Sex and Gender Terminology ……….. a review

Shared by  Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello of Transfusion

In order to gain expertise in a field, you need to learn the terms that are used by people who are knowledgeable about it. The more of the terminology you know, the more sophisticated you can be in discussing the field, which is empowering. For example, if you know nothing about how a car works, and you open up the hood, you may just see a bunch of unidentifiable chunks of metal and wire, and call it all “the engine.” If your car isn’t working well, you can’t do much about it. If you learn to identify a couple of basic things—say, the dipstick so you can check your oil, and the battery so you can jump-start your car—you’ll have some minimal competence to deal with common automotive issues, but you still won’t know how a car works. But if you are taught to identify the ignition system, the engine block and valves, the cooling system, the transmission, the fuel system, and how the components interrelate, you can have intelligent conversations about cars and car maintenance that will stand you in good stead if you need to buy or repair a car.

When laypeople don’t know a lot about a field and hear people with expertise use the field’s terms of art, the laypeople may consider the terms overly precise, obfuscatory, or simply irritating. Laypeople may snort when winetasters talk about the wine having a “nose,” a “shoulder,” or a “finish.” Those unfamiliar with American football may laugh at positions like “tight end” and “nose guard.” To the cooking novice, it may seem silly to distinguish between sautéing and searing, or roasting and braising. But if you want to learn to appreciate wine, follow a football game, or cook good food from scratch, you will find that the terms of art are actually very important.

In studying sex and gender, you will come to use language that is a lot more complex and precise than that used in ordinary streetcorner conversation. At first, the terminology may strike you as confusing, or making tiny distinctions that seem unnecessary. But as you move through the course and learn more, you’ll find the terms allow you to have much more sophisticated discussions.

That said, below you’ll find a guide to the terminology that will be employed in this course.

  1. Sex Spectrum: an array of physical differences, defined by:
    1. Primary sexual characteristics: those sexual differences present at birth:
      1. Genital characteristics: differentiation of the fetal phalloclitoris into penis/scrotum or clitoris/labia. The degree of differentiation varies.
      2. Gonadal characteristics: differentiation of the fetal ovotestes into testes or ovaries (which occasionally does not occur).
    1. Secondary sexual characteristics: differentiation of the body under the influence of the sex steroid hormones (testosterone, estrogen, progesterone), typically at puberty. The body normally produces both masculinizing (testosterone) and feminizing (estrogen, progesterone) hormones—the ratio of these determines the relative masculinization/feminization of the body as follows:
      1. Testosterone effects: growth of bodily hair, growth of facial hair, increase in upper body width, increased muscle mass, growth of the larynx leading the voice to lower, fat deposition in abdomen, increased size of penis/clitoris, increase in libido, production of semen/lubrication, increase in sweat and oil production, increase in size of testes and sperm production, irritability.
      2. Estrogen/Progesterone effects: growth of nipples and breast tissue, increase in pelvic width, softened skin and ligaments, increase in subcutaneous fat, fluid retention, cholesterol regulation, fat deposition in hips and thighs, proper spermatogenesis/ovulation, regulation of menstrual cycle, irritability.
  1. Sex Categories: a manner of dividing the sex spectrum into socially-recognized units. In Western societies, there are three sex categories, defined under the authority of medical science as follows:
    1. Female: a person ideally possessing a vagina, labia, a clitoris of less that 0.5 cm at birth, ovaries, a uterus, XX chromosomes, and an estrogen-dominant hormone profile.
    2. Male: a person ideally possessing a penis of length greater than 2 cm at birth, scrotum, testes residing in the scrotum, a prostate, XY chromosomes, and a testosterone-dominant hormone profile.
    3. Intersex: a person whose intermediate position on the sex spectrum fits neither the ideal male or female category, including:
      1. those with intermediate phalloclitoral genitalia;
      2. those with internally ambiguous gonads and/or reproductive anatomy;
      3. those with chromosomal variation (e.g., XY individuals with ovaries, vagina, clitoris; those with atypical sex chromosomes such as XXY or XYY); and
      4. those whose hormone-dominance causes their secondary sexual characteristics to contrast with their primary sexual characteristics.
  1. Social Sex Assignment: the assignment of an individual to a particular socially validated sex, usually at birth.
    1. Dyadic sex assignment: in Western societies, all infants must be categorized as either male or female on their birth certificates. Those classified as belonging to the intersex category must receive either a male or female assignment.
    2. Other sex assignment systems: other societies have nondaydic social sex assignment systems, such as triadic systems (male, female, other) and quadratic systems (male, female, both, neither).
  1. Gender Roles: cultural norms applied to people of different assigned sexes in a given society, including occupational roles, appearance standards (clothing, grooming, cosmetics), emotional norms, and interests. Gender roles are categorized as:
    1. Masculine: the collection of norms for male-assigned people in a given society
    2. Feminine: the collection of norms for female-assigned people in a given society
    3. Additional gender roles: neutral or additional gender roles specific to a given society
  1. Gender Identity: the subjective experience of identifying with a gender role—the internal knowledge that one is a man, a woman, or a member of an alternative gender.
    1. Cis gender identity: gender identity that matches one’s assigned sex
    2. Trans gender identity: gender identity that does not match one’s assigned sex, which may lead to:
      1. Gender transition: to move from following one set of gender roles to another, changing characteristics such as clothing, grooming, cosmetics, and pronoun used; sometimes accompanied by:
      2. Sex transition: to move from one social sex assignment to another through medical treatment with hormonal alteration of secondary sex characteristics, and/or surgical alteration of anatomic sex characteristics (chest, genital, gonadal, laryngeal, etc.)
  1. Gender Expression: individual self-presentation as a member of a given gender, including:
    1. Gender-conforming expression: self-presentation that is strongly in accord with the normative gender role expectations of one’s society;
    2. Androgynous expression: self-presentation which does not align strongly with polarized male or female roles; and
    3. Gender-transgressive expression: self-presentation that defies the traditional expectations for a person of a given gender identity (e.g. feminine men, masculine women).
  1. Sexual Identity: the sex or gender alignment of partners in sexual attraction, including:
    1. Dyadic sexual orientation frames: in which one must know the dyadic sex/gender of both individuals in order to classify them as:
      1. Heterosexual: being attracted to a person whose sex and gender are dyadically opposite of one’s own
      2. Homosexual: being attracted to a person whose sex and gender are the same as one’s own (i.e., gay men and lesbian women)
      3. Bisexual: being attracted both to dyadic sexes
    2. Directional sexual orientation frames: under which one need only know the sex and gender of the person desired to assign the desiring person as:
      1. Androphilic: being attracted to people with male sex and gender
      2. Gynephilic: being attracted to people with female sex and gender
      3. Androgynephilic: being attracted to people who are androgynously gendered or intermediately sexed
      4. Pansexual: being attracted to people independent of any particular sex or gender status or identity

Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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