It Has a Penis!



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

Related Post Roulette

39 Responses

  1. Avatar LTL FTC says:

    Not to be flippant, but we assume sex=gender because that assumption would be right 99%+ of the time. It’s the same reason that, outside a few very small enclaves, we don’t ask people their “preferred pronoun” upon meeting them. The odds of getting it wrong are just so low.

    Does that suck for the <1% for which that isn't the case? It very much does! But I simply don't see how such a change will ever come to pass if nearly everyone just keeps getting positive feedback from their assumptions.Report

  2. Avatar veronica d says:

    Well, you know, most languages do not have separate words for sex and gender. This is an accident of English.

    Thing is, you cannot really separate them this way. I mean, you can notice that the sex/gender system has lots of moving parts, and then you can take this accidental fact of English and try to put this stuff into boxes, but actually it does’t work that way.

    We are a dimorphic species with two sexes. However, there is much complexity. First, not everyone is sexual viable. Second, some people are (variously) intersexed. Third, the bare facts of human reproduction certainly implied things for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, but we need not continue to think that way. After all, we no longer call the sun a god! Maybe someday we’ll grow babies in vats.

    In any case, much of what we call sex is social meaning we ascribe to human bodies. For example, we prioritize reproduction, but we could choose otherwise.

    (Which, there are reasons behind that choice, alongside it seems strong psychological motivators. Fine. But it remains a choice.)

    Human sexual features tend toward bimodal distributions. In turn, those modes are often quite correlated. This lets us lump humans into two sexes. Most of the time this works. Sometimes it does not.

    The point is, sex is not a metaphysical dual. Instead, it is a messy and uncertain natural distribution.

    But culturally we force it into shape. Men who develop breasts hide them or have them removed. Women with facial hair bleach or get electrolysis. We shape sex to match culture.

    What is gender?

    Well, how do you want to use that word?

    There is so much we do not understand. In fact, if someone seems to understand sex/gender, they are certainly fooling themselves. That said, we know some things. We know that “psychological sex” exists, which is a deep connection between the brain and the sexed characteristics of the body. My brain expects to be in a body with a vagina and breasts. Likewise, my brain expected to be bathed in estrogen.

    Of course, I’m using the verb expect as a metaphor. But as the human fetus develops, small genetic differences lead to large hormonal differences, and these in turn lead to a vast array of physical and mental development. It’s incredibly complex. Much can vary. The brain matters a lot.

    Sex/gender is social, very much so. Some of this results directly from natural facts of our brains. Some of this does not. Some of this shapes our brains as children. Some is shaped by our brains as children. Culture evolves in a complex dance of biology, environment, and history. We do not know its contours. Nor do we know its boundaries.

    But we know that brains and bodies and psychological sex and gender identity are all different, but all closely related. They vary. I need to be seen as a woman. Which means, I need to be seen in the way my culture sees women.

    But not exactly. I am a feminist. I want to be seen as a woman, but I want women to be seen better. I do not understand these things. I do not know what I would be in a different culture with a different sex/gender system. I do not know how my culture shaped me.

    Neither does anyone else.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      veronica d: Well, you know, most languages do not have separate words for sex and gender. This is an accident of English.

      Mandarin is somewhat famous for both “he” and “she” being the same word. But it turns out this is only true for spoken Mandarin. When you actually write it down, “he” is different than “she”.

      Also, I should note that the gender neutral pronouns seem to make an abrupt stop there. There are different pronouns for “older sister”, “younger brother”, “older brother”, and “younger sister”. And these are applied regularly to non-family members, so being an only child doesn’t avoid the complication. When we see another kid, my wife will typically size the kid’s gender and age up and use the approximated pronoun to talk about the kid. If she finds she was wrong about the age, she changes. She hasn’t been wrong about gender yet though I suppose that will change.Report

  3. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    “May zis penis bring zir much happiness.”

    In the blurb for this post, intentionally gender-ambiguous pronouns make an appearance. Personally, I detest inorganically-constructed gender-ambiguous pronouns with a scorn I typically usually reserve for users-of-the-last-paper-towel-in-the-restroom and perjurers. It’s kludgy, awkward, and the intentional ambiguity seems worse to me as a form of expression than the imperfection of the English language not fully incorporating @veronica-d ‘s correct observation that both sex and gender are continua rather than dualities.

    Now, we haven’t adopted any sort of an editorial standard relevant to this issue and I appreciate what the author is trying to do with the use of these pronouns. Just seems to me that “him” and “he” are entirely appropriate pronoun choices for an immature human whose body sports a penis, as the presence of a penis is a strong indication of possession of both X and Y chromosomes and therefore of biological maleness. As much as I labor to be sensitive to discrimination against those who are different from me, it’s difficult for me to understand how the use of ordinary English pronouns in such a context is demeaning to people who identify as transgendered. Should this child mature into someone who identifies as transgendered, we can adjust use of pronouns accordingly. So:

    “May his penis bring him much happiness.”

    More importantly, may a healthy, thriving child of whatever sex or gender, and referred to by whatever pronoun you wish to use, bring much happiness to your growing family.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I suppose that is what I am attempting to explore here. Why do we bother assigning a public sex or gender to the child when it is essentially meaningless. All it tells us is what the child has between his or her legs. Which should be of no one’s concern except those who are intimately involved in the car of that child (e.g., parents, care givers, doctors, etc.). Why do people almost immediately ask, “Do you know what you’re having?” when they learn someone is pregnant? Why do we have the trope of the doctor triumphantly holding up the recently delivered child and declaring, “It’s a boy/girl!” Why this desire… why this need… to name and declare and define the child in this way?

      Perhaps it is innate. It could be an evolutionary holdover from our innate need to reproduce and identify those with whom we can probably do so. At the same time, we have evolved and are no longer beholden to an inner drive to procreate (which isn’t to say that that drive no longer exists… only that it is no longer the single driving force of our species).

      I’m not necessarily saying all of this is wrong. Instead, I’m wondering what is gained. Walking through the nursery of a hospital and saying, “Boy… boy… girl… boy… girl… girl… girl…” What does that serve? More importantly, what harm is caused by it? That is what I’m trying to understand… with no definitive answer myself. Perhaps it is largely harmless in the vast vast vast majority of cases and provides some real value. Maybe it is useless and the harm wrought is far deeper than we know. I really don’t know. But I don’t think we can assume anything without a better understanding and having discussions like these.Report

      • Avatar notme says:

        It is a funtion of our society but you can be hipster and do whatever you want. Maybe you should raise your child saying ze and see what impact it has on him. Get back to us in 15 years.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        For a large percentage of our recent historical experience in most parts of the world, children were raised to have very different expectations of their standing in the world based on whether they were perceived as boys or girls. Boys became men, who were legally people – or at least had a shot at becoming so – and girls became women, who were legally chattel. (For eg, in the US, if two married slaves were freed, even the few freedoms the husband was afforded would be reduced in the wife’s case by the legal control awarded to her husband over her.) That’s actually still the case in a lot of places – treating men and women as equals is a recently emergent property, not a timeless standard. And if you’re going to have SUCH different experiences of the world, well, best train ’em up early. So I think it’s a cultural hangover.

        As for why we could end up in that place culturally, I’m really not sure why that happened. Many many books, articles, etc., have been written on the subject, and I’ve yet to find any of them comprehensively convincing. It’s not evolutionarily necessary, in that it’s not how nature (including of course human culture!) always works. Why it worked that way for us seems to be a great mystery. I *am* sure that the answer isn’t the Aristotelian one of men being closer to the divine than women are, or the Confucian one of women existing for men in the way that subjects exist for rulers or children exist for their parents (all of which strike me as equally dubious, of course), or any one of a series of similar tautological explanations that have been proffered over the ages.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          For my money, the best thing to do about this is to demonstrate women doing the things that traditionally only men have done. Owning and managing property; practicing law or medicine. Commanding military units or deep space missions. Holding political office, winning the Nobel Prize. Soon enough it becomes clear that sex is irrelevant to nearly everything that people do. The use of deliberately gender-neutral pronouns goes a step too far, in my estimation: yes, they subtly indicate that sex is irrelevant to one’s ability to, say, drive a car — but it also ignores the fact that the driver of the car has a sex at all, and to that extent denies not only sexuality but humanity. The pronoun “zir” contains the same inhuman connotations as “it.” To the extent that we wish to deploy language as a tool for underlining that women and men are equals, I much prefer to use female pronouns as a default generic for non-gender-specific roles in narratives.

          For instance, when I prepare my clients for court, I have made it a habit to refer to the judge using a feminine pronoun. Even the most retrograde of my clients quickly adopt and incorporate the possibility that they might have to appear before a female judicial officer and submit to her authority and her rulings. The less-feminist clients will interrupt and ask me something like, “Oh, so we have a lady judge?” “I’m actually not sure. It’s about 50-50 odds, really; we won’t know for sure until we get to court that day and see which courtroom we get assigned to.” “Oh, I see, okay.” They roll with it pretty easily because, after all, it is 2015 and women serving as judges are not exactly a novelty anymore.

          This has a hidden advantage: if a narrative has more than one non-gender-specific role to discuss, I can alternate between female and male pronouns to make more clear that different people are doing different things. Every once in a while this technique produces results that look strange, but mostly it works out quite elegantly.Report

          • Avatar Maribou says:

            As someone who personally prefers the pronoun ze, but has accepted that people find it awkward and untenable and thus is comfortable enough being called she that it would actually be more uncomfortable encouraging anyone to use something else, I emphatically reject that the word itself has inhuman connotations at all, let alone the same inhuman connotations as the word it. Or at least, *it certainly doesn’t when I use it*. If it would have inhuman connotations when someone else used it to refer to me, yeah, I’d rather that person didn’t use it either, even as I recognize that maybe the only way for it to stop having those connotations would be to insist on its use and have them get used to it not being “inhuman”. (Much as I continue to use “they” for anyone who prefers it as a pronoun and I work at getting used to it not actually having weirdly formal and dissociative connotations, because it’s not how the people who want to use it in the singular experience it.)

            Like you, @burt-likko , I also tend to mix up female and male pronouns generically, and to enjoy and think the best way to demasculinize power is to have actual non-male people also getting to do stuff and own stuff and most of all decide stuff, rather than switching to the default being gender-neutral-or-male – but at the same time, as someone who isn’t particularly comfortable with our particular culture’s (non-universal, as in no-it-actually-isn’t-that-way-everywhere) complete binarization of gender, I actively like multiplications of pronouns. It muddies gender and makes it awkward – and that reflects the muddied, awkward of gender experience that I live. And I’m pretty sure that once gender is less muddied and awkward, non-binary pronouns will also stop feeling muddied and awkward.

            Which is the cart and which is the horse? It seems to me that mainstream culture is pretty sure of one thing, and I’m pretty sure of the opposite.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              I’ve no reason to argue that last point about gender being muddlier than binary and acknowledging that the language isn’t really caught up to the modern realization that gender isn’t binary.

              How do you feel about “they” as a gender-indeterminate pronoun? Advantage: already in existing English. Disadvantage: confuses singular with plural. IMO, the disadvantage outweighs the advantage, but YMMV.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @burt-likko I actually already answered that by implication in my previous comments. It makes me uncomfortable for various reasons, but as more and more people I know self-identify using it as a singular pronoun, I’m consciously working at letting go of my discomfort. For your specific objection, I think verbs, etc, normally more than make that clear enough, though perhaps not in the specialized domain of the law, where we might (ack! oh no!) actually have to put forth some extra effort to counter common assumptions.

                I’m not claiming to predict *what* the multiplication of common singular pronouns will eventually be, just that I think in 100-150 years it will not be “he, she, and those weird ones” – there will be common gender-neutral pronouns in non-awkward use. Also when I say 100 years or more, I am instantly reminded that 20 years ago I thought we were at least 50 years out from ANY countries recognizing marriage without recourse to gender (which same-sex marriage ultimately does, as far as I can tell – I can imagine anyone saying, “BUT YOU MUST BE EITHER MALE *OR* FEMALE TO GET MARRIED,” unless they are doing the real-life equivalent of trolling).Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                One last question and I’ll bow out of the dialogue (with warm thanks as always): would I pronounce it with the hard vowel (“zee”) or the soft vowel (“zeh”)? Seems like the latter but I’m a neophyte here.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @burt-likko I’ve always pronounced it with the hard vowel. Though I certainly read it before I heard it, I’m pretty sure I also was instructed how to pronounce it.

                This because if you lived on the corners of the internet I lived on in the 1990s, non-binary pronouns were a staple of debate, not always related to non-binary gender identification. It’s fascinating to see them move from weird internet geekery on MOOs to Stuff People Have to Think About in Real Life.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Indeed. It happens that way sometimes; geek culture has somehow acquired a certain chic. Cheers!Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                Just to give a sense of scope (and because I am an off-topic, tangential creature):

                You know what bothers me a LOT more than pronouns I’m not adjusted to yet? Like at least 1000X more and without nearly as many counterbalancing moral reasons to get over myself?

                TYPOS IN HIGH-LEVEL WORK. (And autocorrect typos even in blog comments.) SOME HUMAN BEING WHO CAN CATCH MISSPELLINGS AND GLARING MISTAKES OF GRAMMAR SHOULD READ OVER THINGS BEFORE THEY ARE PUBLISHED ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH. Copy-editing as it pertains to proofreading has declined precipitously – even university press books often contain glaring errors these days. And as for major national newspapers and fussy lit magazines – these did not have such an epidemic of mistakes back when I had to read them all on paper EITHER.

                And yet, as much as I hate it, I’m pretty sure in 50-100 years we’ll have gone back to the varied, dubious English spelling practices that were common in the 18th century and before.

                (I’m not referring here to deliberate misspelling, dialect variants, etc. If it has a rhythm and purpose, I’m fine with it. It’s the carelessness that drives me up a wall.)Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I’m curious about your calculus with regards to “they”. Because I would look at it this way (especially given @maribou ‘s personal feelings)…

                Advantage: People don’t have to bother to learn or accept something new/different
                Disadvantage: It still offends a whole bunch of people

                That seems to weigh heavily in favor of the “disadvantage” side, if you ask me.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:


              Noted regarding your preference for ‘ze’. Clarifying questions: Is the possessive zis? Zers? Something else? Is the plural, if referring to multiple people all of whom prefer ‘ze’, still ‘they’?

              I should also note it was your comments on the prior thread that spurred me to think more deeply about this topic and ultimately write this piece. Thank you.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @kazzy The possessive is zir. (Or sometimes hir, I guess, but that’s not what I’m accustomed to using.) I don’t know the plural, I’ve never been in a situation to use it. And wiktionary doesn’t have one either? I would guess it to be they because the plurals of he and she are both they. They still seems to be very close to a universal plural.

                Also fwiw, it seems I should clarify. And clarifying will take a lot of words.

                *deep breath*

                I don’t *on the ground in real life or even on the internet* prefer people to use ze to refer to me – I use, and Jaybird uses, she, almost always. Internally, I would pick ze, but it doesn’t mean I want to use it on the outside in the actual society we live in right now.

                It’s hard to explain, and I didn’t always feel this way. I eventually came to the conclusion that one of the main reasons I prefer it in the abstract is that *I, personally* don’t really feel very straightforwardly about gender, don’t particularly identify as exclusively-male or exclusively-female, but also very much do not prefer to have people scrutinize or analyze or make guesses about what my specific and very weird experience of gender is in day to day interactions that normally don’t really involve gender, or in which the main aspect that involves gender is how society treats you as gendered. I *do* identify as someone who would historically always have been lumped in on the female side, and if I *have* to commit to one side of a binary, female feels righter than male but still uncomfortable 5 days out of ten, this-question-has-no-answer is the only answer I have about 5 days, and male only about 1 day in a hundred, so I’d rather commit to female than male, if “it depends on what you’re asking” isn’t an option. I just don’t like picking because female feels wronger than “it’s complicated” does. I *very* much like it when I’m in a situation where I don’t have to pick, eg forms that don’t bother to ask, or give so many options that “prefer not to say” feels honest rather than obfuscatory (and won’t auto-“they” me).

                (It’s different if I’m deliberately bringing it up myself as part of a focused discussion about gender issues.)

                And as my desired outcome is something along the lines of not having to pick and not being perceived as having a specific, Important and Unified, singular gender, and as all of that is frankly impossible to achieve without so much work that I am not yet comfortable with, or even able to do, I will settle for a “she”. Because “she” comes *closer* to that neutrality/privacy/complexity/space than saying “ze” and then always having to explain things to everyone and/or having them feeling weird and/or having me feeling weird and/or causing stress in my relationships with other people would. Even if it didn’t bother the person using it, gender pronouns have ripple effects on the other people who hear them.

                That said, my ideal situation in some world where I didn’t have to argue about it would probably be for me to use ze about myself and everyone else to use whatever pronoun they damn well pleased for me and for no one to *CARE* about any of it. As long as there is no malice involved, I purely do not mind what anyone calls me. Be nice to me, be kind, be consistent, be reasonable, and be fair, and you could call me whatever you want. If you, Kazzy, specifically just started calling me whatever pronoun you made up yesterday, and no one gave me grief over it, I personally wouldn’t care. I know that because people have, one-on-one or in small likeminded groups, used all kinds of pronouns for me including he and she and things that I didn’t even know what they meant, and I mostly felt flattered that they wanted to talk about me. In public if someone genders me as he OR she, I don’t notice or feel uncomfortable, except if I feel anxious that they are going to change their minds and freak out about it. If they were fine, I’d be fine.

                But that – everyone being fine – is not going to happen outside of tiny corners of my social experience any time soon, so I just run with she as a consistent label that can be consistently applied, regardless of how much it doesn’t really line up with my actual experience.

                I also feel a lot more anxiety and shame than I’d like to around all of this, such that I think a year ago, I would’ve typed out this enormous comment and then thought, ‘no, I don’t want everyone just thinking “Oh, Jaybird’s wife is crazy”‘, and deleted it. Today I will post it. More because I care a lot less than I used to whether people think that than because I think they won’t think it. Maybe that means sometime I will say “I don’t care what pronouns you use for me,” and mean it, and not need to explain it or worry about how people take it. But my experience in real life of people saying “I don’t have a pronoun preference,” usually ends up being that they DO, but they aren’t comfortable stating it just presently. Which also wouldn’t be accurate. So for right now, that isn’t a good thing for me to say either. For right now, “she” is the best pronoun to use for me. Maybe in 10 years the culture will have shifted, and/or I’ll have decided to use “ze” because it has the right connotations and people are comfortable with it. Or hell, maybe my gender will have shifted. I doubt it though, because all of that above? The whole complex ball of wax? Is how I remember feeling when I was five, I just didn’t have any words for it.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                tl;dr the very WORST pronoun experience for me is having someone correct someone else’s choice of pronouns.Report

    • users-of-the-last-paper-towel-in-the-restroom

      If we all agree that nobody should use the last paper towel, the real jerk is the one who uses the second-to-last one.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      After reading a bit of this subthread I wonder what reason we have for using a genderless pronoun like “ze”. Personally, I’m with Burt about the aesthetics of the word, but more than that I just don’t understand why we – or more specifically, I – should adopt this usage. For a point of reference, I understand an argument that people sharing certain general characteristics ought to be called what they want to be called, and ought not be called what the don’t, but neither of those conditions applies to replacing our gendered pronouns for a genderless one. And not only that, but flipping the argument on its head, it seems to me that lots of people might find it offensive if they were referred to by such a genderless pronoun. (In fact, I’m sure lots of people – the usual suspects – would squack about that very thing whether they were sincere or not.)

      So, given that, is the argument that using a genderless pronoun to refer to young people creates a mentally healthier child? A more politically correct child? A more politically correct adult? Is it about fairness? Equality? Principles?Report

  4. Avatar Lyle says:

    Consider that english has less of a gender fixation that its cousin german. In addition to the pronouns nouns have a gender attached. (This controls the article used (der, die ,das etc)). As I recall Russian has even more. I don’t know about other languages, but it seems the way a language handles gender might well relate to how society handles it. Having gender attached to nouns of course embeds it deeper into society. Interestingly if I recall correctly a young girl is an it(es) in german, it takes a woman to be a she(sie). Boys however are he(er) from birth. So it appears that the german idea is based upon the ability to bear a child.
    Folks knowing other languages: It would be useful to look at how the language handles the gender question. We do know that language often shapes how we the view the world. Again an example english german on the word vaction. In english one takes a vacation, in german one makes an Urlab (vacation).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Pretty much every noun in the Romance family of languages is gendered. I’m not so sure how this impacts the culture. Do Italians think rain better than fog because rain (il piove) is masculine and fog (la nebbia) is feminine? Or is feminine vinegar (l’aceto) better than masculine wine (il vino)? We might muse as to why a bridge (il ponte) or a scallop (il pattine) is masculine but a pencil (la matita) or gasoline (la benzina) are feminine, but I’m not real sure we get any profound insight into the Italian culture by doing so.Report

    • Avatar gingergene says:

      Actually the neuter article attached to girl (das Mädchen) is an artifact of the diminutive suffix -chen; it is always neuter (das), as in das Hundchen (der Hund): puppy, “little dog” or das Brötchen (das Bröt): roll, “little bread”.

      You should be careful about ascribing too much to a noun’s gender in German. It’s not always as logical as you might think. My favorite example is knife, fork and spoon. If I had to guess, I’d make knife masculine (obviously), spoon would be feminine (what’s more motherly than chicken soup?) and fork would be neuter. Instead, you get das Messer (knife, neuter), der Löffel (spoon, masculine) and die Gabel (fork, feminine).

      There is a hilarious David Sedaris essay (“Make Mine a Double”) where he gets around all this gendered noun stuff by ordering two of everything. It’s a trick I think all newcomers to the concept use.Report

  5. Just a couple of sketchy points:
    First, ‘gender’ doesn’t denote “an internal understanding of who one is.” It’s understandable that there’s so much confusion about this. Old-school feminists got this right, but in the past 15 years or so, feminists and the gender studies crowd have mucked the whole thing up again. ‘Gender’ is a word that was intentionally imported into psychology from linguistics to mark the masculine/feminine distinction, which is a distinction between types of behaviors, not feelings. If you act feminine then your gender is feminine, regardless of how masculine you might feel. It’s a simple and useful distinction, used to make the very simple points that being effeminate doesn’t mean that you aren’t male/ a man, and being masculine doesn’t mean that you aren’t female/a woman. But certain sectors of the left have tried to bend the meanings of the terms to change their meanings in order to gain certain rhetorical advantages.
    Second, it *is* a bit weird that one of the first and only things declared about a baby is its sex…but…barring any health problems…that’s one of the only notable features babies have. There’s really not all that much you can say about them that’s at all interesting.
    Third…it *is* funny–and inconvenient for the purposes of more technical writing–that English doesn’t have more non-sex-specific pronouns. It’d be handy to have one…so it’s too bad that all the proposed ones are so aesthetically disastrous (as others have noted), and that so many of the people pushing that project are so crazy. (Back in the old days, the most famous suggestion was ‘co’/’cos’… Pretty awful…but better than any of the more recent suggestions…)
    Fourth, English isn’t actually “highly gendered” as languages go.
    Fifth, W. V. Quine says something sort of like what you say in your final paragraph. ‘Sex’ used to just refer to the male/female distinction, and ‘copulation’ meant, as we’d now say, *having sex.* But ‘sex’ sounded more polite than ‘copulate,’ so it got pressed into service. Then we needed a less-ambiguous term for the male/female distinction, and ‘gender’ was hanging around, and so it got pressed into service…and there went the sex/gender distinction…. Now ‘gender’ is basically up in the air…it’s being used indiscriminately in order to achieve the political ends of activists (including academic activists).
    Finally, the whole discussion becomes virtually impossible in light of confusions/exaggerations about the role of society. Sex is in no way social, nor is gender…though social quirks–traditions, fads, etc.–can affect people’s beliefs about, for example, the link between masculinity and maleness/manhood and all that.
    It IS funny that we think that people’s sex and their gender are such important features of them. I think that if we keep reflecting on this as a society, we’ll move in the direction of thinking that sex and gender aren’t that important for most purposes. I’m glad people are thinking about this…I’m not glad that so many people pushing for change o this front are so insane and in the grip of such crazy theories…but that’s probably a local aberration that will disappear in a few years.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Fourth, English isn’t actually “highly gendered” as languages go.

      Yeah, I thought this too. At least English-speakers don’t need to decide whether that table over there is an el or a la.Report

  6. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    There is a thing with humans that I have observed that may be relevant.

    At this point in my life, I’ve met a lot of people who don’t easily fall within the gender binary. Every one of them that I am aware of has a drive toward having the outside world recognize whatever their internal truth might be. Both a cis woman and a trans woman might have a very strong drive to be recognized as female, and appreciated as such. But others who are more genderqueer actually want to create in observers the same sense of ambiguity that they feel about themselves.

    This is a kind of signalling, it seems to me. I do it. I signal my gender as male, even though I don’t know that I think it means all that much, since on several axes I don’t line up with stereotypical masculinity, nor do I care to. But my self-presentation is unambiguously male – I feel no confusion about that, so I don’t want other people to feel any confusion.

    Given that, I think that when they assign genders to infants, parents are acting on behalf of the child under the assumption that their morphological gender corresponds to their internal gender.

    I endorse this, on the condition that when the child tells you otherwise, parents should take heed, and pay careful attention.Report

    • Avatar veronica d says:


      This is a kind of signalling, it seems to me. I do it. I signal my gender as male, even though I don’t know that I think it means all that much, since on several axes I don’t line up with stereotypical masculinity, nor do I care to.

      Well, it’s always been kinda silly to assume that we should have precisely two stereotypical “gender types” merely because we have two dimorphic sexes. Which is to say, a prehistoric clan needed more than two types of people. Moving forward, modern civilization need way more than two types of people. So yeah.

      These days psych professionals like to talk about “gender identity,” which is a pretty broad term that covers a lot of stuff. However, there is an older term, “psychological sex,” which referred more to how one relates to their sexed body, in a physical sense. It is a similar idea to body map.

      One bit of (weird) evidence…

      Oh, and [cw: stuff about dicks that will make some dudes uncomfortable]

      Anyway, cis dudes who get penectomies (for whatever dreadful reason) experience “phantom limb” sensations at a much higher rate than trans women who get the same procedure. That’s kinda weird, yes? It’s almost like dude-brains expect a body with a dick and gal-brains expect a body without. For me, having breasts just feels right. I mean, they’re supposed to be there.

      Or at least that’s how it feels. It’s weird.


      There is a sense that we know what our bodies are supposed to be like. This happens in our brain, and it is probably hard coded neurologically. Certainly science has found no way to fix it when it’s wrong, other than gender transition. Anyway, this is called the “body map,” and while the science is not at the point where we can point to some part of the brain and say, “Yep, that’s the body map,” we know enough to be confident that something like that exists.

      Whatever masculinity means to you, there is a good chance your body map is basically correct. So while you may not want to bro-out and shout “do you even lift bro,” followed by an elaborate series of grunts, that does not mean you are not a man.

      There are tons of awesome ways to be a man. (Including lifting weights, by the way. And there is nothing wrong with grunting, if that’s how you roll. Just don’t be a douche.)

      Anyway, gender. Yeah, no one understands what it is exactly. Just, mine is woman. I’m pretty sure about that.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

        Actually, I was aware of this, having been told by one good friend (a trans woman who had a penectomy) that she did not have phantom limb syndrome. “I just don’t care about that stuff” were her exact words.

        It is pretty well understood in neuroscience that there is a model of your body in your brain and that moving your body means manipulating that model first. What is a bit surprising to me is that it appears that this model in your brain is not really learned.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          Does this mental model mostly encompass the body parts that we have conscious control over? Not to put to fine a point on it, but aside from some muscles that are *near* the penis (and which I believe women may have equivalents of anyway), the penis kind of does its own thing, largely independent of its owner’s conscious control.

          So I wonder if the penis is as susceptible to phantom limb syndrome, if phantom limb ties back to the mental model which is used for conscious movement.Report

          • Avatar veronica d says:

            @glyph — I don’t know. Which, it’s a really good question, but this stuff is currently more “inference from observed behavior” than “solid neuroscience.”

            But anyway, in addition to voluntary muscular control, there is also “location of sensation.” Which is to say, when someone tickles your foot, you know they are tickling your foot and not your arm. If someone grabs your junk, you know they’re grabbing your junk. That also is mapped in the brain.

            (But it is rather imperfectly mapped, as you can observe if you ever do one of those “touch me lightly while I’m not looking” games, where you have to guess what they’re touching.)Report

  7. FWIW:

    1. IMHO, contemporary views of gender, “gender identity,” and transgender issues are usually way, way full of shit. I’ve long had rather non-standard views about all these things, but I think that contemporary discussions of this stuff tend to be just awful–dogmatic, doctrinaire, super-ideological, and just plain ridiculous.
    2. I ran across this discussion, kinda sorta tacitly presupposing that this would be another such discussion.
    3. I’ve disagreed with a lot of what’s been said.
    4. I was completely wrong about 2, and I think everybody here’s been extremely reasonable, even when I’ve disagreed with them.

    I’m really impressed by how reasonable the discussion here has been.Report