Here at Arc, we recognise that a person’s gender is unique to their lived experience and not binary. UNSW students, staff and members of our community identify in diverse ways and we celebrate this diversity. This web page will explain some of the many genders we might have at UNSW and will give you some tips for navigating pronouns and supporting your friends and loved ones who may be gender diverse.
What is gender and how is it different to sex?
Unlike sex, gender is about how you feel, not what is between your legs. Sex is biological and includes physical attributes such as sex chromosomes, the gonads, sex hormones, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia and the brain. Your sex and the appearance of your genitals at birth is what determines your sex.
Gender is a little more complicated and has been described by the Gender Centre as “the interrelationship between those physical attributes (sex), and one’s awareness of themselves as masculine, feminine, any combination of both, or neither.” Essentially, gender is about how you feel. For example, if you feel like a man, then it doesn’t matter what your sex is, your gender is male.
What are some forms of gender and how do they manifest?
Cisgender – For many of us, our gender and our sex will align. If this is the case, you are cisgender. A cisgendered person feels like they are the gender that they were assigned at birth. This is the majority of people and as such, there is some privilege to being cisgender. You should use this privilege to learn more about gender diversity and be aware of some of the harmful stereotypes you may have internalised about gender diversity.
Transgender – Unlike cisgender people, transgender people do not feel that their gender corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth. While many people recognise transgender people as those assigned male at birth transitioning to female or vice versa, being transgender can be more fluid than this. The transgender category also includes non-binary people and those who have fluid genders.
Non-binary – Non-binary individuals do not identify with the gender binary of male and female. People who are non-binary may feel like a mix of genders or they may feel like they have no gender at all. It is important to note that non-binary does not equate to an androgynous appearance or presentation. People can present their gender in any way that aligns with their feeling.
Gender fluid – Like the non-binary identity, those who identify as gender fluid reject the two rigidly defined genders of female and male. Instead, gender fluid people believe in the freedom to “choose any kind of gender with no rules, no defined boundaries and no fulfilling of expectations associated with any particular gender” (The Gender Centre).
Although many people consider gender diversity a relatively new phenomenon, history tells us that people with diverse genders have been a part of the world for a long time, particularly in non-Western cultures. For example, American First Nation peoples have long recognised the existence of Two Spirit people, those who identify as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. Native Hawaiin and Tatian cultures similarly recognise the Māhū, people of a third gender identity that embody both masculine and feminine traits.
First Nations Australians have also long recognised Brotherboys and Sistergirls. In a Punkee article, brotherboy, Isaac Roberts explained that “Brotherboys are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were assigned female at birth, but live our lives through our boy spirit. We take on male roles in community and society, and are accepted as such within our cultural world views. Therefore, Brotherboy encompasses both our gender identity and our cultural identity.”
It is important to note that gender is a deeply personal experience. There are plenty of other genders that have not been included here and there will be many more that emerge with time. Learn more about the gender spectrum by visiting the Gender Centre: https://gendercentre.org.au/.
What are pronouns and how many are there?
In your classes you may have noticed some teachers and/or students asking you to say or write your pronouns. If you’ve never come across this term, this question might be confusing. The following section will explain pronouns, why they are important, and show you how to say and write your pronouns like a pro.
Pronouns are how you prefer people to refer to you in third person. If you are a cisgender woman, you likely use she/her pronouns and if you are a cisgender man, you likely use he/him pronouns. However, there are plenty of other pronouns out there that people may prefer to use.
Many people who don’t feel entirely within the gender binary will use they/them pronouns. Although this may feel initially difficult to get right in a sentence, because they/them is usually used to refer to multiple people, with practice, you can get it right. Try saying it in your head or practicing it at home before you see them. And if you get it wrong in front of your friend, it’s ok, make sure you apologise, correct yourself and work harder to get it right next time. If someone corrects you, say thank you, move on and keep practicing.
Some people will use she/they or he/they pronouns meaning that they are comfortable with you using either she or him or they/them to refer to them. Additionally, some people may use she/he/they. Combination pronouns can be used interchangeably at any time, OR they can also be used by a person at a specific moment in time based on they are feeling. Some people may also use pronouns you may not be so familiar with like “ze/zim” or similar. Some people even just prefer you to use their name rather than a pronoun.
Just ask what someone’s pronouns are and try hard to get them right. People appreciate your effort and it is the right thing to use people’s preferred pronouns.
So the next time your teacher asks you to say or write your pronouns, just let them know you use she/her, he/him, they/them or whatever variation it is that prefer.
How do I, as a gender diverse person, find community at UNSW?
As a gender diverse student at UNSW, the best place to go to seek community is the UNSW Queer Collective. The UNSW Queer Collective is a group of students who meet weekly in the Queer Room on campus and is a safe space to meet other queer students, learn about queer issues, and just chill out.
To get involved in the Queer Collective visit their Facebook page here: facebook.com/UNSWQueerCollective or their webpage here: https://www.arc.unsw.edu.au/voice/src
How do I support my loved ones who might be gender diverse?
If someone you know is gender diverse in some way, there are many ways you can support them. First and foremost is to listen and behave how they want you to behave. Call them by their preferred pronouns, use their preferred name and, if you have any confusion, either ask them, or if you can, google it yourself. Secondly, you can get educated! Try visiting the Trans Hub or the Gender Centre to start reading a little more about gender diversity and the many ways it manifests.