Trans 301: Sex and Gender Part 1 – Introduction

I have been itching to dive into this topic for quite a while. Not only is the relationship between sex and gender something I have been thinking about and learning about for quite some time, but I have noticed some cisgender folks dabbling in the subject as well. Needless to say, my views have evolved as I learned and thought more about this topic. However, I have noticed that a lot of people have some inaccurate–and problematic–views (see the genderbread concept as an example).

I once believed that sex and gender, though related in some ways, were very different things–sex is about your biology (genitals, hormones, chromosomes, etc.) and gender is about your psychology (gender identity). I no longer believe that. I will admit that this model was useful in helping me come to terms with my being a transgender woman, but it is also inaccurrate and harmful. For example, it enables some cis people to still consider trans women ‘male’, and mistreat us accordingly.

I now see sex and gender as synonymous. They are both socially constructed (read here to know exactly what ‘social construction’ actually is as this is a commonly misunderstood concept; and yes, I am aware that this source asserts that sex is biological, but that is beside the point) and sex is hardly grounded in biology, if at all. I will demonstrate this by responding to these primary notions in general, and two YouTube videos in particular in a series of blog posts titled “Trans 301: Sex and Gender”:

marinashutup’s video “What’s the Difference Between Sex and Gender?

  • This video makes certain claims that I will be addressing directly or indirectly
    1. Sex and gender are “very, very different”
    2. Sex refers to one’s biology
    3. Gender is how someone identifies
    4. Gender is a social category
    5. There are two main views of gender: social constructivism and biological essentialism
    6. And, interestingly in apparent contradiction to (1) and (2), sex is not “necessarily natural or essentialist”

PhilosophyTube’s video “What is Gender?

  • I will also be addressing certain claims that this video makes
    1. (Citing Judith Butler) gender is ‘performative’ and constitutes an identity
    2. Judith Butler does not deny that sexual differences exist
    3. There are two primary theories of gender: gender (biological) essentialism, and social constructivism
    4. Describes Julia Serano’s “Intrinsic Inclination Model”
    5. Julia Serano and Judith Butler’s theories are compatible

I will be addressing these claims by referencing and citing the following sources (perhaps in addition to others I may come across as this series progresses):

  1. Decolonizing Trans/Gender 101 by B. Binaohan
  2. Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
  3. Bodies that Matter by Judith Butler
  4. Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling
  5. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
  6. “The Extended Mind” by Andy Clark and David J. Chalmers
  7. Whipping Girl by Julia Serano
  8. Evolution’s Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden
  9. Sex Redefined” by Claire Ainsworth

Though this outline is likely to change, I currently plan on organizing the series in the following manner:

Sex and Gender

  1. Part 1: Introduction
    • Introduction to the issue of sex and gender
    • Basic Outline
  2. Part 2: The history of sex and gender
    • The colonization of trans/gender identities
    • How the body came to be sexed
    • Decolonizing/deconstructing sex and gender
  3. Part 3: The “science” of sex
    • A basic introduction of how sex is understood scientifically and how it falls short
  4. Part 4: Judith Butler (click here for a brief introduction to Butler)
    • A brief summary of gender performativism
  5. Part 5: Trans Identities
    • What this means to me personally
    • Where does my experience fit?
  6. Part 6: Conclusion
    • Summary of most critical points in the series
    • Why this all matters

Hopefully by the end of this I will be able to help others, in addition to myself, better understand sex and gender–or rather, help them realize how little we really understand them due to our colonialist and empirically flawed models–in a way that inspires compassion and acceptance. For example, if more people realized how ridiculous it is to have a binary sex system in general, and for segregating bathrooms based on sex specifically, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this debate about allowing trans people the dignity to use the restroom(s) of their choice.

As I have said before, I have been wanting to do this for a while. I now think I am ready to do so. The time is right. It is now or never. Buckle up your seatbelts, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. In the second post to this series, I will summarize the history of sex and gender.