Androgynous. Gender fluid. Transwoman. Transman. Cisgender. Gender Non-conforming. Gender normative. These are only a handful of the terms frequently used in any discussion pertaining to sex and gender. 

But any discussion of the same stems from the basic understanding of what sex is and what gender is. And what are the differences between the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ and how they are not interchangeable. 

For anyone who feels strongly about gender issues, the differences might be clear. But for those who are struggling to understand why a person born as a male might identify oneself as a woman or how a person could so easily fluctuate between being a man and being a woman, the following distinctions might be of help. 

Sex refers to biological characteristics and gender refers to societal constructs.

The sex of an individual is determined at birth but one’s role, activities and behaviour are in accordance to what society expects from him or her. That role, activities and behaviour one performs throughout one’s life is what comprises gender.  

To further simplify it, when we say ‘sex’, we refer to a male or female. But when we say ‘gender’, we refer to masculine or feminine. Further still, the notions of masculinity and femininity are greatly affected by one’s culture. 

In all correctness then, there is nothing like ‘real man’ or ‘real woman’. It is one’s culture that dictates how the genders should perform. 

So, it is only natural that not everyone might be okay with the gender roles attributed to them, regardless of their sex. In an ideal world then, being a male should not necessarily warrant masculinity and being a female should not warrant femininity.  

Sex can be divided into three categories but there are more than three gender identities.

The term ‘sex’ refers to the main biological categories – male and female along with third gender, which include individuals from the Hijra community and transgenders. The Supreme Court of India now recognises these three sexes

Gender is much more complex than this. One could be bigender or cisgender and one could be gender fluid, gender normative or gender non-confirming. And then one could be transsexual or a transvestite. It is basically what one identifies himself or herself as. 

One must however, not confuse these identities with sexual orientation. One’s sexual orientation is independent of one’s sex or gender. 

To begin to understand the nuances of gender issues, one must – firstly – be clear on the basics of sex and gender. And we hope this helped!