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Understanding Gender Identity and Gender Expression

The Genderbread Person

Growing up most of us were socialized to acknowledge that as far as biological sexual identity goes, there’s only the binary: boy or girl. This paradigm becomes quickly integrated into our lives. Moreover, we also live in a culture that uses "gender" and "sex" interchangeably. However, these two aspects that contribute one’s sexuality and identity are actually two separate entities. As we come to understand how different people understand the various facets that make up how we think about gender, we come to realize that there are many ways to look at these aspects of identity. One way to simplify the many components of gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, and biological sex is by using the Genderbread Person model, created and illustrated By Sam Killerman, author of and LGBT advocate. You can find more educational graphics and printables to help yourself teach and understand these topics. The Genderbread model graphic breaks down the concepts of gender into three aspects: sex, gender identity, gender expression. Sexual orientation is also included on this diagram because of its close connection to gender identity and expression.

It is important to understand that the graphic representation is limited, and the implicit implication of the existence of gender identity as binary states and/or expression for each of these domains on any single line is not necessarily accurate and/or illustrative of a real person.  Each domain can be fluid,malleable, non-linear, and non-binary for some individuals for various personal reasons, including biological sex. Furthermore, the definitions provided on this page do not serve as a one-size-fits-all concept but rather as an informative simplistic model that may help in both visualizing and fleshing out the intricate and complex components regarding human identity, expression, and sexuality. Do remember that gender identity and its multiple facets are personal and distinct to each and every person. In fact, these definitions continue to grow and change as we learn more about the interplay of gender expression and gender identity with further research.  Some may even argue that the widely accepted definition of gender identity does not align with their own definition and way in which they view themselves and navigate the world.

A genderbread person


Here’s what it covers:

Gender Identity: Gender identity is how you, in your head, think about yourself. It’s the chemistry that composes you (e.g., hormonal levels) and how you interpret what that means.

Gender Expression: Gender expression is how you demonstrate your gender (based on social constructs within the culture) through the ways you act, dress, behave, and interact.

Biological Sex: Biological sex refers to the objectively measurable chromosomes, hormones, and organs (secondary sexual characteristics).

  • Female: generally XX chromosomes often with manifestation of secondary sexual characteristics including a vagina and ovaries 
  • Male: generally XY chromosomes often with manifestation of secondary sexual characteristics including a penis and testes
  •  Intersex: generally a combination of X and Y chromosomes beyond XX and XY, with manifestation of various combinations of, or no, secondary sexual characteristics

Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation is who you are physically, spiritually, emotionally, romantically, and emotionally attracted to based on their sex, gender identity, and gender expression in relation to your own.  Manifestation of sexual orientation is not correlated to gender identity or gender expression.


**Be aware of the arrows depicting the domains in the genderbread model image.  The graphical arrows may imply a binary continuum and/or spectrum of human sexuality.  Current understanding through several studies indicate identity and sexuality do not manifest in binary ways, as expressed in "Sex Redefined".**  


Disclaimer: There are other models which more accurately illustrate the intersections of each of these domains, but for the purposes of conceptual introduction to gender identity, we are not exploring them here.