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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sex vs. Gender

(Crossposted from my post on the Femmes Guide.)


Sex vs. Gender

An interesting concept, the thought of sex versus gender as though they were two opposing fighters in the boxing ring. Think about it – how often on, say, applications or other miscellaneous forms do you see “Gender: M___ F___” or “Sex: M___ F___?” (The fact that there are only two genders on these forms is a whole other, and often addressed concept.) The vast majority of the world sees these two terms as completely interchangeable, although some might argue that “gender” is slightly more appropriate, given the obvious double-entendre of the word “sex.” (Cue Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me line, “Sex… yes please!”) However, in my cognitive travels, I have reached a fork in the road, with a sign on a pole in the middle:
Yes, please forgive my shoddy photo editing. It gets my point across. And that point is: we are no longer in a time where sex can unerringly equal gender, where the two can be swapped back and forth like partners at a swingers party. If we are to adopt the theory of orbiting in a gender galaxy as opposed to standing in a spot along the linear spectrum of binary gender assignment, then we also have to make the conscious decision to separate the two terms and use both to specify the context in which we are speaking. No longer, I feel, does “sex” always equal “gender.”

Sex, aside from being a pleasurable and sometimes procreative act, should ideally refer to the reproductive and genital organs a person was born with. A person of the male sex would have the XY chromosome, a penis and testes. A person of the female sex would have the XX chromosome, and at the very least a vulva, if not also the vagina, uterus and ovaries. (I am trying to take into account those born with defects. Bear with me, for the sake of my point.) Those who are neither, or in between in the biological sense are often referred to as hermaphrodites, or intersex. (See, there’s that term again. Intersex. Not intergender.)

Gender is a whole other ballgame; one, as mentioned before, often discussed. Gender is a huge hot topic in the world of alternative lifestyle. Going even further beyond the now-well known ideas of transgender and transvestitism are the ideas of genderqueer, cisgender, and genderfuck. Those terms do tie in with the ideas and various practices of transgender – they’re almost “umbrella terms” under which the more specific identities and practices exist – but oddly enough, while transgender and transvestitism are better known and more or less accepted (even if the people who practice them are not), the terms that describe them in their general state are new, buzzworthy, revolutionary even. The genderqueer concepts of “butch” and “femme” in the newly discovered gender galaxy are becoming more widespread and being more deeply explored than ever. No longer is “butch” just a term – or a nickname – for the burly, leather vest wearing, ‘do-rag sporting Harley biker with bad tattoos. No longer does “femme” just bring to mind the movie title Femme Fatale and more importantly, no longer is femme interchangeable with the term “feminine.” The era of gender enlightenment has been born. I for one cannot wait to see it flower into maturity.

1 comments:

Curvaceous Dee said...

This was a great post, and addressed some of the gender questions I've been pondering over the last few months. It's astonishing how prevalent the M/F (only) option is in forms, and the apparent synynomity of 'gender' and 'sex' for most people.

Thanks for giving me more food for thought!

xx Dee