Thoughts on Transsexuality

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright August 2013


The theme movie for this topic was Different for Girls (1996) by Richard Spense.

The origins of gender

Gender exists because it is a survival benefit. It helps move a species' successful genes through the population more quickly than reproducing by simple dividing or budding does. Based on how many currently existing species utilize it, this has been a very useful invention.

The business of being male and female can be handled in many successful ways. Once again, the diversity of how it is handled in various species shows that.

Gender has been around a long time, half a billion years. This means there is lots of instinctive (emotional) thinking surrounding the concept. Think of mating rituals as part of gender thinking.

What humans add to the basic gender mix are its distinctly human traits of strong language skill, diverse tool making and using, and assisted child birth. These shape human gender relations as much as they do all other aspects of being human.

How Mother Nature designs

Mother Nature, Design Engineer, is my anthropomorphizing of the mutation and natural selection processes -- Evolution. I envision her as sitting above the sky at a drafting board manipulating DNA (making mutations) and watching the results. A good result is an organism that passes The Grandchild Test: If you have lots of grandchildren you're a winner! If not... ah well... back to the drafting board.

Mother Nature's theme word is "sufficient": If a change can get the job done -- meaning passing the Grandchild Test -- it's fine. Elegant is nice, but not necessary. Likewise, Mother Nature loves taking an existing solution and modifying it much more than coming up with something from scratch. She loves kludging.

So with Mother Nature in mind, what neat tricks has she come with surrounding gender?

Gender + Cooperating = Beauty

When two animals mate, they are cooperating. They are working together closely for a common goal. The forms of cooperating surrounding mating are quite diverse, and some can seem quite perverse -- Black Widows eating their male mates and Praying Mantises cutting off the heads of their male mates. But this is still cooperation.

This relation is also true in humans. Human males and females cooperate to both mate and raise their children. Mother Nature has used sex as a signal to mate for a long time. And being the kludgy type that she is, she also uses it as a signal to cooperate for more than just sex and child raising. When we humans see beauty in something, we are getting an instinctive signal to cooperate with it. See beauty in a child? Help it out! See beauty in a horse? Help it out! See beauty in a car? Buy it! This is the root thinking that supports the adage "Sex Sells"

In this same vein, homosexuality is also using sex to signal cooperating. This cooperating also helps the community, so Mother Nature says, "That's fine."

Why is Gay Scary?

Mother Nature may not mind much, but some people do.

The tolerance of homosexuality varies a lot from culture-to-culture and from situation-to-situation within a culture. Openly homosexual acts happening on a months-to-years long ship voyage are not viewed in the same judgmental context as those happening at a suburban backyard family BBQ.

That said, the fear of gender bending has two roots: fear of sickness and fear of insanity. All through pre-historic times sick people and crazy people could do a lot of damage to a community. The pre-historic explanation was evil demons possessing these people, and the hard question to answer was: Are the possessions bad enough that we should kill or exile them, or should we have patience because they will recover and the damage won't spread?

It was never an easy choice, but it has been around so long that the choice is filled with emotion even today.

Prosperity changes the answer

And finally, we live in prosperous times. This means we have a lot more tools at our disposal and we have a lot more choices in how to use them -- how spend our resources. Now lets see how all of the above affect the specifics concerning transsexuality.

On the tools side, some of the additional tools we have these days are more sophisticated medical knowledge, surgery, and drugs. This gives us more medical procedures to consider as possible -- sex change operations are getting more possible and potent than ever before.

On the resource side, one way of spending resources is to give "rights" to people of the community who ask for them. These days we have a lot more people claiming rights, and we have less harsh reality to constrain our emotional thinking on those claims. Transsexuality fits right into this "rights growth" theme of the early 21st century.

The magnitude of the issue

As the link "Basic TG/TS/IS Information" by Lynn Conway points out, transsexuality is rare. From the article, "Intersex babies are produced in about one in every 1000 births." This is not many. This comparable in magnitude to Down Syndrome babies (about 1 in 700), another condition caused by a genetic mix-up.

For this reason I look upon transsexuality as a medical issue, not a cultural issue. As with Down Syndrome and many other birth defects, humans are still looking for better medical tools to deal with these issues. In the meantime, we are experimenting, and that is good to be doing. We won't find good solutions if we don't take the risks of failure that all experimenting entails.


Transsexuality is an interesting issue because of the emotion surrounding it, not because of its magnitude. Because we live in prosperous times we have the resources and tools to indulge in supporting more and more kinds of rights than we have had in the past. Transsexuality fits nicely into this trend.


--The End--