Sex & Gender

The words sex and gender mean very different things.  Sex is the difference in biological characteristics of males and females, determined by a person’s genes.  For example, only some bodies produce sperm.  This is a biological characteristic determined by the person’s genes.  Alternatively, only some bodies have egg cells and can come become pregnant.  This is another biological characteristic determined by a person’s genes.  A person’s sex is typically assigned at birth by a doctor or a medical professional.  Designations are usually “male” or “female”, despite there being many variations between them (this is called “intersex” or a “difference in sex designation” and there are over 47 known versions).  Sex is not the same as gender.

Gender refers to socially or culturally defined ideas about masculinity and femininity.  Society has its own ideas of what makes a girl a girl and a boy a boy.  For example, there may be roles, attributes, or behaviours associated with masculinity – like enjoying sports.  And there may be roles, attitudes, or behaviours associated with femininity – like wearing makeup.  These ideas are learned from family, friends, communities, opinion leaders, religious institutions, schools, the workplace, advertising, and the media, and can be very limiting for individual people.  But these expectations do change over time.  For example, less than one hundred years ago, people thought that pink was the best colour to dress boys in, and blue for girls.  Typically, pink is now considered to be a feminine colour.  Gender is not the same as sex.

How people identify their gender is called “gender identity”.  Gender identity is about how someone thinks and feels about the sex they are.  It’s about a person’s core sense of who they are.  It’s about whether someone identifies emotionally and spiritually as a man or a woman or both or neither.  Gender identity is not determined by a person’s biological sex.  Most people have a gender identity that matches their biological sex.  For example, a biological male might identify as a man.  Sometimes, a person’s gender identity does not match their biological sex.  For example, someone born with a penis and testicles may identify as a woman.  Gender identity is self-determined, and may change over a person’s lifetime.

A simple way of explaining the difference between sex and gender is: sex = what is between our legs, and gender = what is between our ears.  SERC values and respects all gender identities, and provides affirming supports and services for folks of all genders.