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Gender reassignment by community consensus?
March 7, 2005 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I enjoy being a girl boy. - 4th grader
posted by soyjoy (225 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Here's a 2002 thread where a school was helping to keep a girl-living-as-boy's secret. Does this openness represent progress?

(and a couple of other gender-ambiguity threads, for those who like 'em)
posted by soyjoy at 10:48 AM on March 7, 2005


Surprisingly sane policy on the part of the school officials.
posted by kenko at 10:51 AM on March 7, 2005


Excellent. I also like how the article refers to the female child as him.
posted by sciurus at 10:52 AM on March 7, 2005


No kidding, kenko. Would that this guy could be in charge of all the schools in the nation.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:57 AM on March 7, 2005


I used to question the notion of transgender--especially people who go to such drastic lengths as surgery--but now that I've seen an acquaintance go through the FTM transition, I feel differently. I think he's incredibly brave to stand up and change his identity in such a public way, especially since he seems to be an otherwise shy person.

But what I wonder about in this case is if the child got to choose how to represent him/herself in public, or if the parents chose for him. I can't help but wish there were a way for people to identify as "biologically male with female feelings" rather than having to assign themselves to one hard category or another. In a way, the concept of "transgender" essentializes gender roles, which I thought we were trying to get past?
posted by insideout at 10:58 AM on March 7, 2005


And I think any reassignment surgery/hormone treatment should be definitely delayed until the child can give full, independent consent.
posted by insideout at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2005


I think this post is insensitive in its wording and general attitude. Can we not do Jerry Springer here, and instead realize there are real people involved here, who are in very hard personal situations? Anyone who has read anything on gender identity should know that a big chunk of it is biological and not be suprised it shows up in a two year old.

As for the school, they have been doing this in Sweden for awhile now. Finally it is happening here too.
posted by Shusha at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2005


Both threads about transgendered teens have been about female-to-male trannies. Are we more tolerant of that than of boys who want to be girls? As a society, I mean.

I'm honestly curious.
posted by jonmc at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2005


While the post's brevity might indicate Jerry Springer-esque sentiments (although I don't think it does), certainly the conversation so far has been far above Springer. I'm cautiously optimistic.

johnmc, I think that's a good question. I know only one transgendered person, and he's FTM. I'd be interested in hearing people's thoughts on this.
posted by goatdog at 11:06 AM on March 7, 2005


OK, this is just to prove my point. "Trannies"? Sometimes I feel that I landed on Fark instead of Metafilter...
posted by Shusha at 11:07 AM on March 7, 2005


OK, this is just to prove my point. "Trannies"?

It's shorthand, not a slur. I had already used "transgendered" once in that sentence, I was trying to avoid linguistic clunkiness is all, not start a fight.
posted by jonmc at 11:09 AM on March 7, 2005


When I was a kid, I always thought it would be cooler to be a Girl. They got better clothes, etc. As I grew up, I found more and more things which made me wish I was a girl.

Then eventually I realized that all of those things really only applied to attractive girls. At my weight being a guy is a much better deal.

You know, I have to wonder just how much of a concept of "gender" a 2 year old really even has. I wonder if transgender issues are really just a "grass is greener" situation.

Plus, I can't imagine why a kid would want to be a boy, if they were a girl. I mean, what benefit is there of being a boy if you're a little kid, girls get nicer clothes!

Oh well, who knows I'm not a psychologist so I really have no idea.
posted by delmoi at 11:12 AM on March 7, 2005


Cheers to his parents and the administrators of that school. It can't be easy feeling like your body is the wrong gender.. hopefully this kid will be spared those psychological problems that all-too-often accompany being transgendered.

insideout, I'll agree that anything surgical and permanent should wait until he is older. By the time he hits puberty, he'll probably know for sure. And before then, none of the secondary characteristics have really started to form yet, so dressing like a boy until then shouldn't be a problem.
posted by cmyk at 11:13 AM on March 7, 2005


It's amazing that both the school and his parents are treating this with the seriousness it deserves. However, I agree any decisions for hormones and/or surgery should wait until the kid is mature and of legal age.

Not snarking, jonmc, but for me "tolerant" is the wrong word. Anything consenting adults want to do is fine by me. Who am I to judge?
posted by deborah at 11:16 AM on March 7, 2005


Jonmc - I am sorry, it's a slur. Just so you know.

Delmoi - you don't understand how much concept of a gender two year old has because you are not transsexual. If you read on the subject, you also get a much clear picture of gender differences you would never suspect existed in everyone's head.
posted by Shusha at 11:16 AM on March 7, 2005


Can we not do Jerry Springer here, and instead realize there are real people involved here, who are in very hard personal situations?

Shusha, if you were familiar with soyjoy's posting record or his personality here you'd be aware that he's posting this to call attention to a potential sign of progress, quite surprising in America during these times of right-wing fundamentalist fervor and bans on gay marriage and general homophobia. I can gurantee he had no intentions of this being in any way Springer-esque...
posted by Shane at 11:22 AM on March 7, 2005


Jonmc - I am sorry, it's a slur. Just so you know.

I'll avoid using it in this conversation, but i don't recall handing you a Linguistic Police Badge. A word is only a slur if it's used as one. And if you truly believe it is too loaded an expression then perhaps we need a less formal, shorter word for "transgendered" that dosen't offend.

Not snarking, jonmc, but for me "tolerant" is the wrong word.

More semantics. I was making an observation that we seemed to accept the idea of a girl wanting to be a boy a lot better than the reverse. And that goes beyond stuff like transgenderism; there's a lot less eye-rolling at "masculine," women than at "feminine," men. This may be due to the fact that being traditionally masculine is an easier way to get through life, perhaps, but I don't think that explains all of it.
posted by jonmc at 11:23 AM on March 7, 2005


Wow, that's pretty cool. Good for everyone involved.

Except shusha. Good lord. Sorry, I don't buy the "it's OK to say trannie if you are one, not OK if you're not" party line. And theories on gender identity are far from widely agreed upon.

delmoi writes, " Plus, I can't imagine why a kid would want to be a boy, if they were a girl. I mean, what benefit is there of being a boy if you're a little kid, girls get nicer clothes! "

Well, there's that whole institutionalized sexism thing...
posted by mkultra at 11:24 AM on March 7, 2005


Are we more tolerant of that than of boys who want to be girls?

Speaking as a girl who used to be a boy: yes. I'm sure there are FtMs who'll disagree, but -- especially in the early stages -- it's safer, quieter, and just plain easier to be a girl in a shirt and tie than a boy in a dress.

Interesting that I had to reach for "shirt and tie" to find a typcially masculine form of dress not normally worn by women...
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:25 AM on March 7, 2005


Shusha -- why don't you educate us on the subject instead of just telling us to go read? Stridency like yours ("you can't understand unless you are one") is what makes me suspicious of the broad claims some transsexual advocates make. I mean, it's a huge step to take huge doses of hormones or have hugely invasive surgery on your sex organs that possibly ruins their function...if as a society we're going to talk about how to best deal with this, we need more than "you just don't understand cuz you're not us." I really do worry about situations where people are getting gender reassignment surgery who later change their mind, and so we need to develop solid ethical standards on how to decide when to do it. That takes discussion.
posted by insideout at 11:26 AM on March 7, 2005


As a parent, I can only imagine that the parents came to this point only after much research, anguish, soul searching, etc. I'm sure it's not something they've taken lightly. I'm glad to hear that one big hurdle--public schools--seems to be at least somewhat better than worst-case scenario. It's so unfortunate that we all have come to expect only the worst from schools.
posted by tippiedog at 11:26 AM on March 7, 2005


Interesting point, AoK. I'd go the next step and say it's perfectly OK for a girl to be a "tomboy", but there's no male equivalent that isn't an out-and-out insult.
posted by mkultra at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2005


You know, I have to wonder just how much of a concept of "gender" a 2 year old really even has. I wonder if transgender issues are really just a "grass is greener" situation.

If you were a boy who had to live as a girl, why *wouldn't* you think that the grass is greener on the other side? It is, for you, at least! You would be more comfortable living as the gender you really are.

This is an example of the subtle assumptions that people make with regard to gender. Basically, you are the gender of your birth sex. If you switch, then it's to the "opposite" gender. The "other side". When the grass on the other side should have been yours, you think about it differently.

The idea that you desire something, that you want to be someone you are not, is the fundamental misunderstanding of what transgendered people go through. It's all just to have the freedom to be yourself, not the freedom to be someone else.
posted by adzuki at 11:30 AM on March 7, 2005


I'd go the next step and say it's perfectly OK for a girl to be a "tomboy", but there's no male equivalent that isn't an out-and-out insult.

Well, drag queens have become part of the cultural landscape, but they're not transgendered so much as they are outrageous performers.

And the meaning of "masculine appearance" is rather fluid, cultural speaking. It wasn't too long ago that shoulder legnth hair and earrings would be enough get a guy branded as "gay," or a "sissy," but these days you'll see macho badass types sporting both or either.
posted by jonmc at 11:33 AM on March 7, 2005


hey...my alma mater!
i'm thrilled that the school is accommodating the kid so well, tho a little worried for him. The school is really big (K-8) and I certainly remember being intimidated by the older kids. Lotsa fights.
Still, what a great lesson for the rest of the kids.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:33 AM on March 7, 2005


Still, what a great lesson for the rest of the kids.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:33 AM PST on March 7 [!]


Yeah...but I worry about the burden placed on this one kid in the course of educating the rest. That's always seemed to me an odd goal of school "mainstreaming" in general--that the different kid should be in charge of educating the others. I guess it's unavoidable, but still unfair.
posted by insideout at 11:37 AM on March 7, 2005


I wanted to say exactly what mkultra said, but he beat me to it.
posted by Specklet at 11:37 AM on March 7, 2005


:applause:
posted by OhPuhLeez at 11:39 AM on March 7, 2005


drag queens have become part of the cultural landscape, but they're not transgendered so much as they are outrageous performers.

Was that...ah....was that a little snark there, jonmc?

Well, darling, I think you're outrageous, too.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:39 AM on March 7, 2005


Well, darling, I think you're outrageous, too.

*snaps finger*

You could never afford me, darling.

*blows kisses, lifts skirt to show garters*


Nah, no snark, just acknowledging the difference between transsexuals, transvestites, and those who are merely too fabulous for one gender.
posted by jonmc at 11:44 AM on March 7, 2005


Ironically, when I was about this kid's age, you know who was mayor of the town where I went to school? That's right, Jerry Springer!

(Thanks for the backup, Shane, my hero! I was just trying to keep it pithy. I regret not putting "- 4th grader" in [small] tags, though, because it kind of looks like I'm saying "and it's a freakin' fourth grader, fer cryin' out loud!" when I was really only trying for a style of attribution.)

Anyway, back on topic, not that ArmyOfKittens needs my additional vote, but yeah, jonmc, I think we (society) are more comfortable with female-to-male because it's an "upwardly mobile" paradigm. Obviously Male is The Thing To Be, so why wouldn't females want to switch? But for a male to go the other way is threatening, because it suggests that maybe, after all, Male isn't the state we'd all choose if we were free to.
posted by soyjoy at 11:46 AM on March 7, 2005


Interestingly, and as a side note, when I was a boy people were nice enough to me if I spoke to them; when I was an in-betweenie people were either neutral or actively hostile towards me; and now I'm a woman people fall over themselves to be nice to me. This has made me terribly cynical.

I think soyjoy's right, although I don't think it's necessarily conscious. I lost all my (straight) male friends pretty much automatically, and the feeling I got from some of them was that they couldn't believe I might want (or need) to go from being the taker to being the taken.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:52 AM on March 7, 2005


'For the kids who aren't close to him, it was Phyllis and now it's Phillip," said Littlefield, using other names for examples. 'And it's OK. They want to know what's for lunch."

Yay kids! (I hope it's pizza day.)
posted by Guy Smiley at 11:55 AM on March 7, 2005


The first thing this post made me think of is a terrible 80s movie called Just One of the Guys where this girl is convinced that she lost a journalism contest because she is a hot girl so she starts going to a new school pretending to be a boy.

Anyway, this hits a little close to home because I recently found out that my 5 year old cousin is turning into a super brat who likes to dress up in girl's clothing (his favorite Christmas present last year was a princess costume from my aunt). When they say no to him, he throws tantrums, and my aunt is becoming a spineless mother who refuses to discipline him, thus putting a strain on her marriage to my uncle.

But in regards to the cross-dressing part of it all, what do you do? Part of me says "Hey, let the kid do his thing, if that's what he enjoys." The other part of me, knowing the conservative backwoods Pennsylvania hellhole community they live in, thinks maybe they should find a way to redirect his creativity so he won't get his ass kicked on a daily basis when he's 13.

While it may not be a gender identity issue yet, I think that someone needs to muster up the balls to sit down and have a chat about this. before it becomes one.
posted by aGreatNotion at 12:02 PM on March 7, 2005


side note on the clothes issue:
a small but growing number of guys around my campus are wearing long skirts in the summer. granted, they're dirty hippy types, and they all have beards to set off any perceived femininity, but it's a small step in the right direction...they sure look comfy...
posted by es_de_bah at 12:03 PM on March 7, 2005


Contact information for the Superintendent is on this page -- I hope some of you will take a moment and drop the Superintendent a note to tell him what a good job he did. I already did.
posted by anastasiav at 12:03 PM on March 7, 2005


Fantastic. Finally, a good school story.
posted by agregoli at 12:07 PM on March 7, 2005


This made me very happy: "If students bring home questions that parents cannot answer, he said, they should call the school to speak to a staff member familiar with gender identity issues."

That's one thoughtful school administrator. People say the schools are worse than ever. People like this man give me hope.

When the article mentions a "medical" aspect to this, are they simply including the term to indicate that psychological issues are, of course, medical issues -- or are they talking about some physical or hormonal issues? Do children with gender dysphoria often or usually have physical characteristics that are unusual for their genetic sex?
posted by Cassford at 12:07 PM on March 7, 2005



When the article mentions a "medical" aspect to this, are they simply including the term to indicate that psychological issues are, of course, medical issues -- or are they talking about some physical or hormonal issues? Do children with gender dysphoria often or usually have physical characteristics that are unusual for their genetic sex?


There may be physiological differences in the brain, and physical differences in structure, but research is ongoing (google "BSTc" and "Zhou"). There are usually not outwardly phsyical manifestations.

However, researchers don't know when gender identity forms, but I think all respected ones think that no later than gradeschool.
posted by adzuki at 12:10 PM on March 7, 2005


Oh yeah, kudos to the superintendent for handling this the way he's handling it. It's nice to see an administrator who cares about more than keeping his or her job.
posted by aGreatNotion at 12:11 PM on March 7, 2005


Well, there's that whole institutionalized sexism thing...

What does a 2 year old know about institutionalized sexism?
posted by delmoi at 12:12 PM on March 7, 2005


ArmyofKittens: Is it possible that people changed their interaction style with you after the switch because you exude more happiness now that you are in the body you belong in? Or are you sure that it is something about the difference between how men and women are treated by default?
posted by Cassford at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2005


[off-topic]And here I thought that "tranny" was an abbreviation of "transmission"...[/off-topic]
posted by Slothrup at 12:17 PM on March 7, 2005


a small but growing number of guys around my campus are wearing long skirts in the summer.

That probably has more to do with the breeze between their legs than any gender identity thing. Or perhaps they're merely wannabe Scotsmen.

What does a 2 year old know about institutionalized sexism?

Well, even at that age, you're starting to get the message that "boys act this way, girls act that way..."
posted by jonmc at 12:19 PM on March 7, 2005


What does a 2 year old know about institutionalized sexism?

It knows that for some reason it never gets the right toys.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:23 PM on March 7, 2005


Well, even at that age, you're starting to get the message that "boys act this way, girls act that way..."

And if not at 2, you certainly get it by 5.
posted by soyjoy at 12:24 PM on March 7, 2005


On the other hand, I remember that back around 4th grade, at recess, most of the girls would go off an play jump rope or something, and the boys would go off and play kickball. But there were always a few girls who would play with us guys and we really didn't think much of it. Maybe it's cause we all knew eachother, maybe it was a cultural byproduct of being a kid in the "Free To Be You And Me," 70's.

And anyway, judging what makes a "man" by superficial details is kind of stupid. It's how you carry yourself, and how you treat others that defines manhood. I live my life in a fairly traditional male style, but I've met "sissyboys" who are more man than a truckload of would-be tough guys by that measure.
posted by jonmc at 12:30 PM on March 7, 2005


Cassford: about 50/50, I'd say. I'm happier and nicer to people, but they also approach me a hell of a lot more. When I'm just standing/sitting there (waiting for a tram or a train, say) I still get approached more for questions or conversation than I ever did before.

It's difficult to say why. Men and women both seem to be more intimidated by men, and more inclined to be nice to a woman without prior contact. I'm shy, so I rarely initiate contact myself, and I've simply noticed a huge increase in the number of daily interactions.

It could be age as well, of course. I'm 25 now, and I haven't been male for five years. I know I don't approach teenage boys unless I absolutely have to...
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:30 PM on March 7, 2005


I can't help but wish there were a way for people to identify as "biologically male with female feelings" rather than having to assign themselves to one hard category or another.

Ah! That's where queer theory comes to the rescue. The general idea (with a whole lot of other theory and political context accompanying) is that you can identify as anything you damn well please, and change that identification whenever you feel it necessary. A fair number of transfolk never transition with hormones and surgery, but choose to live with the body type they were born with and the social gender they choose to perform. Those people identify as male, female, transgender, transman, transwoman, however they feel best represent them. The category of genderqueer is where you really get a chance to subvert the binary. Genderqueer is neither male nor female, nor is it the absence of gender--it is a gender unto itself, defined by the individual who professes it. Genderqueers, and some transpeople, often use gender neutral pronouns (ze/hir and ze/zir are the most common) to avoid locating themselves as male or female.

And Shusha, I've heard "tranny" used by trans and genderqueer friends o'mine as both a term of affection and a casual abbreviation, and I feel comfortable using the term with some of them. It's a contextual thing. I don't think jonmc was in the wrong to use it here.

A note on biological connections: A awful lot of transfolk and gender activists argue that it's misleading and beside the point to debate whether gender identity has genetic or biological roots. Additionally, saying that a transman, say, is "biologically female" is offensive to some people because it implies that a person's gender/sex is really determined by what kind of genitals ze has. If you want to talk about the fact that when a man was born, the doctors put "female" on his birth certificate and his parents decoracted the nursery with pink, you would say he was female-assigned.
posted by hippugeek at 12:33 PM on March 7, 2005


What sonofsamiam said. The infant-to-youth toy market is perhaps one of the most sexist institutions out there.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:38 PM on March 7, 2005


"biologically male with female feelings"

But what are female feelings? being able to publicly cry? show affection? wear pink clothing?

I'm quite comfortable doing the first two, and I'm quite happy being a guy.

what kind of genitals ze has.

I appreciate the aim of this pronoun, but "ze" just sounds excessively Tuetonic to me, and know I'm hearing your entire post in the voice of Colonel Klink.
posted by jonmc at 12:39 PM on March 7, 2005


hippugeek writes, "Additionally, saying that a transman, say, is 'biologically female' is offensive to some people because it implies that a person's gender/sex is really determined by what kind of genitals ze has."

This doesn't make sense to me- we have a very well-defined biological definition of gender: the XY chromosome pair. Someone born as a male can have all the surgery s/he wants, but that Y is gonna stick with him/her forever.
posted by mkultra at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2005


It wasn't too long ago that shoulder legnth hair and earrings would be enough get a guy branded as "gay," or a "sissy,"
That's just recently in The US culture. Look back at pirates as examples where it was not.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:45 PM on March 7, 2005


What does a 2 year old know about institutionalized sexism?

Well, there's plenty in family life to tell a kid about gender roles. Control of the household is made pretty clear by statements like "you wait until your father comes home!" Mommy can drive, but Daddy drives when both of them are in the car. Brothers get Tonka trucks and rough play, sisters get Barbies and kitchen playsets and are told to "play nice". Lots of indicators.

we have a very well-defined biological definition of gender: the XY chromosome pair

Actually, that's an indicator of your biological sex, not your gender.
posted by heatherann at 12:47 PM on March 7, 2005


That's just recently in The US culture. Look back at pirates as examples where it was not.

that's what I mean by "fluid," thom. Yarr.
posted by jonmc at 12:48 PM on March 7, 2005


Anyone who's seen the groundbreaking 80s documentary Sleepaway Camp knows the quite literal horrors that can face transgender children. We've come a long way since then!
posted by gurple at 12:48 PM on March 7, 2005


Additionally, saying that a transman, say, is "biologically female" is offensive to some people because it implies that a person's gender/sex is really determined by what kind of genitals ze has.

I'm with mkultra. I'm puzzled as to why the simple fact that they have certain parts would be offensive to anyone. I'd think that in certain situations (like medical ones) it would be important to know what pieces and parts the person in question was born with, and 'biological' seems to be the obvious way to express that.

Can you explain this further?
posted by anastasiav at 12:54 PM on March 7, 2005


I have always found gender issues/identity to be very interesting. Awhile back I stood in court as a reference for a person undergoing a name (to a more gender neutral name) change because she was undergoing a M to F gender change. Something interesting she said was whenever she took her car to be serviced she dressed male because there was a vastly different professional reaction to men as opposed to women.

I just got through reading a bunch of John Varley (SciFi) short stories, many of which occur when gender change is common place, and a person would undergo multiple changes easily over a lifespan. There is a certain part of me that wishes this was possible now. A concept that came out of those stories was to think of people as "male" or "female" but a male human or female human. The new focus being on the human part with gender being but an adjective.

As far as nature/nurture is concerned most current thought is each places about a 50/50 role, but the interconnections between the two are mind bogglingly complex.

a small side note, at times I want to scream at the narrow nitpicking that some progressives exhibit towards others. referring to almost tjack by Shusha.
posted by edgeways at 12:58 PM on March 7, 2005


related links: Berdaches are those in Native American culture who are two-spirited -- who are believed to have both a female spirit and a male spirit in the same body. Hijras are those of the third gender in South Asian culture. They are considered neither male nor female, and have their own caste. (more here)

Also, Wikipedia has this to say on the sex/gender terminology: "Many people, including many social scientists, use sex to refer to the biological division into male and female; gender to refer to the gender role assigned to an individual on the basis of their apparent sex and/or other contingent factors; gender identity to refer to an individual's subjective feeling of having a particular sex or gender; and gender perception to refer to what others perceive to be the sex or gender of an individual."

I'm currently taking a course on Sex and Gender, and we've been instructed to use male/female to refer to a person's sex, and masculine/feminine to refer to their gender. Just because someone is born with a penis does not necessarily imply that they have a masculine gender; that's what hippugeek is on about.
posted by heatherann at 1:01 PM on March 7, 2005


when I was an in-betweenie people were either neutral or actively hostile towards me

Uncanny valley problem?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:02 PM on March 7, 2005


What hippugeek said, because really, she said everything that I was thinking and was much clearer than my thoughts.

I have a number of trans-friends and have been actively and passively learning about trans-issues for years now. I'm amazed to find parents so accepting because I know that for my own friends, theirs have been anywhere from snarky to outright hostile about their change in gender status. I'm quite happy to be reading something positive about trans-children!

For anyone who wants to read more about transgenderism, I really recommend the works of Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein. I was lucky enough to hear them both speak and to meet them (albeit briefly) at my crazy hippie college. They're excellent writers and explain a lot about the history of transgenderism and also how we create gender much better than I ever could.

(Leslie Feinberg is the creator of the gender neutral pronouns "ze" and "hir" and while I still think that they sound kind of strange, they're quite useful in describing individuals who don't identify as male or female and much more respectful than using the wrong gendered pronoun.)

On preview : "biologically" female is offensive to TG folk because they don't believe that biology is the be all and end all of gender development and to say that someone is "biologically" female implies that this trumps their true identity if that identity is "male" or "other." Saying "assigned" female is more correct as it indicates that this is someone with female genitalia, but it doesn't imply anything beyond that nor does it trump that person's gender identity.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:03 PM on March 7, 2005


Also, to expand on what heatherann was saying : sex can be male, female, or other. (XY, XX, XXY, XYY... lots of people have chromosomal anomalies which don't necessarily show up at birth) - as for gender, there is a whole spectrum of identities ranging from "masculine" to "feminine" and beyond. A good example of a non-polar gender identity would be of (transvestite comedian) Eddie Izzard's "male lesbian" - a man who feels more comfortable dressed as a woman, but is not gay and does not identify as being a woman.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:07 PM on March 7, 2005


Rather young children do perceive gender roles. I recall that through most of our let's-pretend phase one of my friends always took a boy identity because boys are the ones who get to actually *do* stuff. (Being from a less culturaly restrictive family, I just made myself a girl-who-does-stuff.) It took her until college for her to finally realize that she didn't want to be a *boy*, she wanted to be not treated like a second-class citizen. (Off topic somewhat, it took *me* nearely that long to figure out that so many of my friends did the lets-pretend-i'm-blonde bit -- because they were, erm, nonwhite. Being white myself, I didn't perceive the difference in treatment.)
posted by Karmakaze at 1:19 PM on March 7, 2005


Saying "assigned" female is more correct as it indicates that this is someone with female genitalia, but it doesn't imply anything beyond that nor does it trump that person's gender identity.

Eh? But isn't the isn't the point generally made that the gender identity of these folks is somewhat biologically "assigned", too, just like their naughty bits?

How in the world does one create language for these concepts? Language that's neither judgmental nor laughably ambiguous nor bogged down with baggage ("tranny")? I haven't seen a term in this thread yet that isn't at least one of those three.
posted by gurple at 1:21 PM on March 7, 2005


gurple : The point is that gender idenitity goes beyond what's biologically assigned and a lot of people find it direspectful to imply otherwise. Yes, biology plays a part in gender identity, but it's not the be all and end all. Socialization plays a large part as well - how you were raised, what gender your parents perceived you to be, that sort of thing. To say that some one is "socialized female" is to say that person was brought up with the world treating hir as female. "Assigned" female means that this person also has female genitalia and probably XX chromosomes.

I don't see what's so "laughably ambiguous" about this. To me "biologically male" is fairly ambiguous because what do you mean by that? Does this person have male hormones? An FTM may be taking testosterone and thus has male hormones, is this person "biologically male?" What exactly do you mean by "biologically?" To me "assigned male" is much more precise - it means that the gender assigned to this person at birth is male. Nothing ambiguous there.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:34 PM on March 7, 2005


I just got through reading a bunch of John Varley (SciFi) short stories, many of which occur when gender change is common place, and a person would undergo multiple changes easily over a lifespan.

I haven't read John Varley, but I'm pretty confident that this will, in fact, come to pass. Whether we work to "subvert the binary" or not, the binary (and I mean for both M/F and het/homo) is too rigid and arbitrary for the people we are and, dare I say, the people we will be. Doubtless it was so for a lot of the people we were, which is why we're now finding out about all the historical exceptions, both social and biological, to what was always officially a binary system.

Uncanny valley problem?

FFF, that's a good point, and it probably seems that way to the people who have the problem. But there's an important distinction: The uncanny valley, as I understand it, is between two concepts that are truly opposite: real and unreal. Male and female gender are only "opposite" in a very loose sense, and on a real level there's already plenty of fill in that valley (hermaphrodites, for instance, if you want to limit it strictly to sex). And in terms of, say, drag queens, there can be a particular appeal in a persona that dances right on the border between the two.
posted by soyjoy at 1:40 PM on March 7, 2005


grapefruit: sorry, on review my "laughably ambiguous" sounds like a bit of a troll, but that wasn't my intention. "assigned female" struck me as funny because it seemed that, in an attempt to the apparently-offensive "biologically female", a term had been created that managed to convey virtually no information to the uninitiate.

That is, say "assigned female" to the average person on the street and you'll have to spend 10 minutes explaining yourself. Then again, that might not be such a bad thing because, as I expressed earlier, these are inherently difficult concepts to build language around, and because discussion is good.

To me "assigned male" is much more precise - it means that the gender assigned to this person at birth is male. Nothing ambiguous there.

Really? It seems to me that this post is full of ways in which the word "gender" is demonstrated to be ambiguous. What exactly is assigned? I'm assuming you're talking about external genitalia, but the term itself doesn't attempt to convey that to me.
posted by gurple at 1:50 PM on March 7, 2005


heatherann writes "Wikipedia has this to say on the sex/gender terminology..."

Wikipedia also has a very large contingent of trans-gendered contributors; accepting any Wikipedia article as correct or unbiased is a stretch, but especially so when it's on a contentious subject close to the contributor's heart.

Citing Wikipedia can be useful, but referring to it as an authority on anything other than the ideological biases of its contributors (laughably called "editors" by Wikipedia ) is an unjustified leap of faith.
posted by orthogonality at 1:52 PM on March 7, 2005


As Raphael Carter puts it, "You may ask after a transgendered person's genital appearance in exactly the same situations where you might ask the length of a man's penis — that is, if you will excuse M. Manners' language, not bloody often."

In other words, asking if someone's biologically male or female might not be offensive per se — to tell the truth, I'm not sure what "offensive" means anymore — but it sure is intrusive.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:56 PM on March 7, 2005


A co-worker of mine underwent reassignment surgery, going from male to female. People would detour through her area to gawk at her, until her cubicle was moved to a sort of dead end/cul de sac to put an end to this.

There was a meeting of everyone in her area, where my employer brought in a psychologist to discuss the issues. Like the some of the people quoted in the story, the biggest question was "Which bathroom?"

This person has unbelievable courage, since we are a pretty provincial and conservative workforce.
posted by fixedgear at 1:57 PM on March 7, 2005


A number of commenters have mentioned having (sometimes several) trans-gendered friends. At what point in getting to know trans people do they reveal they are trans?

For the trans commenting here, when do you let new acquaintances know?
posted by orthogonality at 1:58 PM on March 7, 2005


Delmoi - you don't understand how much concept of a gender two year old has because you are not transsexual. If you read on the subject, you also get a much clear picture of gender differences you would never suspect existed in everyone's head.

Isn't it at least possible that they exist to greater and lesser degrees in different people's heads? If I were male, I really don't think I'd care, at least not enough to have surgery. I think being male would be pretty cool. I'm fine being female, but I don't feel like it's utterly central to my personality, in a way that would make me feel "wrong" if I'd been born with a different set of chromosomes. Maybe some people have a deeper sense of internal gender than others? (FWIW, I've never been particularly interested in "traditionally" girly things, never played with dolls, don't usually wear make-up, and during my adolescence the only "pink" I liked was pink floyd.)

Anyway, glad that this is being handled intelligently; just hope that the recognition of cross gender-identity being a legitimate problem does not translate into an assumption that everyone must have a strong gender identity. I think some of us are a little bit androgynous on the inside.
posted by mdn at 2:09 PM on March 7, 2005


I'm wondering how one pronounces "hir" so as not to sound like one is saying "her".
posted by goatdog at 2:09 PM on March 7, 2005



Citing Wikipedia can be useful, but referring to it as an authority on anything other than the ideological biases of its contributors (laughably called "editors" by Wikipedia ) is an unjustified leap of faith.


Oh, bull hockey. Every Wikipedia entry I've read that's about an area in which I can call myself an expert has always struck me as accurate and mostly unbiased. Wikipedia has earned the faith people put into it.

And its entry on the matter strikes me a pretty lucid and unbiased.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:10 PM on March 7, 2005


Only in Massachusetts...
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:13 PM on March 7, 2005


At what point in getting to know trans people do they reveal they are trans?

This nettles me a bit, because it seems to me that your question insinuates that a trans-gendered person must, at some point, reveal this particular piece of their history.

I liken it to my marriage status: divorced. It's like asking me "At what point in getting to know someone do you tell them you are divorced?"

Sure, I may tell them (if it comes up in conversation) that I was once married, but it's not something I feel they have to know about me in order to "get to know me".
posted by Specklet at 2:14 PM on March 7, 2005


If we got over our obsession with gender, it might solve a lot of problems for a lot of people. If we weren't so stuck on rigidly defined binary male/female gender roles wouldn't that pretty much make issues re: sexual identity moot? And sexism? And we wouldn't have to shame kinds for wanting the wrong kind of toys or wearing the wrong colour. And maybe it would reduce the pressure to become a mom or like certain activities or whatever.

It strikes me as very weird that we put up these 'immoveable' boundaries and tolerate (even encourage) segregation based on this arbitrary thing. Why do we continue to have segregation re: gender when we don't tolerate segregation re: race?

I don't forsee this as an attainable goal in my lifetime, but long term, maybe it's ultimately the answer for queerfolk.

I'm trying to raise my child in an environment that recognizes that gender and sexuality are fluid. But the outside pressures are enormous. The first question everyone asked when my kid was born: "Boy or girl?" And gifts? pink clothes with frills on them, kitchen sets, dolls. Based on that, anybody wanna guess what my kid's private parts consist of? I try and balance that by filling my home also with denim, trucks, bugs, tools, whatever seems to appeal to her. Yet I'd probably have a harder time (but still make the effort) if my child had been born with a penis instead of a vagina. It bothers me that I'm still that .. close-minded.*

*See, even our language itself makes adrongyny nearly impossible. I TRIED to remove gender-specific language from that last paragraph, but it isn't long before it sounds ridiculous.

Plus it's challenging for myself because I identify myself strongly with my life-experience as a woman. And at this point I do believe that male people and female people have different experiences, but most of it is socially constructed. Anyone born XY will not experience my hormonal cycles, the monthly bleeding, giving birth - but then there are many born XX that also do not experience these things. That doesn't reduce their personhood, and it's a small (albeit significant to me) part of my personhood.

I know there's not a lot of clarity in these mumblings of mine, but can anyone understand what I'm driving at?

To those of you that are transgendered, and to other concerned parents, what can we do to reduce the indoctrination of our kids? How can we create a more positive inclusive environment for our children (and everyone else's) no matter their gender / sexual identity?
posted by raedyn at 2:14 PM on March 7, 2005


While in college, i worked at a vegetarian restaurant staffed mostly with the hippy/punks you'd expect. Several of my co-workers were assigned females that were considering a "FTM" transition(both apparently went through with it.)
After interacting with them on a daily basis for a year or so, i could understand that they identified themselves other than "female", because i too identified them as other than "female."

Regarding queer culture - i lived in a quasi-anarchist community in Asheville, a southern queer culture stronghold. Rather than having different "identifiers"(i.e. transgender, assigned female, etc.) people just used queer as a catch-all. It simplified the issue, and prevented some uncertainties in how to address a specific person.

In my college town, a queer that was/is undergoing a MTF transition decide to run for an elected office...one of the most inspirational and brave people i have ever met.
posted by schyler523 at 2:15 PM on March 7, 2005


grapefruitmoon: To me "assigned male" is much more precise - it means that the gender assigned to this person at birth is male. Nothing ambiguous there.

But to me "assigned male" implies a choice was made of two equally apparent choices IE: someone who at birth had both sets of equipment. Otherwise one would just say male or female and leave off the adjective.

On preview what gurple said.

The people who are affected by this because they either are transgendered or are interested in some other way have a jargon that Mr Average hasn't. Not that this is anything unusual as almost every discipline and area of interest does. What is different is, for example, technical people rarely get _offended_ when some mispronounces SQL or calls Windows Office. Anytime there is a sub group that feels oppressed or discriminated against by a word things tend to get blown out of proportion. Even on relatively civil MeFi. One only has to think back to the "Drama Queen" incident for proof.

PS: I love how MeFi's spell check suggests Mafia for MeFi.
posted by Mitheral at 2:16 PM on March 7, 2005


At what point in getting to know trans people do they reveal they are trans?

One FTM friend of mine often doesn't seem to have mentioned his past to people, and sometimes when I meet newer friends and they ask when we met, he starts looking a little nervous that I might mention that his gender was different when we met. He is 100% guy now, though. I was kind of sad when he began transitioning, because he was a hot dyke, but she's just gone. I can hardly remember what he was like as a female, so it doesn't occur to me to mention!

Other trannies I know are more upfront about it, but I think it depends on a few factors: do they identify with the trans-community in a big way, or would they rather just get married and live a normal life with their new sex? How well do they 'pass'? And how open are they in general about personal details?
posted by mdn at 2:18 PM on March 7, 2005


ArmyofKittens and adzuki -- thanks for the answers.

grapefruitmoon, when you speak of the variations of sex chromosomal aneuploidies, I think you are making it a bit more complicated than it is. The appearance of a Y chromosome makes that person's genetic sex male.

XO = Turner Syndrome (female, sterile, distinctive phenotype)
XXY = Kleinfelter Syndrome (male, sterile, some feminization)
XXX = metafemale (variable effects, often minor)
XYY = tall male, many show no other effects.

Gender identification is complicated enough without making it completely inscrutable.

P.S. -- yes, that's metafemale
posted by Cassford at 2:23 PM on March 7, 2005


Specklet writes "This nettles me a bit, because it seems to me that your question insinuates that a trans-gendered person must, at some point, reveal this particular piece of their history."

Well, commenters had mentioned having trans friends, and I was assuming that they knew because those friends had revealed it, and not because they'd secretly taken their friends' blood and had it tested for the presence of Y chromosomes.
posted by orthogonality at 2:37 PM on March 7, 2005


"Most parents who called, however, simply wanted to know which bathroom the child uses, according to Littlefield, who said he told them the youngster uses a separate bathroom, and people say, 'Oh, wow, that's cool.""

Oh, wow, that's cool.
posted by Dean Keaton at 2:38 PM on March 7, 2005


At what point in getting to know trans people do they reveal they are trans?

The two transguys I know well, I met when they were still presenting themselves as female, so I've always known. Other than that, if someone is ambiguous-looking and I want to be sure to use the right pronoun, I'll just ask. I haven't known anyone to be bothered, because I always present it in a "I want to call you what you want to be called and treat you how you prefer to be treated" manner, while simultaneously not making it a big deal.

More generally, while I am entirely for people being masculine, feminine, or genderqueer as it suits them, I have to admit I won't be signing up for gender swapping anytime soon. Like mdn, I am not the girliest of girls (heels and makeup baffle me, frankly), but I do like being a girl.
posted by dame at 2:40 PM on March 7, 2005


Thanks for your additions, grapefruitmoon--I'm usually the learner of this stuff rather than the explainer.

I'll try to clarify a little more.
(ran away for a bit and on preview, I'm comically behind. Hope this is still relevant)
The idea is that it is possible to entirely divorce chromosomal sex and the appearence and function of external and internal genitals from the way people enact their genders in public.
In my experience, there are two major ways this plays out.
In one, chromosomes and genitalia constitute sex, while behavior and self-idenditification constitute gender. The one has no bearing on the other. People who ascribe to this would be unlikely to object to being called biologically male or biologically female.
In the second, physical characteristics are still tied to gender, but do not determine it. Instead, an individual determines whether hir external features are male or female--this has more to do with how people relate to their bodies. Thus, a transwoman might refer to her clit (which most of us would see as a penis), and a transman might refer to his chest (which most of us would see as breasts), because that's how they think of their bodies. Or not. It's entirely individualized, and in radical queer circles there is a very strong feeling against making assumptions and generalizing and for self-definition.

anastasiav, you're right that it's hard to fit healthcare into that framework. There's actually a whole field of activism trying to make medical care more trans-friendly. A transman who has a uterus would go to a gynecologist; a transwoman with a prostate would go to a urologist. If they were lucky, they'd each be able to find doctors who could provide appropriate medical care and be respectful of their genders.
posted by hippugeek at 2:47 PM on March 7, 2005


in an attempt to the apparently-offensive "biologically female", a term had been created that managed to convey virtually no information to the uninitiate.

Welcome to the Thunderdome trannyweb. I feel sorry for TS kids coming onto the net these days: if they're lucky, in their half-blind search for a bit of information to validate the horrible wrong feelings writhing inside, they'll find the pink pages; if they're unlucky they'll find a bunch of terrifying trans college kids doing their best to overcomplicate things in an attempt to sound like the 1970s feminists who hate them.

If I were explaining my past to someone I met on the street I'd say I was "born male". Nice and simple and politics-free.

How can we create a more positive inclusive environment for our children (and everyone else's) no matter their gender / sexual identity?

Unless you can control the world, then you can't. No matter how open and friendly you are with your kid, and no matter how much you let them choose their own toys and don't automatically shadow-box with the child just because he'll be swinging testes around some day, that kid is going to go out into the world and see almost everything put into two huge flashing sex boxes. You can always try to get hold of fairly gender-neutral material to show your sprog at home, like Spongebob or something, but that kid's also going to see Minnie and Mickey Mouse, and For Him adverts, and pictures of cars with sexy ladies on them. A trans kid will learn very quickly that the feelings inside them are dirty and wrong and should be kept very secret. That's not to say there isn't stuff out there that is passively or even occasionally actively trans-positive, but there's very little of it and it's usually not available to kids.

I know it probably doesn't seem that stark to most people, but I'm afraid I have to say that, for the most part, if you haven't been there (or if you haven't specifically looked for it), you won't know what it's like. A developing boy, searching for something that says, "It's okay: you can be a girl if you need to be," will find the world telling them very sternly to stay as they are, and to get a nice pretty wife sometime too.

I'm wondering how one pronounces "hir" so as not to sound like one is saying "her".

That's why I don't use genderfree pronouns. I mean "he", "she", "zie"? Why the voiced consonant? Are they trying to make our sentences fall flat on their faces? I've been waiting for someone to come up with a set that fits cleanly into the language without all the grace of an elephant on roller-skates.

For the trans commenting here, when do you let new acquaintances know?

In the real world? Never. If they find out then I don't lie about it, but people don't tend to find out. If I'm in all-queer company, then I feel more comfortable about my past and may discuss it or make jokes about it, but if there're people who'll be grossed out or just really interested then I keep quiet: outside of Metafilter, I'm not the answering-questions sort of tranny. Hell, the only reason I'm talking about it here is that my username is one I've abandoned everywhere else after the scary people got a little too interested in me.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:48 PM on March 7, 2005


I found Cassford last post so interesting I'm expanding it with this other link which explains

Sex determination in humans
1) The presence or absence of the Y chromosome determines sex
2) A gene on the Y chromosome called the SRY gene codes for the testis-determining factor
(a) It controls the production of maleness
(b) Works by inducing development of the medulla of the gonadal primordial, pairs of ridges on the embryonic kidneys
(c) XY individuals who lack the part of the Y chromosomes with this gene are females
(d) XX individuals who carry a tiny piece of the Y chromosome with this gene on an X chromosome are male (though sterile)


Among the anomalies it correlates XYY potentially to..delinquency ? What the hell ??

But there's also Polyfemales with a lot of XXXX and Trysomy. Truly a lot of potential sexes out there.
posted by elpapacito at 2:56 PM on March 7, 2005


But to me "assigned male" implies a choice was made of two equally apparent choices IE: someone who at birth had both sets of equipment. Otherwise one would just say male or female and leave off the adjective.

I don't see that choice - it simply means that whoever was in charge of deciding for the infant looked at it and chose. If you saw male genitals, you'd likely assign the child as male, but that doesn't mean that they are solely male.
posted by agregoli at 2:56 PM on March 7, 2005


Wait, so, pretend for a second that I'm just Regular Old Joe Red State and I don't have any exposure whatsoever to all the subtle nuances of gender/sex/sexual orientation nomenclature and I don't have any transgendered friends and haven't done any in-depth reading on the subject (save for this fascinating thread).

Now, my question is this:

For a Male to Female transsexual (for example), would the male, to begin with, be regarded as gay? I mean, that is to say, is there any sort of large number of men who undergo surgery to become females who are then sexually interested in females? And, if so, after the surgery, would they be considered "lesbians?" Or if they're involved with men, are the men "gay?"

I mean, I guess this is where the whole binary view of sexuality sort of falls apart, isn't it? But with all the different possibilities on the table (Assigned Male who Identifies as Female who is attracted to Men, Assigned Female who Identifies as Male who is attracted to Men, etc. ) it makes it a little overwhelming to the unindoctrinated.

I guess I just mean to say that this isn't going to be a subject that can ever been simply reduced for mass consumption, you know? People are loathe to read as it is (Grisham doesn't count), so I can't imagine many people taking the time to read long treatises or essays on the topic, and with our patience-less culture, I can't imagine people are interested in 15 minute explanations.

Up until recently I had no idea this world even really existed. I mean, I understood that some men became women and vice versa, but I certainly didn't understand (and still don't) the deeper gender/sexual implications. I'm not saying that all of this progressive gender stuff will always be niche, but I can't imagine it (it being the whole philosophical aspect) finding mainstream acceptance anytime soon.

schyler523 - I had a friend who also lived in a quasi-anarchist community in, I think, Asheville. Though it might've been Raleigh.
posted by StopMakingSense at 3:14 PM on March 7, 2005


I'm wondering how one pronounces "hir" so as not to sound like one is saying "her".

"Heer." It still comes out like "her" sometimes if you're talking fast, which is why some people prefer "zir." But then "ze" sounds like "she" if you don't pay attention, so... imperfect.

In terms of trans friends coming out: It differs, but it's never been a big deal--no one has ever "come out" to me formally. I have several formerly-male friends who have started identifying as genderqueer over the last couple years. They all were into gender activism beforehand and transitioned fairly gradually, so it was no big shock. There are also a couple people who have been their current gender as long as I've known them, so I was introduced to them that way, and either realized right away that they were trans or had it dawn on me slowly. I'm at a college with a very visible queer and trans community, though, so I imagine it does vary in parts of the world with small communities and with individuals who have transitioned with hormones and/or surgery.

What is different is, for example, technical people rarely get _offended_ when some mispronounces SQL or calls Windows Office.

I see your point about inaccessible jargon, but to say that the words someone uses for computer applications are as important and personal to a techie as the words someone uses for a transperson's body are to that transperson is simply absurd.
posted by hippugeek at 3:15 PM on March 7, 2005


A transman who has a uterus would go to a gynecologist; a transwoman with a prostate would go to a urologist.

Not to be too nitpicky (because the comment about health care is a valid one), but a transman will never have a uterus and a transwoman will never have a prostate. (Not yet, anyway; medical advancement may make that possible at a later date.)
posted by Specklet at 3:15 PM on March 7, 2005


The infant-to-youth toy market is perhaps one of the most sexist institutions out there.

Riiiiight, we all live in one big social engineering experiment, right? ***rolls eyes***

In my experience of kids (as a father/uncle) and having been a kid myself, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Some girls are into boys toys, some boys are into girls toys, but generally you can see tendencies and preferences of what kids are into that can be distinguished by gender (i.e. boys tend to like certain things, girls other things). And why should this be wrong? It's as OK for tendencies to occur (based on gender) as it is for individuals to like what they happen to like. Are they brainwashed into liking blue or pink? Some people would love to believe this to be true, but sorry - a lot of tendencies and likings are simply natural.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 3:21 PM on March 7, 2005


This is such a refreshing thread. I know a couple of fabulous transgendered people, but not well enough that I feel I can/should ask questions like 'is trannie an affectionate or a derogatory term?'

I am curious when sexual identity forms. Even small toddlers show an awareness of gender, and many gay children want to reassign their sex, but there seems to be a core difference. I really wanted to be a girl, tried to dress like a girl and only played with girls until I began to like boys, like them a lot, sometime around grade four or five. This child's clarity is so different from what I went through.

My guess is that these parents are saving their son years of anguish and therapy.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:22 PM on March 7, 2005


stopmakingsense: I guess I just mean to say that this isn't going to be a subject that can ever been simply reduced for mass consumption, you know?

I guess not. After all people for centuries believed the planet was flat and if you said to them "look, not only is the planet not flat, but it's orbiting around the sun and the moon is a satellite" they would probably have burned you alive !

Oh wait, they almost did with Galileo Galilei ! They guy just went to so much against the Scriptures the Church wasn't simply ready to accept such an Enlightement.

So I guess it will take some time but I have hope everybody can understand ; what I'd rather see disappear or at worst be challenged is hatemongering, jingoism, sexisms and other form of forced bi-polarizations whose only purpose seems to give all the possible blames (and even the impossible ones) to "the other" side..whatever is "the other" or "the different"
posted by elpapacito at 3:28 PM on March 7, 2005


That's why I don't use genderfree pronouns. I mean "he", "she", "zie"? Why the voiced consonant?

It's okay to pronounce "ze" with a very soft z sound, which lets your tongue get around it quite nicely. (I've occasionally heard its etymology described as deriving from an attempt to pronounce "s/he" as a single word. I think I even heard Riki Anne Wilchins say that once, which doesn't make sense given her politics so maybe I'm making the whole thing up.)

Specklet: Not to be too nitpicky[...]but a transman will never have a uterus and a transwoman will never have a prostate.

Are you sure you don't have your terms reversed?
posted by nobody at 3:32 PM on March 7, 2005


a transman will never have a uterus and a transwoman will never have a prostate.

You're got it backwards, Specklet: a transman is ftm, a transwoman is mtf.
posted by hippugeek at 3:34 PM on March 7, 2005


The infant-to-youth toy market is perhaps one of the most sexist institutions out there.

Riiiiight, we all live in one big social engineering experiment, right? ***rolls eyes***



Riiiight, babies definitely have a preference whether their clothing is pink or blue depending on their gender. ***rolls eyes***
posted by agregoli at 3:34 PM on March 7, 2005


Er, yeah. Oops. Reverse terms, comment stands.
posted by Specklet at 3:36 PM on March 7, 2005


Though you can also be a "man with a history of transsexuality" who now id's as male and has a prostate but is also trans in some fashion...so it's complicated. In general, though, people will go to the doctor who can best treat their parts.
posted by hippugeek at 3:38 PM on March 7, 2005


Riiiiight, we all live in one big social engineering experiment, right? ***rolls eyes***

Are you actually incapable of envisioning the concept of "institutional bias"?
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:40 PM on March 7, 2005


nobody: I'm less than keen on the "soft z" form of "ze" because there aren't that many words in common use that start similarly; it stands out like a sore thumb. I'd genuinely love to see a set of pronouns that fit nicely into the language (either as part of a he/she/??? logical sound progession or as a whole new set of sounds -- but not "ey" and "eir" and their deformed friends, or I may be forced to die horribly) but I've yet to see one. Every set so far seems designed either to assimilate so closely that they can't be distinguished from the old ones, or to stand out so much that everyone will have to be aware that one is an enlightened individual and one does not consider another's gender to be worth commenting on.

I tried to make up my own once, but they were crap.

(This is the best trans thread Metafilter's had. Everyone is awesome!)
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:45 PM on March 7, 2005


...who now id's as male and has a prostate but is also trans in some fashion...

I stand corrected!
posted by Specklet at 3:52 PM on March 7, 2005


stopmakingsense : You're right, the sexuality "binary" does break down when you're talking about transgendered folk, but if you think about it, the gay-straight binary doesn't work to begin with. There are millions of people who are not trans in anyway who don't identify as "straight" or "gay" - "bisexual" is the most common variant, but those who don't want to limit gender to either/or often prefer the label "pansexual" (I personally can't wrap my head around that one, it still sounds to me like you prefer having sex with pots).

Of my trans friends, one is pansexual (and not very discriminating. I would say "having a pulse" is more important to him than the other person's gender), and one is a lesbian.
That is, she is MTF and prefers dating women. Many transfolk are gay/lesbian, which places them in an interesting place in the queer community. Is a lesbian who dates an MTF still a lesbian if her partner still has a penis? Official answer is yes, gender identity is more important within the queer community than assigned sex. If you're a lesbian who dates MTF women, you're still gay as the day is long.

Cassford : I don't think that I'm making this any more complicated than it is. It's hugely complicated. I studied gender development in college and there is much more to it, both pyschologically and biologically than most people think of at first. On surface, it's easy to limit biological discussion to XY/XX chromosomes, but in fact, intersex individuals play an important part in gender studies and intersex variations happen more often than one would think. For someone to discover that they have a chromosomal or hormonal anomaly in their late twenties and that this makes their previously incongruent gender identity suddenly "make sense" is not unheard of. True , it's not common, but frankly, neither is transgenderism, which is the topic of discussion.

I guess I've just studied this too long to limit my thoughts to a surface discussion.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:54 PM on March 7, 2005


XXX = metafemale (variable effects, often minor)
XYY = tall male, many show no other effects.


As a minor linguistic aside, while I was learning about gender assignment in a psychology class years ago, the contrast between "metafemale" (XXX) and "supermale" (XYY) really stuck in my mind. Why 'meta-' vs 'super-'?

'SuperFilter' does sound more masculine to my ear than 'MetaFilter'. In a vaguely-Engrish teenage computer geek sort of way.
posted by DaShiv at 3:54 PM on March 7, 2005


AoK, thanks very much for your explanation and perspective. I'm acquainted with only one transgendered person (that I know of). I was introduced to her a few years ago by a mutual friend, and after we worked together on a couple of projects, I suddenly realized from some innocuous information she shared about her home state that we had first met the previous summer at a dinner party with that mutual friend. At that dinner, she was still dressing and presenting herself in public as male.

My first impulse was to blurt out "Oh, right -- that's where I know you from!" because I felt genuinely bad that I had been treating her as someone I had just met instead of as an old acquaintance. (Well, that turned out not to be an issue because it took her a few moments to remember that she had met me before, too.) I was a completely sincere but graceless dork about it, too, as I apologized for not making the connection, then apologized for making an issue of her transition. But she's very smart and eminently sensible and she did a good job of gently telling me there was no need to beat myself up over it.
posted by maudlin at 3:55 PM on March 7, 2005


(and not very discriminating. I would say "having a pulse" is more important to him than the other person's gender)

At last, something we can ALL agree on!

Apologies to the necrophilists in the crowd.... :)
posted by gurple at 4:11 PM on March 7, 2005


FieldingGoodney, you're not the first person I've heard claim that preference for pink or blue is genetically encoded. Are you serious? Can you argue, in good faith, that there is something inherent about pink that makes it biologically a "girl color?" What could possibly be the biological advantage to that? And why doesn't it cross cultural boundaries?

I'm amazed that I've heard multiple people use this as an example of nature over nurture, when it seems to be an obvious counterexample.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:22 PM on March 7, 2005


For a Male to Female transsexual (for example), would the male, to begin with, be regarded as gay?

We're talking about the difference between sexuality & gender here. For instance, the person in this story is pre-sexual, and could turn out to be gay, straight, or anything in between upon the onset of puberty. So, to answer your question, no. A "woman trapped in a man's body" who is attracted to men is attracted to the opposite gender, and therefore heterosexual. Gender is about who we are, and sexuality/sexual orientation is about who we are attracted to.

I mean, that is to say, is there any sort of large number of men who undergo surgery to become females who are then sexually interested in females?

I certainly wouldn't call it a large number, but it happens. I know one person who went Male-to-female, while remaining married to her (female) wife. So her gender is female now, but her sexuality could be said to be bisexual, as her sexual preference is not primarily determined by her partner's gender. The same can be said of her wife. this is, BTW, the only legally-married same-sex couple I know.

I imagine it's as common for a transgendered person to be attracted to the "same" sex as in the general population; that is, somewhere around the same frequency as left-handedness.

On preview: much of what grapefruitmoon says too.
posted by obloquy at 4:35 PM on March 7, 2005


Late joiner here... Just wanted to point out something about Cassford's post. Saying that the presence of a Y chromosome makes someone male is, well, oversimplifying things. There are a whole lot of chromosomal possibilities -- why do they have to ultimately be reduced to a binary pair? That's like saying "There are millions of colors in the spectrum, but the only colors that really matter are red, blue and yellow."

Furthermore, it's very rare that people actually know their own chromosomes. How many people on this thread actually know what chromosomes they have? I certainly don't know what mine are. Do you? If chromosomes are the final arbiter of who is male and who is female (and there are only these two possibilties), then, for example, we had better start requiring people to take chromosome tests before they go into bathrooms. Lots of people get married without ever having their chromosomes actually checked.

It's simplifying things too much to say that chromosomes are the only thing that matters in determining sex. Reality just isn't that simple.

Also, for any in the audience, I'm an MTF TS. Feel free to ask any (respectful) questions. I may, of course, refuse to answer... :)
posted by jiawen at 4:41 PM on March 7, 2005


FieldingGoodney, you're not the first person I've heard claim that preference for pink or blue is genetically encoded. Are you serious? Can you argue, in good faith, that there is something inherent about pink that makes it biologically a "girl color?" What could possibly be the biological advantage to that? And why doesn't it cross cultural boundaries?

LMC, my blue/pink observation was arbitrary - it was meant to be flippant, but it's a bad example for this discussion. However, what about toys? Sports? Careers? Here's an interesting article on careers and how gender influences the choices we make. Excerpt:-

Harvard President Larry Summers had had the temerity to suggest that the continuing preponderance of men in scientific fields, despite decades of vigorous gender equity initiatives in schools and universities, may reflect something other than sexism. It might reflect the fact, Summers hypothesized, that the male population has a higher percentage of mathematical geniuses (and mathematical dolts) than the female population, in which mathematical reasoning skills may be more evenly distributed.

If you take a pool of 100 boys and girls (50/50), and WITHOUT co-ercing them one way or the other, you will spot tendencies/preferences based on gender. I'm not saying they will all robotically adhere to some gender blue-print of behaviour - simply that there will be groupings of behaviour based on gender. And as I asked before, what on earth should be wrong with that? I think people are confusing gender-based tendencies with some evil conspiracy. Not everything comes down to sexism. To suggest our behaviour isn't in any way influenced by nature is to say that even our sexual preferences are somehow 100% dictated by our upbringing.

Are you actually incapable of envisioning the concept of "institutional bias"?

sonofsamiam, what manifests itself as "institutional bias" in terms of a young child and his or her day-to-day life? What do you mean by institutional? Day-care centres? Schools? And "bias"? This suggests the institutions have a preference to one gender over the other. How does that manifest itself?
posted by FieldingGoodney at 5:06 PM on March 7, 2005


Lots of great comments on this long thread. For more about how sex works biologically and the cultural implications of that (and vice versa), see the amazing book

Sexing The Body, by Anne Fausto-Sterling.

She discusses chromosomes, hormones, genitals, and politics in a really insightful way that recognizes the importance of the ambiguities.
posted by mai at 5:11 PM on March 7, 2005


My ex was TG. Specifically, female-to-male. I can't tell you how much I wish she could have gone to a school where this kind of tolerance was possible. It would have been better than winning the lottery.
posted by Clay201 at 5:18 PM on March 7, 2005


>People are loathe to read as it is (Grisham doesn't count), so I can't imagine many people taking the time to read long treatises or essays on the topic

Except that Middlesex was on the best seller list for a long time, so someone's reading about it.
posted by occhiblu at 5:34 PM on March 7, 2005


If you take a pool of 100 boys and girls (50/50), and WITHOUT co-ercing them one way or the other, you will spot tendencies/preferences based on gender.

The problem with that is that it's 100% impossible to test. Unless you're going to remove children from society at birth and raise them in a hermetically sealed environment for all of their formative years, you are not going to be able to separate biological preferences from societal pressure.

Linking to that article is not cutting any ice as far as your reasoned opposition to nurtured-based gender, by the way. The fact that you seem to think of that particular article as an expository piece rather than a polemic would strongly suggest to me that you're much more interested in clinging to an idea that makes you comfortable than you are in finding any real truth.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 5:43 PM on March 7, 2005


1,100 kids in a grammar school? That's appalling. It's like a factory.
posted by Eideteker at 6:05 PM on March 7, 2005


For a Male to Female transsexual (for example), would the male, to begin with, be regarded as gay?

There is a school of thought that places sexuality as very fluid, suggesting that pansexualism is perhaps the norm - but that certain people find certain traits attractive, some of which belong to only one gender. It suggests that sexuality often has nothing to do with gender and that saying "this girl likes a boy" is entirely a social construct.

I'm away from my own computer and can't slap down the handful links about the above theory that I have bookmarked. Damn.
posted by honeydew at 6:12 PM on March 7, 2005


In response to your question, StopMakingSense, I don't think one can necessarily assume transfolk are inherently more or less "gay" than those whose gender identity aligns neatly with their equiptment. As obloquy has said, this is a difference of sexuality and gender. The fact that as a society we see these as inextricably is linked is part of why transfolk align with the queer community on the whole. Loving someone of the "same" gender is seen as stepping outside of the traditional gender roles, something transfolk have to grapple with daily.

Personally, I feel that gender and sexual orientation are connected, but separate parts of selfhood. In high school, I had a very dear transgendered friend who identified as a heterosexual male. The fact that he was born into a body with ovaries doesn't necessarily make him a lesbian if he dated women, because he felt he related to them as a man. Similarly, my dating a male in no way confines me to being heterosexual simply because I identify (physically/mentally) as female. And there are plenty of other varieties: a FTM who is attracted to men for example. Such an individual may or may not identify as gay, what we might want to classify them as is sort of irrelevant.

How would you classify yourself, in such terms as to clearly distinguish yourself from any other individual, much less with regards to simply your gender and sexuality? I'm of the mind that pure heterosexuality is just as rare as pure homosexuality, and that most people exist at some point along a spectrum that is fluid and changing in time and with whom we interact.
posted by nelleish at 6:13 PM on March 7, 2005


Linking to that article is not cutting any ice as far as your reasoned opposition to nurtured-based gender, by the way.

LMC, I am not actually opposing the idea that our environment has an influence in shaping our tendencies and preferences to things (objects/people/careers/sports etc) - I'm simply saying that nature is far more of an influence (in my opinion). As I say, this idea isn't comfortable with many people because often difference is associated with inequality - it's far more desirable to think we are all blank slates* (therefore "equal") and so rather than alter the person, we just need to alter society.

By the way, the article I linked to actually had some facts in there - it wasn't 100% opinion - such as the fact that gender equity initiatives are failing because people's choices aren't reflecting a 50/50 split across genders. I wouldn't call this "inequal" - I would call it simply a difference of tendency, based on gender. Yet again I ask, what is wrong with that? Surely as individuals we are free to choose, and if our choice happens to be similar in grouping to the gender we belong to (or not!), who cares? Why does that matter? To me, it's simply an observation, and not a rule to live by.

* Steve Pinker's "Blank Slate" is an interesting read.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 6:21 PM on March 7, 2005


Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic cleverly touched on the issue. An MTF was treated with great respect but was unable to perform a ritual to the moon (it's a fantasy comic); another character explained that the gods only care about chromosomes.
posted by NickDouglas at 7:16 PM on March 7, 2005


Agh, sorry -- the moon is traditionally a tool for feminine magic. That's why gender mattered for a moon ritual. Also, the storyline involved gender issues at many levels, and this character was one aspect of the theme.
posted by NickDouglas at 7:17 PM on March 7, 2005


FieldingGoodney, you do realize that you're just resurrecting the same argument MeFi's had at least four times - every time the Summers debacle and its fallout have come up? A fair number of people agree with you, and think that most societal discrimination has been ameliorated, and that current differences in gender ratios in math and science are the result of gender-related differences in intellect. These people hold up various studies claiming men have better spacial intelligence, women have better verbal intelligence, etc. On the other hand, a fair number of people disagree, and believe that while institutional discrimination is certainly less rampant than it used to be, notions of "what women are able to do" still shape the choices of students and employers, and are still imprinted into the minds of children [not through statements but through actions, through the way boys and girls are treated differently as kids and through the ways adults behave differently.] These people in general think that due to the amount of influence societal mores have on people, it's still near-impossible to fairly measure innate differences between men and women. They tend to bring up studies such as those that demonstrate that identical papers are considered "better" if the author's name is male, or studies which show that girls' spacial intelligence improves markedly when they are taught to play sports. These people do not rule out the possibility of innate gender differences, but they think that it's still too hard to separate nature from nurture.

Unfortunately, neither Pinker nor the rather fact-thin article you linked to truly settle the matter; the fact is, one can argue either side of the discussion and back up one's argument with scads of peer-reviewed research. Since we cannot take 100 boys and girls and - this is the key - raise them in some isolated lab, away from the influence of society, it's pretty damn hard to make a case for current male-female statistical differences being primarily nature. The studies that prove the existance of discrimination and bias, however, do tend to throw some doubt on the impartiality and accuracy of studies that claim to measure intellectual differences that result from gender.

As for societal bias - again, check out some of the links in the Summers threads. I need to get back to work, or I'd find them myself... several linked by Ethereal Bligh and josh were, I think, the most useful. Several studies very clearly indicate outright [although probably subconscious] discrimination against women attempting to publish papers or apply for jobs/tenure/etc. in scientific fields. This bias [yes, actual institutional bias] doesn't spring out of nowhere; from the moment of birth, children are assigned a gender role. By the time they get to school, they've already had years of exposure to notions of what boys and girls ought to be interested in or act like. There are studies that show that boys are given more classroom attention, are called on more frequently, are encouraged to go into math or science while girls are told that they should learn to write well and be "well-rounded." And so on; I suspect I can rehash the Summers threads at length and it won't make much of a difference.

On a completely anecdotal [but slightly more on-topic] note: a MtF transexual I know commented that she thought that discrimination against women was exaggerated... until she started going out in public as a woman.
posted by ubersturm at 7:42 PM on March 7, 2005


Nova did a show on intersexuality a few year back. Their website has an excerpt from Sexing the Body by Fausto-Sterling, if you're looking to read something online, and also has quite a few stories from transsexuals in the share your stories section.
posted by carmen at 7:43 PM on March 7, 2005


I have yet to read all the replies here (shame on me!) but I've already written E-mailed the superintendent a glowing missive of support and praise. I suggest everyone else do the same. Flood his in-box with love! He can print them all out and dump them on the heads of people who think this kid needs to wear a skirt just because he doesn't have a penis.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:51 PM on March 7, 2005


Wow, what a lucky kid to have such great parents and be in a school that is that accomodating. If only all kids could be surrounded by that much love and compassion. That's beautiful and wonderful and gives me hope about the humans after all.
posted by dejah420 at 8:24 PM on March 7, 2005


For a Male to Female transsexual (for example), would the male, to begin with, be regarded as gay? I mean, that is to say, is there any sort of large number of men who undergo surgery to become females who are then sexually interested in females? And, if so, after the surgery, would they be considered "lesbians?" Or if they're involved with men, are the men "gay?"

If you mean that being MtF implies a retroactive "gay" status, or that she "really" is a gay man, that's wicked offensive. Just so you know. It's not only denying her identity, it's also implying that trans has something to do with sexual perference.

A little thought experiment: there are MtF women out there who are obviously attractive, and you cannot tell their trans status. If you want to call guys who find them attractive gay, then every guy is gay.

It's silly to get into this. If you find someone attractive in a female role, and you think of her as female, then there is no problem. You only invent problems a predjudiced attitude of "you used to be male therefore you are male now".
posted by adzuki at 8:48 PM on March 7, 2005


Where's the e-mail address for the superintendent? I only saw contact info for the webmaster.
posted by jiawen at 10:25 PM on March 7, 2005


See, now, it's threads like this that remind me why I have such affection for metafilter and its denizens. Bless your little cotton socks. In all seriousness.

There were a few points which I would like to comment on:

A) What should be done about gender-varient children?
Love them. There's not much you can do about the negativity that they're going to encounter, but it's certainly not going to help them if they are afraid that the people they love the most and depend on will not love them because they are different. You can tell them that world won't be as loving and tolerant as you, but don't make them afraid to be honest and open about who they are with you. It is truly a horrible thing to do to your children. They may or may not turn out to be transgendered--but that's not the issue.

B) Isn't biological sex (at least) pretty clearly defined by chromosomes?
Only in the sense that newtonian physics is a good description of the world--if even that. From a very distant perspective, sure, we've got men and women. XX and XY. But the more closely you examine the borderline between male and female, the murkier it gets, with all sorts of variation in glands and hormones and chromosomes and when and where they were activated: right now, there are about eight different dimensions which are recognized as forming the different sexes:

1) chromosomal sex (XX, XY, etc.)
2) gonadal sex (ovaries and testes)
3) external morphologic sex (penis, scrotum; clitoris, labia
4) internal morphological sex (seminal vesicles, prostate; vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes)
5) hormonal patterns (androgen and estrogen)
6) phenotype (secondary sexual characteristics such as facial hair, chest hair, breasts)
7) assigned sex (such as that assigned by Dr. Money to David Reimer)
8) personal sexual identity (such as that shown by "Aurora")
(from that page)

Mostly, they all line up. But any number of these can differ form the expected: it's pretty close to impossible to draw a definitive line through them all to determine male and female, and not arrive at an absurd conclusion in some cases. Such is the glory of the intersex: now surpassing the transgender in academic coolness.

C) Blue is for boys, pink is for girls?
At the end of the 19th century, there was a very vigorous debate on this topic, and pink for boys (being close to red, and red being a vigorous and strong color, while blue was a rather pale and weak colour) nearly achieved the upper hand when a particular Gainsborough painting, Blue Boy cast the deciding vote, due to its popularity. Pink boy seems to have wandered rather gaily into obscurity.

D) Power.
Well, you should all be pretty familiar with this one. I think it's pretty interesting that the subjects which get the big threads here (and everywhere else) have to do with sex and/or power. I suspect it's because these are really just different takes on the same subject. The unstated assumption is that men are better than women. In any elitist group, one has to maintain the fiction that the members are better than the non-members. It's fine to have women who want to be men, that's only natural. Everyone should want to be a man. But to have a man want to be a woman (or women-like) undermines the entire basis for the power structure--if your slave/wife has a worthy, perhaps enviable, position in life, if you are no longer at the top of your hierarchy but just a node in a network of arbitrary power relations. I'm not saying this right: What I'm trying to say, is that for any elite group, the worst offense possible is to undermine the eliteness of that group, and that is exactly what MTFs, gay men, and lesbians do, in particular. And that is why they are so hated.

E) But they're just abnormalities?
Well, it's not an everyday thing. And it's not something that's contagious. But it is kind of weird that the number quoted in the press are off by a magnitude of 10 to 100. The best numbers we have are that there are equal numbers of male and female transsexuals, and that they number about 1 in 1000, not 1 in 100,000 or 1 in 30,000, as I'm sure you've seen. What's really awful is that these incorrect numbers are used as justification for not covering the medical insurance necessary for the productive life of these people.

F) Why should we pay for their cosmetic surgery?
Well, it's a pretty small investment to make for a happy, tax-paying, functional citizen as opposed someone who is depressed, miserable, and suicidal. Look, it's simple, and it works. Frankly, I think it's one of the more sound investments a society could make.

G) They're just making it up or are sick, like those crazy people who want their limbs amputated.
Well, I'm not going to discuss them. I am not able to talk about the validity of their feelings. But there is a big difference between these groups: transsexuals mostly want body surgery in order to fit in with society and with their image of themselves. If they didn't need to have the surgery in order to be accepted by society and by their absorbed image of what it is to be a normal person, then perhaps many fewer would bother with this expensive and uninsured procedure.

Well, cheers.

You are good people.
posted by cytherea at 10:53 PM on March 7, 2005


Unfortunately, neither Pinker nor the rather fact-thin article you linked to truly settle the matter..

ubersturm, well also remember that's just your opinion. I have a different opinion to you. Let's agree to disagree on that one.

Since we cannot take 100 boys and girls and - this is the key - raise them in some isolated lab, away from the influence of society, it's pretty damn hard to make a case for current male-female statistical differences being primarily nature.

OK, then let's look in society: look at choices in career or participation in sport, products people buy, magazines people read. You will see patterns forming based on gender. From reading your long post, I think you are saying that choices are primarily formed by societal influence, and not nature. If this is true, then social engineering has occured to make it so that men are more likely to be mechanics, computer programmers, building-site labourers etc - women have been subtly co-erced into opting for the care and service industries more. Certainly there is nothing stopping a man from being a nurse (many are), or a women from being a mechanic. What about innate desires and motivations? Are all desires manufactured by society? What about sexual preference? If sexual preference is innate, what other preferences that we have are innate?

Everytime I make a post on this thread I've asked : what is wrong with behaviour that can be identified by gender? Choices people make do not reflect inequality or sexism - it's simply choices people make.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 3:20 AM on March 8, 2005


FieldingGoodney : "Are all desires manufactured by society?"

No, but many are. Or, rather, it's like throwing a paper airplane: if you throw it left, it's more likely to fly left than right. If you throw it right, it's more likely to fly right than left. However, a paper airplane thrown left will not always fly left, and vice versa. So desires are not manufactured by society, but development is affected strongly by it, resulting in a higher-than-random distribution of effects. My opinion.

And I'm not sure I agree with your central contention that if people are influenced by society to have certain desires / attitutudes that this logically implies that people have been "subtly coerced". Coercion is intentional. Molding by society may or may not be intentional. So while it may be true that people have been coerced, I don't think your statement that "If this (choices are primarily formed by societal influence) is true, then...women have been subtly co-erced..." is a necessary logical conclusion.
posted by Bugbread at 3:57 AM on March 8, 2005


You know, I have to wonder just how much of a concept of "gender" a 2 year old really even has. I wonder if transgender issues are really just a "grass is greener" situation.

I was thinking the same thing. When my son was 2, he wanted to wear his sister's Halloween costume, which was a "Snow White" dress, whereas he was Aladdin (my friend's 2 year old girl was Jasmine, it was sooo cute!).

He touched the dress, said "pretty" and wanted to wear it. I let him. So what?

The dress WAS nicer, it was prettier and it was more swooshy and fun to walk in and spin in. (it was awesome, with a crinoline and everything, not that cheap shit version)

That dress was simply more fun to wear. I don't think it was because my son had "girly" inclinations, I think it was simply that the dress was cooler.
posted by erratic frog at 4:42 AM on March 8, 2005


OK, then let's look in society: look at choices in career or participation in sport, products people buy, magazines people read. You will see patterns forming based on gender.

But our society only gives us the choice of two genders, unlike other societies. I previously linked to articles about berdaches and hijras, two other options outside of our binary boy/girl system. In societies where more choice is given, some people choose to be the third gender (not sure if there are examples of societies with four gender roles). It's fairly logical to assume that if Western societies gave the option of three genders, some of us would choose to be the third, especially given the examples in this thread of people who do not feel comfortable in the boy/girl system.

We've been raised to believe that there are only two options, so we create products for those two options. Conversely, the availability of products for only two options helps to socialize us to believe that there are only two options. Socialization is complex and patterns develop, but it's not necessarily always the "natural" patterns, nor is it therefore a cleverly masterminded evil plot.
posted by heatherann at 4:48 AM on March 8, 2005


grapefruitmoon (and others), thanks for the further info. I hadn't really thought much about intersex.

Frankly, I hadn't really thought very deeply about these issues , but as a male parent of a female 6-month-old, I'm thinking a lot about gender issues these days. I'd always considered ,myself a fairly mindful person, but I'm learning that I've been oblivious to the complexities of identity.

Like jonmc, I've always been very Free To Be You and Me about gender and sexuality. If Billy wants a doll, that's fine. But what if Billy wants to wear a dress to school?

And what about the issue of "passing?"
posted by Cassford at 6:26 AM on March 8, 2005


Are all desires manufactured by society?

No, but many are.


bugbread, which ones? If this is true, then we don't seem to have much free will (after all, nothing motivates us more than our desires). I look around and I see a very pluralistic society - people are into all sorts of things. I also see groupings of tendencies based on gender (again, I don't see anything inherently wrong or evil about this). Who is pulling our strings? I certainly see society taking advantage of our desires (porn industry, consumerism etc).

Molding by society may or may not be intentional. So while it may be true that people have been coerced, I don't think your statement that "If this (choices are primarily formed by societal influence) is true, then...women have been subtly co-erced..." is a necessary logical conclusion.

Fair point. In that way then, it's wrong to jump to the conclusion that there is "institutional bias" that children face based on their gender (as sonofsamiam pointed out).

We've been raised to believe that there are only two options, so we create products for those two options.

Yes that's true. I guess our obsession with gender does exaggerate both genders and their roles in society. I'm against socialising people into behaving more and more like their gender "ought to" - be it telling men it's unmanly to show emotions or to tell women to wear make-up everytime they go out - let people make their choices with their own free will. I'm also against a kind of intellectual dishonesty that says we are all blank slates without inherent preferences and tendencies based on gender.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 6:30 AM on March 8, 2005


I don't think anyone's arguing that we're blank slates. Could you point us to where that was said?

I think you are saying that choices are primarily formed by societal influence, and not nature. If this is true, then social engineering has occured to make it so that men are more likely to be mechanics, computer programmers, building-site labourers etc - women have been subtly co-erced into opting for the care and service industries more. Certainly there is nothing stopping a man from being a nurse (many are), or a women from being a mechanic.


Yes, exactly right. Men and women ARE encouraged into different roles. And no, not coerced. It's just been that way for so long that attitudes haven't balanced out yet. There's nothing stopping a woman for CERTAIN to be a mechanic - but the loads of harassment and questioning of her very femaleness is a tall wall to climb. If you truly feel that this is not a very real impediment, well then I say, open your eyes.
posted by agregoli at 7:07 AM on March 8, 2005


I slightly misspoke. I should say that desires are strongly influenced by society (and not go as far as "made").

Comparing to free will: If I tell someone to pick a number from 1 to 10, and they say "7", did they exercise free will in selecting that number? Yes, and no. They picked the number themselves, freely, but they picked based on the parameters I laid out for them. There will be people who say "No, I won't pick a number", and people who say "negative 20", and people who say "11", and people who say "pi", but most will go along with the expectations of the asker, and use their free will within those parameters. Same with societal expectations.

Now, don't get the idea I'm talking about adults responding to societal expectation. I'm more focussed on how society molds children while they're developing.

As for "who" is pulling our strings: In some places, people are pulling the strings (consumerism). In some places, people are just taking advantage of strings accidentally pulled (porn).

FieldingGoodney : "In that way then, it's wrong to jump to the conclusion that there is 'institutional bias' that children face based on their gender (as sonofsamiam pointed out). "

Agreed.
posted by Bugbread at 7:17 AM on March 8, 2005


Fielding, you're doing a lot of putting words in people's mouths and very little sound logical debate.

Firstly, "blank slate" is a complete straw man, so let's drop that immediately (on preview, like agregoli said). It's not necessary to claim that humans begin as sexless "blank slates" in order to conclude that the resulting adults are shaped more by environment than natal biology, and I have seen no one on this thread other than you refer to anything like "blank slates."

Secondly, there need be no "social engineering" or "coercion" to wind up with mostly male mechanics or female nurses. Let's just take the latter as an example. The phrase "male nurse" connotes a nurse who is not in the ordinary state, as "nurse" without a qualifier implies female. This sends a pretty strong signal to both males and females as to what a nurse should normally be, and men who chose to enter the profession are made aware that they are the exception. But is there some central authority enforcing the usage of "nurse" v. "male nurse"? Doubtful. What's more probable is that trends that support the power structure will get reinforced and codified, while those that contradict it will have a much harder time making an impact. Not sure if you've read the myriad psychological studies on how people pick up cues and internalize them when presented by authority figures, but the point is that there are more than those two possibilities - coercion/social engineering vs. complete free will.

Thirdly, this claim - "In that way then, it's wrong to jump to the conclusion that there is 'institutional bias' that children face based on their gender" - is off-base. It may be wrong to "jump to the conclusion" indicated, but there's no need to jump anywhere, since institutional bias has been documented countless times in many different ways.

Lastly, since you keep harping on this: No one is saying that sex-based tendencies, if such exist, are inherently a bad thing. The problem with how you're arguing is that you've packaged two separate assertions as one: "There are inherent biological tendencies" and "The structure of our society reflects inherent biological tendencies." While no one is arguing that the former is impossible, the latter is both nearly impossible to prove and conveniently resonant with the first rule of patriarchy, which is that you don't talk about patriarchy. Additionally, in cases such as many of those presented above, and, say, the history of race in our society, we have strong counterexamples that weigh against accepting that latter assertion at face value. That is, we have both examples of the people in charge claiming that an unequal social structure which priveleges them is inherently natural (phrenology is a strong for-instance) and of individuals whose experience patently contradicts the supposed norm. Again, neither of these proves that the latter contention is wrong, they only raise the standard of proof necessary to establish it as right - of which proof there has been, so far, none offered whatsoever.
posted by soyjoy at 7:28 AM on March 8, 2005


I certainly wouldn't call it a large number, but it happens. I know one person who went Male-to-female, while remaining married to her (female) wife

I know someone like this too, man married to a woman, but feels more like a woman so lives as a woman. I do not know right now if surgery was done since then, but that lady is more a "woman" than I am and I cannot imgine her any other way, but she's attracted to and happily married to her wife, who also, incidentally, is the more masculine, but NOT masculine in the "stereotypical bulldyke way" than she who used to be considered male is.

Furthermore, I also know a couple, who had a child together (who is 17 now) where both the Mother and the Father of the child have swiched genders, so the Mother is now male and the father is now female. Surgery and all.

These folks run a really cool farm in New England where I was a guest on a few occasions and are just awesome people who I am glad to call friends.
posted by erratic frog at 7:49 AM on March 8, 2005


I'm only now discovering how ingrained and sneaky the gender-based socializing is. It starts before they can talk. Before they can even walk. The differences are striking. When you are a parent with a small child everywhere you go strangers are creating these standards for your kids.

Girls are praised for
- being pretty "Isn't that a lovely dress? It's so pretty and sunshiny!"
- being polite "Aren't you a nice girl, helping mommy?"
and admonished for
- being active "If you play in the mud, you'll muss your pretty clothes"
- being assertive "That isn't nice, dear. Nice girls wait their turn"
Boys are praised for
- being strong "Look at how he picks up that big ball, what a big strong boy!"
- being active "He has so much energy, maybe he'll be a football player."
And admonished for
- being shy "Speak up"

Etcetera. If you think I'm exaggerating try going to the grocery store with a 2 year old of either gender. It's constantly reinforced that girls should be pretty, polite, quiet and boys should be strong, outgoing, and crude. It's subtle, but it's there. We talk to children differently depending on what gender we believe they are even when they're displaying the same behaviour.
posted by raedyn at 8:05 AM on March 8, 2005


I said:
To those of you that are transgendered, and to other concerned parents, what can we do to reduce the indoctrination of our kids? How can we create a more positive inclusive environment for our children (and everyone else's) no matter their gender / sexual identity

Army of Kittens replied:
Unless you can control the world, then you can't. No matter how open and friendly you are with your kid, and no matter how much you let them choose their own toys and don't automatically shadow-box with the child just because he'll be swinging testes around some day, that kid is going to go out into the world and see almost everything put into two huge flashing sex boxes.


Oh what a bunch of defeatist depressive crap. Yes, you are right. The whole world is gonna be full of huge banners declaring "Boys are like This and Girls are like This, if you are different, You Are Wrong". I'm painfully aware of this, and it bothers me. I know I can't create a perfect bubble for my little ones. But you're saying because I can't control the world I shouldn't even try to make a positive difference? Bully to that.

AoK:if you haven't been there (or if you haven't specifically looked for it), you won't know what it's like. Of course not. You'll never really understand what it's like to be me, and I'll never completely understand what it's like to be you. I'm not expecting to. But I am wondering what I can do to make my home, my little piece of the world, more accepting and welcoming towards everyone. I'm trying to educate myself as much as is possible about the pertinent issues, and I'm wanting to make positive change. Telling me I'll never understand doesn't help anyone.
posted by raedyn at 8:24 AM on March 8, 2005


Readyn, to address your first question (though I am neither TG nor a parent):

I think my mother (a very second-wave kind of feminist) did a really good job of not making me feel I had to be a certain way to be a girl. She did this by essentially not making me feel I had to be a certain way. I had trucks and blocks and flashcards and a few dolls and felt like I could play with all of them. I was dressed in clothes that *could* get muddy and when I fell and skinned something, she didn't freak out. She encouraged me to be independent.

Most important, she told me over and over and over, even when you'd think I was too young to get it, that some people think girls have to be like X but that those people are wrong. When I would say something that indicated an assumption of gender roles, she would question that. As long as you do it when the kids are small and you are the center of the universe, I think they'll take it with them. And you'll have hepled make the world more tolerant by making one more tolerant person.
posted by dame at 8:40 AM on March 8, 2005


Oh what a bunch of defeatist depressive crap. Yes, you are right. The whole world is gonna be full of huge banners declaring "Boys are like This and Girls are like This, if you are different, You Are Wrong". I'm painfully aware of this, and it bothers me. I know I can't create a perfect bubble for my little ones. But you're saying because I can't control the world I shouldn't even try to make a positive difference? Bully to that.

It's not so much that the world says "Boys are like this and Girls are like that". The world will say to your little transgendered girl "You are a boy."

I think that might be hard to deal with for a kid who thinks of herself as a girl. No matter how much you let her express herself, men and women are perceived as different and she will be categorized as male. If matters if you're on the wrong side of that division. If you think about what it means, I'm sure that you could understand how it's not solely about roles.
posted by adzuki at 8:48 AM on March 8, 2005


adzuki said: it's not solely about roles Good point. Thank you.

So what can we do to lessen those blows? I think that's a Really difficult question. I'll have to reflect on it more. The existence of a boy/girl dicotomy and being labelled from the outside by everyone else is WAY more rigid that gender roles.

And that you to everyone involved in this thread. This is why I love MeFi. I'm learning ((hugs.Mefi))
posted by raedyn at 8:59 AM on March 8, 2005


raedyn: I had a huge reply, but it was incoherent because I've just got back from work. Here's the quick version, and I apologise in advance in case it makes no sense:

You've found that you can't protect your child from the gender-reinforcing rubbish that goes on in the outside world, and you don't know if your child is TG/gay/anything yet, right? What I was probably trying to say (and it came out more negative than I meant) before is that you're up against a horrible combination of peer pressure and authority, and even if you're being supportive as all everything when your child is with you, it still might take them a long while to decide what they are/want/need and a little while after that for them to articulate the thoughts enough to let you know. If the child is anything like I was, it'll know something is wrong before it knows anything specific, so the best thing you can do is just encourage the child to keep thinking and keep experimenting. It may still be painful with them, but if they know they can talk to you about what everyone else says is "the unthinkable" then you're a lot closer to a happy kid.

On a more positive note, if the child does turn out to be transgendered, how about "gender holidays"? Go away for a week and let the child try out their new gender among people you've never met. Kids love exploring, and it would be a great way for the child to get a feel for what it's like to be treated as the "other" sex. If that'd happened to me as a kid, it would have been awesome.

Also, transsexuals often know for certain by the time they hit puberty. If you can get drugs prescribed to hold off puberty until the doctors have decided it's tranny time, it'll save a lot of pain later on. And I mean literal pain: my back spent my early twenties reshaping itself, and it still hurts right now.

The biggest issue, I think, is that you can only make a positive difference if you've got a negative to push against. If you know your child (or someone else's) is transgendered, then there's loads you can do. If you're not sure either way, role-playing would be neat, and a great way to help the child make up its mind. But if you don't know at all, then all I can think of to do is create an open environment, let the child know they are loved and accepted no matter who or what they are, open the wardrobe doors very wide, and wait.

Lots of Hedwig posters wouldn't go amiss, either.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:08 AM on March 8, 2005


Thank you for that reply, AoK. It made perfect sense.

Do you think that we should be striving (long-term) for less rigidly defined genders in the larger society? It seems a hopeless goal, but so did gay rights years ago, and hard-fought battles have slowly gained some measure of acceptance and drastically improved quality of life for many gay/lesbian/bi/questioning people. Maybe that's something that we should start working towards, breaking down those barriers (getting rid of segregated washrooms, creating/using gender-neutral pronouns, for example).

Or is that not helpful to TG people either? I still hear many TG people talking in terms of a dicotomy, but that they were "born with the wrong parts". But maybe for some of those people, that's just trying to fit into our rigid socially constructed ideas of check column A or B... Maybe it's like the evolution of discourse on queer sexuality: at first it was earth-shattering to declare there was an "opposite" (homosexuals) and that they should be treated with equal respect. As that gained (however tenuously) some acceptance, the 'in-betweeners' started to speak up and say it's not an either or proposition! And some people in the gay community found that threatening because maybe people would stop believing that they're really gay. Is being transgendered just being on the wrong side of the fence? Or is it more fluid and grey than that for some/most/all TG people?

It seems to me that breaking down the ideas of gender as being all important and central to everyone's personhood would work towards resolving a lot of ills (sexism, homophobia, gender dysphoria, etc).

[I don't pretend that I've completely thought this out, or that I know all there is to know. I'm VERY interested in hearing any other input towards these ideas - from as many different thinking people as possible]
posted by raedyn at 10:19 AM on March 8, 2005


ubersturm: That was a very good summary, thank you.
posted by jb at 1:10 PM on March 8, 2005


As that gained (however tenuously) some acceptance, the 'in-betweeners' started to speak up and say it's not an either or proposition! And some people in the gay community found that threatening because maybe people would stop believing that they're really gay

This is exactly my reason for feeling slightly hesitant about transgendered issues. I don't want to question that certain people really do feel like they were born in the wrong body, but I also really don't want to enforce the idea that everyone has a strong internal gender identity that even could be in the wrong body. If I had been born in a male body, I think I'd just have been male. I identify with my female body because I've had it for over 30 years, but I really don't think I'd have had a problem if I'd been born with a male body. If it were easy and healthy to do, I can imagine it would even be interesting to switch to being male. But I'm absolutely happy as a female too.

Basically, I see that they're different, but I dont really see that they're radically different, as some people do. To me it would be similar to switching to being asian or black or something. obviously I'd be different, but I think a lot of the difference would be in how I was treated or viewed...

As it happens (? - various causal relationships could be argued-), I'm bisexual as well, so I don't find a strong gender identity an important part of attraction either.

Anyway, yeah, maybe we just need to define a few extra genders so that those of us who don't strongly match the two available options don't feel like we're stuck between being squished into a box or denying other people their very real difficulties.
posted by mdn at 2:14 PM on March 8, 2005


It's not necessary to claim that humans begin as sexless "blank slates" in order to conclude that the resulting adults are shaped more by environment than natal biology, and I have seen no one on this thread other than you refer to anything like "blank slates."

soyjoy, I don't know if "blank slate" is too stark a term for you, but certainly I get a feeling there are people who would rather brush over the facts of natural preference and tendency and concentrate more on how we're all born from the same starting-point, and that we're influenced to move in different directions depending on our gender and how society views genders.

If we believe that we are all fundamentally "plasticine" that can be shaped by society, then surely there is no difference between a man and a woman and the choices they make - we are all the shapeless piece of dough ready to be put into a specific shape, depending on society. This lends itself to a theoretical ideal of sexual "equality" - as if no difference in the sexes == equality. For me, difference does not equate to inequality, but simply to the truth of innate differences between men and women. This difference is reflected in the many cultures around the planet who accept this difference (not through a universal code of sexism, but simple acceptance of truth of differences between men and women - again, what is wrong with this?).

I am all for equality of opportunity and I am totally against sexual discrimination of any kind - as I keep repeating - let the individual decide what they want to do - I am simply against intellectual dishonesty to support an idea that suggests social engineering is forcing people to make decisions when really it is their innate tendencies. One is a convenient lie (IMHO) to support certain ideals - the other is simple reality.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 5:25 PM on March 8, 2005


Late addition to the thread:

I E-mailed Dr. Littlefield, and he wrote back. Here is his reply.

[Faint]

Thanks for your kind words.
It's my job to open my arms to all kids. You've got to love them and
they are all so different. I am so glad that in a small way I have been
able to facilitate this child's life.

Peace

Phil Littlefield


Can this man be appointed Secretary of Education? Like, now?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:10 AM on March 9, 2005


FieldingGoodney, now it's a little more clear. We were balking at you because your argument seemed like you were talking about people HERE, while no one has made that argument. I guess you were talking about the world at large. (Which, I disagree with, I don't think many people think that, but I guess we won't know).
posted by agregoli at 7:14 AM on March 9, 2005


I wish I could be as charitable as you, agregoli. I agree that FieldingGoodney is arguing with a straw man, as he provides no citation of anyone here proposing "blank slates," "fundamentally plasticine" or anything of that nature to summarize what he's against.

But since he does keep inserting this insistence on "the truth of innate differences between men and women" (e.g. a "natural tendency" for pink or blue) on a thread that was otherwise about individual people making some courageous decisions about gender and the treatment thereof, I have to ask: What are these truly, fundamentally innate differences that are mirrored in our society, and what source can you cite proving them so? What do they have to do with the discussion on this thread? Again, we've got plenty of sources here, both clinical and anecodtal, that suggest a much wider variety of possible experience than a simple male-female dichotomy. What do you put up against those?
posted by soyjoy at 9:19 AM on March 9, 2005


the truth of innate differences between men and women" (e.g. a "natural tendency" for pink or blue)

Hmmm, you may be projecting somewhat when you accuse me of using strawmen (I already stated the colour example was flippant on purpose).

soyjoy, you skirt this issue without actually stating DIRECTLY what your own view on natural preferences are. What is your view on this? You seem to neither deny nor accept that tendencies and preferences can be influenced by our nature, and that our likings/preferences can be distinguished by gender. Yet again (I think the 6th time?) I ask : what is wrong with this? If you accept that the choices we make can be influenced by our nature, I don't see why you oppose my view. Like I say, I don't know what your view is.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 12:15 PM on March 9, 2005


FieldingGoodney:

I think the big issue here is that you're taking the opposition as being universal, and we're taking you as universal.

Sure, there are innate differences. I think people are crazy to think otherwise. But I would say:

1) The differences are for genders as a whole, and not individuals. Speaking of something concrete and statistical: women are generally shorter than men. However, that doesn't mean that all women are shorter than all men, it just means the average woman is shorter than the average man. In the same way, it could perhaps be argued that women tend to prefer X, and men tend to prefer Y, but that doesn't mean that all women prefer X, and all men prefer Y.
2) The role of society tends to create additional differences where there are none (preference for blue/black for men and red or pink for women, preference for slacks for men, dresses for women, etc.), and to reinforce possible slight statistical preferences, inflating the statistic (for example, if 51% of women prefer X to Y, and 51% of men prefer Y to X, societal pressure may influence kids who would normally be neutral into prefering X or Y based on their gender, resulting in a 61% or 71% or 81% preference where normally there is only a minor preference).

So looking at society and saying "Women do X, therefore it's due to innate nature" is not a logical conclusion. Saying "Women do X, but I don't think it's good for them, so it must be the patriarchy forcing them to do it, therefore it's due to societal molding" is not a logical conclusion either.

Some people are wacky in the former way, which is what either you're saying or what we're interpreting you as saying. Some people are wacky in the latter way. From what I can tell, no-one here is going that far, though it appears that's what you're taking it as. There may, of course, be people here who think that, but I haven't seen any statements that are clear-cut enough for me to make that conclusion. Maybe I'm overlooking them.

Seeing other societies kind of brings into perspective that at least some of what we take as "obvious" about gender preferences is cultural. For example, in Japan, horror comics are for females, pretty much exclusively. I don't think I've seen any male-oriented horror comics aimed at anyone other than adults, while there are loads of female-oriented horror comics for elementary school kids, junior high school kids, high school kids, and adults.

Sure, it's just one example, but it does help prove my main point: at least some of the things people assume as being decided by gender are decided by something other than gender (and, if not society (including, of course, parents), what? Food?)
posted by Bugbread at 12:25 PM on March 9, 2005


You seem to neither deny nor accept that tendencies and preferences can be influenced by our nature, and that our likings/preferences can be distinguished by gender.

What does this even mean?

Tendencies and preferences can be influenced by nature, ok, I agree with that, if what you're saying is a biological standpoint - sure, everyone comes into the world able to see things and feel things a certain way. But what the heck do you mean about our likings/preferences can be distinguished by gender? I've muddled over that and I have no idea what you're driving at, as I'm hoping you don't mean that men and women fall into neat gender categories like that pink/blue thing above.
posted by agregoli at 12:30 PM on March 9, 2005


For me, difference does not equate to inequality, but simply to the truth of innate differences between men and women.

I am female. Can you tell me anything about myself from that one piece of information?

The point is, you may be able to tell me that I'm more likely, as a member of one gender, to prefer X to Y, or whatever, but it's only a question of tendencies and percentages, not "the truth". The only definitive things you can tell me are things that are analytic to "female", ie, that I have two X chromosomes, and by most definitions, that I have a certain set of sexual organs. You can't tell me whether I want kids, which colors I like, how good I am at math, how tall I am, or how competitive I am. Even accepting that there are tendencies in genders, why push for pointing them out, when they necessarily don't apply to all members of the set anyway?

I'm not saying we should try to stop girls who like dolls from playing with dolls etc, but as I tried to say above, we don't need to fall back into a blind acceptance of stereotypes-as-accurate, simply because some percentage of people fit stereotypes. That's why they're the stereotypes! all stereotypes are based on something; that doesn't mean they're useful when broadly applied.
posted by mdn at 1:26 PM on March 9, 2005


Hmmm, you may be projecting somewhat when you accuse me of using strawmen (I already stated the colour example was flippant on purpose).

Well, your own straw-man problem is well established - unless and until you produce a quote from someone on this thread putting forward the "blank slate" notion you keep assailing - so whether or not I'm projecting is irrelevant. But on the specific point of pink or blue, let's look at what you said:
    It's as OK for tendencies to occur (based on gender) as it is for individuals to like what they happen to like. Are they brainwashed into liking blue or pink? Some people would love to believe this to be true, but sorry - a lot of tendencies and likings are simply natural.
To any ordinary reader, the "flippancy," if there is any, in that rhetorical question is that it would be silly to suggest that "liking blue or pink" is something people are "brainwashed" into. Which it would - subtle cueing by societal/cultural institutions is not literally brainwashing. But your follow-up sentence makes it clear you're saying not only that people aren't "brainwashed" but that pink/blue preference is an example of "tendencies and likings [that] are simply natural."

Once called out for that well-debunked assertion, you back off into the excuse that it was intentionally "arbitrary" (??? how does an "arbitrary" example contribute anything?) and "flippant," that it's "a bad example for this discussion" - yet it's the only example you've given so far of a supposed innate tendency that's reflected in our society.

By the way: The "again I ask: what's wrong with this?" refrain has gone from merely silly to annoying, especially since I answered the question in great detail upthread (last paragraph) and you have neither acknowledged nor taken issue with anything I said there. You might want to either address my answer or stop re-asking the question.

And even if you had phrased your request in a non-muddled way, my "view" on nature vs. nurture is irrelevant. This was not a nature-vs-nurture thread, as I've already noted; it was a thread about gender reassignment (by community consensus) of one individual. You want to have a separate free-wheeling nature-vs-nurture discussion with me and go into my personal views, hey, my e-mail address is posted. If, on the other hand, you want to turn this thread into a referendum on "innate" sex differences that explain why our society treats gender as it does, you'll need to (at the very least) offer some actual data and logic to back up your point of view.
posted by soyjoy at 1:57 PM on March 9, 2005


But what the heck do you mean about our likings/preferences can be distinguished by gender?

agregoli - perhaps I didn't word it well before - I'm getting a bad case of the Ethereal Blighs here(!): an anthropologist will tell you there are behavioural traits that can be grouped by gender. This isn't binary demarkation, but a sliding scale - tendencies that you can say "women tend to react THIS way in a test - men THIS way". You will see it in any species - we are no special. OK, let me re-cast my point by asking the alternative:- is anyone here saying that men have no behaviours in common with each other, that can be directly associated with their physical nature? (obviously same question for women).

Take sexual preferences and the behaviour it provokes : clearly, there are subtle, but key differences between what motivates men and women when it comes to sex. One key difference: women know they bear their own child. Men always have that doubt, so this affects behaviour (more wary of other men, protective of his partner etc). These behaviours can be related to biology, not society. They can also be distinguished by gender (phew - think I'm actually making sense now... :-)). And future-poster: I am not saying all men or all women - the word "tendency" should already imply this.

I'm sorry if I've jumped to the wrong conclusion with some people here - it's only because there is an implication that nature plays an insignificant role in influencing human behaviour that I detect from people's posts (certainly posts in this thread).

soyjoy, I see you are once again mis-representing my views and you continue to equivocate on the issue (you seem reluctanct to admit nature plays a part in human behaviour - perhaps you do indeed think it plays none), but I realise if I respond again to your words, you will retort with more misrepresentation, so I'll just say "let's agree to disagree - no hard feelings" instead.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 3:04 PM on March 9, 2005


You don't need me to mis-represent your views - you're handling that fine by yourself.

Seriously, I'm fine with the no hard feelings, but if you're going to tell me I'm misrepresenting your views, just point out where and how. I'll gladly take back anything that's demonstrably inaccurate. Unfortunately, once again, this is a contentious generalization without any concrete example.

is anyone here saying that men have no behaviours in common with each other, that can be directly associated with their physical nature?

In case you really do mean this sincerely, I will answer sincerely: No. Nobody's saying that.

That doesn't mean, of course, that such male behaviors would not also be shared with some women, nor that a given behavior would be common to 100% of men. Hope we can at least agree that far.
posted by soyjoy at 7:02 PM on March 9, 2005


an anthropologist will tell you there are behavioural traits that can be grouped by gender.

Actually, an anthropologist would probably tell you that genders are categories which are used by societies to group behavioural traits. Societies vary widely in which behavioural traits they attribute to which gender. In fact, cross-cultural comparisons have shown that *most* gender traits are so highly flexible that genetics and biology provide a poor first-choice explanation for behaviour. To put this another way, the traits which are most recognizably feminine in America may be considered universal traits or masculine traits in other parts of the world. Gender categories may be universally human, but what goes into those categories changes from society to society.

At least, that's what this anthropologist currently studying gender in America and Africa would tell you.
posted by carmen at 8:33 PM on March 9, 2005


FieldingGoodney : "is anyone here saying that men have no behaviours in common with each other, that can be directly associated with their physical nature?"

To my knowledge, no, nobody's saying that.
posted by Bugbread at 12:34 AM on March 10, 2005


is anyone here saying that men have no behaviours in common with each other, that can be directly associated with their physical nature?

soyjoy: In case you really do mean this sincerely, I will answer sincerely: No. Nobody's saying that.

bugbread: To my knowledge, no, nobody's saying that.


Well then we have some consensus then :-)

You don't need me to mis-represent your views - you're handling that fine by yourself.

Hmmm, you are obsessed with one comment I made regarding pink and blue which I already explained was flippant and arbitrary. You seemed to ignore that comment when you further commented here. By that point, to be honest, I've tuned out of your commenting as you yourself are not really listening.

It's fine to disagree - but it's not fine to be disrespectful with somebody's viewpoint in the way you are (willfully ignoring my previous comments).

Actually, an anthropologist would probably tell you that genders are categories which are used by societies to group behavioural traits. Societies vary widely in which behavioural traits they attribute to which gender. In fact, cross-cultural comparisons have shown that *most* gender traits are so highly flexible that genetics and biology provide a poor first-choice explanation for behaviour. To put this another way, the traits which are most recognizably feminine in America may be considered universal traits or masculine traits in other parts of the world. Gender categories may be universally human, but what goes into those categories changes from society to society.

carmen, I think you are saying that there is little to distinguish between men and women's behaviour that can be directly attributed to natural differences (i.e. biological differences)? What about sexual behaviour? Do you have any sources to back up your assertions?

To put this another way, the traits which are most recognizably feminine in America may be considered universal traits or masculine traits in other parts of the world

Examples? I'm sure there are some, and I won't deny that there are obvious differences in what each society considers "feminine" and "masculine" as these surely are social constructs. I'm talking about something far more innate than what society considers feminine and masculine - I'm talking about our personal preferences and tendencies that can be attributed to our biology. Given the obvious biological, physical differences between men and women, isn't the sex of a person a significant influence? I know people are already agreeing with me here anyway, I'm sure I'm labouring the point to death here - but I just find it parculiar that some people choose to play this truth down somewhat (that's how it seems to me anyway) as if it's a messy secret.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 9:28 AM on March 10, 2005


To maybe expand a bit on what carmen said (though I'm an interested observer, not a professional!): If you look at the group "women" in the US, you can also categorize that group by social status, economic status, professional status -- categories that have nothing to do with sex. Women in the US have historically been primary caregivers for families, economically dependent on their husbands or fathers, and mostly confined to the home.

As those conditions change, studies have shown that what many consider traditional "feminine" behavior changes. Women who make enough money to be financially independent, for example, have stopped rating potential partners based on wealth or status; they start to value, as men traditionally have, looks over earning power. Which starts to dissolve the idea that evolution, or some natural innate forces, have made men "visual creatures" who care for looks and women "emotional creature" who crave family stability.

So these "feminine" traits -- dependency, patience, valuing wealth over looks, putting energy into the family rather than the job -- may be linked not to sex, but to economic status. They may in fact be the traits of any group who has to "suck up" to the economically dominant group to survive (see, for example, domesticated animals in relation to the humans who feed them, workers low on a food chain in relation to the CEO, etc.). In fact, if you look at traditionally reviled, low-status groups, many of them have been called "womanly" (I'm thinking particularly of the Jews in medieval Europe).

That's what (I think) people are talking about here when they claim these traits are not innate, nor innately tied to sex. They may instead arise out of our economic enviroment, which so permeates culture that it's not something we're consciously aware of. As it shifts, however, we start to get more of a sense of what, exactly, it influences.
posted by occhiblu at 9:36 AM on March 10, 2005


"women tend to react THIS way in a test - men THIS way"

Why, though? Even if you can prove that in a few examples, you need to establish that it's because of biology soley, and not because of societal influences, something that is still being struggled with.

Take sexual preferences and the behaviour it provokes : clearly, there are subtle, but key differences between what motivates men and women when it comes to sex. One key difference: women know they bear their own child. Men always have that doubt, so this affects behaviour (more wary of other men, protective of his partner etc). These behaviours can be related to biology, not society.

They're related to both. If you can't see that, then there is no point in furthering this discussion. Your arguments are becoming more and more absurd. (Also, this whole paragraph strikes me as strangely creepy, like you're talking about apes. Women know they bear their own child? I don't even know that that means).
posted by agregoli at 10:26 AM on March 10, 2005


I just went to try to dig up more examples of what I mean, and got totally bogged down in "Woman" by Natalie Angier -- which I can't recommend highly enough. Some of her points about "natural" female behavior:

* Men gain evolutionary advantage from being promiscuous, because they "scatter their seed" and therefore have more children: Women are fertile only a few days a month, and this fertility is hidden -- the guy doesn't know when she's fertile. It takes an average of four months of regular sexual intercourse for a woman to become pregnant. Statistically, a man who sleeps with 120 women in four months has an EQUAL chance of having ONE baby as a man who sleeps with the same woman for four months -- and the monogamous guy will know the baby is his, since he can also guard the woman from other suitors during that time.

* Women are naturally monogamous, wanting stable families in which to raise children: Again, women's fertility is hidden -- meaning, more or less, she can sneak off and get impregnated by someone else while hubby is at home, and he'll never know. Hidden fertility means she gets the benefits of great genes (generally the alpha male's) as well as the devoted husband. Some societies believe, actually, that sperm from many men creates better babies, that a child is fathered by all the men that the mother has slept with while pregnant. DNA studies of chimps on the Ivory Coast showed that HALF of the babies had fathers outside the social group -- and the mothers had been so sneaky about their extracurricular liaisons that the researchers had never seen them leave the group.

* Women need men as providers, hunters who will feed their families: Most studies of modern hunter-gatherer societies show that the men hunt not to feed their families, but to use the food as gifts to stabilize alliances, ward off enemies, reward friendly neighbors. The children are raised by, and fed by, groups of female relatives (grandmothers, aunts) who take charge to help the mother out. As Angier says, "Are not married men the ones who gain most in health and happiness from being married? A raft of epidemiological studies have shown that marriage adds more years to the life of a man than it does to that of a woman. Why should that be, if men are so 'naturally' ill-suited to matrimony?"
posted by occhiblu at 10:30 AM on March 10, 2005


Why, though? Even if you can prove that in a few examples, you need to establish that it's because of biology soley, and not because of societal influences, something that is still being struggled with.

Only if you believe it's EITHER nature OR nurture. I have never made this assertion. I believe we are influenced by both.

Women know they bear their own child? I don't even know that that means

Forgive my pedantic, tautological logic here: a woman carries her own child, therefore she knows she is the mother of her child. Her male partner does not know for sure if he is the father (modern technology notwithstanding). This has significant implications in human behaviour - men are more likely to "play away" to better their chances of actually being a biological father, women do not have this concern. This leads men to be considerably more competitive in DIFFERENT ways to how women are competitive. Deny this all you like, but you sound more and more like you are subscribing to the sexless, blank slate theory in doing so.

occhibilu, I am not sure if you are saying that nature has no influence whatsoever with human behaviour (another blank slate proponent) or you are simply downplaying it looking for contradicitons in nature as if all human behaviour should be universally the same. Either way, it seems you are going out of your way to look for alternative answers to nature (nothing wrong with that - just interesting!).

We can debate this for another 100 comments, but I'm sure we will all agree that nature plays a part in human behaviour, as well as nurture does. Feel free to downplay that fact, but nevertheless it's still true. That's pretty much all I wanted to say (simply).
posted by FieldingGoodney at 11:06 AM on March 10, 2005


No, my point is that what we call "nature" is based on observations that came from (predominately male) scientists who existed within a certain time period in a certain society. More and more evidence is coming out of the field of biology saying that what we've taken as the set of "natural behavior" is because scientists ignored evidence (as the book that recently came out on homosexuality in the animal kingdom suggests -- scientists labelled gay sex as "dominance play" or something, so the actual *act* didn't get documented, just the interpretation of "what must be happening" because we all *know* that homosexuality is unnatural!). In the same way, we say "Oh, females are naturally monogamous" -- the DNA testing we can now do flat out disproves this.

Nature of course has influence. But not in the way that evolutionary psychologists would have us believe (that is, man = promiscuous predator, women = coy receiver of male attention). You seem to be arguing the evolutionary psych position here, and what I'm saying is that it's incomplete, and that it's based on human being's assumptions of history, pre-history, and animal behavior, and that those assumptions are being proved more and more innaccurate as more people study behavior.
posted by occhiblu at 11:21 AM on March 10, 2005


Hmmm, you are obsessed with one comment I made regarding pink and blue which I already explained was flippant and arbitrary. You seemed to ignore that comment when you further commented here.

Obsessed, right. Got it. I call it citing an example - in this case, an example of the muddledness and illogic of your statements. Acknowledging that your own single example of inherent gender difference is "flippant and arbitrary" is already bizarre - why, I ask again, would you go out of your way to make your point less clear? - but you haven't gone so far as to acknowledge that you were mistaken to make that citation.

And I may have "seemed to" ignore it, but only if you don't read my comments, such as this one where I already went into why simply calling it "arbitrary" fails to explain what you really meant by it. If that analysis was off somehow, please clarify.

It's fine to disagree - but it's not fine to be disrespectful with somebody's viewpoint in the way you are (willfully ignoring my previous comments).

Sorry, but this is out-and-out hilarious. Set aside the fact that I've ignored nothing you've said. The joke here is that this comes from the person who entered the thread rolling his eyes at someone else's "viewpoint," viz:
    Riiiiight, we all live in one big social engineering experiment, right? ***rolls eyes***
And what was the inflammatory viewpoint that provoked this over-the-top reaction? The statement "The infant-to-youth toy market is perhaps one of the most sexist institutions out there." The blatant sexism of that market is so well known and well documented as to make the assertion practically tautological - yet you not only disagree with it, but waltz in mocking previous comments and offering as your backup... what? Oh yeah, the "arbitrary" pink-and-blue thing. And we're supposed to listen to you about respecting people's viewpoints?

Well then we have some consensus then :-)

Yep. We have a consensus that an assertion no one on this thread made is held as true by... no one on this thread. What're the odds???

I'm sure we will all agree that nature plays a part in human behaviour, as well as nurture does. Feel free to downplay that fact, but nevertheless it's still true. That's pretty much all I wanted to say (simply).

Maybe you would have been better advised to simply say that instead of doing all the eye-rolling.
posted by soyjoy at 11:32 AM on March 10, 2005


Women need men as providers, hunters who will feed their families:

Wow, that's offensive. I'm the provider in my family.
posted by agregoli at 11:46 AM on March 10, 2005


This leads men to be considerably more competitive in DIFFERENT ways to how women are competitive. Deny this all you like, but you sound more and more like you are subscribing to the sexless, blank slate theory in doing so.


Wait a minute - you're arguing that because historically in nature people had different biological motivations regarding childrearing that it makes us different biologically in everything we do? I'm not subscribing to any blank slate theory, nor is anyone here, no matter how many times you accuse us of it.

Your arguments are weak, and make less and less sense. I'm bowing out of this. It's not a real discussion in any sense of the word.
posted by agregoli at 11:52 AM on March 10, 2005


Forget what I said and read soyjoy's comment twice. Peace out.
posted by agregoli at 11:55 AM on March 10, 2005


No, my point is that what we call "nature" is based on observations that came from (predominately male) scientists who existed within a certain time period in a certain society.

This doesn't negate anything I have said regarding nature and its influences on our behaviour, but I take your point.

More and more evidence is coming out of the field of biology saying that what we've taken as the set of "natural behavior" is because scientists ignored evidence (as the book that recently came out on homosexuality in the animal kingdom suggests -- scientists labelled gay sex as "dominance play" or something, so the actual *act* didn't get documented, just the interpretation of "what must be happening" because we all *know* that homosexuality is unnatural!).

Neither does this, but I agree with it. We are learning more about nature in a truthful way, which is only good (in my book).

Interesting to note that current social ideals/morals influence our conclusions when observing nature, it would seem (stifling or deliberately mistinterpreting behaviour as being something else) - I think this is also true for those who wish to gain equality through "sameness" (downplaying innate attributes that distinguish each other) rather than trying to achieve it through equal opportunity.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 11:57 AM on March 10, 2005


No, my point is that what we call "nature" is based on observations that came from (predominately male) scientists who existed within a certain time period in a certain society.

This doesn't negate anything I have said regarding nature and its influences on our behaviour, but I take your point.


It doesn't negate it, but it does have a huge influence on what you're asserting.
posted by agregoli at 12:13 PM on March 10, 2005



Wait a minute - you're arguing that because historically in nature people had different biological motivations regarding childrearing that it makes us different biologically in everything we do?


agregoli, where have I said this? You are polarising my viewpoint to make it sound ridiculous. My opinion is actually rather bland and prosaic - that both nature and nurture shape our behaviour.

I'm not subscribing to any blank slate theory, nor is anyone here, no matter how many times you accuse us of it.

You're certainly downplaying the role nature plays in our traits. I think you may be one of those people who are conflicted between nature and the idea of social equality, as if the two are opposing each other. Nature may make us different, but it does not necessarily lead to social inequality.

Your arguments are weak, and make less and less sense. I'm bowing out of this. It's not a real discussion in any sense of the word.

If I don't understand somebody's point of view, it may be simply due to a lack of communication, or that our experiences of life greatly differ. If I disagree with somebody, it doesn't mean I'm right and they're wrong (or vice versa) - maybe you should think about that before dismissing people, whether you agree with them or not, the way you do.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 1:43 PM on March 10, 2005


You are polarising my viewpoint to make it sound ridiculous.

Heh. Again, you need no help from the rest of us, FieldingGoodney. Keep on digging.
posted by soyjoy at 2:34 PM on March 10, 2005


FG: you asked me for some resources. If you are genuinely interested in learning about positions taken by scholars working outside of the evolutionary psychology paradigm, I can suggest a few. Fausto-Sterling has been suggested earlier, and I heartily recomend her work. Here is a relevant excerpt from the linked article:

It might seem natural to regard intersexuals and transgendered people as living midway between the poles of male and female. But male and female, masculine and feminine, cannot be parsed as some kind of continuum. Rather, sex and gender are best conceptualized as points in a multidimensional space. For some time, experts on gender development have distinguished between sex at the genetic level and at the cellular level (sex-specific gene expression, X and Y chromosomes); at the hormonal level (in the fetus, during childhood and after puberty); and at the anatomical level (genitals and secondary sexual characteristics). Gender identity presumably emerges from all of those corporeal aspects via some poorly understood interaction with environment and experience. What has become increasingly clear is that one can find levels of masculinity and femininity in almost every possible permutation. A chromosomal, hormonal and genital male (or female) may emerge with a female (or male) gender identity. Or a chromosomal female with male fetal hormones and masculinized genitalia--but with female pubertal hormones--may develop a female gender identity.

More reading:

Critiques of evolutionary psychology as it relates to gender:

Susan Sperling:
"Baboons with Briefcases vs. Langurs in Lipstick: Feminism and Functionalism in Primate Studies" in Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge. Micaela di Leonardo, editor. University of California Press: 1991.

Linda Marie Fedigan:
Primate Paradigms: Sex Roles and Social Bonds. University of Chicago Press: 1992.

Cross-disciplinary discussions of gender and sexuality:

Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture. Paul R. Abramson and Steven D. Pinkerton, eds. University of Chicago Press: 1995.

General anthropology:

Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Caroline B. Brettel and Carolyn F. Sargen editors. Prentice Hall: 2001. (This is a mid-level reader, quite accessible with lots of cross-cultural data).

The Gender Sexuality Reader: culture, history, political economy. Roger N. Lancaster and Micaela di Leonardo, eds. Routledge: 1997. (This is an advanced reader with cross-diciplinary contributions)

Emily Martin:
The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction. Beacon Press: 1987.

Gender, biology, and sexuality:

Suzanne J. Kessler:
Lessons from the Intersexed. Rutgers University Press: 1998.
posted by carmen at 3:14 PM on March 10, 2005


carmen thanks for the book titles. As to the quote you provide, it says to me (after a couple of reads) that we are a permutation of all kinds of factors that may make us more "male" or more "female", depending on which way the dice fall. I 100% agree with this. This does not negate my statement that members of one sex can share similar traits, based on their sex. As I say, it is not a black and white issue, as tendencies and traits do not apply to binary-type classification. It's a more likely/less likely type thing. This kind of looser classification is still useful when studying behaviour.

I see the reading list does indeed seem to be (just from the titles) a critique of evolutionary psychology. I wonder if they are a typical in this field? It's easy to crowbar in an ideology when discussing what influences behaviour to justify the ideology (just as occhiblu mentions earlier) - it makes me skeptical of some authors (I see one mentions feminism - I hope neither gender feminism nor radical feminsim - if you want to read about blank slate theories - go read any radical feminist).

I'm sure none of the books deny that nature does have a significant influence on our behaviour. This is my one and only point. It does rile me when people downplay or make light of this important issue, as if it's something to hide or dismiss as quickly as possible, before getting onto the "more important" aspect of how society shapes our behaviour. I find this intellectually dishonest (as I've repeatedly said), but compellingly (it would seem) convenient to some people.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 3:58 PM on March 10, 2005


I see one mentions feminism - I hope neither gender feminism nor radical feminsim - if you want to read about blank slate theories - go read any radical feminist

Well, I said to keep digging, and here we've apparently reached the root: Those crazy feminists!

OK, I've gone and "read any radical feminist," in fact probably most if not all of the feminists you would call radical, and don't recall any of them espousing the cartoonish "blank slate" theory you keep trying to pin on other people. Howzabout a source for that?
posted by soyjoy at 1:16 PM on March 11, 2005


soyjoy, at least you admit to reading books authored by radical feminists (quite honest of you, in fact admitting to "most if not all") : I guess if you endorse the likes of Andrea Dworkin ("All sex is rape") then I can't really find any possible reference point we can agree on. Didn't you know that radical feminism is generally ridiculed as out-and-out propaganda these days? You need to update your files.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 5:17 PM on March 11, 2005


Didn't you know that radical feminism is generally ridiculed as out-and-out propaganda these days?

Oh, sorry, here's where we were not connecting: I go by the actual words people say, rather than what they're "generally ridiculed as." It's this funny compulsion I have for basing argument on demonstrable facts and logic rather than knee-jerk assumptions, generalization and hearsay. So, yeah, I'm afraid we are pretty far apart on that.

As a case in point, I once again ask you for a source for even one example underpinning a sweeping generalization you've just made, and you're unable to provide it, leaving one to wonder if you have even the remotest familiarity with the topic you've chosen to derail the thread into.

For my part, on the other hand, when I say I've read something it means exactly that; if you want to find out which feminist authors (or more exactly, which specific views of which authors) I "endorse" we can have a discussion even further afield from this thread's topic. However, as I suggested many comments ago, e-mail would seem to be a more appropriate venue for that - and again, my address is provided while yours is not.
posted by soyjoy at 7:45 PM on March 11, 2005


soyjoy, I appreciate your last post - I have provided my e-mail address on my profile and will e-mail you shortly - Yes, this is the most appropriate medium.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 8:41 PM on March 11, 2005


Kind of a shame, because this was a pretty interesting conversation to watch (though, soyjoy, it has to be said, calm down. I agree with you more than FieldingGoodney (But agree with neither completely), but relax on the snarkiness)
posted by Bugbread at 2:01 AM on March 12, 2005


Kind of a shame, because this was a pretty interesting conversation to watch....

OK bugbread, I'll bite.

I would like to simply add that ideology and objective studies do not mix well - nothing like using the nature/nurture argument to grind an axe. My own idea is pretty simple : nature and nurture both influence human behaviour - both are significant.

The denial of how human behaviour can be influenced by nature is important in achieving an artificial kind of equality - after all, if we can be influenced by our nature, then it's far more difficult to achieve equality through social engineering because we all have different tendencies and preferences that can't easily be shaped/manipulated. This is a logic some posters here are following when they say that career choices are influenced by society (they don't accept or admit that natural preference may also be involved). I think some people are being coy here - not quite saying it out loud, but nevertheless feel antagonised by anyone saying that "hey, maybe we are directed by natural imperatives/needs/preferences just as much as society influences us!".

"I enjoy being a girl boy" pretty much backs up all of my points.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 8:19 AM on March 12, 2005


Sorry, I know that this thread is wrapping up, but I have to make a last comment.

It is a large (and unsubstantiated) leap from "human behaviour has a biological basis" to "gendered behaviour has a biological basis." In order to find biologically driven behaviours, we need to look for universals: language is a good candidate for a behaviour with a strong biological influence. So is religion (in the very broad sense, not as a short form for Christianity or "organized" religion). In most cases, biologically based behaviour offers an evolutionary advantage.

Since there is no universal definition of gender, it is hard to contemplate the possibility that there is a strong biological difference in the behaviours of genders. So let's step away from gender to something more simple: sex.

But sex, as in the biological difference between women and men, is not discrete. The sexes are not segregated by any boundary. Women can have testes (or partial testes), they can have clitorises large enough to penetrate other people. Men can develop breasts. Men can have micropenises that are smaller than some clitorises. You can find individual men and individual women whose biological sex does not overlap, but you cannot separate all of humanity into *either* biological men *or* biological women.

Because men and women are biologically overlapping, and given that humans evolved in interdependent, multi-male, multi-female groups, it is hard to image how men and women could have evolved separate behaviour patterns. Indeed, behaviours that are most clearly biologically driven are common around the world, throughout history, and across genders and sexes.
posted by carmen at 4:42 PM on March 12, 2005


So let's step away from gender to something more simple: sex.

carmen, this is just semantics, but "gender" can also be used to describe the sex of a person. It's a little confusing to use both terms as if they are different (you're not actually wrong as there are definitions of "gender" used simply to describe social identity, but it's confusing).

I *am* talking about SEX when I use the word gender. I am not describing gender as a subjective feature set of what we consider "masculine" and what we consider "feminine" (clearly, that is a social construct) - I assumed the context of my posts made that clear.

But sex, as in the biological difference between women and men, is not discrete. The sexes are not segregated by any boundary. Women can have testes (or partial testes), they can have clitorises large enough to penetrate other people. Men can develop breasts. Men can have micropenises that are smaller than some clitorises. You can find individual men and individual women whose biological sex does not overlap, but you cannot separate all of humanity into *either* biological men *or* biological women.

You speak as though all of humanity is spread evenly across a sliding scale of sexual features (all-male features at one end, all-female at the other). This is intellectually dishonest and it's a red herring to bring up the exceptions you described, when I'm discussing tendencies of behaviour influenced by our biological sex. In any case, sexual selection works against the ambiguities you highlighted - sexual attraction tends towards the opposites.

Our sexual organs influence our hormones. Our hormones have an influence on our behaviour. Ask anyone going through puberty or the menopause. I don't see why this is such a difficult concept to grasp - perhaps it's too simple and not complex enough to take seriously.

Yes, there are social influences too - many that I think exaggerate and play on our biological influences. And many that have nothing at all to do with our nature.

Indeed, behaviours that are most clearly biologically driven are common around the world, throughout history, and across genders and sexes.

I'm not sure what this means - the "across genders and sexes" bit - are you saying that human behaviour isn't influenced in any way by hormones, for example? What about sexual behaviour (especially sexual selection)? That clearly has differences, which I already highlighted in this thread. It seems like a very sweeping generalisation to me.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 4:58 AM on March 13, 2005


though, soyjoy, it has to be said, calm down.

I wish I could, bugbread, but as a male I'm hard-wired otherwise. Surely you're not suggesting my conscious choices could override my biology?

Seriously, though, I'm not going to pull any punches or be any less emphatic in regard to someone who has demonstrated a complete lack of respect either for the commenters on this thread or for logic, and whose fear of feminism is only outpaced by his obvious weak grasp of the whole biological-determinist topic area he's been trying to derail this thread into.

This is a guy who blusters into a thread mocking previous commenters while spouting "flippant" cliches, and proceeds to tell us what we already know and agree on - that gender is influenced by sex - falsely pretending that anyone here has said otherwise. Using both arguments and English sentences that make no sense, he has alienated well-established, thoughtful posters who have left the thread in disgust, and now is arguing with an anthropologist that she doesn't understand her own field as well as he does. This despite her constant citation of specifics, including study findings and relevant books, against his always-unsupported generalizations and obfuscations.

I waited quietly all weekend to see if he would follow through and send the e-mail he promised on Friday night. Nope. Not there. While I still await his detailed assessments of the various works of radical feminists in that venue, I will not leave charges here unaddressed.

So, FG, in what way does "I enjoy being a girl boy" back up all of your points? Do you mean the phrasing of the link? The resulting discussion? The play on the Rodgers & Hammerstein lyrics? What? Specifics on this would be welcome, as at the very least we would be back to discussing something relevant to this thread.
posted by soyjoy at 8:26 AM on March 14, 2005


Way to go soyjoy - one big ad hominem - are you now wondering why this post is so short and I'm not responding to your questions?
posted by FieldingGoodney at 9:23 AM on March 14, 2005


No, I'm not wondering. It's perfectly clear to me why you're not responding: You have nothing to back up your points.
posted by soyjoy at 9:57 AM on March 14, 2005


soyjoy, perhaps you should try responding to my points. That what's known as a debate. Ad hominem attacks just make you sound reactionary and angry. I don't respond to that.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 2:34 PM on March 14, 2005


Angry? I'm not the one who says he gets riled by people disagreeing with his point of view.

And if you want a debate, you have to first make a clear, specific point about something said here instead of railing in fractured English about mythic entities that get you so upset. Since you keep misspeaking, using "flippant" examples that are later retracted, and leaning on vague and confused generalities, the only way one can even begin to discuss anything is to ask you what you're trying to say.

So I've asked that specific question: In what way does "I enjoy being a girl boy" back up all of your points? Please feel free to a) answer with specifics, or b) continue obfuscating, generalizing and evading.

P.S. "Ad hominem" is attacking the character of the speaker instead of what is spoken. As is clear here, I've been attacking the latter.
posted by soyjoy at 2:58 PM on March 14, 2005


soyjoy : "though, soyjoy, it has to be said, calm down.

I wish I could, bugbread, but as a male I'm hard-wired otherwise. Surely you're not suggesting my conscious choices could override my biology?"


Huh? I'm not suggesting anything, other than that you calm down. I'm not sure exactly what that snark was supposed to mean.

Personally, I think posters have left the thread because it's old, and that's what happens with threads. However, if absolutely pushed for a reason, I'd say it was because of your bile spewing everywhere. I mean, for Christ's sakes, I agree with you and you're alienating me with all the anger.

FG started off horribly, but then started making more and more sense, eventually saying stuff like "nature and nuture both play a part", and you're ripping his head off and generally being an angry ass.

Look, I may just be misreading you, but sitting here, as a person who knows neither FG nor soyjoy personally, nor either one of your online histories, FG is coming off as someone who said something really dumb at the start, but then proceeded to use more logic in discussing things, and seems pretty calm overall. Soyjoy seems like someone who has the right ideas, but whose anger and hate is alienating even folks like myself, who agree with Soyjoy.

I'd rather debate against someone who is wrong but levelheaded than debate with someone who is screechy and shrill. So I'm going to duck out of this discussion.

For reference, soyjoy, I agree with you for the most point (about gender and the like, not about how FG is the antichrist), but because of you, I just can't stay in this conversation.
posted by Bugbread at 4:07 PM on March 14, 2005


Fine, bugbread, I'm glad you agree for the most about gender and the like, but I don't recall saying anything about FG being the antichrist or anything similar. In fact, if you care to point out anything as over-the-top as that which I've said to characterize his arguments or behavior I will, as offered above, gladly retract it.

And of course I will admit that I'm extremely annoyed at him for entering a fine, mutually supportive and exploratory thread (not that I made it fine, of course, it simply happened) and hijacking it by derisively insisting that we defend a straw-man argument no one here has put forward, simply because the thread simply reminded him of something that upsets him. Level-headed commenters have tried the calm, charitable approach and been met with generally nonsensical, repetitious blather including a rejection of both personal experience and cultural anthropology scholarship, so I've taken on the more direct and forthright approach and called him on it.

But as to who's driving people away, perhaps you missed this portion, but it wasn't me who generated these responses: "If you can't see that, then there is no point in furthering this discussion. Your arguments are becoming more and more absurd." "Wow, that's offensive." "Your arguments are weak, and make less and less sense. I'm bowing out of this. It's not a real discussion in any sense of the word."

My "hard-wired" snark was simply an off-the-cuff jab at the whole notion that biology is paramount over individual choices, and I assumed you'd get the reference. Sorry if you took it to be directed at you; it wasn't.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for FG to either take this to email as promised or to spell out what his actual beef with this thread is. I really don't think that's such an unreasonable request.
posted by soyjoy at 8:11 PM on March 14, 2005


simply because the thread simply reminded him of something that upsets him.

Actually upon, uh, further reflection I don't think FG used that many "simply"s to characterize it. I take that part back.
posted by soyjoy at 10:59 PM on March 14, 2005


soyjoy : "I'm still waiting for FG to either take this to email as promised "

Sorry to duck in, but I just wanted to point out that it's likely (though not guaranteed) that that part is my fault. That is, FG said he'd take it to email, and I said, "Aw, I'm enjoying the discussion", at which point he said "Ok, bugbread, I'll bite", and resumed posting here. So, while it might be true that he didn't take it to email for other reasons, I think there's a possibility that it was actually due to me.

So, FG, if you want to take it to email, be my guest. I'm bowing out.
posted by Bugbread at 1:50 AM on March 15, 2005


bugbread, I admire your even-handedness here - 9 times out of 10, people will forgive someone's anger if their POV aligns with their own.

This thread is dead for me - I don't want to rekindle soyjoy's anger with another post. My views obviously offend him deeply, although I don't know why. I'm just acknowledging nature has its part to play in human behaviour. I don't know why that makes somebody angry.

So, FG, if you want to take it to email, be my guest. I'm bowing out.

Me too.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 3:28 AM on March 15, 2005


Just for clarity, FG, your views haven't offended me at all; it was your behavior. The mocking of previous commenters, the brushing aside of people's sincere attempts to answer your questions, and still pretending this is about whether "nature has its part to play in human behaviour" (something everyone explicitly agreed on a week ago) all convey, in my opinion, a lack of respect for the thread and the overall Mefi community. And yes, I suppose that is something that "riled" me.

Now if you really do want to continue to discuss your topic on the merits, we can start from scratch in e-mail. I promise you a Blank Slate.
posted by soyjoy at 7:19 AM on March 15, 2005


Very noble of you soyjoy to defend others - yeah right. Can't you just admit you were out of line? Seriously, I came back here thinking you might come up with some lame excuse and you didn't disappoint me. You had your chance to clear the air and say "sorry I was out of line, but FG, I think your opinion sucks and here's why I think it sucks" and that would have been fine. As it is, you're trying to disguise your impetuous anger as a defence of others - you're trying to do a ju-jitsu and turn your out-of-line behaviour into something worthy. Sorry, it sucks.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 12:56 PM on March 15, 2005


But, once again, I don't think your opinion sucks, I think your presentation sucks - including, of course, your own inability to admit you were out of line.

At any rate, the thread speaks for itself. Anyone can follow it through and see how things happened and make their own judgment.
posted by soyjoy at 1:33 PM on March 15, 2005


I think your presentation sucks - including, of course, your own inability to admit you were out of line.

I don't know why you think that post was out of line. The post you link to does not actually say anything offensive - it's vanilla in the extreme. Perhaps you flagged the words "pink" and "blue" and knee-jerked, but read the comment again:-

It's as OK for tendencies to occur (based on gender) as it is for individuals to like what they happen to like. Are they brainwashed into liking blue or pink?

It's simply saying that kids can decide for themselves what is their favourite colour (I admitted it was a flippant, arbitrary example later on - certainly not a good example - it provoked many knee-jerks and made the thread uglier - definitely my bad). Perhaps you think I am too strident in putting forward my view - I can understand that - but none of the content of what I say is really very controversial at all. It does annoy me when people downplay and deliberately overlook the influence nature plays on people's behaviour as if it somehow conflicts with their ideas of social equality. I'm probably arguing with ghosts of past arguments here too much, and for that I apologise - but also I can see plenty of people directly arguing against me in a predictable manner in this thread to suggest that : no, nature really isn't all that important, and don't bring up the subject again - let's focus on social influence instead as this rests well with our ideas of social equality. It's the vibe I get, although nobody comes out and explicitly says it. My argument in a nut-shell : let's accept how biology affects us and realise the differences we may have because of this and also the similarities too. Differences are great, and do not mean there is inequality taking place. Inequality is a social construct.

This will come out as sounding glib, but I'm totally seeking the truth in the whole nature/nurture debate (and you have to admit, the article in question you linked to here is apt enough to invoke the debate) - I'm not trying to rock boats for the hell of it - but I do realise that people do wrap their ideologies around this debate and that's when it gets ugly.

Anyway, if this topic raises itself again or we can exchange opinions here, I'm game. I don't pretend to know everything, but I've certainly got many years experience of human behaviour as I know you have.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 3:58 PM on March 15, 2005


God, people, it's been over a MONTH since this started. Can't you wrap it up?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:45 PM on March 15, 2005


God, people, it's been over a MONTH since this started. Can't you wrap it up?

Huh? I make it 9 days (since 7th March) and that's UK time.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 7:36 PM on March 15, 2005


p.s. (pedant: I meant I posted it on 16th March 2005 UK time - even though the datestamp of my post says the 15th)
posted by FieldingGoodney at 7:38 PM on March 15, 2005


DOH! Somehow I stupidly thought this was mid-April. I swear, I don't know what's wrong with me today. Dumb as a post.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:50 PM on March 15, 2005


Fielding - Maybe it's because it contains an apology (for arguing with ghosts of past arguments) and that cleared some smoke from my eyes or something, but that's the first of your comments here that's actually made sense to me from beginning to end.

I think we probably have a lot of common ground on this. It's just that the way I see it, if there are two distinct forces shaping our identity, whether in gender or other areas of behavior, and one of those forces - nature - is immutable, while the other - environment - is the result of conscious decisions of multiple people, for my money the best approach is to look at those conscious decisions and discuss what we can change to affect that area, to make for a more positive potential environment for all. That may come off as "downplaying" the role of nature to you, but unless and until we have designer drugs and successful gene therapy to affect that side, it seems more practical to talk about the side that can be affected by people changing those behaviors they do have control over.

At the risk of regression, I must just correct the knee-jerk-on-pink-and-blue thing. It was not that so much as your first line that came off as offensive. It jarringly interrupted the tone and created an antagonistic context for your next few comments which, rereading them, I don't know if you were aware was carrying over. The sarcasm and eye-rolling had raised the bar, in my opinion, for you to make your case with hard facts, based on citations from this thread; that's why I kept pressing you on that, probably long after it was relevant.

Dunno if you can see it that way, or if you think I'm making something up post hoc, but that's how I saw it. If you can see that point of view, we may not have much more to disagree about.
posted by soyjoy at 9:30 PM on March 15, 2005


it seems more practical to talk about the side that can be affected by people changing those behaviors they do have control over.

Right. I was wanting to post something to this effect earlier in this thread but I couldn't figure out how to phrase it.

We are much more able to control the environmental & societal factors that influence behaviour than we are the biological (particularly genetic) ones. So while both certainly do play a role, one is more maleable and therefore more interesting to people who want to effect change.
posted by raedyn at 10:50 AM on March 16, 2005


So while both certainly do play a role, one is more maleable and therefore more interesting to people who want to effect change.

Understanding our nature can lead us to improve our behaviour, and make life more liveable too. Town planners, architects etc (hopefully!) take into account our nature and how we innately react to our environment in order to design things that are more naturally pleasing. If we ignored our nature, we'd end up shaping an environment that jarred with us (and that is often the case when I think designers totally neglect this). The same should go with employers too. Happy staff tend to be more productive, but how do you measure happiness? It's a collection of the tangible (money, status etc) and the intangible (friendships, interest in work etc) - but to make your staff happy (or even remotely) is very important for business. I think the problem with trying to study our nature is that nothing is really quantifiable.

On an individual level, ignoring our nature can also lead to mental illnesses (which I believe are on the rise) and a sense of alienation - not listening to what your natural instincts tell you or making life choices that appear "correct" on a societal level, but deep down you're working against yourself. This is a personal level thing as I say, not really societal.

I am not arguing against what you or soyjoy are saying here at all - it's just to say that there is another school of thought that can co-exist with your own.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2005


If we ignored our nature, we'd end up shaping an environment that jarred with us (and that is often the case when I think designers totally neglect this).

Ok, I agree with that. But what "jars" with me is people creating sexist environments based on the imagined "nature" of women.
posted by agregoli at 1:04 PM on March 17, 2005


Ok, I agree with that. But what "jars" with me is people creating sexist environments based on the imagined "nature" of women.

What you described is socialised behaviour - the more we learn about our nature (i.e. get a consensus on it based on scientific knowledge) the less this behaviour will be accepted (as in, "shut-up flat-earther" to false stereotypes).

I also hope this doesn't devolve into a "nature VERSUS nurture" battle royale - don't include me. As glib as it sounds, I'm interested in the truth. We still don't know everything there is to know about "what makes us tick". How much do we go into an automatic drive and let society make choices for us? How much do we resist even a popular movement if it conflicts with a natural aversion to it? Can natural tendency conflict with our nurtured learning?
posted by FieldingGoodney at 4:38 PM on March 17, 2005


Fielding, I hear ya, but remember the story that was the premise of this thread and reread this:

On an individual level, ignoring our nature can also lead to mental illnesses (which I believe are on the rise) and a sense of alienation - not listening to what your natural instincts tell you or making life choices that appear "correct" on a societal level, but deep down you're working against yourself.

OK, agreed; now: If we accept the proposition that there are some people who are born with a natural tendency toward a gender identity which is at odds with the one society would normally place on them, we have three choices:
    a) ignore their pain, tell them to "get over it" and allow them to lapse into mental illness or mere lifelong psychic pain, b) devote an unknowable amount of funding and brainpower to decoding the physical structure behind this natural tendency and then another amount to figuring out how we can (and whether we should) alter this by some scientific process - and then still more to implementing said process, or c) focus the bulk of our attention on discussions which can lead to a social structure that allows this natural tendency to exist without causing pain to the person in whom it occurs or to the rest of society - with incremental results as we travel toward the goal of a fair society for all.
Obviously, I (and I would assert, many people on this thread) would argue for c). The fact that we already know there's a lingering influence of patriarchal imbalance in our society gives added incentive to work on ameliorating the experience and opportunities of all individuals in society. However, your comments suggest to me that you are against pursuing c). If so, how come? Do you have a different a, b, and c (or d?) that you see as ways to handle this?
posted by soyjoy at 7:33 AM on March 18, 2005


What you described is socialised behaviour - the more we learn about our nature (i.e. get a consensus on it based on scientific knowledge) the less this behaviour will be accepted (as in, "shut-up flat-earther" to false stereotypes).

Wow, I strongly disagree. How is it going to help women when they find one tiny thing that might be true for the majority of women? Many, many ignorant people will get to confirm all their ridiculous biases and stereotypes and I still still get the short end of the stick. No thanks.
posted by agregoli at 7:40 AM on March 18, 2005


soyjoy, why must we pick only one of those choices (not that I like the wording of b) )? That is my point all along.

I don't really have an a, b, c or d actually - I am trying to look at this area as dispassionately as possible - as objectively as is possible - to understand how much society can shape us and how much our natural tendencies will resist the outside influences. Perhaps we're looking at this debate and trying to get different things out of it.

Wow, I strongly disagree. How is it going to help women when they find one tiny thing that might be true for the majority of women? Many, many ignorant people will get to confirm all their ridiculous biases and stereotypes and I still still get the short end of the stick. No thanks.

Ok, I give up. I've been clobbered again - "one tiny thing"? Seriously......talk about disregarding the argument.

I'm out of here.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 11:00 AM on March 19, 2005


soyjoy, why must we pick only one of those choices (not that I like the wording of b) )?

I guess because if there is indeed another choice, and especially if it makes more sense than c), it's not obvious to me what that is, and I'm still trying to hear your idea of what it would be. That's why I included d).

And really, I'd welcome a rewording of b) that gets more to the point.
posted by soyjoy at 9:33 PM on March 19, 2005


soyjoy, just to clarify : when I asked "why must we pick only ONE of those choices?" - I meant that why can't b and c co-exist? It's not zero-sum either/or is my point.

As for b), I think the choice was self-defeating in its wording. Also there is already quite a lot of time devoted to this area of study already - evolutionary psychology (good link here on it - quite a balanced view on the topic). I guess this is the area of study I am (I think clumsily!) trying to describe in my posts. A good quote I found (which I totally agree with):-

"Evolutionary psychology is not just another swing of the nature/nurture pendulum. A defining characteristic of the field is the explicit rejection of the usual nature/nurture dichotomies -- instinct vs. reasoning, innate vs. learned, biological vs. cultural. What effect the environment will have on an organism depends critically on the details of its evolved cognitive architecture." (John Tooby) - (and my emphasis)

This sums up my view better than I could ever put it.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 4:05 AM on March 20, 2005


I can offer a choice D, which is a mix of B and C:

d) devote an unknowable amount of funding and brainpower to decoding the physical structure behind this natural tendency and then another amount to figuring out social structure that allows this natural tendency to exist without causing pain to the person in whom it occurs or to the rest of society - with incremental results as we travel toward the goal of a fair society for all.
posted by Bugbread at 4:13 AM on March 20, 2005


On postview: D'oh! That wasn't there when I started my response.
posted by Bugbread at 4:14 AM on March 20, 2005


bugbread, I applaud the basic idea of blending b) and c) to make d), but it seems to me a given that b) would not yield "incremental results" unless or until the tendency is successfully decoded - rather that the results for that approach would be of a quantum nature. This does still leave open the question of where we put the bulk of our attention/resources and on what basis - but yeah, that doesn't mean they need be mutually exclusive.

Fielding - the only reason I counterposed them in my question is that you seemed upthread to have been arguing that c) was not a worthwhile option, either because those advocating it were intolerant of biological rationales or because the problem it attempts to address is not so much of a problem. But if you're OK with c) in the mix, it's all good.
posted by soyjoy at 8:24 PM on March 20, 2005


it seems to me a given that b) would not yield "incremental results" unless or until the tendency is successfully decoded

soyjoy, I would hope that this kind of study can bring a lot of small successes and understandings along the way rather than be set-up deliberately to hunt down a specific answer. This is the problem with studying human behaviour and what influences it - we can identify tendencies, but they are not constants you can plug into a formula - they are variables with limited ranges. What I hope is that the more we understand our nature, the better the decisions we can make in terms of our environment : housing, work, relationships, physical & mental health, etc.

Fielding - the only reason I counterposed them in my question is that you seemed upthread to have been arguing that c) was not a worthwhile option, either because those advocating it were intolerant of biological rationales or because the problem it attempts to address is not so much of a problem

All I'm advocating (and maybe it's my lack of debating skills here!) is for people to accept that both our nature and what nurtures us are the two parts that create the total sum of our behaviour, and that to discuss either exclusively is to not see the whole picture.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 1:28 AM on March 21, 2005


FieldingGoodney - as has been said many, many, MANY times, we agree with what you just said - it's nature and nurture. Not one person here was arguing for either one exclusively, ever. Why do you belabor a point no one made? You just like arguing, I guess. Bizarre.
posted by agregoli at 7:59 AM on March 21, 2005


FieldingGoodney - as has been said many, many, MANY times, we agree with what you just said - it's nature and nurture. Not one person here was arguing for either one exclusively, ever. Why do you belabor a point no one made? You just like arguing, I guess. Bizarre.

agregoli, if you don't like nuanced debate, do not join in. Your previous comment pretty much downplayed (almost entirely) how much nature has an influence on our behaviour. You're trying to simplify the argument everytime you make a comment, which on my scale of annoyances, rates very highly.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 8:34 AM on March 21, 2005


You are the one who seems unable to catch any nuances of phrase. Please stop reading into what I'm saying as if I'm arguing something I'm not. I'm not arguing against nature and nurture together. It's obvious I'm not, as I've said so many times. I just don't understand why you're still arguing a point that no one made - can you explain that to me, please? It annoys me that you keep making the same points and accusing others of arguing things that they are clearly not.
posted by agregoli at 8:49 AM on March 21, 2005


agregoli, it seems that whenever the debate gathers some consensus or there is at least some civil exchange of ideas, you wade in angrily and dismiss it all. This thread is old.....why do you come back to it, only to shout out angry dismissals? Can't you leave it alone? Hey, what are your views on evolutionary psychology? If you have it all worked out and find this kind of discussion boring and so obvious, why don't you just leave it, or give us all the answers? I'll leave the last word to you, since I know this thread will simply devolve into a flame out. I won't even *look* at this thread again.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 1:55 PM on March 21, 2005


I'm all for recognizing the combination of nature and nurture, but one's nature is not by necessity in alignment with the average nature of a category to which one belongs.

Just because a greater percentage of blacks may be better athletes does not mean that any black person should assume himself to be "by nature" an athlete. The same is true of gender. Women as a group may share a particular trait or tendency, but that will not apply to every member of the category, and to expect it to, or to presuppose its likelihood, seems far more likely to be detrimental than beneficial.

I said above a number of times that my being female doesn't give you any specific information about me other than biological criteria for belonging to the category "female". It may, however, give you certain expectations about my capacities and tendencies, and I'm hard-pressed to think of a reason that would be to my benefit - can you think of one?
posted by mdn at 2:48 PM on March 21, 2005


[Whomever] as a group may share a particular trait or tendency, but that will not apply to every member of the category, and to expect it to, or to presuppose its likelihood, seems far more likely to be detrimental than beneficial.

Yes! The findings are much too open to misuse and abuse.

For instance

We've already discovered a gene that makes people more prone to violence. Should we track those people that carry the gene because they're a higher risk? Do we excuse people who commit violent crimes when they carry the gene "it's not their fault, they've got the gene!" Some people with the gene never become violent. Should they be 'marked' and carry the stigma for behaviour they may be more disposed to, but may never act on? Should they be allowed to have kids? But those kids are a risk to society... It's an ugly can of worms.

During pregnancy we can already test for the chance that the child will develop certain genetic diseases. Expectant parents who take the tests will be told their child has a 1 in 250 chance of developing [insert undesirable disease here]. Then they are faced with the agonizing choice of
1) aborting the pregnancy to eliminate the risk, possibly eliminating the healthy happy child they could have had or
2) carrying the pregnancy to term and possibly giving birth to a sick child when they could have chosen to prevent the suffering of their family.

What is an acceptable risk? 1 in 100? 1 in 1000? 1 in 10000? And what about the moral issues of choosing to only have healthy babies? Is it acceptable to say that disabled children should not be born? If it's acceptable to abort because a child might be born sick, is it acceptable to abort because they will be born the 'wrong' sex? sexual orientation? political offiliation? eye colour?

Personally, I chose to not have the tests done and therefore I didn't have to deal with those awful questions. Because I was young and healthy my doctor didn't press me. But after a certain maternal age, some doctors do these tests as a routine practice.

I have yet to be convinced that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks.
posted by raedyn at 2:27 PM on March 22, 2005


What is an acceptable risk?

The acceptable risk is that which the potential parents decide is an acceptable risk. If they feel 1 in 10000 is too risky and decide to abort, that is their perogative. If they feel 1 in 2 is worth the gamble, same deal.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:37 PM on March 22, 2005


FFF, sure, it's easy to flatten "acceptable" into the parents' prerogative and let it go at that, but even that can get stickier than we'd like to admit.

If the condition that's being tested for and found likely (say 1 in 2) is that of an extra chromosome or ambiguous genitals, and the would-be parents are simple sexual bigots who don't want the stigma of a child who doesn't fit easily into pink-or-blue binary... is that "acceptable?" I don't presume to tell that potential mother that she can't abort, but setting that issue aside we would all probably admit that in this case science, in the role of studying and potentially rectifying our "nature," has failed to come through with a very positive outcome.

That's why I see that b) option above as something that we could either pursue or ignore according to various pro/con angles, while the task of eliminating sexual prejudice and bigotry has to be undertaken regardless and thus should be a higher priority.
posted by soyjoy at 9:58 PM on March 22, 2005


...who don't want the stigma of a child who doesn't fit easily into pink-or-blue binary... is that "acceptable?

Yes.

And I think choosing abortion for that reason is reprehensible, and I wouldn't hesitate to say so.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:58 AM on March 23, 2005


OK, but a lot of people would find "acceptable" and "reprehensible" to be virtual antonyms. It seems like were getting into finer and finer, more or less semantic, distinctions when we're already basically agreed.

At any rate, the very fact that even the best-case scenario for "b)" manages to generate further ethical quandaries rather than eliminating them is pretty much my point as to why it makes sense to instead focus our attention and energy on "c)."
posted by soyjoy at 2:03 PM on March 24, 2005


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