Category Archives: Gender Concerns

We’re Not Quite ‘Born This Way’



Back in 2014, a bigoted African leader put J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern, in a strange position. Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, had been issuing a series of anti-gay tirades, and — partially fueled by anti-gay religious figures from the U.S. — was considering toughening Uganda’s anti-gay laws. The rhetoric was getting out of control: “The commercialisation of homosexuality is unacceptable,” said Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics minister. “If they were doing it in their own rooms we wouldn’t mind, but when they go for children, that’s not fair. They are beasts of the forest.” Eventually, Museveni said he would table the idea of new legislation until he better understood the science of homosexuality, and agreed to lay off Uganda’s LGBT population if someone could prove to him homosexuality was innate.

That’s where Bailey comes in: He’s a leading sex researcher who has published at length on the question of where sexual orientation comes from. LGBT advocates began reaching out to him to explain the science of homosexuality and, presumably, denounce Museveni for his hateful rhetoric. But “I had issues with rushing out a scientific statement that homosexuality is innate,” he said in an email, because he’s not sure that’s quite accurate. While he did write articles, such as an editorial in New Scientist, explaining why he thought Museveni’s position didn’t make sense, he stopped short of calling homosexuality innate. He also realized that in light of some recent advances in the science of sexual orientation, it was time to publish an article summing up the current state of the field — gathering together all that was broadly agreed-upon about the nature and potential origins of sexual orientation. (In the meantime, Museveni did end up signing the anti-gay legislation, justifying his decision by reasoning that homosexuality “was learned and could be unlearned.”)

To help write his paper, Bailey assembled an impressive multidisciplinary team: It consisted of the psychologists Paul Vasey and Lisa Diamond, the neuroscientist S. Marc Breedlove, the geneticist Eric Vilain, and Marc Epprecht, a historian with a focus on gender and sexuality in Africa.

Their article, which was recently published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, is something of an all-you-can-eat buffet for anyone interested in the current state of scientific research into sexuality. While it’s loosely organized around the “moral” concerns raised by Museveni, it covers a wide range of subjects. It’s worth a full read, but three main points leaped out at me:

1. There’s a connection between gender expression and sexual orientation that seems to show up just about everywhere. It’s important to note that just about everything in Bailey and his colleagues’ paper has to do with average differences between members of different groups. Nothing in the paper (or this article) should be taken as implying that “all straight people X” or “all straight people Y.” The average man is significantly bigger than the average woman, but plenty of women are bigger than plenty of men; the same logic holds here.

That caveat aside, there seems to be a consistent, robust way in which sexual orientation and gender roles play off of each other and that starts early in childhood for many people. Bailey and his colleagues point out that “Childhood gender nonconformity … is a strong correlate of adult sexual orientation that has been consistently and repeatedly replicated.” For boys, this means that if a child enjoys cross-dressing, playing with dolls, growing their hair long, preferring girls as playmates, and so on, then — true to stereotype — there’s a significantly increased chance that he will grow up to be gay (in cases where all this is accompanied by gender dysphoria, or discomfort with their natal sex, there’s a chance he could also end up identifying as transgender).

Broadly speaking, these sorts of differences between (pre-)gay and (pre-)straight people persist into adulthood. Among adults, “Research indicates that heterosexual men have greater interest in occupations and hobbies focusing on things and less interest in those focusing on people, compared with heterosexual women.” For gay men and women, the pattern flips: Gay men are more into people-things than their straight brothers and dad, while gay women are more into object-things than their straight sisters and moms. This blending of stereotypically gendered behavior seems to extend to “gestures and walking,” “speech,” “physical presentation,” and “even facial appearance.”

Fascinatingly, “the link between gender nonconformity and nonheterosexual orientation has been found in a wide variety of cultures,” the authors write, and seems to manifest itself in similar ways just about everywhere. To take one example, the researchers quote from a book chapter called “Os Entendidos: Gay life in São Paulo in the late 1970s”:

In the Guatemalan Indian town of Chimaltenango, two men lived together as lovers, wearing typical Indian clothing in an outwardly traditional Indian adobe house. The house, however, was decorated in a manner strikingly different from the other Indians. It was meticulously and elaborately decorated, a characteristic frequently found in homosexual subcultures … The occupation of the lovers was that of stringing pine needles in decorative strands, traditionally used in Guatemala for holidays and other festive occasions, and supplying flowers for weddings. In essence these two men were florists, involved in the arts of embellishment, which in larger societies are universally linked with homosexual subcultures.

Because of this striking consistency in the (again, average) differences between how straight and gay people present themselves around the world, the researchers suspect that whatever’s going on here can’t be explained solely by suggesting gay people are simply fulfilling — or being socially coerced into — culturally expected roles:

Before leaving the topic of gender nonconformity, we address a commonly raised question: Might the gender-atypicality of adult homosexual men and women simply reflect a culturally influenced self-fulfilling prophecy? In other words, given that society expects homosexual individuals to be gender atypical, and given that LGB communities often support and facetiously celebrate such gender atypicality, perhaps some homosexual people adopt gender-atypical characteristics to conform to their own stereotypes. Because of the evidence we have reviewed — indicating that gender nonconformity often begins before a prehomosexual child even has a sexual orientation or is aware of cultural stereotypes, and that the link between gender nonconformity and nonheterosexual orientation has been found in a wide variety of cultures — we think it is highly unlikely that gender nonconformity in LGB populations represents a self-fulfilling prophecy due to cultural beliefs. It is possible, however, that cultural stereotypes sometimes amplify gender nonconformity among LGB people. Many LGB individuals report that they have always been fairly gender-typical in dress, appearance, and interests. It is possible that as these individuals come to identify as LGB and participate in the LGB community, they adopt aspects of gender-atypicality.

So if they’re right, what does explain these average differences? No one’s quite sure. But it seems like for the average human, sexuality and gender presentation are intertwined in important ways.

2. The best evidence for a nature-over-nurture explanation of sexuality comes from an accidental quasi-experiment involving surgically removed penises. Bailey and his colleagues ran through a bunch of the different ways researchers have tried to puzzle out what makes some people gay, others straight, and others bisexual: brain and hormone and genetics studies, among other areas of research. All these fields have added interesting nuggets, but it’s clear from the study that the researchers are most excited by a coincidental small pile of research they call “the near-perfect quasi-experiment.”The participants in this quasi-experiment might not share the researchers’ enthusiasm. All of them were natal males who were either “born with malformed penises or lost their penises in surgical accidents.” Between 1960 and 2000, Bailey and his colleagues write, “many doctors in the United States believed that such males would be happier being socially and surgically reassigned female,” and that’s what happened to these kids: They were raised as girls, wearing “girl” clothes, doing “girl” things, and so on. (Alice Dreger does a wonderful job explaining this practice and how it came to change, in part due to activism she herself helped to spearhead, in her book Galileo’s Middle Finger.)

Bailey and his colleagues examined the seven such cases that have been written up in the literature. Of the seven, they found, six of the unfortunate subjects came to eventually identify as heterosexual males at the time they were followed up with; the seventh still identified as female and said she was “predominately” into women.

If socialization were a significant part of the sexuality equation, the odds that not one of these natal males would grow up to be attracted primarily to men are just about nil, statistically speaking. “These results comprise the most valuable currently available data concerning the broad nature-versus-nurture questions for sexual orientation,” write the researchers. “They show how difficult it is to derail the development of male sexual orientation by psychosocial means. If one cannot reliably make a male human become attracted to other males by cutting off his penis in infancy and rearing him as a girl, then what other psychosocial intervention could plausibly have that effect?”

So does that clinch it? Sexuality is, in fact, innate? Not quite …

3. “Born this way” is probably wrong, but it doesn’t matter. Think back to the reason Bailey decided to co-author this paper: Uganda’s homophobic president was asking for “proof” that homosexuality is inborn. Bailey and his colleagues don’t think it would be accurate to claim to be able to deliver him that proof. At the moment, they write, when you look at the (somewhat limited) twin research that has been conducted — studies on twins being the best large-scale way to tease out nature-nurture questions — it looks like about a third of the variation in sexual orientation in human beings comes from genes; 43 percent comes from environmental influences a given set of twins don’t share (random factors that cause their brains and bodies to develop differently, such as different experiences); and 25 percent from environmental influences they do share (their general upbringing, developing in the same uterine environment, and so on).

Putting things a bit more straightforwardly: Identical twins share the same genes and the same womb, and yet when one is gay, the other is usually straight. That means things likely aren’t set at birth. Those environmental factors — mostly nonsocial ones, the researchers think — do matter.

So it’s complicated, and there’s also a sex divide: Bailey’s current view is that male sexual orientation is probably more or less set by birth, but for females, who in general exhibit a bit more fluidity with regard to sexual orientation, postnatal factors could be important. For humanity as a whole, “born this way” is probably a bit too pithy a summary of what’s going on, at least in light of the current evidence — which could change as we come to better understand the brain, genetics, and hormones. (Note: I updated this paragraph post-publication to mention the sex difference, which is important and comes up throughout Bailey and his colleagues’ paper.)

But as the authors hint, people often misinterpret this as meaning sexual orientation is a choice, or is something one person (presumably a creepy older adult) can teach another one (presumably an innocent, otherwise-straight child). That’s not the case. It’s important, they argue, to keep in mind a simple distinction: The sentence “I choose to have sex with partners of my own sex” makes sense, while the sentence “I choose to desire to have sex with partners of my own sex” doesn’t. No one chooses what they desire. The authors make this point nicely with a quote in which Einstein sums up one of Schopenhauer’s views: “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” The opposite of inborn isn’t chosen.

It’s perhaps no surprise that in the last part of their paper, Bailey and his colleagues come out strongly against the harsh anti-gay laws Museveni passed. There’s scant evidence, contra Museveni’s claims, that homosexual people “recruit” otherwise-straight children into their subculture, or that sexuality is otherwise socially learned. Museveni’s resistance to evidence might be a useful lesson: People seeking to demonize and stigmatize other people’s identities and behaviors probably aren’t particularly interested in the science underlying those identities and behaviors, anyway. They tend to be far more animated by political opportunism or fear or disgust than a desire to truly understand the full, fascinating range of the human experience.

For the rest of us, born this way might be useful shorthand, but it doesn’t capture the full picture — and we can handle the nuance.

Complete Article HERE!

5 Tips for Parents of Transgender Children


Raising a Transgender Child

Raising children is certainly one of life’s most rewarding experiences yet simultaneously presents some of our greatest challenges. As information about transgender children continues to spread, more and more parents of are quickly moving through any personal fears to fully support their trans child. It’s important to understand that the sooner you help your trans child transition from their assigned gender to their true gender identity, the happier they’re likely to be throughout their entire life.

Tips For Parents Raising a Transgender Child

  1. Never stop showing your child unconditional love! Regardless of what your wishes for your child were or are, children are their own people and are here to live their own lives, not to please us as parents. Teach your child that you will love them no matter what and that you will do anything you can to support their needs.
  2. Consider visiting a gender specialist at an early age if your child insists that he or she feels like the gender opposite the one they were assigned at birth; or if your child is indeed determined to be transgender, you can help your child make a “social transition” into their gender identity.
  3. Once you are aware that you are raising a transgender child, you can help them learn methods of developing healthy self-esteem. You may wish to work with a transgender friendly family therapist to help all members adjust to the changes; in many cases, it’s actually the parents that need more help adjusting than the trans child, particularly if the child was allowed to make a social transition at an early age.
  4. Puberty blockers and cross sex hormones may help your preteen and teenage trans child adjust to their growing body. Many transgender children are fearful about what will happen to their bodies once they reach puberty, but puberty blocking medications offer another option by delaying the onset of puberty with no long-term side effects. Cross sex hormones, taken during the teenage years, may have permanent physical effects, but in most cases, these effects will be desirable to your trans child and will help them adjust over the long-term.
  5. Plenty of support exists for parents of transgender children. As more and more transgender people “go public” and more parents openly support their trans children from a very young age, the number of online and local support groups keeps steadily increasing.

Greater Equality is Leading to Wider Acceptance

Parents no longer need to feel ashamed of their transgender children thanks to the strong parents and transgender people who have come before to pave the way for more equality in society. By honoring our children for who they are, we can offer them the unconditional love and support they most need to grow into the truest versions of themselves.

Complete Article HERE!

Two-Spirit: Gender as an Expression of Spirit

by SlickLion


Two-Spirit: Gender as an Expression of Spirit

While gender identities are pretty widespread at this point, there are a few culturally distinct gender identities that pertain only to certain ethnic groups. One of these is known as Two Spirit. It’s only for indigenous Native American peoples, and it pertains to a very specific and important role in their culture. It pertains to individuals within the society that fulfills one or several mixed gender roles found traditionally among many Native Americans.

That might sound a little confusing to some, so to narrow it down to more layman terms, it’s a general term used to describe gay, lesbian, bisexual and gender-variant individuals in their communities. It was created in 1990 to replace a more insulting term, and is also a spiritual role recognized by the Two-Spirits community.

However, don’t assume that this term can be used with all Native American tribes. Not all tribes conceptualize sexuality and gender the same way, and many of them have words for such gender identities in their own language. Always be sure of the proper term before making too large of an assumption.

But for tribes that do use this term, Two-Spirit individuals are people who usually perform and behave in both gender roles, including work or clothing that can be associated with either gender. The idea is that Two-Spirits embody and manifest both masculine and feminine qualities, though not necessarily in equal amounts.

In some tribes, Two-Spirit individuals are seen as having two identities within one body. This may be a difficult concept to understand, but it is not too different from some other ideas we may be familiar with. Two-spirit is similar to the notion of being able to fulfill either gender role at any time one pleases, or to be a little of both at any time.

Like any notion of gender society in the culture you may be used to, it’s important to understand that other cultures have them as well, and have even had them accepted long before many others.

In the tribes that use Two-Spirit to define individuals of this gender identity, they perform many roles in both male and female areas, and relationships between Two-Spirits and other individuals of any gender is usually not seen as heterosexual or homosexual, but rather something unique from both of those.

That being said, sexual orientation does not make an individual a Two-Spirit. It’s about embodying aspects of being both masculine and feminine. Regardless of sexual orientation, Two-Spirits are a unique element in their tribes, and regarded as unique. Just as effeminate males or masculine men in our society aren’t necessarily gay or lesbian, neither are Two-Spirits in their own tribes.

Knowing how other cultures treat such gender identities is important to possibly learning how to better handle our own. As always there is something to be learned from other societies, things that could help improve our own in a way that could spark a revolution grand enough to put an end to intolerance and bigotry for good.

 Complete Article HERE!

What Makes These Dominican Children Grow Penises at Puberty?

By Michele Debczak


In the Dominican Republic, the phenomenon of children who were raised female appearing to swap sexes at puberty is so common it even has a name. Guevedoces roughly translates to “penis [or “balls”] at 12,” and it’s the result of a rare enzyme deficiency that delays crucial steps of male sexual development until puberty.

When guevedoces are born, they appear to have external female genitalia even though their genes and internal reproductive organs are male. Parents assume their children are girls and raise them as such. But when these children begin producing large amounts of testosterone at puberty, their testes descend and they grow a penis—in addition to all the other changes that come along with male adolescence. 

Sexual development normally begins in the womb, and the same is true for guevedoces. Whether the fetus has one X chromosome or two, for the first several weeks of development its genes follow the same blueprint for both sexes. Then, sometime around the eight-week mark, the sex chromosomes get to work. For males, the undeveloped gonads become testicles and they start to release male hormones, including testosterone. In a structure called the tubercle, an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase converts the testosterone to a stronger hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is necessary to develop external genitalia. It’s this hormone that turns the tubercle into a penis; without it, it develops into a clitoris.

The rare enzyme deficiency found in guevedoces leaves them unable to develop external male genitalia in the womb. They still produce plenty of testosterone, which triggers the development of internal structures like the epididymis and vas deferens, but the lack of DHT makes the babies appear female at birth. It’s not until the second surge of testosterone these children receive at puberty that they grow testes and a penis.

The condition is thought to be genetic, tracing back to the female founder of a small village in the Dominican Republic’s mountainous hinterland. Outside of the nation, it’s incredibly rare.

For some guevedoces, being raised as female wasn’t an easy experience. “I never liked to dress as a girl, and when they bought me toys for girls, I never bothered playing with them,” Johnny, who had grown up as Felicita, told BBC Two, which features these kids in the second episode of the series Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You. “When I saw a group of boys, I would stop to play ball with them.” When Johnny, now 24, began to undergo physical changes, he was taunted at school and called nasty names by his classmates. He’s had a number of short-term girlfriends since going through puberty and dreams of one day getting married and starting a family. Another child named Carla began the process of transitioning to Carlos at age 9; he can be seen receiving a smile-inducing haircut in the photo above.

Most people with this condition live out their adult lives as men, but some choose to undergo surgery and remain female. The discovery of this disorder in the 1970s led to the development of a best-selling drug called finasteride, which is commonly prescribed to treat benign enlargement of the prostate and male pattern baldness. (You may know it by the brand name Propecia.) The drug mimics the enzyme deficiency by blocking the action of 5-alpha-reductase.

You can learn more about this rare condition and the people who have it on the BBC Two series Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You.

Complete Article HERE!

Shaming Men Doesn’t Build Healthy Sexuality

By David J Ley Ph.D


Male sexuality is intensely under attack, in the increasingly vitriolic social dialogue related to pornography. Though women watch and make pornography, most of the current debates focus on aspects of masculine sexual behaviors. These behaviors include masturbation, use of pornography, prostitutes or sexual entertainment like strip clubs. Promiscuity, sex without commitment, and use of sex to manage stress or tension are all things that are frequently a part of male sexuality, whether we like it or not. But, male sexuality is not a disease, not a public health crisis, it is not evil, and it does not overpower men’s lives or choices. Shaming men for these behaviors isolates men, and ignores powerful, important and healthy aspects of masculinity.

There is a common perception of male sexuality as intrinsi­cally selfish, overly focused on “scoring” and sexual conquests, on anonymous, “soulless” sex, and on the outward manifestations of virility.  But there are other, oft neglected sides of male eroticism. Straight men are far more focused upon women’s needs, and upon closeness with women, than we give them credit for. Nancy Friday wrote that “Men’s love of women is often greater than their love of self.” Men give up friends and male camaraderie and accept a life of economic support of women, even leading up to an earlier death, all in order to be with women. More than half of all men describe that their best sexual encounters came when they “gave a woman physical pleasure beyond her dreams.” Men redi­rect their selfishness away from their own satisfaction, and toward a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, by giving sexual satisfaction. Male sexuality often involves an intense focus on the needs of their partners, and men gain great pleasure, even a strong sense of manliness, from giving their lover sexual pleasure.

In fact, men’s desire to sexually satisfy their partners comes at the price of their own satisfaction. When a man is unable to make his partner orgasm, many men report incredible frustration, disappointment, and self-doubt. Women even complain that men put so much pressure and intent upon helping the woman achieve orgasm that the act ceases to be pleasurable and starts to feel more like childbirth. In such cases, women fake orgasms, not for themselves, but to satisfy their partner’s needs. Until a woman has an orgasm, a man doesn’t think he’s done his job, and his masculinity hangs in the balance.

Franz_Von_Stuck_-_SisyphusMen are taught from a young age that they must be sexually competent and sexually powerful with exaggerated and impossible ideals. Surveys of sex in America find that, compared to women, men are far more insecure and anxious about their sexual performance. Nearly 30 percent of men fear that they ejaculate too soon, most men sometimes experience erectile dysfunction connected to anxiety, and one man in every six reports significant worries about his sexual abilities to satisfy his partner. These are huge burdens that men carry, and are just one reason why many men pursue other forms of sex such as masturbation to pornography.

Compared to women, men actually experience greater pain and psychological disruption from the ups and downs of romantic relationships. Not only do the negative aspects of a romantic relationship hurt men more than women, but the positive aspects and benefits of that relationship have greater impact upon the man than the woman. Because women are better able to access outside support from friends and family, they often fare better than men. Men are often isolated and burdened with the expectation that they shouldn’t feel pain, or if they do, they must suffer alone.

For men, physical affection and sex is one of the main ways we feel loved, accepted, and regarded. For many men, it is only through physical love that we can voice tenderness and express our desire for togetherness and physical bonding. Only in sex can we let down boundaries and drop our armor enough to be emotionally vulnerable.

Sex plays a greater role in the lives of men as a form of acceptance and mutual regard than it does for women. Women touch each other all the time, with hugs, holding hands, closer body contact, and smaller “personal space.” Men shake hands. Really good friends might, at best, punch each other in a loving way, do a careful “man hug,” or even swat each other’s buttocks, if it’s during an approved masculine sporting event. (Many homosexual men experience this differently, when they come out and are part of the LGBTQ community) So the body-to-body contact that sex offers feeds an appetite, a craving, one that is often starved near to death in men.

Male sexuality is portrayed as something that men must guard against, and describe it as though it is a demonic force, lurking within our souls, which must be constrained, feared and even rejected. Men are portrayed as powerless to control themselves, in the face of sexual arousal that is too strong. Men are painted as weak, harmed and warped by sexual experiences such as pornography. As a result, men are told to be ashamed of the sexual desires that society has called unhealthy, and told to forego those condemned sexual interests. But an essential part of man is lost when we encourage men to split them­selves from their sexuality.

Unfortunately, as we teach men to be men, to understand, accept, and express their masculinity, we rarely attend adequately to the loving, nurturing, and amo­rous side of men. The most positive way that society and media currently portray male sexuality is when it is depicted as bumbling and stupid-making, a force that turns men into fools, easily led by our penises. But more often, male sexuality is depicted as a force that hovers just on the edge of rape, rage and destruction.

What is necessary for a healthy man, for complete masculinity, is the in­tegration, consolidation, and incorporation of ALL the varied aspects of our sexuality. When we try to externalize our desires for love and sex, excising them from ourselves as something external and dangerous, we run the real risk of creat­ing men without compassion, without tenderness, and without the ability to nurture. It is easy to suggest that what we are trying to excise are the base, primitive parts of men’s eroticism, those desires to rape, dominate, and sat­isfy oneself selfishly. But in truth, those desires, as frightening as they can be, are integrally linked to male emotional desires for safety, acceptance, protection of others, and belonging.

A_ShipwreckThose things that make men admired and respected—their strength, courage, independence, and assertiveness—are the same things which contribute to the differences in male and female sexuality. By condemning these characteristics, we run the real and frightening risk of abolishing qualities that are essential to healthy masculinity.

A healthy sexual male is one who accepts and understands his erotic and sexual desires, along with his drive for success, dominance (and often submission as well) and excellence. Healthy sexual choices come from internal acceptance and awareness, not rejection and shame. Research has shown that all men have the ability to exercise control over their levels of sexual arousal and sexual behavior, but no men can fully suppress their sexual desire. Healthy men can be men who go to strip clubs, visit prostitutes and watch pornography. They are men who make conscious sexual choices, accepting the consequences of their actions.

Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status or sexual orientation. The Religious Institute

We need to begin encouraging personal integrity, responsibility, self-awareness and respect, both for oneself and one’s sexual partner(s). This is, I think, the goal for all men – to make their sexual choices an integrated part of who they are, and the kind of man they desire to be. Unfortunately, as long as we continue to shame and condemn men in general, and specific sexual acts, we are merely isolating men. Further, we are exacerbating the problem, because removing porn or shaming men for their desires or fantasies, does not teach men how to be a sexually healthy man.

Complete Article HERE!