This post is a person– who may believe either a gender identity or a Blanchard-Bailey theory of transness– doing their best to write what a gender identity theory supporter believes. 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?
I do not think there exists an objective True Definition of “woman” or of “man”, as I do not think there exists an objective True Definition of any word. As a linguistic descriptivist, I think the truth of a word is how people use the word. As an activist (sort of) or as a consequentialist (sort of) or as a human trying to construct norms that advance the flourishing of humanity, I think we should choose definitions based on the effect they have on the world.
Putting on my descriptivist hat, the definitions of “woman” and “man” are obviously highly contested. I think all of the following definitions enjoy relatively widespread usage:
– A woman is someone who says she is a woman. (the trans advocate position)
– A woman is someone who has most or all of the physical characteristics associated with women. (I think this is probably the most common in practice)
– A woman is someone who has most or all of the physical characteristics associated with women, but only if she has those characteristics naturally. (I think this is probably the definition that people who totally reject trans people mostly use in practice.)
– A woman is someone with a female reproductive system. (e.g. when talking about abortion rights or pregnancy, if one doesn’t explicitly try to be trans-inclusive)
– A woman is someone with XX chromosomes and a vagina and breasts and mostly estrogen etc. (This definition is I think generally thought of as the standard trans-exclusive definition, but as many people have pointed out there are edge cases besides trans people who don’t meet all these requirements, and in practice those edge cases are usually gendered correctly most of the time.)
More broadly I think definitions are usually based on prototypes, and the *prototype* of a woman is indeed “person with XX chromosomes and a vagina and breasts and mostly estrogen etc.” People who depart from the prototype a little are usually still included in the definition; people who are farther might be excluded. I think the conflict over the proper definition is mostly about how far away from the prototype the boundary between “woman” and “not woman” should lie.
Putting on my social justice hat, I think we should choose the definition that makes people the happiest, and I think on that metric an identity-based definition is by far the best. Trans people generally care a great deal about being categorized in accordance with their identity and feel substantially happier when gendered correctly than when misgendered. (And of course, making people happier has a lot of further good consequences as well, like making them more likely to participate in your discourse, contribute to your community, be pleasant to spend time with, etc.)
I do think that there exist times when it makes more sense to discuss groups of people based on sex more than on gender (like if you are discussing medical stuff, or if you believe there are major psychological differences between the sexes). I don’t think this should be made impossible, and I don’t think that an identity-based definition of gender makes it impossible. Some alternatives:
– Use more specific language like “people with uteruses” or “people with estrogen-dominant systems” or “AFAB people who haven’t undergone HRT” or whatever group you’re actually talking about. (Cumbersome, but precise.)
– Start with a disclaimer that “right now I’m going to be using ‘women’ to refer to people with [X characteristic]”. (You still run the risk of making some people dysphoric, but this is loads better than not including the disclaimer.)
– Specify “cis men” and “cis women”. (Yes, these aren’t *exactly* the categories you’re looking for in most cases, but it’s pretty close, and it also has the benefit of simplifying things. The existence of trans people doesn’t just complicate things linguistically, it actually makes the landscape you’re describing more complicated because social and medical transition have effects on the things you want to talk about. If you want to make a generalization, sticking to the less complicated case can help.)
Also I’ll note that when I say “identity-based view on gender”, what I really mean is “start with the conventional understanding of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, but when someone has a strong sense of gender identity, use that” – in fact many cis people don’t have a strong felt sense of gender identity, so using *only* identity is insufficiently informative.
What are your opinions on the cotton ceiling?
I do not think it is immoral to have sexual preferences that exclude trans people (or any other kind of people), and I think that a lot of people would have trans-exclusive sexual preferences even if transphobia didn’t exist. However, I also think that in a world without transphobia, trans-exclusive sexual preferences and behavior would be significantly less common. (I don’t have a good estimate of how less common, but I think I would be least surprised if about half of trans-exclusive sexual preferences were due to transphobia.)
For one thing, especially when it comes to dating rather than just sex, people tend to care about what other people in their lives think of their partners. If society is transphobic, people may be socially punished for dating trans people and thus choose not to do it even if they otherwise would.
Also, if you have negative feelings or beliefs about trans people, that can also prevent you from being attracted to trans people even if you would be otherwise. If you’re attracted to someone and then stop being attracted to them after learning they’re trans, I think this is likely to be related to transphobia.
Finally, different people’s gender filters on attraction work in different ways – for some people genitals are really important, for others genitals don’t matter but you need to generally “look like a woman”, for yet others gender presentation is the most important part, and for some identity is a crucial bit. My impression is that there’s some correlation between the trans-inclusiveness of someone’s beliefs and feelings and the trans-inclusiveness of their gender filter – so while increasing trans-inclusiveness in society wouldn’t make everyone’s gender filters trans-inclusive, it would in general increase that inclusiveness.
I don’t think it is good to shame people for their sexual preferences or treat these preferences as evidence that they are Really Transphobic and Bad. I don’t think that sexual/dating preferences are a good target for activism; rather, I think the right way to solve these problems is to work on increasing trans acceptance in society in general, and sexual/dating preferences will follow. But I’m also okay with trans people using words like “cotton ceiling” to describe their experiences, because this type of exclusion can be a pretty major and painful part of their lives and I do think the exclusion is partly driven by bigotry, and It’s good to have words to talk about things.
Why are trans women disproportionately likely to be programmers?
I don’t actually know the relevant statistics but I’ll take it as stipulated that is is the case. I don’t really know why. One obvious factor is that tech as an industry is just unusually friendly to trans people – it’s a particularly liberal industry and “headquartered” in a particularly liberal place, more generally it’s unusually tolerant of weirdness and neurodivergence and a common refuge of people who were unpopular in school, and it also pays quite well – so (a) trans people and other weirdos are somewhat likely to gravitate in that direction (b) gender dysphoric people already in the industry are perhaps more likely to transition (c) trans people from unwelcoming places will find it easiest to relocate to a more welcoming place, and actually come out, if they are in a well-paying industry which is willing to pay for relocation and sponsor immigrants.
(Then again, the above mostly applies only to people who are already realizing they’re trans around the same time they’re starting their career, not the later-in-life transitioners.)
There’s also the thing where trans people are disproportionately likely to be on the autism spectrum (which possibly makes it more likely that one will like programming?), which itself is a subset of “different kinds of brain-weirdness are correlated”, but I do not know why transness and autism in particularly are correlated, nor do I know to what extent autism and programming are correlated.
I’m not sure just how overrepresented trans women are in tech, so I’m not sure whether the above would be sufficient to explain it. I confess I don’t have an actual theory, though.
Why do many trans women experience sexual fantasies about being or becoming a woman?
I have some uncertainty about this because determining the direction of causation between things that happen *inside the brain* is necessarily tricky, but I think that AGP-type fantasies are a *result* of gender dysphoria rather than a cause. This seems more plausible to me than the reverse for a bunch of reasons.
(I draw heavily on Julia Serano’s critique of Blanchard’s theory in this section, though I’m not just parroting her. I would be really curious to know how proponents of this theory respond to a lot of Serano’s criticisms.)
To begin with, even for trans women who do experience some sort of AGP, they often have a general interest in being a woman *first*. Serano points out that in Blanchard’s own data, the average age of onset of desire to be female among AGP-type trans women is before puberty – whereas active sexual fantasies generally start around puberty. (Of course you could say those answers are actually false since they’re socially desirable, though.)
(Another narrative I’ve heard is “I noticed I felt drawn towards the idea of presenting feminine, so I sought out a relevant forum online, and among other things it contained porn, so among other things I started looking at that porn”. Which also points to another thing – porn and sex-related stuff is just a major cultural reference point for trans-related stuff. It makes sense that someone might encounter this, or conceptualize their desire in these terms, even if the desire isn’t sexual at its core.)
There have been some studies (e.g.) that are sort of replication attempts of Blanchard’s research (eliminating the thing where Blanchard was *both studying and gatekeeping his patients/research subjects* which seems like a terrible idea for the same reason Blanchard doesn’t trust them! Whenever Blanchard goes on about how the research subjects are untrustworthy because they are trying to make sure they get to transition, I want to be like, you’re the one who put them in this position!!). Anyway, it seems there is indeed a correlation, among trans women, between gynephilia and autogynephilia (which makes intuitive sense), but it’s not as stark a contrast as Blanchard found – there are androphilic trans women with AGP, and gynephilic trans women without. (I understand one may want to distrust the latter, but why distrust the former?) This doesn’t look like two totally distinct groups of people.
(To be honest, I have a general bias in favor of the notion that People Are Complicated and Don’t Fall Into Neat Categories and If You Try You Will Always Oversimplify, so I find really strict taxonomies implausible to begin with. In my defense, I think there’s good reason to have this bias.)
I also think that AGP theory doesn’t adequately describe trans women’s behavior.
– Among trans women with AGP experiences, they don’t all react to the same specific thing. Some people are aroused by the idea of having a vagina; others get erections when crossdressing; others watch transformation porn but don’t get aroused while crossdressing. You would think that people would do only the specific things that arouse them – but in fact people can have some AGP-like things and also have a nonsexual desire to do things they don’t have a sexual response to, and be at least as motivated to do that thing as to do the arousing thing. People who have little enough social desirability bias to report some AGP-type experiences will also report that presenting feminine was never itself arousing but just felt *right* and this was a major motivation in the absence of any sexual reward.
– You would also expect that the stronger someone’s AGP, the more motivated they will be to transition. But there are cis men with a lot of AGP who don’t feel motivated to transition, and there are gynephilic trans women with not that much AGP who feel very motivated to transition (and, I’m pretty sure, also gynephilic trans women with *no* AGP, though this is harder to prove).
– It is acknowledged by everyone, I think, that AGP usually subsides post-transition (where “post-transition” can even mean “after beginning to present feminine all the time”). Normally if you were doing a thing for a sexual purpose and it stops being sexually appealing to you, you stop doing the thing, but that’s generally not what happens with trans women. (I do see how in this model a trans woman with AGP who detransitioned would probably start having the sexual desire again and just transition again – but this doesn’t seem to really be what happens either? We don’t see people cycling between presenting-male-and-AGP and presenting-female-and-no-AGP. What we see is people transitioning, usually being like “ah yes this is better”, and staying the course.)
Anne Lawrence has argued that the thing where sexual AGP-type fantasies go away after transition, as well as cases where gynephilic trans women don’t have a strong sexual component to their dysphoria, can be explained by seeing AGP as *love* in addition to a sexual fetish. I don’t buy this because… I don’t think it’s an actual *explanation*, it’s just a roundabout way to describe the phenomenon of having dysphoria and then having the dysphoria relieved. The theory of AGP as a sexual fetish makes some predictions, which for reasons listed above I don’t think are borne out. The theory of AGP as romantic love, as far as I can tell, doesn’t really make any predictions different from a model based on dysphoria/identity. Blanchard’s explanation of mismatches between his theory and self-reports is that the self-reporters are deceiving him or doing their best to deceive themselves; Lawrence’s explanation is that actually they’re telling the truth, but they’re mislabeling it as “identity” rather than “love”, even though “identity” apparently feels indistinguishable from “love”. This is taking an actual theory, noticing that it doesn’t totally fit, and stretching it beyond recognition into something that’s hard to call a theory at all.
I do think there are some people who have really strong and persistent sexual desire to have a female body, such that it would actually be enough motivation for some people to transition based on that. But lots of trans women instead have relatively sporadic AGP, paired with a strong and persistent *non-sexual* desire to be women. It is not plausible to me that the stronger non-sexual desire is a consequence of the weaker sexual desire.
As for why dysphoria would cause AGP…
Some of the things discussed as evidence of AGP are in the category “sexual fantasies in which one is a woman”. For instance, Blanchard talks about bisexual trans women having fantasies in which a generic faceless man admires and/or has sex with them; he takes a supposed lack of “admiration of the male physique”* as evidence that they’re really “pseudobisexuals” and not really attracted to men – but this is a totally normal type of fantasy for cis women? Other things in this category include imagining being penetrated when actually penetrating a cis woman, as well as imagining oneself masturbating as a cis woman. (This last one is not a common cis woman fantasy because it’s a common cis woman *reality*. If a cis woman thinks “hm, fingering myself sounds great right now” she can just go and do it! A trans woman without a vagina can’t, so it becomes a fantasy.)
*later research finds they totally have admiration of the male physique, but whatever
But to be fair, Blanchard focuses heavily on arousal at the mere thought of being a woman, not even doing anything particularly sexual. This is indeed not a common cis woman fantasy; cis women have cis women bodies all the time, so it’s kind of hard to fantasize about it! (Though apparently cis women still don’t score zero* on the core autogynephilia stuff.) It makes a lot of sense to me that this would be correlated with gynephilia among trans women. Gynephilic people often find breasts and vulvas arousing , and you can’t really imagine yourself with a female body without imagining those things. You think of yourself as a sexy woman, you now are thinking about a sexy woman, this is arousing. More generally, it seems really plausible to me that because gender and sex and sexuality are in general closely related, strong gender feelings can give rise to sexual feelings as well.
*just a note that yes I do keep linking to the same study – I don’t mean to give an impression of this being better-researched than it is, I just want to point people to where I’m getting information from.
It *also* seems plausible that if someone has this general type of AGP where they have a very strong and persistent sexual desire to have a female body, that can in fact motivate them to transition. I think this happens sometimes, but it’s not the norm. More often one has a strong and persistent nonsexual interest in various aspects of transition (including social transition), and the sexual fantasies that come with this are limited in scope and strength and duration and only apply to a subset of the things one wants to do.
The first item on the poll refers to what side you think the author of this post really believes, while the second item refers to what side you believe. 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.