Primer: Sex, Gender and everything inbetween

This is a prequel to my previous post, and I suppose I should have written it first. So sue me.

English, being the hotchpotch language it is, has both subtleties and dual meanings, and these are usually understood within context. Unfortunately some of these terms are either confused, or contextually incorrect.

Firstly SEX. As a noun it means biological sex (the type of reproductive organs and organism has, we will stick with mammals and humans). Mammals are warm-blooded, gestate their young internally (as opposed to external egg-laying) and have the capacity to suckle the young. The two divisions are female and male, depending on the reproductive role. Sex can also be used as a verb, referring to coitus and other sexual acts, within mainstream culture it is understood to mean coitus or penis-in-vagina (PIV).

Possible origin of the word sex is from Middle English, from the latin “sexus”, and probable synonyms ‘division’ (noun) ‘to divide’ (verb).

GENDER. Within mainstream culture it is used as a noun, as a direct replacement for biological sex (female or male). This is evidenced by the use of the word “gender” on official forms previously using “sex”. Contemporary forms now have “Gender: male/female/transsexual”. Within feminist and some academic forums, gender is sometimes used as shorthand for “gender roles”.

Possible origin of the word from Middle English, from the latin “genus” or “gener-” meaning type/sort.

GENDER ROLES / SEX ROLES. These are roles assigned or attributed to specific (biological) sexes. Most of these are culturally based biases, that have little to do with biological function. For example, it was previously held that males were better at maths and sciences, and females were focused on nurturing, homemaking, emotions, and no good at maths. To make these gender roles an almost self-fulfilling prophesy, historically females were excluded from education, extremely discouraged from doing maths and sciences, and encouraged into domestic life or nurturing professions like nursing. Feminists (for hundreds of years) have criticised this artificial division between the sexes and their prescribed sex/gender roles as artificial societal constructs. Females and males all have individual talents and preferences that transcend these artificial barriers.

SEXUALITY. Sexuality is the sexual preference of a particular animal/mammal/human, we will stick with humans for the time being. Sexuality comes in the basic categories of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and asexual (within this context meaning non-sexual, not having attraction/desire for sexual activity). These four categories are the primary categories and are sufficient for describing ‘sexual orientation’. Additional categories have been added like pansexual and omnisexual, but primarily these can fall under the primary category of bisexual, a sub-category in other words.

The problem becomes when “gender” is used as a synonym for “sexuality” or “sexual orientation”. Whilst English is a constantly evolving language, and can contain colloquial words and phrases (which should, for clarity, be avoided in wider uses), it is imperative that context and phrasing is clear if nouns/verbs of similar meaning are used. Whilst gender is used as a noun substitute for sex, it does not get used as the substitute for sex the verb.

When gender is used as the substitute for the noun sex, clearly it is ridiculous to maintain a stance of “there are many genders” meaning “there are many sexes”. Sex comes as three primarily categories of female, male, and intersex. Intersex being a tiny percentage of overall mammals/humans that do not clearly fall within the female or male categories.

The new usage of the word gender, as a synonym of sexuality becomes problematic. Primarily because it is rarely clarified as speaking specifically as “sexuality” and is attempted to mean both “sexuality” and biological sex at the same time. These are two different things, sexuality and biological sex, and they are independent of one another as terms. Example of meanings: Females (biological sex) can be heterosexual (sexuality), homosexual (sexuality), bisexual (sexuality) or asexual (non interest or practice in sexuality). And ‘sexuality’ can be used as an adjunct or adjective like “homosexual female” (sexuality, biological sex). But they are not one and the same, directly interchangeable within a phrase, nor can the phrase be substituted with “gender” trying to upgrade two major categories of noun (forming a sub-category) and try to maintain that it is a new major category. That is just plain dumb, so stop it.

Another corruption of the usage of “gender” is also to confuse it with appearance – but not only appearance, sexual preference in addition to appearance. Appearance is referring to the obviously visible indication of whether or not the human is female or male, or cannot really tell (androgynous, sometimes referred to as intersex, depending on context). So, three main categories, and ONLY three main categories. Again, trying to ram two main categories (the appearance of biological sex with sexuality/sexual preference) is a stupid thing to do. The phrase, or compound of the terms, become sub-categories, not major categories within their own right.

Hence we have this pomo (post-modern) belief that “there are many genders” via confusion of terms and trying to upgrade sub-categories into major categories. It would be the same as if, within the category “trees” and the sub-category of Oak (Quercus), becoming Oak Tree, and trying to upgrade that to the same hierarchical level as “tree”. The (rather stupid) end usage would become: within the plant world there are bushes, trees and oak trees. A five year old could tell you that an oak tree is a TYPE of tree, not something that is the categorical equivalent of “bush”.

So, for future reference (and do print it out if you need a handy guide!) here it is:

Sex/gender (n): female, male, androgynous/intersex
Sex (v): coitus/sexual activity
Sexuality (n): heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual. It is not recommended to use “gender” as a substitute for “sexuality” unless the context is clear. The population at large understand “gender” to mean biological sex, not sexuality/sexual preference.
Sex roles/gender roles: Societal constructs of how the biological sexes behave, likes & dislikes, abilities. With societal conditioning these are not universally true, without the societal conditioning they would be even less so.

Therefore, there are not “many genders”. There remain only three major categories of biological sex, and four main categories of sexuality or sexual orientation. Combinations of these categories also do not count either as “genders” or main categories, even if their are infinite sub-categories, as individual as snowflakes (hence, the graphic above now makes sense).

But, but, but… what about the trans?

Your biological sex is the one you were born with (ie female, male or intersex). These are the naturally occurring categories in nature. Your XX or XY or XXY (etc) chromosomes remain throughout your body.

Your appearance may mimic that of another biological sex (female/male/androgynous). The primary reproductive organs may be removed and replaced surgically with an approximation (semi-functioning or non-functioning) of the other sex, but they are not the actual organs and glands of that sex, and with complete surgical removal you are sterile. Although fertility is not the primary requirement for sexual categorisation, the assumed fertility is, because most humans are fertile or have a degree of fertility. Even most infertile humans generally fit the appearance of their assigned F/M fertility category. In cases of pre-op, you retain the sexual organs of your born sex, even if the outward appearance (like face/hair, the secondary sexual characteristics) is modified to another sex. Because you still retain the primary sex organs of that born biological sex, you still are that sex even if outward appearance (like face/hair)  is in disagreement. Sexual ambiguity. In cases where SRS is not sought at all, you still remain your born biological sex, but are playing dress-ups. Sex role ambiguity, as defined by societal constructs.

The terms MTF (male to female) and FTM (female to male) are false, because at its core you cannot switch (or “transition”) to the other sex, you can only mimic that sex. The “transition” can only be maintained by artificial means (hormones and surgery) and is not a naturally occurring category in nature. You are M2A and F2A (male to ambiguous and female to ambiguous). The A could also stand for Androgynous, because primary and secondary sexual characteristics are in conflict. In the case of males with their genitalia removed without female facsimiled sexual organs, you are M2E (male to eunuch).

As for sexual orientation, this remains as it was with your at-birth assigned sex. You are not a lesbian if you were born male, and alter your appearance, to whatever degree, to appear to be female. If you were born male and have sex with males, and have now taken on the appearance of female, you are a homosexual male, MANginas do not count.

There are a lot more to primary sexual characteristics other than just the sexual organs, the glandular (endocrine) system plays a vital role in the functioning of these organs. Whilst synthetic hormones may disrupt certain glands’ functions (ie shrink penis and testes), they do not fully perform all of the functions that naturally occurring hormones do, and they also need the corresponding glands to work properly. Just as if I were to go on the contraceptive pill to disrupt my menstrual cycle and become infertile, I would not be “infertile”, just temporarily infertile. Once the synthetic rubbish clears the body, the glands usually go back to what they were doing and the system becomes again fertile. But this is getting way off the track of the original post, so I will stop. The categorisation system of the sexes is not solely based on fertility, but the assumed fertility (or reproduction function/role) as assigned to the sex category of female or male. Alteration of appearances does not count, just as if I had a third arm attached surgically, I would just be a standard two-armed human with a third artificial arm attached, I do not magically become some kind of new three-armed human race. I certainly could not call it a new sexuality, or new “gender”.

Taking the linguistics to the next level, GallusMag has an absolutely brilliant post up. Puts me to shame really. 😦

18 thoughts on “Primer: Sex, Gender and everything inbetween

  1. FAB Libber

    Note to self, spend less time mucking about making graphics, more time writing and formulating proper thoughts. GallusMag’s post is brilliant.


  2. kesechewan

    Well I haven’t read her post yet so I’ll reserve judgement. But your post is definitely brilliant.

    And oatmeal was involved again. Yes. This time I sputtered some on my keyboard as i burst out laughing at that graphic. Too! Brilliant! That graphic is dead on.

    It is such a pleasure to read beautifully written and substantive articles on these topics you’re taking on. You just make my day, post after post. I wonder if I can send the body of the copy of this one to someone, sans attribution of any kind. Someone not on the blogs, feminist or otherwise. I would have to copy it into word and print it out. I will not if you say so, and apologize if this is an impertinent request.

    I had to wrestle a bit with the explanations of “androgynous” and that paragraph generally (in the context of flow) and am still mulling that over. I may have more to say at day’s end here.

    While reading, celibate came to mind as something that could apply to any of the categories. Not asexual, but celibate. So many heterosexual radical feminists are celibate by choice. Ahem.


  3. FAB Libber

    Sure you can copy it if you want – I am sure my “tranz fanz” already are, to critique it and label it twanzphobic!!! Given the quick rise in stats, I really doubt my plan to make this a quiet little radfem blog is working at all.

    Not asexual, but celibate.
    Yes, that too. Just with the sexual category thing, asexual with the additional qualifier/brief explanation should be clear enough. Asexual is generally taken to mean not interested in sex with other people, so masturbators are included.

    I will re-think the androgynous if you think it so very poor. As always, I generally just start typing and stop when I finish, with little editing. There is no ‘plan’, no layout, no structure. I type it out as is, and just tweak the odd phrase or word. I probably need an editor in my employ.


  4. kesechewan

    It’s just textbook perfect. And the graphic! Female, Snowflake, Male. If there can be actual, peer-reviewed studies out there that call “sex” gender and even refer to chromosomesin the same sentence, for pity’s sake, then there’s a need for simple (and amusing) explanations like this. Cripes, I took bonehead science and even I know better. (I’m referring to the study I saw and can’t find now).

    Oh don’t worry about blog privacy. I checked 41 times before oatmeal. But I will just put a copy of the few paragraphs in a word doc and print out for snail mail. No attribution at all.



  5. kesechewan

    Well really, who would know better what to say to a male than another male? They both know what it feels like to be a woman. We know that.

    And although yes, there are female psychs, a few, and fewer of those would be feminists — considering if they were at the beginning, by the time their applications were veted and they survived through to residency, they’d by then be defacto males –they’re playing a game of passing their spit back and forth. I feel like a woman. I get it.

    You know, one of the ways they judge whether a woman is depressed or not is if she comes to her appointments with her hair done and wearing make-up. No? Man the straight jackets and the chemical lobotomies. The psychs are making so much money off the surgeries (forget your acronym). I could get FtK (female to ken) surgery paid for by our universal system way sooner than a breast reduction. Which I once tried to get, but since I’m not threatening to off myself if someone doesn’t create breasts for me, and it’s a much simpler operation to do that then a reduction, the breast surgeons’ waiting lists are chock-a-block with men who feel like women. And I go to the end of the waiting list.

    Not a very rational comment. Out of oatmeal this a.m.


  6. kesechewan

    I am so sorry. I meant to put this into this morning’s lying. Not yesterday’s lying. Sheesh.

    Must go buy oatmeal.


    1. FAB Libber

      I cannot move the comment, but if you wish to copy/paste it to the other thread, I can delete this one here.

      Gotta keep my four fans happy. 😛


  7. jilla

    Further on the issue of my boobles:: So since our universal (sic) health care system pays for the surgically difficult and time-consuming reduction I would need, but will not pay the extra fees for an enlargement for the fun girls or a creation of breasts for the MtBs, who will pay through the nose for their tits, the surgeons prefer to do the quick and nasy that pays more. Real women with breasts heavy from LIFE, children, menopause, are not a priority. Our breasts do not point to the sky, and don’t come with surgeon-bragging rights.

    Who the hell do we think we are anyway? Women, or something?!


  8. luckynkl

    There are only 2 sexes. Males and females. Hermaphrodites have both XX and XY cells, which makes them a combination of both, not a 3rd sex. There is no 3rd sex, much less more. True hermaphrodites, however, are about as rare as tw0-headed goats. Those claiming to be intersexed usually aren’t in the true sense of the word. A Y chromosome renders one male, regardless of how many X’s he might possess. AIS individuals are mistakenly labeled female. Their Y chromosome, however, renders them male.

    Men fetishize genitalia and breasts because men are conditioned to be perverted little assholes. Sex, however, has to do with reproduction, not genitalia or breasts. Plants, for example, don’t have genitalia or breasts, but we can still identify their sex just fine.


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