The Complex World of Gender and Sexuality

Written by: Shin Kitane/Monday, Jun 05, 2017 10:53 AM

Key points: Gender and sexuality not influenced by "bad" parenting or childhood trauma; Both gender identity and sexual orientation cannot be changed by intervention, but may change as one discovers more about the self.

You've probably heard someone else identify as transgender, queer, or asexual before. In fact, you probably know someone who identifies as someone outside society's traditional categories for sex and gender. And maybe, like me, you also found yourself a tad confused with all the new terms and concepts that may seem unfamiliar still. When I was in college, a male professor who was teaching gender sensitivity used himself as an example to give us a glimpse into the complex world of gender and sexuality: He looked and sounded like a straight male, but opened up that he identified as female, and was in a relationship with another man. He added that his boyfriend still identified as a straight man because my professor was female, gender-wise. 

Complicated, yes. I didn't readily understand the complexities of gender and sexuality then, but one thing I took away from that professor's story was that like many things, people cannot simply be categorized within society's binaristic conventions. While it may make life a lot easier if there was just black or white, male or female, good or bad, a lot of things in life cannot just be one or the other. Humans are complex beings, after all. There are still a lot of debates and opposing views, but thankfully, research initiatives are beginning to be able to give us a clearer picture to shed light on the issues that surround the colorful world of human gender and sexuality.

In its January 2017 issuethe National Geographic defined our age as what has been called "the gender revolution." The journal defined some basic terms as well as research-based arguments that challenge common notions, among them the cause and effect relationship assigned to parenting and children's gender.


Gender identity vs. Sexual orientation

A child's gender identity is usually aligned to his or her biological sex: boy or girl. In some cases, however, children find that their gender identity do not necessarily conform to what is prescribed. Because of early exposure to stereotypical behaviors assigned to either gender, National Geographic suggests that by age four, most children already have a stable sense of their gender identity. This is why in some cases, even when stereotypical gender roles are imposed on a child, he or she tends to deviate (i.e. a young boy showing early signs of wanting to play with feminine toys, or a young girl showing interest in male clothing). Not all children who are gender nonconforming in early childhood grow up to be transgender adults, though, which probably accounts for the misconception that most of the time, identifying with another gender "is just a phase." 

Sexual orientation, on the other hand, becomes evident later on in life. Sexual orientation refers "to the person one falls in love with or is attracted to," according to National Geographic. 

What is interesting is that research apparently suggests that both gender identity and sexual orientation cannot be changed by any interventions. The same research data also show that the mix of a person's gender identity and sexual orientation are influenced by both biological and social factors, and are in no way linked to parenting or experiencing childhood trauma. Simply put, it is incorrect to assume that just because a child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or anything else outside the traditional categories, the parents are to blame, or they had an unpleasant experience with someone of the similar/opposite sex.

The journal suggests that gender identity and sexual orientation cannot be deliberately changed by interventions, societal pressure, and similar attempts. They are, however, completely dependent on the person's journey of self-discovery. Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio, former director of the University of the Philippines' Center for Women's Studies happens to both be a medical doctor and doctor of philosophy. In talking about human sexual orientation, she cites her own clinical experience to support the argument that people change. She wrote the foreword to a collection of short nonfiction stories from the LGBTQ community in the Philippines (2014), and she underscored the importance of entertaining possibility: 

"I would love to hear people say 'currently' when describing their sexual orientation regardless of past history. I often say, 'I am currently heterosexual.' It gives me the pleasure of creating intrigue. But I also underline my own clinical experience that people change...I would never know whether there is a lesbian in me that is just waiting to be born when I retire from teaching, get my youngest out of the house, and divorce my husband."

If you're still a little confused, check out this helpful graphic from It's Pronounced Metrosexual.



The National Geographical Society. "The Shifting Landscape of Gender: Gender Revolution." National  Geographic. January 2017. 

Claudio, Sylvia Estrada. Foreword. In Buhay Bahaghari: The Filipino LGBT Chronicles. University of the Philippines Press. 2014. 


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About Shin Kitane
Shin Kitane writes to remember and believes that words have the power to heal, inspire, and move others. She dreams of a world where men and women are treated equally, where race, gender, and religion are not measures of one's worth in society. She is also a book-hoarder and a firm believer in re-watching Mean Girls and Harry Potter multiple times a year. Follow her misadventures @shinkitane on social media.

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