I hope you find my perspective helpful in answering your question(s). I’ve been interested in gender since I was very young, and I’ve taken several classes on biology and human sexuality which have informed this perspective somewhat.
Preface: Genital presentation is influenced by hormones (specifically, androgens) during gestation. We all start out with the same basic parts: phallus, gonads, etc. and depending of the concentrations of androgens in the womb (which are influenced both by the fetus’ sex chromosomes and by the stress levels of the mother), the phallus will likely develop into a penis or a clitoris and the gonads develop into ovaries or testes (which usually remain inside the pelvis until puberty). Male or female, we have anatomically equivalent parts that often work in very similar ways.
- Gender identity: My understanding of the biological basis of gender normative behaviors is that the naturally-occurring behaviors are influenced by sex hormones (primarily testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone have been studied, but even these (probably) have effects/interact with other behavior-modulating hormones, such as oxytocin). Most people have all three of these hormones in their body, regardless of their biological sex. Most people experience fluctuations of the concentrations of each of these hormones to varying degrees and the female fertility cycle (of which we know MUCH more about than the male fertility cycle) requires a higher level of estrogen to build in order for ovulation to occur, followed by a high surge of progesterone which stays high and grows in order to maintain a pregnancy. Hormonal birth control works by tricking the ovaries into thinking they’ve already ovulated by ingesting progesterone. As I’m sure you are aware, in general, males tend to have higher levels of testosterone, and females tend to have higher levels of estrogen (unless they are on hormonal birth control, in which they will have higher levels of progesterone). These tendencies are likely the biological basis for gender normative behaviors, but there is a high level of variance from person to person and throughout a person’s life. Additionally, we only started studying sex and gender in the last 100 years (I believe Kinsey was one of the first scientists to publish attempts at comprehensive research.) and there appears to be a lot of information we still don’t know about the biochemical mechanisms at play.
Now the social aspect of gender begins with parental expectations, often unconsciously communicated from birth, before the majority of sex hormones begin to play a more active role in the child’s body (puberty). Many children will unconsciously accept the perceptions of their caregiver and seek to conform to those expectations as a survival strategy. An example: telling everyone your favorite color is pink/blue when really you prefer the aesthetic of green.
The experience of gender dysphoria is when someone treats you in a way (based on their perception of your gender) that you find particularly uncomfortable and confusing.
Imagine how you might feel if someone told your 3 year old self that you only like to play with dolls and/or bake. (Apologies, if my assumption that you identify as male/man is incorrect, you have stated that you identify as cis-gendered and your username is indicative of maleness, if this is an incorrect assumption, please just reverse the examples.) If another person (such as a parent), refuses your request for a G.I. Joe or toy truck (insert male-gendered toy of interest) for your birthday or Christmas and instead gives you your 10th dress-up doll (insert female-gendered toy of disinterest), you might feel a tinge of gender dysphoria. It’s mostly a feeling of being misunderstood and not seen as you are or happen to be in that moment.
At the more extreme ends, it’s feeling forced to dress and behave a certain way in order to obtain acceptance and belonging from the family unit, or being punished for behaviors for which your siblings of the other gender are encouraged. It can also include being told you are not good at something (like math or sewing) by a teacher and given a lower score based on their perception of your gender, rather than the quality of the actual work. Because of the tradition of patriarchy (males are seen as more powerful/capable of autonomy, rather than simply likely to be oriented towards autonomy), FtM individuals might be abused or targeted for not having the physicality to back up their claims to autonomy, whereas MtF individuals might be abused or targeted for displaying an orientation towards community.
I personally suspect the severity of gender dysphoria a person experiences as a child is correlated with the rigidity of gender roles presented to the child and the potential severity of punishments for non-gender-conforming behaviors.
I think it’s also important to note that because of some of the extreme ways in which patriarchy is enforced, there is greater social incentive for FtM individuals to transition to a male-passing body in order to be seen as a complete autonomous person. The discomfort of being devalued (and targeted for abuse) because one presents as female can be mistaken for gender dysphoria in the case of some FtM individuals, who might otherwise identify as gender fluid, agender, or slightly female. This is often a very unpopular idea amongst transgender communities operating under mean green memes, who see this observation of power dynamics as an attempt to delegitimize the reality of being a transgendered person. In my perspective, it’s just looking at a bigger chunk of the picture. Why would anyone want to be female if toxic patriarchal memes (such as, you don’t have rights over your own body, especially concerning sex, you are community property, especially when pregnant, you produce inferior work, you are emotionally unstable, etc.) were the primary form of understanding about females? Similarly this appears to also be true for MtF individuals and toxic masculinity memes arising from toxic patriarchy (such as, real men don’t cry, you are the abuser but never the victim, you are more valuable than women and children, you are violent, you can’t control your anger, you can’t control your behaviors, you are a blood-thirsty warrior, etc.)… if those memes were all true, why would you want to identify as a man/male? From my perspective, patriarchal memes (masculinity is superior to femininity) has toxic results for both typologies and can’t really be ignored when discussing gender identities.
I, personally, spent a LOT of time and energy trying to conform to gender roles and expectations that were laid out for me by my parents, my church, and society. I was never able to figure out how to do it “correctly”. I was constantly receiving messages that I wasn’t good enough, specifically because of my gender presentation. I eventually gave up, and I’ve experienced a lot less stress and a feeling of wholeness in recognizing my own natural tendency to straddle the line between femininity and masculinity.
- I’m inclined to agree that the revolution is about learning to understand sexuality, gender, and relationships in general in a deeper way that connects and values both masculine and feminine traits. I would say that it’s possible for everyone to be a little pansexual (attracted to any gender presentation or biological parts, an expansion on “bisexual”). I have a tendency to think that if someone is unable to admit/see that they could be attracted to someone on a level that enables them to see past genital presentation (however rare such an attraction might be), that they are likely harboring homophobia somewhere in their shadow self. It’s possible this is a bit of demisexual superiority hidden within my own shadow, but when I’ve asked heterosexual folks who appear quite comfortable with homosexuals and the idea of homosexuality, they’ve had a tendency to reveal that they are open to the possibility of meeting someone of their same sex, so attractive or particularly matched to their romantic relationship needs that they would consider pursuing the relationship and the included sexual behaviors. Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne are one of the more famous examples of this phenomenon.
Pansexual is a sexual orientation which (from my understanding) remains open to the nuances and possibilities of the diversity of human gender and genital presentation and the interactions thereof. I believe it’s a fairly new term, though it’s been reportedly used in some LGBTQ+ communities since the 1990s (or before). According to GoogleTrends, it appeared on the internet (or at least more searchable) ~2007, which is approximately when I discovered it. I’m inclined to believe that its increase in acceptance and the increased number of folks who identify with it is indicative of the growth in awareness of masculine/feminine typologies and the natural interplay between them.
Thanks for sharing your perspective and questions, Manuel, I’ve greatly enjoyed considering them. I would love to hear what you make of my attempt to respond to some of your questions, if they help you grow your ability to empathize or increase your understanding of the biological basis of sex and gender, or if I missed the task completely.