PROF JENKINS: The 'sex and gender are different' canard

Point out on social media that people can’t change their sex, and some barista with a gender studies degree is sure to fire back, 'Sex and gender are different, you moron!'

Rob Jenkins is a Higher Education Fellow with Campus Reform and a tenured associate professor of English at Georgia State University - Perimeter College. In a career spanning more than three decades at five different institutions, he has served as a head men’s basketball coach, an athletic director, a department chair, and an academic dean, as well as a faculty member.Jenkins’ opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer.

Point out on social media that people can’t change their sex, and some barista with a gender studies degree is sure to fire back, “Sex and gender are different, you moron!”

But are they, really? Let’s examine that claim.

First, it is technically true that “sex” and “gender” do not mean exactly the same thing. “Sex” is a biological category related to reproduction. Among mammals, including humans, there are two sexes: male and female. Sperm producers and egg producers. That’s it.

The fact that, due to physical abnormalities, some males do not actually produce sperm, or some females do actually not produce eggs, has no bearing on this distinction. Just because some dogs don’t have tails, that doesn’t mean dogs don’t exist—or that they must be chimpanzees, since chimps don’t have tails, either. 

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Nor does the minuscule number of “intersex” people born with physical characteristics of both sexes prove there are somehow more than two, any more than the existence of conjoined twins proves human beings have two heads.

“Gender,” on the other hand, is primarily a grammatical term. In English, as in most languages at least partly derived from Latin, there are three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

In other words, “gendered” language roughly conforms to biological sex, except that, since we must sometimes refer to both sexes or, in the case of inanimate objects, neither sex, we need a third option.

Beyond that rather fine semantic distinction, “sex” and “gender” mean essentially the same thing—that is, they generally refer to the same set of characteristics—and thus have been used more or less interchangeably for decades.

 Indeed, over the years, “gender” has most often been employed to differentiate biological sex from sexual intercourse. That’s because these days, when people use the word “sex,” they’re usually referring to the latter. To avoid confusion, we sometimes use “gender” instead.

 “Gender,” then is not a “social construct,” which is to say, something invented by society out of whole cloth, a figment of our collective imagination. Most of the time, the word describes something very real: biological sex.

 Gender ROLES—the behaviors we come to expect from people based on their sex—may, to some degree, be socially constructed, although I’m convinced many of them are deeply ingrained. Still, it’s absolutely true that males can wear pink, females can like sports, and both can become corporate bigwigs and/or nurturing parents. 

The best evidence that “sex” and “gender” are essentially the same thing, however, is that even those who insist they’re different don’t really believe it. They, too, have long used the words more or less interchangeably, just like the rest of us.

For example, what we now call “gender-affirming care” was, a few years ago, referred to as a “sex change.” More recently, it was known as “sex-reassignment.”

Does this rebranding reflect a fundamental understanding—even among “trans-activists”—that people can’t actually change their sex? Or is it a tacit acknowledgement that sex and gender are really the same thing? Probably a little of both.

Then there’s the way “trans-activists”—like the ones who routinely accost The Leadership Institute’s Riley Gaines Center Director Riley Gaines—respond to anyone with the temerity to suggest a man masquerading as a women is actually a man. “Transwomen ARE women!” they’ll screech.

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Wait. Are they saying males who believe they’re females literally ARE females? That they’re not just acting out different “gender roles” or even changing their gender but magically transforming their biological sex?

Yes, that’s exactly what they’re saying. Just last month, “transwoman” Andrea Long Chu, a man, penned a cover story for New York Magazine with the title, “Freedom of sex: the moral case for letting trans kids change their bodies.” Note that Chu, in the title, doesn’t even mention gender. Instead, he argues specifically that people can literally become the opposite sex.

So don’t believe the “trans-activists” when they loudly and obnoxiously insist that sex and gender are different. They themselves don’t believe it, as their own words clearly demonstrate.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they believe the two are different when it’s convenient for them. The rest of the time, for them just like for everyone else, sex and gender are basically synonyms.

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.