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Follow up: Sex and gender

Previously published, in a different form, as: Weber, J.H.; Hart, G. 2000. Follow up: Sex and gender. The Technical Editors' Eyrie Newsletter, 3 February 2000. [Unpaginated e-mail newsletter, ISSN 1442-8652]

Andrea Balinson wrote, "A comment on the "comment on sex and gender" (in Technical Editors' Eyrie Newsletter No. 30, 21 January 2000) by Martin H. Heisrath, who wrote: " 'The only addition I would suggest (although it may be off- topic) is the typically improper use of the word gender. Gender is properly used only for addressing concerns of grammer. Sex applies to everything else.' "In addition to use in discussions of *grammar*, the word 'gender' is also properly used in the context of sexual identity. Here are definitions from one online glossary (the Sexual Identity and Gender Identity Glossary (

"Sex: Male or female, depending on one's primary sex organs. "Gender (identity): A psychological gender role. Masculine or feminine.

"For instance, transsexuals (people who have sex changes) were born with nonmatching sex and gender--they feel that they are women in men's bodies, or vice versa—and so have surgery to make the two match. This issue may not come up much in the world of technical editing, but editors should be aware of it. I would also like to note that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition) lists 'sex' as definition 2a in the entry for 'gender'; regardless of whether Mr. Heisrath likes it, it's not going away."

On the same topic, Geoff Hart wrote, "Martin is certainly correct that 'sex' is the wrong term for describing the grammatical gender of words, and that 'gender' is most commonly a grammatical term in the types of discussions we editors engage in. However, he's not correct that its use should be restricted to grammar. My old Webster's (early 1960s vintage) shows that at least as far back as the 1960s, 'sex' was the primary definition for the word 'gender', with the grammatical meaning being the second (less commonly used) definition.

"Nowadays, 'gender' includes a broad variety of sociopolitical connotations, and whatever its original denotation was, the word's connotation has long since entered common usage as a sexual descriptor. Consider, for example, the widespread turmoil over the many sexual identities found among humans: gay vs. heterosexual vs. bisexual vs. transexual vs. intergender (what used to be called "hermaphrodytic"). There's a large and growing body of writing that treats 'gender identity' as something more complex than whether you have an XX chromosome structure or an XY chromosome structure; even that definition is simplistic, as research (see the latest issue of Discover for a good discussion of this) has shown a surprisingly high frequency of what the author called 'XO' chromosome structures (people who are primarily and overtly of one sex, but who nonetheless have a large number of chromosome pairs from the oppposite sex). Acknowledging these usage issues is not knee-jerk political correctness; it's a recognition that humanity at large (and not editors) controls how words get used, and that as editors, we must recognize and adapt to widespread changes in usage. As always when we're dealing with human issues, language included, nothing's ever simple."

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