The notion that gender is a binary trait has been upheld for quite some time. By dictionary standards, it is sex that we are born with (I.e., our reproductive organs define our sex), but gender is created by society. However, most people are not aware of this difference and treat the two words as synonyms. For the most part, people’s sexes and genders as created by society match up. This is when we get a “normal” male or female. Gender itself is usually harder to define than sex, because it fluctuates. Many girls, for instance, may go through a tomboy phase, and then later become very “girly” for a few years. This alone proves that gender is not a binary trait, if one can be equally a girl when she is playing with dolls as when she is climbing trees.

Society imposes gender on children when they are very young, through parents, teachers, friends, and the media. This imposition can start as young as when the child is an infant, and can be determined by simple things such as what types of toys the infants are given to play with. Young boys will play with dolls or Barbies, and girls will play with trucks and balls, if they are given them. Children do not have any innate sense of their social gender roles until they are taught them by society. In addition to parents influencing gender, boys and girls are treated differently in school and a group of girls playing will be behaving differently than a group of boys playing. The media also imposes gender on viewers, particularly commercials and advertisements, who often use women to sell home appliances, cosmetics and toiletries, cleaning supplies, or fresh food and groceries, and use men to advertise things like insurance and investing. Another interesting bit of food for thought is the fact that males and females are expected to wear different types of clothing, although any of us could be physically comfortable in the other gender’s clothes. All of these aspects help create gender roles and pressure people, especially children and adolescents, to conform to them. Some adults, particularly males, tend to become slightly more androgynous in their gender as they grow older. This is thought to help interpersonal relationships, as those who are more androgynous can see both male and female perspectives and thus “put themselves in the other person’s shoes”. Because of this, many believe that gender androgyny is something people should strive towards.

Although sex is easier to define than gender, it is not binary either. A biological example to society’s sex rule is hermaphrodites. There are three known types of hermaphrodites: True, Male-Pseudo, and Female-Pseudo. A “True” Hermaphrodite is a person born with both ovarian and testicular tissue. Genitalia can be all male, all female, a combination of both, or very ambiguous looking. The chromosomes can be XX, XY, XX/XY (mosaic), or XO (resulting in Turner Syndrome, which is very rare). Those who are XY or XX are usually raised with their corresponding gender, and can sometimes even reproduce. Those who are XX/XY or XO but who have distinct male or female genitalia are normally raised in the sex that they look like. Hermaphrodite children who have ambiguous or combination genitalia are carefully tested and analyzed and then undergo surgery to make the genitalia look like the sex that doctors believe the child should have. Female-Pseudo Hermaphrodites have XX chromosomes and are born with normal internal female organs, but their genitalia is ambiguous or “masculanized”. A Male-Pseudo Hermaphrodite has XY chromosomes and testes, but has ambiguous or “feminine” genitalia. Hermaphrodites of any type are often referred to as “intersexed”.

Transsexuals and cross dressers also prove that gender is not binary, in straddling the line between sex and gender. Many transsexuals, whether or not they have had reassignment surgery, feel as if their gender does not match up with their biological sex. Transsexuals are often trying to make their sexual organs or genitalia match up with the gender that they feel they have. This is the reason why sex change operations are often referred to as “gender reassignment surgery”. Cross dressers feel similarly about their gender and sex, but only dress and act as the opposite sex some of the time, often in private.