Sex, Gender, and Sexuality – 3 Individual Concepts Briefly Simplified

By: Rawan Khalil

There are certain things that really get on my nerves- well there are a lot but one of them is the ideas society plants so neatly in our heads, watering them every day to make sure those seedlings become the most beautiful untouched flowers ever because they look exactly the same for everyone, so it’s hard to see beauty in flowers of different colours and shapes, and by that I mean in different ideas. And it’s complicated to change the mindsets of people or to even get them to listen in the first place. The attachment to broken words that have no background, other than the fact that everyone else believes in them, is so rigid and it’s hard to get people to listen, to see, to touch and to understand that not all flowers look the same, that not all people think in the same way.

But, sometimes those flowers are fake, they are made of plastic and they are not planted, they are placed in there. We are asked not to question the fakeness nor pull it out, but rather to just accept the reality that it is there. This is the case with sex, gender and sexuality. (Don’t look shocked you have read the title). Three words so different, so much to talk about. I don’t exactly remember what my parents taught me about them because they barely did, but I do remember them telling me not to talk about them, or at least about sex and gender because it’s “inappropriate” but now I am 16 and the “appropriate” time still has not come around, and god forbid a conservative egyptian household talks about sexuality so that never happened as well.

So, let’s start with sex (not the verb or act of having sex but rather the noun). Sex is often confused with gender and I am fighting the urge to talk about them together. Sex is basically a person’s sexual anatomy. It’s the sex that would be written on their passport or what a doctor would say they are based on their sexual organs (vulva or penis), their sex chromosomes (XX for females and XY for males) and their hormonal makeup (females have high oestrogen and progesterone level with low testosterone levels and vice versa for males). Some People, have disorders of sex development (DSD) or as commonly known on the internet as intersex, and this basically means that a person has traits of both sexes and there are around 21 or more variations of DSD so it is basically like a giant umbrella for all the different conditions, and it is defined by the medical community as: “congenital conditions in which development of chromosomal, gonadal or anatomic sex is atypical.”

Now, we have established that sex is purely biological and based on anatomy, and that is unlike gender, and the thing is people tend to use sex and gender interchangeably, but they do not equate in definition. A person’s sex is assigned when they are born and with that comes the assumption that their gender will align with their sex. So, gender begins with the presumption that gender = sex, however it does not always end there. Gender is a social construct which is not one dimensional as it does not take into consideration one aspect but three: body, expression and identity. The body part is the one that mostly aligns with sex, but here is when we come to realize something. People tend to feel comfortable in the idea that gender is binary, but that idea falls short almost instantly because binary means that there are two rigid genders with nothing else, and that just throws people with DSD straight out of the window, and that on its own disproves that gender is only male or female but rather a continuum of possibilities, especially as DSD comes in many shapes and forms.

However, the connection between one’s body and gender is not only linked to their reproductive organs as proven by multiple research papers in neurology, cellular biology and endocrinology have proven that there is a much wider biological basis to one’s individual encounter with gender and that our brains have a great role in that. Also, a big part of how the body and gender are linked is tied to how society pins certain physical characteristics to determine levels of femininity and masculinity, and the lack of those features can make a person move away from the simplistic binary notion.

Moving on, to gender identity, which is the second dimension of gender, and this is how a person feels internally and how they name their gender, in other words, self identification. Because, self identification is so complex it might take some people time to know exactly what they identify as in the form of words, even though internally they have a clear idea of who they are, and that is what makes gender identification in terms of language an evolving matter. Terms like genderfluid and genderqueer are commonly used labels which show that a person doesn’t align themselves with the binary gender system.

The third dimension is expression, but expression doesn’t have to align with identity or body, and here is where stereotypes come into play. Almost everything around us is assigned a gender. Pink and purple are feminine colours, while blue and green are masculine colours. Girls play with dolls, but boys can play with lego or cars and the list goes on. Gender roles fit into this stereotypical dilemma as well, and this honestly makes me want to refer back to Mostafa’s article: The World Isn’t Black and White It’s Pink and Blue. The thing about gender expression is that it is encircled with expectation of what we ought to be and we do not all fit into those gender expectations neatly. There are boys who like to wear skirts and put makeup on and that is absolutely fine. Boys can cry. Girls can masturbate. We need to stop associating certain actions, clothing, words or colours with gender because it is becoming absurd and it is not based on logic. As proof of that, before the mid-twentieth century pink was regarded as a masculine colour.

Now, to the last thing I want to talk about: sexuality. Sexuality is interpersonal. It is who you are attracted to sexually, emotionally or romantically and it has nothing to do with your gender or sex. Here is why gender and sexuality are not always linked- not every girl that wants a pixie cut is lesbian and attracted to women. That is part of her expressing herself but not necessarily a way for us to define who she is attracted to.

So, maybe let’s question the fake flowers. Let’s pull them out and see real ones in which we can feel life when we touch them.

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