Gender identity

Gender identity is not a useful concept. You might say your gender identity is male or female, but what does that say other than you are trans or cis? (Note the inclusive language. I do not want to alienate my cis readers.)

I am happier transitioned. Therefore I am trans. I wanted to transition more than anything else in the world. Therefore I was trans. There is no need for an additional concept of gender identity. I transitioned because I am trans. That is enough.

And, what is my gender identity anyway? If there is some identity as a woman women have because they are women, a large part of that for most involves being attracted to men. Well, I am attracted to women, and lesbians are no less women. (Note the non-inclusive language: I expect trans men just to nod along and make such translation as they need to their own experience themselves.)

The concept has value to explain ourselves to cis people only if they are uncomprehending but basically affirming. “You know you’re a woman/man, right? Well, so do I.” But it doesn’t work with people who are hostile. If someone asks “Are you a man or a woman?” I know they think I am a man. Saying I have a female gender identity won’t persuade them that I am a woman, or even that it is OK for me to express myself female. And most people are familiar enough with the idea of trans people that they don’t need an additional idea of gender identity. If they say, “I don’t understand it,” I can say that with all the prejudice and loss of privilege, I am still happier like this. You don’t need to understand, you just need to empathise.

We always used to say that everyone has a gender identity, cis or trans, and the concept of a cis person’s gender identity has even less meaning than a trans person’s.

The concept has little value to explain ourselves to ourselves. Picture me in 1999, sick fed up of the struggle to appear Manly, wanting to transition and terrified of that. So I learned of The Script- “I knew there was a problem aged three, and I knew what it was aged five”- and doubted myself further. I had not as a child known I was a girl. I was alienated from myself and my feelings as a child, and had taken in to myself the desperate need to appear manly, but I had no sense of a firm, life-long gender identity. I was not sure of any fixed identity. The script does not aid a diagnosis as trans- DSM V states you have to have had your “strong desire to be of the other gender” for only six months.

The people most alienated by the concept of gender identity are the people I most want as allies: gender variant people who won’t transition. For a gender-non-conforming woman who says her sex is important to her, for feminist solidarity, for the common experience of sexism and gynaecological problems, and of gestation and birth, gender identity is a repulsive idea, because it enforces gender stereotypes. Some ignore the stereotypes- “I’m as happy in overalls maintaining my motorbike as I am all dolled up for an evening out”. Some find them oppressive. Sex is real, and the basis of oppression, of slut-shaming, period-shaming, pain not taken seriously, and gender is the tool of that oppression, not allowing women to be “bossy” or “feisty”, demanding stereotypes they don’t fit.

The words “gender identity” don’t add anything. I am trans. I am happier expressing myself as a woman, with a woman’s hair, clothes and sometimes makeup, a woman’s name. My way of being is my own, and I don’t need anyone to see it as particularly “feminine”. Being trans is OK.

To an extent, I am calling for a tactical retreat. Many people campaigning against trans people find the very idea of gender oppressive. Talking of gender identity does us no good, and just riles them.

“Autogynephilia” refuted

Autogynephilia is the hypothesis that despite constant rebuttal refuses to die. Julia Serano, in a long essay, summarises the refutations, and suggests reasons why people might cling to it despite them. The whole is worth reading, but as Medium predicts that could take half an hour here is my summary.

Ray Blanchard came up with the idea that people assigned male at birth, through fantasising about becoming women, caused themselves to develop gender dysphoria and then transitioned. He thought there were four kinds of fantasies, including but not limited to having a woman’s body: one was of stereotypical women’s activities. He imagined that people fantasise about knitting and sewing.

Blanchard’s only evidence for AGP was correlation, that trans lesbians had female embodiment fantasies (FEFs). But the correlation is poor- some trans lesbians don’t have FEFs, and some androphile trans women have. We experience FEFs after feeling the desire to be women, and they diminish or cease after transition. Rather than two distinct kinds of trans women, our sexualities fall on a continuum, and we have different experiences of desire and of FEFs. Intense FEFs may be caused by having to hide or repress gender dysphoria- they are most prevalent in older white trans women.

Cis women have FEFs too. 11% of cis women have fantasies about becoming men. People probably experience embodiment fantasies for a variety of reasons.

Trans women have many reasons for opposing AGP theory, besides that it is false. It is rigid and simplistic, reducing our complex experience to two simple subgroups. Blanchard insisted any trans woman opposing his hypothesis was in denial or lying. That is, he twists and minimises all the evidence contradicting his hypothesis.

He says our motivation for transition is sexual. It is far more complex. People should not be classified or stigmatised because of sexual fantasies. Science is about following the evidence wherever it leads.

So who still believes AGP theory, and why?

Blanchard failed to distinguish AGP and FEFs, which had been observed before his research. We use AGP to refer to the discredited hypothesis, but he and his supporters use the name to refer to FEFs in trans women.

Unfortunately some people have only read about AGP from Blanchard supporters, and have not read further. Laypeople may favour Blanchard’s simple but false explanation over a more complex understanding of complex traits. They may dismiss trans women because of sexism, so be happy to imagine all our motivation is sexual: they cannot imagine why someone would want to join the second sex. The stereotypes come from sexist ideas about women, not observation of trans people.

Other researchers are recognising and correcting for old unconscious sexism.

Older sexology referred to atypical and non-reproductive variants of sexuality as deviant or pathological, but sexuality is so varied, so inextricable from all aspects of life, that this is outdated. There is no clear line around “normal” sexuality.

Gender and sexuality are infinitely varied, but the old idea of sexual inversion still influences some people. They are gender essentialists, saying men should be a particular way so that when some are feminine, they are repelled. Such people conflate gender and sexuality, imagining it is “masculine” to be attracted to women.

AGP believers don’t take account of the social pressures on trans people, such as external and internal transphobia, homophobia and sexism. Gender diverse people exist across cultures and throughout history but our social roles vary considerably. Ideas of gender fluidity and non-binary increase our freedom. As societal transphobia decreases we transition younger, without being forced into a secret crossdressing stage. Younger trans lesbians experience far fewer FEFs.

We are not a “type” of trans woman. We are humans with vastly different life experiences. Stereotypes are useful for the most basic understanding but inhibit any greater understanding. People like Blanchard cling to their stereotypes to avoid the need to think. Male heterosexuality is normalised, women are sexualised, and trans women are hypersexualised.

Some trans women, such as Anne Lawrence, accept the AGP hypothesis because they imagine it relates to their experience and describes the fantasies that they were ashamed of. Their beliefs do not trump the overwhelming evidence against AGP.

Transmedicalists or truscum are tempted to portray other trans women as perverts in the hope that they will be recognised as real transsexuals, and accepted. This never works.

Transphobes looking for justification for their beliefs-religious conservatives and TERFs who are ideologically opposed to our existence and who actively work to undermine transgender recognition and acceptance- cling to the hypothesis. It’s like slut-shaming: it sexualises us in an attempt to discredit us. It gives a pseudo-scientific justification to portray us as perverted predators, a threat to women and children. Blanchard writes articles for such transphobes.

Julia promises another article on the absurd complications, like epicycles in Ptolemaic astronomy, that AGP diehards resort to, to wave away the mass of contradictory evidence. But the AGP hypothesis is discredited, and the reasons people still believe it are outdated.