Gender Identity and Rationality

by lucidfox5 min read1st Dec 2010113 comments


IdentitySex & GenderAlief

Not sure if I would be better off posting this on the main page instead, but since it's almost entirely about my personal experiences, here it goes.

Two years ago, I underwent a radical change in my worldview. A series of events caused me to completely re-evaluate my beliefs in everything related to gender, sexuality, tolerance, and diversity -- which in turn caused a cascade that made me rethink my stance on many other topics.

Coincidentally, the same events caused me to also rethink the way I thought of myself. This was, as it turned out, not very good. It still makes it difficult for me to untangle various consequences, correlated but potentially not directly bound by a cause-effect relation.

To be more blunt: being biologically male, I confessed to someone online about things that things that "men weren't supposed to do": my dissatisfaction with my body, my wish to have a female body, persistent fantasies of a sex change, desires to shave my body, grow long hair and wear women's clothes, and so on and so forth. She listened, and then asked, "Maybe you're transsexual?"

Back then, it would never even occur to me to think of that -- and my first gut response, which I'm not proud of, was denying association with "those freaks". As I understand now, I was relying on a cached thought, and it limited the scope of my reasoning. She used simple intuitive reasoning to arrive at the hypothesis based on what I revealed to her; I didn't know the hypothesis was even there, as I knew nothing about gender identity.

In the events that unfolded, I integrated myself into some LGBT communities and learned about all kinds of people, including those who didn't fit into notions of the gender binary at all. I've learned to view gender as a multidimensional space with two big clusters, rather than as a boolean flag. It felt incredibly heartwarming to be able to mentally call myself by a female name, to go by it on the Internet, to talk to like-minded people who had similar experiences and feelings, and to be referred by the pronoun "she" -- which at first bugged me, because I somehow felt I had "no moral right" or had to "earn that privilege", but quickly I got at ease with it, and soon it just felt ordinary, and like the only acceptable thing to do, the only way of presentation that felt right.

(I'm compressing and simplifying here for the sake of readability -- I'm skipping over the brief period after that conversation when I thought of myself as genderless, not yet ready to accept a fully female gender identity, and carried out thought experiments with imaginary conversations between my "male" and "female selves", before deciding that there was no male self to begin with after all.)

Nowadays, gender-wise, I address people the way they wish to be address. I also have some pretty strong opinions on the legal concept of gender, which I won't voice here. And I've learned a lot, and was able to drive my introspection deeper than I ever managed before... But that's not really relevant.

And yet... And yet.

As gleefully as I embraced a female role, feeling on the way to fulfilling my dream, I couldn't get out the nagging feeling of being somehow "fake". I kept thinking that I don't always "think like a real woman would", and I've had days of odd apathy when I didn't care about anything, including my gender presentation. Some cases happened even before my gender "awakening", and at those days, I felt empty and genderless, a drained shell of a person.

How, in all honesty, can I know if I'm "really a woman on the inside"? What does that even mean? I can speak in terms of desired behavior, in terms of the way I'm seen socially, from the outside. But how can I compare my subjective experience to those of different men and women, without getting into their heads? All I have is empathic inference, which works by building crude, approximate models of other people inside my head, and is so full of ill-defined biases that I have a suspicion I shouldn't rely on it at all and don't say things like "well, a man's subjective experience is way off for me, but a woman's subjective experience only weakly fits".

And yet... transpeople report "feeling like" their claimed gender. I prefer to work with more unambiguous subjective feelings -- like feeling I have a wrong body -- but I have caught myself thinking at different times, "This day I felt like a woman, and that day I didn't feel like a woman, but more like... nothing at all. And that other day my mind was occupied with completely different matters, like writing a Less Wrong post." It helps sometmes to visualize my brain as a system of connected logical components, with an "introspection center" as a separate component, but that doesn't bring me close to solving the mystery.

I want to be seen as a woman, and nothing else. I take steps to ensure that it happens. If I could start from a clean slate, magically get an unambiguously female body, and live somewhere where nobody would know about my past male life, perhaps that would be the end of it -- there would be no need for me to worry about it anymore. But as things stand, my introspection center keeps generating those nagging thoughts: "What if I'm merely a pretender, a man who merely thinks he's a woman, but isn't?" One friend of mine postulated that "wanting to be a gender is the same as being it"; but is it really that simple?

The sheer number of converging testimonies between myself and transpeople I've met and talked to would seem to rule that out. "If I'm fake, then they're fake too, and surely that sounds extremely unlikely." But while discovering similarities makes me generically happy, every deviation from the mean -- for example, I consciously discovered my gender identity at 21, a relatively late age -- stings painfully and brings up the uncertainty again. Could this be a case of failing to properly assign Bayesian weights, of giving evidence less significance than counterevidence? But every time I discovered a piece of counterevidence, my mind interpreted it as a breach of my mental defenses and tried to route around it, in other words, rationalize it away.

Maybe I could just tell myself, "Shut up and live the way you want to."

And yet...

I caught myself in thinking that I really, deeply didn't want to go back, to the point that I didn't want to accept the conclusion "I'm really a man and an impostor", even that time when it looked like evidence weighted that way. (It's no longer the case now that I've learned more facts, but the point still stands.) It was an unthinkable thought, and still is. Even now, I fail to apply the Litany of Tarski. "If I'm really a man, then I desire to bel--" Wait, doesn't compute. If that were true, it would cause my whole system of values to collapse, and it feels like stating an incoherent statement, like "If sexism is morally and scientifically justified, then..." It feels like it would cause my entire system of values to collapse, and I can't bring myself to think that -- but isn't that the danger of "already knowing the answer", rationalizing, etc.?

It also bugs me, I guess, that despite relying on rational reasoning in so many aspects of my daily life, with this one case, about an aspect of myself, I'm relying on some subjective, vague "gut feeling". Granted, I try to approach it in a rational way: someone used my revelations to locate a hypothesis, I found it likely based on the evidence and accepted it, then started updating... or did I? Would I really be able to change my belief even in principle? And even then, the root cause, the very root cause, comes from feelings of uneasiness with my assigned gender role that I cannot rationally explain -- they're just there, in the same way that my consciousness is "just there".


When I heard about p-zombies, I immediately drew parallels. I asked myself if "fake transpeople" were even a coherent concept. Would it be possible to imagine two people who behave identically (and true to themselves, not acting), except one has "real" subjective feelings of gender and the other doesn't? After applying an appropriately tweaked anti-zombie argument, it seems to me that the answer is no, but it's also prossible that the question is too ill-defined for any answer to make sense.

The way it stands now, the so-called gender identity disorder isn't really something that is truly diagnosed, because it's based on self-reporting; you cannot look into someone's head and say "you're definitely transsexual" without their conscious understanding of themselves and their consent. So it seems to me outside the domain of psychiatry in the first place. I've heard some transpeople voice hope that there could be a device that could scan the part of the brain responsible for gender identity and say "yes, this one is definitely trans" and "no, this one definitely isn't". But to me, the prospect of such a device horrifies me even in principle. What if the device conflicts their self-reporting? (I suspect I'm anxious about the possibility of it filtering me, specifically.) What should we consider more reliable -- the machine or self-reporting? On one hand, we know how filled human brains are with cognitive biases, but on the other hand, it seems to me like a truism that "you are the final authority in your own self-identification."

Maybe it's a question of definitions, like the question about a tree making a sound, and the final answer depends on how exactly we define "gender identity". Or maybe -- this thought occurred to me right now -- my decision agent has a gender identity while my introspection center (which operates entirely on abstract knowledge rather than social conventions) doesn't, and that's the cause of the confusion that I get from looking at things in both a gendered and genderless way, in the same way as if I would be able to switch at will between a timed view from inside the timeline and a timeless view of the entire 4D spacetime at once. In any case, so far, for those two years since the realization I've stuck with the identity and role that I at least believe is the only one I won't regret assuming.


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It's saddening to me that people who don't fit in their assigned gender have to defend their typicality relative to the other gender, and cisfolk basically don't. Someone who was just like me mentally, but was born with male genitals and brought up as a male, would probably report this kind of discomfort; there are plenty of ways in which I am non-stereotypical. And yet as a person physically and socially female from birth, I don't stick out like a sore thumb; people (least of all me) do not seem to wonder if maybe I'm really a guy on the inside; no one wonders if I'm overcompensating for something should I spin around in a twirly skirt. I'm within tolerances for my assigned gender, basically. It is an unfairly distributed cis privilege that I have, that this is all the analysis anyone requires of me.

Lucidfox, you sound like you are within tolerances for femininity. Be welcome. Help yourself to your name and your pronouns and whatever bodily interventions are medically available to you.

6[anonymous]9yUpvoted, and thank you.
4Alicorn9yYou're welcome :)
5lucidfox10yI don't really have to defend it when dealing in contexts of interaction where I'm not judged based on my appearance. When talking over a medium where I'm not seen, such as text chat, or voice chat, or phone (my voice is slanted enough towards the feminine range that I'm often mistaken for my mother), when I say I'm a woman, everyone just seems to go along with it without questioning - except in communities that are supremely male-dominated and prejudiced enough to think that no woman would ever want to set foot there, in which case every woman gets skeptic trollposts, not just me. I've even received my share of stereotypically sexist comments, like "Get sand out of your vagina" or "Is it that time of the month for you?" My conjecture is that those who say that seek assurance of their hasty generalizations of all women and ignore all evidence to the contrary. Perhaps they'd be surprised to learn what I actually have between my legs. And thanks for your assuring words!

This sounds a lot like my experience of coming out in my late teens/early 20s.

I ultimately short-circuited it by deciding that introspection about how to label my sexual identity wasn't getting me anywhere, and in particular that trying to constrain my behavior based on my model of the behaviors most closely associated with a particular label was downright insane... I did better to actually look at the behaviors I actually wanted to perform, establish whether those preferences were stable, and then (optionally) pick the label that most closely matched those behaviors.

To couch this in the language of cognitive bias, I think there's a kind of anchoring effect going on here... you've latched onto some specific attributes associated with categories like "trans" and "male" and "female" and etc. (in much the same way that I did with "gay" and "straight" and "bi" and etc.), and it is skewing your judgments.

That said, I do recognize that "what kinds of people do I want to have sex with?" isn't quite the same sort of question as "what kind of person am I?", but I suspect similar issues are in play. You might fi... (read more)

6arethusa10yThank you! Both to you TheOtherDave and lucidfox for this great article which has addressed so many of my own doubts regarding my gender identity. From what I've suspected and have learned from lucidfox's article is that I myself have learned to restrain myself due to my own transphobia. Not that I hate trans people, au contraire, I love my girls, but I've feared to be thought of as a freak, ultimately, being afraid to be me; even though one of my earliest memories is confessing to my mother I had wanted to be a woman, crying -- no -- weeping when told that such thing was not possible even after having pressed if there wasn't some sort of surgery or if God would make things right in the New World. I am no longer religious. But the reason I share is because even for someone who as long as she can remember has felt inadequate in the body she was born in, the social construct and taboos can still be so strong that they can make you question and invalidate your own sense of being. Much like lucidfox, I've also ran the "fake or not" argument in my head countless times, and much like her I also consciously rediscovered my gender identity at 21 after years of nearly successful hiding of my "terrible secret longings" from everyone, even myself.
3TheOtherDave10yHey, being oneself can be scary. For a lot of people, the evasive maneuvers we learn as kids depend on giving bits of ourselves up in response to threats; giving those strategies up and reclaiming those bits of ourselves can feel like walking defenseless into enemy territory. But it can be helpful to be aware of that, acknowledge it, and acknowledge that sometimes as adults we have more and better options. Good luck on your journey.
0MugaSofer8yWell, there is definitely such a thing as gender-reassignment surgery. I can't speak for conditions in the afterlife, but it's not an uncommon idea that you're sexless in heaven.
6lucidfox10yI thought about these questions thoroughly before, and the answer to the first three is a resounding yes, otherwise I wouldn't be presenting as a woman now in the first place. As for the fourth one, that depends on what we mean by "stereotypically". If I were to design myself a body closely reflecting my inner self (I don't say ideal, because I don't think there's a single optimized appearance for me), it definitely wouldn't be oversexualized, and maybe I'd downplay some stereotypically feminine characteristics - for example, settle on below-average breasts, and remain tall, although perhaps not as tall as I'm now.
6TheOtherDave10y(nods) You're answering the question I meant; I used "stereotypically female" as shorthand, rather than getting into a whole discussion of what counts as a female body. And in retrospect, yeah, I was restating things I could probably have inferred from your post were already clear to you. Sorry about that.
1jsalvatier10yI don't have an relevant experience, but I was thinking something along these lines as well. You put it very well.

I have longed for a Less-Wrong style discussion of transsexuality. It appears to me that practically all discussion of this assumes that there is such a thing as inherent gender and that it can differ from that suggested by the arrangement of your genitals at birth. I would love to hear an account of the subject that gets away from that kind of essentialism, and provides an account of what transsexuality is that taboos all mention of sex and gender, and replaces the symbol with the substance.

I think it's helpful to consider transsexuality as cosmetic surgery. It's another case of "I'm unhappy with certain aspects of my body and I want to change them." Currently, doctors in the US won't perform this cosmetic surgery unless you convince them you're an X trapped in a Y's body.

The cosmetic surgery viewpoint goes beyond binary sex choices of male and female. Given better technology, in the future one could choose to be a blue-haired futanari catgirl. Why? Not to fit some story about finally becoming one's true gender, but simply because it could be fun.

6lucidfox10ySo you'd give the claim "I need to reshape my body into a catgirl/elf/dragon to achieve true happiness" the same credence as "I need to reshape my body into the other sex to achieve true happiness"? Today's society gives one of those statements less credence than the other. Do you think it's a bad thing?

I hate to sound callous, but I don't really care why people want to change their bodies. I am simply glad for them when they feel better about themselves afterwards.

To respond to your question: Yes that's a bad thing, but I can extrapolate the moral trajectory. In the past, more people disliked transsexuals and total body revision wasn't even on the map. Today, transsexuals are making inroads and some fringe people are speculating about more extreme modifications.

There are other times where I disagree with society giving different amounts of approval to things. For example, more people are for medicinal marijuana than for completely legalizing it.

I hate to sound callous, but I don't really care why people want to change their bodies. I am simply glad for them when they feel better about themselves afterwards.

I'm at a loss for how such an open-minded and kind statement could be interpreted as callous. It just sounds like the obvious Right Thing. Am I missing something here?

5AdeleneDawner9yIt could, but hopefully in the context of LW wouldn't, be interpreted as 'the fact that you're distressed doesn't matter; your preference for a certain kind of body is no more significant than $LowStatusGroup's similar and low-status preference'.
2TheOtherDave10ySure. Although I think it's worth distinguishing among different sorts of fun, here. There is the fun that comes from not having other people infer things about me that aren't true from my body, for example. There is the fun that comes from having people infer things about me that aren't true. There is the fun that comes from novelty. There is the fun that comes from pleasure -- that is, if my new body can experience more pleasure than my old one, that might be fun even when it isn't novel. There are many others. I'm not sure it makes sense to lump all of these together. (Caveat: I am talking about colloquial fun here, not Fun. I don't know that they're different in this case, I'm just not really considering the latter at all.)
3[anonymous]10yIs it not a common right-wing point of view that transsexuality is a sexual fetish, and that the dichotomy between sex (biological) and gender (social) is a left-wing fiction? This is frequently part of a package of views that is more focused on criticism of homosexuality and feminism, but I remember encountering critics of transsexuality that were gay or gay-sympathetic. I wasn't able to find anything like that the past half-hour, though.
6David_Gerard10yJulie Bindel is the motherlode. Lesbian, essentialist view of femaleness and famously despises transsexuals [].
5lucidfox10yErgo: politics is the mind killer []. If we abstract away from political agenda and evaluate hypotheses in their own right, the claim "transsexuality is a sexual fetish" is trivially disproven by the sheer number and range of available testimonies. There are even asexual transsexuals.
2saturn10y []
1lucidfox10yI have long thought along the same vein simply because this is what everyone asserts, and in fact it could be the conflict between that belief and my rationalist principles that caused me mental discomfort - way before I discovered Less Wrong. The problem, as it often is, in the matter of definitions. How do we define this "inherent gender"? Can it change later in life? If someone discovered their gender identity at a later age, does that mean that previously to that they behaved according to a "non-inherent gender" but were somehow consciously unaware of this? Can we build a brain scanner that detects it in a quantifiable way, and can we be sure that it will always match self-reporting? And most importantly, if we do that, can we be sure of 100% correlation between that characteristic and the expected utility of various options of gender presentation?

I'm not sure the right approach involves trying to clarify this idea of "inherent gender". I think I'd rather treat it the way Yvain treats "disease" here: look for the various characteristics people track using gender terms and address them separately.

4lucidfox10yIndeed. It might help to taboo the words "gender", "male" and "female" and instead speak separately of the different (and numerous) aspects that compose the complex biological and social phenomena behind them.

Maybe it's a question of definitions, like the question about a tree making a sound

First thought that occurred to me while reading. If you know who you are apart from categorizations, why does it make so much difference whether it fits into a particular category? If someone told me that I wasn't really male, but fleem, and had been fleem all along, I would still be me.

7cousin_it10yWhat if someone told you that you weren't really smart, but fleem? (I guess the virtuous response would be to ignore it anyway, but... it's hard...)
5sketerpot10yWhat would that mean? If you taboo "intelligence", I'm not sure what difference it would make if you were fleem rather than smart; the results seem awfully hard to distinguish. As long as a cat catches mice, does it matter what color the cat is?
6lucidfox10yMakes sense, but "fleem" is not a socially recognized category. Actually, let's do a thought experiment. Assume you have arrived on the planet Blorg III, where the society is binary partitioned into the categories of "fleem" and "floom", each defined by a code of behavior with some margins of tolerance. You could present yourself outside them if you felt it better matched your real preferences, but you would suffer social repercussions for that. What would you do? Weigh the expected utility of each choice of presentation?
2[anonymous]10yIs it your view that "male" and "female" are defined by a code of behavior and nothing more?
0lucidfox10yIn the strictly public, social sense? By appearance and code of behavior. Not even genitals, unless you ask everyone you talk to what they have between their legs. For the sake of argument, let's presume that in the thought experiment above, one can make oneself look like a fleem or a floom, by some kind of disguise device or simply by wearing the right clothes.
5David_Gerard10yFor added veracity, do you need to add at this point the small but nontrivial possibility of severe social penalty, up to and including death, for being discovered to be floom while appearing fleem or vice-versa?
3[anonymous]10yIs the strictly public social sense the only sense in which you wish to be female? I can think of three definitions of female: 1. Social consensus. If you are perceived as female. 2. Biology. If you were born with female parts. 3. Self-reporting. If you claim to be female. It's interesting to me that these tests give the same result in the vast majority of cases. It suggests that there's a fact of the matter about who is male and who is female, at least as much as there's a fact of the matter about where California stops and the Pacific begins.
4David_Gerard10yThis is a point at which to take care of the difference between "very common" and "normative" [], where the non-normative element is systematically suppressed. c.f. surgical gendering of intersexed children at birth, or even those whose penis had been burnt off by a circumcision needle. And there are no homosexuals in Iran.
1[anonymous]10yI'm skeptical that there is an important difference between "very common" and "normal." Maybe I don't know what you mean by "normative." I understand it to be a useful word that emphasizes that a what-should-be opinion is not a what-is opinion.
1[anonymous]9yMost humans alive today live in a society shaped by reading and writing. Writing has only been invented a handful of times, and spread by diffusion from there. Are the small minority of humans alive today whose lives are wholly unaffected by reading and writing irrelevant, when the question being asked is whether writing is a fundamental element of human behavior?* -- *No, because the spread of writing is a recent phenomenon compared to the time there've been humans, and most human societies didn't come up with it, meaning the current distribution of writing across human societies is the tip of the proverbial iceberg -- more obvious, but less important to understanding the actual thing in its entirety.
0David_Gerard10yIf you follow the link I put there explaining what I was talking about, you may be enlightened.
-3[anonymous]10yway ahead of you
-1David_Gerard10y"Normative" means "relating to an ideal standard or model". In the social context, this means the ideal is socially enforced. "Normal" is often used with the same meaning. Hence the gay rights slogan "Heterosexuality isn't normal, just common." (With a bonus double meaning on "common.")
2[anonymous]10yAll right. Evaluating the difference between "very common" and "normative" in this instance, I arrive at the following: it is very common for my three tests for femaleness to give the same result. And this is not the result of social enforcement. Were you saying the opposite, that this is the result of social enforcement?
1David_Gerard10yIt's very common, but it's not universal, and it appears more universal than it would if people weren't actively trying to make it seem so.
3[anonymous]10yBotched circumcisions and hermaphrodites are rare, As-Nature-Made-Him-style experiments rarer. Which people are actively trying to make the coincidence of my 3 tests seem more universal, and what are they doing to make it seem so?
2[anonymous]9yCrossdressers, transgender people of various stripes, etc may not be all that abundant in a strictly numerical sense, but we are damn near guarunteed to throw an exception to your criteria every time you ask one of us. Your criteria account perfectly for the majority, up until they encounter an admitted exception and then almost invariably fail. Those exceptions aren't noise in the dataset -- they're a sign that you're ignoring the points that don't neatly fit your aesthetically-pleasing line.
2saturn10yA great deal of effort goes into making sure (1) and (3) match. Clothing, hairstyles, perfumes, pigments applied to face and nails, jewelry, bags, gaits, eyewear etc. are carefully categorized as male or female. So I would not say they are really independent tests.
2[anonymous]10yThey are independent tests in the sense that there are people who fail one and pass the other. It's exactly my point that nevertheless passing one test is correlated with passing another. It seems to me that the social consensus that "women paint their nails and men don't," for example, arose organically and not as the result of careful categorization. Maybe I don't understand what you mean by careful categorization.
0saturn10yMy point is that if you group these tests into pairs, (1 and 2) and (2 and 3) seem to correlate without much help but (1 and 3) is different, it has a suspiciously large amount of human effort invested in strengthening the correlation.
2[anonymous]10yI don't know what you could mean by "suspicious." Maybe there is a large amount of human effort invested in strengthening the correlation between 1. and 3. What would follow?
2lucidfox10yCarefully? More like recklessly []. And categorizing (on the level of social norms) aspects of social behavior as unambiguously belonging to one gender is usually a bad idea, because it singles out all the intermediate cases.
1saturn10yYes, carefully. In general, people are more careful never to display the 'wrong' gender signals than almost anything else. And I only meant to point out that this is the way most people are, not to endorse it as a good idea.
2lucidfox10yI think it's logically incoherent for me to wish I was born with female parts, though. If someone otherwise like me was found at birth to have female genitals, that hypothetical infant would grow into a very different person by now because of different experiences. Likewise for any other birth differences that could cause a butterfly effect. I'd like to have a vagina now, but it's not that high on my priorities. I'm relatively happy with a penis, but I'm unhappy with quite a few other masculine traits in my body. Chest, hips, body hair, etc.
[-][anonymous]10y 18

Cis people often don't "feel like their gender" every day, or every minute of every day. I've momentarily "forgotten" I'm a woman, while I'm doing something else. It's just that we don't have to think about it so much because other people take it for granted that we are gender we say we are. I wouldn't take it as a sign that you're "not the real thing."

Interesting throughout.

I'll only add some Tarskis':

If I'm psychologically different from typical men, I desire to believe I am psychologically different from typical men. If I'm psychologically different from typical women, I desire to believe I am psychologically different from typical women. If I would be happier thinking of myself female, I desire to believe I would be happier thinking of myself as female. If I would be happier acting culturally female, I desire to believe I would be happier acting culturally female.

7red7510yI see two overlapping problems with application of litany of Tarski in this context. First. Litany should be relatively short for practical reasons, and as such its statement is simplification of real state of affairs when it is applied to complex system such as human and his/her social interactions. Thus litany implicitly suggest to believe in this simplified version, even if it was supposed to represent some complex mental image. And that leads us to Second. Beliefs about oneself is tricky thing, as if they aren't compartmentalized (and we don't want them to be compartmentalized [] ), then they shape our behavior. Thus I think that in this case litany of Tarski implicitly suggest to become a simplified version of a person one thinks oneself is. And it doesn't seem too good. I'm apparently awkward in social interactions (karma and even this post is evidence for this), so I'd rather abstain from suggesting alternative way of dealing with problems mentioned in top post.
4lucidfox10yThose are really insightful and comforting! I'm pretty much sure about 1, 3 and 4, but not so much about 2. From my observations, if by "typical women" we mean a complete statistical average, then yes, I'm psychologically different if only by my tendencies towards introspection and rational thought, but the same can be said of virtually all Less Wrong residents. I feel a strong mental resonance with intelligent educated women, especially of my age range, and far more often than not find myself agreeing on beliefs (various aspects of feminism, for instance). I'm also statistically atypical in that I identify as a lesbian (I'm glad to have a girlfriend who regards me as, well, her girlfriend). It probably wouldn't be too much of a stretch to hypothesize that LGBT people are more introspective on average than the general population, if only because they somehow had to arrive at their conclusions.
[-][anonymous]10y 10

It's interesting to me that you identify as lesbian, given that you say you came to the realisation of your trans status relatively late, as of the trans people I know (I know quite a few as my wife is very involved in LGBT politics) the straight- or bi-identifying ones realised they were trans relatively early, while the lesbian-identifying ones many seem to have realised in their twenties (in at least two cases I can think of, after getting married - luckily in both cases to bisexual women).

Maybe it's partly your sexual orientation that was/is clouding the issue for you? If before transitioning you felt like (or thought you felt like) a straight man, is it possible that you are somehow thinking, at least in part, "I can't be a woman because I am attracted to women"?

Either way, whether you're 'really' trans or not has no real meaning - there is no 'real' you, as opposed to an 'unreal' one, as you, like all human beings, are a mass of different, often conflicting, drives. And likewise, there is no platonic essence of transsexuality/transgenderism against which you can be judged. And both 'you' and 'transsexuality' are at least in part cultural constructs which only exist ... (read more)

2lucidfox10yI never had any issues with being a woman who is attracted to women, except for the fear of rejection by a lesbian. ("What if she considers me a man and singles me out immediately before even getting a chance to know me?") But yes, I used to consider myself a straight man before. Reflecting back, it seems that I used to single out the entire LGBT umbrella as "weirdoes" ("thanks" in part to indoctrination by pop culture and conservative parents), and it was thus difficult for me to think of myself in any LGBT category. Perhaps it's easier to switch to one "weird" category (a transgendered straight woman) from another "weird" category (if you thought of yourself as a gay man before), than it is from a "normal" category to a "doubly weird" category. It was perhaps also difficult to take the first step: once I got the guts to do one small thing that I "wasn't supposed to do" but could easily hide (in my case, shaving my legs), the rest of my restraint of actions and thought cascaded on its own, unstoppable from that point, like an avalanche.
4TheOtherDave10y(nods) Yeah; giving up the invisible knapsack [] the second time around is often easier than the first time. That said, I could see it working either way - if identifying as a woman causes your understanding of your expected sexual preference to shift from preferring women to preferring men, then continuing to prefer women would be a second switch, as you describe; if it doesn't, then it wouldn't be. Presumably that would depend a lot on how strongly "being a woman" and "being attracted to men" are implicitly associated in your mind. A similar effect occurs in the reverse direction, I think, when gay men are expected to be effeminate, or lesbians to be masculine. As gender identity and sexual preference become less tightly linked, I expect you see less of this.
3lucidfox10yThat's a tough one. My first impulse would be to say "not tied at all", given that generally I interact with people without making implicit assumptions about their sexual orientation. But. I rationally know, of course, that straight people are statistically an overwhelming majority. So in the absence of other information, when interacting with anyone, I should assign them a large prior probability of being straight. Yet I behave without making any predictions. I wonder if this means I consciously choose to discard the available information and fall back to fifty-fifty, or whether I keep the information, but the decisions I make do not depend on it.
4Kingreaper10yWhat sort of decisions do you make that could, rationally, depend on it? I mean, someone's sexual orientation is generally only relevant when setting them up with someone, and in such cases it would seem very weird not to find out their orientation as soon as possible. EDIT (I originally included "trying to date/seduce them" but in such a case their orientation is only a small part of the story. If it's easy to find out, do so, if not, then find out whether they fancy you, and the rest of their orientation is irrelevant.)
2TheOtherDave10yI can't speak for lucidfox, but to pick a recent example of my own: a friend of mine, a gay man, recently asked for introductions to friends of friends who might be worth approaching as potential dates. So I started thinking about people I knew who seemed like potential good matches for him, and realized that a difficulty here was not knowing the sexual preferences of the people I know. I don't think it was especially weird for me not to have previously found that out about everyone I might someday consider setting my friend up with, nor especially weird for me not to have immediately asked them all (say, via a bulk email or something).
3Kingreaper10yWhy would you ask them all? Presumably, you'd have a good filter on which friends you thought might be worth his time, ie. similar enough interests etc.; if they were interested. At which point, you need only ask those guys.
5TheOtherDave10yYeah; which is ultimately what I did. But it was a situation where I became very aware of the differences between the cultural norm (roughly, that everyone is implicitly assumed straight until explicitly declared otherwise) and my own defaults.
2Kingreaper10ySo, you actually did do what I thought would be the sensible thing to do, and asked the people you were considering setting up. I'm now confused; because your first reply to me seemed to indicate that you felt that was a bad idea somehow? Did I perhaps present it in such a way that I appeared to be advocating a different course of action?
3TheOtherDave10y(nods) Yeah, pretty much. Initially, I thought what you had in mind was a scenario where I'm trying to set up two people, and therefore just need to know the sexual preferences of those two people. I was contrasting that with a scenario where I'm trying to set up a known person with someone in a relatively large class, and therefore need to know the sexual preferences of everyone in that class (either that, or need to live in a culture where it's socially acceptable to proceed as though someone's sexual preference is unknown, which is why I say that the experience demonstrated that I don't live in such a culture). It's similar to the difference between having cached the size of a directory in an operating system, vs calculating it on demand. If I'm just looking at one directory and can calculate the size relatively quickly, it makes no difference at all. If I'm trying to sort a hundred directories by size, it suddenly makes a huge difference. The difference in scale creates a qualitative difference in user experience... and reveals that the user's expectation is that the size is cached, even though in the one-directory case that expectation does not lead to measurable differences. All that said, I agree with you that we're not saying anything particularly different at this point.
1Kingreaper10yAh, yes, this is a relevant point I was missing. Within my present social sphere proceeding as though someone's sexual preference is unknown, and inquiring into it, is entirely acceptable. But this is due to the subcultures I'm embedded in*, and I was forgetting that the mainstream culture is less permissive re: such inquiries. (*primarily the lgbT, fetish, geek and polyamorous groupings)
4TheOtherDave10y(nods) I often have to explicitly remind myself that certain possibilities that are highly available for me (e.g., that someone is in a triad) are not even promoted for consideration in mainstream culture (e.g., when I'm at work). I remember once commenting to a coworker that I was startled to realize, when a mutual coworker showed up at a party of mine with his girlfriend, that his girlfriend was married to the boyfriend of another guest at the party. Small world, and all. You could almost hear the needle skipping as they struggled to make sense of that, after which they said "Well, that sounds awkward," and it took me a while to realize they'd assumed the spouses were ignorant of the situation. When we finally cleared up each other's misunderstandings, we were rather symmetrically appalled at one another's cultural norms Incidentally, if you're in the New England or Bay areas, we likely have friends in common.
1Kingreaper10yAs it happens, I'm in England Classic, so probably not. Interesting anecdote however; has been added to my mental directory of small-talk anecdotes for discussions that involve (or that I want to involve) polyamory/relationships.
4TheOtherDave10yYeah, I observe myself doing something similar. In my own case it started out as a kind of a political stance -- roughly speaking, as a way of treating straight people as actually having a sexual orientation, rather than as the unmarked case [] -- and turned into a habit of thought without my quite meaning for it to. In my case I'm fairly certain that I don't discard the information... that is, I'm fairly certain that if you did an IAT [] on me around gender and sexuality you'd find I expect opposite-sex attraction much more than I expect same-sex attraction... but rather that I've trained myself to behave, as you say, in ways that don't depend on it.
0[anonymous]10yUpvoted for this.
[-][anonymous]10y 8

@OP: I don't quite see a reason to fret this much over the social construct of gender. "Real woman". Sure there is a typical female brain that lo and behold is probably different in basic quantifiable ways from your brain, I'm also willing to bet that your subjective experience probably isn't exactly like the experience of having that brain. Its possible your brain is basically identical to the average male brain, but more likely it isn't and is perhaps in "objective" ways more similar to the female average brain.

What does this have t... (read more)

Huh, I wonder how I missed this post the first time around; I was already questioning my gender when it was posted. (It sounds like I'm in the same boat you were in two years ago; 21, biologically male, feel like I'm almost definitely trans (several other similar details too), but still have a lot of "And yet..."s.)

The way it stands now, the so-called gender identity disorder isn't really something that is truly diagnosed, because it's based on self-reporting; you cannot look into someone's head and say "you're definitely transsexual"

... (read more)
4MixedNuts10yActually, a bunch of brain things we thought sorted between men and women turned out to sort between attraction to men and to women, so they won't distinguish a straight transwoman from a cis gay man. Also, there are quite a bunch of people who transition, then go back, so "it's not a life anyone would wish upon themselves" won't work. I'd much rather trust the brain scanner if it's at all trustworthy (and has a genderqueer slot, thank you very much). If it says "Nope, you're a girl"... well, I'll be seriously disappointed, but I'd make the best of it and be a dyke or something.
1Throway9yWhen I was 19 or 20, I seriously considered whether I was transgender, but eventually concluded that I'm cismale. I considered myself attracted-to-women at the time (though on reflection I'm slightly bi-curious, even now I mostly think of myself as straight). I was very worried about deciding incorrectly in either direction and afterward, about possibly having decided incorrectly. I'm still fairly confident though. Thought I'd post this because I imagine most stories are shared by people who did decide they were transgender. Hypothetically though, the amount of utilons you'd have to pay me to permanently transition (with no hypothetical changes to actual me or reality), while quite large, is probably substantially lower than for most cispeople.
2ata9yIf you don't mind me asking, what were the observations that lead you to locate and consider that hypothesis in the first place, and how did you come to reject it? For my part, I've been trying always to hug the query [] as tightly as possible; when I can get myself to stop thinking abstractly and verbally about whether or not I'm "transgender" and instead wonder perceptually and at the object level about individual, separable questions such as "Have I ever been happy about becoming more masculine?" (if not, I don't have to, whether or not I am "transgender"), "Do I feel more comfortable being referred to and addressed as male or female?" (if the latter, I can continue going by my new name and pronouns, whether or not I am "transgender"), "Am I happy about the changes I'm undergoing/anticipating; do I feel better overall?" (~7 weeks HRT so far; if so, I can continue as long as it continues to enhappy me, whether or not blahblahblah), "Do I prefer speaking in a female voice?" (since voice feminization is just a matter of training anyway and doesn't remove manvoice, I am free to develop a female speaking (and preferably singing) voice and use it as much or as little as I find I want to), etc., the answers are always pretty unambiguous, particularly since I would have no problem with myself turning out to be genderfluid (which I had assumed I'd be for a long while, though I didn't learn the word until this year) or bigender or otherwise nonbinary. But apparently I'm not, at least given what I know so far; not since I started letting myself think about such things have I woken up feeling any desire to be or present as more male that day than I have to, never have I felt like tying back (let alone cutting off) my long beautiful hair since I got it permanently straightened (it has more of a scruffy-male-hobo look when it's not straightened), ne'er since I got my current one pair of girl jeans have I felt like wearing guy clothes,
2Throway9yEvidence leading to hypothesis: Strongest evidence was a desire to have no facial hair. I'm also intrigued by the idea of having no body hair. Today I consider these to be cosmetic body modifications which I may eventually pay to have, finances permitting. As a teenager, I sometimes fantasized being a girl; I considered this weak evidence because I found it plausible that doing so as much as I did was within the range of typical variation for cismales. Also I found it annoying to have "dangly bits", but I concluded that the main consideration seemed to be convenience. I'm weakly convinced that bottom surgery is minus-EV with respect to convenience, though it's possible for technology to improve. Medium-sized boobs instead would probably be more inconvenient. Small boobs instead would probably be less inconvenient; I suspect they might be more fun than no boobs. And they don't seem /that/ inconvenient; I should mention that my male bits also don't seem /that/ inconvenient to me now. The rest of this comment will be far more articulate than my thinking at the time, but I think it's close enough. I think my feelings can be decomposed to two orthogonal categories: Munchkinism, and desire to be androgynous. Transgender is a particularly conspicuous cluster in hypothesis-space. But my explanation is also simple, and fits well. I'm bothered that I can't come up with any really strong predictions to distinguish Transgender versus "Androgyny" (defined as shorthand for "desire to be androgynous"), and also that I have no sense of the ratio Pr(Transgender) : Pr("Androgyny"). Even my rather low level of body dysphoria is not that great for distinguishing. I think this is because the Transgender cluster is spacious enough that it approaches really damn close to "Androgyny". Come to think of it, I wonder if Munchkinism influenced the conclusion. You'd expect Transgender-or-not to almost completely outweigh it in a utility calculation, but hmm... (Munchkinism, or at least my
0ata9yI try not to think (primarily) in terms of convenience, because from everything I've heard, it seems like adult cases of gender dysphoria don't go away and only get worse over time, eventually outweighing almost anything else. Conditional on the hypothesis that I do in fact have a transgender brain, I'd expect that if I decided to avoid transitioning now for instrumental reasons, I'd only end up regretting it later. I did have some thoughts along those lines… e.g. at one point I was mildly wishing to be taller (I'm 5'6") for social impressiveness reasons, though now I'm quite happy about my height and my generally not-very-masculine build. And when I was just starting to seriously wonder about this, or possibly even before then, I already had a general sense that I'd probably want to transition at some point, but I hoped I could put it off until after the singularity and put it out of my mind until then. Of course, that didn't work out, it didn't go away and after a few months it got to the point where I was almost constantly preoccupied by it. At that point the instrumental considerations didn't seem that compelling. Anyway, given my current state of information I'm still satisfied that I'm making the right decision at the moment, but thanks for sharing your experience!
0Pavitra10yIndeed, I have the uncanny sense that I'm reading something by my future self.

Your story (and TheOtherDave's) reminds me of that of Jennifer Diane Reitz.

On one excursion to nowhere in particular, the purpose of which was to fill time absent from my father’s sight, I ran into two other transsexuals. [...]

Candice and Joy were out shopping, and stopped to talk with me. They somehow knew that I was a lost soul, and offered to talk with me. They invited me to their home.

They lived together because they were a couple, self defining as lesbians. This was a stunning revelation to me. It was something that opened vistas of wonder to my sou

... (read more)

I consciously discovered my gender identity at 21

I'm 22 and still struggling with the question of my gender identity*. I've realised that I'd be happier living as a female if I could just switch, effortlessly, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to deal with all the social repercussions.

*(I've wished I was female intermittently since childhood, but never really thought more of it until recently; when a friend I'd known for ages, who had presented as male, began her transition)

And I know that I'm, in many ways, more masculine-minded than I'd like.

Actually, ... (read more)

3[anonymous]9yI started estrogen and androgen blockers just about five years ago, and have varied my dose and delivery method several times. Prepare for anecdata! -Starting estrogen and spiro together was intense. I got very moody for a little while -- I've been diagnosed with mood disorders years prior to transitioning, so it wasn't anything new, but the frequency and severity of outbursts spiked for a little bit. My emotions didn't actually feel stronger per se -- once the initial spell wore off, I wound up describing it as a matter of nuance. It's like learning to see new colors, new shades of distinction, between what were formerly a lot more discrete reference cases. The result was an easing of some forms of tension -- it took the edge off my temper and left me a lot more calm and able to exercise rationality than I'd ever been. Speaking of nuances: colors felt a little brighter, the world was just a touch more vivid (I'm autistic and schizotypal so it's always been pretty vivid, but this added something), my sense of smell began to rival that of my mother (who's one of the most olfactorily-sensitive humans I'd ever met up to that point) whereas before it'd merely been "okay", my hearing picked up and my synaesthesia changed a bit. Emotion just became generally easier to process, and easier to experience -- unless I was dealing with peak stress loads (unfortunately not uncommon with my life history), I might be more prone to exuberance or sadness but I also had a lot more reflective coherence about what they were, and could ride them out more easily. The first time I had to go off (poor/uninsured), I got filled with endless, spikey, manic energy. It lasted a couple weeks before I was able to buy some more pills and resolve the shortage. My dreams the night after going back on were horrific nightmares. -Upping the dose later made me even calmer, and more clearheaded. At my peak oral dose I noticed that the coolheadedness had a tendency to slide into depression, but a) I
3lucidfox10yI sought answers to that question before and I heard conflicting accounts, from zero changes to significant, but it's important here to account for a causation bias. HRT often coincides with publicly coming out, which in many people can cause a rush of euphoria and a feeling of freedom while some inhibitions evaporate. In other words, many of the changing mental modes may have nothing to do with hormones at all; I've never taken hormones so far and yet I feel like a very different person from lucidfox[2008] thanks to my shifted system of values. The way I see it, given that puberty didn't manage to shake my core identity and shape me into someone who isn't me, then it's highly unlikely that hormones will.
1falenas10810yI think I can explain why that might be the case. Testosterone is the "male" hormone; estrogen is the "female" hormone. However, both guys and girls have some amount both hormones. It could be that those who are transgendered tend to have more of the hormone associated with the opposite sex, so adding more of that hormone would not do as much.
4lucidfox10yThe question is about the percentage of transpeople with originally raised hormone levels - otherwise it's a hasty generalization. Surely if this was really the case, they'd display physical differences from their biological sex all along - for example, transwomen would look more feminine then cis men even before any hormone therapy?
1falenas10810yI think you're right, that probably would be the case. I'm not sure about looking more feminine, but there would definitely be other characteristics that would be different. This has already been shown in other areas, such as the digit ratio and gay men performing closer to females on certain physical and mental tests. However, I don't know if there are any studies like this done for transgendered people.
3HughRistik10yOn gender-related interests, a study by Richard Lippa [] found that trans people scored in between cis men and women for gender-related traits (i.e. GD, or "gender diagnosticity" of interests or occupational preferences).
2lucidfox10yThe digit ratio study is generally regarded among transpeople as "a load of bollocks", and that's putting it relatively nicely. There are a lot of problems about it, and I know people who angsted about not matching its conclusions before stopping caring.
4HughRistik10yWhat are the problems with digit ratio research? From Gender, Nature, and Nurture by Richard Lippa [] : The Wikipedia article on digit ratio [] also cites a ton of research showing correlates.
1[anonymous]9yWell, my digit ratio should have me squarely in the cisgendered heterosexual male category. I'm trans, female identified in day to day life, queer (not especially picky about gender of partners, even less picky about what they have in their pants)... it's one anecdote, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that the digit length criteria failed bigtime where I'm concerned.
1lucidfox10yI myself lack the experience to present a coherent argument against it, but ask any trans community and you'll get dozens of replies. There are some objections that I can present on the fly, though. For one, there is no evidence that sex hormone level or this unobservable "brain gender" is the most important factor contributing to digit ratio. The very Wikipedia article you linked claims, among other things, that there is more ethnic variation than gender variation. And while this is not an argument against the validity of the research, we must be wary of drawing backward inference between observable physical phenomena and correlated social phenomena. As I mentioned, I know transpeople who were depressed when their digit ratio "didn't match the expectation", irrational as it may be. It should be considered, at best, weak evidence.
1[anonymous]9yI think (she said, speaking as a transgendered person) that the angst has a lot to do with a more pervasive sense of self-doubt among many trans people. When you have to do something fairly subversive and controversial just to feel like yourself, and can expect an enormous amount of social pressure (ranging from passive-aggressive to literally life-threatening), and you've spent most of your life likely to have no coherent idea of other people like you...yeah, it's kind of tempting to search out validation in those ways. I think this is why some trans people would love to have a diagnostic test for it -- strikes me as a bit self-defeating though.
1[anonymous]9yI'm trans, identify as female (technically also genderqueer/third-gender in some contexts, but it's more an internal thing of anthropological significance than something I display), have been on hormone therapy for a number of years, and it's only in the last year that my T levels dropped from "high even for a cis male" to "really low even for a cis female." In other words I spent literally my entire pospubescent life up until recently with very high testosterone. So I doubt it's that.
1Kingreaper10yThat's good information, however it does give me one slight niggle. I suspect that puberty did shake my core identity and shape me into someone who isn't me (as I was prior to puberty). But as you point out, when the hormonal influx coincides with other life-changing events, I shouldn't assume it was the hormones influence. I'm attempting to improve my luminosity at present, so hopefully my next hormonal change I'll document properly :-)
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4Kaj_Sotala9yThis comment would be considerably easier to read with some paragraph breaks.
2Voltairina9yOk. [edit]

A couple of years ago, I happened to take a very interesting grad-level anthropology course entitled simply "Masculinity" at the same time that I was having some perfectly normal doubts about my sexuality. Most of my time in the course was spent butting heads with the professor who felt that most of evolutionary psychology consisted of a way to roll us back to the dark ages on issues of sexual equality, but long story short, I came out the other end doubting whether not just gender (the cultural aspect), but sex (the biological aspect) was just ... (read more)

[-][anonymous]10y 3

Being a materialist and accepting Darwinian thought all the while trying to be as rational as possible will lead you to realize that many many rationalizations we accept for what are considered "correct" or "common" values are false. Some outrageously false. I think I'm not overstepping in saying that either a majority of or a large minority of LW posters would agree with this.

I can understand a change in values following a updated world view. But please remember is does not translate into should. Sure scrap some values, after intros... (read more)

The "am I really a woman question sounds to me like the dangling node described in How an Algorithm feels from inside. It's a notion that has gotten really confused because of all these different pressures around you.

If that were true, it would cause my whole system of values to collapse, and it feels like stating an incoherent statement, like "If sexism is morally and scientifically justified, then..."

Really? That doesn't seem incoherent, just incredibly unlikely. Could you elaborate what you mean by "sexism"?


you cannot look into someone's head and say "you're definitely transsexual"

Perhaps someday: transexual differences caught on brain scan - New Scientist

What if the device conflicts their self-reporting? (I suspect I'm an

... (read more)

I've learned to view gender as a multidimensional space with two big clusters, rather than as a boolean flag.

I love your phrasing.

Disclaimer: in large part, I am trying to persuade myself.

Even now, I fail to apply the Litany of Tarski. "If I'm really a man, then I desire to bel--" Wait, doesn't compute.

I feel similarly, and I begin to suspect that my brain is treating it like a moral, rather than empirical, proposition. Consider: "If I am evil, then I wish to believe I am evil"? No. It should read: "If I am evil, then I wish to fix that problem."

How then can Tarski apply to a morally-charged proposition? It's probably better not to go around thinking... (read more)

3MugaSofer8yIf I am evil, then I wish to believe that I am evil, so that I will know to fix that problem. It helps to consider the evil individual who doesn't know they're evil. They wont become good, will they? Because they don't know to try.