Gender: Breaking it Down
By: Des Loucado, Masters Level Intern
Within our society, we often see a confusion between biological sex and gender. We see these two terms used synonymously with one another when in actuality, they are two different concepts. But how do we begin to understand these as two separate entities when society uses them interchangeably? Well, we break it down.
The concept of one’s sex is entirely biological. It refers to sex organs, genes, hormones, and characteristics a person has at birth and throughout puberty rather than their outward appearance and expression. At the time of birth, people are assigned into a binary: either female, male or intersex. This is often referred to as natal sex, or sex assigned at birth.
Now when we look at someone’s gender, it becomes broader. Gender is someone’s internalized identity about themselves and their expression, often shifting and evolving over time. It can be influenced by someone’s culture, core values, or experiences. It is most easily described as a spectrum of expression, marked by the ability to slide along the scale to any degree a person is most comfortable.
For some, this internal experience of their gender aligns with their biological sex, meaning that their gender expression, identity and presentation all coincide with what they were assigned at birth. We call these individuals cisgender. The term broken up into two key parts, cis– and –gender. In Latin, the term “cis” means to “be on this side”, meaning that they do not wish to move from their place.
However, there are those out there who do not align with their assigned sex, but instead the opposite. This is where the term transgender occurs as it encompasses a wide umbrella of identifiers. Much like the word suggests, the prefix trans- means to “be on the other side of or beyond” meaning the word moves beyond what is assigned. Those who identify themselves as transgender often have varying levels of internalization or expression of their gender. Some wish to undergo gender affirmation surgeries in order to feel more actualized, but this is not the case for everyone.
There are those who may not align with their natal sex but do not wish to transition to another binary. They instead feel a variety of differing feelings about expression with their gender identity that may fluctuate. These individuals are commonly considered androgynous. Some of these identities include non-binary, genderfluid or genderqueer.
To dive down even further, let’s do a small exercise! Using a pen and paper (or your imagination) draw a horizontal line. On one end of the line, we have femininity, and on the other is masculinity. You will place a mark along this line according to how you feel internally. Do you feel as though you are more masculine? Or are you more feminine? Let’s add another line for how you express yourself. Do you tend to enjoy outward feminine appearances? Or masculine attire? Lastly, add another for presentation, or how people view you in society. Would they describe you as one or the other? Or more androgynous?
You may be surprised to find that someone who may identify the same as you may have different answers. This is because their gender identity is experienced differently from your own. Those slight differences in expression, presentation and internalization are exactly what makes gender different from sex.