Confused about what an Intellectual Turing Test is or what “gender identity” and “Blanchard-Bailey” mean? Click here! Please read, then vote at the end of the post.

How do you define woman/man?

“Woman” and “man” are the roles our society has devised to accommodate the sexual dimorphism of its inhabitants. (You know, us.) They are related to, but distinct from, the concepts of “female” and “male,” which refer to (for lack of a better term) one’s physical sex, which is a biological property. Our society expects adult female humans to act in the role of women and adult male humans to fill the role of men. A cat, or an insect, or a flower could be ‘female,’ but even if you have a cute name for her people will look at you funny if you say she, or it, is a woman. This is why we draw a distinction between sex and gender identity. (And also why describing women as ‘females’ is somewhat demeaning.)

The roles are in some ways prescriptive, pushing males and females to act in ways their peers want them to, and in other ways reflective of the natural behavioral differences that tend to exist between the sexes. (Reflective traits quickly become prescriptive traits as we lead people to fit into their roles.) And because these roles are so important to how our society works, we’ve also created arbitrary markers to signal that a person is one or the other. So we assign female humans to the “woman” role, which includes ‘be a mother’ (prescriptive), ‘act demure’ (reflective-turned- prescriptive) and ‘wear pretty pink bows in their hair’ (signaling), and male humans as “men,” who we expect to ‘eliminate hostile interlopers,’ ‘act boisterous,’ and ‘talk a lot about football.’

But there is a monkey wrench in both the sex and gender binaries. Male and female aren’t discrete categories, because they arise from complicated biochemical processes that aren’t guaranteed to work the same way every time. For example, some males produce more masculinizing hormones and some produce less. Sometimes children are born intersex. Quirks of chemistry can alter or block the effects of sex hormones on all or part of the body.

And highly prescriptive gender roles, we’ve found, are suffocating: our parochial expectations for men and women result in a lot of unnecessary suffering and limit our ability to achieve (because, say, a brilliant woman who could have transformed the world was forced to stay home and raise the kids).

That’s why our culture is beginning to acknowledge and adapt. Gender roles are not as imposing as they once were. But they are still meant to reflect and to signal sexual differences. Simultaneously, some people identified as one sex at birth realize that they feel more attuned to the other (or both, or none). The research in this area suggests that the brain ‘expects’ to perceive a certain set of sexual characteristics, based largely on hormonal exposure in utero, and responds with confusion and stress when it does not. Fortunately, these people can seek treatments that bring their body in line with what their mind is telling them. Similarly, adopting a new gender role can help dysphoric individuals feel like they are reflecting their interior state better, and help them achieve their goals.

What are your opinions on the cotton ceiling?

I wasn’t familiar with this term. I assume it’s referencing feminine hygiene products? Meh. But I guess there’s two things going on here? One being the hostility from TERFs. Okay, their model of sexuality, or PIV sexuality, or the presence of a penis-bearer, or whatever, as being inherently degrading and predatory is fucked up and anathema to good people leading happy lives. It’s not fair to men, and it’s definitely not fair to trans-women, who as a population already face more discrimination and hardship than anyone is comfortable confronting.

Two being, the difficulty facing trans-women who want to find female sexual partners who treat them for who they are. Hmm. I dunno. I don’t resent people for wanting to find sexual relationships that satisfy them, in either direction. And I’m not super comfortable with the idea that everyone has to validate something so intensely personal to them. But I am positive that, given enough time and goodwill, integration works. We’re already seeing it. Secondhand prejudice always loses to firsthand epiphanies.

Why are trans women disproportionately likely to be programmers?

I have no idea. Trans women have brains that are more like cis women, in some respects, but it’s not like those masculinizing hormones are just sloshing around doing nothing. Males are, on average, more predisposed to work with things and abstract systems than females. Perhaps dysphoria leads transwomen to eschew the physical competitiveness and social status games that signal manhood, and repress the instinct toward signaling femininity, so they stick to what they’re both naturally talented in and allowed to be good at. But that’s purely a conjecture.

Why do many trans women experience sexual fantasies about being or becoming a woman?

It would be weirder if they didn’t. Sexual response is such a deeply embedded instinct, so interwoven with bodily sensation, that it’s not surprising that they would reflect each other.

When taking the poll, if you can POSSIBLY round yourself off to Blanchard-Bailey or gender identity, please do so. Please do this even if you have major disagreements with the side you are leaning towards. Only use “neither” if you really really really cannot in good conscience round yourself to either.