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CONTENT WARNING - question relates to how "transgenderness" is constructed, and whether or not seen by trans theorists as biologically determined or socially constructed (or something else/some combination). For my own reasons for asking this question, as a person with trans partners seeking to educate myself, see footnote. I apologise in advance for any poor wording and assumptions, and please suggest any question improvements

The nature/nurture debate is heavily argued in the realm of sexuality (male homosexuality especially) but I'm less clear how transgender activists see their own struggle in that context.

Debatably there are at least two perspectives (probably many more, but I'm picking what I guess are the most likely prominent two options). Here are possible thought experiments/arguments I've come up with, from both sides:

  • Basis of an argument for nurture: A transgender person living in a world that did not impose presentation , relationship and societal role expectations on a person because of their biological parts and biological presentation, and where prejudice related to atypicality in these didn't exist, would not feel oppressed, coerced, unsafe, or pressured to present or live a way they didn't like related to their self perception. In such a world, one could conclude that transgenderness might exist but it would have almost no psychological impact since (unlike today) any person would readily be able and emotionally free to adopt any path at any time with societal approval that felt to them, to match their self-sense. Therefore, this argument might run, while appearance may be biological, the essence of a need to identify as transgender or for the concept to have any daily significance, arises purely from adverse social structures - nurture.

  • Basis of an argument for nature: A transgender person essentially states that they believe themself to factually have a mind or self image gender that conflicts with their bodily stereotyped gender, and that this divergence is not merely a matter of social education (so they would most surely argue against a suggestion that the image can be simply educated out). These seem to imply a further belief that their mind or self image stems from an actual neurological difference not a mere arbitrary choice, which furthermore implies a still further belief that the brain is a gendered organ from the start, and that differences felt as this sense of "true gender" arise from the inherent brain wiring and not merely from social experience. (Because if the brain weren't a gendered organ from the start, the sense of personality and gender would have to arise after birth: nurture not nature, contradicting the position)

    So self-identification as transgender in this argument, implies a biological basis in the brain, and a conflicting biological presentation of the body - and therefore a biologically imposed conflict. Asserting that being transgender results from a biological brain-wiring-vs-bodily-presentation inconsistency, implies twin beliefs that distinct genderised male-vs-female neurologies exist, and suggests that even in the absence of societal pressure and expectations, a person would still feel an inward self conflict, because it's internally generated - nature.

    (That said, a huge part of female equality dialog and research both seem to conclude robustly that at the neurological level there just aren't such male/female differences as are widely believed in, when examined by careful peer reviewed neurological research. The differences, when scrutinised, are largely the result of poorly designed research, self fulfilling belief in experimental design by experimentalists, or no research, or assumption.)

Short version: As seen by transgender activists, theorists, and writers, is the essence of transgender, personally and politically,

  • (A) a dissonance rooted within an individual between a hypothetical genderised neurology vs actual body form that would exist within an individual even in the absence of hints from society, or
  • (B) a dissonance rooted in external society purely due to societally stipulated rules setting out permissible social paths and choices for the various given external body shapes, which would be "of academic/marginal interest only" in the absence of those rules?
    And in any case
  • Does being transgender inherently require or not require belief in a model of neurology that has different male/female brains, for the basic concept to even exist and have significance?

I'm sure much of this is simplistic and has errors, but I can't find a clear solid discussion on these points specifically by theorists, writers and activists who are themselves trans (not by terfs and not by non-trans-identified persons) that analyses these and suggests how transgendered persons themselves, deconstruct and analyse this question.

Disclosure - multiple of my partners are trans (some binary, some nonbinary). The aim of this question is to better understand how trans theorists and activists construct these issues and the broader nature vs nurture (society vs internal) topic area. I'm not asking in order to encourage toxic views, rather to educate myself so I have a better chance to be a better partner to them when this kind of issue arises politically or socially. It's a question/topic that's of interest and widely studied in the field of sexuality and sexual politics as well as LG(and some)B within gender studies, but I can't find clear trans perspective descriptions in the field of gender politics . I'm asking for one side's view specifically - that is what would be most helpful and provide actual useful insight. Transphobes have their soapboxes but their views are likely to misrepresent trans views making it hopeless to go there initially until I understand this.

  • This question is very long and a bit abstruse. Could you condense it down to its central ideas? Also, my impression has always been that transgender activists, and at least as important, scientists, tend to heavily favor (A). The notion of an innate psychological gender is supported by the presence of transgender individuals historically across a wide range of societies, by research on hormonal influences in brain development, and by case studies of cisgender children raised as a different sex. Although I don't think most people think societal factors are entirely irrelevant. – Obie 2.0 Jul 6 '19 at 4:24
  • Also, can you clarify what you mean by "such male/female differences as are widely believed in"? Do you mean gender stereotypes, like women being bad at math, which neurological research does tend to debunk? Or do you mean any notion of average neurological differences between men and women, which research tends to support (for instance, the correlation between high and particularly low levels of testosterone and depression, an androgen whose levels differ between XX and XY individuals, is well-established)? – Obie 2.0 Jul 6 '19 at 4:28
  • Terms like "inconsistencies", and "dissonance" seem needlessly disapproving, negatively implying transgenderism may not in fact evince some underappreciated harmonic consistency. It's not obvious who the "CONTENT WARNING" is attempting to warn. – agc Jul 6 '19 at 19:49
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    @agc - To my mind, your edit actually makes the question seem much more disapproving. Changing the neutral term "transgender activists" to "proponents of transgenderism" makes it sound like being transgender is an ideology, and these "proponents" are trying to spread it. It recalls terms like "the gay agenda." How would "proponents of gayness" sound? Maybe "proponents of transgender rights," though more wordy, would be preferable. – Obie 2.0 Jul 7 '19 at 2:51
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Obie 2.0 Jul 7 '19 at 4:44

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