Gender, Sex, and Social Constructs

Gender is a social construct. That’s not to say it’s neither real nor important, especially in a society obsessed with policing gender — money is a social construct, and in a capitalist society its impacts are both very real and very important.

Further, being told what our gender is and means can cause dissonance and distress, and I don’t believe it’s based on conflict with some hidden ‘true’ gender. The way the term is used now is a clunky conflation of numerous factors, from gender-presentation to sex, and as these terms are more rigorously identified and separated, ‘gender’ has less and less meaning.

In a genderless society, trans and non-binary people would still exist, and for those that wished to transition the issue would be treated as an endocrine disorder, rather than a psychiatric one. Why is this? Because the idea of a binary and immutable/innate sex is also a social construct.

While separating ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ is a useful Trans 101 description, I think it reinforces a false dichotomy (the ‘body’ and ‘mind’ being separate entities), and devalues the self-identification of trans/non-binary people (‘your gender is female but your sex is male’ is the ‘politically correct’ way of saying ‘you think you’re a woman but you’re actually a man’).

Beyond this, the way ‘sex’ is used is completely lacking in nuance, and fails to reflect the diversity of humanity. Sex conflates a large number of variables into one title — gonads, chromosomes, genital, hormones, secondary sex characteristics, possibly brain structure — while failing to recognise that these are all distinct and meaningful concepts in and of themselves.

For example, if I am getting an abdominal x-ray, my doctor needs to know where my gonads are, they don’t need to know whether I’m ‘male’ or ‘female’; if I’m growing a distressing amount of hair, my endocrinologist needs to know my testosterone levels are, they don’t need to know whether I’m ‘male’ or ‘female’. Ultimately, ‘sex’ is a categorisation used to enforce social norms far more often than it is to convey useful information about a person.

Gender and sex are social constructs, and upon deconstruction may turn out to be completely useless (and it’s my opinion that they are); however, in a world where both of these constructs exist, they are still real, they are still important, and the identification of individuals on both counts needs to be respected.

Gender, Sex, and Social Constructs