Photo courtesy of PFLAG

Peggy Stabile: The difference between gender and sex

“Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and the correlation between them. Wisdom is the said knowledge of life guided by experience. Wisdom comes as we temper and train our knowledge with insights and experiences.” Rev. David Hegg, The Signal, May 5, 2018.

Several weeks ago, Rev. Hegg wrote these words in an article for The Signal The following week he addressed truth, lies, and hypocrisy. According to his definitions, truth is alignment with reality and lies, when exposed, damage the liar’s credibility in many areas or, at least they should. He feels that lies have become a prominent political tool. I agree with all of these points. It is actually the attack on the transgender community that comes in the second half of the commentary that I feel compelled to address.

In this piece, published on May 12, Rev. Hegg states that gender and sex are the same. Actually, within the fields of biology, psychology and psychobiology, this is not at all the case. For example, according to Medical News Today, one’s sex refers to “one’s genitalia and hormonal makeup that have been determined at birth.” Sex, therefore, is a biological concept. Gender, as defined by the World Health Organization is “…the socially constructed characteristics of women and men such as norms, roles and relationships. It varies from society to society and can be changed.” The conclusion drawn, then, is that sex and gender are not, in fact, interchangeable

Rev. Hegg acknowledges that some babies are born with “vestiges of both male and female apparatus” but “none are born with anything other than the two possible genders.” As a matter of fact, medical practitioners refer to these babies as “intersex” but because of societal demands, they are, nonetheless, assigned a biological sex – either male or female – by a doctor or parents at birth; that biological sex, however, may not conform with the way the child develops physically or emotionally. At early ages, often during the toddler years, many of these youngsters express discomfort with the biological sex they have been assigned and show preference for gender roles that do not conform with society’s expectations.

There are also conditions in which babies are born with external genitalia and secondary sex characteristics that do not match up with the XY chromosomes associated with a male or the XX chromosomes of a female. Sometimes there is even an extra male or female chromosome thrown into the mix or sex hormones that are misaligned. And, further, there are individuals whose physical characteristics match the biological sex they are assigned but whose brains may not have developed as that particular sex during the gestation period. Several MRI studies have shown that the brain structure of transgender individuals show similarities with individuals whose gender they identify with. Thus, we find that, in addition to the birth of males and females, some individuals are born non-binary (do not fit the male and female binary), transgender, or gender non-conforming.

Through my life experiences as a high school counselor, and, more recently, as a facilitator at our PFLAG meetings, I have met individuals who, while assigned as male or female at birth, fall into all of the non-conforming gender categories mentioned above. I have watched some teens struggle as they, themselves, try to understand why their biological sex does not match how they feel physically or emotionally. I have spoken with their parents, often equally confused, who are supporting them in every way they can. I have listened to parents of elementary school children and preschoolers who recognize that their children’s gender roles do not conform to the sex assigned at birth. Sadly, I have also met with parents who want nothing to do with their gender non-conforming children or who try to force change upon them, doing irreparable harm. (Suicide attempts among transgender youth are 30% higher than those of the general population.) I’ve also met many individuals who understand the reality of their orientations and are leading wonderfully productive lives as who they were meant to be. The transgender individuals that I know are not lying to themselves or anyone else. They do not have a warped sense of reality, and are most definitely not championing their gender orientation as a hallmark of societal maturity, as Rev. Hegg suggests.

I refer Rev. Hegg to respected doctors such as psychiatrist, brain specialist, and author, Daniel Amen, and psychologist, sexologist, and author, John Money, to check the facts about sex and gender. I also invite him to join me at a PFLAG meeting to learn about the real-life experiences of transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals and their families. Hopefully, armed with facts that result in knowledge, coupled with the insight he gains from the experiences of these families, he will grow in wisdom and refrain from future attacks on this segment of our population, who, also, are counted as our brothers and sisters in the eyes of God.

Peggy Stabile is a Valencia resident and is Education and Advocacy Liaison for PFLAG SCV.

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