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Sexuality and Gender Today : We don’t know what we don’t know

I was at a business conference this past week.
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I have pondered the differences in teen sexuality today compared to when I was a teen many times. I learned a lot from several discussions that I had and would like to share. I know there is someone out there who needs this information or knows someone who needs it.

I roomed with a few women that I had met previously. One of these women has a 13 year old son. We were talking about our children one evening and she mentioned that he is growing breasts and has hips.  This can be known as gynecomastia, but in this case his male physical anatomy is also extremely decreased in size (since infancy, not just adolescence). She told me that he has always had behavioral issues (if this is a hormonal issue, can you imagine the hormones competing with each other. Think of us on our worst PMS day!). My friend lives in an extremely small coastal town, does not have insurance, and the local doctors say “everything is fine”. Yeah, right.

At the conference we were seated for dinner one evening with 2 amazing women (there are no accidents). No one else sat with us. During our discussion one of these women told us that she had a sex change. This is not the issue with my friend’s son, but what a gift to be able to talk to someone who may know someone that can give her answers. During this conversation, she also told me quite succintly some distinctions that I had never heard before. I wanted to share this information with you, because like I said, I know that there is someone out there who needs this information. She told me that there are 4 ways to look at sex and gender-

The following information is taken from the website

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Biological sex, shown on the top scale, includes external genitalia, internal reproductive structures, chromosomes, hormone levels, and secondary sex characteristics such as breasts, facial and body hair, and fat distribution. These characteristics are objective in that they can be seen and measured (with appropriate technology). The scale consists not just of two categories (male and female) but is actually a continuum, with most people existing somewhere near one end or the other. The space more in the middle is occupied by intersex people (formerly, hermaphrodites), who have combinations of characteristics typical of males and those typical of females, such as both a testis and an ovary, or XY chromosomes (the usual male pattern) and a vagina, or they may have features that are not completely male or completely female, such as an organ that could be thought of as a small penis or a large clitoris, or an XXY chromosomal pattern.

Gender identity is how people think of themselves and identify in terms of sex (man, woman, boy, girl). Gender identity is a psychological quality; unlike biological sex, it can’t be observed or measured (at least by current means), only reported by the individual. Like biological sex, it consists of more than two categories, and there’s space in the middle for those who identify as a third gender, both (two-spirit), or neither. We lack language for this intermediate position because everyone in our culture is supposed to identify unequivocally with one of the two extreme categories. In fact, many people feel that they have masculine and feminine aspects of their psyches, and some people, fearing that they do, seek to purge themselves of one or the other by acting in exaggerated sex-stereotyped ways.

Gender expression is everything we do that communicates our sex/gender to others: clothing, hair styles, mannerisms, way of speaking, roles we take in interactions, etc. This communication may be purposeful or accidental. It could also be called social gender because it relates to interactions between people. Trappings of one gender or the other may be forced on us as children or by dress codes at school or work. Gender expression is a continuum, with feminine at one end and masculine at the other. In between are gender expressions that are androgynous (neither masculine nor feminine) and those that combine elements of the two (sometimes called gender bending). Gender expression can vary for an individual from day to day or in different situations, but most people can identify a range on the scale where they feel the most comfortable. Some people are comfortable with a wider range of gender expression than others.

Sexual orientation indicates who we are erotically attracted to. The ends of this scale are labeled “attracted to women” and “attracted to men,” rather than “homosexual” and “heterosexual,” to avoid confusion as we discuss the concepts of sex and gender. In the mid-range is bisexuality; there are also people who are asexual (attracted to neither men nor women). We tend to think of most people as falling into one of the two extreme categories (attracted to women or attracted to men), whether they are straight or gay, with only a small minority clustering around the bisexual middle. However, Kinsey’s studies showed that most people are in fact not at one extreme of this continuum or the other, but occupy some position between.

For each scale, the popular notion that there are two distinct categories, with everyone falling neatly into one or the other, is a social construction. The real world (Nature, if you will) does not observe these boundaries. If we look at what actually exists, we see that there is middle ground. To be sure, most people fall near one end of the scale or the other, but very few people are actually at the extreme ends, and there are people at every point along the continuum.

Please see the gendersanity website for more information on all of the above distinctions.

I am sure that this is going to push a few buttons. I am OK with that. Like I said, I know there is someone out there that needs this information and hasn’t found someone to ask questions. This is for the parents who may be worried about their child and don’t understand what is going on. It is for people themselves that have questions and never dared to ask. It is also for those out there who have judgement against things they don’t know anything about. The first step is to educate yourself. Here is your first step.


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