Friday Philosophy: Personal Identity

We are not confused about our gender.  It is other people who have that problem.  They confuse who we are with their image of who we should be.

Would you stand for anyone else doing that to you, for whatever reason?

Transgender people look long and hard into our identities to discover who we truly are.  Self-introspection.  We don’t look between our legs for that.  Human identity is in the mind.

Identity has no material form (Locke:  “Consciousness makes personal identity.”).  Identity does not reside in the chromosomes or genes.  

At one time there was a psychologist at Johns Hopkins, Dr. John Money, who believed that gender identity was primarily learned behavior.  So when a boy named Bruce Reimer had his penis accidentally destroyed during circumcision, Money saw no problem in just reassigning the sex of this child and instructing the parents to raise him as a girl, Brenda.


The child’s behavior is so clearly that of an active little girl and so different from the boyish ways of her twin brother.

At a later time it was discovered that Reimer’s parents routinely lied about what was really going on.  The fact that Brian Reimer, the twin brother, was schizophrenic was part of that lie.

Reimer’s later account, written two decades later with John Colapinto, described how, contrary to Money’s reports, when living as Brenda, Reimer did not identify as a girl. He was ostracized and bullied by peers, and neither frilly dresses (which he was forced to wear during frigid Calgary winters) nor female hormones made him feel female.

When informed of the gender reassignment,  Brenda chose to start living as a boy, choosing the name David.  He underwent testosterone injections, a double mastectomy, and two phalloplasty operations.  He married a woman who had three children.  His story was reported in As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl.

Brian Reimer committed suicide in 2002.  David became unemployed and separated from his wife.  The day after the separation, David committed suicide as well.

Dr. Milton Diamond, an expert on human sexuality at the University of Hawaii and long the intellectual nemesis of Money, encapsulated this view in an interview on the BBC in 1980, when it was becoming clear that Money’s experiment was failing: “Maybe we really have to think … that we don’t come to this world neutral; that we come to this world with some degree of maleness and femaleness which will transcend whatever the society wants to put into [us].”

It is far from certain that the gender Diamond is referring to is located in our chromosomes.

For many gender biologists like Diamond, transgender children now serve the same allegorical purpose that David Reimer once did, but they support the opposite conclusion: they are seen as living proof that “gender identity is influenced by some innate or immutable factors,” writes Melissa Hines, the author of Brain Gender.

What transpeople have done is to search our minds…our intellects…for what makes sense for us as human beings.  This is not an act of confusion, but a search for clarity and self-order.  We develop confidence in who we are.

If anything, this is the opposite of confusion.  So don’t buy it when you hear someone from one of the anti-trans, anti-gay bigot groups referring to us as gender confused.  Point your finger instead to such people and know that it is they who have really lost sight of the nature of human identity.

And remember that, not only for us transfolk, but for everyone:

The biggest sex organ is not between the legs but between the ears.

–Milton Diamond

And please note that gender is located in there as well.

To those who paint us as the embodiment of evil, I have this to say:

    What is not, for most of us, located in our minds are all the hateful thoughts and actions dreamt up by those who would deny us equality and respect as human beings. No, we don’t transition so that we can abuse women and children in public restrooms. I’m sorry to learn that is what you would do if you were me.

    We are not gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender just so that we can be sexual 24/7 and rape at will. I fear for any society that includes people like you who would behave that way if you were one of us. I fear for us all if what was in the heads of those who paint us as subhuman were allowed to flourish. Most of us do not need religion to keep such evil thoughts from expressing themselves, but I’m glad that your religion controls your actions if you have such thoughts.

For more about identity issues, I point the way to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


Skip to comment form

    • Robyn on November 27, 2010 at 00:02

    …from your body into the cranium of another body, which body would be you?


    • Edger on November 27, 2010 at 00:44

    other than what they are told by media or by other people who probably have little or no identity what they are supposed to “be”. Most “advice” is given for the benefit of the advice giver only. It’s much easier for the advice giver to have others “change” to accommodate them rather than changing their own thinking since that would involve (horror of horrors) self examination.

    They project. Transparently. And just because you may terrify them is not reason to accommodate them.

    I think.

Comments have been disabled.