sex vs gender

Gender vs. Sex. Yes, There Is a Difference

Dear Mr. Dad: My 13-year old son told my husband and me that his gender identity is “non-binary” and that he wants to start using different pronouns—“they” and “their” instead of “he” and “him.” We asked whether that means he’s gay, but he just laughed and said that there’s a big difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. I’m completely stunned and have no idea what any of this means. Our son offered to answer any questions we have, but we’re too embarrassed to ask him. Can you help?

A: Last year, my daughter took a class in high school on “social issues,” and she introduced me to a whole dictionary’s worth of words and phrases I never thought I’d need to know about (and some I’d never even heard of). Things like trans, non-binary, gender fluid, polyamorous, top- and bottom surgery, cis, dysphoria, and the ones you’re struggling with now, gender identity vs. sexual orientation. I’m going to devote this column to some basic definitions (we can talk about parenting strategies in a future column), but I strongly suggest that you and your husband sit down with your child and ask them (yes, “them,” not “him,” since that’s the pronoun they want you to use) as many questions as  you have.

Let’s start with gender and sex. A lot of people use the two words interchangeably, but there are some important differences. “Sex” refers to the anatomical organs a person is born with (sometimes referred to as “assigned at birth.”) A person’s “gender,” however, refers to social roles and behaviors. As my daughter put it, sex is between your legs; gender is between your ears. It’s a little more subtle than that, but that’s a good summary.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


Armin Brott

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Armin Brott is the proud father of three, a former U.S. Marine, a best-selling author, radio host, speaker, and one of the country’s leading experts on fatherhood. He writes frequently about fatherhood, families, and men's health. Read more about Armin or visit his website, You can also connect via social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest,  and Linkedin.

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