Getting Comfortable with the Gender Spectrum

Understanding Gender, Sex, and Sexuality: Part II

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized Knurd: As society has expanded its understanding of gender and sexuality, bigots have attempted to weaponize evolving language and ignorance of gender, sex, and sexuality to roll back our rights.

In Case You Missed It: How We Stop the Rise in Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate


As extremist violence towards LGBTQ+ people rises around the country, thereโ€™s one thing that gets the most scorn from bigots.

Trans women living their lives.

They HATE it. Trans women simply existing triggers unprocessed emotions in them. Just look at two recent examples:

The recent spat over Bud Lightโ€™s collaboration with Dylan Mulvaney had right-wingers throwing temper tantrums in grocery stores. It would be funny if it wasnโ€™t alarming to think that grown men are turning to violence in public.
A split imagfe of Dustin Cain trashing Bud Light and being arrested.
Image from TikTok
Couple that with the vocal conservative women who tell you exactly what they think about trans women. Presidential candidate, Nikki Halley (lol), said in reference to Dylan Mulvaney, โ€œThat is not a transgender person. That is a guy dressed up as a little girl, making fun of women.โ€

Why does Nikki Haley care so much? Why does she think that because another person is expressing themselves that they are โ€œmaking fun of women?โ€ Why does she feel so threatened about a person living on the other side of the country?

Itโ€™s baffling until the dots of gender, sex, and patriarchy are connected.

Gender vs. Sex

First and foremost, we have to get our language right. In our society, gender and sex have been tied together for so long that many use them interchangeably, but they actually mean two different things.

The critical distinction is that gender refers to the internal feeling of gender, while sex is about the external body parts of an individual. And we know just like sexuality, gender is a spectrum. Itโ€™s entirely normal to be born with the reproductive parts of a woman but to feel like a man or like something in between.

Graphic created by author via Canva

Thatโ€™s why language is super important! Weโ€™ve seen a rapid evolution in our language around gender precisely because our society is evolving and becoming more tolerant.

A few years ago, we always used pronouns without thinking about it (yes even Ted Cruz uses pronouns!). As non-binary people have gained more visibility, we have learned to ask about a personโ€™s pronouns instead of assuming based on their outward presentation. We still use he, she, and they to talk about people, but many people do it more intentionally and respectfully now. (tip: if you donโ€™t know a personโ€™s pronouns, either use โ€œtheyโ€ or share the pronouns you use and ask them what they use. Itโ€™s a respectful and easy habit to adopt.)

Many Americans, especially younger generations, are adopting new language to be more intentionally inclusive. Thatโ€™s exactly why bigots have attempted to weaponize language against the LGBTQ+ community.

  • When anti-feminist men refer to women as โ€œfemales,โ€ itโ€™s an intentional use of language to dehumanize women as only good for reproduction.
  • Making fun of using pronouns (which doesnโ€™t make sense, because everyone uses pronouns) is a way to belittle inclusive language.
  • The New York Times and other media have been caught using anti-trans talking points as facts.

Most of these acts are intentional and meant to sow fear in people who have an outdated view of gender. They know they can create confusion by using bigoted language to โ€œjust ask questionsโ€ and appear like a concerned party. We must pay attention and recognize when language is being used to manipulate and degrade a marginalized group.

The Gender Binary Myth

All of these reactionary concerns about the evolution of gender are tied directly to our patriarchal society.

That takes us back to Nikki Haley. If your view of a woman is so narrow that a trans woman threatens your own womanhood, you're not talking about gender. You're talking about patriarchy.

The conservative patriarchal view thatโ€™s stubbornly remained in the U.S. includes a rigid definition of what it means to be a woman and a man. Men are tough, donโ€™t show their emotions, and dominate. Women are meek, emotional, and need protection. (Itโ€™s worth noting that this is also tied to white supremacy given that Black women donโ€™t get the same protections under this system.)

Within patriarchy, some white women feel protected by the system because of their โ€œfeminity.โ€ Itโ€™s still recent history when women couldnโ€™t open their own bank accounts. There is a legitimate need to protect yourself under a system where you did not have rights or ownership. Trans and queer people know this all too well. But most white women have failed to see the need for solidarity between other marginalized groups because they have a little bit more protection under the system.

So when Nikki Haley accuses Dylan Mulvaney of โ€œmaking fun of women.โ€ She is seeing Dylanโ€™s gender as a threat to the safety and security she and other white women have under the current patriarchal system. In this context, sheโ€™s vilifying Dylan because she is feminine. Dylanโ€™s TikTok is full of the latest trends, fun dresses, and makeup tutorials. Haley is threatened by Dylan because her view of gender is so narrow that anything that is not cisgender and heteronormative is threatening.

The complexities that patriarchy has placed on gender have made it challenging for many cisgender (pronounced sis-gender) people to grasp the spectrum of gender because the changing notion of gender threatens the systems that they have relied on.

Instead of holding onto an old system that no longer works, we all should be championing the expansion of societyโ€™s views on gender and sexuality because it helps everyone. Nikki Haley is allowed to express herself just as any trans or nonbinary person is allowed to express themselves. An inclusive society allows us all to feel safe in expressing ourselves and celebrating the differences in how we all express our humanity. At the end of the day, thatโ€™s all weโ€™re asking for.

There is still so much more to talk about gender and sex. If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment!


Check out these amazing resources to learn more about gender and sexuality and how to be a good ally. ๐ŸŒˆ

Next Up in Understanding Gender, Sex, and Sexuality

The Life Saving Impacts of Gender-Affirming Healthcare
Understanding Gender, Sex, and Sexuality: Part III
๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿณ๏ธโ€๐ŸŒˆ Queering Life๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿคนโ€โ™€๏ธ Social & Cultural

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.

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