Gender Identity

Gender identity is the manner in which one perceives themselves as being male or female regardless of biological factors (Reirden, 2013).  Gender identity begins early in life through exploration and adoption of the opposite gender expression (Reirden, 2013).  Often, one identifies gender with the same biological factors, but there are times when gender identifies with the opposite biological factors, or gender dysphoria (Steensma, 2013).  This paper will establish gender identity through biological factors and environmental factors, as well as the assistance of biopsychology in determining sexual identity and its influences.  Self-identification consists of several disciplines from biology to philosophy (Dr.  Swabb, 2009)

Biological Factors – Nature

Gender identification begins in the womb with the differentiation of the sex organs making a person anatomically male or female (Dr. Swabb, 2009).  Typically, sex chromosomes establish the anatomical sex of the fetus through sex chromosomes (Steensma, 2013).  When a fetus has both an X and a Y chromosome, it is anatomically male and portrays male gender identity and male typical behaviors (Steensma, 2013).  A fetus with two X chromosomes is anatomically female and portrays female gender identity and female typical behaviors (Sex chromosomes, 2012).   However, there are instances in which the genitalia developed does not correspond to the gender identity or role of a person, known as a disorder of sexual difference (DSD) or gender dysphoria (Steensma, 2013).

Hormones have two effects in gender development and identity (Pinel, 2009).  Hormones influence the development of an individual from conception to sexual maturity on a psychological, anatomical, and behavioral level that distinguish between the sexual characteristics of the individual, known as the developmental effect (Pinel, 2009).  Additionally, hormones also have an activational effect which is triggered in adolescence after the development of the sex organs (Pinel, 2009).  The activational effect triggers the reproduction cycle in sexually mature individuals beginning in late adolescents (Pinel, 2009).  These processes can also be referred to as processes of differentiation.

Once the fetus is established male or female through the sex organs, differentiation must occur (Swabb, 2009).  Brain differentiation develops through sex hormones that cause permanent changes which will reactivate during puberty as the hormone levels rise activating behavioral patterns classified by gender (Dr.  Swabb, 2009).  The basis for the sexual difference in behavior is caused by the interaction of hormones and developing brain cells (Dr. Swabb, 2009).  The behaviors established include gender identity, gender role (manner of actions as male or female) and sexual differences of cognition, language and aggression (Dr.  Swabb, 2009).  Since the genitalia sexual differences occur much earlier than brain differentiation, both forms of differentiation may operate independently of each other (Dr.  Swabb, 2009).

Environmental Factors – Nurture   

Research suggests that people develop gender identity, how they think about themselves, through social interactions (Park, 2008), yet research also supports that there is no significant evidence supporting that social learning assists in the development of gender identity (Dr. Swabb, 2009).  One thought is that society’s reactions and criticisms to behavior shape the later life behaviors of individuals (Park, 2008).  Others believe that a sexual identity begins forming at conception and carries through life (Dr.  Swabb, 2009).  During development, hormonal imbalance or even a regular procedure could cause a change of sexual identity in an individual, but the sexual identity imprinted at conception is the identity that will remain with the child throughout life (Park, 2008).  Both theories stand supported which brings people to the decade long nurture debate of the cause of transgenderism and homosexuality.

Sexologist John Money developed the dual concept of gender identification or role (Steensma, 2013).  The dual concept of gender implies that gender identification is how you perceive yourself in private, gender role is how the general public perceives gender identity, and in gender dysphoria, the gender identification is different from the anatomical gender (Steensma, 2013).   In adolescence, gender identity includes the values, principles, and roles an individual develops on their own (Steensma, 2013).  Identity forms when the individual adolescent explores and commits to identity defining roles including politics, occupation, religion, relationships, and gender role (Steensma, 2013).

Gender socialization refers to the belief that social interaction develops gender identity because society establishes the acceptable standards of what is considered masculine and feminine behavior (Park, 2008).  Additionally, society helps to define an individual’s understanding of those acceptable standards, as well as the individuals place in society (Park, 2008).  Individuals choose to follow or stray from the norms of society based on the level of acceptance they may gain in societal relationships which lie within the cultural area from which they are looking for acceptance (Park, 2008).

Those who believe that sexual identity comes pre-programmed at conception do not believe that social factors aid in the development of sexual identity and role, though, they do believe that external factors may play a role (Dr.   Swabb, 2009).  Some people believe that certain medications may be responsible for the hormonal imbalances and unnecessary medical procedures during pregnancy and infancy may impact sexual identity and development (Dr.  Swabb, 2008).

Nature versus Nurture

According to research, sexuality identity is developed through numerous processes caused by infinite reasons.  The nature-nurture debate has been ongoing for decades throughout many theories.  In the role of sexual identity, it is claimed that a male reared with more feminine values may experience a more feminine identity and the same for a female who is raised with more masculine values experience a more masculine identity.  Sexual identity is claimed to be hereditary and created at conception throughout life with some environmental factors that may come into play.  This nature-nurture debate will probably continue for many more decades to come because of the homophobia and stubbornness within today’s society.

Evidence and research are directed more strongly towards biological factors, or nature, as the cause of the development of sexual identity.  Medications taken during pregnancy may cause and imbalance of hormones that move to the fetus (Dr. Swabb, 2009).  An individual’s sexual identity evolves through hormonal and brain differentiation that takes place while an individual is in the womb (Reirden, 2013).  The fact that gender establishing hormones are reactivated in puberty and again in later life for the process of reproduction scientifically proves that once our brains establish a certain identity, it is irreversible without the assistance of outside factors such as hormone supplements and surgeries (Steensma, 2013). Environmental factors such as social interaction may influence gender identity that causes an individual to believe they must act in a socially acceptable manner (Park, 2008) in order to avoid ridicule, yet, how an individual privately perceives themselves will always remain the same.


The infamous discussion of gender identity continues as time moves forward. Some people believe an individuals identity is  imprinted in their brain at conception, whereas others believe environment develops gender identity (Dingfelder, 2004).  Biopsychologists have been working toward proving the idea that a child reared in a feminine world will eventually grow up to be a feminine person (Dingfelder, 2004).  Biopsychologists stand firm in the belief that the brain establishes gender identity at conception and carries the same identity through life (Dingfelder, 2004).

There was evidence found that female infants exposed to male hormones in the womb later identified as male gender although anatomically they were females  raised as females (Dingfelder, 2004).  This study derived from male infants  born with inadequate penises or no penis and were forced to undergo sex reassignment surgery forcing them to become anatomical females (Dingfelder, 2004).  Although the females had the anatomy and upbringing of females, the hormones they had in utero had imprinted in their brain that they were male (Dingfelder, 2004).  Later in life those females who had a full sexual reassignment at infancy, identified as males who looked like females (Dingfelder, 2004).

Biopsychologists do not completely disregard that social factors have a role in gender identity, they do believe that social and environmental factors may modify an individual’s identity (Reirden, 2013).  Research has shown that certain medications during pregnancy may alter the process of differentiation in the brain causing adverse effects in gender identity (Reirden, 2013).


Gender identity is the main aspect that establishes a person as an individual.  Anatomically an individual appears to hold a particular identity, however, this does not necessarily mean that they identify as the same sex.  Many theories, such as the nature-nurture debate on gender identity, however, there is not one that proves one hundred percent accurate.  There are also theories that environment shapes an individual’s gender identity, but once again, not one proves to be one hundred percent accurate.  Popular belief is that gender identity establishes itself while in the womb, but environmental factors may trigger a deviation in an individuals genetic  pre – mapping of identity.




Dingfelder, S. F. (2004, April). Gender Bender. American Psychological Association, 35(4), 48. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr04/gender.aspx


Dr. Swabb, D. F.,   Dr.  Garcia – Falgueras, Alicia (2009). The Original Harry Benjamin Syndrome Site. Retrieved from http://www.shb-info.org/sexbrain.html


Park, K. (2008).  Gender identity and socialization.  In V.  Parrillo (Ed. ),Encyclopedia of social problems.  (pp.  395-397).  Thousand Oaks, Ca:  SAGE Publications, Inc.  doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/10.4135/9781412963930.n230


Reirden, D. H. (2013, Jul 12). Gender identity in kids. Denver Post Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1399898325?accountid=458


Sex chromosomes; survival of the females. (2012). Veterinary Week,, 104. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1245582706?accountid=458


Steensma, T. D., Kreukels, B. P. C., & de Vries, A. L. C., Cohen- Kettinis, Peggy T. (2013, July). Gender identity development in adolescence. Hormones and Behavior, 64(2), 288-297. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.02.020




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