Sexual identity – Intro

A little overview of the main factors of human sexual identity …

Male and female bodies


Sex means the physical sex characteristics of a person, such as sex organs and appearance of the body.

Standard categories are



Gender is the psychological sex a person identifies with, often called gender identity.

Standard categories are

Female and male shoes

Gender Role

This is the social role a person lives in and how they are perceived by others.

Standard categories are

Two hearts

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation describes what gender a person is romantically and sexually attracted to.

Standard categories are

Incredibly, all these four factors are independent of each other! That means a person can have any mixture of the factors above – isn’t that truly amazing? ☺

I find the four factors above most useful and helpful for thinking about oneself, for trying to understand the diversity in humans. They form our sexual identity, a part of our identity, of who we are.

So, do a quick check for yourself – if your sex, gender and gender role match, then you are a lucky person… and you belong to the majority of people, of course. What do you think people should do who have a mismatch between sex and gender and suffer from gender dysphoria?

We’ll come to that later … First, about the four factors above – they show a standard model of gender, as accepted by most people.[1] Categorisations have limitations, of course – in nature things are often on a spectrum, with infinite variations. But categories help us to understand and to communicate. Other main categories are gender expression/gender behaviour[2] and sexual practice/sexual behaviour (what interests and excites us sexually, including sexual acts), although they are maybe not as fundamental as the four shown.

Oh, one important thing… don’t let anybody tell you one combination of factors is right and another is wrong. Some people place different values on different combinations for all kinds of reasons. Such values are social constructs – nature makes no value judgements. All these combinations occur normally, as part of nature.[3] All are human and part of life.[4]

What is fixed and what is fluid?

Your biological and physical sex is set at conception, develops in the womb and is usually fixed at birth; it will not change later in life by itself.[5] The same is true for your gender identity and sexual orientation, it seems to be pretty clear that these factors are usually fixed to at least a large degree at birth or in early childhood, they do not change and you cannot select or change them by simply wishing to do so or by undergoing psychological treatment.[6]

Gender identity and sexual orientation are part of your inner identity, your personality, of who you really are.

Gender roles can be fluid. Most people have no conflict between sex, gender and gender role, are assigned the right gender role at birth and live happily in that role, without thinking much about it. However, it is possible to switch between gender roles, completely or to some degree.

With modern medicine, sex can be altered. Hormones and surgery can change the body of a person to resemble the other physical sex.

So, we have two factors that are permanent, gender identity and sexual orientation, and two factors that can be altered, sex and gender role.[7]

So confusing – can we classify people based on these four factors?

From the basic categories above, you can see there are at least 108 different combinations of gender and sex possible! Wow.

Most people however, have a matching sex, gender and gender role. These people are heterosexual, or maybe homosexual, men or women. Simple. These people are normal.[8]

People who have some sort of mismatch between their sex, gender and gender role or don’t fit into the socially accepted gender roles are usually called transgendered. Transgender is a catch-all term that includes those with androgynous gender-roles, people who switch between or play with gender roles, crossdressers and people with all kinds of unusual expressions of gender.

Transsexuals are part of this larger transgender group, but a transsexual is specifically someone whose gender identity is in conflict with their physical sex. Transsexuals can be put into two groups; male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals. Those terms refer to the physical sex/the gender role assigned at birth – a male-to-female transsexual would typically be raised as a boy, have male physical sexual characteristics, but has a female identity and feels female.

And that’s what this website is about – transsexualism.[9] Enjoy and have fun! Oh, and drop me a comment, if you like. ☺

Navigation/Back to main pages

A short introduction to transsexualism: Transsexualism – Intro

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[1] Sexual identity can be defined in more detail, of course. That usually involves splitting up the four categories above into sub-categories and/or shifting their definitions. As an example, Simon Baron-Cohen lists genetic sex (sex chromosomes), gonadal sex (testes or ovaries), genital sex (penis or vagina), brain type (empathising or systemising) and sex-typical behaviour (interested in things or interested in feelings and friends). See “The essential difference”, Penguin Books 2004, pages 98 and 99.

[2] All external characteristics, behaviours, mannerisms, personal traits, etc. of a person that relate to gender and gender roles. This is culturally dependent, naturally.

[3] My humble opinion – I’ll write more about that on this website.

[4] “Nature loves variety – unfortunately, society hates it.” – Milton Diamond.

[5] Intersex people can be exceptions to this. They have chromosomal or hormonal disorders, which can mean their physical appearance changes in puberty to the other sex from what they were thought to be at birth.

[6] Against scientific evidence, some people do not agree and think gender identity and sexual orientation are lifestyle choices or can be changed somehow. Um, I find those people a little strange… is that their experience of life, have they chosen their gender and sexual orientation at some point? I would love to know how they did that, at what age, what their reasons were for coming up with their choice, and whether they could change their sexual identity again, if they wished. ☺

[7] If this is not convincing or scientific enough to you, please understand this is a simple overview – I hope to provide more detailed information elsewhere on this website.

[8] I don’t mean “normal” to be a value judgement; normal for me means close to the average, part of the largest statistical groups.

[9] My personal experience is with male-to-female transsexualism, but the reference part of this website covers both types.