What Is Gender?

We recently had a great blog about gender acceptance, and I want to delve a little further into that subject by asking the question, “What is gender?”

Gender is such a confusing topic. For one thing, there’s sex and then there’s gender. Two separate entities that usually get tossed into one pot. Let’s break it down (with the help of the Merriam-Webster dictionary):
Sex is defined as “either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species… on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures.”
Gender is defined as “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.”

Your sex is determined by the physical characteristics of your body. What parts you have, so to speak. Your gender is how you identify yourself; you can be feminine, masculine, or anywhere in between.

The role of gender in different cultures is what makes the topic confusing. Gender roles, at least in Western cultures, dictate that men are masculine and women are feminine, and it is assumed that you will fulfill the specified gender role that you were born in to. But as we delve further into the Bullying Horcrux, we’re learning that gender is not just the female and the male, the yin and the yang. Women can be masculine, men can be feminine. Some can be gender-queer, not fitting into just one category, but being comfortable with aspects from both the female and male ends of the gender spectrum, and others may identify as genderless.

Looking back, I was probably gender-queer or gender-less when I was younger. I think if I had a better idea of the fluidity of gender, some aspects of my life would have been easier. I’m a woman. I can be feminine, but that’s something I’ve only recently come to accept.

When I was a little girl, I was as girly as they come. For my 5th birthday, I wanted a red crocodile purse and yellow nail polish. As I grew into a preteen, though, I wanted to be a boy. I don’t know if it was the lure of peeing while standing up or that I was just more comfortable dressed as a boy. Whatever the reason, there are some very awkward pictures from that age that I’m hoping can remain hidden for a long, long time. In high school, I didn’t want to be a boy so much as I just preferred to exist. I dressed very amorphously: bulky cloths to hide my womanly attributes, hair usually unbrushed and tied back into a messy bun. I remember I bought my first pair of fitted jeans from the Juniors department my senior year and nobody would stop talking about it (the joys of a small high school). It was all positive, but I found it all rather annoying. It has only been within the past few years that I’ve become more comfortable with my femininity. I don’t always embrace it, but I don’t hide from it anymore.

I’ve also always tended to have closer guy friends. Maybe it’s because I stopped being a “girly-girl” at the age of 7, or maybe it’s because I’m a geek and there weren’t too many other girl geeks around when I was growing up. Whatever the reason, I’ve always just felt more comfortable around guys. No one thought of me as a “girl” and I was okay with that. That’s how I preferred it, actually. Unfortunately, not everyone was okay with that line of thinking. One of my close guy friends would get a girlfriend who was uncomfortable with the fact I was a girl. The girlfriend would become jealous of the time we spent together and suspicious of what we were doing. On more than one occasion, nasty rumors would start about us. My guy friends were always forced to make a choice, and I was usually cast aside–that hurt. Why couldn’t the girlfriend look at me the same way as all of my guy friends did: as just Holly? I didn’t want to make out with anyone; I just wanted to hang out and watch movies and talk nerdy.

Don’t feel bad for me, though. I eventually made some super-amazing friends who helped me as I tried out different identities (including a dirty hippie stage – complete with white girl dreads). My boyfriend has had his share of frustrations with me as I continue to discover who am I, but he continues to offer love and support. And I’ve been able to find role models for the geek girl – the heronies of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series, pretty much any female character from Joss Whedon, and, in reality, women like Felicia Day. All of this has helped me realize that being feminine can also awesome.

I know that many, many people have a harder time growing up and accepting themselves, especially when the ones they love shun them for who they are. I’m not trying to put myself in the same boat there. I’m not saying that it’s always easy, trying to find yourself. And always know that we’re here for you to lean on.

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4 Comments

  1. Vanessa

    March 2, 2011 at 11:24 am
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    Holly, this was really amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this story, I find it to be really relaitable! It’s really awesome to hear about your experience, so thank you so much for being so awesome and outspoken!

  2. Holly McCready

    March 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm
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    Thanks, Vanessa :)

  3. zandi

    October 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm
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    Holly, thanks, you really helped me clarify the difference between sex and gender and I totally agree with you when you say that culture is a major factor that contributes to the confusion in gender roles

  4. May 31, 2012 at 4:21 am
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    thanks Holly i really appreciat your article becouse it help me a lot

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