Boy or Girl?

In Western society, gender and sex are presented as synonymous, static concepts. I remember viewing pictures of a Girls and Boys Day that a friend took at the private pre-school his children attended. As you can do doubt guess, the girls were dressed in pretty pastel coloured frocks, wore tiaras, had tea and pastries. The boys rough and tumbled it outside in the yard, made toy vehicles with juice boxes, and ran around in their pants and shirts. It was a clear, if extremely limited, example of Jamaica’s take on gender: what is to be feminine vs masculine. It’s social.

Sex seems simpler. We are born, the doctors identify us as male or female by our external sex organs: penis or vulva (the outer part of the vagina). As we physically develop, our chromosomal and hormonal make-up will cooperate, and we’ll have the deepening voices or growing breasts that our parents, peers and general society expects. We take off from there, everything aligned from birth to death, with space for little variation.

That is a popular perception but it is not the reality. Our understanding of gender and sex is evolving but there are many facts that we do know.

Fact 1
Biological sex includes external and internal sex organs, as well as sex chromosomes and hormones. Some persons internal structure may not match the external. Others may be born with ambiguous genitalia: neither obviously male nor female. For others, such variations aren’t detectable until puberty. It’s not really a surprise to learn that, biologically, humans fall along a spectrum. For those who fall somewhere along the middle of the spectrum, the catch-all term is “intersex”.

Fact 2
For many of us how we feel and think about our gender matches our biological sex. For many, it doesn’t. It is even possible that one may not feel wholly male or female. This is called our gender identity. Transgender persons most obviously fall under this concept. One does not have to be intersex to be a transgender person.

Fact 3
How we present our gender to society is called gender expression. One may identify as a man but behave or dress like a woman as it is understood by one’s particular culture. We all express ourselves as a particular gender, to varying degrees. Gender identity is internal while gender expression is external.

Fact 4
Finally, there is our sexual orientation: who we are sexually and romantically attracted to. Those attracted to the opposite gender are heterosexual. (By this definition, a transgender man attracted to a woman would consider it a heterosexual relationship.) Those attracted to the same gender are homosexuals. Pansexuals are those who are attracted to all persons regardless of gender.

Here’s a useful visual aid for illustrating what’s known as the gender spectrum. Imagine it as a numbered scale from 10 – 0, left to right. Spend some time to consider where you would fall. (Feel free to share in comments!)

Biological Sex

Female <————————————–> Male

Gender Identity

Woman <————————————–> Man

Gender Expression

     Feminine <————————————-> Masculine

Sexual Orientation

Heterosexual <————————————–> Homosexual

All of this may be confusing at first. Learning a new language about how we relate to each other can be a hurdle for LGBTQI persons as well :-). It establishes how complex and beautiful an experience it is to be human. We excel at envisioning different ways to be on the earth. This is our right — and it’s a pretty harmless way of exercising it! However, we are aware of how others see this as disruptive, chaotic and “against nature”. Transgender, more so than other groups, bear the brunt of this stigma. TransWave is focused on presenting this trans* experience in all its complexity.

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  1. petchary August 28, 2015 Reply

    Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:
    When it comes to transgender people, many of us get confused by the terms used, and “who is who.” I think this is a very helpful and clear explanation. As this post from TransWave Jamaica notes, being human is a “complex and beautiful experience.” TransWave is a recently established resource on health and lifestyle issues for the transgender community.

  2. sharonotai August 28, 2015 Reply

    Reblogged this on FRAGMENTS and commented:
    The beauty and complexity of being human (reblogged from TransWave):

    • Peter Hunt August 28, 2015 Reply

      Well done Sharon. Is TransWave a Jamaican outfit. I hope so because I gather Jamaicans are not in general very tolerant of any departures from the “norm” whatever that is. Actually I have met two Jamaican women who were perfectly accepting of homosexuality. One of the two is you. Thank you. Love Peter

      • TransWave August 28, 2015 Reply

        Good day to you, Peter. Yes, TransWave is 100% Jamaican and committed to creating a country that truly reflects its motto. I encourage you to follow the site so you can engage with a lot more than two Jamaicans :-D.

  3. Cecily Jones September 4, 2015 Reply

    Thank you for this easily accessible, clearly written essay. It’s a great learning and teaching resource and I will be using and discussing it with my Women’s Studies students here at UWI Mona.

    • TransWave September 5, 2015 Reply

      Excellent! We’re delighted to hear that Cecily. We have much more in store. Thanks for sharing our resource with your students.

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