The Social Perception, Attitudes, Mental Simulation Lab

Gender Glossary: Birth-assigned Category


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Term and Definition:

Birth-assigned gender category (or birth-assigned sex): The assignment of children to categories at birth is based on the appearance of the external genitalia. Thus, while medical professionals are making medical category claims regarding the labels given to anatomical structures, the rest of society is using the terms "female" (girl) and "male" (boy) to infer something about social expectations. Accordingly, we use the term "birth-assigned gender category" to indicate that the assignment is not simply medical; it is social as well.

In medical practice, the visual appearance of the genitalia is compared to prototypic images on a Prader scale. Genital structures are homologous, meaning they are developed from the same material. As a result, vaginas and vulvas as well as penises and scrotums come from exactly the material in the genital region of the human body. The differentiation of these structures into what we term “penis” and “vagina” is based on the body’s sensitivity to chemical signals. The Prader scale is used to sex-type genitals based on their appearance (which is further based on how sensitive these structures were to certain chemical signals in utero). On one extreme of the Prader scale is a prototypical vagina and vulva arrangement of genital structures. At the other extreme of the Prader scale is a prototypical penis and scrotum arrangement of genital structures. (There are also arrangements on a continuum between the two extremes.)

Birth-assignment to a female or male category is based on how closely the genitals appear to match the prototype (in the mind of the physician). In the cases in the middle of the continuum, the physician (in consultation with others, sometimes including parents) makes a determination of whether it would be surgically easier to create a penis structure or vagina structure.  Sometimes, there is no easy or inexpensive surgical manner to alter the genital structures, and the resulting medical determination is “intersex.” Nonetheless, for the purposes of listing gender on birth certificates, a “male” or “female” designation is made—even for people who are medically determined to be “intersex.” In any event, birth-assigned gender is always decided by other people with authority status within the society. Birth-assigned gender is not decision of the person himself, herself, or hirself* who is only minutes outside the womb at this time.

[*Hirself is a gender neutral or gender combination pronoun form derived from combining “her+him”]

Return to Glossary of Gender-Related Terms

Go to our Definition List of Gender-Related Terms (all terms; alphabetically listed)

Note: This glossary of terms was compiled by Charlotte Tate, Ph.D. (who publishes under "Charlotte Chuck Tate" to have female and trans visibility simultaneously) and Jay Ledbetter, M.A., in an attempt to provide quick, concise definitions of gender-related concepts to a general audience. Most of the definitions are paraphrased and expanded from manuscripts and published articles by these two authors. All of the definitions were inspired by and summarize existing work on gender identity in gender studies. Accordingly, the point of the glossary is not to provide definitive definitions of the terms listed; instead, the point of the glossary is to help people understand the various experiences of gender that people have and how these experiences are related to psychological science.

On a practical level, this means that some scholars and activists may disagree with some the definitions within the glossary (esp. concerning the meaning of “genderqueer”). Nonetheless, we offer the glossary as a starting point, and, an admittedly incomplete, compendium so that readers of Dr. Tate’s websites can have some understanding of the terms used. This is a living document and will change over time with additional research, findings, and feedback.

For those interested in further discussions (both academic and popular) of the gender categories and concepts presented in this glossary, we may find this bibliography helpful.