Exploring the Differences Between Sex and Gender

Based on some of the feedback I received after posting about Gavin Grimm, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people either do not know, or choose not to acknowledge, the inherent differences between sex and gender. And that’s exactly why I’m dedicating an entire post to the subject. 

Let’s Talk About Sex

Often times, when we see the word “sex” on medical forms and the like, we automatically think it’s synonymous with identifying as either male or female. However, sex is actually not synonymous with gender and, in the arena of sociology, confusing the two can lead to a great deal of misunderstanding – which is probably why we are where we are today.

To keep things simple, “sex” refers to an individual’s biology.

Sex is determined by chromosomes (XX or XY) and “refers to physical or physiological differences between males and females, including both primary sex characteristics (the reproductive system) and secondary characteristics such as height and muscularity.

Forget about markers like “male” and “female” for a second – until we get to the topic of gender, those don’t matter.

When it comes to sex, all you need to know is that it’s determined by physical traits.

That was easy, right?

Defining “Gender”

Unlike sex, gender is not determined by physical characteristics.

Instead, gender is a word “that refers to social or cultural distinctions associated with being male or female.

It has nothing to do with a person’s physical and biological traits and everything to do with associations and markers we use to categorize other people and things. For example, in American society, when someone has a baby, their go-to color for girls is pink while their go-to color for boys is blue.

Most of us have subconsciously made the connection between the color pink and femininity and the color blue and masculinity but where did that link come from?

Colors are not inherently gendered and have only become so because we, as a society, have made lasting mental markers to identify them that way.

Having said that, gender identity is simply “the extent to which one identifies as being either masculine or feminine.


What It Means To Be Transgender

When an individual says they’re transgender, they’re not claiming to be both male and female or whatever it is that some people seem to think being transgender means.

Being transgender simply means that a person’s biological sex (XX or XY) does not correlate with their gender identity (feeling either masculine or feminine).

That’s really all there is to it, so I’m not really sure why some adults struggle with this concept when actual children can understand what being transgender means and use an individual’s preferred pronouns.

Perhaps the ignorance may stem from fear of what those people do not understand but it’s not an excuse to treat transgender individuals as lesser-than. Trans men and women are human beings, like you and me, and they deserve to be treated equitably.

Just because we, cisgender people, don’t have to fight to use a public restroom that correlates with our gender identity (because our gender identity already correlates with our sex) doesn’t mean that this is not an important fight for the transgender community.

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2 thoughts on “Exploring the Differences Between Sex and Gender

  1. Pingback: How To Best Utilize Your Individual Learning Style – Jacqueline Ledoux

  2. Pingback: How Trans Issues Made Their Way Into the Mainstream Media – Jacqueline Ledoux

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