Column: Gender roles not determined by chromosomes

In writing his April 24 trans-species letter, Shane Moser missed the mark and instead demonstrated both his ignorance about gender identity and a dangerous mentality which puts one in 12 transgender people at risk for homicide this year, 50 perce...

corbitt hall LTE.png

In writing his April 24 trans-species letter , Shaun Moser missed the mark and instead demonstrated both his ignorance about gender identity and a dangerous mentality which puts one in 12 transgender people at risk for homicide this year, 50 percent at risk for physical or sexual assault, and 40 percent at risk for suicide.

This insensitive and unoriginal letter perpetuates myths about transgender identity and pits it against the incompatible construct of species. I hope to deconstruct this myth and reframe the narrative so that gender identity gets the proper, informed attention it deserves. Gender, roles and behaviors associated with biological sex, is, unlike species, socially constructed. Look no further than to George Washington, our nation's father, for proof of this fact. Washington, a man's man, is often pictured in a ruffled shirt, tight knee breeches, and stockings. This imagery does not demonstrate a proclivity for haute couture, but instead common masculine fashion 300 years ago.

This was 18th century masculinity, yet this picture of manliness is discordant with our macho 21st century manhood with its rugged lines, squared whiskered jaw, and flannel shirt. These disparate views of masculinity demonstrate the very fact that gender is negotiated by our culture every generation. Masculinity and femininity for our parent's generation is not so for ours.

Indeed, whereas a woman in pants in public was shocking years ago, we don't question her right, or femininity, if she does so today. While gender is associated with specific biological sexes, our individual gender is not determined by it. Gender identity, our internal sense of being a masculine (i.e., a man) or feminine (i.e., a woman), is a psychological state of awareness that develops in early childhood.

Everyone, including Mr. Moser, has a gender identity, and no one determines what it is. It merely appears as a result of our individual personality (i.e., psychological) and biological expression. Cisgender people are those whose internal sense of being a man or a woman matches their biological sex. Transgender people are those whose internal sense does not. Our awareness (and acceptance) of this is determined by our social experience and our environment. Both are normal expressions of human identity, and, despite Mr. Moser's claims that this is a recent phenomenon, have existed throughout the world as long as our species has.


Indeed, the native peoples of this continent recognized dozens of gender identities, and what we call transgender identity today was both normal and revered in this land until European homophobia and misogyny beat it into submission. Recently, I read of the first successful penis transplant on a man who lost his to cancer. This man did not cease to be a man when his biological bits didn't match a narrow definition of manhood any more than a woman who has a hysterectomy ceases to be a woman.

Our manness and womanness is not defined by our genitals nor by our chromosomes. These just define how we can reproduce. Our gender is determined by our own brain and our own socially lived experience.

Corbitt-Hall is an award-winning transgender advocate and doctoral student in social psychology at North Dakota State University.

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