This started as a Trans & Gender 101 article but I realized it's closer to a 300 or 400 level concept. While no one agrees that sex is basically the biological aspect of being female or male and for cisgender, non-intersex people that's fully adequate. But when we have advanced conversations about sex and gender we face the disadvantage of having language only meant to accommodate cisgender, non-intersex people. When transgender and intersex people come into the picture, we are faced with asking, "how do we talk about people who are not 100% female or 100% male? What exactly makes someone male or female?"
Before reading this, it may be helpful to understand what I think of words and definitions. I discuss this in Semantics. I stress that I do not think there is one true definition and many false definitions. Rather, some definitions are more useful than others.
Penis equals male. Absence of a penis is female. Most people are still using this very old definition. Note the sexism where males have more than females; a vagina is seen not a possession but a lack of possession.
XY is male and XX is female. Other karyotypes
are ignored or don't exist. I only hear this definition when someone in
the context of trans issues where the speaker wants to prove no one can
change their sex. See Objection: Sex Cannot Change
for a treatment of this definition.
Transexual & Intersex definition
Sex is equivalent to gender identity regardless of the rest of the
body. If your brain is female, nothing else matters. Arguably, this is more a philosophical view that gender is more valuable than sex than it is a scientific statement. That's fine. Note that many
transexuals don't believe this, but my impression is most do.
The biology associated with what is commonly considered female and
male. The female includes XX chromosomes, vagina, clitoris, uterus,
labia, breasts, wide hips, high voice, curves, mainly estrogen, and
little testosterone. The male includes XY chromosomes, penis,
testicles, wide shoulders, facial hair, deep voice, adam's apple,
mainly testosterone, little and estrogen. I think this definition is
useful because it incorporates all the following definitions as well as
including historical and cross cultural understandings of sex. This
defintion is also one of the best for intersex concepts.
is defined the same as the psych definition, but gender identity,
because the brain is biological, is an additional component. I like
this definition most because it incorporates everything.
physical property of a biological creature in regards to its role of
reproduction. In a species, the creature responsible for creating
offspring is female. A creature donating genetic material to the female
is male. A creature who acts without a male to reproduce is an asexual
When an infant is
delivered, the obstetrician declares the sex based on the size of the
clitoris/penis. (I believe the size is 1.5cm, but I can't find a source
to back me up.) Even if prior chromosomal analysis has shown the child
is intersex, most states require the doctor to ignore this and use