Did you ever think: Why in English does words such as sex and gender exist? Did you ever think about the difference? If not, but you are curious about it, this article is for you. I will explain why sex and gender have an important distinction and why is it not simple to call someone female or male, woman or man.
Let’s start with the definition of ‘sex’.
The oldest one I found was from 1985.
“ ‘Sex’ is a word that refers to the biological differences between male and female: the visible difference in genitalia, the related difference in procreative function” (Oakley, 1985)
And the World Health organization’s definition (WHO):
“Sex refers to ‘the different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females, such as reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones, etc.’ ”(WHO)
Okay, so we have definitions. Let’s look at the language they are using. When they are referring assigned sex, we use female and male, not man or woman. Also, the definition doesn’t include intersex people, who are either male or female. The definition for intersex is:
“Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, intersex traits are visible at birth while in others, they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal intersex variations may not be physically apparent at all.”(UNFE)
There is a whole discussion about what to put into the intersex conditions because the percentage of people will vary depending on it. If we include conditions such as Turner syndrome, Klinefelter’s syndrome, vaginal agenesis, Locah, the number will be estimated to be 1.7% worldwide but there are people that don’t agree with this (Fausto-Sterling, 200). Without these conditions, the number is estimated to 0.018% worldwide (Sax, 2002). I wanted to show you both sides of this intersex discourse. I’m not gonna get into that too much because it will take the whole newspaper to make a point. Also, if you want to read more about sex as a spectrum, I’d recommend an article written for Scientific American, “Visualizing sex as a spectrum” by A. Montañez. The spectrum of sex is shown as a graph.
Since we went through ‘sex’, let’s go to the easier topic, which is gender.
First and foremost, gender is a social construct, it’s created by people and society.
Gender, according to WHO:
“Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviors and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.”(WHO)
So once again, gender is a social construct. Not a biological thing, it was created by humans. Also, gender is a spectrum. Some people don’t like the roles associated with their gender, so they change it to find the most comfortable one. You can identify as a man, woman, both, neither or you can be just in the middle. We have a name for these categories.
Transgender and Cisgender people:
“Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people whose gender identity does not necessarily correspond to the sex category to which they were assigned at birth, whereas the term cisgender refers to people who feel that their gender identity aligns with the sex category to which they were assigned at birth” (Serano, 2013)
So, what you know now, is the definition of sex, which is biological differences that categorize people into male and female. Between these two categories, which doesn’t fit perfectly with the conditions, are intersex people. The other important definition was gender, which refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls, and boys and how they are socially constructed. Of course, this is also a spectrum and between it we have transgender people and nonbinary, agender are included in that. Which leads me to my next topic: Trans issues, specifically, gender dysphoria. What is it and how can you heal it?
Definition of gender dysphoria:
“Gender dysphoria: Discomfort or distress related to an incongruence between an individual’s gender identity and the gender assigned at birth.”(American Psychological Association, 2018)
I wanted to find the definition that really illustrates the problem of gender dysphoria. Some definitions, instead of gender assigned at birth, use sex assigned at birth, but that stigmatizes a lot of nonbinary people. Nonbinary people experience gender dysphoria in their unique ways, for example they don’t want to change sex but may want to look more androgynous, which hormones could help (Galupo et all, 2021). Also, we know now the difference between sex and gender.
My main concern is that if you read that gender is a social construct, you think you can cure gender dysphoria by simply changing your mind or attitude. That is not true. For example, some have depression or some other mental health problems, inherited or given by trauma, that is cured by medication. People feelings matter and if they want to change gender or sex, that should not be a problem. The whole process of transitioning include meetings with psychotherapists that will exclude trauma as a factor of changing gender. Also, one more important thing to note is that trans people have increased anxiety and depression than cis people (Newcomb et al, 2020).
The solution to gender dysphoria is called gender-affirming care. In short, it’s not only bottom surgery and medical things, like giving hormones, but also can include any other psychological, sociological and behavioral factors that reassure the gender people have. It could include changing pronouns for whoever they feel comfortable with. Random fact, erasing gender distinctions in language is a steppingstone to gender equality (Liu et al, 2018). But yeah, the changes could be anything that makes you your gender identity.
You may ask: How do we know that this works? There is long term research about the effect of gender-affirming care (Ruppin Pfäfflin ,2015; Vries et al.,2014).
So, after all this information, I want to leave you with one question.
Why is gender-affirming care still so hard to get?