On Sex and Gender Identity: Perspectives from Biology, Neuroscience and Philosophy

by Laeti Harris, Louise Moody, and Pam Thompson

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Introduction

This essay will explore the material qualities and political significance of the sexed human body, which has evolved in the service of sexual reproduction, although is not limited to that purpose. Our exploration is motivated by the relatively recent emergence in western cultures of campaigns to replace the position of sex in social and political spheres with the notion of gender identity, a phenomenon related to how a person feels about their sex (i.e., male, female, both, or neither), which does not depend, in any significant sense, upon their anatomy.

Increasing numbers of people believe that their experienced gender identity is not the same as, or congruent with, their anatomical sex and refer to themselves as transgender, or trans. Being trans was recently amended from being officially recognised as a mental health condition, when in 2018, the World Health Organisation moved gender incongruence from the ‘Mental Health’ of the updated International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) to a newly created chapter, ‘Sexual Health’, with the stated aim of reducing stigma and increasing social acceptance of trans people. Nevertheless, trans people often suffer from dysphoria regarding the sex of their bodies (often referred to as gender dysphoria), a condition that compels the person affected to live, and attempt to present, as the gender associated with the opposite sex, treatments for which include cross sex hormones and sex reassignment surgery. The rise in numbers of people describing themselves as trans has been accompanied by a pressure for, and considerable success in achieving, social and political change to recognise and eliminate the specific prejudices experienced by trans people.

For instance, in 2004 the UK granted legal recognition to people diagnosed with gender dysphoria allowing them to gain recognition of their preferred gender for all legal purposes such as on their birth certificate. Sixteen years later things have changed dramatically. Trans status has been de-medicalised, and a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is no longer required to be considered transgender with self-identification being sufficient.

If the proposed self-identification (self-ID) legislation is endorsed in Scotland and the rest of the UK, anyone who feels they are the opposite gender will be granted a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), without needing any medical assessment or making lifestyle changes, let alone medical or surgical treatments, and will be considered legally to be of the other sex. The rationale is that a person’s gender identity is not automatically connected to their birth sex and that this disconnect, rather than being the result of a neurological disorder, is in fact the expression of “true gender” overriding bodily sex; that is, trans women and trans men are true women and men, respectively, in the wrong bodies rather than dysphoric men/women.

Proponents of gender identity ideology (GI) often make at least four substantive claims: namely:

[1] Gender identity supersedes a person’s biological sex; i.e. a person’s feelings, rather than their biological sex, is what metaphysically makes someone a man, woman, both, or perhaps neither.

[2] Sex is not dimorphic (i.e. humans cannot be naturally divided into male and female categories) but is a spectrum or continuum, ranging from men to women and masculine to feminine.

[3] Transgender people have brains that more resemble their felt, rather than their biological, sex, i.e. a biological man who reports a female gender identity will have a brain with characteristics that are predominant in biological women.

[4] Transgender people cannot be mistaken about their gender identity, even when they are observably of the opposite sex to that they believe themselves to be; i.e. gender identity is a special kind of mental state, the nature of which one cannot be wrong about.

In §1 we reject [2] on the grounds that our current understanding of reproductive biology supports the binary classification of biological sex as either male or female: there is no other sex, and no continuum in the reproductive function of sex. The sex-spectrum model is at best descriptive and holds no explanatory power as to the function of sex, and how DSDs can arise as atypical developmental paths along the either male or female track. In §2, we reject [3] on the grounds that (a) individuals with diagnosis of gender dysphoria display a largely sex-typical brain anatomy and connectivity with a specific neurological signature in the area involved in body perception and ownership, which can often be generated by trauma and socialisation, and (b) complex and multifaceted behaviours and identities are not straightforwardly rooted in the male- or female-typical structure of the brain. There is no biologically prescribed, innate gender identity. Finally, in §3 we reject [4] on the grounds that there is no non-arbitrary criteria which (a) enables us to distinguish gender identity from other cases in which an individual reports a strongly felt sense or experience of being something that they cannot objectively be, and (b) explains how we can sometimes be radically mistaken about the true nature of our other mental states – e.g. beliefs, memories, and perceptual experiences – but cannot be radically mistaken about the true nature of our gender identity. The conjunction of these considerations from evolutionary and developmental biology, neuroscience, and philosophy then, we contend, constitute strong reasons for also rejecting [1]. We conclude that transgender people are entitled to respect, equal rights, and protection from violence and discrimination as transgender individuals, but they are not objectively members of the opposite sex to that which they were born. Society needs to cater for the specific needs of the transgender population, without encroaching on the rights and needs of others.

[1]

Is human sex a spectrum?

Evolution

At the most basic level, sex is a form of reproduction involving fusion of the genomes of two individuals of the same species and is thought to have evolved as a mechanism to increase genetic diversity, which can confer survival advantages under specific environmental conditions. Sex is commonly thought of as involving the pairing of females and males; where females are types within a species that produce large immobile gametes (eggs) and males are those that produce small mobile gametes (sperm). Indeed, the vast majority of complex multicellular organisms do exhibit this type of dichotomy in gamete size, known as anisogamy, which, in turn, has led to the evolution of genitalia and secondary sex characteristics, observed in humans as the anatomical differences between male and female people. Interestingly, gamete dimorphism is almost ubiquitous in complex multicellular eukaryotes. There are typically only two gametes and two sexes, and this is a highly evolutionarily conserved phenomenon.

In mammals, sex characteristics are determined by the X/Y chromosome system. However, many disparate sex determination mechanisms have evolved independently. For example, many reptiles and fish exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination, whereas in some insects (e.g., bees, ants, and wasps) it is the ploidy state (i.e., the number of sets of chromosomes) that determines whether an individual will be male or female, with males developing from unfertilized eggs with only a single set of chromosomes and females from fertilized eggs with a set of chromosomes from each parent. (Bachtrog et al., 2014) Hence, the emergence of two and only two sexes appears to be evolutionarily fundamental and independent of the mechanism through which the two sexes are specified.

In many simple, single-cell organisms, sexual reproduction can occur without a difference in gamete size or associated separate male and female type organisms. Such ‘isogamy’ is considered the ancestral state; hence, anisogamous organisms likely evolved from an isogamous ancestor. Therefore, understanding why there are male and female types within species requires insight into evolutionary transitions from isogamy to anisogamy. Although isogamous reproduction involves two gametes of similar size, it also ubiquitously requires mating types, a term describing genetically encoded systems controlling gamete compatibility. The most common number of mating types within a species is two (referred to as + and –), but there can be more; from three in the amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum (Douglas et al., 2016), to thousands in some types of fungi (Billiard et al., 2010), in which sex could reasonably be described as a continuum.

Research into why two (rather than four, five, seven, or twenty) sexes appears to be the near-universal outcome of the evolutionary trajectory from isogamy to anisogamy has most frequently been conducted using mathematical modelling. A dominant hypothesis emerging from these modelling experiments is that the evolution of anisogamy can be explained by gamete competition. Various modelling approaches, including computer simulations, game theory, and population genetics show that a large population of parents with variable gamete sizes will evolve into a stably anisogamous population over a number of generations, with only the smallest and largest gametes remaining. This is because parents producing large (female-type) gametes generate zygotes that survive well, while those that produce many small (male-type) gametes ‘capture’ most of the large gametes. Hence, these models likely explain both why different sized gametes evolve and why there are exactly two sexes. This evolutionary mechanism driving asymmetry in gamete size also fundamentally underlies all of the sexually dimorphic features observed in anisogamous organisms such as mammals, including humans. (Lehtonen and Parker, 2014) Humans produce two gametes, eggs and sperm, and have evolved complex genital and secondary sex differences associated with this type of reproduction.

Human sexual development

Of course, when we discuss the sex of a person, we are talking about more than their ability (or otherwise) to produce a certain type of gamete. In humans, “biological sex” is also a scientific description of the reproductive anatomies (gonads, and internal and external genitalia) that have evolved to fulfill the function of sexual reproduction. In addressing the assertion that human sex is a spectrum, it is important to emphasize that male and female reproductive anatomies differ qualitatively, as a consequence of arising from differing developmental pathways, rather than quantitatively. There are two sequential stages in typical human sexual development: determination and differentiation. Determination refers to the genetically controlled mechanisms underlying development of a bipotential gonad into either the female or male gonad and begins at 6–8 weeks after conception. This is when expression of the Y chromosome-encoded male sex specifying gene, SRY, is upregulated to promote testis development, while activation of WNT4 and RSPO1 signalling regulate development of the ovaries. (Reviewed in Arboleda et al., 2014) During differentiation, hormones secreted by the testes guide the emergence of the male genitalia, while removing the Müllerian ducts, embryonic structures that develop into the female internal genitalia.

Atypical human sexual development

The arguments of those insisting that ‘sex is a spectrum’ generally rely to some extent on the existence of people with atypical sexual development, while they fail to address the evolutionary function of sex. The 2006 Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders (Lee et al., 2006) recommended the use of the term disorders of sexual development (DSDs), describe people with atypical sexual development defined as: “congenital conditions in which development of chromosomal, gonadal, or anatomic sex is atypical.” DSDs are also often referred to as intersex conditions, although the two terms are not strictly interchangeable. For example, Arboleda et al. (2014) state:

The distinction and clarification of the terms DSD and intersex is important and necessary. The term DSD was introduced to emphasize underlying genetic and hormonal factors responsible for atypical somatic sex development. However, there are individuals with DSDs who have assumed the term intersex as an identity and reject the notion that the human body must be dichotomous. These individuals view the term DSD as a negative label that implies that atypical sex anatomy must be corrected with surgical or hormonal interventions. Supporters of this position recognize that some interventions may be necessary to maintain physical health, such as removal of dysgenetic gonads in patients at high risk for malignancy but call for a clear distinction between what is medically necessary versus what is elective or cosmetic.

DSDs represent an enormously wide variety of different conditions, some of which are associated with other health issues. While there are individuals who have characteristics of both males and females, most DSDs affect either males or females specifically. Using the 2006 Consensus Statement definition, the incidence of DSD is approximately 1 person per 100 (Arboleda et al., 2014), and this relatively high prevalence has been widely used as evidence for the assertion that sex is a spectrum. The 1 in 100 figure is based on classification of DSDs to include all anomalies of the reproductive organs, but in the vast majority of  cases, there is no doubt about the sex of an individual. Hence, while 1 in 100 individuals has some form of DSD, the incidence of those specific types of DSD leading to any ambiguity about an individual’s sex is substantially lower at approximately 0.02% (1 in 5000), and those individuals with ambiguous anatomies may have both male and female traits, not phenotypes representing other sexes altogether. (See https://www.dsdfamilies.org/parents/what-dsd/brief-overview/conditions)

In conclusion, reproductive anatomies differentiate and mature under the control of genetic and hormonal signals, and measurements of these factors have strong predictive power, but do not define the sex of an individual. Hence, human sex is fundamentally defined by male and female reproductive anatomy. Attempts to recast biological sex as a social construct, which then becomes a matter of chosen individual identity, is scientifically inaccurate, and ignores more than a billion years of sexual reproduction and what we understand about how this fundamentally dichotomous system arose.

Alteration of sexual anatomy and/or gender presentation in people with DSDs

Surgery to alter the appearance and function of the genitals is common for people with those DSDs that cause genital ambiguity and may be performed on infants before they are old enough to consent. While some procedures are medically necessary, operations performed purely to ‘normalise’ genital appearance in children too young to consent can be associated with unacceptable long-term consequences; for example, impairment of sexual function. For these reasons, many DSD advocate groups campaign to ban these types of procedures. Furthermore, some DSDs do not become apparent until a child reaches puberty and can change their apparent sex. For example, deficiencies of 5-α-reductase 2 and 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3, in which children are most often raised as girls, but undergo a masculinizing puberty. Those people with DSDs who undergo physical changes (naturally or through medical intervention) that alter their sex can be considered – and may (or may not) consider themselves – transgender. However, it is not clear how comparable the reasons underlying changes in gender presentation/sexual anatomy among people with DSDs are with those of trans people who alter their gender presentation and/or anatomies in response to gender dysphoria.

A recent large study of gender change and gender dysphoria, including a total of 1040 people with DSDs (women with Turner’s syndrome, n = 325; men with Kleinfelter syndrome, n = 219, women with XY DSD without androgen effects (n = 107) and with androgen effects (n = 63); men with XY DSD (n = 87); and women with 26 XX congenital adrenal hyperplasia (n = 221)) from various European countries (Kreukels et al., 2018) found that, while changes in gender presentation were higher in this group than in the general population, scores on a standard questionnaire for gender dysphoria were well within the range of non-dysphoric controls for all individuals with DSDs, while none reached the score range observed among a population with gender dysphoria referred to gender clinics. This suggests that the reasons underlying changes in gender in people with DSDs differ to those of trans people with gender dysphoria and may be directly related to physical changes of their bodies. Nevertheless, Kreukels et al. note that in their study, 10 of the people with DSDs completing the questionnaire had already changed gender before doing so and indicate that this may have ameliorated any dysphoria they had previously experienced. Further, there was a large percentage of missing data in the questionnaires (24% for the female-specific version and 47% for the male version), raising doubts about the validity of the results. Interestingly, this study also found that 12 study participants (two with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, two with 17-β- hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3, one with 5-α reductase 2, one with complete XY gonadal dysgenesis, and five with Kleinfelter syndrome) did not consider themselves (entirely) male or female, or did not feel that they were male or female at all. Also, six participants had gender identities atypical of their diagnostic group (one individual with Kleinfelter syndrome who considered themselves female and five with XX congenital adrenal hyperplasia who considered themselves male). This paper concludes:

Because gender issues can be a delicate topic, it may be necessary to approach patients in a sensitive way if one suspects problems in this area. In doing so, it is important to realize that not all patients identify as male or female and want to live in typical male or female social roles. Recognizing that gender is a non-binary phenomenon could facilitate satisfaction with one’s gender for people from the entire gender spectrum.

The sentiment that no-one should be expected to conform to gender stereotypes (“typical male or female social roles”) is laudable and should apply to everyone, regardless of whether their anatomical sex is typical or not. Nevertheless, differences in sexual characteristics, which can lead individuals to reject the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’, do not detract from the biological mundanity of humans. We are a sexually dimorphic species, like all other mammals, regardless of ultimate sexual function or dysfunction or how we feel about our bodies. For individuals with reproductive anatomies including both male and female features, sex classification is a complex process with input from medical professionals, parents, and (when they are old enough to understand) patients themselves; however, the anatomical features leading to such ambiguity in sex emerge from the biological processes that produce males and females, there are no additional sexes that produce separate types of gamete, only rare variation within female and male specification.

In conclusion, DSDs do not undermine sex dimorphism in humans. As in all mammals, human sexual anatomy arises as a consequence of anisogamy, a phenomenon invariably associated with only two sexes. There are people with atypical sex organs, however, these demonstrate development along male and/or female paths, and there is no evidence for a third sex. However, anatomy is not all there is to the social concepts of man and woman. Both women and men have assumed/been confined to very different roles in society throughout history and this rift has occurred along the biological line, resulting in the female and male classes with different respective histories, life opportunities, and collective identities. How does the concept of gender identity relate to these gendered roles? What is gender identity exactly? Does it exist only in the realm of ideas? Is it only a set of culturally and temporally variable stereotypes externally imposed, a deeply held feeling about oneself, or is it an intrinsic, essential property of our being? Could gender identity be innate, but different from sex, i.e. grounded in biology but independent of our anatomical sex?

[2]

Is it possible to have male brain in a female body (and vice versa)?

Human cultures often tend to conceptualise and explain the world in binary terms (dark/light, idea/matter, hot/cold). The mind/body dichotomy, where the mind is seen as elevated and boundless and the body as lowly, reductive and prone to degradation is one of the oldest western philosophical tropes and one that informs gender identity ideology (GI). If gender identity does not reside unambiguously in our body, it must be an emanation of our mind (brain) and hence supersedes our bodily sex. Notably, some proponent of GI purports that transwomen are biological females because their innate sense of gender is hardwired in the brain, and therefore biologically determined.

Sex differences in brain structure and neural connectivity

Recent progress in neuroscience, in particular the use of MRI technology, shows that there are clear differences between male and female brains in term of structures and functions at neural, neuro-anatomical connectivity and neurochemical specification levels. ((Hines, 2011) and references therein) Such differences arise in utero under the influence of the sex hormone testosterone and are observed in foetuses (Wheelock, Hect et al. 2019) and at birth in mammals. (Hines, 2011) There is good evidence that the level of testosterone produced by the foetus in utero (in rats and monkeys for instance) influences the degree of masculinisation of the brain within and between the sexes.

One recent study in particular mapped neurological connectivity between different parts of the brain in 118 human male and female foetuses in utero from the second half of gestation onwards. (Wheelock, Hect et al. 2019) They showed statistically significant differences between male and female foetuses in the way the lobes and neural networks of the brain are connected. As this study was conducted using subjects before they could have experienced socialisation, it is held as solid proof that males and females start life with significantly different brains. However, whether these original dissimilarities remain throughout people’s life as they become socialised or whether these differences translate into behavioural patterns and identities still remains to be explored (see below).

From birth onwards, humans are a combination of nature and nurture. Therefore, when looking at child and adult brains, it is extremely difficult to distinguish the sex differences pertaining to biology from those caused by socialisation, because neuroplasticity (what makes us efficient learners) means that social interactions and individual experiences can significantly shape the brain. Children are therefore not blank slates, and neither is there any overwhelming biological determinism. (Hines 2011) Male and female humans are socialised differently according to their anatomical sex, arguably amplifying any pre-existing biological male or female traits, such as aggression (encouraged in boys) or nurturing behaviour (encouraged in girls). Socialisation can also generate behavioural or cognitive differences between males and females that have no basis in biology. A good example of this is the observation that the gap in mathematical (and other cognitive) abilities between boys and girls has decreased globally through time and is virtually non-existent in cultures where sexist stereotypes are less intensively enforced. (Guiso, Monte et al. 2008) Therefore, the very structure, connectivity and neurochemistry of the brain is malleable and can be impacted by socialisation from birth. A short-term study, often quoted in the media, revealed that, after just a few weeks of meditation, MRI scans show increases in regional brain grey matter density, illustrating the extraordinary plasticity of our brains. (Hölzel, Carmody et al. 2011)

The transgender brain

If nurture (sexist culture) reinforces nature (biology) in shaping typically male and female brains, how is it conceivable that a minority of people could develop a male (female) brain in a female (male) body as GI claims? Below we mainly examine several case studies looking at the brain of people who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria (NB: the findings do not apply to the rest of the trans umbrella, as defined by Stonewall UK), including the foundational paper that led to the “brain sex” idea. (Zhou, Hofman et al. 1995)

The volume of the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminals (BSTc), a brain area assumed to be essential for sexual behaviour in mammals, has been shown to be larger in males than in females. The foundational paper of the “brain sex” idea found that transgender people have BSTc typical of the other sex and concluded that transwomen have a women’s brain. (Zhou, Hofman et al. 1995) There are several caveats to this work and subsequent supporting studies. (Zhou, Hofman et al. 1995; Bao and Swaab, 2011) The findings are based on a very small number of subjects: only six transgender individuals, including only one female to male transgender person, were examined, and there is an overlap in the BSTs size range within the control population, begging the question whether the results are statistically significant. No systematic control for sexual orientation, which is known to influence the sexual differentiation of the brain, was performed. (Burke, Manzouri et al. 2017) The study was based on post-mortem observations and on a very small, specific area of the brain’s grey matter. The interpretation that the BSTs size is involved in the sexualisation of the brain is based on non-human models and there was no assessment of the impact of socialisation or potential hormonal treatments on the differentiation of the BSTc volume, which arises late in life (puberty), compared to other brain structures.

More recent studies covering a much greater number of patients (Burke, Manzouri et al. 2017; Savic and Aver 2011) show that gender dysphoria has a unique fingerprint in the white matter connectivity, morphometry and structural volumetry  of the brain, rather than a sex-atypical signature. In many of the white matter tracts studied by fractional anisotropy (FA) the transgender groups displayed overall (birth) sex-typical patterns, a similar degree of sexual differentiation as observed in homosexuals and a lower sexual differentiation than heterosexuals. (Burke, Manzouri et al. 2017) The lesser sexual differentiation in the brain of homosexual and transgender may be related to testosterone levels during foetal development. Interestingly, several studies that describe FA sex-atypical patterns in the transgender population do not control for sexual orientation. This study does correct the data for sexual orientation and shows that both male and female homosexuals exhibit as much sex-atypical features in selected parts of the brain as the transgender group. Yet homosexuals do not identify as being of the other sex or as having a female (male) brain in a male (female) body. When corrected for sexuality, people with gender dysphoria have a (birth) sex-typical brain but the part of the fronto-occipital track involved in processing body perception in relation to self, body awareness and ownership shows atypical features that neither the heterosexual nor the homosexual control (non-trans) groups possess.

Another study based on MRI scans from eight young transgender men (female at birth) shows that the area of the brain reacting to stimuli to the chest displays a dampened sensory response in transmen compared to female controls (n = 8). (Case, Brang et al. 2017) It is worth noting that this study had no male control group. This study, despite a very low number of participants and no male control group, is often cited to support the premise that trans-men have a male brain. We can argue that, in fact, these findings do not support the conclusion that transmen have a male typical reaction to stimuli and hence a male typical brain. Instead, the results are better explained by the observations and findings cited above that gender dysphoria is caused by atypical body ownership and self-perception in the fronto-occipital part of the brain (see above). (Burke, Manzouri et al. 2017) A more recent study points out that many of the brain-specific differences associated with gender dysphoria are situated in areas dealing with body ownership, distress and social behaviour. All are highly susceptible to be influenced by socialisation and trauma rather than innate. (Gliske, 2019)

All these studies were conducted on participants with diagnosed gender dysphoria. Self-identification of gender is open to people who do not have gender dysphoria and therefore are unlikely to present the specific neurological signature associated with this condition.

The gendered brain: do sex differences in brain structure translate into gendered behaviours?

Despite well-documented innate structural brain differences and the sex-specific early socialisation under which the brain plastically develops, males and females show an extraordinarily large overlap in psychological traits and cognitive types (empathic vs. systemic e.g. (Greenberg, Warrier et al. 2018)). In terms of cognitive abilities, psychology and behavioural expression, studies show that there are no clear male or female brains. One such study conducted in almost half a million people endeavoured to track brain-type differences and the signature of autism by scoring empathy (emotion), sensorial perception and systemizing (analytical) quotients using a simple questionnaire. Despite the complete overlap in the score distribution between male and female controls for these three parameters, the study found a small difference in the sex-specific averages and proceeded to conclude that there are typical female (empathic) and male (analytical) brains. However, what the data truly show is that the distributions are almost identical between men and women, with only a small difference in the modes (score reached by the highest number of people) of these 3 parameters between males and females. This means that the majority of men and women share the same score distribution for these parameters with a slightly increased number of men scoring marginally higher on the systematic quotient and lower on the empathic quotient compared to women. In addition, the finding that females score slightly higher on average for empathy for instance could be due to two factors: 1) the study relies on subjective responses to a coarse questionnaire, therefore the answers are subjective and can be influenced by internalised social expectations and 2) the alleged greater empathy displayed by women on average may be due entirely to socialisation in a world that often expects women to assume caring (empathetic) roles. The empathic- and systemic-type brains exist in both males and females including in their extreme manifestation and the variability observed within a sex is much greater than the average difference between sexes. (Baron-Cohen, Richler et al. 2003, Greenberg, Warrier et al. 2018)

It is reasonable to assume that there is an evolutionary need to favour certain sex-specific behaviours associated with reproduction, such as nurturing behaviours in females and aggressive comportments in males, and that these specific traits are indeed prevalent in the corresponding sex class. However, once again, there is a continuum between males and females with respect to these psychological traits and behaviours (Hines 2011). In addition, these particular behaviours are not necessarily expressed consistently throughout someone’s life and their intensities and manifestation (e.g. in response to puberty or pregnancy) are mediated by natural hormones surges, which activate previously organised, sex-specific neurological systems. For instance, the nurturing behaviour of a new mother has been linked to hormonal changes during and post pregnancy (Glynn, Davis et al. 2016). These traits are transient and linked to people’s biological sex and reproductive roles. They might participate in, but do not constitute, one’s gender identity.

While certain traits are on average slightly more or less pronounced in male or female subjects (e.g. spatial orientation, aggression), individual personalities and identities are the sum of a multitude of traits and proclivities, and any given individual, for any given trait, can score anywhere on the brain-type distribution. Therefore, several publications and meta-studies by Rippon, among others, have described individuals as a patchwork of stereotypically “masculine” and “feminine” traits and challenge the notion of a gendered brain (Rippon 2019). The implication of that analysis is that no single behaviour or cluster of traits are typically and unambiguously male or female, and none can be regarded as a robust marker of femaleness or maleness.

In summary, the assertion that “true” gender is hard-wired in the brain and can be independent of one’s biological sex is doubly defeated by neuroscience. (1) Transgender people (with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria) display a largely sex-typical brain anatomy and connectivity with a specific neurological signature in the area involved in body perception and ownership; they do not have a female (male) brain in a male (female) body.  (2) Neuroanatomical sex differences in the brain are most likely linked to sexual and reproductive functions (directly connected to anatomical sex) but they are poor determinants of an individual’s psychological traits, cognitive abilities, professional occupations, taste, interests and behaviours in everyday life, despite early and constant reinforcement by socialisation in largely sexist cultures. In other words, the “sexed brain” (Wheelock, Hect et al. 2019) is a poor predictor of individual identity and personality. Complex and multifaceted identities are not straightforwardly rooted in the male- or female-typical structure of the brain. This does not mean that gender identity can be innately male or female irrespective of one’s biological sex. Rather, what it means is that gender identity is not an inherent (biological) and fixed characteristic of human brains but can only be envisioned and understood as an external, socially constructed phenomenon corresponding to strongly internalised and externalised stereotypes and expectations. It implies that the sense of belonging to a specific gender can only be an identification into externally imposed social conventions, more or less arbitrarily associated to the female or male sex. Society is currently debating whether these externally imposed, temporally and culturally variable stereotypes should constitute the definition of what a man and a woman are, or whether there are still good reasons to use objective, biological differences between males and females as the defining criteria for these two ontological categories.

[3]

A philosophical perspective on the perception of one’s gender identity

A natural starting point concerning the concept of gender identity – specifically, in what gender identity might said to essentially consist (in philosophical speak, in what metaphysical ingredient(s) might said to make it up) – is to consider the definition offered by influential organizations such as Stonewall who speak of: “A person’s innate sense of their own gender, whether male, female, or something else, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.” (https://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/glossary-terms#g, my emphasis)

A definition that has even filtered down to the NHS who now inform us that: “Biological sex is assigned at birth, depending on the appearance of the genitals. […] Gender identity is the gender that a person “identifies with or feels themselves to be.” (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gender-dysphoria/)

These remarks encapsulate the increasingly common thought that gender identity is an intrinsic property of the subject; i.e. a property that constitutively depends in some way upon physical processes and events occurring within the subject. And this intrinsic property, some now say, is sufficient for making someone a certain sex (hence: male bodied people who identify as women are now competing in women’s sports, being housed in women’s prisons and refuges, and can enter other single-sex spaces such as changing rooms). Another way to put it is that gender identity is said to consist in someone’s strongly felt personal conception of themselves as male, female, some combination of both, or perhaps neither. And so, someone’s experienced gender identity is not an externally verifiable characteristic such as their having brown eyes or being six-feet tall, but rather, concerns their inherent sense of being, or feeling strongly aligned with, a certain sex.

Two clarifications are in order before we raise two questions about gender identity. First, we have sidestepped philosophical definitions of gender identity (e.g. McKitrick’s (2015) dispositional account according to which someone’s gender identity consists in them being disposed to behave in certain ways that are perceived as being gendered in their social context or Jenkins’ (2018) normrelevancy account, according to which someone’s gender identity consists in them experiencing certain gender norms as being relevant to themselves) since such definitions are not currently enshrined in any policies or guidance and so, are not immediately relevant to people’s lives. Second, although we reject the standard conception of gender identity, our aim is a therapeutic one in that a diagnosis of the concept’s most significant flaws can only illuminate those desiderata that any conceptually adequate account of it should meet, with such desiderata naturally being compatible with women’s sex-based rights.

Our first question is this: By what non-arbitrary criteria can we distinguish gender identity from other cases in which someone also reports a strongly felt sense or experience of being something that they cannot objectively be?

The question can be illustrated by considering what are called Delusional Misidentification Syndromes, i.e. psychiatric-neurological syndromes that are characterized by the misidentification of persons, the self, or objects in one’s environment. People with Cotard Syndrome (see e.g. Cotard (1880); Ramirez-Bermudez et al. (2010)), for example, strongly feel that they are missing limbs, internal organs, or are even dead; people with Mirrored-Self Misidentification Syndrome (see e.g. Breen et al. (2001); Coltheart (2001)) strongly feel that their reflection is someone else or themselves at a different age; and people with Clonal Pluralization of the Self (see e.g. Christodoulou (1978); Vörös  et al. (2003)) strongly feel that there are multiple physical and psychological copies of themselves. There are thus a range of reasonably well-understood conditions that all involve people reporting strongly feeling that they are something which they just cannot objectively be (trivially, the dead lack mental states, physics dictates that your reflection cannot be your past or future self, and qualitative reduplication belongs in Star Trek). In light of such conditions, we need a plausible explanation of why we should accept:

[A] A strongly felt feeling is sufficient for being a man, woman, blend of both or neither. (Standard Conception of Gender Identity)

But reject:

[B] A strongly felt feeling is not sufficient for being dead, being reflected as your past or future self in mirrors and being physically and psychologically reduplicated. (Instances of Delusional Misidentification Syndromes)

To be clear: we are not uncharitably saying that someone who reports a mismatch between their experienced gender and biological sex does have a delusional misidentification syndrome. Our point, rather, is that if gender identity consists solely in some type of internal mental state, and if that concept of gender identity is going to inform policies and guidance, then we need a plausible story as to why feelings maketh the man or woman (or perhaps something else) but do not maketh being dead, seeing your past or future self in mirrors, or being magically reduplicated. Conceptual consistency seemingly requires, for example, that someone with Clonal Pluralization of the Self cannot be convicted of murder because a jury could never determine beyond reasonable doubt which ‘copy’ offed Reverend Green in the dining room with a candlestick or that a thirty something hobby cyclist with Mirrored-Self Misidentification Syndrome need only show his significantly older reflection to race officials in order to compete in the seventy plus age group where his chances of winning medals naturally improve. How, then, might we maintain the distinction between [A] and [2], and so, avoid such absurdities?

Answering this question is not our challenge to meet, still, it is instructive to consider the obvious answer which runs: Gender identity is a well-understood non-clinical phenomenon that does not causally spring from any underlying neuropathologies, but Delusional Misidentification Syndromes are recherché clinical phenomena that causally spring from underlying neuropathologies. Hence, these different aetiologies mean we can consistently accept [A] whilst rejecting [B]. But this answer only clarifies our concern, for it is irrelevant whether someone’s gender identity has some identifiable clinical aetiology. We are simply asking for some positive explanation of how being a man or woman (or some other combination) can be alchemized from strongly felt feelings so that intuitively absurd comparisons can be avoided: simply saying that feelings maketh the man, woman (or some other combination) is not illuminating without some positive explanation of how that alchemization is supposed to occur. We are not denying that no such explanation is available, but until one is given, the politically driven insistence that someone’s affective mental state overrides their objective biological makeup looks remarkably like culturally normalised medieval superstition.

Our second question is this: What justifies the implicit assumption that someone cannot be radically mistaken about their gender identity, when we are often radically mistaken about the true nature of certain other mental states? Plainly put: Why should we charitably assume that someone cannot be radically mistaken about their gender identity, when it is non-controversial that we are often radically mistaken about the true nature of our beliefs, memories, perceptual experiences, and sensations? What we mean by this question can be illustrated by just three examples:

Memories: Consider the well-documented phenomenon of Imagination Inflation (see e.g. Garry & Polaschek 2000; Mazzoni & Memon 2003) in which imaginings are mistaken for genuine memories. Famously, Loftus & Pickrell (1995) found that 5 out of 24 subjects falsely remembered being lost in a shopping mall as a child after being presented with a story to that effect. More worryingly, Shaw & Porter (2015) found that of 30 subjects who had not committed a serious crime as a teenager, 21 (70%) recalled doing so after their interviewer used priming tactics such as presuming knowledge of the event (“[The] details […] have to come from you”). And eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable with its dependence upon imperfect visual equipment and the brain’s ability to accurately process, store, and remember perceptual information. Such cases straightforwardly show that, sometimes, we are radically mistaken about the true nature of our memories: sometimes, what strongly seem like genuine experiential memories are really imaginings of events that never occurred at all.

Perceptual Experience: Consider the phenomenon of inattentional blindness (see e.g. Mack, A & Rock, I (1998); Hutchinson (2019)), whereby focusing our attention upon one thing sometimes means that we fail to notice other, unexpected, things. In the famous ‘Invisible Gorilla’ experiment (Simons & Chabris: 1999) around fifty percent of people who were asked to watch a short video of people throwing a basketball and to silently count the number of passes failed to notice a gorilla strolling into the middle of the scene and thumping its chest for nine seconds. Or consider the phenomenon of change blindness (see e.g. Feil & Mestre (2010); Levin et al. (2000)) whereby we sometimes fail to see surprisingly large changes to objects and scenes. In the famous ‘Door’ experiment (Simons & Levin: 1998), nearly fifty percent of people failed to notice the switching of their conversational partner whilst briefly distracted by two people passing between them carrying a door. Such cases straightforwardly show that, sometimes, we are radically mistaken about what we are seeing: seeing simply isnt believing.

Sensations: Consider the familiar phenomenon of referred pain whereby pain in one part of the body is often experienced as originating from elsewhere: heart attacks are often preceded by episodes of ‘indigestion’, an inflamed gallbladder episodes of ‘shoulder’ pain, and developing pancreatic cancer by episodes of severe ‘back’ pain. Or consider how people with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy sometimes report episodes of sensing unexplained tastes and odours. Such cases straightforwardly show that, sometimes, we are radically mistaken about the source, location, and even existence, of our sensations: sometimes, pain is experienced somewhere other than its source, and tastes and odours may not even exist at all.

These considerations suggest a simple argument: Memories, perceptual experiences and sensations are mental states about which we are sometimes radically mistaken; gender identity is said to be one kind of mental state; so, ex hypothesi, people can sometimes be radically mistaken about their gender identity – either concerning certain of its properties (e.g. perhaps the strong feeling that some people call their gender identity is really determined by things outside, rather than inside, the head) or even their having one at all (e.g. perhaps the concept will eventually be unmasked as a fiction that is destined to join the luminiferous aether, phrenology, and the four temperaments in scientific ignominy). Rejecting this argument thus requires showing why gender identity is a special kind of mental state: specifically, our opponent must show how we can consistently accept:

[C] People have infallible introspective access to the true nature of their gender identity. (Commitment of Gender Ideology)

and

[D] People lack infallible introspective access to the true nature of their mental states, viz. memories, perceptual experiences, and sensations. (Empirical observations)

To be clear: we are not uncharitably saying that someone who reports having a particular gender identity is wrong about having a feeling (curiously, we do seem to have infallible introspective access to the phenomenal ‘what-it-is-like’ aspect of our conscious experiences). Our point, rather, is that if gender identity consists solely in some type of mental state, and if we are sometimes radically mistaken about the true nature of our other mental states, then there is no principled non-arbitrary reason for denying that we are sometimes radically mistaken about the true nature of our gender identity.

We confess to complete puzzlement at how to positively reconcile [C] with [D]. And rather than undertake our opponent’s task, we will conclude by sketching two reasons for scepticism about the standard conception of gender identity, i.e. for scepticism about [C]. The first reason is that (or so it strikes us) many people lack any distinctive innate feeling that might reasonably be called their gender identity. When I confine myself to introspective reflection and ignore what Stonewall and friends claim about gender identity, intuition dictates that there is no distinctive innate feeling that I can identify as being my gender identity [2] – I simply have a body that is female and that is it (and a mental state that is not consciously accessible is indistinguishable from one that does not exist). Whilst there are, to our knowledge, no studies on the percentage of people who report having a gender identity [3], my inability to introspectively detect any feeling that might reasonably be called one does not seem obviously unusual or counterintuitive. This scenario is thus a counterexample to [C], since there is at least one person who lacks, or cannot consciously access, anything that might be called a gender identity, viz., me.

The second reason for scepticism about [C] is that people who report having a gender identity, we suggest, are psychologically internalizing restrictive gender roles and stereotypes (e.g. tropes such as ‘only girls wear pink’ and ‘coding is for men’) and then mistaking that internalization for an innate feeling of being male, female (or some other combination). That is, some people are mistaking psychological assimilation of and attitudes towards culturally inculcated gender norms for an innate gender identity. In our story, someone who identifies as a woman has integrated mainly female gender norms into their psyche and then mistaken that integration for an innate feeling of being female, and viceversa for someone who identifies as a man (someone who identifies as a blend of both will have integrated some proportionate combination of male and female gender norms into their psyche and then mistaken that for an innate feeling of being bigender). Baldly put, we reject [C] on the grounds that some people who report experiencing a particular gender are psychologically confusing externally imposed gender roles and gendered expectations for an innately given feeling inside the head.

It now seems that an adequate defence of the claim that people are not radically mistaken about their gender identity requires two things. First, it must be explained why gender identity is – unlike memories, perceptual experiences, and sensations – an epistemically special mental state (presumably, this will require identifying some property, or properties, that grant us infallible introspective access to its nature). Second, and relatedly, it must be explained how the gendered messages with which people are bombarded do not determine the feeling that they call their gender identity. Until these explanations are given, we urge caution about both the existence and metaphysical significance of an innate gender identity. We submit that, in its current state, the concept of gender identity is a Cartesian fiction that has no serious business informing those policies and guidance that affect our daily lives.

Wrapping Up

We have marshalled empirical and conceptual considerations from biology (§1), neuroscience (§2), and philosophy (§3) to reject four key tenets that prop up GI. Our current understanding of reproductive biology does not support the idea that biological sex is a spectrum, and therefore, that sex dimorphism is an inaccurate and outdated tool to classify all individuals as males or females. The sex-spectrum model is at best descriptive and holds no explanatory power as to the function of sex and how DSDs can arise as atypical developmental paths along the male or female track.  Evidence from neuroscience shows that gender dysphoria has little connection to gender or sex and is likely linked to body perception, socialisation or trauma. It straightforwardly rejects the notion that transgender people can have a male (female) brain in a female (male) body and that gender identity is innate. Evidence from the philosophy of perception arguably shows that the current concept of gender identity is a metaphysically incoherent one that does not rationally ground someone’s beliefs about their own gender. Together, the disciplines of biology, neuroscience, and philosophy plausibly demonstrate that biological sex is what makes us male or female and that the feeling of gender identity is not innate but is a subjective identification with socially constructed markers of masculinity or femininity.

But suppose that any, or all, tenets of GI are true. Does this mean that people should be treated according to their gender identity, rather than observed sex, for political and legal purposes? Our answer is an emphatic no. Social groups and minorities are organized, socialised, and othered in virtue of their possessing certain observable characteristics that are grounded in material reality rather than their self-perception. To our knowledge, young girls are not asked if they feel like boys before being subjected to genital mutilation; trafficked women are not asked if they feel like men before being treated as sexual commodities; and the current U.K Prime Minister did not ask the 70% of his cabinet that are biological men whether they identify as women before appointing them. In an unequal society, where people are treated differently on the basis of recognisable characteristics such as sex, skin colour or age, people must retain the right to politically organise and build their struggle around these characteristics. As such, our conclusion is just this: Because the material reality of biological sex is the only objective criterion that can be used to categorise all individuals as either man or woman, the concept of gender identity should not primarily determine the rights and protections that society grants individuals. Of course rights and protections should be granted to transgender individuals in virtue of the objective nature of the discrimination they face; but, since gender identity is not sufficient for determining someone’s sex, those rights and protections cannot be exactly the same (e.g. they might include ‘third’ spaces such as separate changing facilities or sports categories) as those afforded to women for being females.

Dr. Laeti Harris has a biology background and does academic research in biogeochemistry. Dr. Louise Moody, a gay and lesbian campaigner and activist, received her doctorate in philosophy at York University. She specializes in the metaphysics of perception, and is the founder of Fair HE, an initiative to defend freedom of speech within higher education. Dr. Pam Thompson did academic research on the molecular genetics of human disease at the University of Manchester and currently works from home as a scientific editor.

Notes/References

[1]

Arboleda, V.A., Sandberg, D.E., Vilain, E. DSDs: genetics, underlying pathologies and psychosexual differentiation. Nat Rev Endocrinol, 2014 10(10): p. 603-615. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2014.130.

Bachtrog, D., Mank, J.E., Peichel, C.L., Kirkpatrick, M., Otto, S.P., Ashman, T.L., Hahn, M.W., Kitano, J., Mayrose, I., Ming, R., Perrin, N., Ross, L., Valenzuela, N., Vamosi, J.C.; Tree of Sex Consortium. Sex determination: why so many ways of doing it? PLoS Biol, 2014  12(7): e1001899. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001899.

Billiard, S., López-Villavicencio, M., Devier, B., Hood, M.E., Fairhead, C., Giraud T. Having sex, yes, but with whom? Inferences from fungi on the evolution of anisogamy and mating types. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc, 2010 86(2): p. 421-442. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00153.x.

Douglas, T.E., Strassmann, J.E., Queller, D.C. Sex ratio and gamete size across eastern North America in Dictyostelium discoideum, a social amoeba with three sexes. J Evol Biol, 2016 29(7): p. 1298-1306. doi: 10.1111/jeb.12871.

Lee, P.A., Houk, C.P., Ahmed, S.F., Hughes, I.A.; International Consensus Conference on Intersex organized by the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society and the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology. Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders. International Consensus Conference on Intersex. Pediatrics, 118(2): e488-500. doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-0738.

Lehtonen, J., Parker, G.A. Gamete competition, gamete limitation, and the evolution of the two sexes. Mol Hum Reprod. 2014, 20(12): p. 1161-1168. doi: 10.1093/molehr/gau068.

Kreukels, B.P.C., Köhler, B., Nordenström, A., Roehle, R., Thyen, U., Bouvattier, C., de Vries, A.L.C., Cohen-Kettenis, P.T.; dsd-LIFE group. Gender dysphoria and gender change  in disorders of sex development/intersex conditions: results from the dsd-LIFE Study. J Sex Med, 2018 15(5):777-785. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.02.021.

[2]

Bao, A.-M. and D. F. Swaab (2011). “Sexual differentiation of the human brain: Relation to gender identity, sexual orientation and neuropsychiatric disorders.” Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 32(2): 214-226.

Baron-Cohen, S., J. Richler, D. Bisarya, N. Gurunathan and S. Wheelwright (2003). “The systemizing quotient: an investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism, and normal sex differences.” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences 358(1430): 361-374.

Burke, S. M., A. H. Manzouri and I. Savic (2017). “Structural connections in the brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation.” Scientific Reports 7(1): 17954.

Case, L. K., D. Brang, R. Landazuri, P. Viswanathan and V. S. Ramachandran (2017). “Altered White Matter and Sensory Response to Bodily Sensation in Female-to-Male Transgender Individuals.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 46(5): 1223-1237.

Gliske, S. V. (2019). “A New Theory of Gender Dysphoria Incorporating the Distress, Social Behavioral, and Body-Ownership Networks.” eneuro 6(6): ENEURO.0183-0119.2019.

Glynn, L. M., E. P. Davis, C. A. Sandman and W. A. Goldberg (2016). “Gestational hormone profiles predict human maternal behavior at 1-year postpartum.” Hormones and behavior 85: 19-25.

Greenberg, D. M., V. Warrier, C. Allison and S. Baron-Cohen (2018). “Testing the Empathizing–Systemizing theory of sex differences and the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism in half a million people.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115(48): 12152.

Guiso, L., F. Monte, P. Sapienza and L. Zingales (2008). “Culture, Gender, and Math.” Science 320(5880): 1164.

Hines, M. (2011). “Gender Development and the Human Brain.” Annual Review of Neuroscience 34(1): 69-88.

Hölzel, B. K., J. Carmody, M. Vangel, C. Congleton, S. M. Yerramsetti, T. Gard and S. W. Lazar (2011). “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 191(1): 36-43.

Rippon, G. (2019). “The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain Gina Rippon.” The Bodley Head.

Savic, I. and S. Arver (2011). “Sex Dimorphism of the Brain in Male-to-Female Transsexuals.” Cerebral Cortex 21(11): 2525-2533.

Wheelock, M. D., J. L. Hect, E. Hernandez-Andrade, S. S. Hassan, R. Romero, A. T. Eggebrecht and M. E. Thomason (2019). “Sex differences in functional connectivity during fetal brain development.” Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: 100632.

Zhou, J.-N., M. A. Hofman, L. J. G. Gooren and D. F. Swaab (1995). “A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality.” Nature 378(6552): 68-70.

[3]

[1] Cf. Gender identity concerns, according to, the American Psychological Association “a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else” (https://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender), Amnesty International “the way you identity with and express yourself in masculine and/or feminine notions of identity” (https://www.amnesty.org.uk/lgbt-gay-human-rights-sexual-orientation-gender-identity), the Gender Identity Research and Education Society “[the] psychological identification of oneself [as one or more genders]” (https://www.gires.org.uk/resources/terminology/), the Human Rights Campaign “One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither” (https://www.hrc.org/resources/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-terminology-and-definitions), and Mermaids “How you, in your head, define your gender” (https://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/assets/media/Genderbread-Person-3.3-HI-RES.pdf).

[2] Compare: I can introspectively identify other distinctive feelings such as jealousy, anger, or love.

[3] In an admittedly unscientific Twitter poll, 93% of 1628 people reported lacking a gender identity (4% reported having one and 3% answered ‘other’).

_____

Breen, N., Caine, D., Coltheart, M. (2001). ‘Mirrored-Self Misidentification: Two Cases of Focal Onset Dementia’, Neurocase 7(3): 239-25.

Christodoulou, GN. (1978). ‘Syndrome of Subjective Doubles’, Am J Psychiatry 1978; 135(2): 249-251.

Coltheart, M. (2011). ‘The Mirrored-Self Misidentification Delusion’, Neuropsychiatry 1(6): 521-23.

Feil, A & Mestre, J.P. (2010). ‘Change Blindness as a Means of Studying Expertise in Physics’, Journal of the Learning Sciences. 19 (4): 480–505.

Garry M. & Polaschek D.L.L. (2000). ‘Imagination and Memory’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 6-10.

Hutchinson, B. (2019). ‘Toward a Theory of Consciousness: A Review of the Neural Correlates of Inattentional Blindness’, Neuroscience & Behavioural Reviews, Vol. 104: 87-99.

Jenkins, K. (2016). ‘Amelioration and inclusion: Gender identity and the concept of Woman’, Ethics, 126, 394–421.

Levin, D.T., Momen, N., Drivdahl, S.B., & Simons, D.J. (2000). ‘Change Blindness Blindness: The Metacognitive Error of Overestimating Change-Detection Ability’, Visual Cognition, 2000, 7 (1/2/3), 397–412.

Loftus E. & Pickrell J.E. (1995). ‘The Formation of False Memories’, Psychiatric Annals, 25, 720 72

Mack, A. and Rock, I. (1998). Inattentional Blindness, MIT Press.

McKitrick, J. (2015). ‘A Dispositional Account of Gender’, Philosophical Studies172(10), 2575–2589.

Mazzoni G. & Memon A. (2003). ‘Imagination can Create False Autobiographical Memories’, Psychological Science, 14, 186-188.

Shaw, J., & Porter, S. (2015). ‘Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime’, Psychological Science26(3), 291–301.

Simons, DJ & Chabris CF. (1999). ‘Gorillas in Our Midst: Sustained Inattentional Blindness for Dynamic Events’, Perception, Vol 28: 1059-74.

Simons, D & Levin, D. (1998). ‘Failure to Detect Change to People During a Real-World Interaction’ Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 5. 644-649.

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50 Comments »

  1. Thank you for this most excellent paper. As a Physiologist and Developmental Biologist I can find nothing in it to disagree with. It is well argued and it will be interesting to see if the proponents of Gender Identity pick up the gauntlets you have thrown down.

    They have an epistemic mountain to climb to counter this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately, Gender Identity is a political construct, designed as a way to rid society of hateful heteronormativity. Good luck getting anyone from that camp debating this issue. The argument at the moment is that a critique of Gender Identity is a priori hateful as it is an attempt to erase trans experiences. Arguing the biological basis for Gender Identity is important, and I certainly hope it’s something we see more of, but I think the idea of the current Gender and Queer academics addressing these concerns is quite unlikely.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Adding to section 2’s case against claim 3: even if we granted the best possible grounds to it, claim 3 will still fail, from a descriptive precedence problem. Even if female and male brains where sharply distinct, and some people had the opposite one, we would still describe them as, eg, ‘a male with a female brain’ – we would never describe them as ‘a female with a male body’.

    Adding to section 3’s case against claim 4: the authority of gender identity is contradictory in practice. If someone identifies as the *same* as you, they are telling you what *you* are, but how is it that they can tell you but you cannot tell them? Identifying-as is premised on the incontestable solely personal authority of the claimant, yet it leads to exactly the opposite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Even if female and male brains where sharply distinct, and some people had the opposite one, we would still describe them as, eg, ‘a male with a female brain’ – we would never describe them as ‘a female with a male body’”

      Why would that be the case. I’m sure a lot of people would describe the situation you describe as ‘a female with a male body’.

      Like

  3. If the guy or girl down the street wants me to call them “Jesus Christ” or “Batman”, I have no problems calling them that.
    Similarly, if they look like a boy but want me to call them “she”, I have no problems with that either and if they look like a girl and want me to call them “he”, fine. Everyone has a right in my book to define themselves and I’m not about to argue with anybody’s self-definition.

    The problem arises with biological males wanting to use women’s dressing spaces or to participate in women’s sports. There doesn’t seem to be much problem with biological women wanting to use men’s dressing spaces or to participate in men’s sports. Otherwise, let people define themselves as they please.

    Like

    • The problem comes when ‘Jesus’ wants you to worship him and ‘Batman’ starts crowdfunding for a Bat Cave and becomes a vigilante. TRA’s want the worship, the crowdfunding AND the vigilantism.

      Like

  4. I see a few problems with the above:

    1) No mention of sexual orientation. One of the really salient features of “traditional” gender identity is opposite-sex sexual orientation. Until the 1970s, the LGB and TI were inextricably intermixed, with “trans” (-vestism or -sexualism) being a sub-community of a singular outgroup. I believe some early interest in gender reassignment surgery was that it could “normalize” an individual’s desires.

    2) There was the change in psychiatric nosology for LGB in the 1970s – largely due to social pressure, although there was also the strand of science going back to Kinsey and Masters and Johnson. It seems to me that one can “refute” the same “substantive claims” for sexual orientation in the above essay by just replacing SO for GI throughout, and make very similar arguments about brain development, intrauterine hormones, genetic determinism (eg Ganna et al [2019] “all tested genetic variants accounted for 8 to 25% of variation in male and female same-sex sexual behavior”), social construction, and incorrigible beliefs and feels. We can further bring up the equivalent dangers of predatory homosexuals in same-sex spaces with the vulnerable.

    3) The parallel changes in legal and political status of LGB and TI mean that the support of such all such lifestyle choices – eg Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – are to be supported by the medical community: “Ensure access to the highest attainable standard of gender affirming healthcare, on the basis of an individual’s free, prior and informed consent…”.

    4) As per my 2 above, I don’t see how one can split off Gender Identity from these related concepts in the socio-political setting.

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    • David, I am having a difficult time understanding what the argument here is even supposed to be. I would have thought it quite clear that sexual orientation and gender identity, as understood today, are entirely distinct matters. (Unless one is trafficking in what I would have thought were quite unprogressive stereotypes.)

      Like

      • First, two points regarding “unprogressive stereotypes”.

        A. The lumping of TI with LGB by societies historically and currently (in less progressive jurisdictions) as transgressions against the natural order means that political instruments like the Yogyakarta declaration also lump the rights-based solutions together.

        Devore [2002]:

        In recent years, there have been sometimes contentious discussions about whether or not transgender people and the issues of concern to them should be included in lesbian, gay, and bisexual groups. This paper argues that, both historically and cross-culturally, transgender people have been the most visible minority among people involved in same-sex sexual practices. As such, transgendered people have been emblematic of homosexuality in the minds of most people. Thus, the concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people are inextricably bound up with those of transgendered people and should be addressed together in LGBT groups….There are many ways that the two kinds of identities overlap. Many lesbian-, gay-, bisexual-, and queer-identified people readily identify as transgendered. It is also quite common that people who later come to call themselves transgendered or transsexed sojourn for a part of their lives in lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer communities before they come to know themselves as transgendered or transsexed …

        B. The relationship between being a member of a “traditional sex” and heterosexual orientation seems straightforward to me, but here are some papers on the biological overlap between transgressive gender and sexual orientations:

        Burn et al [2011]:

        Sexual orientation, like many complex behaviors, comes as a “package” of covarying traits. Critical among these are childhood gender typicality (or CGT), which are sex-typed behaviors, activities and interests that are statistically atypical for biological sex during childhood) and gender identity (psychological gender as “masculine” or “feminine” during adulthood). CGT is robustly correlated with adult homosexuality as demonstrated in prospective and retrospective studies and has been observed cross-culturally…Adult gender identity (AGI), although not a psychometric homologue to CGT, also shows an association with sexual orientation as measured via ratings of self-ascribed masculine or feminine feelings, traditional personality measures of gender (e.g., the Bem Sex Role Inventory) and occupational interests…[Within the female twins from TwinsUK] a considerable degree of genetic correlation exists especially between sexual attraction and CGT and AGI (r = −0.42 and r = −0.45, respectively).

        Alanki et al [2010]

        …a population-based sample of 3,261 Finnish twins aged 33-43 years. The participants completed items on recalled [gender atypical] childhood behavior and on same-sex sexual interest and behavior, which were combined into a childhood gender atypical behavior and a sexual orientation variable, respectively. The phenotypic association between the two variables was stronger for men than for women. Quantitative genetic analyses showed that variation in both childhood gender atypical behavior and adult sexual orientation was partly due to genetics, with the rest being explained by nonshared environmental effects. Bivariate analyses suggested that substantial common genetic and modest common nonshared environmental correlations underlie the co-occurrence of the two variables.

        The relevance of CGT is to early transitioning – I have previously posted a reference to the fact that a good proportion of children/adolescents attending clinical gender services end up simply embracing a same-sex orientation.

        My second point (original point 4) was regarding the nature of the arguments that Harris, Moody, and Thompson are wielding. It seems to me that many of these are just as strong against homosexuality, and we have already agreed that this is now an acceptable variant behaviour, except in those countries where you can still be jailed for it.

        Finally, I’ll just comment that the debunking of “strongly felt feeling” is a bit too general a tool.

        Liked by 1 person

        • In the US legal system: “…homosexual and bisexual plaintiffs have had very limited success litigating under the [post Price Waterhouse] gender-stereotyping framework. Their successes have been limited to instances in which the plaintiff is an effeminate gay man or a masculine lesbian woman…gender stereotyping claims can easily present problems for an adjudicator. This is for the simple reason that ‘[s]tereotypical notions about how men and women should behave will often necessarily blur into ideas about heterosexuality and homosexuality’.”

          The relationship between gender identity, gender stereotyping and orientation here seems clear to me.

          Like

          • The article may be outstanding from a scientific point of view. I don’t have the scientific background to question it.

            However, this is a political issue, not a scientific one and the transgender lobby is winning: gender ideology has already become common sense as has the idea that transwomen are “really” women. In addition, for many people transwomen are only seen as victims of a cruel and unjust society, and for those people the victim is always right.

            There is one facet of this issue which we (if there is a “we”) can make progress: the question of admitting transwomen into biological women’s spaces and sports. Here we can appeal first of all to the common sense and self-interest of all biological women and to all those males who care about them. Second, we can and should think up arguments in favor of drawing the line regarding letting transwomen into biological women’s spaces and sports. However, once again, those arguments need to be political, not scientific, even if we recur at times to scientific discourse.

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          • Dear Dan. I’m afraid I still think my argument is pretty straightforward – it is that I could rewrite this paper replacing GI with SSO throughout with with very little violence to the arguments

            This essay will explore the material qualities and political significance of human sexual behaviour, which has evolved in the service of sexual reproduction, although is not limited to that purpose. Our exploration is motivated by the relatively recent emergence in western cultures of campaigns to replace the position of sex in social and political spheres with the notion of sexual orientation, a phenomenon related to how a person feels about sex (i.e.,preferring male, female, both, or neither), which does not depend, in any significant sense, upon their anatomy.

            Increasing numbers of people believe that their experienced sexual preferences are not the same as, or congruent with, those of their anatomical sex and refer to themselves as…

            …These remarks encapsulate the increasingly common thought that sexual orientation is an intrinsic property of the subject; i.e. a property that constitutively depends in some way upon physical processes and events occurring within the subject. And this intrinsic property, some now say, is sufficient for making someone a certain…

            All the material on feminine and masculine brains carries over to “inversion” of sexual preference – indeed current biological theories regarding same sex preference hold it “product of the interactions between sex hormones and the developing brain, which predispose people’s minds toward masculinity or femininity. LeVay argues that sexual orientation should be understood as an aspect of gender that emerges from the prenatal sexual differentiation of the brain…”

            Is that clearer?

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          • There is also a more substantial disanalogy. Sexual orientation doesn’t have public policy implications that impinge upon the hard won rights and prerogatives of another group of people. ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ denote reproductive classes, the material reality of which has substantial implications. By conflating it with “gender identity” one finds oneself in the situation we have now: where male bodied people, with all the physical advantages (and menace) of a male puberty are seeking to enter women’s intimate spaces, flount commonsense safeguarding measures, and compete with women in athletics, because they are “women” according to gender-identification.

            This outstanding essay is an effort to confront this reality from both scientific and philosophical perspectives; to try and explain why gender is not identical or substitutable with/for reproductive classes, and to provide a basis upon which to defend women’s hard won prerogatives.

            Your little rewrite just strikes me as irrelevant, if I’m being honest. It certainly doesn’t serve as any sort of argument.

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          • davidlduffy,
            your attempted rewrite of the article doesn’t work: “the notion of sexual orientation, a phenomenon related to how a person feels about sex (i.e.,preferring male, female, both, or neither), which does not depend, in any significant sense, upon their anatomy.” Sexual orientation/ desire. performance depends in a very significant sense on anatomy. I have no idea what it would be like to have a vagina (one of the reasons I’m skeptical of GI claims), but I certainly know what my penis feels like when aroused – and what stimulates the arousal.

            Liked by 1 person

    • “Ensure access to the highest attainable standard of gender reaffirming healthcare …”

      Gender reaffirming … I don’t think the expression existed when I was young, but if it would have existed, it would have meant something like “it’s OK to be a woman and to hate pink and to be a genius at bicycle repair; it doesn’t matter.”

      One suspects it now means “well, perhaps you’re trans or at least non-binary; maybe you should accept that.”

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  5. This is a wonderful essay! Thanks so much for sharing it!

    I couldn’t help but observe that there is a parallel to the question of race that has become the center point of our conversations this past week and the foreseeable future. I read an article some years ago by a woman of color who grew up in an almost entirely white community in the rural Midwest. I wish I could find it again, but I remember it so well. Her experience was that she did not self identify as a person of color, that she felt so little in common with the culture and lives of others who do so identify. With one exception. The way the rest of the world outside her community treated her was to bypass anything she herself identified with and lump her in with the rest of the externally much maligned category of dark skinned Americans.

    Biologically race is not specifically confirmed for much of what it gets invoked to establish in the seeming dark ages of past and present conversations. That doesn’t mean that we have some sort of moronic justification to “see the world without color.” Nor does it mean that people like the author I can’t refer to by name have no claim on their own sense of place in the world. What you say in conclusion is clearly a statement about race if it is about anything: “Social groups and minorities are organized, socialised, and othered in virtue of their possessing certain observable characteristics that are grounded in material reality rather than their self-perception.”

    Not exactly sure what I am adding to this conversation, but it seems that recognizing the parallels is worth at least taking note of, and perhaps the understanding of one can aid the understanding of the other. In a complex world that at least often seems to be the case.

    Thanks again for sharing your excellent essay!

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  6. Finally an answer to the yogyakarta principles! This is an airtight argument against ” culturally normalised medieval superstition.”

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  7. I find it very hard to work out how WP orders the threads of conversations.

    EJ writes:

    “Sexual orientation/ desire. performance depends in a very significant sense on anatomy.” – sexual orientation refers to the gender of the individuals one desires. Consider the “gay panic” and “trans panic” murder defenses. Do I really have to answer this?

    Dan says:

    “Sexual arousal strikes me as a very different thing than self-identification.” – A moment’s thought would tell you this is incorrect. Any number of memoirs about early realization of one’s sexual orientation are completely homologous and overlap with those regarding gender identity (childhood gender-atypical behaviour). “LGB community” is precisely about self-identification.

    “Sexual orientation doesn’t have public policy implications…”. I concur that in the case of decriminalization of homosexuality in Western jurisdictions, the fact that it was “victimless” was definitely one thing that made it easier to accommodate.

    “male bodied people, with all the physical advantages (and menace) of a male puberty are [A] seeking to enter women’s intimate spaces, [B] flount commonsense safeguarding measures, and [C] compete with women in athletics”

    I am sympathetic to these points, but there is a tinge of moral panic to them. Say a small unaggressive transwoman who has been abused by their partner is seeking a place of safety in a women’s refuge. If it is not obvious to the staff from their appearance, should that person divulge their private past history? Would a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy be acceptable? If a large aggressive woman with a prior criminal history for assault request the same shelter, should the higher objective risk to others at the shelter mean they be refused entry?

    As to sport, I think that’s up to the participants. If everyone’s pleasure is ruined, or income of professional sportswomen adversely affected, then pressure can be applied to carve out appropriate exceptions to laws.

    “‘Male’ and ‘Female’ denote reproductive classes, the material reality of which has substantial implications.” – It is precisely my point that the material reality of reproduction includes the “correct” sexual orientation.

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    • … “sexual orientation refers to the gender of the individuals one desires” – no, in the first instance it refers to the sex organs one wishes to encounter physically, then to the person or people who share either similar or symmetrically complementary desires. But without that first instance, good old lust, there isn’t any *sexual* orientation at all! You are conceptualizing all sex out of sexuality, that strikes me as a bit bizarre…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep, again. Trying to reconstrue sexual orientation as gender orientation — thereby rendering both homosexuality and heterosexuality sexually heterogeneous — makes a mess out of the entire thing. And also undermines raftloads of civil rights protections and hard won prerogatives.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ejwinner

        “no, in the first instance it refers to the sex organs one wishes to encounter physically, then to the person or people who share either similar or symmetrically complementary desires. But without that first instance, good old lust, there isn’t any *sexual* orientation at all! You are conceptualizing all sex out of sexuality, that strikes me as a bit bizarre…”

        Sexual arousal is not restricted to the particular sex organs one wishes to encounter, and some people don’t care which. And many people won’t be attracted to the sex organs they say they prefer if the gender isn’t what they expect it to be. So I’m not clear that an understanding of sexual orientation concurs first with an appraisal of the bio-sexual characterizations of another’s sex organs.

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          • “You think homosexuality means same gender, rather than same sex attraction?”

            No, I’m saying I’m not clear that sexual arousal always turns on sex organs. And aside, I have trouble following all the ways different people define different terms.

            On homosexuality or same sex attraction, so far I understand that same sex on it’s own doesn’t predict sexual attraction or arousal, and that other factors, gender for example, are in play.

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          • The song “Macho Man” indicates that gender rather than sex plays an important role in at least some homosexual attraction.

            Anyone who walks down a street with women sex workers can see that gender plays a big role in sexual attraction for at least the type of heterosexual male who frequents streetwalkers: the women play on all possible gender stereotypes to attract their customers: very high heels, heavy make-up, dyed blonde hair, certain varieties of dark-colored pantyhose (never flesh color), visible black lingerie, etc.

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          • No one is denying that bisexual people exist. But nothing you have said here suggests (at least not to me) that homosexuality is really homogenderality (or that heterosexuality is really heterogenderality).

            Many of the gays and lesbians in the circles I operate in find this entire move to be erasing and homophobic. Lesbians particularly feel erased, not to mention pressured by trans activists to have sex with males who “identify” as women. The so-called “cotton ceiling.”

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          • I know about the cotton ceiling and I find it shabby, low. I’m not at all claiming that anyone has an obligation to sleep with anyone who they don’t want to sleep with. My only point is that gender stereotypes play a big role in erotic attraction for many people. When you take your clothes off, biological sexual traits become more important in governing attraction than do gender stereotypes because there are no gender stereotypes between two nude bodies,
            just biological sexual traits.

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          • I don’t know about homosexuals, but I often am attracted by a woman in the street and then as I study her more closely, I begin to suspect that she is “really” a man and I repress my original and spontaneous attraction, which seems to be towards the gender, the clothes, the way of walking, the makeup, etc.

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          • Dan

            “No one is denying that bisexual people exist. But nothing you have said here suggests (at least not to me) that homosexuality is really homogenderality (or that heterosexuality is really heterogenderality).”

            I’m not saying that homo or hetero sexuality is really genderality, I’m saying it doesn’t appear to me to be one or the other, gender based.or sexually based (as the sexes are defined biologically in the article).

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  8. No one is denying that appearances and social and personal behaviors, including/ especially gender presentation, is an attraction for potential partners! But I know what I want to do with my hands, my mouth, my penis, etc., and I know there are men who want otherwise with theirs, and that some women would welcome certain behaviors with men with functioning penises, etc, and others would welcome certain behaviors with women with functional vaginas, etc. And of course some people are welcome to certain behaviors from either penises or vaginas. (And there are some who have no interest in either.) No argument from the Bible or from evolution is going to change this, no peer pressure or law is going to change this. It doesn’t look, act, or feel anything like gender identification, which requires a certain conceptualization and self-reflection. It is hard, rubbery, hot, wet, slippery, hairy, and it has its own peculiar tastes and odors. It’s slamming, driving, pumping – although it can be gently massaging as well. If one is lucky, and willing to put work into it, one might find a significant other on the same wave-length – and the process of doing so will require recognition and deployment of a wide range of overt social behaviors and covert micro-behaviors – overtly, how you groom your eyebrows, covertly (and unconsciously) how you raise or lower your eyebrows in response to given stimuli. But the ultimate goal of this is hoped for physical excitation of the genitals. That doesn’t mean we can’t just be friends, but it does mean continued hope for something more, and not just a closer emotional intimacy – although for most, that as well – but certainly for a closer physical intimacy.

    If this isn’t what I referred to as “the first instance,” then I’m not sure what species I’ve been living with all my life.

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    • Ejwinner

      From your last comment I’m not sure if or how I’ve misunderstood what you meant by ‘in the first instance’

      In the first comment I responded to you also said “But without that first instance, good old lust, there isn’t any *sexual* orientation at all! … ”

      If you mean by that the first instance is a feeling of sexual arousal then I still don’t see that depends only or first on on the sex (as defined in the article) of the organs of the the person one feels they are aroused by.

      If not could you correct me.

      “… You are conceptualizing all sex out of sexuality”

      I’m now more curious what David mean by “– sexual orientation refers to the gender of the individuals one desires. Consider the “gay panic” and “trans panic” murder defenses. Do I really have to answer this?”

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      • Marc,
        I’ll put it as bluntly as possible: I would rather have a clitoris on my tongue (the very thought excites me) than a penis in my mouth. And I’ve had enough gay male friends over the years tell me that for them the opposite desire is the case. And without such desires ‘sexual orientation’ is not oriented towards anything.

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        • ejwinner,

          Thanks for the clarification. I agree. A lot of people, maybe most, see the expression sexual orientation the way you’re describing it, and the weight of other factors is secondary.

          At the same time I think for most people it’s not a question of sex, as the article defines it in the context of reproductive evolution.

          I first thought your were referring to the first feelings of arousal someone can feel when they first notice someone, And I was thinking of how expectations, norms, and narratives we’ve built over time can fashion or influence our preferences.

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        • Marc asked: “I’m now more curious what David meant by”… Well, I was alluding to the man being attracted by an individual’s apparent sex, and once aroused, being supposed so horrified by finding what their anatomical sex actually was – that is, they very nearly committed a proscribed act. This also extends to justifying violence against “effeminate” men, and “butch” women, whose sex is clear, but whose gender signals are either “too attractive” (now we are invoking Freudian type reaction formation explanations, YMMV), or express a “taboo” disinterest in men or the given man. You can see that gender and sex are playing off each other as separate concepts, and I think this is of relevance to individuals who choose to make their gender and sex congruent.

          I don’t really have want to get further involved in this discussion, but obviously some men enjoy acts that are physically possible with either sex, so the emotional salience is with what we might call gender. Readers of the fabulous Padre Padrone might remember how there were favourites among the sheep, which seem to further involve one’s imaginative powers. I have previously posted a wonderful quote about the tension in “queer theory” (I use quotation marks because this may not be part of everybody’s theory) between the social determinant of sexual orientations, so that they are fluid and may or may not be associated with social disgrace depending on the setting, and the idea that some people have that their orientation was fixed from a very early age. Finally I will reiterate the Indian (subcontinent) example, where the social ignominy and physical hardships – home castration is just the beginning – of being a hijra still fail to put off a significant proportion (say 0.5-1% of all men). There, I believe, that “social contract” involved might be altering.

          Liked by 1 person

      • When I was in my early twenties, I was told by others (and with all due modesty) that I was quite good looking. I once had an older stage manager at a theater I worked tell me that I was a “beautiful boy,” and later another gay man at a party begged me to “do me now, I don’t care if anyone’s watching!” I was embarrassed and felt somewhat sorry for their unrequited lust; but I was also somewhat flattered. But anyway – the point is that there is an aesthetic pleasure in sex, sure, and so the importance of appearances, but there is an immediately physical pleasure in it as well. Again, hopefully the relationship (if not a one-night stand, and there’s no denying a certain pleasure in those) will flower into some intimate companionship. I’ve also known some gay and lesbian couples who held themselves ‘married’ before same-sex marriage was legalized. They were not promiscuous, and the couple were not identical in either personality or appearance. I remember Christopher Isherwood being asked what had held his own long-term gay relationship together; he responded “the difference is everything.” I think that is true in most lasting relationships. Aristotle argued that friendship depended on the ethical similarities friends share, and I think that’s true; but relationships seem to hinge on acceptance, even celebration, of differences in personalities.

        As for David’s concern over “gay panic” defenses, I have no explanation, especially as it doesn’t connect with the issues as they’ve discussed here, as far as I can see. I had some political issues with radical lesbian feminists (as they referred to themselves) in graduate school; but otherwise, I can’t think of any threat I’ve felt from homosexuals just because they were such. The only panic I feel these days is when I meet a devout Trump worshiper. The worst of them remind me of the hillbillies in Deliverance, lacking any moral compass at all, no matter what church they claim to belong to.

        The one hillbilly tells the fat man to “squeal like a pig,” because he’s already fucked a pig, and is just reliving an intense moment from his youth. It’s all about his penis; he doesn’t have any orientation; had he lived, eventually he’d marry and settle down, and talk about ‘law and order’ when he means ‘crush the other!’ One of the reasons I disapprove of, and am annoyed by, the “woke” brigade, is that they are convinced we are on the verge of their revolution; while anybody who has followed history carefully knows we have been in the midst of a revolution on the Right since 1/17. Off topic, I mention that I live in the lily-white suburb of Gates New York; tonight the police have enacted a lock-down in case of rioting, which is so silly, it’s cartoonish.

        This is not the time for political purity, but political unity. George Conway, Joe Scarborough, David Frum, Billy Kristol, George Will – discussion of profound disagreements I’ve had with these would take many pages. They are now my allies. Did Joe Biden make many mistakes, concerning criminal justice, women’s rights (Clarence Thomas hearing), perhaps even coming on to a staffer way back when? Is his cognitive abilities failing with age? maybe; I don’t care. He’s what we got. George Floyd may have committed crimes in the past, apparently so; he was murdered; his past is irrelevant to that. (I abhor rioting, it’s self-defeating; but I have black and brown skinned relatives and my sympathies must lie with those protesting in good conscience.),

        Women don’t want males in their locker-rooms, and do not want males competing as self-declared ‘women’ in their sports. Fine, then the discussion is done. I don’t know all that it’s like in England, but I know that the Constitutional government in the US hangs by a thread. If “woke” means ‘I don’t care if Trump wins as long as my anger is recognized,’ I have no use for it. If anti-woke means ‘with a right-wing SCOTUS, we’ll at last re-set to pre-Democratic (i.e. pre-FDR or pre-JFK) normalcy,’ I not only have no use for it, I reject it entirely.

        We oft write of these matters in a somewhat esoteric manner – concepts, rationalization, coolly objective analysis of data. This (excellent) essay goes as far as such demands need it to go. But we also read this in the midst of a whirl-wind. I suggest the woke brigade hit ‘pause’ to their ‘revolution’ and re-think their demands within the actual political context. They not only need to answer the objections of such articles as this, they need to decide whether they want to pursue argumentative discourse within a representative democracy (with the given possibility that their cause may fail to persuade) – or whether they would rather be ‘correct’ but futile under an authoritarian state dominated by a nut-case strong-man. This is no longer hypothetical.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Women don’t want males in their locker-rooms, and do not want males competing as self-declared ‘women’ in their sports. Fine, then the discussion is done.

          ===========

          This is exactly right. And i am astonished this apparently has to be explained to so many otherwise right thinking people.

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        • ejwinner,

          I don’t think we’re in much disagreement, if any. I definitely don’t agree with woke extremism. What I don’t like is how a lot of valid points, concerns or injustices get moved to the background or forgotten in the wake of the denunciations and arguments against radical ‘progressive’ positions. And vice versa, as both sides have some valid points, and how It often becomes hard to debate reasonably without both ‘sides’ having more and more trouble understanding what the other is saying because they’re both over interpreting the radical-ness of the other’s beliefs.

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      • It is my opinion that only valid conclusions are worthy of discussion, and the ones in the essay are not. Until your website delivers factual content that merits legitimate debate, I will spend my time elsewhere.

        Regardless, I wish you good luck with your current ventures and future projects.

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        • I generally find that people respond this way, when they know they are out of their league and want to save face. I’m sorry you won’t bother to reply, and I wish you well too!

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          • Dan

            I can’t speak for Elseiver but his comment reminded me of the claims attributed to proponents of gender identity ideology which aren’t referenced.

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