“Sex” and “Gender”: What’s the Difference and How Can a Unicorn Help Me Understand?

–By Kara Friend

The Gender Unicorn by Trans Student Educational Resources is a helpful visual to explain what all of these things mean! Check out their website here.

Gender Unicorn

Landyn Pan & Anna Moore/TSER

  • “Gender” (Gender Identity)
    • Gender is about your internal experience.
      • We often think of gender as male and female, but this limits the idea that people may experience their internal world as something other than male or female.
    • Think of gender identity as a spectrum.
      • This allows for individuals to identify their own self-concept along a more fluid spectrum of gender.
      • It is less rigid.
      • This recognizes gender as a socially constructed concept.
    • This may or may not be the same as your sex assigned at birth; rather, it’s about your personal experience.
  • “Sex” (Sex Assigned at Birth)
    • The term “Sex assigned at birth” refers to the fact that “sex” is typically determined at birth based on a variety of “biological” components that are not universally agreed upon (most people assume that sex is simply based on the appearance of a child’s external genitalia at birth).
      • Biological components:
        • Hormones, anatomy, chromosomes, etc.
      • Sex assigned at birth is a more encompassing label than sex because it is a more accurate representation of how we are assigning the label of sex based upon minimal criteria (i.e., the presence or absence of a penis).
  • Other Key Terms
    • Gender Expression/Presentation
      • The way you choose to express your gender identity.
        • This can be through clothing, hairstyles, vocal tone/pitch.
      • This is the external.
        • We do not always express ourselves in a way that matches our internal experience.
      • Sexually Attracted To
        • Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are not linked, just like gender identity and sex assigned at birth are not linked.
        • This is who you want to engage in sexual activities with.
      • Romantically/Emotionally Attracted To
        • Who you are romantically and emotionally attraction to.
          • In other words, who do you desire to have close or intimate relationships with?
          • These relationships may not always be sexual in nature.
        • For some, sexual attraction and romantic/emotional attraction are aligned; for others, they are not.

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