Sex and Gender – what do these words mean?
Usually, your sex is either male or female. It’s a label given to you based on the appearance of your genitals at birth.
Usually, your gender is either girl or boy. It’s your subjective feeling of who you are.
Shortly after you’ve taken your first breath as a baby, a number of assumptions are made about you.
The first assumption is about your sex. You are given a legal-sex, either male orfemale, based solely on the appearance of your genitalia. Around the same time you are given a name, which also tends to be based on the legal-sex assigned to you.
SEX is usually based on the appearance of a newborn’s genitals. It refers to the legally documented category of female or male assigned to a baby soon after birth.
The next most common assumption is about your gender. If you were given a legal-sex of female, we assume you will have the gender Girl which eventually matures into aWoman. If you were given a legal-sex of male, we tend to assume you will have the gender Boy which eventually matures into a Man.
GENDER is the subjective feeling that you’re a girl or a boy, man or woman.
We assume your sex (male or female) will match your gender (boy or girl). On the whole, for most people these are reasonable assumptions. For most people their internal gender and their external sex match seamlessly.
Your sex (male or female) usually matches your sense of gender (boy, girl).
In reality, you are complex mix of:
- your own personal perception of yourself;
- your physical body and other people’s perception of you; and
- the way you relate to and interact with other people, socially, emotionally and sexually.
The following diagram might help understand some of this complexity.
Figure 1 Some ranges of human expression
Conventionally, most people are at either end of each range. However, some people are towards the middle of some or all of these ranges. Princess Diana and Steve Irwin are two examples of the convention most people see as a woman and a man towards opposite ends of this spectrum.
Diana was assigned the female sex at birth, has the gender-identity of a woman, a feminine expression (dress, mannerisms), her behaviour is more passive than aggressive and her sexuality is oriented towards men (heterosexual).
Steve was assigned the male sex at birth, has the gender-identity of a man, a masculine expression (dress, mannerisms), behaviour that is more aggressive than passive, and a sexuality which is oriented towards women (heterosexual).
Not all people follow the conventional or corresponding ranges in the way they dress, behave and live. Look at these examples and see what you think.
Boy George / Grace Jones / KD Lang / Suzi Quarto
Gender is social
Sex is biological
Every now and then someone who was assigned female (sex) at birth says they are a boy (gender) or someone assigned the male (sex) at birth, sometimes says they are a girl (gender). For this small group of people it’s much more than their gender – labels, terms, mannerisms, behaviour, dress etc.
For this small group of the human population, it’s their physical body which causes them the most distress and discomfort. These people have a very definite sense of belonging to the opposite sex. These people feel like their biology (body) has developed in the opposite direction.