Basis of Understanding


We think of gender as binary: Male and Female. At the moment of birth one of the first questions asked is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” The birth certificate has two boxes and only one can be checked: Male or Female. Let’s look at some of the implications of this gender binary system when FEMALE is checked:

SEX is determined on the basis of physical characteristics. If the baby appears to have female external genitalia, then the sex in FEMALE.

GENDER IDENTITY is one’s internal sense of self as a gendered person. If the sex is female, then the assumed gender identity is WOMAN.

GENDER EXPRESSION is how we perform our gender. This includes the complex set of societal roles, behaviors, and appearance. If the sex is female, then the assumed gender expression is FEMININE.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION: In the gender binary system, even the person to whom one is attracted is determined by one’s sex. If the sex is female, then the attraction will be toward MEN.

Increasingly we hear the voices of those for whom the gender binary system does not work because it fails to include everyone. Our understanding of this becomes more complex once we recognize that sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are independent variables best expressed as continuums. Sexual orientation, for example, is more of a continuum with some of the people attracted to the opposite gender, some to the same gender, and some in the middle, experiencing attraction to both genders.

Like sexual orientation, we learn that sex, gender identity, and gender expression are not distinct either/or categories. Each can be placed on a continuum creating a nearly infinite combination of the three components for each unique human being. Take a look here:



Because most of us have been so steeped in the binary gender system, some of these concepts can seem very foreign to us. This can also be a lot of information to take in. So, let’s pause and remember why we are exploring these ideas. Christ taught and demonstrated radical and unlimited love, acceptance and compassion for everyone. In this welcoming process we want to deepen and expand our ability to welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Too often we continue to hear the stories of people who have been told that God does not love them as they are. Instead let’s respond with hospitality and true welcome to people who are different, particularly differences in gender identity or expression.

For a more detailed explanation, please visit this PDF.

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