Gender is Complicated

Gender is complicated. I’ll do my best to explain.

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For many people, the terms “gender” and “sex” are used interchangeably. We rarely think twice that the terms are used as one in the same. We are born as male or female (with the exception of those born intersex, which could be an entire blog post in itself), and are sent out in the world to live up to society’s expectations of what it means to be male and female. Yet biological sex and gender are different; gender is not inherently or exclusively connected to an individual’s physical anatomy.

Biological Sex vs. Gender

Biological sex includes your physical anatomy, sex chromosomes, sex hormones, and reproductive structures. At birth, it is used to assign sex – to identify individuals as male or female. Gender is much more complicated. It is the complex relationship between an individual’s sex, the internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither, and the outward presentations and behaviors related to that perception. Together, the intersection of these  dimensions produces an individual’s authentic sense of gender – both in how people experience their own gender and how others perceive it.

Terms & Definitions

Gender Expression: Refers to the ways in which we each manifest masculinity or femininity. It is usually an extension of our gender identity, our innate sense of being male, female, etc. Each of us expresses a particular gender every day by the way we style our hair, select our clothing, or even the way we stand. Our appearance, speech, behavior, movement, and other factors signal that we feel and wish to be understood as masculine or feminine, or as a man or a woman.

Gender Identity: The sense of being male, female, genderqueer, agender, etc. For some people, gender identity is in accord with physical anatomy. For transgender people, gender identity may differ from physical anatomy or expected social roles. It is important to note that gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation are separate and that you cannot assume how someone identifies in one category based on how they identify in another category.

Gender Normative: A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender based expectations of society.

Gender Role: This is the set of roles, activities, expectations and behaviors assigned to females and males by society. Our culture recognizes two basic gender roles: Masculine (having the qualities attributed to males) and feminine (having the qualities attributed to females). People who step out of their socially assigned gender roles are sometimes referred to as transgender. Other cultures have three or more gender roles.

Genderqueer: A term which refers to individuals or groups who queer or problematize the hegemonic notions of sex, gender and desire in a given society. Genderqueer people possess identities which fall outside of the widely accepted sexual binary (i.e. “men” and “women”). Genderqueer may also refer to people who identify as both transgendered AND queer, i.e. individuals who challenge both gender and sexuality regimes and see gender identity and sexual orientation as overlapping and interconnected.

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