Understanding gender

For many, the terms “gender” and “sex” have long been undifferentiated from each other. Gender—according to Google—is the state of being male or female. But is that what gender really means? Regardless of the cultural practice of assigning gender based on certain body parts, a person’s gender is the gender or genders they see themselves as. According to the PHS Gay-Straight Alliance, “someone may be a girl, a boy, or a gender that falls into neither of those categories.” Although often recognized incorrectly as a synonym of gender, the term “sex” refers only to the biological traits of an individual, and is not based upon self-identity. However, there is a great deal of diversity beyond the “XX” and “XY” binary by which sex is usually determined. All those whose chromosomal makeup lies outside this binary are referred to as “intersex.” Nonconsensual surgeries that categorize bodies into the “male” or “female” categories are often forced upon intersex people, meaning that a third party chooses to perform surgery to “fit” those people into binary labels.

Knowing that sex and gender are two different terms is very important. However, it is also important to understand that sexual orientation correlates with neither sex nor gender; it  only describes which gender(s) an individual is attracted to. Awareness of these differences can help create a comfortable and an accepting environment for everyone.