Sex, Gender & Sexuality are Three Different Things

Historically, society has assumed that people have one sex, one gender, and one sexuality. In fact, sex and gender have been interchangeably used, as though it means the same, in addition to, sex being identified with sexuality, physiology, biology, and social status. Therefore, over the years, heteronormativity, a system that normalizes behaviors and societal expectations that are tied to the presumption of heterosexuality, became the norm, and those who did not fit in the bracket became identified as the deviance from the norm. In this chapter, we will discuss the differences between sex, gender, and sexuality, along with understanding gender identity and gender expression.

Difference Between Sex and Gender

In school, when we’re asked to fill out the front page of our school diaries, which asked for details like name, address, parents’ details, etc., there is one question that asks your ‘sex or gender’? This is a classic case of misinterpretation of sex and gender. They are not the same.

Most of us have grown to understand that sex is denoted as either female or male which is based on biological features, such as genitalia, chromosomes, hormones, and other biological features. 

Gender encompasses our behavior, attributes, identity, and roles that make females – women, and males – into men. This also paves the way for socially sanctioned ideas of how men and women should behave. A person’s sex doesn’t determine their gender, which is why both sex and gender cannot be used interchangeably

When a child is born and assigned a sex – female or male at birth, the child may grow up feeling like they don’t belong in their own body and not aligning themselves with the gender identity given to them. They may identify with a gender identity that is not in line with their biological sex. When people only acknowledge a person’s sex that is assigned at birth and not the gender they personally identify with, it can have a detrimental impact on their personal physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Our bodies are gendered based on cultural expectations that come with being a man or woman. Therefore, traditionally masculine and feminine traits that are equated with being a man or woman  – line up for people who identify as ‘cisgender’. The problem begins when society genders our bodies because it affects the way we perceive ourselves to be, and what the society perceives.

The Importance of Gender Identity

Now, gender identity becomes an important part of anyone’s life because it determines who you are. It is your experience and identity. And sometimes, it may differ from the sex you’re assigned at birth. A person’s gender identity comes from within them – what they feel, what they experience, and what they self identify with. 

The two gender identities that people are familiar with are men and women (or boy and girl) – often termed as the Gender Binary. But, over the years, we’ve come to recognize the gender spectrum where many people identify with a gender that goes beyond the Gender Binary. It is important to respect that.

People who are cisgender almost always are treated with respect, meaning, we recognize his/her gender as well as use the correct pronouns they associate with such as he/she, him/her, etc. So, it equally important to treat people, who don’t fall under the cisgender category, with respect because they too are humans.

The Importance of Gender Expression

The way we communicate our gender to others, in terms of mannerisms, behavior, clothing, language, actions, etc. is called gender expression. A person’s name and the pronouns they use is also a form of gender expression. Our gender expressions are different from our gender identity and sexual orientation. For example, we cannot assume a man’s gender identity if he likes to wear a saree. It just means that he feels comfortable wearing clothing that is commonly associated with women.

What is Sexuality?

A person’s gender has nothing to do with their sexuality. It is solely based on who that person is attracted to, sexually, physically, romantically, and emotionally, or even the lack of it. It is diverse, personal, and can change over time. Plus, it is more than sexual feelings or intercourse, as well.

Everyone’s sexual experiences are unique, and all of us have the right to choose, if, and how we express it.

In the next article, we shall explore and deconstruct the notion of ‘sex’ deeply. 

This article has been edited by Faiza Khan, a content specialist, and researcher by day, and a self-taught mixed media artist by night. She currently works as the Program Development Manager for the Bangalore based NGO, One Billion Literates Foundation.

At PinkLungi, we’ve always strived to encourage people to understand reality from different perspectives. We see ourselves as a safe space where conversations, engagements, debates, and more, can help people reflect on their own perceptions, and maybe, learn and unlearn, along the way. That’s why we have decided to start a new weekly series, ‘Understanding Sex, Gender, and Sexuality’, to help you understand, recognize, respect, and humanize people. As with any learning experience, you will learn to explore more about people’s experiences of self through this series.

Aishwarya Gopinathhttps://pinklungicom.wordpress.com/
A foodie at heart, an aspiring novelist, and an enthusiastic writer by nature, I love to dig deep into culture and lifestyle of the place and people around me. I hope to make people cry, laugh, smile, angry, and satisfied with my writing.

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