Most people do not differentiate between the terms “gender” and “sexuality”. In some cases, people use them as synonymous. In other cases, they interchange their meanings using them in the wrong context. Although these terms may appear to be the same for an ordinary person, they are different in the meaning and reference to professionals. However, even with their diverse definitions, these two terms interrelate in a number of aspects. Although the society tries to understand these interrelating points, it has gone a long way before it accepts the true repercussions of this relationship. It is through the differences and relationships between these two terms that the current society retrieves its diversity. The society should understand gender as distinct from sexuality in a number of ways. However, their interrelationships form the foundation in the diversity present in societies and individuals. The paper explores the ways, in which gender and sexuality are distinct. It also explores their interrelationships.
Difference in Definitions if Gender and Sexuality
As stated, the terms “gender” and “sexuality” are different in definitions. Gender originates from “genus”, a Latin word. The word means “race” or “kind”. In this manner, gender refers to femininity or masculinity of a being. In other words, it describes one as being a female or male. Gender has a close relationship with gender roles imposed by the society or other institutions. Exterior personality manifestations usually reflect gender roles, imposing gender identity. On the other hand, sexuality comes from the word “sex”. This word originates from “sexus”, another Latin word. People define the sex of a person through identifying the gonads, which are genotypic or phonotypic. In other words, the sex of a person reveals itself through the identification of ones genitals. Sexuality refers to erotic/sexual responses of a person.
Many people have come to a conclusion regarding their sexuality and gender based on anybody else apart from themselves. Apart from the definition of “gender” being “male or female”, another definition of it has always been an affair of the society, family members and other institutions. In other cases, the basic part of the concept of being a male or female has become difficult to handle. This is mostly so in cases, where one has both genitalia (intersex or hermaphrodite). In such circumstances, other parties (mostly parents or guardians) decide on the direction to take, especially if this reveals itself at the early stages of life. At that time, the representation of females as people conveying particular characteristics, and males as those with a given characteristic, appeared due to a number of reasons.
This might have come due to the lack of literacy to a tremendous extent. In other cases, perceptions were present due to the need for clarity in order to install order in the society. I other cases, it presented itself due to selfishness. The society sees a woman as subordinate to man. This perception allows a man to have certain privileges. In her anecdotes, Abu-Lughod tells the story of her grandmother. Through these stories, the reader understands that women could not make such crucial decisions concerning their lives. These decisions include marriage, the size of a family, where to live, just to mention a few (Abu-lughod, 1993). These were characteristics of the Muslim communities in the past. Although there is an improvement in this situation today, it is far from being equal to the situation in such communities as American, Australian, or in other developed countries. On the other hand, Mexican men used to identify themselves with their sexual partners and children, whether inside or outside the wedlock (Gutman, 1996).
Social Perception of Gender and Sexuality
From the perception of the society, people convey gender by what an individual can do or cannot do. In most societies, men are leaders in their families. This means that they should be the final decision-makers. In this matter, females are subordinates, and so, they take care of children and other home issues. In the past, women could not take part in some activities, have occupation, be professionals, and resort to some type of behavior. The same case is applied to men. Currently, the society presents different perceptions. However, this liberation is not where they ought to be. While some professions, such as those in the fields of engineering, medicine, , plumbing and construction, and pilots, do not appear on the list of activities done by females, men identify themselves with their occupation/professions. Societies see men equal, when they strip off their titles, but they cease to be equal, once they put on their titles. A plumber is not as equal as a doctor, an engineer, a pilot, a lawyer, a manager/C.E.O, or a rich businessperson. Similarly, a person with one child or many children (in some societies) is not an equal to a man without family, let alone children. In some societies, the situation is worse. A man with children of male gender is more of a man than one with children of female gender.
Sexuality is rather different. In the past, people considered heterosexuality as the only acceptable sexuality. Unfortunately, this is still the case in many occasions and in many societies today. However, there are other sexualities, such as bisexuality (attraction to both males and females), homosexuality (attraction to the same sex), asexuality (the absence of attraction to both parties) and transexuality (where one transforms to another sex, and gets attracted to one of the sexes). Rubin (1992) identifies that gender and sexuality are different in the fact that people cannot use one to predict the other. For example, women, who tend to behave like men, or whose preferences align on the men’s side, tend to become lesbians. However, this is not the case that always occurs.
In order to interpret this relationship, Rubin explains terms given to lesbians in some societies. The terms are ‘butch’ and ‘femme’. These terms tend to describe different types of characteristics in lesbians. Similarly, some characteristics depicted by males may reveal that they will be homosexuals or transsexuals. One significant difference between gender and sexuality is an influence factor. While most, if not all people, have no control over their status of being male or female, there are those, who control their sexuality. Some people say that they found themselves getting attracted to a given sex or sexes, while others confess that their attractions are a matter of choice. There are those, who are transsexuals, homosexuals, asexual or heterosexuals because of their backgrounds, environment, and other influences.
While people present gender as role-oriented, they present sexuality as choice-oriented. In fact, sexuality was always a personal affair. Blackwood and Wieringa (1999) challenge the silence pertaining to sexuality. In most communities, especially conservative ones, talking publicly about sexuality issues was a taboo. In fact, this topic was intolerable. In the African and Muslim communities, a woman could rebel and fail to partake in the arranged marriage (Abu-Lughod, 1993), but people could not rebel the sexuality code. Abandonment and segregation from the community and death were part of the punishments bestowed on those people, who portrayed different sexuality characteristics. Blackwood and Wieringa further explain that failing to discuss this topic continues to play a role in societal catastrophes present today. Since people grew knowing that there was only one sexuality state, the people presenting different states should not belong to the community.
Currently, the majority of people experience stress, tremor, and other difficult experiences, when they proclaim their social status. For example, many communities do not accept lesbians, gays, transsexuals and bisexuals. This is the case even in the liberalized society, like the one in the United States. These situations progress even to governing institutions. Many countries do not legalize homosexual marriages. People do not see homosexuality, trans-sexuality, bisexuality or asexuality as naturally occurring as heterosexuality. They feel that, unlike in the case of gender, those people, who are different, choose to rebel against the society.
In order to punish them, the society (and the government in other cases) makes these people go through some of these horrifying experiences. As an outcome, there are societal discordance reigns.
While sexuality and gender portray interrelationships, they are also independent from one another. To explain this further, one can take an example of intersex. If people grow up without knowing that they are hermaphrodites, these individuals may feel attracted to one sex. Since hermaphrodites have one stronger sex, it might not necessarily mean that they will feel attracted to the other sex. For example, if the female sex is stronger, it does not mean that they will feel attracted to the male sex and so forth. In other words, people are capable of experiencing/exploring their sexuality without knowing their real gender (Rubin, 1992).
Interrelation Between Gender and Sexuality
As gender and sexuality are distinct, they also have their interrelation point. It is through identifying one’s gender that people choose to get attracted to other sexes. The wrong conception of gender may result into the wrong perception of sexuality. Pascoe (2005) explains some horrific experiences, which ten-year old children go through at the site of senior high school students. In their senior years, high-school boys refer to these ten-year old boys as “faggots”. The word “faggots” refers to homosexuals. In such scenarios, ten-year-old boys are usually at their puberty stage heading to their adolescent stage. They are discovering their gender and sexuality. By using such a homophobic word as “faggot”, this group installs confusing representations of gender and sexuality. This may affect individuals even in their later lives. For example, at the puberty stage, a boy may fail to understand whether the term “faggots” refers to boys of his age in the meaning of “homosexuals”.
As mentioned earlier, lesbians are referred to through such terms as “femme” and “butch”. These terms refer to the characteristics portrayed by this group of persons in the societal context. For example, “butch” is a term for females, who portray male characteristics. On the other hand, “femme” refers to females, who act like females. Through gender, people categorize sexuality. Lesbians belonging to the butch category are more dominant than femme lesbians. From an individual angle, they prefer wearing men attire. They may also engage in sporting activities that appear to be for men. They also hold male-dominated positions or ranks. In this manner, one may undertake male roles and behaviors being a female. Similarly, such cases appear in the male gender. Some homosexual males will portray characteristics that are present in females, being fully males.
In most cases, the society decides one’s sexuality by the utterance of his or her gender. In conservative communities, parents choose their children’s life partners at an extremely early age. In the anecdote narrated by Abu-Lughod (1993), Migdim’s father chose Midgim’s first husband, when she was still young. In another scenario, her husband’s father (Jawwad’s father) picked Midgim as his son’s wife, when she was still young. In these two scenarios, the society assumed that one was a heterosexual. This meant that a woman would love a man, and a man would love a woman, when the right time came. Such occurrences were present due to the need to fulfill the roles and duties pertaining to gender. Women should be married, and men should marry. By choosing a girl at such an early age, the concerned parties made sure that their execution of roles would be easy. For example, picking a girl from a reputable family meant that a man would get a well-disciplined wife.
The interrelationship continues to be present in other aspects. There are those people, who choose a given sexuality because of their gender. This might be a result of rebellion or their experiences. There are women, who will choose to become homosexuals, bisexuals or transsexuals in order to rebel the norms of the society (Blackwood & Wieringa, 1999). The same case applies to males. In other cases, each gender conveys known characteristics. This means that some behaviors and characteristics are not acceptable. For example, men do not convey their emotions publicly. Similarly, females are weaker than men, and they should not engage in fights or confrontations with males. Individuals can choose a sexuality in order to partake in some of these behaviors or rebel these norms.
The knowledge of one’s gender allows him/herself to discover his/her sexuality as an independent entity. As mentioned above, people did not talk about sexuality in the past, especially choosing it as a public topic (Pascoe, 2005). This scenario was present in most homes. The sexuality topic was not so popular even with parents and their children, especially in the conversation between a parent and child of the same gender. However, the contemporary society encourages the discussion of such a topic. Once a girl at her puberty stage or her teen stage discovers herself as a woman/female, she can understand her attractions to a given sex or sexes, even though the presence of one may not influence the other. By clearly understanding the roles of a female prescribed by the society, one will explore her sexuality with confidence. The same case applies to males.
In the past, men could explore their sexuality, while women faced restrictions. According to Gutman (1996), such occurrences were common in the Mexican society. However, there are changes in the present society in Mexico, like in other societies. Men are more willing to have children in the wedlock after they get married than they have been before. They are also willing to be part of their families in as many ways as possible. Similarly, females could not convey their sexual feelings out rightly. It always had to be a man’s initiative. Unfortunately, this is the case in most societies even today. A woman has to wait for a man to ask for her hand, if the culture dictates so. Similarly, a woman, who presents resistance before accepting man’s proposal is an ultimate wife. This is despite the fact that the woman was the first to fall in love with the man.
Sexuality and gender are independent of one another in many ways yet so related in other ways. At his puberty stage, a boy will dress up like a girl after realizing that he is a boy, even though he wants to be a girl. When he is an adult after realizing that the feeling will not go away, he explores his sexuality further by identifying which sex/sexes are his sources of attraction. When a person realizes that he can himself or herself with a given sexuality regardless of his/her gender, there is independence, freedom and progress in his/her wholesome state. Some experiences, through which people at their earlier stages of life, may mold their later reactions. Pascoe (2005) emphasizes that the society should be careful concerning some teases, such as those referred to homo-teases, as they bring negative impacts.
Gender and sexuality are distinct. However, they also convey interrelationships, which enhance the characteristics of the other entity. Gender identity does not reveal sexual identity. Eventual sexuality, eroticism and sexual growth in a physical manner have a relationship with gender. However, they do entirely show person’s gender definitions. Additionally, they do not show the presence or absence of a given sexuality. The distinctions and interrelationships identify how the society should use one for the sake of the other. In addition, one should not be used as a substitute of the other. Contemporary societies are conveying the perceptions of gender and sexuality differently from the past. While one’s gender reveals itself at birth, one may not reveal itself later. The society should allow individuals to explore their sexuality on their own, without the imposed roles and conducts. This research should not impose a given path for the society to follow. It should only show the society and individuals their origins, where they are and where they ought to be. In addition, it paves way for other researches on the same topic.
Most people do not understand these two terms. They also do not understand their distinctions or similarities. This research should enlighten people for them to be able to identify themselves with these two terms, as they relate them to real-life situations.