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Sex and gender

Although many people use the words sex and gender interchangeably, there is a difference in their meaning.

nuts and boltsSex

If this word is used to describe someone, it’s usually to identify a person according to their physical attributes. In other words, what reproductive organs someone has.

However, things aren’t necessarily so straight-forward. Some people are neither exclusively male nor female and are in fact intersex. This is where a person’s reproductive organs or other sex characteristics (such as genitals or chromosomes) do not fit typically with what is usually associated with being male or female.

Gender

When talking about gender, people are most often describing a combination of gender identity (a person’s deeply felt experience of being a man, woman, etc.) and gender expression (how a person expresses their gender identity).

Gender is also considered to be a social construct, with different expectations of those born female or male to act and behave in a certain way. Society often overlooks those who are intersex, and tries to assign a gender based on there being one of two options, male or female.

These options are often too simplistic, and don’t represent the full spectrum of what people experience. Like so many things in life, gender is not black and white. It’s common that somebody identifies and expresses their gender in a unique way.

What if your sex or gender doesn’t fit the stereotypes?

Many people don’t feel they fit in with societal stereotypes of gender or sex. It’s common for someone to feel they’re somewhere in-between the polar opposites of male and female.

People also often identify with the opposite of their birth sex. So, someone born female may identify as male, or vice versa.

Talking about gender

There are many different ways people describe their sex or gender. Some of the more common terms are below.

For a more extensive list have, a look at the Trans terms page on the TENI website

  • Cisgender – used to describe a person who is not trans, in other words, someone who’s gender identity and expression matches with their birth sex.
  • Trans*/Transgender – is an umbrella terms typically used to describe someone whose gender identity and/or gender expression does not match with their birth sex.
  • Transsexual – is someone who identifies as the sex opposite to the one assigned to them at birth. Some people may choose to socially transition ( eg coming out to others, changing how they dress, changing their name/pronoun etc.) and/or medically transition (i.e. to begin hormone replacement therapy, and/or undergo sex affirming surgery). The term transesxual is no longer in use as commonly as in the past, with many people wising to not be labelled with this term.
  • Intersex – a term to describe someone born with reproductive organs, hormone levels and/or sex chromosomes that are not exclusively male or female. There are many different states of being intersex, and they’re not always obvious or even diagnosed.

For many people, labels and terms people identify with are very personal. The definitions above may suit many people that use them, but for others, they may have a different and personal meaning behind these terms.

If you’re unsure about what someone means when they use these, or other terms to describe their gender identity, it is perfectly OK to ask for clarity.

Just don’t assume that people will be willing to talk about very personal issues such as their birth name, if they have had surgery, etc.

Bullying or discrimination

People often have difficulty accepting anyone who is seen to be different. This can be anything, from nationality, race and religion to things like sexuality or gender identity.

Discrimination, bullying or violence is never acceptable. If you or somebody you know is experiencing anything like this, support available.

If someone’s behaviour towards you is abusive in any way, this is their fault. No matter how you identify yourself, you have a right to be that person and deserve to be treated with respect.

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This article was last reviewed on 30 March 2017

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