Language and Gender (And Sex)

Our thinking is shaped by the language in which we think. Many ancient Middle Eastern cultures identified 3, 4, 5, and in one case even 6 genders. And their languages had support for these concepts. Did that make their entire civilization wrong? Hardly.

Cis is from Latin and means “on the same side” whereas trans is also Latin and means “on the opposite side”. Many apparently ignorant people get bent out of shape about the word “cis”, thinking it was invented in the 1990s. It was not. Applying it to gender did happen in the 1990s but “cis” and “trans” are Latin and have been around thousands of years.

Our thought processes are shaped by the language in which they occur. If we are told there are 2 genders, we think that. We “believe” that. And we shape our thought processes around that bedrock assumption. But if someone from the ancient Middle East was teleported to the present, and if we could speak to them in their native tongue, they would perceive gender binary language as simplistic, crude, reductionist, and primitive.

What happened in the 1990s was a direct outgrowth of thinking shaped by language. English defined people as simply male and female. Then you have trans people who were identified at birth one way but who identify “on the opposite side” of their socially assigned gender. Cisgender researchers wanted a term to describe those who were not transgender, and cisgender made sense because it also uses a Latin prefix, just like transgender does, and then applies that meaning to the binary thinking that English encourages.

The only reason that cis and trans work is because of reductionist thinking, encouraged by the English language, that there are just two sexes and just two genders. In other cultures, this doesn’t even occur as a thought process, let alone as a name for a thing. Instead, there are distinct words (and often pronouns) for additional genders.

For example, in English we’ve been taught that “eunuch” was a man who had his testicles removed but was that how it was really used in the Ancient Greek language? No, it was an umbrella term. What we would call a “gay man” today was often referred to as a eunuch, as well as those people who removed their testicles to feminize themselves as much as possible (what we might call trans women today).

Many people seem to assume that every culture before us thought in the exact same way that we think now. That’s simply not true. Much of this is not new at all, but a return to the nuance and complexity that many ancient cultures already recognized and even supported within their languages, which gave them far different perspectives than we have in the Western World which is driven by its history of simplistic obsession with binary thinking (not just about genders either!) which derived from the prevalence of Abrahamic faiths in our society and our society’s longer term history.

The same is true of sex and sexual orientation. Ancient societies often viewed these things in more complex ways than simple binary reductionist thought. Could such thinking be useful to us? We ought to at least explore that, shouldn’t we?

I encourage everyone to stop and think about how language shapes your assumptions about sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. This isn’t easy because our very thought processes occur in the language with which we are most familiar, but it can still be done. And once we realize that a perspective might not align with what we know scientifically to be true, because of how language has predisposed us to view that perspective, we can then begin to change that perspective, and maybe even the language used to describe the underlying reality in a more accurate manner.

And maybe, just maybe, helping language evolve to be more inclusive and considerate of anyone who does not fit the reductionist gender binary may also help people become more inclusive and considerate as well.

Let’s Talk Biology Again

I’ve discussed this before, in bits and pieces, here and there, now and again. But perhaps it’s wise to assemble all this under one roof where it can be easily referenced.

Approximately 1 in 15000 females, at birth is XY. They are females with female genitals, the works. XY does not mean male. Of these, 1 in 80,000 is Swyer’s Syndrome, and 1 in 20,000 has complete androgen insensitivity syndrome. Another subset has partial androgen insensitivity syndrome and estimates of those born female vary greatly there, from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 50,000. The cumulative numbers for these three groups are generally assessed at 1 in 15,000, but the frequency could be even higher. The vast majority of XY females are sterile, but rarely some are not, as documented in this study.

1 in 20000 males at birth is XX, also called de la Chapelle syndrome. They are males with male genitals. XX does not mean female. However, the frequency of XX males where the SRY gene crossed over from the Y chromosome to the X may be even higher than that, as this study suggests SRY gene crossover happens more often than previously suspected.

1 in 600 children is XXY, Klinefelters. For the longest time, doctors assumed XXY were always male, because only XXY males had fertility issues, until some biologists decided to go look. And suddenly they found lots of XXY females. This breakthrough came in the last decade so it is relatively “new” news and not all doctors may have heard this year.

The above situations are all scientific facts and prove, conclusively that sex and gender are not determined solely by 5th grade biology lessons about XX and XY, which were simplified for you because at that point in your life, you couldn’t have handled the complexities involved.

So what determines sex and gender? What sex is a male soldier who loses his legs and genitals to an IED. It’s all gone. He has no testicles, no penis, so what sex is he? Stupid question, isn’t it?

It’s stupid because sex and gender are determined in the brain, specifically in the white matter structures of the brain.

Every fetus starts out female and stays female until week 8. That’s when sexual differentiation begins.

The brain is the first human organ to sexually differentiate. This occurs between weeks 8-16. The fetus doesn’t even have genitals until week 14 and then it’s only the unisex “genital tuber” which will later become clitoris, vagina, labia, or penis, testicles, and scrotum.

What drives sexual differentiation? Not genes. Not XX. Not XY. What drives sexual differentiation in the fetus is hormones. Males develop as male because they received about 4 times as much testosterone as estrogen. Females develop as females because they receive about 5 times as much estrogen as testosterone. This is another scientific fact. Cry about it all you want but this is what creates sex and gender.

Consequently, if the mother, during pregnancy for some reason has hormonal interactions that change the basic hormonal ratios away from the median described above, you can get a child whose brain develops one way then their body develops another. Not enough testosterone in weeks 8-16 then returning to median hormonal ratios for weeks 16 and onward? Transgender child with a female brain and male body. Too much testosterone in weeks 8-16 then returning to median hormonal ratios for weeks 16 and onward? Transgender child with male brain and female body. Here is the American Medical Association’s 2011 Annual Meeting Presentation on how hormonal ratios can vary and thus produce the entire spectrum of LGBT people. The presentation is about 70 minutes long, but informative, so be prepared to sit and listen.

So why not fix the brain? We don’t know how without killing the patient. Further, “fixing” the brain would likely destroy the entire personality of that person, a severe violation of their personal liberty and autonomy. So what do we do? We fix the body, which turns out to be relatively easy.

This is the reality of what being transgender means. And I, for one, am tired of ignorant people not understanding science and trying to impose their small minded bigotry against transgender people.

Educate yourself. The science is all available if you want to understand it. The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the American College of Physicians all support the above statements, and all support social transition, hormonal therapy, and surgery as the proper treatment for being transgender. The AMA supports hormone treatment and surgery for transgender patients. The American Psychiatric Association supports transition related medical care for transgender people.

Those of you who choose to wallow in ignorance and hate are what drive transgender kids to suicide, not being transgender but being hated by small minded bigots like yourselves.

Grow up, and stop hating. And stop claiming 5000 year old superstitions that you call a “bible” are somehow right when compared to science. The rest of us are tired of your narrow minded, childish, and anti-scientific ways of thinking. Transgender women are women. Transgender men are men. Deal with it.

A Response to the Lies of “A Sacred Androgen”

Recently, the Antioch Review has published an article full of hateful lies, stereotypes, and absolutely incorrect medical information about transgender people titled “The Sacred Androgen” (link marked as “nofollow” so as not to boost the page’s rank).

In response to this, Brynn Tannehill wrote a scathing condemnation of the article and The Antioch Review itself, titled “Antioch Demonstrates Why Mid-West Kills Queers from the Inside Out“.

And in addition to Brynn’s article, I sent the following email to Christina Check who is listed as the contact for The Antioch Review. I encourage all of you to do likewise. The more they hear from us, the more they may realize they have done something ugly and horribly wrong, and perhaps retract and apologize for that piece of garbage they published.

My letter to the editor lies below this line



If you had published such a pile of garbage laden pile of tripe about black people, your offices might have been buried under angry responses from across the nation already.

If you had published such a garbage laden pile of tripe about gays, you would have been dragged through the major press and rightfully pilloried publicly destroying your reputation.

Yet you think you can get away with it against transgender people?

Your author uses every bad stereotype, ignores all the current medical evidence including neurobiological evidence that has led the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Association of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association all to conclude that:

1. Being transgender is not a mental illness (and it’s no longer listed as one in the DSM)
2. Being transgender is a neurobiological medical condition caused by in utero hormonal ratio variations during early pregnancy.

Your article goes on and paints trans women as sex obsessed fetishists which couldn’t be further from the truth and which theory has been totally destroyed. Bailey’s work on “autogynephelia” has been refuted because what he thought was solely trans obsession turns out to be common natal female behavior as well.

Your author asserts that transgender people are mentally ill while mental health professionals say that being transgender is not a mental illness. Your author then goes on to support reparative therapy which has been proven to increase suicidality, and never ever “cures” anything.

Your author cites the 41% suicide attempt rate as proof of mental illness and ignores that mental health professionals cite that as proof of the deep systemic hatred and oppression our culture has displayed towards transgender people. Mental health professionals say YOU need to change your attitudes towards trans people, and not that trans people need to change.

Your author launches into rape culture objectification of women and then tries to use that as a reason to see trans women with disgust.

Your author tries to assert that trans women are just gay men but ignores actual biological evidence that trans women are as different from gay men, in the brain, as they can possibly be.

The above microscope slides are just one of many studies demonstrating that trans women have brain structures very similar to cisgender women and nothing at all like gay men.
In short, your article, “The Sacred Androgen”, is hate speech targeted at a minority group that is being actively attacked and oppressed today in popular media and by right wing politicians and churches for being different. Yet the medical community, across the board, supports trans people and who they say they are. There are only a few old fossils, like Paul McHugh, Bailey, and others who get regularly trotted out by the right wing to support these hateful views.

With the publication of “The Sacred Androgen”, The Antioch Review demonstrates that it is not a rational nor respectful publication and that anything it publishes should be ignored, discarded, and that the Review itself should be driven into the ground as a purveyor of hate speech.

You should be ashamed of yourselves but bigots never are. Just like racists have been hiding in the closet for the last 40 years until Trump came along, bigots never give up their ugly ways and we now know that The Antioch Review is a publication of bigots and bigotry.

Cara Ramsey

One More Time – The New Brain Study Does NOT Refute Current Neurobiological Models of Being Transgender

I’ve been challenged elsewhere by people about my contention that this new “no female or male brain” does not invalidate the older neurobiological studies that show a neurobiological link to being transgender. I asserted it did not. Others flatly asserted it did.

So, I went directly to Professor Daphna Joel, one of the authors of this study. Below is my query, and below that is the screenshot of her reply.

She agrees with me that this study does not invalidate the neurobiological model of gender identity. Read that again. And then read that again.



Here is here response.



In fact, she agrees with me that it is very possible that just a few key structures control our sense of gender identity. So the next time some gender critical feminist tries to cite this study and say that being transgender is a “social” phenomenon only, refer them here. The truth is we still do not know, and while the body of evidence is growing, the important point is this study does not invalidate the neurobiological model of why we are transgender.

New Brain Study Reinforces Neurobiological Explanation of Being Transgender

A new brain study was released that shows human brains are a mosaic of male and female structures. A few people have tried to use this study to discredit all the other studies that have identified specific differences in male and female brains, and how transgender people have brains that are more like the gender with which they identify than the gender assigned at birth.


Let’s remember this slide for a moment, ok? Don’t lose sight of this image on this slide.

The new study, The brains of men and women aren’t really that different, study finds, does not say that male and female brains are identical. It says they are extremely similar and that any male or female brain has a large mix of more male or more female structures. In addition, this study looked at the overall brain, at the topology of the total brain to reach its conclusion.

Now interestingly, this study actually reinforces the existing neurobiological research into transgender brains thus far. How can it do that? Because it shows how similar male and female brains are, and what that means is you don’t have to have a “completely female” brain to be an MtF trans woman or a “completely male” brain to be an FtM trans man.

Instead, this study further enhances that it is only a few small critical structures, just like the BSTc in the slide previously that which is tiny! It’s inside the hypothalamus, which itself is about the size of a peanut. And then it’s inside the stria terminalis, which is a small structure inside the hypothalamus itself. And then the difference is in the bed nucleus, which is inside the stria terminalis which is inside that tiny hypothalamus. And we already know from other studies that this region of the brain appears to be linked to gender identity and somewhat also towards sexual orientation.

So the studies done to date do not contradict the neurobiological thesis for being transgender. In fact, this study further enhances that work by showing how small the changes can be that lead one to feeling gender identity dysphoria.

When people try to argue that this study disproves a biological basis for being transgender, refer them to my comments here. This study reinforces the neurobiological model.

I will add here, a diagram from the TED Talk of one of the scientists involved in this study. The brain itself is neither male nor female. It’s always a mosaic of structures. But the mosaic consists of a mixture of male and female structures. And every human brain is like this. So rather than having a “female” brain or a “male” brain, what matters are those few individual structures that control sense of gender identity.