All about sex and gender

Sex and gender are a bit more complicated than they’re given credit for. First up, there’s a difference between sex and gender. For many people, their gender role doesn’t fit right, which is cool, because there are many different gender labels. If you’re being harassed or discriminated against because of your gender find out what to do and who you can talk to.

This can help if:

  • You want to understand the difference between sex and gender 
  • You don't feel like you identify with your current sex or gender 
  • You're being harassed or discriminated against
Keyboard with male and female symbols

What is the difference between sex and gender?

When used to describe someone, the word ‘sex’ means your physical sex characteristics (i.e. what sexual organs you have). This is not always as black and white as people think – people who are intersex have sex characteristics (reproductive organs, hormone levels, chromosomes etc.) that are somewhere between the simplified ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories we’re given.

When people talk about gender, they talk about what gender you identify with, about your sex, or the way that you express yourself in relation to your sex, gender role and sexuality. This is also more diverse than ‘male’ or ‘female’, and many people who identify with the same gender express it in different ways, or identify with different parts of it.

If your sex or gender doesn’t fit right

Many people don’t feel they fit their gender role and the stereotypes for their gender, but some people also feel the sex of their body doesn’t fit right for them and that they would feel more comfortable as the opposite gender. Take as long as you need to explore your gender and the way that you feel about your body.

There are thousands of people who have a gender identity that differs from their physical sex. Diversity of sex and gender is a natural part of human diversity.

People who are transsexual, and some transgender people, have body sex characteristics that don’t match their brain sex and/or gender identity, so some people physically transition with hormones or sex affirmation surgeries. Other gender diverse people (some of whom also identify as transgender) have a gender identity that isn’t simply ‘man’ or ‘woman’, instead they choose to identify with a range of gender characteristics that feel comfortable for them.

Some helpful definitions

There are many different words and labels that people use to describe their sex or gender characteristics and identities. Some of the most common are:
  • Cisgender. A word used to describe people whose gender agrees with their body sex or assigned sex.
  • Trans* A general word for people whose gender is different to their physical sex, including transsexual and transgender.
  • Transsexual. A person who identifies as the sex opposite to the one assigned at birth and who may choose to undergo sex affirmation surgeries.
  • Transgender. A general word used to describe a broad range of non-traditional gender identities or behaviours. Usually includes all trans* people, but some transsexual or gender diverse people choose not to identify with this term.
  • Intersex. A person born with reproductive organs, hormone levels and/or sex chromosomes that are not exclusively male or female. There are many different states of being intersex, and they are not always obvious on the outside or even diagnosed.

There are many other words and terms used to describe sex and gender diversity, too many to go into here. You can find out more about the diversity of sex and gender by visiting some of the resources or services in the 'Gender and transgender help services' fact sheet.

Dealing with bullying or discrimination

Some people in society have difficulty accepting people who are different, whether it’s because of their race, their sex, their gender expression, their sexuality, their religion… the list goes on. They might discriminate against people, bully them, or even be violent sometimes. No matter the reason behind it, it shouldn’t be tolerated, and you don’t need to deal with it on your own.

If you are harassed, judged or made to feel less than normal by someone else because of your gender, it is important to remember it’s their fault, not yours. If people choose to ignore or reject you based on your gender then they are missing out on all of who you are. 

Don’t hang around if someone’s attitude towards you is abusive – leave as soon as possible and seek support with a friend of family member you trust. Get outside support if you’re finding it hard to cope.

Talking to someone about gender

There are people in every state and territory in Australia that you can talk to about questions, experiences or concerns with gender, or for support and help. Find out about what kind of help you can access.

It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about the support options available for you.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 07 June, 2016
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