Gender Identity and Your Stupid Ass

I just want to note here (after a frustrating conversation elsewhere) so I can link to this later in the midst of future frustrating conversations, that gender identity is not “new”. The concept is over 100 years old and the exact phrase is at least 45 years old in the scientific literature. Earlier uses of the two word phrase “gender indenti[$]” exist in the literature, but it’s not entirely clear when this transitioned (see what I did there) from simply modifying words like “identity” and “identification” with the word “gender” to a two-word term of art with its own definition.

In any case, if you think it’s a conspiracy that you never heard of gender identity until 2019 and now suddenly it’s everywhere in your life, that’s not a conspiracy. That’s just you being ignorant before 2019. Got that, Mr. gender critical SouthPark fan?

And I know that I recommend this book fairly often, but let’s do it again. The earliest, most complete study of what gender actually is that is still considered largely accurate and entirely relevant today is the Kessler & McKenna book, Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach.

Other investigations into the nature of gender exist that were written prior to Kessler & McKenna, but none that I know of created such a complete framework for understanding, analyzing, and further studying gender. While some bits may no longer be the most up-to-date or may even have proved inaccurate in light of later work, as a whole volume there’s nothing there that has been made irrelevant over the decades. You really can’t do better than to read G:AEA if you want to understand what gender is and has been across cultural, temporal, and individual differences.


  1. says

    And now the Retrumplitarians are trying to get all mention of trans anything erased from history, sex-ed, and anywhere else it’s at all known or mentioned. So then our grandkids (or great-grandkids?) will have to make the same re-discovery of all this all over again.

  2. says

    Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach came out in 1978. It is not difficult to find the phrase “gender identity” used in scientific literature in the late 1960s and early 1970s, alongside similar phrases (such as “sex-role identification”).

    It’s impossible to take anybody seriously who thinks (or more likely pretends to think) the concept is recent (as in less than a decade old); a few minutes of online “research” would be enough to dispel the illusion.

  3. lochaber says

    I’ve seen people try and make a comparison to when people were punished for using their left hand for writing, etc. After society eased up on punishing people for using their left hand, there was a sudden increase in left-handed individuals, but it soon hit a plateau. It’s not that everyone wanted to do things with their left hand now that they could do so without getting their knuckles rapped, it’s just that the people who found it easier to do things with their left hand could now do so, openly, without fear of punishment.

    I kinda feel something similar is happening with gender and sexuality – as it’s becoming more acceptable for people to come out as gay/bi/pan, or trans/fluid/etc., we are seeing those people who weren’t comfortable living a closeted life, but could endure it, starting to come out and live their life as they want to. I fail to see how there is anything “bad” about that.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    @lochaber: that is a great analogy. So great, in fact, that I am definitely stealing it. Cheers!

  5. Allison says

    people who weren’t comfortable living a closeted life, but could endure it, starting to come out and live their life as they want to.

    That describes me perfectly. Except, of course, when it got to the point where I couldn’t endure it, and I started wanting to die. Fortunately, being trans and transitioning started to be more accepted about then. (It was still seen as weird, but then, I’d been seen as weird — and ‘queer’ — my whole life. Now I knew why.)

  6. billseymour says

    The Republicans’ target audience is not folks who even could become familiar with the relevant literature.  They’re looking for some phrase that they can misuse to claim that it’s something new and scary.  “Critical Race Theory” comes easily to mind.

  7. Anonymous Clerk says

    Tangential, but I recently had the pleasure of helping a young person whose true gender identity and chosen name had just been legally recognized by the state. As a paper-pusher, my little part in that process was being the one who stamped out the last remnants of that person’s deadname from the public record. Someone left my office in a very happy mood that day, quite a rare occurrence.

  8. SchreiberBike says

    lochaber, like sonofrojblake I’m stealing that. I’ve heard younger people say somebody else’s gender identity is like handedness. It’s an important fact about them, but there’s no value judgement attached to it.

  9. A Woman of No Importance says

    I don’t find the argument that something is “new” compelling anyway. Every scientific discovery since the dawn of time was “new” at the time it was discovered. Does anyone seriously want to tell Isaac Newton that calculus and gravity are both suspicious since they were both “new” concepts at the time he discovered them?

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