Sex is comprised of the biological characteristics which a person is born with. This may include chromosomes, gametes (egg or sperm), gonads, reproductive organs, hormonal composition, among others. While most of the world understands gender as a mutually exclusive dichotomy of male and female, this is not true, as is evidenced in the biological makeup of humans and many other species. The features that serve to define “biological sex” may arise in various combinations; usually we see or label only two sets (male and female), but many more are not only possible but more common than we believe.
Not only is biological sex a continuum, but so is gender. Gender is much trickier to define, since it has many different dimensions through which is it felt, experienced, assumed, expected, expressed, and presented.
Gender is related to sex in which the physical body is often a part of someone’s gender. However, gender may or may not “match” the physical sex, and match is a loose term. This is because body parts are not inherently gendered; rather, they have been ascribed a gender. For instance, a penis is commonly thought of as the male organ. But there are many women and other female-identified folk who may have a penis, and do not consider it or themselves to be male, it is just a part of who they are. Other people do feel that a certain gendered body part does not belong on their body in relation to their gender.
A person’s internal, private sense of gender is their gender identity. Some people live their entire lives without giving their gender identity a second thought. Many others heavily consider and challenge their gender role, or a set of expected thoughts and behaviors they should have for the sole reason of belonging to a certain gender group. Still others find themselves questioning whether they are the gender they have been told they are since birth, and realize that it may or may not match what they feel to be inside.
How a person outwardly displays or presents their gender is their gender expression.This may include clothes, activities, mannerisms, behaviors, likes and dislikes of a certain gender. It is commonly thought of in terms of masculinity and femininity, but these proscriptions may change over time and across societies. It can also be a mixture of both, neither, or ambiguous.
Gender in people is assumed to match that of the biological sex, but it doesn’t always. Thus, someone is transgender when a their internal gender identity does not match their assigned gender.
A transgender person’s gender identity may fall under binary genders of male or female, or it may be outside of the binary. There are infinite varitions on gender identity, gender expression, gender presentation, sexual orientation, birth sex, and current physical body.
Sexual Orientation is a term to describe sexual, romantic, and/or emotional attraction towards others. It is completely independent of one’s gender identity, transgender status, gender presentation, or gender expression. That is, someone’s gender does not define who they are attracted to, as gender and orientation come in as many combinations as possible.
The most commonly known terms – heterosexual, homosexual or gay – are based on the gender of both the person with the attraction and who they are attracted to. However, because there are people whose gender does not fall into the male/female gender binary – such as neutrois people – it is difficult to define one’s sexual attraction in terms of one’s own gender. Furthermore, it is difficult to define one’s sexual attraction in terms of others’ non-binary gender. Thus some prefer to use terms that do not depend on their own gender, or on the gender of the person they are attracted to.