I was wrong on Brain Sex, but not on the Brain Sex Binary

Posted: August 10, 2009 in Troll Wars

I am responding to GallingGalla’s comments. The full comment was dripping with malice and venom. I choose not to publish any comment which is not respectful. Anyone can have a voice here, if they respect me and everyone else. No, this is not censorship. I am under no obligation to publish anything from anyone.
Without further ado…

… you say “Reading through the current state of empirical research, I can no longer deny a strong innate biological component to gender identity”, yet in a previous post, you rail against “brain sex activists”.

Perhaps I am not being clear enough here and here. I read up on the brain science and decided that I had been wrong. The empirical studies of intersexed people  strongly indicate a genetic foundation for gender Identity. The evidence I find most compelling is the data on intersex individual rebelling against their assigned genders at a very early age.

So, one more time:
I Was Wrong

I was wrong about brain sex. There is currently a lot of evidence for innately gendered behavior. The pure social constructionist need to investigate and critique the current brain science. Queer theory does not live on an island. In the end I think it does not undermine social constructionists. Social construction is real and verifiable through ethnographic research, but some gendered behaviors and emotional states seem to have a genetic foundation.
The good news for constructionists is that the biology refutes binary thinking.

Here is a summary again:

  • Sex and Gender are continuums not binaries
  • Gender behavior and identity, in other words the Butch-Femme Continuum, has a strong genetic component
  • Gender and Somatic Sex vary independently but are both have a genetic foundation.
  • A. E. Brain postulates that most people combine butch and femme (my terms) to some degree. This turns the binary inside out. Now most people are in the Genderqueer, gender fluid center, and few on the stongly butch and strongly femme tails.
  • Drantz postulates that most of us combine somatic genders to some extent. There is also a broad bi-sexed middle.

Looking back at my Critiquing Brain Sex post, most of my points were a critique of binary reductionism. These critiques remain standing. Where I have done an about face is the ‘feminine essence narrative’ and ‘woman in a man’s body’. Actually as it turns out, the ‘feminine essence narrative’ may be correct. Some somatic males are born with a femme gender identity, and some somatic females are born with a butch gender identity.

A. E. Brain uses the term cross-gendered for this phenomenon. Notice that cross-gendered is not the same as Transsexual or most definitions of Transgendered. Cross-genderered somatic male would explicitly include cross-dressers and feminine gay or straight men, as well as the third genders which non-western societies created for the cross-gendered

  1. g531 says:

    Thank you for the clarification post. I was intrigued by the dialog this sparked and as a queer person of color, I wonder, if at all, this is a conversation limited to Western ideas–even if critiquing the notion of privilege in being able to discuss this.

  2. Schala says:

    Your analysis seems to conflate feminity/masculinity with “sense of myself as female/male (even if partially only)”.

    I’m feminine, and identify as female. Yet it isn’t my being feminine which caused my identity as female.

    A transsexual woman is not necessarily feminine at all. I’ve heard plenty about very masculine transsexual women, who still went to great pains to physically transition to have the best approximation to a factory-approved (naturally this way without outside intervention) female body as they felt was necessary. Sadly we can’t have ovaries yet, which makes us in the more-dangerous position of taking exogenous hormones at medium-high dose for decades (which kills the liver over time…yet it’s all worth it).

    Conflating expression and roles with identity is a common error. Every group, including transsexual people themselves, make it at some point or in some number.

    The DSM-IV-TR isn’t helping at all, by focusing on gendered behavior as its diagnostic criterias.

    As Zoe Brain mentioned on her blog: Being a transsexual man or woman or genderqueer person is more about patterns of thought than behavior, even in childhood. Playing with dolls or pink stuff doesn’t make me female, it only makes me feminine, because that’s behavior, not thought.

  3. Jasper Gregory says:

    @schala, thanks for resurrecting this Public. I promise I will publish and reply to all of your comments, just give me a little time.
    @schala mentions “I’ve heard plenty about very masculine transsexual women, who still went to great pains to physically transition”. For a while I have been wondering if people do not undergo transsexual transition for differing highly personal reasons. The fights over biology versus society may be masking a whole multiplicity of phenomena.

    When I talk about gendered behavior having a possible genetic basis, I am thinking of “pre-cultural” behavior, which can theoretically be observed in all mammals. some examples are:
    1) propensity towards “rough and tumble play” (I do not know whether this sexually dimorphic in mammals, but it is easily observable one way or the other.)
    2) Mating behaviors around pursuing/being pursued
    3) Sexual behavior around mounting/being mounted
    On all three of these behavioral points I have always been gender variant, and the variance has hugely impacted my integration into hetero-normative gender roles.

    I would be very interested to see how these 3 points are distributed over populations of MTF, crossdressers, drag queens, and gay femmeboys.

  4. Jasper Gregory says:

    @schala, could you please give a sentence or two about how you are using the terms Masculine/Feminine. These terms are so overloaded with meanings. They lead to a lot of miscommunication.

  5. Schala says:

    Feminity is that which society deems the “realm of females”, dresses, skirts, make-up etc but that for the most part are socialized behavior.

    Masculinity is what society deems to be the “realm of men”, body hair, facial hair, generally more loose clothing than women’s, short hair. Many things previously considered masculine are now neutral (pants, shirts, ties, sneakers).

    Zoe Brain contends that maybe as much as 10 or 20% of gendered behavior is actually sexed behavior (not socially constructed), but the rest definitely is socially constructed.

    If you have a “fight over society” and decide to take hormones and have surgery solely on the basis of that (being a feminine male), you’ll probably regret the loss of your penis, and the reduced/negated libido caused by hormones.

    Just ask gay men if they’d like estrogen or losing their penis.

    Because knowing what is “right” about your body is not something you can wish away. It’s like phantom limb syndrome. Average guy (not trans) who gets SRS would probably feel phantom penis syndrome.

    I went from “mid-range testosterone levels, for an adult male” to well, 0.0 levels. And I got *more* libido. Testosterone was actually preventing me to have one, estrogen helped me.

    A female body with female levels of hormones (higher estrogen, lower testosterone) and the lack of a penis, presence of a vulva…are right for me. It’s just something I know. The reverse is hell for me even absent any socio-cultural context. Doesn’t feel like it’s mine at all.

    I’m pretty sure rough-and-tumble play is a universal in animals. Especially young ones. I’ve had 8 cats, amongst them 6 kittens. All would play rough. Some using claws and some not…but ultimately they all ‘played’ that way. That would last until 9 months-1 year old (then they play less). 3 of them were female kittens.

    Animals are a lot more territory-based than us humans. Animals don’t “move” unless they have to, and then have to find an untaken spot. Many also stay in medium groups (5 to 50), we as societies stay in huge groups of tens-of-thousands to millions. I don’t know about the pursued/pursue model enough in animals, but they tend to stay within their group.

    Penetrating vs penetrated would be what it is for humans. It might have some biological basis, but I doubt it’s as easy to see as feminity or masculinity (how we perceive someone as femme or butch in both sexes) in someone. It might have more to do with dominance and submissiveness, and that varies a lot (many men are submissive yet straight and masculine, many women are dominant yet straight and feminine) – I take this data from BDSM communities.

  6. Jasper Gregory says:

    I intended to reply today, but I got distracted. by Geo-media stuff. I will get back to you tonight or early tomorrow.

  7. Jasper Gregory says:

    @schala – I recorded a four minute podcast in answer.

  8. Schala says:

    I heard your audio-post, though I much prefer the written media.

    I know feminine males are between a rock and a hard place if they’re not transsexual at the same time, mainly because of society’s abhorrence with male feminity. At least I hope San Francisco is better to you than other places I heard about.

    It seems to me, that trans men who are at the same time feminine and gay, have more acceptance than non-trans (cissexual, not cisgender in this case) feminine men. Because while the former has access to queer and lesbian and/or feminist space, the latter doesn’t, because he has “the taint of the penis” or something.

    Transsexual women, fully-transitioned, still face many hurdles in women’s space, especially feminist women’s space. Same motive: penis taints forever, and something to do with male privilege (note that they always deny female privilege ever exists).

    There’s many components to problems facing queer people. I’d decorticate some of them. I won’t get in religious arguments for or against, because it’s just silly to judge people’s selves (and not actions) by religion.

    -Many people assume that sex is innate, immutable, and visible at birth (the last is the most important).

    -> Leads to people thinking that sex cannot ever be incorrectly assessed (ie the doctor at birth knows for sure, not the person themself). That transition is just superficial (it is in a way, to change your mode of dress and manners without repressing them anymore – becoming genuine as opposed to performed – is a profound change to being perceived usually, but it just means you’re finally “you”, so it’s superficial as a change on the surface – maybe not psychologically) and to imitate or mimic “real” people.

    -People generally associate being a gay man with feminity (which they pejoratively call effeminacy), and being a lesbian woman with masculinity (often termed butchness).

    -> People assume that both go hand in hand so that a feminine guy is definitely gay and a gay guy is definitely feminine, at least somewhere deep within. Just ask J Michael Bailey, he thinks the gay community suffers from femiphobia (fear from feminity) and that all gay men were feminine and just deny it (I think some deny it due to culture, but many weren’t feminine at all either, for the record). They also assume the same for butch women being lesbian and lesbian women being butch.

    -Clothes are either feminine (or for women) or neutral. Very few clothes (tuxedo) are masculine.

    -> Leads people to think that men have something “wrong with them” when they don anything feminine (up to being diagnosed as having a paraphilia by some shrinks). While women wearing pants, suits, army boots and having short hair is just “a way of expressing themselves”, not a mental problem.

    -Trans guys are assumed to transition for “the male privilege”.

    -> It exists, but yeah, not as shiny as some think it is. If you’re trying to be heard by serious high-placed people for your own work, or get high up in the hierarchy, yes, it helps. Otherwise it might be a hindrance depending on circumstances (being assumed to be violent, extremely sexual, unemotional, invulnerable, a fair target of random violence, not needing help).

    -Trans girls are assumed to transition…to invade women’s space, or to replace womanhood with patriarchy-approved models, or to rape all women…

    -> Stupid theory, discredited by most…but those who hold those theories also hold the gatekeeping post of much of queer women’s space.

    Cross-dressers may be seen in better light (yay! you’re not getting a vagina and you’re transgressing gender norms) or in worse light (you dress that way just for sexual kicks, you want to invade queer women’s space by passing for one of us, you have a penis) than transsexual women depending on who is confronting you about it. Many think it’s a choice. I don’t.

    Some researchers assume that most transsexual women are cross-dressers “who went too far”, placing them on a continuum.

    So I heard, most cross-dressers identify either as entirely male or as bi-gender. Few if any identify solely as female. Researchers don’t hear it or don’t care.

    Transsexual women with a history of cross-dressing might identify as solely female (at least its the standard response to give to get treatment), or as bigender, or even agender (none) yet prefer a female body to a male one for personal reasons.

    The difference for me between a transsexual woman and a cross-dresser, in terms of “how do I know, me who isn’t in their mind” is wether they intend to at least get hormones.

    To me, surgery can be optional and still be transsexual. Governments rarely agree with me there though.

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