A simple way to think about the difference between sex and gender is that gender is between your ears and sex is between your legs. Gender is often understood through how you feel like and how you express that to the world. Are you butch, femme or a tomboy? Do you like pants, skirts, short hair and/or jewelry? Although our society equates gender and sex, it is simply not true. Gender is not binary. A boy does not always grow up to be a man. Men are not all masculine. A heterosexual sexual orientation is not dependent upon being a masculine male or a feminine female. Nor is a homosexual sexual orientation dependent on being a masculine female or a feminine male.
When talking about sex gender naturally comes up in conversation. In western cultures gender and sex are often equated. Sex is not the same as gender. Biological sex includes a person’s genetics (xx, xy, xxy, or xyy), hormones (a blend of estrogen, androgen, and progesterone), and body parts internal and external (clitoris, penis, prostate, uterus). Some people are biologically female, some are biologically male and some are biologically intersex.
Transgender is typically used to describe people whose gender and sex are not matched the way our culture says it has to be. We have already discovered that sex and gender are not the same thing. Equating sex and gender is just a false correlation. Genderqueer is a term that includes many different kinds of gender. Genderqueer people can be femme one day and butch another. Genderqueer is often a mix of different gender performances or an ever changing play with gender. Personally, I like the juxtaposition of gender. I do not shave my legs or my armpits and I love pencils skirts, glitter and make-up. I enjoy seeing men with beards in make-up and dresses. These are great examples of being genderqueer. Mix up gender markers, change gender performances and refuse to fit in the two standard categories of gender and congratulations you have found genderqueer.
Women are culturally allowed a wider range of gender performances than men. For example women can wear pants and go without heels and make-up and jewelry without being seen as unfeminine, but men cannot wear skirts, high heels, make-up or jewelry without being seen as unmasculine. One of the reasons that women are allowed more variety of gender performance than men is that gender is ranked. Masculinity is perceived as better than femininity. Thus the insults, “girly,” “you throw like a girl,” “sissy,” or “pansy” which are used to insult males by calling them females or implying that they are feminine. This demeans women by using attributes that describe women to insult men and it restricts men from their full gender expression. Conversely, women who are perceived as overly masculine are judged as “ugly,” or are confused with lesbians under the mistaken impression that how somebody looks (gender performance) dictates who they are attracted to (sexual orientation). A stereotype of lesbians is that they have short hair and they wear clothing from LL Beans, such as cargo pants, flannel, chamois shirts, fleece/down vests, and Birkenstocks. If this gender performance created a persons sexual orientation than many, many, many more women in New England would be gay.
Hopefully this has made you think about gender in general and maybe even your own gender. How do you perform gender? Let me know what you think.
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