Gender and Life

Can a person choose a gender identity?
Answered by Meredith Bower and Discovery Fit & Health
  •  Meredith Bower

    Meredith Bower

  • Discovery Fit & Health

    Discovery Fit & Health

  1. For many people, choosing gender identity is not a major issue. Once a baby's sex is discovered, either during the pregnancy or at birth, that's that. While a baby does not emerge from the womb identifying with one sex or the other, by the time the child is 3 years old, his or her gender identity is usually established [source: Encyclopedia Britannica]. Generally, the gender one is born with and identifies with are the same. Parents and other cultural influences often assign distinct behaviors and traits to the two sexes as a way for children to form an identity, and that's not a bad thing -- nor is stepping out of the traditional roles. It's just as healthy for little girls to enjoy climbing trees as it is for little boys to play "house." 

    While today it is more widely accepted to express a penchant for things most often associated with the opposite sex, for some people that affinity runs deeper than external preferences. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, less than 1 percent of the population are transgender, meaning they are born as one sex, but identify more strongly with another [source: SIECUS].

    When people attempt to change or choose a gender with which to identify, it often creates significant interest and debate. In January 2011, a Canadian couple proudly announced the birth of their baby, Storm, but they didn't announce the child's sex. They chose to let it decide as a "tribute to freedom and choice in a place of limitation." While Storm's parents are allegedly giving the child freedom, such a choice could also be a huge burden with which to saddle a child and its siblings. Only time will tell if Storm's gender identity ambiguity was in his/her best interest [source: Rochman].

    Parents should take warning of the possible negative effects of trying to force a child to conform to a gender identity that he or she does not feel. At the same time the world learned about Storm's choice, the media shared the story of another child whose parents attempted to change their son's gender identity. Although Kirk Andrew Murphy appeared male on the outside, he identified more strongly with female traits. His parents sent him to counseling that was designed to alter his gender disposition. Despite years of this intense behavioral therapy, Kirk's internal identity naturally could not be changed. Eventually he stopped fighting and committed suicide [source: Szalavitz].

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  2. Gender is a social construct. We expect genitalia, the marker for sexual identity, to predict gender identity. A penis, in other words, should indicate a person who identifies as masculine, and most of the time, it does. But there are people who don't identify with the gender associated with their biological sex. They didn't choose to feel that way -- rather, gender identity is probably formed through a combination of biological and environmental factors -- but they may choose to live as the gender with which they feel most comfortable. Still, because society is uncomfortable with those who break gender rules, some may choose to present themselves as their assigned gender in order to avoid discrimination.

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