Thursday, April 16, 2009

We Are Not Our Genitals: The Continuum of Sex

Our minds want clothes as much as our bodies.
- Samuel Butler

Sexual identity, like nationality, is cultural and not genetic. The expression of sexual identity is called gender. The final liberation of humanity from its animal past requires the replacement of a black/white apartheid of sex, imposed at birth, with a rainbow spectrum of gender selected at will. This victory of continuism over duality means that people must be as free to choose and change their gender as they choose and change any other aspect of their self-expression.

The origins of sexual identity lie deep in the murky pasts of human evolution. And the origins of sex itself date back to the beginnings of multicellular life. As we explore the beginning of sex and the genesis of gender, it becomes clear that for humans, sex is in the mind, and brains are “transgendered.” It also becomes evident that our sexual identity, absent the repression of sexual apartheid, is as individualized as is our personality.

When Sex Began

Sex exists because it creates genetic diversity. Frequent reshuffling of genetic codes is favored by evolution’s rule of natural selection. At first glance the necessity of two animals exchanging genetic material in order to produce offspring might seem to violate natural selection. After all, it is much easier for one animal to produce offspring on its own, without the need to mate with another animal. Hence it would seem that mating species would produce many fewer offspring than asexual (“parthenogenetic”) species—all the more so since mating behavior also makes one more vulnerable to a predator. Natural selection eventually eliminates characteristics that produce fewer offspring. So without considering the benefits of genetic diversity, sex should have been tried and then died out along ago.

But sex lives on. A landmark paper by Professor William Hamilton in the 1990 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposed that sex evolved as a “strategic weapon” in a “coevolutionary arms race between parasites and hosts.” By “hosts” scientists mean any kind of animal, from fish to insects and birds to people. “Parasites” are ubiquitous microscopic creatures that live off of all living things. Natural selection tends to make parasites harmless—our intestines are full of them—because if they kill their host, they have killed themselves. But random mutations continually create virulent parasites as well.

Now suppose a virulent parasite invaded a host. If the host reproduced asexually, then its offspring would have the same genetic makeup as its parent and hence the same biological susceptibility to death or disease due to the virulent parasite. This is not good for the host species or for the parasite—neither will survive long. But suppose the host reproduced sexually, that is, in combination with another organism. Then the offspring would not look biochemically exactly like either parent, would have the benefit of a recombination of large amounts of genetic information (some from each parent), and often would no longer have a biological susceptibility to the virulent parasite. Thus sex helped the host species to survive, which also helped the parasite. This is what saying that sex evolved as a “coevolutionary” strategy between hosts and parasites means.

The other main theory explaining why there is sex is that it eliminates harmful mutations within the host species itself. Without sex a species would constantly be “inbreeding”—creating clones. Any unhelpful characteristic that arose through random mutation, such as poor vision, would get passed on to one’s offspring. The unhelpful inherited characteristic would soon cause the asexual species to die—unless by luck another random mutation came along to eliminate the harmful characteristic. But with sex there is always a reshuffling of the inherited genes based on contribution from two parents. In this way unhelpful mutations are minimized much more quickly than the alternative of waiting for random mutations to occur.

Scientists argue over whether sex’s ability to help save future offspring from parasites, or from random mutations, is the main reason that life is full of sexed species and not the superficially more efficient asexual forms. But they do agree that it is from such mundane, biochemically rooted causes that sex arose. Creating offspring from two parents’ cells had enough evolutionary benefits to outweigh the survival costs of tying up two organisms in some kind of a mating ritual in order to reproduce. Apparently the additional genetic diversity of using three or more parents did not outweigh the evolutionary costs.

So sex began accidentally. Random mutations about one billion years ago gave some ancient asexual organism the ability to include genetic material from another organism of that species before reproducing. The offspring of this Adam and Eve pair inherited the genetic ability for “sex” and must have multiplied rapidly with a special immunity from the parasites that plagued all their relatives. Today we call the organism that just contributes genetic material “male” and the organism that both contributes and includes such material “female.” This does not always mean that the female actually nurtures the offspring. Female sea horses, for example, deposit eggs into a male brood pouch, where they are fertilized (by the insertion of the male’s genetic material) and incubated (with the male’s uterinelike supply of blood and oxygen). Female pipefishes glue eggs along a male’s underside, and midwife toads wrap eggs around the male’s legs.

Having begun sex accidentally, nature proceeded to create many variations of sex. First, there is a bewildering diversity of methods to contribute and include genetic material for reproduction. Among the deep-sea anglerfish, for example, a four-inch male sinks its jaws into the forty-inch female. The male contributes its genetic material as part of a process whereby it literally merges into the female, with skin and blood vessels permanently growing together. Certain mollusks shoot each other with sexual darts.

Second, there is a seemingly limitless number of variations of sexual types. Many species are male and female simultaneously or sequentially. These hermaphrodites usually still retain the genetic diversity benefits of sex by mating with other hermaphrodites, with one partner contributing solely and the other both contributing and including genetic material. The slipper shell (Crepidula fornicate), for example, lives in oyster beds and gradually changes from male, to hermaphrodite, to female in old age. On the other hand, certain Caribbean coral-reef fish start out female and die as males. Many types of fish, such as butter hamlets and swordtails, change sex back and forth to balance the ratio of males to females currently around them. The sex expressed by these types of fish depends on their social surroundings. Bird gonads generally have the ability to develop either testes or ovaries, and intersexuality occurs frequently. Reptile sexuality often depends on the temperature at which the eggs were hatched—for leopard geckos, low and high temperatures produce females, medium temperatures produce males. Among certain garter snakes and bluegill sunfish, there are males that don’t change their gonads but only their look and behavior, so as to appear female. Sexual diversity seems limitless!

As mammals evolved several hundred million years ago, the urinary tract became favored as the passageway for genetic material. It provided most of the “plumbing” needed to get reproductive material from the testes and to the uterus. Sex between “penetrators” and “recipients” worked well for ensuring the genetic diversity of mammalian species. Male and female sex roles began to harden because of the more complex mammalian anatomy, although cross-sex behaviors were never lost. After reviewing numerous cross-sex mammalian behaviors, such as the common mounting of female cows by other females, University of Texas zoologist David Crews opined in his work Animal Sexuality that “the brain never completely loses the dual circuitry that permits both homotypical and heterotypical sexual behavior.” In a similar vein he notes that since “every male must contain evolutionary traces of femaleness [and vice versa], biologists might be well served to focus less on the differences between the sexes and more in terms of the similarities.” In short, as we approached the epoch of human evolution, sex had proved its evolutionary worth, and while it had a “male or female” expression, there were also age-old undercurrents of sexual diversity and sexual continuity.

A frequently ignored fact is that evolutionary advances in sexual behavior are one of the major differentiators between humans and their primate cousins. In their book The Great Cosmic Mother, Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor list four major differences between human sex and other primate sex:

• Elimination of the estrus cycle and development of the menstrual cycle. All other mammals had an estrus cycle, during which females were periodically in heat and copulation necessarily resulted in pregnancy. Humans alone can enjoy sex on demand.

• Development of the clitoris. This anatomical evolution provided females with much greater sexuality and orgasmic potential than other primates.

• Change from rear to frontal sex. Evolution front shifted the human vagina, leading sex to occur more comfortably in a frontal position. For the first time among mammals this created a “personalization” of sex. We along among primates can gaze into each other’s eyes as we make love.

• Development of breasts. The breasts added to a female’s potential for enjoying sex, and in the words of Sjoo and Mor, “Combined with frontal sex, no doubt the female’s maternal and social feelings were also now aroused by the personal lover, whose body was now analogous to the infant’s body at her breast.”

In short, human beings became the only creatures on earth for whom sex could occur at any time for nonreproductive purposes. Sjoo and Mor concluded:

Human sex thus became a multipurpose activity. It can happen for emotional bonding, for social healing, for pleasure, for communication, for shelter and comfort, for personal release, for escape—as well as for reproduction of the species. And this is one of the original and major, determining differences between humans and all other animals, birds, reptiles, insects, fishes, worms, for whom copulation exists only and solely for species reproduction.

The decoupling of sex from reproduction and from estrus-driven biological determinism is integral to the evolution of humans as a unique species. A clitoris, breasts, and front-shifted vagina also made sex much more enjoyable. There was no longer any anatomically predestined reason for the contributor of genetic material to mount. Either sex could mount and produce babies just as well, or not produce any babies at all. For the first time since sex began, a life form could decide for itself how and when and whether to reproduce. In other words, sex was now mostly in the mind, not in the biology. What began a billion years ago as clever biology to outwit parasites eventually evolved to a choice whether or not to do something that might feel good. And it was at this time that the apartheid of sex began—what nature liberated, mankind oppressed. Ideology replaced biology as the commandant of sexual expression.

The Genesis of Gender

Gender, the expression of our sexual identity, must be performed in accordance with society’s expectations, just like all other behavioral expressions. If one contradicts social norms, there are sanctions to suffer from, the fear of which keeps most people in line. Nothing in biology requires people with vaginas to behave in one manner and people with penises in another. So why did genital-specific forms of gender arise? More important, what has changed that now allows social approval of gender expression regardless of one’s genitalia?

Humans have age-old habits for generalization and stereotyping. Similar-looking phenomena are generalized into a category. Characteristics of some part of the category are then stereotyped to apply to all parts of the category. Stereotyping usually has as its main purpose the justification for treating people differentially. Hence we can be certain that as human language evolved, the gross differences in people’s genitals were generalized into categories of male and female people. Depending on the chance development of local culture, either benign or prejudicial stereotypes of each sex followed naturally from the establishment of these two superficially obvious categories. Once a category is established, it is typically human to start investing it with attributes and to reinforce the reality of those attributes with training and social sanctions. Gender becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, imposed from childhood until it seems part of our nature. So the human passion for categorization and organization lies behind the genesis of gender.

Many people believe that the gender attributes of today are what they always were. That is almost certainly not the case. Indeed, the same variety of sex that we saw in the fish and animal kingdoms can be seen with regard to gender diversity in human societies. Merlin Stone, author of When God Was a Woman, cites several scholars’ work to buttress her claim that most early human communities “were originally matrilineal, matriarchal, and even polyandrous (one woman with several husbands).” The vast majority of prehistoric stone carvings (so-called Venus figurines), which date from around 25,000 B.C.E. to about 3000 B.C.E., are indeed of goddesses. Such specific authority structures and religious carvings presuppose the existence of female gender behavior that is activist and leadership oriented, traits mostly associated with men today. Indeed, as of 1000 B.C.E., Herodotus of ancient Greece observed “in Egypt, women go in the marketplace, transact affairs, and occupy themselves with business, while men stay home and weave.”

Notwithstanding the different possible expressions of gender that have occurred throughout history, at least since the time of the Greeks and in nearly all tribal societies investigated by anthropologists, the dominant gender stereotypes were empowering to people with penises and oppressive to people with vaginas. The reason stereotypes are employed is to help justify the differential treatment of people with similar characteristics—in this case the oppressive treatment of people with vaginas. Hence the most important question behind the genesis of gender is, why did men feel they had to dominate women?

A number of different theories have been advanced as to why men historically sought to oppress women, and we have no way to know the “true reason,” which may vary even from place to place. It is clear, however, that none of the potential reasons for men’s oppression of women remain valid today. Accordingly, the genital-specific stereotypes that arose in support of male suppression of people with vaginas—what we call male or female gender—are no longer valid today.

The three most popular theories that seek to explain the origin of genital-stereotypic gender are (1) that men were jealous of women’s biology, (2) that men were egotistically driven to know which children were born of their “seed,” and (3) that men found women to be convenient targets for anger and aggression born of higher levels of testosterone. Each of these three theories will be discussed below to gain insight into the origin of genital-stereotypic gender and into the modern sociotechnological advances that render the old stereotypes obsolete.


Most feminist historians explain the rise of male domination of society as a result of men’s jealousy over female biology. The focal point of male jealousy is said to be women’s ability to bear children, but in some tribal societies that consider blood to have spiritual qualities, there also appears to be evidence of envy over women’s ability to bleed periodically (menses). In the view of these historians, early peoples at one time believed that women could produce life without male involvement, and this led a high status of women in those societies, with associated positive gender stereotypes. Male jealously eventually fueled an alternative view of women as mere receptacles or incubators of a male (if the sperm connection was known) “life seed.” With this new worldview, men no longer needed to envy women’s childbirth ability since the men saw themselves as the real initiators of life. Stereotypes were developed to reinforce this somewhat shaky new worldview. The stereotypes colored men “active” and gave them the important roles in society, while women were painted “passive,” with a principal purpose in life of incubating the male seed.

Evidence in support of the jealousy theory comes from studies of certain tribal cultures and from the earliest detailed written descriptions of gender stereotypes, the views of Aristotle and other Greeks. In a number of tribal societies in the South Pacific, South America, and Africa, males go through bloodletting rights that mimic menstruation. Within these societies, such as the Sambia of Papua New Guinea, a clear distinction is made that the artificially induced (with a stick or other cutting tool) male bloodletting is clean blood, but the naturally occurring female menses is dirty blood. Sjoo and Mor report on an Australian aboriginal male ritual in which the men “cut wounds in their penises, inserting stones to keep the wound permanently open. This rite imitates female bleeding, and the wound is called, in their language, a ‘vagina.’ During this rite young men pass through the legs of older men, being ‘reborn’ from the ‘male womb.’”

In all of the tribal societies studied that practice male imitation of female rituals, there is an extreme amount of genital-specific gender stereotyping. Women are considered dirty, weak, and untrustworthy. They are beaten frequently. Feminist historians explain this as a result of men trying to overcome their jealousy of female biology.

Aristotle and other Greeks first laid down comprehensive concepts of maleness and femaleness about 2,500 years ago. In their view maleness was characterized by activity and femaleness by passivity. All of society’s other numerous gender adjectives flow from these two key terms. “Active” presupposes other stereotypical masculine qualities such as aggressiveness, strength, leadership, and intellect. “Passive” implies other stereotypical feminine qualities such as peacefulness, frailty, nourishment, and idleness. Many feminist historians believe that these stereotypes arose as a reaction to male jealousy over female childbirth. These feminist historians believe that, rather than envy women’s miracle of childbirth, the Greeks used their newfound knowledge of the need for semen in conception to “turn the tables” on women and consider them as mere receptacles for the male miracle of sperm.

According to Aristotle, women were “passive by nature” as evidenced by their functioning as a “passive incubator of male seed.” The parent was not the mother, but “he who mounts.” Hence the Greeks and their Roman successors based an apartheid of sex on the theory that the male phallus was active while the female vagina was passive. This presumption arguably, but not always successfully, made it self-evident to these ancients that men and women had two different natures, which meant that they should follow two different sets of gender rules, active ones for men and passive ones for women.

The Greeks could not rely on male semen alone to maintain the apartheid of sex because that would still leave their society open to female intellectual participation. After all, even if the woman’s body was in the Greeks’ words a “mere receptacle for male seeds,” a “fertile field being planted,” or “menstrual blood being cooked by male semen,” none of these anatomical capabilities necessarily spoke to her intellect, her soul, or her nature. Greeks were also worried about grounding apartheid on the phallus alone. Greek men knew too many dynamic women lovemakers and too many flaccid phalli. Leading Greeks such as Plutarch and Cato worried that if they allowed women, as Cato said, “to achieve complete equality with mean, do you think they will be any easier to live with? Not at all. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters.” The belief that men controlled childbearing or coitus was simply not enough to fully control women. Women could say “Okay, the kid is yours” or “I don’t want to sleep with you” and go on to compete for worldly rewards. There was a persistent fear that women would spring back to their former matriarchal glory, a glory that was still recalled in folklore. Hence the Greeks began to institutionalize the apartheid of sex with gender socialization. In other words, they began to shift the ultimate reason for apartheid form the body to the mind.

From Greek to Roman times persistent efforts were made to establish nonreproductive, nongenital pillars for sexual apartheid. Classical myths emphasized that life sprang from Olympian male gods and set up male and female gods with stereotypical gender attributes. While there were many gods, just one was the original male father. This was intentionally in opposition to the ancient matriarchal belief in a single female ancestor. The Greeks and Romans also passed laws to limit the participation of women in sociopolitical life, based on assertions that women “lacked the nature” or were “too passive” for intellectual affairs. It was not women’s bodies per se that primarily condemned them to second-class citizenry, it was their souls. Active or passive genitals were certain signposts to active or passive souls.

Contradictions in the Greco-Roman gender scheme arose everywhere, and these contradictions undermined patriarchal control. For example, the myths about women multiplied so greatly that one could readily find activist female heroes among the Olympic gods. Soon the mythical gods were all fighting gender wars, a terrible precedent for patriarchal life back on earth. Also, despite all efforts at repression, there were always examples of women who totally defied the “passive” stereotype.

The Greek woman Agnodice, a contemporary of Aristotle, graduated from medical school and became the most successful gynecologist of her time—all the while disguised as a man. Accused by jealous colleagues of building a practice by seducing clients, she shocked ancient Greece by revealing her true sex in a famous trial. Having proved their claims of seduction false, she proceeded to argue successfully for her right to practice medicine as an exceptional woman, despite laws limiting the medical field to men. There were also numerous women warriors, generals, and tradespeople in neighboring societies that had not yet fully yielded to patriarchal control. These women could not exist if women were passive by nature. Hence, despite a strong overall patriarchy, many women thrived in Greco-Roman times. Indeed, early Christians used the checkered ability of Greco-Roman society to control their women as evidence of their theology’s shortcomings.

As the Roman Empire began to wane, it was clear that neither reproductive anatomy nor the notion of an inherently passive nature would suffice for keeping women fully under control. The patriarchy had succeeded in wiping out matriarchal societies, but arguments based on childbearing or gender rules did little to quash the desire of individual women to participate fully in life’s opportunities. And each woman who did try to participate actively in society was a stick of dynamite in the edifice of apartheid. Where one woman succeeded, many more would follow. Taken to its conclusion, men would lose their female slave class and double their competition—and both “evils” would occur with a class of people they had just violently dispossessed of thousands of years of matriarchal supremacy!

Perhaps nowhere was this clearer than in the famous case of the Alexandria-based Greek mathematician Hypatia. A brilliant astronomer living around 400 C.E., she was adored by her pupils and considered one of the most articulate proponents of rationalism. She did not have children, and her very success flew in the face of all the Greco-Roman stereotypes about women. As long as Hypatia was around, girls in Alexandria were inspired to be more than a “receptacle for semen,” and need not believe the stereotypical gospel about “women being passive by nature.” In more and more households girls talked about going to school, and men began to feel threatened. The patriarchy finally solved the problem of Hypatia: a mob of Christian zealots dragged her from her chariot and killed her by slicing the flesh from her bones with crude tools. This was to be a terrible omen for the next phase of mankind’s efforts to enforce an apartheid of sex.

Today we know what the Greeks did not: an egg cell is just as necessary for childbirth as is a sperm cell. Neither sex is reproductively more active or passive than the other, and in any event, reproductive functions have nothing to do with mental abilities. In the 1990s it is now possible to fertilize sperm and egg cells in a vial, check for a variety of genetic abnormalities, and then insert the fertilized zygote into the uterine lining. We are at the cusp of being able to actually modify the zygote before it is inserted into the uterine lining, changing genetic characteristics for health or cosmetic reasons. Neither sperm nor egg cells have a monopoly on the miracle of life. Since sperm and egg cell bearers are themselves, the product of dual-sexed parents, reproduction is, in fact, an inherently transgender experience.

It is ironic that if the genesis of our gender stereotypes came from unwarranted jealousy over women’s apparent ability to produce life spontaneously, or from false pride in men’s apparent ability to plant the seed of life, it was all a big mistake. We now know that both sexes are equal contributors in the creation of life. Neither sex is more active or passive than the other. The egg marches as far as the sperm swims. Women can hump men as easily as men can mount women. A vast social superstructure of genital-specific gender stereotypes was created on a false platform. The stereotypes were then forged into such a self-fulfilling prophecy that the lies became truth. It is our duty, in the twenty-first century, to remove this false gender foundation upon which the apartheid of sex has been built. A person’s nature has nothing to do with gonads. Natures are transgendered.


In contrast with the feminist historical viewpoint, sociobiologists argue that gender stereotypes arose from men’s egotistical “instinct for survival.” This instinct led men to ensure that the offspring they helped to support carried their genes and not those of another man. For a sociobiologist, this makes evolutionary sense. While every child born to a woman carries half that woman’s chromosomes, the child will carry only the chromosomes of the man who impregnated that woman. Under sociobiological theories, this fact created great evolutionary-type pressure for men to come up with social systems that ensured the children they fed and defended were the children of their seed. The only way to ensure this would be by controlling women’s sexuality. And the most effective way to control women’s sexuality was to control their minds. Genital-specific gender stereotypes were the principal tools used to control women’s minds and hence their bodies.

Evidence in favor of male parental egotism comes from the major organized religions throughout the world, all of which have as a principal doctrine the control of female sexuality by one man. With the objective of better cementing patriarchal control over women, organized religion added more normative, value-laden content to maleness and femaleness as compared with the active/passive dichotomy of Greece. Starting from the “Word of God” story of Adam and Eve, and similar stories from non-Western cultures, maleness was now also righteousness, inherent goodness, and trustfulness. To be female, under the major organized religions, was now also to be sinful, inherently evil, and devious. Even an intellectually active woman could not escape these negative labels. The trap was complete.

The thrust of early Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judeo-Christianity was to make women feel ashamed of their bodies and to thus make it easier for men to control them. Women were to stay home, work the fields, and have children because they could not be trusted to do anything else. All of the organized religions banned polyandry and female extramarital sex. The religions all insisted that God decreed for men to have absolute dominion over their families. Whether we consider the Buddhist rule that only a man may achieve nirvana or the Jewish law that only a man may study Torah, the message is always the same: Since males are nobler than females, since males are closer to God, it is only proper that men should have authority over women. Organized religion is a monument to male ego.

Organized religion put Western women in a much worse position than ever before. Under the Greco-Roman laws an activist woman could be found in violation of the law, but in her defense she could claim simply to be following her nature. While the stereotype called for women’s nature to be passive, there was nothing sinful or evil about having a nature that failed to comply with the stereotype. The activist woman was simply an oddity who might be spared or killed based on the whims of the circumstances. But under Judeo-Christianity, for example, a woman who failed to follow the gender dictates of the Bible was violating the Word of God. She was at best a sinner and at worst, depending on the particular Judeo-Christian cult, possessed by the devil and condemned to hell. There was no way out of the dilemma: if your “nature” was out of line with “God’s Word,” then you must be evil. Millions of women who practiced old matriarchal folklore were ignored by the Greco-Roman laws but were condemned to death as witches by Christianity. The religious doctrine of male goodness and female guile (evil) gave men the control over women that was never perfected under earlier active/passive gender stereotypes.

Science and technology have decimated both the religious stereotypes in support of male egotism and the sociobiological basis for genital-specific gender. This occurred mostly when the scientific method replaced religious doctrine as the basis for finding truth on earth. Concepts like “men are godlike” have no scientific meaning. Social scientists could find no evidence that people with vaginas are more evil than people with penises. If evil is defined as most people would define it—propensity for murder, rape, callousness—then people with vaginas are generally saints, whether or not they follow a bible. Finally, one needn’t lock up a woman to ensure that a child she births has been created by a particular man’s sperm. Technology provides chromosome tests to give that information.

One of the biggest tragedies of the apartheid of sex is that countless millions of women have been terrorized over centuries simply to ensure that half the chromosome complement of a new child is, within a fraction of a percent, that of a particular male. While the genome (chromosome complement) of no two people is the same (other than identical twins), the genomes of all people are identical to well within 1 percent. Many people find this surprising because they fail to realize that what they see in a person—hair color, skin tone, facial shape—is but a minute fraction of what a person is actually made of—hair, skin, face, internal organs, and extraordinarily complex biochemistry.

It would seem that the biggest flaw in sociobiology is that the harm caused to the human species by savagely oppressing half its population (women) must far outweigh the problematic evolutionary advantages of individual men devoting their efforts only to their genetic offspring. After all, offspring sired by other men would chromosomally be almost the same. So the evolutionary losses due to polyandry are minimal. But the lost contributions to humanity of oppressed women have been massive—half the potential of the species! If unbridled egotism was ever an evolutionary advantage, it no longer is today. To surmount the manifold challenges to our survival on fragile earth, the species needs the unrepressed energies of its female half far more than a limited guarantee that certain babies are partial copies of self-selected men.


A third school of thought, represented mostly by physical anthropologists, argues that men oppressed women throughout history because of the greater flow of testosterone through the male body. In this view, heightened levels of testosterone make men angry, frustrated, and aggressive. Societies developed a female “punching bag” class as an outlet for male aggression because incessant fights among men would be too destructive. Negative gender stereotypes for women emerged so that their treatment as second-class citizens did not grate too roughly on the human psychological need for consistency.

As evidence for this anger theory, physical anthropologists point out that testosterone is associated with aggressiveness in humans and animals. Hyenas are often pointed to as an example of an animal species in which females are more dominant and aggressive than males and also have high testosterone levels. Similarly, scientists point out that female rat embryos that are nestled between male rat embryos in a mother’s womb are more aggressive than those born from all-female litters and also have higher levels of testosterone (as a result of seepage from the neighboring male embryo). Lawyers have been found to have higher testosterone counts during a trial than when occupied with less aggressive pursuits.

Testosterone is also used to explain the average 10-15 percent greater upper body musculature of men. Anthropologists have observed that as a result of this greater upper body strength, it was in the survival interests of tribes to let men do the hunting, warrior work, and heavy plowing. This resulted in men differentiating themselves from women, stereotyping themselves as strong and the women as weak.

Male anger can no longer be used to justify genital-specific stereotyping. Laws against assault and battery require people to control their hormonal urge to strike out against someone. Increasingly, men cannot beat women without going to jail. Hence there should be less and less male-on-female violence to justify unempowered female stereotypes. As far as physical strength goes, technology has been the great equalizer between sexes. As women continue to be integrated into the armed services, the “weak woman” stereotype will become ever less credible. Women soldiers are just as deadly as men soldiers. The physical anthropologist’s perspective on gender stereotyping is ably summarized in University of Florida professor Marvin Harris’s essay “The Evolution of Human Gender Hierarchies”:

An obvious point, but one likely to be missed in the absence of an evolutionary perspective, is that today’s hyperindustrialism is almost totally indifferent to the anatomical and physiological differences between men and women. It is no accident that women’s rights are rising as the strategic value of masculine brawn declines. Who needs 10 or 15 percent more muscle power when the decisive processes of production take place in automated factories or while people sit at desks in computerized offices? … Despite the waning importance of brute strength in warfare, women continue to be excluded from combat roles in the armed forces. Clearly women can be as competent as men with intercontinental ballistic missiles, smart bombs and computerized firing systems. But men and women must jointly decide whether to push for equality of opportunity in the killing fields or to push for the end of war and an end to the social need to raise macho warriors, whether they be males or females.

Testosterone is also fingered by physical anthropologists as the causal factor that leads men to think differently from women. It is alleged that testosterone influences neural development so that men and women have differently structured brains. In this view, many male and female gender stereotypes exist because they accurately depict different male and female approaches to life, regardless of gender socialization.

Once science toppled religion as the arbiter of truth, there was in fact little choice but to look to the human brain for the absolute difference between men and women that history told us prevailed. The seat of “human nature” could only be the brain or the soul. Since the latter could not be found elsewhere, it was presumed to arise from the mind. So science had to find absolute differences between the minds of women and the minds of men or else admit to a transgendered human nature and an end to the apartheid of sex.

First there were abortive pseudoscientific attempts up through the early twentieth century to prove female intellectual inferiority due to smaller brain size or female physical infirmity due to maternal skeletal structure. It was during this time that Madame Curie became the first person ever to win the Nobel Prize twice, once in physics and once in chemistry. Another stick of dynamite in the edifice of apartheid. Nor did physical infirmity stop Gertrude Ederle, in 1926, from breaking (by two hours!) the male world record for swimming the English Channel. Kaboom! By the late twentieth century scientists abandoned efforts to prove absolute differences between the “natures” of men and women. They weren’t there.

Finally, within the last twenty years science has settled on differential test score results and microneural anatomy to establish male-female meaning. For example, it is frequently said that women score better on most tests of verbal ability and men on most tests of mathematical skill. To laypeople, this is translated as “Women are more communicative (in other words, emotional, idle) and men are more mechanical (smart, active).” Similar average test score results have been used to say women are more intuitive and men more logical. In essence, average test score differences today are used to reinforce ancient Greco-Roman sexual stereotypes. This might be called “quantitative patriarchy.”

In fact, as shown in the following table, there are always men who test in the women’s range and women who test in the men’s range. The table shows the sexual spread of several mathematical skills tests, with scores above the ninety-fifth percentile meaning subjects who received scores higher than 95 percent of the other subjects. The overlap between women’s and men’s scores is almost always much greater than the range in which only women or only men score. The table also reflects the phenomena called “variability” —that women’s scores tend to be bunched a bit more closely together and men tend to e disproportionately represented by extremely high and low scores. For example, there are more than twice as many men as women in the very high scorers—but those persons represent only about ten percent of all the men and women. In other words, the tests actually show that men and women think more alike than unalike. The tests are testaments to gender individuality, not to the validity of stereotypes.

Neurobiologists look for differences in dissected, damaged, or electronically scanned male and female brains. To the extent differences are found, there is an irrestible urge to relate them to apparent real-world differences and to explain them as result of more or less testosterone hormonalization of the brain. To date, neurobiologists have not provided any repeatable scientific evidence of absolute differences in male and female brains. Various researchers’ findings are contradicted by other researchers.

Spatial Analysis Testing*

Scoring below 5th Percentile: .56% (Males); .44% (Females)
Scoring below 95th Percentile: 92.09% (Males); 96.34% (Females)
Scoring above 95th Percentile: 7.35% (Males); 3.22% (Females)

* Extrapolated from A. Fausto-Sterling, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men (2nd ed. 1992), 33.

As of today, the strongest claim made (based on a few dozen dissected brains) is that a small part of the hypothalamus, a tiny clump of important nerve cells deep within the brain, varies in diameter from .01 mm to .16 mm in women and .01 mm to .21 mm in men. Thus the volume differences within each sex are far greater than the differences between sexes. In any event, the total differences are less than .1 (one-tenth of one) percent the size of a cigarette. This sex difference research is so weak that there is still less than a fifty-fifty chance of looking at a hypothalamus and guessing correctly whether it belonged to a woman or a man. As with other scientific research showing average mental differences between men and women, the results argue more strongly for a continuum of sexual identity than for a duality of sex types. Areas of overlap are always much greater than areas of difference.

None of the scientific research has shown an absolute difference between men and women. There are always many men to score in the women’s range, and vice-versa. Science has finally disproven the age-old dogmas about the absolutely different natures of men and women. There is nothing inherent in having a penis that leads one to act “masculine” or to be “active.” Nor does having a vagina necessarily imply femininity or passivity. Instead science has shown that people are infinitely unique with one of two kinds of genitals (in many variations) and the potential for any sexual identity they choose.


All of the reasons for men to use negative stereotypes against women are obsolete. Men need not put down women as passive in order to assuage childbirth insecurities, because there is nothing to be insecure about. Both men and women are important to childbirth. Men need not cast women as evil, out of fear of female sexuality and parentage insecurity. It is the emotional bond, not the chromosomal, that ties child to father for life. Besides, evil is what you do, not who you are. Finally, men need not label women as weak or dumb in order to justify pushing them around. The world of today is too dangerous a place for testosterone cowboys. In any event, one doesn’t need much testosterone to be a killer or a genius. Ask a female GI or Nobel laureate. None of the factors that may have justified genital-specific gender over the past thousands of years are valid today.

If there’s no longer a need to “out-group” women, there is also no longer a need to differentiate between men and women. If there is no out-group, we are all part of the same in-group. Technology has transgendered us. Technology has changed society in ways that decouple gender from genitals. Accordingly, society can liberate gender from genital stereotypes just like biology liberated intimacy from estrus cycles.

As the table below outlines, human civilization since the rise of patriarchal governments has provided us with several definitions of mental maleness and femaleness:

Exemplary Conceptualization Gender Stereotypes


ACTIVE v. PASSIVE (Grcco-Roman; Polytheistic Patriarchy)
Aggressive v. Peaceful
Strong v. Frail
Assertive v. Nurturing
Intellectual v. Idle
Leader v. Follower

RIGHTEOUS v. SINFUL (Monotheistic Patriarchy)
Good v. Evil
Trusting v. Devious

MATH-LIKE v. VERBAL (Science; Quantitative Patriarchy)
Logical v. Intuitive
Direct v. Indirect
Mechanical v. Communicative

Gender stereotypes will continue as long as people have an obsession for categorization. But the association of these stereotypes with reproductive roles or genitals is meaningless now that sex is mostly something we do to feel good and child rearing is something any-sex person can do. In essence, family law and technology is returning much of the freedom from biology that patriarchy took away.

We know today that offspring are the product of one person’s egg, another’s sperm, millennia of genetic ancestors, and maybe some reprotech or genetic engineering assistance. So there’s no need to fight over which sex caused the baby—lots of sex, going back thousands of years, causes every baby. We also know today that the child’s name and inheritance are matters of gender-free choice. So there’s no need to pin down our sexes just to ensure the kid gets a name and a house. The legitimacy of a child no longer depends on their father or their mother. For the vast majority of people, what they have is what they worked for. As a pillar of sexual apartheid, reproduction control for patrilineal or matrilineal reasons is obsolete.

The Greeks’ effort to strengthen the early patriarchal structure with justifications that went beyond reproductive roles was later taken up by monotheists and eventually by pseudoscientists. They began to locate sexuality in the person’s soul and to color that sexuality with pervasive gender-based stereotypes. Hundreds of years later Judeo-Christian doctrine would paint the stereotypes as good (Adam) or evil (Eve). And, in the present day, pseudoscientists are attempting to persuade us that gender-stereotypical behavior is burned by testosterone into the modern-day cognate of the soul, our brain cells. Hence even though reproductive roles alone cannot justify gender stereotypes, the Greek myth of genitals as gender signposts to the soul burdens us still.

Test scores reveal a continuum of brain sex, ranging from stereotypically very “male” attributes to very “female” characteristics. Based on this research, one would have to say that brain sex is analogical (continuous), not digitally male or female. Yet legally we force sex to be male or female, based on digitally dimorphic (either/or) genitals. Hence unless we exclude the brain from the definition of sex, we are imposing a legal apartheid of sex that lacks a scientifically rational basis. Brains are transgendered.

In fact, the brain cannot be excluded from a definition of sex. All concepts of sex—from the Greco-Roman active/passive dichotomy to the Judeo-Christian good/evil dialectic to the scientific math/verbal divergence—presuppose thought, mind, and brain. It would appear to us to be singularly inhuman to channel a person’s life according to hidden genitals rather than intrinsic abilities. In modern times the false simplicity of the age-old dualisms is realized; we accept that any person may be more or less active/passive, good/evil, or mathematical/verbal. This inevitably implies that any person may be more or less male/female. Hence it is logical error to label all persons as either male or female. This logical error becomes repressive when the law imposes it at birth and mandates conformity to it throughout life.

The law’s error arises not only from the ancient belief in a strict duality of male/female mental attributes, but also from the ancient belief that one’s genitals were certain arbiters of one’s soul. At birth genitals are as digitally different (either/or) today as they ever were. However, science has never been able to show that the dimorphic genital difference is reflected in a dimorphic brain sex difference. The brain is a continuum of sexual stereotypes; the genitals appear as male or female. It is this inconsistency that undermines the prevailing paradigm of legal sex-typing. Hence we must ask: If the legal separation of sexes is not true or real, does the state nevertheless have an interest in classifying people into one of two sexes based solely on their most private anatomy? And if the state does have such an interest, is it sufficiently strong to outweigh the human right to express sexual identity outside the male/female dialectic?

The Sex of an Avatar

Avatars are pure software constructs. If they continue to increase in sophistication at the rate of the past ten years, they will soon literally think for themselves. How will they feel about sex? There are millions of different answers to this question because there will be millions of differently programmed avatars. An avatar whose software program and associated database was very much a copy of a flesh human’s main memories and thought patterns would feel about sex the same way the flesh human felt about sex. Could the avatar actually have sex? Touch-sensitive screens already provide software with a sense of feeling. Chess programming expert David Levy exudes confidence in his 2007 book Love and Sex with Robots that touch-screen software is the leading edge of a full spectrum of replicated sensuality.

Ray Kurzweil, in his 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines, demonstrates how a continuation of the computer industry’s 40-year track record of processor speed doubling (Moore’s Law) will result by 2020 in desktop computers with the capabilities of the human mind. Computer science guru Marvin Minsky argues persuasively in his 2006 book The Emotion Machine that software can be written to feel all the same things we feel when we love or make love. A good sign of the humanness, or autonomy, of an avatar is that they choose their own sex and display their own gender. Such an avatar would be both transgendered and transhuman. Transgendered because they chose their own gender. Transhuman because they identify with being human, even though they are not made of flesh.

Avatar sexuality is a key bridge from transgender to transhuman. It makes cerulean clear that sexual identity is limitless in variety and detachable from reproduction. And by making that point, it simultaneously demonstrates that human identity is limitless in variety and detachable from reproduction. If you can accept that a person without a penis can peaceably live life as she pleases (including as a man), then you should be able to accept that a person without a physical form can peaceably live life as they please (including as a human). Can you can accept that someone is not automatically passive, or evil, or dumb simply because they have a vagina instead of a penis? Then you should be able to accept that someone is not automatically passive, or evil, or dumb simply because they have a software mind instead of a flesh-based one. Personhood is about equity, not equipment.

While the ancient trunk of sexual identity lies rooted in successful reproductive strategies, the fruit of that tree has now spread far beyond DNA-swapping. Breaking the connection between gender and genitals opened the channel between personhood and form. Once we realize that our essential sweetness is in our minds, and that each of us has unique life-path potential not fully tethered to a body-determined route, then it is as sensible to be transhuman as it is to be transgendered. The being is mightier than the gene.

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