thoughts on gender-sex

this has been on my mind, and i woke up in a mood so i looked at what i had been writing about it. however, i didn't want to bring more negativity and instead wanted to make something more productive. i am a random person on the internet but maybe this is something interesting/useful for someone else.

here i revaluate some definitions for words like 'transgender' and 'trans-sex' to call specific attention to fundamental differences between individuals who are altogether called 'trans' (i myself fall under the 'trans-sex' category [1]). i also talk about how certain discussions surrounding gender diminish the experiences of individuals who experience dysphoria, by treating gender as essential while simultaneously treating its relationship to the body as arbitrary.

overall, i hope to develop a view of gender which distinguishes two things: gender as the categorization of individuals according to their sexual characteristics, and the essentialization of personality traits according to gender resulting from the way in which individuals are socialized according to their own gender. in other words, i argue that the distinct socialization of individuals called 'female' and 'male' results in the outcomes of those socializations being taken for granted as essentially 'female' and 'male' personalities. this results in gender as categorization being equated with gender as essential personality. people have correctly noticed that the relationship between the two are absolutely arbitrary. however, some people opt to retain gender as essential personality while rejecting its arbitrary relationship to sexual characteristics. i think instead the better option is to criticize any notion of an essential self on any basis or lack thereof, in order to criticize the expectations which are levied according to sexual characteristics and to more appropriately treat trans-sex individuals.

i think the first like 3 or 4 points are super noncontroversial lol, so heads up on that! not saying anything new there.

gender-sex and points of comparison

1. in greater society, gender represents the categorization of individuals according to their sexual characteristics: women and men [2].

2. the gendered classification of individuals determines the expectations according to which they are expected to behave: their mannerisms, their speech, their interests, and so on.

3. the assignment of expectations according to gender results in the essentialization of those traits with respect to gender. that is, the expectations levied on women and men are taken for granted as expressions of behavior specific and essential to those genders.

4. this development is undesirable because it compels individuals to adhere to gendered expectations of behavior lest they deviate from those social norms [3].

5. there are two mutually exclusive strategies to counteract point 3, which is the result of points 1 and 2.

A. one strategy rejects point 1 by saying that gender indeed categorizes individuals according to their essential natures (even if mutable), but rejecting the notion that these essential natures necessarily correspond to sexual characteristics.

B. the other strategy rejects point 2 by rejecting the notion that gender, insofar as it is the categorization of individuals according to sexual characteristics, actually defines or reflects the essential aspects of an individual and/or their personality (except insofar as gendered socialization shapes the personality of any individual).

6. these mutually exclusive perspectives inform the definition and treatment of trans individuals [4], such that the word 'trans' has been applied to totally different situations.

A. a transgender individual rejects the essential personality which they were 'assigned' at birth according to their sexual characteristics. since gender qua essential-personality has a totally arbitrary relationship to sexual characteristics, there is no reason why it should correspond to sexual characteristics at all. perhaps the solution is to create new genders to represent different essences of behavior which are not represented by 'woman' and 'man', or perhaps the solution is to reject the categorization of essential behavior as such because such a thing cannot be categorized without something being left unrepresented.

B. a trans-sex individual experiences gender(-sex) dysphoria, which is distress caused by that individual's sexual characteristics and gendered expectations because the individual believes themselves to be, as it were, in the wrong body. the social consequences of dysphoria include that an individual is compelled to perform the expectations of the 'correct' (internal) sex rather than the one they were assigned at birth. the distress and enjoyment caused by this compulsion is perhaps no different than what is experienced by a non-trans-sex (cis-sex) individual [4], except that the trans-sex individual was born to a different body.

7. although these two phenomena are not mutually exclusive (i.e. there is no reason why both cannot occur), defining both groups as though they experienced the same conditions does no service to the group that does not meet those conditions.

A. an individual who is transgender (in the sense of point 6A) may not experience gender-sex dysphoria at all. not only may they not desire to be treated as trans-sex individuals, but doing so may indeed cause dysphoria if they develop sexual characteristics which contradict the internalized image of their sex (which is distinct from gender in the sense of point 5A).

B. an individual who is trans-sex (in the sense of point 6B) cannot be adequately treated by the loosening of gendered expectations or the expansion of gender to encompass more essential categories irrespective of sexual characteristics. the dysphoria experienced by a trans-sex individual is a direct consequence of their incorrect (as it were) sexual characteristics, and subsequently the distress that results from the contradiction of their gendered expectations.

8. the treatment of gender as an essential nature with no relation to sex (except an arbitrary one) does no favors to trans-sex individuals or to the discourse at large. for one, it does not criticize the essentialization of gendered expectations as much as it solidifies it. this view asserts that there is a truth to gender outside of sexual characteristics. i claim instead that the personality traits essentially ascribed to gender are themselves arbitrary, and gender as such (the categorization of individuals according to sexual characteristics) has no bearing on essential personality if such a thing exists.

9. there is also the danger that it will diminish the effects of gender-sex dysphoria, if one makes the claim that gender is wholly a categorization of essential personality and that therefore dysphoria is an re-essentialization of gender as personality with respect to sexual characteristics (!). instead, if this understanding of gender is not altogether rejected, it should at least be made clear that dysphoria is a relationship to one's sexual characteristics with no relation to gender as essential personality per se [5].

[1] using 'trans-sex' instead of 'transsexual' because the suffix '-sexual' now more often refers to sexual orientations, than anything having to do with the noun 'sex' in any sense.

[2] i agree with butler that the emphasis on sexual characteristics as a basis for social stratification itself originated due to those social forms to begin with. however, just like use-value despite being the justification for exchange-value still 'exists' outside of the commodity form (e.g. communism is the collective & conscious production of things for use), sexual characteristics and the ways in which they affect human life still 'exist' outside of any gender schema.

[3] j. butler’s notion of gender performance refers to this compulsion insofar as it is not a conscious choice but an unconscious demand.

[4] for brevity's sake, i will not list examples of perspectives which reject or diminish the notion of transness. however, i think that it should be clear that such perspectives also happen to fall in one of these two categories provided that they also come from an angle of criticism towards the social consequences of gender in general. also, there are certainly individuals who fall into both categories listed below (one could experience dysphoria towards their sexual characteristics while also defining gender as a categorization of essential personality), but in such a case that individual is simply subject to two social forces at once.

[5] as a lacanian, i think it would be good to reframe dysphoria with respect to the contradiction between the subject and the subject's representation in language. that is to say that everyone experiences dysphoria, except only for the trans-sex individual is it so obvious (being in the wrong body, as it were).

[6] of course, except insofar as a trans-sex individual experiences distress from the gendered expectations of their sex at birth


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