For some reason our world tries so hard to be dichotomous. We attempt to fit everything into two neat and opposing boxes, things are black or white. Our world however has millions of colors and very, very few things are black or white. When it comes to sex, gender, and sexuality things absolutely do not fit into two separate categories. Over the next few weeks we will be diving in to each of these three categories to understand the shades and hues within them. Before we can even dive in however, we need to understand what each one is individually as they are three different yet related things.
First let’s look at sex. You are most likely familiar with the male and female categories of sex, but they aren’t the only two. We aren’t going to get into all of this here, there will be an entire post dedicated to looking at the categories. For now what you need to understand is that sex is biological. It is determined by chromosomes. Remember X and Y from high school biology class? In theory you get one from each parent and if the cells follow directions well you end up with reproductive organs and external genitals that match your chromosomal make up. But guess what, high school biology was boiled down to the absolute simplest surface level content, it is so much more complex than this. Without turning this into an in-depth biology lesson, sex is assigned at birth. It is not assigned, generally, by looking at chromosomes, but instead by looking at external genitals. This means is a baby has something that looks more like a penis they are labeled as male. If the baby has something more closely resembling a vulva they are labeled as female. If there is uncertainty, depending on the state they may be assigned a sex of intersex or cosmetic surgery may be done and a sex of male or female assigned.
Now, while sex is assigned as a result of genitals, which could (but don’t always) match chromosomes, gender is not. Again you probably associate the terms male and female, however think of them like the word orange. Orange labels both a fruit and a color but not all fruits that are orange are an orange and all oranges are not orange in color. Gender is how a person identifies in comparison to societal expectation and roles. There are a lot of factors that play into gender and the categories are not just black or white, man or woman. Gender becomes even more rich when gender express is considered as a person can identify as one gender (or no gender, or multiple) but express themselves in ways that tend toward societal norms for another gender such as femininity for women and masculinity for men.
As for sexuality, you have likely heard the saying “you can’t love someone until you love yourself”. This is a parallel to sexuality. Sexuality is about who you love, but in order to label it you must first know yourself and your gender. Sexuality has been a hot topic for as long as I can remember. I will tell you right now I am NOT talking about sexual preference as a preference implies a choice- I prefer steak to salad but crave both regularly. Sexuality describes who we are attracted to in an intimate sexual way and is not driven nurture or choice. Sometimes inner barriers keep people from accepting their sexuality from an early age and they do not “come out” until later in life. This does not mean that they decided to change their sexuality but rather they have learned to live more authentically. Sexuality cannot be changed, it is not a choice!
Discussing these terms and how we (feel the need to) label people can be incredibly uncomfortable, but it is a discussion that needs to be had frequently and repeatedly. I really hope that you stick with me in the next few weeks to learn more about sex, gender, and sexuality and then use this information to have these uncomfortable conversations. The more we talk the more comfortable the conversation will become and the only way to make the change needed in this world is by advocating and educating and I hope you will help me with that.