Tag Archives: feminine

Sex, Sexuality and Philosophy

To follow the analysis that will be presented below, it is necessary to first briefly and broadly summarize two philosophical positions. The reader is asked to bear with me through these summaries. There are two opposed worldviews that one might take in trying to understand the nature of reality.

The first worldview is that of Western culture. Historically, this was a theological conception that saw the world as consisting of God and God’s creations, which included humanity (a dualistic view). This conception began to be challenged by naturalists, seeking to understand God’s creation, whose findings conflicted with the understanding adopted by religious authorities. The view adopted by religious leaders was not that of God; i.e., was not based in scripture, but largely borrowed from earlier Greek philosophers. However, this clash grew more intense until the “great compromise” offered by Rene Descartes. His compromise proposed that matters of the material world should be left to the naturalists (subsequently scientists) and that matters of the spiritual world should be left to theologians (also a dualistic view). The divide between science and religion grew until science largely dismissed religious views as irrelevant. This led to the evolution of a perspective that excluded anything non-material.

Scientific materialism posits a point of initiation for matter that is called “the big bang.” When a renowned physicist, who supports this model, was asked where the big bang came from, he replied that its origin was spontaneous creation from nothing. In short, it was a random event with no known cause, though once set in motion, the result is a deterministic unfolding whose final outcome was built into the point of initiation. This view assumes that everything in the universe is composed of material elements and assembled from the bottom up. Thus, everything can be understood by breaking it down into the pieces that it was assembled from and studying the relationship of the pieces to one another. This is what is called reductionism. This view assumes that everything, including life and the universe itself, arose through a random event and has no purpose and therefore no fundamental meaning. Contemporary Western culture has been strongly influenced by the materialist perspective while retaining a dualistic view of how things are structured.

Scientific materialism is the current paradigm of science with the core assumption that matter is all that exists. There are opponents to this view who root their opposition in the inability of a materialist paradigm to account for consciousness. Thus, the old dualist division persists to this day, though spirit has been largely replaced by consciousness. Some scientific materialist have attempted to resolve this problem by asserting that consciousness is an illusion. This solution has not been accepted very widely because it is at odds with personal experience. More importantly, there is considerable evidence that consciousness is a reality that must be dealt with, not the least of which is the role consciousness appears to play in the outcome of some quantum physics experiments. At root, these experiments clearly suggest that consciousness is required for matter to come into existence. In short, the collapse of a “wave of possibilities” into an outcome in the material world appears to require consciousness. In other words, consciousness is primary.

From the perspective of materialism, consciousness is an epiphenomenon or an emergent property of matter. It assumes that consciousness is individually generated by aggregates of matter that have achieved a sufficient level of complexity. Implicit in this view is the idea that complex order is the source of consciousness. How consciousness could arise from the combination of elements of matter is unknown. Faced with the inability to posit any explanation, short of magic, for how consciousness might arise from complex arrangements of matter, some “materialists” have hypothesized that every particle of matter contains a degree of consciousness. Thus, it is suggested that complex arrangements of elements of matter that already contain some degree of consciousness produce conscious awareness. This hypothesis fails to explain where any degree of consciousness, no matter how insignificant, came from in the first place. It also has no explanation for how the combination of elements of consciousness containing matter results in conscious awareness. This idea is somewhat analogous to suggesting that if one takes small units of biological matter, such as bacteria, and aggregate enough of them together, a living animal will emerge from the complexity.

There are many scientists, though still in a minority, who consider the current scientific paradigm, rooted in the belief that matter is primary, to be a “dead man walking.” This view is predicated upon an ever accumulating body of evidence that falsifies the paradigm’s assumptions. A noted physicist recently published a paper in a major physics journal in which he unequivocally stated that the evidence supports the view that reality is essentially mental. This doesn’t obviate the accomplishments of science under the current paradigm. It does, however, suggest that the new emerging view makes clear that the current paradigm has limits on what can be known and understood and that those limits are being reached.

The second worldview we’ll discuss is monistic idealism1 (see the referenced note for a fuller explanation), which is the view that everything exists in Consciousness2. This is one of the challenges to the current paradigm of scientific materialism. The core assumption of this view is that Consciousness is all that exists and that it is analogous to a field of energy that is inherently intelligent and creative. This view does not posit a point of origination for Consciousness. In short, it is assumed that it has always existed and is eternal. This view assumes that the universe is at root an indivisible whole in which every particle of matter is entangled with every other particle. In this view, matter is a contraction or concentration of Consciousness (energy) within the field of Consciousness. The apparent separate constituents of the universe are at root an “illusion.” This view posits that the “illusion” is created by the appearance of complementary pairs reflected within Consciousness. These pairs create contrast effects, which make possible experience. This view suggests that Consciousness created the possibility for experience for the purpose of self-examination, self-awareness and enrichment. This view implies that the universe did not arise by chance, has a purpose and a fundamental meaning.

The view of idealism is that matter is an epiphenomenon or an emergent property of Consciousness. It assumes that Consciousness is a ground state or a unified and infinite field from which everything arises. Thus, everything that exists arises within Consciousness. The closest analogy to this process is probably a dream. Dreams arise in your consciousness and during the experience appear to be quite real. Thus, in a manner of speaking, monistic idealism would say that you are a “dream” character in Consciousness or in Universal Mind. For those familiar with virtual reality games, one might say that you are an “avatar” in a virtual reality3 created by Universal Mind in Consciousness (see the referenced note for a fuller explanation). Material “reality” could be thought of as being generated from a basic division of thought within Universal Mind into a complementary pair such as physical versus biological. From contrasting pairs, experience evolved ever more complex forms, which produced their own sets of complementary pairs. The biological or living forms became “receivers” for Consciousness, which was experienced as an individuated consciousness that is functionally independent from Consciousness. The more complex the life form the more “bandwidth” the “receiver” could accept. In the end, however, there is only one Consciousness (a nondual perspective). Traditionally, this view has been largely that of some Eastern traditions such as yoga. Many readers will immediately think of the Western version of Hatha Yoga with its emphasis on the body. What is referred to here are the traditions within yoga that emphasize a nondual philosophical view similar to monistic idealism and teach practices for the refinement of consciousness; i.e., mental yoga.

Now, let’s examine the implications for the above for one complementary pair that we all have some experience with — sex (male and female). Recall that complementary pairs make experience possible by the contrasts that they impose. To clarify, consider another pair associated with temperature: hot and cold. Without the contrast produced by the pair, temperature could not be experienced. It is also clear that the pair represents a range and does not represent dichotomous categories. In short, there are degrees of temperature along the continuum between the polar anchors for the complementary pair. The greater the points of difference along the continuum the richer the possibilities for experience. Without the experience of the full range of the continuum between the polar anchors for a complementary pair, one can not truly understand the unity from which the pair was derived. For those familiar with the Chinese yin and yang symbols, recall that those symbols for opposites are an abstract representation for complementary pairs. Each symbol contains a component of its opposite and both are contained within a circle representing the whole or unity of which each member of the pair is a partial reflection.

The continuum between the anchor points of male and female includes all sexual variation possible. For purposes of this discussion, the experiences placed under the umbrella term “transgender” (TG) will be considered. The view offered here is that gender is a socially constructed expression of sex and sexuality. While there is some limited variation in sex, there is more variation in the experienced sense of sexuality. The former is anatomical and the latter is probably due to atypical hormonal effects on a developing organism. Gender in this discussion is considered to be a social expression of sex and sexuality, which are convergent in the majority of people but divergent in a minority. Thus, gender is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, though it may come close to that in many people’s experience. By way of analogy, consider the biological experience of hunger. The body generates this experience, which is variable in its intensity. However, the body does not dictate, except in the most general way, what should be eaten to satisfy hunger. How hunger is satisfied is socially constructed. Society determines what should be considered “food.” It also creates customs around how food is prepared, when it is eaten, how it is eaten, with whom it might be eaten, and so on. Likewise, societies have socially created ways in which sex and the experience of sexuality should be expressed — gender. Generally speaking, there is usually a very tight correlation between the appearance of anatomical sex, experienced sexuality and gender.

What are the implications of the above philosophical discussion for TG?

Lets look at the implications of taking the position of materialism. For our purposes, a TG experiencer is someone who experiences some degree of male sexuality while living through a female body or experiences some degree of female sexuality while living through a male body.

Consider a TG individual who is a materialist. Such an individual has to consider his/her experience to be the result of a random and meaningless biological variation — a victim of circumstance. There are some who would argue that their experience is a deliberate choice, not the result of a random biological variation. The choice is often justified on political and or social grounds, which probably serves to give the experience contextual meaning. I don’t doubt that there may be such individuals. I think that most TG experiencers, however, feel that their experience was imposed, not chosen, and usually leaves them feeling like a victim, not an agent for social change. In fact, one could posit that taking the position that one’s experience results from a sociopolitical decision is a coping mechanism. A way of negating the feeling of being a victim and constructing some meaning from the experience. Second, scientific materialism is reductionist and therefore depends upon studying relationships between clearly defined elements, which are strictly controlled to minimize variation. The continuum of variation for sex is therefore, from a scientific perspective, a messy affair making well controlled studies of sex and sexuality only possible by focusing on the anchor points and excluding everything in between as confounding variation. It is no wonder that persons on the excluded portion of the continuum have been prone to being minimized, pathologized and criminalized. Fortunately, modern day society is not as tenacious about pathologizing and criminalizing personal expression as it has been in the past. This is not to suggest that it isn’t still a problem of significance.

Now, let’s look at the implications of taking the position of idealism.

Consider a TG individual who is an idealist and especially one who understands idealism through nondual philosophy4 rooted in some Eastern tradition or in one of the increasing number of Western expressions of nondualism. S/he does not view everything as due to blind chance. Such a person is considered to be an individuated manifestation of Consciousness. Such a consciousness is a vehicle through which Consciousness gains experience of its own potential and the unfolding of that potential. If one is a manifestation of Consciousness or of Universal Mind, then your experience is not random and one is certainly not a victim of circumstance. Usually, one’s personal condition is viewed as having its origins in a choice made by the meta-self 5 prior to individuated consciousness being expressed in material form. In short, there was an agreement to the current manifestation as a vehicle for the experience possible for that form. This is probably only one of many previous and different expressions and possibly of many more to come. Why this particular choice was made, in any specific case, lies within one’s consciousness that is outside of awareness. There are ways of accessing such material but that is beyond the scope of this essay. From this perspective one does not have to take pathologizing and criminalizing by society of one’s being as a judgment of one’s personal worth. This is not to minimize the social injustice that such judgment produces or its impacts. However, if one views oneself as a unique expression of Consciousness and takes one’s sense of personal worth from that understanding, then one has a more positive basis for one’s sense of self worth and a degree of insulation from the injustices implicit in society.

Finally, let us turn to an analysis of some possible outcomes for a TG individual. There may be outcomes not covered here, but one should be able to work them out from this illustration. Some of the following options will probably only be open to someone who subscribes to a nondual worldview or will certainly be facilitated by such a worldview. As the progression unfolds, a nondual worldview increases in importance.

First, consider an individual on the continuum in unresolved conflict. This conflict comes down to a perceived dualistic choice between the two anchor points (male/female or masculine/feminine). The conflict between the dichotomous anchor points for the continuum is driven in large part by the social narrative about the continuum. The person in conflict is strongly drawn toward the anchor point in conflict with anatomy, which is nonconforming to the social narrative. Such an individual is strongly imbued with the social narrative. The stronger the social pressures the greater the conflict. The social pressure can come from external sources policing the social narrative but will also involve one’s enculturation and internalization of the social narrative. It is probably from this type of conflict that what is often referred to as gender dysphoria arises. Clearly, minimizing susceptibility to external policing efforts will help. Equally if not more important is deconstructing the internalized policing established through enculturation. Psychotherapy, drawing on narrative psychology, can be helpful with the latter.

Second, consider an individual on the continuum who is only moderately drawn to the anchor point in conflict with anatomy. Such a person often will resolve to end the conflict by choosing one anchor point and suppressing the other in this dualistic dance. If the person is male bodied and the choice is to suppress the intrusive sense of femaleness, the conflict is repressed and one’s focus becomes on living through the anatomical sex. There is still potential for negative psychological effects from employing repression, but the immediate conflict has been resolved. The same analysis would hold if the person was female bodied and chose to suppress an intrusive sense of maleness.

Third, consider an individual on the continuum similar to the person in the previous analysis, except the person is strongly drawn to the anchor point in conflict with anatomy. In this case, the decision may be to suppress and modify the anatomical sex and give full expression to the intrusive sense of sexuality. This is what is often referred to a transsexualism. This is a choice that may reduce the conflict one feels between anatomical sex and an intrusive sense of sexuality, but it is fraught with many new potential conflicts. It may also entail a lifetime of pursuing adjustments trying to achieve the perfect approximation to one’s idealized self-image.

Fourth, consider an individual who is a bit more psychologically sophisticated and makes the choice not to suppress but to simply witness and thereby neutralize a choice. In the case of a female bodied person, she lives through her anatomical sex and becomes simply an unresponsive observer (witness) to the arising and subsiding of her intrusive sense of male sexuality. The converse analysis would apply to a male bodied person with an intrusive sense of female sexuality. This approach has the potential to minimize the conflict without the potential problems associated with repression. However, witnessing is a learned skill that makes this a choice only for someone aware of the skill and willing to devote the time and effort to establish it.

Fifth, consider a person who is living through a nondual narrative about his or her life. Such an individual would reject the dualistic choice posed by the anchor points of the continuum. The decision in this individual might be to unify the apparent dualistic choice presented by the continuum. The individual neither vacillates between the apparent choices, employs repression, embarks on bodily modification or sets out to utilize neutralization. In this individual the choice is to integrate the conflicting demands and give expression to a blend of both, which may be made explicit to varying degrees. This might be thought of as a non-binary life-style. Such an individual would also be largely free of or at least largely indifferent to the dualistic demands of social presentation in forms dictated by society.

Finally, there is one additional option available from the nondual perspective but one probably chosen by very few. This is to shift identification from the body/mind to fully identifying with pure awareness. Through identification with pure awareness, there is a merger of the self with the meta-self, to as great an extent that is possible, and still live in the world, transcending duality. In such a state the dualistic world of complementary pairs is transformed into a holistic understanding and perspective. A view from which the pairs creating the potential for experience are seen as mere mirror reflections within the whole. Pure awareness is characterized by neither maleness nor femaleness but rather the whole from which they are reflected into the material world.

Notes:

1.  For an excellent video presentation by a leading proponent of monistic idealism click here.

2.  Consciousness with a capital “C” is used to indicate a reference to the unified and infinite field of Consciousness or Source of all that is. The use of consciousness with a lower case “C” is used to indicate an individuated contraction of consciousness within Consciousness.

 3.  Tom Campbell’s metaphor of reality as a computer simulation

 4.  Below are links to some sources of teachings on nondualism:

The Metaphysical Writings of Bernardo Kastrup

Non-Duality Teachings of Rupert Spira

The Spiritual Enneagram with Eli Jaxon-Bear

New Dharma Yoga with Sat Shree

Living Non-Duality with Robert Wolf

Self-realization and Enlightenment with Jan Esmann

The Tantrik Yoga teachings of Hareesh Wallis

5.  Meta-self refers to that which is beyond or behind the self. This is somewhat analogous to some people’s use of the terms soul and oversoul.

 

A Proposed Classification System for Sexual Variation

The proposed classification scheme below is based upon the assumption that there are at least four variable dimensions to human sexuality that can and do vary independently of one another.

           Beginning with the first dimension, bodily sex in its physical expression is a biological phenomenon. When considering bodily sex there are at least three considerations. The first consideration is the external morphology that determines what physical characteristics associated with sex are evident. This in most cases will be clearly male or female but will in a small minority of instances be ambiguous as in cases of partial androgen insensitivity syndrome. The second consideration is internal morphology that determines the physiological characteristics associated with sex and that will determine functionality. For example, one can have the external characteristics of the female morphology but lack the internal morphology necessary for reproduction as in cases of complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (see “Speculation on Transgender Conditions“. The third consideration is the sexing of the nervous system, especially brain structures, or neurological sex. Evidence for neurological sex is not conclusive but a considerable amount of evidence suggests that the nervous system is shaped by the degree of hormone exposure and the timing of that exposure See Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences by David C. Geary). In some cases, the hormonal exposure may directly influence the development of various brain structures or in other cases the hormonal exposure may have an indirect effect by activating or deactivating genes related to sexing of the nervous system. Gene effects controlled by triggers such as hormones have only recently begun to receive attention in the new field of epigenetics.

The second dimension, sex identity, is the subjective sense of one’s sex. The proposal in this classification system is that sexual identity is dependent upon the neurological aspect of physical sex making it too, at root, a biological phenomenon. Sexual identity is usually male or female and is generally congruent with external morphology but can vary. At the extreme there can be a complete disconnect between one’s sense of sexual identity and both external and internal morphology. This is most likely a product of a neurological sex that is the complete inverse of bodily sex. In other instances, the neurological sex can be ambiguous. Ambiguity in most cases is represented by a mixed sexual identity which often presents as a primary and secondary identity rather than a seamless integration.

The third dimension, sex orientation, is the focus of one’s sexual interest. The proposal implicit in the classification system offered below is that sex orientation, like sex identity, is dependent upon the neurological aspect of physical sex making it too, at root, a biological phenomenon. However, sex identity and sex orientation can and do vary independently such that sex identity does not necessarily indicate anything about sex orientation. Generally, sex orientation will be reflected by orientation to external stimuli associated with bodily sex. However, it is conceivable that sex orientation could be influenced by “personality” characteristics associated with neurological sex. Commonly, sex orientation will have a single focus but it is not limited to a single focus.

The final dimension, gender identity. Gender is usually either masculine or feminine and its content is socio-cultural in nature. Gender identity is congruent with one’s configuration on the other three biological dimensions. Gender identity, however, is biological only in the sense that it is motivated by the biological dimensions described above, especially neurological sex, but is otherwise socio-cultural. By way of analogy think of hunger. Hunger is a biologically based sense of a bodily status. Hunger motivates you to seek ways of satisfying that bodily status. How the status is satisfied is almost entirely socio-culturally determined. What one eats, when one eats, where one eats, how one eats to satisfy a sense of hunger is largely socio-culturally determined while, at root, having a biological source or motivation. One’s biologically based sense of sexuality, which includes bodily sex, sex identity and sex orientation, motivates one to find avenues of expression for that biologically based sense of self. How gender identity is expressed, however, is largely determined by socio-cultural learning.

Probably in the vast majority of cases there is sufficient congruence between the independent variation of the four dimensions to call the outcome “normal” or typical. Even in a typical outcome, there is some range of variation but the range of variation is within limits considered “normal.” There are clearly many instances where there is a lack of congruence between the independent variation of the four dimensions that results in outcomes that are not considered “normal” or typical. The term normal herein is being used in a statistical sense, not in a evaluative sense. Anything that occurs is a natural outcome and should not be evaluated negatively simply because it is outside the boundaries of what is considered a typical outcome.

Of the four dimensions, gender identity is the most complex because of the many potential permutations contributed by the other three dimensions. The four subcategories used for transgender in the gender classification are adapted from The Transgender Phenomenon by Richard Ekins and Dave King. Because gender is socio-cultural, learned and subject to many social contingencies governing its expression, individuals with atypical gender identities are more susceptible to suppression of their motivation to acquire and express their gender identity or identities. Suppression of the social expression of a biologically based sense of self can contribute to the development of various psychological problems such as depression and in extreme cases can lead to suicide.

The classification system that follows is color coded, The coding of each dimension can be sequenced with the other dimensions in a chain while retaining the distinction between dimensions through a distinctive color. By way of analogy, one might think of a human sexuality code like a gene sequence. The chain of codes is analogous to a genotype consisting of four unique genes that describe different phenotypical outcomes. Two examples of dimensional codes are given at the end of each coded dimension and an example of a four dimension coded sequence with a verbal description is provided at the end.

I.              Bodily Sex

              A.              Male (congruent morphology, physiology and neurological sex)

              B.              Female (congruent morphology, physiology and neurological sex)

              C.              Cross-sexed

                            1.              External characteristics

                                          a.              Male external characteristics

                                          b.              Female external characteristics

                                          c.              Ambiguous external characteristics

                            2.              Internal physiology

                                          a.              Male internal characteristics

                                          b.              Female internal characteristics

                                          c.              Ambiguous internal characteristics

                        3.            Neurological sexual explication

                                          a.              Male neurological sexual characteristics

                                          b.              Female neurological sexual characteristics

                                          c.              Ambiguous neurological sexual characteristics

For example: IA or IC1c2a3b describe two different possible configurations

II.              Sex Identity (subjective sense of sexual self)

              A.              Male (congruent with sex)

              B.              Female (congruent with sex)

              C.              Cross-sexed (full congruence absent)

                            1.              Male primary and female secondary

                            2.              Female primary and male secondary

                            3.              Male/Female balance

 For example: IIB or IIC2 describe two different possible configurations

III.              Sex Orientation

              A.              Male

              B.              Female

              C.              Male primary and female secondary

              D.              Female primary and male secondary

              E.              Cross-sexed

                            a.              Ambiguous external characteristics

                            b.              Mixed neurological sex

 For example: IIIA or IIIC describe two different possible configurations

IV.              Gender Identity

              A.              Masculine

                            1.              Hyper-masculine

                            2.              Assertive masculine

                            3.              Typical masculine

                            4.              Subdued masculine

                            5.              Hypo-masculine

              B.              Feminine

                            1.              Hyper-feminine

                            2.              Assertive feminine

                            3.              Typical feminine

                            4.              Subdued feminine

                            5.              Hypo-feminine

              C.              Transgender

                            1.              Oscillating (IVA1-5 alternating with IVB1-5 where one is the primary and the other is the secondary gender identity.  A true balance would probably be classified as IVC3)

                                          a.              Imaginal

                                          b.              Practicing (subsumes imaginal)

                            2.              Migrating (transitioning from (a) to (b) or (b) to (a) below)

                                          a.              IVA1-5

                                                        1.              Role

                                                        2.              Body (subsumes role)

                                          b.              IVB1-5

                                                        1.              Role

                                                        2.              Body (subsumes role)

                            3.              Transcending (blending IVA and IVB)

                            4.              Negating (neutralizing IVA and IVB)

 For example: IVA3 or IVC2

Thus a complete classification of an individual might be: IC1a2a3c IIC1 IIID IVC1

The above classification code describes and individual who is cross-sexed with external male characteristics, male internal physiology and mixed neurological sexual development. This individual has a mixed sexual identity where the male identity is primary and the female identity is secondary. The individual’s sexual orientation is mixed with orientation to females being primary and to males being secondary. This individual’s gender identity is transgender of the oscillating type in which there is an alternation between a masculine identity and a feminine identity. The secondary sex orientation toward males is most evident during oscillation from the male primary to the female secondary gender identity, which in turn is controlled by the male primary and female secondary mixed sexual identity.

 

 

 

Sex, Gender and Language

          One of my personal peeves is the regular substitution of the word “Gender” for “Sex” on forms and in conversation. While the choice “Sex: Male or Female” when strictly referring to biological or external morphological characteristics is not always accurate, the choice “Gender: Male or Female,”  in my opinion, marginalizes, if not pathologizes everyone outside the normative range (statistically speaking). Below I will outline the understanding of these terms that leads me to see absurdity in the way that they are frequently used.

To keep this relatively simple I will limit myself to sex as one can perceive it from a visual inspection of external morphology or physical appearance. This leaves out the confounds of internal morphology, which includes internal sex organs, and genetic sex or what pair of chromosomes one carries in one’s cells. These two confounds are most clearly illustrated in cases of CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity syndrome). In this condition, an individual would be classified as female by the external morphological criterion above. This individual would most likely self-identify as female and would be almost universally seen by others as female. However, this individual will not have internal female organs and will have an XY genotype. A third confound is the growing evidence for the possibility of “sexed” brain structures, which can occur independently of the sexing of external morphology during gestation. This sexing of the brain is probably responsible for one’s “sense” of sexuality. The sexing of the brain may also be related to sexual orientation independently of one’s sex and sense of sexuality. Given the imposed limitation, there are three discernible possibilities:

 1,              Sex:

              a.           Male

              b.          Female

              c.          Intersex (ambiguous)

Gender is a more complex term and has far more social, cultural and behavioral components to it than physical sex but probably has an underlying biological component affecting one’s sense of sexuality. Gender is often used as if it had a one-to-one correspondence with physical sex, which is clearly not the case. The most common gender terms are masculine and feminine but these are not all-or-nothing categories and includes several possibilities:

2.              Gender:

              a.              Masculine

                            1.          Hyper  (More masculine than the norm)

                            2.          Modal (Normal range of variation, the norm)

                            3.          Hypo   (Less masculine than the norm)

              b.          Feminine

                            1.          Hyper  (More feminine than the norm)

                            2.          Modal (Normal range of variation, the norm)

                            3.          Hypo  (Less feminine than the norm)

While sex can be treated as categorical without grossly distorting reality, especially if three categories are used, gender is clearly dimensional. Gender can significantly vary along a somewhat normal (or bell shaped) distribution curve that has tails anchored by hyper and hypo and a modal center. Clearly, there are numerous potential positions all along this continuum that aren’t being given labels. If conventional classification of someone by gender is the goal one might do better to use a numeric scale where 1 is hyper masculine, 4 is neutral and 7 is hyper feminine.

There is one further complication to gender that must be introduced to make this discussion somewhat complete. The concept of transgender is important to this discussion as well. Presentation of transgenderism can be either overt, covert or both and along both behavioral (doing) and cognitive dimensions (imagining). Overt behavioral presentations can be either public or private. Some variations of transgenderism would not be observable and would only be known through self-identification. The following outline for the range encompassed by transgenderism is taken from the work of British sociologists Richard Ekins and Dave King.

              c.              Transgender

                            1.          Oscillating                    (Switching)*          

                            2.          Migrating                    (Shifting)**

                            3.          Negating                      (Neutralizing)

                            4.          Transcending              (Blending)

  *              Episodic switching between masculine and feminine.

**              Permanent shifting from masculine to feminine or feminine to masculine and may, in some individuals, include changing external morphology as well.

The use of sex and gender as interchangeable terms implies that reality conforms to the following structure:

 1.              Sex:                    Male &                    Female &

2.          Gender:                 Masculine               Feminine

A more accurate, if incomplete, structure would resemble the following:

1,              Sex:          Male

2.          Gender:

              a.          Masculine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              b.          Feminine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              c.          Transgender

                            1.          Oscillating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            2.          Migrating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            3.          Negating

                            4.          Transcending

 

1.              Sex:          Female

2.          Gender:

              a.              Masculine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              b.              Feminine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              c.              Transgender

                            1.          Oscillating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            2.          Migrating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            3.          Negating

                            4.          Transcending

1.              Sex:          Intersex

2.              Gender:

              a.              Masculine

                            1.          Hyper          

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              b.              Feminine

                            1.          Hyper

                            2.          Modal

                            3.          Hypo

              c.              Transgender

                            1.          Oscillating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            2.          Migrating

                                      a.          Masculine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                                      b.          Feminine

                                                1.          Hyper          

                                                2.          Modal

                                                3.          Hypo

                            3.          Negating

                            4.          Transcending

 

The above is not intended to be definitive and is certainly open to alternative arrangement. The purpose is not to delineate but to illustrate. What is being illustrated is that sex and gender and especially gender is a complex topic and one that is grossly over simplified in the ordinary use of language. Add to this an individual’s sense of sexuality and sexual orientation and the complexity grows exponentially.

If I had to take a stand on the collection of public information from individuals, I would suggest that in almost all cases a three category, self-identification for sex would be adequate for public purposes. In ordinary verbal or written reference to people by sex, I would favor limiting labels to male or female, by appearance, except in cases where individuals have publicly self-identified otherwise. I would be opposed to asking about gender because the meaning of the term is far too complex to be easily queried and would seldom be relevant information for most public purposes, including conversational use of the term. I would definitely favor disassociating the terms male and female from the concept of gender because not to do so confuses two different concepts: sex (biological) and gender (social).

The equating of gender with sex in common language usage is in fact an example of how the modal majority “democratically” attempts to define a public, social reality and marginalize and at worst imply pathology in anyone not fitting the majority stereotype. As Milton Diamond founder of the Pacific Center for Sex and Society has said, “Nature loves variety. Unfortunately, society hates it.” Language is the primary tool for creating socio-cultural reality and how it is used has important implications that should not be taken lightly.

On Women as Female Impersonators

          In an interview on CSPAN, Anna Quindlen used the phrase female impersonators in reference to women and attributed the phrase to Gloria Steinem. Steinem, in an interview in Mother Jones magazine, appears to use the term to refer to the socialization of women beginning at about 12 to 13 years of age. A partial quote “… when you were 9 or 10 or 11, and maybe you were this tree-climbing, shit-free little girl…and then at 12 or 13 you suddenly turned into a female impersonator…”

Allan Johnson in his book Gender Knot argues that feminine gender behavior is a social construct. What Johnson argues is that society is a male-dominated and male-centered social order. In such a social order men operating through social institutions have the power to define social roles. Thus, in his view, the behaviors associated with the feminine gender role are in whole or part determined by men. These behaviors include such things as speech, dress, attitudes and mannerisms to name the more obvious. It is likely that these role behaviors are at root based in biological differences, such as reproductive functions, reproductive strategies, physical attributes like strength and dexterity and possibly differences in brain organization affecting such things as verbal skills and emotional intelligence. Even assuming some root biological basis, socially defined femininity in a male-dominated society will be influenced by what men view as feminine, not necessarily what women might view as feminine.

Likewise in a society dominated and defined by men, masculinity will also be determined by men. Again, it is likely that there will be some root biological basis for the masculine role behaviors associated with masculinity but how these are articulated culturally has a great deal of latitude, as is true in the feminine case as well. One of the attitudes that masculinity is imbued with in a male-centered society is an orientation toward women as sexual objects, which is a common complaint from women about the social role they have been assigned. Thus, it seems likely that one of the reciprocal effects of “women as sex objects” is a corresponding subset of male defined feminine role behavior. Looking beyond this likely influence on femininity as a socially defined set of role behaviors that articulate gender in a male-centered society, it is unclear to what extent other gender linked behaviors are reflective of female behavioral tendencies whose explication have been controlled by women and to what extent they are influenced by the power of male-centered society to define appropriate gender behavior. Ultimately, social definition of gender roles will be a “dance” between the two biological sexes but one in which men have historically led.

Female impersonation then captures the role played by many if not most women in a male-centered society. That is, acting out the role of male defined femininity due to an unequal balance of social power between the sexes and a lack of a viable alternative. That many women embrace this role construction and even take satisfaction in it does not alter the fact that it is at least in part a male defined construct. There are, however, many women who are not entirely comfortable with this definition of femininity or who resist it both covertly and overtly. The latter are the women most likely to be attracted to feminism as a political movement, which appears to be an attempt to rebalance the power relationship between men and women. Such a re-balancing opens the possibility for a redefinition of social organization but also leaves open the possibility of simply allowing women, who wish to do so, to participate more fully in the hierarchical power relationships that presently underlie society.

While this latter outcome certainly provides women with greater access to both economic and political power, the former could lead to a transformation of society. Evolutionary psychology suggests that men have evolved to organize themselves into hierarchical social structures that are predicated on status competition, dominance and the exercise of power. Perhaps the quintessential such model for this is military organization. Women who succeed in such an organization must “play the game” and become male impersonators or never make any real progress toward achieving significant organizational power. Whether this is a viable route to social equality remains to be seen. However, evolutionary psychology also suggests that women have evolved to organize themselves into lateral social structures that are predicated on cooperation, mutuality and the exercise of support. Assuming there is a factual basis for this hypothesis, it seems unlikely that most women will find male impersonation and competing in a dominance hierarchy appealing.

If it comes down to an overt “battle of the sexes” over who will determine social organization, it would appear that men have the advantage for evolutionary reasons as is evident from their historical dominance. Thus, it may be that women who simply play the game for personal advantage may enjoy some success but are unlikely to change the system in any substantive manner. On the other hand, if women who are successful at playing the game act as a “fifth column” that undertakes a covert strategy to change organizational structures they may succeed. Women who achieve organizational power should be in a position to plant seeds that could take root and grow into lateral networks in which cooperative strategies are as important to success as competitive strategies. This has potential as a strategy for change to the extent that current circumstances represent conditions in which such strategies confer an advantage on the society that embraces them. Such a society would reflect a merging of organizational styles rather than a dominance of a particular organizational style.

Since the label female impersonator when used in conversational speech most commonly evokes the idea of male to female impersonation, it might be appropriate to make a closing comment on this use of the phrase. There are, of course, men who adopt female gender behaviors, especially those of dress, speech and mannerisms. Many such men consider themselves transgendered and have, to varying degrees, a female sex identity, which is probably rooted in neurobiology and underlies their desire to adopt to varying degree a female gender identity.

Such individuals have at times been the subject of hostile comments from “feminists.” The reason for this might be deduced from the above reflections. It would appear that these individuals are viewed as members of the “oppressive” sex who are reflecting in their behavior some of the most observable aspects of the feminine gender identity that most feminists are resisting to one degree or another. To the extent these feminists see their “mission” to be to redefine femininity they find male impersonation of that traditional definition of femininity objectionable. Thus, instead of seeing these men as potential allies, who too are “victims” of a male-centered cultural stereotype, they are seen as possibly worse than men who simply conform to a male-centered masculine identity. These male female impersonators seem to be a visual taunt or seen as a caricature. The better it is done the more like a taunt is appears and the worse it is done the more like a caricature is seems. When perceived as a caricature, it is likely due to either ineptitude or the lack of the physical characteristics needed to “pull off” an approximation that is at least not ludicrous. In neither case, is it likely that what is perceived is what is intended.

In defense of men with mixed gender identity, they are exposed to the same models of femininity as are women in this society. That they mimic the prevalent model is no more a failing in them than it is in the typical woman. Further, it is unlikely that mere adoption by such men of the prevalent model is done in a deliberate effort to make either a cultural or political statement to women. Finally, due to the identity conflicts implied by their behavior, they are probably less able to see through the imposed feminine stereotype than is the typical woman. It is unreasonable to expect anything different from such men until a socially viable alternative femininity is constructed by women who see through the stereotype, are dissatisfied with it and can resist being co-opted by the hierarchical power-centered structure of a male-dominated society. In the meantime male female impersonators will, no doubt, continue to use the best expressive medium available to them for the explication of their sense of female sex identity.