Sex, Gender, Transsexualism and Trauma – Index

1. Sex

– Sexual reproduction

– Sexual dimorphism 

– Unusual cases: seahorse, parrotfish, Iain M. Banks

– Sex as a spectrum?

– Julia Serano vs the Imaginary Primates

– Intersex

– Chromosomes, proteins and other bullshit

– Secondary sex characteristics


2. Gender

– Masculinity and femininity

– The Gender System

– Sexual Dimorphism of behaviour: lions, orangutans, etc

– Gender: roles and stereotypes

– Gender identity

– Gender dysphoria

– Freud, Jung, and Stoller

– John Money and the case of David Reimer


3. Transsexualism

– Paraphilias

– Transsexualism

– Blanchard: Two types of MtF transsexual?

– Autogynephilia 

– Pseudopersonality?

– Erotic Target Location Errors

– Narcissistic Rage

– Supporters: Anne Lawrence, Michael Bailey

– Critics: Julia Serano, Charles Moser


4. Trauma

– Freud, Stoller and Perversion

– Sexual Imprinting

– Anonymous: Emasculation Trauma 

– Feminine heterosexual men

– Shame and disgust

– Patriarchy, Masculinity, and the moulding of men

– Masochistic Emasculation Fetish (MEF)

– Sexualisation of trauma


5. Kink

– Crossdreaming

– Sissification

– Degradation of ‘being a woman’

– Sissy hypno porn

– Degradation of women

– Incels and Trannymaxxing


6. Conclusion

– Diversity of AGP

– Sex stereotypes and the ideal woman

– Misogyny and Misandry

– Jealousy and the hoarding of womanhood

– Himpathy and heroism in men

– Jesus, Napoleon, and the moon

Sex, Gender, Transsexualism and Trauma – Part 6 : Conclusion


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6. Concluding Thoughts


Blanchard’s work described two types of MtF transsexuals, but made little attempt to outline possible causes. Although he suggested that an Erotic Target Location Error (ETLE) might underlie AGP (and certain other paraphilias), he gave no explanation of how this might occur. This is not a criticism of Blanchard’s work — he can’t be expected to explain everything. Although ETLE may be a useful idea, the ultimate cause of AGP is unknown, despite many theories.

It appears it may be possible to induce AGP-like gender dysphoria in men by means of pornography:

Some men may consciously choose to attempt this in the hope that it will improve their lives. Others may be indulging in a sissification fetish — which might look a lot like AGP, but could be something completely different, or something related, or basically — perhaps — the same thing.

This suggests that (as Blanchard observed) what we call gender dysphoria is not one thing. But not only that — AGP may not be be one thing, either! It could be a variety of different conditions that all manifest in similar ways. If so, those people we call ‘autogynephiles’ are likely to be very diverse in both character and conduct. Blanchard’s theory acknowledges this by outlining multiple types of autogynephilic behaviour. An individual may engage in several of these, or just one. It is a complex condition, and every case is different.

Autogynephiles will vary in how they view women; their vision of the ‘ideal woman’ is also the kind of woman they themselves would like to be — and, in many cases, that they believe themselves to be. This ‘ideal woman’ will often be a stereotype; if the development of AGP is rooted in internalised sex-stereotypes, this is what we would expect to see. But that may not be inherent to the condition. 

Like all aspects of the self, an AGPs attitude towards women may change over time. Therefore his presentation ‘as a woman’ may gradually become less sexualised, particularly if he is motivated only by the ‘self-degradation’ of ‘being a woman’, and not by degrading images of women themselves. If he comes to regard ‘being a woman’ as not degrading at all, he may even desist from his AGP tendencies. 

AGP may stem as much (or more) from a rejection of masculine stereotypes than from a desire to fit feminine ones. AGPs have rejected manhood. The driving factor for this is misandry, arising from sexist stereotypes of men, to which AGPs are unable or unwilling to conform. They hate themselves for being men, and aspire to be women instead; yet their view of women is inevitably coloured by sexist stereotypes. Like many men, they have an idealised view of women, which no real woman can possibly live up to. Thus, the AGP may hate himself for being a man, and also for his inadequacies as ‘a woman’.

Women often do not appreciate their ‘femininity’ in the same way men do; they may find aspects of it oppressive. For the AGP, this may be hard to understand; to them, womanhood is an ideal state of being, which they long to achieve.

Feminists who insist AGPs are not women may be seen as ‘hoarding’ womanhood; they keep it for themselves, while simultaneously devaluing it with constant complaints about ‘misogyny’. Some AGPs may therefore become jealous — “If I were lucky enough to be a woman,” they think, “I would treat ‘femininity’ with the reverence it deserves; I’d make a better woman than any women ever will!” This jealousy of womanhood may be indistinguishable from misogyny. To some AGPs, womanhood is a glittering prize, controlled by barbarians who refuse to grant them access. 


For men, it is easy to feel sympathy for transwomen, whose origin stories contain many elements that resonate with men. Most men, at some point, were humiliated or ridiculed for behaviour regarded by others as feminine. Perhaps we had a favourite teddy-bear, and our friends laughed at us for remaining attached to it for too long. Perhaps we cried too often, or too easily. This behaviour was punished, and we learned to ‘grow out of it’. We learned, in short, to become men.

Pink Floyd: The Wall:

When we hear these stories from transwomen, we remember our own childhood, and how awful it felt to be humiliated for these minor acts of ‘femininity’. It’s easy to imagine how much worse it must have been for a young ‘transgirl’, who must surely have been far more feminine than us, and been punished far more severely. It is easy to sympathise with these individuals, and for our protective instincts to kick in. For we are good men! We protect the weak and vulnerable in society, as real men are supposed to do.

Thus, especially for those of us who are insecure in our masculinity, to think of transwomen as women confirms that — unlike them — we are strong enough to have overcome our childhood ‘weaknesses’, and become men. This makes us very proud. 

Feminine qualities are devalued; transwomen are women, and women are weak. To fight for the ‘weak’ among us makes men feel like heroes. So when people say transwomen are men, it is a threat to our own masculinity — subconsciously, of course — because it means manhood is no achievement at all. 

On top of this, it encourages those men with stronger, more painful memories of their own ritual humiliation for alleged ‘feminine’ behaviour to question their own ‘gender identity’. These childhood experiences can easy be reframed as transphobia, and evidence of one’s trans-status:

The bar for ‘transition’ is therefore lowered to include potentially any man who suffered from male socialisation. These men may be completely unremarkable — but suddenly, they claim to be trans. With a simple change of pronouns, they cease to be men; they have been women all along!

For men this is much more appealing than a discussion about how male socialisation harms men. Instead, we can call ourselves feminists. We can be brave, gender-nonconforming women; as masculine and aggressive as any man! Now, instead of being a ‘weak’ feminine man, we can be a ‘strong woman’; the toughest of the bunch! We can fight for the rights of every woman — but especially those with penises, who are most marginalised of all.

But despite this, penis-women are the best! They are not like the other girls; they know how to get things done. Where women have failed, they will succeed — and all who oppose them are bigots.

Gender Identity

We don’t know what causes transsexualism, let alone transgenderism. It seems likely there are multiple causes; that, like gender dysphoria, transgenderism is not one thing. Most of the underlying reasons for it may be fairly innocuous, but not all. Surely there are meaningful differences between a trannymaxxed incel who regards women as vermin, a feminine heterosexual man who cross-dresses as a coping mechanism for trauma, a sissy fetishist, and a feminine gay man? A reliance on the doctrine of ‘gender identity’ obscures this diversity and prevents further investigation, forcing us to treat every case the same way.

Transgenderism relies on the concept of ‘gender identity’ to explain everything away as normal human diversity, and end the discussion there. It allows any person, for any reason, to announce their ‘gender’ — which can be anything at all, including the moon. 

We are supposed to accept whatever they say, though we have no means of knowing whether or not they are reporting this ‘gender’ accurately, and no way of finding out what they mean by it. 

What is the difference between a male person who claims to be a woman, and one who claims to be the moon? Is it rooted in their biology, or their psychology — or is it all to do with what hat they like to wear on Tuesdays? The theory of gender identity provides no answers to these questions. It is an empty concept; it explains nothing at all.

And yet this empty concept has become popular, even among those who pride themselves on being ‘rational’. When a person claims to be Jesus or Napoleon, we tend to dismiss them as crazy. So when a man claims to be a woman, why do so many people choose to take them at their word?

One reason could be that many people want simple answers — they don’t want to embark on a major investigation of why a person would claim to be something they are not. Either they are crazy, or they are telling the truth — for many people, it seems, there is no middle ground.

(Thanks to Jane Clare Jones and Kayla Jolie for their invaluable comments on an earlier draft of this essay. All stupidity remains my own.)

Sex, Gender, Transsexualism and Trauma – Part 5 : Kink


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5. Kink

Clare Flourish, a transwoman, worries that if the MEF theory were to become popular, it might lead to the view that transwomen should be excluded from women’s spaces. Fortunately, she says, there is no evidence to support the MEF theory:


Clare Flourish is a fan of Jack Mollay, inventor of the term ‘crossdreaming’. This is how Mollay describes it:

According to wxhluyp1, ‘crossdreaming’ is a politically motivated term which aims to obfuscate Blanchard’s AGP theory in order to remove social stigma. Essentially, it reduces AGP to just another kink, which can be practised by dysphoric and non-dysphoric individuals alike. (Wxhluyp1’s own MEF theory is not intended to obfuscate AGP theory, but rather to illuminate the supposed underlying cause.)

This article, from the Trans Widow blog, is sympathetic to the idea that MEF might underlie autogynephilia. It argues that MEF is rooted in misogyny, though wxhluyp1 himself has denied this:

This article, which argues against the MEF theory, is particularly interesting; it comes from Novagirl, a website dedicated to sissification, about which wxhluyp1 claims to be an expert:

Sissification / Feminisation

[Warning! Most links in this section are NSFW, as is some of the text.]

Novagirl offers something called the True Feminisation Programme, which appears to be a series of downloadable course modules:

True Feminization’s potent blend of psychological realism and female intuition make it far more sophisticated than the dull tropes of ‘sissy training’. Whereas module 1 of the Sissy Farm is concerned with sexual behavior and physical feminization, module 2 is about feminizing the mind.

Also available is The Sissy Farm, which is described as follows:

The Sissy Farm is a network of dungeons in London, Berlin and Barcelona which specialize in behavioral and medical feminization. Depending on your nature, we will transform you into a serving maiden, a secretary, or a she-male prostitute. Then we will recover the cost of our investment (with interest!)


I admit to being disturbed by this topic. I would prefer to avoid it, but this is supposed to be an exploration of different theories about the causes of transsexualism in men. The idea is often bandied about that there is a link between transsexualism and pornography; it would be dishonest not to mention this possibility.

Feminisation is a type of BDSM practice in which a submissive male partner takes on a ‘feminine’ role in order to be humiliated, which he finds sexually pleasurable. There are many variations of this practice. In forced feminisation, there is a pretence this is being done against his wishes.

In ‘sissy training’ the fantasy scenario requires this submissive partner to be gradually ‘trained’ into a ‘feminine’ role — this may involve cross-dressing and participation in stereotypically female activities — forced or otherwise. There are further variations, such as ‘sissy slut’ or ‘sissy maid’ training. 

In some cases, the ‘training’ may require him to take hormones or undergo surgery in order to make his body appear more feminine — that is, he may ‘transition’ in the manner of a MtF transsexual. 

Feminisation scenarios are commonly requested by clients of sex workers and dominatrices.

The practice of sissification has a long history:

This article, also from Novagirl, suggests that there is at least some crossover between transgenderism and sissy fetishism. But it concludes that the origin of an individual’s gender dysphoria is irrelevant, because the treatment options are the same regardless:

Here, a transwoman discusses her numerous paraphilias, which include sissification:

Sissy Hypno Porn

There are many sites on the web hosting sissy hypno porn videos. I will not link to them. I watched only a short portion of one of these videos. It consisted of hardcore porn scenes overlaid with a hypnotic soundtrack of floaty music plus a seductive female voice which tells the viewer he is a dirty slut who wants to suck cock etc. The descriptions of these videos are reminiscent of the words spoken by this voice. Here are some highly-rated examples:

Take Me Deeper by SissyHypnoSlut:

Come over to my place, Slut. You’re going to sit and stare at Sissy Training videos as I use your body! Here’s a little taste… Trance your brain away while I fuck your holes like a good sissy.

Mmm, Yes daddy! Please train me to be your good little fuck slut! On my way now. I can’t wait until your cock is in my mouth!

I Want You To Crave Cum by Anniewankenobi:

I want you to crave cum. Fucking crave it. Crave the taste of cum at night when you are masturbating. Delicious. I know you’re going to taste cum. It tastes so good. I want to be a dirty cum dumb whore. Why try to hide it. It feels so good to eat your own cum. Get ready. Open your mouth. Let it go all into your mouth and all over your face. 

Bimbo Doll Program by MasterJYouObey:

Imagine you are a pretty bimbo doll with long flowing golden blond hair, full lips, long lashes, deep green eyes and a flawless complexion. The more you pretend the more you believe you are a pretty bimbo doll with loose morals. […] The more you become a pretty bimbo doll the better. You will have more opportunity to be fucked in your pretty bimbo doll mouth and boi pussy. Alpha males love pretty bimbo dolls so this is your opportunity to become what you have been imagining all your life. […]

The preview screens associated with these videos typically feature women’s faces adjacent to large erect penises. These women do not appear comfortable in this situation, let alone empowered. It’s hard for me to see this stuff as anything other than misogynistic, whatever wxhluyp1 might say. 

It appears the viewer is expected to put himself in the place of the woman in these scenarios; to imagine her humiliation as his own while simultaneously enjoying the sexual pleasure of masturbation. He projects her degradation onto himself, and his own pleasure back onto her. This is a kind of role-reversal, but also an imagined merger between man and woman, in which sexual enjoyment and sexual humiliation become one and the same — for him and her alike. It is a self-directed sadomasochistic sexual fantasy.

In Stoller’s words:

[The underlying] hostility takes the form of rage at having to give up one’s earliest bliss and identification with the mother; fear arising out of unsuccessful attempts to escape from the mother’s orbit; and a need for revenge on the mother for having been placed in such a predicament. 

The psychological impact on regular viewers of such material can only be imagined.

Incels, the Black Pill, and Trannymaxxing

Incels (‘involuntary celebates’) are an extremist offshoot of the men’s rights activist (MRA) movement, but are not longer part of it. Although they desire a female romantic or sexual partner, they believe they will never find one. Incel subculture encourages hatred both of women and of men who have sex with women. They believe themselves to be ‘omega males’ — the lowest of the low in terms of sexual desirability.

Among MRAs, there is much talk of the ‘red pill’. This a metaphor derived from the film The Matrix; to ‘take the red pill’ is to arrive at the belief that feminism has gone too far, that women have too much power in society, and that men must fight to regain their rightful place at the top. This is contrasted with the ‘blue pill’, which entails a belief in patriarchy and support for the feminist movement.

Incels often take the ‘black pill’, which entails the belief that life is hopeless, and there is nothing they can do to attain romantic success because women (‘femoids’) are vermin — shallow, selfish creatures who desire to copulate only with ‘alpha males’ — those men at the opposite end of the sexual desirability scale to incels.

Incels have come to believe they are deeply inadequate as men — as such, they can be said to be suffering from ‘emasculation trauma’.

Some incels have come up with an innovative solution to their supposed problem of chronic sexual undesirability; they call it ‘Trannymaxxing’. The idea is, essentially, to induce gender dysphoria in themselves by watching hentai videos and / or sissy porn, and then to transition.

This forum provides an in-depth discussion of the process:

It recommends first watching various Japanese anime about boys who are mysteriously transformed into girls, and go on to have amazing (often sexy) adventures. Several series are mentioned, each one more sexually explicit than the next, culminating in full-blown hardcore hentai. Here are two examples:

Kämpfer (soft):

The plot revolves around Natsuru, a normal high school boy with blue hair. One day he wakes up and found himself turned into a girl. A stuffed tiger “Harakiri Tora” comes to life and tells him that he has been chosen as one of the “Kampfer”, a female fighter. The Kampfer are destined to fight with other Kampfer. The story starts when he is attacked by an unknown girl who happens to also be a Kampfer.

TSF Monogatari (hardcore):

Takumi Musashino suffers from a terminal illness and agrees to try an experimental treatment which turns him into a girl, and also into a complete and utter raging slut. Watch as Takumi goes from an almost altruistic loaner of his female body to hopeless fellow male virgins to a rock bottom literal whore! 


By watching this stuff, it is expected the incel will develop a desire to become a girl. If hentai therapy is unsuccessful, they are advised as a last resort to try sissy hypno porn. Once gender dysphoria has been induced, they can visit a gender clinic to begin the process of transition.

Supposedly, trannymaxxing offers many benefits over inceldom, particularly for those whose secondary sex characteristics are not strongly ‘masculine’. One poster comments:

Unlike incels who waste 60k+ on worthless plastic surgeries, trannymaxxing actually [..] works and pays for itself.

Trannymaxxing is insanely legit, it completely solves all the problems incels have

it solves:

1. being a virgin

2. being a neet/being poor

3. being ugly

4. having a beta personality

If [an incel] gets breast implants, facial fem surgery, body contouring, voice surgery, they can do sex work and pay it off in a few years. [I’ve] personally been offered by men to pay 100% for my transition in exchange for a relationship[..]

The incel movement has many other schemes for ‘curing inceldom’; these include ‘looksmaxxing’ (improving ones looks), ‘statusmaxxing’ (increasing one’s social status), ‘moneymaxxing’ (becoming wealthy), and even ‘castratemaxxing’ (removing one’s genitals).

They even have their own wiki, where you can learn all about ‘incel theory’:

It’s impossible to know for sure how many incels attempt to trannymaxx, but there are several who claim to have done so with great success. 

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Sex, Gender, Transsexualism and Trauma – Part 4 : Trauma


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4. Trauma

What causes AGP? Blanchard does not address this question. But, the question of how paraphilias in general might develop was addressed by Stoller — who again relies on a psychoanalytic framework, heavily influenced by Freud. 

It’s important to note that Stoller’s views on transexualism are no longer taken seriously by most researchers in this field. Freudian ideas have fallen out of favour, and are considered by many to be pseudoscientific bullshit. Nevertheless, I find them interesting.

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Stoller wrote about something called ‘perversions’. By this, he meant (roughly) those unusual sexual behaviours that are motivated by hostility. He theorised that these ‘perversions’ (in which he included transsexualism) are defensive psychological reactions to childhood trauma; a way of resolving internal conflicts. They typically involve some form of risk-taking, as well as self-punishment derived from guilt. As the underlying conflict can never be fully resolved, the behaviour is repeated. 

Here is an edited extract from this essay, which is well-worth reading in full:

It’s not a comfortable read.

[Stoller] views perversion as a masturbatory fantasy – a defensive structure raised to preserve erotic pleasure. The perverse act, and accompanying fantasy, is motivated by extreme pleasure which, by its very nature, demands repetition. The perversion is also motivated by a need to maintain gender identity. For Stoller, perversion is the result of family dynamics that, by inducing fear, have forced the child to avoid full immersion in the oedipal situation.

Stoller argues that the core of the perverse act is a desire to harm others; that perversion is an erotic form of hatred – a fantasy that is acted out. Moreover, Stoller suggests that perversion is a habitual, preferred aberration necessary for the person’s full erotic satisfaction and that it is primarily motivated by hostility. Hostility in perversion takes form in a fantasy of revenge. The hostility is often hidden in the actions that make up the perversion, with the perversion itself serving to convert childhood trauma into adult triumph. In order to create the greatest excitement, the perversion must also portray itself as an act of risk-taking. 

Stoller, then, postulates that […] the perverse act is the reliving of historical trauma that was aimed at the person’s sex or gender identity, and that it has the effect of transforming trauma into pleasure, orgasm and victory. The need to carry out the perverse act again and again, unendingly in the same manner, derives from the person’s inability to rid him or herself completely of the danger or to resolve the trauma.[…]

Stoller emphasises that the details of a particular perversion are to be found in the fantasy, for therein is embedded the remnants of the individual’s experiences with other people who, in the real world during childhood, provoked the reaction called perversion.[…] 

The essential purpose of such acts is for the perpetrator to be superior to, harmful to and triumphant over another person. […]

[The] source of the anger that is hidden in the perverse act lies in the subject’s victimization in childhood, usually by parents or their surrogates. Through means of the perversion, the subject transforms anger and helplessness into victory over those who made him or her feel wretched, for in perversion trauma becomes triumph. […]

[With] regard to men, Stoller argues that the failure to achieve a masculine identity is the greatest promoter of perversion – that perversion may be a gender disorder constructed out of a triad of hostility. This hostility takes the form of rage at having to give up one’s earliest bliss and identification with the mother; fear arising out of unsuccessful attempts to escape from the mother’s orbit; and a need for revenge on the mother for having been placed in such a predicament. 

To reiterate: these days, Stoller’s approach is widely regarded as nonsense, at least as far as transsexualism is concerned.

Personally, I’m uneasy with the idea that transsexualism necessarily entails ‘perversion’ — as Stoller put it, an “erotic form of hatred”. Perhaps it’s true in some cases. But all? I find that hard to believe.

Sexual Imprinting

In any case, if paraphilias develop as a coping mechanism for childhood trauma, why are there so many of them? According to Stoller, the details of the associated erotic fantasy include remnants of the traumatic experience that provoked it. 

This suggests that something like ‘sexual imprinting’ may be taking place. This is the process by which the young males learn from their mother the characteristics of a desirable mate. It occurs in many animal species, and may play an important role in evolution.

Sexual imprinting, learning and speciation

The coevolution of sexual imprinting by males and females

Perhaps something like this also occurs in humans, and paraphilia result when a child ‘imprints’ on an unusual stimulus?

On Sexual Imprinting in Humans

Sexual imprinting and fetishism: an evolutionary hypothesis

Something that looks like sexual fetishism has been observed in other animals, most significantly in chimpanzees — so perhaps this idea has some merit.

Emasculation Trauma

The following analysis of transsexualism, written by an anonymous person, doesn’t mention Stoller’s work, but appears to echo some of his ideas:

Here’s a pdf version:

The basic idea put forward is that boys are often severely punished for exhibiting ‘feminine’ behaviour in childhood; they may be humiliated, labelled ‘sissies’ etc. This usually causes the offending behaviour to be suppressed. In some cases this ritual humiliation can lead to ‘emasculation trauma’ — this is more likely, and more severe, in cases where the boy is otherwise fairly ‘masculine’ and / or where conformance to impossible standards of ‘masculinity’ is demanded, either by parents, peers, or wider society. 

Boys who are more physically ‘feminine’, may find their ‘feminine’ behaviours are more socially acceptable, especially as they enter adulthood. They may feel more able to express this side of themselves openly — particularly if they are homosexual. Some of these boys will grow up to be feminine gay men; a few become what Blanchard termed ‘homosexual transsexuals’.

More physically ‘masculine’ boys will find no such outlet, and may feel greatly ashamed of their ‘feminine’ tendencies, particularly if they are heterosexual. Modern society is less accepting of ‘feminine’ traits in straight rather than gay men. If heterosexual men appear feminine, people may think they are gay. Most heterosexual men don’t want to be thought of as gay, for all sorts of reasons; these men are no different. So, in public, they will likely suppress this side of themselves completely; some may even adopt a hypermasculine public persona, the better to ‘prove’ their manhood — to themselves as well as others. 

At the same time, they may develop a feminine (or hyperfeminine) persona, or pseudopersonality, which allows them to express their ‘femininity’ in private. This may involve cross-sex fantasy, cross-dressing and indulging in other ‘feminine’ activities,  which serve as a coping mechanism for their underlying ’emasculation trauma’. The individual may feel a great deal of shame and self-disgust about this private ‘feminine’ behaviour, particularly if and when it becomes sexualised — in much the way Stoller described. The anonymous author of this theory suggests this may be the root cause of autogynephilia.

Note that according to this theory it’s not the ‘feminine’ behaviour that causes problems for the individual, but the suppression of it by means of shame and humiliation. The problems are caused by enforcement of ‘masculinity’, particularly in heterosexual men. (This resonates with the radical feminist view of ‘gender’ as an oppressive system of sex-based stereotypes that harms both women and men.)

This theory links both Blanchard’s ’types’ of MtF transsexual, through the concept of ‘emasculation trauma’ — caused, essentially, by childhood humiliation for the ‘crime’ of displaying feminine behaviour. It also explains why the distinction between the types is not clear-cut. Some homosexual transsexuals may show autogynephilic tendencies, and some non-homosexual transsexuals may appear quite ‘feminine’. It is a matter of degree.

Of course, boys are routinely humiliated for many reasons other than displaying femininity — this is typical of male socialisation. Only in some cases does this cause ‘emasculation trauma’. Of those who are traumatised, many do not grow up to be transsexuals at all; instead they find other ways of coping — sometimes, this includes the development of unrelated paraphilias.

As far as I know, there is no experimental evidence to support this theory — but anecdotally, it fits well with the personal narratives of many MtF transsexuals, including some who regard Blanchard’s theories as utter nonsense.

Notably missing from this theory is Stoller’s idea that ’there is always a victim, no matter how disguised’. The idea of the ‘victim’ is not mentioned at all; and in this account it’s not obvious who — or what — that might be. Presumably, it would be the person or persons responsible for the childhood humiliation. In some cases, this could be a parent, or sibling; in others, it could be childhood peers. 


But who or what is really responsible for the childhood humiliation that leads to ‘emasculation trauma’? The individuals vary, but from a radical feminist perspective, the true culprit is patriarchy, which uses gender as a tool of oppression. But what constitutes this patriarchy? Men, of course; but it’s not just them, it’s everyone. The whole of society grooms the individual to think, act, and even feel whatever is deemed appropriate for those of their sex. The details vary among cultures, but the fundamental structure is all but universal  — the devaluation of the ’feminine’, which is imposed on women, and the elevation of ‘masculinity’, which is imposed on men.

If patriarchy is responsible for the humiliation, could the ‘hidden victim’ sometimes be patriarchy itself? Or could it be gender? Is the heterosexual transsexual carrying out an erotic act of hatred against the system that made him what he is? (Subconsciously, of course…)

But if society is being punished, why does it seem that punishment is more often directed at women than men? Because these men have internalised the values of patriarchy. Under patriarchy, it is primarily women who are expected to be kind and gentle and nurturing. When women say no to men, it is humiliating; it is a threat to their masculinity. This is true of most men, feminine or otherwise. When women say no, they are punished. 

Women may not be the intended ‘victim’, but they’re getting in the way. They must be trodden underfoot like ants. The true goal is to triumph over ‘gender’ — to destroy the system and then build a better one, run by different men. This would be an erotic act of hatred against other men; perhaps the ultimate form of masculinity. 

But this is crazy. Surely the intended victim can’t be something abstract like gender, or society! It’s much more likely to be whoever the individual believes is to blame for their troubles — right or wrong. 

Or perhaps sometimes there is no victim, and Stoller was mistaken — either completely, or on this point alone.

Masochistic Emasculation Fetish (MEF)

I found the writings of that anonymous person thanks to a Twitter user known as ‘wxhluyp1’, who has drawn from it, and come up with the idea of a ‘Masochistic Emasculation Fetish’ (MEF). This person appears to be the sole proponent of this concept — nevertheless, I find it intriguing.

Wxhluyp1 is convinced that AGP as such does not exist, and that the idea of the ETLE is nonsense. According to wxhluyp1, there are only two types of MtF transsexuals — the homosexual transsexual as described by Blanchard, and the MEF fetishist. Wxhluyp1 claims to be an MEF fetishist himself, and a connoisseur of sissy porn.

His idea is that what Blanchard called AGP is really a form of self-humiliation, or masochism. The AGP individual takes control of his underlying emasculation trauma by fetishising it, and continually re-experiencing the trauma in a controlled way — again, this is in line with Stoller’s views on ‘perversions’. 

The reason, supposedly, for AGP arousal to cross-dressing (or to the idea of being a woman) is not due to a fetishisation of womanhood as such, nor the trappings of womanhood. Instead, it is a fetishisation of the distress associated with emasculation; ie. of not being a man. 

But perhaps this is a false distinction. For many men, womanhood is the ultimate form of emasculation. They see women as not only different, but inferior — as incomplete human beings. Womanhood is nothing more for them than the negation of masculinity, of everything it means to be a man. To be emasculated is therefore to become a woman. To be a woman is to be less than human; it is indecent. To choose this willingly is to debase oneself; in their imagination, a woman is the most worthless, disgusting thing a man could ever want to be. 

To be seen a woman, or to be associated with the trappings of womanhood, is extremely distressing. Through masochism, the distress is transformed into sexual arousal, which alleviates the childhood trauma of emasculation.

(For these men, the thing furthest from a man is a woman. For some others, that might be an animal, or a baby — so furries, otherkin, sexual ageplay, sexual petplay, and AB/DL fetishism could perhaps be explained by this same framework.)

In wxhluyp1’s own words:

To generalize, the are only two kinds of crossdressers, being hyperfeminine gay drag queen types and masochistic emasculation fetishists (“AGP”)

[AGP] is sexual arousal by the masochistic anxiety of oneself being associated to symbols of emasculation, to which the symbolic antithesis of masculinity is always what is most powerful = symbolism of female embodiment & sex with men[.]

It is self evident how widespread masochism is throughout the fetish, yet it has never been articulated. At most, mentioned in passing reference, masochism being supposedly a commonly associated phenomenon,  inconsistent in it’s presence, with some enjoying it more than others[.]

The problem being that those in the AGP discourse do not understand masochism. In particular, that in masochistic fetishism, sexual arousal has replaced the sensation of anxiety in a situation of anxiety[.]

It ultimately isn’t really about females, as feminists want it to be. Rather it is about *this is what a male [is] supposed to be, therefore it is distressing to imagine myself being associated with that which couldn’t be farther from it*. This is how you predict the most common themes[.]

What ‘themes’ does wxhluyp1 mean? He means the details of the sexual fantasies associated with MEF — which, according to him, are explored in sissy porn.

If you were familiar with common tropes of the fiction within this fetish, you would know that they most commonly follow a narrative of resistance, only to dramatically and devastatingly succumb to and embrace effeminacy.


Here’s a longer post from wxhluyp1, which explains his MEF theory in more detail:

[Next Section]

Sex, Gender, Transsexualism and Trauma – Part 3 : Transsexualism


[Previous Section]

3. Transsexualism 

Sexuality is complex. It appears to be particularly complex in the case of men. Sexologists have a term ‘paraphilia’ which means ‘an unusual sexual interest’ or, as sexologist Ray Blanchard put it, “a paraphilia is a sexual orientation we don’t like.”

Paraphilia are thought to be far more common in men. If correct, this weirdness (or ‘diversity’) may be an innate feature of male sexuality.  On the other hand, there is a lack of research on paraphilias in women, in part because most studies are done on people convicted of sex crimes, who are overwhelmingly male.

Paraphilia also tend to cluster, meaning basically that if a person (a man, let’s assume) has one paraphilia, it’s more likely he’ll have others as well. Many paraphilias are harmless to society. But some can cause big problems, not least for the person with the paraphilia.

There’s a phenomenon called ‘transsexualism’ which has existed for a very long time. This is where a person of one sex wishes to become, or believes they are, a person of the other sex. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s still quite poorly understood. It’s not identical with transgenderism, but it’s close; most transsexuals do have gender dysphoria, and often seek to alleviate it by modifying their bodies to resemble those of the other sex. 

The focus of this discussion will be on transsexualism in men. Many of the theories presented would require modification before they could be applied to women.

Transsexualism is (or at least, is thought to be) far more common in men than in women. So the question arises, could it be some kind of paraphilia?

Sexologists were thinking about this before Blanchard came along:

In essence, Blanchard had the idea of dividing male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals into two types. One type he called Homosexual Transexuals (HSTS). This type is *exclusively* sexually attracted to men; ie. they could be considered homosexual.

The other type have ‘a history of sexual arousal by cross-dressing or cross-gender fantasy.’ This type are called autogynephiles, or AGPs. This type are sexually aroused primarily by the idea of themselves as women. There are far more AGPs than HSTS transwomen – about 70% are AGP.

Blanchard initially identified four types of autogynephilia, which often co-occur:

  • Transvestic: arousal to the act or fantasy of wearing typically feminine clothing.
  • Behavioral: arousal to the act or fantasy of doing something regarded as feminine.
  • Physiologic: arousal to fantasies about female body functions.
  • Anatomic: arousal to the fantasy of having a woman’s body, or parts of one.

A fifth category was added later:

  • Interpersonal: arousal to the act or fantasy of being recognised or treated as a woman by others.

Blanchard also pointed out that an autogynephile does not typically become sexually aroused every time he (for example) wears feminine clothes — it is more that there is the potential for sexual arousal. Also, that AGP works something like a sexual orientation, including the capacity for both pair-bonding and romantic love.

It should be noted that the concept of autogynephilia does not imply that autogynephilic males are always sexually aroused by the thought of themselves as women, or by dressing in women’s clothes, or by contemplating themselves cross-dressed in the mirror – any more than a man in love always obtains an erection at the sight of his sweetheart, or pair-bonded geese copulate continuously.

But how can one form a pair-bond, or fall in love with oneself? Isn’t this just narcissism? Not exactly.


It appears that AGP may involve the creation of a female pseudopersonality. This is something like a childhood ‘imaginary friend’ that persists into adulthood; this pseudopersonality then becomes the object of the autogynephile’s romantic and sexual desire — their ‘erotic target’. This pseudopersonality is the autogynephile’s ‘perfect woman’ — an imaginary female version of himself. 

Here’s some background on the psychological concept of a pseudopersonality, which often develops in cult-members. If it is true that many AGPs have developed a kind of pseudopersonality, perhaps they would be unusually susceptible to cult indoctrination? We don’t know.

Awareness of the AGP pseudopersonality varies between individuals; many will not consider this ‘perfect woman’ to be a pseudopersonality at all — they may instead regard her as their ‘true self’; the woman they should have been all along. For others, it makes more sense to think of her as an artefact of the imagination — a ‘second self’. Sometimes it’s better to think of the ‘male self’ as a pseudopersonality; a mask which hides the individual’s natural femininity from a hostile masculine world. 

Rod Fleming (a man with a great interest in MtF transsexuals owing to his self-described sexual preference for ‘ladyboys’) believes that the AGP pseudopersonality can exist outside of the individual’s sexual fantasies, and may compete with the male (‘host’) self for overall control:

Here, Fleming speculates about a possible connection between AGPs and what he calls ‘narcissistic homosexuals’; in short, he suggests that ‘narcissistic homosexuals’ are attracted to the image of themselves, not as women, but as men:

It’s hard to know how seriously to take Fleming’s ideas, but I find them thought-provoking.

Automonosexualism / Analloeroticism

Some AGPs are completely analloerotic — meaning they have no sexual interest in other people. These AGPs are sexually interested only in themselves; a kind of analloeroticism called automonosexualism:

Analloerotic gender dysphorics represent those cases in which the autogynephilic disorder nullifies or overshadows any erotic attraction to women; those cases, in Hirschfeld’s metaphor, in which “the woman within” completely supplants her fleshly rivals. The difference between the asexual and the automonosexual varieties may lie in the concreteness of the individual’s preferred expression of femininity. An individual for whom sexual arousal was closely associated with dressing in women’s garments would – if there were no other erotic interests – be diagnosed as automonosexual. Not all persons of this general type are stimulated by external objects, however. A colleague of the writer’s, for example, had a patient who was sexually aroused by contemplating his shaved legs in the mirror [..] It is possible to imagine a continuum of “fetish objects” of ever-decreasing tangibility, culminating perhaps in the simple thought of being a woman or some talismanic idea associated with that. On this view, asexual gender dysphorics are simply those analloerotics whose erotically valued symbol of femininity is a “fetish idea” rather than a tangible fetish object. The autogynephilic fantasy of intercourse with a male is a prime example of such an idea; and, in fact, Person and Ovesey’s asexual transsexuals were described as masturbating “with a vague heterosexual fantasy in which the patient saw himself as a woman. The fantasies were impersonal, and the partner was usually a stylized man rather than a real person.”

Erotic Target Location Errors (ETLEs)

Blanchard attributes autogynephilia to an ‘Erotic Target Location Error’ (ETLE).  

Rod Fleming discusses the concept here:

The idea is that there can be not only sexual arousal towards various kinds of people or things, but also towards *being* that kind of person or thing. Some people experience both kinds of arousal at the same time. So ‘plushophilia’ would be a sexual arousal towards plush animals, and ‘autoplushophilia’ would be arousal towards the idea of being a plush animal. Thus — perhaps — one could think of AGP transwomen, furries, and others as different manifestations of the same basic phenomenon.

(Perhaps you could look at sadism and masochism in the same way — sadism would be arousal to people suffering pain or degradation, and masochism would be arousal at the idea of being such a person. The two often occur together under the label ‘sadomasochism’.)

AGP then, would be due to an ETLE that can occur within heterosexual men — autogynephiles are sexually aroused by women, as well as by the idea of being a woman. 

Many AGPs also have gynandromorphilia (GAMP), which is arousal to ‘gynandromorphs’ (essentially, pre-op MtF transsexuals); presumably, autogynandromorphilia would be arousal to the idea of being a pre-op MtF transsexual — which might be difficult to distinguish from AGP.

According to Blanchard, in both HSTS and AGP transsexuals the desire to transition — to ‘become a woman’ — is motivated by the individual’s sexuality, though in very different ways.

More recently Blanchard has endorsed the idea there could be additional forms of gender dysphoria; these are outlined in this article:

Supporters of Blanchard

Anne Lawrence

Anne Lawrence, a self-confessed AGP transwoman, is a supporter of Blanchard’s work. I’ve read a lot of her own work, and found it both thoughtful and compassionate towards AGPs.

Anne Lawrence here writes, of Blanchard, 

[His] research revealed that gender dysphoric males who were primarily attracted to men (androphilic) usually reported having been quite feminine as children (Blanchard, 1988).

Please note the use of the word ‘feminine’ — this is clearly referring to gender, not sex.

I’ve seen it suggested that ‘femininity’ is behaviour which tends to attract males — at least, heterosexual ones. That suggests some aspects of gender may relate to sexual orientation. That appears to make sense; after all, gay men are often criticised for being feminine. Lesbians, meanwhile are often accused of being masculine.

Many gay men are masculine of course, and there are plenty of feminine lesbians. But still, there appears to be a correlation.

Back to Anne Lawrence (same paper):

Blanchard’s other category […] included those attracted primarily to women (gynephilic); those attracted to both women and men (bisexual); and those with little attraction to other persons of either sex [… he] found that the males in this combined group reported less childhood femininity than those in the androphilic group; some might not have been especially masculine as children, but few if any had been extremely feminine. Those in the combined group presented for initial evaluation later in life, at an average age of 34 years (Blanchard et al., 1987). About 75% of them admitted to a history of sexual arousal with cross-dressing (Blanchard, 1985). Most significantly for Blanchard’s theory, they were far more likely than persons in the androphilic group to be sexually aroused by autogynephilic fantasies, that is, by fantasies of simply being female (Blanchard, 1989b).

There is good reason to believe that the males in the combined group might have underreported their sexual arousal to cross-dressing. Blanchard, Clemmensen, and Steiner (1985) demonstrated that in nonandrophilic gender dysphoric males, denial of sexual arousal to cross-dressing was significantly correlated with the tendency to describe oneself in a socially approved way, as measured by the Crowne-Marlowe Social Desirability Scale.

Hardly surprising; if society disapproves of your sexuality, and you care what society thinks, you don’t talk about it.

So that’s Blanchard’s two types of MtF transsexuals. They’re very different:

HSTS can be thought of as super-feminine gay men. Femininity is natural to them; masculinity is alien. They know they are not women, but they wish to live as women. They are attracted to heterosexual men.

AGPs are heterosexual men with an attraction to the idea of themselves as women, plus, often, a ‘standard’ attraction to real flesh-and-blood women. They tend to be less ‘naturally feminine’ than HSTS. 

AGPs don’t want to live as women. They want to *be* women; they find the idea sexy. The problem for AGPs is obvious: they’re not women, and they can’t be women; they can only fantasise about it, and this pisses them off.

Sexologist James Cantor summarizes the differences in this article:

On this view, HSTS and AGPs are as different as a whale and a basking shark. Superficially, they look similar, but under the skin, they are completely different animals.

Still, it is important to note that the idea that HSTS are ‘genuine transsexuals’ while AGPs are imposters is absolute nonsense. A homosexual man is no more a woman than a heterosexual man, and ‘transition’ is no more (or less) natural for one than the other. Though the causes may be different, both ‘types’ suffer from gender dysphoria; the medical purpose of ‘transition’ is simply to alleviate their distress.

Michael Bailey / The Man Who Would Be Queen

Anne Lawrence wrote another paper; ‘Shame and Narcissistic Rage in Autogynephilic Transsexualism’:

In this paper, she discusses factors possibly underlying the campaign against Michael Bailey following publication of his book The Man Who Would Be Queen (TMWWBQ; Bailey, 2003),

Bailey’s book was intended for a mainstream audience, and drew heavily on Blanchard’s work. The possibility it might bring the concept of autogynephilia to public awareness outraged some MtF transsexuals, many of whom do not accept Blanchard’s ideas, and find them insulting. 

Anne Lawrence writes:

The attacks [included…] attempts to turn Bailey’s colleagues against him; attacks directed against Bailey’s children; and efforts to discredit or silence nearly anyone who openly supported him. Dreger’s article suggests that many of Bailey’s opponents intended not only to discredit Bailey’s book, but also to destroy its author. The duration, intensity, and sheer savagery of the campaign waged by many of Bailey’s MtF transsexual opponents is astonishing[…]

One could imagine that Kohut (1972) was describing the campaign conducted by some of Bailey’s MtF transsexual opponents when he wrote the following:

“[There is a] need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in pursuit of all these aims…. There is utter disregard for reasonable limitations and a boundless wish to redress an injury and to obtain revenge…. […] Aggressions employed in the pursuit of maturely experienced causes are not limitless…. The narcissistically injured [person], on the other hand, cannot rest until he has blotted out [the]…offender who dared to oppose him, [or] to disagree with him.” (pp. 380, 382, 385)

These excerpts are taken from Kohut’s description of narcissistic rage, a concept that I believe is central to understanding many of the attacks against Bailey and their implications.

I propose that nonhomosexual (i.e., presumably autogynephilic) MtF transsexuals are probably at increased risk for the development of narcissistic disorders […] as a consequence of the inevitable difficulties they face in having their cross-gender feelings and identities affirmed by others, both before and after gender transition. As a result, many autogynephilic transsexuals are likely to be particularly vulnerable to feelings of shame and may be predisposed to exhibit narcissistic rage in response to perceived insult or injury. It is not hard to understand why Bailey’s book was experienced by at least some nonhomosexual MtF transsexuals as inflicting narcissistic injury and why this led some of them to express apparent narcissistic rage. 

The controversy is described in detail here by Alice Dreger:

An alternative perspective by Charles Moser, more sympathetic to those enraged by Bailey’s book, can be found here:

A timeline of events relating to the controversy, compiled by Lynn Conway, one of the protagonists, is available here:

More from Anne Lawrence:

Becoming What We Love:

Men Trapped In Men’s Bodies:

So, according to Blanchard, transwomen come in two types: a minority (HSTS) with no sexual interest in women; and a majority (AGPs) who are suffering (the right word in many cases) from a paraphilia which severely fucks with their heads. AGPs may have other paraphilias too; sadomasochistic ones are common — we’ll come back to this point.

Critics of Blanchard

Blanchard’s typology is still highly controversial. As noted earlier, many transwomen find it both inaccurate and deeply offensive. They complain that Blanchard’s work characterises them as ‘perverted men’, whereas they see themselves simply as women. This concern is well-founded; in the name of science, sexologists may refrain from making moral judgements, but the general public does not.

Serano’s Views on Sex and Gender

Julia Serano, a transwoman, is a major critic of Blanchard’s work.

Here, Julia Serano attempts to debunk the idea that there are two, and only two sexes, relying on a conflation of primary sex characteristics (which determine what sex an individual is) and secondary sexual characteristics (which are typical of individuals of a particular sex).

She then goes on to use the terms ‘gender identity’, ‘social gender’ and ‘gender’ interchangeably, which further muddies the waters. According to Serano, gender is:

an amalgamation of bodies, identities and life experiences… subconscious urges, sensations and behaviors, some of which develop organically, and others which are shaped by language and culture.

The purpose of this wibble is to support Serano’s claim that transwomen are women — though she cannot tell us what, exactly, a woman is; the word is not to be found in her glossary. (The glossary itself is an intriguing read, offering insight into Serano’s mindset. See, for example, her entry about the word ‘paraphilia’

Serano’s Views on Blanchard

Here, Serano tackles Blanchard’s work on autogynephilia, summarises the evidence against it, and concludes that it has been discredited:

 She points out that Blanchard has had to invent several new ‘types’ of gender dysphoria to account for the problems in his original theory, and goes to on give her opinion on why the theory is still promulgated. 


But if we are to abandon Blanchard’s theory, what should we replace it with? Serano prefers what she calls the ‘Intrinsic Inclinations’ model of gender to explain transsexualism:

According to Serano:

[S]ubconscious sex, gender expression, and sexual orientation represent separate gender inclinations that are determined largely independent of one another. 

[…T]hese gender inclinations are, to some extent, intrinsic to our persons… and generally remain intact despite societal influences and conscious attempts by individuals to purge, repress, or ignore them. 

[…E]ach of these inclinations roughly correlates with physical set, resulting in a bimodal distribution pattern (i.e., two overlapping bell curves) similar to that seen for other gender differences, such as height.

This is broadly similar to John Money’s ideas about gender. The major difference in this model from the radfem view of gender seems to be the addition of ‘subconscious sex’ — which sounds very much like the concept of ‘gender identity’. How a person could be subconsciously female, though physically male, is unclear. Nor is it clear how ‘subconscious sex’ could be detected, nor why it should take precedence over physical sex when determining the sex of an individual. 

Overall, I find Serano’s theory less convincing than Blanchard’s — perhaps they’re both wrong?

Charles Moser

Charles Allen Moser, a sexologist with an interest in BDSM and transsexualism, criticised Blanchard’s views on transsexualism in this paper:

First, Moser complains about Blanchard’s insensitive use of language, pointing out that what Blanchard called homosexual transsexuals do not consider themselves homosexual, as they view themselves as women, attracted to men. Meanwhile, non-homosexual transsexuals often call themselves lesbians, as they view themselves as women attracted to women. He notes that the characterisation of female-attracted MtF transsexuals as simply paraphilic men is unnecessarily stigmatising, and likely to cause offence. 

He also points out limitations in the tests used to categorise these individuals, and points to Blanchard’s own data, which shows that AGP is not exclusive to female-attracted MtF transsexuals, as the theory suggests.

He argues that AGP should not be classified as a paraphilia, and that it could be a characteristic of many MtF transsexuals, without being the main motivation for them to seek sex-reassignment surgery. He says there may be multiple possible causes of transsexualism, and points out that Blanchard accepts there can be multiple causes of a paraphilia.

Moser also calls into question the idea that non-homosexual subjects who did not report AGP-typical experiences were falsifying their responses. 

Moser wrote about his own views on transsexualism here:


Many MtF transsexuals who would fit the category of autogynephiles have also argued against Blanchard’s work; for example, this piece contains a mashup of Serano’s and Moser’s objections, among others:

This page, written by someone called Zagria, is also highly critical of Blanchard’s ideas:

In the next section we’ll look at some lesser-known alternatives to Blanchard’s views.

[Next Section]

Sex, Gender, Transsexualism and Trauma – Part 2 : Gender


[Previous Section]

2. Gender

Sometimes, the word ‘gender’ is used as a synonym for sex. Sometimes it’s used to mean something else. One of the major difficulties in talking about these issues is that people use the word in several different ways, sometimes even within the same sentence. This difficulty persists even after it’s been pointed out, which leads to frequent arguments, often useless.

I’m going to discuss the radfem view of gender, but with a slight deviation — at least, from the way the concept is often explained by radfems. On this view, ‘sex’ is not the same as ‘gender’, though the two are related.

The typical radfem way of putting this is to say that sex is a real, biological thing, while gender is a social construct designed to enforce one arbitrary set of behavioural patterns upon female humans, and another set upon males.

Additionally, they say this ‘gender system’ sets up a hierarchy such that female humans are unfairly disadvantaged compared to males; though both sexes may be oppressed by the system, female humans get the worst of it. Therefore, they would like to abolish this ‘gender system’.

(Note on terminology: I’m going to refer to adult female humans as ‘women’ from now on; or ‘girls’ if I mean the juvenile form. Adult male humans will be called ‘men’, and the juvenile form ‘boys’. This reflects common usage.)

When we talk about gender we often use the word ‘masculine’ to refer to behaviour patterns and characteristics typically associated with men (and to some extent boys). The word ‘feminine’ refers to the equivalent for women and girls.

Gender is related to sex, but it’s different.

This is where I deviate slightly: I don’t think gender is entirely a social construct. I’d like to differentiate between different ‘levels’ of gender; along the way, I’ll discuss other ways the word ‘gender’ is often used, especially by non-radfems. Again, I’ll try to base all this on science and nature.

First of all, we have the kind of ‘gender’ based solely on sexual dimorphism. Since male and female humans have different secondary sex characteristics, female-associated characteristics can be considered feminine, and male ones masculine. Since these characteristics differ among individuals, these individuals can be thought of varying in masculinity and femininity; this is true for both sexes. 

Sometimes this is the ‘gender’ people are thinking of when they say ‘gender is a spectrum’. Sometimes they’re talking about this, combined with behaviour. (Sometimes they don’t know what they’re talking about, and you have to figure it out for yourself. This makes conversation tricky.)

Second, if gender means ‘sexual dimorphism in behaviour’ then we can see it clearly in the animal kingdom. Most obviously (and trivially) the dimorphism is directly related to reproduction — eg. when mating, bulls mount cows and not vice-versa. 

There are other examples less clearly related to reproduction. Consider a pride of lions. The female lions do most of the hunting; the male lions defend the pride from intruders (often other male lions).

This behavioural dimorphism can be related to physical differences between male and female lions — ie. secondary sex characteristics. Males are bigger, and their manes cause them to overheat easily. So they’re not good at hunting, but are great at fighting and chasing away intruding male lions. This suggests the physical dimorphism co-evolves with the behavioural dimorphism.

But it’s easy to imagine a situation where the behaviours and physical characteristics are reversed; it’s not obvious that these specific differences are necessary for reproduction.

Lions are social creatures, so it’s possible that this is a sort of gender system, enforced by the pride, and not something innate. But the correlation between form and function here suggests that this kind of ‘gender’ is at least not entirely a social construct.

Another example would be orangutans. These guys also show both physical and behavioural dimorphism, and you can make the equivalent argument with them as for lions.

Orangutans are primates, very closely related to humans. They have naturally ‘gendered’ behaviour. In orangutans the father plays (almost) no role in raising young. However, if a baby female orangutan is kidnapped from her mother, then, if she has children of her own, she often will not know how to raise them, and her babies will die. This suggests that in orangutans, mothering skills are at least in part culturally acquired. This is true even though mothering skills are extremely important for orangutan reproduction.

The same is true for humans, and other primates also. Primate behaviour is extremely complex, and heavily mediated by social factors. ‘Natural’ sexual dimorphism in behaviour almost certainly exists in all primates. But primates are so behaviourally flexible it’s hard to tell what is natural from what is learned.

So, is it fair to call this ‘natural’ sexual dimorphism in behaviour ‘gender’? It’s not what the radfems mean by the word ‘gender’, that’s for sure. 

Some radfems accept that men and women typically have sexually dimorphic behaviour, and that some of this dimorphism is likely innate. What they mean by ‘gender’ (the thing they want to get rid of) is precisely the artificial system by which unnecessary behavioural dimorphism is imposed on individual humans, based on their sex-class, and irrespective of an individual’s natural inclinations.

Back to masculinity and femininity. ‘Masculinity’ refers to behaviours and physical characteristics considered typical of men. ‘Femininity’ is the equivalent for women. Radfems say it’s okay for both men and women to deviate from these patterns; some may be ‘natural’, but none should be enforced. But natural or not, the patterns of masculinity and femininity exist in society, and can be observed. Science is based on reality, not utopia.

Gender Identity

Sometimes, when people say ‘gender’, what they really mean is something called ‘gender identity’. 

What is gender identity?

For this part, I’m going to use Wikipedia, and follow the links to look up any terms whose meaning in this context I’m unsure of.

Gender identity is the personal sense of one’s own gender. Gender identity can correlate with a person’s assigned sex at birth or can differ from it. Gender expression typically reflects a person’s gender identity, but this is not always the case. While a person may express behaviors, attitudes, and appearances consistent with a particular gender role, such expression may not necessarily reflect their gender identity. The term gender identity was originally coined by Robert J. Stoller in 1964. 

(Stoller invented this concept in order to explain transsexualism — which is closely related to transgenderism.)

So, according to this, ’gender identity’ is not necessarily correlated with a person’s behaviour, attitudes or appearances, nor gender roles. 

What are ‘gender roles’?

A gender role, also known as a sex role, is a social role encompassing a range of behaviors and attitudes that are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for a person based on that person’s biological or perceived sex.

So gender roles are, in essence, sex-based stereotypes or norms of behaviour and attitude. But we’re told that ‘gender identity’ has nothing to do this; instead, it is a ‘personal sense of one’s own gender’.

What, in this context, is gender?

Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex (i.e., the state of being male, female, or an intersex variation), sex-based social structures (i.e., gender roles), or gender identity.

According to this, ‘gender’ is a range of characteristics having to do with ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. 

In this context, what are masculinity and femininity?

Masculinity (also called manhood or manliness) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with boys and men. Although masculinity is socially constructed, some research indicates that some behaviors considered masculine are biologically influenced.

Femininity (also called womanliness or girlishness) is a set of attributes, behaviors, and roles generally associated with women and girls. Although femininity is socially constructed, some research indicates that some behaviors considered feminine are biologically influenced.

What are boys and men, and what are women and girls?

A boy is a young male human. The term is usually used for a child or an adolescent. When a male human reaches adulthood, he is described as a man.

A girl is a young female human, usually a child or an adolescent. When she becomes an adult, she is described as a woman.

Finally, what are male and female?

A male () organism is the physiological sex that produces sperm. Each spermatozoon can fuse with a larger female gamete, or ovum, in the process of fertilization.

Female (symbol: ) is the sex of an organism, or a part of an organism, that produces non-mobile ova (egg cells)

So gender identity is a personal sense of how one’s own range of characteristics relate to a set of attributes, behaviours, and roles associated with either male humans, or female humans.

Some of these attributes and behaviours are biologically influenced. The rest are due to the existence of ‘gender roles’ — otherwise known as ‘sex-based stereotypes’.

So far, these ideas are compatible with the (slightly deviant) radfem view of sex and gender described earlier. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us; there is a long history of intellectual cross-pollination between sexology and feminism, as explored in this paper:

Also here:

As we discovered, ‘gender identity’ is not necessarily correlated with ‘gender roles’, nor other sex-based characteristics. Therefore:

Gender Identity is a Feeling

Gender identity is a ‘personal sense’ — a feeling — about how one’s own characteristics relate to sex-based stereotypes and characteristics. That feeling need not correspond with the reality of how well one actually fits those stereotypes and characteristics; it is a matter of perception. When a person feels that they do not fit, they may describe themselves as transgender.

So, transgender people may feel ‘masculine’ despite being female and fitting in with ‘feminine’ stereotypes and characteristics. Or they may feel ‘feminine’ even though their body is male and they fit well with ’masculine’ stereotypes and characteristics. 

Those who believe in ‘gender identity’ often say that what makes an individual a woman (or a man) is not their sex, but their ‘gender identity’. Often they go further, and say that ‘sex’ is a social construct; that the idea there are only two sexes is arbitrary and does not reflect biological reality. They believe that — regardless of sex — the category ‘woman’ should include all people who claim that identity; likewise for the category ‘man’. 

But ‘gender identity’ is not limited to just ‘woman’ or ‘man’; among transgender people, there are a vast number of ‘non-binary’ gender identities, such as ‘hemigirl’, ‘demiboy’, ‘bigender’, ‘agender’, ‘genderfluid’, ‘genderflux’ and many more. In fact, ‘gender identity’ can be anything at all —  it can be a worm, or even the moon! Believers demand we take all such claims at face value; if a person claims to be the moon, who are we to argue? Gender identity, in their view, should take priority not only over sex, but over reality itself.

I won’t be discussing ‘non-binary’ identities any further. 

Gender Dysphoria

Gender identity is a feeling. Transgender people are said to have a ‘mismatch’ between this feeling and their actual sex. This mismatch has to do with their perceptions of how well they adhere to internalised sex-based stereotypes — to their own ideas of what men and women should be.

This mismatch can cause great discomfort for some — but not all — transgender people. This discomfort, when it occurs, is known as ‘gender dysphoria’. 

What is the cause of the mismatch?

One idea is that ‘gender identity’ is innate, fixed at birth. Trans people, then, are born with this mismatch. There are various theories about how this might happen — but the question is not settled.

Another idea is that ‘gender identity’ is something that develops during childhood, and becomes ‘fixed’ at an early age.

Freud, Jung, and Stoller

Although they did not use the term ‘gender identity’, this was basically Freud and Jung’s view. Freud had a theory about what he called ‘psychosexual development’, consisting of five stages. What we now call ‘gender identity’, according to this theory, is formed during the so-called ‘phallic stage’, in which the child develops an awareness of their sexed body, and begins to think of themselves either as boy or girl.

It is in this third infantile development stage that children become aware of their bodies, the bodies of other children, and the bodies of their parents; they gratify physical curiosity by undressing and exploring each other and their genitals, and so learn the physical (sexual) differences between “male” and “female” and the gender differences between “boy” and “girl”. In the phallic stage, a boy’s decisive psychosexual experience is the Oedipus complex, his son–father competition for possession of mother. This psychological complex derives from the 5th-century BC Greek mythologic character Oedipus, who unwittingly killed his father, Laius, and sexually possessed his mother, Jocasta. Analogously, in the phallic stage, a girl’s decisive psychosexual experience is the Electra complex, her daughter–mother competition for psychosexual possession of father.

Robert J. Stoller himself was a proponent of this Freudian view. He was the one who invented the term ‘gender identity’ in the first place, to help explain transsexualism.

Drawing on his extensive research with transsexuals and new advances in the science of sex, Stoller advances his belief in “Primary Femininity,” the initial orientation of both biological tissue and psychological identification toward feminine development. This early, non-conflictual phase contributes to a feminine core gender identity in both boys and girls unless a masculine force is present to interrupt the symbiotic relationship with the mother.

Stoller identifies three components in the formation of core gender identity, an innate and immutable sense of maleness or femaleness usually consolidated by the second year of life:

– Biological and hormonal influences;

– Sex assignment at birth and

– Environmental and psychological influences with effects similar to imprinting.

Stoller asserts that threats to core gender identity are like threats to sense of self and result in the defenses known as the perversions.

In his most notable contribution, Perversion (1975), Stoller attempts to illuminate the dynamics of sexual perversion and normalize it. Stoller suggests that perversion inevitably entails an expression of unconscious aggression in the form of revenge against a person who, in early years, made some form of threat to the child’s core gender identity, either in the form of overt trauma or through the frustrations of the Oedipal conflict.

In Sexual Excitement (1979), Stoller finds the same perverse dynamics at work in all sexual excitement on a continuum from overt aggression to subtle fantasy. In focusing on the unconscious fantasy, and not the behavior, Stoller provides a way of analyzing the mental dynamics of sexuality, what he terms “erotics,” while simultaneously de-emphasizing the pathology of any particular form of behavior. Stoller does not consider homosexuality as a monolithic behavior but rather as a range of sexual styles as diverse as heterosexuality. 

So for Stoller, a mismatched ‘gender identity’ (which underlies transgenderism, and is the root cause of what we now call ‘gender dysphoria’) was inextricably linked with both trauma and sexuality, particularly the kind of sexuality he called ‘perversion’. This is quite different from the modern view, in which it is considered offensive to label transgender people as ‘perverts’, to link their condition with trauma, or to suggest it is somehow rooted in their sexuality. (Freud is out of fashion these days, though Jung is making a comeback.) 

John Money

The modern view of ‘gender identity’ is more closely aligned with the ideas of John Money:

Money made the concept of gender a broader, more inclusive concept than one of masculine / feminine. For him, gender included not only one’s status as a man or a woman, but was also a matter of personal recognition, social assignment, or legal determination; not only on the basis of one’s genitalia but also on the basis of somatic and behavioral criteria that go beyond genital differences.

Money was a controversial figure:

During his professional life, Money was respected as an expert on sexual behavior, especially known for his views that gender was learned rather than innate. However, it was later revealed that his most famous case of David Reimer was fundamentally flawed. In 1966, a botched circumcision left eight-month-old Reimer without a penis. Money persuaded the baby’s parents that sex reassignment surgery would be in Reimer’s best interest. At the age of 22 months, Reimer[’s …] testicles were surgically removed. He was reassigned to be raised as female and given the name Brenda. Money further recommended hormone treatment, to which the parents agreed. Money then recommended a surgical procedure to create an artificial vagina, which the parents refused. Money published a number of papers reporting the reassignment as successful.

During subsequent appointments with Reimer and Reimer’s twin brother Brian, Money forced the two to rehearse sexual acts, with David playing the bottom role as his brother “[pressed] his crotch against” David’s buttocks. Money also forced the two children to strip for “genital inspections”, occasionally taking photos. Money justified these acts by claiming that “childhood ‘sexual rehearsal play'” was important for a “healthy adult gender identity”.

For several years, Money reported on Reimer’s progress as the “John/Joan case”, describing apparently successful female gender development and using this case to support the feasibility of sex reassignment and surgical reconstruction even in non-intersex cases. Notes by a former student at Money’s laboratory state that, during the yearly follow-up visits, Reimer’s parents routinely lied to staff about the success of the procedure. Reimer’s twin brother, Brian, later developed schizophrenia.

David Reimer’s case came to international attention in 1997 when he told his story to Milton Diamond, an academic sexologist, who persuaded Reimer to allow him to report the outcome in order to dissuade physicians from treating other infants similarly. Soon after, Reimer went public with his story[…] 

[Contrary] to Money’s reports—when living as Brenda, Reimer did not identify as a girl. He was ostracized and bullied by peers (who dubbed him “cavewoman”), and neither frilly dresses, nor female hormones made him feel female.

On July 1, 2002, Brian was found dead from an overdose of antidepressants. On May 4, 2004, after suffering years of severe depression, financial instability, and marital troubles, David committed suicide[…]. Reimer’s parents have stated that Money’s methodology was responsible for the deaths of both of their sons.

Money argued that media response to the exposé was due to right-wing media bias and “the antifeminist movement.” He said his detractors believed “masculinity and femininity are built into the genes so women should get back to the mattress and the kitchen”.

You can read more about the Reimer case here:

See also:

It appears that Money was more committed to supposed ‘left-wing’ political views than he was to reality; surely a great inspiration for today’s finest scientific minds.

So does the Reimer case provide evidence that, contrary to Money’s theories, ‘gender identity’ is innate? Perhaps David Reimer’s psychological difficulties stemmed from the fact that his ‘gender identity’ happened to be that of a boy, and socialisation could not change this? If only David’s innate ‘gender identity’ had been that of a girl, the experiment might have been a success — or at least, not a disaster. This is the modern view.

But there is a simpler explanation: perhaps ‘gender identity’ is not separate from sex, but is simply the conscious awareness of it? On this view, David was a boy not by virtue of his ‘gender identity’, but because he was male. Then his troubles likely stemmed from the removal of his genitals; the lies he was told to cover it up; a false belief that he was a girl; his sexual abuse at the hands of Dr. Money; childhood bullying due to extensive deviation from feminine stereotypes; and finally, the revelation that he was not a girl, but a boy who’d been raised as a girl as an experiment conceived by Dr. Money, his abuser, following the removal of David’s genitals. Could the result of all this trauma result in something like ‘gender dysphoria’? 

Would an artificial vagina really have solved David’s problems? Or, for that matter, a real flesh-and-blood penis? We will never know.

Then what about transgender people? If ‘gender identity’ is not separate from sex, then — absent negligent genital surgery — how could the two come to be mismatched? And if they did, how would surgery help?

There are several ideas about how a mismatched ’gender identity’ might develop and lead to dysphoria. Many of these ideas, like Stoller’s, are related to sexuality.

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Sex, Gender, Transsexualism and Trauma – Part 1 : Sex


1. Sex

What does it mean to be transgender?

There are several competing theories. Most commonly, it is said that transgender people have a ‘gender identity’ that differs from their ‘sex assigned at birth’. But what is sex assigned at birth? And what is gender identity?

Sex assigned at birth is (except in rare intersex cases) just a long-winded way of referring to sex. So, what is sex?

Note: This is a simplified discussion; a more detailed one can be found here:

All species reproduce. Some do this asexually. In that case, there is only one parent. The offspring are genetically (almost!) identical to the parent organism. Small differences are due to mutation.

The process of evolution works only because of differences between individuals of the same species. These differences mean that some individuals are better fitted to their environment than others. Those ‘fitter’ individuals tend to survive longer and produce more offspring.

As a result, species change over time, and on average the individuals within the species become better fitted to the environment.

In asexual species, evolution is very slow, because offspring are so similar to their parents. Mutation rates need to be low because most mutations lead to individuals who are less ‘fit’ than their parents. For this reason, many biological mechanisms exist to prevent or correct genetic mutations. This slow evolution means that asexual organisms cannot easily adapt to a rapidly changing environment. (I’m speaking here in evolutionary timescales, which are very long compared to the lifespan of an individual.)

Sexual reproduction is a solution to this problem of slow evolution. It creates genetic diversity without relying on mutation.

In sexual reproduction, there are two parents. They come together to produce offspring containing a combination of genetic material from both parents. The offspring inherit approximately 50% of their genetic material from each. Offspring are similar to both parents, but far from identical. Thus, there is far greater diversity among offspring. The system works in such a way that all (or most) of the offspring are viable.

Mutations also occur, but they play a relatively minor role in generating diversity. As in asexual reproduction, mutations usually cause trouble.

Organisms that reproduce sexually have a problem to solve. In order to reproduce, they need another individual of the same (or at least, compatible) species with which to combine genetic material.

Many sexually reproducing species come in two forms. Sexual reproduction then requires an individual of one form to ‘donate’ DNA to an individual of the other form; this second form ‘receives’ this DNA and combines it with its own to produce offspring.

The form whose reproductive biology is structured to donate DNA is called ‘male’. The form whose reproductive biology is structured to receive that DNA and produce the offspring is called ‘female’. (On this basis, the vast majority of individuals whose reproductive biology is non-functional can still be easily classified as male or female.)

The donated packet of DNA is called a ‘male gamete’. To produce offspring, this gamete must fuse with a ‘female gamete’ containing DNA from the female.

The male gamete is (typically) much smaller than the female gamete. This is because the male gamete needs to be more mobile than the female one. In many cases, the male gamete is not just mobile, but motile — i.e. self-propelling. Female gametes are larger, and non-motile.

When a species comes in two forms like this, it is described as ‘sexually dimorphic’. Many plants are sexually dimorphic, as are most animals. All mammals are sexually dimorphic. Human beings are mammals. Human beings are sexually dimorphic. So, humans come in two forms – male and female. There’s no third gamete, so in this sense (at least) there’s no third sex.

(Intersex people will be discussed later, but they too can be classified as male or female — based, as usual, on their reproductive biology.)

This classification based on what type of gametes an organism is structured to produce is what is meant when we talk about the ‘sex’ of an individual. Sometimes it’s called ‘reproductive sex’, or ‘sex class’ or ‘biological sex’. 

Unusual cases

The Seahorse

Sometimes the seahorse is brought up as some kind of exception to the normal ‘rules’ of sexual dimorphism. It is pointed out that in seahorses, it is the male of the species that ‘gets pregnant’ and ‘gives birth’. The male seahorse has a pouch on his belly for carrying the eggs. When mating, the female deposits her eggs in this pouch. The male fertilises them, and the eggs develop to maturity in the pouch to emerge fully developed, but very small.

This is unusual — but it’s not an exception. How do we know it is the male seahorse that ‘gives birth’, and not the female? Because the one that ‘gives birth’ is also the one that makes the small gametes — ie. the male. Thus, in seahorses, we have a clear example that shows that the sex classification of an individual is based on the type of gametes produced, and beyond that, has nothing to do with how the species organises its reproductive affairs.

The Clownfish, the Parrotfish, the Barramundi, etc

Parrotfish, clownfish, and barramundi are what are called ‘sequential hermaphrodites’. For example, parrotfish have a lifecycle in which each individual starts off as female (‘the initial phase’) but later in life may change sex to become male (‘the terminal phase’).

So, how do we determine the sex of a parrotfish (or other sequential hermaphrodite)? Again, we look to see what type of gametes it produces — if it produces large gametes it’s female; if it produces small gametes, it’s male. The fact that the individual can change its sex doesn’t prevent us from determining which sex it is at any particular time. 

But what about when a sequential hermaphrodite individual is in the process of changing its sex? Again this is simple — we look at the gametes. If we discover that the individual can currently produce no gametes, it is neuter — ie. it does not have a sex. If it can currently produce both, it is hermaphrodite — both male and female at the same time. If it produces small gametes only, it’s male; if large gametes only, female. There are no other possibilities. Again the sex of the individual is determined by the type of gametes produced.

Iain M. Bank’s Culture Novels

In the (fictional) Culture, humans are able to change sex in the manner of parrotfish. When they are male they produce sperm and may father children. When they are female they produce eggs, and can become pregnant. 

These fictional humans are sequential hermaphrodites. And like the parrotfish, there is necessarily an ‘in-between’ phase while the individual is actively changing their sex. The change takes some time, and intuitively it seems obvious that say, during a change from male to female, they must start at a point of ‘maximum maleness’, and become gradually less male and more female over time, until finally they reach ‘maximum femaleness’.

But this is wrong — because at any point during this transition we could examine the individual and determine their sex based on their capacity for gamete production. Just as with the parrotfish, there are only four possibilities: male, female, neuter and hermaphrodite.

Even in high-concept science fiction, sex is not a spectrum.

Why do People say Sex is a Spectrum?

Here’s (part of) the entry on ‘sex’ from Julia Serano’s glossary of terms:

Sex: with regards to bodies, it refers to a suite of sexually dimorphic traits that may include chromosomes, gonads, external genitals, other reproductive organs, ratio of sex hormones, and secondary sex characteristics. In our society, these traits are classified in a dichotomous manner as either female or male, and people are assigned a legal sex on that basis. However, variability exists in all these traits, plus these traits may not all “align” (i.e., all male, or all female) within the same person — when this occurs, such traits (and the people who possess them) are often described as intersex. 

Serano appears to be confused. The reason that “chromosomes, gonads, external genitals, other reproductive organs, ratio of sex hormones, and secondary sex characteristics” are “classified in a dichotomous manner as either female or male” is because all of these traits are highly correlated with an individual’s ability to produce either small or large gametes — ie. whether they are male or female.

What determines an organism’s sex is the organisation of its reproductive physiology — this is as true of humans as it is plants. Reproductive physiology is the only one of the “suite of sexually dimorphic traits” that actually determines the individual’s sex. 

But females and males of many species can reliably identify each other (for mating purposes) without examining each other’s reproductive systems. How do they perform this astonishing feat? In effect, they ‘guess’ an individuals sex by looking out for the other sexually dimorphic traits — which are called ‘secondary sex characteristics’. These traits are often variable.

Imagine a human-like creature in which the male lactates, and is smaller, less muscular, and less hairy than the female. If we found such a creature, we would know it was the male form that lactates, because that ability would be found (almost exclusively) in the form that produces small gametes.

In this imaginary species we would expect females and males to identify each other in the same way that humans do; they would simply look out for the secondary sex characteristics of their own species. It wouldn’t strike them as strange that the male lactates, any more than it strikes the seahorse as strange that the male carries the young.

Now, if a female member of this imaginary species were to eat a certain fruit that caused her to grow breasts, lactate, lose all her hair, and even shrink, others of her tribe might misidentify her as a male, and treat her accordingly — but it would not in fact make her male. She would remain female, but with male secondary sex characteristics. 

On the other hand, if this fruit were to cause her reproductive system to reorganise itself around the production of small gametes rather than large, she would become male — irrespective of size, hairiness, or ability to lactate. And she would still be male, even if her reproductive system — now reorganised around the production of small gametes — was non-functional. The tribe might choose to regard this individual simply as a female who’d been reshaped by a magical fruit — but their opinion would be irrelevant; she would in fact now be male.


What about intersex individuals, in which, as Serano puts it, the various “traits may not all “align” (i.e., all male, or all female) within the same person”?

Arguably, this is not so different from the case of the imaginary creature who ate the enchanted fruit. That individual ended up with sexually-dimorphic traits that were not all aligned; yet we were able to decide their sex on the basis of the underlying reproductive physiology. 

We can do the same with human intersex individuals — and in almost every case, they can be classified as male or female, even if they happen to be infertile. There are many different intersex conditions, and each occurs only in either male or female humans — not both.

Nevertheless, intersex individuals can be taken as a special case, in that they are born with conditions that may cause ambiguity as to what sex they are. In some cases their sex may be assessed incorrectly, and / or they may suffer unnecessary surgical interventions.

Intersex people are frequently dragged into this argument, both by those who say sex is strictly binary, and those who insist sex is a spectrum. They often do not appreciate being used in this way.

Chromosomes, proteins and other bullshit

Another argument for the claim that sex is a spectrum is based on the complex biological mechanisms by which an undifferentiated ball of cells develops into a human being of one sex or another. 

Here’s an infamous example, by ScienceVet:

Here’s another, by Rebecca R. Helm:

This argument normally mentions chromosomes, genes, and all kinds of chemicals and hormones with intimidating-sounding names. None of these are relevant — they are mentioned to convey the complexity of the process and to make the reader feel stupid for believing there are only two sexes. 

It is true that the process is complex, and that many factors influence biological development. A number of unusual things can happen — some of which may result in a human being with an intersex condition. 

There is a great deal of variation in secondary sex characteristics, and in the shape and size of reproductive organs. Individuals vary in size, colour, texture and amount of hair, penis length and girth, shape of the vulva, breast size and shape, facial bone structure, and so on.

But sex classification is not based on secondary sex characteristics; nor is it based on chromosomes, hormones, the size of reproductive organs, or on behaviour. It is based solely on reproductive capacity. We classify individuals this way across many different species. This captures an important commonality, that speaks of our kinship with the rest of the natural world.

In every sexually-reproducing species, there are two kinds of gamete — large and small. There are no intermediate gametes. Therefore, there are only four possibilities: an individual can be male, female, hermaphrodite, or neuter — no other possibilities exist. (In humans, there are no true hermaphrodites. A few may arguably be neuter — perhaps due to an intersex condition — but for them, sexual reproduction is impossible.)

The variation in human characteristics allows individuals to distinguish between possible mates, and choose whichever they prefer. Tastes vary widely; some male humans may prefer to reproduce with hairier females. Some female humans may prefer males with a smaller penis, or a squeaky voice. It doesn’t matter — all males are equally male; all females are equally female.

The argument that sex is a spectrum implies that some males are more male than others. Perhaps, according to this argument, the most male individuals would have the largest penises, the most hair, and the deepest voices; the most female ones might have the largest breasts, the widest hips, and the daintiest feet.

But this is not variability in sex itself (maleness versus femaleness), but in the secondary sex characteristics by which an individual signals its sex to other members of its species. These are biological aspects not of sex, but gender — what we call masculinity and femininity. They may be related to both ‘sexiness’ and ‘beauty’ — but they do not affect an individual’s sex.

Here’s a more detailed refutation, by Andy Lewis, of the ‘sex is a spectrum’ argument:

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