Current Affairs

The Peculiarity of Gender

It’s a complicated subject! Let’s talk about it.

There’s a passage that I read when I was about 16 that I’ve never been able to locate again, although it evidently made quite an impression on me, if I still recall it (however vaguely) after all this time. I’m fairly sure that it was from an essay, not a work of fiction, but I have no idea who wrote it. (If anyone can identify it based on the following description, I’d be incredibly grateful to be put out of my misery.) The passage vividly described the feeling of a man who is struggling to debate a clever opponent. He’s very convinced in his heart that the thing he believes is true and correct, but is struggling to put the enormity of it into words, while his interlocutor makes objections that sound very reasonable and logical. In the end, all the man can do is cry out that he knows he’s right, even if he can’t say why.

I think the reason this bit of writing struck me was because it ran counter to what I believed about the world at the time. As a teenager, I was pretty sure that if you had a belief you couldn’t defend with clear words, you were probably an idiot, or at least didn’t really believe the thing you thought you believed. But later in life, and especially when I went to law school, I thought a lot about this half-remembered passage and began to appreciate it in a new way. I realized that most of what passes for “logical” argument among would-be intellectual thought leaders is simply a matter of entrapment: whoever has the power to set the foundational premises of a debate, however stupid or immoral they might be, is the person who will score the points and win the arguments. You can try to challenge the bad premises, of course, if you can figure out what they are in the first place. But discerning the submerged, deeply-held assumptions that underlie an argument can be difficult, and even if you do manage it, it may, as a practical matter, prove impossible to uproot them in a way your opponent or your audience will acknowledge.

This is starkly true in the world of the law, of course. I feel the full force of that passage whenever I watch an asylum-seeker in court trying to defend themselves against the chilly accusations of some judge or trial attorney. Often the asylum-seeker is unable to understand what their interrogator is even getting at, because the arbitrary legal categories under which they’re being evaluated are so far removed from the reality of their lived experience. So much of immigration law, and the law generally, is about putting people and their experiences into categories. When does violence pass the threshold of “mere harm” and enter the realm of “persecution”? When is a collection of people sufficiently “socially distinct” to qualify as a “particular social group”? Do we evaluate these questions from the perspective of the asylum-seeker? the persecutor? Society At Large? the mythical Reasonable Person that every adjudicator complacently believes themselves to be? As an advocate, it feels futile and intellectually shabby to make arguments about these kinds of categorizations, which are so clearly stupid, especially when you know that whatever finicky distinction you’re defending today is something you’re fully prepared to jettison tomorrow if it could help your next client.

I have similar feelings when it comes to trying to have conversations about gender. (Whether gender qualifies as a particular social group under asylum law, incidentally, is a whole thorny legal question that I won’t waste time on here.) I’ll come out and say it: gender is stupid. The thematically appropriate creation myth of traditional gender would be that some idiot lawmaker got up one day and announced: “We’ve decided to split the entirety of humanity into two separate groups. You can only belong to one or the other, and you don’t get to choose which one you’re in, but a variety of random characteristics, from your color preferences to your personality to your available opportunities, will be imputed to you in perpetuity based on which team you’ve been assigned. You will find your team assignment in your trousers. Enjoy!”

If you don’t feel quite right in your gender—because you want to be identified by a different gender than the one you were assigned at birth, or maybe because you’d rather not have any gender, or maybe you haven’t figured out what you really want at all, but the problem keeps gnawing at you urgently—it can be very hard to explain why, to people who’ve never (or only fleetingly) felt this way before. Certainly, there have been reams of theory written on gender, and it’s good to have many minds at work on the issue, but not everyone is temperamentally suited to theory, and not everyone finds that putting a tangled concept into intricate language—building a map of the territory that’s the same size as the original, as it were—provides much psychological relief. Or even if it does provide some clarity for you personally, you may be anxious that talking in overly academic language will embarrass you in front of other people, who will think that you’re trying to be pretentious.

The academic field of gender theory is very much not my wheelhouse: I’m not qualified to write about it in any kind of detail, and I won’t try. What I want to do instead is talk very generally about some of the popular ways that gender is thought about and written about, and propose some (not groundbreaking) ways to engage with these topics. The right certainly has its abundant share of assholes who are constantly trying to advance creepy views on gender—but the left has assholes too, such as the kind of charming internet “leftist” who mocks people for including their gender pronouns in their Twitter bio (usually while subtly hinting that the left needs to drop “trans issues” and “gender issues” from its platform in order to succeed with The People). And then there’s the fact that academic and online communities which spend a lot of time thinking and writing about gender often seem to be at each other’s throats, for reasons that are extremely hard for outsiders to follow—for example, popular leftist YouTuber Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints), who has made a lot of videos on gender and trans issues, seems to incite the internet into a rage on a semi-monthly basis for reasons that it’s taken me a long time to piece together. It’s sort of understandable that there would be a lot of turmoil and constantly-evolving terminology in the debate over What Gender Even Is, but this also makes it daunting to try to talk about—you never know who you’re going to piss off, or what you could be mocked for, or what kind of “gotcha” moment you’re going to unwittingly wander into.

Additionally, if you want to write about gender, there’s a certain pressure to put forward your own identity as a kind of calling-card—which makes some sense. Certainly there are a lot of men who try to write about feminism, and cis people who try to write about trans and nonbinary people, in ways that are either malicious or misguided. Identity can (sometimes) be a valuable gauge for how many grains of salt you may need to pre-game before trying to choke down someone’s warmed-over drivel. I use “they” pronouns and identify as “??? nonbinary ??? leaning transmasculine ??? figuring some stuff out still.” I arrived at the decision to start using gender-neutral pronouns after a mere 15 years of mysterious brooding and enigmatic refusal to explain my wishes to anyone, which was very cool of me and not at all annoying for everyone I interacted with. All of this is to say that questions about gender matter to me—as indeed they matter to most people—but my experiences are only my own, and my identity isn’t a marker of reliability or authority, and I am not speaking for anyone but myself.

One way of talking about gender that’s common on the right—and which right-wing commentators love to present as common-sense, hard-nosed realism against the delusions of weirdos—is that gender is something that arises from Nature. The thing is very simple and “biological” to them: there are men, who have penises, and women, who have vaginas. (Intersex people presumably do not exist, or are deemed irrelevant outliers). More than that, they believe that there are deep-seated differences between men and women, intellectually and temperamentally, and they will happily cite any number of Brain Studies purporting to show that this is so. As they see it, men are more similar to other men than they are to women, and women are more similar to other women than they are to men. To organize human society along the lines of these fundamental differences, which are nicely complemented by reproductive functions, seems obvious to them. This view of humanity is dearly beloved by a certain kind of religious traditionalist, along with a certain kind of evo-psych “rationalist”; but it also has a loose corollary in the specific kind of feminist who insists that the world would be better if women ran it, because women are innately kinder, more socially adept, better problem-solvers, etc., etc. People who fall into this gender-essentialist bucket may vary somewhat in the extent to which they think the differences between the sexes/genders are hardwired into our genes (and/or ordained by God!), versus the extent to which they are shaped and reified by other social factors, but they nevertheless remain pretty firm in their belief that a gender binary definitely exists, and that this binary runs deeper, even, than mere physical or reproductive difference. This view on gender, which I am currently writing about as if it were some kind of bizarre fringe position, is obviously very common and doesn’t feel remotely controversial to huge numbers of people.

Then there’s the entirely different way of thinking about gender that’s been present in certain strains of feminist and gender theory for quite some time, which says that actually, gender is pretty much entirely a social construct. That is to say, it’s a set of socially-created expectations and assumptions that are placed on people based upon the bodies they happen to have been born into. The differences between “men” and “women”—to the extent they exist—are largely products of the way people are socialized, the way our gendered expectations cause us to perceive and evaluate the behavior of those we consider men and those we consider women through different lenses, and the divergent set of challenges and risks that people of different genders experience as a consequence of these factors. There’s nothing fixed or “natural” about gender, since what’s considered “masculine” and “feminine” varies across cultures and time periods (and since a number of societies throughout history have acknowledged the existence of more than two genders). The natural conclusion of this line of thought is that gender is essentially a social mirage, and often a pretty harmful one at that, since being continually evaluated according to a gendered standard tends to inhibit people’s ability to develop and be appreciated as individuals.

Under this framework, we might think it would be better to live in a world where gender simply doesn’t exist as a concept, where the differences between people’s bodies aren’t believed to encode any deeper meaning about their inner selves, and human beings treat one another accordingly. At any rate, it’s certainly uncontroversial, among people who believe that gender is a construct, to state that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to inhabit your body: you should be able to like whatever you like, wear whatever you want to wear, have whatever job you want to have, irrespective of whatever gender you are or are perceived to be. If a little girl wants to play with monster trucks, that’s not evidence that she’s bad at being a girl, or that she is “really” a boy, because there’s no earthly reason why a person’s chromosomes should have any power to dictate whether they ought or ought not to enjoy smashing toy vehicles violently together.

I should mention that I’m not outlining these two views on gender as if to suggest that there are two distinct camps of people (genders, if you will) touting one theory over the other, and that they’re  constantly pitted against each other. I’m just sketching in broad strokes what I think are the furthest extremes of how most people view gender, from “fundamental and natural; is and should be the foundational ordering principle of society” to “totally contingent; ideally shouldn’t be proscriptive in any way, if we can help it.” If you are a leftist, and you favor egalitarianism and individual autonomy, you probably skew closer to the second vision, since it’s the one that offers more scope for individual people to choose what kind of lives they want to lead, and to have their choices respected by others.

But there’s also a certain tension in the gender-as-social-construct viewpoint that has given rise to endless waves of debate and controversy—usually around issues related to trans people. If you are a Gender Traditionalist, who thinks that gender is wholly dictated by the type of body you were born with, a trans person is merely someone with a delusion. You might be the kind of traditionalist who thinks that that person should be locked up, or the kind of traditionalist who merely thinks that their whims don’t deserve social tolerance. As right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro told a student questioner during a debate over trans issues: “I’m not going to modify basic biology because it threatens your subjective sense of what you are.” Now, if I am in the opposite camp, I’m going to respond that gender isn’t “biology” (whatever the hell that means), it’s a social construct, and that there’s no reason why someone can’t identify as whatever gender they please. But if gender is just a construct, and there’s no wrong way to be a man and no wrong way to be a woman—so my opponent might reply—why should anyone feel the need to transition from one gender to another? Why is identity so important? Isn’t it all the same thing?

Now, one counterargument I could make is that some trans people experience deep psychological anguish because they are inhabiting a body and an identity that doesn’t feel like their own, and that this anguish, whatever its source, is the impetus for transition, and it’s the reason why continuing to publicly identify as the gender they were assigned at birth is not an option. This is the whole idea behind “gender dysphoria,” the official DSM classification for the state of extreme distress that a trans person experiences when their personal sense of gender identity doesn’t match their assigned gender identity; the fact that it’s recognized as a medical condition is the reason why some trans people are able to have counseling, hormone therapy, and/or surgery covered by their insurance. That all trans people experience gender dysphoria from a young age has been, I think, the common public narrative (to the extent there is one) around transition for a number of years. It’s similar to the dominant narrative around gay people when I was growing up, that if you were gay it’s because you were “born that way.” The idea that sexuality was fluid and that people might choose, or sort of vaguely wander into, different kinds of sexual and romantic preferences at different points in life certainly wasn’t emphasized, probably because it was easier to placate conservatives with an idea of homosexuality as a tragic destiny that couldn’t be avoided. And certainly, some people’s identities remain very stable from a young age, and some trans people know from a very young age that they are trans, and experience deep distress until they’re in a position to affirm their identity, so it’s not as if this narrative has no connection to real people’s experiences.

But I don’t think that emphasizing dysphoria is necessarily (always) the best way to respond to the question of why transitioning still matters even if gender is a construct. Characterizing being trans as a medical condition is politically useful in some respects: even though it makes it easier for people like Ben Shapiro to claim that being trans is a form of mental illness, it gives a comfortably “scientific” reason for why someone’s gender expression should be socially tolerated and why they should have access to whatever surgical and hormonal interventions they might need or want. But not all people who identify as trans experience dysphoria, or at least, don’t experience it in the same way. People relate to their bodies and identities in a multitude of ways that the standard narratives around dysphoria may tend to flatten. Making the distressing experience of “dysphoria” the threshold necessity for transition doesn’t always make things easier for all trans people, as they try to gauge whether their desire to alter their pronouns or their appearance or their bodies is “really” gender dysphoria, or whether they are miserable enough to be “really” dysphoric. Additionally, a number of trans people have written about the experience of transitioning as something that has, whether in the long or short term, increased their sense of mental distress or wrong-bodiedness, rather than lessening it. This is psychologically understandable, as pursuing something very important to you in the face of great obstacles is an emotional experience that everyone is bound to process differently, but it doesn’t fit into the narrative that transition is a “cure” for dysphoria and thus gives grist to the mills of badly-intentioned people who want to say that transitioning is inherently a form of self-harm.

There’s a lot of debate within trans communities about the whole issue of “the gender binary” and whether basing one’s desire to transition on “stereotyped” notions of masculinity and femininity reinforces the whole Gender Traditionalist belief in the existence of only two genders, who are distinct types of person. In the other direction, there’s debate over whether it makes sense to consider yourself trans if you don’t experience dysphoria and/or don’t have the desire or intention to alter your appearance after transitioning. That these tensions and questions would exist makes sense, given that gender is both a theoretically wobbly and incoherent concept, and also something of extreme psychological importance to most people, since popular views on gender shape our social, romantic, sexual, and professional lives in countless ways.

Art by Gina Lerman.

Unfortunately, the fact that all trans and gender-nonconforming people don’t fit into the same tidy category is often used as a way of attacking the “gender is a construct” camp as logically incoherent. Here, alas, it becomes necessary to bring up trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), the popular term for a category of “feminist” who opposes recognizing trans women as women, and—in a usually quieter and less virulent way—sometimes treats trans men as delusional, self-hating women whose desire to transition is the product of internalized misogyny. TERF-like language is sometimes adopted opportunistically by the right, but not all people who think this way consider themselves right-wingers: J.K. Rowling and Graham Linehan are two examples of “liberal” public figures who have espoused transphobic views in the name of feminism. The general thrust of TERFism goes like this: being a woman isn’t about wearing dresses or makeup, it’s about the experience of growing up and living in a body that has a uterus and a vagina, and all the challenges and traumas that are unique to that kind of body. Therefore, a person who doesn’t have those anatomical structures and wasn’t assigned female at birth and consequently never had those experiences cannot be a woman: trans women are, to a TERF, not women, but just men playing dress-up. This is summarized neatly by a tweet that Rowling lobbed off last winter defending a TERF activist who had been dismissed from her job: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”

I actually think that this line of reasoning probably sounds superficially reasonable to a lot of people who wouldn’t consciously consider themselves transphobic, because it purports to say that people are free to dress and live and speak however they want, just that they aren’t entitled to claim any identity they please and expect to have it universally recognized. (It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that many TERFs go one further and imply that there are lots of fake trans women out there who are simply using their identity to get access to female-only spaces and do sex crimes, so the transphobia is sometimes extremely unsubtle, but at other times TERFs are pretty good at sounding like people who are Just Asking Questions.) If we are in the “gender is a social construct” camp, where we think that there’s nothing inherent about gender and that it is all really just a product of expectations and experiences, then, they argue, shouldn’t we agree that the only thing that makes you a woman is being raised as and treated as a woman? Now, this is a place where we could bring up dysphoria again, and say that some people have a Recognized Medical Condition that causes them to identify as women, and that it is therefore Scientifically Correct to acknowledge them as women. But if we’re in that camp that thinks that not all trans people necessarily experience dysphoria and that people transition for a variety of reasons, we might not want to bind ourselves that way. “Okay then, so what determines who’s a man and who’s a woman (and who’s any third gender)?” your TERF interlocutor might ask. “Is it just what someone wants to be?”

And ultimately, I think, that is actually the only possible answer. For me, the only reasonable way to think about gender identity is as a desire: a desire which may feel like an unavoidable imperative to some people, and maybe a conscious choice or settled preference for others; but ultimately, what matters is what gender you want to be. The existence of gender as a concept is important to our physical, sexual, and social lives—we do, after all, live in a society—and because of this, we all have to orient our sense of self around it to some extent, whether we like it or not. If you want to transition, it shouldn’t matter whether you have the right kind of backstory or personal history, or the correct diagnosis, or whether you have a perfectly worked-out theory of gender that neatly aligns with and endorses your wishes. On the left, I think, we should have the general principle that people should be able to do whatever they desire, as long as it doesn’t involve immiserating and disempowering others for personal gain. Certainly, there are plenty of common desires people have that don’t deserve social sanction—the desire to have political or physical dominance over others, the desire to have security and comfort at the expense of others’ safety, the desire to shut your ears to other people’s suffering when it inconveniences you—but you actually have to strain quite a bit to come up with a reason why someone’s desire to identify themselves as a particular gender, and to be acknowledged socially according to their desired identity, could be morally wrong. And on the left, we should also be of the belief that any large group or community should be welcoming to a person who wants to join, unless there are extremely morally compelling reasons not to be.

I can think of three potential objections that someone might raise to this proposal that we all just respect and affirm each other’s gender identities and try not to overthink it. One, which is barely worth addressing since it’s almost always made in 100 percent bad faith, is the concern I mentioned that some gender traditionalists and TERFs are fond of bringing up: that having minimal criteria for accepting someone’s gender identification will enable fake(?) trans people to infiltrate female-only spaces to commit sexual assault. I’ve most commonly heard this argument raised in the context of public bathrooms and prisons. The bathroom one has always been a big puzzler to me: what is this weird belief that people are more likely to get sexually assaulted in a public bathroom than in any other place, and why would you need to “fake” being trans to do it, given how easy it is to just sneak into most bathrooms anyway? Why do we have gender-segregated but embarrassingly open bathrooms in the first place, given that my own personal desire to take a shit in peace has zero to do with the gender identity of the bastard standing there quietly checking their face in the mirror for 10 whole minutes? The prison thing is even worse: do these people think that sexual assault isn’t already happening in prisons? Isn’t the fact that people get sexually assaulted constantly in prison, irrespective of gender segregation practices, an extremely stupid argument against trans acceptance and a very good fucking argument against packing tons of human beings into cages?

The second objection is the What About The Children argument, or, what do we do when young children want to transition or express their gender identity, and—in particular—want access to hormonal therapy or surgery. I acknowledge that this isn’t an uncomplicated question, inasmuch as consent issues with children are always a little tricky. People often claim that children who profess to be trans are too young to know what they really want, too inexperienced to understand the permanent physical or psychological effects of some of the changes they may seek, and too vulnerable to being influenced by adults with ideas of their own (such as a parent who theoretically might tell the aforementioned child who likes monster trucks that, because of their preference for certain activities or aesthetics, they are probably a boy). And if we don’t have a particularly fixed notion of what being trans is “supposed” to look or feel like, then it presumably becomes harder for an outsider to evaluate why a child wants to be identified in a particular way, and requires them to repose more trust in the child’s own judgment. The biggest concern seems to be that a child will commit to something when they are young that will then be irrevocable later, and which they could come to regret. But of course, if a child wants to take puberty blockers and is prevented from doing so, then this, too, is a choice that results in irrevocable changes. And children make, or have made for them, all manner of irrevocable decisions, often involving their bodies. We all know people who did permanent damage to their bodies playing high school sports, for example, which is generally considered normal and unobjectionable. I’m not a parent, but like many people I was once a child, and I err on the side of allowing children to have as much agency over their lives as possible. A child is certainly the only person qualified to dictate what they want to be called and how they will dress. I think they should also be entitled to make other decisions involving their bodies, once they’ve been advised of the risks and consequences like any other person, and with some effort made to ascertain that this is a reasonably independent decision made by the child and not by an adult who wields power over the child. Certainly, some children will make decisions they regret later, or that they wish to diverge from, just as adults do. TERFs’ and right-wingers’ obsession with the (seemingly rare) phenomenon of “detransitioning”—people who once identified as trans reverting to a prior gender identity—as a means of delegitimizing all people’s right to make choices about their own lives is profoundly unfair. The (much more common) existence of divorce is not, in and of itself, an argument that marriage should not exist, or even that particular people should never have been married in the first place. We make decisions, and those decisions change us; sometimes we regret the change, but that does not mean we should be barred from making decisions.

The third objection is largely a political one, and it’s this: are there conditions under which someone who wants to assert membership in a group shouldn’t be allowed to do so, because they don’t have enough shared interests or experiences in common with other members of that group, and their inclusion would be detrimental to the group in some way? This is the claim that TERFs often raise about trans women. In arguing their point, some people will bring up, as a point of comparison, the case of Rachel Dolezal, whose identification as “transracial” garnered pretty universal condemnation and ridicule. The right in particular has been fond of seizing on this as an example of left-wing hypocrisy, since many people on the left, when pressed, have had some difficulty coherently stating why it was okay to reject someone’s self-professed membership in one kind of social construct—race—and not another kind of social construct—gender. Some trans writers of color tried to tackle what, exactly, was the qualitative difference between being “transgender” and being “transracial,” with Meredith Tauluson writing in the Guardian that her race is an identity imposed on her by society, whereas her gender is what she “is.” I don’t want to say that this is wrong by any means—I am a white person in a white-majority country where the majority of materially and politically powerful people are also white, so I can’t meaningfully assess the experiential difference between gender identity and racial identity. I also presume that individual people’s internal conceptions of how race and gender relate to their fundamental identity might vary quite a bit. But I think the difference between these two concepts is not intuitively easy to parse.

I don’t know that I have a very firm or satisfying answer to this question, but I tend to be pretty impatient with exclusionary group identities, and with overly elaborate articulations of what constitutes group membership. (This, again, is probably related to my frustration with legalism generally.) At the same time, it’s true that when groups bound by legitimate shared grievances and material interests are flooded by people who do not share or do not fully understand those concerns, it can be hard to organize around your goals. This is likely why being “transracial” in a political context feels unworkable, to the point of feeling offensive to even propose: if a large number of people decided to identify as a minority racial group, and then began actively putting themselves forward as spokespersons of the group with reference to interests and experiences of which they have no firsthand knowledge, this obviously creates a political problem. If their interests are too different from the group’s original members, or their manner of expressing those interests is detrimental to those members in some way, then you have a problem of social erasure and political ineffectiveness. This doesn’t feel as acute in the context of gender, because, for example, a large number of the harms that women face disproportionately and would organize around—harassment, discrimination, sexual and domestic violence—are faced by both cis and trans women, so it’s not really easy to see why treating all women socially as women causes a political problem. (Certainly, people who were assigned male at birth may be statistically less likely to have faced certain types of harm growing up, but trans women unfortunately catch up pretty quickly as targets of gender violence, and the rate at which trans women are murdered is even higher than cis women.) Obviously, there are some things, like pregnancy, that many cis women experience and that trans women don’t, and it would be strange to have someone who has never been pregnant and can’t become pregnant hold themselves out as an authority on the needs and experiences of pregnant people. But there are also cis women who can’t become pregnant or don’t ever intend to be, and this isn’t usually raised as a reason to exclude them entirely from the category of “women.” I don’t know that this is a perfect response, but I think excluding people from a group is only justified if you have specific, tangible, morally defensible reasons for doing so, and this is more likely to be the case with a group defined by racial identity than by gender identity.       

In the end, it’s not especially easy to talk about gender. Our political opponents are lucky because their view of gender is extremely simplistic. Traditional views on gender are very easily to pithily expound upon if you are a person for whom gender identity does not seem complicated, who feels comfortable with how you were socialized, or are at any rate eager to project that impression to others. It’s also hard because there are so many different ways to feel wrong in your body—not just because of gender identity, but also because of trauma, unrealistic beauty standards, unconventional sexual desires, and The General Horror Of Mortal Existence. Several of these things can coexist at once, and sorting through which one is the primary cause of the bad feeling often feels disorienting. (Cis men and women, after all, often find it difficult or traumatizing to live up to masculine or feminine norms.) If you decide that part of the problem is that you’re being constantly judged against gendered expectations that don’t suit your personality, or a body that looks wrong for the gender you identify with more strongly, it’s still not always straightforward to decide what you want to do about it. Maybe you feel, in the end, that actually your body or your assigned identity is all right, and society’s stupid expectations just need to be drowned out more effectively; other times, it feels like it would be better to change your physical self, at least a little, maybe a lot, to match what’s going on in your head and the kind of relationship you want to have with other people.

If we’re too wedded to a particular, simplified popular theory of how to think about gender, we might think that one of these choices—to transition or not transition—is “correct” and the other is “incorrect”; but the reality is that no one is qualified to decide how to best live with their body other than the person whose consciousness is trapped inside it. Some people will choose to continue identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth, while rejecting the idea that their gender has any intrinsic meaning; other people will transition to a different gender identity that makes them feel more like themselves. I think two people who seem quite similar on the surface could make opposite choices, and perhaps be equally satisfied—insofar as it’s possible to be satisfied with anything in life, at any rate. Much of the trouble—with gender, and with many other issues—arises from judging people for the personal choices they make or the reasons they make it.

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