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Sex, gender and sexuality for beginners

It was sometime in the ’90s that Ru Paul said it best: “You are born naked, everything else is drag.” Contrary to what some of us may believe, sex, gender, and sexuality are not inherently linked together. Some, well maybe all, of these “categories” are social constructs (I think that’s what Madame Ru was getting at). But the concepts of these three things may need to be pulled a part a little bit before I delve into how these identity markers can vary for one person’s identity process.

First off, what is sex? Typically, sex is referred to as the “biological” attributes one has, such as a penis, a vagina, or a chromosome mixture that is physically identified as “intersex” (oppressively and historically referred to as “hermaphrodite,” but we don’t use that word around these here parts). That’s all well and good, but it seems a bit exclusive, no? Did you know there are actually over 100 different chromosome compilations? And that these compilations will amount to physical differentiations (for lack of a better word) that fall outside of our normative understanding of penis, vagina, and intersex? This exists and it’s sexy as fuck.

Okay, now what is gender expression? Gender expression is a way in which one expresses or performs their gender. Now, this does not have to be in line with their “sex”—their physical attributes that have been deemed either male or female or intersex, or vagina or penis or intersex. This is the base of what Ru Paul meant, in my opinion. Gender is performed, even if you are cis-gendered (meaning your expression and your biological/physical attributes are a match). The way you dress, the makeup you wear or don’t wear, your hair, the way you walk, even the way you take up space; all these things are social constructs that are expressions of the gender you feel you are, regardless of your genitals.

Gender identity is a sticky place where a lot of folks, such as politicians or protectors of any bullshit bureaucracy, feel they have free reign to reject or accept one’s gender identity. Your gender identity is not linked to either your biological or physical sex, nor is it linked to your gender expression, though sometimes it may be. Gender identity is what you feel and think you are in terms of gender. I could be a straight-talking femme who identifies as a man. Or I could be a straight-talking homo who identifies as a woman. I could also be a jean-wearing mother of two who identifies as neither or both. It’s up to you, and please, do whatever the fuck you want, regardless of what peeps say you can or cannot be. Dammit, just be it all.

Last but most certainly not least is my personal fave: sexual orientation. “Sexual orientation,” as a category, has a plethora of options: You can be Pan, Bi, Straight, Gay, Asexual, Whateversexual…pretty much all the colours of the fucking rainbow. And, as you may have guessed, sexual orientation has nothing to do with gender identity, sex, or gender expression. Sexual orientation is certainly not something we can indefinitely tell by looking at someone or meeting them. It is, of course, something that can be wrongfully assumed, perhaps to our own detriment.

None of these identities can be assumed or judged upon meeting a person or getting to know them. And all of these identities can, of course, change over time. Where I once identified as straight, I now do not. Where I once called myself female, I now call myself a queer femme. So, is there room for judgment or assumption when it comes to gender, sex, and sexuality? In the words of Ru Paul, “Not on MYYYY runway.”

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