On the Science of Changing Sex

The Origins of Cross-Gender Identity in Transsexuals

Posted in Transsexual Theory by Kay Brown on December 28, 2009

androgynous faceThe widely held conception that transsexuals suffer from a disturbance of gender identity is at best only a secondary effect.  The cause must necessarily be different for autogynephilic (AGP) and young transitioning (feminine androphilic transsexuals ) transkids, as their etiologies are unrelated.  Clearly, almost all people do identify as members of one or the other social gender, nearly always congruently with their biological sex.  But does that necessarily mean that self identification with a given social gender is directly the result of biological brain sex as many transsexuals claim?

Human beings are not computers, with an unchangeable Read Only Memory that includes an ID serial number and name.  Instead, we must learn, or create, our identities as individuals.  Likewise there is no innate neural circuit that may be unambiguously read out that indicates one’s gender.  Instead, we must infer this from the outside.  But many MTF transsexuals, most of whom are clearly male and masculine in both behavior and appearance before (and most often after) transition declare that they do have a sense of having an innate “female gender identity” despite all appearances to the contrary.  This seeming contradiction with the experience of the rest of human society begs explanation.

Children naturally gender segregate, play in same-sex groups, beginning around age three.  By age five, this preference is pronounced.  This segregation appears to be based on play style compatibility [Moller & Serbin].  These play styles are not simply based on toy preference or sex role stereotyping, but on differences of social skills and interaction.  Girls are self-segregating on their “pro-social” interactions, specifically, the use of polite suggestions and acceptance of others’ such polite suggestions, a give and take that seeks to maximize social harmony, while boys make direct demands and are disruptive [Moller & Serbin].  Feminine boys are noted to prefer female playmates around the same age.  These boys may also be searching out playmates with compatible play styles, as “boys play too rough” [Green].  The girls may in turn be accepting of these feminine boys on this very same basis, as these boys’ evident pro-social skills and play preferences mirror their own.

As children are largely sexually undifferentiated until adolescence, save for genitalia, which remain largely hidden beneath clothing, they must use other clues for gender attribution of their peers.  Sex specific clothing serves as one such gendered clue.  So does play style and play content preference.  For young feminine boys, this latter gendered clue provides strong evidence, to themselves, that they may be better off as girls, may in fact be girls, despite others insistence on their being boys.  Feminine boys are notable for their preference for female roles in play acting, being “the mommie” or the “nurse” over being the “daddy”.  As these feminine boys may then wish to be considered to be girls by others, so as to enjoy greater social acceptance within their preferred female circle, they may also prefer girls clothing to provide further gender clues that are compatible with their growing awareness of their greater similarity to their female playmates.

Sounds like these boys are headed toward growing up to be a transsexual?

MTF Transkid in ballet class

MTF Transkid in ballet class

This early experience identifying with her female playmates often is the earliest awareness of a “female gender identity” and of cross-dressing in the very rare child that is to grow up to be a feminine androphilic transsexual; As she grows older, far from becoming less feminine, she becomes more so.

Thus, the source of gender identification and later of social gender identity for feminine androphilic transsexuals is found in the process of comparison of their own personalities and social interactions with the majority of men and women.  A transkid observes that she is much more like her female friends, in nearly every respect, and unlike her male associates.  She comes to feel that she would be better off as a woman, and after finding greater social ease and acceptance post transition, finds confirmation that indeed she is more comfortable as a woman and enjoys an easy détente with society that accepts her womanly presentation.

In contrast, autogynephilic males do not commonly exhibit feminine behavior and identification as young children.  They experience a typically masculine boyhood, choosing and being accepted by other masculine boys as playmates.  However, as adults, in transition, they report that they are “women inside”.  They insist that all external appearances not withstanding, they have a “hidden female gender identity” that is at odds with their external anatomy and behavior.  Where does this seeming contradiction come from?

The most parsimonious hypothesis would be that they are lying.  Autogynephilia drives these men to want to feminize their bodies, but the medical system denies access to such procedures unless they lie, confabulate histories that more closely approximate feminine androphilic transsexual histories.  Indeed, we know that this was historically true in some, but not all clinics.  But since it is no longer true, that AGPs are actively accepted and accommodated in today’s boutique medical care system, the simple prevarication hypothesis cannot provide the full answer.

Most AGP transsexuals are sincere and honest in their assertion that they do experience a definite internal sense of having a “female gender identity”.  Assuming that they are not lying, could there be another explanation?

The author has the unusual luck in having known, of having been on friendly terms with, a classmate during Jr. High and High School that transitioned at age 40, as I discussed previously in another post.  Most revealingly, when pressed for reasons, MJ said that she knew that he was a “woman inside” because ever since meeting her future wife, she had used, needed, the fantasy that she was a lesbian, a female having sex with another female, while having otherwise conventional heterosexual intercourse.  MJ literally equated obligatory autogynophilic ideation with having a “female gender identity”!!!

Conversations with other late transitioning transsexuals  reveals similar admissions.  If every time an AGP transsexual sees herself, in her mind’s eye, in a sexual situation as obligatorily female, this would provide strong evidence that she is indeed “female inside”.  No amount of masculine behavior, manners, or appearance could countermand such an immediate and complete “proof” of her “identity”, once that connection is accepted.

Bruce Jenner beginning transition

Caitlyn (nee Bruce) Jenner beginning transition at age 65

The equation of autogynephilic ideation with “female gender identity” also answers another question regarding AGP transsexual life arcs, the issue of late transitioning.  After all, if these individuals had in fact a female gender identity, why then would they wait so long to transition, often after years of marriage and career?  The answer is that they did not in fact have such a female gender identity, or even identify with women, at first [Lawrence].  This lack of identification with women often is evidenced by sexism and male chauvinism [Vitale].  They, like the feminine androphilic transsexual, had compared their own personalities and social interactions during childhood and adolescence, with the majority of men and women, and originally found that they best fit in as men, that they were in fact, men.  Indeed, this process is likely to be universal in early childhood as to go unnoticed in non-transsexual people [Diamond].  But for the AGP individual in adolescence, a cognitive dissonance is created by the growing awareness of autogynephilic arousal.  This may be accommodated by partial or complete cross-dressing in private, perhaps for life.  But for those few who experience complete and obligatory autogynephilic ideation as their only means for sexual arousal, the cognitive dissonance between their socially formed identity as men and their internal sexual self-image as female preys on them.  This creates a struggle that may be evidenced by a “flight into hypermasculinity” as he tries to fight back the need to be female in erotic situations.  As sexuality is notoriously refractory, it is the socially formed identity that must buckle if the internal struggle is to be relieved.  The result is an acceptance of, and then staunchly defended, sense of a “female gender identity”.

This is not a “gender identity” in the usual sense [Parkinson].  It is instead, an autoerotic body image.  But, as the idealized autoerotic body image competes with, is directly contradictory to, the socially formed identity, the inner sense of the difference between the two is blurred for the AGP transsexual.  It becomes conceptually easier, far less painful, to accept that she is a woman inside, has always been a woman inside, than to remain consciously aware of the cognitive dissonance between being socially and sexually a masculine man and obligatorily, through no choice of her own, always a woman in her inner sexual life.


Green, Richard, Sexual Identity Conflict in Children and Adults (1974)

Lora C. Moller,  Lisa A. Serbin “Antecedents of toddler gender segregation: cognitive consonance, gender-typed toy preferences and behavioral compatibility”, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research,  Oct, 1996

Lawrence, Anne, “Do Some Men Who Desire Sex Reassignment Have a Mental Disorder?”

Vitale, Anne, “Sexism in the Male to Female Transsexual”  1997

Parkinson, Alex, “The Gender Identity Fallacy, How an Irrational Concept Prevents a Rational Understanding of Transsexuality”

Milton Diamond, “Biased-Interaction Theory of Psychosexual Development: “How Does One Know if One is Male or Female?” https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11199-006-9115-y

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