If Gender’s Learned, Why Do You Feel You’re Born in the Wrong Body?

Wodaabe men of Niger

Wodaabe men of Niger

Tami Hamilton recently wrote about the intersexed babies that her niece gave birth to. Since their sex was indeterminate the doctors chose to make them into girls. One child has thrived, the other has not. The whole experience leaves Tami wondering whether gender identity is grounded in biology or sociology.

Some parents have hidden the sex of their children, hoping to offer them a wide range of experience and keep them outside limiting boxes. Like the Canadian couple who are raising their child “Storm,” sex unknown. Or the British couple who only announced the sex of their son, Sasha when he entered kindergarten. These kids were allowed to play with or wear whatever they like.

Last I heard, Sasha seemed just fine, and thinks arbitrary rules like, “pink is for girls and blue for boys” are silly.

King Louis XIV of France

King Louis XIV of France

Gender is certainly learned. We know this because it isn’t expressed the same way in all places. “Masculine” means different things in different times and places. Ancient Roman and Scottish men wore dresses or skirts. Romeo wore tights. King Louis XIV wore lace, ruffles, curls, and color. The Founding Fathers posed gracefully. Rock stars and the Wodaabe of Nigeria wear makeup.

Most of us “adequately” conform to whatever the cultural expectations are. If men wear dresses and make up, men don those things.

So if gender is learned, how could anyone be “transgendered”? Why would anyone feel like they were born in the wrong body? Why does one of Linda’s grand nieces feel “out of sorts” in dresses or playing with “girl” toys?

As it turns out, kids aren’t blank slates who passively sit by while society imprints itself on them.

Children are born with personalities — strongly masculine or feminine, or points between — that may or may not fit comfortably with what’s deemed masculine or feminine in the place they grow up.

Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes, all made up

Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, all made up

So boys who are strongly or moderately masculine (as defined by the culture) will come across as just that. Slightly feminine boys will seem like boys, even if they’re more sensitive, gentle, fashion-conscious, or neat, for instance.

But boys with male genes and hormones but strongly feminine interests or personalities won’t feel comfortable, or fit in, playing hopscotch, jump rope or wearing dresses. At least not in the modern, western world. These kids may feel they are trapped in the wrong body, entirely. But if they had been born into a culture in which masculine were seen as what we call feminine, they may feel much more at home in their skin.

So what about Tami’s nieces? Looks like one has a strong masculine (as defined in the US) personality that does not fit well with little-girl things. While the other niece’s personality is not so strongly comported in that direction.

Grayson Perry cross-dressing

Grayson Perry cross-dressing

But who knows, maybe the parents’ worries about nonconformity exaggerate the matter. When I was young I didn’t like playing with baby dolls. What was I supposed to do with them, I wondered? And for a period of time I would not wear dresses. But my mom didn’t freak out about it. She let me play with coloring books, Legos and Lincoln Logs, my tricycle, and stuffed animals. The sandbox was a favorite.

If she had fussed and forced me to wear things and play with things I didn’t like I may have rebelled. (And as I got older I decided I did like dresses and even Barbie dolls.)

But why not let kids be who they want to be, and not force them into slots?

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 27, 2014, in feminism, gender, LGBTQ+, psychology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 70 Comments.

  1. “The whole experience leaves Tami wondering whether gender identity is grounded in biology or sociology.”

    The idea of gender stemming from either sociology or biology is inaccurate and misleading because it does not allow for the reality of overlapping influence. There is a basis of temperament unique to each individual (biology), as well as a set of behaviors learned through the impact of society (sociology), that come together to influence the way in which each person identifies and presents in terms of gender.

    To say in reference to transgender children, that “these kids may feel they are trapped in the wrong body, entirely. But if they had been born into a culture in which masculine were seen as what we call feminine, they may feel much more at home in their skin,” is simply incorrect and founded on the idea that gender identity is solely based in a person’s interests or hobbies. This idea is also incorrect because it excludes “cisgendered” identities with gender-nonconforming presentation. These people feel at home in their bodies and are comfortable with their assigned sex at birth, yet present in ways that many would view as opposite to what would be expected in terms of the cultural constructions of gender. The above idea also leaves out nonbinary, agender, gender-fluid, and other gender variant identities. These are people who feel that masculine and feminine definitions don’t entirely apply, and they feel they cannot relate to or feel comfortable within constrictive binary terms. Therefore, to merely switch the definitions of the terms for femininity and masculinity, does not solve any problems.

    I think that a more viable solution to allowing more people to feel comfortable in their own bodies, and comfortable in expressing their true selves, would be to allow for more gender variance in general. If people had the option of removing themselves from constrictive binary definitions of gender without societal consequence, then those people could possibly feel safer in accepting themselves.

    • I agree with this point you made:

      Gender stems from overlapping influence of Biology and society.

      People who look try to figure out the effects of both have come to the conclusion that we are roughly half biology and half our social experiences. Our experiences, including culture, can trigger certain genes to become active. And culture affects how we understand what it means to be a man or woman, Which affects all this too.

    • no this is true. They are trying to look as the sex they feel they are inside which has to be based on their “femine’ behaviors or thoughts that would be feminine, thus feeling comfortable looking as woman because they perceive their expression as female inside. But that’s because of how they perceive what feminine means female. What is a woman then? It’s not feminine or masculine behavior right, that’s arbitrary. So the trans person has to be going on perceived indentity of their own traits as meaning they are female inside. When the only inherent aspect of being woman is the biology. We look at how black people look at things and they themselves see things or many a certain way. And it even influences black people as many will look at another black person who talks a certain way or dress a certain way as “not being black” even if they are but “talk like a white person”.

      I remember there was a woman, that was trans racial whatever the hell that means. But the reality being black and white or other race is no inherent on behavior and the difference is shaped by culture. Black, white etc is inherently biology just like sex is. So the “I’m a woman because of having an opertation” doesn’t mean the trans woman is a woman inside or because they see their behavior as being female. It’s just viewing their idenity that way that just aligns with the culture view of what a woman is vs man. There’s nothing inherently “female” characteristic wise, as their is overlap. What’s inherent is the genitals and secondary born sexual characteristics that makes a woman female and man male. And woman does apply to female, as a woman is a female adult human. We don’t use woman to refer to female dogs or other female animals, but only human adult females. So I don’t believe applies to gender which is arbitrary but sex, which is inherent and biology.

  2. First I will say a a response up to a comment,. nope testosterone does effect libido. That is global. When a cis womans libido is at it’s highest when the testosterone is the highest in the cycle. Like wise in trans women during HRT raw libido and spontanous arousal goes down and the reverse for trans men.
    Just giving cis women some testosterone hightens raw sexual lust., I can tell you from experience, it is one hell of a difference.
    If a woman has a high sex drive, getting male level of T would give even higher sex drive.

    This blogpost is ignoirant and borderline transphobic with almost the same nonesene you get from TERFS.. Trans women are not feminine men, a trans woman can be a tomboy,. a trans man can be a femmy man.
    Gender dysohoria and gender identity is not the purely the same as gender expression even though the last may be used to express gender identity. Gender identity is not at it’s heart a social construct. That goes back to the flaw theory of John Money who treid to raise a cisboy named David Reimer whose genitals were deformed by a botched circumsision. How ever he never identified as a girl and thus had a very unhappy childhood. He eventually transitioned to male.
    Likewise I am a trans woman, I was raised a boy, I still did not devolop a male gender identity nor identification with the male body.
    Extreme social constructionism cannot explain it. It has hurt interesex people, trans people, and David Reimer. Because you cannot change a persons gender identity and inner sense of self.

    Gender identity is neurological. Gender dysophoria is the result of this missmatch. It isn ot about feeling allianted and anxiety to your body. The social, mental and physical gender dysphoria.
    Especially the neurological body map, which causes body dysphoria if not aligned with your body.
    There is more basic body dysphoria that is dysphoria to the limbs, they feel the exact same allienation, discomfort and anxiety for that limb.
    For that cutting that limb off, takes that anxiety and dysphoria away. A man self amputed a leg and he did black out, he did not pass out as odinary people in that situation, and did not get any phantom sensetions.
    The same is true for trans women having SRS pretty much never have phantom penis as cis men does. when they lose parts or whole of their penis.
    This has been studied by neuroscientist VS Ramachardan.

    We also know mentally that trans people when getting the right hormones get less stress hormones, thus hightining psychological well being. Plus being treated in the right gender also lowers social dyspohoria. Trans women are women, trans men are men, in your comments you make it clear that you see trans woman as a man. We are not men.

    We are born with a neurological condition you should be happy that you never had to deal with, we have always existed, The scythians used mare urine during fertile periods to get estrogen. So please read up and do not be stuck in social constructionist of gender identity.

    I also see you talk about the idea of it beinga fetisch the so called autogynophelia idea, you know what that is? Psuedoscience and debunked. Have you read TERFS for your information, or radical feminists and extremist poststructuralists? It sure seems like that or transphobic academics like Ray Blanchard.

    For me transistion saved my life. I would not be here if not for it. Living as the woman I am is the best thing that has ever happened to me. to be me, to be authentic, to see myself in the mirror, to be treated as a woman by society and others.

    I wish people like you, who I understand is an academic would pay attention to the science, even the natural sciences in the question:

    Hormonal treatment reduces psychobiological distress in gender identity disorder, independently of the attachment style.

    A part of a lecture by legendary neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky about transsexualism.

    Peer-Reviewed Papers on Nuerological gendered differences in the transsexual brain

    Male-to-female transsexuals show sex-atypical hypothalamus activation when smelling odorous steroids. by Berglund et al Cerebral Cortex 2008 18(8):1900-1908;


    …the data implicate that transsexuality may be associated with sex-atypical physiological responses in specific hypothalamic circuits, possibly as a consequence of a variant neuronal differentiation.

    Male–to–female transsexuals have female neuron numbers in a limbic nucleus. Kruiver et al J Clin Endocrinol Metab (2000) 85:2034–2041


    The present findings of somatostatin neuronal sex differences in the BSTc and its sex reversal in the transsexual brain clearly support the paradigm that in transsexuals sexual differentiation of the brain and genitals may go into opposite directions and point to a neurobiological basis of gender identity disorder.

    Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relevance for gender identity, transsexualism and sexual orientation. Swaab Gynecol Endocrinol (2004) 19:301–312.


    Solid evidence for the importance of postnatal social factors is lacking. In the human brain, structural diferences have been described that seem to be related to gender identity and sexual orientation.

    A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. by Zhou et al Nature (1995) 378:68–70.

    http://www.nature.com/…/v378/n6552/abs/378068a0.html …

    Our study is the first to show a female brain structure in genetically male transsexuals and supports the hypothesis that gender identity develops as a result of an interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones

    A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity. by Garcia-Falgueras et al Brain. 2008 Dec;131(Pt 12):3132-46.


    We propose that the sex reversal of the INAH3 in transsexual people is at least partly a marker of an early atypical sexual differentiation of the brain and that the changes in INAH3 and the BSTc may belong to a complex network that may structurally and functionally be related to gender identity.

    White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study. – Rametti et al, J Psychiatr Res. 2010 Jun 8.


    CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that the white matter microstructure pattern in untreated FtM transsexuals is closer to the pattern of subjects who share their gender identity (males) than those who share their biological sex (females). Our results provide evidence for an inherent difference in the brain structure of FtM transsexuals.

    Regional cerebral blood flow changes in female to male gender identity disorder. – Tanaka et al, Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2010 Apr 1;64(2):157-61.


    RESULTS: GID subjects had a significant decrease in rCBF in the left anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and a significant increase in the right insula compared to control subjects.

    CONCLUSIONS: The ACC and insula are regions that have been noted as being related to human sexual behavior and consciousness. From these findings, useful insights into the biological basis of GID were suggested.

    Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF Endocr Dev. 2010;17:22-35


    The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.

    A bonus.
    Androgen receptor repeat length polymorphism associated with male-to-female transsexualism.

    We are born this way.

    • I’m afraid I have been misread on this issue. And I think that’s because it’s difficult to make my points in a 500 word blog post. I’m thinking of doing a series. But it’s because of comments like yours that I haven’t taken the posts down, given that shortcoming. I appreciate the dialogue.

      So I definitely appreciate feedback, which will help me with that series. So thanks for writing in.

      Being trans actually makes perfect sense. I even have good friends and good students who are trans. I’m definitely pro-trans. People should be whatever gender is experienced as most authentic to them. Totally not into trying to shove people into boxes.

      But I have some questions for you if you care to answer them.

      Why does the trans community feel it is so important that “trans” be biologically-based?

      Scientists and academics who venture outside their field (like biology or sociology) recognize that neither biology nor social experience are determinative.

      Instead, there is a nature-nurture dance. About 1/2 of who we are seems to be determined by biology and the other half by culture and social experience.

      In a phrase: who we are is biology + culture + social interactions.

      How those three things come together is unique to each individual.

      Children are born without their brains fully formed, for instance, and their social environment has huge effects on the brain formation.

      And neuroscience is in its infancy. The “findings” are highly affected by what the researcher wants to see. You should take a look at a book by Cordelia Fine, sociologist who specializes in neuroscience, who talks more in depth about the problems in her book, “delusions of gender.”

      Environment, both social and physical, has an effect on gene expression.

      Testosterone is also affected by our environment. Test a couple of people before they have a tennis match and then test them after one of them has one and the other lost. Whoever won will have much higher levels of testosterone. Or move a dominant primate into a social group with a more dominant male, and his testosterone will lower.

      But can also hard to figure out exactly what the effects of testosterone are. Testosterone seems to be related to aggression, but males are less punished for being aggressive, they have more aggressive role models (like in the movies ending cartoons), equivalent levels of testosterone have bigger sex on females, and estrogen is also tied to aggression. Put it altogether, And it’s difficult to figure out just what role testosterone plays.

      You said that testosterone affects libido. Yes and no. It’s controversial. Research suggests that it does if your testosterone level is an unusually low. But not if your testosterone level is at “normal” levels. And there are a number of complicating factors.

      Also, few things show a bigger placebo effect than sugar pills on libido. So if you tell a woman that you are giving her testosterone in order to increase her sex drive, present stride is likely to go up even if you give her a sugar pill.

      And here’s what I find most confusing. I’ve heard trans people, like you, say that — say you are m-f trans — taking estrogen makes them feel so much better. Well, you are already naturally female, so why should it make a difference?

      And actually, women who have hit menopause undergo steep decreases in estrogen — in fact, women have less estrogen than young men, yet they feel no worse for the decrease. Other than maybe hot flashes. But many women don’t notice any difference at all. My mom didn’t notice any difference after menopause. These women feel no less feminine, no less female, and have no less “feel-good” feelings.

      And trans women feel no less female before taking the estrogen. So why should they feel “better” afterward? I can see how they would in terms of a placebo effect. Or because their bodies might become more feminine, so that they feel better because their bodies better match what we call feminine psychology.

      But what is feminine psychology?

      How are women different from men?

      A University of Rochester study seeking to pinpoint sex differences found virtually no traits that could be predicted by sex. Looking at a range of things like sexual attitudes, empathy, science inclination, extroversion, relationship interdependence, intimacy, mate selection criteria and personality traits nothing could reliably predict whether someone was male or female. And there was great overlap between the sexes. (Exceptions being biological traits like “strength” and “height.”) see this: Men, Women not from Mars, Venus

      The notion that men are one way and women or another imprisons everyone in straitjackets.

      Still, some people have personalities that clash in significant ways with the gender society has assigned them (based on their biology).

      Maybe a biological male (referred to below as “he” to avoid confusion) has a personality that fits very well with the way women are thought to be, and which feels completely foreign to the way men are expected to be.

      He is not necessarily super-feminine. But in some significant way his personality just feels entirely foreign to what we call “men.”

      How could people like that possibly experience themselves as men? Especially when they identify so well with women?

      They are not men, then. They are women. And so our biological male is actually a she in terms of gender.

      I have asked a number of trans-women and tans-men how they experienced themselves when feeling they were born in the wrong body. What did that feel like?

      They talk about their souls feeling at odds with their assigned gender.

      That makes perfect sense to me.

      Some people’s personalities veer so significantly from the gender that is assigned to them that they cannot live their lives authentically without being trans.

      Given the way gender is constructed, they feel like they are putting on a mask by conforming to gendered expectations, whether it be how they present their personalities or their faces and bodies to the world.

      Not long ago I took my class to a Women’s History Month event on the trans experience. Someone asked a female-to-male trans-man this question:

      -What is a man and what is a woman? How are they different?

      The trans-man said he didn’t know. It wasn’t clear to him that there was anything innately male or female. Nonetheless, he felt that he could only authentically be himself as a trans-man.

      It’s the only way he could live without feeling he was wearing a (straightjacket and) mask.

      Since who we are is a mix of Biology + Culture + Social experience, I don’t see why it’s important that the trans experience be grounded in biology. Doesn’t even make any sense.

  3. I respectfully disagree with your point that transgender people transition merely to express stereotyped feminine or masculine personalities. This view ignores the fact that transgender people share as wide a range of gender expression and sexuality as the population at large: there exist butch lesbian transwomen (mtf), effeminate gay transmen (f2m), and everything in between. Clearly, these people do not enduring major surgeries and daily discrimination merely for the sake of gender expression opposite that of their assigned sex.

    Neither do transpeople who conform to the gender stereotypes of women (for mtf) or men (for ftm). To get approval from the medical establishment for medical or surgical interventions, transpeople need a recommendation from a gender therapist who helps them understand their options and disentangle gender identity from preferred gender expression. For instance a male-bodied person may be asked to see whether cross-dressing would be sufficient. For some it would be; these cross-dressers identify vehemently as being men. Indeed, these people are lucky, since they needn’t endure the financial and emotional hardship of transitioning.

    But for a transgender person “dressing up” on weekends, or even every day, is not enough. Passing as one’s chosen gender and being free to exhibit that gender’s stereotyped behavior is nice, but not essential. Though it is the greatest boon when someone sees through the misfortune of my biology and the clumsiness of my presentation enough to call me m’am, I would have transitioned even if I were sure of never passing. Indeed, some transpeople take hormones and even undergo surgery though circumstance obliges them to continue living in the world as their assigned sex. At issue is that indescribable joy of feeling “right” in one’s physical body, of being whole. Though it may strain the cisgender imagination to conceive, this is what transgender people seek, not just the trappings of feminism or machismo.

    • I’m glad you are one of my students so that we can have more discussions on this in person, after lecture on the social construction of gender. I look forward to our discussion.

      In the meantime, I’m wondering if you’ve read the comments and my responses to the post. I realized that I probably should’ve posted on the social construction of gender before writing that post, to give it some context. Take a look at the responses I’ve already written and get back to me.

  4. “But I also know of a M2F transsexual who turned out to be a very sexy, attractive looking woman with a fairly masculine voice. She married a guy who appears to be a straight man. I also once had a straight guy in my class who had been in a relationship with a M2F transsexual. So sometimes they can attract straight men.”

    I mean truly straight men. I doubt a man is 100% heterosexual if he’s dating a tranny. I didn’t mean gay as in attracted to men and not women. But saying tranny’s can’t be attracting men who are completely straight. A man who likes women but also men, is bisexual. Even if he likes women more, if he has sexual attaction to men thought less than women, he’s still bi. I look at bisexual as not 50/50, but sexual attaction to both sexes, even if one is more preferred than the other. So the shade of grey and in between the poles of gay and straight are all bisexual to me on the varying degrees. So a man who is like 70% attracted to women, and 30% toward men is still bisexual and not straight, but a strong preference more so toward women.

  5. “But I also know of a M2F transsexual who turned out to be a very sexy, attractive looking woman with a fairly masculine voice. She married a guy who appears to be a straight man. I also once had a straight guy in my class who had been in a relationship with a M2F transsexual. So sometimes they can attract straight men.”

    But that’s kind of scary for transexuals to look sexy and very much like a woman and go after straight men. Seems deceptivve for a straight man to think he’s with a woman and then find out when he sees her/him naked. Hopefully transexuals are upfront, the ones who look much like a woman. All the transexuals I’ve seen, even ones who look very much like a woman, I can tell are or were men, adam’s apple, facial structure even if subtle, shoulders, etc. I think there was stuff I heard where a long time ago, Comedian Eddie murphy picked up a transexual he thought was a woman, eddie was probably drunk or maybe secretly likes transexuals.

    ” Even as a boy he had had sexual fantasies his whole life in which he always took the female role with a man — but in a female body.”

    But couldn’t he though in his male body, take a female role from simply being fucked from behind? Being penetrated is a female role which is why it’s being seen as gay for a man to be fucked in the ass and why strap on stuff toward a man even if by a woman doing it to him is still seen as “gay” or bi tendencies for a man to want to done that way. True a man does not have a vagina so technically he’s not being fucked in a female body, but he’s still being penetrated and submitting and I would think could feel he’s being fucked like a woman. I don’t know.

    • As you say, it doesn’t have to be deceptive. If the person has had surgery and is using hormones and sees herself as a female, and has explained everything before sex, that isn’t deceptive.

      You are right that things like facial structure can be a giveaway. But not always.

      re: my student who as a boy had fantasies about sex “As a woman with men” I don’t know. You would have to ask that person.

  6. “1) have surgery to make the male body fit the feminine (or what is a experienced as female)* personality
    2) don’t have surgery but experience yourself as a female* in a male* body”

    This might make sense if the man is straight but has a strong feminine personality. Then again a straight man will be interested in just women, and having a sex change to a woman would seem very counter productive in attracting any straight women. And If it’s a gay man which probably more often than not. I don’t know why a gay man would feel the need to have a female body to fit his personality. I work with gay guys and I know more often gay guys are like regular guys and not flamboyant. But there are still a decent number of gay guys who have very feminine, flamoboyant personailities and they don’t chance their sex. Why would a femine personality man feel the need to change his body to female if he’s gay? When society is already aware of gay men possibly having feminine personalities and a man can be in a male body and be very feminine if he’s gay? Unless this is for bisexual men. The male body can still fit the feminine personality if man is gay.

    Another question. Like I said many gay guys you wouldn’t notice they are gay and it’s stereotype and that many talk and act masculine just like straight guys. But for some gay men, I always found it interesting of how some gay men, can be very flamboyant and prissy and feminine acting. Like more “girly” acting than most girls or women themselves,, even for girly girls? Even most women don’t walk and talk so prissy and I always wondered why some gay guys really exaggerate feminine behaviour than women themselves?

    • As you say, some gay men are quite masculine while others are more feminine than your typical woman. I suspect that’s because you can have a range of personalities among every group of people. There are also some men who act feminine but aren’t gay. Either of the last two could feel like they were trapped in the wrong body. Although gay men would have a clear place to fit within their subculture since the combination isn’t that uncommon (very femme plus gay).

      On your other points, a transgender guy –> girl talked with me after class one time, and what she told me might help to clarify your question. Apparently, some M2F transition for sexual reasons. Even as a boy he had had sexual fantasies his whole life in which he always took the female role with a man — but in a female body. She (now) says she doesn’t have any problem with gay men, she just doesn’t get it. She wants to have sex with a male while in a female body.

      So then there’s the question as to who she would have sex with? In this case, her partner was a transgendered F2M, who was also in my class. So it worked out pretty well for these two.

      But I also know of a M2F transsexual who turned out to be a very sexy, attractive looking woman with a fairly masculine voice. She married a guy who appears to be a straight man. I also once had a straight guy in my class who had been in a relationship with a M2F transsexual. So sometimes they can attract straight men.

  7. It seems to me that no one would think of undergoing gender reassignment just because they want to wear different clothes or engage in non-traditional gender roles. The stigma attached to being transgender is surely much worse than for being gay or just different. It can’t be a simply social preference. Anyone considering reassignment has to undergo extensive evaluation and surely that would come up.

    • My argument is probably the opposite of what you think it is on a couple of points.

      But thank you for your comment, as it helps me to see where there is a gap between what I am trying to say and what people are hearing. I plan to write a series on this in the future, and dialogue with my readers is helpful. I suspect you may have a response to my response below, if you still feel disagreement. Again, that would be helpful.

      1) Social scientists make a distinction between biological sex and socially learned gender. I should’ve made that clear in the post.

      How gender is expressed varies from culture to culture. Different cultures decide that gender means different things for women and men. So the social pattern of behavior varies from place to place.

      While there are biological sex differences, even these don’t lead to stark differences between men and women. There is mostly overlap between women and men. In fact I am not aware of any situation in which men are all on one side of an equation and women all on the other.

      2) Saying that something is a social construction is very different from saying that it is a social preference. They are practically opposites.

      Social constructions are strongly felt and experienced as biological. They are social realities.

      You can demonstrate that the breast fetish is a social construction. That doesn’t make it go away for men who have internalized it. They still experience it, and it feels biological to them. Once they understand that it is a social construction that does not enable them to stop experiencing it (even if they wanted to). Because it’s not a “mere” construction. It is extremely powerful. In fact, it can be as powerful as biology.

      In fact, our social experiences actually can affect our brains and hormones. When a person is winning, or in a situation in which they’re dominant, their testosterone rises. When a child is born, the neurons and axons that aren’t used go away. People are most aware of this when it comes to language. If you don’t learn an accent when you’re young, the brain cells surrounding that accent go away. As an adult, it is possible to learn the accent, but it is harder. So there is a nature/nurture dance.

      But again, even as this nature/nurture dance can affect our biology, there is mostly overlap between women and men. As I said, I am not aware of any situation in which men are all on one side of an equation and women all on the other.

      The closest you will find are differences in biological strength. So for instance, so long as the Navy SEALs keep their standards as they have always been rather than downgrading them so that women can compete better (and I believe that they should keep the standards high), even if they allow women to try out, very few, and possibly no women, will make the Navy SEAL team.

      (I don’t think that this means women are biologically inferior to men. Mother nature wants women to survive more than men, because they are more important to reproduction. And so their calories are aimed at survival. As such, nature doesn’t waste calories on muscular strength, but turns more calories into fat which aids survival in times of low food sources. So men have superior muscular strength while women have a superior physical ability to survive.)

      3) Evidence suggests that everyone develops strong personalities that are a mix of personal biology and socialization (cultural effects and interactional effects). This makes us who we are, is stable, and is not easily changeable.

      Because the way gender is defined varies from culture to culture — gender is socially constructed differently in different cultures — you find that men and women express themselves in different ways, gender-wise, in different cultures. Most of us seem to be flexible enough to fit in with whatever our culture says we are supposed to be. But there are outliers with very strong personalities. So a person born in a male body who has an extremely strong feminine personality may well not feel at all comfortable in that male body. It may be torturous. This person cannot simply change personality to fit what the culture says is expected of a person with a male body.

      So there are 3 choices:

      1) have surgery to make the male body fit the feminine (or what is a experienced as female)* personality
      2) don’t have surgery but experience yourself as a female* in a male* body
      3) change the culture so that we no longer insist that personalities must have bodies that look a certain way

      Because this person cannot change their personality.

      I see the fault lying with a society that says a personality must have a certain body type. I don’t place the blame with nature making a person look a particular way.

      * Again, I say experienced as “female” or “male” because different societies have different ideas about what it means to be a female or a male. There actually is no one way to be female or male.

  8. Tarnished and Tiffany:

    I’m not sure that this paragraph is clear:

    Also, I don’t understand why it’s important to believe that being trans is biologically-based in gendered behavior? Why is that preferable to simply having personalities that may be biologically-based (and perhaps also socially and culturally influenced), but that aren’t biologically gender-based?

    So let me try to clarify.

    I don’t understand why it’s important, or helpful, to believe that gender is biological, and clearly divided between two sexes.

    Why isn’t it okay to have a set of personality characteristics, which may be biologically-based (and also socially and culturally influenced), but that are simply a set of personality characteristics unique to you, which when overlaid on top of our cultural notions of gender don’t fit well at all with what it means to be in a man’s body or in a woman’s body in our society?

    If the discomfort is so strong, or it is so difficult to live in our society with a particular personality/body combination, or it simply feels like a more authentic expression of oneself, to change your gender identity or even your body, that’s fine. I mean, what’s the big deal?

    But I also think it should be fine to have a so-called male personality and a female body (for instance), if that’s how nature made you. Seems to me that society is the one with the problem, not the way nature made you.

    • I agree that it should be fine, and I agree that it’s a sad thing that society finds it wrong/intolerable on some level.

      Hmm. I don’t personally think it’s “important” to believe that gender is, in part, biological. You can’t *choose* to believe something…either you do or you don’t, there’s not really any middle ground. Thus, in my view, assigning “importance” to a belief is an odd phrasing. That’s like me asking you why you think it’s important to believe that gender is purely a learned concept having nothing to do with biology whatsoever.

      Let me try to clarify my position, since it seems we might be talking around each other:

      1. I believe that sex is what your body is, gender is what your mind is. Most of the time this matches up, on rare occasions it does not.

      2. Someone can identify as a woman in both gender and sex while still displaying many “masculine” personality traits. Likewise, someone can identify as a man in body and mind while having what would typically be called a “feminine” personality. (Most lesbians and gay men I’ve known over the years are like this. They have no desire to change their bodies *or* personalities, because there is no mismatch to correct.)

      3. I believe that gender is determined by both biological factors (like the types of hormones present during fetal development which can alter the growth of certain parts/pathways in the brain) and societal factors (like telling girls to care more about their looks, or pressuring boys to be athletic).

      4. The aforementioned pathways created during fetal development are simply that of gender identity…having a masculine mind isn’t any better or worse than having a feminine mind. It simply means the world is viewed differently than the feminine mind perceives it. As you pointed out yourself, a masculine mind is *in the majority of cases* far more easy to arouse sexually than a feminine one, most likely due to the presence of testosterone. This doesn’t mean all men will respond as such even if they identify as male, and there are certainly women who do respond this way, despite their female identity.

      I’m not sure if you have read it already, but maybe this post of mine would help: http://tarnishedsophia.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/wrong-body-right-mind-living-with-gender-dysphoria/

      • I asked why you and Tiffany think that biology is important because your insistence that it has an important effect suggests that you think it’s important.

        Otherwise, I agree with all of your points except #3.

        And that’s partly because social scientists make a distinction between biological sex and socially learned gender. I should’ve made that more clear in the post.

        But I also disagree with #3 because I know that you mean “sex difference” when you say “gender difference,” yet:

        There is very little evidence of biological sex differences that make any difference in reality, leaving much more overlap between women and men than difference. In fact, you never find a social pattern in which all men are on one side and all women are on the other side. Even among those who are not transgendered, Of course.

        Here are a few examples of biological sex differences, and their effects (I’ll write something more complete in a future post, but there are very few differences that can be identified, and they don’t create clear gender differences with all women on one side and all men on the other):

        . Twice as much of the male brain is taken up by thoughts of sex, and the sexual part of the brain is 2-1/2 times as easily activated in men. In reality, there are still many women who are more sexually interested than men.

        . Men have much more testosterone than women, Which is related to sex drive. Yet women are more sensitive to the testosterone that they have. In reality, there are still many women who are more sexually interested than men.

        . In cultures in which women’s sexuality is not repressed, women behave with a similar level of interest to men, sexually

        . Men have much more testosterone than women, Which can be related to aggression. Yet women are more sensitive to the testosterone that they have. Man with very high levels of testosterone can be extremely nice man and act not aggressively. Estrogen is also associated with aggression. Non-estrogen bearing mice were bred, and they lost their aggression. In reality, levels of female aggression vary from culture to culture, and plenty of women in the US are more aggressive than plenty of men.

        . Men’s and women’s brains light up in different ways when working on things like mathematical problems. And yet they end up with the same outcomes. To the extent that they don’t it’s because of social differences not biological differences. In some cultures men are better at math, In some cultures women are better, and in others they are virtually the same.

        I’ve mentioned a few other things before.

        The links you sent me about biological differences don’t actually show any clear consistencies for transsexual people. No clear difference between the physiology of transsexual and non-transsexual people has been identified.

        Since 1) gender is expressed differently in different cultures and 2) you do not find all women on one side and all men on the other side of a list of traits/attitudes/behaviors, how does it make sense that all women are born with certain gendered characteristics — except for those who are transsexual?

        However if you think that there are real biological “gender” differences, please give me a list these differences between women and men that you think are biologically-based. I am interested to explore them.

        I am hoping that a dialogue can shed more light on the issue.

  9. Tiffany and Tarnished, I have a few more questions. I’m not trying to be a pain, I just don’t get your perspective and would like some feedback. I’m interested in understanding what’s happening, Not in “Being right” — and that is helped by this dialogue, so I want to begin by thanking you very much for your patience and perseverance. So here are my questions:

    If gender is biological and can’t be learned then,

    – Which personality traits, attitudes, and behaviors are male and not female? And vice versa?

    – What are some personality traits, attitudes, behaviors that women can’t learn? Or that men can’t learn?

    Also, I don’t understand why it’s important to believe that being trans is biologically-based in gendered behavior? Why is that preferable to simply having personalities that may be biologically-based (and perhaps also socially and culturally influenced), but that aren’t biologically gender-based?

    Finally, I took a look at the links that TS provided and found flaws like these:

    1) The Wall Street Journal article has no links to check original research so I can’t evaluate it. (The Wall Street Journal has a conservative bias. It would actually be less threatening to their conservative worldview to think that gender is biologically-based — meaning women can’t access certain ways of being of maleness, and vice versa — than to think that a very small minority of people are trans and can cross over. And plenty of things they post outside the news section holds a conservative bias.)

    2) the second link ends with this observation after noting that trans people may have some brain differences, “aren’t sure whether the regions are associated with transsexuality”

    3) the third link has a few major problems:

    Many of the arguments can be made differently. For example, he/she claims that 5α-reductase deficiency shows that gender is biological because boys with ambiguous genitals easily turn male once they reach puberty and their genitals become normal. Yet these boys are never raised as girls. They are labeled at birth, “Penis at 12” and parents do not treat them like girls, but like children who are likely to become boys (because this is very common in the two cultures were they typically occur). They are also raised in cultures in which males are much more valued and would surely hope and expect to become men, eventually embracing that role when they do.

    On brain aberrations the author notes, “These (varying) regions of the brain are typically associated with processing feelings of social exclusion and emotional conflicts, so this may not indicate a difference in the brain due to gender identity differences, but rather a difference due to the negative social results of gender identity differences.

    And then there is this quote: “Despite the many profound genetic aberrations which can occur to create a transgender individual, most of us do not fall under any of the examples listed above. Here we must look to much more subtle evidence…”

    The author then goes onto explain that, “turns out my brain is in absolutely perfect shape, excepting a pineal gland cyst of no real significance at this juncture.”

    Most likely all brains have tiny differences that vary from the norm. If someone scanned my brain they would probably find some small variance. If I were this transgendered person, I would then assume that this small difference explains my transgendered personality.

    c) And finally, the author writes this:

    In opposition to these studies, however, there are some studies which have found no significant differences between the brains of transsexuals and the population at large.

  10. Thank you for an amazing post, and your responses to the above comments. I had been thinking of writing a similar post for a long time. Most people commenting above seem to be asking the same question again and again not understanding what it means to get conditioned to behave a certain way. Of course most of the seemingly different traits between men and women seem biological, because our lenses with which we see the world are still very much affected by the prejudices and expectations from this culture. As for an example, until just recently (before massive globalization), it was very common for my Nepalese male friends to wear pink color just as much or more than any women in the west would do. And these men are not the flamboyant kind of men that are typically considered as being more “feminine”. These are those men that wanted to act “macho” or “masculine” in other ways defined by my Nepalese culture. Also, you can ask anyone that comes from Nepal. It is still very common in Nepal for high school boys to walk around holding each other’s hands like how only girls in the American high schools would do. Well some of these men might be homosexual or transgendered males, but all of them cannot be, right? Public display of affection between a man and a woman is still a taboo in Nepal; however, what is not a taboo is a display of affection between people of same sex. Until recently, the notion of homosexuality wasn’t that popular in Nepal. So, it was completely normal to see men hugging, and touching their male friends in ways that would definitely be considered “feminine” in any western culture. Though my American boyfriend knows that gender is learned, I guess he hadn’t seen for himself heterosexual men acting this way among each other. One time, when he saw in some video one Nepali man softly touching the cheek of the his male friend, he was startled because he wasn’t used to seeing this kind of behavior in heterosexual men. It is one thing to theoretically know something, and entirely another thing to be raised in a particular culture or society from which you might end up picking up on subtle behavioral patterns. I hope these are some good enough examples, since some people were asking for them.

  11. By the way, check the definition of fickle. It doesn’t seem to mean what you are describing: likely to change, especially due to caprice, irresolution, or instability; casually changeable. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fic

    No I was giving other examples of how women can be flaky or weird with their thoughts, but there’s also the fickle part too, but I went from a broader perspective overall too.

  12. Gender differences have always depressed me….I don’t want to be the gender that is irrational, boring, uncreative and cruel. The idea that patriarchy has made men and women seem more different has always appealed to me! In my opinion there are plenty of women that are brilliant, empathetic, creative and wonderful without them having male brains.

    • Well, cultural feminists feel that women and men are fundamentally different. Some think it’s due to biology and some due to sociology (by which I really mean social learning).

      I feel that women actually do have many of the better traits. I just think that men could have them too (and then we would all be better off). And I think that women can have the great traits that men have been assigned by society, as well, like being assertive and being leaders.

  13. There must be something, because though irritated sometimes or upset. I’m not usually that mad. But I lift weights and there’s a “pump” its called when a man or some men have like an hour after ligting weights, where the muscles are kind of bulging out from the workout. I get that after working out. I’ve had it before years ago, where something really, really pissed me off, i don’t remember what. And after the huge anger outburst, I remeber just feeling this power and surger through my muscles, I don’t know if women get that like men or it does seem cuz of the testosteron difference. But I took my shirt off and looked in the mirror. And though I havent worked out in 6 months. My muscles were popping out like I just got done lifting weights for three hours, for the surge through my body and adrenaline and testosterone pulsing through.

    Men are more muscular so naturally that will show up more, but I don’t think women get this surge as it doesn’t look like it or how it feels with me being a man and what raw brute strength, like adds an element as in surging through or testosterone as in aggression it seems or potentially. Obviously plenty of guys like me have the temper but can control it and rational. But I’m talking about just that surge through the body, I know women get adrenaline too and you hear of it where they pick up the back end of a car to save their baby. But generally, it just seems like adrenaline is stronger for men. I wonder how much raw strenght causes men to be more aggressive with their anger though as a result. Like I don’t know if I’d have the urger when fighting mad to slam something or punch through something if I was physically weak or another man. It’s like the anger plus, like the feeling or power and being powerful and strong just adds an extra surge to aggression. When you’re strong and muscular and feel powerful and then have adrenaline surging through a man will or feel more powerfully destructive than probably an average woman.

    • Again, thank you for your input. I will post your response here without comment.

      If you think of anything else that you think is a sex/gender difference that is biologically-based, Let me know. Also, if you have any ideas on what you think the biology behind it would be let me know.

  14. For biological reasons my brother has a personality that is less aggressive than mine. Yet our culture says that men are more aggressive than women.

    I do you know that you aren’t fickle? I think many women feel the same way and then get mad at their husband or boyfriend which seems to be fickle to their husband or bf. Guys can be too, but it’s like in a different way. How many times do I see or hear guys in relationships joke about somethign their wife gets mad about or holds against them when they said it didn’t matter or some twist or somethign that didn’t make sense. Or how women just want to talk about their problems or don’t like it when their man doesn’t simply listen or hear about the problems and instead tells her advice or tries fixing it for her. Is this all taught or bioligical? Guy’s don’t understand not fixing something or trying to and just listening for the sake or how he just expressing it helps. For me, it doesn’t help as theirs still a problem, I don’t want to simply talk,,

    I want to fix the damn thing thats bothering me. It seems like men are, I don’t inclined to just want to fix, resolve something, even if talking does help, its like ingrained to fix whatever problem there is. Got a broken sink, he’ll fix it. Got a life issue, well there’s got to be some answer, as being helpless sucks and not cool at it. I don’t think liking sports is really something that masculine though. As pro football has a 40% female audience,, so that’s almost half. An aggressive personality isn’t masculine or less feminine. And what do you mean by aggressive? You mean independent, go getter, assertive? Or aggressive as in confrontational, take charge, speak your mind? Plenty of women are that way and it’s not masculine as “sassy” is something common or can be common and guys can be laid back or plenty of guys easy going. So an easy going guy might not be aggressive. Your brother might be less aggressive in assertiveness but he might get riled up and pumped up when something gets him going more than you. It seems like its easier for a man to get in a physical fight than women though, which I wonder if aggression and testosterone is due to it. My sister is more aggressive than me as in assertive. I’ve always been very analytical and make sure things are perfect, as I hate making mistakes, as I’m very ego driven.

    And I’m not one to fight, but while my sister is more aggressive as in assertive, I’m probably more likely to get in a physical fight with a guy than she is with a girl. Though even if I’m pissed, a man would have to swing at me to get in a fight. I’ve seen my sister who has an A type personality get mad, but it’s not like me when I am. I feel like I could punch a hole in the wall or feel that desire, but don’t of course. Testosterone must cause a surge or something extra as while men perhaps are taught to be more aggressive. It also seems like there’s a spike in testosterone when a man is really mad, like fighting mad. I’ve seen women really pissed and maybe could be in a fight from anger. But it’s like generally different. A big muscular guy with a strong temper, you can see it surging through him, like he will hulk slam the floor or punch through a wall.

  15. Neurology and sociology are greatly expressed to define one’s personality, which can be done by raising children in a neutral environment, thereby giving them the option to choose, rather than limiting them. Dopamine is responsible for pleasure, and there are a number of ways one can get it. Parental attention causes the release of oxytocin and dopamine, and tea-partying with pretend objects or playing with dolls also releases endorphins and dopamines.
    One’s instincts are determined by how a baby appears when they are first born. Some babies may be fussy, mellow, or just a combination of the two. Some may be happy all the time, while others may be stubborn. Whatever these personality differences in infants, none of them will clearly know that they will be in the wrong or right bodies unless they learn the distinction of gender identity and expression in the culture from which they were born. If a distinction is never made, it might take them a while for them to realise that, which is why some transgender people don’t transition until later in their years, when they are able to reflect back on their life’s past.
    Transgenderism is never caused by pure nature, or pure nurture. In my opinion it’s caused by the two combined.

  16. “Even with all of these biological sex differences, we still have: men with amazing verbal skills like Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Longfellow… We still have men with amazing social skills like Bill Clinton. I know plenty of men who are more socially skilled than me. We still have amazing women Olympians, along with guys who would rather sit down and read a book. I know women who have more sexual interest and desired than their male partners.”

    But these are exceptions rather than the rule. Of course things won’t be all one way or the other. But this shows how men and women naturally think differently otherwise, equal number of men would have verbal skills like women and women thinking like men, etc. But the reason men and women think differently, is because on average and majority, men more often think this way and wome another way, which statistics favor this conclusion.

    • Exceptions? Plenty of men are great writers and sociable. Plenty of women love sports. Plenty love sex.

      If we’d found that estrogen destroyed verbal skills, that would be the reason given for the lack of female Shakespeare, instead of a social world that has historically failed to educate women and take their work seriously.

  17. I’m not talking about dress, emotion, but while men suppress the emotional side. I think typically, men and women do think differently, some social but others just biological. I don’t suppress thinking a certain way, I just can’t relate and understand to the ups and downs and clauses and passive aggressive, moods, she generally doesn’t find this attractive or him attractive, but throw that out the window because today she does, so there’s a contradiction. Ok so women don’t like this, but wait this other woman likes not simply the opposite but it basically contradicts what she just said or did from her actions. Men can be moody, and fickle and some men might be that way.

    BUT Generally speaking guys seem to think obviously different but some type of commonality while women think very different but have a trend of being all over the place and having that in common. So there seems to be a distinct “feminine” thinking and masculune thinking otherwise, more men wouldn’t be thinking naturally in a more as you said lateralized and linear way and women different. It doesn’t mean men can’t or won’t but generally women’s brains operate differently, There have been studies which women can generally multi task better. Obviously plenty of men can and I’m sure other women that can’t. But overall, women’s brains seem to be built or operate to do so easier.

    • What you’re talking about there doesn’t fit my experience.

      Would be helpful if you’d provide a list of gender differences and what biological cause you think each has. I’m curious to explore.

  18. There must be some kid of biological component to it. Aren’t there studies that show male and female brains have slight differences and that those born transgender often have a brain that works in a way opposite of the rest of their biology?

    But, I suppose that’s the questions being asked. I don’t believe we really know for sure what makes someone happy with their gender and others so unhappy that they elect surgeries to change it. I know masculine-centric women who are just has happy being women as feminine – centric women.

    • First, social scientists make a distinction between sex and gender. Sex is biological. Gender is learned. So by definition, gender is learned.

      And yes there are slight differences in male and female brains. Male brains are more lateralized, Meaning all of their spatial skills are on one side of the brain and all of their verbal skills are on the other. Women’s brains have more overlap. The main effect is that if a woman has a stroke on her left side she doesn’t lose all of her verbal skills, because some of and brain matter related to verbal skills are on the right side and protected. And when you run a brain scan as someone does a math problem, only one small area of the male brain lights up, but different areas of the woman’s brain lights up. This doesn’t seem to have much effect on how well each gender does the math problem (and in many cultures women are better at math, like Iceland). Also, the area involving sex is twice as large in the male brain and two and half times more easily activated.

      None of that has much to do with biological sex differences, other than that men are more sexually directed.

      Additionally, testosterone seems to make men a bit more active.

      And the testosterone wash also damages men’s verbal skills and their social skills.

      Even with all of these biological sex differences, we still have: men with amazing verbal skills like Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Longfellow… We still have men with amazing social skills like Bill Clinton. I know plenty of men who are more socially skilled than me. We still have amazing women Olympians, along with guys who would rather sit down and read a book. I know women who have more sexual interest and desired than their male partners.

      We tend to exaggerate the importance of biological differences.

      But yes, there is probably a biological component that explains why some people feel trapped in the wrong body. But that is due to the interaction between a biologically-influenced personality and a culture that says, “Male bodies act this way and female bodies act that way.”

      For biological reasons my brother has a personality that is less aggressive than mine. Yet our culture says that men are more aggressive than women. That difference isn’t enough for me to feel like I have been born in the wrong body. But if my biology had given me many, many traits that are associated with what our culture calls male, then I would probably feel like I was trapped in the wrong body. But if I lived in a culture which said that those traits, Or at least many of them, were female, then I would not feel like I was trapped in the wrong body.

      And different cultures do have different notions about what masculine and feminine are.

      There is much more overlap in gendered personalities than difference. “All” women aren’t one way and “all” men another.

      Based on the comments, it seems like I will need to write another post which feels much more of this information in. So thanks for your comments so that I will know what to discuss in my next post on this topic.

      • I should apologize for mixing sex and gender. I always mix up which is learned and which is biological. My bad.

      • “Based on the comments, it seems like I will need to write another post which feeds much more of this information in. So thanks for your comments so that I will know what to discuss in my next post on this topic.”

        Two things:

        1. It probably would be good to include the names of the cultures that have very different gender roles/tendencies than ours, rather than just referring to “matriarchal societies” or saying “there are cultures that do X instead of Y”. For example, you included the name of the Wodaabe in this post, so I could then do my own research, which greatly helps.

        2. It seems that you think some commenters, myself included, are saying that just because there are notable sex differences in male vs female brains that there’s some latent/subtle inequality between the two. I personally don’t believe it’s an equality issue at all…the fact that feminine brain types solve problems by doing Q and male brains solve the same problem by doing Z is in no way indicative of “superiority” or “inferiority”. It just means we view the world in slightly different ways. (For example, the fact I have a masculinzed brain type is probably the reason I view/experience sex as I do. It is what it is, and doesn’t mean I’m “better” than people with feminine brain types.) Just wanted to clarify that.

      • I don’t think that difference = inequality. But I don’t see how the brain differences relate to gender differences (and gender is learned, while sex is biological). Would help if you could list the brain/hormone differences and the gender (sex, really) differences you believe these lead to.

        Thanks, by the way.

  19. You know , I have never thought from the above perspective ever. Yes, every child must be allowed to be what they want to be, so true. Nice one.

  20. I know this is exaggerated but it seems like some of these things are true. Conditioning? Some, but many guys just don’t feel the need to think in what seems a complicated way like women do. http://www.berro.com/joke/what_men_and_women_say_and_mean.htm

    Forget the sex part or beauty part but the other parts.

    the male part:

    Yes, your haircut looks good = $50 and it doesn’t even look different!
    – I like the first dress you tried on better = Pick any freakin’ dress and let’s go!

    It seems biological for men to not care about such detail and stuff that women do. And it feels like women seem like a contradiction. It seems like women can be so common, yet so individual more so than men. There’s more to exemplify this if you want, but I’m not doing it now as I’m tired. But another time if I need to explain further.

  21. “Also, with regard to your last comment, stereotypes create social patterns. If it’s socially okay for women to do certain things but it’s not okay for men to do them, then women are less likely to suppress those parts of themselves. And men are more likely to suppress them. And vice versa. So you get social patterns that people assume are biologically-based.”

    Yes, but while women are allowed to be “emotional” and sure men aren’t allowed to be emotional in a way. I’m not simply talking about that. There are just ways generally speaking that women seem to think that is different from men, and that can be a femine things vs masculine thing. What I mean is, men maybe be taught to supress being emotional but men aren’t taught to not be fickle or think in multiple directions at once, which women seem to do. Like I and other men we don’t do that, because it would just give us a headache, thinking from such a perspective and feelings without problem solving or logic, seems well illogical. Some may suppress it, but many guys just like the easier, straight forward, linear thinking, it just seems less stressful. I know guys can be just as moody as women.

    Here;s an example of how it seems biological. I was talking to my mother about my niece. she’s so smart and pretty, just turned two now. But she would be funny with my step dad her grandfather but yet be all lovey to my mom. Now she’s doing it to my mom and sometimes to her mom, my sister and all lovey to her dad. I won’t be surprised if she gets sassy and says no and defiant with me and then reverse and nice to my step dad. I don’t think shes actually upset but “playing” us, like girls can do. I told my mom I can see through and I think she’s seeing how she can manipulate emotions and responses and not actually not liking whoever, but playing with responses.

    Sure boys can do that and try to use cuteness to play sides with mom and dad. But this is different it’s more than that. I brought up how her older brother always liked my step dad and didn’t really do all that. I don’t know it seems like boys are more straight foward generally. Yes some can kiss up, but there’s something a little different with girls. Nobody taught my niece to do this or my nephew to not mess around with emotions. My nephew is very intelligent too and just as smart as his sister, but he never played around or “acted” with who he liked and didn’t. If he liked you, he liked you, if he didn’t like you that was it.

    • You seem to be experiencing confirmation bias: you have an idea about what women are like, And then when you see one female behave that way it confirms your bias.

      I don’t think I am fickle. And neither are any of the women I know. Maybe some in your social circle are and that helps to bolster your confirmation bias. I don’t even know if you are correctly interpreting your niece. But if you are, I will point out that girls are socialized very differently from voice when it comes to looks. Boys are less likely to be called cute or pretty. They aren’t given vanity sets as a gift. They are given dolls where they can comb their hair and put make up on them. They aren’t given Barbie dolls with large wardrobes. With girls, looks are really emphasized. Boys aren’t. So that focus on looks could make girls be aware of it, and more likely to use it.

      By contrast, check out the top picture of Wodaabe men of Niger. Those are guys who are very aware of their looks, And using them to get attention and favors…

  22. Such an interesting approach to child rearing that in this day and age seems to require a certain amount of bravery on the part of the child and parents. I will be curious to see if this is more the norm 50 years from now. I think it’s really interesting to see this evolution that is happening right now.

  23. I had written an intelligent comment, and my browser crashed as I was submitting it. So I may not sound as composed as I had hoped.

    I felt your piece was an interesting social/cultural take on the issue, but how could a simple matter of being inclined toward some social customs over others account for the deep psychological suffering to the point of violent self-harm and suicide, and also the profound physical dysphoria, that are so much a part of transgender narratives? I feel that transgenderism has really been painted over unfairly here, and it astonishes me considering the excellent quality and depth of your writing on this blog. Perhaps I am jumping the gun and you are planning to take on some of these topics in a future essay, but I still felt compelled to voice my disappointment.

    Sincerely your loyal follower.

    • The reality is that gender is expressed very differently in different cultures. It’s not like a female body/genes/hormones means a woman will have what the US considers to be a feminine personality in every culture. In some cultures women will be much more aggressive than others. In some cultures boys will like dolls, make up, jewelry. They will be more gentle than what we define “manly” as. Not so long ago in United States it was believed that a feminine personality could not be assertive, would not want to wear pants, or be interested in science. Back then, many more women experienced gender dysphoria. Today we define all of those things as just fine for a feminine personality. And more women feel comfortable in their bodies.

      Because most of us don’t have extremely strong personalities, gender-wise, most of us conform to whatever the culture tells us to be — most of us don’t seem to have strong personalities that are unbending to cultural conditioning. But there are always outliers in every culture. They have strong personalities, so that for instance, a girl with female biology may have a strong masculine (as defined by the culture) personality and won’t feel comfortable in a female body. Because she has learned that people with her personality need to have a male body. And our culture doesn’t put up with variations. Our culture doesn’t allow people to authentically express their personalities in whatever body they happen to have. So it’s very confusing and these kids/people end up experiencing a lot of social disapproval. That leads to deep psychological suffering and sometimes suicide.

      I just feel that people should be able to authentically express whoever they are, regardless of what their body looks like/suggests to others they should be. Because while our culture thinks that a male body means a person should have a masculine personality — as our culture defines masculine — that just isn’t always the case. Sometimes females with female bodies have masculine personalities — as our culture defines masculine.

      In my case, I have never felt like I was born in the wrong body. But I got really pissed off when people told me that because of my body I was supposed to have a different personality than I had. In my conservative religion I was told that the only way I would be fulfilled was to stay home and raise children. I shouldn’t expect to enjoy higher education and a career. So my personality didn’t fit with my body, according to the religious subculture I grew up in. I didn’t think that I needed to change my body. I thought they needed to expand their ideas of what females were capable of.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply, and I agree with all of your cultural observations. But I cannot reach the same conclusion as you that transgender people are simply dissatisfied with the cultural roles they are assigned and lack the wisdom that people like you possess to demand that individuals be offered freedom of expression to express other roles (i.e. to demand that they “expand their ideas of what females were capable of”). That narrative doesn’t really match what I hear from real transgender people at all, and I feel it greatly slights them, especially considering that you are admittedly not transgender yourself and have never experienced what they often describe as a constant struggle with their own bodies. I’ve never heard a transgender person assert that males and females are or should be limited to certain roles in life, though just like with all populations there are probably some who do feel that way. Anyway, to equate your life experience with that of a transgender person and to conclude that you simply had higher standards for what others should accept and tolerate of you as a female in contrast to your hypothetical transgender person who just emotionally crumbles under the weight of social expectations seems quite unfair, which is the only reason I feel compelled to talk about it.

      • I’m not trans, myself, but I get plenty of transgendered students. When I bring up this topic, some agree with me and some don’t — so then we have conversations.

        Agreement probably has a lot to do with how much “the social construction of reality” makes sense to someone. And I’m realizing that I haven’t written enough on this topic lately for a lot of people to get what I’m saying.

        In my classes, we focus on “the social construction of gender” so much that by the time I make the point of this post, most seem to agree (including transgendered people). So I may need to write a serious of articles and see where there still might be disagreement. And perhaps we can learn from each other. So I very much appreciate your comments.

        For now I will say that social constructions typically feel biological. It is often only cross-cultural comparisons that reveal the social constructions of our realities.(There is an objective reality out there, but what it means varies from place to place.)

        For example, whenever I suggest that the breasts fetish is a social construction and not biological, men always disagree with me. It feels biological to them, after all. After I point out that you don’t find it in every culture most come to see that it is a social construction. Some still insist it’s not.

        And in fact, by the age of seven all children understand gender to be biologically-based. And yet what is thought to be, “Men” and “Women” varies by culture. If it is biologically-based, why do you get cultural variations?

        In one example, different cultures have different notions about the natural traits of women and men. But whatever the belief, they think that men are better leaders because of that trait. I’ll write more on this later when I start this series.

        There is also much more overlap between women and men than difference. On most issues you will find plenty of instances of both women and men fitting a particular type of attitude or behavior, and very few outliers. Women and men are not so different as we think.

        On any particular trait you can probably find both men and women who express it. So it is not simply male or female. But people who are strongly fall on the male side on every trait will probably feel like they are men, even if they have female bodies.

        Men are much more likely to feel they need change their bodies in order to be who they are. That is because we have more narrow notions of what men are in this culture. Women can engage in a much wider range of behavior and attitude and still feel like women.

        If someone feels a strong desire to change their body to fit who they feel they are inside, that’s fine by me. I have no problem with it. It also makes perfect sense to me. I don’t think that anyone should feel like they shouldn’t do that.

        At the same time, I think that our society should be more open to people feeling comfortable in their bodies, however they are.

        If you are still left feeling like gender is not a social construction, and disagree with my argument, it would be helpful if I could get some more information. As I have asked others, it would be helpful if you could provide a list of innate sex differences. Also, what you think the biological cause might be. I’m curious to explore.

      • I’m actually planning to write a book featuring that topic among others within the next couple of years. I don’t want to provide spoilers at this time, as the book is still only in an outline stage (I have some personal business over the next year or so to tie up before I can focus clearly on it in a proper way). I will be glad to keep you posted if you are seriously interested.

      • I am seriously interested. Please keep me posted.

    • @Tiffany267

      I’m very interested too. My email is tarnishedsophia@hotmail.com, or I can be reached via my blog. As I have gender dysphoria (I am physically female but have always known I was male “inside”), this is a topic that’s pretty close-to-home.


      Here’s some of the differences that show how trans brains match up much more with those of the opposite sex than the one we are “supposed” to be. One of the links (second one, I believe) has some interesting data on how some non-sex/gender related parts of trans brains are also closer to the desired sex…most notably, areas of the brain responsible for perception of self/body. This could be why people like me still feel like we are in the wrong body, even when it’s “acceptable” to be a tomboy.




  24. Boys and girls, especially boys because there is more stigma for boys to be or act feminine should be able to express themselves how they want. I don’t know about all gender being something learned though. A lot can be culture, but I still think biologically speaking, in general boys gear toward more masculine behaviour though, more boys suppress the feminine side so its more lopsided toward masculine out of suppression. I still think many guys will gear more toward the masculine side of behavior and more girls gear toward feminine behavior.

    Because if more men feel pressured and conditioned by society to be masculine then more men would feel “trapped in their body”. But while some transgendered men or what causes men to have an operation or maybe cross dress, it’s a pretty small fraction. Most guys maybe don’t like suppressing their feminine side, but they don’t feel trapped in their body, as more of their liking and personality is still masculine or the feminine side is slight. It may seem more women act in a more masculine way, but I don’t believe that. Perhaps in aggressiveness. However, you can have a tomboy and I know a girl, straight who is quite guyish with how she acts and talks, burping, vulgar.

    However, I’ve seen her cry with breaking up, get so wrapped up with being married and relationship, just like the “girly girls” And other girls like that, but still have this ficklness and emotional, sometimes confusing, contradicting thinking, that girls though very individual, seem to have a commonality in a sense. Just like guys who are macho and the other ones who on the slightly feminine side, think more linear, and not all over the place, seemingly contradictory. The very feminine guys that might be another story. So even with culture, there seems to be a commonality unless women in our culture, not only taught to be more emotional, their thinking more on an emotioanl, “feeling basis? I know it seems like a stereotype, but I’ve seen too many commonalities and yes some women think more on a rational less emotional sense, but there is still a, fickleness than men it seems.

    • It may be only social scientists who make a distinction between sex and gender. Sex is biological, Gender is socially learned. So yeah, there are sex differences between males and females. But then gender is learned. I wrote a comment to Tarnished Sophia and Tiffany which gets into that a bit I. Take a look.

      The reason that most people end up suppressing parts of themselves and yet don’t feel trapped in the wrong body is that it’s not suppressing enough for our personalities. It’s only biological males who are extremely feminine in their personalities (vice versa for females) who will feel trapped in the wrong body. Only a few of us have extremely strong masculine or feminine personalities that don’t fit the bodies we were born into — at least as the culture defines what those bodies mean.

      re “It may seem more women act in a more masculine way, but I don’t believe that.”

      That’s because what used to be defined as masculine is now defined as ok for masculine or feminine. See my comment to Tiffany. It used to be that women could not wear pants, be aggressive, have short hair, smoke cigarettes, be interested in sports, politics and science… And during that period time it was more common for women to feel like they were born in the wrong body. Men have more breath of allowed experience. But over the years women have taken on so many things that used to be considered masculine that nowadays most women feel like they can do pretty much whatever they want and still be considered female. Not feel like they are born in the wrong body.

      Also, with regard to your last comment, stereotypes create social patterns. If it’s socially okay for women to do certain things but it’s not okay for men to do them, then women are less likely to suppress those parts of themselves. And men are more likely to suppress them. And vice versa. So you get social patterns that people assume are biologically-based.

  25. “But what happens if you bring up someone who was a boy as a girl?
    There was a case just like this in the 1960s, a case which ended in tragedy.”

    that doctor, it seemed that he had his own agenda, to prove that genders can be learned and so he wanted to conduct an experiment with this poor child and convinced his parents to raise him as a girl.
    What the doctor succeeded was to destroy that boy’s life.

    • That doctor did the same thing as Tami’s nieces’ doctor did. She made the same argument in what I posted 2 weeks ago. David had claimed he was naturally a boy, evidenced by his hatred of dresses. Yet in some societies, boys and men wore/wear dresses. If David had lived in a different society, outcome might have been different.

      I addressed the point in my last paragraphs, starting with this:

      So what about Tami’s nieces? Looks like one has a strong masculine (as defined in the US) personality that does not fit well with little-girl things. While the other niece’s personality is not so strongly comported in that direction.

      • But in that case he was never told that he had an accident in birth and they surgically changed him into a girl. He never had a choice. He was a boy who was forcefully raised as girl with out knowing that he was born as a boy.

      • Right. He just knew something was wrong. No wonder. For example:

        . He’d been socialized as a boy for 17 mo
        . He and his bro kept playing as they had
        . He had to go to Drs and talk about how great it is to be a girl, and knew his bro didn’t do something similar
        . He took meds that his brother didn’t.
        . Parents may not have easily changed to treat him as a girl, having seen him as a boy for 17 mo.

    • The story about twin brothers, where one was forced to a girl’s role, doesn’t show any biological evidence about gender. Poor boy had to learn degrading things (hello, it was mid of XX century), even being penetrated by his brother while still being kids! So no, there is no evidence. If I as a kid (since 5 or 6 years old, I remember that) thought that I am agender psychologically (my soul is agender but couldn’t choose a genderless body so God gave me more gender-neutral looking girl’s body (at that time I didn’t recognize how women look like or maybe I denied some things)), so probably I was right?? I’m still terribly allergic to gender stereotypes. And that’s why so much love this BroadBlogs site! Thank you, @BroadBlogs

      I would be very glad of any insights.

      • Well, there is biological sex including intersex individuals who is sexist neither clearly male nor female. But then there is gender which is a social construction. Different societies have different ideas about how men are and how well an are, and that’s how you can tell it’s a social construction. Of course, any individual can be born with what their particular society labels as masculine or feminine. Maybe a girl or a boy loves frilly dresses, which in the US I labeled female/feminine. But at least one culture has the men more decorated than the women. Take a look at this: https://broadblogs.com/2011/03/11/my-son-likes-girl-things-is-he-gay/

        Others may feel that they are not gendered at all, based on what is society says is male or female, masculine or feminine.

        Most people don’t realize the social construction and assume that gender is something real. Because most people act like it’s something real, and so it can take on a reality in that way.

  26. I have a feeling that even if society acknowledged that, despite ones body type, you could be anywhere on the gender spectrum we’d still have problems…though they’d undoubtedly be less severe. Many of us still experience a feeling of being in the wrong body, even when we are free to live as we wish.

    In the eastern US where I live, it’s somewhat acceptable for female-bodied people to still be into gaming/nerd/geek culture, even into older ages. Thus, I am relatively free to be a 30 year old “tomboy” without many major consequences. But in spite of this freedom (which most “tomgirl” men don’t have), if there was a way to spontaneously change into a male-bodied person, I’d do it.

    • I’m sure you’re not alone.

      But masculine women are much less likely to feel that way than fem men. Probably because our society allows women much greater breadth of expression. So greater acceptance would seem to help.

      American Indians recognized 4 genders: male, female, male females and female males, and it seemed to work really well.

      • I agree. Feminine men need to have just as much freedoms from non-conformity as masculine women currently enjoy, like I pointed out.

        Two-spirited ones, right? I’ve researched this pretty thoroughly. It’s so ironic that modern day Conservatives will complain that our culture is “too accepting” or “overly tolerant” of gender dysphoric people…when the original cultures of this country knew about and accepted it thousands of years prior. So much for gender differences being a “fad”.

        About what Jean Claude was saying: While David might have been happy as a girl if blatant stereotypes weren’t literally forced on him and his twin, later interviews he gave make me think this isn’t the case. Men and women in general have different personality types and use different parts of their brains for similar activities. Dresses and toy cars do not a gender identity make. I highly recommend reading As Nature Made Him for the entire story if you haven’t yet.

      • I’m familiar with the book and I think that he got screwed up for different reasons than what he thinks. His claim that he can’t be a girl because he hates dresses? I hated dresses for a while. Men in other cultures wear dresses, and that’s just normal.

        Gender learning begins at birth. And some children learn more quickly than others. By age 3 all children identify themselves as a particular gender, and there is no possibility of sex reassignment.

        If a child is under 18 months, gender reassignment works about half the time. He was 17 months old when his reassignment happened, meaning there was only about a 50/50 chance of being successful. The fact that he had a twin brother made success much less likely because they had been socialized similarly for 17 months and continued to play together. He thought it was weird that he had to go to the doctor and be told how great it was to be a girl, and be given hormones and things that his brother wasn’t given. He knew that something strange was happening. The likelihood that his parents treated him completely “Normally” as a girl seems unlikely.

        And if there is a biological reason why xy feels one way and xx feels another, why would you have gender dysphoria? How could so many boys feel like they are actually girls living in the wrong body? And vice versa? My brother probably fits a feminine personality better than I do. But it’s not so extreme that he doesn’t feel like a guy.

        And our brains don’t actually function that differently. Give a guy and a girl a math problem and one small area of his brain will light up while he’s doing the problem, whereas different parts her brain will light up. That actually doesn’t affect gender identity.

      • I think it has less to do with chromosomes than with hormones. Much like sexual orientation, it seems the presence of more/less estrogen and testosterone during fetal development gives a “pathway” that the brain follows during the rest of it’s life. Maybe it’s stronger in some people than in others? That could explain why not all gender reassignments take, and why some people truly identify with a different sex.

        I don’t think anyone has the answers yet…

      • Men have more estrogen than women who are past menopause. When women’s estrogen levels drop they don’t suddenly feel like guys. In picograms:
        Men: 20-55
        Wmn/post menopause: 10-35

        And men have much more testosterone than women. In picograms:
        Women: 200-400
        Men: 5,000-6,5000

        So men couldn’t possibly feel like women due to low testosterone. Low testosterone in a guy won’t come anywhere near women’s testosterone level. And vice versa for women.

        And as I said, what is considered masculine or feminine varies from culture to culture.

      • This is very true. However, recall what I said about the fetal development part. If a female fetus is exposed to more testosterone during it’s growth, then she will be more likely to be sensitive to it. This is a separate matter than when compared to a female fetus that developed normally and therefore does not have as much sensitivity to testosterone.

        There was actually a study done on tomboys that states this much better. I’ll have to find it for you.

      • I actually teach this stuff in my courses on women’s psychology. These unusual cases are explored to try to figure out how much of who we are sex/gender-wise is biology, and how much is learning.

        There is the syndrome called DES in which girls were prenatally exposed to a drug that acts like testosterone (it’s no longer on the market). About the only difference is that girls have stronger spatial skills and more dichotomous hearing (an ability to tell which direction a sound is coming from).

        And then there are also CAH individuals who were exposed to higher levels of androgens prenatally. They are a bit more active than other girls — moving their little arms and legs around as infants. And that is one of the few differences that you can detect between boys and girls as infants. They are a little more likely to be tomboyish and be active as they age — to enjoy more active activities like sports. But researchers don’t know whether that might be due to the cortisone treatments they get or the prenatal hormones.

        They are four times more likely to be lesbian, but since lesbians aren’t too prevalent, apparently (about 1.5% of the population) only about 6% of them are lesbian. So it doesn’t seem to have a very strong impact that way.

        Still, plenty of boys don’t enjoy sports. And generally there is much more overlap between males and females than strong differences.

        What do you attribute your gender dysphoria to? High levels of androgens?

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