A Quick Note on Sex & Gender

Sex and gender are not the same things. Biological sex is defined by anatomy and genetics. Gender, however, refers to the manifestation of that physiological sex. A person whose biological sex and manifested gender are congruent are termed cisgender. A person whose biological sex and manifested gender are incongruent may be (over broadly) considered transgender, but that does not necessarily mean such person intends to undergo medical sex reassignment or that such person intends to live as a different sex. More appropriately being “trans” simply means that the person transcends binary gender much in the way that D-block elements on the periodic table are called transitional elements because those elements have both metallic and nonmetallic properties. Such transmetals can appear to be metals in one context but nonmetals in another context.

Gender does influence sexuality but gender is not determinative of sexuality. In actuality, there are three components at work: Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sexual Orientation.

Gender identity signifies an individual’s personal perception of his or her biological sex. Gender expression refers to the manner in which a person represents her or his gender identity. Sexual orientation is the gender and/or sex to which a person is romantically or physiologically attracted. There is tremendous variation and permutation of these three components. For instance, a biological male might identify and dress as female and still be attracted to women, but that person is not a lesbian, nor is (s)he a transvestite. Likewise, a biological female might identify as female, express a very masculine persona, and be attracted to both males and females. Even medical reassignment of anatomical sex does not necessarily change that person’s sexual orientation. Bruce Jenner, for example, was attracted to women prior to sex reassignment surgery and as Caitlin Jenner remains attracted to women.

Gender exists along a continuum. The Chinese yin-yang exemplifies the ancient eastern philosophy that men and women are not entirely one or the other. This is to say, each sex has an embedded component of the other. Furthermore, the line of demarcation is neither vertical nor horizontal nor straight. In sum, a male can be effeminate and a female can be masculine without forfeiting personal wholeness and harmony.

There is also third umbrella of “non-binary” which means that the person identifies as neither female nor male, not entirely male or not entirely female, or as both male and female. Non-binary also includes agender, pangender, gender non-conforming, gender expansive, gender creative, and gender-fluid identities. Persons who so identify might express themselves androgynously, might style themselves through a hybrid or blended expression, or might alternate between masculine and feminine expressions. Within the non-binary spectrum lies a myriad of identifiers which can (and do) vary tremendously from person to person. In those cases, the person’s self-declared identity is often very precisely and very deliberately phrased. There is an automatic predisposition to use pronouns according to that person’s biological sex, but in practice it is appropriate to use a pronoun consistent with the person’s gender expression (unless the person has expressed a particular pronoun preference). Regardless of religious, personal, or political views, every human being is worthy of and deserving of respect, and by giving others that respect we communicate the value of the life force within them and within us.

Gender identity and gender expression are also heavily encoded by culture and geography. International locales are more understanding of cultural diversity and as such are less likely to impose rigid binary models upon gender expression. Thus it is possible for a person to identify as male in the northern United States, but as non-binary in the southern Bible belt. Inhabitants of international megatropolises like New York, Paris, or Madrid will make little or no inference of sexual orientation solely from a person’s gender expression. On the other hand, latino culture imposes very rigid parameters on gender expression and will very strongly interpret variances in gender expression as indicators or sexual orientation. So internationally diverse cities like Miami and Mexico D.F. (i.e. “Mexico City”) would largely interpret any non-heteronormative gender expression as indicating a homosexual orientation. There are exceptions, however, such as Brasil, which very openly embraces sexuality in all its forms.

The takeaway is this: 1) anatomy does not determine gender, and 2) gender does not determine sexual orientation. People who do not conform to societal, cultural, or geographical norms of gender expression are not perverts, not deviants, and not simply confused. In fact, those individuals who can acknowledge the fluid dynamic of gender are probably more in touch with their own psychology and sexuality than those who have never engaged in such profound self-analysis.

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