When we talk about sex, most people mean the characteristics determined by a doctor when you are born:
- If you have a vagina and XX chromosomes, then you are female
- If you have a penis and XY chromosomes, then you are male
People with biological sex variations are called 'intersex', and statistics show that being intersex is as common as having ginger hair – i.e., about one in a hundred. So that’s quite a lot of people! Being intersex can mean a whole range of different things, including:
- Chromosomal sex variations like having a vagina and clitoris and XY chromosomes; or having a penis and XX chromosomes
- Sex organ variation, like being born with a uterus and what looks like a penis; or being born with a very small penis that looks more like a clitoris
Some people will know that they are intersex from when they are born, and other people will find out later. All of our bodies are different, and all bodies are good bodies.
Gender is about how we’ve been influenced by our society regarding what is considered the 'right' way to be a man or a woman. These ideas are social constructs. Throughout history, they have normally been quite rigid and could include things like:
- It’s not ok for men to cry
- Women are better at talking about their feelings than men
- Men are stronger than women
In reality, there are lots of different ways to be a man or a woman!
Illustration credit: https://www.instagram.com/frizzkidart/
Human beings are far too complex and diverse to ever fit into only two categories like 'man' and 'woman'.
Some people identify as a different gender to the one they are assigned at birth: this is called trans. If you identify with the gender that you were assigned at birth, then this is called cis. Non-binary or gender-fluid people do not fully identify with or feel they fit the term 'male' or 'female', but sit more comfortably somewhere in between. Some non-binary people may also feel their gender is fluid and can change.
Gender identity is the gender you feel best describes who you are and how you feel as a person. You may feel the gender that best describes who you are as a person is the gender that coincides with your assigned sex. But some people know that who they are as a person is actually a different gender, or don’t really feel they fit either definitions of gender – this is how trans and non-binary people may feel.
So gender identity is how we feel and what gender best describes who we are.
Here, some non-binary people talk about what being non-binary means to them.
Gender expression is how you express your gender identity: things like the clothes you wear, your hair style, the way you walk, and the language that you use. You can express you gender in any way you like regardless of how you identify! It’s ok to be:
- A man who wears dresses and make-up
- A woman who cuts her hair short and wears men’s jeans
- A non-binary person who dresses in a way that society perceives as male or female
Someone’s gender expression doesn’t tell us how they identify, so it’s important not to make assumptions. People may sometimes change how they express themselves over time, depending on the weather, how safe they feel, and a whole variety of other factors!
Illustration credit: https://www.instagram.com/liberaljane/