“Gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum”: some problems

An oft-repeated mantra among proponents of the notion of gender identity is that “gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum”. The basic idea is that what makes gender oppressive is not, as the radical feminist analysis would have it, that it is an externally imposed set of norms prescribing and proscribing behaviour to individuals in accordance with morally arbitrary biological characteristics, and coercively placing them in one of two positions in a hierarchy. Rather, the problem is that we recognise only two possible genders. Thus humans of both sexes could be liberated if we recognised that while gender is indeed an internal, essential facet of our identity, there are more genders than just “man” or “woman” to choose from. And the next step on the path towards liberation is the recognition of a range of new gender identities, so we now have people referring to themselves as “genderqueer” or “non-binary” or “pangender” or “agender” or “demiboy” or “demigirl” or “aliagender” or “genderfuck” or “trigender” or “neutrois” or “aporagender” or “ectogender” or “veloxigender”…I could go on.

genderbread-638x444There are numerous problems with the logic of this view, that render it both internally inconsistent, and politically unattractive.

1. If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then everyone is “non-binary”.

This basic logical point should be obvious, and yet is denied by most of the proponents of the spectrum model of gender – indeed, it is often met with angry objections from those who label themselves non-binary. But it’s hard to see how this point can be refuted. If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then every individual alive is non-binary, by definition. There are not just two points. There is a range of points, and we all of us fall somewhere along the spectrum. And then the label “non-binary” becomes redundant, as it fails to pick out a special category of people.

I would be happy with this implication, because despite knowing that I am female and calling myself a woman, I do not consider myself a one-dimensional gender stereotype. I am not some ideal manifestation of femininity, and so I am non-binary, just like everybody else is. Those who identify as non-binary are unlikely to be happy with this conclusion, however, as their identity as a non-binary person depends upon the existence of a much larger group of binary cisgender people, against whom they can define themselves as more interesting and complex, and by whom they can claim to be misunderstood and politically oppressed.

And here we get to a rather amusing irony about people insisting that they and a select handful of their fellow revolutionaries are “non-binary” – it creates a false binary between those who conform to gender norms, and those who don’t. In reality, everybody is non-binary. Nobody is a one-dimensional gender stereotype. We all of us actively participate in some gender norms, passively acquiesce with others, and positively rail against others. So to call oneself non-binary is in fact to create a false binary, and to position oneself on the superior side of that binary.

2. If gender is a spectrum, that means it’s a continuum between two extremes, and everyone is located somewhere along that continuum.

I assume the two ends of the spectrum are masculinity and femininity. Is there anything else they could be? Once we realise this, it becomes even clearer that everybody is non-binary, since absolutely nobody is “pure masculinity” or “pure femininity”. Of course some people will be closer to one end of the spectrum, while others will be more ambiguous and float around the centre. But even the most conventionally masculine person will demonstrate some characteristics we associate with femininity, and vice versa.

Where do gender identities like “pangender” and “agender” fit into this schema? If you identify as pangender, is the claim that you represent every possible point on that spectrum? All at the same time? How might that be possible, since the extremes represent opposites of one another? Pure femininity is passivity, weakness and submission, while pure masculinity is aggression, strength and dominance. It is simply impossible to be all of these things at the same time. (If you don’t agree with me – if you’re angry right now about my “femmephobia”, because I’ve defined femininity as weakness and submission – feel free to give me alternative definitions of masculinity and femininity. Whatever you come up with, they’re going to represent opposites of one another.)

Similarly, some special people apparently get to opt out of the spectrum altogether by declaring themselves “agender”, saying that they feel neither masculine nor feminine, and don’t have any internal experience of gender. When I wrote this post, I got a few responses telling me that it sounds like I am agender. But this is a solution I reject, for the following reasons: it assumes that gender is an essential internal property, rather than an externally imposed hierarchy; and it implies that the gender monolith has to stay in place, that the vast majority of people must define themselves by reference to it, but that a few special revolutionary gender pioneers to get to opt out. If I want to opt out of gender, I may declare myself “agender”, but presumably that requires that most other people do not, or once again, the label would become redundant.

My response to this suggestion is to say ok, yes, I am agender. I do not have an innate, essential gender. I’m a person. Just like everybody else. We’re all agender. So let’s abolish gender altogether, and say that people can wear what they like and behave however they choose, without the need for restrictive boxes or labels.

3. If gender is a spectrum, what possible meaning can the word “cisgender” have?

The label “cisgender” cannot pick out one specific location on this spectrum between masculinity and femininity, because it is a word that is applied to both masculine and feminine people: there are apparently cis men and cis women. In fact, “cis man”, “cis woman”, “trans man”, and “trans woman” are binary concepts, suggesting that there are only two options, man and woman, which runs counter to the spectrum theory. The prefixes “cis” and “trans” are qualifiers, referring to different classes of people having the gender identity “man” or “woman”, but they are not gender identities in themselves.

For this reason, it doesn’t look like we can coherently believe both that gender is a spectrum, and that cisgender people exist. And correlatively, we can’t coherently believe both that gender is a spectrum, and that trans people exist. This is one of the crucial tensions at the heart of gender identity politics, and one that most of its proponents either haven’t noticed, or choose to ignore because it can only be resolved by rejecting the key tenets of the ideology. The idea that gender is a spectrum, not a binary, negates the experiences of transsexual people who choose to move from one gender role to another, and renders their efforts at transition unintelligible. If gender is a spectrum, and your gender identity can be anywhere along that spectrum, why modify your body to make it more closely resemble that of the opposite sex?

4. If gender is a spectrum, how many possible gender identities do we need to recognise in order not to be oppressive?

Once we assert that the problem with gender is that we currently only recognise two of them, the obvious question to ask is: how many genders would we have to recognise in order not to be oppressive? Just how many possible gender identities are there?


The only consistent answer to this is: 7 billion, give or take. There are as many possible gender identities as there are humans on the planet. Your gender can be frost or the Sun or music or the sea or Jupiter or pure darkness. Your gender can be pizza.

But if this is so, it’s not clear how it makes sense, or adds anything to our understanding, to call any of this stuff “gender”, as opposed to just “human personality” or “stuff I like”. The word “gender” is not just a fancy word for your personality or your tastes and preferences, and it is not just a label to adopt so that you now have a way to convey just how large and multitudinous and interesting and misunderstood you are. Gender is the value system that ties certain desirable behaviours and characteristics to reproductive function. Once we’ve decoupled those behaviours and characteristics from reproductive function (which we should), and once we’ve rejected the idea that there are just two types of personality and that one is superior to the other (which we should), what can it possibly mean to continue to call this stuff “gender”? What meaning does the word “gender” have here, that the word “personality” cannot capture?

According to that last link, your gender can be

(name)gender: “A gender that is best described by one’s name, good for those who aren’t sure what they identify as yet but definitely know that they aren’t cis… it can be used as a catch-all term or a specific identifier, e.g. johngender, janegender, (your name here)gender, etc.”

The example of “(name)gender” is absolutely perfect for demonstrating how non-binary gender identities operate, and the function they perform. They are for people who aren’t sure what they identify as, but they know they aren’t cis. Presumably because cis people are just so rubbish and boring and conventional and conservative. This desire not to identify as cis is rational and makes perfect sense, especially if you’re female. I too believe I’m far too interesting, well-rounded and complex to simply be a “cis woman”. I too would like to transcend the stereotypes about my female body and the assumptions others make about me as a result of it. I too would like to be seen as more than just a mother/domestic servant/object of sexual gratification. I too would like to be viewed as a human being, a person with a rich inner life of my own, with the potential to be more than what our society views as possible for women.

The solution to that is not to call myself agender, to try to slip through the bars of the cage while leaving the cage intact, and the rest of womankind trapped within it. This is especially so given that you can’t slip through the bars. No amount of calling myself “agender” will stop the world seeing me as a woman, and treating me accordingly.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 11.30.21


The logical conclusion of all this is: if gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then there are no trans people. Or, alternatively, everyone is trans. Either way, this is a profoundly unsatisfactory conclusion, and one that serves both to obscure the reality of female oppression, as well as to erase the experiences of transsexual people.

The way to avoid this conclusion is to realise that gender is not a spectrum. It’s not a spectrum, because it’s not an internal essence or property. It’s not a fact about persons that we must take as fixed, and then build our social institutions around that fact. It’s a socially constructed and externally imposed hierarchy, with two classes occupying two value positions: male over female, man over woman, masculinity over femininity. The truth of the spectrum analogy lies in the fact that conformity to one’s place in that hierarchy, and to the roles it assigns to people, will vary from person to person. Some people will find it relatively easier and more painless to conform to the gender norms associated with their sex, while others find the gender roles associated with their sex so oppressive and limiting that they cannot tolerably live under them, and choose to transition to live in accordance with the opposite gender role.

Fortunately, what is a spectrum is human personality, in all its variety and complexity. (Actually that’s not a spectrum either, because it is not simply one continuum between two extremes. It’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, humany-wumany stuff.) Gender is the value system that says there are two types of personality, determined by the reproductive organs you were born with. The first step to liberating people from the cage that is gender is to challenge established gender norms, and to play with and explore your gender expression and presentation. Nobody, and certainly no radical feminist, wants to stop any person from defining themselves in accordance with the labels and identities that make sense to them, or from expressing their personality in ways they find enjoyable and liberating. So if you want to call yourself a genderqueer femme presenting demigirl, you go for it. Express that identity however you like. Have fun with it. A problem only emerges when you start making political claims on the basis of that label – when you start demanding that others call themselves cis, because you require there to be a bunch of boring binary cis people for you to define yourself in reference to; and when you insist that these cis women have structural advantage and political privilege over you, because they are socially read as the women they know themselves to be, while nobody really understands just how complex and interesting your gender identity is.

Call yourself whatever you like, and express that identity however you like, but don’t expect anyone else to care, let alone to afford you special political privileges on the basis of it. Female people are an oppressed class by virtue of the material reality of living in their female bodies, and the discrimination, marginalisation and exploitation that comes from being read by others as a person who inhabits such a body. You are not oppressed by women because they call themselves women and get on with their lives, while your gender identity is so vast and complex and multifaceted and luminous that nobody quite grasps the significance and uniqueness of it. To call yourself non-binary or genderfluid while demanding that others call themselves cisgender is to insist that the vast majority of humans must stay in their boxes, because you identify as boxless.

And if you really want to play with gender, particularly if you’re male, then the best way to do that – the most radical, revolutionary, genuinely non-masculine conforming thing you can do – has nothing to do with your dress or your hair or your makeup or your choice of pronouns. As a male person, the most gender non-conforming thing you can do is to stop making demands of women – of their time, of their resources, of their domestic, emotional and sexual labour. You can stop calling your mother cis scum, and start helping her with the domestic chores. You can stop asking what feminism can do for you, and start asking what you can do to make the world a little more amenable to women.


99 thoughts on ““Gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum”: some problems

  1. What IS gender, anyway?

    Sex is biological, we agree here.

    What about gender? What is it? What does it mean to be genderqueer or genderfluid?

    The problem with this gender-spectrum thing is that it creates a lot of more roles, but it doesn’t question the main premise of gender roles. Why do we even need gender roles now? Does it matter who takes care of the kids so long as they’re a parent? How is pink ‘feminine’?

    The gender-spectrum thing seems like a silly solution to a problem. Then again, these are people who refuse to admit race is speudoscience despite not being to present evidence to the contrary.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Obviously that question cuts to the very heart of this debate. My view is that gender is an externally imposed hierarchy that prescribes and proscribes behaviour for people of different sexes, and that values qualities and attributes associated with maleness over those associated with femaleness.

      I won’t repeat myself here because all my views about sex and gender are here: http://sexandgenderintro.com

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Just to clarify- if “gender is an externally imposed hierarchy” then why would you oppose the gender spectrum, which essentially argues the traditional ‘roles’ prescribed to male and female are irrelevant and everyone should be free to express their gender freely? On one hand you are defending the binary while on the other hand you are arguing that it is inadequate to describe anybody beyond the broadest possible reproductive categories.

        Also your creative license with ‘gender categories’ along with presumption that trans and non-binary people are attention-seekers or want to put ourselves on a pedestal above cisgender people is dismissive of the many excellent arguments we’ve posited against binary policing not only of ourselves but of cisgender people as well. You’re reading quite a bit into a philosophy which you don’t really seem to have a very good grasp of, and painting a lot of people in a negative light whose struggles with gender you have no concept of.


        1. I oppose the gender spectrum BECAUSE it upholds a binary. You can’t have a spectrum unless you define its end points, in this case masculine and feminine. And those end points are arbitrary in reality, but harmful in practice because they’ve been used to create a hierarchy of masculine over feminine for a majority of human history.

          Additionally, it upholds the harmful and ridiculous notion that every personality trait, behavior, desire, hobby, clothing choice, etc etc MUST be rightly classified according to this arbitrary masculine and feminine distinction. WHY? And how is constantly defining our experiences according to these BINARY terms equating to more freedom?

          Liked by 2 people

    2. “The gender-spectrum thing seems like a silly solution to a problem…”
      I totally agree, the multiplicity of “genders” is a given, has always existed and always will, the very definition of what is “feminine” or “masculine” under this perspective is irrelevant, or could be done in a more objective and non-conflicting way.
      People’s behavior or style are, by definition, personal parts of their personality and cannot be judged or controlled by society.

      Who cares if a woman likes to wear pants and short hair, or a man likes to wear skirts and long hair?
      No sane person gives a s**t about this type of thing, they have no objective consequence on society whatsoever.
      It’s only a matter of how we express and see each other. It’s quite personal and it’s good that it remains like that.

      On the other hand, sex is obviously *not fluid* and not interchangeable.
      Again, it’s a given, it’s either XX or XY (neglecting for while the 0.001% – don’t know the exact number, but it *is* very small – of people who have different combinations).

      In this case, the “solution of the problem” is very simple: everyone who is “XX” is *by definition* and woman and does “feminine” things, including driving in a “feminine way”, teaching, doing science, being a leader or using pants and short hair, etc. in a “feminine way”.
      And everyone who is “XY” is a man, and is “masculine” and does all the above things in a “masculine way”, including wearing skirts and long hair, if he wants.

      The only remaining problem I see with my proposed “solution” above, is with respect to transsexual people *with dysphoria* (some transsexual people don’t have dysphoria) .
      In this case, I guess, the idea of naturally “masculine” or “feminine” could be amended by adding the usual prefix (“trans”) to the various activities and styles.

      The social perception of people cannot be tied to their “feelings” or inner beliefs, because these things are exclusively personal and no one else business.


  2. great post! hopefully the public will come to their senses soon and realize women’s rights are being trampled and taken away over this insane idea of “gender identity” and “sex=gender” that transactivists (mainly men) are pushing.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I’ve not given this anywhere near as much thought as you have, but I’m not sure I understand the presupposition that a spectrum and a binary are incompatible anyway. Left and right are a spectrum, in the sense that one object can be farther to my left than another, but also a binary in that things are either to my left or my right.

    Maybe this is just another way of formulating your second point: there’s a masculine extreme and a feminine extreme and we’re all some way between. (Plus, perhaps, the assumption that we can meaningfully comment on which end of the spectrum people tend towards.)

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Indeed, but when I’ve heard people say things like ‘gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum’ it often sounds like they’re saying ‘it’s not a binary BECAUSE it’s a spectrum’. Maybe I’m misinterpreting the claim, but that’s what at least some people seem to be saying. There seems to be an assumption that it’s either a spectrum or a binary and cannot be both.

        My point was merely that something’s being a spectrum is compatible with a binary opposition between different ends of that spectrum. In other words, it may be true that gender is not a binary, but this truth is not demonstrated simply by the observation that gender is a spectrum.


        1. Mathematical analogue might be helpful. The set that has numbers 1 and 0 as its elements is a finite set. If some variable takes values from this set, it can have two distinct values.

          On the other hand, the set of all numbers smaller than 1 and greater than 0 is not finite (or even countable). This set includes for example irrational numbers which have infinitely long decimal representations. If a set takes a value from this set, it can have infinitely many values and there is no point trying to list them. (fun fact: between 0 and 1 there are as many numbers as there are any numbers in total)

          So, is gender like the first set or the second set? Can a person have one of two genders, or are there infinitely many possible variations?


          1. It’s an interesting example, but I don’t see it as any kind of challenge to my point. All I said is that it’s *sometimes* meaningful to make a binary distinction on a spectrum. (Note that I didn’t say it is always so.)

            We could do that in your case also: there’s a binary distinction between those numbers equal to or greater than 0.5 and those that are less than 0.5. This binary will lump together 0.5001 and 0.9999, despite differences between them, but they do have something in common, namely both being equal to or greater than 0.5.

            Thus, even if we grant that gender is a spectrum, it does not automatically follow that it is impossible or inappropriate to make a binary distinction.

            It’s possible that a binary gender distinction is somehow inappropriate. Nothing I’ve said is intended to challenge that assertion. All I said is that this doesn’t follow simply from the fact that gender is a spectrum.


      2. Left and right aren’t a binary as they are not fixed They depend on your situation . At the moment the window in this room is on my right. But if I turn round it is on my left. So is the window left or right


        1. I don’t think you understand what a binary is. The fact that you need to define a fixed point for the words left and right to have meaning is irrelevant. A binary is just any criteria that cleanly divides a set into two groups. In this case, given a certain position and facing, everything is to the left or right. Even if something is almost entirely in front or behind you it will always be slightly more to one side than another. When you turn around you are changing your criteria, so you’re actually describing 2 different binaries.


        2. This is becoming too complicated! 🙂
          People cannot “rotate and change sex”, sexual essential features are a given for each person.
          Gender can be fluid though, but the *classification* as ‘feminine” or “masculine” is totally arbitrary and that’s what seems to be causing so much problem (including, I believe, the transsexual dysphoria).

          It’s like saying that a building is tall or not. It can be tall in comparison with a tree, but small in comparison with a mountain, but the actual size and essential characteristics of a building are a given, objective facts, not affected by any comparisons.
          You cannot say that a building *is* a tree, just because they have the same size (external, relative, perception).
          If a tree “feels like a building” that doesn’t make it one. 🙂


    1. I was thinking much along these same lines: just because a thing is measured on a spectrum does not mean it cannot have delineated categories along that spectrum. Take temperature, probably the most familiar spectral measurement we have. It is indeed a spectrum, ranging from the unimaginably cold to the everyday to the unimaginably hot; however, it does have a multitude of very clearly defined ranges along its length. For instance, between -273 and 0 ºC can be categorized as “temperatures at which water under normal pressures is ice.” We could also call any temperature above 451 ºF “a temperature at which Ray Bradbury told us paper will burn.”

      Your example is similar, with “left” and “right” really being categories on the “horizontal position” spectrum. If we place the horizontal line within arm’s reach in front of me, there would also be “directly ahead,” the foot or two of width between “left” and “right.” But we could also define the range between 2000 and 8000 miles to my left as “the Pacific Ocean.”

      So yes, gender is a spectrum, with infinite possibilities for locations upon said spectrum where one may place/find/identify oneself. That does not preclude us, however, from making some meaningful categorizations about regions of that spectrum. If we are thinking about the cis/trans discussion for the moment, there is likely a chunk of this spectrum where an individual (would) feel(s) more comfortable in a body with male sexual characteristics, as well as a similar chunk for female characteristics. In relation to one’s chromosomal sex, then, these categories would create the troublesome “cis” or “trans” label. There also exist ranges, more centrally located and likely overlapping, where an individual is indifferent to their body’s assemblage, or where they would rather not have any outward sexual characteristics at all. There is an endless multitude of these definable ranges, they can freely overlap, and their definitions do not have to relate to one another in any way.

      But they do exist, and many can and do hold meaning for people’s self-concepts, as well as in discussions of the issue.

      I do agree with the author, though, that it is high time they stop being used to demean those who do not fit within the category one feels the most affinity toward, regardless of whether the one doing the demeaning identifies as “pretty much masculine” or “genderpizza.”

      [To complicate all of this, and to add to the adversarial tone of the discussion at large, there is still quite a number of people who simply REJECT the reality that gender IS non-binary, and thus not only identify as strictly one of two binary genders, but do not have a frame of reference for understanding the behaviors of those who recognize the spectrum for what it is (particularly of those who place themselves nearer the middle).]

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s an excellent point that really should have occurred to me, thanks Ben.

      I think it’s useful for my argument insofar as I’m not trying to deny the spectrum with regards to human personality; what I’m criticising is the idea that some people can meaningfully define themselves as “non-binary” gendered while simultaneously insisting that the majority of other people are binary gendered. I am happy to acknowledge that masculine and feminine are binary concepts while gender identity and expression may be a spectrum, so that I am more feminine than most people but more masculine than others. But what seems to me to be going on when people define themselves as “non-binary” gendered is that they are saying “cisgendered men and women identify entirely with the gender norms for their sex, while my identity is far more complex and multifaceted than that”. I’ve no objection to the idea that gender may be a spectrum, but my real objection is to people calling themselves non-binary, while demanding I label myself “cis”. Which happens a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Consentient and commented:
    This is the kind of great summary writing on this topic that I’ve been looking for – simple, to-the-point, and unapologetic. A great find!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree with most of what you wrote, but I do have definitions of masculinity and femininity that aren’t essential opposites (even if they manifest that way due to our binary/spectrum gender thinking). The divine masculine favors (broadly) Truth; the divine feminine, Love. These do seem like spiritual poles; we also know them as Wisdom/Empathy, Justice/Compassion, etc, and it’s clear that they’re not really opposite at all, in fact they are deeply intertwined. But if you pit them against each other in a cage match, one of them is almost always going to win out in a statistically significant way, and it will sure feel like they’re tugging you in opposite directions.

    In the absence of gender expectations, this kind of ‘soul orientation’ might still be completely relevant, and perhaps even prevalent, as it could remain a major defining force in our relationships; i.e. a Love-Love relationship is qualitatively different than a Wisdom-Wisdom relationship, and those two might be more similar to each other than to a L-W relationship. Who knows, in the absence of any societal conditioning based on physical sex, if males would still be more likely oriented around Truth and females around Love, or if Truthers naturally have a strong tendency towards competition and dominance, compared with Lovers who naturally tend towards cooperation and submission. Maybe people would even recognize that instead of being 70/30 Truth/Love, they were more like 80/60 (i.e. it’s two independent scales).

    But all of this is academic horseshit, because in reality the gendered system starves some ‘half’ of all of our souls from day one, and that’s even before we account for the oppression of females the world over, rooted in their reproductive status and thus not fully transferable or avoidable. So I don’t want to defend this system, which is rotten to the core and not salvageable, but as a Truther I was compelled to defend at least the possibility of a non-binary gender utopia.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Amrie. While I appreciate you taking 2 seconds to register your opinion, it seems you are making the common mistake of conflating ‘masculinity’ with ‘male’ and ‘femininity’ with ‘female’. We need to move past this knee-jerk biological association, and let females embrace their non-oppressive masculinity without having to think of themselves as ‘men’ (and vice versa).


        1. So, if a male is masculine, its oppressive? But, masculine women are non-oppressive? First, We need to move past this knee-jerk reaction that masculinity is toxic.


        2. It’s not a mistake, though. That’s what the words mean. That’s what they have historically referred to, it’s evident in the etymology of the words, it’s evident in the very form of the words, and it’s how people generally define and relate to the words.

          If you want to decouple your concepts of masculinity and femininity from their biological correlatives you’ll need to choose some new vocabulary.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. If women can be masculine without losing a shred of their femaleness, then clearly the association is not absolute.

            Words evolve.


          2. Being “feminine” or “masculine” is not important, IMO, because these qualities do not define ourselves.
            These things are just tags.

            Being a “human female” or “human male” is different, because it describes what we *are*, and it has to do with *sex* not *gender*.
            Now, if we define the “tags” in correspondence with the nature of being female or male, then the tags become more meaningful and worth using.


  6. Your writing is really wonderful. Clear, cogent and logically coherent. Your clarity of language is the perfect antidote to the vague, po-mo obfuscation of identity politicking, tautological-touting tumblr tossers.

    Thank god (and your hard work) for these small internet oases of sanity and reason.

    PS: Sorry ’bout the alliteration. The first instance was unintentional but then I got carried away.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Never heard the term “cis-gender” before, and frankly, I wouldn’t choose it to identify by. I was struck by a lot of what you write here. Must I really define an intrinsic psychological or philosophical sense of “gender” that is separate from my actual physical body and societal experiences? In that case I’d rather identify as energy conserved at present as mass, or perhaps as a soul. In yoga we try not to say “I am” (e.g. a woman or a businessperson or a runner or whatever else the ego might trick you into thinking is you), and just BE. In Kundalini yoga, we say (instead of namaste?) “Sat Nam” which I was told means simply, “I am.”


  8. I think any discussion of gender identity should not just focus on the political and cultural battle lines being drawn but also look at how advances in biology is changing our view of what it means to be male and female.

    Dutee Chand, an 18-and-under national champion in the 100 meters and an Olympic hopeful, was found to have hyperandrogenism and barred from competing against women in 2014 because her natural levels of testosterone exceeded guidelines for female athletes. She challenged the ruling and The Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland ruled in her favor saying “Although athletics events are divided into discrete male and female categories, sex in humans is not simply binary,” the court added. “As it was put during the hearing: ‘Nature is not neat.’ There is no single determinant of sex.”

    A similar controversy surrounded South African runner Caster Semenya. She is externally a female, was raised as a female, and identifies as a female, but was forced to undergo a series of gender verification tests by athletics’ governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations. It was determined she was a hermaphrodite, a fact of which she was unaware. Semenya has NO womb or ovaries and has internal testes, the male sexual organs which produce testosterone.

    “In the past you used to do a gynecological exam, blood test, chromosome test, whatever. That’s why the findings were challenged, because it’s not quite so simple. So what they do now is they do everything, and then they can say look, not only has she got this, she’s got that and the other. The problem for us is to avoid it being an issue now which is very personal: of the organs being a hermaphrodite, of not being a ‘real’ woman. It’s very dramatic.”

    The advent of widespread genetic testing and advances in medical scanning technologies are revealing that gender alignment is tied not to just the visible presence of male or female genitalia which is why gender verification tests for international sporting events typically involve evaluation by gynecologists, endocrinologists, psychologists, and internal medicine specialists and why ruling bodies are struggling with the issue of how to define athletes who are in the spectrum between male and female.

    The same battles are being played out in other venues as people begin to challenge the idea of sexual identity as a simple matter of being male or female


  9. The most frequently repeated misunderstanding here is that gender (norms, expression & roles) are conflated with gender identity.

    It is correct that gender norms, expression and roles are purely socially constructed.

    Gender identity however, is a psychological reality. Just like your sexuality is. You cannot change it. It is shaped during early foetal development in the womb and it is quite essentially just the way you are.

    More often than not this relates to bodies not the gender roles. A transgender person would most commonly be dysphoric about their bodies, not the social construct of gender. Wanting to be ‘female/male’ refers to the deep disconnect between your gender identity and your physicality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I disagree with that notion. Gender identity is clearly socially constructed:

      Let’s first ignore the idea that, in De Beauvoir’s words, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman (or man)”, meaning that society enforces or suppresses certain traits and behaviors that will contribute to our gender identity based on our biological sex. Let’s instead, for simplicity’s sake, assume that we are all born with an unchangeable set of emotional, cognitive and behavioral traits – a distinct ‘personality’*.

      In order to derive a gender identity from our personality or personal identity*, we require a social construction of gender in order to know which traits are gendered at all and in what way. You can easily imagine the same person being born into three different societies with three different gender identities (or none at all) based on how/whether or not these societies have constructed gender.

      When it comes to dysphoria among trans people, I consider it possible that a subset of dysphoric people is solely unhappy about their physicality. In this case, the more correct term would probably be “sex dysphoria” which would primarily be about the presence or absence of primary or secondary sexual organs and qualify as a subset of “Body dysmorphic disorder” (BDD). However, I believe that most trans people are quite literally gender dysphoric, meaning that assigned gender and gender identity (which includes primarily personality and behavior) are mismatched. This however – again – requires an idea about how personal traits are gendered in a given society and thus a social construction of gender. It is probably not absurd to suggest that many trans people would identify as cis, if they had grown up in a society where the traits coded as masculine and feminine were inverted.

      *of course, personal identity (as opposed to gender identity) in itself is also in many ways defined in relation to one’s social environment. How and what we are is usually determined in relation to how/what other people are.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Ok our disagreements are actually not that far apart.

        ‘When it comes to dysphoria among trans people, I consider it possible that a subset of dysphoric people is solely unhappy about their physicality.’

        – I’m not sure how many trans people you know but I know quite a few and as a matter of fact the majority of dysphoria *is* in regards to physicality – not just a subset. This is where our views differ and where I strongly suggest to just get to know the type of dysphoria trans people actually have. Now whether you want to call it sex dysphoria, I do not necessarily disagree.

        ‘It is probably not absurd to suggest that many trans people would identify as cis, if they had grown up in a society where the traits coded as masculine and feminine were inverted.’

        – Same as above: A transgender person once explained this to me quite well: They told me they would want to be ‘male’ in any society/culture that they would be born in. No matter how that society defined the gender ‘male’. The deep seated sense that he was male would always be there, even if hypothetically gender roles would be completely inverse (!).

        Think of gender identity more as being left handed & being taught to be right handed. I am totally fine with deconstructing gender as an entirely social construct.


    2. I’m not conflating gender norms and gender identity. I’ve just never yet come across a definition of gender identity that wasn’t either entirely circular, or reliant on social constructed norms about how men and women ought to behave, or just bordering on paranormal in its assertion that gender resides somewhere in the brain or soul and yet cannot be observed or verified.

      Gender identity however, is a psychological reality. Just like your sexuality is. You cannot change it. It is shaped during early foetal development in the womb and it is quite essentially just the way you are.

      What you’ve given here is pretty much a textbook example of essentialism. So you are basically claiming that people possess some fixed, essential, unalterable property called a “gender identity”, and that this hangs free from both their sexed body, and from the social implications of being treated the way people with that sexed body are usually treated. I assume you are saying that there is such a thing as a “female brain”? And that people can be born with a female brain, even if their reproductive organs are male? What are the characteristics of a female brain? What are the thoughts, feelings or mental states that women can have that men cannot?

      Also, people who define transgender people with reference to gender identity usually insist that it has nothing to do with dysphoria. You might like this post I wrote about this: http://moreradicalwithage.com/2014/08/04/am-i-cisgender/

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t usually post on such forums which I deem trivial-and I’m saying only that the comments are aimless, as there are many valid points to your original article with which I agree and find refreshingly well articulated.

        But I contend that you’re mistaken re: the you’re comments on essentialism, and your implication that brains cannot be characterized as male or female. This contradicts basic, well-established neuroscience and anatomy. Across the board, makes and females tend to exhibit differently sized portions of the brain-and let’s not even get into differing gene expression itself. I’m in no state to find references right now, but as a small example, I will bring up the fusiform gyrus, a region of the brain associated with facial recognition. In women, this region is typically larger, with more connections to the limbic system (amygdala and hippocampi), suggesting a better ability of such a “feminized” brain to read and process another’s emotional state through facial cues. (By the way-not that it should matter-but I am a man. And let me assure you there are several other advantages to a “masculinized” brain as well 😉

        So the point I’m driving at here is that the notion of “gender identity” should perhaps not be discarded so readily. One could identify gender identity with the degree of masculinization/feminization of the brain. But as I’m sure your aware, gender identity and gender expiration, as with all things biopsychosocial, cannot be divorced and categorized so easily. Things get complicated. For example, post-mortem analyses on make-sexed individuals have suggested a correlation between homosexual tendencies and a feminized brain type.

        All this is just food for thought. I wholeheartedly agree with the notion you eloquently propounded that to characterize gender expression (or, human) along a gender-derived (or, really, any definably-derived) basis is total bunk, and found your blog well articulated.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Cordelia Fine has comprehensively refuted brainsex. Men could read other people’s emotions just as well as women, if they, like women, were socialized to meet others’ emotional demands as a matter of personal safety and security. It’s called neuroplasticity – our brains are shaped by our socialization and experiences. Obviously. Furthermore, if a brain is in a male person it is not “feminized,” that’s a male brain. Male brains that don’t work the way you think a male brain is supposed to work are still male brains. By calling any male brain that demonstrates qualities *you* would rather associate with women “feminized” you’re simply performing mental gymnastics in order to preserve *your* (masculine) self image. http://secretlyradical.blogspot.com/2015/06/transgender-identity-politics-and.html

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I realize this is a lengthy response, so read at your discretion. And I realize I’m writing on a self-described radical feminist’s blog, so the reception may be generally negative, which I don’t care; but thinking about Backlash’s response has elucidated some of the faulty reasoning about gender issues in a way that’s never been this clear to me before, so I thought I’d share.

            Backlash, I will pick apart your very poorly contrived statements for the benefit of others who may be reading, so they may have a better grasp of the truth, because I do care about civil equality and I hope that exposing your erroneous reasoning-which I find representative of poor feministic reasoning in general. (Note that I said POOR; I’m not saying all feministic reasoning is poor, only that which you’ve used here.)

            I’m going to start by saying that at the end of the day I do not care what *you* choose to believe or think, whether it’s about gender equality, radical feminism, civil rights in general, or me personally. Why do I not care? Because I don’t know you, and I doubt you have much power to do anything about civil rights anyway. I don’t care much about this blog either, and this will be my last post. I find the irony that you choose to make sweeping generalizations in a personal assault on my masculinity about me performing “mental gymnastics” in your closing remarks hilarious. My post was about an objective, scientific point, clearly having nothing to do with my self-image, which of course you wouldn’t have known to be masculine had I not stated that I’m a man, correct? You could me a sissy boy, or a bitch, whatever-see if I care. It doesn’t make you more right about anything, because you and your line of reasoning are simply wrong.

            First-Cordelia Fine is one human being who evidently made an argument refuting “brainsex,” which we can both agree is a bullshit term for something that doesn’t exist. I would like to emphasize that this is something we should both agree upon here. Re: your statement “Men could read…security,” I agree with this, and I never made any argument claiming anything to the contrary! In my post, I said that “across the board” men and women exhibit differences in brain morphology and functionality. I’m speaking about AVERAGES. I.e., I’m looking at the big picture. Regardless of the reasons-socially constructed pressure, etc.-there are measurable differences in brain structure when we compare large populations of male brains with large populations of female brains. I’m well aware In my original post, I was merely contending that one could use such neurological variance among the sexes-regardless of whether these changes to brain structure are due to socially-constructed pressures, biology, or both-to define a notion of gender identity, however ineffectual or possibly meaningless such a notion could be.

            I never said that a woman can’t or shouldn’t do something considered masculine as well as a man, and likewise I never claimed that a man can’t or shouldn’t do something considered feminine as well as a woman. I’m a man who does mathematics. Most renowned mathematicians are male, and though it may be ill-defined to call this a “fact,” it’s about as close as you can get to one. But don’t presuppose that I’ve never heard of Emmy Noether-she was a damn good mathematician and I respect her for her contributions. Notice that I used quotes when I used the terms “masculinized” and “feminized” when describing brains. This is because while in much medical literature these terms are used without regard for political correctness, (because then, e.g., a woman’s brain may be considered masculinized) I recognize that I’m commenting on a feminist’s blog-and my use of the quotes was to subtly demonstrate to the laypeople that yes, I am aware that a brain inside a man is a man’s brain, and that a brain inside a woman’s brain is a woman’s brain. I’m honestly not sure if you’re feigning ignorance with respect to missing my signalling with the quotes so that you can mount a personal attack on my basic intelligence, or if you simply want to assume that I’m that stupid because I mentioned that I’m a man. Either way, the degree of judgment and assumption on your part is simply ignorant. Regardless, you’ve added nothing of objective value to the conversation with your comment. I know I don’t know you and you know you don’t know me-though, incredulously, you seem to think you do-but you’re preaching to the choir on neuroplasticity and the significance of exposure and experience in neural development.

            Try not to make ignorant assumptions in the future; and don’t get me wrong, I’m trying to follow the same advice. I’ve enjoyed writing this because it’s given me time to think about the problem with gender-based civil rights and the way so-called radical feminists try to argue certain points. I hope you’ve realized that we’ve actually agreed on many things here as well. Anyway it’s been a good 20 minutes- so I’m going to get back to my life, and so should you.


        2. The issue of sexually dimorphic brains, which from years of experiments in lab animals and from our still crude instrumentation does seem to support, is complicated by the fact that the majority of those people who claim “gender identity” comes *directly* from such structures, do NOT in fact show any sign having such ‘female brains’: https://sillyolme.wordpress.com/category/brain-sex/

          What does correlate with these sexually dimorphic structures is… drum roll… sexual orientation. This should NOT surprise us. Evolutionarily “designed” neural functions support behaviors that increase the species’ survival. This means reproductive behaviors. There are two and only two reproductive roles in placental mammals, “male” and “female”. Sexually dimorphic behaviors that support these roles are the only thing that evolutionary forces “care about”. (They don’t have feelings, but I’m trying to get accross a complex self-organizing phenomena using everyday speech.) Evolution never ‘cared about’ providing a “gender identity”… do we really think that rats think about their ‘gender identity’? No, they just act on biologically imposed sexually dimorphic behaviors that have at their heart, sexually dimporphic neurological corollates. But note, these neurological pathways are “ancient” and relate to control of reproduction, some directly, as in the pituitary axis, to control menses / pregnancy in females, and spermatogenesis in males… and some indirectly, as in sexual orientation and related behaviors. They do NOT (directly) lead to gendered differences in higher order cognitive functions that have wrongfully been ascribed to men and women. Evolution did NOT care if males were “logical” and females “emotional”, etc. In fact, where evolution did care, it almost certainly infused both sexes equally, as that is both more parsimonious (less DNA codes needed) and useful for survival (both sexes need to be “smart”).

          So, where, if anywhere, do people who claim to have a “gender identity”… especially a “gender identity” that is at odds with anatomy, get their putitive “gender identity” from?:


          As to the notion that such putative “gender identity” is (or rather seems given the politics surrounding it, “aught to be”) non-binary? From 40 years of personal observation… and from others research, I am confident in saying that it is an accomidation to autogynephilic/autoandrophilic sexuality that lies along the spectrum of classic transvestite/cross-dresser to autogynphilic/autoandrophilic transsexual. This conception of having a fluid “gender” fits their need to explain to themselves and others the seemingly incompatible observation that they are gender typical in every way except their desire to like the opposite sex. It is far more socially acceptable to present this as an “identity” issue, rather than an erotic one.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. > What you’ve given here is pretty much a textbook example of essentialism. So you are basically claiming that people possess some fixed, essential, unalterable property called a “gender identity”, and that this hangs free from both their sexed body’

        – I appreciate the weight given to deconstruct a lot of the social constructs in our society, I really do. Especially when it comes to gender roles and norms.

        There are however undeniably *some* things, which are if you want fixed or essential to a very large degree. I know it is tempting to get carried away by the poststructural theory of deconstructivism and to make the statement that essentially everything is socially constructed but then you end up defending a very relativist position, which I find is quite untenable given what neurology, genetics, epigenetics, psychology, psychiatry and a variety of sciences have come to discover about the human nature.

        It is after all nature & nurture!

        What about being left handed and right handed? What about sexuality? Conversion therapy of both (for which we have ample historical documentation) just does not work. Why can’t we accept that gender identity works in a similar manner? That there is a psychological reality which relates to your lived physicality.

        By that I am by no means infringing on the radical feminist’s undertaking to fully deconstruct gender! I am just saying there are some psychological realities which are in a way quite essential or at least after a very young age formed and irreversible.

        What we define as ‘male’ and ‘female’ is completely socially constructed, as you would argue yourself. Hence, regarding your question: No, there is no such thing as a ‘female’ and ‘male’ brain because those terms are constructed. There are just a whole heap of characteristics that you are born with as well as socialised with (nature & nurture) which we come to label with words.

        P.s. The psychological requirement for transgenderism in the ICD/DCM is in fact dysphoria and pretty much all trans people I know would certainly not define transgenderism without reference to dysphoria.


  10. Hmm. I was well with you up to the end. You were so close to a meaningful conclusion, namely that we are all part of this together and we shouldn’t differentiate based on presuppositions, but then you drew battle lines and started declaring that men should stop oppressing women as opposed to saying that we should all live each other and stop seeing variances in phenotype and chromosome before we see the person. I’m quite disappointed, honestly.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. ‘ “Gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum” – some problems’ -some problems:

    Point 1: The stated aim of these points is to show “There are numerous problems with the logic of this view, that render it both internally inconsistent, and politically unattractive.” Point number 1 then just says “some non-traditional-gender people get angry with the logical idea of everyone being non-binary”. If this is what the author considers to be a ‘problem with the logic of [Gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum]’, we are not off to a good start. I don’t even believe point 1 is true anyway.

    Point 2: “If pangender means [this thing I made up that it means], that’s doesn’t make sense!” Complete drivel, though her point about ‘agender’ seems fair to me.

    Point 3: I do not agree with this at all. What to the author is “one of the crucial tensions at the heart of gender identity politics”, I believe is just her willingness to find problems. For example, let me suggest a definitiion of ‘cis’ that would encompass 80%+ of people, with no objections from anyone: in the genderbread person pictured in the article, the top 3 options are all somewhere on the left, or somewhere on the right, with the ‘sexuality’ option being on the hetero side. These people (such as my self) are the ‘cis’ people classically referred to. They are a meaningful to ‘label’ because they make up such a large and influential portion of the public.
    I can see no logic whatsoever in her points about ‘trans’ people being invalidated by non-binary gender. None. Here and in the conclusion, she seems to think that trans people transition because they don’t like the way they’re expected to behave as a member of their original gender. Does that really represent the main reason for the majority of trans people..?

    Conclusion: The first 2 paragraphs are naturally complete baloney, as they merely summarise the flawed logic of the rest of the article. Though the idea that we should reject all gender classification does have some logic to it – of course, all it is is human pattern recognition, put imperfectly into words to express seen patterns to others, like every other concept ever in human history. But to say that there is no value in something because it’s not 100% accurate is to reject all language… and whatever happens, spectrum gender is MORE accurate than binary gender (which allows for absolutely no non-absolutes).

    I have less problems with her more impassioned last 3 paragraphs, as they represent an opinion on how people who have a certain problem can help. I personally don’t know anyone who has the problem she’s so angry about, but her points about such people seem fair.


    1. I don’t give a shit, as I think I’m quite clear about, until people start making political demands on the basis of their identity. Then it matters. If you start claiming to be oppressed by women, and making political demands of women on the basis of your identity, then you can expect those claims to be scrutinised.

      Liked by 5 people

  12. This can almost be summarised as “language is clumsy, so let’s try to use as little of it as possible”

    I think Wittgenstein already said what needed to be said on that score, we can remain silent.


  13. Wow. Congratulations on curing transgenderism with this blog post. Amazing. Why don’t I feel any better? Oh that’s right, I feel female, but have a male body. I guess cisgender means people who feel mostly comfortable with their bodies and how they line up with their gender identity, gender expression and social role.


    1. I’m a “cisgender woman” but I’m not particularly happy about my “social role”. I just believe that the better long-term solution is to stop demanding that people fit into certain social roles based on their sex, rather than expecting atypical people to change sex so that it “fits” their social role again. Literally nobody fits their sexually-expected social role completely.

      As for being uncomfortable in your body, that’s not an issue with your ‘gender’ but an issue with your physical sex. There are lots of people who understand and accept completely the desire for someone to change their physical sex for its own sake, but are seriously confused by some of the current popular assertions being made about gender identity. As the author pointed out in her article, there seems to be some holes and contradictions in the framework being used. IMO this is because the framework grew out of a support system that posited that every gender identity is logical, inherent and equally valid, without ever actually testing out that hypothesis. Which is fine for a support group but not for a political movement.

      I have seen, in earnest pro-genderqueer spaces, slews of definitions of gender identities that don’t stand up to thirty seconds of critical thought and don’t actually appear to be held by any actual person on this earth. Yet these identities are accepted as legitimate and valid without question within these genderqueer spaces, to the point where the spaces become a self-parody. It seems that many people in these spaces find critical discussion about gender to be inherently oppressive and are therefore extremely susceptible to both trolling and being so “open minded” that their brains have fallen out.

      And look, if it truly makes someone happy in their personal life to call themselves quintgender (having a mix of five different genders) or pixelgender (an experience composed of two genders, with one being the smallest possible component of their gender) that is fine. But if they want to argue that this is a serious Thing and there needs to be special protective laws and serious political discussion about how “monogender” people hold privilege over “quintgender” people, then these people need to be willing to engage in some critical discussion about it. Starting with a clear and consistent framework about what they think gender is, and specific definitions of these identities. Because as far as I can tell, under the current framework there is no way to come up with logical, consistent definitions for some of these terms without redefining most cisgender people as nonbinary. And if 99.99% of nonbinary people don’t identify as nonbinary, don’t agree with the term or have ever even heard the term, and don’t feel the need for a nonbinary movement, that raises a lot of questions about its legitimacy.


  14. So.. do you believe that transgender people don’t exist? What if the gender spectrum isn’t a straight line? How is it not clear that a person born with male genitalia but identifying as a woman is transgender, and that’s the appropriate terminology, and their only proper course of action is to move their position on the spectrum to a place where they feel they belong?

    I also feel like you make some weird, emotional statements in your post:

    “And here we get to a rather amusing irony about people insisting that they and a select handful of their fellow revolutionaries are “non-binary””
    “vast majority of people must define themselves by reference to it, but that a few special revolutionary gender pioneers to get to opt out.”
    “Your gender can be frost or the Sun or music or the sea or Jupiter or pure darkness. Your gender can be pizza.”
    ” I too believe I’m far too interesting, well-rounded and complex to simply be a “cis woman””
    “while nobody really understands just how complex and interesting your gender identity is.”

    Comments like these suggest to me that you are personally offended by some statements made by people trying to change the way gender is perceived. But I really don’t think all people who are not “Cis-Gender” truly believe they are more interesting than you. That’s a weird thing to imply. And saying your gender can be pizza may reflect some of the more “out there” sentiments of some people, but is generally kind of insulting to claim that anyone who is trans is foolish, and just deciding their own gender based on personal interests. People truly have these problems and have to solve them. That’s why this discourse is happening. Sorry that some of it is bothersome to you, but you have to understand how violently reactive people can be to those who try to change their gender. People have been killed because of it! I went back to my hometown in the south over Christmas and I can’t even tell you how many of my own family were trashing Caitlyn Jenner and “faggot queers,” it totally invalidates the experiences of thousands of people. I used to not think transgender was a real thing. Then I considered the case of hermaphrodites. They have genitals of both sexes. Obviously it is possible for sex to be messed up at birth. Think about depression. Your brain has the capability to fuck all kinds of things up. Is it not possible that someone born with male sex organs could identify as a female in their brain? This post is emotionally-charged misinformation.


    1. I believe that transsexual people exist. I believe that sex dysphoria exists. I believe that some people feel they can live more tolerably and comfortably if they change their bodies and transition to live in the gender roles associated with the opposite sex. I believe that such people should be given the support and treatment they need to live happy, healthy, flourishing lives. You can read more about what I believe about these things here: http://sexandgenderintro.com

      I do not believe that gender identity is a fixed, internal essence or property. And I do not believe anyone is oppressed or discriminated against solely on the basis of a feeling in their head. You might also like this post: http://moreradicalwithage.com/2014/08/04/am-i-cisgender/

      Liked by 4 people

  15. I love your post. Thoughtful, logical, insightful and well-written with a lot of personality! I would like some thoughts on this idea:

    The entire argument about gender roles/identity/expression is really anthropocentric. The main problem with that is that gender roles explicitly exist in nature. Social animals exhibit specific behaviors within their communities based on their genders. So saying gender roles are entirely socially constructed seems ignorant to me for two reasons: it is ignores the empirically observable biological underpinning of gender AND it implies that gender roles were intentionally created to oppress women, making men out to be unified subversive tyrants for the entire span of human history.

    Now, I’m not appealing to naturalism! The human-animal as created the most sophisticated and developed society that Earth has ever seen. Our social evolution has brought us to a point where we can move beyond implicit gender roles. Our access to resources and complex tools has removed the need for women to be gatherers and babysitters while men hunt and take out their aggression on other tribes for their resources (or for just looking different).

    To sum it up: Current claim = Gender roles are socially constructed. Problem = this implies malicious intent and vilifies men historically, leading to knee-jerk, emotional reactions from many men that then morphs the claim (which is an accusation) into an argument. Every time.

    Proposed claim = Gender roles have existed for biological and evolutionary reasons but humankind has developed beyond the need for gender roles. Solution = this becomes an appeal everyone’s betterment, not an accusation. “We are better than this,” sounds much more inclusive than “You are complicit with oppressive systems.”

    To be fair gender expression is absolutely a social construct. Profiteers tell consumers how they should act and dress, purely for financial gain.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. While I agree wholeheartedly that the opposition of “cis-nonbinary” creates a false binary, I believe your point #3 is incomplete.
    As you said yourself, people are not “one-dimentional stereotypes” for gender. People are complex an nuanced beings, and gender is a complex thing.

    The key problem is that they are not *one*-dimensional, they need to be *multi*dimensional!

    Masculinity and femininity are not exact opposites (e.g. think mother and father – they are complementary, not opposite). Break your spectrum in half. The halfway point becomes a zero – not male, not female – agender. Climb along each axis and you can get more man or woman – even pangender somewhere in between the extremes!

    Now you can add more concepts – Body? Another axis gets you into the third dimension and gives you some insight into trans people. Social expectations? One more axis – or maybe several?

    This is some way to bring the “gender spectrum” closer to reality. Yes, it may erase some boundaries between one’s gender and character, but it’s still meaningful to assign some properties as part of gender rather than character.

    I believe that even labels as “cis” and “non-binary” might be usefully defined within this model, but I do not disagree with the notion that labels are often harmful.

    Since much of the article is written with a different assumption in mind, I hope the author gets some food for thought 🙂


  17. I think your post is thought-provoking and adds value to the discourse on gender and feminism, but ultimately your arguments fall flat. There’s nothing “politically unattractive” about the gender spectrum. It’s important to remember that “woman” is a political category. For example, Laurie Penny identifies politically as a woman, despite the fact that she personally identifies as genderqueer. (As an imperfect analogy: someone raised Jewish can be impassioned about fighting antisemitism despite the fact that they stopped practicing their faith as an adult.) Still, she (and I) would absolutely agree with your conclusion, that men must stop making demands of women. There’s nothing incongruous about embracing both feminism and the destablization of the binary system.

    Unfortunately our language is too simple to succinctly address complex issues like gender. That seems to be the root of your frustration here, rather than the existence of people who don’t subscribe to the binary system. By the way, I feel like you are setting up somewhat of a straw person (ha) argument, as I’ve never actually heard of “non-binary” an identity as you use it; I hang in a large queer social circle and the number of times I have heard someone utter “I am non-binary” is fewer than the number of times I have read the word “genderpizza”. It doesn’t make sense. “Non-binary” means “not based on two things”. A macho man could say he is non-binary in that he is only based on one thing, pure masculinity, while a pansexual unicorn could say they are non-binary in that they are based on an ever-expanding multitude of expressions. Referring to a system as binary (or non-) is useful, but using it to identify an individual is not.

    Now here’s a frivolous pop song about the whole topic:


  18. A lot of really good logical thinking in this article. You dismantled the buzzwords of the gender spectrum in an intriguing and enjoyable way.

    My question is, if you consider gender to be an “externally imposed hierarchy,” how could someone ever question those values? If your gender is entirely generated and given to you by society, what makes a trans person question it?

    What I’m getting at is that surely for these people to rebel against society’s opinion, they must have something in their head that is not socially enforced that fights against such programming? Something innate?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The fact that I believe gender is externally and coercively imposed doesn’t entail that people can’t question it or challenge it. I’m a radical feminist which means I question the values that underpin the gender hierarchy every day. It’s the same way that we can criticise say that workings of the capitalist system and the values that underpin it, even while recognising that we have been constituted by that system and inculcated with its values.

      So the thing that causes trans people to question gender is the same thing that causes me to question it. The additional thing that transsexual* people have that I do not is sex dysphoria, that is, feelings of acute anguish and distress about living in their sexed bodies and feelings of dissociation from that body. I don’t know what causes sex dysphoria. It sounds like a very painful and distressing psychological condition, and I want people who experience it to get whatever support and treatment they need to live happy lives. But I am highly dubious that the thing that causes sex dysphoria is the presence of some essential, internal property, like an essentially gendered brain. That is basically what the contemporary doctrine of gender identity posits – that gender identity is something innate and fixed** prior to one’s social existence, which I think is basically a paranormal belief, in the sense that there’s no evidence for it and it’s no different from belief in a soul.

      You might like this post I wrote about why I think it’s perfectly possible for radical feminists like me to work with transsexual people towards the goal of gender abolition: http://moreradicalwithage.com/2015/06/25/a-gender-abolitionist-in-a-non-ideal-world/

      *I use the word transsexual as opposed to “transgender” here advisedly, because I think the word transgender is so vague and broad and all encompassing as to be basically meaningless.

      **Even among people who claim to be “genderfluid”, they still talk about this genderfludity as though it is a fixed and permanent fact about them. They are essentially genderfluid; it’s an innate and natural fact about them that they have a gender that shifts and moves, whereas most other people’s is posited to be fixed in one place. So even for those who claim to be genderfluid, they are still essentialists about gender; it’s something that resides in the person and defines their identity, not something acquired from outside and thus potentially changeable.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. People question all sorts of things that society imposes upon us.

      I have my own pet theory about what makes some people rebel against societally imposed norms. I think there are always at least a few people like that in any culture, and that they serve an evolutionary purpose. But that’s way too much to get into here.

      But if you think only trans people rebel against gender, you haven’t been paying attention.

      Liked by 3 people

  19. The increasing amount of genders and the ever more complicated queer gender taxonomies remind me of the geocentric model. The way it has to complicate everything to make it match the observations instead of considering a new premise.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I see no logical inconsistency in viewing gender as a spectrum AND a roughly binary thing as well. If society at large believes in a purely binary system, but you believe that the system is in fact something like an inverted bell curve (for example), it’s not remotely inconsistent or hypocritical to claim to be a statistical outlier in the trough and also to refer to those at the far right or far left who self-identify as ‘purely right’ or ‘purely left’ as cis-belly or what have you.

    As such, people can pretty coherently believe in gender as a spectrum AND use the term cisgender.

    And your conclusion is what makes me resent the petty disdain you start off with. (Not that I’m transgender, or genderfluid, or nonbinary.) You flat out deny their operating premise. GREAT! Go hog wild! Is it so hard to consider that one might sincerely view gender as originating internally, and that from that belief (not from a desire to be a special snowflake) the other things may flow?


  21. I (also) have a question:

    Are you not, in defining “trans-” merely in terms of hierarchy, in fact redefining, at least for some people, what “trans-” means? And, in a sense, when you refer to someone as “trans-” (based on their self-identification) within your particular “no biological origin for gender identification” context, are you not running the risk of misidentifying someone who self-identifies as “trans-” within a “some biological origin for gender identification” context? Isn’t your “trans-” a different “trans-“; the two being merely related homonyms?

    This seems to be a fatal paradox in saying both “You shouldn’t call me that if I don’t identify as that” and “Actually, THIS is what ‘X’ means.”. Can you then, without being a hypocrite, refer to someone as “trans-” without knowing not only that they identify as “trans-“, but that they do so within the context of your worldview?


  22. I think you’ve built a very compelling argument that gender is indeed a spectrum. Then you go to a whole lot of linguistic gymnastics proving it is a problem. Consider what you already have stated in your essay- that you yourself have some attributes traditionally considered “feminine” and some attributes traditionally proscribed to the “feminine.” The only reason that is a problem is that society polices people into *conforming to binary gender standards* when pretty much everybody has at least a few non-conforming attributes. Does that mean nobody is male or female? Well if we insist on letting *others define gender for us* then perhaps it is a problem. But if my transgender girlfriend who is also a butch lesbian identifies as a woman that is only a problem if others refuse to recognize her. In reality what *gender* I identify as makes no difference to anyone but me.

    The other problem I have with this essay is your repeated implication that somehow people who are gender non-compliant are looking to distinguish ourselves as better. The truth is people who don’t fit binary genders just want to live peaceably and present in a way that reflects who we really are. We don’t have a persecution agenda, nor do we think we’re better than other people. We’re just self-confident enough to be ourselves in a world full of people who think failure to conform makes us less-than everybody else, and we’re not sitting down for that type of treatment either.

    If you are truly concerned about the implications of gender spectrum theory, try doing deeper research and jettisoning the preconceived (and honestly defensive) notions of trans and non-binary people looking for attention or seeking to undermine cisgender people.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. slightly inclined to agree with said article – logical makes valid points about gender fluidity and the spectrum. it brings into question a lot of gender identities and the reasons behind their creations.
    it would be interesting imo to question why people create new gender identities. more in depth than to just saying “because they’re oppressed and people are asshole”. People are assholes, i don’t disagree, but is it not a form of validation to create a new gender identity? Say I wasn’t a “cis-gendered brown woman” but I wanted to be an “anti-gendered brown centaur”. Is there anything stopping me? Probs not. But why am I doing this? Is it just to make a statement to yourself that ‘yes i’m different that’s why people can’t accept me’?
    if that makes sense.
    a gender psychologist would help!


  24. Bani, I agree, so much of this is is just a subculture. It’s something that young people are playing around with that makes them feel powerful and special. That’s why I feel so sure that in 10 years “gender” is not going to be around anymore. Certainly not talked about in the mainstream media. And everyone will act as if this period didn’t happen.

    What then happens with the transwomen, the vast majority of whom are autogynephiles (sexual fetishists) is an interesting question.

    As for “gender psychologists” as you mention, unfortunately the ones in clinical practice right now are a giant horrorshow. They are the ones who mindlessly rubberstamp teenagers and even children’s claim to be trans. And put them on the road to dangerous hormones and surgery. So what we really need is somebody who studies the psychology of gender. Without just being another cheerleader for the trans movement.

    I like your brown centaur idea. 😆 🦄

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Just to be clear, this is a really good example of transphobia (your article, I mean). I hate that I stumbled upon this because it actually just makes me so sad.

    A genderqueer/non-binary/whatever-the-fuck-we-need-to-call-it person who does not place themself in any spectrum or binary and believes that this logic is toxic.


      1. It’s not an argument, it’s your opinion wrapped in academic speak to make it seem important. You’re worst crime is your audacity: “The truth often makes us feel sad.” WOW. The reason this piece makes me sad is because sometimes, for a brief second, I forget that people like you exist. I have to face people like you everyday. EVERY fucking DAY. People who refuse to respect or validate my existence because they’ve decided they understand everything about gender and sexuality and therefor, I’m making things up and I’m just looking for attention. I’m not going to argue with you on the internet, but I wish you would read and listen more rather than assert lofty claims that you understand the human experience. This makes me glad I don’t associate with academia anymore–this writing is nothing but masturbation.


        1. It’s very interesting that you are made so angry by what you perceive as my “audacity”. Presumably you are so used to women capitulating to your demands that you find my failure to do so lacking in due deference. Damn right I’m audacious – what kind of a feminist would I be if I were timid?

          It’s also very revealing that you are angry that I – a woman you have never met and know nothing about – is “refusing to validate your existence”. I don’t really know what that might mean; I would have thought just by replying to your comments and engaging with you as a participant in rational discourse I am validating your existence. I suspect that what you really mean is that I refuse to validate your *identity*, and yes, I freely admit, I refuse to do that. But what’s fascinating to me is your assumption that I am under some duty to do that. I am not your mirror. I am nobody’s mirror. I do not exist to reflect your self-perception back at you, to show you to yourself as you would like to believe you appear. No person exists to do that for you. Women have our own minds, goals, plans, projects, our own inner lives and thoughts and feelings, and our own capacity for judgment and reason that will sometimes conflict with yours. We none of us exist to validate your identity. I am truly sorry if me exercising my judgment and reason leads me to arrive at conclusions that threaten your self-perception, and if that threat causes you pain; that is unfortunate. But I am not going to stop exercising my reason in order to avoid causing you pain.

          Finally, I have to wonder why you need women you’ve never met, who live on the other side of the world from you, to validate your identity. You think you are non-binary, I think you are mistaken. So what? Who cares what I think?

          Liked by 5 people

          1. I’m not angry at all. Not one bit. I am saddened. Deeply saddened.

            Why do you assume you know who I am? Why do you assume you know what gender I am? Why do you assume you know what my genitals are? Did you internet stalk me or are you ignorant enough to assume you know what and who I am by my writing?

            Since I came out as genderqueer/non-binary/etc the only hate mail I’ve received is from radical feminists such as yourself (I read your ‘about me’ and other writings). I don’t know if I can properly explain how truly horrible it is to read hate mail. Anyway, that’s not the point, the point is, aside from them telling me to kill myself, they also said a lot of similar things to what you just replied to me. Maybe that’s why your writing hurts me. It’s not because “the truth hurts” as you say, it’s because I am a human being with feelings.

            I don’t need you to validate my existence. In your article you say that you don’t see why people who identify outside of male and female should have any ” special political privileges”. I would argue that people like me are not asking for privileges, but rather EQUALITY and BASIC RIGHTS. That’s what I mean when I said “validate”. I mean it in a political sense. I don’t need YOU, personally, to validate me at all. I REALLY only care when people like you spread slander against people like me and insist that I am one way or another. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Neither of us knows what it’s like to be the other. So please stop asserting that your views are “truth”. These are your views, nothing else.

            I agree with a lot of what you write. I really do. What I can’t get behind is your “if you weren’t born with a vagina, you are an oppressor” notion. It’s fallacious and arrogant. I haven’t taken philosophy classes in many years but even I am able to find the flaws in your logic.

            And, yes, saying that you hold the “truth” is audacious (your original reply).

            You think I’m mistaken about being genderqueer? Why does that even matter? Why even write that? Why are you writing these things? I can’t see the point of any of this. What good are you bringing about by posting these things?

            To me, the problem is patriarchy, not people who identify outside of an oppressive binary system. I question your tactics… I’m calling you out. Everyone in the comments seems to be patting you on the back.

            Anyway, I really don’t care to argue. I’m sure you’ll post something clever, ripping me apart. That’s fine. We have different views. This will go nowhere if we continue back and forth. You think I’m mistaken. I think you’re mistaken.

            I wish you well. I’m not mad and I don’t hate you one bit. Please don’t read my thoughts as an attack, but merely the feelings of a person who you claim to understand.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. Wow, Kyle. I couldn’t disagree more with your accusations of “academic speak” and intellectual “masturbation.” I found this piece refreshingly clear and accessible. I mean, have you ever read Judith Butler or any of the “gender theorists” that are required reading in the humanities these days? That is some of the most convoluted writing I have ever encountered. Rebecca’s lecture is equally accessible and articulate, which is quite a feat if you consider how much information she packs in. Her ability to convey large amounts of information for the audience to consider with economy and clarity reminds me of Chomsky. There aren’t many academics who have that skill and I’m guessing that she worked consciously and thoughtfully on how she would get her message across. It’s all very well for some dude sitting on his ass, (who took a few Phil classes once), to level such accusations at a hard working, female academic. You are an anti-intellectual, we get it. That isn’t a valid critique though.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. “I don’t know if I can properly explain how truly horrible it is to read hate mail.” I’m pretty sure that radical feminists know how it feels to read hate mail. We get it everyday. Death threats are run of the mill. A Radical Feminist conference was actually shut down due to bomb threats. https://wegotmale.wordpress.com/

          Liked by 2 people

  26. Pingback: Pride Parade |
  27. Hi Rebecca,

    I really appreciate your perspective on gender and gender identity, particularly what you described in this post and in your Aeon article (https://aeon.co/essays/the-idea-that-gender-is-a-spectrum-is-a-new-gender-prison). I referred to statements from your Aeon article in my latest post (https://thomasingenderland.com/2016/07/19/gender-identity-needs-to-disappear/), where I discuss problems with the concept of “gender identity” as being an innate, inborn, and immutable property (an idea you have also explored), as well as issues with the way trans narratives are typically portrayed and the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria.

    I always like to let other bloggers know when I’ve referred to their content. I very much respect and appreciate your writing, especially the logical and well-organized approach you take to dissecting gender issues. Thank you!



  28. I really appreciated this essay. I was recently called a TERF and it got me really thinking about this. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the way feminism appears to have failed utterly in the young XX who claim they don’t identify with “girl”. Arrgh. And the same issue on the other side: if you don’t identify with Gaston then are you not male? Toxic masculinity is something feminism can lend a hand with, people! Let people be PEOPLE! I blogged about it myself in a blog I don’t advertise links to, so if you want to discuss it more on my LiveJournal let me know and I’ll send you a link.


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