The Genderbread Person. Run, run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me- I’m the sweet-sounding educational tool that explains the nuances of gender!
No, it isn’t Christmas in June, but it is Pride month – and that is the perfect reason to expand your understanding of the complex nature of sex, gender identity, gender expression, and attraction!
Enter the Genderbread Person
The Genderbread Person was created as a tool to help us understand what we actually mean when we talk about gender. Specifically, it visually explains the components of gender as an umbrella term: sex, gender identity, gender expression, and attraction.
Two categories are broken down further:
- sex differentiates anatomical sex from sex assigned at birth
- attraction separates romantic and sexual attraction.
If you are reading this article and hold the belief that sex and gender are the same thing, I want to invite you to remain open to the information presented here. There are 7.7 billion humans on our shared planet. It is impossible for all of us to have the exact same experience.
Now, let’s take a look at this Genderbread Person:
Looking at the top of our Genderbread Person, we first see Identity. Our gender identity is our psychological sense of gender. It is who we know ourselves to be. The arrows show that we can identify with the term woman or man to any degree. For example, someone who identifies as a man would be all the way to the right on the “man-ness” scale and all the way to the left on the “woman-ness” scale.
Importantly, gender identity is not based on your sex or gender expression. When your gender identity aligns with your biological sex, you are cisgender. When your gender identity differs from your sex, you may be transgender. You may also be non-binary, agender, or even gender fluid. The terms here aren’t really what is important; what matters is how you feel and who you know yourself to be.
Following our Genderbread Person down, we see Attraction next. Attraction is the way we feel drawn to others, and is split between romantic and sexual attraction. You may be romantically and/or sexually attracted to a gender identity, to a sex, to a gender expression, or any combination of the three. For example, you may be attracted to someone whose sex and gender identity is “woman”, but whose gender expression is more masculine. When we categorize the genders we are attracted to, based on our own gender identity, we get the category of sexual orientation (e.g. gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, etc.).
These various labels convey different sexual orientations (e.g. lesbian typically indicates someone who identifies as a woman who is also romantically and sexually attracted to other women). When understanding identity, attraction, and sexual orientation, it can be easy to get bogged down with labels. And labels can be incredibly informative, valuable, and comforting. The important takeaway, however, is that attraction looks different for everyone and cannot be assumed based on someone’s gender.
As we continue down the right side of the Genderbread Person, we find Sex. Sex includes the sex we were assigned at birth (i.e. male, female, or intersex), which tends to be based solely on our external genitalia. Sex also includes our anatomical sex, which consists of our genitals and reproductive organs; chromosomes; secondary sex characteristics, such as body hair, breasts, hip-to-shoulder ratio, voice pitch, etc. There are varying degrees to which someone may embody these traits, hence why the Genderbread Person scales use the terms “Female-ness” and “Male-ness”. Sex is not the same as gender identity. An easy, simplified way to remember the difference is that sex is biological, whereas gender is psychological.
The last piece of the Genderbread Person is Expression. Gender expression encapsulates the elements of the way we present ourselves to the world. Typically, the terms “masculine” and “feminine” are used to describe gender expression. Things like hairstyle, clothing, makeup, jewelry, and nonverbal mannerisms are all ways we express our gender. Some people have a constantly feminine gender expression, some a constantly masculine gender expression, and others find themselves expressing both or neither. Our gender expression is susceptible to change and can be based on things such as our ability to afford clothing or hairstyles and our comfort level presenting our most authentic selves.
These are all independent of each other
A final, important note on the Genderbread Person is that all of the scales are independent of each other. Our gender identity does not equal our gender expression does not equal our biological sex. Often, they do equal each other (e.g. a female assigned at birth identifies as a woman and presents herself in a feminine way), but this is not the case for everyone. And with 7.7 billion people on Earth, how could it be?
Now that we have reviewed the Genderbread Person, take a look at the scales below. I have filled out the scales for myself. What can you tell about me from these scales?
Here are some things that you can know about me based on these scales:
- I am a cisgender woman. My sex and my gender identity are in alignment.
- My gender expression is largely feminine. However, there are times when I feel more comfortable and authentic dressing in a more masculine way.
- I am sexually attracted to both men and women. I am also romantically attracted to both men and women, but have had less “crushes” on women than men, and so I consider myself to be slightly more romantically attracted to men.
Here are some things that you cannot know about me based on these scales:
- Whether or not I have two ‘X’ chromosomes.
- Whether I present myself as a consistent mix of masculine and feminine, or whether I present myself more often as solely feminine.
- Whether I am more romantically attracted to biological males or people with a masculine gender expression or people who identify as male.
- The label I have for my sexual orientation (e.g. bisexual, pansexual, queer, etc.).
All of this information and nuance may feel overwhelming. Truth be told, we really don’t need to know all of this information about the people we interact with. It is usually suitable to only know someone’s gender identity in order to be respectful and refer to them in the correct way. The Genderbread Person is more helpful as a way to understand ourselves and to recognize the vastness of the human experience.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.