Critiquing Brain Sex Activism (ie. woman’s brain in a man’s body)

Posted: August 1, 2009 in Troll Wars

I have been bothered for a while about what I am calling Brain Sex Theory. This theory is very prevalent among trans activists and can be summarized as:

  • The Gender Binary is real and biologically based
  • Everyone has a Male or Female physical sex
  • Everyone has a Male or Female biological, neurological sex (ie Brain Sex)
  • Confusingly, Gender Identity is used as a synonym for Biological Brain Sex (ie Gender Identity is biological)
  • Brain Sex develops in the womb
  • All people fall into one of four categories: M-in-F (Male brain in Female body), M-in-M, F-in-F or F-in-M
  • F-in-M and M-in-F are called transexuals. M-in-M and F-in-F are called cisexuals.
  • There is a clear biological distinction between Cisexual/Transexual. (ie. cisexual is not a ambiguous concept but something in your dna, and anyone who is not transexual (gender non conformists) are cisexual)
  • The term cis privilege is used to silence all critiques of brain sex activism. (This leads to the paradox that only brain sex activists are allowed to have an opinion about brain sex activism)
  • Transexuality is a biological syndrome which can be treated with hormones and surgery
  • “True” transexuals have their condition treated.
  • Gender nonconformists are trendy, attention seeking cissexuals. (see attacks on subversivism)

This series of beliefs is very widely held. Among trans activists and allies, brain sex is presented as the only enlightened viewpoint. Brain Sex Activists identify trans people as sufferers of a biological condition. Unfortunately, this sets up brain sex activists on a collision course with feminists, genderqueers, gender non-conformists, social constructionists and gender activists who believe that gender is social.
In short, Brain Sex has become an identity rather than a theory. An attack on the theory becomes a personal attack on trans people which is labeled as hate, transphobia, transmisogyny (if the opponent was raised female) or cis privilege. Doubting the theory, makes you into the moral equivalent of a neo-nazi for whom the only ethical relation is outrage or a vicious counter attack. Dialog is not possible. It is the identity politics equivalent of zionism, which labels discussion of Israeli government policies as antisemitism, Isreal Critique = Jew Hater = Hitler.
Understanding the brain-sex concept is essential to understanding transgender politics today. Transgender activists are breaking through in mainstream media, universities, and queer organizations. Unfortunately this has been accompanied by a broad push to make brain-sex the only acceptable narrative within the “so-called” umbrella of transgender, just as it already is in mainstream media. Brain sex activists use the codeword “subversivism” for gender outlaws like myself, and the attacks on subversivism are becoming increasingly visible.
In future posts I will start documenting this anti-genderfluid activism, so you can decide for yourself. My parting words, Genderqueers need to start making themselves visible, and calling out Brain Sex Activists when they delegitimize us. Butches and FTM’s were cast out of lesbian feminist identity in the seventies. We need to make sure that gender-nonconformists do not become defined out of transgender identity and the social resources that have become available to Transgender activists.


Highly recommended:

A Critique of the Brain-Sex Theory of Transsexualism

If this piece makes you think, please join the discussion. If you leave a polite and civil comment I promise to reply.

  1. Chris says:

    Great piece. By the way, nor Zionists labels discussion of Israeli government policies as antisemitism. This is a bit simplistic notion since there are numerous forms of zionism, including progressive and socialist zionism. Much of the loudest criticisms of Israeli government policies come from people who identify as zionists

  2. Jasper Gregory says:

    I guess I thought that the peace parties, eschewed the term zionist. Is there another term I could use for the right wing settler ideology.

  3. Daya Curley says:

    Another thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post.

    While I would probably be assumed to fit into the brain sex camp…that’s necessarily by my own choice. I do tend to fall more comfortably on the supposedly female part of the spectrum…but I still bristle inside at the insinuation by others that I am only and simply a “woman” now.

    I’m just me…and I don’t think I’ll ever think of myself as a “woman”. Rather, I am some mixture. Most of the folks in my world are run-of-the-mill heterosexual people. They seem to have a need for the box. Sometimes I set them straight…sometimes I let them have their comforting illusions.

    Having said that, I do feel compelled to choose a pronoun and a way to move through the world…and since I spent the first 43 years of my like as a “man”…I’m now moving to the other end. I have no doubt that I may gradually gravitate toward the center. I’m trying to let those paths happen in their own time and way.

    I am curious by what method you feel the wrath and pressure of the brain sex tribe. Is it online communication that gets angry and judgmental? Are you surrounded by friends who hassle you about it?

    How it is that you encounter this trouble in your life?

  4. Daya Curley says:

    I meant “that NOT necessarily my own choice”.

    That typo changes that thought WAY too much for my comfort!

  5. C.L. Minou says:


    I’m TS but I too have my problems with the brain-sex issue, even as I believe that my gender was mostly inborn.

    The problem I have with it is that it’s used by a small segment of transsexuals to distance themselves from all the other (presumably fake, nasty, undesirable) transgendered people. *They’re* the real (trans )women, and everyone else is a silly fetishist.

    It’s agonizing and worse, based on absolutely no conclusive scientific evidence–at least nothing that you could use in a court of law.

    I’m convinced (by the David Reimer case, if not my own) that *some* people seem to be born with a very strong gender identification, but that doesn’t mean that people who *aren’t* born with that identification are wrong or fake or somehow less than those who are. Any more than ambidexterity makes you more “fake” than lefthanders.

    Funny old thing that I am, I thought that the experience of being trans would make people *more* accepting. I’m sure one day they’ll manage to kill my idealism.

    Oddly enough, I just wrote about this subject myself.

  6. Luke says:

    It gives me pause to think that unless you have a doctor study your brain, according to Brain Sex theory, you can never necessarily call yourself a true transsexual. It brings us back to the original issue — some of us never really felt like we were born in the right body, some of us never could subscribe to one gender in the other. Either way, we choose an identity based on how we feel. Why do I need someone to prove that i have the right brain for it?

  7. “Butches and FTM’s were cast out of lesbian feminist identity in the seventies. ”

    I have problems with the majority of what you’ve written here, but this line is pretty ridiculous. first, butch and “ftm” aren’t the same identity. Also, the marginalization of butches in 70s lesbian feminism was an awful thing. But trans men *should* be excluded from lesbian identity, because lesbian is a category of women, and trans men aren’t women.

  8. Andra says:

    Gender non-conformists can be cissexual or transsexual. There is nothing about being transsexual that stops you being gender non-conformist and/or non-binary identified. It’s generally cisculture and medical gatekeepers who are cis who try to silence transsexual people who aren’t ‘binary enough’.

    Yes, there are binary transsexuals who say some pretty messed up things about genderqueer/non-binary/gender-non-conforming people but the solution to this isn’t to tar all ‘brain sex activists’ with the same brush. I’m very drawn to the brain sex theory of transsexualism but I certainly don’t identify as being male or female. There is nothing about the brain sex theory that means everyone must be binary.

    I disagree that ‘subversivism’ is a codeword to silence ‘gender outlaws’. Subversivism is a specific form of behaviour that some gender non-conforming people engage in that belittles and erases trans people who happen to be binary. I’d advise you to read Whipping Girl by Julia Serano if you haven’t already, then you’d (hopefully) see the type of behaviour she categories as ‘subversivist’ is behaviour that SHOULD be attacked.

    Subversivism and binarism are broadly two sides of the same coin (though they’re not comparable in wider society as binary people are privileged over non-binary people) (and being non-binary IDed isn’t the same as gender non-conforming). If trans people are going to stop attacking and misrepresenting each other both must be avoided.

  9. debra says:

    A little too much terminology – labels – which serve only to further confuse people already confused enough.

  10. Jasper Gregory says:

    I am making the argument based on Henry Rubin’s very pro ftm work. I would make three points here:

    – I am not collapsing the categories of butch and ftm, that is why I name both groups
    – A lot of FTMs have a lesbian and dyke history, and there is no reason they should be cast out of their communities when the transition
    – An FTM should have the right to identify as a lesbian or dyke if they choose. That is not our decision or the decision of other dykes and lesbians
    – I do not think the category of women is necessarily simple. An ftm transexual can choose to identify as a women if they wish
    – When I said lesbian feminism I was actually talking about this form of feminism making butches and ftms into the ‘other’ and dehumanizing them. We probably all agree that that was a mistake.

  11. Jasper Gregory says:

    I am not exactly sure which labels. Some things really need a word, but other things are synonyms and can probably be dropped. It is always a trade off between being precise and being accessible.

  12. Jasper Gregory says:

    You bring up many interesting points, have you written further about your perspective. You raise a lot of intriguing questions. I will take them one by one.

    “Gender non-conformists can be cissexual or transsexual”
    Good point. I guess it is just that I see online comments attacking both gender non-conformists and using cissexual as a derogatory term. Or attacking us as making life hard for the “true” transsexuals like them.

    “There is nothing about the brain sex theory that means everyone must be binary.”
    another good point. But maybe this is the difference between brain-sex activism and brain-sex theory. The activism I have encountered is fighting for a very reductionist binary reading. A non-reductionist biological theory with room for multiplicity would be interesting. My problem is with the activists who blow up at me and act like I used the n-bomb if I don’t subscribe to their reductionist binary of gender.

    “I disagree that ’subversivism’ is a codeword to silence ‘gender outlaws’. ”
    I have read Serano and heard her speak, but it has been a while. I feel like her critiques can be very broad and seem to include any challenger of the binary. Whether she meant it as an attack, some of her imitators have used it as a reductionist attack in online comments. See this post with a Serano video interview, a youtube reading from the Whipping girl on subversivism, and my video blog response.

    “Subversivism and binarism are broadly two sides of the same coin”
    I am having trouble getting an image of the subversivism you mean. Is there an author or blog I could look at? Is it is coming from genderqueers, dykes, or maybe non-trans feminists? When I hear subversivist, I think of genderqueer intellectuals like Riki Wilchins, or Kate Bornstein or theorists like Judith Butler and Michel Foucault.

    “being non-binary IDed isn’t the same as gender non-conforming”
    I do not agree with this statement. I see not IDing within the binary is an act of non-conformity and resistance. If I combine feminine and masculine markers I consider that gender non-conformity. What do you mean by by non-conformist?

  13. Daya Curley says:

    At the risk of being annoying, I want to ask something again. Specifically…

    You say “The activism I have encountered…”

    Where have you encountered this?

    Strangers on the street?

    Are you referring solely to online communication?

    You seem to be describing a world in which you can’t even move through the world as yourself without others throwing obstacles in your path.

    Am I misreading your point?

  14. Jasper Gregory says:

    Hi Daya,
    You are not being annoying. And I had not forgotten your question.
    I think it is such a challenging and good question that I will write a post about it now.

  15. Andra says:

    “I am having trouble getting an image of the subversivism you mean.”
    Basically subversivism is attempting to privilege non-binary/gender non-conforming identities above more binary ones, as if everyone who IDs in a binary (particularly binary trans people) is reinforcing the binary rather than just being who and what they are. This also ignores the fact that many binary trans people are vocally supportive of non-binary/gender non-conforming people.

    It’s important to remember that gender identity isn’t so much of a choice or political statement for a lot of trans people as simply who and what they feel themselves deeply to be. My non-binary identity is not an ACT of non-conformity, I didn’t choose it, though being out as who I am requires acts of non-conformity. Part of subversivism is the false assumption that everyone gets to make a choice about their gender identity based on social/political concerns. This assumption is then used to tell binary trans people they’re reifying gender by not consciously choosing to identify in a more non-conformist manner.

    ‘“being non-binary IDed isn’t the same as gender non-conforming”
    I do not agree with this statement. I see not IDing within the binary is an act of non-conformity and resistance.’

    The problem with talking about ‘the binary’ is that it’s often unclear whether the binary being talked about is the male/female binary or the binary that says everyone must be all of male-identified+masculine+male-assigned or all of female-identified+feminine+female-assigned.

    Gender non-conforming people can be outside of the latter binary while still fitting into the former. The term ‘non-binary’ tends to more usually refer to the former. (I think it’s worth noting that all trans people are outside of the latter ‘binary’ even if they ID male or female). I mentioned the distinction because while binary trans people are privileged over non-binary trans people they’re not privileged over gender non-conforming cis people.

  16. “- An FTM should have the right to identify as a lesbian or dyke if they choose. That is not our decision or the decision of other dykes and lesbians”

    substitute man (which, btw many “FTMs” such as myself, are) for FTM in that sentence. I say fuck yes it’s the decision of dykes and lesbians (included trans women who identify with those words) if they want to let in men.

    i’m really appalled that with this little subthread you basically have done anything to get out of acknowledging that many trans men are men, and are binary identified, and categorically *aren’t* women. that kind of talk is hardly supportive of WOMEN who want space away from men.

    you are arguing against a coercive gender binary yet you are supporting an essentialist and anti-TS sex binary.

  17. Les says:

    I think you’ve run into some annoying people who say they have “Harry Benjamin Syndrome” and gotten the impression that there are a lot of people like this. They’re a tiny minority of trans people, they just tend to be kind of loud and extremely irritating. Most trans activists understand that there is more gender diversity in the world than the very few categories that you mention.

    I hope that you when you’re talking about trans inclusion in lesbian spaces, you’re not forgetting about MTFs.

  18. Jasper Gregory says:

    As a moderator I ask you to remain civil. Saying you are appalled by my behavior is trolling and escalating.–

    Basically you are requiring that I accept a man/woman dichotomy. I claim the right to follow Judith Butler and say that Man and Woman are arbitrary social constructs which are imposed from the outside.

    I am fine with people how identify as man. I don’t care if you have a penis or a vagina, if you have testosterone or estrogen in your blood. If you ID as a man I respect that, but I do not attach any particular significance to it and reject that as a way of excluding others.

    When I identify as a woman, (which I sometimes do). I consider women who bar their spaces to me to be practicing bigotry.

  19. Jasper Gregory says:

    Hi Les,
    I am an activist for MTF-inclusion in Dyke spaces. see my video post:

    It is more than a couple of annoying people. Part of it is the online flaming I see whenever the central reductionist dogmas are broached.

    I am preparing a post in which I try to document how this Brain sex activism affects my world.

  20. Lisa Harney says:

    It is more than a couple of annoying people. Part of it is the online flaming I see whenever the central reductionist dogmas are broached.

    I think the problem here is that you’re reducing transsexual people’s lives and experiences to “central reductionist dogma.”

    If you go around telling people that their lives and experiences are wrong, you’re picking a fight. You know that, right?

  21. Andra says:

    “I claim the right to follow Judith Butler and say that Man and Woman are arbitrary social constructs which are imposed from the outside.”

    This really is no better than the kind of behaviour by HBSers/’Brain sex theorists’ that you are complaining about.

    “If you ID as a man I respect that”

    To be blunt, if you’re saying you’ll respect somebody’s pronoun choices and call them a man but go around saying their identity is based on social constructs, ignoring the fact that that person may be well aware of the way society constructs roles around those two classes and designates ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ behaviour for them etc but still has some reason to identify themselves as being male or female… well, that doesn’t seem particularly respectful to me. There seems to be a very prevalent and messed up assumption that binary IDed trans people are incapable of recognising the socially constructed aspects of gender.

    “Basically you are requiring that I accept a man/woman dichotomy.”
    I don’t think anyone here is saying that. Bigender people exist, pangender people exist, genderfluid people exist. Sadly though, people who appropriate a female identity solely for the purpose of invading women’s spaces also exist. Social constructions still exist (law exists, government exists), women are still oppressed by men, it’s still privileged to think you’re entitled to gain access to women’s spaces if you aren’t a woman.

    “When I identify as a woman, (which I sometimes do).”

    I’m left wondering why sometimes you choose to buy into these social constructions and reify gender?

  22. Jasper Gregory says:


    I think the problem here is that you’re reducing transsexual people’s lives and experiences to “central reductionist dogma.”

    Writing the words “central reductionist dogma” is not the same as reducing lives to those words. You are making all sorts of assumptions about me. If you do not agree with what I write go ahead and critique it. But, do not put words into my mouth.

    If you go around telling people that their lives and experiences are wrong

    I have not told anyone that their lives are wrong. Again you are projecting that on me.

    In this forum I state my belief that gender is a social construction, and my belief that brain science is still in its very early stages and is nowhere near understanding the interaction of biology and gender. However I do not walk around challenging trans people’s identities.

  23. Lisa Harney says:

    Writing the words “central reductionist dogma” is not the same as reducing lives to those words. You are making all sorts of assumptions about me. If you do not agree with what I write go ahead and critique it. But, do not put words into my mouth

    I have not told anyone that their lives are wrong. Again you are projecting that on me.


    That wasn’t about you. I haven’t seen you engage any trans people outside of this post. What I have seen are cissexual* people – cisgender and genderqueer – attack trans people as “getting/doing gender wrong” and being confused about our own lives and reasons for transitioning, and I have seen trans people respond with a diverse array of explanations about why they transitioned. Yes, many do refer to biological brain sex theories, but I’ve seen at least as many (if not more) talk about their own experiences seeing themselves as a particular sex or gender (and this is not restriction to male or female, or man or woman).

    My point was that you frequently see trans people defending our identities in the language we know best (and not all of us use the same language to describe ourselves) because we are frequently attacked just for being trans.

    Again, that wasn’t about you. Please don’t be so defensive.

    Also: I think that your response to Stufftransmenlike was a bit offensive. As a trans man, he’s accustomed to cis people discounting his maleness and his status as a man (special decaf feminist man, “really a woman,” etc), and the ways that trans men (and other trans male people) are accepted as a part of the lesbian community and into lesbian spaces (frequently at the expense of trans women and other trans female people) are rife with ungendering and misgendering being used to position trans men as “really butch lesbians,” and “masculine women.”

    He’s appalled because you indirectly (if not deliberately or intentionally) defended that system, not because he’s here to troll your blog.

    * This isn’t an attack. “Cissexual” is necessary to mark the frequently unmarked category of people who are not transsexual. It’s not about DNA, but about life experience and privilege.

  24. Lisa Harney says:

    I forgot, sorry about spammage:

    In this forum I state my belief that gender is a social construction, and my belief that brain science is still in its very early stages and is nowhere near understanding the interaction of biology and gender. However I do not walk around challenging trans people’s identities.

    I wouldn’t call what your post looks like to me a matter of challenging trans people’s identities, but I do feel it’s exceptionally problematic in ways that would probably require a full blog post on my part to address. I think you’re coming at this attempt to discuss how trans people describe our lives from a position of privilege. You seem to me to be quite disdainful of binary-identified trans people, and I think you discuss transsexual bodies in some rather objectifying and disturbing ways.

    I’m all for deconstructing and critiquing how society privileges binary identities over others, to the point of erasure. To the point that not being male or female, man or woman, is not even discussed as an option. To the point of surgical violence against intersex infants. But I think centering trans people as exceptionally responsible for this is extremely problematic, and further contributes to the impression of subversivism that Andra describes above.

    Trans people have very little influence over how “transsexualism” is defined, described, researched, or discussed in science or academia. We’re not, for example, the ones deciding to research DNA to find potential genetic causes for being transsexual (studies have been done for trans women as well as trans men in the past few years), nor are we responsible for the brain scans and dissections that have been performed over the past decade or two.

    It always bothers me that when people start getting angry about how the gender binary is privileged (or that it exists at all), it frequently comes down to “trans people reify the binary by transitioning so they can be men or women,” simply because the gender binary is already reified by he 6-7 billion other people who aren’t trans who live on this Earth, and yet somehow their gender expressions, identifications, and experiences are not critiqued or deconstructed. It’s always “trans people are completely wedded to the binary!” I’m pretty suspicious of your post because of this, and it looks like more of the same – more “trans people don’t properly understand how gender works, and their politics will hurt us.” Second wave radical feminists are still using that same argument, after all.

  25. Daya Curley says:

    If Jasper’s intention was to reduced people’s lives, I would certainly be the target audience for that.

    But if you’ve watched his videos you should have heard Jasper say multiple times that he has no opposition to people doing with their bodies what they wish.

    I believe we should all strive to hear opinions that don’t match our own without letting suspicion get our hackles up.

  26. queen emily says:

    + 1 on what Lisa said.

    Also, I’d just like to point out that your picture of transsexual activism as anti-genderfluid doesn’t accord with my experience on the ground.

    For instance, in Australia this year the “Sex Files” report was compiled by the national human rights commission with submissions from across the sex and gender diverse community (transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, intersexed people etc). Numerous transsexuals here have lobbied for a third sex legal category and other genderqueer rights as well as those of binary ID’d trans men and women, a recommendation that was eventually made in the report.

    I know the HBS people can be awful and genderqueerphobic, but in my experience they do not represent anything more than a fringe group.

  27. Jasper Gregory says:

    Thanks, for your response. Thank you for reinjecting a civil tone. I had lost mine last night and gotten snarky. That is never a good thig in comments.

    I totally agree that it is wrong to to point to a transman as inauthentic and somehow less male than cissexual men. I feel that prevalent attitutude in San Francisco dyke culture accept FTMs as women and reject MTFs as men, which is degendering and bigoted. I disagree though that DykeSpace should be excluding FTMs. I think that progress will be made when DykeSpace rejects a reductionistic view of gender and stops ‘othering’ people born with penises. My belief is that the bigotry will end when a femme-identified male like me is accepted into their cultures. The biological sex argument seems to argue that Transsexual should be included in DykeSpace because they have female biological brains, but it is OK to exclude a femme genderqueer like me because I do not claim a female brain.

    I basically agree with most of all of your post. What I am trying to do is make sure that Social Constructionists, and genderqueers like me also have a voice.

  28. Daya Curley says:

    Is it important for you to be included in DykeSpace…or is it just important that you have that option if you want it?

    Maybe that’s what I’m missing.

    Even thought most of my life I identified as a gay male…I was never comfortable in a all-gay setting…so that’s not a place I would want to be now especially.

  29. Estrobutch says:

    “I basically agree with most of all of your post. What I am trying to do is make sure that Social Constructionists, and genderqueers like me also have a voice.”

    except that by mischaracterizing transsexual ppl as being “anti gender fluid” you are taking away my voice as someone who is transsexual and gender non-conforming identity.

  30. Katie says:

    As a genderqueer person, reading a lot of this (really everything minus the Hitler reference 😉 was a breath of fresh air to me. I am bookmarking your blog and will look forward to future posts!

  31. Tess Eract says:

    As an asexual who has never felt nor acted at home anywhere on the binary,I find all this enlightening, if a bit head-spinning. I hope that in time sane voices prevail, that is, finding a way to accept everyone who harms no one else, and you [plural] seem to be making that a bit more likely to happen.
    I on arrival here thought of myself as a subversive, but I don’t go around trying to tell others they don’t know who/what they are.

  32. Rachel_in_WY says:

    Ditto Katie’s comment. I’ve taken some huge flack for suggesting that not everyone is born with a strong M or F gender identity, and that some of us didn’t want to be the gender we were assigned, but also didn’t want to transition to the other end of the spectrum. I think that acknowledging that some people never felt like either a girl or a boy is perfectly consistent with affirming trans identities and cis identities and the lived experiences that accompany them and the choices that trans people make for themselves. But it’s frequently not the case that you can say this without being interpreted as another progressive social-cosntructionist “feminist”* looking to delegitimize (maybe not a word?) trans lives. I realize this springs from a long history of exclusion and hatefulness toward trans folk, and I empathize with that. But some of us are honestly just trying to explore the issue and open up more space for everyone: trans, cis, and genderqueer alike.

    In other words, great post!

    * I put “feminist” in quotes because I simply don’t accept that othering anyone or excluding anyone is feminist behavior. That trend is not a problem with feminism; it’s a problem with the flawed people who practice it.

  33. Zoe Brain says:

    Since I’m a Brain Sex Scientist – rather than an Activist – may I please give my equivalent?

    * The Gender Binary is real and biologically based, but is only a good approximation, not a firm divide.

    * Everyone has a Male or Female physical sex, or something more of one than the other, or something that fits neither category. But maybe 59 in 60 fit the binary physical sex model well enough.

    * Everyone has a Male or Female biological, neurological sex (ie Brain Sex) to a greater or lesser degree. Or something in between. Or something that can’t remotely be put in either category. But most fit the model well.

    * Confusingly, Gender Identity is used as a synonym for Biological Brain Sex (ie Gender Identity is biological)

    * Brain Sex develops in the womb

    * Most people fall into one of four categories: M-in-F (Male brain in Female body), M-in-M, F-in-F or F-in-M, but there are exceptions. And it’s not as if it’s 1-dimensional, some bodies (and minds) can fit a female stereotype well in one respect, and a male in another respect, and fit neither in a third respect. But most people are mostly male or mostly female in most respects.

    * F-in-M and M-in-F are called transexuals. M-in-M and F-in-F are called cisexuals. Though they may be transgendered.

    * There is a clear biological distinction between Cisexual/Transexual. (ie. cisexual is a slightly ambiguous concept but has little to do with your dna, only the soma which may not conform to the genetic plan) and anyone who is not transexual is cisexual, in most but not all cases.

    * The term cis privilege is used to enable those who do not fit the strict binary models of sex and gender to express the silencing and oppression they get from the majority who do fit. For example, I am trans-sexual (actually intersexed, but close enough), but cis-gendered. I thus partake in the silencing and othering of those who are trans-gendered, while myself am silenced and oppressed by those who are cis-sexual.

    * Transexuality is a biological syndrome which can be treated with hormones and surgery

    * “True” transexuals have their condition treated – if they can afford it, and no health concerns prevent it, and they have their body-map cross-gendered (as most but not all do), and so they feel distressed enough by having the wrong body as a result, and are not too afraid of the risks, and do not feel that they’d be better dead. The term “true” transsexual is deprecated. “Intense” is better.

    * Gender nonconformists are trendy, attention seeking cissexuals. (see attacks on subversivism) – from a priviliged cisgendered viewpoint like my own. From their own trans gendered viewpoint, they are just being themselves.

    That’s what the science actually indicates. Science, not politics or philosophy. While it’s convenient to talk about “cross-gendered brains”, it’s a bit sloppy. But unless you’re willing to say, “OK,. in the 189th variable of the vector, where 3SDs of female are between 0.1 and 0.6, and 3SDs of males are between 0.5 and 0.8, this person is 0.76, so we can say that they are “male” in this respect. In the 190th variable of the vector, where 3SDs of females are between 0.2 and 0.3, and 3SDs of males are between 56.0 and 59.0, this person in 45.3, so is androgenous in this respect, but somewhat closer to the male norm” etc etc. then you have to take such sloppy short-cuts.

    And that’s just the biological stuff. Most of what we call “gendered behaviour” has little if any biological basis. Some does, and strongly. But mostly it’s a social construct, differing from place to place, and time to time.

    As I said, the simple, facile and completely wrong in theory binary models of sex and gender work :”well enough” perhaps 59 times out of 60. The other 1 in 60 contain strange phenomena like various intersex conditions and transsexuality.

  34. Zoe Brain says:

    If I can give an example – dividing people into “male” and “female” is probably more accurate than dividing them into “sighted” and “blind”. That’s a good approximation – except there are those with partial sight. Or night blindness. Or colour blindness. Or myopia. Or…. it gets pretty darned complicated. But “blind” and “sighted” are good approximations, even if the “sighted” person is colour-blind, and the “blind” person has limited peripheral vision.

    Biology is messy. A lot of “brain sex” activists believe in a strict neurological binary. That makes almost as little sense as believing in a strict whole-body binary.

  35. Zoe, thanks for bringing your viewpoint and knowledge into the discussion. I have to admit your talk of variables and standard deviations is pretty abstract for me though.
    Would you please answer a couple of questions so that we could all understand this a little better:
    1) Where can we look if we want to understand the current research?
    2) To what extent are the neurological differences natal, and to what extant puberty induced?
    3) Is there much research on neurological differences in transgender identified people who have not taken hormones?
    4) What about epigenetics? (Which I understand to say that there is not a simple linear relationship between the presence of a gene and its expression.)


  36. Jasper Gregory says:

    Thanks Rachel,
    I think part of the problem is that the early Rad Fems were so radical on the issue of transexuality. It is hard to read any passage of Janice Raymond’s book without being reminded of the ‘Protocols of Zion.’ That being said though, I think the split between Radical Feminism and Trans activism is harmful to anyone who wants to get beyond black and white thinking. We all get into a ‘with us or against us’ mindset. Someone who stands in the middle can get vilified by both teams.
    Take a look at my video blog on genderqueer feminism. transfeminism-overthrowing-masculinity-radically-genderqueer-3

  37. Zoe Brain says:

    Hi Jasper

    To answer your questions –

    1) “Research on Gender For Dummies”
    For Dead Tree publications, try the “Praeger Handbook of Transsexuality” by Professor Rachel Heath. It’s the best single volume on the subject that I know, good for layperson and medic alike.

    Or you could see my blog. There’s rather a lot there. May I suggest the post “BiGender and the Brain” as a good start. It’s made “best of” collections in both medicine and neurology.

    Dr Veronica Drantz’s presentations are wonderful, perhaps even better as a starter. They’re available online as well, via

    2) Natal vs Puberty
    Gender Identity is set by the 26th week. Certain brain structures will then develop in a predestined fashion, regardless of hormonal environment. But conversely, quite a lot of the brain is affected by hormonal environment too.
    One example is the BSTc layer of the hypothalamus. This is not sexually differentiated until the teens. HOWEVER… it is set to develop along either male or female lines, no matter what the hormonal environment.
    In terms of gross size and quite a few other characteristics, hormones play a very large role. And most of those effects happen at puberty.

    3) Research on non-HRT people
    Not a lot – just enough to make sure that what we’re looking at isn’t a matter of hormones, but of gender identity. So yes, there has been some. HRT is very relevant in some areas, but not the ones we are looking at – we chose them for that.

    4) Epigenetics
    The more we find out, the less we know. Seriously, it used to be thought that 46xy=male. Then SrY=male. Then one of 3 different gene complexes = male. But we keep on finding fertile girls who by rights should be male, darnit! And a few fertile boys who can’t be male because they don’t have the right genes, yet are anyway.

    My own condition remains idiopathic. We have no idea why in April 2005 I looked unmistakably male, and in August 2005 just as unmistakably female. Pubertal effects take years, not months. And yes, it nearly killed me, I lost 1/3 my body mass in the process.

  38. […] a comment » Jasper of jasperswardrobe has written a post titled “Critiquing Brain Sex Activism (i.e. woman’s brain in a man’s […]

  39. g531 says:

    The conversations this has sparked leave me with a million ideas in my head, thinking about the coloniality and repression in definitions as inscribed by education, the government, and the family–Althusser’s ideological state apparatuses. I don’t know if he included medicine in that one. Then again, he was speaking from a particular point of European normative male privilege.

  40. Jasper Gregory says:

    I look forward to your response, but i have to admit that I have no idea what direction you are coming at this from regarding the coloniality and repression. I find your work exciting and I am glad you are part of this conversation.

  41. Jasper Gregory says:

    Thanks Zoe, you rock my world! I love both your work and Drantz’s. I ceded biology to the binary reductionists because that is what I see getting filtered through the mass media. The work you describe is truly paradigm shifting. Biologists have shattered the gender binary far more effectively than social scientists ever could. I am still reeling from the implications of this stuff.
    I have posted one text post and one video post about this subject text

  42. Jasper Gregory says:

    Hi Daya,
    This is a very complicated question for me, I have written thousands of words on the subject. Take a look at my December 2008 posts. I ID’ed for about three months as a transdyke. My goal was to assimilate in San Francisco dyke society. In the end I decided that the stereotypes about and bigotry ‘penis-havers’ were so intense that I needed to put a lot of distance between me and the dyke scene.
    Now I make no claims to the dyke identity because it is not worth the conflict. However, by distancing myself from DykeSpace I have also lost contact with pro-Feminine-space. In the end my preferred social role is to be ‘one of the girls’, but the opportunity for doing this outside of WomensSpace are severely limited, especially for a femmeboy who presents outside of the binary.

  43. Jasper Gregory says:

    Tess, Yay for diversity of opinion! Thanks for making asexuality visible in this discussion. I think that youtube is a great medium for promoting sane voices. Video is a richer channel for conveying nuance. I have not yet seen a flame war there (knock on wood).
    Regarding, subversivism: There are two things here:
    1) general humanist acceptance of diversity. Though I do not agree with Christian evangelicals I no problem with their christian identities.
    2) Identity and theory need to be separated. I feel no compulsion to accept a christian model of the world, and I will fight christian identity politics when they push for banning darwin from the schools. I basically feel the same for people with a strong gender identity. When binary activists push the binary at the expense of a-gender or intergender people, that makes me and my “lived experience” invisible.
    Luckily the work that Zoe Brain pointed to seems to give a biological model capable of explaining both very strong lived experience as well as my seemingly nongendered lived experience.

  44. Jasper Gregory says:

    Hi Katie,
    Sorry for the Hitler reference. I find the parallels between racial identity politics and gender identity politics very, very interesting. Especially in terms of what David Valentine call “the politics of outrage.”
    Identity politics seem to be about polarization at the expense of nuance.

  45. QueerJew says:

    Wow, this post is so unbelievably offensive on so many levels. You have a lot of nerve telling queer women we should accept men (transmen) in our communities, thereby implying those men are not in fact men. And the Zionism comments? Totally uncalled for. I am not a zionist and I *still* feel your comments are utterly anti-semitic and show a complete lack of understanding of what zionism is, how many forms it takes, and what it has to do with anti-semitism. This post is really appalling to me. I hope you will listen to some of the critiques people have made regarding the transphobia and anti-semitism in this post and consider how your own privilege and ignorance (we all have privileges and areas of ignorance, i don’t mean this as a personal attack) may influence your take on this. The whole genderqueer radikal vs. transsexual “i was born in the wrong body” binary is so played out.

  46. QueerJew says:

    I am sad to see you have chosen to censor instead of engage people who are sharing life experiences that conflict with your theories about our lives and bodies.

  47. […] true Transphobes who make their lives hell. My initial Inflammatory post from Augest 1st was titled Critiquing Brain Sex Activism (ie. woman’s brain in a man’s body). I was angry and it came out in the text. Reading the post six months later, I realize that it […]

  48. […] while ignoring those of transsexual men and women.  Jasper does this because she claims that transsexuality doesn’t exist.  There is nothing radical about postmodernism in the […]

  49. Verónica says:

    There´s many “truth” but only one reality.
    Seems to me that everyone here is the owner of the Only Truth.

    You talk about HBS as if it were a new pseudo identity to wear. You talk about HBS as if it wasn´t a medical term, as if it wasn´t a natural and rare human condition.
    This entry is too much “intelectual focusing”, knowing it´s a scientific issue.
    You are managing this term so superficially, that my stomach get nausea and stir, when look at the extreme neglected manner of transgender community to handle this problematic, every time i read a blog or a TV show related to this.
    You can´t notice yet, that here are involved the lives of people with HBS…not cartoons, this is NOT a game.

    Facing transsexualism intelectually it´s good but, books will never cut the skin between the legs.

    You self-named transsexual-transgenderqueer-etc people, use to (in a really neonazi way) include HBS into the gender theories as if it were one more way to express the feminine feelings, a kindly creative hobby.

    Then, using strong activism and mediatic confusion, you try to make invisible all evidence about biologycal causes of transsexualism.

    Then, like an angry child, you try to destroy our dignity saying “you are same with me, you´re trans like me, you devil HBS!! you don´t even exist!”.

    Then, you victimize yourself on public when science makes a new step on medical treatment for this intersexual condition, and claim “oh no!! sacrilege! they want me to lose my p*****! damn it!! they want me to become a woman for God´s sake!! i must destroy medical centers and conscientization campaigns related to true TS and biodeterminism!! I must confuse the media and society! They must not know what HBS is!”

    Then, you put an innocent and “who?” face and say:”oh…why this HBS´s people get so angry now? what´s wrong with them? why this? why that?”

    You like to think i´m a bigot?

    OK do it, it´s your life, it´s your cancer, so go on, i´m happy getting my medical treatment everyday looking at the day when i get CRS and my documents, reafirming in EVERY ASPECT as a woman: not best than any other, not less than any of you, not trans, not cis, not bio, just a woman as i always felt since my 1st emotions at 1 1/2 years-old.

    The needing to go for CRS, it´s a sympthom for transsexualism, just ONE of them, and this is a medical need, not a new personality, not a queer or rare identity, you like it or not, transsexualism it´s a medical term and a treatment in itself.
    Who use it?
    Woman and man in needing to fix their body.
    When it´s ended, your diagnostic is going to the trashcan.

    You don´t need CRS and realize yourself globally as a woman (or a man)?
    OK, go for it, live in your ambigüety, i won´t judge you (who am I to judge you?), you are FREE.
    I go for my life also.
    But do not claim to be or to have transsexualism and put me in the same group, do not call me transsexual like you, because you go for a different way than mine.

    I respect your transsexual identity as a free-optional on human rights topic, so you must respect my womanly as a natural condition.

    Can you do that?

  50. […] back at my Critiquing Brain Sex post, most of my points were a critique of binary reductionism. These critiques remain standing. Where I […]

  51. Anonymous says:

    Ms. Brain goes on an on ad naseum about brain sex theories of transgender. Get out an anatomy book and look for a “trans” region of the brain. There is no trans region of the human brain. We can’t cut up thousands of live human brains and examine them. When human gender identity is also shaped by cultural influences, how do we define trans and non trans? How can we have precise science when we can’t even agree on termonolgy and identity? Let’s suppose for the sake of argument there are slight differences in brain structure between people who identify as trans and people who don’t. What exactly does this mean? There is also a lot of research that shows that there might be some differences between the brains of homosexuals and people who don’t identify as homosexual.

    PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects. Since Ms. Brain is an intelligent person, I’m sure she knows this. I could go on and on listing every single research paper, but it would get boring after awhile. There might even be slight differences in brain structure between lesbians and heterosexual women as well.

    Let’s take twenty genetic females who identify as butch lesbian and twenty genetic females not on testosterone who identify as transgender. It could very well be that there are no differences in their brains. I identify as butch lesbians, and perhaps my brain is exactly like a transgender identified female who isn’t on testosterone. It’s also interesting to note that there are numerous studies that show that many gender non-conforming children if left alone do grow up to be gay men and lesbians.

    What do we know about these little gender non-conforming children? Most knowledgeable people know that gender identity is not the same thing as sexual orientation,but it is far more complex than this. Scientists and researches have known for some time that many little sissy boys and tomboy girls do, indeed, grow up to be gay men and lesbians. That is, unless they are chemically and surgically castrated. .

    According to my,

    “Most children with gender dysphoria will not remain gender dysphoric after puberty. Children with persistent GID are characterized by more extreme gender dysphoria in childhood than children with desisting gender dysphoria. With regard to sexual orientation, the most likely outcome of
    childhood GID is homosexuality or bisexuality.”

    An article in the Atlantic states,

    The most extensive study on transgender boys was published in 1987 as The “Sissy Boy Syndrome” and the Development of Homosexuality. For 15 years, Dr. Richard Green followed 44 boys who exhibited extreme feminine behaviors, and a control group of boys who did not… Green expected most of the boys in the study to end up as transsexuals, but nothing like that happened. Three-fourths of the 44 boys turned out to be gay or bisexual (Green says a few more have since contacted him and told him they too were gay). Only one became a transsexual. “We can’t tell a pre-gay from a pre-transsexual at 8,” says Green, who recently retired from running the adult gender-identity clinic in England. “

    A science daily article says,”Research which follows these children to adulthood shows that between 50 to 80 per cent of gender nonconforming boys become gay, and about one third of such girls become lesbian”


    My point on this. Transgender, gay, and lesbian are still labels and identities people choose for themselves that are in many ways socially constructed. “Transitioning” which entails puberty suppressing drugs for twelve and thirteen year old children, surgery on breasts and genitals, and a life time of cross gender hormones is a socially prescribed “cure”. As a butch lesbian, my brain structure might be exactly like a trans biological female minus the testosterone. In all honesty, I do not know, but I do know one thing. I was a rough and tumble little girl who probably was no different than many FTM transmen when they were kids. The only difference is that I have no desire to get both my healthy breasts surgically removed, or to take testosterone for the rest of my life.

    Gender non-conforming people have existed in various cultures, but today we have puberty suppressing drugs for pre-teen, little sissy boys or tomboy girls. If we vist the Trans Kids Purple Rainbow website, seven year old biological females are talking about sex change surgery.

    ” Transexuality is a biological syndrome which can be treated with hormones and surgery”

    FACT: Transexuality is a socially prescribed cure for something that may or may not exist. All surgery and drugs come with some risk. “Transitioning” never ends because hormones have to be taken for life. If I’m born a genetic female, I cannot change my sex. Moreover, there have been periods in human history in which sex reassignment surgery has been used as a means of social control, specifically the erasing of homosexual identity. Ms. Brain is well aware of this fact.

    I completely disagree with the following statement.

    “F-in-M and M-in-F are called transexuals. M-in-M and F-in-F are called cisexuals. Though they may be transgendered. I AM NOT CISEXUAL. I AM NOT CIS ANYTHING. I’M BUTCH LESBIAN NOT TRANSGENDER. I’M A FEMALE. “

  52. zoebrain says:

    A more recent study is at

    This involves those who meet the diagnostic criteria for GID, rather than a lesser degree of “gender nonconformity”..

    Studies of those who are not diagnosable before, and remain not diagnosable after, are not particularly useful. Green’s study in particular is flawed due to the fraudulent data from Dr Alan Rekers.

    “Both boys and girls in the persistence group were more extremely cross-gendered in behavior and feelings and were more likely to fulfill gender identity disorder (GID) criteria in childhood than the children in the other two groups.”

    This confirms that the sample contained children who did not fulfill the GID criteria, but were merely gay/lesbian. Different parts of the brain are involved when it comes to gender identity and sexual orientation, though if one is masculinised, usually the other is too. Most people are, after all, straight.

    Yes, there’s a problem that incompetent psychologists make no distinction between the two concepts, and many children are erroneously referred for treatment for Gender Dysphoria when they don’t meet the diagnostic criteria. However, these days, any competent clinic will detect such misdiagnosis.

  53. Hi Jasper. Really interesting topic here. As a genderqueer, I struggle with what you mentioned that “Genderqueers need to start making themselves visible.” In a society where only 2 genders are really socialized, or recognized as indentifiers, HOW do I become visible as a genderqueer? I guess androgyny is one option. But it’s difficult when for example, my voice is interpreted a certain way, or there’s that question which I’ve gotten on a number of occasions “Are you a boy or a girl?” And so I have to say, “A little bit of both.” But people are looking for an either-or, they’re not seeing me for “oh you must be a gender-queer” they’re thinking “oh you must be someone who has that kind of x or y genitalia.” Right? I mean unless they’re also genderqueer. But most people don’t seem to see things beyond the binary. I guess maybe are you suggesting that we genderqueers become more ambiguous so that we are asked more often “Are you a boy or a girl?” Are you saying that we should get people to think outside the box in the way we present ourselves? Or are you saying that we should be more vocal about our gender fluidity? Our gender-fluid position? By the way, I think gender is fluid throughout ones life and absolutely can and does change with time. Thoughts? Thanks!

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