Short Note on Sex and Gender

Whatever we call “sex” is a term that’s applied to a bunch of very different phenomena. Whatever level of dimorphism assumed to relate sex as two distinct categories is grossly overestimated.

Among humans, trans people and intersex people challenge the notion of the sexed body as two sets of characteristics in different yet clear ways.

We frequently hear that sex has to do with chromosomes, or genitals, or hormones, or other sexual characteristics like breasts, facial hair, fat distribution, muscle mass, etc. Except you can pick and choose characteristics from those categories however you want and you’ll find someone who fits that description. Of course, that’s before getting into cases where the characteristics aren’t binary: genitals aren’t all penises and vaginas, nor are chromosomes all XX or XY.

To say that physical sex exist ends up erasing all that variety of people and pretending they don’t matter. It’s conjuring up a conformity of bodies that doesn’t exist. It’s being completely unfaithful to the diversity of human bodies.

The same can be said of animals: bodily differences happen in lots of different ways in animals, so even speaking of sex as some binary between male and female is grossly oversimplifying things at worst. And what we call sex in animals can be quite different from what we call sex in humans.

The thing is, when we talk about sex for humans, our conceptions of sexed bodies are so mired in dyadist and cisnormative rhetoric that the assumption that sex and gender are two separate things, with sex being real and gender being constructed, in practice tends to end up being transphobic and or intersexist. “Male” and “female” aren’t just terms for sex, unlike what some would have us think, but are also terms for gender, and when people speak of trans women as having “male bodies” it does little more than invalidate them and or justify their exclusion.