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Questions of “why we are the way we are” are really big for me right now.
I feel that if I’m ever to come out to friends and family properly then I need to be able to explain myself. It is going to help to explain trans people in general and how I know I’m one of them.
So I spent a few weeks reflecting, reading round and comparing my experiences to others. And I think I’ve finally got it, and that other trans people here might like my explanations too.
So here goes. This will be long, and I’ll break it into parts. Part 1 is the psychology of gender, where the concepts of masculinity and femininity come from at all, and why they often line up with biological sex but not all the time.
I’ll start with something called the “Bem Sex Role Inventory” though it is much more about gender roles. It is a test created by Sandra Bem in the 70s for psychological masculinity and feminity. Despite the usual caveats and criticisms about cultural bias and stereotyping, it seems to be holding up reasonably well (short-form better than long-form).
Each of masculinity and femininity is characterised as a set of “strengths” and it is of course possible to have both sets of strengths.
Around half of men tested come out as “masculine” , around half of women as “feminine” and most of the rest are “androgynous” (strong in both) or “undifferentiated” (strong in neither). You might like to take it yourself. I came out as “feminine” which is not really surprising.
More interesting there was a variant which looked at behaviours and preferences: things you do or enjoy doing
I came out as feminine on that too, but also noticed a bunch of behaviours that I hadn’t even considered doing, but when I reflected on them thought I might well enjoy (or that I was doing something very similar).
Here are my thoughts. Brains get wired up before birth to respond positively or negatively to various “stimuli”, some of which are closely associated with masculine or feminine behaviour. Positive responses lead to enjoyment and learned behaviours to recreate those stimuli: this then results in developing strengths in those areas (no baby is going to be strong in any of them at birth). Imagined stimuli provoking positive responses lead to enjoyable fantasies.
This is all mediated by upbringing : children may be required to do things they don’t enjoy (still leading to learned behaviours and habits) or prohibited from doing things they do enjoy (which may well block the learned behaviour, but won’t block the fantasy… and the behaviour can still emerge in secret anyway). Or the stimulus may simply be withheld from the child”s environment.
Androgyny is in general rather good because both sorts of strength are needed for successful reproduction and child-rearing, particularly in hostile and competitive ancestral environments (small villages constantly in danger from raids, killing of men and children and rape or seizure of women). But it is difficult to be strong in everything: a good choice of reproductive partner will be strong in the areas where you are weak. So those missing strengths are attractive in a prospective partner or fantasy partner.
<p style=”text-align: left;”>Gender stereotyping arises in competition for mates, or in preparation for that competition. Males want to be attractive to females, females will tend to be attracted to masculine strengths (where they don’t have these themselves) and so males try to develop their masculine strengths to make themselves more attractive. Since no-one has time for everything, males either don’t develop or atrophy their feminine strengths</p>
<p style=”text-align: left;”>Vice versa for females, although probably less so in behavioural femininity. The mating pressure here is much more on looking feminine than acting feminine, though of course looking feminine is strongly correlated with reproductive ability and strength as well (fertility, childbearing, breast feeding) and there will be a strong feedback on learned feminine behaviours which help enhance appearance (cosmetic skills, exercise and diet programmes, clothing selection etc).
This is further reinforced by friendship conformity : females become friends with females (because of shared behaviours, stimuli and easier empathy) and then want to do more of what their friends do. Similarly males friendship-bond with other males and reinforce each other’s masculinity. In both sexes, high strength is high status but only of that sex’s perceived strengths (which are the ones that other members of the sex are trying to strengthen further, often by imitation or requests for tuition). Then there is a further feedback loop in that perceived high status is *also* a very attractive feature in a mate, especially in males trying to attract females.</p>
<p style=”text-align: left;”>Anyway, initial biological differences in wiring and preference get amplified by all this, and wihout countermeasures, society as a whole can become thoroughly sexist.</p>
<p style=”text-align: left;”>This creates our first clue. Some brains in male bodies are going to happen to have dispositions towards mostly “feminine” stimuli and strengths; some brains in female bodies will be disposed towards “masculine” stimuli and strengths. Kids like that are going to have trouble fitting in, and trouble will start early.</p>
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