Sex Within Society — A Look At Sociological Constructs

Jaz Sakura-Rose
8 min readJul 28, 2019


“Trans women are women and female

Trans men are men and male

Non-binary people are valid”

Simple enough truths and yet, whenever GCRFs hear them, they descend in faux-frothy fury, claiming that ‘trans people are trying to change the meaning of words’, that ‘sex is fixed and defined’, and that ‘sex is biological and gender is a social construct, so only sex is real’

These arguments are, of course, false — they are well-used canards designed to delegitimise the validity and existence of trans people by trying to define us out of society through a claim that sex is physical and observable thing and therefore can’t be a social construct

Yet sex is, amongst a great many other things, a social construct. Or to be more precise, a sociological construct

What are sociological constructs?

In simple terms sociological constructs are accepted and shared ideas that allow societies to function and they come about because humans are humans

Let’s break this down:

Crystal, by Matthew from Odiham, United Kingdom CC BY 2.0, Wikicommons Link

Humans are very individualistic. We all experience the world from the inside of our own heads and so each if us sees the world a little bit differently. As a metaphor for this humans can be thought of as bubbles — individual spheres of self that contain, at the core, ourselves, our knowledge of who we are, and moving out from the centre our understanding of the world as we experience it, and our experience and knowledge of the people around us

And that’s true for every single person

So, if every person’s understanding and experience of the world is unique to them, how on earth do we all manage to communicate with each other and agree on when something is something, and when something isn’t something?

18th November Torchlight procession 2015 in Riga, Latvia, by Statistiķis CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikicommons Link

Well that’s where sociological constructs come in. Put people together, whether it’s a few people or a lot of people, and we’ll naturally form a society. And we’ll do that by building between us understandings of how our specific society should work but also an understanding of the world around us. It is these shared and accepted understandings that are sociological constructs

Of Tables and Desks

To explain a bit more clearly let’s do an example

When I say, ‘Think of a table’ what pops into your head?

A table, obviously. But everybody’s image, inner dialogue, or other form envisaging a table will be a bit different to each other yet we all share a common understanding of what a table is. It is that common understanding which is a sociological construct. A very small one, but a construct nonetheless

A low wooden table placed at a slant in the corner of a room next to a radiator
Avar Aalto Table, by Ellywa CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikicommons Link

‘But hang on,’ you say, ‘how can something that is real, that exists, be a sociological construct? I mean, it’s real, if one’s there you can see it, touch it, experience it. It exists whether anybody’s there to experience it or not’

That’s the thing about sociological constructs — they’re joint understandings developed between people in society that allows us, in this case, to all agree that this type of furniture is a table, and that type of furniture isn’t

So let’s continue to demonstrate this. Now I’m going to ask you, ‘Think of a desk’. And again we’ll have an idea in our head of our understanding of what a desk is. There’s a joint understanding developed between people within societies that has designated pieces of furniture as being desks

Now I’m going to ask you, ‘What do you see is the difference between a desk and a table, and at what point to do you say, “That’s a table, that’s a desk”?’

Well, that’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

An antique wooden secretary desk with the writing table down in its horizontal position
Secretary desk 1792, by Christoph Hopfengärtner Schloss Jegenstorf, Public Domain — Wikicommons Link

Look at the furthest extremes of the desk/table spectrum there’s very definitely items that we’d describe as being desks, and items we’d describe as being tables, but there’s a huge grey in between where the assignment of what is a desk and what is a table is remarkably arbitrary. We all have our own lines of demarcation that say one piece of furniture is a desk and one a table, and this is decision is based on the joint understanding, the sociological construct, developed or expressed within the society we grew up in or are currently living in

So let’s examine this in a bit more detail. Let’s do a little bit of trying to define what is a desk and what is a table, and point out where the explanations fall short

‘A desk has draws’ — Well, actually, I can think of many things I, and other’s, would call a desk that don’t have draws

‘A table doesn’t have draws’ — ditto, I can think of items of furniture that I and others would call tables that do have draws

Likewise, whether I would call something a desk or a table would depend on the setting where I see it

Take an object of furniture that is a flat, rectangular, horizontal surface supported by four legs. A table that is as archetypal type of table as you can get

A school art room filled with rectangular desks that have blue plastic seats pulled up next to each of them
Sinai School Art Room, by Dovber90 GFDL-1.3, Wikicommons Link

Now take that table and put it into a school classroom for students to sit at and ask me to describe what’s in the room and I’d call that item of furniture a desk. Outside the classroom, or used for a different purpose, I’d call a it table but inside that situation, a desk

Yet the item itself hasn’t changed. It’s still the same object, able to serve all same purposes as before, it’s just the situation I find it in dictates how I see it because that’s what I grew up with up — a sociological construct that defines exactly the same piece of furniture in different ways depending on how and where it’s used

But my sociological construct of what is a desk and what is a table isn’t going to be true for everyone. Some people will have the same arbitrary demarcation, others will not and will continue to call it a table regardless of whether it’s in a classroom or not

And that is a sociological construct in play. The society that I grew up in had a joint, if fuzzily defined, understanding of what are desks and what are tables, but there are many other joint understandings developed by other societies that differ on how desks and tables are defined

The other thing to note about sociological constructs is that they change over time. They change because the society that created them changes over time. And this can be best seen with the sociological construct that is sex

Sex as a Sociological Construct

Sex is a complicated, muddy, and sprawling word that means different things depending on the context it’s used in. But when used in a general day-to-day sense to refer to a person it’s a sociological construct. Societies create a joint understanding of what sex is, and individuals within that society then use that construct in day-to-day activities. Different societies exist and so therefore different sociological constructs of sex exist, and likewise societies change so the sociological constructs that define sex within that society also change

The transgender pride symbol in very punchy blue and purple-pink colours, with a butterfly over the top
Butterfly Transgender Symbol, by ParaDox CC BY-SA 2.0 de, Wikicommons Link

Trans people have always existed. Many societies had, or still have, the sociological constructs for sex that recognise this. Other societies have not, often because their sociological constructs have been influenced by religions that for their own reasons do not want to accept that people outside of a simplistic understanding of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ exist, and this is true of many Western societies who’s sociological constructs have been very heavily influenced by a very patriarchal conservative Christian theology — ‘God doesn’t make mistakes’ being a dogmatic belief that has played no small part in that. But as the power of the Church in that particular Western society has waned society has changed, moving away from theologically imposed ideas, and changing society’s sociological constructs for sex, allowing not only for recognition that trans people exist but also that we are also who we say we are

Trans people have always existed, and just because there are times in the past that sociological constructs that did not recognise that fact doesn’t the change the reality of our existence, anymore than a table disappears if there’s nobody around to notice it. Likewise, that trans women are women, and trans men are men, and non-binary people are valid has always been true, has always been a fact, but it’s now a case of society catching up with that as trans peoples existences are recognised within society more and more, and so as a result society’s joint understanding of sex changes

Sex is a sociological concept. It isn’t the only thing that sex is, but when it comes down to trans people living our day-to-day lives, or in other words, how we are seen within society because we are part of that society, it is the sociological concept of sex that matters

It’s why GCRFs are so desperate to try and muddy the waters by shouting, “muh biology”, “facts not feelings”, and “it’s SEX, not GENDAAAAHHH!!!” They know that the sociological concept of sex within Western societies has changed, and has done so for a while now. They’re desperately trying to get the sociological concept of sex changed back to the old patriarchal, theological based concept of sex because, like all bigots, they don’t like the fact that the society they’re a part of accepts that trans people exist and that we are who we say we are

This is what trans people mean when we say that GCRFs are trying to delegitimise and erase trans people. GCRFs are trying to destroy the sociological constructs that recognise trans people. If trans people aren’t recognised by a society then society can then pretend that we don’t exist. And if trans people don’t exist in society then we don’t get to benefit from any other of the other sociological constructs of society, especially the big sociological constructs like the law

This is why it’s so important to fight against GCRF rhetoric; to fight against the forced imposition of the regressive, harmful, and exclusionary sociological construct that says a person’s sex is only ever defined by what genitals they had between their legs when they were born

It is an imposition of a sociological construct designed to forcibly strip trans people of our autonomy — our ability to stand at the centre of the sphere of ourselves and define who we are — and it is also designed to also strip us of the simple dignity of having that recognition accepted by others around us



Jaz Sakura-Rose

Writer, dreamer, 24/7 inclusive feminist, occasional politician