Issues that Arise in Sex and Gender Identification

Article by: Rian Barrett

Artwork and Photography by Ulric Collette

It is a common mistake to think that gender and sex are the same thing. The difference is that sex is a biological distinction (i.e. Male or Female); whereas, gender is a sociological designation (eg. Masculine, Feminine, etc.). Traditionally, sex has been a fixed determination made at birth, and gender has been how a person expressed his or her sexual identity. From this perspective a man might feel like a woman and express feminine attributes but that would not make him a female.

While only two sexes exist, the total number of genders is becoming unclear. Now that it is largely recognized that people can act either masculine or feminine no matter their sex,  sexual orientation has mistakenly become identified with gender. This mistake can be seen in the article 63 Genders (APath.org) as well as in the admixture of the terms “sex” and “gender” seen in this definition of sexual orientation from Wikipedia:

              “Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction (or a combination of                these) to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or                    more than one gender. … A person who identifies as bisexual, for example, may sexually prefer                one sex over the other.”

A clearer picture of sexual orientation can be seen in this definition from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary:

              “[Sexual Orientation refers to] the inclination of an individual with respect to heterosexual,                          homosexual, and bisexual behavior (sexual orientation).

Thus, homosexuality is not a gender: it is a sexual orientation, and there exist both masculine and feminine homosexual people. Properly understood, homosexuality, for example, means simply that a person is attracted to his or her own sex (sexual orientation) and not what gender they act like in accordance with a culture’s traditional gender roles. Nonetheless, primarily in the 21st century, new types of gender have been added to and confounded the issues surrounding sex and gender.

Due to this confusion of sex with gender and orientation with choice, gender is being defined today in such a way that both men and women now can claim to be whatever gender they would like to act like, as is reflected in the appearance of a gender called “Transgender.” The distinction “Transgender” has become popular as the boundaries of traditionally strict gender roles has become blurred with the increasing exposure and acceptance of homosexual and other alternative lifestyles within society. Transgenders in particular, are people who have made a switch to a gender role not usually associated with their sex: like a man choosing to present himself as the “wife” of a woman who identifies as the “husband.” The idea of transgender being defined as a third gender is, however, at risk, according to this definition of gender:

               “[Gender refers to] the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one                   sex (gender.)

This definition suggests that because gender is associated with sex (not sexual orientation), and although the concept of transgender has been posited, its possible existence does not necessarily mean that it should be established as a new “gender” because such an addition of terminology still relies on the two traditional sex-based genders (i.e. masculine and feminine). More succinctly, despite making a claim to be a different gender, transgender is not actually a new or third gender unless it is a gender that is neither masculine or feminine. Therefore, in reality there should only be two genders.

Many times the cases that arise from issues involving sex and gender, relate to the identification of transgenders. One big problem with identifying transgenders revolves around the question: how should a transgender person be addressed? It that person a he or a she or something else? What makes a person a he or she, and is it because of gender or sex? The answer to this is complicated because a transgender person may want to be called something different from his or her original sex (e.g. a male transgender wants to be called a she). Traditionally it would be sex that identifies gender, but current, transgender views have been promoting the idea that subjective gender identification is more important than a person’s biological sex; nonetheless, while one can easily change one’s gender, one’s sex cannot be so easily changed. Thus, if a male wants to be addressed as a she, the biological evidence of a person’s sex has to be overruled by his choice to identify as feminine (female). Changing this identification, based on how a person feels, however, does not establish a solid basis for identification because the identifier and the being identified may not agree in their “opinions. Therefore, although it does not satisfy their wishes, transgender persons should only be addressed as either a feminine male (he) or a masculine female (she).

Works Cited:

Collette, Ulric. Cousin / Cousin: Justine, 29 & Ulric, 29 Years. 2012,

genetic.ulriccollette.com/.

“gender.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2018. Web. 25 April 2018.

“sexual orientation.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2018. Web. 25 April 2018.

“Sixty Three Genders ― A New Perspective on Sex and Gender.” APath.org, 9 May 2017,

apath.org/63-genders/.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Sexual orientation.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia,

The Free Encyclopedia, 16 Feb. 2018. Web. 21 Feb. 2018.