why gender?

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talking about trans* folks

thought i’d share this article; link is to the original (on wordpress; couldn’t ‘reblog’) but the full text is also pasted below:

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lotsa people define “a trans* person” as someone whose sex and gender (or their body and mind/soul) don’t match.  i see where this comes from.  if we say THESE genitals are male and THOSE genitals are female and if  we realize that we aren’t defined by our genitals, it stands to reason that gender (our internal selves) and bodies (mainly our genitals/sex) are two different things that may or may not coincide.

i declare shenanigans on this notion.  yes, it’s true for lotsa trans* people; if you tell me your gender and your body don’t match up (whether or not you want/need them to match up)—i believe you.  you are the ONLY authority on your gender and your body and i totally respect that.  but when you define trans*-ness as a misalignment between gender and body, you erase people like me.

and how am i?  i’ve said it before all over internet land; my gender defines my sex and names my body.  my pussy is nonbinary; it belongs (reallybelongs) to a nonbinary trans* person.  my tits are nonbinary (even though i fight with them and may get top surgery).  my body DOES coincide with my gender; they’re both nonbinary.  yet i’m still trans*.

i love the simpler, more inclusive definition of “a trans* person”: someone who was designated the wrong gender at birth.  like, the doctor (or someone) said “it’s a girl/boy!” and they were wrong.  not “born in the wrong body”, which is true of many but not ALL trans* people.  not “someone whose sex and gender don’t match” (again, true of some but not all trans* people).  just someone who was designated the wrong gender at birth.

basically, a trans* person is anyone who says they’re trans*.  no questions asked.

how do you define “a trans* person?”

Sep 4

This book, then, examines the construction of sexuality, starting with the structures visible on the body’s exterior surface and ending with behaviors and motivations—that is with activities and forces that are patently invisible—inferred only from their outcome, but presumed to be located deep within the body’s interior. But behaviors are generally social activities, expressed in interaction with distinctly separate objects and beings. Thus, as we move from genitalia on the outside to the invisible psyche, we find ourselves suddenly walking along the surface of a Möbius strip back toward, and beyond, the body’s exterior. In the book’s final chapter, I outline research approaches that can potentially show us how we move from outside to inside and back out again, without ever lifting our feet from the strip’s surface.

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p.29, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

this is the final paragraph in chapter 1, so this should give you a good idea of what is to come.  the quotes so far have been very broad, summary-type information, but starting with chapter 2, the focus will narrow to include lots of specific studies, research, analysis, and lots more citations (and criticisms) of other scholars.  if you’ve followed this first set of quotes, from chapter 1, you should have a pretty good idea now if you want to continue following along.  also, my quotes from chapter 1 were pretty dense (i included a LOT of the chapter).  i won’t do the same thing for the rest of the chapters, for two reasons: (1) i think at some point it would start to violate Fair Use and (2) it would get waaaay too long for the format of this blog—and anyhow, if you like what you’re reading, you’ll probably end up buying the book yourself, so you can fill in all the missing tidbits on your own.

i studied this book in a graduate-level philosophy class, and we dissected it to pieces—every single proposition, analysis, conclusion, we studied carefully—so i consider myself a VERY knowledgeable and credible resource on the book’s contents.  if you have ANY questions about anything, don’t feel shy about asking me (for those who don’t already know, i always answer your asks/fanmail privately).  also, feel free to ask me for elaboration if you find a spot where i’ve included too little and you’re hungry for more information.  nearly half the book is endnotes, so citations are abundant, and i won’t be including them in my quote series, but i’d be happy to send them along to anyone who requests them.  if you’re curious, there are usually about 2 endnotes per paragraph, sometimes as many as one per sentence.  this book is just insanely well-researched and documented.

(and, of course, the standard explanation: so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

Sep 3

In chapters 6 and 7, I show how in the period from 1900 to 1940 scientists carved up nature in a particular fashion, creating the category of sex hormones. The hormones themselves became markers of sexual difference. Now, the finding of a ‘sex’ hormone or receptor in any part of the body (for example, on bone cells) renders that previously gender-neutral body part sexual. But if one looks, as I do, historically, one can see that steroid hormones need not have been divided into sex and nonsex categories. They could, for example, have been considered to be growth hormones affecting a wide swath of tissues, including reproductive organs.


Scientists now agree about the chemical structure of the steroid molecules they labeled as sex hormones, even though they are not visible to the naked eye. In chapter 8, I focus in part on how scientists used the newly minted concept of sex hormone to deepen understanding of genital development in rodents, and in part on their application of knowledge about sex hormones to something even less tangible than body chemistry: sex-related behavior. But, to paraphrase the Bard, the course of true science never did run smooth.


Experiments and models depicting the role of hormones in the development of sexual behaviors on rodents formed an eerie parallel with cultural debates about the roles and abilities of men and women. It seems hard to avoid the view that our very real, scientific understanding of hormones, brain development, and sexual behavior are, nevertheless, constructed in and bear the marks of specific historical and social contexts.

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p.28, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

Sep 2

[In chapter 5] I focus on a single scientific controversy: Do men and women have differently shaped corpus callosums (a specific region of the brain)? In this chapter, I show how scientists construct arguments by choosing particular experimental approaches and tools. The entire shape of the debate is socially constrained, and the particular tools chosen to conduct the controversy (for example, a particular form of statistical analysis or using brains from cadavers rather than Magnetic Resonance Image brain scans) have their own historical and technical limitations.

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p.28, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

Sep 1

In most public and most scientific discussions, sex and nature are thought to be real, while gender and culture are seen as constructed. But these are false dichotomies. I start, in chapters 2-4, with the most visible, exterior markers of gender—the genitalia—to illustrate how sex is, literally, constructed. Surgeons remove parts and use plastic to create ‘appropriate’ genitalia for people born with body parts that are not easily identifiable as male or female. Physicians believe that their expertise enables them to ‘hear’ nature telling them the truth about what sex such patients ought to be. Alas, their truths come from the social arena and are reinforced, in part, by the medical tradition of rendering intersexual births invisible.


Our bodies, as well as the world we live in, are certainly made of materials. And we often use scientific investigation to understand the nature of those materials. But such scientific investigation involves a process of knowledge construction.

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pp.27-28, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

The feminist psychologist and critical theorist Elisabeth Wilson uses the hubbub over LeVay’s work to make some important points about systems theory. Many feminist, queer, and critical theorists work by deliberately displacing biology, opening the body to social and cultural shaping. This, however, is the wrong move to make. Wilson writes, ‘what may be politically and critically contentious in LeVay’s hypothesis is not the conjunction neurology-sexuality per se, but the particular manner in which such a conjunction is enacted’. An effective political response, she continues, doesn’t have to separate the study of sexuality from the neurosciences. Instead, Wilson, who wants us to develop a theory of mind and body—an account of psyche that joins libido to body—suggests that feminists incorporate into their worldview an account of how the brain works that is, broadly speaking, called connectionism.

The tenets of some connectionist theory provide interesting starting points for understanding human sexual development. Because connectionist networks, for example, are nonlinear, small changes can produce large effects. One implication for studying sexuality: we could easily be looking in the wrong places and on the wrong scale for aspects of the environment that shape human development. Furthermore, a single behavior may have underlying causes, events that happen at different times in development. I suspect that our labels of homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, and transgender are really not good categories at all, and are best understood only in terms of unique developmental events affecting particular individuals. Thus, I agree with those connectionists who argue that ‘the developmental process itself lies at the heart of knowledge acquisition. Development is a process of emergence’.

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pp.26-27, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

badwolfonbakerstreet:
I translated the article [from German]. Please excuse any mistakes, it was done in quite a hurry.
My 5-year old boy likes to wear dresses. In Berlin Kreuzberg that was enough to start conversations with other parents. Is that sensible or ridiculous? ‘Neither!’ I still want to shout at them. But unfortunately they can’t hear me anymore. Because by now I live in a little town in southern Germany. Not even a hundred thousand inhabitants, very traditional, very religious. Here my son’s preferences aren’t only a topic for the parents, they’re common talk.
Yes, I’m one of those fathers who try to raise their children equal. I’m not one of those academical dads that while studying keep blathering on about gender equality and as soon as there is a child fall back into the cuddly cliché role images: He self-actualizes in his job, she takes care of the rest.
With that, I have realized now, I am part of a minority that occasionally makes a fool out of itself. Out of conviction.
In my case it has to do with me not wanting to persuade my son not to wear dresses and skirts. Since he wasn’t making friends by doing that in Berlin, after due consideration I only had one choice. To square my shoulder for my little guy and put on a skirt myself. After all I can’t expect the same assertiveness of a preschool child than I do of an adult. Without a role model. So I am the role model now.
So back then in Berlin we already had skirt and dress days when the weather was tepid. Long skirts with elastic bands quite suit me, I think. Dresses are more difficult. The Berliners reacted hardly at all or positive. They are used to weird people. In my little town in southern Germany that’s a little different.
With all the stress while moving I forgot to tell the teachers at kindergarten to make sure my boy won’t be laughed at because of his preference. A short time later he didn’t dare to go to kindergarten in a skirt or dress. And asked me with big eyes: ‘Papa, when will you wear a skirt again?’.
Until this day I am grateful to that woman who kept staring at us in the pedestrian zone until she ran into a lamp post. My son was roaring with laughter. And the next day he took a dress out of the cupboard again. At first only for the weekend. Later for kindergarten as well.
And what’s the guy doing by now? He paints his fingernails. He think it looks pretty on me, too. He smiles when other boys (it’s almost always boys) want to make a fool out of him and says: ‘You just don’t dare to wear dresses and skirts because you’re fathers don’t dare to.’ That’s how much he has squared his shoulders by now. Thanks to dad in a skirt

badwolfonbakerstreet:

I translated the article [from German]. Please excuse any mistakes, it was done in quite a hurry.

My 5-year old boy likes to wear dresses. In Berlin Kreuzberg that was enough to start conversations with other parents. Is that sensible or ridiculous? ‘Neither!’ I still want to shout at them. But unfortunately they can’t hear me anymore. Because by now I live in a little town in southern Germany. Not even a hundred thousand inhabitants, very traditional, very religious. Here my son’s preferences aren’t only a topic for the parents, they’re common talk.

Yes, I’m one of those fathers who try to raise their children equal. I’m not one of those academical dads that while studying keep blathering on about gender equality and as soon as there is a child fall back into the cuddly cliché role images: He self-actualizes in his job, she takes care of the rest.

With that, I have realized now, I am part of a minority that occasionally makes a fool out of itself. Out of conviction.

In my case it has to do with me not wanting to persuade my son not to wear dresses and skirts. Since he wasn’t making friends by doing that in Berlin, after due consideration I only had one choice. To square my shoulder for my little guy and put on a skirt myself. After all I can’t expect the same assertiveness of a preschool child than I do of an adult. Without a role model. So I am the role model now.

So back then in Berlin we already had skirt and dress days when the weather was tepid. Long skirts with elastic bands quite suit me, I think. Dresses are more difficult. The Berliners reacted hardly at all or positive. They are used to weird people. In my little town in southern Germany that’s a little different.

With all the stress while moving I forgot to tell the teachers at kindergarten to make sure my boy won’t be laughed at because of his preference. A short time later he didn’t dare to go to kindergarten in a skirt or dress. And asked me with big eyes: ‘Papa, when will you wear a skirt again?’.

Until this day I am grateful to that woman who kept staring at us in the pedestrian zone until she ran into a lamp post. My son was roaring with laughter. And the next day he took a dress out of the cupboard again. At first only for the weekend. Later for kindergarten as well.

And what’s the guy doing by now? He paints his fingernails. He think it looks pretty on me, too. He smiles when other boys (it’s almost always boys) want to make a fool out of him and says: ‘You just don’t dare to wear dresses and skirts because you’re fathers don’t dare to.’ That’s how much he has squared his shoulders by now. Thanks to dad in a skirt

Can we devise a way of seeing ourselves, as we develop from fertilization to old age, as simultaneously natural and unnatural? During the past decade an exciting vision has emerged that I have loosely grouped under the rubric of developmental systems theory, or DST. What do we gain by choosing DST as an analytic framework?


Developmental systems theorists deny that there are fundamentally two kinds of processes: one guided by genes, hormones, and brain cells (that is, nature), the other by the environment, experience, learning, or inchoate social forces (that is, nurture). The pioneer [developmental] systems theorist, philosopher Susan Oyama promises that DST: ‘gives more clarity, more coherence, more consistency, and a different way to interpret data; in addition it offers the means for synthesizing the concepts and methods…of groups that have been working at cross-purposes, or at least talking past each other for decades’. Nevertheless, developmental systems theory is no magic bullet. Many will resist its insights because, as Oyama explains, ‘it gives less…guidance on fundamental truth’ and ‘fewer conclusions about what is inherently desirable, healthy, natural, or inevitable’.

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p.25, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

in case you wanna read on a little further, i’ll include more of the above quote, but didn’t want to include it in the main quote segment so that it wouldn’t get too long.  here’s picking up with the very next sentence:

How, specifically, can DST help us break away from dualistic thought processes?  Consider an example described by systems theorist Peter Taylor, a goat born with no front legs.  During its lifetime it managed to hop around on its hind limbs.  An anatomist who studied the goat after it died found that it had an S-shaped spine (as do humans), ‘thickened bones, modified muscle insertions, and other correlates of moving on two legs’.  This (and every goat’s) skeletal system developed as part of its manner of walking.  Neither its genes nor its environment determined its anatomy.  Only the ensemble had such power.  Many developmental physiologists recognize this principle.  As one biologist writes, ‘enstructuring occurs during the enactment of individual life histories’.

A few years ago, when the neuroscientist Simon LeVay reported that the brain structures of gay and heterosexual men differed (and that this mirrored a more general sex difference between straight men and women), he became the center of a firestorm. Although an instant hero among many gay males, he was at odds with a rather mixed group. On the one hand, feminists such as myself disliked his unquestioning use of gender dichotomies…On the other, member of the Christian right hated his work because they believe homosexuality is a sin that individuals can choose to reject. LeVay’s, and later geneticist Dean Hamer’s, work suggested to them that homosexuality was inborn or innate. The language of public debate soon became polarized. Each side contrasted words such as genetic, biological, inborn, innate, and unchanging with environmental, acquired, constructed, and choice.


The ease with which debates evoke the nature/nurture divide is a consequence of the poverty of a nonsystems approach. Politically, the nature/nurture framework holds enormous dangers. Although some hope that a belief in the nature side of things will lead to greater tolerance, past history suggests that the opposite is also possible. Even the scientific architects of the nature argument recognize the dangers. In an extraordinary passage in the pages of _Science_, Dean Hamer and his collaborators indicated their concern: ‘It would be fundamentally unethical to use such information to try to assess or alter a person’s current or future sexual orientation. Rather, scientists, educators, policy-makers and the public should work together to ensure such research is used to benefit all members of society’.

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p.26, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

To talk about human sexuality requires a notion of the material. Yet the idea of the material comes to us already tainted, containing within it pre-existing ideas about sexual difference. Butler suggests that we look at the body as a system that simultaneously produces and is produced by social meanings, just as any biological organism always results from the combined and simultaneous actions of nature and nurture.

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p.23, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

…every time we try to return to the body as something that exists prior to socialization, prior to discourse about male and female, Butler writes, ‘we discover that matter is fully sedimented with discourses on sex and sexuality that prefigure and constrain the uses to which that term can be put’.

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p.22, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

…as I consider discrete moments in the creation of biological knowledge about human sexuality, I look to cut through the Gordian knot of dualistic thought. I propose to modify Halperin’s BON MOT that ‘sexuality is not a somatic fact, it is a cultural effect’, instead arguing that sexuality IS a somatic fact CREATED BY a cultural effect.

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p.21, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling (CAPS in quote above indicate text that was italicized in the book)

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

But wherever they fall along the social constructionist spectrum, most argue from the assumption that there is a fundamental split between nature and culture, between ‘real bodies’ and their cultural interpretations. I take seriously the ideas of Foucault, Haraway, Scott, and others* that our bodily experiences are brought into being by our development within particular cultures and historical periods. But especially as a biologist, I want to make the argument more specific. As we grow and develop, we literally, not just ‘discursively’ (that is, through language and cultural practices), construct our bodies, incorporating experience into our very flesh. To understand this claim, we must erode the distinctions between the physical and the social body.

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p.20, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

* by others, Fausto-Sterling also includes Lynda Birke, as mentioned in the book’s endnotes

Ortner thinks that argument about the universality of sexual inequality has continued for more than two decades because anthropologists assumed that each society would be internally consistent, an expectation she now believes to be unreasonable: ‘no society or culture is totally consistent. Every society/culture has some axes of male prestige and some of female, some of gender equality, and some (sometimes many) axes of prestige that have nothing to do with gender. The problem in the past has been that all of us were trying to pigeonhole each case.’

But feminists, too, have incorrigible propositions, and a central one has been that all cultures, as the Nigerian anthropologist Oyeronke Oyewumi writes, ‘organize their social world through a perception of human bodies’ as male or female. In taking European and North American feminists to task over this proposition, Oyewumi shows how the imposition of a system of gender—in this case, through colonialism followed by scholarly imperialism—can alter our understandings of ethnic and racial difference. In her own detailed analysis of Yoruba culture, Oyewumi finds that relative age is a far more significant social organizer. Yoruba pronouns, for example, do not indicate sex, but rather who is older or younger than the speaker. What they think about how the world works shapes the knowledge that scholars produce about the world. That knowledge, in turn, affects the world at work.

If Yoruba intellectuals had constructed the original scholarship on Yoruba-land, Oyewumi thinks that ‘seniority would have been privileged over gender’. Seeing Yoruba society through the lens of seniority rather than that of gender would have two important effects. First, if Euro-American scholars learned about Nigeria from Yoruba anthropologists, our own belief systems about the universality of gender might change. Eventually, such knowledge might alter our own gender constructs. Second, the articulation of a seniority-based vision of social organization among the Yoruba would, presumably, reinforce such social structures.

Oyewumi finds, however, that African scholarship often imports European gender categories. And ‘by writing about any society through a gendered perspective, scholars necessarily write gender into that society. …Thus scholarship is implicated in the process of gender-formation’.

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pp.19-20, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling (sorry for the very lengthy quote!!!)

the context for this quote (and the preceding one, on p.19) is following a discussion of 1990s (euro/american) feminist anthropologists who traveled the world “in search of cultures sporting the banner of equity” who came home empty-handed and discouraged.  (incorrigible propositions in anthropology previously explained.)

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)

Simply put, anthropologists must invent categories into which they can sort collected information. Inevitably, some of the invented categories involve the anthropologists’ own unquestioned axioms of life, what some scholars call ‘incorrigible propositions’. The idea that there are only two sexes is an incorrigible proposition, and so too is the idea that anthropologists would know sexual equality when they saw it.

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p.19, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

the context for this quote is following a discussion of 1990s (euro/american) feminist anthropologists who traveled the world “in search of cultures sporting the banner of equity” who came home empty-handed and discouraged.  the next bit i will present talks more about the effects of incorrigible propositions especially as related to Western analysis of the Yoruba people of Nigeria and the effects of colonialism.

(so, i’m re-reading the book & i’m underlining extensively, and i’m going to bring my followers on the journey with me by sharing quotes as i make my way through the book again.  will be mostly queuing these to spread them out over time.  enjoy!)