A definitive guide to inform anybody willing to move forward.
What is the difference between sex and gender?
It’s a very valid question and a good one, too, because the answer is so long. There is a difference, and it’s strange how the two became intertwined, because they’re so different. You’ve definitely heard people describing sex vs gender before. Sex = your physical sex organs, e.g. a vagina, or a penis, or both if you were born with both (yes, that’s possible, and no, it’s not weird). Gender = the way you identify socially, e.g. wearing pink, wearing dresses, and painting your nails. These traits might, by traditionalists, seem girly, and effeminate.
Many people find it difficult to fully understand the difference, they say gender and sex come hand in hand and that you cannot change what you are, but I say that they are mislead. Humans, from the dawn of time relied on natural biology to separate the sexes into genders- due to basic things like the woman carrying the baby and feeding it through lactation. Nobody can argue that that is the women’s role, since the male (sex) physically can’t do it. But, humans took it too far.
As we evolved throughout thousands of years, we relied less and less on the need to hunt for our food and women became to be able to do more than looking after a child. We let this remain this way until just a few hundred years ago- the woman being the carer and the man being the bread winner. This translates into gender self-expression too. Women, since the dawn of time, were encouraged to cover their breasts as to not arouse their male counterparts- or gay female counterparts for that matter.
This developed into the over-sexualisation of women’s bodies, which consequently led to women wearing long frocks and stockings, to wearing high heels (to keep their backs straight and legs looking dainty and effeminate). All the while, men stopped wearing high heels because they were deemed effeminate by the masses, they began to walk around with their tops off (since their breasts weren’t sexualised), and they were subsequently able to perform more manual-labour-esque tasks (emasculate jobs) like bricklaying and carpentry. Without divulging into the whole spiel, I hope I’ve made it clear how the conformation to gender roles throughout history has developed to create the gender con-formative society that we live in currently.
Confusion Between the Differentiation of Gender & Sex
The difference between sex and gender are often confused because the general public tend to raise their children that way. From the beginning, most people buy their children masculine toys if they’re male, and feminine toys if they’re a female. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to the manifestation of negative gender stereotypes or confusion later on in life. A person can live life being the male sex, but identifying with the female gender. This means they might prefer to wear effeminate clothing (skirts, tights, heels), paint their nails, wear makeup, and associate with a different demographic. Remember, it’s vital to use the word ‘might’ simply because everybody is different, and nobody identifies in the same place on the spectrum! A great documentary to watch if you’re interested in widening your knowledge on gender is a show on Channel 4 called, “The Effects Of A Gender Neutral Education,” the documentary is below.
Some people say, ‘we need gender in our society because…’
No, we don’t, actually. We don’t need gender identification in our society. Men and women are both perfectly capable of completing the same jobs to the exact same degree of perfection, and men can now go on paternity leave meaning they can finally care for the baby. Heck, with same-sex parenting legal and in full swing, we are so far ahead that it’s comical for people to claim gender is even nearly necessary to maintaining a healthy, functioning society.
Since this site is personal to me, I think it’s time for me to discuss my personal gender identification and pronouns.
I’m lucky enough to have never experienced any form of gender dysphoria in my life. I can say comfortably that I, for the most time, identify quite effeminate on the spectrum. I enjoy spending up to an hour and a half applying makeup, then doing my hair. Sometimes however, I enjoy throwing my hair up, wearing my braces and tweed trousers and applying a mere layer of moisturiser in the morning. Dressing emasculate, for me, is empowering because I have never been oppressed to do it. Yes, sometimes people tell me I look better when I wear makeup- but I’ve learned to calmly explain to them how happy I am also without makeup.
My sexual orientation, as many know, has never been a ‘secret’ and I have never felt ashamed to be out about it. Many might know me as bisexual, however I have always sexually identified as pansexual.
Pansexual is the attraction to individuals regardless of how they gender-express, and regardless of their sexual biology. To me, this has always been the case and I have always been aware of it. Many of my friends and acquaintances find it strange and I often have to explain to them how it works and what it means, but no one has ever (to my face) told me they didn’t agree with it.
I identify as she/her, and my gender identification aligns with my biological sex. But, some are not as fortunate and suffer with gender/sex dysphoria.
Gender/sex dysphoria is the feeling of belonging to another gender/sex
Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. It’s sometimes known as gender incongruence. Biological sex is assigned at birth, depending on the appearance of the genitals. Gender identity is the gender that a person “identifies” with or feels themselves to be.
While biological sex and gender identity are the same for most people, this isn’t the case for everyone. For example, some people may have the anatomy of a man, but identify themselves as a woman, while others may not feel they’re definitively either male or female. This mismatch between sex and gender identity can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings that are called gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a recognised medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. It’s not a mental illness.
The first signs of gender dysphoria can appear at a very young age. For example, a child may refuse to wear typical boys’ or girls’ clothes, or dislike taking part in typical boys’ or girls’ games and activities.
In most cases, this type of behaviour is just part of growing up and will pass in time, but for those with gender dysphoria it continues through childhood and into adulthood. Adults with gender dysphoria can feel trapped inside a body that doesn’t match their gender identity.
They may feel so unhappy about conforming to societal expectations that they live according to their anatomical sex, rather than the gender they feel themselves to be. They may also have a strong desire to change or get rid of physical signs of their biological sex, such as facial hair or breasts.
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 gives certain legal rights to trans men and women.
Under the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, trans men and women can:
apply for and obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate to acknowledge their gender identity
get a new birth certificate, driving licence and passport
marry in their new gender
To apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, you must be over 18.
The application process requires you to prove that:
- You have or have had gender dysphoria
- You have lived as your preferred gender for the last two years
- You intend to live permanently in your preferred gender
If you read all the way to the bottom of this article, congrats! I truly hope my efforts to put this article together helped you in some way, either aiding your discovery of your gender identity, or understanding gender so you can help others. Please feel free to contact me through email firstname.lastname@example.org regarding anything from freelancing to your own personal problems. I have experience being an agony aunt, too!
https://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/ is a great helpline for gender dysphoria, and their helpline number is 0808 801 0400.
If your call to them isn’t answered, you can chat to them about anything at email@example.com.