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Typical mind and gender identity

Ozy Frantz introduced zirself to me by saying that “I major in gender studies, but I am not that kind of gender studies student. Promise.” So far this claim has been entirely borne out and Ozy’s blog is actually really good. I still usually avoid reading it, because even a good blog on gender has to be responding to and referencing the bad blogs on gender, and even short little quotes from them make me want to smash something and that something is often someone’s skull. But it really is actually really good.

I am particularly intrigued by the latest post, Cis By Default, which is related to a conversation we had last week. Ozy thinks that some people have really strong gender identity, and other people don’t really have any gender identity at all and just sort of end up not trans-gender because why bother with the social stigma and aggravation that produces?

This neatly combines two of my favorite hammers (in the sense of “…every problem starts looking like a nail”), the idea of individual mental differences and the Principle of Charity.

It also helps explain my own personal experience. I am probably one of the people Ozy calls “cis by default”. I obviously can’t be sure, but I feel like if I woke up tomorrow magically transformed into a (hetero) woman, my first two thoughts (after “WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON???”, of course) would be “Huh, cool, this probably makes it much easier to find a mate” and “Darnit, now I’ve got to deal with this whole menstruation thing”.

[EDIT: Girlfriend just asked me “Wait, if you woke up magically transformed into a heterosexual woman, your first thought wouldn’t be about having to break up with me?” Awwwwwkward.]

And then I’d get into some very rational comparisons to my personality, like “Oh, good, this socially legitimizes my lack of interest in sports”, or “Nice, now it’s attractive for me to project my standard vibe of passive lack of interest in my surroundings, instead of having to try to appear dominant and take-charge all the time.” But I don’t envision any kind of visceral “But oh no I feel truly male this is an offense against the natural order of things!” being anywhere up there.

And as Ozy predicted, this did make me – if not actively prejudiced against, at least confused by trans people for a long time. My thought processes were something like “Gender seems pretty irrelevant, so I wonder why they’re going to so much trouble over this.” And I was actually rounding off to my own experience – maybe these were men who weren’t aggressive or interested in sports, and so they decided that they should become women. Which was kind of dumb. Which was more or less my opinion of trans until I was, I dunno, twenty or so.

What changed my mind was a sort of complicated string of medical facts.

First I learned about phantom limb sensations. These aren’t exactly rare or controversial; over half of amputees have them. The theory is that the brain has a map of how the body should look which does not always correspond to how the body does look. This map isn’t even necessarily based on pre-amputation sensations. Some people born without limbs still have phantom limbs. In another case reported by Ramachandran, a woman whose hand had been deformed from birth needed an amputation; she reported the resulting phantom limb was non-deformed. All these suggest that the brain’s map is at least partially hard-wired rather than based solely on experience.

Later I learned about the exact opposite phenomenon, body integrity identity disorder, where a healthy person with four healthy limbs feels like one of their limbs is “wrong” and has a strong desire to get it amputated. This was originally classified as a psychiatric disease and even dismissed as a subset of amputee fetishism, and to my disappointment Wikipedia still mostly treats it along these lines.

But I’ve heard that some of the same neurologists working with phantom limbs think this is also a disorder of brain-body mapping; that for some reason their brain’s map of their body doesn’t include a perfectly healthy limb and so it feels foreign. Some very preliminary MRI studies seem to have borne this out, and there are other signs that there’s something biological going on too (the limb involved seems to be disproportionately associated with the nondominant hemisphere of the brain).

More convincing to me is that the disorder has a very non-psychiatric resolution: if patients are able to amputate the offending limb, they are perfectly happy and never have any further complaints. Compare this to a more psychiatric population like hypochondriacs, who if you treat one of their fake sicknesses just come up with another, because the underlying psychological problem that makes them want to feel sick hasn’t gone away. After hearing this story I decided to count the previous dismissal/marginalization of these people as a huge failure of psychiatry and as exactly the sort of thing I need to watch out for.

And this segued nicely into stories of people who believed that some of their gendered body parts (breasts, genitals) are wrong and not really part of their bodies. It has all the features that gave body integrity identity disorder a red flag for being organic rather than psychiatric: very strong desire to remove offending body parts, different distribution of comorbidities you see with a lot of genuine psychiatric disorders, and removal of the offending body part makes the person pretty happy. It seems that the same logic that says BIID sufferers may have a map of their body that doesn’t include their left leg or whatever could give these people a map of their body that doesn’t include their penis or their breasts or something.

Of course not all transgender people have this kind of very medical-seeming aversion to a specific body part. But the medical-aversion type of people often also have the typical transgender “I feel my gender identity is wrong” belief, and it would make sense that if some sort of “gender” variable got switched somehow this could produce a gender-inappropriate body map. The existence of gender-inappropriate body maps, and of this whole literature of people’s brains sometimes telling them things about their bodies that aren’t true and then it causes great distress, makes the idea of an isolated gender-variable switch much more plausible.

And if it’s possible to have a gender variable get switched, then it’s much more parsimonious to believe that the people who say they feel like their gender variable is switched actually have this gender variable switched, rather than that they’re acting out for some sort of weird social reason. Especially if it’s hard to think up a weird social reason that would be worth it.

Caring about gender still doesn’t make internal subjective psychological sense to me, any more than having some kind of mental “pants type” variable that says I should be wearing blue jeans and gets deeply distressed whenever I wear khakis.

Then again, I naively picture my body map as being such that, if I got a third arm for some reason, I’d just shrug and see if I could leverage it into a career as a the most confusing basketball player ever, instead of desperately wanting it amputated. So maybe my naive predictions about what variables do and don’t matter to my brain aren’t very good.

So I have two hypotheses. One is Ozy’s hypothesis that some people have gender identity and others don’t, and for some people that gender identity matches their biological sex and for others it doesn’t. A second hypothesis is that everyone has gender identity, but if it matches your biological sex it’s impossible to notice (just like the analogy where fish don’t understand the idea of water) and if it doesn’t match your biological sex it becomes obvious (just as a fish would no doubt notice being taken out of water).

It sounds like the best way to distinguish between the two of these would be to check for cis- people with strong gender identities. Do any of you cis- people out there have a strong, visceral feeling of “Oh, thank God I was born a man/woman, because that’s just obviously what I ought to be – and if I magically transformed into a woman/man, I would want to get surgery/hormones/etc to change back as soon as possible” or something like that?

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106 Responses to Typical mind and gender identity

  1. Oligopsony says:

    A few things. First:

    Later I learned about the exact opposite phenomenon, body integrity identity disorder, where a healthy person with four healthy limbs feels like one of their limbs is “wrong” and has a strong desire to get it amputated….

    More convincing to me is that the disorder has a very non-psychiatric resolution: if patients are able to amputate the offending limb, they are perfectly happy and never have any further complaints.

    So wait. Does this mean transabledness is a thing? Because my prior belief was that, if anything is a total made up tumblr identity attempting to appropriate other people’s actual identities, this is clearly it. So I’m going to update in the direction of people’s identities being legit. Like, furries? Obviously the animal reincarnation thing is a bit unlikely, but maybe there are dormant genes for tail-mapping that get activated once in a blue moon, who knows.

    Second: A few thoughts, off the top of my head, on the concluding question. One, there clearly do seem to be differences among cisfolk in how much importance they place on their gender identity, but this seems difficult to extricate from gender politics. Of course inborn differences in somatic identification could lead to differences in gender politics as well. Someone who’s trans is obviously going to have thought about the question enough to know they want a female body but not necessarily care about culture-specific femininity, but I can imagine a somatically cis feminist saying “well obviously it wouldn’t matter” or a cis by default nonfeminist saying “well obviously it would matter” just from not having much to go on save first principles.

    Two: some bi people seem to think that the gender of the person they’re dating matters a great deal, while some seem to think that it matters not at all. Obviously this involves coding others rather than oneself, and who knows how much of the difference is inborn, but there does seem to be a difference there again.

    Three: cybernetics. We seem pretty flexible in being able to incorporate, with practice and at least on a temporary basis, extra stuff in. Tennis rackets, phones, glasses, computer game characters, you name it. And although I don’t mind the thing (quite the contrary) there is a sense in which my penis seems to be a less essential element of my body than my arms or legs or mouth, and I wonder if the fact that it can’t be directly controlled except for that one muscle has something to do with it. There might be something interesting to be had in comparing all these interesting limb cases to, say, something more passive like ears.

    Four: people do seem to differ in the degree to which they want fantastic versions of themselves – video game characters, RPG characters, the stage – to be the same gender as them.

    Five: back when I had long hair, I would occasionally be mistaken for a woman; I was never offended by this, but the mistaken party would always apologize profusely, as if they expected me to be offended. Of course there are other things going on there.

    Six: do cis people differ in their responses to losing gender-specific body parts, i.e. mammectomies, and so on? (My prior leans strongly yes but I’m willing to be surprised.)

    Based on this and Generalizing From One Example I would wager that cis by default is a thing, but I am not remotely an expert on these topics.

    • Adelene says:

      Like, furries? Obviously the animal reincarnation thing is a bit unlikely, but maybe there are dormant genes for tail-mapping that get activated once in a blue moon, who knows.

      I occasionally get phantom wings – not ‘my arms should be wing-shaped’, but phantom extra limbs sprouting from my shoulders. I don’t identify as furry in any related sense, but if I was more worried about having explanations for stuff and less inclined to take ‘brains are weird‘ as an explanation, I can see where the experience would point me in that direction. I also know a couple other people who report similar things – wings, tails, mobile ears – including not seeing it as any particular reason to speculate about reincarnation, so I’m pretty sure it is a thing, yes.

      Also, I have a fairly strong sense of correctness about my weight/size – anything under about 250lb is Wrong, anything above that is fine. (Physical issues start becoming a thing at about 400lb, but that doesn’t feel Wrong, just annoying.) I’ve also run into one other person who felt similarly on the issue, but given societal pressure I wouldn’t expect to hear much about this even if it was fairly common.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I am the last person to deny that Tumblr is full of horrible horrible people who are wrong about everything, and I’ve never heard of “trans-able-ism” before, but if they’re talking about the sort of thing I’m talking about above and that gets classified as body integrity identity disorder by doctors, then yes, I think there’s something to it.

      Otherkin…I don’t know. It seems really implausible that it’s based on anything neurological, but I’ve been sufficiently wrong before in this area that I’m reluctant to sound overly certain. I could almost imagine brain mapping for a vestigial tail. On the other hand, Ade feels wings, which is biologically inexplicable, so maybe whatever non-biological thing is driving that is also driving everyone else.

      Like you, I’ve also encountered odd differences in the degree to which people are willing to be opposite-gender RPG characters. This is inexplicable to me, and is starting to make me worried I’m just a horrible role-player since I don’t think I ever reach an RPing depth level where I’m modeling someone’s brain so far that gender comes into it. I don’t even know if I model my *own* brain that well *in real life*.

  2. AJ from GA says:

    Sure, I’ll chime in. I’m a cis male, and I absolutely feel that way. I have a very strong visceral feeling that I’m a male. As for the rest of your question, I had to add one qualifier. If I woke up tomorrow as a heterosexual woman, I wouldn’t “as soon as possible” try to change back because I also have an incredibly powerful sense of curiosity. I would at least have to experiment a little to see what it’s like on the other side, so to speak.

    But, yes, it would feel wrong.

    And my “maleness” (which I confess I sometimes think of as manliness, though please understand that I am in no way a gender prescriptive, and I don’t think people “should” be heteronormative or anything like that) definitely motivates some of my desires and actions. For example, it’s one reason why I enjoy strength training. Having larger, more visible muscles feels more “right” when I see myself in pictures, reflections, etc.

    Finally, I just want to toss out there that knowing all of the above about myself is one of the main motivating factors behind me getting plugged into gender culture discussions, because I do not want to impress my own preferences and thoughts onto other people. Being respectful to people who are different than me is highly important to me. Sorry my post was so long.

  3. AJ from GA says:

    I wish ‘s post had been up when I started typing because I want to address this:

    “Four: people do seem to differ in the degree to which they want fantastic versions of themselves – video game characters, RPG characters, the stage – to be the same gender as them.”

    I experience this greatly. I have a very hard time connecting to characters that aren’t male when I’m supposed to be playing their mind. (In other words, I have no problem playing a woman in, say, a side-scroller, but find it difficult in role playing games.)

    To my knowledge, I have never created a female character when given the chance in a game. It just doesn’t occur to me. I should also add that I always play humans when given other options.

    • Doug S. says:

      Huh; when I get to choose what gender to play as in a video game, I play female characters a little more than half the time, I think. I think my gender identity might be weak in other ways; I think of myself as male, but imagining myself as having a female body feels just as natural. I’m aroused by women and not men, so when I watch pornographic videos, I focus my attention on the women, which seems normal, but I also identify with them as well: I imagine myself feeling what the female performers are feeling. If I don’t feel that they’re aroused, I don’t find the video particularly interesting, and I definitely prefer watching cunnilingus to watching fellatio. (Perhaps this is why I’ve tended to gravitate to female masturbation videos.) On the other hand, when it comes to reading pornographic stories – which I usually prefer to videos – I generally don’t care if the viewpoint character is male or female. So I guess my gender identity is weaker than average?

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I notice that I often seem to have difficulty trying to really imagine myself as female (in an RPG or whatever), because that would require me to imagine myself having a female body map. While it’s easy and pretty straightforward for me to imagine having breasts, male genitalia feel difficult to imagine away, because I become unusually aware of them when I do try to think of myself as a woman.

      I’m not sure of what my gender identity is, though – it seems to be pretty androgynous. I’m guessing that I would be both fine in the body of a somewhat feminine man (as now) as well as in the body of a somewhat masculine woman, but becoming a very masculine man would definitely freak me out a lot. Being a very feminine woman, too, but I think not nearly as much.

      I think that there was some point in elementary or high school when I had a weak wish that I’d be a girl, but that was mostly because of social factors – girls seemed much more nice and reasonable at that point while most boys felt pretty immature and kinda crazy, and it would’ve been easier for me to hang around the girls if I’d been a girl as well.

      • Doug S. says:

        I notice that I often seem to have difficulty trying to really imagine myself as female (in an RPG or whatever), because that would require me to imagine myself having a female body map. While it’s easy and pretty straightforward for me to imagine having breasts, male genitalia feel difficult to imagine away, because I become unusually aware of them when I do try to think of myself as a woman.

        The trick is to “reposition” the male genitals… the penis gets mapped to the clitoris (which extends into the body), the scrotum gets mapped to the labia, etc.

  4. Joe says:

    I’m sorry, I’m new to these issues so I’m sorry if my questions are a waste of time or come off as insensitive. How does a biological male transgendered person have any idea what it feels like to be a women? Aren’t they just going off of their best guess as to what it might feel like? Also the thought experiment of imagining what it would feel like to wake up a cis of the opposite sex seems to assume, as truth, Descartes dualism. Are there any other thought experiments?

    • Devin says:

      On the contrary. A transgender woman (born as a man), ONLY knows what it feels like to be a woman, because it’s all she’s ever been. She may know what it feels like to have a penis, she may know what it feels like to be treated as man, but internally, she only knows what it feels like to be herself – a woman.

  5. Oligopsony says:

    Also the thought experiment of imagining what it would feel like to wake up a cis of the opposite sex seems to assume, as truth, Descartes dualism.

    No more so than the thought experiment of imagining what it would feel like to wake up one day older. Or perhaps I misapprehend your point.

    • Joe says:

      Well I think it’s easier to imagine being myself tomorrow then it would be to imagine being a totally different person. I mean I know what it is like to be me but not at all what it is like to be a woman. I sort of seems arrogant to claim that I could possible have any idea at all what it feels like to be a women.

  6. Lu says:

    Interesting. Like you, I imagine that I would not feel fundamentally wrong if I woke up as a woman, though my life would become dramatically less convenient. However, I can’t imagine any kind of sexual relationship I would be satisfied in as a female—only hetero relationships with myself as the male.

    My guess is, my imagination is simply wrong on at least one of those.

    • Joe says:

      Well my guess is that your imagination is as good as anyone else’s. We can’t claim that we “know” what it’s like to be a member of the opposite sex. We can only guess and assume our feelings are what tell us what gender we are. But that doesn’t seem empirical or rational?

  7. Andrew Hunter says:

    So I’ve always thought of that question (“As a straight male, would I freak out if I woke up as a woman?”) as underspecified.

    A large part of my mindset is, in fact, derived from my genetic maleness–like it or not, testosterone dramatically influences how and what I think. So precisely what wakes up in that female body? My male mind with male hormone responses, whose sensory inputs report “Yup, that’s a girl?” My mind-state-right-now, to be influenced by the new sensations and hormones? Some new mind that’s what I would have grown up with given female genetics, but with continuity of identity?

    I think I’d be upset in all of these cases–though I’d definitely be excited on a temporary basis as mentioned elsewhere in comments–but to different amounts and for different reasons. I like and appreciate my male body and hormones and what they do for me–I struggle athletically compared to my role models, but have a much easier time gaining muscle, strength, endurance, whatever than the typical woman would, and I like my male brain, but part of both of those is having grown accustomed to them, isn’t it? I could presumably learn to appreciate the social or other advantages of being female, I’d think.

    • Joe says:

      For me if I truly woke up female I wouldn’t be me anymore. The thought experiment only helps to imagine what it might feel like to have gender identity disorder not what it actually feels like to be that gender.

      • AJ from GA says:

        Yes! I think that’s exactly the point. You wake up, look down, and you know that your body is “wrong.” So even if your body is sexually attracted to the opposite sex, it still feels “wrong.” (Or at least you can imagine so.)

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Except that under any reasonable set of circumstances (not the wizard waking me up there) where I find myself in a woman’s body, it’s not really me there; it’s someone else who grew up with it and probably likes it a great deal more than I did.

        • Joe says:

          I’m having trouble understanding how anyone can “know” the body parts are “wrong” when you have know way of knowing if the opposite parts are “right”. Which seems to be the case for real world transgender people. The thought experiment fails because I have experience as a man not just as a person with male parts. The person with transgender disorder is a man that feels like what he imagines it feels like to not just have a female body but to actually “be” female. He has absolutely no way of knowing this even if he had surgery and hormones.

          • Octexal says:

            Can you try and pull a referent from fiction? Obviously this is vastly different in scope, but perhaps you’re familiar with Tetsuo from Akira or the Holy Grail from the Fate/stay night visual novel. Imagine why the sort of things which happen to them would feel wrong to you, and then apply to organs which you actually have.

          • AJ from GA says:

            And yet, I disagree. But then, that’s probably because I so strongly associate myself with being “male.” Which, incidentally, was the whole point of this discussion.

  8. There may be some way in which I can take people’s reports of their experience on faith even if I can’t really imagine what it’s like to be them. I have a sort of contentment with living in a female body. I’d try being male for curiosity’s sake, but I imagine myself as having a similar sort of contentment.

    I’ve read a fair amount and heard a little from trans people about how miserable having a wrong-gendered body makes them feel, and I think of it as having the contentment bit flipped to negative. I’ve also seen how happy (some?) trans people are when they’re transitioned.

    I’ve concluded that I don’t know what gender really is.

  9. Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

    The Great Friendly Thing comes to you and says, “You know, on net, Earth will probably be better off with a higher female-to-male ratio. It’s not *vital* that you switch or anything, but if it was just as okay with you, I’d rather swap you. But please don’t feel obligated – it wouldn’t be a net good if you were actually unhappy with the decision, it’s not worth you feeling uncomfortable about saying yes.” What do you say?

    • Joe says:

      I think that that would be impossible ontologically. To change me into a female is to destroy “me”. I don’t think gender subjective.

      • MugaSofer says:

        Do you consider people who have undergone hormone therapy and reassignment surgery to be zombies living in the body of the person they murdered?

        Because that seems on the order of what Eliezer is suggesting …

    • That’s a fascinating way to put it.

      When I modelled it as “you wake up female, how do you feel?” my response is fairly neutral. It’s a “yeah, this is fine.” On the contrary, when I look at this situation as you’ve framed it, I’m thinking I’d tell the Great Friendly Thing “I’d rather not.” I think this is related to how I model myself as very adaptable to change, so when I picture myself waking up changed, I see myself as very accepting of this reality…

      Actually, I guess it depends. If the GFT says “with a female-to-male ratio of 2:1” then I’d probably change, because I could imagine it bugging me less than the other third of guys who would have to switch. If the GFT only wants to make it 51:49, then I wouldn’t want to bother. But again, it’s mostly viewed as an inconvenience, not a horrific experience, so I guess that makes mostly cis-by-default.

    • Octexal says:

      Yes. Easily.

    • AJ from GA says:

      “Absolutely no. No questions.”

      • Octexal says:

        How much would it take? Let’s say Omega walked up to you and said “You’re going to have to do this or the world will end,” or more topically “You’re going to have to do this or uFAI will be developed within the next month.” Answer’s still no? What if Omega said that it would wear off in a week unless you took additional action?

        • AJ from GA says:

          Is that a real question? Of course I wouldn’t let the world end. The initial questions said things “might” be better with a higher f:m ratio. I’m only one of over 3 billion males. And the initial question posited that if I were unhappy with the switch, it would be a net negative.

    • Oligopsony says:

      No, because interpersonal entanglement/inconvenience and because I’m not at all fully confident in my thought experiments. Also: the GFT’s coming to this conclusion is evidence for Gender Really Mattering.

      On the other hand, maybe yes (assuming GFT solves interpersonal entanglement by making everyone bi, because that just seems like low-hanging fruit) because I tend to derive a lot of utility from being a volunteer for things, and novelty, and probably some additional benefits I haven’t thought of.

    • Doug S. says:

      “Well, as long as I end up as at least a moderately attractive woman and don’t wind up with anorgasmia or any other medical conditions I wouldn’t want, I’ll be all for it.”

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      A cop-out, but my honest answer: any Great Friendly Thing with the posed powers could surely predict whether I’d be happier as a woman. I’d tell it to decide for me.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      “Umm, not sure. Is it possible for you to swap me for a while and then change me back if I decide I don’t like it?”

      (Very nice framing!)

    • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

      BTW, question is obviously open to women too, when I originally wrote it I was posing it to Scott due to feeling mild skepticism that he was *actually* cis-by-default. After reading the comments… wow. I guess cis-by-default is a thing!

      I’d probably ask the Great Friendly Thing about how much mind-alteration was necessary. If it said, “Yeah, that takes a lot less cognitive messing than you’d imagine,” I’d probably want to try it out of sheer curiosity… and if the EU differential was large, or it told me I’d be happier, I’d go along with it… but otherwise, my answer would be no.

      If Omega said to me, “I’m either going to flip your sex or your D/s orientation,” I’d take the flipped sex – being male is part of my identity, but not as strongly as that other part.

      • Octexal says:

        I’d appreciate it if you could explain “D/s orientation.” Google is being unusually unhelpful.

      • Jake says:

        Wait, now I’m wondering which side of the D/S spectrum Eliezer is on that he feels so strongly about.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        If Omega said to me, “I’m either going to flip your sex or your D/s orientation,” I’d take the flipped sex – being male is part of my identity, but not as strongly as that other part.

        Whereas for me (and this says something about my early childhood gender role training), I would only accept a sex flip if it came WITH a D/s flip.

        (Honestly, I think I would have done a LOT BETTER in the world as a submissive woman than as a wannabe-dominant man.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Not only is my answer yes, but I’d take the offer even GFT had no particular opinions on what was best for Earth. Like I said, I think being female would suit my personality better, and although become trans is hard and scary and I feel a sense of ickiness around the idea, if someone’s going to offer to transform me into a full biological socially-accepted woman for free, of course I accept.

    • Army1987 says:

      I would do that only if I can be a lesbian, because I’m almost exclusively gynephilic.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are some various mild and less mild inconveniences for me (going M to F): my fields are default-male, pregnancy would suck, periods would suck, I would no longer get free points in certain crowds for being willing to completely ignore male stereotypes, etc. If these were eliminated or reduced sufficiently – say, if more of the work in my fields was done anonymously, we got better at incubating fetuses, we fixed periods, and so on – sure, absolutely.

      I have an attachment to being attracted to women, though, and I’d be more reluctant to give that up

      • Deiseach says:

        “we got better at incubating fetuses, we fixed periods, and so on”

        So basically, you’d be happy to be a woman if all the things about being a woman were changed?

        Thanks! Now I know why it’s so disgusting and horrible and unthinkable to have all these dirty, inconvenient organic processes attached to my gender, and why we females don’t really count unless we reduce or remove these as much as possible!

        You might want to work a teeny bit more on that “being willing to completely ignore male stereotypes” thing, mmmkay?

        • shaed says:

          Periods and pregnancy are not essential to womanhood.

          They are certainly not “all the things about being a woman.”

          Not all women who experience them are okay with them.

          Not all women who cannot experience them desire them.

    • Moshe Zadka says:

      I’m in a hetero relationship, but if that happened before then, I would probably be “OK, I’m in, whatever”. Come to think of it, if the Great Friendly Thing would be all “and I can make your wife gay” and she was be cool with it, and same-sex marriage was a thing, and I’d probably also be “OK, whatever”.

    • Jonas says:

      A 70/30 distribution would do fun things to the dating scene. Let’s say enough lesbianism makes that consideration go away.

      Here’s a question which I think is very different: if I were behind the Rawlsian veil, would I be happy to be born a female (preserving my current straight-/bi-/gay- and cis/trans-ness)? Yes, and it probably doesn’t change a whole lot whether I keep my current gender-typicality of psychometric variables (aggressiveness, extroversion, etc.) or keep my current absolute levels of said variables, though there may be a few where my current levels are very female-atypical, even if I can’t name them.

      Onto the question-as-asked, my first consideration would be interaction history: would the people I have interacted with (family, friends) and people in general accept that Dr. Omega turned me not into a transitioned trans-woman but rather an honest-to-god cis-woman and that this change was par for the course? (If no, that’s a big argument against).

      If you assume the IQ variance hypothesis and you’re an above-average IQ male, does the change entail losing IQ (i.e. do you keep your within-gender relative level, or your absolute level)? Do you keep your within-gender relative level of empathizing and systemizing? I think more empathy ability would do me good, and maybe something I’ve written has already proven that.

      I was leaning towards “probably wouldn’t be all bad”, but the more I think about, the less I’m sure which assumptions to bake into the question, and those assumptions might be decisive.

  10. Doug S. says:

    Later I learned about the exact opposite phenomenon, body integrity identity disorder, where a healthy person with four healthy limbs feels like one of their limbs is “wrong” and has a strong desire to get it amputated. This was originally classified as a psychiatric disease and even dismissed as a subset of amputee fetishism, and to my disappointment Wikipedia still mostly treats it along these lines.

    Huh, I feel somewhat similarly about my facial hair; I don’t like it, I want it gone, and I spend quite a bit of time pulling it out with tweezers. (I’ve tried shaving and was dissatisfied with the results. When the hair grows back, it’s not tapered and is therefore very stiff; I find myself rubbing and scratching at the stubble and end up injuring my face.)

    • Army1987 says:

      When the hair grows back, it’s not tapered and is therefore very stiff

      Try washing it with hot water, shampoo and (if that’s not enough) conditioner.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I do this with my body hair (facial hair doesn’t bother me) and bizarrely also attributed this to trichotillomania without realizing that having a word for it isn’t the same as an explanation. Sigh.

      The idea of a body map that doesn’t include hair is absolutely fascinating but I bet with high confidence it’s wrong. For me it manifests more as a non-strategic non-outcome based feeling of hair needing to be pulled out when I feel it. I would be indifferent to a magic spell that removed all my body hair. Pulling out hair when I notice it’s long enough is more like scratching an itch than like making my body conform to some map.

      • Doug S. says:

        /me shrugs

        Yeah, it’s probably not a “body map” thing as it is a self-image thing: I don’t like the way the hair looks, and I want my face to feel smooth when I touch it. (To elaborate on what I wrote earlier, the feel of short, regrowing stubble is significantly worse than the feel of hair that’s grown out a bit.) A magic spell that got rid of my facial hair permanently would be exactly what I want; I’ve been looking into electrolysis, but it freaks out my parents…

  11. Octexal says:

    Your girlfriend would want to break up just because you changed gender? Disappointing. When a trans friend of mine came out, the SO’s question was “Do we have to break up?”

    • …but I feel like if I woke up tomorrow magically transformed into a (hetero) woman…

      • Octexal says:

        … Gah. That’s not how transsexuals work at all. They often are heterosexual, but they don’t have to be, and in fact they aren’t at much higher rates than the general population.

    • AJ from GA says:

      It’s wrong for you to consider that disappointing. It’s forcing your norms onto someone else.

      • Octexal says:

        Obviously the statement refers to my own personal moral values: I would be disappointed if a girlfriend or boyfriend of mine had that as a significant hangup. I trust you no longer consider it problematic now that I have made explicit the implicit POV.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          You think it’s an unacceptable hangup to want to be romantically involved specifically with a woman (or with a man?)

          • Octexal says:

            Maybe I’m a bit new-fangled, but I’d like to think that my relationships are about me and not about what’s in my pants.

          • Octexal says:

            Maybe I’m a bit new-fangled, but I’d like to think that my relationships are about me and my partner and not about what’s in our pants.

        • Is it a hangup, or is it something about as strong for some as having a preferred gender for oneself?

      • Mirror Mirror says:

        It’s wrong for you to consider that disappointing. It’s forcing your norms onto someone else.

  12. Sarah says:

    I have a sort of “contentment” with having a female body, like Nancy. I feel very definitely cis, just in the sense that my body is *home.*

    I could certainly imagine *living* as a man without much trouble. I can pretty clearly imagine a guy-version of me, and he wouldn’t be much different in personality or interests. In ordinary life I sometimes get caught up in what I’m doing and think of myself as “just me,” instead of remembering that I’m “Sarah, who is a chick.” It’s a little bit like Joanna Russ’s thing about the “female man.”

    But I can’t be sure I wouldn’t be horrified to wake up one morning and find I had male genitals. I can’t vividly imagine what it would be like to have a body part I don’t have. It might, indeed, feel like “Ugh, what is this thing attached to me?” if the hypothetical gender-switch didn’t come with a switched body map.

    I don’t think hormonal changes would make me “a different person” in a particularly radical way, however. I’ve *had* hormonal changes (puberty, exercise, birth control) which affected my moods, but not my identity. A male version of me would probably have an increase in stereotypically high-testosterone traits (more aggressive, more risk-seeking, higher sex drive). But my philosophy tends to be that broad chemical changes only alter the weights on coarse-scale stuff; the specific interpretations are very individual. The *kinds* of aggressive or risk-seeking behavior I’d do as a guy would be Sarah-flavored somehow, recognizably mine.

  13. S says:

    I’m inclined to the view that strength of gender identity is actually a spectrum perpendicular to the gender identity itself. I know quite a lot of cis people with a strong gender identity, but I’m sort of the opposite, in that I’m a trans guy with a fairly weak sense of gender identity, and a lot of traditionally feminine traits. As such it took me ages to figure out what was wrong, and then quite a lot longer to decide whether it was worth the hassle of transitioning, given that it was only making me feel somewhat uncomfortable, rather than suicidally miserable the way that it does for many people. Turns out, it totally was – I feel far far happier in my skin as a rather effeminate chap than I ever did as a slightly chappish woman.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m confused. I was under the impression that we were using “gender identity” to mean a visceral sense of what gender you were.

      If you didn’t have a strong visceral sense you should be male, and you didn’t feel socially suited to being male, then what *did* make you want to become male?

      • S says:

        Mostly I had a moderately strong visceral sense that I wasn’t female, more than feeling that I was male per se.

        Now that I’ve got the extra data to contrast the hard-to-articulate wrongness that I felt before with how I feel now that I’ve got the right hormones and shape, it’s fairly clear to me that male is right, but if I’d been born cis and wasn’t able to make that comparison, I might well consider myself to have no gender identity.

  14. Army1987 says:

    Third hypothesis: the strength of someone’s gender identity can range on a continuum from “none at all” through “weak” to “strong”. People will only notice their gender identity if it’s strong enough, but it’s harder to notice a not-so-strong gender identity if it matches your anatomical sex and the gender you were raised as than if it doesn’t.

  15. naath says:

    I mostly find it hard to care about these sorts of question; other people’s choices about what they do to their bodies are their problem, not mine. I don’t grok the experience of GID, but I don’t need to to know that other people are happier having transitioned than they were before.

    I’d like to try out having a penis for a bit; but it’s hard to think about how “having a male body” would feel, mostly I think because hormone levels are also very important and I’ve no real idea how I’d react to male-normal hormone levels.

  16. anonymous says:

    Even after reading this post, my visceral reaction to “trans-ism” is still basically what yours was before age twenty. I think the problem is that BIID seems much rarer than trans-ism: I have run into the latter a number of times, but never the former. Plus, the alternative hypothesis of a few people simply being “weird” enough to take the ideas of “I don’t like sports, hence I should be a woman” and “Such-and-such opposite-sex role model is really cool! I want to be like them!” really, really seriously seems all too plausible to me.

    It would help if I knew a similar number of people who had voluntarily amputated one of their own limbs.

    • Octexal says:

      Do you have the same reaction to people getting plastic surgery or changing their names for reasons unrelated to gender? Or do you just have a hangup about transgender people?

      • anonymous says:

        I tend to have a negative reaction to any behavior that looks to me like ostentatious signaling — which, now that I think about it, is how I perceive transgenderism.

        • Octexal says:

          What could possibly be ostentatious about performing a gender identity held by about 50% of the world’s population? I mean… I could at least see where you were coming from if there were some kind of super-special transgender identity, but there really isn’t. With the possible exception of Oppression Olympics players (social justice feminism is terrible, by the way) transgender people just want to identify with their target gender.

          • ozymandias42 says:

            Actually there are super-special transgender identities: the umbrella term is usually “genderqueer” or “nonbinary.” There are people who believe binary trans people are real but nonbinary trans people are doing it as some kind of complicated signalling.

          • Octexal says:

            Yes, but I wasn’t talking about the super-special ones. I would understand arguing about those.

          • anonymous says:

            Well, if they were completely convincing as members of their target gender, no one would know the difference. The trouble is they tend not to be.

            Uncertainty about the kind of genitals an individual has is — needless to say — a type of confusion that one tends to notice.

          • S says:

            “The trouble is they tend not to be. ”

            Of course, you have absolutely no evidence for this, since by definition you don’t notice those of us who are generally perceived as our correct gender.

          • anonymous says:

            Of course, you have absolutely no evidence for this, since by definition you don’t notice those of us who are generally perceived as our correct gender.

            If it makes you feel better to make a categorical statement like this (basically just a hostile signal), well, I’m not against people feeling better. But it certainly doesn’t promote honest dialogue or help you to better understand my point of view (or, for that matter, me yours).

            On a literal level, the statement is nonsense: it implies that my claim is not anticipation-controlling (and thus not actually a claim at all), which is clearly false or I wouldn’t have an issue to be writing about here.

          • Adelene says:

            Well, if they were completely convincing as members of their target gender, no one would know the difference. The trouble is they tend not to be.

            How do you know that they tend not to be? Has there been a study? Are you personally in the habit of asking apparently-cis people what gender they were assigned at birth – and somehow correcting for the unknown likelihood that you’ll be lied to? Something else?

            Or are you just assuming that since you haven’t noticed any not-very-noticeable trans people, or come across them talking – in public, at the risk of triggering violent backlash – about their experiences, or had one come out to you (again, at risk of triggering violence), they must not exist?

            Selection bias: It is a thing, and you are not immune.

          • anonymous says:

            Or are you just assuming that since you haven’t noticed any not-very-noticeable trans people…they must not exist?

            So your point is that there are even more trans people than I think? That only reinforces my original point, which was that the phenomenon was too common for Scott’s proposed explanation to be plausible, as compared to alternative hypotheses such as Taking- Ideas-Seriously Syndrome and opposite-sex paraphilias.

            My negative psychological reaction to being confused about someone’s sex is actually a separate issue, except insofar as the number of such “confusing” people (which I notice due to said negative reaction) provides a lower bound on the number of “trans”.

    • shaed says:

      Why do you think that a neurological body map that does not match typical human development should be just as common as one that does match typical human development but not the body in question? Sexually morphic traits get mixed up quite easily during a person’s physical development.

      Your alternative hypothesis is absurd to anyone with a sense of gender identity. Or anyone who has listened to trans people about their experiences of gender.

    • Jordan Gray says:

      What sort of research have you undertaken to come to that conclusion?

      Have you read a few books or studies about sex and gender identity? Do you consider any of the trans* people you have “run into” to be good friends? If so, have any of them ever discussed their experiences with you at length?

      If someone with AIS were to question their birth-assigned sex, would you term that “ostentatious signalling”? Would the degree of AIS matter to you? Why?

      Alternatively, if a child were born with a damaged penis that was surgically altered to look like a vagina later grew unhappy with their surgically-assigned sex, would you consider that signalling or evidence that their body does not conform to some neurological feature?

      I find it difficult to justify a lack of belief in a neurological basis for trans* identities when we live in a world where conditions like AIS and phantom limbs exist, and I’m curious how you reconcile the former with the latter.

  17. Jeff Kaufman says:

    Wouldn’t looking at the experiences of children who had sexual reassignment surgery at a young age help here?

    (A longer version of me saying the same thing:

  18. Ben L says:

    I feel like I have a strong male identity. I would want to change back if I was turned into a woman. This desire would be somewhat (but I don’t think more than half) mitigated if society wasn’t so **itty to women.

  19. Erin says:

    Cisgirl here. I don’t think I would take an Omega offer to be male, though it doesn’t sound all that bad and I don’t envision feeling “must transition back.” However, I think I would in fact prefer to be /not female/, but I don’t go around telling people this, because Society. What I’m trying to say is that I recognize myself in descriptions of “cis by default” in the sense that I would identify as nonbinary/agender/genderqueer if I felt more strongly about it and/or society felt less strongly about it.

    There are, of course, nonbinary/agender/genderqueer people who DO feel strongly about it and thus are in fact a thing; I hope I am not speaking over any of these people.

    /one confused data point

  20. Sniffnoy says:

    I think Ozy Frantz has the right idea. I’d like to expand on it with a bit of personal testimony.

    (Obligatory I-probably-shouldn’t-have-to-say-this-but-I-guess-I-probably-do disclaimer: No, I don’t have anything against the actual transgendered people I know. Except maybe a bit of annoyance at them for changing their names — people changing their names is something that annoys me generally. More on that later. But I certainly don’t hate them or hold a grudge against them or avoid them or call them nasty names or whatever. Again, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I guess I probably do.)

    It’s not transgendered people that are annoying; it’s the idea of [strong] gender identity in and of itself. Transgendered people are just the visible manifestation of this (until now I had pretty much failed to consider that there might be cisgendered people with strong gender identity).

    I’m someone who takes the old-fashioned “Can we please get to the point where gender is irrelevant already?” approach to feminism. This stuff should be irrelevant. So my reaction when someone makes a big deal of it is, “Why are you focusing on something stupid?” Or not just focusing on but highlighting.

    Like — OK, is a terrible analogy, but having tried several others it is the best I can come up with — imagine you knew someone who went out of their way in their writing to never split infinitives, or end sentences with prepositions. They didn’t insist that anybody else do so, and they didn’t think that these things were wrong, they just didn’t like them. You can’t argue about it with them factually — they’re aware of the facts; it’s just a personal preference. So on the one hand it’s purely their own business, right? But on the other hand it is a stupid preference and it is something they shouldn’t care about, and every time they do it, even though they don’t ask others to do the same, they are reinforcing ideas that should really just die already.

    The point is that gender is something people shouldn’t care about; if they do, this is a problem. I mean, we’re trying to break down barriers of “X is for boys, Y is for girls”, right? But if there are people out there who care about what gender they are, and go and set out to do manly/womanly things because they are a man/woman, they are reinforcing this barrier. Just the idea of “I am this specific gender and that matters” reinforces “Yes this distinction is really relevant” and so “This is a fundamental divide and you should have different expectations/standards based on it” and etc. And so when I see someone making a big deal of their gender I naturally have the reaction of what no what are you doing why are you setting us back why why why.

    See, if there’s no gender identity, then we can perhaps eventually all get past these problems. But if there are people with strong gender identity — if gender identity is a fundamental thing in the brain — then so long as we remain human, well, what the hell are we going to do? The existence of large numbers of people with a strong gender identity seems like a fundamental barrier. And hell if people in the future keep insisting on maintaining a specific body-shape to match their gender, how are we going to ever get to e.g. “I’m trying out several different leg-bone configurations, seeing which one’s best for running”?

    I mean, OK, if you were to change your gender but otherwise go on exactly the same as before, then this would be a nice demonstration of irrelevance. A good way to thumb your nose at those who would discriminate based on it. “I’m going to continue wearing dresses, but I’m male now, and you can’t say otherwise!” But that doesn’t seem to me to be what transgendered people actually do; rather, as far as I can tell — and I may well be mistaken here, please correct me if so — they do deliberately act to further embody the image of their target gender, thus once again reinforcing ideas of “Men do X, women do Y.”

    In particular they change their names. Now people changing their names is something that annoys me in general just because it makes bookkeeping harder, whether mental bookkeeping or, well, actual bookkeeping. (I mean, what is a name? It’s a persistent identifier. But now you’re breaking its persistence. Now we’re going to need some *other* persistent identifier for you. Like some kind of identification number. Which uh actually we have in a lot of places. But not everyone has one, and there are different systems, and, most importantly, it simply isn’t something we go around using for most things. Change someone’s name and you break the link. Which OK is fine if you’re deliberately changing your name to hide from people but that’s not the typical case.)

    Uh. I think I got sidetracked there. Right! They change their names, and this annoying partly because it makes bookkeeping harder, and everyone needs to learn the new name. But further it’s annoying because of the same reason above — wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to help break down the distinction between “girls’ names” and “boys’ names”? It feels to me like the right thing to do is to say, “Yes, I’m a woman named Harry; do you have a problem with that?”

    Now OK it’s pretty understandable why they don’t do either of these things — because they’re just trying to change their gender and get on with their lives, not to draw attention to themselves or start confrontations. They don’t want people gawking at them or harassing them, and failing to meet certain expectations of their new gender might lead to that (not to mention that it might highlight that they’re transgendered, when good chance that isn’t something they want everybody to know). (The idea that people might switch their gender for attention seems ridiculous.) It’s generally not reasonable to ask a person to make an example and and perhaps a target of themself like that. (Although I feel like the name thing might be easily gotten around — “Long story” or “My parents had a funny sense of humor”. I don’t know, I guess maybe some people are just rude and will keep bugging you about it. That’s a minor point anyway.) But there’s still the feeling of somebody has to, dammit! It feels similar to the fact that somebody has to be the first woman in the area to not change her name upon marriage.

    Ultimately, as I’ve said, I have nothing against transgendered people personally (except a bit of annoyance at changing names, because that always annoys me). Transgendered people are not the problem, and certainly no individual person with a strong gender identity is the problem. But it’s hard not to be annoyed at the mass of them. And it’s easy to feel annoyance towards transgendered people in particular because they are the visible portion of that mass.

    Now I guess if you take the point of view where human nature is not fortunate or unfortunate but simply a given — if we take the point of view that human desires are inherently legitimate — then you could say, “This is what people want, we should let them have it, what is there to be annoyed about?” And (at least as long as we remain human) I certainly agree with the “we should let them have it” part, because it’s certainly better than the alternative. (Especially given the existence of strongly-cisgendered people. Given that, not allowing transgendered people to transition would not only be mean but would be simply unfair.) But I take the point of view that there are things that you shouldn’t care about dammit, and I get annoyed when people promote them.

    • I wanted to believe that gender was no big deal, and in particular, people who think that Male and Female are deep principles underlying the universe make me crazy. However, transgendered people make it obvious that, at least on a human scale and for some people, male and female are a big deal.

      • Adelene says:

        Exactly this.

        “Gender isn’t actually a thing and we should stop treating it like one” is a hypothesis. When data comes along that refutes your hypothesis, the proper response is not to get angry at the data for being wrong.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I agree! Obviously, the data are not incorrect. And this is not something that actually really bugs me reality. (Except a little regarding names.) I am not actually mad at transgendered people. I am — when I think about it, which is not often — annoyed at the underlying problem, and yes some of that splashes onto transgendered people by association because that is how brains work if you don’t stop them.

          But let’s be clear — I’m not saying “Gender isn’t a big deal, dammit; the data are wrong!” I’m saying “Gender shouldn’t be a big deal; the data reflect a reality with a problem in it that we haven’t solved yet!” It’s a value judgment about what I think should matter to people, not a factual claim about what does matter to people. Obviously, it’s one that lots of people would disagree with.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          …rereading what I wrote, I guess some of it actually does fall under that after all. Hm. Evidence I need to rethink that.

    • shaed says:

      People should be able to change their names to whatever they want for whatever reason they want and it should not be a big deal. The preference that people keep some arbitrary name their parents liked is stupid. Names are the primary communicator of personal and familial identity.

      People who lack a sense of gender and whose sense of gender goes against the binary that society assumes are not hindered by the existence of people with strong senses of gender identity. They do not prevent people who wish to develop bodies with utility or novelty in mind from doing so.

      You are completely mistaken about what trans people “do”. They do not change their gender (other people were mistaken about their gender) or work to embody anything. There are plenty of butch trans women in the world, and femmy trans dudes. Now, anyway. Used to be you had to fake a stereotype to get medical treatment, but that had nothing to do with trans people, just cis doctors who thought an internal sense of gender wasn’t a thing separate from gender roles. They thought it was all social. Tortured kids to try to train the transness out of them. Cut up babies genitals and then lied to them about their bodies. Drove children to suicide because they thought gender shouldn’t be an important, intrinsic part of a person. This is where the idea that humans should fit your inhuman ideals leads, to inhumanity of an unforgivable kind.

      Trans people do not “uphold gender”. They change their presentations and possibly their bodies to more authentically express themselves. If there was ever artifice, it was in the identity expressed before transitioning.

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  22. Rachael says:

    This is interesting to me. I’m a cis woman with a strong gender identity, even though I’m not stereotypically feminine in many ways (I’m a geek, good at maths etc, and a thinker rather than a feeler; I like computers and strategy games; I often enjoy male company more than female; and I’ve often been the only girl in a class, work team, or social group, and been fine with this). But in spite of these things I definitely feel I’m female. I’m offended if people mistake me for male (which thankfully doesn’t tend to happen any more, but did in childhood), and I’m not comfortable dressing up as male characters for theatre or fancy dress/costume parties. I would not be at all happy if I woke up suddenly male, and would want to switch back.

    So I’ve always found it easy to sympathise with trans people, because I can imagine how I’d feel if I had my mind in a male body, and I’d want to change the body.

    The existence of people with a weaker gender identity is the more novel and surprising thing to me. I used to think people who couldn’t sympathise with trans people were a bit stupid – couldn’t they imagine how unhappy they’d be if they were in the wrong body? – but now I realise they might have a weak gender identity themselves and have trouble understanding what trans people are making all the fuss about.

    I find it a bit harder to understand non-binary trans people – I aim to respect them, but it’s more of a conscious effort.

  23. Lucidian says:

    I forget if I’ve mentioned this already, but apparently people with anorexia may have body maps that are fatter than their actual bodies, which makes me doubt your implications of “it’s neurological, therefore nature and not nurture”. (I also didn’t fully reread your post, and it’s been a number of months, so I’m sorry if this is irrelevant! I imagine you’ll still find the article interesting.)

  24. ShareTheBlueMarble says:

    (Warning 1st two paragraphs may contain scientific jargon. If it seems less explanatory to you and more useless, feel free to skip to the end for my personal response to this.

    After studying and researching genetics for many years, it surprised me that people questioned the existence of trans-gender individuals. Guess I’ve only seen it from the rough and broken lens I’ve crafted to perceive the world around me. This is why I like to hear opinions from people that approach the important topics of our day with completely different lenses. Yet, as I see more discussions on the web, I become more frustrated than intrigued. It’s not that I disagree with comments, it’s that I am frustrated with the inability of the scientific community to effectively inform the public about current understandings. It seems the general public is unaware of the vast amounts of information available and its importance in these types of discussions.

    This is my best attempt to spread at least some of the most relevant science surrounding this subject:

    In molecular biology, the idea that a single gene “A” equals a single trait “B” has proven to be a very misleading and narrow-minded view in genetics.
    With advancements in scientific technologies, it is now understood that many genes can play roles in trait development.

    Sometimes these genetic systems result in a “trait spectrum” which encompasses the two extremes of the trait and everything in between. For example, you are not either you mom’s height or your father’s height, your height fell within the spectrum of height created by the interaction of genes. People are not “this” or “that” when it comes to traits. There is a complex array of interactions occurring between genes and the environment that creates immense potential for diversity in traits.

    Although there are names like “breast cancer gene”, the majority of traits/characteristics and diseases are present due to a variety of factors, not just a single gene. A gene will often play a role in many trait processes. So there is usually a range of different expressions of a single trait that can arise.

    But there are a few genes that do seem to be very trait/character specific. Such as in a specific sex determination gene. In the male Y chromosome there is this little guy,

    It is a gene for sex determination. This gene called “SRY” is responsible for STOPPING “default” sexual development in the fetus, which is to develop into a female. Long story short, the SRY makes the fetus develop as a male. This is its role in the majority of men, but there are a variety of well-known mutations and “flavors” or types of this gene in the human population.

    For example, the XY sex-chromosomes, indicative of being “male”, can be present but the fetus develops as a female.

    Or the female-equivalent XX set produces a male because the male SRY gene has been “misplaced” onto one of the X chromosomes.

    There are many other examples of variations of this SEX-determining gene (or just portions of it) that result in a SPECTRUM of sexes developing; i.e. individuals that are neither “this” sex nor “that” sex.

    Now try to imagine the vast possible outcomes of this gene, interacting with with other genes, which also have many “flavors” and effects on other traits. If your head isn’t hurting enough, all of that also interacts with components from the ever-changing environment that influence sex and gender development.

    The result will be LOTS of diversity.

    From across many scientific fields, there is a snowballing accumulation of evidence suggesting that each individual falls within spectrums of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. Which, when considered together, create a ‘sex profile’. Sex profiles, therefore, are unique to each individual.

    We may all differ in our genes, languages, cultures, environments, and beliefs; but we should not differ in our acceptance of diversity.

    Life creates diversity, so welcome life.

  25. David says:

    Have you ever tried cross-dressing? I generally don’t think I care much about gender, but I tried cross-dressing once for a party. I had some friends help me out, and generally put a bit of effort into it (shaving face & legs, hair done etc), and I found that when I looked in a mirror I looked convincingly female. I found it a very intriguing and unsettling feeling – I found myself both wanting to stare into mirrors and wanting to avoid them at all costs.

    I don’t know how much of the feeling was just the novelty, and how much was self-consciousness about looking quite ridiculous. I’ve also not done it again with that degree of care, but the fact that I looked like a woman seemed to have a certain significance to me that I didn’t expect it to.

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  27. rrb says:

    any more than having some kind of mental “pants type” variable that says I should be wearing blue jeans and gets deeply distressed whenever I wear khakis.

    But this totally happens! People feel really wrong in clothes that don’t represent them.

    It’s fluid, and depends on what kind of group of people you’re a part of. But maybe it’s similar. Maybe wanting to be thought of as a punk rocker is like wanting to be thought of as a woman.

  28. Anon says:

    I also subscribe to Ozzy’s theory but I came up with it independently (even wrote an essay on it and everything). It’s definitely true in my case: I’m a male-bodied person but before puberty my gender was mostly female. During puberty my identity kind of loosened and now I don’t bother thinking about it. Being female just seems like too much effort.

    Still prefer female RP characters and novel-protagonists, though.

  29. Aky says:

    I’ve noted for awhile that I am cis-by-default; I’m alright with being female to the extent that I wouldn’t welcome surgery and hormone treatment to become male, but if I were born male I imagine I would just be okay with that too (and have a similar opinion about being female). I absolutely hate being addressed or treated as a lady or a woman (as a gender thing, I don’t like being upheld to expectations of how a female should act), but the idea of deliberately acting more masculine (either to pass or to create a tomboy persona) leaves me equally disgusted. Interesting note, half the time I dream I happen to be male (never the same male, I’m always different, just like the female ‘me’s are always different and never my physical self).

    Also, Adelene- I thought I was probably unique about getting phantom wings (as extra limbs protuding from my shoulder blades, though sometimes my arms feel they should be wing-shaped). I also know when I start gaining weight I feel really uncomfortable in my own body, I much prefer being muscular than letting myself go, and I’m more comfortable when I can percieve myself as being “light” rather than “heavy”. Interesting things our brains do to us, right?

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