Thursday, October 13, 2011


One of my biggest frustrations with blogs and articles about or concerning sexuality and gender is that they generally make the assumption that everyone knows the terminology and jargon that you're using.  Looking the terms up isn' that hard, but I want to try to provide a basic guide to sexuality and gender terms.

Despite these first few terms being basic and core terms in regard to sexuality and gender, I honestly don't believe I knew what gender actually was until senior year of high school, maybe junior year.  And I think that's a huge fault with the educational system.

Sex: In this context I am not referring to sexual intercourse, but biological characteristics that every person displays.  These biological characteristics generally refer to both chromosomes and genitalia.

Gender: This is a more complex term and in a Western society there are generally believed to be two genders: male and female.  Gender is a societal construct, meaning that the definition of what roles and traits exactly define a gender do vary from culture to culture.  It encompasses many different aspects which include identifying pronouns, gender roles (based on society and not on any inherent trait), and gender identity.  Children are assigned genders at birth, which correspond to their biological sex.  Once self-aware, a person's gender may or may not correspond to their biological sex.

Sexual Orientation (sexuality): This is a term that most people know.  It refers to a person's preference for partners.  Again, in Western societies the three sexual orientations that are commonly known are heterosexual (preference for the same sex and gender), homosexual (preference for the opposite sex and opposite gender), and bisexual (preference for both sexes/genders).  In Western civilization sexual orientations carry with them an implicit understanding that sex and gender will always match.  Before moving on, it is extremely important to note that sexual orientation is not the same thing or in an standard relation to gender.

Gender Expression: This refers to how a person chooses to express their gender.  This is highly personalized and can include piercings, how a person dresses, tattoos, the hobbies a person enjoys, etc.

Gender Roles: Gender roles is where the societal construct of gender really comes to light.  This is what Wikipedia has to say, "Gender roles refer to the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex in the context of a specific culture."  This includes employment, clothing worn, hobbies, etc.  Being an engineer is consider masculine and being a stay-at-home parent is considered feminine.  Wearing a tie is considered masculine and wearing a dress is considered feminine.  Playing sports is considered masculine and sewing is considered feminine.  Gender roles are constructed by society and if you're saying: "But I enjoy masculine things and I'm a woman, is that weird?"  The answer is: no.  As I said, gender roles are constructed and only natural if you believe in them.  

Estrogen (oestrogen): A female sex hormone that aids in female reproductive development.  Transsexual women will often take estrogen (as part of hormone replacement therapy) to trigger feminine changes in her body such as developing breasts.

Testosterone: A male sex hormone that helps with male reproductive development.  A transsexual man will often begin taking testosterone to start triggering changes in his body (ie: to make his voice break, be able to grow facial hair, etc).

Genitalia: This is a term most everyone will know, a biological man has a penis (and all other parts associated with it) and a biological woman has a vagina (and all other parts associated with it).  But I would like to note that genitalia can be ambiguous.

Intersex: I have mentioned this once before in a previous post, but intersex is a term that has replaced hermaphrodite in commonly vocabulary.  Intersex refers to ambiguous genitals at the time of birth, which make it difficult to determine a biological sex.  Typically doctors push to parents to make an immediate decision about their child's sex and then have the child undergo reconstructive surgery.

Asexual: Most people know in theory what being asexual means.  It is generally defined as a lack of attraction or lack of interest in sex.  I mention it because it is perfectly natural.  Not everyone has to be bonded to a person/people for life or even bonded short term.  I know someone who I believe is asexual, though he has not personally identified as such to me, and he has never shown the slightest attraction to anyone in the time that I've known him, and he is perfectly happy that way.

Pansexual (omnisexual): This is an exciting term because unlike heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual it makes several assumptions that Western society does not traditionally accept.  Firstly, it makes the assumption that not every person's sex will be matched to their gender (ie a biological male identifies as a woman).  Secondly, it does not make the assumption that there are only two genders (which I will cover momentarily).

Queer: This is an interesting term and probably one I'm not going to do much justice in my attempt to explain.  Queer to some extent is what you personally make of it.  It generally does not refer to people who identify as heterosexual.  It also generally comes with an explanation.  Example: "I'm queer, who likes primarily women and femininely presenting men."  It is an extremely useful umbrella term for people who don't believe that any term correctly defines their sexuality.

Androphilia (androsexual): This is a term that I only learned very recently, but it refers to attraction to masculinity or men. Unlike heterosexuality or homosexuality, it doesn't make an assumption about your own sex and gender, it only  refers to being attracted to men (regardless of your sex and gender)

Gynephilia (gynosexual): This is the related term to androphilia and it refers to attraction to femininity or women (regardless of your own sex and gender).

Gender Binary: Is the belief in only two genders: male and female.  It is prevalent throughout much of the modern world and is an incredibly pervasive and incorrect belief (I always feel like an ass saying a belief is just incorrect, but if so much as one person in the entire world doesn't identify as male or female, then this belief is inherently incorrect).

Heteronormative: I've used this word in my blog already, so I feel extremely compelled to explain it.  This is a belief that relates to the gender binary.  It refers to society's belief that heterosexuality is the default orientation and thus marriage should only be between a man and a woman.  Thus, heteronormativity consequentially has a world view that everyone's sexuality, gender, and biological sex should align (ie biological female, who identifies as a woman, who is attracted to men).

Open Relationships:  A relationship can be either open or closed.  A closed relationship is the one most people will think of and it means that the people within a relationship are only exclusive with each other.  This can even apply to a group of seven people who are exclusive only to each other and no one else.  An open relationship refers to people within the confines of a relationship being allowed, with full consent of the other partner(s) to seek out other intimate relationships beyond the ones they already have.  It is extremely important to set boundaries in open relationships, because it is easy to venture into something your partner might not be comfortable with you doing.

Polyamory: The practice of having multiple partners, with everyone involved's consent.  This includes devoted triads (or more), open relationships, one primary and multiple secondary relationships, and much more.  Being polyamorous is often associated with Mormons, but in healthy polyamory every person involve has an equal amount of power and say.  When I first learned about polyamory I thought that it meant that polyamorous people didn't have any long term relationships, but polyamory does not necessarily exclude long term relationships, it just also includes the possibility of having more than one short or long term relationship.

Polyfidelity: This is a group of polyamorous people (more than two) who agree to be mutually exclusive with each other, generally for reasons of minimizing diseases, but also for other reasons.  Polyfidelity would be defined as a closed relationship.

Genderqueer (non-binary gender): This general term refers to a person whose gender identity does not fall within strictly male or strictly female.  It includes people who identify as both (bigendered, pangendered), people who identify as neither (agender, nongender), people whose gender identity is fluid, and those who are other-gendered.

Transgender: This is a broader term that refers to individuals whose biological sex does not always (or never) matches their gender or societal gender roles.  Transgendered is an umbrella term that includes transexuals, transvestites, drag queens and kings, and gender queer individuals.

Transsexual: This is a person whose biological sex does not match the gender that was assigned to them at birth.  Many people who are trans will opt to start taking the hormones of the sex that they feel congruous with and also opt for gender reassignment surgery, but people who do not take hormones or undergo surgery to alter their body does not mean they are not transsexual.  It is also important to not that well it is a choice for a person to take hormones and opt for surgery, but choice does not enter into a person's incongruous feelings with their birth assigned gender. I would also like to emphasize that sexual orientation and gender expression are separate from gender. So a person who was assigned a female gender at birth could transition to become a feminine, gay man, and this would be just as valid a transition as someone transitioning to become a masculine, heterosexual man.

Transvestite: An individual who practice cross-dressing.  The reasons people cross-dress are varied, but the term refers merely to the act.

Cisgendered: This is how the majority of Western society views themselves, which is that their biological sex matches their gender which was assigned at birth.  This is the "default" of most people and many people do not even realize that there could be anything other than this reality.

Feminism: A movement (or movements) that is focused on obtaining equality for women.  First wave feminism refers to the women's suffrage movement.  Second wave feminism refers to the push for women's rights that occurred during the 1960's.  Third wave feminism refers to the continued push for women's rights after the 60's.  There is a lot of baggage that is associated with feminism, but in essence feminism just wants to bring about equality for women, which I feel like shouldn't be objectionable.  I do consider myself a feminist.

Misogyny: Technically defined, misogyny is a hatred of women.  It is sexism applied to a women specifically in essence.  This is what feminism fights against.

Misandry: This term is the related term to misogyny and it refers to a hatred of men.  Some feminists are accused (and for extremely radical feminists this is even true occasionally) of misandry by taking feminism too far.

I know this list is far from complete, so if you have something to add, please do so in the comments.  Thank you to Liam for helping me put this list together.

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