20 February 2014

More on sex and gender

After thinking about my last post a bit more, I realised that there were a few things that I should have mentioned in my essay but didn't.

What I stated as fact about brain sex being determined before birth is the leading current theory, which has come from extensive research. It's not just something that I've plucked out of the air. If you're interested, I'm sure that your favourite search engine could turn up links to such research.

What I call brain sex is often called gender identity. Because physical sex and brain sex are both fixed before birth but gender is a social construct, I much prefer the clearer distinction created by using one term for the two fixed characteristics and a different term for the social construct. I don't think that the term gender identity provides the same level of clarity, as it associates a brain trait established before birth with a social construct in a way that could be used by some anti-transgender (generally churchianity) groups who tend to claim that being transgender is a choice.

Clearly, the research indicates that it is not.

There is another thing that is also established in the brain prior to birth, which hate groups tend to also try to claim is a choice. Sexual orientation.

Like brain sex, sexual orientation is a continuum from being attracted only to males through being equally attracted to both sexes to being only attracted to females, with a sizeable area of attraction to various transgender or intersex people that makes it impossible to illustrate it as a line.

Sexual orientation is completely separate from brain sex. Yes, you probably read that right. Who you are sexually attracted to is completely independent of the sex that you identify as.

The theory of brain sex and sexual orientation being independent but both being determined before birth explains not only heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality in cisgender people (people whose brain sex and hence gender role matches their physical sex), but also explains the same range of sexual orientation variations in transgender people.

The part about the relationship between brain sex and sexual orientation that most people struggle with is the fact that most people think in terms of heterosexual and homosexual. A person whose position on the gender spectrum shifts, whether temporarily or permanently, throws that whole concept into disarray.

Fortunately, there are a couple of concepts that solve this problem quite neatly, and can also be viably applied to cisgender people. They are gynephilia and androphilia. These two terms define who a person is attracted to without reference to who they are. Gynephilia is attraction to females, while androphilia is attraction to males. There are also, of course, bisexual, asexual (not sexually attracted to anybody) and narcissistic (sexually attracted to themselves ~ I'd say "eww" here but I'd probably offend someone :-P ).

So, for example, my gender role tends to vary between male and female, but I always remain gynephilic.

Occasionally, people claim to have changed their sexual orientation at the same time as changing gender role. In practise, in the long term most will admit that they are in fact revealing their true sexual orientation, having pretended otherwise to fit into social expectations.

I believe that western societies are gradually becoming more accepting of both gender variations and variations in sexual orientation, and provided that we don't experience any radical social lurches towards religious fundamentalism, I foresee a time when children will be comfortable being open and honest about who they are and who they are attracted to, instead of having to waste years struggling to be someone who others expect them to be. The benefits to the individuals and to the community as a whole are enormous.

16 February 2014

An essay on sex and gender

I've been trying to complete this post for several weeks. I come to it, change a little, feel unable to complete it, save it and go off and do something else.

A few weeks ago, I exchanged a series of private messages with a cisgender woman who is struggling to understand how my transgenderism fits into my family, in which I am essentially a male ~ a husband and father, and whether my expression of femininity ~ hair, makeup, dresses, high heels, etc somehow implies that she is less female than I am!

I sent her what was essentially an essay. I originally intended to re-write it to fit the normal tone of my blog posts, but I've come to the conclusion that rather than trying to re-write it, I'll just quote what I wrote to her, with minimal editing to clarify things that she would have understood but others might not. I'm not sure how she took it...

To provide context to part of what I wrote later, I've included part of an earlier message, where I observed that:

The problem is that I know what the solution to my depression is. Spending time socialising "as female" is effectively the anti-depressant that I need, but like using a drug, the frequency has to be high enough to avoid bouts of depression between the doses. The Catch-22 problem is that if I get too depressed, I can't push myself to get organised and go out and it becomes a downward spiral of depression.

It really is as simple as that.

That led on to the main essay:
I do understand when people intend to be considerate, understanding etc but struggle to do so. As a child, my father (like many people in that era) was extremely homophobic, to the point that I feel that I have some homophobia ingrained into me, even though I consciously reject it. To make it even more complicated, that extreme homophobia effectively incorporated transphobia, because at that time all transgender behaviour was seen by most people as being a variety of homosexuality. The presumption of a connection persists to this day, and is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with other people's ideas of who I am.

If you think that it is difficult for you to understand, I assure you that you're not alone! Plenty of people who live it every day don't understand it either.

The first thing to try to get your head around (and it is difficult) is to separate the concepts of physical sex, brain sex and gender. Physical sex is an immutable biological fact ~ it's part of the DNA. Brain sex is a function of how the person perceives themselves, which is determined by hormonal "programming" that happens during foetal development. Like physical sex, it is immutable ~ it's what was programmed into the brain before birth. Gender is a social construct ~ it's generally what a society considers normal for people of a physical sex, but some societies have a category for "third gender", which basically recognises the existence of transgender people.

None of the three are binary male/female. Like intersex people who have a range of positions along the continuum between male and female, the brain sex can be ambiguous or even variable. The latter is how it is for me ~ it varies with context. Gender has an unlimited number of positions on a spectrum. When you look at someone and think "that's a male" or "that's a female", it is a gender attribution that you are making.

Crossdressing is seeking to temporarily align the gender role with the brain sex. In a social setting, it allows the person to behave in a manner congruent to how they think. That's where I'm at.

Transsexualism takes it a huge step further, involving hormones and surgery to alter the brain and body to approximate that of the opposite physical sex. I know quite a few people who have gone that way, including one who I've known for several years as "just" a crossdresser (their self-description), who has just started transitioning.

I can't see that in my future. At some point at the end of a day or night out, it is a relief to strip off that gender role because my mood has shifted away from feminine and I've satisfied the craving ~ I've got my hit, and I'm ready to do something else. To transition would be to trap myself in something that I don't want all of the time.

If you can get your head around all of that, you'll realise that "femininity" is a gender construct, and is quite separate from being a woman. If you ask yourself the question "am I a man or a woman" and you confidently answer that you are a woman, then that is what you are because that's what your brain sex is, regardless of physical sex and gender. If I ask myself the same question, my answer is either "yes" or "no" depending how much emphasis I put on the "or". I admire transsexuals for the fact that they are able to answer that question one way or the other, and that they have the courage to choose to adjust their entire life including their bodies to fit that.

Being a woman does not come down to makeup, fancy hair styles and dresses. For most women, other people will see you as a woman unless you go out of your way to look male. For someone whose body says male but their brain says (or screams) female, there is a need to alter the appearance so that most other people will see them as female. Because there are gender cues in hair styles, skin colour and texture, facial bone structure, body proportions and many other physical aspects, a crossdresser has to over compensate to some extent, drawing attention towards constructed feminine features to distract from masculine features. Likewise for mannerisms.

For transsexuals who use hormones and have had their body and face surgically altered, this becomes less and less of an issue, as the masculine features are removed or obscured, meaning that many tend to move more and more to living just like every other woman ~ little or no makeup, simple hairstyles and loose fitting comfortable clothes.

While I have, at times, made an effort to make my makeup subtle and dress down to fit in such as when shopping, it's not why I dress. My recent move towards 1950s "pinup" style is because it is "a bit out there" but there are enough women getting around day-to-day dressed that way that it's not completely out of place. It generates attention, but it is good attention because people tend to admire or at least respect the effort and results. If I didn't have confidence in my presentation, I couldn't pull that look off. I needed practice dressing down and fitting in to build my confidence when I first went out, but with that confidence established, I now tend to want to express my individuality ~ by dressing like all of those other pinup girls. :-P
Note (added 13 March 2014) ~ A follow-up post can be found here.

02 February 2014


I realised a couple of hours ago that we're now a month into 2014, and the only girly things I've done so far this year were to practice 1940s/1950s hair styling on a couple of nights while my family were away, and buy a couple of snoods.

One snood is black, which is a colour that I doubt I'd ever wear out but it was in an op shop for $2.50, so I bought it to practice with to see if I thought I could make a snood work for me before buying a new one. After the first night, I thought that I could make it work, so I went and bought a red one to go with some of my red dresses. The second night, I tried to put the red one on and couldn't get it to sit right. As you'll see in the photo, I've also discovered that quite a few of the artificial flowers that I converted for use as hair accessories probably aren't going to work ~ in general, they need to be fully open flat flowers so that the back can't be seen from any angle, or they need to be placed inside or under something, such as putting buds inside rolls.

I need to practice again, but I have come to the realisation that I don't feel comfortable in my own home when my wife and son are home, and tend to retreat to my office, which is in a separate shed. I'm yet to work out how I'm going to resolve that.

We still haven't heard back from the engineers about our house extension plans, but in the meantime I've begun a fairly major restructure of where things are stored in our house, including moving my breast forms and virtually all of my hair stuff (rollers, straightener, clips, accessories, sprays, etc) from the bedroom to a cupboard near the bathroom. I've also organised space for my makeup, but haven't moved it yet.
I'm also spending quite a bit of time at present creating an attic in our ceiling. It's something that I planned years ago and started by installing an attic stair unit, then didn't get much further with until a few weeks ago. We're fortunate that the ceiling space is quite open because it's a pitched roof. Of course, the ceiling gets quite dusty, so everything has to be either covered in drop sheets or stored in plastic storage boxes. So far, I've laid about 30% of the final floor area that I expect to be able to do, and filled it. That means that I've now got space in the house to rearrange a couple of rooms so that hopefully I will soon be able to have a wardrobe outside our bedroom in which to hang clothes that I plan to wear out, as well as somewhere to store jewellery.

I'm hoping that all of this work will mean that eventually, I'll be able to do my hair and makeup and get dressed in the morning while my wife is still in bed asleep, without having to spend an hour or more getting things out of our bedroom before I go to bed, stacking them wherever I can find space such that it adds considerably to the time taken in the morning, and still having to sneak back into the bedroom in the morning to find things that I've forgotten.