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Old 01-12-2019, 09:45 AM
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Fluctuating gender (genderfluid) discussion

I'd like to have a discussion on genderfluidity. I'm here to learn, but to be honest, I'm starting from a skeptical viewpoint.

First, I want to make it clear that I would never discriminate against someone who was or claimed to be genderfluid. I would use the pronoun(s) and name(s) that they prefer. I'm not interested in telling people who are genderfluid that they are not so or trying to convince them to conform to one gender or another.

My first point of skepticism is that the claims of genderfluid people seem to conflict with those of transgender folks. My understanding is that there is some pretty solid science backing transgenderism -- the brain configuration or brain chemistry of many transgendered people really does match the gender they claim to be. That is, a trans female will have brain chemistry more like a cis female than a cis male. Some of this can be explained by biology (androgen insensitivity, XXY, and so on -- I don't know all the details), and others can surely be explained by their unique developmental situations.

Genderfluid people seem to go against this -- on any given day, their brain chemistry can apparently be changed(?). Is there similar science behind genderfluid people?

My second point of skepticism is that, as homosexuality and transsexuality became more acceptable, well-known adults came out as gay or trans (Elton John, Ellen Degeneres, Caitlin Jenner, as examples). However, I would say that genderfluid is as acceptable as transgender at this point, and yet I don't know of any older adults who claim to be genderfluid. Given the number of kids in my kids' high school and colleges who claim to be genderfluid, this is odd to me. My impression is that there are more teens and young adults who claim to be genderfluid than transgender, but this seems to reverse itself after college (no cite here, just my impression).

One question: I know of non-gendered and genderfluid -- is there more to gender non-binary? I wouldn't consider transgender people to be non-binary, since they have a gender, it's just not the one they were assigned at birth. Non-gendered is less of a mystery to me, since I can imagine that gender is a spectrum and some will be more towards the middle of the spectrum. What I don't understand, assuming gender is linked to brain state or brain chemistry, is moving around on the spectrum. Maybe that assumption is what's wrong.

Finally, I apologize in advance if I've accidentally used offensive terminology or made offensive assumptions. I'm not all that steeped in gender issues, but I really am trying to learn.
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Old 01-12-2019, 11:41 AM
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Genderfluid people seem to go against this -- on any given day, their brain chemistry can apparently be changed(?). Is there similar science behind genderfluid people?
The mistake is to think gender is solely determined by brain chemistry. The brain chemistry can be static and yet gender can legitimately vary. To quote a nice NatGeo article on the subject:
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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).
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One question: I know of non-gendered and genderfluid -- is there more to gender non-binary?
There are a whole lot of traditional 3rd sex groupings (see that article for examples) that are nb.

Last edited by MrDibble; 01-12-2019 at 11:43 AM.
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Old 01-12-2019, 01:09 PM
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Thanks. That was a long article (and basically blocked, although I found a workaround). I read most of it and skimmed some of it -- I didn't find where it discussed fluctuating gender. It talks about people all over the spectrum, and people who weren't sure where they were on the spectrum, but not people who seem to fluctuate between male and female genders regularly. Did I miss that?
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Old 01-12-2019, 03:35 PM
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I would class the person named E in the article as genderfluid the way you seem to be thinking (although I personally wouldn't really characterise it as " fluctuate between male and female genders").

The article isn't paywalled for me at all.
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Old 01-12-2019, 03:42 PM
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Here's a simple model for you: Whatever it is in the brain that varies from person to person, varies on a continuum. And somewhere along that continuum, there's a line between what we call "male" and "female". And in everyone, both the position of that line and the position of the brain vary a little bit from day to day.

Now, the range among all people is large, and the variation in any individual is small. So most people, even through these fluctuations, will stay consistently on on side or the other of the line. But some people are close enough to the line that they can sometimes cross it, and so the same person might be just barely on the "male" side of the line sometimes, and just barely on the "female" side of the line at other times.

Of course, this is biology and psychology, and nothing in biology, and especially nothing in psychology, is ever simple. The real way that brains and gender identity and so on work is surely much more complicated than what I just described. But if even such a simple model can account for this phenomenon, it should be no surprise that it emerges from the complicated reality, as well.
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Old 01-12-2019, 03:54 PM
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Transgenderism and gender fluidity aren't in conflict (even though early trans thought may have thought they were, same as early feminist thought believed that trans genderism violated the "socially constructed" framework of gender). It just means that those who feel the need to transition feel a large disparity in their socially (and physically) assigned gender and their mental gender. Nothing about it requires gender to be binary. In fact, one common trait of newly transitioned individuals is that they will deliberately present as more of their preferred gender than they actually feel, as a bit of overcompensation. As they get older, they often settle down.

Once you establish that a continuum is possible, we have non-binary identities, that are neither male nor female (or both male and female). From there we have Chronos's logic to show why genderfluidity isn't that big a deal.
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Old 01-12-2019, 05:22 PM
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I would have thought that if you're right in the middle, you'd present as non-gendered (agender?), rather than coming to class one day asking to be called by a male name and then a few days later by a female name. That is, the variation around non-gendered would be small rather than seemingly swinging from fully male (male clothing, male name) to fully female (clothing and name).

Are there famous older adults that have come out as genderfluid?
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Old 01-12-2019, 05:26 PM
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Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose, and Tilda Swinton have all identified as genderfluid IIRC.
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Old 01-12-2019, 05:31 PM
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Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose, and Tilda Swinton have all identified as genderfluid IIRC.
Thanks, andros. I'll take a look.
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Old 01-12-2019, 05:37 PM
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I would have thought that if you're right in the middle, you'd present as non-gendered (agender?), rather than coming to class one day asking to be called by a male name and then a few days later by a female name. That is, the variation around non-gendered would be small rather than seemingly swinging from fully male (male clothing, male name) to fully female (clothing and name).

Are there famous older adults that have come out as genderfluid?
It isn't their fault that society decided something that is really a spectrum was codified in social norms as binary.

Tilda Swinton may count depending on what you consider "older". Folks who grew up in an era when even Boy George had to pretend to be straight are not probably as comfortable about coming out as being fluid. Society as a whole still isn't tolerant of even trans folk let alone this more complex version.

Note people don't always fluctuate between genders norms and identities they mayo simply express multiple genders at the same time and still be genderfluid. But even CIS couples tend to change the lines for gender roles within differing relationships too. Just because my hypothetical 1st wife was a housewife doesn't mean my second wife won't be a construction worker nor would my hypothetical ex-wife necessarily have the same structure in her next relationship. Those roles change often just typically within a set of values that most people find within the "norms" and often times even CIS folks comply with norms they don't really identify with. Often this compliance has very real negative health implications.

Remember that these gender roles are a product of our social construct and typically not innate to any typical biological expression. Societies set the gender categories and norms.

Last edited by rat avatar; 01-12-2019 at 05:41 PM.
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Old 01-12-2019, 10:43 PM
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It isn't their fault that society decided something that is really a spectrum was codified in social norms as binary.

Tilda Swinton may count depending on what you consider "older". Folks who grew up in an era when even Boy George had to pretend to be straight are not probably as comfortable about coming out as being fluid. Society as a whole still isn't tolerant of even trans folk let alone this more complex version.

Note people don't always fluctuate between genders norms and identities they mayo simply express multiple genders at the same time and still be genderfluid. But even CIS couples tend to change the lines for gender roles within differing relationships too. Just because my hypothetical 1st wife was a housewife doesn't mean my second wife won't be a construction worker nor would my hypothetical ex-wife necessarily have the same structure in her next relationship. Those roles change often just typically within a set of values that most people find within the "norms" and often times even CIS folks comply with norms they don't really identify with. Often this compliance has very real negative health implications.

Remember that these gender roles are a product of our social construct and typically not innate to any typical biological expression. Societies set the gender categories and norms.
I have to admit, I don't quite follow. I'm not someone who says that there are girl jobs and boy jobs. I don't think a man staying at home is a woman or something, so I don't really follow your first wife vs. second wife example. It's a question of what gender they feel they are, not what jobs they have or how they dress.

I did read up on Swinton and Cyrus, and they seemed more like gender nonconforming than gender fluid to me.

I'm really thinking about people who seem to have gender changes on a regular basis. Those are the ones who baffle me. Literally, changing their name, changing it back, and back again, etc.
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Old 01-12-2019, 11:03 PM
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What you might be missing are that some genderfluid people just consider themselves normal, and the rest of society weird. Imagine travelling to another country where your favorite color is not only considered a deeply intrinsic part of your identity, but also tied to what you should wear, what jobs you should have, how you should do your hair, what food you should eat. Now imagine someone from that country asking, how do you just wear green one day, and purple the next? What could possibly be going on in that brain of yours?

In these cases, nothing is rapidly changing, they are just ignoring the aspects of gender that are purely cultural constructs.
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Old 01-12-2019, 11:59 PM
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Exactly. AFAICT it is not at all that genderfluid-identifying people are in any way confused about whether they have a penis or a vagina. It's just that their sense of gender identity is not primarily determined by whether they have a penis or a vagina.

(In fact, AFAIK, researchers on this subject suggest that nobody's innate sense of gender identity is primarily determined by whether they have a penis or a vagina. It's just that for most of us, our sense of gender identity happens to correlate so strongly with our genital configuration that we naively assume that our genital configuration and/or the chromosomes that produce it are what causes our sense of gender identity.)

Another analogy might be a person with, say, one blond blue-eyed Swedish parent and one black-haired brown-eyed Sri Lankan parent, who happens to look much more like the Sri Lankan than the Swede. If this person was brought up bi-nationally and bi-culturally by both parents with fluency in both Swedish and Sinhalese, etc., they might describe themselves one day as Sri Lankan and another day as Swedish. This would naturally puzzle anybody who naively assumes that your cultural identity is determined by your ethnic phenotype: "How can you call yourself Swedish? You're dark-complexioned with black hair and brown eyes, you look just like a typical Sri Lankan, and yesterday you said you were Sri Lankan!"

Likewise, people who naively assume that your sense of gender identity is determined by your genital anatomy and chromosomes are asking genderfluid people, for instance, "How can you call yourself female-identifying? You have a penis and a Y chromosome, and the other day you joined a men's discussion group!" To the genderfluid people themselves, though, it's not the simple situation of two mutually exclusive categories that the more naive people are assuming it to be.

Last edited by Kimstu; 01-13-2019 at 12:00 AM.
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Old 01-13-2019, 01:25 AM
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they seemed more like gender nonconforming than gender fluid to me.
What's the difference to you? To me, the second is a subset of the first.
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Old 01-13-2019, 09:45 AM
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It makes no practical difference to me. I'm hear to learn, though, and I'm trying to better understand people who are gender fluid. I have no problem in general with gender non-conforming -- I understand the concept of a spectrum of gender, I just don't understand moving around on the spectrum. (To be clear, I have no problem with gender fluid either, but I'm trying to understand it better)

Kimstu, it sounds like you're describing transgender, or other gender non-conforming people. As I said, I get the idea of a spectrum, just not moving around on it.

jackdavinci, I know that analogies aren't the thing, and that's why the are analogies and not the thing in itself. However, I'm not sure your analogy works -- gender really is influenced by biology, chemistry, and so on. It's not a choice like favorite color. And, I really don't understand the clothes and jobs part -- women and men can do all jobs and wear whatever clothing they want. If I decide I want to be a homemaker, that doesn't make me a woman. There have been transvestites for generations and many (most?) still consider themselves men, right? They wear women's clothing. Women, of course, have been able to wear whatever they wanted to since at least the 60's. None of that has to do with changing pronouns and preferred name (and then, changing again, and again).
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Old 01-13-2019, 03:26 PM
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Did you read the bit at the end of that article, where the one 3rd-gender partner of a man says if they move to Canada, they'll just be a gay couple? That doesn't invalidate their identification as fa‘afafine in Samoa (which is not the same as "gay man"), and no brain chemistry change is going to happen just in travelling from Samoa to Canada. The only changes would be psychosocial, and yet, change there would be.
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Old 01-13-2019, 08:08 PM
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I have to admit, I don't quite follow. I'm not someone who says that there are girl jobs and boy jobs. I don't think a man staying at home is a woman or something, so I don't really follow your first wife vs. second wife example. It's a question of what gender they feel they are, not what jobs they have or how they dress.

I did read up on Swinton and Cyrus, and they seemed more like gender nonconforming than gender fluid to me.

I'm really thinking about people who seem to have gender changes on a regular basis. Those are the ones who baffle me. Literally, changing their name, changing it back, and back again, etc.
I do want to be clear I was using physical dress and traditional gender roles to illustrate personal and social gender expectations. Physical presentation, sexual orientation and sexual orientation are separate to identity, which is how a person feels.

There are three distinct and interrelated aspects of gender; body, expression, and identity. Gender fluid people simply don't have a static spot on the identity dimension. Their self-view may switch between male and female or it may be on a non-binary continuum. Someone who is gender fluid may feel more masculine one day and then more feminine the next. What an individual considers themselves is all that matters with gender identity. Gender non-conformity through behavior or gender expression isn't even required here, gender identity is a personal view of one's own identity.

There there is no single non-binary experience, these people aren't "switch(ing) between male and female" because there aren't two genders, but an infinite number of locations on a continuum. As the norm is binary people who's position changes within the context or even within established binary rules are simply just “non-binary genderfluid.”

The reasons, thresholds, identity, and terminology are unique to the individual. As you do seem quite empathetic to individuals who so identify as gender fluid; I would suggest you focus on their reasons and beliefs and completely ignore how that maps to your personal world view.

I am no expert in this subject, but I think you will find if you can shift the focus from understanding the language to understanding that the language shouldn't define an individual you will move forward. If you know or interact with some non-binary people and can focus on what you have in common it will become clear that even CIS folks like you and I have some ebbs and flows which aren't too different except that they may not lead you to change which group you identify with like they may for someone else.

It is OK to find this confusing but the secret to understanding it is to remember it is not about you, or what you think. Please note that I am not trying to attack you but read over your post above and notice how you say "I think", when it comes to another persons gender identity, what you think doesn't matter at all. It really is critical to grasp that point to try and understand what people are trying to communicate when they identify as gender fluid.

Last edited by rat avatar; 01-13-2019 at 08:11 PM.
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Old 01-13-2019, 08:33 PM
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I blogged about gender fluidity last April. (I don't identify as genderfluid myself but it's of interest to me)
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Old 01-13-2019, 08:48 PM
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What's the difference to you? To me, the second is a subset of the first.
According to a National Geographic article I read (don't know if it's the same one linked above, it's paywalled for me, too), they're two very different things. Gender nonconforming is about gender roles, whereas genderfluid/transgender/etc is about gender identity. So if you're a cis man who likes wearing dresses or is a househusband, you're not conforming to Western society's definition of "manliness" in your behavior. But you're still male.
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Old 01-13-2019, 10:03 PM
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Good piece, AHunter3. Thank you!
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Old 01-14-2019, 12:59 AM
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jackdavinci, I know that analogies aren't the thing, and that's why the are analogies and not the thing in itself. However, I'm not sure your analogy works -- gender really is influenced by biology, chemistry, and so on. It's not a choice like favorite color.
How do you know that your favorite color isn't influenced, or even entirely decided by biology and chemistry?

Thing is, despite many hypothesis being thrown around, getting support or not most of the time mostly depending on whether or not they fit well with the person's already established worldview, we know pretty much nothing about the brain, about what exactly is determined by biology and what is determined by culture. Your preferred color could very well be dependent on genetics. In fact I would suspect it probably is to some extent.

And when you say that gender is really influenced by biology, chemistry, etc... : what do you mean by "gender"? It's not a trick question, it's really unclear to me. What makes one person, according to you, part of a gender rather than another? You talk about gender being a continuum. But this implies that gender is a monolithic thing, and that all the sub-parts that constitutes this "gender" move together on this, say, slider. But I see no reason to assume that. Each individual characteristic that together constitutes "gender" could have its own independent slider. And some could be very dependent on genetics, and some less, and some not at all. And some of these parts could be biologically related to each other and reflect some sort of biological reality, while we associate others characteristic to them for purely cultural reasons. To give an example, let's say that what you call "gender" is made of five parts : A, B, C, D and E.

A is 80% determined by biology, B is 50% determined by biology, C is 20% determined by biology. And they're also related from a biological point of view. If you have a lot of A, you'll have also a lot of B and a lot of C (for the small part of C that is determined by biology). D is 100% determined by biology, but totally unrelated with A,B and C . We just regroup it with the others characteristics under the name "gender" for entirely cultural reason. And it also has only two positions determined by biology : D+ and D- Finally, E is entirely cultural with no biological basis, and of course as a result unrelated to A, B and C.

So what we have here is a gender where three elements (A, B and C) are moving more or less together, but not entirely so, on three tied sliders with each of these sub-sliders being also influenced, to a different extent, by culture, one element (D) that has only two possible positions determined biologically, and a last one (E) with its own totally independent slider only influenced by culture. And then we look at the whole mess and we say : "this is gender". And tomorrow maybe we'll remove "E" from our definition of gender (anyway, it's just associated with the others arbitrarily) but we'll add instead a new characteristic F, for equally arbitrary reasons.


That's more or less how I expect "gender" to work in reality (except much more complicated). I definitely don't expect a simple continuum determined in a large part by biology as you seem to do.
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Old 01-14-2019, 07:18 PM
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Thanks to everyone and I really appreciate your patience and all the feedback. Thanks, also, to AHunter3 for pointing me to your blog article.

I'm still having a hard time wrapping by head around this. Growing up, this really wasn't a thing people knew about (except for genderqueer people themselves, of course -- they knew about it). Transvestites and transsexuals were well known, of course -- Renee Richards, Wendy Carlos, The Birdcage, and so on helped make those particular types of gender non-conforming familiar.

All this, of course, is my problem. I'll read through these responses again in a couple of weeks after it has had a chance to settle into my head a little more. Practically speaking, it makes no real world difference, since as I mentioned, I would never treat someone differently due to their gender identity.

Thanks again.

RS
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Old 01-14-2019, 10:00 PM
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Kimstu, it sounds like you're describing transgender, or other gender non-conforming people. As I said, I get the idea of a spectrum, just not moving around on it.
Huh, the concept of "moving around on" a spectrum is exactly what my analogy of the Swedish-Sri Lankan person was intended, perhaps too optimistically, to illustrate.

Somebody who thinks that cultural/national identity is determined by ethnic phenotype will be confused if a Sri-Lankan-looking person self-identifies sometimes as Sri Lankan and sometimes as Swedish. But for the person in question, it feels natural to identify in both those ways; sometimes one predominates and sometimes the other.

Likewise, many cisgender people assume that gender identity is determined by gender/chromosomes, so they get confused if a person with a clearly identifiable birth-assigned gender identifies sometimes as male and sometimes as female. But to a genderfluid person, identifying as male and identifying as female aren't mutually exclusive, though they may not be simultaneous.
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