Difference Between Sex and Gender, Gender Identity and Gender Expression
Sex and gender are commonly used terms. Yet, not many understand the difference between sex and gender since the two terms are often used interchangeably in everyday usage.
The confusion doesn’t end with sex and gender but extends to other terms like sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression too.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SEX AND GENDER
Sex denotes biological sex of an individual whereas gender denotes social constructs. Gender norms often keep changing with time. Classic example would be the colour pink. Pink was originally considered a masculine colour until World War II when it was no longer the tough hue that it was once perceived to be. The change in perception of the colour was the primary reason for me to use pink background in the images below. Thanks to history, the colour pink, in a way represents duality of masculine and feminine. Gender norms change not only with time but also with culture. What’s masculine in one society may be considered feminine in another society.
SEX – DETERMINED BY BIOLOGY
A male has a penis, testicles, XY chromosome and mostly testosterone. Females have a vagina, ovaries, XX chromosomes and predominantly estrogen. There are various possibilities with intersex. For example, sometimes it’s about having a combination of both male and female genitals, sometimes it’s about having male’s genitals with excess female hormones. Here are some statitstics provided by Intersex Society of America.
The term transsexual comes in when a person changes the sex assigned in birth.
GENDER IDENTITY – HOW YOU IDENTITY YOURSELF
Gender identity stems from what you identify yourself with. Various personal experiences, psychological traits and sometimes even biological factors like differential hormone levels may play key role in how an individual identifies him/herself. We learn to identify our sex at a young age and there are several cases when the sex an individual identifies with may not align with the sex assigned during birth. Such individuals often go through great psychological pressure while growing up since how they identify themselves contradicts the expectations from friends, family and society in general. Dear Parents, do not pressurize your kids with your expectations that your son and daughter will always grow up to become straight male and female identifying themselves as man and woman respectively. Because the moment, something turns out to be different, they grow up thinking how they turned out to become such a disappointment for failing to meet your expectations.
GENDER EXPRESSION – HOW YOU ACT, DRESS, BEHAVE ETC.
Gender expression stems from preconceived notions of our society. Our society has basically predefined what’s masculine and feminine. It’s about how an individual wearing a certain clothing, a certain profession (like say ballet dance), or displaying certain traits like being expressive is often tagged as feminine. Whereas, playing sports, displaying aggression and plenty of other behaviours and actions are tagged as masculine. It’s about how you express yourself in relation to traditional gender roles dictated by society.
Androgynous combines both masculine and feminine aspects. Gender Neutrality is about rejection or absence of gender specific notions.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION – WHO YOU’RE ATTRACTED TO
Ideally, sexual orientation has nothing to do with sex vs gender topic. However, sexual orientation is often confused with various aspects of gender identity and expression. Heterosexual is attracted to an individual of the opposite sex. Homosexual is attracted to an individual of the same sex. Bisexual is attracted to both male and female. Pansexuality is when sex/gender doesn’t play a factor in attraction towards an individual. Pansexuality is rejection of sex/gender specific attraction.
Now, you must be very well about the number of possibilities that may arise from a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. A male may identify himself as a man, have masculine traits and be gay. A female may identify herself as a man, have androgynous gender expression and be bisexual. A transsexual may identify as transgender, have feminine gender expression and be pansexual. And of course, a male and female can identify themselves as man and woman, have masculine and feminine gender expressions and be straight. The conclusion? GENDER IS NOT BINARY. It’s never THIS OR THAT. It’s always THIS AND THAT.