Not-So-Random Thoughts on Sex, Gender & Sweaty Snugglebunnies

I recently had a discussion on Twitter (never a good start, I know) wherein I experienced a lot of headdesking difficulties with someone stuck on advocating that transgender students aren't special and don't need their rights protected because they have XY and XX chromosomes like everybody else and therefore, gender is binary. My brain exploded. Now there was SO MUCH WRONG with these statements all mashed together that I was having trouble detangling it enough to process, but the final straw was when the Twitt (her word, not mine!) claimed that gay and transgender people have the same chromosomes and that is why there are two genders when it finally clicked for me: a) she has no idea what she was talking about, but more importantly, b) she was collapsing so many different things into the same mishmash, she didn't even have the correct words to voice a cohesive argument (which was still wrong, but anyway) and this was a slap-up-the-head reminder of why I went into my chosen career(s) in the first place and so I thought I'd better slow down & take stock. If there ever was a time to be an advocate of human sexuality, self-esteem and expression, then this was it.

Therefore, I offer up this handy-dandy, nobody-asked-for-it-but-here-it-is-again set of distinctions for anyone who might be curious (becurious?) & wants to know:

Sex: the biological definition that distinguishes what we categorize as men and women. This is what I call "plumbing" and what some define by what's in your pants and others still by chromosomes or genetics, which get all caught up in cultural definitions of what distinguishes man and woman because let me tell you that defining this *AT ALL* by anything like seeds or eggs, testicles or ovaries, XY or XX, genital types A-Z or basically any dichotomy that you can dream up will invariably be disproven with numerous exceptions to any so-called "rule." No, I'm not kidding. Are you no longer a woman if you have a hysterectomy? Are post-menopausal? Are you no longer a man if you lose your lower torso in a car accident or in a war? Have ED or hormonal imbalance? What if you have XXY chromosomes? What if your body cannot produce viable seeds or eggs? You can imagine what fun it was to have this discussion in graduate school when, by the end of a year-long class, no one could successfully answer the questions "What is man? What is woman?" (We all believed that we were doomed to flunk out or possibly suffer a break with reality.) There are a host of questions that live along the biological spectrum, but suffice to say, even the most basic definition of sex gets pretty murky pretty quickly. (Now just think of all the sizes/shapes/colors/etc. that exist for human bodies around the world and you get an idea that any biological-definition thing is pretty !@#$%^&*ing vast.) So you can only imagine what happens when it's NOT based on biology, such as...

Gender: the social construct of associations a given society recognizes by their definitions of "masculine" or "feminine," which now has (thankfully) widened to include anything else that might fall into the entire spectrum of behaviors, identifications, associative characteristics, cultural mores, etc. that may be used to distinguish one gender from the next. (Like pronouns!) Even this basic idea of nailing down gender is basically worthless since EVERYONE is on the gender spectrum, even the hardcore ends of the bell curve from the most girly girl to the most macho-macho man, so arguing there isn't a spectrum is pretty silly and defining your point within it is pretty vague. You see yourself at either end of the spectrum? Fine. But since everyone exists somewhere on this color wheel, it's kinda silly arguing that there are only two genders. Or four. Or twenty. Or sixty-four. Or a hundred. How many points exist on a circle? Trust me, this was my PhD thesis idea and even my well-meaning chart-o-genders didn't account for a FRACTION of what is humanly possible and assigning things like percentages or borrowed terminology for various points on the line is a folly of infinite proportions, literally. Just think of this as culture's way of judging and labeling everything you do and say, and you can be as offended or okay with that as anyone else. By the way, gender is NOT the same thing as...

Sexual Orientation: the distinction of who Person A is attracted to sexually. Now, first of all, it's none of your, my or anyone else's business who people like to get busy with, but for the sake of aforementioned argument, a person's sexual orientation can be defined as whether you are attracted to someone of the same sex or gender, a different sex or gender, any of a whole slew of sexes or genders, and whether this is exclusive to one person, one type of person, another type of person, all kinds of people--at once, together, or one at a time--to no one unless you are deeply romantically connected or to absolutely no one at all. Yep, this too is a VERY WIDE spectrum that, honestly, has very little to do with anything in and of itself, but is so enmeshed with ideas about identity, culture and a host of associative meaning that it's its own category. (eg: for a while, there was a fight to distinguish being "homosexual" versus being "gay" because some men who were sexually attracted to men didn't identify as belonging to "gay culture," which was widely considered [at the time] to be young, white and socially privileged and very distinct from Latino or AfrAm gay men's experience. This is where sexual orientation mashed against multiple cultures and had to find new ways to express itself, like being "on the down low.") By the way, sexual orientation MAY have something or nothing to do with romantic feelings or, especially, social-relationship feelings (eg: someone who is asexual or aromantic* may not want to get "sweaty snuggle-bunnies" with someone else, but that doesn't mean that they don't enjoy deep, meaningful relationships that can include physical touch and kindness. Please.)

* Currently our language and culture are exploring terms like "demisexual" or "aromantic" so we can communicate how we define ourselves (i.e. our sexual selves) in relation to other people, but I am still a big proponent of figuring yourself and your own likes/comfort levels FIRST before worrying about anybody else's. In other words, you may want to explore how you see yourself vis-a-vis gender or how you might like your body to match your self-image and self-expression before exploring another person's body/feelings/gender/plumbing/etc. And, just like people age, change hair colors, favorite foods or clothing styles, nothing is fixed forever in time unless you say so--YOU get to define YOU. It's not up to anyone else. Period.

Seriously, I long for the day when we will never have to check a box that says M or F unless it's with your doctor (for biological health issues only).

So, to recap: Boy or Girl isn't the same thing as Masculine or Feminine which isn't the same thing as Gay or Straight that is in no way determined by X or Y chromosomes, progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, etc. Think of reality as something co-defined and you may feel much better. In fact, since everyone has the freedom to say who they are, how they feel, who they find sexy and how they'd like to be loved and accepted for who they are, it's best just to grant everyone the same rights and protections under the law and show respect for one another by treating people the way they want to be treated. It's your body. It's your gender. It's your heart. It's your brain. It's your mind. It's your word. It's your life.

Me? I'm just glad to meet you. Hi!

For all your visual learners who slogged through this mess with an open mind and still aren't following, I found an interesting video tackling some of these distinctions by Hank Green form long ago, "Human Sexuality is Complicated." No kidding, right? It's not perfect, but it's a great brain-starter! Check it out:

By the way, if, at the time of this posting, I have misrepresented any self-identifications or definitions which may not be completely well-expressed, I apologize for any mistakes and will own them as I continue to (always) learn. Humans are complicated, but they're totally worth it!

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