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Understanding Gender

Let’s explore gender as a concept. Before sharing this definition, we ask that you reflect on your personal understanding of gender by answering the following questions:

  • What roles have you learned about gender from parents, school, peers, media, faith? Which do you hold true? And which do you break?

  • What do gender and biological sex mean to you?

  • What do masculinity and femininity mean to you? How do you express masculinity and femininity?

People tend to use the terms “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. But, while connected, the two terms are not equivalent. As defined by the Gender Spectrum, “once a sex is assigned, we presume the child’s gender. For some people, this is cause for little, if any, concern or further thought because their gender aligns with gender-related ideas and assumptions associated with their sex. Nevertheless, while gender may begin with the assignment of our sex, it doesn’t end there. A person’s gender is the complex interrelationship between three dimensions: body, identity, and social gender.”

Body: our body, our experience of our own body, how society genders bodies, and how others interact with us based on our body.

Identity: the name we use to convey our gender based on our deeply held, internal sense of self. Identities typically fall into binary (e.g. man, woman) nonbinary (e.g., genderqueer, genderfluid, etc), or ungendered (e.g., agender, genderless) categories. The meaning associated with a particular identity can vary among individuals using the same term. A person’s gender identity can correspond to or differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Social gender: how we present our gender in the world and how individuals, society, culture, and community perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender. Social gender includes gender roles and expectations and how society uses those to try to enforce conformity to current gender norms.


A person’s comfort in their gender is related to the degree to which these three dimensions feel in harmony with one another, also called gender congruence.

One simple way, we at Drake acknowledge gender identity is by asking for pronouns.

Pronouns: Pronouns are how you refer to someone if you are not using their name.
For example: "Thomas left his book at my place last night."

If someone tells you their pronouns, use them! We cannot assume gendered pronouns, so a common practice until told otherwise is to use gender-neutral ones, like they/them.

Examples of pronouns are but not limited to: (She/Her/ Hers, He/Him/His, They/Them/Theirs, Xe / Xem / Xir)

If you don’t know someone’s pronouns. Try to introduce yourself with your own pronouns and ask for theirs!

Ex. "Hello, my name is Erica and I use they/them/theirs pronouns."

See here for more ways on how to respectfully use and ask for pronouns.

Let’s explore the concept of gender through the resources below.


This is not a list of resources but a guide for how to approach and use those resources to further your own education, understanding, and action.

Build your knowledge on this term. - become more educated/informed about a social issue, a community of people, the historical roots of systemic inequality, how systems and institutions reflect and maintain racial and socio-economic hierarchies, theory, data, and storytelling about an issue.


Take a few minutes to review the definitions found in the Key Terms and Concepts in Understanding Gender.


Read the article How I Found My Gender Identity, by J.P. on how their journey with defining their gender identity.


Watch the TED Talk A powerful poem about what it feels like to be transgender by poet Lee Mokobe, a TED Fellow, in this gripping and poetic exploration of identity and transition. (4:11)

Watch the CUT video, Meet a Gender Non-Conforming Person. (7:05)

Watch TED Talk Why we need gender-neutral bathrooms — Ivan Coyote grapples with complex and intensely personal issues of gender identity and highlights the need for gender-neutral bathrooms in all public places. (11:40)


Increase proximity or engagement - have more personal experiences with the social issue or community you are learning about which, for those of us this may mean going outside of our own segregated communities where these issues have not been visible.

Rainbow Union (RU)

Created to provide a social and supportive environment for a vibrant population of Drake’s campus, RU has become a leading campus organization. The continuing emphasis on programming and education culminates in two annual celebrations: National Coming Out Week and Pride Week. RU also celebrates Ally Day and brings attention to Transgender Day of Remembrance and Day of Silence. RU persists to support those dealing with issues of sexuality and gender, resists homophobia through example and education, and strives to prevent heterosexism in our lives and on our campus. RU invites ALL students to join and participate and makes no assumptions about a person’s sexuality in our safe space. For more information, connect with RU on Facebook.

Student Activists for Gender Equality (SAGE)

SAGE is an organization devoted to advocacy of gender issues in the Drake community and beyond. SAGE works to promote and voice the opinions and issues of women all over the world. SAGE strives to make the world a more equal and safe place for all. We celebrate the unification, dedication, and spirit of all individuals along the spectrums of sex and gender.

Drake University Voice of Choice

The purpose of this organization is to stimulate interest in and foster knowledge of and respect for reproductive health and justice. Voice of Choice promotes choice in reproductive health matters including contraception and abortion, responsible sexual lifestyles, and respect for the sexual and sexual-health-related choices of others through education, activism, and dialogue.
Counseling Referrals for Transgender StudentsCounseling Referrals for Transgender Students

List of Single-stall restrooms on campus : Looking for a single-stall restroom on campus? 

If you find a single stall restroom that could be added to our map, please email the information to us at with the subject line: Single Stall Restroom.

Engage in critical and continuous reflection
- creating meaning from the knowledge and proximity through critical thinking that explores one's personal experience of and role in systemic inequality as well as one's understanding of what change could look like and how to do it as an individual and in community with others

On-going learning (especially in groups) can be a form of ongoing action. How can you learn more about the thing you are interested in? For instance, if you learned about police brutality, can you find some history of that issue in the United States or wherever you are?

  • Can you take a free online class or attend a public event about that issue?
  • Can you find another book, movie, podcast, etc. to consume to increase your understanding?
  • Can you find people working on this and join their movement? Can you volunteer?

Want to lead a discussion on this topic? Find the Facilitator's Guide here!





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