Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Gender Awareness, Inclusivity, and Health

Gender has a powerful influence on our lives. From a very young age, we are inundated with messages and ideas about gender. Sources of that messaging can include peers, families, cultures, policies, religions, books, tv/films, advertising, music, etc.

Pink cartoon greyhound with text: What is gender? #GenderTalkLoyola

The messages themselves often take the form of “gender norms,” and they can shape our interests, our values, our mental health, the majors or careers we select, the ways we dress, the ways we behave around others, and countless other choices we make throughout our lifetimes. For example, if young boys are gradually taught that it isn’t “boy-like” to play with dolls, they will be less likely to choose that sort of play even when they find it fun and joyful. They will also often feel shame around this part of themselves.

Contrary to what many believe, gender is not innate or intrinsic (see a list of gender- and identity-related definitions). In other words, it is not something we are born with, but instead is a social construct. It is also not required to live a fulfilling life and, in fact, many people exist without an identified gender (“agender”). Gender categories and norms were invented by humans in an attempt to neatly organize vastly complex and diverse bodies and behaviors, rather than allowing human bodies and behavior to simply be complex and diverse.

This website may be a starting point or the next chapter in your process of learning more about gender and its impact on our mental health. We hope it helps you develop healthy relationships with gender in your life, while helping to build a world in which we can all live authentically and feel like we are loved and belong. There are three important parts of this process: Gender Awareness, Gender Inclusivity, and Gender Health. See below for more information about each. 

Gender Awareness

Cultivating gender awareness means being able to reflect on our own and others’ gender-related experiences, while also having knowledge and understanding of relevant language, terms, and definitions, as well as a commitment to learning as language evolves to accurately reflect human experience.

Videos on Gender Awareness 

Thank you to Loyola alums Kelley Chan, Toni Bryce, and Michael Devereaux for filming and editing these videos. 

More Information and Resources Related to Gender Awareness

  • Some Definitions:
    • Gender Identity: How one identifies/labels oneself – as a man, a woman, trans*, genderqueer, or otherwise
    • Questioning: The process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
    • Agender: Refers to a person who does not identify with or experience any gender. Agender is different from nonbinary because many nonbinary people do experience gender.
    • LGBTQ+: An acronym that collectively refers to individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, sometimes stated as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) or, historically, GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender). The addition of the Q for queer is a more recently preferred version of the acronym as cultural opinions of the term queer focus increasingly on its positive, reclaimed definition. The Q can also stand for questioning, referring to those who are still exploring their own sexuality and/or gender. The “+” represents those who are part of the community but for whom LGBTQ does not accurately capture or reflect their identity.
  • More LGBTQ+ Terms and Definitions
  • Another List of Terms and Definitions (PFLAG)

Gender Inclusivity

Gender inclusion refers to actions and policies that build a world in which humans of all gender identities can live authentically, feel a sense of safety and belonging, and thrive. This includes actions that promote the health and well-being of transgender, gender nonbinary, two-spirit, and agender persons, as well as any others who identify outside of the gender binary. This also includes normalizing the use of pronouns, taking action to challenge the myth of the gender binary, and our individual commitment to processing gendered messaging and experiences that influence privilege and oppression in our lives.

Videos on Gender Inclusivity

Thank you to Loyola alums Kelley Chan, Toni Bryce, and Michael Devereaux for filming and editing these videos. 

Learn more about pronoun usage as it relates to gender inclusivity.

More Information and Resources Related to Gender Inclusivity

Gender HealthPink cartoon greyhound with text: How can we promote gender wellness? #GenderTalkLoyola

Gender health refers to actions that cultivate compassion, authenticity, and well-being in all aspects of our gendered lives for ourselves and for others. This includes actions and policies that end gender-based violence, actions that improve body image and bodily love across the gender spectrum, and actions that promote healthy embodiments of masculinity and femininity.

Videos on Gender Health

Thank you to Loyola alums Kelley Chan, Toni Bryce, and Michael Devereaux for filming and editing these videos. 

Learn more about some different dimensions of gender-related health below.

Ending Gender-Based Violence

Rejecting Bodily Shame and Embracing Body Autonomy and Neutrality

  • Body image is another important dimension of cultivating gender-related health. Issues such as fat phobia, sizeism, body shame, and disordered eating affect human beings across the gender spectrum. Furthermore, for some trans and nonbinary people, bodies can be a source of emotional distress if one’s bodily appearance or felt sense is incongruent with one’s identity.
  • Because gendered norms are so often tied to the appearance and physicality of bodies, we are often inundated with messages about how our bodies “should” look, whether we consciously notice these messages or not. Regardless of gender identity, each of us, at some point in our lives, has likely been made to feel some form of shame toward some aspect of our body. Cultivating bodily acceptance, bodily love, or “body neutrality” can sometimes feel challenging in a world that often tells us bodies should "look” a certain way. Furthermore, bodily ideals are often centered around White/Eurocentric, thin, non-disabled, cisgender bodies. As such, learning to resist the societal pressures to feel shame toward our bodies can be a lifelong process. However, as the author of The Body is Not an Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor notes, most of us at one point or another (usually often as babies or infants) felt a sense of unencumbered joy about our bodies and existed free of bodily shame. Check out the resources below to learn more: 

Healthy Femininities and Masculinities

  • When it comes to issues such as gender-based violence and body image, research shows that these issues are often inextricably linked with gender-related norms such as masculinity and femininity – also referred to as “masculinities” and “femininities” because neither has a single definition, but can differ across time, culture, identities, and context. 
  • Developing a healthy relationship with gender also often means reflecting on the degree to which our notions of masculinity and femininity serve us in living authentic, fulfilling, healthy, loving, and connected lives. 
  • Recent years have seen growing discussion around the concept of “toxic masculinity.” While there are certainly aspects of traditional masculinity that can be toxic, it can be helpful to shift how we think about this, by asking questions like, “Is this behavior/trait appropriate or healthy under the given situation?” For example, while suppressing emotions can be unhealthy in some circumstances (e.g., refusing to allow ourselves to be sad after someone we love dies), in other contexts (e.g., military combat), human beings often need some degree of emotional stoicism in order to survive. 
  • Furthermore, rather than think of masculinity and femininity as “opposites” (e.g., to be “more masculine” is to be “less feminine”), it can help to think of both as two of infinite number of stations at the “gender norm buffet.” By treating gender norms as an “a la carte” part of the human experience, we can engage with the parts of masculinity and femininity (and other norms) that make us feel like our authentic selves, rather than feeling like we need to deny parts of ourselves or forego some for others. 
  • Check out the resources below to learn more about these aspects of gender health:

Community Connections and Resources

We also offer the following non-exhaustive list of local resources as options for affirming care in the areas of physical and mental health, legal support, housing and food security, and community advocacy: