The queer dilemma

I feel like one of the constant queer dilemmas in figuring out your identity is whether you want to “do them or be them” (or the demisexual equivalent, date them or be them). When you get your first glimpse of queer representation or that gay awakening moment, it’s sometimes hard to tell if you are attracted to that asthetic or person because you want to become like them or whether you have pants feels for them. 

For me, that moment came in my teen years when I first heard in the sex ed books I covertly read in the public library about people with both/all kinds of genitals. Sadly at that time I wasn’t reading anything by actual intersex or trans people so the terms I learned initially were highly problematic but the idea still stuck with me. That it was possible to have both a vagina and a penis at the same time.

It wasn’t long before that idea had seeped into my imaginations and people with hybrid genitals dominated my teenage fantasies, both waking and dreaming. For a long time, even after I started transitioning, I thought that was my goal. Two years ago, I tried researching whether it was possible and at that time there wasn’t anything published about it yet so it was only theoretical. Last year, I discovered two surgeons who had started offering a penile preservation vaginoplasty which gave me the chance to think about it seriously.

Now I am planning for my “classic” vaginoplasty and I couldn’t be happier about it (other than that it’s not soon enough!). I don’t feel any confusion or serious doubts anymore. But as I have thought about it more and why I thought I wanted more nonbinary genital options for so long, I’ve realized that it’s because I’m very attracted to that kind of body. The people I find hottest in the world are the folks who have a penis and boobs on the same body. And I’m so glad that the many people I’ve met who want that body now have more options to achieve that.


Reinterpretation of the Tres In Una statue by Paul Richer

Biological “sex” isn’t real

I’ve written many time before about how the concept of biological sex as a separate concept from gender is artificial. And how asking it on forms as if it determines everything about me medically is inaccurate. But I want to revisit the topic because it is really important. MANY cis people, both men and women, use this as a prop for their transphobia and make arguments based on biological determinism. When really, it is just based on internalized oppositional sexism, misogyny, and homophobia.

The main argument rests on the idea that your X/Y chromosome mix determines everything about you. But that is just a prop for our pre-existing binary thinking. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that chromosomes were first identified at a time in Western history where people were already socially trying to reinforce gender roles based on a patriarchal lens. And even they acknowledged that there are 5 “sex” chromosome combinations.

When you think about it, the only genetic difference between people with XX and XY is in 1/8th of 1/23rd of your genetics which works out to 0.5% of your primary genetic code. Half of that if you consider the recently discovered epigenetic component which is shaped by your environment and experiences in life. There are far more differences on other chromosomes than there are based on the Y.

And in reality, our genetics are only a small part of what makes us who we are in life. If you are really going to claim biological determinism then you need to look at the whole biology of a person. Which includes how their body was shaped by hormones in the womb, how their brain developed, and how their body has changed over time. And there are already studies that show that in many trans people, there are key areas of the brain that are more similar to their gender than to their chromosomal peers.

There is also recent data showing that bloodwork values on trans people taking hormones closely match their hormonal peers after only 6 months, regardless of the concentration of the hormones. So it brains and blood match and hormones only play a small role, that only leaves genitals.

The existence of intersex people due to natural variation in human biology already proves that genitals aren’t binary either. And with modern medicine, we can fundamentally change the shape of your genitals to the point that the average person can’t tell the difference between a neovagina and a natal vagina if that is your desire. So really, what is our excuse anymore? You can’t claim socialization because many trans people fundamentally experience their childhoods and lives differently. It really just boils down to oppositional sexism, misogyny, and homophobia.

So cis people, next time you hear an asshole say that they would never have sex with a trans person, or a TERF say that only cis women belong in their communities, press them as to why. Help them uncover their homophobia and transphobia. The burden for undoing that shouldn’t lie on trans people. We shouldn’t let jokes about “discovering someone used to be a dude” slide. Because those are just as much a part of rape culture as jokes about how women should dress.

And remember, just because you may hear at a Trans 101 training that sex and gender are different doesn’t mean that all trans people agree. Send them this blog and remind them that their argument isn’t based in science.

Sex vs Gender: two sides of the same coin

So I know a lot of trainings, including many written by trans people, like to separate sex and gender into different concepts. But in my experience they aren’t all that different and are so integrally tied that you can’t actually separate the two. From an external perspective I think sex is what you are assigned at birth because doctors and parents make an assumption about a binary future for you based on your genitals (and sometimes force surgeries on intersex babies if they don’t match that vision because sexual characteristics aren’t binary either). Gender is what people assume about your genitals and often your behaviors and experiences based on visual cues later on. They are just two sides of the same coin. The only real difference is what external markers you are using. When I was born they assumed I was male based on my genitals and now people assume things about my genitals based on signs such as my beard and build.

Well this gets complicated of course when you are trans or nonbinary. You can do a lot to change your external appearance through clothing, hormones, and surgeries. And since sex isn’t actually based on chromosomes since most people have never been genotyped, I think those changes arguably change your sex tangibly as well. I don’t think I am a feminine person with a male sex. I now have breasts and an estrogen dominant body that is clearly and visibly nonbinary now. I would need to make major alterations at this point via surgery to go back to being a male.

So when I see forms that ask me what my sex is, I get annoyed. You can ask me what my sex assigned at birth was as a data point if you need. But my sex and my gender are the same thing viewed from different lenses.

Now internal gender is a lot harder to define but that’s a post for a future day.

Debunking “Biological Sex”

So this is probably an unpopular opinion but I think the term “biological sex” is meaningless, as is the distinction between sex and gender. While I continue to hear trans people use it and share it in various forms such as the problematic genderbread person, it is primarily used by cisgender people as a way of convincing themselves that the binary does exist in some form even if they support diverse gender identities. But as a biologist (by training) and a real life trans person™, I am here to tell you that it is just as much of a shared illusion as binary gender.

Hopefully by now you are aware of the existence of intersex people. According to the Intersex Society of North America, “intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Without going into excruciating detail because you should hear it from intersex people themselves , both chromosomal sex and reproductive organ configuration exist in more than two options. There are 6 different ways that chromosomes can combine (X, XX, XXY, XY, XYY, and XXXY) that create various different kinds of humans and most people never have their chromosomes tested so using this as the basis for your gender is ridiculous. And various other changes in development mean that regardless of genetics, genital variation is nearly infinite.

But even putting intersex people aside for a moment, let’s talk about how useless the term biological sex is when you are dealing with reality. Many trans people such as myself have known from an early age that our brains are different. Long before I ever knew the term transgender or nonbinary, I thought that I didn’t fit in because I didn’t have a boys brain. And more and more evidence suggests that the brain can develop in utero in ways that more closely match the gender identity that child eventually expresses than the gender they are assumed to be based on external signs (although even that research is hopelessly binary). Though huge disclaimer here because there is no one way to be trans. Not everyone knew they were different from birth and not all trans people experience things like dysphoria.

Ok, so say you put aside natural variation in genitals AND you ignore differences in brains. Well I hate to break it to you folks, but the differences continue to be useless. Trans people do not all experience socialization the same way or come out at the same age so there is no point at which you can make a valid argument that we are somehow “essentially male” or some such bullshit. And there are MANY different kinds of gender confirmation surgeries that make trans bodies infinitely variable and often indistinguishable from their gender.

So what’s the point of this? It means that you should stop using terms like “female bodied” or lumping people together based on binary genital arrangements. And you should stop saying things like “all women are” and reducing your research to binary sex results. Yes, statistically there are vast swatches of people who never have cause to question their gender or assumed sex. And you could do your research based on those people and ignore the tails of those statistical curves. But you are missing out on some of the most amazing parts of human experience when you do so. I am here to tell you that the conversations that happen among trans and nonbinary people behind closed doors that cis people rarely get to experience would blow your mind! And because of constructs like “biological sex”, many of these people intentionally avoid revealing that complexity to cis people and often rule out dating or interacting with you altogether.

So if you want to benefit from what we could bring to the conversation, think deeply about how you can be more inclusive and the assumptions you make on a daily basis. We are here and we are so much more queer than you could possibly imagine.