Respect v. Derision, Demifluid v. Demiflux, Relationships v. Privacy — Reader Advice Roundup!



@Dan, OkCupid already has a question that asks whether you are GGG. What I believe to be the appropriate answer choice is "Hell yeah!"

I would recommend a kinky submissive woman mentioning Secretary among a list a movies she enjoys. It is the kind of thing that a vanilla person would gloss over but a kinky guy looking for a kinky woman will catch. A kinky woman can also answer a couple of kink-related or kink-adjacent questions out of the hundreds of questions to which she responds. She will at least know that any guy who finds her response has been really diligent going through her responses to find that information. A bit more subtle is writing a comment to a question, for instance, "Dd/lg." Most people will not scroll through hundreds of questions. The guy who finds those Easter eggs is probably searching for them.

Personally, I got very good at identifying submissive women with very few clues.


Kinkdar is a thing.


I would think that mentioning "I like to be spanked" in a profile would be innocuous enough, and a not a red flag for thirsty 'nillas. But then again, I'm not a woman on a dating site.


@3 being a woman on a dating site is a bit like being at a cattle auction except instead of raised hands it's just pictures of dicks. I have a friend who listed herself as a woman seeking woman and then reiterated on her profile that she's 100% a lesbian and she still gets thirsty dudes in her inbox.


"being a woman on a dating site is a bit like being at a cattle auction except instead of raised hands it's just pictures of dicks"

Is that available on a T-shirt?


My ex was extremely ticklish foot-wise and HATED having her feet touched. She would (involuntarily) kick you in the face (and complain about how much she hated having her feet touched), but she never said she was ticklish, so there you go...


Re; the demigender thing.

I think the problem is that we have different people using labels for different things and therefore causing problems.

Sometimes labels can be used for a short hand, like if you are at a party and someone asks you about yourself. In my case I would say I was Buddhist. This is a vague label but it tells the other person enough to know if I am the type of person that they would like to continue talking to(maybe they hate Buddhists).

Other times I might be talking with a smaller community of like minded people. For them I would say I’m a member of the Chokling Tersar tradition of the Kagyu school and lean towards the Madhyamaka view.

If you aren’t very deep into Tibetan Buddhism then only one of those labels will make any sense and communication will abruptly stop unless I just say “Buddhism”.

Gender is the same way. Most people don’t want to put in the work to understand the fine nuances of gender and just want to know a very high level so they can put you into the category of “friend” or “not friend”.


I am extremely ticklish and hate the sensation of being tickled, however i enjoy foot rubs, provided its an actual rubbing massage action and not some kind of “gentle caressing”, which is likely to end in reflexive kicks and cursing. People who don’t like their feet touched at all is one thing, but if you are OK with the foot rub as a kind gesture but not OK with it turning someone on at the same time, thats pretty lame


Proclaiming your label is like putting up a wall in a parking lot for ppl to drive around or smash into. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s better to let ppl get to know you first so you don’t miss out on someone great because we are not always who we think we are anyway.


@4BabyRae: I don't think that is a very good analogy. Cattle doesn't get to chose where it goes, but women get to sit in judgment of their suitors.


I don't think the rabble of commenters decided to mock alternative gender IDs because Dan said he couldn't remember them. I see these sorts of comments enough that I decided for my own mental health not to read the Demigender Husband thread. No matter how Dan phrased his reply, these trolls would have shown up to mock anyone who feels their gender isn't easy to pigeonhole. Every. Single. Time.

Glad Just Wondering (and her husband) doesn't literally think her husband is a guydyke, or a demiguydyke. :)

Dan, surely you can write columns with "if... then" statements? Like, "ask her what her issue is with having her feet touched. If it's because she's extremely ticklish, then... But if it's simply a psychological hangup, then..."


Fubar @3, as a woman on dating sites, if you put "I like to be spanked" you will unleash a flood of thirsty wannabe and actual doms. If what you are looking for is a relationship, this will not evoke the response you want. I like Sublime's approach of dropping hints; those people to whom this is important will look for them, and then you know you'll have found a quality person.

BabyRae @4, exactly. One reason I like OKCupid is because you can hide your profile from straight people. Your friend would still risk being messaged by bi guys, but this has cut out 99% of the dick pics and other inappropriate come-ons.

Graffik @6, exactly. This woman might have just said, "eww, don't touch my feet!" without further elaboration. Sometimes confessing that one is ticklish has the opposite effect one hoped for.

Ghost @7, agree. The term demigendered resonates with me, but I wouldn't tell a rando at a party that I am a demigirl who is attracted to androgynous people of all genders. I might share the information with close friends, or if the topic happened to come up, as it has here. I certainly wouldn't dispute anyone thinking of me as anything other than the close-enough, widely understood labels of bisexual and female. Looking for more precise words because "bisexual" and "female" aren't quite accurate is something I do as an exercise in self-knowledge, not because I want a specific flag to wave.

Sublime @10, it's a great analogy because many men treat the women like cattle, failing to understand that we should and do have a right to our own preferences in the matter.


Sublime @1: We tried to watch Secretary last night. Gah! We got halfway though and had to abort. The woman may have been of the submissive persuasion, but the leading man, Mr. Grey, was confused, conflicted, and mean. It was about as abusive as The Story of O. Not a good hint to drop in a dating (or any other) profile.

BiDanFan @25: I stand corrected. I had read the LoveCast caller as wanting to drop a mild hint about being kinky on a vanilla dating site. As I said, I'm not a woman on a dating site. But my girlfriend is a woman on Fetlife, and if the unsolicited messages and dick pics that she (and BabyRae @4's 100% lesbian friend) gets are any indication, then profile wording may not actually be all that relevant.


I was a little surprised at the level of contempt unleashed in the comments to that column. Sure, the mini-gradations of labelling might look a bit self absorbed from the outside, but so what? This doesn't hurt anyone, and might help some people feel that they understand themselves better. Why attack?


Fubar @13, I think including the film Secretary is a good hint; it hints that one is submissive, not that one wants someone exactly like that film's protagonist.
I'm also a woman on Fetlife and I have never received a dick pic via that medium, and few unsolicited messages. So there does seem to be a difference between women who present as submissive and women who do not. (I have quite a bare-bones Fetlife profile, which one of my subs commented on, and I said it was to dissuade the sort of attention I don't want. Seems to be working.)

Agony @14, I'm not surprised at all but I would definitely like to find out why there is so much contempt for gender-related self-reflection, and so little hesitancy to express it. Haters, care to comment?



I’m not a hater but I have some thoughts.

Part of it might be a sort of “forced nerd” syndrome, like someone who obsesses over Star Wars trying to make you learn about it when you just don’t care that much.

Part of it might be that it is a reminder that all forms of identity that we can choose from are about as solid as sand and that is one of the core problems of our time.

Part of it might be that it makes people feel like they have to do yet more intellectual labor that they don’t especially like(similar to the forced nerd idea but a little different).

So, thoughts?


@15 BiDanFan
I'm not a hater either, but of course I have thoughts too.

I think consciously some are starting out from a pedantic place of concern for unwieldy atomization.

For some of them, subconsciously, internal conflict and/or fear erupts into anger and bigotry.


@15: I also don't think of myself as a hater, here, but since I was one of the voices expressing confusion, I'll pipe up as well. I think the issue I have is how not-well-defined the terms are. I like words to mean something specific, and I like to know what they mean. This is probably my STEM background butting in where it oughtn't. Since all of this gender identity stuff is so very internal (unless you're talking about how one presents--which is why I have no issue with the term "gender non-conforming"), it's very difficult to get a handle on what it means. Many of the definitions I've heard don't feel like they mean much of anything to me, or at least, nothing that seems like it would require a term of its own.

Of course, this sort of issue will resolve with time; whenever language terms are fuzzy, use by a critical mass of people over a critical mass of time will cause some conventional meaning to coalesce (or else the term will fall from use). But at the moment, the distinctions are vague to those of us on the outside; that difficulty in understanding nuance passes into annoyance (for me) when people then get very particular about which of the plethora of vague terms they want to apply (and want you to use). Adding in a couple new terms over a decade of cultural shift seems completely reasonable. Adding in fifteen is bound to confuse people.


All of this makes a certain amount of sense, but doesn't explain, to me, the tone of so many of the comments. It wasn't just "I don't get this" or "I don't care about this", it was sneering and contemptuous.


Ghost @16: My thoughts are that none of the people who commented @16-@18 posted negative comments on the original thread. You didn't comment at all; Curious spoke positively about the idea of shaking up gender assumptions via the medium of multitudes of identity options; and Ciods said she was perplexed about it all but literally stated, "I'll try to refrain from snarky comments." I was hoping the people who didn't refrain from snarky comments would explain themselves.

To your specific post, Ghost @16, I don't see how this navel gazing is "forcing people to learn" anything. If you (general you) are comfortable with your gender identity, why not just ignore discussions like this one the same a non-Star Wars nerd would click away from a Star Wars discussion? Do the cis'es feel entitled to have every letter Dan posts concern them specifically? I wouldn't be surprised, actually. So perhaps, the pushback comes from an assumption that not only are people introspecting about their gender identities, but that this introspection will force everyone around them to intuit their gender from a list of potentially dozens, and deem them -phobic if they get it wrong. So the only way to stop us "forcing" people to guess and use our preferred pronouns is to attack us for having preferred pronouns in the first place. Haters, am I on track? (I agree with Agony -- I can see why most people would find it confusing, but I can't see why they would be so angry instead of just waving it off like they would, say, a person with a Mohawk.)


ciods @18. Your comment resonates with me. Asking people to use a non binary pronoun
is one thing. Expecting others who are not an intimate friend/ lover / family member to understand or be interested is no different to me than sharing other personal internal states with strangers. Not my business nor my concern.


How people treat others is more important than how they experience their own gender in any interpersonal interaction. That question generated a snarky comment from me because it was a rediculous question. Do I still have to do detention, Teacher Fan?


Maybe it’s a way to avoid the political mess and the environmental catastrophe. UN scientists have given us ten years or less to turn this around. Whatever gender one calls oneself will be of zero use once it really gets bad.


@11 I decided not to read the comments on the demigender husband, too, for the same reason. I see there are a lot of them, so I imagine it got pretty ugly. I agree that Dan couldn't phrase an answer in any way that would prevent it.

@20 I think cis people are frightened that they will lose (or they are losing) their value in society if they allow too many people to reject the concepts of "male" and "female." If someone finds "demigender" admirable, cis people see it as taking away from the admiration they have always received. This loss is very painful for some cis people to contemplate, so I understand why they appear angry, although I think it's really fear and hurt. They can't look the other way and let it go because they see it as having a direct impact on them, and they want to put it down, or dismiss it, so it doesn't have so much power to hurt them. No one likes to be hurt.

However, I don't think cis men and women really will suffer very much if they accept this. In fact, I think acceptance would be good for everyone. But confidence on my part that they will be ok doesn't do anything to ease their fear and pain.


I remember people being equally uptight when asked to use Ms. instead or Miss or Mrs., and I remember white people being uptight when encountering unfamiliar ethnic names.

I think lots of people don't like change, especially change which increases the odds of them feeling embarrassed for screwing up a social interaction.


Lava @22: "How people treat others is more important than how they experience their own gender in any interpersonal interaction." I agree, and a lot of people are choosing to treat others really shittily just because they are different. I don't think your comments sank to the level of vitriol in that threat. You were cheeky but showed a basic level of respect. "If others are proud to be their own version of human, more power to you." I give you an A on treating people with decency on that thread.


I'm will say that self-exploration and reflection around issues of gender and sexual identity is always worthwhile. Honestly, people have the right to use whatever language they feel best describes their experiences, and labels can be extraordinarily useful tools of self-realisation. However, I think it is also worth remembering that the QuILTBAG identities did not arise as an aid to self-expression, but to insist on the basic of humanity and rightness of people who were previously seen as mentally unbalanced (transvestites and homosexuals), as criminals (cross-dressers and sodomites) or as broken and in need of fixing (intersex and asexual people). I would hope that both the demigender husband and the guydyke use their new self-awareness to position themselves unequivocally against patriarchal heterosexist social structures that continue to oppress far too many QuILTBAG people. Otherwise, their self-discovery seems a little bit pointless to me.


@27 worth remembering and thanks for laying it out


@16 Hello there.


GhostDog @7 & BDF @12,

In my experience, this is EXACTLY the approach most non-binary people take. This is what makes this whole debate so facepalm-worthy to me. Nobody is expecting "the average person" (as opposed to a professional columnist writing about sexuality and relationships) to "recall the extraordinarily subtle difference between terms like demiflux and demifluid". Most enby folks I know - and I know a few - just call themselves "non-binary" in general conversation, and save the subtleties for more in-depth discussions. In exactly the same way as most folks tend to round themselves up or down to "gay", "straight" and "bi", but can then elaborate on that with terms like "heteroflexible", "pansexual but homoromantic", "androphilic", etc., if more information is required. The letter Dan got WASN'T from a person saying "I keep meeting all these people who call themselves demifluid and demiflux and expect me to know what this means, please help". It was from a woman whose husband (i.e. a person you may reasonably expect to have in-depth conversations about such things) told her he's demigender and they had a purely academic question about what to call his sexual orientation. Dan's argument is 100% straw.


@25 yes, this.


a p.s. to my @17 (where I posted my thoughts on the psychology of the haters; psychology being of course where I mostly look at things from).

I think they also might imagine that changes to gender constructs might make the gender components they are attracted to disappear.

(For example venn's concern that as I read it has to do with the dissolution of the gender binary eliminating SS.)

While in the abstract that makes sense, for a given person in practice it doesn't because such a change wouldn't occur magically in an instant, it would evolve over significant time. And as it evolved, so would what people are attracted to.

I guess that's not an iron-clad rule, since apparently people are attracted to non-existent mythical beings. But as I understand it, people evolve pretty suddenly when they enter prison and their pool of availability changes.

It would also make sense if venn is concerned not for the current generation, but for future generations under the evolved gender constructs. If he as it were wanted SS to be forever, as no doubt many want OS to be forever.

And maybe they will be, even if the gender binary's unhealthy norms all get dissolved. But fighting change tends to be futile, and why care if future populations present and are attracted to different gender constructs than one is? In other words, why should one in the present mind if those in the future won't?

Yes I know, culture is important. But so is eliminating toxic norms and prejudice. Analogously, while I revere culture, because I loathe racial prejudice, had I had children I'd have loved for them to be of mixed culture and race. I guess I feel like mixing things up can fight polarization, and I despair that other ways of fighting polarization haven't been more successful.


Curious @32, so like a kind of "trans panic" then? The haters are worried they'll accidentally be attracted to someone of a non-conventional gender and this will challenge their self-identification as straight/gay? (Hint: it won't. You can still identify as straight if you are a man dating an AFAB non-binary person. You won't suddenly become queer and have to start marching in Pride parades.)


@33 BiDanFan
That actually makes more sense than what I was trying to say.

I was implying they were afraid (perhaps subconsciously) that they would wake up some day and find that all the people they are now attracted to had disappeared in some big gender Rapture, leaving them without anyone at all to ever be attracted to again. Which would then certainly lead to them also being afraid of what you said.

While of course I wholly embrace that, for example, straight includes trans people of the opposite (trans)gender (for example a cis guy with a trans woman), I'm afraid that that in no way reassures bigots, for whom the presence of the same genitals as they have evokes their underlying un-nuanced bigotry against homosexuality.

I think that in their (of course unthinking) bigotry, they are not seeing that gender is not about genital equipment so much as (I think the academic term still is) secondary sexual characteristics. Then there's the behavioral characteristics of gender norms, which honestly I don't know whether to hope the future preserves, since they often seem ridiculous to me at best.


Mr Curious - I shall not accuse you of deliberate misinterpretation. I appreciate how much I am of an alien, and therefore that much harder to translate into human.

You have mistaken my position on a major point. I have absolutely no attachment to the BINARY. Gay would be just as valid if there were seventeen or seventy genders as if there were two. I have no objection whatsoever to expanding gender roles, though I prefer to view the concept as that of expansion instead of elimination. Those who want to eliminate the concept of gender itself are the people I view as directly attacking me and mine. OS is too big to fail, but SS cannot survive such an eradication. I have outlined before how a genderless society will kill off gay with the kindest intentions and how we will be reborn in the fire, but it will impose a necessity on future generations of rebuilding from ground zero - such a waste.

To paraphrase multiple bigamist Bess Sedgwick from At Bertram's Hotel - binary, trinary, what's the difference? Part of me is quite interested to see how many genders can prove workable. And there is a potential benefit that has derived from the slight expansion of the general consciousness towards being willing to think of genders in terms of multiples. It does away with the inaccurate word "opposite" in OS and replaces it with "different". If it were not for the question of fighting common oppression, I have thought for some time that the more natural psychological alignment for most of those belonging to letters other than L or G is with S. If all genders, sexes, sexualities, romantic orientations or whatever else anyone wants to include in such a calculation were ever genuinely to be treated equally, we might be able to bring this about socially to nearly universal benefit.

It would probably be a lot easier if it all happened as suddenly as Clive turned straight in the novel Maurice. I doubt I'll be around to see much of it, but it will be incredibly painful to see gay places get knocked down like candlepins and the gradual elimination from one element of society after another. There are those who may genuinely think that freer and fuller access to Wainthropps' World (I rather like that one) will compensate; I'd even put Mr Savage in that category. But there are other, less costly ways to bring that about.

I can see maybe a few people on the fringes being moved, which is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but thinking that upheaving gender roles will make all future gay boys attracted to girls strikes me as perilously near desiring a cosmic version of conversion therapy. It makes me worry that you are perhaps the target audience for the development of a "Cure" because then we'll all be so much happier (in a rather Stepford manner). What will happen will be that same-sexers will become not threats, "crazies" or criminals but LOSERS. While being outwardly as desirable as anyone else, our approaches, while respected for being as rightful as anyone else's, will have the highest rejection rate and there will be no concept to explain the reason. My crystal ball shows that this will eventually, after a great deal of unnecessary pain and suffering, create the need to rebuild gay as an identity, only by then everything required to do that will be criminalized (for completely different reasons, which I suppose could be rather intriguing to witness for a disinterested observer).

To a certain extent, we are talking on different planes. I do think it possible that gay and non-binary men may be able to pair up without any existential threat to either (although I have acquaintances reporting that non-binary women have been trying to commandeer gay spaces), as seems to have proven possible with trans men (although Mr Savage gets it wrong calling 16/22 "gay sex" if the 22 belongs to a gay trans man; the implications are not good).

The kindest closing I can conjure (even reading your conclusion as not inviting the inference that gay is a toxic identity) is to suggest that, if you'd had people trying to assimilate (not to mention convert) you as long as I've had, you might be closer to holding the view that we are not nearly polarized enough.


Ms Fan - The danger may not be that they'll be afraid they have to, but that they'll want to.

I could not swear that I've never had sex with a trans man, nor would finding out that I'd done so in any way mar the experience. Now, if a former partner were to come out as a trans woman and claim that our encounter constituted straight sex, things would get very complicated.


@35 venn
"I shall not accuse you of deliberate misinterpretation"

Thank you; I have carefully watched many of your statements on this topic and thought I understood them perfectly. And--read on please--I think from my perspective I did in a way.

"I appreciate how much I am of an alien, and therefore that much harder to translate into human."

I shall not accuse you of being rude with that, though I don't know what else to make of it, since I would like to have it taken for granted that I do not consider you alien let alone inhuman in any way.

(Allow a brief unrelated tangent. A gay friend who harbors internalized homophobia once long ago said that he can't talk about his romantic life with straight people because they "don't understand". To me /he/ was considering /himself/ alien, whereas I think people have more in common than they have that's different. In other words, I might not share X, but I could bloody well 'understand' it for pete's sake, I'm not a moron.)

"OS is too big to fail, but SS cannot survive such an eradication."

As I'm sure you saw in my @32 I think that in the long term, neither is by any means too big to fail.

By this I mean if gender is wholly atomized from it current binary-ish position, what would both SS and OS even mean? Sure, if as you suggest there are "seventeen or seventy genders... Gay would be just as valid", however:

What if there were no discrete (in the sense of distinct) genders and gender roles? (And even if there were, wouldn't there be just one-seventieth as many in the Gay one [since you define Gay as male-only not female let alone the other 69]?)

In other words, I think eliminating the gender binary absolutely might lead "to eliminat[ing] the concept of gender itself...directly attacking [you] and [yours]."

What makes you confident that genders will remain discrete instead of being effectively dissolved into a smooth gradient?

(In the original thread @68 I embraced KindnessIsKey for, as I saw it, suggesting was that the goal of millenials @8 )

I guess what we really have in my view is not any misinterpretation of mine, but a disagreement over whether you can really assume that gender will survive on the path it's begun toward's it's atomization. I haven't assumed that, and as I wrote @32 I think fighting change can be futile. And support toxic gender norms.

"as not inviting the inference that gay is a toxic identity"

Yes that inference would be unwarranted. While I was saying that there are toxic gender norms, what I had top of mind were the ridiculous OS ones. But after pondering it a bit, I'm sure if we discussed it a bit we could agree that unhealthy gender norms are not the exclusive domain of OS people.

"if you'd had people trying to assimilate (not to mention convert) you as long as I've had, you might be closer to holding the view that we are not nearly polarized enough."

I hear you my good man. But what I'm doing is hypothesizing a future in which all of that is more or less moot, where there might not even be any discrete categories of sexual orientation to be brainwashed into, and to serve as a foundation for hatred. That's where I tried to go with my final analogy to racial population-mixing.


Mr Curious - I think most of the assembled company would vouch for my having demonstrated my "alien" credentials even in threads with nothing to do about sexuality. Who else thinks first of how to compare letters to Miss Austen? The other same-sexers don't instinctively get me, and I don't instinctively get anyone. It was that of which I was thinking, and not any knock on the straight capacity for understanding. "Alien" may be a bad word to an extent but nothing better comes to mind quickly. Most of my achievements in life have come from not thinking the way other people do; I've made it more a strength than not, but it does have occasional negatives.

Being "too big to fail" implied that OS does not need to be recognized to thrive. There's not so much lost if the concept of straight fades. Procreation will presumably continue, and most venues for social interaction will be nearly as OS as they were when "straight" still existed. Formerly recognized-as-straight people won't lose much in their ordinary interactions in the world.

What we don't know, even if we assume just to have a focal point that there will be, say, seventy genders in the end, is how many people will end up in genders with strict descriptors and small constituencies and how many in genders with loose parameters and large numbers. I've no idea how it will shake out, but your invited inference of an equal distribution of about 1.4% each strikes me as least likely. In theory, I am not even against the idea of the G label moving from male to a different gender. That might prove to be a net advantage. I am not attached to being male much beyond its being a holder by which to place gay.

I suppose I just don't view gender as being so fragile as you do. I think genders capable of much more expansion, flexibility and overlap than many people. Your desired atomization would probably destroy Wimbledon, which I could never countenance, but I'd suggest that even just holding no more meaning than being a placeholder for sexuality would be a sufficiently valid reason for retaining the existence of gender. The sacrifice of all Gay Love is far too high a price to pay for a few more Bro Jobs. Sometimes I'm not all sure that Male will survive as a recognized gender, though I rather expect Female to do so. Feel free to think that doesn't make sense.

Of course there is almost no identity entirely free of toxic gender norms. I have been rather sharp with Mr Savage on multiple occasion for his glamourizing the fetishization of some.

I do get that you are approaching this from the OS viewpoint, especially with the bit about brainwashing (not all that tactful in a discussion with someone familiar with conversion therapy, but let that pass) but the substance still amounts to an invited inference that gays will be happier when we don't exist. That may well be what happens, but it will be a tragic loss if it does, and I shall continue to expect that, like Laura Murdoch Collins, the G shall live again.


@Curious: The problem with bespoke genders ultimately breaking down the gender binary is that the whole idea falls apart if there's anything innate to binary gender. I know that you don't bother with real-world counterexamples like obvious sexual dimorphism in basically all higher animal species (including humans), clear differences in behavior across the sexes in different species of animals, and human behavioral changes under the influence of various hormones. But how do you square the idea that gender is artificial with people who feel so strongly bound to the idea of a binary gender that they subject themselves to ridicule and medically modify themselves so that their bodies match the gender they feel best identify with? Can I as a wholly male-presenting person sign up on a lesbian dating app and call them all bigots for turning me down if I just claim some personal gender to allow it? If the theory causes so many issues and conflicts with so many observations, it probably isn't worth keeping. And it makes me wonder what drives people who put so much energy into trying to prop it up.

@BDF 15: Real talk? Sportlandia wasn't all wrong in the demigender letter when he noted that bespoke genders are generally popular with white people who to all outside observations look straight and cis. This goes double for the most noisy people who have to let everybody know about their pronouns, and who make a big stink if you make the slightest slip-up.

There's a certain sort of person who will use a popular cause as a bludgeon. Sometimes towards getting special treatment, sometimes in order to feel special when there's no outwards trait they can fall back on, sometimes just because they like bullying other people and the cause lets them look justified. Since they're disproportionately noisy, though, they wind up setting the public image of whatever cause and making it look bad.

The next steps are the bad PR reaching a critical mass, the whole cause being seen as self-centered twits, and the bandwagoners hopping off because said cause no longer makes them look good. After that you'll get normal nonbinaries picking up the pieces and bringing their image back to normal.


@38 venn
You're probably at least somewhat correct about most of that. Except that when I wrote

"discrete categories of sexual orientation to be brainwashed into"

I was specifically addressing your mention @35 of people having tried to "convert" you. But I leapt from convert to "conversion therapy".

So I intended the opposite of being "not all that tactful in a discussion with someone familiar with conversion therapy", I meant to attack it first before you joined me in doing so!

"my having demonstrated my "alien" credentials even in threads"

Aw, you are a character but you are also among characters here, as tends to be the case on the Internet. I often just skip over one of your paragraphs because of literary references alien to me, but there are others commenters where I fully understand every word but still their complete lack of grasp of logic boggles the mind of people in this universe.

That people will still procreate wouldn't reassure people mourning the absence of the gender they are attracted to.

"I suppose I just don't view gender as being so fragile as you do."

You're probably right; maybe mine is only wishful thinking. And I don't even mean wishful. I only want the toxic bullshit around gender norms to go away; I have no desire to sacrifice cultures to do that; but I'm not sure how much hope or patience I have for it to happen some other way.

The whole idea boggles my mind, honestly. Like others, I like things to be logical and wieldy to understand them. Even more, I like a Zen simplicity. But I'm also willing to embrace millennials' employment of ridiculous means to achieve righteous ends.

@39 ChiTodd
I admit I am not very knowledgeable about this stuff I'm thinking about.

But how is it that "the whole idea...[of] breaking down the gender binary...falls apart if there's ANYTHING innate to binary gender"?

That's illogical to suggest that ANYTHING innate kills the whole.

But stepping back from that over-reach, I agree the fact that there's something innate means that my suggestion @37 of a "a smooth gradient" was unfounded. Touche.

(By innate, I'm thinking for example of that male testosterone-poisoning creates differences like secondary sexual characteristics, and behavioral tendencies. But just because, for example, testosterone gives males of various species the tendency towards violent aggression, does not mean that humans can not learn to grow developmentally beyond that innate baseline. I presume, Todd, that were you to want to kill someone for cutting you off in traffic you'd feel able to refrain. So behaviorally we need not be slaves to our testosterone. As for physically...)

"real-world counterexamples like obvious sexual dimorphism in basically all higher animal species"

Medical science has and will continue to be able to help people modify what they started out with, so this is not the world's most sophisticated argument you're pursuing.

"how do you square the idea that gender is artificial with people who feel so strongly bound to the idea of a binary gender that they subject themselves to ridicule and medically modify themselves so that their bodies match the gender they feel best identify with?"

People grow up in culture, and AFAIK both culture and gender norms are artificial constructs. Would a baby raised by wolves want to be a different human gender they'd never heard of?

"Can I as a wholly male-presenting person sign up on a lesbian dating app and call them all bigots for turning me down if I just claim some personal gender to allow it?"

I'm sorry my job description does not allow me to address points that dumb.


@35 vennominon: I have tried re-reading this as well as casting back to previous exchanges, and I am still kind of in the dark as to how you are defining the gay identity that you feel is under threat. Is it about whether someone is (exclusively?) attracted to a particular sex? Is it about how the people you are attracted to are socially gendered, but only as long as this matches their “given” biology pre-any medical interventions? How do gender identity and expression feature, if at all - are they just complicating factors you wish would not be complicating factors?

I am a little hesitant about asking, because it feels like this is touching on issues around your experience with “conversion therapy“ that you may have good reason to not want to go into in a public forum. But I have met both cisgay people and trans people of various orientation that have been subjected to attempts to “fix” them by muddling the distinction between being gay and being trans - e,g, trying to convince cis gay men that they were “really” trans women, especially if they weren’t “masculine” enough, cis lesbians that they were “really” trans men, especially if they weren’t “feminine” enough. Or trying to convince trans guys they were “really” cis lesbians, regardless of their interest or lack of it in women, or trans women that they were “really” gay men, regardless of their interest or lack of it in men. (Add your own conclusions as to where this left people who identified as bi or non-binary). And it feels like those kinds of interventions are at least partly the cause of certain kinds of mutual suspicion between groups that face problems because of sexual orientation and groups that face issues over gender identity/expression, even where those are partly overlapping.

I apologize if that is irrelevant to the point you were trying to make, or intrusive.


@39 ChiTodd, binary gender could be both innate and the majority case without that meaning ONLY binary gender could be innate or “real”. Same for biological sex aligning with experienced gender or gender expression.


@25 EricaP, YES.


Does anyone but me feel that the proliferation of gender identities actually reinforces stereotypes of what it is to be "male" or "female"? Instead of expanding the definition of maleness to include whatever Just Wondering's husband feels or enjoys, he's taken himself out of that pool, leaving the pool just a bit more homogenous.


M?? Delurker - In a way, I'm thinking along simpler lines, and allowing for both gays who'll partner trans men and gays who'll partner (unaltered) trans women. Try to define lesbian without use of either "woman" or "female" and at best you might squeak in by a very side door because it comes from a specific historical place.

To explain this from the other direction, I perhaps see this differently because of being a bridge player. There is a well-known problem hand used in a fiendishly difficult book to introduce the concept of a play called an entry squeeze. The correct line of play is easy to spot when one has a name for it. Without the name, it can seem impossible.

I've also encountered the efforts to make gay a subset of trans or vice versa.


@42: I don't have a beef with people who identify as nonbinary. I have a beef with the idea that binary gender as a whole can and/or should be abolished. (Both "should" and "can" provide their own suite of problems.)

@44: I agree, and in fact think that assigning anything other than the masculine and feminine poles (the points from which any deviation makes you less masculine/feminine) their own subcategory does serve to enhance the idea that masculinity/femininity are tightly constrained when we should instead be working to broaden the definitions. Still, having seen fads similar to our current fixation on gender come and go, I have a feeling that a lot of the attendant silliness will work itself out on its own. My money says that the fad will burn out on its own, and in its wake people will feel more comfortable broadening their ideas about gender. In the long run it'll be a decent result, so I'm not too fussed about the short term.


@vennominon, I don’t have enough bridge background to fully follow on “entry squeeze”, but I think I get the general idea, and I can see why it might be of concern in some cases.

We are and will probably remain in a case where “traditional” gender won’t get fuzzy other than at the edges, though, both for social and biological reasons.

Would “homoflexible” give you similar concerns?


@ChiTodd, you don’t have a beef with people who identify as non-binary, but you don’t think that anything other than the main poles of masculinity and femininity should have a designation?

Is masculine=male and feminine=female here? Masculinity/feminity can vary independently of both biological sex and gender - there are feminine transmen as well as feminine cismen, masculine trans women as well as masculine cis women, and non-binary-identifying people can be found at any point along the masculinity/femininity presentation scale, too.

Most people tend to cluster in ways that align masculine presentation with maleness and feminine with femaleness, but it’s not invariant.

It used to be the case that people who wanted social permission to transition had to present very much within the “traditional” expectations for their target gender, or medical and other gatekeeping would kick in. That’s been somewhat loosened up lately, but tends to linger.

Either way, if a system has more than two possible values, or fuzzy values, it’s not binary - it can still be bimodal.


Lots to respond to, forgive me for not addressing each point made in the long and thoughtful comments which I admit I have only had time to skim.

Venn, people who advocate the eradication of gender are doing so in a "wishful thinking" sort of way, similar to those who say "If the human race would just stop breeding the world would be a much better place." Some people read/hear comments like this and get personally offended, thinking the speaker is literally advocating forced sterilisation or is condemning people who have children. But in 99% of cases, this is absolutely not the case -- it's just a musing on how to "fix" a world that is realistically unfixable. Similarly, one way to "fix" the myriad problems caused by gender roles, stereotypes etc. would be to do away with the concept of gender entirely. A nice thought but as long as most humans have bodies that are discernably one biological sex or the other, the majority of people will continue to identify themselves as male or female, and the majority of people who are attracted to only one or the other of these biological sexes can rest easy that there will continue to be a place in the world for them, just as people are gonna continue breeding no matter how many child-free environmentalists wish otherwise.

Greg @44, not just you! I have gone back and forth over whether I'm not really a "woman" because I don't fit the standard expectations of what a "woman" should be, versus whether it's the standard expectations of what a woman should be that should go right out the window, given that so many female adults including myself don't fit those stereotypes in one way or several. It's questions like these that are so complicated, and individual really, that they make me find myself wishing there was no such thing as gender. Wouldn't life be easier? :)


Also, Venn, I think of you as an eccentric, definitely not an alien.


@49 BiDanFan
I'm guilty of all that. I've been unrealistically musing and wishing to fix myriad problems. I agree that the reality is that:

"as long as most humans have bodies that are discernibly one biological sex or the other, the majority of people will continue to identify themselves as male or female, and the majority of people who are attracted to only one or the other of these biological sexes can rest easy that there will continue to be a place in the world for them"

I was off on a pipe dream, and the millennial movement towards blending filled my pipe.

But it still inspires me. The war

"to "fix" the myriad problems caused by gender roles, stereotypes etc."

is so long and difficult that I can't help taking joy in a battle consisting of people seeking to impose those roles and stereotypes etc. upon people who can't have those imposed on them because they refuse to be categorized.

But to harsh my own buzz, I imagine that those wonderful people will end up not free, but simply targeted by a different kind of prejudice. But at least there is some freedom in choosing one's jail cell, one that suits one's identity.


Greg VA @44 -- I for one do not worry that the proliferation of gender identities reinforces stereotypes of what it is to be "male" or "female".

At least for now, since people don't walk around wearing pronoun-tags on their shirts, most people view an AFAB enby (enby = NB = non-binary) like me as a woman who doesn't (usually) dress in stereotypically feminine ways.

Similarly, an AMAB enby who doesn't take hormones but does wear eye-makeup and skirts is expanding the possibilities for how men can go out in public, even if the AMAB enby doesn't feel like a man internally.


EricaP @52 I agree that a man who goes out in public wearing eye-makeup and skirts is expanding the possibilities for how men can go out in public. I have a good friend who can rock a slinky dress and smoky eye. Where you lose me is the phrase "doesn't feel like a man internally." What is a man supposed to feel? That skirts and makeup are inherently feminine? If they feel that way then they're internally reinforcing stereotypes. And the minute they declare themselves non-binary to anyone they're reinforcing the idea that men who identify as men don't go out in skirts and false eyelashes.

PS: The LGBTQIAA+ sports league I belong to has a special box on our shirts for pronouns.


@17's phrasing: "starting out from a pedantic place of concern for unwieldy atomization."

Nailed my reaction to the wall perfectly. It sounds so stupid when you put it that way....

But, being pedantic, I can't leave it there. If we continue to subdivide and subdivide into smaller and smaller categories, eventually you will end up with complete individualism, which has its own problems. When that happens, no group organization could ever be truly inclusive, because ultimately everyone would be in a group by themselves. Collective action becomes almost impossible, because "no one could ever understand what it's like to be me" and "if you never mention someone exactly like me, then you are not really on my side."

The paranoid part of me thinks, if you wanted to neutralize a social justice movement, one good way would be to sow discord within it, getting people to think they are under-represented and should make their own splinter groups. Luckily, conservative forces would never think to infiltrate leftist organizations....


@various, above, but perhaps most immediately Greg in VA: I feel and always have felt definitely uneasy with the idea that I “should” identify other than as my assigned gender because of “deviant” tendencies in how I behave and sometimes present visually.

But there is quite a lot of social latitude for me, as an AFAB person, to act and dress and just generally present “like a guy”. So it doesn’t seem quite enough to explain why I feel it’s a bad fit, and I know plenty of AFABs much more masculine than me who do not seem to feel “wrong” in the same way. (It didn’t help that a disproportionate number of the AMABs that made me feel “that’s who I want to be” presented genderqueer if not full on femme.)

I also had at least the usual amount of socially induced body worries for an AFAB, but it doesn’t seem to quite account for everything. In fact, even when my body “fit”, in my own and others’ view of what a female body was supposed to look like, I had nagging issues about the way it was biologically sexed.

I’m not sure where that fits with your concerns, but it seemed worthwhile raising that the misfit isn’t necessarily or simply about behaviour or clothing or makeup (or lack of it). Obviously those can be part of what makes people feel there’s incongruence or dysphoria, but it doesn’t have to be.


@OccasionalDelurker -- I certainly get not feeling comfortable in your own body. It took me decades to to make peace with mine. The best way I can describe my perspective is with an analogy -- bear with me.

I was born in the United States to American parents. I was assigned American at birth without my knowledge or consent. And there are plenty of times that I don't feel quite American. I travel overseas and frequently feel like I'm coming home. I wonder why Americans are so closed minded and provincial and refuse to embrace so much of what I love about other cultures.

I could embrace these feelings and declare myself pan-national or demi-American or nationality non-conforming, but it wouldn't change the fact that at the end of the day I was born an American, with all the rights, privileges and baggage that conveys. And I think it would serve to reinforce the idea that full-blooded, "real" Americans reject things that I embrace and embrace things I think are stupid.

If I truly felt I wasn't American, if I felt so at home in Prague or Valetta or Shanghai that I wanted to become a citizen, I could go through the process of renouncing my US citizenship and becoming a citizen of another nation, but I don't reject the country of my birth. I just want it to be different. So I plant my little American flag and make the case that plenty of "real" Americans embrace universal health care, reliable public transportation, and mandated maternity leave and despise reality TV and Donald Trump.

In much the same way, I would prefer that our concepts of male and female would expand to embrace however people want to present themselves, but I don't think creating a variety of poorly defined subsets accomplishes much except to reinforce the primacy of the dominant paradigms.

Like all analogies, this one isn't perfect. If anyone is still reading I'm sure I'll get some fervent responses, but I think the parallels are clear.


@56, I think I get the analogy but I’m not sure that physical dysphoria fits into it, or where. It’s not really like feeling uneasy in your culture, or not wanting to be one of “those” Americans.

And it’s not like feeling uneasy in your body in quite the same way that I’ve felt uneasy in my body because of, say, weight fluctuations. For one thing, it doesn’t neatly come down to aesthetic displeasure on my own or other people’s part - it’s more a case of yes, that might look okay, or even great, but it also feels wrong on some other level.

I suppose there are possible analogies where changing citizenship would also potentially involve body modifications, but I’m not sure that would help defuse the issues.

Mainly what I’m trying to say is that gender dysphoria isn’t necessarily reducible to unease with social/cultural expectations of gender performance - though those do not tend to help.


I like how lw s' reactions to the comments are coming to feature more and more in the roundup. This should have the very good effect of forestalling commenters who might be tempted to be dismissive, forgetting occasionally that the problems in the column are those of a real person whose sense of the obvious might differ from theirs and who may have issues in their life that are unimaginable (or which haven't been described).

With the person saying, to the effect, 'I felt an actual enby should write in', many people with broadly negative views about the thin-slicing of the gender identity in the comments were NB themselves (ourselves). In certain contexts I would 100% say, 'oh, I'm attracted to both masc-of-center and femme-of-center people, but romantically much more the first', because the people in that context were sensitive to needless reinforcements of the gender binary. In other contexts, when asked, I'd say, 'oh, in principle I go for both men and women'. I'm in my 50s--there would be something tragic, something wearing-a-baseball-hat-the-wrong-way, in my aping the kids or trying to catch up. This is not at all to say that I refuse to be militant in some situations in underscoring that the binary does not represent me, and has disfiguring effects on the lives of many NB people.


@15. Bi. NBs threaten the identity claims of people who are themselves routinely or structurally sidelined or minoritized--ciswomen and gay men. In part, there's a kind of 'competition on the left' for who gets to be a genuine victim. Then there's some people's feeling that there has to be a sizable and cohesive constituency of those discriminated against for any kind of oppositional movement, like feminism or identity politics, to get traction. This anti-NB feeling on the liberal-left can be both pragmatic (ie 'the constituency will be too small') and philosophical (ie some liberals not wanting to open up a conversation, 'what is gender?' or 'who are women?').


@32. venn. I think gender is something that people do, and something that does them (whether they like it or not), not something that people are. Would this formulation upset you, or seem to you effacing of male SS relationships? Or of the gay male ethos? The idea is not something you need to go to queer theory for, or to any version of gender as a performance; you find it, at that level, in social constructionist feminism just as much.


@41. Occasional Delurker. I am one of those people--those NB victims of attempts to recast me, or to present me to myself, as a certain pronounced type of cisgay (in my case, an extravagantly effeminate bottom. And this despite the fact that I am not especially effeminate in my ordinary presentation in non-queer themed spaces or contexts, like those of professional work, in which gender or sexuality can be invisible or tacit, etc.) I wouldn't say those attempts on therapists' part arose out of the mutual suspicion of subgroups. (One therapist was a gay man, one a nonhomophobic straight ciswoman). It was more that, in these people's minds, there was psychic security in being 'a thing', being a member of an identifiable identity category. And, as they saw it, there was dysphora and disorder and confusion in not so being, in queering the categories, in feeling they were arbitrary and moving across them.


@61 Harriet, I can see why a therapist might feel uneasy with blurred lines on orientation or identity, both for their own sake and the client’s, but it seems to me rather unprofessional to let that unease drive treatment of the patient. “I was only trying to help them find a less problematic identity, but without letting them know what I was doing”? No, thanks. Especially when it involves messing up the very lines they’re trying to keep neat, by pushing trans and enby people to identify as gay, and vice versa.

The fact that these moves play into a divide-and-rule approach by pitting different sections of the lgbtq community against each other might not be a consciously intended effect, but it’s foreseeable enough that it should give a mindful professional pause.


@62. Occasional Delurker. My treatment for gender dysphoria was 25 years ago. I fully suppose that what we'd now understand as 'being GQ', even 'wanting to be GQ', wanting to play and fuck with the gender binary, was in psychiatrists' books (the DSM) as a 'disorder'.

My impression was that my doctors, one especially, were compassionate and wanted to be diagnostically or clinincally compassionate. But they were let down by the current state of their 'science'. This was a consequence--as I came to see it a few years down the line--of psychiatric science being organised as if it were physical science; and of the definitions of its most persuasive theorists percolating downwards, in treatment, to practitioners who didn't necessarily understand them or sympathise with them. But they had to implement the profession's 'best' ideas (they were themselves monitored), and the profession worked on the basis of what was actually a disorder (as it theorised) being unlike what was ordinary human complexity. It led to their saying bizarre things to me--like I shouldn't bind my chest in certain settings. (I would go out to gay nightclubs and either bind my breasts (man-boobs) or augment them, depending on the locale. They said that if I did one, I shouldn't do the other, Like, never). Any normally sensitive person, as I'd think, would say, 'hmm, why do you do that?', and they said, in a flash, 'don't do that'.

I'm sure things are much better now.

To me, the differences between a transwoman and a female-presenting GQ enby are not so large that (in almost any case) these people have different political impulses. And I'd guess the medical and psychiatric profession would say the same thing.


@Harriet, quick points re your post at 63:

it’s not necessarily different now: a lot of both medical and psychiatric and psychological professionals are still operating on old lines, sometimes not knowingly
there were people within and without the relevant professions working to get these approaches changed since they were first in place, well before your time, so I’m not sure it’s as simple as “that was just the way back then”
I’ve learnt there are quite significant political fractures under the LGBTQ+ umbrella over nuances that some might think minor

All of these points will probably come up again here at some point, but just for now I think I’m out for a while, so: till the next thread


@64. Delurker. Of course there are fractures. The biggest faultline is maybe the many (relatively many, in this context) lesbians who see an anti-woman or anti-lesbian agenda in its being suggested to some patients for dysphora that they are transmen. It's an emotive and sensitive topic. I'd take it as the baseline that someone can be a masc-presenting lesbian and be unsure or unhappy in her gender identity--while still being (in some working sense of 'being') a woman and a lesbian; and also that another person can be a gender-dysphoric masc-presenting lesbian and be (eventually) happier transitioning genders. A third person could be currently dysphoric and never come down on 'any side', finding a way to be more self-loving and -accepting as GQ.

This is my baseline, and I've tried to sound as ecumenical as possible; but it isn't what some of the parties to the debate suppose is therapists' baseline. Some political lesbians think that psychiatry is modishly ushering women out of femininity, consolidating a view of lesbianism as non-gender-normative. Some psychiatrists see these activists as wanting to police a gender identity or political constituency at the cost of transfolk's happiness.

There are similar, but slightly more muted and diffuse, arguments about what used to be called 'effeminate' AMAB people.

To me, narrative, listening and empathy have to be more important in counseling than upholding diagnostic categories. But I'm not sure that's how the profession works.