Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gender 101: Beyond a Boy/Girl World

Is this a boy or a girl?

A girl?

Okay, now how about this person?

A boy?

The bigger question is: what makes you think so? You probably guessed by the length of their hair and their clothing, minimal as both may be in this case. But in my experience, most gender minorities, women included, know full well that gender is more complex than that.

While our culture aims to combine gender and biological sex and acknowledges only two genders as legitimate, a variety of gender identities exist beyond male and female. Most of us were taught that gender and biological sex are one and the same. We were taught that our only choices are male or female. But today, an entire community of people is proving firsthand that gender isn't static, and that there are more than two rigid options: the transgender (or trans*) community.

So if gender and sex aren’t synonymous, what makes them different? According to the APA, sex is “assigned at birth” and it “refers to one’s biological status as either male or female.” The APA also notes that sex is determined by a person’s chromosomes, hormones, and anatomy.

Gender, on the other hand, is a combination of behaviors and characteristics that are related to but not always identical to biological sex. This suggests that part of gender is how we fit into the world around us – and is determined internally, not externally. Gender identity, a closely related term, involves, “how we feel about and express our gender,” from the length of our hair to whether we think of ourselves as masculine or feminine.

It's understandable if you’re still little skeptical about the difference between gender and sex. That’s because if you’re like most people, your biological sex and your gender are identical, or at least very similar. If you fall into this category of people, believe it or not, there's a word for that. You're cisgender. Likewise, people whose sex and genders differ are called transgender.

For more information on transgender people, visit the links below:


American psychological association: sexuality. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org

Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. (2012, 05 31). Planned parenthood. Retrieved from http://www.plannedparenthood.org

Photos courtesy of aisteel.co.za

Kai Niezgoda, NOW Intern

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