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How Each of the Primary Theories (Conflict, Functionalism and Symbolic Interaction) Explains How Gender and Sexual Orientation Are Viewed in the United States

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When filling out a document such as a job application or school registration form you are often asked to provide your name, address, phone number, birth date, and sex or gender. But have you ever been asked to provide your sex and your gender? As with most people, it may not have occurred to you that sex and gender are not the same. However, sociologists and most other social scientists view sex and gender as conceptually distinct. Sex refers to physical or physiological differences between males and females, including both primary sex characteristics (the reproductive system) and secondary characteristics such as height and muscularity

Gender is a term that refers to social or cultural distinctions associated with being male or female.

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Theories in sociology provide us with different perspectives with which to view our social world. A perspective is simply a way of looking at the world

A theory is a set of interrelated propositions or principles designed to answer a question or explain a particular phenomenon; it provides us with a perspective. Sociological theories help us to explain and predict the social world in which we live. Sociology includes three major theoretical perspectives: the functionalist perspective, the conflict perspective, and the symbolic interactionist perspective (sometimes called the interactionist perspective, or simply the micro view). Each perspective offers a variety of explanations about the social world and human behavior.

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Interactionists are also interested in how discussions of homosexuals often focus almost exclusively on the sex lives of gays and lesbians; homosexuals, especially men, may be assumed to be hypersexual and, in some cases, deviant. Interactionism might also focus on the slurs used to describe homosexuals. Labels such as “queen” and “fag” are often used to demean homosexual men by feminizing them. This subsequently affects how homosexuals perceive themselves. Recall Cooley’s “looking-glass self,” which suggests that self develops as a result of our interpretation and evaluation of the responses of others (Cooley 1902). Constant exposure to derogatory labels, jokes, and pervasive homophobia would lead to a negative self-image, or worse, self-hate. The CDC reports that homosexual youths who experience high levels of social rejection are six times more likely to have high levels of depression and eight times more likely to have attempted suicide (CDC 2011).

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Sociologists analyze social phenomena at different levels and from different perspectives. From concrete interpretations to sweeping generalizations of society and social behavior, sociologists study everything from specific events (the micro level of analysis of small social patterns) to the “big picture” (the macro level of analysis of large social patterns). The pioneering European sociologists, however, also offered a broad conceptualization of the fundamentals of society and its workings. Their views form the basis for today's theoretical perspectives, or paradigms, which provide sociologists with an orienting framework—a philosophical position—for asking certain kinds of questions about society and its people.

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Hines, Sally and Tam Sanger. (2010). Transgender identities: Towards a sociological analysis of gender diversity. New York: Routledge.

Ling, Lisa. (2011). Transgender child: A parent’s difficult choice [Television series episode]. OWN Network-Our America with Lisa Ling, Harpo Productions. Retrieved February 13, 2012, from (http://www.oprah.com/own-our-america-lisa-ling/Transgender-Child-A-Parents-Difficult-Choice).

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