The Distinction Between Sex and Gender
Sex and gender. At first glance, these words seem to be synonymous, but that is far from the truth. These two powerful words have drastically different meanings and cannot be used interchangeably. “Gender” is a range of characteristics a person identifies with, like a social construct, which is not objective but rather created and agreed upon by people. However, when we refer to the “sex” of a person, we are talking about the biological attributes derived from their chromosomes.
‘Gender’ in itself is a big term and is best defined as a spectrum. This reinforces the idea that gender varies past the binary definition. Some examples of genders under this umbrella:
- Cisgender: When people identify as their sex assigned at birth.
- Gender queer or non-binary: A range of gender identities outside of binary denotations; left more open for interpretation.
- Transgender: Those whose gender identity is not the same as their sex
- Genderfluid: people who do not have a fixed expression of gender, causing it to shift over a period of time.
*This is not a complete list of all identities under the spectrum
Males are born with one X and one Y chromosome. Females are born with two X chromosomes. Intersex people have certain chromosomal differences resulting in the reproductive organs of both males and females in some cases. This is their assigned sex (a label given at birth based on medical factors, including hormones, chromosomes, and genitals) and is often confused with their assigned gender (the gender assigned to an infant at birth, meant to correspond to the assigned sex) and assumed gender (the gender others assume an individual to be based on the sex they are assigned at birth, as well as apparent gender markers such as physical build, voice, clothes, and hair).
The differences are crucial to note, as confusion between them leads to the categorization of people under the ‘default’ binaries of male and female, which may be inaccurate and enforce gender roles or harmful stereotypes.
In India, an estimated 4.8 million people identified as non-binary in 2011, and yet the stigma around this identification persists. They were initially confused as transgender as both these terms overlap in some, but not all, cases. This confusion stems from the sheer lack of awareness of the gender spectrum and the numerous identities under it. The confusion was corrected after recognition of the need for differentiation and clarification that the transgender identity overlaps with the umbrella of non-binary. However, this still doesn’t mean that every transgender person identifies as non-binary and vice versa.
People have started to become more conscious of ‘gender’ as a whole. Most of us have come across, or perhaps have, gender pronouns (they/them, she/her, he/they) mentioned in Instagram bios or Zoom names, but not all of us fully understand their purpose. While they not only allow other people to refer to us with our preferred pronouns, it also indicates that we will not assume any person’s gender. That’s why it is not just the non-binary community that needs to identify itself but the binary too.
It may seem trivial, but certain terms (e.g. ladies and gentlemen, his and hers, etc.) are exclusionary and may leave those not neatly fitting into the designated categories out of the conversation. Getting rid of gendered terms or assumptions of another person’s gender and replacing that with gender declaration at the beginning of an interaction is the beginning of the path towards gender inclusivity, whether that is in a work, school or social environment.
Neglection of the gender spectrum has various consequences, particularly for mental well-being. Gender dysphoria is a common result. It is the sense of unease due to the mismatch of assigned sex and gender identity. This may occur in adults and adolescents, but it may not be consistent, occurring over certain periods of time. Despite its prevalence, it’s not necessary that this occurs in all people whose gender identity is different to their assigned sex. Varying in intensity, it can negatively affect someone, causing problems such as depression and anxiety. Some people may also experience pressure to go through with corrective surgeries to ‘properly fit’ into the category of male, female or any other. These types of surgeries are increasing in popularity all over the world, but the impact that comes along with them must also be taken into account. They may lead to excessive loss of blood, infections, and loss of sexual sensation, among many other unwanted and detrimental consequences.
People should not be forced to fit in boxes and conform to the predetermined binaries in society. Can we all truly say that identifying as a man or woman adds to a person’s character? No, it doesn’t, and that is why we all must be more conscious of our actions and language and be mindful of any gendered greetings in a conversation. The only reason we do so is because of the numerous attributes and roles we have assigned to genders, but in reality, are restrictive and inessential.
Article written by Tara Karni Devi Bajaj and researched by Gia Arora
Featured Artwork by Sanvee Jatia
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