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Introduction to Gender, Sex, and Sexuality

Module by: OpenStax College. E-mail the author

Figure 1: Some children may learn at an early age that their gender does not correspond with their sex. (Photo courtesy of trazomfreak/flickr)
A child is shown from behind sitting on metal stairs looking into a room.

When Harry was born, his parents, Steve and Barb, were delighted to add another boy to their family. But as their baby boy began to grow and develop, they noticed that Harry began to express himself in a manner that they viewed as more feminine than masculine. He gravitated toward dolls and other toys that our culture typically associates with girls. But Harry’s preference was not simply about liking pink more than blue or flowers more than fire trucks. He even began to draw himself as a girl, complete with a dress and high-heeled shoes. In fact, Harry did not just wish to be a girl; he believed he was a girl.

In kindergarten, Harry often got into arguments with male classmates because he insisted that he was a girl, not a boy. He even started calling himself “Hailey.” Steve and Barb met with several psychologists, all of whom told them that Hailey was transgendered. But Steve and Barb had a hard time understanding that their five-year-old son could have already developed a gender identity that went against society’s expectations. Concerned with the social ramifications associated with his child being transgendered, Steve hoped this was just a phase. But Barb, and eventually Steve, realized that Harry’s feelings were genuine and unyielding, and they made the decision to let Harry live as Hailey—a girl. They came to this decision after concluding that the criticism he would endure from his peers and other members of society would be less damaging than the confusion he might experience internally if he were forced to live as a boy.

Many transgendered children grow up hating their bodies, and this population can have high rates of drug abuse and suicide (Weiss 2011). Fearful of these outcomes and eager to make their child happy, Steven and Barb now refer to Harry as Hailey and allow her to dress and behave in manners that are considered feminine. To a stranger, Hailey is likely to appear just like any other girl and may even be considered extra girly due to her love of all things pink. But to those who once knew Hailey as Harry, Hailey is likely to endure more ridicule and rejection as the result of adopting a feminine gender identity.

Currently, seven-year-old Hailey and her parents are comfortable with her gender status, but Steve and Barb are concerned about what questions and problems might arise as she gets older. “Who’s going to love my child?” asks Steve (Ling 2011). This question isn’t asked because Hailey is unlovable, but because American society has yet to fully listen to or understand the personal narratives of the transgendered population (Hanes and Sanger 2010).

In this chapter, we will discuss the differences between sex and gender, along with issues like gender identity and sexuality. We will also explore various theoretical perspectives on the subjects of gender and sexuality.

References

Hines, Sally and Tam Sanger. 2010. Transgender Identities: Towards a Sociological Analysis of Gender Diversity. New York: Routledge.

Ling, Lisa. 2011. “Transgender Child: A Parent’s Difficult Choice.” http://www.oprah.com. Retrieved February 13, 2012 (http://www.oprah.com/own-our-america-lisa-ling/Transgender-Child-A-Parents-Difficult-Choice).

Weiss, Debra C. 2011. “Report: ‘Staggering’ Rate of Attempted Suicides by Transgenders Highlight Injustices.” ABA Journal, February 4. Retrieved January 10, 2012 (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/staggering_rate_of_attempted_suicides_by_transgenders_highlights_injustices/).

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