For years, clinicians, therapists, researchers, and transfolk alike have remarked that “younger transitioners”, transkids, “homosexual transsexuals”, “early onset” (whatever label or demarcator in fashion) MTF transsexuals simply ‘pass’ better than “older transitioners”, autogynephilic transsexuals, “late onset” MTF transsexuals. For years, I wanted to conduct a study about this. Well, now we have clinical data to test this observation.
Who would have realized that male-attracted females are more gender-typical.
The Dutch have long contended that age of onset was the salient signifier, while those in North America contend that it is sexual orientation, specifically “homosexual” vs. “non-homosexual”, which readers of my blog, and those familiar with the literature, know gives a strong signal / correlation with autogynephilia in MTF transsexuals.
‘The Dutch’ have published empirical studies showing this is the case for a number of other variables, while showing sexual orientation is a lesser factor. Furthermore, the homogenization of North American trans researchers to represent Canadian researchers and then Anne Lawrence is interesting considering that a number of clinics that Brown and Blanchard and co. criticize are also from North America. Moser, a critic of Blanchardianism, is also from North America. The clinics in my area don’t follow Blanchardianism, neither have any of my therapists or psychiatrists.
In the graphs below, a higher score means more gender incongruent appearance (i.e. ‘readable’), while a lower score means more gender congruent (i.e. ‘passable’).
Modern society has the unfortunate phenomenon of gender stereotypes and gender norms that are enforced on trans and GNC individuals. This means that people who choose to present themselves as something incongruent with their gender, they are ostracized. This effect is magnified for trans people who choose to present in this manner (feminine trans men, masculine trans women).
Interesting results, but the lack of controls for choice in presentation is problematic. I can’t tell what the lines are supposed to represent, but I’m guessing that it’s either error bars or range, either of which add some important caveats. If it’s error bars (my initial interpretation), then it seems as if the correlation is inconclusive. If it’s range, then we can’t make claims about universal ‘passability’ because there’s such a large range of results. I’d be interested to see the results for GNC cis lesbian, GNC cis straight, GC cis lesbian and GC straight women as a reference point, of course using a subgroup of post-transition trans people to ensure we aren’t comparing mid-transition trans people to cis people.
Or yet another way of putting is that the least passible androphilic is the same as the average non-androphilic transwoman
Assuming that the bars represent the range, then she’d be wrong. The least passable androphilic trans women is far higher than the average for non-androphilic trans women.
There’s one other interesting graph in the study that Brown ‘forgot’ to include. The only about BIS (Body Image Scale) that measures how satisfied an individual feels about their body.
We can clearly see that the difference between androphilic and non-androphilic trans women is negligible, visually and statistically:
With regard to overall body satisfaction (i.e., BIS scores), no significant differences between sexual orientation and onset age subgroups were found in both natal sexes.
If non-androphilic trans women and androphilic trans women are equally satisfied with their body image, then it begs the conclusion that non-androphilic trans women are (relatively) content with their gender atypicality and probably even choose this. Among cis lesbian women, there is a much higher rate of chosen gender atypicality, as in “butch lesbians”, and the phenomenon of butch lesbian trans women has been documented by Leslie Feinberg.
If we hypothesize that the salient signifier is sexual orientation and NOT age of onset, then we would expect that the relative score for early onset would be intermediate between androphilic and both non-androphilic and late-onset (which is predominately non-androphilic at 79%).
The homogenized ‘Dutch’ believe that age of onset is a more significant signifier for a number of other variables, not exclusively passability.
That is to say, variation in the data is explained completely by sexual orientation and that the variation of passability with respect to age of onset is from the correlation between sexual orientation and age of onset.
The conflating of saliency with a variable explaining all of the variation of passability is disingenuous. The fact that one variable has the most significant single variable explanation does not mean other variables do not matter, or that 100% is explained by one variable.
However, given clinical experiences with each, the meaning of age of onset is quite likely different. If 43% of non-androphilic transwomen really did have an early onset… why do they all wait so long to socially transition?
I’ve given this some thought and come to the conclusion that if the etiology of FEFs is the internalization of gender dysphoria, then of course non-straight trans women are going to socially transition later on average. Regardless, we know this isn’t universally the case: Grossman et. al 2006 found that a majority of trans youth are non-“homosexual”:
While youth used a variety of terms to describe their sexual orientation, a majority of the FTM youth (15) used the word “queer”; other terms chosen were heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian, with four youth not wanting to label their sexual orientation. In comparison, of the MTF youth, 14 identified as heterosexual, 8 as gay, 4 as bisexual, 3 as trans, 1 as lesbian, and 1 did not to select a label.
Now this is self-evidently anecdotal, but the only adolescent trans girls (I hate the term ‘girls’ but it’s the only applicable term I can think of here) that I’ve met are lesbians. And there are some interesting result about passability in this study too, so I recommend giving it a read.
We are still left with an open question. Why do androphilic transwomen pass so much better than non-androphilic? Three possible hypotheses exist, 1) Having a truly earlier age of onset and social transition age, they experience less masculinization from endogenous androgens. 2) Self selection for passibility as they are motivated to fit into society better, being both physically and behaviorally extremely gender atypical (and not autogynephilically motivated). 3) Actually being, as a group, intrinsically more physically gender atypical. (That is to say, that the etiological cause for their behavioral gender atypicality causes physical atypicality as well.)
I think that this passage, particularly point #3, really exposes Kay Brown for her beliefs. She doesn’t believe trans women are women, otherwise she wouldn’t say “gender atypical”. Feminine trans women are gender typical, because femininity is associated with womanhood. Masculine trans women are gender atypical, because masculinity masculinity is associated with manhood. The only way you can conclude that “androphilic transwomen” are “gender atypical” is if you consider their gender to be equivalent to the sex they were assigned at birth which is almost universally male.
There have been hints from a number of studies that there is a correlation between sexual orientation and subtle gender atypical facial physiognomy. A new study just how strongly supports this observation. Using a deep-layer neural net AI trained to categorize faces as heterosexual or homosexual, can differentiate between two faces, one of a heterosexual and one of a homosexual, of the same natal sex at 91% accuracy for males and 83% for females.
Citing this incredibly controversial study without referencing any of the controversy is a c h o i c e. The study has some serious methodological and logical flaws throughout, and is entirely based on the psuedoscience of physiognomy. This Medium article articulates the points better than I could. By ignoring social signaling and how the choices of what to wear (glasses, makeup) and shaving, they base their conclusions on biology rather than the obvious conclusion: that stereotypes exist. And even more, this Calling Bullshit piece explains the scientific flaws with how the study interprets its results.
The study could alternatively support the conclusion that lesbian women (cis and trans) and straight women (cis and trans) can be grouped together based on physiognomy (not one that I believe).
Onto the second article.
There is no “standard” to which behavior should “conform”. There is only behavior, period
Her first mistake is confusing the prescriptive for the descriptive. People using gender nonconforming (very often researchers studying trans people) are not saying that people should or should not conform to anything, just that they do or do not. She also seems to have missed the point as to what standard the term refers to: societal standards. It is far more socially acceptable to be a masculine man and a feminine woman than the reverse (something that has been noted by Brown herself). Conform can alternatively be interpreted as conformation to the majority, or what is most typical of the population. Gender nonconforming is a useful term politically in the first sense because by emphasizing societal standards, we offer a way to highlight those who are harmed by them and advocate for their abolition.
However, if we look at, study in depth as scientists, a species we can say that there are behaviors that are far more commonly performed by them than other behaviors seen in other species. These we can label as “typical” for that species. If we see a behavior in a given individual of a species that is uncommon for that species, we may label it “atypical”; but we would never label it “non-conforming” since we can’t really say what standard that a given species should “conform” to.
Again, nothing about gender nonconforming terminology talks about what standard an individual should conform to (as that would be a prescriptive statement), it’s describing how conformity (a social phenomenon used everywhere in the social sciences, and sometimes in the natural sciences) functions in punishing feminine men and masculine women. This is actually something recognized later in the piece, where she uses the word conform to describe the same phenomenon, while failing to recognize the meaning of gender nonconforming:
Given the religious (or related social views of gender) prejudice, one can easily see how children who exhibit these gender atypical behaviors are placed under tremendous pressure to “conform” to gender behavior standards that tend to skew to the gender typical, or even an exageration of typical behavior.
But even deeper, is my objection to the post-modernist idea that there are no intrinsic sexually dimorphic behaviors in humans, that there are only socially constructed roles.
The everpresent postmodern (-‘ist’ in this case) strawpersyn persists. Nothing about postmodern analysis precludes the existence of sexually dimorphic behavior and some queer theorist researchers have even incorporated that into their analysis.
This notion would state that since all differences in behavior observed between the human sexes are socially constructed and maintained, there must be a socially defined standard to which we can conform or not.
There is a socially defined standard to which we can conform or not, but that is not because of ‘differences in behavior observed between the human sexes are socially constructed and maintained’ (which is definitionally true if anti-constructionists would bother to read Ian Hacking’s The Social Construction of What?), it’s because we can observe this in society.
Thus, both of these ideas reduce any behavior that is seen in an individual that is uncommon in that person’s sex to an act of “gender non-conformity” either by accident or by will… but never by nature. I find both the notion that we stand outside of nature to be scientifically preposterous and philosophically offensive.
The assertion that gendered behavior is caused by social differences rather than nature isn’t saying that we stand “outside of nature”. Her logic is a non-sequitur. The nature-nurture dichotomy has been explicitly criticized by the so-called “post-modernists” she’s alluding to (she never names them by name, but the ‘postmodernists’ that study sex and gender usually fall into the category of queer theory). Dichotomies are constantly questioned by post-structuralists, including true-false, gay-straight, man-woman and so on. My favorite example is Judith Butler:
Lévi-Strauss’s structuralist anthropology, including the problemaic nature/culture distinction, has been appropriated by some feminist theorists to support and elucidate the sex/gender distinction: the position that there is a natural or biological female who is subsequently transformed into a socially subordinate “woman,”with the consequence that “sex” is to nature or “the raw” as gender is to culture or “the cooked.” If Lévi-Strauss’s framework were true, it would be possible to trace the transformation of sex into gender by locating that stable mechanism of cultures, the exchange rules of kinship, which effect that transformation in fairly regular ways. Within such a view, “sex” is before the law in the sense that it is culturally and political undetermined, providing the “raw material” of culture, as it were, that begins to signify only through and after its subjection to the rules of kinship.
This very concept of sex-as-matter, sex-as-instrument-of-cultural-signification, however, is a discursive formation that acts as a naturalized foundation for the nature/culture distinction and the strategies of domination that that distinction supports. The binary relation between culture and nature promotes a relationship of hierarchy in which culture freely “imposes” meaning on nature, and, hence, renders it into an “Other” to be appropriated to its own limitless uses, safeguarding the ideality of the signifier and the structure of signification on the model of domination.
and so on. For post-structuralists, a nature-nurture, nature-culture dichotomy is as incoherent as the man-woman dichotomy. Fausto-Sterling (who is not a post-modernist, but I expect would be similarly criticized by Brown) similarly criticizes the distinction between biology and culture in Sexing the Body (another fantastic read that shows how sex isn’t a natural phenomenon).
In other pages of this blog, I’ve made reference to the single most sexually dimorphic behavior in humans: androphilia (sexual attraction to adult males). In female humans, it is extremely common to be attracted to men. Approximately 98% of women are attracted to men while only approximately 5-10% of men were attracted to men. One could object to this being a ‘natural’ phenomena and say that social expectations have defined this. But it would not fit the evidence that has been amassing that sexual orientation is neither “chosen” nor “taught”.
The entire division of behavior by sexual orientation is a social construct. We can note that sexuality is constructed differently in many societies: Latin America and ancient Rome didn’t conceptualize penetration and being penetrated as equivalent forms of sexuality that are both classified under the label ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’. In fact, penetration was classified as
Further, why should humans be unique in the world? Most mammalian species are sexually dimorphic in their sexual attractions. (No, I’m not denying that same sex behavior occurs in non-human species… only saying it is not as common as other sex attraction.) But, this isn’t the end of the story.
I will quote Daphna Joel and Lutz Jäncke on this matter.
Joel [29,30] has recently suggested that such evidence may be found in animal studies reporting that the effects of sex on the brain differ even to the point of opposition under varied environmental conditions and that sex-by-environment interactions may differ for different brain features. For example, Reich et al.  found that three weeks of mild stress reversed a sex difference in the density of CB1 receptors in rats’ dorsal hippocampus. Thus, what was typical in one sex category under some conditions (i.e. low density of CB1 receptors in non-stressed females and high density of CB1 receptors in non-stressed males) was typical in the other sex category under other conditions (i.e. following three weeks of stress). A different sex-by-environment interaction determined the density of CB1 receptors in the ventral hippocampus, as the same manipulation (three weeks of mild stress) eliminated a sex difference in the density of these receptors in the ventral hippocampus.
In contrast to humans, genetic, developmental and environmental conditions can be highly controlled in laboratory animals. Thus, the variability of factors that might interact with sex to affect the brain (such as age, stress, housing conditions, nutrition, history of drug exposure; for references and review, see [29,30]) is greatly reduced. Consequently, brains of laboratory animals in a specific experiment are expected to be less heterogeneous compared with brains of humans in a single study. Therefore in laboratory animals, differences between the sex categories may indeed reveal the effects of sex rather than the effects of some chance difference between the sample of females and the sample of males in the study.
Although in animals there is probably no equivalence to gender as a social system, there are still environmental variables that, in addition to physiological variables (e.g. weight), correlate with sex category (e.g. number of animals in the home cage ). Studies in laboratory animals that use sex category as a variable should take special care to either control for (physiological) and avoid (environmental) sex differences in these variables, or systematically manipulate them.
This research has also been strongly influenced by animal research, where it is much easier than it is in humans to study genetic differences in terms of sex/gender, including at the molecular, hormonal, and neurophysiological levels 1, 2. However, it is not a simple endeavor to transfer results and interpretations from animal research to explain human behavior and cognition, since there are still some substantial differences between humans and other animals. One major difference is that the brain of humans is different in many respects from the brain of most other animals, although the human brain comprises the same neurons as even simpler constructed animals. The human brain comprises the largest number of neurons compared with all other animals in absolute terms 3. In addition, it is characterized by extreme, and in the animal kingdom unprecedented, interconnectivity that provides the necessary basis for the computation and storage of information, which is necessary for human learning and culture 4. This huge neural network is also significantly plastic and can be shaped by individual experience and practice
Let’s move on.
Had the strong social construction hypothesis of all gendered behavior been true, there would have been no correlation. We can reject this hypothesis.
Specifically note that she said correlation. Without causation, we cannot reject the social construction hypotheses because we could have not controlled for enough socioenvironmental variables.
This likely also extends past adolescence to explain the rather dramatic differences in passability between androphilic transwomen and gynephilic transwomen
Interesting how she overstates the ‘passability’ difference.
Being gender atypical in brain organization, it would naturally lead to later androphilia, gender atypical motor skills (feminine walk and hand gestures), and gender atypical vocal production (feminine or “gay lisp”).
Unfortunately, brain organization theory doesn’t have enough evidence to support it, especially given the predominance of the theory in contemporary neuroscience research. Rebecca Jordan-Young’s Brain Storm is a great read on this topic.
One would, at first glance, believe that those who hold the strong social construction hypothesis as true would then have no qualms about accepting gender atypical children and adults without reservation as breaking stereotypes.
Many do. For example, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Monique Wittig, Gloria Steinem are all examples of radical feminists who are in favor of trans people’s existence.
But, as we can easily discern, they often do not, as demonstrated by the minority movement within the gay and lesbian (mostly lesbian) communities of being “gender critical”
Overwhelmingly, adherents to gender critical ideology are women and most theorists are (or at the very least profess to be) radical feminists (the followers are somewhat different).
They philosophically approve of people being gender atypical… but only to a very specified point, accepting the gender normative roles that were established during the early Gay Liberation Movement.
I spend quite a bit of time reading and contesting gender critical ideology, so I like to think that I’m “educated” on it. I can definitely say that radical feminists and gender critical feminists believe themselves to be against gender roles. Their issue with trans people is that they:
- Believe that gender nonconforming people are erased by ‘trans ideology’. This is because they so often see female-attracted trans men transitioning (or very often themselves) who were previously butch lesbians, and male-attracted trans women that used to be feminine gay men. From their point of view, transitioning and claiming oneself to be a man/woman erases GNC individuals and turns them into gender-conforming individuals. A butch lesbian is GNC, a masculine man is not. A feminine gay man is GNC, a feminine woman is not.
- Believe gender roles are reified by ‘trans ideology’. While I do have gigantic issues with certain trends within some trans subcultures and communities, they by and large misrepresent the trans community to conclude that trans people reinforce gender roles. From their POV, telling feminine men that they must be women means that femininity in men is unacceptable and treated with transition. On the /r/GenderCritical sidebar (right side), there is a diagram that helps elucidate their actual beliefs.
By erasing the lived experiences of trans people and ignoring those important things called gender dysphoria and freedom, they construct their narrative that ‘trans ideology’ reifies gender roles. Now I do agree that ‘gender critical’ feminists tend to uphold and reinforce gender roles, it’s for quite different reasons than their lack of support for transition (which has more to do with a fundamental reification of the beauty of ‘original bodies’ and narratives about mutilation). When discussing and analyzing gay men and trans people, they tend to uphold the exact stereotypes they profess to oppose.
The moment that an individual steps past that point, there will be those who will denounce them as hewing to the very stereotypes that they break, but in the opposite gendered sense, denying that underlying sexually dimorphic behavior as valid.
They are (usually, but it varies based on the topic: they are often very opposed to drag queens) completely fine with feminine men, in fact that’s exactly what they wish trans women to live as. The unnecessary mutilation of their bodies is what they oppose (but as we all know, transition is neither unnecessary or mutilation).