Basics of Sex, Sexuality, & Gender Identity
Many people are confused with the terminology and the relationship between Sex, Sexuality, and Gender Identity. Because these topics are so interrelated and often spoken of as if they were one and the same, it can be hard for those new to Trans* Advocacy to separate and define each on its own.
Many people assume that sex and gender are the same things because, for the most part, these labels match. However, gender identity and sex are not the same thing.
Sex refers to the label most closely related to our biological makeup- the combination of chromosomes, hormones, and genitalia that make up our physical form. These labels are typically male or female and become our assumed gender at birth (AGAB).
Males typically have XY chromosomes, higher levels of the Testosterone hormone, and a Penis as their genitalia. Females typically have XX chromosomes, higher levels of the Estrogen hormone, and a Vagina as their genitalia. However, these are not the only outcomes. Some people are born with variant chromosomes (XXY, XYY, XXYY, etc), and others with higher or lower hormone levels than the average of their sex. Some are even born with a mixture of “male” and “female” traits, and these people are known as intersex.
It is estimated that at least 1 in 1500 people are intersex, but this estimate is somewhat contingent on the number of people that are aware of their intersex status. Unfortunately, many intersex individuals are not aware. Upon an intersex baby’s birth, many parents will decide to dismiss or have the doctor medically alter unwanted sex traits to make the child fit into either the male or female label and the child grows up not knowing that they were ever born different.
Sexuality & Attraction
Gender Identity and Sexuality are both included under the Queer (LGBT+) umbrella and are used to describe the variations in self-expression and love that lay outside of the allocishet majority’s experience. Because of this, many believe these two to be the same. While they are very much related, and often coexist with one another, they are not the same thing. Someone can be just gay. Someone can be just trans. Someone can be gay and trans. Gender Identity and Sexuality are just two different aspects of a person that have been given language through queer labels.
Sexuality (Sexual Orientation) refers to what gender(s) and/or whom one is attracted to
Sexual Orientation can be split into Allo-Spec (those who regularly experience romantic and/or sexual attraction) and Ace-Spec (those who experience a lack, or absence, of romantic and/or sexual attraction). Both spectrums can then be divided into the labels we are more familiar with (lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc). Ace-Spec people can also have additional labels relating to their attraction experiences (grey, demi, litho, etc) Most people use only one label, but Aces will sometimes use a combination of labels to denote their levels of attraction (ex Greyromantic Lesbian, Gay Demisexual, Biromantic Asexual, etc)
Attraction refers to the form (and, in different usage, the intensity) in which one experiences affection for a person.
Many people assume that when one feels attraction toward someone that it must be sexual, and because of this attraction is often conflated with Libido. However, these two things are not the same. Libido refers to a physical sensation felt in the body that has no direction. Attraction, regardless of whether it is sexual or not, is a thought process that is directed toward other individuals. This distinction is why you’ll sometimes hear the terms sex-favorable, sex-indifferent, and sex-repulsed be used (it’s to distinguish one’s libido in relation to their sexuality).
Attraction does not have to be sexual, nor does it have to be romantic. Most only recognize or validate these two types but there are many other types out there. These unrecognized attractions all fall under the label of Tertiary Attraction. Some types included in this are Aesthetic, Sensual, Emotional, Intellectual, Familial, Platonic, and Queerplatonic Attractions.
It can be difficult to define what exactly gender identity is. We as a society tend to view gender through the lens of our sex and the roles associated with it. We say this person belongs in this box because of their ‘insert sex characteristic’, or this person sits here on the scale because they do ‘insert gendered hobby’. The thing is any person of any sex can have “abnormal” sex characteristics and/or participate in roles associated with the opposite sex, and not one characteristic or role will be shared by a sex in its entirety. Thus it stands, no single sex characteristic or role you participate in can define your gender identity.
So how would you define your gender outside the context of your sex and the roles associated with it?
Well, what if one day you suddenly woke up in the opposite sex’s body, or just became a brain in a jar? Would you still say you’re the gender you are if that were the case?
Whatever answer you give, the feeling behind that answer is what constitutes your gender identity. Your gender identity can only be defined by you – how you relate to your gender, and by how you sense it within yourself.