Photo by samirluther

I gotta level with you, peeps. This post is as much for me as it is for you.

When I began working in sex education, one of the subjects I quickly realized I knew virtually nothing about was sex. Not sex as in the touchy-feely erotic stuff we do with our bodies, but sex as in how we identify/categorize different people based on biology or identity. I knew there were men and women, boy and girls. But I didn’t understand that there were distinctions between terms like “male/female” versus “masculine/feminine” or  “sex” versus “gender”.

I’ve been privileged to learn about gender identity from some amazing educators. I’ve attended several seminars and workshops. I’ve read books, blogs and articles. And years later, I think I’m *finally* beginning to understand the basics of sex versus gender.

Below is my best explanation of sex, gender and what makes them different. I know I have a lot of uber-smart people reading out there. If you know your gender studies and you spot any glaring errors or omissions feel free to call me out.

Sex

Sex, in a nutshell, is our biology. It’s the  specific set of anatomical, chemical and genetic characteristics, many of which we’re born with and others that develop as our bodies mature. Males are born with testicles, two distinct sex-chromosomes (XY) and  a bunch of testosterone. Females are born with ovaries, XX sex-chromosomes and higher concentrations of estrogen and progesterone.

Male and female are the sexes that most people are familiar with. No wonder – they’re the two that get virtually all the attention around here. But amongst humans there are several variations of sex . Intersex refers to people who are neither specifically male nor specially female at birth.

 

Gender

Gender is a complex concept. The meaning of the word has changed and evolved over time. Nowadays, the word “gender” is used describe a person’s psychological identity and/or socially constructed role. Genders include, but are not limited to androgynous, feminine, gender fluid, non-gendered or masculine.  A person’s gender might coincide with their physical sex. It might not. A person’s gender may remain constant, while others may experience gender differently at different point in their lives.

Like I said, gender is a way-big, super- fascinating topic and I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to this stuff. However, I have learned about a few very cool concepts related to gender, including the followin

Gender Identity –  Our psychological sense of our own gender. Who we feel we are. I, for example, identify as a woman. I prefer to be referred to by feminine pronouns such as “she” and “her” or the name “Nadine” which is also distinctly feminine.

Gender Presentation – How a person expresses gender through clothing, personal grooming and behaviour. A person’s external presentation may or may not reflect their gender identity.  I am a woman who dresses and behaves in a way that many people consider feminine. If at some point I choose to dress in a way that isn’t considered feminine, I may do so and still identify as a woman.

Gender Binary – The assumption that there are only two genders: feminine and masculine. Unfortunately it’s hella exclusionary. There are many people who don’t identify as a combination of both or neither.  Unfortunately our society is rampant with situations that force people to choose one or the other, which in my opinon, is pretty prejudiced and sucktacular…but doesn’t mean that I’m not influenced by it.

Genderqueer – A broad term that refering identities outside the gender binary.

Trans – A person who’s gender identity and presentation does not conform to the social expectations associated with their biological sex.

Cisgender –  A person who’s gender identity and presentation conform to the social expectations associated with their sex.

Cisnormativity – Social privileges afforded to cisgendered people/ the assumption that all people are or should be cisgendered. Again, bigot-y and wrongsauce. Again, creeps up in my thinking/behaviour more than I’d care to admit.

 

And that peeps is my review and your overview of sex and gender. Like I said, this is only the briefest of overviews. If you have anything to add, the comment section is all yours!

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Lynn says:

    Fascinating – I had never really thought about this before. Thanks for the great overview!

  2. Dawn says:

    Very informative and interesting. It tempts one to explore the issue further. I’ve for a long time now realized we human beings are complex, and interesting people.

  3. Rachel says:

    My brain is convinced the two terms should be used the other way around – gender for the biology, and sex for the identity. It’s gotten me into a few conversations where people think I am disagreeing with them. I’m trying to re-train my brain. :)

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