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Looking at The Definition of Sex, Gender and Sexual Relations as Per The Society's View

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Defining the (Nearly) Impossible: Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

A very common conception held by many who do not identify as queer is the idea that sex and gender are synonymous and defined by what genitalia a person possesses, and that sexuality is what sex/gender a person is attracted to. All three (sex, gender and sexuality) are set on rigid binaries with very few opportunities for the emergence of identities in between the two extremes. These binaries – male/female, masculine/feminine, and heterosexual/homosexual – exist to organize and potentially even oppress the aspects of humankind. Within queer communities, many see differences between the three, although creating a concrete and distinct definition of each term seems to be more or less impossible, as different theorists bring new complexities to the task of defining the three. In addition to these complexities, those who identify between the extremes of the binaries or exist beyond the constraints of these binaries must collectively agree upon the definitions in order for the definitions to hold any real weight. The necessity of distinctions is beginning to come into the forefront of the queer movement with the emergence of transgendered and non-binary people loudly creating identities within and extending beyond these supposed separate binary classifications of sex, gender, and sexuality. And, although creating the identity shows the mechanisms of power in place and the need to categorize those who do not fit in the rigid dichotomy, creating these identities allows such individuals to create communities and support. The distinctions, then, prove the necessity of defining and distinguishing between the terms.

Queer theorists continue to analyze, define, challenge, and reformulate what is meant by sex, gender, and sexuality. Both Gayle Rubin’s “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet work to understand and explain what is meant by the notions of sex, gender, and sexuality. The continual evaluation of these concepts is necessary to attempt true understanding of such abstract concepts, however possible given the evolution of power and varying societal contexts. The theories displayed in Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet closely mirror what many queer-identified communities are beginning to believe about sex, gender, and sexuality as related but distinctive categories of identification, as sexuality is an extension of gender, which is in turn an extension of sex.

Rubin’s “Thinking Sex” expands and contrasts and expands upon the earlier perspective given in her work “The Traffic in Women,” in which she draws the conclusion that sex is the biological basis on which the socially constructed gender is imposed, which allows for biologically-based traits to be incorporated into the gender binary – femininity includes motherly and caring traits while masculinity pertains to tougher activities such as hunting and defending. In that essay, Rubin defines “the concept of a sex/gender system… as a ‘set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity’” (Rubin 32). Rubin does not distinguish between lust and gender, and treats “both as modalities of the same underlying social process” (32) – that is, the process by which sex and gender preferences create sexual desire, or sexuality, and classifies sexuality by the sexual activities in which an individual partakes in.

In “Thinking Sex,” Rubin challenges her prior distinction by claiming that it is “essential to separate gender and sexuality analytically to reflect more accurately their separate social existence” (33). By saying this, Rubin is acknowledging the social differences between what gender and sexuality are, although not tying in the distinction between gender and sex. Through Rubin’s work, distinctions are drawn between gender and sexuality by challenging the prior notion that sexuality is a derivation of gender and posing a distinction between the theory of gender inequality and the theory of sexual oppression. Rubin rightfully challenges the notion that feminism “is or should be the privileged site of a theory of sexuality” (32), and instead clarifies that feminism works within the site of oppression by gender. By allowing feminism to take the guise of fighting sexual oppression, the distinction between gender and, as Rubin puts it, “erotic desire” (32) is lost.

At the core of Rubin’s argument exists a theory of definition for the notions of sex, gender, and sexuality. Through Rubin’s “Thinking Sex,” sexuality is a political system of power built upon the gender and sex of a person’s sexual partners and acts, gender is a political system differentiating between men and women that is based in feminism, and sex is a biological view of the differences between men and women.

Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet challenges and reconstructs the notions of sex, gender, and sexuality. She begins with simple definitions of sex and gender, and points out the distinctions between the two: sex is chromosomal and refers to the arrangement of chromosomes in either an XX alignment or an XY alignment while gender is a socially constructed “dichotomized social production and reproduction of male and female identities and behaviors” (Sedgwick 27). Sex then determines a person’s physical characteristics, such as hair growth and genitalia, while gender refers to social expectancies and alignment with either male or female behaviors – when looked upon on a strict binary. Sedgwick challenges these definitions, rightfully claiming that the term “sex” is a term that “extends indefinitely beyond chromosomal sex” (28). By defining sex by chromosomes alone, the rest of the body is left out of definition. Genital activity and reproduction are more closely related to the biological aspects of sex than to the social constructs of gender, and so narrowing the definition of sex to just chromosomal alignment challenges the supposed simplistic definition.

Sedgwick also critiques these definitions through her nonce taxonomies, a set of other possible bases for sexuality. The list of nonce taxonomies includes varying dispositions of sex as an act in order to critique the idea of sexuality being simply the distinction of which gender or sex is preferred. The nonce taxonomies “retain the unaccounted-for potential to disrupt many forms of the available thinking about sexuality” (25) by pointing out obvious differences in thoughts and preferences about sex and sexuality within people of the same demographics. For example, “some people spend a lot of time thinking about sex, others little” (25). This seemingly obvious and trivial fact could potentially be the basis of sexuality, rather than the characteristics of one’s preferred partner.

While sex exists as a biological, essential, and individually immanent concept, gender exists as the opposite: a culturally constructed theory that depends on the supposed opposite characteristics of the masculine/feminine dichotomy. This dichotomy, while separate from the homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy of sexuality and the male/female dichotomy of sex, forms the basis of these other binary systems. Sedgwick is positive of the idea hat “without a concept of gender there could be… no concept of homo- or heterosexuality” (31). By extending the biology of sex into the social constructs of men being masculine and women being feminine, the concept of a sexuality based binary can exist, but if the concept of a gender binary did not exist, the spectrum of sexualities would either not exist or would be radically different. Similarly, without the binary of homo- versus heterosexuality, a gender binary would not exist or would be different, as the gender binary depends on being able to identify a partner as same or different gender to fit this homo- or heterosexual mold of identification.

The concept of homo- or heterosexuality is based on the social construction of gender in that sexuality is an attraction to a specific gender. Therefore gender, which is a social expansion of sex, can itself be expanded to sexuality. One key difference between gender and sexuality is the latter’s ability to rearrange and disguise itself. Gender and gender roles are “publically and unalterably assigned … from birth” while sexuality has a “greater potential for rearrangement, ambiguity, and representational doubleness” (34).

Sexuality, though often understood as marked by the gender of the object-choice, extends far beyond this dimension, according to Sedgwick (29-30). Sexuality should then be defined in a way to include other variations of classifications beyond the homo- or heterosexual binary, such as various sex acts that fall to each side of the binary. Because of the closeness of sexuality and gender, sexuality relies on gender. However, Sedgwick argues, there is no reason – beyond the connection between sexuality and gender – for sexuality to be defined by gender, and that “some dimensions of sexuality might be ties, not to gender, but instead to differences or similarities of race or class” (31).

Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet helps shape and reform definitions of sex, gender, and sexuality. Sex, Sedgwick argues, is a biological concept based on genetic and chromosomal distinctions (which set of chromosomes is present – XX or XY), but also considers genital activity and reproductive abilities. In short, sex is classified under the binary of male and female. Gender is then an extension of sex, constructed by social norms and supposed gender roles and behaviors. Gender falls under the masculine and feminine binary, and allows for more flexibility as it can be an identity that is self-made, though is socially pressured. The emergence of transgendered, gender-queer, non-binary, and agender identities proves the flexibility of gender – it is not as rigid as the supposed binary it is placed on. Sexuality then exists as an extension of gender. The basis of the homo- and heterosexual binary depends on the gender of the desired object, though sexuality is based on more than just lust – specific acts can reinforce and contribute to but not define a person’s sexuality.

By analyzing and reconstructing the notions of sex, gender, and sexuality, queer theorists continue to evolve and understand queer identities and the crucial forward momentum of the queer movement, specifically within the non-binary conforming identities that are emerging within sex, gender, and sexuality. Rubin, through her progressive notions of the distinctions between the three binaries, helps to lay the basic foundations of what sex, gender, and sexuality are. Sedgwick expands the concepts expressed by Rubin into definitions that hold true to the current state of the queer community.

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Looking At The Definition Of Sex, Gender And Sexual Relations As Per The Society’s View. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/looking-at-the-definition-of-sex-gender-and-sexual-relations-as-per-the-societys-view/
“Looking At The Definition Of Sex, Gender And Sexual Relations As Per The Society’s View.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/looking-at-the-definition-of-sex-gender-and-sexual-relations-as-per-the-societys-view/
Looking At The Definition Of Sex, Gender And Sexual Relations As Per The Society’s View. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/looking-at-the-definition-of-sex-gender-and-sexual-relations-as-per-the-societys-view/> [Accessed 21 Oct. 2021].
Looking At The Definition Of Sex, Gender And Sexual Relations As Per The Society’s View [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Mar 12 [cited 2021 Oct 21]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/looking-at-the-definition-of-sex-gender-and-sexual-relations-as-per-the-societys-view/
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