Gender is a Spectrum

in #science3 years ago

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Not too long ago I become aware that gender is a spectrum. It's not just male/female. There was a post on Steemit recently of a collage of photos of someone who had both male and female characteristics. The person who posted the picture asked the readers to respond "yay or nay". I was confused as to what we were supposed to be saying yay or nay to and I said so. I commented about how gender is a spectrum and how I'm glad that on Earth we have a wide variety of options, abilities, body types, and ways to express our uniqueness. Someone replied to my comment expressing their confusion as to why I would say that. They said, "There are only two genders, male and female. A rare hermaphrodite has characteristics of both genders. You can identify as whatever you want and dress however you want, but that doesn't change your gender. Even a sex a change won't give a man the ability to have a baby. Also, could you outline all the genders in your gender spectrum for us please :)"
So, instead of giving a long-winded response I thought I'd make a post and link to it on the comment. I am grateful for the comment and the opportunity for discussion.


As requested, here are a few (and there may be many more) labels people use: transgender, cisgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, gender fluid, intersex. And, here are all the gender chromosome variations: XY, XX, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX, XXY, XXXY, XXXXY, XXYY, XYY, and XO. Please someone let me know if I've left one out.
Then, there are various conditions like congenital adrenal hyperplasia in genetic women and complete androgen insensitivity syndrome in genetic men. Conditions like these alter or affect hormones and can lead to the gender developing characteristics of the other gender or not producing characteristics of their chromosomal gender. I hope that makes sense. Find more info about that here.

Okay, now let's talk about brain chemistry in people who are transgender. Here is a quote from Huffpost (blog) article titled Neuroscience Proves What We’ve Known All Along- Gender Exists on a Spectrum that explains the findings of a recent study on brain chemistry: "There is some early evidence, then, that science is catching up with something many of us already assume, and for good reason: Gender identity exists on a scale, rather than in narrow dichotomized groups. In essence, trans people had brain chemistry approaching the middle of the gender spectrum — inherently different from their biological sex and closer to their identified gender. For example, a trans woman has significantly different brain movement than a cis man, despite having the same biological sex. Moreover, trans men and trans women were different from each other, implying that the brain shows a wide range of gender based differences, rather than simply male or female." Here is the link to that Huffpost article.

So, this blog points to this study titledWhite matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study:
Here is a quote from the abstract: "Conclusions: Our results show that the white matter microstructure pattern in untreated FtM transsexuals is closer to the pattern of subjects who share their gender identity (males) than those who share their biological sex (females). Our results provide evidence for an inherent difference in the brain structure of FtM transsexuals." (Ftm means Female to Male)

There are some people in this world who are born with genitalia that looks female upon birth, but at puberty looks more like male genitalia. Here is a quote from a REALLY goood National Geographic article titled How Science Is Helping Us Understand Gender
"Carlos, 12, holds a photo of himself as a girl. He is one of a small group of children born in the Dominican Republic with an enzyme deficiency. Their genitalia appear female at birth—then, with a surge of testosterone at puberty, they develop male genitals and mature into men."
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National Geographic Photograph by Lynn Johnson
This article also talks about cultures all over the world where 3rd genders are found.

Then there are intersex chromosomal conditions. Intersex people are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, sex homones, or genitals that do not fit neatly into the definitions of "male" and "female"....So, it can be internal and/or external characteristics that vary. It is much more complex than the "rare hermaphrodite". Emily Quinn is an intersex blogger/youtuber that talks about her life as intersex.


She says that intersex people represent about 1 in 200 people. She has XY Chromosomes and internal testes. She has a vagina, but doesn't have a uterus or ovaries.

So, to the idea that gender is a spectrum, I think the National Geographic article says it best: "Gender is an amalgamation of several elements: chromosomes (those X’s and Y’s), anatomy (internal sex organs and external genitals), hormones (relative levels of testosterone and estrogen), psychology (self-defined gender identity), and culture (socially defined gender behaviors). And sometimes people who are born with the chromosomes and genitals of one sex realize that they are transgender, meaning they have an internal gender identity that aligns with the opposite sex—or even, occasionally, with neither gender or with no gender at all."
And, it's all okay. Isn't the variety and uniqueness of this planet amazing!?!

I hope you all are intrigued by this topic and do more reading. And, I hope that you keep an open mind. Also, again, thank you to the person who commented on my comment, as it inspired me to make this post!

Initial photo by prettyfrog on DeviantArt

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Thank so much for an expanded explanation of this, and with scientific references. Transgender studies weren't really a thing when I was growing up, and I wonder how many of the "tomboys" and "sissies" of the 80s have brain atypical brain structures for the gender they were assigned at birth.

It's more than a bit ridiculous that we're still using scientific research to determine whether it's "ok" to just be yourself. Hopefully we'll move past that as a society sooner rather than later.

Agreed!! We should all just be ourselves and as long as we aren't harming one another, then great! Live on! Do your thang! :)Thanks for reading and commenting.

Thanks for this post, it's super thorough and informative. Making the distinction between gender and genetic or biological sex is super important because most people still don't know about the nuances of these things, and why they matter so much to so many.

I don't know how I feel about the chart at the top, I'm not sure if these things can be represented well dimensionally; it's not harmful in its implications though, so as an introduction to these ideas, it's a good start.

I haven't gotten a clear read on whether or not the community on Steemit is receptive to this kind of stuff, as it seems to skew right-libertarian, so props to you for having the confidence to post about gender where I probably would not, and the knowledge to do so in a very complete manner.

Thanks so much @fungusmonk!! I appreciate your comments!! Someone else made the chart and I was a tad hesitant, but decided to go for it. It seems a bit incomplete to me, but like you said, it's an okay start. Thank you for your kind words. Also, I had picked up on the libertarian lean feel to Steemit, but not the right lean. I'm curious about that. Have you read any posts about it? Do you know if others share this observation? I didn't realize I was potentially being a bit brave. But, I certainly recognize that with any open platform like this I am putting information out there which others may disagree with. But, so far on Steemit I've seen the community be mostly polite and supportive. :)

Well, most libertarian identifying people tend to lean right, traditionally speaking. Cryptocurrency and anarcho-capitalism (versus anarcho-communism) go hand in hand. If you've ever seen those colorful four quadrant political compasses, AnCap is squarelythe bottom right (right libertarian or what most people just call "libertarian) and AnCom is in the bottom left (left libertarian or, generally, "pure" anarchism).

There are a lot of people who ID as libertarian and anarchist who don't fit into these generalizations though, to be fair.

I'm actually not sure if other people have the same read as me; as I'm slowly picking up, Steemit has changed a lot since last August when I first joined. I spent a lot of time off the site, but I'm realizing there's a lot more non-crypto and economic content than there was. People who've joined recently might have totally different perceptions!

It is a spectrum but more than 95% of population will fall in xx or xy owing to Normal distribution pattern of nature

I think it's probably more like 90% , not 95%. There's a lot of variations that are not normally taken into account. The numbers are under-reported because a lot of people who are on the spectrum somewhere inbetween just don't talk about it.

My only disagreement with your article is a matter of language semantics. Chromosomes are not gender, they are biology, sex related. Gender is in your head, it's your self perception. Klinfelter's syndrome (XXY) is a matter of biology. However, I do believe that gender perception is at least partly determined by the structures and hormone balances in the brain. As you pointed out, research is showing differences in the brain structures of the male and female brain, and that the transgender brain tends to have structures that are more like their gender perception than their biological development of the genitals.
Other than that bit of semantics at the beginning, I think this was quite well written.

Oh yes! Thank you very much for pointing that out! I understand what you are saying and agree with you! I'll have to think on how best to make edits to the article when I've had a bit more sleep. Appreciate you reading and commenting!

There is such a thing as hermaphrodites, but doctors always chop the male parts off... What a horrible business that is? It is very rare, but it makes circumcision seem civilised. (it's not)

But who gives a flying fuck whether you like girls or boys, or if your brain works more like an average opposite your gender. None of these things are a problem if you don't get locked into those child-prisons called 'schools'. I had it really bad as a kid, having long eyelashes and pretty eyes and, later, very little chest hair...

It's the groupthink that is the problem. And having some unusual tastes in consensual sexual activity, why do people want to wear that like a badge of achievement when they were born with it?

The whole thing is so messed up. People need to stop nosing into each other's private lives, and also, not condoning or allowing bullying behaviour. Because that's the only thing that makes this an issue. Gender is secondary to the violence our society tolerates.

It's not so much that it's a badge of achievement, rather that the way society treats individuals for not fitting into the mold and the psychological/self perception consequences of that are - quite understandably - met with a push in the opposite direction, in the form of pride in reclaiming ones reality or vocal/visible expression of gender identity.

For the more sensible people, I agree, but the Left these days is all Kill Whitey and Kill Hetero like being a white heterosexual means you are a bully. Obviously this is fallacious logic, but so many people don't understand logic.

Hmmm...Odd. The Left I know is not all "Kill Whitey and Kill Hetero." @fungusmonk, I understand what you are saying about the idea of pride in reclaiming ones expression of gender identity.

Well, maybe you have not been around this side of it, I saw a lot of it even back in Australia 15 years ago. I used to know antifa and fascists, both sides, and i recognise this militancy rising in the PR campaign being run especially by the US Democrat party. Gender identity is one of the hot buttons they are pushing hard to keep people fighting with heach other, and there is for real 'kill whitey' and 'kill hetero' people out there.

I'm not foolin here. look it up yourself. I don't want anyone to think I am an authority. I merely like to find out what is fact, and what is not.

There are extremes on every "side"....I'm not denying that they exist. The Left people I know are not supportive of killing anyone.

Hi sylviategan. I don't feel like writing a post, so I'll just write a quick long comment :) I myself, I'm sure like many others, thought the word "gender" and "sex" meant pretty much the same thing. Including you, I'm not sure if you even know the difference because all you had to do was define it, but you didn't. Instead you wrote a lengthy post defending your ideas. Thank YOU for helping me realize they don't mean the same thing. I'm not trying to slam you or anything, or anybody else for that matter, so I hope it doesn't come across that way. I feel people SHOULD be free to be themselves. I also feel like People should be informed of what the difference between sex and gender really is. Sex means the two sexes, male/female or some combination of the two. Gender kind of means whatever you want it to mean. So, in that case, of course there can be a gender spectrum. Humans could probably come up with maybe a million gender labels if we really wanted to. Maybe an infinite amount. By the way, most of your gender labels mean pretty much the same thing if you look them up.

Because most people associate sex and gender to mean pretty much the same thing, I feel it's kind of deceptive to use the word gender without letting everybody know what it really means, which is, it means whatever you want it to mean. Gender can be anything to anybody, you can even say a boat or a car or a word has a gender. When talking about humans though, It just feels like a slippery slope were going down, especially for women, and in fact might be to there detriment. For example, look at the women's weightlifting competition in New Zealand where a person who was born a male, won, because they were allowed to compete against women, based on gender (how they felt about themselves) instead of sex (what they actually were). Look at the high school woman's wrestling championship where a person born a female, but identified as a male, was not asked to compete as a male, instead was allowed to take male hormones (Testosterone, which is basically steroids) and compete, and of course won, the female championship. Testosterone increases muscle mass and makes you more aggressive. Definitely not fair to the other ladies who were not allowed to take testosterone, and very hypocritical when compared to the last example. One more and I'm done. Look at the recent MMA fight between a female and a transsexual born a man. The transsexual went through the operation, but still has all the muscle, bone structure and aggression of a man. No female hormones were taken and needless to say the transsexual destroyed their female opponent in the first round with a TKO (Technical Knock Out). Broke her eye socket, and gave her a concussion. The lady said in an interview afterwards "I've never felt so overpowered ever in my life". I'm just saying in fairness to everybody on this planet, I think we should take a step back to look at reality, and define the terms we're using so we can all be on the same page for this discussion.

Good job on your post by the way. I don't necessarily agree, and I find it a bit misleading, but that's not really your fault, It's more the words that we're using. Again, great job on your post and keep up the great work Sylvia! :)

Thank you for your great comment and feedback! My apologies for not giving definitions or explaining the difference between gender and sex. You are right, that would have been very helpful to include. I am glad you feel that people should be free to be themselves. And, it is nice to know that you now understand what I meant when I said "Gender is a Spectrum"....Follow up question: Given the information I included about intersex and such, do you now believe that "sex" is a spectrum as well? Thank you also for including all those examples of situations in sports and competition where things can get tricky and very possibly not fair. It can be quite confusing to consider all the various possible situations and therefore what rules/guidelines should be in place for sport-type things. I certainly do not have any answers, but I am glad you brought those types of issues into the conversation. Thank you!