Sex and gender are confused quite a bit. Here are two simple definitions:
Sex is a biological fact which is determined by genitalia, internal reproductive organs, hormones, and other physical factors. A human being can be male, female or intersex.
Gender is a social construct which divides human beings into at least two groups, “men” and “women” (although other cultures can have more than two), and dictates how a human being must talk, dress, play, associate with, and what kind of tastes and attitudes they must adopt, in order to be in one or the other category. It is based on some kind of spooky principle by which having a penis or a vagina somehow magically makes one wear pants or be bad at math.
To make an analogy with racism, “sex” is analogous to physical differences and “gender” is analogous to race stereotypes.
Some thinkers have argued that sex is also socially determined: not that, say, penises and vulvas don’t actually exist, but that assigning “male” and “female” based on specific criteria (external and internal reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormone levels, and so on) is entirely arbitrary.
While technically true, I don’t think this approach particularly advances the conversation. Instead of “male” and “female,” we could just use terms like “bepenised” (what’s the complementary term? beuterused? non-bepenised?). Even though it may be arbitrary, sex is an important term to discuss because it is what the larger society uses to assign gender, and therefore one’s position in the hierarchy. Sex is important because it is the source of gender. Rationally I agree that sex should have no particular social importance beyond the demands of sexual activity and reproduction, but we do not live in a rational society.
In a previous entry, I recommended this entry from RANCOM on the issue of sex and gender. It perfectly illustrated the confusion that exists on the Internet on the issue of sex and gender. Here is one example:
The writing is tiny, so here is a transcription of the first three points:
* Gender identity is how you, in your head, think about yourself. It’s the chemistry that composes you (e.g. hormonal levels) and how you interpret what that means.
* Gender expression is how you demonstrate your gender (based on traditional gender roles) through the ways you act, dress, behave and interact.
* Biological sex refers to the objectively measurable organs, hormones and chromosomes. Female = vagina, ovaries, XX chromosomes; male = penis, testes, XY chromosomes; intersex = a combination of the two.
The definition of biological sex is actually completely accurate, which is both surprising and goes against the current trendy belief that biological sex is subjective and has nothing to do with your actual organs, hormones and chromosomes.
But the definitions of gender proposed here are bizarre. First, “gender identity” is associated with hormonal levels even though gender, which is socially constructed, has nothing to do with hormonal levels. Then we are told that our interpretation of such chemical factors is what determines “gender identity.” This makes no sense because most people are not likely to have any opinion, let alone an interpretation, about their chemical makeup (no pun intended). And this is supposed to be how we “think about ourselves,” where “ourselves” apparently reduces itself to an issue of internal chemistry. This is a real mess.
Frankly this sounds more like an extension of those stupid jokes about women being crrrrazy due to their hormones than a serious attempt at a definition.
Gender expression (which should be called “gender presentation”) is then defined as being caused by “gender identity”: gender expression is how we demonstrate “our gender,” and I assume this term refers to “gender identity” since it’s the only other kind of gender that’s discussed.
In this, the author gets the causal relation exactly backwards: it is gender identity that is caused by gender expression, not the reverse. The way we feel about ourselves is mediated by how society judges the way we behave, as examined through the lens of gender roles. If people validate the way I act, then I feel good about myself. If people reject the way I act and try to change me, then I feel bad about myself.
Social constructs are only relevant and meaningful to us insofar as they affect our place in society, therefore it makes no sense to claim that gender starts in the brain. If we lived in a genderless society, then we would not be arguing about “gender identity.” Likewise, money, which is a social construct, would be of no importance in an anarcho-communist society, and we would not argue about money-based identity (no one would be born “poor” or “rich”).
The definition (as well as the use of the word “expression”) makes gender expression sound like something voluntary and empowering. You’re expressing yourself! In reality, gender roles subject half the population to a harsh judgment on how they look, dress, act and think; gender expression, for women, is the result of a difficult choice between conforming and being (sometimes) accepted, or non-conforming and being rejected. There is not much that’s voluntary or empowering about it.
Another popular chart says “sex is your biological gender.” This is mind-bogglingly wrong. There is no biological component to gender. Even if you believe that gendered behavior is innate, that would simply make sex equal to gender, which is simply silly. There is no possible causation between having a vagina and liking ponies, dresses or dolls.
Why do people confuse the two to such a degree? In patriarchal societies such as ours, conformity to gender roles is always very high, because of the penalties and punishment for non-conforming. Parents, who are scared shitless if their children deviate in any way from the norm, know their child either has a penis or a vagina (or in the case of intersex children, they refuse to believe otherwise), and endeavor from there to turn their child into a boy or a girl by exposing them to the “proper” stimuli (the “right” clothes, the “right” toys, the “right” colors, the “right” friends, the “right” activities, etc).
Most children conform because they must obey their parents to survive, and don’t know any other way to live. The children who rebel are those whose personality deviates to a large extent from the gender role they were assigned. If a rebellious little male child is told over and over that what ey likes is “for girls,” then ey will eventually come to believe that ey is a girl (I use neutral pronouns because little children do not have a gender).
This severe deformation of the human psyche, like most forms of woman-hatred, is transmitted from parent to child. There is no direct connection between sex and gender. This deformation is not a necessary fact of human society, any more than child abuse, which is transmitted from parent to child, is a necessary fact of human existence.
Sex matters because having a certain kind of genitals at birth is a prerequisite to socialization as a “boy.” Sex matters because the social role “boy” is a more favorable social role than that of “girl.” Girls are devalued, sexualized, and discriminated against simply because they are “girls.” There are objectively measurable material advantages to being male at birth. For example, boy-socialized people will be paid more for the same work.
This is no accident; it is precisely how the human system of sex-based gender socialization works and has worked for thousands of years. Gender disproportionately distributes power to males via the cultural hegemony of over-valued masculinity… Every measurable imbalance of social power between men and women can be traced back to the false naturalization of gender roles and gender role socialization.
When I say there is no direct connection between sex and gender, I don’t mean that sex does not entail certain behaviors, just not those behaviors that are associated with gender roles. Certainly testosterone and estrogen, which are part of sex, have behavioral effects. But that’s biological, not sociological. And even then, males and females can have wildly varying levels of testosterone and estrogen throughout their lives, which makes such conclusions spotty at best.
The concept of “gender identity” seems to be what makes people trip up. It is posited that there exists an innate belief about gender in people’s heads:
The term “gender identity,” distinct from the term “sexual orientation,” refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as male or female, which may or may not correspond to the person’s body or designated sex at birth (meaning what sex was originally listed on a person’s birth certificate).
Again this is hopeless confusion. One cannot “feel” male or female any more than one can “feel” one’s height or “feel” one’s hair color; being male or female is a biological fact. I can physically feel that I have a penis, but I can’t “psychologically identify as a male.” That’s just bullshit.
Another problem here is that the definition tries to equate “gender identity” with “designated sex at birth.” Gender and sex are not the same kind of thing, and cannot “correspond” to one another. What does it mean for “having a penis” to correspond with “wearing pants”? There are plenty of people around the world for whom “having a penis” does not lead to “wearing pants,” and the penile organ does not biologically lead one to wear pants.
But by far the biggest problem here is the belief that “gender identity” is innate. Gender cannot be innate because it constantly changes. What it means to be a man or a woman now is different from what it meant a hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, or five hundred years ago. How can gender be innate when it changes, from an evolutionary timeline, in the blink of an eye? That would be like saying that religion, nationality, dietary beliefs or favorite sports teams are innate.
By definition it makes no sense to claim that any social construct is innate, since that would make them no longer the result of social conditioning but rather the result of the structure of our brain. They also could not change in a century, let alone a decade. Obviously we do have some level of innateness in the human brain, but it doesn’t shift around because some widespread beliefs have changed. The human brain is not magical.
If “gender identity” was innate, then we also should not expect it to change throughout our lives:
Additionally, one’s identification with their “gender” may change over time. Gender is not an immutable characteristic. While some people argue that “gender identity” is a deeply felt, unchanging personal quality; the existence and prominence of late-transitioning trans people drags this claim into very questionable territory. One may be gender conforming for many years, then slowly or suddenly reject the characteristics of their assigned gender. How an individual identifies in reference to their gender, whether it be masculinity or femininity, is not necessarily stable, nor should it have to be.
The false belief that “gender identity” is innate leads to many wrong beliefs; gender is a tool of oppression and sustains hierarchies, so claiming that gender is in some way innate normalizes oppression and hierarchies. There’s not much cognitive distance between “women innately seek out these inferior traits [which are part of their gender role]” and “women are naturally inferior and deserve to be oppressed.”
After all, oppression has always been justified by appeals to innateness, like natural levels of intelligence, innate character traits, innate evilness, or, for the more sophisticated, Social Darwinism, to name only those. Hierarchies, which are necessarily oppressive by their very nature, are also sometimes justified by appeals to innateness, although those hierarchies with more mobility have to rely on other kinds of appeals.
Because it establishes females as inferior and non-conforming homosexuals as inferior, the gender hierarchy is inherently anti-female and anti-homosexual. Any claim that the gender hierarchy is the product of innate dispositions serves as a justification of the gender hierarchy. Therefore the definition of “gender identity” I have quoted above is hate speech against women and non-conforming homosexuals.
This may be harder to see because we routinely trivialize woman-hatred, so again it helps to use another context. If I affirmed that “black people are innately lazy,” you would rightly blast me for being racist. If I then tried to argue to you that I didn’t actually mean that black people are inferior, you’d laugh me off because laziness is seen as a negative trait, and being innately lazy would make black people inferior. In the same way, stating that females innately possess what are, or are seen as, inferior traits (such as weakness, lack of competitiveness, dependence on males, need for children, cowardice, irrationality, intellectual deficiency and lack of technical skills, and so on) is basically the same thing as calling females inferior.
The concept of “gender identity” is all the more hateful when it is applied to little children, who are not social agents and therefore do not have a gender. Here is an example from a web site which advocates imposing gender on children:
A parent cannot cause a child to be gender nonconforming, nor can they change a child’s gender identity. It is a core sense of self. If a professional tells you that you can change your child to have a different gender identity, they are wrong. While your parenting choices will not change your child’s sense of who they are, however, they will have a profound impact on how they feel about themselves in relation to their gender identity.
This kind of talk is reassuring to a parent confronted with a child who stubbornly rebels against a gender role imposed by said parent. Indeed, that is the sole purpose of this drivel, to sell parents on the belief that they were right in imposing gender roles and that they did nothing wrong. Nothing sells more than telling people they don’t have to take responsibility for anything (see: Christianity). But you could not possibly write anything more wrong on the topic of gender.
The first contact that children have with their supposed gender role is through their parents. After all, it is the parents who, as owners of the child, decide what the child is allowed to wear, say, do and think. To say that the parents have no say in how a child sees eir gender cannot be further from the truth: the parents have almost completely all the say in how a child sees eir gender. If “gender identity” means anything at all, it is constructed by the parents’ actions, and the actions of other family members, towards the child.
The use of the word “self” in this quote reveals an interesting truth, since our selves are also a social construction. If our “core sense of self” is anything, it must reside in how we identify ourselves, the concepts we use to define ourselves, the categories we use to define our relations to other people, the social roles we assume, and so on. This is mostly not innate: the language, the concepts, the principles and the stories that we use to come to these conclusions all come from outside of us.
Asking “who am I” is meaningless unless I have the tools necessary to answer the question, and until my self is sufficiently developed. Until then, the question is unanswerable. For a little child, the question of gender is as unanswerable as the question of religion, nationality, dietary belief or team affiliation. Although we may condition children to parrot an answer, that does not make it a valid answer. A three year old may be conditioned to claim that ey is a man, a Christian or an American, but these claims are factually false.
Our friends at Gender Spectrum have a different take on that subject, too:
Not all children fit neatly into a male or female gender identity, trans or otherwise. For some children, the sense of being “both” or “neither” best describes their reality…
Children who see themselves as “neither” will often speak of how regardless of whether they’re with a group of boys or girls, they feel like they don’t fit. This is not necessarily a sad feeling. They just see the kids around them and know that they are not “that.” Kids in this category often appear androgynous, and will frequently answer the question “are you a boy or a girl” by saying their name (“I’m Devon”) or by identifying themselves as animals. When asked to draw self portraits, they will portray themselves as rainbows, or unicorns, or another symbol of their choosing.
You see here that the authors do not deviate from the concept of gender roles, but merely create a new set of stereotypes to encompass this (to them, mysterious and spooky) concept of a child that is “no gender.” They look androgynous, feel like they don’t fit, do not identify as boys or girls, and draw self-portraits by drawing things other than human bodies. Now we have a nice box to contain and classify another neat category of gender, “nones.”
Because they start from the premise that gender is innate, the authors must classify all children in gender boxes. We start to observe here the similarity between this more liberal approach and the right-wing belief in gender roles; both seek to preserve gender hierarchies by putting everyone in their “proper” gender box, the only difference being that the liberal (as represented by Gender Spectrum) believes in a variety of gender boxes (“boy,” “girl,” “trans,” “both,” “none”), while the right-winger only believes in two (“boy,” “girl”). There is more to say about this, but for now I merely point out the resemblance.
The fact that some children rebel against assigned gender roles demonstrates that genitals and chromosomes do not dictate behavior. Because of the absence of empirical evidence, people have concocted all sorts of theories aiming to prove that gender is somehow an objective fact.
In Christianity, this objectivity is merely assumed as a result of God’s will (even though the product of a will is necessarily subjective, but this is a profound issue with Christianity which most people are not aware of), and it is expected that men and women will play their God-appointed roles.
In modern times, any ideology or worldview which implicitly or explicitly seeks to preserve the status quo must also try to preserve gender roles. Fascism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, Russian communism (when it became the status quo), masculinism (such as MRAs), positive thought worship, natalism, evolutionary psychology, are all obvious examples.
Trans theory, of which Gender Spectrum is only one representative, holds that gender is innate and that people whose innate gender differs from their assigned gender are transgender, including little children all the way to three years old. In trans theory, a little male child who likes to wear dresses and prefer to play with dolls is really a female child, and therefore should later be cut up to reform eir genitals in a simulacrum of female sexual organs.
This is a bizarre, hateful theory; bizarre because it posits that children have a gender, and hateful because it posits that there’s something wrong with children who refuse to conform, that they need to be fixed. And because a majority of non-conforming children are homosexual, it is also specifically a homophobic theory. Its ultimate end point, implicitly or explicitly, is the elimination of homosexuality.
This may seem like a bold statement. But we know that the American Psychiatric Association, which supports trans theory, used to classify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Homosexuality was declassified in 1973 and gender identity disorder (now called gender dysphoria) was classified in 1975. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that one replaced the other; if homosexual adults cannot be pathologized, then homosexual children (along with other non-conforming children) must be pathologized.
Note that I am not saying all believers in trans theory want to exterminate homosexuality as a concept. I know many of them are well-meaning and really believe it’s “for the best.” But their assessment is based on a false belief in “gender identity,” which warps their sense of morality.
Gender must be eradicated, not only because of its hierarchical nature, not only because it is woman-hatred, but because it provides one of the most powerful obstacles to individual freedom. By stating that a woman must talk, dress, play, and associate with others in a certain way, as well as have certain tastes and attitudes, and that a man must talk, dress, play, and associate with others in a certain way, as well as have certain tastes and attitudes (indeed, that this is how we define what a woman and a man are), we are artificially limiting human beings who do not have any innate or natural gender. The result is that we either reject non-conforming people or try to normalize them by changing their sex.
All the most important social values, equality, freedom, creativity, understanding each other, justice, human rights, human dignity, direct us against the enforcement of gender roles. Anyone who claims that “gender identity” is an objective fact, in addition to being incorrect, stands against these values. We must reject this belief categorically and stand besides the persecuted children and women who are targeted by its corollaries.