On the Science of Changing Sex

All The Wrong Moves

Posted in Autobiographical, Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on September 24, 2010

female_scientistBack in mid-90’s, an out of town transactivist, a transwoman who had transitioned in mid-life, asked if she could visit at my home, as she was passing through. I agreed and had her over for lunch. She arrived wearing a respectably skirted suit. She passed fairly well. Nothing about her looks or manner would have told most people that she was a transsexual. However, my nine year old adopted daughter, Liz, insisted on using masculine pronouns. I was deeply embarrassed, mortified. I tried to correct her, but she angrily replied, “But he’s a man!”, with that look on her face that clearly said she thought I must be either blind or crazy. I’ve been told by many AGP transsexuals that it can be very difficult to pass around pre-pubescent children, who always seem to read them instantly.

On another occasion, late at night, I got a call from a very distraught nineteen year old, pre-transition, pre-HRT, transkid that I knew as Stacey. She had had a fight with her folks and they had locked her out of the house. I’m sure you can guess what the fight had been about. For me, it was deja vu, having had the same one with my folks when I was seventeen. I drove out to her place and took her home. She was wearing a polo shirt and pressed slacks, boy’s shoes. I put her to bed in our spare room. The next morning, Stacey had awoken early, gotten dressed in those same boy’s clothes, and went downstairs to scrounge a breakfast. My daughter had gone downstairs before I had gotten dressed. She saw Stacey for a moment and, startled by a stranger in her house, ran back to me. She asked breathlessly, “Who’s the girl in the kitchen?” I calmly replied, “Her name is Stacey…”  My daughter rejoined Stacey and consistently, unreservedly, saw her as a girl, as they happily chatted together.


Kay Brown with her adopted daughter Liz

So, my daughter saw a post-op AGP transwoman as a man, and a pre-transition, pre-hormone therapy transkid as a girl!

What was it about this polished older transwoman that led my daughter to attribute maleness to her in spite of her obviously female attire and appearance? What was it about Stacey that led my daughter to attribute femaleness to her in spite of her obviously male attire? What was it about me during my first weeks of high school that a strange boy should turn to another and ask in genuine confusion, “Is that a boy or a girl?” To which, the second boy simply shrugged.

The answer is likely sex-typed motor behaviors. Children are very aware of opposite sex typed motor behaviors starting at the age of five. That’s also the age which many of the adult sex-typed motor behaviors begin to develop. This process continues into adolescence in a progression from sitting styles, to walking, to standing, to book carry. The female sex-typed book carry style, in which one uses the crook of one’s arm and hip to support the weight is the last to develop.

Both children and adults can imitate some of the opposite sex type motor behaviors, but interestingly, not all. This is of extreme importance to passing, or rather the phenomena of being read or clocked as transsexual. It is widely understood that before transition, MTF “older transitioners” do not perform very many of the female sex typed behaviors naturally. But during the transition process, quickly learn to self-monitor and perform them. However, given that they can’t be continuously monitoring their behavior 24/7, they are likely to relax when they feel in safer environments. But even when fully self-monitoring, as I feel certain my lunch guest was that day, she can’t perform those female sex typed behaviors which most adult males can’t perform. Some of these sex typed motor behaviors are so visible that I personally have been able to accurately clock an AGP from the back, at up to 150 yards away!

On the other hand, transkids perform many of these female typed motor behaviors naturally. As children, before transition, they may try to monitor and suppress these very behaviors that the AGP transsexuals later have to learn to perform. Like the AGP, but in the reversed gendered sense, there are certain behaviors that they can’t control, can’t keep from performing, likely due to their feminized cerebellum. Thus, in high risk situations, such as in front of potentially aggressive boys at school, they may be taken for homosexual or even for girls. This can have negative consequences, even if overt violence is avoided. Gender atypical behavior causes most people to feel uncomfortable. This can lead to ostracism or lack of social cooperation. Thus, transkids suffer from lower grades, fewer social and job opportunities, and lower social status. After transition, these very same behaviors no longer need be monitored, so for transkids, transition is both easier and actually increases their opportunties and status.

But, for the poor AGP transsexual woman, transition often reverses her social status and opportunities, often in subtle ways that she can’t quite pin-point the cause. As one such transsexual put it to me years ago, “… before it was all smiles, now its all frowns (from strangers)”.  The problem is… even smiling is different in men and women.

Epilogue:  A year or so after the events I described above, my lovely daughter was rummaging in my things when she chanced across some photographs of me as a child, “Mommie, why are you dressed like a boy in these pictures?”


{A quick note: Yes, I’m aware that two of these authors are very trans-un-friendly. I just hold my nose when reading them.}

David H. Barlow, Joyce R. Mills, W. Stewart Agras and Debra L. Steinman, “Comparison of sex-typed motor behavior in male-to-female transsexuals and women”

Steven C. Hayes; Rosemary O. Nelson; David L. Steele; Marie E. Meeler; David H. Barlow, “The Development of the Display and Knowledge of Sex Related Motor Behavior in Children”

Steven C. Hayes, Rosemery O. Nelson, David L. Steele, Marie E. Meeler and David H. Barlow, “Instructional control of sex-related motor behavior in extremely masculine or feminine adults”

George A. Rekers, Shasta Mead Morey, “Sex-Typed Body Movements as a Function of Severity of Gender Disturbance in Boys”

Steven C. Hayes and Susan R. Leonard, “Sex-related motor behavior: Effects on social impressions and social cooperation”

Rita Rachkowski and Kevin E. O’Grady, “Client gender and sex-typed nonverbal behavior: Impact on impression formation”

Ugail, H. et al. “Is gender encoded in the smile? A computational framework for the analysis of the smile driven dynamic face for gender recognition”



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