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Understanding Sex, Gender and Sexuality - by Spencer 

I still remember my last summer vacation when I was home and I was giving tuition classes to my cousins who had just been promoted to the sixth standard. While asking them about Universal Adult Franchise, one of my cousins responded that the right to vote should be given to everyone regardless of color, caste, class, or religion. And there were a lot of questions that ended with – ‘regardless of color, caste, class, or religion.’ And I found it funny how kids just skipped the word sex, as mentioned in the textbook. I questioned them about this and I could see weird smiles on their faces. I wasn’t shocked because I did the same when I was in lower grades. Later I clarified how it is completely alright to use the word ‘sex’, whereas the most appropriate word should be ‘gender’’. Sex, gender, sexuality- Are you confused about these words? If you are assuming that all three have a same meaning, then you’re wrong. It’s not complicated, even though it might take a while to wrap your head around them. These concepts could be very difficult to understand, but here’s an attempt to break them down for an easy understanding. Sex is usually assigned when an infant is born which is decided depending upon the basis of genitals that the infant is born with. When people refer to someone’s sex (sometimes talked about as biological or physical sex) they’re talking about their physical characteristics (e.g. having a penis, vagina, beard, or breasts etc.), genes and hormones. Many people think of male and female as the only sexes, but that’s actually not the whole story. Some people have genetic, hormonal, and physical features typical of both male and female at the same time, so their biological sex isn’t clearly male or female. They are called Intersex. So, biological differences, chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs decide a person’s sex. Gender is a social construct and it develops over time. Society often expects people to look and behave a certain way depending on their biological sex. Males are usually expected to act and look ‘masculine’, and females ‘feminine’. However, we all express masculinity and femininity in different ways, and we might relate more to some parts of masculinity or femininity than others. Some people feel like society’s expectations about gender don’t fit or work for them at all. Gender is about your sense of who you are as a guy, a girl or something else, as opposed to what your physical characteristics, genes and hormones indicate. We usually expect males to feel like guys, and females to feel like girls. But it’s not that simple – sometimes a male will feel like they are actually a girl, and vice versa. Some people don’t identify as a girl or a guy and that’s ok too. Let us now talk about sexuality. People who are attracted to the opposite sex are heterosexual and people who are attracted to the same sex are called homosexuals. Sexuality is a concept, lot broader than just being straight or gay. There are people who like both men and women- they are called bisexuals. Gender Identity is an individual’s internal sense of being male, female or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behaviour is different from that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Most of the sociological designs assume that each person has one sex, one sexuality and one gender, which are congruent with each other and fixed for life (Lorber, 1997). Sex and gender are used interchangeably. The social construction of bodies is examined only when the focus is medicine, sports, or procreation. All the variations in gender are ignored: A woman is expected to be feminine and a man is expected to be masculine (Lorber, 1997). And such designs cannot include the experiences of the individuals who do not conform to the binaries of gender. Gender, specified as masculine or feminine, denotes psychosocial attributes and behaviors people develop because of which society expects of them, depending on whether they are born as male or female. Kessler and McKenna (1978) have pointed out that the concepts of sex and gender are not just overlapping and blurred, not just in ordinary speech but in scientific literature as well. Social scientists argue that the children should know that they are a girl or a boy so that they develop a coherent gender identity. The belief in the culture of two genders is fundamentally embedded in the society. Biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling estimates that 2-3 percent of children are born with ambiguous sex characteristics. There are infants born with underdeveloped genitals or are intersexed or those born with different sets of chromosomes. Before sex was medicalized, people born with ambiguous genitals used to live closeted lives because if their intermediate status became known, this would lead to a more or a less miserable lives. In the last few decades, with the advancement in medical technology, the doctors and physicians have started gender reassignment and gender reconstruction, of infants born with ambiguities which is again the belief in two gender binaries as the only ‘’natural’’ option. The non-normative is converted into normative and normative is considered as the natural. This belief that gender consists of two exclusive types is maintained and perpetuated by medical community (Kessler and McKenna, 1978). Such medical reconstruction is based on the appearance of external genitalia. The dichotomy of sexes into males and females is itself socially constructed. The two-gender culture views people who identify as men and women as the only legitimate categories and it is exclusionary towards persons who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at the birth and wish to express their gender identity in a manner which does not comply with this normative gender structure.