Many people don’t understand the difference between sex and gender, as these terms are often conflated. This page will explain the difference.
What is sex?
SEX is biological. There are only two sexes – male and female. Sex – whether one is male or female – is natural, biological and objectively factual. Men are those people who belong to sex-category male, and women are those people who belong to sex-category female.
Sex is NOT assigned at birth, it is observed. The concept of “assigning” sex comes from the experience of intersex individuals, where is the past doctors would modify the genitalia of babies born with anatomical abnormalities. This has nothing to do with transgenderism. Transgender activists adopted this term to imply that doctors “gave” or “decided” the sex of babies – that a decision was made and imposed on the transgender person. This is inaccurate and unscientific. Biological sex is determined at the moment of fertilization through XX-XY chromosomes and simply observed at birth. Sex is real. Sex cannot be changed.
What is gender?
GENDER refers to traits that are typically considered masculine or feminine. It is the social and cultural norms – and stereotypes – governing a particular sex category with regards to expected appearance, preferences, behaviour, role and so on. Examples are: men like football and the colour blue, women like shopping and the colour pink, men are providers while women are homemakers, men are rational and women are emotional, boys play with trucks, girls play with dolls.
A person is considered gender non-conforming when they do not adhere to these gendered expectations — women who play hockey, men who love fashion, girls who reject dolls and prefer to climb trees, boys who are quiet or who enjoy baking. Gender non-conforming and gender dysphoria are not the same thing. Many people – in fact probably most people – who are gender non-conforming are happy with themselves and comfortable with their natural sexed bodies. This is a good thing.
Gender dysphoria, on the other hand, is a mental health condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5). It used to be referred to as Gender Identity Disorder but this was changed in 2013 in order to reduce the stigma attached to the word “disorder“.
People who believe that their gender identity does not match their biological sex do require some form of therapy. They suffer mental distress because their body is not aligned with their mind. There are two possible ways of treating this condition — either modify the mind to align with the body or modify the body to align with the mind. The DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association) goes on to recommend treatment that helps the person “explore” their gender and encourages an affirmative approach. This means that rather than assist the person to become comfortable in his or her natural, sexed body the clinician is encouraged to affirm the person’s cognitive distortion.
Yet, there are other body-dysphoria disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Body Integrity Identity Disorder where this approach is not taken. If someone is anorexic and starving themselves, the clinician does not affirm they are fat and encourage them to lose weight. If a person perceives and identifies themselves as disabled and wants an amputation so their body matches their mental perception of themselves, it is not generally accepted practice for doctors to amputate healthy limbs.
It is also noteworthy that the APA changed the name of the condition by removing the reference to “disorder” in order to reduce stigma. This is not done for any other mental health condition. For example, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder have not been renamed to drop the word “disorder”. We don’t deny the person has a disorder just so they don’t feel stigmatized. Obviously we should not stigmatize people who have mental health conditions, but refusing to acknowledge the disorder is not the way to do that.
Some people see intersex conditions as proof that sex is a spectrum. Intersex conditions are considered anatomical abnormalities, and they are exceedingly rare. Properly understood, all intersex conditions are considered Disorders of Sexual Development (DSD), but not all DSD’s are considered intersex conditions (eg: Klinefelter Syndrome). Intersex conditions are a tiny subset of DSD’s and occur in about 0.018% of the population. Even though these rare abnormalities occur, their existence does not signal that biological sex is a spectrum. There are still only two types of sex cells (sperm and ova) and two types of sex chromosomes (X and Y). Even intersex people still only have these two types of sex chromosomes. The small number of people born with an intersex condition has no impact on the human sex binary. There is no continuum.
To use an analogy, humans are considered a bipedal species – we have two legs. There are a very small number of humans born without one or both legs, or partial legs, and this is a birth defect. The small number of people born with this birth defect does not change the fact that our species is biologically considered bipedal, based on our genetics and evolution. We just recognize universally that humans are two-legged creatures, in spite of the fact that occasional birth defects occur. So it is with sex. We universally recognize that humans are biologically organized into two sexes for the purpose of reproduction, as are all other mammals.