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Biological Sex

  • Posted on November 12, 2017 at 11:07 pm

What does ‘biological’ mean? As far as I can determine, it hasn’t changed recently: it is simply ‘relating to living organisms’.

I raise it again, only because it keeps rearing its head as a reason why it is so important for human beings to be named male or female. Or intersex, of course, if it isn’t clear to the observer (not the person concerned). It’s a normal distribution among most species, including hominids all the way to us, heavily weighted towards bilateral division. So if an observer makes an assignation at birth, it is pretty straightforward in most cases.

What I find problematic about this, as so many others have, is that this naming of ‘biological sex’ is so superficial. If we really are going to talk biology, then we have to embrace the whole organism. My brain is part of my biology, as are my genes, not just my chromosomes, not just my organs, as is the way my particular ‘biological body’ responds to this interplay of factors.

The actual fact is that sex is not simplistic, and that it isn’t neat, even in humans. What you see is not the whole story. Rather, a full descriptor of the physiological body will provide a matrix of characteristics. And yes, most of the time, that matrix will not be sufficiently paradoxical to make the person themselves disagree with the more casual observer.

What you cannot say is that what the casual observer (or even clinical observer) decides at birth is absolute or exact. It may well be good enough, but it doesn’t make it right. Therefore, to say that you will always be the sex assigned to you at birth (e.g. a transman will always ‘really’ be a woman) is precarious to say the least. What was assigned is not based on the biological matrix of determinants of sex at all. That is rarely done.

Of all the characteristics a human can possess, sex is almost alone in being more a determinant than a descriptor. The reason we want it to be a determinant, is that we are still living in a pre-scientific, pre-biology mindset. We have moved on from seeing left-handed people as sinister who must be forced to become right-handed. They never did, of course, they just learned fine motor skills with their less-dominant hand. In this mindset, being a man or being a woman is a vital social discriminator. Accordingly, we have male names and female names, attire, roles, expectations and privileges, in order to divide us.

I have a growing sense that the separation of sex and gender is not quite what I thought it was. You know you are not a man, or not a woman, or indeed not either, because of the way your whole body is configured – not just the bits you can see, whether easily or by a scan or DNA test. I said it this way deliberately: how can anyone describe what it means to be a (man/woman)? There is no single set of perceptions. But I think we all know much more clearly what we are not. Generally, if we agree with someone else what it means to feel like a (woman/man) then we are more confident that is what we are.

We all know that whatever we feel we are (gender/sex) it isn’t altered by the parts of our bodies that may not be present (but perhaps should), that are present (but perhaps should not), or are dysfunctional, or are lost to injury or disease. Losing your primary sex characteristics does not change what you know you are. So why does having them?

I read that a mother of a transgender child explained it to others as being like handedness. You might want a child to be right-handed, but they know when they are not, and your label disables and harms them. By looking at the hands, you cannot tell which way the brain is configured. We don’t box people into R or L on every form they fill in through their lives, and we don’t ascribe it by cursory observation. Socially, it is no longer important.

M and F are not important because they are determinants by themselves. They have been used for so long solely to discriminate. We have different sets of names for M-ascribed people and F-ascribed people, and that too has become important. It tells other people how to treat you. Why do new parents, their parents, fellow parents and friends all want to know M or F? Why, when it is less clear, is everyone so afraid of the consequences?

What name shall we give them, what colour clothes, what kind of clothes, what stories, what toys, and will they help mummy, or daddy? And what will they do when they grow up? This is all about what we do, not about who the baby/child is, or their capabilities (a thousand non-sex un-boxing characteristics).

So it seems that not only is ‘biologiocal sex’ a matrix of easily and less-easily observed determinants, but the importance of ascribing M or F is very unhelpful. Why is M or F on any of my documents necessary? When I visit a doctor, go into hospital, apply for a job, take a partner, run a company, lead a platoon, become a parent or anything else I might do, it is not the M or F label that should matter. I should be treated as a whole person, according to my needs and capabilities, and with respect and equality.

Ancient writings of any source, written long before biology existed as a study, cannot supersede what we know about the complex determinants of sex. We so often hear that ‘God created man and woman, Adam and Eve.’ Why is primal incest OK in this story, but later same-sex love is not? Is every intersex person God’s accident? That’s a deep philosophical rabbit hole if ever there was. (And so we return to my scribblings about religion and the patriarchy from my previous post.)

I’m just asserting that the arguments from ’biological sex’ are no more sound than ‘the Bible says’. People are people, with wide-ranging and very different characteristics. Even our sex is fascinating and complex, and that includes our brains, not just our minds. If anyone says your visible sexual characteristics determine anything much – let alone the first opinion about them, for life – then they simply haven’t read enough. Humans are but one species requiring complimentary gametes for reproduction, but that is where the importance of sexual dimorphism ends.

So what is the ‘biological sex’ thing all about? Protecting women from men? Or giving privilege to men? Or both? We have laws about treating each other fairly and with respect, and social norms about who gets first bite. The first is a consequence of human behaviour, and the second shapes it. But both seem to require that M or F in the box, and neither has much to do with biology.

This is not about political correctness for the sake of trans people, rather just a reminder that individual sex or gender is not something to be handed out as a permission and enforced as any kind of belief or tradition. If the big fear is that it will lead to an abuse of identity, well just use common sense and law to look after bad human behaviour.

M and F won’t be scrapped any time soon, but they shouldn’t be used where they are not needed.

Patriarchy

  • Posted on October 22, 2017 at 11:06 pm

It’s the cornerstone of feminism, and a simple enough question. How comes men seem to rule and dominate the world, how comes they always seem to have done so? For what reason? It’s the one item in Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens (do read it, it’s excellent for many reasons) that defies his analysis.

There really isn’t any single justification among all the superficial traditional arguments such as muscle strength, child-bearing etc., so if you are still stuck in these, do read the Sapiens chapter. The question remains as stuck itself, with continued inequality in treatment and reward between a strong binary of men and women. Why, in so many respects, is femininity seen to weaken a man and masculinity strengthen a woman?

And it is patriarchy that has sustained the silence and tacit moral support of the immoral that has been so clearly thrust into view by Harvey Weinstein. It is patriarchy that keeps a groping, abusive man in the US presidency.

A tsunami of #metoo may have shocked, but surely not surprised. Maybe the greater surprise has been the sudden collegial willingness of women to speak out. Their silence was surely because of the power relationships that exist, a patriarchal view that women are somehow the possessions of men, maybe not always individually, but certainly collectively. But #metoo names victims, not perpetrators. ‘It happened.’ No; it was done.

Men have responded online; the better have been to say ‘shut up and think; this is for us to work out’. (Example here, from Mike Morrell – it is a start, but will not, I think, spark a revolution.)

But ask: in what sense is it still business as usual? When will it not be time to call this out and change the way things are? Men will be men? No; there is responsibility here. Men are more than the passive subjects of a powerful hormone, and their sense of privilege and entitlement is learned.

Is there a trans perspective on this? I think there needs to be for several reasons.

First, trans women are viewed by too many commentators and self-opinionated people, and certainly by TERFs, as fundamentally men who like to wear different clothes and pretend. With simplistic narratives of biology and what a man/male and a woman/female are, they refuse to understand the nature of a trans woman. They underpin all their arguments with the safety of women’s spaces, predicated on the fallacy that men want to disguise themselves as women, give it a stamp of approval called transgender and do things that are already illegal.

In other words, women should always fear every man, because therein lies the seat of violence against women. Men have the power. Patriarchy sustains it. Don’t let the enemy in.

Second, trans women have uniquely experienced being among men who believe no women are present; they have heard it, unmoderated by apology. It isn’t just locker room talk, it’s any room talk. This is not just watching a hidden camera, but being invited into the conversation. They have also experienced being among women when no men are present, and know what men do that is not spoken about. In other words, we have seen the true nature of people from both points of view. Yes; we know what men really think, but more importantly what they say amongst themselves, which ratifies, encourages, condones, and gives them some shared permission.

What men really think about who has precedence, and whether they truly believe all women are of equal value as all men and due equal respect, may have improved in recent years. But I know, and they know, that women are still there to be imprinted upon. Even nice men mansplain, and talk over women and steal their ideas.

Third, trans people, male and female, know more than anyone else what it is to switch others’ perceptions of their gender. Trans men, after the effects of testosterone have masculinised them, see the world differently, and importantly, the world receives them very differently. Suddenly they have male privilege, passports to inclusion they have not had before. Trans women, conversely can be branded traitors to the male cause, and are diminished. They can be deemed to have lost their academic ability, skills and authority, simply for being women. Expectations of advancement or simply of qualified opinion are reduced: it doesn’t matter any more, you’re just a woman.

Male is the default, male is authority, men are in charge, men get the opportunities. That isn’t a resentful thought, just the experience that we have. It is there, maybe no absolutely, but it is there.

The trans perspective includes this understanding as well: that we confuse people who believe (and it really isn’t a simple biological analysis and conclusion) that there are only men and women and that we are all born incontrovertibly one or the other. And if we don’t confuse, we are inconvenient, because we intervene in the arguments of both feminists and patriarchists. The real problem with transgender issues is not trans people, but the invention of patriarchy that makes men a problem to women.

We therefore threaten patriarchy, and we thereby unsettle some forms of feminism that require men to be immutable. The main reason trans people and how they express their experience, are not understood, is because fixity in the binary is a necessary condition for propping up both male privilege and male threat. But can men in power (any kind) in sufficient numbers, change where we are? Or is patriarchy too structural?

If so, why isn’t it blindingly obvious that the patriarchy is a falsehood to be shattered by every woman standing up and saying ‘me too’? Or do we really not see it?

I do. And I don’ think many men do. It’s there in whose idea is best, who talks loudest, who has most entitlement (is it just confidence?), and who concludes the conversation. That men today can still joke about the casting couch, shows how normal it still is to think this has an element of inevitability and acceptability.

As a background to this, I am always reminded that four out of five of my teen/twenties girlfriends suffered abuse from men, and that since then I came to know just how many women around me suffered everything from rape, marital rape, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, domestic abuse and attempted murder. That is not true of the men I have known, on anything remotely like the same scale. This is still a fact of life – not in an overtly patriarchal society where women are covered, walk a distance behind men, cannot drive, be educated or socialise freely – but in 2017 European culture.

What sustains patriarchy

A friend asked me this morning why this has persisted, why patriarchy is so old and still has such an implicit grip today. I feel quite strongly that it lies with patriarchal religions, which have shaped cultures, and stained almost every civilisation for thousands of years. Once you have a supreme deity who is male, you can use that deity’s voice to justify the supposed order set in place by that deity. Yes, the argument is circular but no more than that of the bible saying that it is the inspired word of god. There is no other external reference for giving primacy to the male (or indeed to the female). Once you give a supposed deity authority to declare that its gender is to rule, you can then impose that authority as has been invested in you. Who dares argue with the deity, the natural order, the way things are?

Tell me I am wrong, by all means, but I see many women’s voices from religious and conservative bases supporting the patriarchy as divine order, and blaming only individual men for gendered abusive behaviour. How can women stand up within their patriarchal religions and declare the end to patriarchy? I don’t think they can, not without structural resistance.

And our post-religious cultures too are so often shaped by that past. Women have come to believe that they need to accept, respond and even be flattered by male attention in order to be wanted, approved of, or seen to be included – because of that natural order. There is nothing ‘natural’ about it. The delusion of male protection and chivalry is not derived from anything other than male behaviours, arrogance, violence and privilege, based on a false primacy, whether to be lord of the manor, cardinal or knight. Economy, religion and war are tightly intertwined in a tapestry of male order to act as they wish in order to shape the world the way of their god-given entitlement.

Maybe now we should require that this natural order be debunked in our religions and cultures, because the way patriarchy has always played out is so far from divine, so far from right, and we are staring it in the face.

Summary

Trans people suffer from patriarchy as much as anyone, but we see things non-trans people cannot in the same way. Patriarchy goes beyond sex and gender and is increasingly absurd in non-binary environments, as if we need the binary to keep it and to hate it.

Men are not all bad, and we have all been cultivated into a patriarchal society. But men being good is not the point.

Patriarchy has deep roots in places that may never revoke the concept, because it defines patriarchy as divine, or a natural order.

It’s simply time we all saw patriarchy for what it is, what it causes, and why it must end, whatever has to change in order to do so.

Process and Protest

  • Posted on July 24, 2017 at 10:09 pm

I didn’t go. Again. The first year, it was the day of my surgery, so I wasn’t processing anywhere – or protesting. It would have been a good year: the first Trans Pride, and Brighton taking the lead. But whilst I did manage to do my bit at Brighton Pride one year (in the literary tent), and I did enjoy the relief of acceptance in public, I haven’t felt especially drawn.

I think it boils down to a range of ambivalences. For one thing, I imagine a whole bunch of men and women walking through town, singing, shouting, clapping, making music and noise, with pink and blue banners, looking just like, well, women and men, boys and girls, and plenty of completely indeterminate androgynous people. Like we see every day, everywhere. I would belong there. I just am not one of those trans people who feels a personal need to celebrate my trans-ness, and I love just being myself, as the woman I am comfortable being, looking like I do every day. Gender dysphoria was just something I sorted out.

Another ambivalence is whether it is a procession for visibility or a protest against invisibility (or rather, erasure). Many of us would have no problem with being invisible, but a lot of problems with erasure. And many of us have some problems with not being able to be unnoticeable, and that noticeability making us a ‘problem’ to other people. Reading comments under the press reports shows how much people would like us to disappear. Almost always, I feel, it is because anything to do with gender must be ‘about sex’, in the sense that sex is a secret pleasure and anything un-missionary must be dirty. Here I do want to protest: against ignorance and unwillingness to find out.

I protest ignorance

And yet, when on the same day as Trans Pride 2017, the government announces a review of the tardy and incomplete Gender Recognition Act of 2004, I do start to get animated. I went online to fill in the government survey and it brought back a lot of memories, things I have tended to forget since gaining my own Gender Recognition Certificate. Aside from not being a LGBTQI survey (itself a lot of erasure) it was reasonable, if a bit thin. I understand that everything was asked about experience in the past 12 months in order to avoid things that may have improved, but I don’t see that they have a lot, and especially not in the past three years.

Immediately we have a small move (by a lesbian politician) towards finding out about LGBT lives, we have the backlash by those who think that it’s only about ‘dubious sex practices’, and in such a way that families and marriage will be destroyed. Rooted almost exclusively in religion and religious cultural history, these are groups and individuals whose social structures and religious beliefs are so fragile that they dare not learn or grow. I imagine their confusion if Trans Pride did just look like ordinary men, women and androgynous folk. Maybe celebration by deliberately dressing up in carnival helps sustain their bigotry. And yet this is precisely why we must protest, not with violence, but with fun and provocative banners.

Our biggest enemy is, and always has been, ignorance. But ignorant people (about anything, and I’m sure it includes me too) find their favourite ignorances difficult to destroy. If by learning this, you have to let go of that, it will be embarrassing, awkward, lose you friends, shatter your world view, or knock a corner off it … We love stability, and yet constant change is pervasive and inevitable. It is what the world is made of. There is nothing in the universe that is not merely a rearrangement of the basic stuff everything is made of.

Think of the children, don’t scare the horses, god made only man and woman …

Predictably, after the launch of a review of the GRA, in order to make process easier for people born transgender, the ‘family concerned’ groups got on the media to scare the easily-afraid that predatory men will have their birth certificates changed on a whim so they can get into women’s spaces and attack them. And again it soaks into the headlines and the summaries that people read most, and often no further. Anyone and everyone, suddenly will be able to ‘change their gender’ or ‘swap their sex’ and it all becomes so easy, too easy. The sky will fall in. And again, trans people are pushed back into psychiatric scrutiny, invasive enquiry, withheld treatment, long and purposeless queues, years of unsupported transition, and finally a bill for accumulating a mountain of paper to go before an anonymous panel who are assembled to judge whether you are right about your own gender.

We do not change our gender. We only change what you say our gender ‘should’ be.

This is what fuels the powerful, conservative, mainly male, mainly religious right in the USA that insists on trans men having to go into female locker rooms and loos. Because trans women must be male predators. It just doesn’t happen, folks. But it could happen here too, and the arguments are already being rehearsed on Channel 4, reporting the government proposals to review gender certification.

I always ask why it is that I can be a lesbian without scrutiny, examination and certification, but not a woman. And why does it matter? If, as a lesbian, I am aggressively propositioning women, or if a gay man is acting similarly, that is no different from a man invading women’s spaces (or it it were likely) the reverse. Harassing or criminal behaviour is just that, and is covered in law. A man dressing as a woman to be a peeping tom is just that, however trans people are treated or respected. Few non-trans people really appreciate what it means to have your essential identity erased, belittled, or simply disbelieved. The transition process is cruelly flawed, and so long as we are not seen, proud or otherwise, we must process and protest.

I wave my little flag here, but even in filling in this latest government survey, I am reminded that there are places where I cannot casually say, ‘yes I’m trans’ without that diminishing my status as woman. There are many places where I cannot risk being spotted and outed, because I would be attacked, at least verbally, and my life would be reduced in scope and comfort and ability to take part socially or in work. And I am one who normally wouldn’t be spotted in a crowd. I am careful with my words, careful with my history, even sometimes careful with partner pronouns, just as my partner is careful holding hands or kissing.

The whole point is, I should not have to be. Nor to worry whether I ‘should’ be marching, processing or just being at Trans Pride. But I am glad that 2,500 people were this year, and that it isn’t going away.

Transgender Day of Visibility

  • Posted on April 2, 2017 at 8:52 am

March 31 each year is TDOV: Transgender Day of Visibility. It presents a paradox to many: If I am visible, then am I noticeably trans, and is that what I want? If I am not visible, then is this not something I have attained, and why would I want to undo that? If I am visible, is that a bad thing (and for many it certainly can be), and if I am not visible, then do I owe it to trans people everywhere to show that being trans can be a strong thing, something ordinary and acceptable, even normal?

Transgender people of every kind have always existed. It is a function of human biology that we have: variation has always existed, as in every other human trait from height to hair colour. We have always been known about in ancient societies, and I suspect that it is only in later patriarchal cultures, especially those with patriarchal-theocratic religions, that we have been erased. Biology never did make male and female that clear. It made genitalia largely clear, but even there, it has always allowed a percentage of intersex ‘conditions’ at chromosomal, gene, and physiological levels, and of course at the level of gender identity too.

I consider that it has primarily been a function of fear, distaste and loathing of same-sex attraction that created the moralistic climate that became fixed in the same patriarchal monotheistic religions. I have written at length elsewhere how convoluted sexuality and gender can be for trans people. If your biggest fear is anything other than active heterosexuality, then every trans person stand accused of alternative sexuality at some stage of their lives. If you weren’t gay then you are lesbian, or you were always bisexual, and so on. What this has meant for LGBTQI people, is that what they are, has been considered to be behavioural. Hence the strongest driver in our western culture has been that trans people are morally wrong: sinful by claiming to be what they are so they can do what they do (whatever that is supposed to entail).

Danger

In 74 countries today, homosexuality is illegal. In 13 is carries a death penalty. In 17 countries, being visible is criminalised as propaganda. In many more, LGBTQ people are vulnerable to violence. Hundreds of trans people are murdered every year for being visibly trans.

In the USA today, we are seeing many battles over the so-called bathroom bills. This is legislation requiring trans people not to use toilet and changing facilities that are assigned contrary to the gender written on their birth certificates. Trans people have always existed, just as intersex people have. This presents stupidly obvious bad outcomes. Women who don’t look feminine enough are in danger. They have already been compromised. Men who look too feminine less so. Trans women who look truly feminine in proportion may remain invisible, but feel a terrible responsibility towards those who do not, and who, as a consequence will be in danger going into male facilities. After all, most sexual violence is perpetrated by males. Trans men, I believe, should make a very deliberate point of entering female facilities, with their testosterone, muscle and beards. And what of people who are naturally androgynous? The current Trump administration is already erasing LGBTQI identities by omitting gender and sexuality questions from census forms, and is endangering the welfare of LGBTQI people everywhere by removing protections from the very religious moralistic scruples that gave us this problem in the first place. As I write, a big orange bus is touring US states, after originating in Spain, plastered with it’s self-appointed right to free speech and declaring that boys are boys and girls are girls and that it’s plain biology. Its motivation is the same religious moralistic hubris, its message the same that disadvantages, erases, beats, imprisons, murders and executes trans people all over the world.

So who wants to be visible? I guess you can be discreetly LGBQ by keeping your relationship mainly indoors – but why on earth should you have to protect the screwed-up morals of a screwed-up patriarchy with a screwed-up religion? Sexuality is not a choice or simply a behaviour, so why should it be repressed? You hold religious beliefs, or inherit a culture that gave you the outcomes of that religion, and prefer to believe that sexuality is purely an ethical issue, and inherently wrong? This is the same rights issue as blowing carcinogenic tobacco smoke into the face of non-smokers.

So who wants to be visible? For very many trans people, we cannot hide what we are. Few of us have nothing to give ourselves away, whether a prominent larynx, a deep voice, hair loss, broad shoulders or big hands. We try hard to distract, to lift and train our voices just enough, dress to our shape. Many of us do, after a number of years, simply blend into our workplaces, our towns and perhaps our families, but without some interventions such as hormones and electrolysis for facial hair, and without documentation, this can be difficult. Visibility and appearance are not the same thing: being visible can simply mean ‘being known as’. And visibility has very serious downsides, from attitudes at work, employability, finding somewhere to live and someone to love. Some trans people are very out and proud, and I am glad they want to be. They, with their high visibility, prevent our erasure, but experience a lot more hassle than I do, keeping my head down. What we are is always a secret to gossip about; our bodies are never the private property that those of cis people enjoy. I would bet more people have hazarded a guess about my genitals, or what my vagina looks like, than about any of the cis people with whom I share this world. And that makes what I am, linked to sexual behaviour and preference, which links it to ‘what is right and proper’. It makes me dangerous to some, and in some circumstances.

I remember my ex-wife saying to me that we could continue together, if I could just ‘be a man’ at weekends. Visibility matters in how people treat you, and those who are associated with you.

Maybe you even feel a better employer, if you have increased your diversity quotient by having a visibly trans person on board who is not treated badly. I feel a whole lot better to have moved to a new job where the first premise is not ‘we have a new person joining who is trans; treat them with due respect’. I feel better for losing that initial baggage. I don’t mind people knowing, I just don’t want to be a protected species about whom people talk.

Erasure

Social erasure is unequivocally bad for trans people. We have always existed, it is not a behaviour, and it cannot be suppressed or repressed. It exists as a state of being alive, at whatever age we finally take courage to face it. And we should not have to face this as a decision, as something that carries threat, danger, disapproval and rejection. Being invisible does not change society or help us. Being visible is still a risky, even dangerous, thing to do. Our lives do change, not just in the relief of being ourselves, but in the loss it almost inevitably brings.

Plenty of cultures and societies do not want trans people to exist, because we inconveniently raise issues of sexuality, of male dominance and privilege, of strength and danger. ‘Strong male’ is still default, the leading formula. A man apparently turning into a woman is intrusive, a potential predator. A woman apparently turning into a man is a betrayal, and never quite as good as the real thing.

Media stories that promote celebrity trans people, or the unusual by age, are not really the stories about ordinary trans lives. They are not our representatives, and can give the wrong kind of attention from unqualified and opinionated people who feel strongly or entitled, about their inherited and uninformed cultural norms.

And so this year, as TDOV came round, I asked myself whether putting a TDOV ‘frame’ around my Facebook picture was a good thing, a bad thing, or simply a matter-of-fact thing whereby I could simply say: it’s OK to be trans.

Not invisible, just here

Maybe the strongest feeling I ever have is against religious and derivative cultural motivations that debate our existence and validity in our absence, paint us as predatory, and seek the freedom to erase, ignore and ultimately harm us all. Too many cultures without (especially) Abrahamic roots have accommodated, even celebrated, non-binary gender identities, for it not to be obvious that trans visibility is a casualty of those roots. It still threatens trans people everywhere. I am lucky to be where I am. I choose not to be invisible.

And yet by not being very visible, I also show that it is perfectly normal to be who I am, ordinary, honest, safe, loving, straightforward, loyal, kind …

Sex and Gender; two troublesome words

  • Posted on January 24, 2016 at 2:29 pm

I read an academic article about centring gender identity this week, that was interesting, not least because it assumed a clarity about sex and about gender that in most circles doesn’t exist. And then this morning I continued reading about sex and gender in more feminist circles, on serious blogs, not TERF rants. I always try to understand because I also expect a degree of understanding. We are all human, we all deserve respect.

We all relate more easily our bad experiences than our good, and whenever someone has faced abuse, met a very male-acting trans-asserting person, or simply really opened their eyes to this patriarchal society and culture of ours, they will rightly feel defensive, and the incidents will be key to future expectation. I too feel much safer in women’s spaces, I too feel insecure where there is testoserone around. And whilst I may have been brought up and taught as a boy, I do not feel totally socialised in that way, because so much of it went against the grain. I guess I did mimic it a fair deal to get by, but it was always uncomfortable and I was ready to see the impact of it on women, socially and in the workplace.

This world suffers from patriarchal rule. I mean suffers, not just needs greater equality and fairness, but suffers. Our planet groans more because of it, and we tolerate its destructiveness. There are women who play into it, take advantage of it and imitate it. But it is what it is, and it is bad for us all. And none of this is a basis for debating the rights of humans on grounds of self-identity. Not every culture and language even has ideas of sex and gender in the way English-speaking people do. Yet we get tied up in mutually defensive, and sometimes aggressive, dialogue over sex and gender as if they were something as absolute as mass and energy.

Probably most people have never ‘met’ a trans person, because we just don’t all look, sound or behave obviously so. Which means that most antipathy towards us is based on bad experiences of an unrepresentative few people who stand out for their inauthenticity or bad behaviour.

We have several essential problems that we fail frequently to acknowledge.

The first of these is behaviour

What we expect from people sharing our society is certain forms of behaviour. Some make us uncomfortable: a homeless beggar; someone gesticulating unexpectedly through mental disturbance, brain injury or non-development; drunken loudness; crowd-generated fervour. Some behaviour is distanced, such as influential voices, or merely online trolling, down to simply abusive or ignorant comments on a news article. Discomfort easily becomes fear, and we can distance ourselves, fight back, join a group for mutual shared strength, or face it and deal with it in other ways.

Some behaviours are associated with sex and gender. Some are causal: hormones create drives and emotions, for example. Some are correlated but not causal: group behaviours to belong to the in-crowd, or not to stand out. What we cannot say is: ‘women behave like this’, or ‘men behave like this’, or ‘lesbians behave like this’ – or even ‘trans men (or women) behave like this’.

Because they don’t. There are violent women, effeminate men, femme lesbians, aggressive trans women, asexual non-binary people, quiet introverted pansexuals. Everything you can assume as defining any sex, gender and sexuality, is defied by countless atypical people. Some people are kind and nice to know. Some are lazy and otherwise harmless. Some are psychopaths running global organisations, and some are lurking around a corner to do you harm.

And probably none of these behaviours is defined as being entirely due to sex or gender. Being male can derive philanthropy just as it can (though more frequently perhaps) misogyny. But for goodness’ sake, bad behaviour by some individuals describing themselves as transgender does not make being transgender a bad or threatening thing. It is the behaviour that threatens, not the underlying sex, sexuality or gender identity.

The second thing is expectation

Expectations are cultivated socially. We develop them from experience, which means we can nurture bad expectations from bad experiences. We share and cultivate these, because it feels more safe and comfortable when we have shared experiences and expectations. Then we have group thoughts from which it is harder to escape and disagree. Sometimes we must have a bad experience, develop an expectation for safety, then relocate the expectation in reality so that we can be both safe and open to new and more positive experiences.

Sometimes expectations become assertions, rules, dogmas, doctrines, even laws. And sometimes – may be a lot of the time – this is good. We come to have an agreed floorplan for constructive, safe, mutually supportive living together, and we call it culture. And sometimes that floorplan has mistakes, or cracked tiles, and slippery rugs.

We embody these expectations not just in our legal frameworks, but in other socially-cohesive ones. I am still surprised how much of my readership here pulls out the blogs on the role of religion in LGBT phobias. I have been through the experience here, from dragged-to-church, to skeptical, to thorough-going evangelical, to even more thorough university biblical analysis, to reasoned atheist non-materialist. So I know what it means to live as male, as female, as almost fundamentalist, and atheist. I think I know myself and many things from the inside, rather than hearsay. And just as I assert that there is a fundamental role in testosterone creating the world we live in, so I assert that there is a fundamental role in the religions we have created. Both T and R are imprinted on everything we do and the way we do it, and in my view, we need to be much more aware of this, of its impact, and its consequences, as well as be more wise to moving beyond both as defining our contemporary civilisations.

Without these religious-ethical expectations even our laws would be different in many ways, not least in those relating to sex and gender expectations. Countries in the world where being gay, lesbian, trans, or simply a free woman, are proscribed by law, do so on the basis of some ancient religion. The religion lays down expectations, resists reason, and fossilises attitudes. So much so, that secular cultures like this in the UK, carry an unconscious tradition rooted in christianity with attitudes and expectations, and beliefs about unethical behaviour that focus on specific things. We have a greater antipathy towards anything to do with sex and gender, than we do towards anything to do with power and connivance.

The third thing is language

Just as money began as a means and became a commodity in itself, so language did the same. We talk, write, think, using words for a substantial part of every day of our lives. We rely on words meaning something fixed in order to communicate clearly and efficiently. Languages, sadly, are not like that. They do not translate as easily as we would like, one to another. Sometimes five words in one translate as just one in another, losing vital nuance, or becoming ambiguous. Sometimes the culture behind a language does not share the concept. When one language dominates, so a concept can therefore also dominate. It’s never that my language represents an erroneous or superfluous concept, always that your language is impoverished because your culture is ignorant or less refined.

Sex and gender are conceptual, and not the same in every language, even in Europe. We neglect semantics, because we take language for granted, but worst of all, we assume that the word creates the thing, and that one use for a word makes it definitive. Learning how a word came about does not give it its contemporary meaning in use (gay and queer are two obvious relevant examples), and frequently a word becomes more important because its use becomes too burdened by conceptual disagreement. It isn’t just a heliocentric and evolutionary science that shakes society and religion, but contemporary observation of gendered roles. I recently replied to a friend who asked if there was any test for either sex or gender, with some quick thoughts about this.

I think that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are words given to poorly defined concepts. The initial concept of sex derived from observations about the means of reproduction and was simplistic and basic. It divided those who gave birth from those who did not. Thus many creatures tend to carry natural roles (though sometimes opposite like seahorses) where one stays safe with babies while the other gets food. As societies developed in sophistication, so the roles became formal expectations. Put basically, sex ensured survival and required no nuance.

Roles, however, confer different privileges and empowerments. Hunters also defend and acquire territory, and adopt authority as a result. Thus begins patriarchy. Within this, unfairness, coercion and advantage are noted, and as society becomes more complex, equality rears its head. Society and culture develop as philosophies, which in turn are questioned. Ultimately, sex as a division is no longer satisfactory. Female is not necessarily mother, male not defender/aggressor, but husbander, in agriculture for example.

The words and ideas for this alternative layer to sex are different in different cultures and languages. Thus it is a construct centred around sense of place in culture or society. It is regulated by norms which are informed by established notions of what sex currently means. The words don’t help us in any way. They are misused to discriminate and advantage, perpetuating, for example, patriarchy.

Sex as a concept still tries to distinguish biological capabilities, while gender tries to counter this absolutism and explain how people are dislocated from it. Sex tries to maintain traditional rules, gender to create new ones. Both superimpose contemporary ideas on the simple origin of species perpetuation. What we lose in this is that we are all the same species, developed socially sufficiently to live equally rather than divisively such that child-carrying doesn’t define social place, nor physical strength and drive.

There is no scientific test for gender because there can be no simple definition. Feeling trans has two components: being socially mislabelled and misplaced, and feeling that the child-bearing or physically powerful aspect given by the body doesn’t agree with the inner awareness of how the mind feels that should be. There is no scientific test for sex because it can be indeterminate.

What is important is that it should not be so important to find a definition let alone enforce it, for either sex or gender. Both exist only so long as we keep words for them. My argument is that we are dealing in semantics rather than tangible realities.

I think sex and gender aren’t just ‘physiology versus social construct’, but are two troublesome words in need of care. Talking spectrums isn’t necessarily the let-out we need either. I still find tomatoes in the vegetables section of my supermarket. Fruit and veg aren’t a spectrum, but some are badly misrepresented by what we have become accustomed to. But we like them all the same.

Summary

Behaviour, expectation and language all bias us in all manner of ways towards and away from others. Much of the time it is unconscious bias, but we too easily define our ideas about other people in our own terms, reinforce each other’s biases, and end up disrespecting individuals and thrusting them into unsafe places. It may be a trans woman with no refuge, a trans boy being bullied, a feminine feminist being excluded, or a butch dyke being shoved out of a public women’s lavatory. Or all too often, a trans person being pushed by expectations, to suicide.

We must be careful what we assume from our experiences, or what we have read, or been taught or cultivated into. In protecting our own ideas, however precious they are to us, and however many others share them, we may be making the world a less safe place for someone else. Whether you are a trans blogger, a feminist essayist, a frequent article-commenter, or just sharing on Facebook and tweeting, we must recognise that we are all just using language as a proxy to relate our beliefs and best understanding, biased by our experiences.