What is gender?

Atashi-san's picture

I just joined this site, and I'm not transgender or gay. I'm just...confused, I guess.
I've always wondered, what does it mean to be a guy or girl? I don't understand it. I don't think it's necessarily a biological sex, so what is it? Is it liking certain things versus not liking them? Is it just a feeling? What does it mean?

lonewolf678's picture


to me it's just classification, based on similar characteristics and anatomy. of course i'm not an expert on this subject i just thought i'd give input (opinion).

kamkam's picture


I agree with Lonewolf. gender is just classification for humans with different parts.

(beauty is in the eye of the beholder)

MacAvity's picture


No, guys, the anatomy and the 'parts' is sex. Most of the world doesn't make much of a distinction between sex and gender, because in most of the world a person's sex matches his gender, but here we must make that distinction. There are lots of us here who, for example, have vaginas but aren't female, genderwise.

Atashi-san is asking exactly the right questions - but I don't know if anyone can truly answer them. Certainly I can't. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask.

Dracofangxxx's picture

Macavity is right.

Sex is what your body is. However, gender defines what you believe your body SHOULD be.

Don't confuse gender for being feminine or masculine, though- It's perfectly fine to be a masculine female or a feminine male without having to consider yourself more of a boy or girl.

That's how I think it is, anyways. I could get into a lengthy, heated discussion about this with many people but I promised I'd calm down ;)

elph's picture



Note particularly:

"Grammatical gender has little or nothing to do with differences between female and male.

My take on the current propensity to refer to one's "sex" as "gender" is nothing more than prudery.

centerfielder08's picture

Just wanted to reiterate my

Just wanted to reiterate my opinion...that gender doesn't have to do with the parts we were given, but rather what we feel we are or think we are.

I have all the parts of a female and am living to others as a female, though I consider myself to be happiest and in a better mood if I think of myself as a guy.

But I applaud you , Atashi-san, for asking these questions. I know its hard to put yourself out there like that. So, thanks :).

niks121997's picture


While I agree sex is typically associated with anatomy (and that isn't always so clear either) and gender has more to do with thinking and feeling, I also think gender deals with social and gender roles and as anchored in culture. Although sex and gender tend to be placed on a dichotomous polarity, I see gender as more fluid and encompassing a whole range of things, including language, behavior, attitudes, and self-concept that need not necessarily fall into one of two categories. Gender tends to be rooted in performance in that there seems to be a collective societal agreement about the "proper" scripts and ways of being for males and females. And I also see those scripts and gender as able to be explored and not fixed, as gender strikes me as a social construct primarily. So while there are transgender or transsexual persons whose gender identities are different from biological sex, I also think persons can be gender invariant without identifying as transgender or transsexual. In my eyes, it's about pushing against and beyond the walls of the boxes placed upon people by themselves and society.

I also think I'm missing some things, but that's okay too.

Riku's picture

Okay, here goes..

A lot of people lump all sorts of gender-related things into one big blob of "gender". But gender is a lot more complex than that. Keep in mind that none of this is binary, even the biological stuff. These things are also independent of each other. In a "typical" person they may line up a certain way, but that doesn't mean that they have to.

Sex, as others have mentioned, refers to biology, what chromosomes, hormones, and parts you have or don't have. Most people have male-typical or female-typical bodies but there's room for variation there, and there are people who fall between.

Gender is the inner sense of who you are. Trans people have a gender that does not match up with their sex in a typical fashion. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are uncomfortable with their bodies, there are many trans people who are, and there are many trans people who aren't. (people aren't "more trans" than each other over this either. If someone identifies as male but is comfortable with baring children, he is just as deserving of being called male as any other man.) But it's kind of a sense of being male or female (or both or neither or what have you). Some people have fluid gender, but I think it's relatively static for most people. Many people decide how to present themselves based on gender, but not always. There are people who dress in ways typical of a gender they don't identify as because they're comfortable with it, or because they find it fun, or whatever their reasons are.

So gender is a sense of identity I guess. Part of how one defines oneself.

There are Gender roles which, people tend to lump in with gender but they're different things. Gender roles are basically the expectations people have for people based on what gender they think they are. They expect women to be docile, men to be macho. Women are supposed to like dressing up and cooking or whatever, and men are supposed to "bring home the bacon" and watch sports and drink and be smelly. Not letting boys play with dolls is gender roles. Sexisim is gender roles. All of those bullshit stereotypes and pressures are gender roles... I don't like gender roles. Some people naturally fit into gender roles (really masculine men or feminine women) but I think many more of us fall between.

There's gender expression which, is also different from gender. For example, personally, I identify as male 100% so my gender is male. But I prefer to present myself, or express my gender, somewhat androgynously. If gender roles are what society puts on you, expression goes in the other direction. Gender expression is how you express yourself. This mostly has to do with how you dress but body language and tone of speech and other things come into it.

And of course there's sexuality (and romantic attraction). People of any gender and body type combination, can be attracted to any gender or body type. For example, if someone previously known as male transitions to female, and identifies and expresses herself as a woman, that doesn't mean she has to be attracted to men. She could be a lesbian, or bi, or anything else. I could go into a whole new rant about sexuality but I'll save it.

Um yeah. I think that's all I've got for now. If you think I missed something feel free to add on. XD; (I know I have a bit of a matter-of-fact tone but I'm just speaking from personal experience. It's okay to disagree with me. )

whateversexual_llama's picture


i think i'm a little bit in love with you.


kamkam's picture

two things about that little statement

1: whoa

2:awwwwww cute

(beauty is in the eye of the beholder)

lonewolf678's picture


SORRY GUYS I MADE A MISTAKE! please don't stone me for speaking out of turn, i said i wasn't an expert. :|

whateversexual_llama's picture

augh! i hope nobody on this

augh! i hope nobody on this site discourages the mis-defining of gender! goodness knows that the definitions of sex/gender/etc that are commonly accepted are loose at best, and some people use them completely differently!

In fact, I think an important answer to the original question is gender isn't. There are a lot of ideas, but it varies so completely between cultures and even within them that attempting to give a concise and real definition in any way of what it is is impossible.

We have to remember that- that even when we have a set idea about gender (whether it be "sex defines gender!" "gender is a social construct!" or anything in between) that no matter how liberal about it we think we are, somebody will always disagree, and NONE of us are wrong.

Gender isn't real. Some (JUDITH BUTLER!) would argue that even sex is a construct. We all go through life attempting to define it, but those definitions change and flow in the same way that our performances or identities do. And that's okay. It's more than okay, actually. It's beautiful.

Riku's picture


I mean, usually when people say that gender is a construct they mean that nobody has a gender really, just societal pressures. That's not true. I'm male and that's real. But gender as a solid concept isn't. There is no singular way to define gender or sex. They're fluid and diverse and wonderful.

I went to this conference in Vermont about gender variance a couple of years ago, and it was amazing. The people there weren't 'men' or 'women', everyone was just their own person, and each person's gender expression surfaced in its own way. It didn't matter if someone was cis or trans or intersex or male or female or both or neither. Everyone was individual.

I wish the world could be like that.

whateversexual_llama's picture

two different responses, pick your favorite

right right right what i mean when i say gender isn't real isn't that the IDENTITY isn't real, it's that the labels we have invented are nothing but constructs.


and that just proves it! Ash and I have pretty similar-seeming feelings on gender but even OUR definitions and reactions to various ways of phrasing it differ in ways I could never have predicted! As long as I'm not being offensive, THAT IS SO COOL.

funnyflyby's picture


I explained basically a concise version of what Riku said to Clueless and Other the other day. They both spaced out and afterwards I was told to 'JUST SAY GENDER LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE!' when referring to SEX. Not gender. Bleh on the refusal to listen.
I am going to remain silent on the topic of my own gender on this thread for the sake of not confusing myself any more than I already have after looking in a mirror.