'Sex' and 'gender' are often used interchangeably, despite having different meanings: in short, sex is about your body, gender is about who you perceive yourself to be.
Sex refers to a set of biological attributes in humans and animals. It is primarily associated with physical and physiological features including chromosomes, gene expression, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy. Sex is usually categorized as female or male but there is variation in the biological attributes that comprise sex and how those attributes are expressed.
Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of people. It influences how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the distribution of power and resources in society. Gender has traditionally been conceptualized as a binary (girl/woman and boy/man) yet there is considerable diversity within each frame in how individuals and groups understand, experience, and express it. This diversity has developed or expanded in more recent times.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines gender as:
"Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed."
As gender is seen as socially constructed, but biologically related, it can vary significantly from society to society.
Feeling different can be difficult. Experiencing confusion about gender, sex and identity can be even trickier. One of the most helpful ways that we can address the issue of confusion about gender is by expanding our view of what it means to be gendered male and what it means to be gendered female. As our concepts of masculinity and femininity are broadened, we give scope for people to have a gendered expression of themselves that aligns with their sex. In other words, there are lots of ways to be male, and there are lots of ways to be female.
If you, or someone you know feels confusion or uncertainty about your identity, there are a number of things to remember. The Bible teaches us that we are all made in the image of God, and as such are inherently and infinitely valuable. Being made in the image of God is not a gendered thing. We are all made in the image of God, irrespective of whether we experience confusion or clarity regarding our sex, gender and identity.
The following list can highlight things are not going as well for us as they could. There are lots of reasons why this might be the case, including confusion about gender and identity.
Changes in mood – feeling sadder, more anxious, or more irritable than usual
Changes in behaviour – being less talkative, becoming withdrawn or being more aggressive
Changes in relationships – falling out with friends or their partner, or conflict with family
Changes in appetite – eating more or less than usual, or losing or gaining weight rapidly
Changes in sleep patterns – not sleeping enough, or sleeping too much
Changes in coping – feeling overwhelmed or tired of life
Changes in thinking – more negative thoughts, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide
If you or a friend feels confusion about identity, it is worth seeking professional assistance. The path to professional assistance may start with a conversation with an older sibling or trusted peer, but should, where possible, include a conversation with a parent or trusted member of your community, which may include a teacher or school counsellor. In this conversation, you may wish to be general, indicating that you would like to speak with someone because you don’t feel quite right, or you may feel able to pinpoint the reason for your unease.