Gender, Choice, and Immutability

A fascinating conversation between two queer journalists.

@Stormy Dragon‘s message on the open forum this morning has prodded me to get to a post I’ve been meaning to write a while now based on a recent episode of the Ezra Klein Show titled “We Need Better Narratives About Gender.” (Transcript here)

Ezra was out on book leave and the show was hosted by NYT international reporter Lydia Polgreen, who describes herself as “queer,” and features a discussion with New Yorker staff writer Masha Gessen, who “identifies as trans and nonbinary.”

It was almost certainly the most thoughtful discussion of the current cultural zeitgeist around LGBTQ issues I’ve heard. Partly, that’s a function of my having thought about these issues for long enough to be receptive to their thinking. Mostly, though, it’s the fact of two middle-aged professionals having a candid conversation about their own experiences with enough perspective to be acutely aware of how public reception of these issues has evolved in recent decades.

I think it’s fair to say that they approach the topic from a cosmopolitan and center-left perspective.

I will be selective in my excerpts, highlighting the points I found most enlightening. But the length of even that will likely explain why it’s taken me two-three weeks to circle back to the discussion.

Lydia Polgreen: Why are we talking about gender right now? Why is gender the thing that has — I don’t know — seized the conservative imagination? Why is this assault on gender-nonconforming people, trans people, queer people happening in the world right now? What’s your theory?

Masha Gessen: So my theory is that autocrats and aspiring autocrats need an effective way of communicating a very simple idea, which is I can take you back to an imaginary past. And in this particular case, they’re saying, I can take you back to an imaginary past where women were women, and men were men, and families were families, and life was predictable. And you felt comfortable, and you didn’t have to accept things that made you uncomfortable and made the future seem unpredictable.

And importantly, you didn’t have to fear that there will be such a chasm between you and your child that you will not understand each other. And all of that, that whole big promise of past-oriented politics can be communicated with this very simple strategy of attacking trans people, in particular, but then all of what they call gender ideology and L.G.B.T. rights.

While I’d reject the characterization that traditionalists on these issues are necessarily autocrats (remember, Barack Obama opposed same-sex marriage until Joe Biden shamed him into changing positions in 2012), I think the rest of that’s right. Further, as the conversation evolves, it turns out that both Polgreen and Gessen are actually quite sympathetic to the parents and others struggling to come to terms with these issues.

Masha Gessen: I mean, let’s be honest about it. It’s not just that we’ve seen progress in our lifetimes. It’s that there has been such incredibly rapid change. Just in the last — I don’t know — five, seven years on trans issues, I mean, it’s been head spinning. And if it’s been head spinning for me, then I can only imagine how head spinning it has been for people who didn’t even know such a thing existed as trans people. And suddenly, they feel — and they really do feel that all around them.

Lydia Polgreen: Yeah, change is hard. It’s interesting because I’ve been working on an essay about regret and about thinking about trans kids and what it is that we’re saying when we worry about regret. And one of the things that’s sort of come up in the process of reporting that is just really thinking about the different tracks that — I don’t want to say anti-trans thought. But there is sort of an element of anti-trans thought that comes out in — that is not actually the kind of totalitarian, like we’re going to — we don’t believe that gender transition exists.

We’re all pretty familiar with that sort of attack on transgender people. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the sort of softer side, of the group that doesn’t even think of itself as being anti-trans. And I think that particularly among, you know, I think the kind of people that you and I probably know and are in our social circles, there’s a lot of discomfort, right? And you just referred to this, that just in our lifetimes, there’s been a lot of change and a lot of discomfort. And I think that that discomfort shows up less in the form of let’s ban all care and more in the form of, well, geez, I’d really hate for a child to make a choice that they might regret.

And you end up with a kind of perspective on transition that is basically, yes, there’s this small clearly defined group of people who are transgender. We can very closely look at them and decide who’s who, and sort them into the group, and make sure only the right ones who really truly are, are the ones who transition. And to borrow a phrase, transition should be safe, legal and rare.

And talk to me a little bit about that side of the conversation, because I think we spend a lot of time talking about the more authoritarian side of it and the Ron DeSantises of the world. I spent a lot of time worrying about the other side of it.

Masha Gessen: I’d like to talk to you a lot about it, not a little.

Lydia Polgreen: Great.

Masha Gessen: Because I think there are so many things to talk about. And maybe I would start — since I’m talking to you, I would start with how it’s largely — this framing is largely our fault. And by us, I mean queer people. And I think it goes back to this idea of choicelessness that we sort of made the main argument of the L.G.B.T. — well, the gay and lesbian rights movement or, really, the gay rights movement back in the early ‘70s.

It was probably pragmatically brilliant because it was the shortest way to getting homosexuality removed from the diagnostic manual, to get both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association to accept that homosexuality wasn’t a pathology. And it was a way to argue for civil rights.

It wasn’t the only possible way to argue for civil rights. Nobody is born into a religion. Well, people are born into religions. But nobody argues that it’s an immutable characteristic. Right?

Lydia Polgreen: No. But it has the advantage of actually being written into the United States Constitution. But so it’s a rare — I’m just saying it’s a very rare outlier to what you’re saying, which is that this kind of rights-based discourse requires you to adopt a kind of immutability argument.

Masha Gessen: It’s certainly the easiest way to make the argument. But I have an issue actually with the rights-based discourse in the first place. I would really much rather live inside a liberatory discourse than a rights-based discourse. That’s what I thought I was signing up for.

Now, Gessen isn’t the first queer person that I’ve heard make this argument but their later explication of this is the most nuanced I’ve seen. I have certainly, for example, heard of people, in defiance of the “born this way” convention that has predominated this discourse for half a century, say that, no, they did in fact make “a lifestyle choice” (to use the phraseology of the anti-gay right from years past) to be lesbian. Gessen argues this is true of many trans people as well.

Incidentally, it also clarifies the “identifies as trans and nonbinary” bit from the intro. My immediate reaction was that this was a contradiction in terms. Being “trans” means having a gender identity in conflict with the biological body one was born into. Being “nonbinary” means identifying as neither a man nor a woman.

Skipping just a bit ahead:

Masha Gessen: I think we, the L.G.B.T. rights movement, by choosing that strategy, fundamentally changed people’s lives for the better for millions of people. I mean, the gains in a single lifetime have been staggering.

But we also set a trap for ourselves, which I think we’re seeing now with trans issues. And that’s the immutability trap. We’re so used to arguing, we don’t really know how to argue anything else — that you’re born in the wrong body, that — and that is — I don’t mean to say that that is not true for some people. For some people, it is absolutely true. But it’s entirely possible that those are the people who fall into the safe, legal and rare category.

And there’s an entire spectrum of people who transition for other reasons, for a combination of reasons, who at some point, at least, experience it as a choice. And we don’t know how to see our way to that. That creates a lot of difficulties because it’s very difficult, for example, to argue that a nonbinary person was born in the wrong body, because how do you even do that?

Lydia Polgreen: Yeah. Yeah, because the body that you’re born into is just the body that you’re born into. But the identity piece of it, I think, is where it becomes sort of messy and confusing to people, right? So there is this notion that I see undergirding the conversations that I have with even, frankly, gay and lesbian parents whose children come to them and say, I’m nonbinary or I’m trans. It really freaks them out.

And of course, I think your child being different from you is a very, very scary experience. I’m personally not a parent, but you are. And I think I have many, many friends who are parents. It is sort of terrifying. And yet we have an ability to metabolize regret. We have an ability to tolerate and understand that children will make decisions that they regret.

So for example, I gave up swimming when I was a child. I was a very good swimmer. I could have been a varsity athlete. I can imagine a version of my life unfolding in which I did something very different. And in some ways, I regret not following that path. But that’s life. I think most people would say, well, that’s very different from something as fundamental to your identity as changing your gender. I guess I wonder if it is.

Masha Gessen: Well, that’s exactly the thing. So if the immutability trap is the trap we set for ourselves, I think the regret trap is a trap we didn’t set for ourselves, but we fell right into it. I think the regret trap was definitely set by people who are opposed to, nervous about, scared of seeing more and more trans people, which is a statistical fact — and seeing people transition younger.

And I think it is easy to explain by saying that 10 years ago, a 14-year-old didn’t have the option, didn’t have the imaginary to be able to ask their parents for help and transition. And now they do.

But another way, of course, of looking at it from the opposite side is, it’s social contagion, and children are making decisions, irreversible decisions, that they’re going to regret.

And we, proponents of trans rights, tend to respond to it by saying, but very few people are going to regret it, which is also a statistical fact. And that’s how we fall right into the trap. What I think we should be saying is, possibly. So what? Like, what exactly are they going to regret? And what other things are they going to regret?

The two comparisons that I usually go to — and maybe you can think of better ones — but teenagers sign up for the military. That’s a huge life decision. I’m not really sure that 17-year-olds are equipped to make that decision. It’s binding. It really shapes people’s lives for at least a decade or so. And I think people are likely to regret it. And we think that they’re qualified to do it. In fact, we create all sorts of systems to facilitate their making this decision.

Another, of course, is medical interventions, which is something that — a decision that parents often make for children or children make together with their parents — going on antidepressants. Not dissimilar from transitioning if you think about transitioning as a way to be in the world in a way that is more comfortable, makes it easier for you to cope.

And that gets us into all sorts of other conversations. Let me know if I’m going too fast with these. But one of the objections that we hear from clinicians — and it’s their job to raise these objections — is what if there’s something else going on? What if there’s depression? What if there’s autism?

And again, I think the go-to answer is usually, that’s rare. We can tell genuine transness from spectrum — autism spectrum disorder, which, A, I don’t believe and, B, look, it is probably easier to be a boy on the spectrum than a girl on the spectrum. Like, not a bad choice. Go for it. Your life will be easier if you feel like that’s something that’s an option that works for you.

And I can imagine listeners fainting at this because, what am I saying? Am I saying it’s a choice? For some people, it is. It’s a choice about being in the world.

And that gets us back to what parents and allies of parents are so terrified that their children will regret — cutting off their breasts, preventing puberty. That comes from our understanding of just how essential these body parts are to who we are. But that’s just how we construct gender.


Lydia Polgreen: So in 2020, fewer than 1 percent of teens in the United States received cosmetic procedures [of all sorts, not just those related to transition], according to a report that I found, that was published by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. And there were some other numbers in this report about cosmetic procedures more generally that I found fascinating.

So first of all, 92 percent of all cosmetic procedures are done on women. And rhinoplasty is the most popular surgical procedure. And you might say, what does that have to do with gender? Well, I mean, the ideas that we have about female attractiveness are, of course, very much bound up in gender.

There are also thousands of breast augmentation and reduction surgeries for girls and, very, very interestingly, 2,800 surgeries performed on boys to remove excess breast tissue. So I mean, that obviously is very much bound up in affirming the gender of these kids.

And when you move into cosmetic surgeries for adults, there’s been this huge explosion in popularity of a surgery to lengthen one’s legs. And it’s really growing among men. It’s quite invasive. And it adds a few inches of height. But again, this is a gendered expectation that men in our culture are going to be of a certain stature. And this is even more squeamish making, but there’s been a huge explosion in the popularity of penile enlargement in adults.

But I guess, this all sort of gets to my broader sense that we’re all feeling a little bit uncomfortable about our bodies and the way that we show our gender in the world. And this, to me, like, really speaks to something that goes far beyond the experience of queer people, of trans people, of gender-nonconforming people and to the kind of human condition of having to show up in the world with a gendered body.

Masha Gessen: And we do ourselves no favors when we pretend that it’s not messy and complicated, when we pretend that people under the age of 18 have no ability to make decisions and people over the age of 18 have all the ability to make decisions.

The discussion about what choices we allow young folks to make—including other medical procedures–is interesting, as is the overlapping one with regret. It doesn’t fully persuade me but that’s because I do indeed view gender identity as an essentialist one, a point Gessen, in particular, hits multiple times throughout the conversation.

The most amusing:

Masha Gessen: Because I’m sure people are listening to you and thinking, well, yeah, OK, we’ve debunked the biological component of race. But obviously, there is a biological component to gender. And yes, I mean, there’s also biological component to race in the sense that you can see it. But you’re not seeing categories. Categories is what we make up.


If you’re not paying attention, you may not notice that your — if you get a ticket for improperly recycling, they will actually attempt to indicate your gender on it, in the city.


But I was like, really? Gender? I mean, it’s not just your passport, your driver’s license, all your health care records, but things like your recycling tickets, and all sorts of things that — there’s absolutely no reason why my badge for entering The New Yorker offices at One World Trade Center should indicate my gender.


But it does.

Less amusingly:

Masha Gessen: I’ve always felt and, after a certain point, was able to put words to it, that gender is something that happens between me and other people. It doesn’t actually happen inside my body. It’s what people see, what I want them to see, what I feel when they see one thing and not the other thing.

All of that is my gender. And so my gender has changed over my 56 years. But it also changes — I mean, I’ll tell you a ridiculous and somewhat humiliating story.

So I guess this was two years ago. I was at a conference in Kyiv. And you know, I’ve never changed my name. So my name to a Russian speaker or any Slavic language speaker is undoubtedly completely 100 percent Russian. And I’m known to — I was known in this conference. So I wasn’t going to make anything of it. I just knew I was going to be presenting as female to all the people at this conference, who knew who I was.

And that was fine, except when I had to pee because at this conference venue they had people minding the door, the entrances to the bathrooms. So there I was. And I tried to go into the ladies room, because I was female, at this conference. And this lady immediately blocks my way [LAUGHS] because obviously I looked the way I look — like, what — except to people who are primed to see me as a woman.

So I’m standing there thinking, what am I going to do? Because I can’t go into the men’s room because they all know me. And if they know me, then they know me as female. But a person who doesn’t know me clearly knows me as male. And so that’s how gender happens. I mean, I finally told her that I really knew what I was doing.

And I belong there. But that’s how gender operates. And it’s also a funny comment on the impossibility of presenting as male one minute and female the next. But I was actually like doing it in real time.

Lydia Polgreen: Yeah. We haven’t talked about your own transition and how you identify. But I can tell people who are not, like me, sitting across from you, that you have a masculine presentation, what would be received as a masculine presentation. I think I also have a fairly masculine presentation and have had very — not exactly that experience but lots of bathroom confusion.

But as you were talking, I was thinking about this great quote that I got for this piece that I’m working on from a historian named Jules Gill-Peterson. And she said this wonderful thing to me that — was we were talking about this issue of where gender comes from. And might it actually be a problem for everyone as opposed to a problem just for people who have gender? It used to be that people who had gender were just women. And then it was now it’s transgender and queer people.

But she said this wonderful thing. She said it might be comforting and reassuring to imagine that trans people are fundamentally different. But I think the real startling possibility is that they are not and that we all depend on the generosity of strangers to give us our gender every single day.


Masha Gessen: I think that dismissing out of hand the argument that people raised as boys have a completely different social experience, have a completely different experience of being in the world than people raised as girls — not all girls, and not all boys, and all of that. But by and large, we’re talking about different social experiences. And we have opportunities to hash that out.

If we assume that we’re allies and if we assume that we’re in a common struggle for control over our own bodies, then we can discuss the ways in which we’re different. But I think one side saying, you’re not me and I’m not talking to you, and the other side saying, I am and you, and you have to accept me as you, not terribly constructive, even — and I’m not saying that one side is not more wrong than the other. One side is more wrong than the other. But they’re both a little bit wrong.

Lydia Polgreen: Yeah. No, that’s right. And I think in conversations with friends of mine, both friends who have children who are assigned female at birth and who’ve either come out as nonbinary or transitioned, there is this kind of feeling that, particularly for mothers, that my child is rejecting womanhood, that they’re rejecting femininity.

And I think that that’s painful, right? I think that that’s something — I think it’s probably true across genders. But I think particularly for a certain kind of feminist woman who’s excited to raise a feminist daughter, that person who you thought of as a daughter telling you, no, that’s not who I am, I think is painful.

And it’s a thing that — I agree with you — it doesn’t help anybody to tell that person, no, you should just be happy about it and you should have no feelings.

There are also interesting sidebars about race (Polgreen’s mother is Ethiopian and Black, her father a white Wisconsinite) and nationality (Gessen is of Russian stock and has spent decades working there as an adult) that are interesting but this post is already absurdly long.

I don’t have much to add in terms of commentary. These are just incredibly complex issues that engender disagreement even within LGBTQ circles.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Modulo Myself says:

    The reason these discussions are complex is due to the fact that straight people don’t treat straightness as a lifestyle choice. I mean, go ahead and suggest to the Jim Bobs and Jethros of the world that being into women is a lifestyle choice and see what happens. Asking questions about desire is not complicated. It’s a natural thing people should be doing. Dealing with people who have been trained never to ask those questions is complicated if you are fighting for equality because it’s the compulsion to search amidst desire which is the actual deviancy for many if not most people.

  2. drj says:

    These are just incredibly complex issues


    But does that even matter? It’s not like trans or non-binary people need (or should have) my approval or anything like that.

    Isn’t acceptance of someone else’s personal autonomy sufficient? “Land of the free,” etc.?

    In other words, let everyone have the same right of expression as the heterosexual cisgenders already have (the cishets are not exactly hiding either their gender or sexuality).

    @Stormy: Congrats on being out, by the way.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Now, Gessen isn’t the first queer person that I’ve heard make this argument but their later explication of this is the most nuanced I’ve seen. I have certainly, for example, heard of people, in defiance of the “born this way” convention that has predominated this discourse for half a century, say that, no, they did in fact make “a lifestyle choice” (to use the phraseology of the anti-gay right from years past) to be lesbian. Gessen argues this is true of many trans people as well.

    Back in the day, there was a contentious bit of language debate between use of the terms “sexual preference” and “sexual orientation”, with the former used to suggest that being gay was “just a lifestyle choice,” and then everyone more or less shifted to “orientation”

    At the time, as a bi/pan/whatever I thought it was odd since I really do have a choice, unlike the vast majority of people who are either just straight or gay/lesbian.

    And we’ve always had people who pretend to be straight, and live straight lives, because that’s what society expected of them, but that might be more of a preference for a sexual preference, than a sexual preference itself. (When what you want doesn’t match what you want to want, life goes to shit)

    You have some mostly immutable state (there are gender fluid and sexually fluid people out there, but that fluidity is their mostly immutable state), and then you have to make decisions on how to live with that state. For some people, that should be a very trivial decision (if you like dick and only dick, it should be straightforward to pursue dick, excepting social expectations), and for others, it is more complicated because some choices exclude other valid choices.

    And I think that is what Gessen is getting at here.

    (My bi/pan/whatever orientation is moderately fluid, and wanders up and down the Kinsey scale a bit, so even the “anything goes” isn’t always as simple as “anything goes” — there’s a bit of “and how do we live with that?” choice)

    Incidentally, it also clarifies the “identifies as trans and nonbinary” bit from the intro. My immediate reaction was that this was a contradiction in terms. Being “trans” means having a gender identity in conflict with the biological body one was born into. Being “nonbinary” means identifying as neither a man nor a woman.

    As one of the olds, I kind of hate the “identifies as” language. It’s wishy washy*.

    But there are two points worth pointing:

    – nonbinary fits within trans, as the gender doesn’t match the birth gender (excluding intersex people for simplicity).

    – identities are lived experiences that you kind of collect, and they can be in apparent conflict. There are “trans male lesbians,” for instance, who are people who lived as lesbians for years and absorbed that identity before realizing that they were men. I want everything categorized correctly, and I don’t think they are categorized correctly and it bothers me on a purely logical level, but it’s what some people think communicates their lived experiences best. (For instance, it very clearly communicates that they do not believe in formal, mathematical proofs of labels based on common dictionary definitions and they either do it deliberately to bother me, or don’t think about me at all)

    Fun, sort of related fact: the definition we all got about species is that two populations are separate species if they cannot breed and produce viable offspring. This turns out to be a gross simplification and about 20% of ocean fish can interbreed, they just don’t. Chimpanzees and bonobos are similar, interbreeding in captivity but not in the wild (there’s a river in the way). And Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals famously interbred so we all have some Neanderthal DNA. The point is we often use categories that are a lot fuzzier than we think as they serve as a decent model.

    Newtonian physics vs quantum mechanics.

    *: also in wishy-washy, my bi/pan/whatever label. I could go with greater precision, but I’m not sure it would improve the accuracy.

  4. Gustopher says:

    Our friend Dr. Joyner bolded this passage:

    But another way, of course, of looking at it from the opposite side is, it’s social contagion, and children are making decisions, irreversible decisions

    Similar to Black folks voting. Or women working in traditionally male fields. Definitely a social contagion.

    Social contagion isn’t bad. It just has a bad name.

    There’s no doubt that there are a lot more options for people, including kids, in the 2020s than in the 1820s. (Although, if you listen to the folk songs about female sailors… maybe not)

    And that gets us back to what parents and allies of parents are so terrified that their children will regret — cutting off their breasts, preventing puberty.

    Going through puberty has more irreversible changes than using puberty blockers to delay it.

    I think a lot of kids are pretty screwed up, as that is the nature of being a kid, and think it makes a lot of sense to encourage X amount of time on puberty blockers for anyone questioning gender before moving on to HRT or surgery. But this may be more my lack of understanding speaking than anything (which is why I changed “required” to “encouraged” as I was writing)

    That comes from our understanding of just how essential these body parts are to who we are. But that’s just how we construct gender.

    The discussion of nose jobs before that was fascinating. It really makes me wonder how much of the gender surgery due to social pressure to conform to one body type or another, and how much would be needed if we lived in a different society.

    That said, it’s far easier to change your own body than society, and it ain’t my decision to make for other people anyway.

    Also, it’s weird that at some point the right wing discovered trans men exist and changed so much language away from “you might unknowingly bang a dude” to “protect your daughters.” I’m positive that was a very deliberate choice by someone to promote that.

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    The problem is that as long as cis people maintain a veto over our access to medical care, trans people can’t afford any strategy other than “whatever gets me the most care as fast as possible”.

    We simply can’t afford to be nuanced when that nuance gets immediately weaponized as another reason for forcing us to stay in our AGAB.

    As I mentioned in the forum, up until 2008 or so, you couldn’t transition unless you intended a full binary transition and were going to be heterosexual afterwards. If you were anything else, you had to lie your ass off to get care, and a lot of trans people did so without a second thought.

  6. Beth says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    As I mentioned in the forum, up until 2008 or so, you couldn’t transition unless you intended a full binary transition and were going to be heterosexual afterwards.

    I’m going to come back to this whole thing later, but I wanted to piggy back off this quickly. Not only did you have intend a full binary transition, you had to perform that prior to getting any medical care. In other words, most drs required you to “live” in your gender for an arbitrary period of time and if you couldn’t do that, or did it improperly, you would be punished and denied care.

    What this means for me is that even though transition has been lifesaving for me, and I am a SUPER binary trans person, I would have never gotten care. I couldn’t “live” in my gender until I had been on hormones for over a year and had significantly destroyed my facial hair. I would have also been forced into a divorce.

  7. Stormy Dragon says:


    This is going to sound super shallow, but the legit main reason I call myself bi and not pan is that pan has the most god awful color scheme for their pride flag that I’ve ever seen and I refuse to be associated with something that poorly designed. It’s like “hi, my sexual orientation is ‘inkjet printer that’s testing whether it needs new color cartridges'”.

  8. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Dr j, thanks for bringing this one up. I was completely unaware of this interview, but I appreciate the detail you went into, and your openness in discussing your thought processes.

    Beth and Stormy (& any I’ve skipped), I haven’t lived your lives, but I have at least an inkling of the forced lives * that have driven you, and others, over the years. Leaving my snarky hat in the house, I have tremendous respect for the people you are. And I appreciate that this is a space where we’re safe to be who we are. Be that cracker, Luddite, Beth or any other non troll

    *Not anywhere near the same, but for the record, I’ve been living as a closeted ex-con for over 40 years. Coming out of that closet, even at this late date, would have permanent and catastrophic destructive effect in my life. Hang in there both of you!

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Bwa haha hahahaha hahahahahaha. Thanks!

  9. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The definitions of bisexual and pansexual are so messed up and overlapping and frequently confused* that choosing based on flag colors is the only rational choice.

    I like the pan flag better, because I am an inkjet printer test page.

    Also, the bi flag just looks a little seedy. All the colors are off, but not in a good way. It’s a really ugly purple-lavender, and the differing stripe widths. Ick.

    It really depends on what I am wearing and what will go better.

    *: for those who don’t know, “bisexual” was coined assuming a gender binary, and then the meaning was expanded to be “attraction to more than one gender” despite the obvious implications of the word. The acronym LGBT was already popular and no one was messing with that. It’s an umbrella term that includes pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual, and a billion others — except a large chunk of the community assumes it means attraction to men and women and that’s it because that’s obviously what it should mean. It’s a mess.

    And however ugly someone thinks the bi or pan flag is, the polysexual (attraction to more than one, but specifically not all genders) flag is worse.

    It’s all a taxonomical nightmare, with some really ugly flags tossed in.

  10. Skookum says:

    Thanks to all for sharing.

    This sounds trite, but from my interactions with folk in red America, the biggest fear of folks about the societal changes regarding gender are (1) what if my kid isn’t straight, and (2) the use of pronouns.

    I’ve mentioned before hearing references those who aren’t straight as “the letter people.” And, now, in Oregon schools are required to use the pronouns a student prefers, even if it changes on a daily basis.

    I fully support a person feeling comfortable in their own skin and gender, but I also think that there needs to be an understanding that, in a way, people are being asked to speak a new dialect.

    From personal experience, I know that there is a big difference in my ability to learn a new language at the age of 20 and the age of approaching 70.

    Dr. Joyner’s post was about understanding the nuances of gender identity and the difficulty of being different than the dominant culture. I didn’t mean to hijack it to discuss an adjacent issue, but I feel there may be biological limits to consider when trying to usher society through changes needed to reach the promised land.

  11. Kazzy says:

    My son is 10 and very small for his age. He’s also uber-athletic. Various tests have all shown him to be typically developing otherwise with no underlying genetic or hormonal abnormalities. He’s just… small. And yet, we have had the option for years now to put him on growth hormone for cosmetic reasons. The same hormones that might be administered to trans kids. But the parents of trans kids and those trans kids themselves are treated like monsters for possibly using a safe and effective medicine under a doctor’s care that most folks wouldn’t really bat an eyelash at were I to use for my son.

    Go figure.

  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    I have certainly, for example, heard of people, in defiance of the “born this way” convention that has predominated this discourse for half a century, say that, no, they did in fact make “a lifestyle choice” (to use the phraseology of the anti-gay right from years past) to be lesbian. Gessen argues this is true of many trans people as well.

    As far as I can tell, this “lifestyle-choice” happens quite a bit more with XX’s than with XY’s. (There are other, very rare categories. I know nothing about them.)

    But with Gessen’s assertion that this happens with trans people – I’m not so sure. The word “many” does a lot of work here, and is a billowing cloud of ambiguity.

    I mean, every trans person makes a choice to transition. All of the trans people I know about made that choice because they felt so uncomfortable in their own bodies. I’m not sure how that could even be a thing, but it appears to be, and I have at least have a theory about how it could be a thing.

    Many are still invested in a precept of “there’s no such thing as a male brain or female brain” because women have been denied access to certain activities and jobs on the basis of precepts like “women don’t have math brain cells”. (I heard a senior math prof say that once). So people can be very invested in the whole “the mind is a blank slate”. Biology is rarely so easily categorized.

    At the same time, I can accept the fact that I don’t know everyone and everything, and some people transition for reasons that are different than the ones I know. I am sure of it, in fact. Sometimes it didn’t work out well, either.

    And that’s the regret conversation.

    I am curious about something: I make a choice to do certain activities – cross stitch for instance – that are traditionally female. I sometimes wear colors that aren’t “male” colors. I sometimes have manners that aren’t “male” manners. I have a fairly high tenor. I have been mistaken on the telephone multiple times for female. I have crossed dressed a couple of times for costume parties (once as the Wicked Witch of the West!). I don’t have any sense that I am really a woman, or even non-binary. I am a man (and may the heavens rain fire on anyone who tries to tell me to “be a man”. Fuck them.)

    Now to be sure, when someone starts to ask why I’m doing cross stitch in the waiting room, I will smile and show them the (quite masculine) pattern I’m making and tell them I like the colors and textures and find it quite soothing. I will make eye contact when I do this. The gentleman in question said, “I guess it’s not that different from tying flies, like I do”

    This is the “feeling good enough to be polite” Jay version of “fuck you and your gender policing”. It’s quite effective.

    But the point is, would Gessen count me in some category of “trans” person? I don’t know.