Last week, I wrote a post about the sex and gender one is oriented toward. Now, let’s talk about our own sex and gender.
Everyone, right now, look between your legs. What you’re looking at right now is your “sex,” or biological makeup in regards to reproduction.
However, it’s not that simple.
Sex isn’t just what your genitals are like. It also refers to your sex chromosomes, i.e. XX female, XY male, XXY intersex. Furthermore, it includes ovaries, testes, breast tissue, and levels of hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. In an attempt to put it simply, it’s all of the physical, tangible stuff.
Now, if everything matches up and falls into the same of two categories, male or female, great. It makes things quite simple, and that person’s sex is male or female. However, when things don’t line up, either they’re mismatched or fall somewhere in between, things aren’t so clear-cut. For example, people with vaginas and a Y chromosome. Are they male or are they female? This is why binary sexes are a problem. Sex, like sexuality, is a continuum. There aren’t two cardboard boxes that collectively hold the entire population.
It gets more complex when we include gender, which is how one identifies socially, mentally, or emotionally. This one can’t be pinpointed in a lab, except maybe with brain scans (I’m not sure how reliable they are). Gender is also a continuum, and it doesn’t at all have to match with sex. This is another problem.
In a society in which so much depends on a person’s sex and gender, being anywhere in the middle becomes increasingly difficult. It’s hard enough dealing with male and female restrooms, checking male or female boxes, using masculine and feminine pronouns, et cetera. It only gets worse when everyone is by default assumed to be cis-gendered (sex and gender match) at birth, and if someone identifies otherwise, they’re bombarded with highly personal questions that are enough to make anyone uncomfortable. And then they’re seen as The Trans Person.
And if someone doesn’t openly identify themself* as The Trans Person, but shows qualities that don’t align perfectly with their presumed sex and gender, people whisper about them, make a mockery of them, take bets on their private parts, and other ridiculous things that are really inexcusable.
Take Jamie Lee Curtis, for example. I have no idea how the rumors started about her being transsexual. Yes, she has a gender-neutral name. Yes, she’s kind of tall and has short hair. None of these are any indication of either her gender or her sex, but more importantly, it doesn’t matter. Even if she were transsexual, it is no one’s business but her own, and if she chooses not to tell people, that is her decision. No one is required to make public announcements about what they identify as, especially when it is that personal. And with the way the public treats anyone different than them, it’s completely understandable why people would want to keep it to themselves.
Another example is Lady Gaga. She’s another one whose privates are of extreme interest to the public. There is a picture of her in which her underwear appears to look like a vestigial penis to some people. All transphobia aside, it’s disturbing to me how widespread and seemingly okay it is to stare at, zoom-in on, analyze, publicly discuss and debate, and make assertions about a person’s crotch. Once again, there is no factual evidence to support this claim, and even if there was, it doesn’t matter.
I’m going to again say that we need to get rid of labels. It would make me so happy if we were all androgynous, or at least that society was, and we could be viewed as how we are as people, instead of as another man or woman. I really do wish that I was androgynous so that I wouldn’t be confined to my gender roles and stereotypes. I don’t want to be trans because I can’t imagine how hard it would be to be trapped in the wrong sex, but to instead be able to transcend sex and gender seems wonderful to me.
Okay, enough ranting. Now that I’ve made clear that I hate labels, I’ll give you an overview of some common ones because if we must use labels, we might as well use them correctly. The most commonly identified ones are cis-man and cis-woman, collectively referred to as cis-gender. This means that one’s sex matches one’s gender. If they are opposite, the person may identify as transsexual. Transman means that their gender is masculine and their sex is feminine. Transwomen are the opposite. These terms do not imply what one’s current genitalia look like, but what one was assigned at birth. Transgender (not transgendered) just means they’re not cis-gender, but can be anywhere in between. Genderqueer means their gender is not strictly masculine or feminine, intersex means their sex is not strictly male or female, and androgyny is the blanket term for anyone that is not strictly male, female, feminine, or masculine.
I’ve crafted another chart that may or may not be helpful in seeing how everything lines up. However, I want to make note that, even more so than sexuality, sex and gender terms have different meanings to different people. If you’re not sure what someone identifies themself as and you are comfortable enough with that person, just ask. However, please do not inquire about someone’s genitals unless invited to do so. It’s a very personal matter for everyone. I don’t want random people asking about my vagina unless they’re my doctor.** Most people regardless of sex and gender feel the same way about theirs.
I tried to include all of the main labels, but I’m sure there are ones I left out. This isn’t meant to be all-inclusive, but just a general guideline.
Another note. Cross-dressing is not tied to gender identity. It is simply the act of dressing outside of your traditional sex and gender. Additionally, transvestite does not imply transgender or transsexual. Transvestites and cross-dressers could have numerous reasons for dressing like a different gender, only one of which is that they identify better with the gender they dress as. They could also do it just for fun, for sexual reasons, for performance, or to gain perspective.
I want to end this post before it gets too terribly long, but let me leave you with this: let’s stop judging people for their sex and gender. We’re all the same on the inside, just trying to get through the long, hard struggle of life. Why not make it easier on everyone by accepting each other and ourselves as who we are?
*Just recently, the pronoun “them” has been deemed an acceptable gender-neutral pronoun. Not only is this smoother to write than “he or she,” but it also recognizes anyone outside of the gender binary, which is fantastic.
**This includes asking if it’s shaved or matches the drapes. Since when did these questions become pick-up lines?