Onslow-Ford was born in Wendover. He served as a naval officer for several years before moving to Paris, where he was taught by the Modernist painter, Fernard Léger.
While in Paris he came under the influence of the Surrealist artists, and the ideas of the French writer, André Breton. Breton's philosophy of automatism can be seen in this painting, which investigates the relationship between the conscious state and dreams. Onslow-Ford described Determination of Gender as ‘bringing the dream world and the waking state closer together'.