What determines a person's gender identity?


I've noticed that when many transgender allies and even some transgender people themselves have their claims investigated that they, in my estimation, can never really answer them too adequately: one hears that one is the gender one is because "I identify as X"; one hears that "I'm this gender because it's what my feelings and or emotions tell me"; one hears that "gender identity has nothing to do with one's biological sex; it has everything to do with one's subjectively known sense of self". For me, these claims are somewhat problematic. Shouldn't there be an objective way whereby once can discover another person's gender identity, without explicitly asking them as to which they identify?

I have to also say that if gender identity is just subjective--- meaning that one is whatever one says one is, or whatever one feels oneself to be --- does that mean that one who doesn't feel human (like people who are otherkins don't) are not human in some way?


Posted 2019-11-24T15:49:15.313

Reputation: 81

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– J D – 2019-11-24T16:10:22.283

If you haven't read WP's article on gender identity. It may help you to get a perspective on to what extent the psychological aspect is objective. Psychology is a science, after all. See this related SE post.

– J D – 2019-11-24T16:14:33.830

The subjective nature of determining gender would also call into question someone unconscious or incapable of making that decision due to an emotional disconnect to any gender. – user6591 – 2019-11-24T22:57:11.670

1Is there an "objective" way to determine one's favorite color or political beliefs without asking them, or watching them reveal it somehow in their non-verbal behavior? Gender identity does not override biological sex, it can still be objectively determined, nor will somebody's feeling like a cat override that they are still biologically human. So no, there shouldn't be an "objective" way to determine subjective choices, nor is it in any way problematic as long as they are publicly communicated and understood. – Conifold – 2019-11-24T23:26:06.207

There are varying opinions on this, but plenty of trans advocates are open to the possibility there are inborn biological differences in the brain between cis and trans people, just like there may be inborn brain differences between straight and gay people. But obviously our understanding of the brain isn't advanced enough to pinpoint all the relevant differences from brain scans, so there's no real alternative to asking people their preferences. And even if there are strong biological influences on gender identity there would be cultural influences too, same as with other personality traits. – Hypnosifl – 2019-11-25T00:23:19.837

A charged question! https://youtu.be/C1roM98Dass

– Rusi-packing-up – 2019-11-25T06:52:19.047

4You know that little dangly bit at the front? The other gender doesn't have this. Shame really, since it's dead handy on picnics. – None – 2020-05-01T12:43:48.080

Graham Priest's , The Definition Of Sexual Harassment , at the author's webpage – None – 2020-05-31T12:00:25.077

2People recommending Memepedia as reading only settles this site as part of what our Middle School teachers told us all along: "Watch out for the internet, kids, it is full of stupidity." Also, regarding this post: Bloody hell, mate... – William – 2020-05-31T18:11:12.157

the first thing you will notice is that the various comments and answers to your post diverge widely because because it is impossible to get people to agree upon a definition of [and distinction between] the concepts of sex (ie as "assigned" at birth on one's birth certificate), gender, gender identity and gender role. Lots of relevant discussion in this related post: https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/39414/is-feminism-necessarily-trans-exclusionary/39449#39449. Also check out Rebecca Tuvel's article in the feminist mag Hppatia, comparing transsexualism and transracialism.

– gonzo – 2020-05-31T21:01:30.720



Identity is always subjective. You are not you except to the extent that you experience you-ness. Societies try to find objective means of guaranteeing identity — they will keep records, issue identity cards, check signatures and fingerprints and DNA — but the fact that your identity card says (e.g.) "John Smith" with a thumbprint that's on file in some computer somewhere does not mean you "John Smith." You are 'John Smith' because you think you are 'John Smith', and all of those external metrics are just there to make sure that your identity is handled consistently by society.

I mean, imagine if you woke up one morning (Twilight Zone style) and found that everyone you encountered knew you as 'Frank Brown'. Your fingerprints are Frank Brown's, your picture is Frank Brown's, your DNA, your job, your friends and family... All of them relate to you as 'Frank Brown' whereas you know yourself as 'John Smith.' Which would you think was your identity? Can you imagine the confusion that would cause for you, being John Smith in a body that society insisted belonged to Frank Brown?

Identity is a matter of how we relate to ourselves and to the world around us. Some people relate to the world as male, some people relate to the world as female, and that subjective relationship does not necessarily align with the physical plumbing that each was born with. Clearly this causes stress and confusion for all parties involved, but trying to impose social identities on people against their will inevitably (and usually tragically) fails.

Ted Wrigley

Posted 2019-11-24T15:49:15.313

Reputation: 9 139

2Dear me, people do not like philosophical thinking on this issue — Hah! – Ted Wrigley – 2019-11-26T19:15:23.303

I too find it humorous... +1 for daring to answer a contentious question like this when others may not. It is certainly an interesting take. – Holiday_Chemistry – 2020-05-01T06:43:55.567

3You say: "Identity is a matter of how we relate to ourselves and to the world around us." But people get to relate back. A relationship is two-way, and so an identity is also a matter of how you are perceived. This seems to be the crucial point that is not being addressed in the issue. If women don't want someone who looks like a man in their bathroom, don't they get a say? – Scott Rowe – 2020-05-01T10:52:49.627

@ScottRowe: Of course they get a say, but as you suggest, it's 'two way': that implies a discussion. Remember, most of segregation was based on the idea that whites did not want someone who 'looks like a black' in their public space, because 'looking like a black' invoked an imposed identity: the white racist stereotype of blacks as inferior, animalistic, and dangerous. Is that the kind of argument you're reaching for? – Ted Wrigley – 2020-05-01T14:13:24.327

@TedWrigley Not all preferences amount to racism. But in the sense that people don't like to feel unsafe, well, trying to please everyone is impossible. Whose needs are more important? I think we should just have individual stall bathrooms in any case. Having individual families is probably harder to achieve. – Scott Rowe – 2020-05-04T22:38:39.977

@ScottRowe: I'm not denying your side of this debate, which is certainly valid. But I think you'd agree that the best solution (if it were possible) would be to eliminate the fear, not enshrine the fear behind institutional and legal structures. – Ted Wrigley – 2020-05-04T23:33:37.953

Perhaps fear stems from our attachment to our identity, a desire to remain in existence, largely unchanged. Neither person in a relationship wants to give up anything. Fear is always subjective, therefore identity is subjective. We can define 'myself' whatever way we please, even with regard to gender. But there is healthy fear, and insanity. – Scott Rowe – 2020-05-07T16:39:16.010

Can you elucidate what you mean by: 'Some people relate to the world as male, some people relate to the world as female." ? That is, what does it mean to "relate to the world" as either male or female, or some[non-binary]thing else? And how does one come to know/opine what/which one is relating to the world as? By reference to [socially constructed?] gender roles? – gonzo – 2020-05-31T21:31:00.717

@Gonzo: I'm not sure how I can explain what you already know. You relate to the world in certain ways that you may or may not be consciously aware of, except when the world delivers something that runs against those expectations or beliefs (or whatever). Let there be a mismatch between how you relate to the world and how the world relates to you, however slight, and you will know it immediately and viscerally. – Ted Wrigley – 2020-05-31T22:16:00.590

You may know that there is a "difference", but how one describes, characterizes that difference, and why, need be explored. for instance, I like to play with barbis rather than gi joes, or I like to sew/knit rather than tune carburators, etc. Problem is that the criteria we use to opine that we "relate" as a woman or man, male or female, lets "the world" off the hook. they should cease their pernicious stereotyping [causing unnecessary confusion], not force us, it's "residents," to tow the line. Have a look here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/39414/…. – gonzo – 2020-05-31T23:28:23.797

@gonzo: I'm personally far less concerned with how one characterizes an experience than with how the interpersonal conflicts those experiences generate are resolved. This is not the kind of issue that will be resolved or absolved by reference to some material 'fact'. – Ted Wrigley – 2020-06-01T00:06:15.297

1I have absolutely no idea of what your comment means. You say that " I'm...less concerned with how one characterizes an experience than with how the interpersonal conflicts those experiences generate are resolved." Huh? The "resolution" of which you speak presupposes/requires [at least] intersubjectively meaningful and relevant conceptual characterization and discourse. Do you simply refuse to eludicte wht you mean by 'Some people relate to the world as male, some people relate to the world as female." What's the diff? – gonzo – 2020-06-01T02:38:07.807

@gonzo: I'm not refusing to do anything, but sometimes a question is such a philosophical tangle it can't be productively answered without further investigation. I assume you know perfectly well what I mean: by which I mean I assume you have a gender identity, and that you relate to the world in terms of that gender identity. If you do not identify with a gender, please let me know and I will make note of it for future conversations. If you do so identify, you cannot be completely unaware of the extent to which it colors your life. Can you? – Ted Wrigley – 2020-06-01T04:18:10.463

@gonzo: I'm not concerned about what your (or anyone's) gender identity is. I'm only concerned by the ways in which perceptions of gender identity confront, conform, or conflict with the perceptions of gender identity of others. But that is something that has to be negotiated between people, not something that can be adjudicated by one side, or the other, or some bloodless material 'fact'. Intersubjective agreement is not always a synonym for or approximation of objective reality. Is that clearer? – Ted Wrigley – 2020-06-01T04:22:20.430

If the question "is such a philosophical tangle it can't be productively answered without further investigation" then don't make glib statements implying that you know something that you in fact presuppose. And this stuff is not as benign as many would have us believe. Have a look at this: theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/… and this ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3634160, and Rebecca Tuvel's In Defense of Transracialism, which appeared in Hypatia a couple of years ago to substantial controversy. – gonzo – 2020-06-01T15:45:05.773

@gonzo: if you have a point to make, make it. Don't ask grumpy, ambiguous questions; don't make vague hand-waves to external links. Say what you mean and mean what you say. I'm not here to read your mind, and I'm surely not here to think for you. If you have this much to say, write your own answer to this question. If you are incapable of writing your own answer, stop pestering me with frivolous, high-toned nonsense. Am I being clear? – Ted Wrigley – 2020-06-01T15:56:09.243

No need to get huffy. If I [thought I] knew the answer to the question, I would answer it. The last paragraph of your answer makes an extremely bold unsupported claim about how one "relates' to the world, and one's "plumbing." I ask you to elucidate the claim and you equivocate. I caution you about making bold claims and send you precisely the type of information that may be helpful in untangling the relevant issues [the "philosophical tangle" you referenced in your comment] and you insult me. Yes, quite clear. – gonzo – 2020-06-01T17:08:50.173

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– Ted Wrigley – 2020-06-01T17:23:45.080


There seems to be a consideration that gender is just a derivative of a set of hormones, to be controlled, manipulated, done and undone hormonally and with surgery, thereby disregarding the underlying truth that gender is determined by the chromosomes, leaving what distils down to personal whim as the decider. It is a separate philosophical question to ask whether it is wrong to disregard a truth.


Posted 2019-11-24T15:49:15.313

Reputation: 321


Gender differences occur on many levels: - Genetically, the chromosomes differ (your genotype) - Physically, you may grow up with the characteristics of the other chromosomal gender (your phenotype) - Neurologically, certain brain structures may differ from the rest of your phenotype. - Psychologically, you may feel an identity which differs from one or more of the foregoing. - Psychologically, you may enjoy putting on the appearance of the opposite phenotype, such as cross-dressing.

Note also that gender-bending is surprisingly common in nature. It very evidently has some positive evolutionary role to play in the survival of a great many species. Biologically, it must be accepted as a necessary part of species behaviour and, therefore, philosophically it needs to be dealt with on that same basis.

Few people without pure heterosexual identity across the board have a full understanding of all such differences which may or may not apply to them personally. Moreover many have learned the hard way not to make overt enquiries. Given such circumstance, one can hardly expect them wax lyrical with perfect clarity.

Thus, philosophically, each one of these gender levels must be taken, well, at its own factual level. But questioning their reality, or even perhaps their morality, is based only on ignorance, not on science or psychology.

Guy Inchbald

Posted 2019-11-24T15:49:15.313

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