three factors in coming out to oneself (489). This includes finding role models who can symbolize gender possibilities, although there is a lack of nonbinary role models to be found (493). Some of the activists Davidson (2007) interviews describe identifying their gender differently depending on the context, including whether they are addressing trans or cis people and whether they are speaking in an activist capacity (63). Activists’ definitions of “transgender” as a category were closely connected to their self-positioning relative to the category (62). Shelley Craig and Lauren McInroy found that after learning about LGBTQ identities online, LGBTQ youth explored their identities further by accessing video- and text-based blogs by people with similar experiences (102).

Data & Methods

My research consisted of an online survey and ethnographic observation. It examined the phenomena of gender self-identification, self-expression, and regulation with a mostly cross-sectional approach.

Survey

The survey was conducted through Google Forms. The survey (see Appendix A for full instrument) asked participants:

  • their gender identities (text box entry)
  • whether their gender identities were identical to or different from their genders assigned at birth
  • to rate their agreement that they know their gender identities based on each of several  factors, on a five-point scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”
  • to explain if there were any factors other than those included based on which they knew their gender identities
  • to rate their agreement that they think about their gender identities often, on a five-point scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”
  • to rate their agreement that they were certain of their gender identities, on a five-point scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”
  • whether this survey is or is not their first time thinking about how they know their gender identities
  • their sexual/romantic orientations (text box entry)
  • to explain if anything about the survey captured anything about their gender identities inaccurately or inadequately, or made them uncomfortable (text box entry)

My target audience was a mix of cis and trans people of a variety of gender identities, both within the man/woman gender binary and outside of it. All survey items required responses except “If you know your gender based on factors other than those listed above, please explain:” and “Is there anything about the design of this survey that made you uncomfortable? Anything about your gender identity that the previous questions capture inaccurately or inadequately? Please explain:.” Participants were recruited using posts on my personal Facebook page, on my personal Tumblr blog, and in a Facebook group for bi Tumblr bloggers. I received 459 responses, 444 of which I used in my analysis. The other 15 were removed from the analysis because the respondents were questioning their gender identities in ways that made it impossible to determine whether they were cis or trans and because one obviously did not take the survey seriously (“I can proudly say that I self-identify as a KFC bucket of ORIGINAL RECIPE® Drumsticks.”).

In my analysis of the survey results, cis or trans status was determined according to whether the participant reported that their gender was identical to their gender assigned at birth or different from it, with “identical” mapping to cis and “different” mapping to trans. This method of categorizing simplifies analysis but does not necessarily match individuals’ self-identification as cisgender, transgender, or otherwise.

Ethnographic Observation

To better understand how some people think about their own genders and how they define the words they use to discuss gender, I made ethnographic observations at two events where I expected gender to be discussed explicitly, and in three of my classes when classmates volunteered illuminating perspectives on gender identity. The events were both held in February 2015 on the UW campus, and I took my class observations in classes during the winter and spring quarters of 2015. I used open coding to identify themes in the observations.

Findings and analysis

Of the 444 respondents included in the survey analysis, 210 were cis and 234 were trans. It is difficult to determine how many respondents of each gender identity there were because many individuals indicated multiple gender identities and because identity labels’ meanings often overlap but usage varies from person to person. The survey captured a very broad range of genders, including women, men, and more than 30 nonbinary identities (e.g., genderfluid, agender, aporagender). Overall, the most important factors to respondents’ knowledge of their gender identities were feelings when gendered by others in particular ways, a sense of sameness with or difference from others with certain gender identities, and a sense of alignment with stereotypes of a gender.

My ethnographic observations demonstrate some of the harmful ways cisgender people often interact with trans people’s gender identities. As I was taking ethnographic observations of people’s understandings of gender, two of my classes were explicitly about gender. I was out as agender to my classmates in those classes and closeted in a third class. In each of my classes, some of my cisgender classmates volunteered their understandings of their own genders and others’ genders. Sometimes this resulted from difficulty understanding my gender identity and my personal pronouns (they/them/theirs); sometimes it was a response to hearing about my research. These interactions exposed perspectives of cisgender people who had less education about gender issues than many of my cisgender survey respondents.

Survey Findings

research paper cover image

Graph 1 shows that, overall, a sense of sameness with or difference from others with certain gender identities (59%) and feelings when gendered by others (68%) were the factors most frequently meaningful to individuals in determining their own gender identities. These factors were also similarly important to cis and trans people, with 63% of cis people and 56% of trans people agreeing that a sense of sameness or difference was important and 63% of cis people and 72% of trans people agreeing that their feelings when gendered by others were important. A desire to have sex characteristics usually associated with a different gender was a less important factor in knowledge of gender identity overall, with 19% of respondents agreeing that it was important. Surprisingly, this factor was meaningful to a slightly greater proportion of cis people (20%) than trans people (18%). The remaining factors — current sex characteristics, alignment with the gender others assumed one was in youth, alignment with stereotypes of a particular gender, and attraction to people of certain gender(s) — varied greatly in their importance to cis and trans respondents.

Table 1: Percentages of cis and trans respondents by strength of (dis)agreement that they knew their gender identities based on three factors

Response bracket Cis respondents Trans respondents
Current sex characteristics Strongly disagree to neutral 55.3 97.4
Slightly or strongly agree 44.8 2.6
Alignment with gendered upbringing Strongly disagree to neutral 53.3 96.2
Slightly or strongly agree 46.7 3.9
Alignment with stereotypes Strongly disagree to neutral 53.4 82.5
Slightly or strongly agree 46.6 17.5

Table 1 summarizes responses to Likert items about statements with which at least 40% of cis respondents agreed, and with which a much smaller percentage of trans respondents agreed. Cis respondents were 2.7 times more likely than trans respondents to agree that they knew their gender identities based on a sense of alignment with stereotypes of a certain gender. The differences between cis people’s and trans people’s responses were even more pronounced for the Likert items about alignment with gendered upbringing and current sex characteristics: cis respondents were 12 times more likely than trans respondents to agree that they knew their gender identities because they were the gender people assumed they were when they were growing up, and 17.2 times more likely to agree that they knew their gender identities based on their current sex characteristics. In the following graphs, I present the responses to these items in more detail.

Graph 2.png

Graph 2 shows that trans people (91%) were much more likely than cis people (33%) to slightly or strongly disagree that they know their gender identity because of their current sex characteristics. Cis people (45%) were much more likely than trans people (3%) to slightly or strongly agree that they know their gender identity based on their current sex characteristics.

Another factor in some people’s gender identity knowledge was a desire to have sex characteristics that people generally associate with a gender other than the individual’s birth-assigned gender.

graph 3

Based on stereotypes and the differing importance of current sex characteristics to cis and trans people in knowing their gender identities, one might expect that cis and trans people would have very different responses to “I know my gender identity because I have a desire to have (physical) sex characteristics usually associated with a gender other than my birth assignment.” However, Graph 3 shows that 20% of cis respondents slightly or strongly agreed with the statement, compared to 18% of trans respondents. This may have been because they misunderstood the question or because of a mismatch between my categorization of them and how they think of themselves. Furthermore, 51% of trans respondents slightly or strongly disagreed that they knew their gender identity based on a desire to have sex characteristics usually associated with a different gender. This runs contrary to popular belief and suggests that many trans people either do not desire to change their sex characteristics or do desire to but see this desire as irrelevant to their knowledge of their gender. These results may also challenge the commonly held belief that while cis people may have some discontent with their bodies, they are unambiguously content with their assigned sexes.

Many respondents knew their gender identities based on gendered interactions they’d had with others throughout their lives.

graph 4

Graph 4 shows that alignment with the way one was gendered while growing up was, as expected, important for far more cis respondents (47%) than trans respondents (4%). Additionally, far more trans respondents (71%) than cis respondents (14%) strongly disagreed that they know their gender because people assumed it when the respondent was growing up. A traditional binary view of gender — and even some views of gender that include nonbinary genders — would likely not predict any trans people identifying as the same gender that people assumed they were when they were growing up, let alone agreeing that such an alignment was part of how they knew their gender identity. Alignment between trans people’s current self-identified genders and genders assigned to them in their youth could exist for people who were very nonconforming to their birth-assigned gender in their youth or for people who identify partially but not completely with their gender assigned at birth. This survey cannot address the former possibility, but the latter possibility is consistent with the identities reported by trans respondents who agreed with the statement (e.g., bigender, demigirl, genderfluid).

graph 5

As previously discussed, alignment with a certain gender’s stereotypical interests, skills, mannerisms, ways of dressing, etc. was the third most common factor in gender identity knowledge overall, with 31% of respondents at least slightly agreeing, tied with alignment with the gender others assumed one was in youth for third most commonly important to cis people (47%), and tied with wanting differently gendered sex characteristics for third most commonly important to trans people (18%). Although it was an important factor overall and to each group, graphs 1 and 5 show that cis and trans people’s responses differed significantly, with cis people tending more toward agreement with the statement and trans people tending more toward disagreement and neutrality. Trans people disagreed much more often (52%) than cis people (27%) that they know their gender identities based on alignment with stereotypes.

Write-in factors in gender identity knowledge

In addition to the factors in gender identity knowledge assessed in the Likert items, many respondents, cis and trans, reported that they “just know” or “just feel” their gender identities. One trans respondent stated:

Also, there was no ‘I know my gender identity because it’s how I feel’. I’m glad there was a text box to explain, but leaving this unstated—the main reason trans people know their gender—is kind of weird. It may seem too subjective, but that’s really the only thing that matters, because everything else that goes with it is merely further confirmation of your gender

although other respondents seemed to find specific factors salient. For this respondent, an intuitive feeling of gender was so powerful that all of the factors assessed in Likert items felt secondary. While many respondents agreed that they “just felt” their gender identities, others described a more complicated process of evaluating their own identities, feelings in specific situations, and social cues. This respondent’s generalization is also incompatible with my own experience: I’ve arrived at an agender identity because the idea of feeling any gender is unimaginable to me.

Other reported factors in knowledge of one’s own gender identity included identifying with or creating fictional characters with a gender that fits one’s sense of self, general apathy about gender, representations of oneself in one’s dreams or internal voice, a process of elimination (according to or going beyond the gender binary), and belief that God created one as a particular gender. Jewish ethnicity was a factor for two respondents who identified with Talmudic genders. Disability was also an important factor for several respondents, with specific mentions of borderline personality disorder, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and “knowing how neurodivergence works.” For the respondent with BPD, a lack of identity in general extended to an absence of strong identity with any gender, resulting in a demigirl/agender identity. The respondents who mentioned autism, OCD, depression, and neurodivergence did not explain much about how their disabilities affect their gender identities. The intersection of disability and gender identity is a rich potential area for further study.
Many respondents used the write-in questions to explain the importance of social factors not included in the survey to their knowledge of their own gender identities. Several people stated the importance to them of learning about gender, trans people in general, or nonbinary people and labels. Participants also explained the complications of a lack of media representation of nonbinary people and the fact that sex characteristics are usually gendered in binary ways, erasing nonbinary genders.

The abundance and variety of write-in responses to the survey demonstrates that people’s feelings about their own gender identities and others’ are much more complex than close-ended survey questions can capture. Respondents eagerly supplemented their answers to close-ended questions with sentences or paragraphs of elaboration and speculation about other people’s identities and about the ideology of the survey. The write-in responses reveal the importance of gender identity in many respondents’ lives and the need for respectful, intersectional mixed-methods research when studying gender.

Ethnographic findings

My ethnographic observations offer more insight into how some people perceive and interact with gender. The three most significant themes that emerged from my observations were 1) self-identification of gender, 2) self-expression of gender, and 3) external regulation of gender.

Gender Self-Identification

The self-identification code occurs seven times in my ethnographic participant observation field notes.

T. quickly jumps in[to the conversation], (nearly?) interrupting me, to say “Ohhhhh, that’s what cis means.” (T. voices nearly every class period that we’re always talking about social justice and oppression and he’s sick of talking about it.) He adds that that’s interesting. Paraphrase: I’ve never thought about that before. I guess—just, I feel like a dude and I’m attracted to women. He says it quickly and in a pretty flat tone, then shrugs. A. says, “me too.” (introduction to interdisciplinary studies class, 3/2/15)

T. tells Professor P. he thinks it’s interesting—he was born a dude, he feels like a dude, and he likes women—he’s never really thought about it until recently—until now. A. agrees again. (introduction to interdisciplinary studies class, 3/2/15)

T. and A. seem to think their gender identities and how they know them are important to assert, as they repeat this information when one person joins the conversation. They equate gender to bodies (“born a dude”), “feel like” dudes, and seem to view sexual/romantic orientation as closely related to their gender identities.

Gender Self Expression

Expression of one’s gender identity or pronouns comes up seven times in my observation, mainly in discussion of coming out and personal pronouns.

Gender expression in my field sites occurred largely through indicating personal pronouns. In two of my classes, we started the quarter by making name tags to go on our desks, featuring our names and pronouns. My classmates, who were consistently gendered correctly, soon stopped displaying their name tags. I felt increasingly conspicuous displaying mine, but continuous reassertion of my pronouns and agender identity was necessary to reduce the frequency of my peers misgendering me. One person at the coalition-building event wore a button on their backpack that said “they/them.” The event leaders invited presenters and group facilitators to share their pronouns as part of their introductions. A few did; most did not.

External Gender Regulation

My “regulation” theme includes both policing and validation of others’ gender identities and expression. Trans people’s genders were mostly invalidated and surveilled, while cis people’s genders were mostly affirmed.

Regulation appears many times as a theme in my field notes, often in others’ reactions to my own gender identity. Personal pronouns are frequently used in conjunction with assigning gender. My pronoun code occurs 18 times throughout my field notes. Most commonly, pronouns are based on assumptions of others’ identities.

I present my archive, which is mainly about my bi identity and experiences but touches on other aspects of my identity where relevant. The text of my archive uses my pronouns [“they” and its conjugations] 22 times. One of the artifacts in my archive is a pin with two of the bathroom-style “woman” icons holding hands. In the text, I say that it raises issues for me as a person who wears dresses but is not a woman. In my presentation, I add aloud that I’m agender, not a woman. I finish my presentation.

I pass M. as I walk from the front of the room back to my desk. As I pass her, she’s whispering to the person next to her, “She did a really good job.” (race, gender, and sexuality class; 3/13/15)

M. does not appear to be intentionally regulating my gender identity, but her assumptions about my pronouns dominate in her mind over my many contrary indications. Conventional ways of assigning gender lead to misgendering even trans people who are very vocal about their identities.

In another class, in which I did a group research project about Ingersoll Gender Center, a local trans-centered organization, my groupmates often relied on their assumptions about trans people’s identities instead of on our assertions of our own identities.

J. says her sister’s friend is becoming male, and his name is C. and he wants to be called “he” now. Before I can interject about “becoming male,” S. asks what his name was before — was it [a name that’s phonetically related to his chosen name]? J. says “her” [C.’s] name was [an unrelated name].

[My three groupmates] all repeatedly refer to C. as “they,” although from what J. has said it seems like C. is unambiguously going by he/him these days. (histories of gender and sexuality class, 4/8/15)

While S. accepted C.’s chosen name, she also treated it as a clue to his given name, which she felt entitled to know. J. participates in the line of inquiry, supplying C.’s given name and switching pronouns to “match” with his assigned gender and name. My groupmates seem to compromise between “he” (C.’s chosen pronoun) and “she” (the pronoun for his assigned gender) to arrive at “they.” Although my groupmates used “they” with ease for someone whose pronoun was “he,” my groupmates struggled and almost always failed to use “they,” my chosen pronoun, when referring to me. Despite my assertions of my gender identity in generous detail, the visibility of my pronouns on my name tag, and repeated corrections by multiple people when they misgendered me, my groupmates persisted in calling me “she” throughout the quarter. One classmate volunteered that it was hard for her because she saw me as “a female.”

Discussion & Conclusion

My survey found that overall, a sense of sameness with or difference from people of particular gender identities and how one feels when gendered by others were the factors most important to respondents’ knowledge of their own gender identities. These factors were important to similar percentages of cis and trans people, although overall the importance of factors varied significantly between cis and trans respondents. A sense of alignment with stereotypes of a certain gender was an important factor for nearly a third of respondents, but it was important twice as often for cis respondents as for trans respondents. Current sex characteristics and alignment with gendered upbringing were each important to nearly half of cis respondents but resonated much less with trans respondents. In the write-in sections, many people wrote about education about gender and identities being important to understanding their gender.

Levitt and Ippolito’s finding that the proximal and distal social environments were important in their participants’ formation of transgender identities aligns with the importance to my participants of factors like alignment with stereotypes and feelings when gendered by others.

Many of my respondents also wrote about the importance to them of “just feeling” or “just knowing” their gender identities. It is possible that this response aligns with Levitt and Ippolito’s finding that for all 17 of their participants, “Identifying in [one’s] preferred gender feels right because it feels authentic.” My survey does not ask about feelings of authenticity and most of the respondents who “just feel” or “just know” do not specify feelings of authenticity, but the sentiment seems similar to the one Levitt and Ippolito found.

My results suggest radical change to the approach Dragowski, Scharron-del Rio, and Sandigorsky suggest, which integrates “nature” and “nurture” perspectives on gender identity development. In my survey results, one’s current sex characteristics are a factor based on which almost half (45%) of cis respondents but only 3% of trans respondents know their gender. Sex characteristics at birth/puberty would likely be even less important to respondents’ identities than their current sex characteristics. “Nature” may be important to cis people’s gender identities, but it is not important for a large proportion of trans people. Furthermore, finger ratios, which Dragowski, Scharron-del Rio, and Sandigorsky cite as a way in which “nature” can fit in a trans model (with trans women, whom they call “transsexual men,” having finger ratios similar to those of cis women, whom they call “biological women”), do not fit very sensibly within a nonbinary understanding of gender. It is unclear what might be a demigirl, agender, genderfluid, etc. ratio between finger lengths in an individual. According to my survey results, “nature” might be better understood as an intrinsic sense of one’s gender rather than any set of biological measures.

My results indicate that dominant practices of gender are failing many trans people. The abundance of gender identities indicated by participants in my research demonstrates the inadequacy for nonbinary people of survey items that ask respondents to select one gender identity from a list. While “select one” gender identity items make it simpler to use gender as a categorical variable, they are also extremely reductive when compared with the dozens of gender identity labels found in my survey. My interactions with my classmates demonstrate the deep entrenchment in our society of cissexist beliefs and practices. Oppression of trans people in institutionalized in law, medicine, education, social norms, and other systems of power. Even well-meaning people do repeated harm by relying on traditional ways of ascribing gender to others, rather than honoring and reflecting others’ self-identification and expression. Understanding the breadth of gender identities that exist and the diversity in how people experience their own gender identities can provide a foundation for building a more respectful society, but doing so will also require a deep and ongoing process of unlearning socialization about gender.

Data Limitations & Areas for Future Research

Although I collected data on respondents’ genders and hypothesize that the importance of various factors in gender identity knowledge varies by gender identity, analyzing by gender identity was beyond the scope of this project. Likewise, although I collected data about participants’ romantic and sexual orientations and suspect that orientation is relevant to the importance of gendered attraction in knowing one’s gender identity, it was beyond the scope of this project to analyze responses to the gendered attraction Likert item according to sexual/romantic orientation. This survey also analyzes participants according to my identification of them as cis or trans and cannot analyze them by their own self-identification as cis, trans, neither, or other. It would be interesting and relevant to further research to ask how participants define “gender,” “cisgender,” “transgender,” and each of the specific labels they use to identify themselves, as the definitions of gender-identity concepts and explanations of relationships between them vary widely, as Factor and Rothblum assert.

Many participants reported confusion about the Likert items on a scale of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” with statements in the form of “I know my gender identity because of [factor].” Some participants may have reported disagreement with statements partially because they disagreed that they knew their gender identities rather than because a given factor was unimportant to whatever knowledge they had of their gender identities. In the future, I think I could get clearer, more accurate results by using a scale of “not at all important” to “extremely important” for each potential factor in gender identity knowledge. “Just knowing” or “just feeling” one’s gender identity is important to many respondents, but because I did not include it as a Likert item, I cannot quantify the percentage of respondents it was important to. I am also interested in whether it is possible to further analyze what it feels like to “just feel” one’s gender, and if so, how people would describe that feeling.

Works Cited

 

Corwin, Anna I. “Language and Gender Variance: Constructing Gender Beyond the Male/Female Binary.” Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality 12 (2009).

Craig, Shelley L., and Lauren Mcinroy. “You Can Form a Part of Yourself Online: The Influence of New Media on Identity Development and Coming Out for LGBTQ Youth.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 18.1 (2014): 95-109.

Davidson, Megan. “Seeking Refuge under the Umbrella: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Organizing within the Category Transgender.” Sexuality Research and Social Policy 4.4 (2007): 60-80.

Devor, Aaron. “Witnessing and Mirroring: A Fourteen Stage Model of Transsexual Identity Formation.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy 8.1-2 (2004): 41-67. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

Dragowski, Eliza A., María Scharrón‐del Rio, and Amy L. Sandigorsky. “Childhood Gender Identity … Disorder? Developmental, Cultural, and Diagnostic Concerns.” Journal of Counseling & Development 89.3 (2011): 360-366.

Factor, Rhonda, and Esther Rothblum. “Exploring Gender Identity and Community Among Three Groups of Transgender Individuals in the United States: MTFs, FTMs, and Genderqueers.” Health Sociology Review 17.3 (2008): 235-53.

Gagne, Patricia, R. Tewksbury, and D. Mcgaughey. “Coming Out and Crossing Over: Identity Formation and Proclamation in a Transgender Community.” Gender & Society 11.4 (1997): 478-508.

Levitt, Heidi M., and Maria R. Ippolito. “Being Transgender: The Experience of Transgender Identity Development.” Journal of Homosexuality (2014): 1727-758. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.

 

Appendix A: Survey Instrument

Gender identity survey

I am a college student conducting this survey for a class, and also out of a long-standing personal interest in gender identity. This survey is anonymous and will probably take less than 5 minutes to complete. Throughout the survey, “your gender identity” refers to your own sense of what gender(s) you are, or your lack of gender. I use this wording not to invalidate anyone’s gender, but to include identities in relation to gender that are not necessarily genders in themselves (for instance, an absence of gender or a movement between genders). This survey asks directly about the influence of various factors on your knowledge of your gender identity and could potentially trigger gender dysphoria.

* Required

Please write your gender identity. Include as many labels as you want. *

some possible answers: woman; genderfluid, neutrois, and female; demigirl/demiboy

Is your answer to question 1 identical to or different from the gender you were assigned at birth? *

Your gender assigned at birth is what’s written on your birth certificate: either male or female. Consider “boy,” “man,” “guy,” and similar gendered nouns identical to “male” for purposes of this question, and “girl,” “woman,” and similar gendered nouns identical to “female.” If there is only partial overlap between your birth assignment and your gender identity, please select “different.”

  •  identical
  •  different

I am certain of my gender identity. *

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

I think about my gender identity often. *

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

I know my gender identity because of my genitals, chromosomes, or other physical traits of my body. *

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

I know my gender identity because I have a desire to have (physical) sex characteristics usually associated with a gender other than my birth assignment *

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

I know my gender identity because it is the gender other people assumed I was when I was growing up *

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

I know my gender identity because I have a sense of alignment with a certain gender’s stereotypical interests, skills, mannerisms, ways of dressing, etc. *

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

I know my gender identity because I have a sense of sameness with people of certain gender identities and/or a sense of difference from people with other gender identities *

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

I know my gender identity because of how I feel when others gender me in certain ways. *

(such as calling me sir or ma’am; calling me gendered nouns such as woman or son; referring to me with certain pronouns)

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

I know my gender identity based on which gender identity or identities I’m attracted to. *

1 2 3 4 5
strongly disagree strongly agree

If you know your gender based on factors other than those listed above, please explain:

Is this your first time thinking about how you know your gender identity? *

  •  yes
  •  no

What is your sexual/romantic orientation? *

Which label(s) do you use to express to whom you may be sexually and/or romantically attracted?

Is there anything about the design of this survey that made you uncomfortable? Anything about your gender identity that the previous questions capture inaccurately or inadequately? Please explain:

 

Appendix B: Data Sheet

For all Likert items:

1 = strongly disagree, 2 = slightly disagree, 3 = neutral, 4 = slightly agree, 5 = strongly agree

All table data comes from analysis of my survey responses.

There were 459 respondents, 444 of whose responses were analyzed.

Counting participants by gender would require intense coding. More than 30 gender identity labels were represented and combined in various ways.


Table 1: Numbers and percentages of participants whose gender identities were identical to, and different from, their genders assigned at birth

# %
identical 210 47.3
different 234 52.7
total 444 100.0

 

Table 2: Responses to “I am certain of my gender identity” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 2 1.0 18 7.7 20 4.5
answered 2 6 2.9 27 11.5 33 7.4
answered 3 22 10.5 60 25.6 82 18.5
answered 4 81 38.6 84 35.9 165 37.2
answered 5 99 47.1 45 19.2 144 32.4
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 3: Responses to “I think about my gender identity often” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 33 15.7 2 0.9 35 7.9
answered 2 71 33.8 16 6.8 87 19.6
answered 3 45 21.4 40 17.1 85 19.1
answered 4 40 19.0 76 32.5 116 26.1
answered 5 21 10.0 100 42.7 121 27.3
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 4: Responses to “I know my gender identity because of my genitals, chromosomes, or other physical traits of my body.” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

  cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 34 16.2 169 72.2 203 45.7
answered 2 35 16.7 45 19.2 80 18.0
answered 3 47 22.4 14 6.0 61 13.7
answered 4 63 30.0 4 1.7 67 15.1
answered 5 31 14.8 2 0.9 33 7.4
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 5: Responses to “I know my gender identity because I have a desire to have (physical) sex characteristics usually associated with a gender other than my birth assignment” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 110 52.4 62 26.5 172 38.7
answered 2 35 16.7 58 24.8 93 20.9
answered 3 23 11.0 71 30.3 94 21.2
answered 4 26 12.4 31 13.2 57 12.8
answered 5 16 7.6 12 5.1 28 6.3
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 6: Responses to “I know my gender identity because it is the gender other people assumed I was when I was growing up” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 29 13.8 167 71.4 196 44.1
answered 2 28 13.3 34 14.5 62 14.0
answered 3 55 26.2 24 10.3 79 17.8
answered 4 59 28.1 6 2.6 65 14.6
answered 5 39 18.6 3 1.3 42 9.5
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 7: Responses to “I know my gender identity because I have a sense of alignment with a certain gender’s stereotypical interests, skills, mannerisms, ways of dressing, etc.” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 26 12.4 62 26.5 88 19.8
answered 2 31 14.8 61 26.1 92 20.7
answered 3 55 26.2 70 29.9 125 28.2
answered 4 66 31.4 33 14.1 99 22.3
answered 5 32 15.2 8 3.4 40 9.0
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 8: Responses to “I know my gender identity because I have a sense of sameness with people of certain gender identities and/or a sense of difference from people with other gender identities” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 8 3.8 18 7.7 26 5.9
answered 2 19 9.0 29 12.4 48 10.8
answered 3 51 24.3 55 23.5 106 23.9
answered 4 81 38.6 94 40.2 175 39.4
answered 5 51 24.3 38 16.2 89 20.0
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 9: Responses to “I know my gender identity because of how I feel when others gender me in certain ways.” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 17 8.1 11 4.7 28 6.3
answered 2 19 9.0 16 6.8 35 7.9
answered 3 41 19.5 38 16.2 79 17.8
answered 4 77 36.7 87 37.2 164 36.9
answered 5 56 26.7 82 35.0 138 31.1
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 10: Responses to “I know my gender identity based on which gender identity or identities I’m attracted to.” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
answered 1 106 50.5 144 61.5 250 56.3
answered 2 32 15.2 45 19.2 77 17.3
answered 3 26 12.4 25 10.7 51 11.5
answered 4 23 11.0 12 5.1 35 7.9
answered 5 23 11.0 8 3.4 31 7.0
total 210 100.0 234 100.0 444 100.0

 

Table 11: Responses to “Is this your first time thinking about how you know your gender identity?” from cis respondents, trans respondents, and overall survey population

cis people (#) cis people (%) trans people (#) trans people (%) overall (#) overall (%)
no 147 70 211 90.17094 358 80.63063
yes 63 30 23 9.82906 86 19.36937
total 210 100 234 100 444 100

 

Sexual/romantic orientations would be difficult to code and were not tallied. They varied widely.

 

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