Doctor Science Knows

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blogcomment record: Gender Identity

In discussion at Slacktivist's that started out being about Imus and then wandered off to talk about gender identity, I wrote:

Not wading into the whole thing here, just a point about gender identity and transgender people:

Every study, book, or article about transgender people I've seen starts by saying something like "gender is one of the most basic of human self-identifications, blah blah blah." I think this is untrue.

I think that in fact somewhere between 20% and 80% of people (that is, 50% plus or minus) do not have a really strong gender identity. (See the works of the SF writer John Varley for speculative detail.) The proportion of transgender people is so low because in order to be TG you have to *both* (a) have a strong gender identity and (b) feel it is the wrong one for your physical sex. If you don't have an abnormally strong inner sense of gender identity, being TG seems like an awful lot of trouble.

I know that for myself, being female doesn't feel like a very important part of my sense of self. It's like my name -- it's what I'm used to answering to, and I didn't bother changing it when I got married, but I can easily answer to something else if need be, it's not stamped in my innermost core. In here ::touches chest:: I'm just me, hero and protagonist both.


Was gender identity a lot stronger in the past?

I don't know what you mean. Certainly the pressures to dichotomize the world of human experience were stronger, in that most cultures had strong sanctions against e.g. wearing gender-ambiguous or -inappropriate clothing.

Pre-modern cultures also had a much stronger division of labor & specialization, which I think would have bound up "I am the gender of my body" with "I am the gender of the work I do". So for most people they would reinforce each other more strongly, but for some people they would conflict more strongly than they do now.


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