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Sex or Gender: Why They are Not the Same Thing

Trigger Warning: mentions of genitalia may be triggering for those with dysmorphia – Read with care and stop if you have to. Remember, you are a beautiful person!

This topic has been spoken and written about multiple times before. Yet, many people still use sex and gender as synonyms for each other. While sex and gender can be the same thing for some people, for others, it is completely two different entities.

I will admit that I too have used these as interchangeable words for each other. As I have been exposed to more media and college, I have learned the differences and why it is important to know that there is a difference. After all, this topic is extremely important for many in the LGBTQIA+ community and those that study gender in college.

While I am an English major, I have two minors as well. One of which is Women and Gender’s Studies. The second major topic that we are taught in the minor is the difference between sex and gender. Not just the difference but why people must acknowledge that these two words do not mean the same thing.

So, what is sex?

Most people know sex to mean sexual activity such as intercourse or masturbation. However, when we talk about sex and gender, sex takes on a different definition. In this topic, sex is referring to what’s in your pants. While your play bits are used in sexual activity, they also are used to determine whether you are female or male at birth. When you are born (and even before) doctors and your guardians look at the genitalia you have developed. If there is a penis present, you are considered male. If there is a vagina, you are female.

Of course, it is not always easy to tell between male and female right away. Some experts believe that as many as 1 out of 1,500 people are born as intersex (American Psychological Association). If the child is born with ambiguous genitalia, or hard to determine genitalia, then they are often assigned a sex based on other factors, such as their chromosomes or any identifiable inner sex organs like ovaries.

Whether female, male, or intersex, the sex of a baby is determined by their genitals or other sex organs. That’s how sexual activities and sex of a person connect together; it’s all based on how someone reproduces. If someone can get someone else pregnant, they are male. If they get pregnant, they are female. That is how doctors and parents view the sex of children before the child is even born. However, the sex that people are assigned at birth (or before) forms into their gender once they are born.

Isn’t Gender the Same Thing Then?

No. Again, sex is what’s in between your legs. Gender, by itself, is what society sees. The sex of a person can be male and as such, society will say they are a boy/man. The same goes for a female person being seen as a girl/woman. However, some people born as males don’t feel like boys or men. Just as some people born as females don’t feel like girls or women. This means that their assigned sex at birth and social gender does not match their gender identity.

What is Gender Identity?

Gender identity is what’s in your brain. This is how you feel about yourself in terms of gender. While most people see their gender as align with their biological sex (these people are called cis-gender people), not everyone is the same. Some people see themselves as different genders compared to the one that society and their genitals have determined for them. These people are considered part of the trans+ community. While being trans+ can mean someone is transgender, it can also include those that are non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, two-spirited, queer, or anything else that is not totally male or totally female.

Why is Gender So Important?

As stated earlier, not everyone sees their gender as society sees it. Someone who was assigned male at birth but sees themselves as a woman is a transwoman. This person feels they were meant to be female but were born male. As such, society has labeled them as a man and places certain expectations on this person. These expectations will not line up with what the individual person sees for their life. Thus, this person will suffer in many aspects of their life such as depression and discrimination by society.

This is why people need to learn that gender is different. If society could understand this difference, then those in the trans+ community would have an easier time being seen as who they truly are. When society says sex and gender are the same things, it makes it difficult (and often dangerous) for trans+ people to be seen as their specific gender identity. Society needs to learn that not everyone is cis-gender. It is because of this idea that people are cis-gender that sex and gender are used interchangeably. Again, we know that not everyone identifies with their assigned sex at birth. For these people, gender is different from sex. Gender is also highly important for those who want to be seen as their gender identity and not their genitalia.

It is important that we all understand that sex and gender are two different things, even if your sex and gender align. Our loved ones, friends, co-workers, and anyone else around us could see their gender as different than their sex. Even if someone grew up believing their sex and gender were the same, it does not mean they still will think that when they are teens or adults. Understanding this will help our society become a little less hateful.

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