Articles / Categorization

What We Do Know

Principle One of transgender-ness is “Nobody really knows what’s going on.” I figured that out a long time ago, and it’s still true. I’ve written an article about how hard it is to find out about transgender issues, and the difference between saying “there are people who are like this” (scientifically justifiable), and saying “everyone who’s this way is also that way” (not scientifically justifiable without representative sampling). Maybe some day we’ll find out some Big New Discoveries, and then it won’t be as true. But there are limits to how much we can know about people, so we’ll never completely understand what’s going on, any more than we understand love or ham radio.

But. It’s not that we don’t know anything. We can make a lot of “some” statements, a lot of existential observations. I’ve made some complicated ones in Principles Two through Seven, and even ventured to make a categorical statement (about people in general, not just transgender people) in Principle Eight. Now I’m going to make a bunch of other “some” statements that I think are relatively uncontroversial, within the trans movement and outside it. This is pretty much Trans 101 stuff, that I hope everyone can agree on, even anti-trans bigots (although they might choose different words).

I’m not going to talk about feelings or beliefs here, or sexual activity, or relationships, because those areas are much trickier. I’m also going to try and stay within a reference frame that’s accessible to outsiders, and avoid doing framing tricks like “I was never cross-dressing, because I was always really a woman inside.”

  1. Most people can be unambiguously classified as male or female based on their physical sex characteristics.
  2. Some people cannot be unambiguously classified as male or female, and some people who were thought to be unambiguously one sex are later discovered to have characteristics of the other sex.
  3. People assign each other to genders, sometimes on the basis of sex characteristics, but often on the basis of social cues that signal membership in one gender or another.
  4. Some people cross-dress. By this I mean that some people who are assigned to one gender sometimes intentionally present social cues signaling that they’re a member of another gender. This usually involves clothing, but can also involve other forms of grooming, and modification of voice and body language.
  5. Some people pass, at least some of the time. They were assigned to one gender, but sometimes other people categorize them as a member of a different gender. This may be the intention of the person passing, or not. It may be true for any length of time, from a split second to an entire lifetime.
  6. Some people cross-live. They were assigned to one gender, but they intentionally present the cues of another gender, and are accepted as that gender, to a greater or lesser degree, all the time, for a long time.
  7. Observations 1 through 6 have been recorded throughout history.
  8. Some people modify their bodies, or arrange to have their bodies modified, to have less of the sex characteristics of one gender, and more of the characteristics of a different gender. This has been going on for a long time, but in the past hundred years technology has advanced and now people can achieve a greater resemblance, often with more comfort and less danger, than before.

I think at this point that this is pretty much all that can be said about transgenderism without getting into the problematic areas of feelings, beliefs, sexuality and relationships. If you think there’s something I’ve gotten wrong, or left something out, please feel free to email me or post a comment.

You may notice that I’ve left out things like the stria terminalis; I’ll probably have to address that at some point, but right now I’ll just say it hasn’t been proven.

I’m not completely sure what the point of this is, but I felt it would help me to have as “theory-neutral” a description of transgender phenomena as possible.