Against Gender Ideology

Remixing pieces from "Genders Without Number" in a non-game context. This is a blog, not a published work; don't expect it to be perfect or for it to cover every conceivable angle. This is informed by my recent experiences doing volunteer work, as well as conversations with my partner and other women in my life; I dedicate this to all of them in solidarity and sorority.

There are also elements of conversations with male friends: I can credit by name Ènziramire who inspired me to put this all on proverbial paper, and John B. with whom I discussed classical Roman notions of gender and sex.

Two phenomena characterize the existence of trans people. The first is gender dysphoria, which the DSM-5-TR defines as “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and natal gender of at least 6 months in duration, as manifested by at least two of the following: a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and primary and/or secondary sex characteristics; a strong desire to be rid of one’s primary and/or secondary sex characteristics because of a marked incongruence with one’s experienced/expressed gender; a strong desire for the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of the other gender; a strong desire to be of the other gender; a strong desire to be treated as the other gender; a strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender.” Although not unbiased, this clinical definition reflects the lived experiences and symptomology of individuals with gender dysphoria who, because of their condition, go on to seek medical sex transition. No matter how one explains this phenomenon, it is one that occurs.

The second phenomenon is the occurrence of exceptional gender categories in different societies, especially ones which express traits or perform functions not usually associated with members of a certain sex within that society. Many cultures recognize “third gender” categories. Although the definitions and understandings of “third gender” categories vary, these are generally individuals whose functions or expressions in society deviate from the norm of their particular sex (that is, female or male). Sometimes these are understood as feminine men or masculine women, or more generally as a category between female and male. As per the DSM-5-TR, “The area of sex and gender is highly controversial and has led to a proliferation of terms whose meanings vary over time and within and between disciplines.” This leads to confusion in literature about whether such third-gender persons are identifiable with the modern notions of trans people, or whether gender dysphoria as described above is a potential explanation for these categories emerging across different times and cultures. Is the hijira best understood as a feminine man, a feminized male, or a culturally specific interpretation of trans-female people? Indeed, this challenges the very language with which we discuss sex and gender, as well as the cissexist academic establishment which has long denied trans people both historical and cultural continuity.

Although these two phenomena—one being a definition of a psychological condition, and the other being an observance of gender variance in society—may or may not be causally related (although they likely are), both show that the early modern notion of binary gender/sex is not universal but historically specific to the social context in which it emerged, specifically of: the intensification of patriarchal social relations in early bourgeois society, as it was split in half between economic and domestic spheres of labor; the repression of indigenous cultures which accompanied the genocide of indigenous peoples by European bourgeois settler colonialists; and the rise of modern science as a means of rationalizing these social phenomena by locating them in biological “realities” of sex and race. This is not (yet) to establish any specific claims about the definitions of sex or gender, whether mutually exclusive or not, but to demonstrate that language is neither neutral nor reliable: it is a tool to express social realities which it presupposes. One thing is for certain: trans people exist independently of whatever ideology rationalizes their existence. As such, no individual ideology can lay an exclusive claim to the reality of trans experience. Rather, each one reflects the larger social context in which some group of trans people exists and how they relate to the symbolic matrix of that society in terms of sex, gender, gender presentation, gendered roles, and so on.

This is even and especially true for the predominant perspective in our society, the one which overtook the naïve early modern perspective, and that which reactionaries dub lovingly “gender ideology”. Although these reactionaries claim to combat gender ideology, as a social excess of liberal politics contra traditional mores, they generally accept its most basic tenets together with liberals: that gender (as the vague tapestry of one’s self-image and social expression) is more or less distinct from biological sex (with which one is born). Liberals and conservatives are only split on the implications of this ideology, whether sex is a meaningful category for policy (by serving as a basis for discrimination against trans people who can be considered as their gender but not their sex, which is itself immutable) or whether gender as self-declared identity should be taken at face value. Both of these political interpretations are asinine, in part because both share the same presuppositions: that sex is intrinsic and immutable, whereas gender is personal and dynamic. Trans people are thrown into the gender bucket so that the practical and legal category of sex survives, especially as a cudgel against trans people for gendered deviancy from their apparent sex. Meanwhile, sex also remains understood (rightfully, if in a certain sense) as the basis for patriarchal relations, especially as they impact those considered or understood as female. As Simone de Beauvoir said, however, one is not born but becomes a woman: there is no reason why a human being should be subjected to patriarchy only because of her biology; instead, patriarchy is a social system that appropriates biology as its reason for being.

Simone de Beauvoir is often credited with the division between biological sex and social gender (or gender roles in society). In fact, it is on these grounds that Judith Butler criticizes de Beauvoir in Gender Trouble. By taking for granted the biological reality of sex, Butler argues, de Beauvoir elides the dialectical relationship between sex and gender, as patriarchal society rationalizes, regulates, and weaponizes sex to support its patriarchal relations based on the presupposition of gender: “Perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.” As insightful as Butler is indeed, it is unfair to blame de Beauvoir for the reception and appropriation of the gender-sex division by contemporary society. In The Second Sex, de Beauvoir distinguishes between sex and gender in order to criticize the self-referential logic of patriarchy and anti-female sexism. Having no basis in biology, she reveals sexism to be nothing but an ideology manufactured to justify the oppression of those society treats as women (whether they declare themselves women or not!). The bourgeois appropriation of de Beauvoir is truly so in that it locates “gender” in a personal truth-essence, an expression of individual identity or desire, even in the face of biological “reality” or psycho-social dynamics which precede the subject’s consciousness. Gender ideology in this precise sense is anti-feminist, although there are two orientations in which it can be.

One is to accept the individualist basis of gender, which is tantamount to accepting the same of their oppression. Then, as if by changing one’s outfit, all one has to do in order to escape patriarchy on an individualist basis is to self-identify as a non-woman. This is nonsense, but it also lays the blame for patriarchy on individual women’s perceived passivity, self-identity, and apparent idiocy, instead of recognizing sexism as an abstract relation which elevates those it deems male and oppresses those it deems female. Men have the inverse impulse: one cis male friend said, “If 20-year-old me was growing up today, they’d definitely be self-identifying as at the very least non-binary. And that would be motivated by three things: growing up is hard, and they don’t 100% jive with all the markers of masculinity, especially in the local context; cis-male patriarchy is obviously bad, and they’d want to distance themself from it (and the responsibility to correct it); the identity category has cool-kid factor; belonging to it would be belonging to a micro-group with exclusive parties, signifiers etc. The last bit isn’t really the fault of real-life queer spaces, but the performance of them in media both social and market-oriented. Queerness as exclusive, ever more granular identities, not as an expansive project.” In other words, patriarchal relations are seen through this lens as essential aspects of the “basic” genders (female and male). One who adheres to this belief may find it difficult to conceive of a non-antagonistic relationship to these “basic” genders that isn’t naïve (female-coded) or problematic (male-coded). A cis male individual like the one above may distance himself from the gender of “man” because of its social associations with aggression, entitlement, and patriarchal relations. A cis female individual may likewise distance herself from the gender of “woman” because of its associations with docility, as well as in an attempt to free herself from patriarchal relations on the basis of her individual self-identification. Neither of these motivations have anything to do with their sexual characteristics, except insofar as they may socially signify the gender from which they want to distance themselves.

The second orientation is in some sense the “smarter” one: to correctly identify sex as the basis of patriarchal classification and oppression, but also take it for granted as the natural category which patriarchy supposes. Here, we can read de Beauvoir and Butler together: there is no biological basis for patriarchal relations, and indeed patriarchy constructs the very categories which it takes as its own basis. Patriarchy is not reducible to its own terms, of biological males ruling over biological females, not only because of sex variance between individual human beings (whom patriarchy is happy to classify by its own logic), but also because of so-called biological females and biological males deemed differently by patriarchy than is typical for their respective sex. Take, for example, the feminized status of enslaved men in Roman culture who lacked virtus, or manhood, and were thus subject to the same treatment as women under the rule of the pater familias; take also woman-to-woman marriage in certain West African cultures, where female-husbands pay the bride-price and own other women as wives, even seeking males to impregnate them in order to have children and increase their household. This is all to say sex is a facade of power. One cannot criticize patriarchy without first criticizing sex. Trans women (male-to-female) are subject to the same anti-female oppression as cis women; this is not by mistake or as collateral damage, but because patriarchy identifies them as female like any other woman (even elderly, infertile, or unattractive cis women). Trans men (female-to-male) also experience both systematic and potentially individual ‘misogyny’ regardless of their later male status; however, this is not because of their sex-assigned-at-birth per se, but because patriarchy identifies them as female and treats them thusly. To take patriarchy at face value is to put the cart before the horse. The question is not of biology but of power. Who stands to gain from the categorization and subsequent oppression of women, or those whom they treat as such?

Gender ideology also negatively impacts trans people with respect to social treatment. On an individual level, the increased social prominence of trans people in conjunction with gender ideology has encouraged cis people to view trans people in terms of their “sex-assigned-at-birth”. This is even, or especially, common on LGBTQ+ advocate-consultancy firms which define trans people in these specific terms. The following are definitions of “trans woman”: “Identity label sometimes adopted by male-to-female transsexuals or transgender people to signify that they are women while still affirming their history as assigned male sex at birth” (The Safe Zone Project); “Usually, a person assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman. A person may choose to identify this way to capture their gender identity as well as their lived experience as a transgender person” (LGBTQIA Resource Center); “A transgender woman/trans feminine person assigned male at birth” (PFLAG). The Human Rights Campaign goes as far as to define gender dysphoria as: “Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s assigned birth gender is not the same as the one with which they identify.” These definitions are not politically neutral, especially when compared to the clinical verbiage of the DSM-5-TR. They attempt to draw a strict boundary between sex-assigned-at-birth and so-called gender identity, in order to specifically define trans people in terms of their sex-assigned-at-birth rather than the sex to which they transition, and reduce dysphoria to a phenomenon of “gender identity”. This denies trans people the gravity of transition, reducing it to a change of dress from a metamorphosis of sex. It also frames trans people in the same way anthropologists often frame apparent “third gender” individuals from non-western cultures, like the fa’afafine or the hijira or the travesti, as individuals of a certain sex who take on the social roles and aesthetics of the opposite sex, rather than someone who functionally changes their sex both socially and physiologically (even if the latter is a miracle of modern medicine).

The third-genderification of trans people goes on to shape government policy because all sides accept the same terms of the discourse, even if they pretend not to: trans people self-identify as the gender opposite of their birth-sex; should they thus be treated as if they were the gender with which they identify, or the sex to which they were assigned at birth? Anyone with two brain cells can tell that this is a stupid question contrived for government legislators to argue around in circles and do nothing. A survey conducted by PEW Research found that the median voter wants to “protect transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public spaces” (64%), while also wanting to “require that trans athletes compete on teams that match the sex which they were assigned at birth” (58%) and “require trans individuals to use public bathrooms that match the sex which they were assigned at birth” (41%; less than half, but a plurality nevertheless). This is a totally tenable position according to gender ideology, and indeed the latter is representative of the former in society. Alternate positions on either end of the ideology, whether to discriminate against trans people or to cease classifying them by their sex-assigned-at-birth (while still being obsessed with the idea of it), are justifiably understood by the public as extreme and short-sighted. We should respect people’s self-identity, but we should also protect female persons from male persons that are physically and politically more powerful than females as a biological and social class. There is no contradiction of terms here, or even between all three orientations. The question becomes one of personal values, namely of how inclusive someone is willing to be towards trans people, or how absolute someone is willing to be towards anti-sexism. Of course, these values as stated are merely posturing which obscure one’s actual interests—e.g., feminists-in-name (anti-feminists indeed) who seek to preserve the sanctity of birth-sex without actually furthering women’s interests against patriarchy, as if trans people were the only threat to women because, for them, identity and its preservation is the battleground of politics. In other words, gender ideology is fertile ground for fascist thought by ontologizing aesthetics and aestheticizing politics. This dead-end discourse needs to be overcome to better articulate the material needs of both cis women and trans people against our patriarchal and cissexist society.

We can start by discarding the word “gender” altogether, for two reasons. First, gender is the scapegoat of sex. The function of gender under gender ideology is to formally distinguish between that which is mutable-subjective (gender) and that which is intrinsic-objective (sex). This function serves on an individual level to define what someone can change about themselves, and on a social level to define what policy is actionable based on objective or subjective traits of individuals. Besides being limited in political scope, this discourse elides the material and social reality of sex change for trans people and regards their problems as ones of aesthetics and political correctness, rather than of medical care access and general anti-female sexism (to which both trans women and trans men are subject: the former on account of being recognized and treated as female, and the latter being misidentified as such; that being said, because of society’s pro-male bias, trans men are typically viewed with less suspicion than trans women are, and may avoid everyday misogyny if viewed as male).

Second, the concept of “gender” has been vulgarized over years of gender ideology to refer not even to one’s relation to their birth-sex but to one’s essential character. Through this lens, a trans-gender individual rejects the essential personality which they were ‘assigned’ at birth according to their sexual characteristics. Since gender therefore has an arbitrary relationship to sexual characteristics, why it should correspond to sexual characteristics at all? In other words, the rhetoric of trans people becoming their “true selves” was appropriated and transformed into a notion that one’s gender is their holistic self. This has two effects: some people invent highly specific genders and pronouns to label increasingly specific personalities which they take as essentially or fundamentally distinct experiences from other genders, especially from women and men; then some cis-sex people self-identify or are ‘diagnosed’ by others as non-binary because they do not meet the expectations of their gender. This means that “gender” is no longer a useful category of analysis in popular vernacular, or at least it has been appropriated by certain gender ideologues who gaze into their navel in search of a personal essence that does not exist.

Although trans-gender individuals, using the specific definition above, are not mutually exclusive with trans-sex individuals, defining both groups as though they experience the same conditions does no service to either. A trans-gender individual may not experience sex dysphoria at all. Not only may they not seek treatment as trans-sex individuals, but doing so may cause dysphoria if they develop sexual characteristics which contradict their internalized sex. On the other hand, a trans-sex individual 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 they experience is a direct consequence of their sexual characteristics, and only subsequently the distress that results from the contradiction of their internal and external gendered expectations. 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 but solidifies it by asserting that there is a gender-truth outside of sexual characteristics. It also diminishes the understanding of sex dysphoria, if one claims that gender is wholly a categorization of essential personality and therefore dysphoria is an re-essentialization of gender with respect to sexual characteristics (!). This helps no one, and only reaffirms patriarchal and cissexist ideology that gender is a reflection of one's true self.

We should instead take sex as our basis: not sex according to gender ideology, which is static and immutable and objective; but sex as one’s body and their relationship to it, which is constantly defined and regulated by society at the expense of both cis woman and trans people, and also which one can change (socially and physiologically) and in doing so demand appropriate treatment and protection from their peers in society. More generally, the discourse of identity is ideologically bourgeois and politically futile. We should instead embrace the verbiage of activity; “I can become pregnant”; “I transitioned to female”; “I fuck both women and men”; “I wear men’s clothing”; “I want an abortion”; “I was sexually assaulted”; “I have endometriosis”; “I lost access to my hormonal medications”; “I use they/them pronouns”. By centering our activity, we center what we need and how society has failed to fulfill our needs (or is itself responsible for our needs being unmet). We can then contextualize our needs in society at large, understand how they inform or intersect each other, and strategize on how to finally meet them. The question of sex is beyond sex itself.


  1. y'know it's funny, I just realized, but reading the DSM definition of gender dysphoria-- it says "at least two of the following" and then puts forth a list including the items: "a strong desire to be of the other gender; a strong desire to be treated as the other gender; a strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender."

    even by the standards you claim to cite, most non-medically-transitioning nonbinary people are still "gender-dysphoric." (as long as you assume that the strong desire to be neither man or woman is equally valid to the strong desire to be a man or a woman.) but you're happy to ignore that and just focus on our body parts, for some reason.

    a question: how many medically-transitioning trans people do you think, if given the option, would choose to fully medically transition without social transition? if you told your average pre-op trans woman that you'd give her free vaginoplasty, free ffs, free tits, on the condition that she go back to living as a man-- you think she'd take it? of course this hypothetical is silly, because she'd then face the further social stigma for being a man with tits, but even barring that I doubt you'd find a lot of takers. try even getting someone to accept free surgery in exchange for going back to their deadname-- not the growing number of trans woman who never change their names from "Dylan" (they're fucking everywhere and I don't get it), I suspect a lot of us would reject the bargain.

    a friend of mine was telling me the other day about how even as a child, she hated having pictures taken of herself because she knew she looked like a boy in them. not because of her dick, or her lack of tits, or any other medical factor-- because of a perceived incongruence between how she was perceived and how she desperately wanted to be.

    the crux of it is-- you don't understand, I don't think, how many of us want tits *because* they're feminine, how many of us want flat chests because they're masculine, how inseparable social and medical transition is for so many of us. how a transmasculine friend of mine stopped pursuing bottom surgery after he got with a partner who would just casually refer to his testosterone-engorged clitoris as a "dick," because that alone turned out to be enough to make him comfortable with his anatomy. (and on the other hand, consider the innumerable hordes of trans women who refer to their dicks as "clits.") Likewise, I think, how many cis people find joy in fulfilling the gendered expectations of their bodies precisely *because* they enjoy the roles they're born into.

    so where does this leave gender? frankly I have no fucking idea, besides it being something that a lot of us get really attached to for some reason, some kind of self-perpetuating meme that tickles something one way or another in most of our brains. (not mine, personally-- I'm probably your ideal transsexual, I just hate my dick and I'm mostly just doing the whole "woman" thing to convince the government to cut off my dick, I'm not hella picky about shit otherwise. but I've hung out with enough trannies of all stripes to realize I'm absolutely the exception.)

    1. a couple quick addendums:

      1) how the fuck else would you define a trans woman if not by our assigned gender at birth? I'm exceptionally confused by this part, honestly. like, this is the lived experience I have?

      2) nobody in their right mind is "diagnosing" people with nonbinary. people might say, oh, such and such historical figure might identify with a nonbinary identity today, the same way I might say, oh, I bet such and such filmmaker would've loved TikTok if they were a teenager today. that's not the same thing as actually calling Stan Brakhage or Peter Greenaway a tiktoker. (there's an exception, maybe, for cases like Kurt Cobain, where we can read his diaries and know he struggled with significant gender dysphoria, but that's an edge case. others might look at, say, Prince, who wrote a hit single about imagining how good it would feel to be his girlfriend's girlfriend, and see shades of the same thing, but still, edge cases.)

      3) in your last paragraph about "embracing the verbiage of activity"-- which I mostly wholeheartedly agree with-- you just *entirely* take for granted that the category of "men's clothing" even exists. a lot of gender-nonconforming people might take umbrage to that-- if a woman wears a suit and tie for the innate pleasure of wearing a suit and tie, if she owns the suit and tie she wears, then why would it be men's clothing? unless, of course, you believe that because she is a woman and the suit and tie were *manufactured* with men in mind then the act is inherently one of cross-dressing. what's up with that?

    2. again, you're reading words into my mouth. literally nowhere do i suggest that a trans person would seek medical transition without social transition. do you think i don't know what the social dimension of dysphoria is like? do you know how condescending that comes across? i enjoy womanhood, and do it well. do you?

      i am saying that cis people would rather reduce transition to the social dimension because they do not believe in the reality of sex change---that trans people are of the sex with which they were born, no matter how they medically modify their selves; and that medical transition is a mere extension of social approval rather than an aim in itself.

      to answer your addendums:

      1) the problem is not that they are calling trans women assigned-male-at-birth per se, but in doing so (and through their language) they are denying trans women the reality of their transitioned sex. that's the whole point: that this ideology, which both liberals and conservatives accept, reduces trans people to their birth-sex in order to prevent them from receiving the same treatment (socially and medically) as their cis-sex counterparts.

      2) okay?

      3) i know; the description is relative to our social conventions, and it's specifically in reference to women choosing to wear clothing that are typically associated with men, because they often do in order to combat those norms. again: do you think i'm stupid?

      i'm going to delete any future comments from you if you keep this up.

    3. yeah sorry I was being harsh and ungenerous, I reread your post and I think I was just seeing red at the whole "nonbinary identity has a cool-kid component" thing (which just really kinda mirrors a lot of stuff transphobes say about transness being a "social contagion" or whatever). there's also, I think, a misunderstanding here of the kinds of dysphoria suffered by nonbinary individuals-- I know transfeminine people who want all the effects of estrogen except the breasts, one of whom slashed her estrogen dosage while still taking significant t-blockers to try to get the balance she wanted, another of whom simply plans to grin and bear it and get a double mastectomy down the line. for every transsexual who enjoys every single effect of HRT, there's another for whom it's a mixed bag-- someone who might not be able to avoid dysphoria either way-- and dismissing these cases as "less trans" or whatever does rub me the wrong way.

      I still don't think I really understand what you're advocating for, in a practical sense. if all this boils down to is "we should stop viewing biological sex as immutable" then fuck yeah, hella vibes, I hate viewing biological sex as immutable as much as the next transsexual. I love actively modifying my biological sex. this isn't a particularly radical view in my circles, although I realize my circles exists maybe a bit on the fringes of things. but the way it usually gets phrased out where I am is in terms of, like, "binary biological sex is just the gendering of biology, ergo gender supersedes sex, ergo just do whatever." while, you know, still acknowledging that affirming medical care is a necessity for a shitton of us and should be available as easily and straightforwardly as possible to whoever wants it-- over-the-counter, ideally. I understand the fear of an overemphasis on social transition being used to deny us the medical care we need, and I also obviously know the rhetoric of "male/female socialization" or of trans women as "abuser-bodied women" or whatever that seeks to deny trans people full membership of their gender. but at the same time, multiple countries still demand surgical sterilization as a prerequisite to legal recognition of trans identity-- Japan only *just* abolished that requirement recently. so I'm not really sure if the gender-abolition ontological shift you're proposing is really going to make things all that much better in practice? versus just viewing gender as a thing that exists and is mutable, viewing sex as a thing that is wholly mutable, and then just letting people do whatever they want on either axis.

  2. "because of a perceived incongruence between how she was perceived and how she desperately wanted to be."
    As we are perceived in the eyes/minds of others, ie, a social construct. It would be great if those constructs/preconceptions did not exist, in which case I may feel different about transitioning even as I share some misgivings about the anatomy of my birth. But as Marx said, we make our future from the world as it is, not as we'd like it to be.

    1. this is kind of a beautiful comment. the casual deployment of marx and lacan. i want to frame this.


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