“The Talk” with Ari: Sex and gender: differentiate and appreciate

Planned Parenthood describes biological sex as what was assigned to you at birth based on genitals or hormones. Assigned or biological sex typically, but not always, exists between male or female. In the case of intersex people, they are people whose reproductive or sexual anatomy does not fit into typical male or female definitions. Gender, on the other hand, goes beyond the sum on one’s parts. It touches on society’s expectations, gender roles and characteristics placed on a person because of  their sex. 

Over the past several years, it has become common practice to ask people their pronouns or introduce yourself with your pronouns. Pronouns are a way for someone to express their gender identity. The most common pronouns are she/her, he/him, they/them. For languages that do not have gender-neutral pronouns, like “they/them” in English, people have created their own versions. The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has an LGBTQ+ positive website that features some of these other pronouns. Some of these gender-neutral pronouns are as follows: zie/zim/zir/zis/zieself and ve/ver/vis/vers/verself. But what happens when someone has two different pronouns? For example, someone might tell you their pronouns are she/they. You could ask her/them which pronoun she/they would prefer more if you are unsure of which one to use when referring to her/them. Some people have a preference while others use their pronouns interchangeably. Regardless, please be kind and respectful to everyone’s pronouns. 

However, there is much more that goes into gender than just pronouns. Gender identity has to do with how you present yourself to society. It could be through your pronouns, but it can also be through your clothing, behavior and much more. Society tends to see things through either a masculine or feminine lens. For instance, someone who tends to be nurturing, demure and easy-going could be described as having feminine qualities. Moreover, if someone is described as aggressive, competitive and assertive, we commonly associate them with masculinity. The same goes for clothing. Feminine clothes could be seen as colorful dresses, form-fitting clothing and skirts, while masculine clothing could be seen as navy sweats, cargo pants and button-ups. You could be someone who identifies as a feminine man or a masculine woman. You could be gender-neutral or genderqueer, which could mean not identifying with any gender or flowing between all genders. It is important to know that gender does not exist in a binary. Furthermore, if someone identifies as gender nonbinary or gender-neutral, it is not synonymous with they/them pronouns. Always ask someone if you are unsure and practice saying the right pronoun. If you make a mistake, it is okay but quickly apologize, correct yourself and be mindful of it so you can learn from it. 

While sex and gender are different things, they do have some overlap and connection. If you are comfortable with your assigned sex at birth being female and you feel that gendered she/her pronouns suit you, then you are cisgender. However, if your gender does not correspond to your assigned sex, then you are transgender. It is one way sex and gender interact together. In any case, who you are and what you identify as is up to you. You don’t even have to decide right now. As we continuously learn more and grow, our identities change with us. 

Nevertheless, if someone comes out to you and starts identifying with different pronouns, be welcoming and kind. While society and familial pressures can affect the way we think about things or see ourselves, at the end of the day, you are your own person. As your own person, you get to choose what is right for you. However, make sure you have a great support system. Your support system can be friends, family, therapists or pets that are all in your corner cheering you on and supporting you. 

This article only scratches the surface on gender and sex, and if you found it interesting, consider taking a gender studies class! Until next time, stay true to yourselves, Bulldogs!