The terms sex and gender are used interchangeably. These two terms (sex and gender) are in fact not interchangeable since the terms describe different experiences. Sex is what you are assigned at birth. Gender is an internal understanding of self that one begins to develop at birth, and this understanding continues to evolve over time.
Gender – There are three aspects that makeup the complete understanding of ones own gender:
1. Biological gender - your physical gender presentation
2. Gender Identity - your internal understanding of self as male, female, both, or none
3. Gender Expression - how you relate to another gender.
Sex – the anatomy you have at birth, including your gonads, your sex chromosomes, and sex hormones. When a baby is born, the baby is assigned the male or female sex according to the physical presentation.
Developing a gender identity: John Money (1993) explains that we understand our gender identity in two ways, identifying and complementing. Identifying is when we copy someone who has the same gender identity as our own. Complementing is when we learn how our gender identity compliments another’s gender identity. For example, we learn how to dance by identifying (copying) with the instructor and we learn about the beauty of dance by watching how we compliment our dancing partner.
The gender spectrum: Because we see sex and gender as interchangeable terms we have only two affixed terms for gender: male or female. Yet, taking a look at the Bem Sex Role Inventory tells us that gender is more complex than the assigned sexual anatomy. The Bem-Sex role inventory was designed in 1971 in order to measure the masculine, feminine, and androgynous traits in each person. The inventory places each person on a spectrum from femininity to masculinity in contrast to 2 affixed terms.
To more accurately explain the human experience we would have to move away from our binary understanding of gender, to a continuum of gender traits. While many may don't care about their male or female title, some are yearning to connect to their gender experience with a more expansive non-binary term. Welcoming a gender spectrum would benefit even those who are comfortable with their matched sex and gender (cis-gender). This would allow all of us to experience both our male and female attributes without feeling forced to suppress our counter-sex traits.
See this video posted by The Huffington Post for a detailed list of gender identity terms.
Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, MHC-LP, CASAC is a psychotherapist in New York City where she practices individual therapy, couples counseling, and sex counseling. You can contact Sara at email@example.com and read more blog posts at www.mwr.nyc
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Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, LMHC