FB: On automatic gender identification

Let us assume for the moment that transgender and intersex people don’t exist. Let us assume that every single human has either XX or XY chromosomes and genitals to match. This is not true, but let us assume it is.

Even under this assumption, recognize that our brains are culturally programmed to identify within seconds of seeing someone what their genitals are. The person at the end of the aisle in the store that you’re never going to interact with again? We need to know their genitals. A photo in a book of a crowd scene? We’ll sort through their genitals.

Not explicitly, of course: It’s code. “Man… woman… woman… man… man…”. But that’s shorthand based on our assessment of how well a person matches our stereotypes of people with certain reproductive organs.

It is so automatic that most of us do this without even being aware of it. We came up with cultural dress codes to help us out: Men can have these hair styles and clothing options; women can have those hair styles and clothing options. We even coded which side the buttons are, and clothing historians have denied the claim that this was because women had other people dressing them: The pattern became solidified less than 200 years ago, well after the height of rich women having handmaidens to dress them. https://maggiemayfashions.com/use-of-buttons-on-historical-womens-dresses/

Why are we so obsessed?

Certainly there’s an evolutionary need to know who proper breeding partners are, but even accepting that it’s not weird to evaluate people on their fitness for mating, we do this even with people outside the band of appropriate ages. Indeed, we arguably do this MORE with children. Why in any healthy society would we need to know the genitals of a Kindergartner?

And even with potential breeding partners, there’s an irony: We went to great lengths as a culture to completely cover up the genitals and even the breasts, to the point that breast-feeding in public was made taboo, and then went to even greater lengths to come up with cultural rules to make automatic genital identification easier.

Additionally, there’s also a circular safety loop: We raise presumed boys to behave in a way that encourages promiscuity and minimizes culpability, making boys and men less safe to be around, especially for girls and women. We then raise presumed girls to behave in a way that protects them from the risk of rape and sexual assault.

Since we have a whole system in our brain for threat assessment, and because of “boys will be boys” and us putting rapists in positions of power, it definitely makes sense.

But if we dismantled the system and held boys and men truly accountable (especially yt men), we would have less need for the automatic genital assessment AND the world would be a better, less threatening place. (Mass shootings would also go down dramatically.)

Instead, with the overturning of Roe, people who can impregnate are an even GREATER threat to people who can become pregnant.

This instant bucketing, I believe, is a major threat, if not THE major threat of visible transgender and intersex people: We point out the bizarreness of this automatic genital identification process. We insist people reprogram a process that many people have never examined before and many people don’t WANT to examine.

We are the messengers. The message is: Having an automatic system for identifying the genitals of every stranger, regardless of age, is, um, honestly a little weird.

It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s a cultural system that gets programmed into us from birth. But how much does that system serve a valid purpose, and how much is it getting in the way of cultural growth?

When Anderson Cooper asked Lady Gaga about the rumor that she has a “male appendage”, she responded, “Maybe I do, would it be so terrible?” https://jezebel.com/lady-gaga-gives-perfect-answer-as-to-whether-she-has-a-1848870366

So… yes, it’s complicated, but attacking transgender people for revealing the nature of this is shooting the messenger. If it makes you awkward to think about how often you think about the genitals of strangers, that’s not my fault.

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