Many people use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. There is a belief that a person’s gender is labeled as male or female depending on the genitalia between one’s legs. This is incorrect.
I get it. Society tends to get these two constructs confused. Including politicians.
It was recently announced that the White House is planning to define a person’s sex as not only based on biology, but also on their gender. Let me explain the difference and why this is a problem.
Sex is all biology, baby.
A person’s sex is determined at birth. We exclaim “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!” if we see a penis or vagina. Sex is also determined by hormones and internal reproductive organs, but obviously we cannot see those biological characteristics at first glance.
But biological sex is not as binary as we think. You see, some people are born intersex, too. Intersex individuals may have ambiguous gentialia – it’s not quite clear if the infant/individual has a vagina or a penis. Or, they may have obvious external indicators of their biological sex, but internally they may have both male and female reproductive organs, or have none at all. Their hormones or DNA may indicate they are one sex, when their physical body indicates a different sex. Intersex characteristics can present in a variety of ways, or not at all. So, sex is not merely male and female – there are variations on the theme. Read the book Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes by Gerald N. Callahan, PhD. It’s a great read if you are into science-y stuff about sexuality.
Man! I Feel Like a Woman
Gender is another concept entirely. Gender is psychological. It answers the question – “What does it mean to be masculine and feminine and how do I identify?” According to the American Psychological Association, “gender refers to the attitudes, feelings and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.”
Individuals will define their gender as masculine, feminine or somewhere in between. Try to explain to someone what it feels like to be a woman, if that is how you identify. Somewhat difficult, right? Afterall, we’ve never been men. However, we know how we feel inside and we understand how we feel as “feminine”. That’s why we cannot deny how transgender individuals identify – only they know how they relate to gender, no matter what their biological sex is.
Gender is also a social construct. Men and women are expected to behave in a certain manner which conform to society’s expectations. Ponder for a moment: When you hear the words “It’s a boy!”, which images jump into your head? Trucks? Blue? Strong? Aggressive? How about “It’s a girl!”? Dolls? Pink? Dresses? Caretaker? But as we know, not all boys like trucks, not all girls like dolls. In fact, most individuals fall somewhere inbetween masculine and feminine – we are not binary beings. We are interesting, evolving, individuals who fall somewhere on the gender spectrum. Yes, you, too.
Who are you?
So think about it for a moment. What do your reproductive body parts look like? How do you identify your gender? Do you enjoy activites or careers that are not traditionally associated with your gender identity and biological sex? Do you have personality traits not typically associated with your sex and gender identity?
I am cisgender, which means that my gender and my biological reproductive organs align. However, I’m somewhat athletic – you know, I like to do stuff boys like to do. I can also be a bit assertive when necessary – not always sweet and quiet in the background. I like beer. (That’s all I’ll say about that.) But, I am still feminine and identify as such.
Who do you know that is male but might have feminine traits? Vice-versa.
See my point? Two different things. Sex is one thing. Gender is another. Each is on a spectrum – nothing is black and white – lots and lots of gray. Or should I say rainbow? Sexual orientation follows suit; it’s on a spectrum as well.
Why this matters…
This matters because this administration is attempting to combine these two words into one definition. Actually, they are trying to repurpose the definition of gender and squish it into the definition of biological sex.
I have a problem with this.
First, you can’t just change definitions of words on a whim. The writer in me is feeling quite frenzied over this. But it’s not about me.
It’s about the spectacular human beings that identify as intersex, transgender, or gender non-conforming…who are aware of their unique and diverse identities. By redefining what biolgical sex means, we will not change these individuals’ identities – we are who we are. We are merely making laws and policies that will make it difficult for all people in our nation to have access to basic human rights. Which, sadly, is the point of these new laws.
Policies can be redefined to fit agendas, but we cannot redefine words to fit policies!
By redefining what it means to be male or female to suit political purposes, we are causing great harm to humanity.
- Sex and gender are two different things.
- Understand what is transpiring with lawmakers.
- Realize the serious implications this new definition of sex will have on so many people.