Updated: Jun 24
By: Peter Dahl, peterdahlwriter.com
Pride Month is an opportunity to learn more about how we can take of each other and take care of ourselves. Part of this work includes understanding how to define and conceptualize gender. Humans can be obsessed with labels, classifications, and taxonomies.
While this can help us understand the world better, it can also limit our understanding when we insist on rigid and narrow categories. Using binaries and absolutes when defining ourselves and one another can give us wrong ideas that can lead to anything from mild awkwardness and embarrassment to severe dysphoria and anguish.
Unfortunately, many are uncomfortable with learning about the complexities and nuances of gender and sexuality. People might be confused and frustrated by all the new terms and rules they think they have to learn.
Enter the Genderbread Person, a conceptual tool that makes the complications of gender much more simple and approachable. The Genderbread Person uses the familiar shape of a ginger cookie to depict the various spectra that go into gender identity.
The head (or brain) symbolizes identity, which is simply how a person defines their own gender identity compared to what they understand to be the available choices. Self-definition is vital, and how someone understands their own identity has more room to flow than simply “other people say I’m a man so that means I have to do/be x/y/z…”
The chest (heart) stands in for attraction. Attraction can be romantic or sexual, and neither one is as simple as being attracted to just men or just women. For instance, a man might not be sexually attracted to other men, but he might be somewhat romantically attracted to them. Another man might be sexually attracted to men and women, but only romantically attracted to other men.
The lower region represents the sex we are assigned at birth and the physical traits that develop. This is, in some ways, the most straightforward concept, but is still not a dichotomy. Anatomical sex is also a spectrum of “maleness” and “femaleness,” and the ways our anatomy develops (and the ways we may choose to shape it) lead to a variety of outcomes. In addition, there are individuals with intersex traits, such as people who present as female in almost every way, but have testes instead of ovaries.
The entire person (or cookie) is an expression of gender. It’s an interplay of how we understand our presentation to society and how society understands our presentation.
This presentation includes many things, such as clothing, hobbies, likes/dislikes, hairstyle, mannerisms, and work. Neat, holistic labels don’t work for the cisgender bisexual man who works in construction, performs in local stage productions, and loves to go hunting and fishing with “the guys.”
The Genderbread Person provides a useful overview, but should not be mistaken as an exhaustive text. It helps lay the foundation for further learning and a clearer understanding of how gender identity works internally within individual people and externally at a societal level.
Sharing and discussing the Genderbread Person and similar resources is a great way to show support for others, but it’s also a way for us to take care of ourselves.
It’s fitting that Pride Month comes on the heels of Mental Health Awareness Month, as the limits set on gender expression can have debilitating mental effects. According to the CDC, lesbian/gay/bisexual youths are three times as likely as heterosexual youths to seriously contemplate suicide and five times more likely to attempt it.
A 2016 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide. These numbers are troubling enough, but they speak to an even larger underlying mental health crisis.
Gender identity and expression is part of being mentally healthy, and being mentally healthy is part of overall wellness. Self-care is an important part of maintaining our mental wellness. It can, and should, also include room to be able to explore and express our varied identities.
As the Genderbread Person illustrates, this part of our life, a part of our life that affects almost every other part of life, does not fit into the neat categories most of us learned growing up. Understanding its complexity can help us live better, healthier, happier lives.
This article is not medical advice or care, and should not be taken as such. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of harming themselves, please don't hesitate to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. You are never alone.
For more LGBTQIA+ resources, information on advocacy and LGTBQIA+ rights, please visit: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/lgbtq/