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comment by blackbootz

I'm writing a paper for a class I'm taking on masculinity. I'm choosing to explore the topic of biological bases to gender identity. I'm still in the gathering phase of the paper, and I'd be very curious to hear your take on the subject.

I find that amongst some of my more liberal friends, there's an aspiration to see the world in gender-neutral terms. For instance, not assigning gender roles to work, or not ruling out domains of human experience based on gender (athleticism is for guys or fashion is for girls, etc.). This seems sensible to me. Culture, while an enormously powerful determinant of expectations and norms, is somewhat arbitrary.

Yet, there seems to be a lot of benefit to conforming to some of these traditional gender expectations. Obviously there are and have been huge excesses. A lot of men have lost out on the richness of a developed emotional perspective for fear of being called pussies, and a lot of women have been unfairly relegated to positions of inferiority and servility. But people who fall into a more moderate position within traditional gender identities enjoy a large amount of personal security that comes with a grounded identity. I'm thinking of the kids I play college soccer with--smart, from middle-to-upper-middle-class families, a bunch of good-hearted jocks of all races. Now I could be completely projecting, but these kids seem to be possessed with a breezy confidence and self-assuredness that comes not just from their material wealth, but their status as cisgendered men. These kids surely have private anxieties and an inner life that they don't share with random teammates on their club soccer team. But I'm fascinated by such confidence. The same could be said for the cisgender girls I've met in class or out and about, but I've been mostly focused on men because of my class.

This confidence has some (a lot of?) basis in gender conformity. Furthermore, the validity of such gender identities can't be negated away by my liberal friends as mere vestiges of patriarchy. One of the reasons I believe that is because of transgender people. If gender identity were 100% arbitrary social construct, would there be any transgender people?

Sorry for asking such a leading question. 1) I'd like to know your personal reasons, if articulable, on why you feel your true gender identity is closer to that of female rather than your sex assignment of male. 2) Do you know of any good sources that treat the topic of biological bases to gender identity? You'd think there'd be a veritable shit load on the subject, but my head spins at how much of it is politicized nonsense and I have trouble sorting through it. (Though to be fair, since notions of gender identity are as proximate to questions of human flourishing as one can get, it would make sense that people get politicized on the subject.)




coffeesp00ns  ·  57 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    If gender identity were 100% arbitrary social construct, would there be any transgender people?

Absolutely. Being trans has little to do with how other people perceive me, and almost everything to do with how I perceive me. This is why Gender Dysphoria is the description in the DSM, and why the treatment is to have Hormone replacement therapy, and then surgery.

When I look in the mirror, i see things that my brain says are wrong. my facial hair is wrong, my penis is wrong. They are not supposed to be there. It feels chemicals in my body that it says are wrong.

Having Hormone replacement therapy helps, not just because of physical changes, but also because my hormone levels are closer to what a cisgender woman would be. If anything, the physical changes are sort of secondary? they help with the mirror, and they help with people calling me what I'd like to be called, which are both good for the brain. When I've had to be off hormones for extended periods my mental health has been much worse generally, even though the physical changes have not gone away.

I guess a lot of that also goes to help answer your question 1. Basically, when I'm on HRT to change my body and to alter the levels of estrogen and testosterone in my body, I hate myself a whole lot less. I hate my body a lot less, and it's easier to function - It's like having a block lifted out of the way. I can focus on proper diet and exercise, I don't just get up, go to work, go home, eat, sleep, which is what my existence was by the time i finally got into the therapy step before HRT,, then some time later on to HRT.

As for 2.), well, your problem is that you're looking for biological stuff towards Gender, and most gender stuff is brain related, and unrelated to the rest of your biology. In fact, one of the biggest "theories" for why transgender people exist has to do with a testosterone surge in the intrauterine period of development. Basically, XYs get a shot of testosterone which affects their brain in some ways, and XXs don't. except, there may be times when XYs don't get that "shot" of T, or XXs do, or the amount of testosterone in the "shot" is not as much as it should be. All of these cases have the potential to create gender variance inside of XX and XY people.

If you take that hypothesis and throw it at the scientific data, you come up with this: Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus. If you read the abstract, you can see that the opposite is also true, that Female to Male trans people have Male Neuron numbers.

Does that count as a biological basis for gender Identity? I'd like to think so, I guess, but again you have to focus on brain and endocrine science in the literature to get anywhere.

blackbootz  ·  56 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Being trans has little to do with how other people perceive me, and almost everything to do with how I perceive me. This is why Gender Dysphoria is the description in the DSM, and why the treatment is to have Hormone replacement therapy, and then surgery.

This is interesting to me. I apologize in advance if I ascribe any motive to you that you don't have, as that's not my intention.

When you say that being trans, in your experience, has little to do with others' perceptions but instead your perception, that seems circular to me. How were your conceptions of gender and sex formed if not by social interaction with others?

Thank you for sharing by the way.

coffeesp00ns  ·  56 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    How were your conceptions of gender and sex formed if not by social interaction with others?

One could ask the question another way - How can we form a personal feeling of gender outside of social structure?

One idea is that there is an element of gender that is somehow inherent. A lot of people don't like that, because to them it says that women's and men's brains are "different" and therefore one must be superior - or at least people can start arguing about who is superior. And I get it, it's dangerous - but we already know men's and women's brains are different, and that the brains of trans people are more like the gender they feel they are than their assigned gender.

Makes a crazy kind of sense, and that's what I'm going with since it's backed up by the sources I showed you and that's about as good as I can get without actually studying to be a brain researcher.

dublinben  ·  55 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    How can we form a personal feeling of gender outside of social structure?

I believe that we can't, since gender is a social construct. Our understanding of gender and what it means to "feel male" or "feel female" does not exist outside of our social context. Most cis people also don't have much of a "personal feeling of gender" since they don't experience dysphoria.

coffeesp00ns  ·  55 days ago  ·  link  ·  

So I don't entirely disagree with you here - what I'm trying to say is that it's more complicated than that. I just replied to neurotransmissions mentioning this, but there are current and historic cultures that have more than two genders. Hardcore historical traditional Jewish culture has... 6 I think (?), not that they really line up with how we think about gender. India broadly has Three cultures including Hijras, though their official government recognition is very new.

Basically what I'm saying is that humans have been trying to describe and decide where to put trans people for a very long time. This is why I have a problem with the question "would trans people exist without gender as a construct", because it misunderstands the purpose of that same construct. Each of these current and historical gender constructs, including our own current one, are just a tool that we are using to try and figure out how we fit into the world. Trans people are often inconvenient because of how we complicate that tool's functioning.

The construct itself is meaningless because we created it to try and describe what we see - It is dependent on us, we are not dependent on it. So, Trans people do exist without the construct of gender, that's why different cultures throughout history have had so many different gender constructs: They're trying to describe everyone, including us.