Julia Serano, “Intrinsic Inclinations: Explaining Gender and Sexual Diversity” (Ch 2. of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity)


1.      Physical sex

         a.      Male or female (or some combination of) chromosome, organs or hormones

         b.      Is physical sex binary? Intersex

2.      Subconscious sex

         a.      A disposition toward a certain sexual identity (a tendency to identify as a certain sex)

         b.      “A more or less innate (& frequently unrecognized) disposition toward a certain sexual identity—male, female, or something else, where gender identity is a performative public “sexual” identity, either male or female in our binary gendered society

                  i.      Beyond the binary

3.       Transgendered people

         a.      Possess a subconscious sex which is dissonant (in disagreement) with their socially assigned gender identity

4.      Cisgendered people

         a.      Possess a subconscious sex that’s congruent with their socially assigned gender identity

5.      Gender expression (Feminine, masculine)

         a.      Presentation, behaviors, interests considered feminine, masculine or combination

6.      Sexual orientation: Gay/lesbian, straight, bi-sexual

7.      Physical sex, subconscious sex, gender expression,, and sexual orientation often confused

         a.      Transsexuals transition to align physical and subconscious sex

                  i.      Not (usually, ever?) to express either femininity or masculinity

         b.      Often mistake people for being lesbian/gay because they are somewhat masculine woman or feminine man.


8.      Social constructivism

         a.      Femininity and masculinity are mere social constructs, inventions, artifacts of human culture and do not occur naturally and vary over time

                  i.      Boys socialized to become masculine

                  ii.     Girls to become feminine

                  iii.    Fem/masculine function as ideals all people encouraged to meet

         b.      Gender roles encouraged/enforced

                  i.      Difference in speech pattern, word choice, mannerisms, roles in relationships, styles of dress, aesthetic preferences, interests, occupations

9.      Gender essentialists

         a.      Those born male are preprogrammed to act masculine

         b.      Born female preprogramed to act feminine

         c.      Evidence: Girls/boys act in girlish/boyish manner early age

         d.      Assume genetic, anatomical, hormonal differences are the source of these behavioral differences

                  i.      Serano says evidence for genetic basis is elusive

10.    Serano argues gender essentialism is mistaken because there are exceptions to gender expression

         a.      There are masculine women and feminine men, and people of both sexes who express a combination

         b.      True in all cultures/history, so a natural phenomenon

         c.      There would be more of these exceptions if not for socialization:

                  i.      We actively encourage boys to be masculine and ridicule them if they act feminine (and vice versa)

11.    Serano argues social constructivism of gender also can’t explain these exceptional gender expression

         a.      Masculine girls and feminine boys show up very early before fully socialized into gender norms and generally keep expressing such behaviors despite intense social pressure


12.    There are deep, subconscious gender inclinations (hardwired into brain) for

         a.      Gender expression (masculine/feminine/combo/neither)

         b.      Sexual orientation (gay/lesbian, bisexual, neither)

         c.      Subconscious sex (identify as man or woman or neither or in between)

13.    These inclinations/dispositions are largely independent of one another

         a.      Are they largely independent of physical sex?

14.    These inclinations are intrinsic to our persons

         a.      They are present at a deep, subconscious level,

         b.      And generally remain intact despite social influences to purge, repress or ignore them

15.    Gender traits are not binary, but exist in a range of diversity that instantiates naturally occurring human variation

         a.      Argument for this gender diversity

                  i.      **Because no single genetic, anatomical, hormonal, environmental or psychological factor directly causes them

                  ii.     We can assume multiple factors determine them

                  iii.    So rather than discrete classes (e.g., either feminine/masculine, either attraction to women or men) each inclination shows continuous range of possible outcomes

                  iv.    “Beyond the binary”

16.    Because these inclinations have multiple inputs and show continuos range of outputs (like height), they are not errors/mistakes/pathologies

         a.      False to assume those with exceptional sexual orientation, subconscious sexes or gender expressions, represent developmental, biological or environmental errors

         b.      They are naturally occurring examples of human variation

         c.      They could be both (theoretically); consider exceptional height

17.    This intrinsic inclination model explains

         a.      Why most people have typical genders (most men identify as male, act masculine, and attracted to women–and inverse for women)

         b.      Also accounts for vast diversity of gender and sexuality that exists

         c.      Explains why gay men and lesbians may be butch (masculine) or femme (feminine) or androgynous (some of both)

         d.      Explains why masculine girls can grow up to be lesbians, trans men, or heterosexual women

         e.      Explains why trans woman can be bisexual, straight or lesbian

18.    Diversity of physical sex

         a.      Chromosomal sex (xx, xy), gonadal sex (ovaries/testes), genital sex (clitoris, vagina and penis), hormonal sex (estrogen and androgens), and many secondary sex characteristics (breast growth in women, beard growth in men)

         b.      Think female/male discrete, mutually exclusive classes

         c.      But 1/50 people born intersex.

19.    What it means culturally to be a man/woman–symbols, customs, expectations, restrictions and privileges is temporally and culturally relative

         a.      Some cultures use gender expression to a greater extent than we do

         b.      Other cultures place more emphasis on who the person engages in sex with (men or women)

         c.      Our culture divides people in two groups, females/males almost exclusively on physical sex–genital sex at birth

20.    Problems with the two categories that are opposites idea

         a.      Two sexes are not mutually exclusive, so we ignore the variation in sex characteristics

         b.      Ignore the continuous range of possibilities and assume only two outcomes

                  i.      People can only be attracted to men or women and not both

                  ii.     They can only be feminine or masculine (not both)

                  iii.    They can only identify as female or male (not both)

                  iv.    Assume typical inclination for each sex holds true for all people

                           (1)    All female bodied people are feminine, attracted to men and identify as women

         c.      **Idea of opposite sexes unnecessarily polarizes women and men, isolates us from one another, exaggerates our differences

         d.      Assumes men aggressive, tough, practical, big

                  i.      Women, passive, weak, emotional and small

         e.      Accept this even though countless exceptions: women who are tough, practical big, men passive weak emotional/small

         f.      Opposites create expectations for femaleness/femininity and maleness/masculinity all people encourage to meet

                  i.      **De-legitimizes all behaviors that does not fit that ideal

                  ii.     People comment on aggressive women (bitch) but not male aggression (as it fits our preconception)

                  iii.    Comment on men who cry in public (sissy, wimp)

                  iv.    **Exceptional behaviors dismissed as illegitimate via insults

21.    Serano on Binary Gender System

         a.      Not necessary harmful recognize two major categories of sex, as long as realize not discrete or mutually exclusive and are respectful of people don’t fit into this system

         b.      She does not think the femaleness/maleness of her body/mind is entirely meaningless, superficial or unimportant

                  i.      A trans person spent most of life battling gender dissonance

                  ii.     Very important to her how her physical sex relates to her subconscious sex

22.    Serano opposes “gender oppositional sexism”

         a.      Binary gender system facilitates naive/oppressive belief that women/men opposites, this creates assumptions/stereotypes differently applied to each sex

         b.      It leads to traditional sexism (maleness/masculinity is superior to femaleness/femininity)

         c.      It marginalizes those with exceptional sexual/gender traits

                  i.      Gay mans attraction to men not as legitimate as a heterosexual woman

                  ii.     Trans mans male identity not seen as valid as cissexual man

                  iii.    Male-bodied transgendered persons femininity not seen as authentic as a cisgendered woman’s

         d.      **Creates hostility and fear toward those who display exceptional gender/sex traits

                  i.      That she is a transgendered woman and lesbian has no bearing on others gender/sex (gender inclinations not contagions!)

         e.      **People who derive sex identities from oppositional assumptions about gender, might feel their sexuality and gender threatened by her existence

                  i.      It brings other’s gender and sexuality into question

                  ii.     Her being a lesbian and trans person blurs meaning of “woman”

                  iii.    Other women might feel she somehow undermines their own sense of femaleness

                  iv.    Men might feel if become attracted to her, it would undermine their own maleness

                  v.      **Like how gay marriage seems to some (lots?) of people to threaten their conception of marriage

23.    Countless approving/disapproving comments we make about people’s gender presentation, identities and behaviors create atmosphere where

         a.      People with exceptional gender/sex traits feel like must remain closeted

         b.      People with typical gender inclinations become self-conscious and on guard, as their gender called into question

         c.      **Oppositional sexism exacerbates gender anxiety in all people

         d.      **Major factor responsible for most of prejudice and discrimination aimed at sexual minorities

24.    Examples of how atypical gender people, try to emphasize or become more “normal”

         a.      People with exceptional gender/sexual traits too often try to fit in, de-emphasize their differences: “We are just like you except for our sexual orientation.”

                  i.      Ignores reality that many people with atypical sex orientations also have atypical gender expressions, sex characteristics and subconscious sex

         b.      Many trans people say want to be normal women/men, that is straight, with appro gender expression

         c.      Male cross-dressers stress that they identify as men and are attracted to women (normal subconscious sex and sex orientation

25.    **Many confuse homosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered and intersex people is they believe all represent same thing: Queer. Exceptions that challenge mainstream oppositional assumptions about gender

26.    **Important for all LGBTIQ to stand together and challenge the myth that women and men are “opposites.”


27.    “Each of us has a unique experience with gender, one that is influenced by a host of extrinsic factors, such as culture, religion, race, economic class, upbringing, and ability, as well as intrinsic factors including our anatomy, genetic and hormonal makeup, subconscious sex, sexual orientation, and gender expression.”

28.    “We must stop projecting what we wish were true about gender and sexuality onto other people, and instead learn to yield to their unique individual identities, experiences, and perspectives.”

CRITICISMS FROM TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminism)>

29.    Elinor Burkett: Being a woman might be having lived as a woman in a social context

         a.      Being a woman means having accrued certain experiences, endured certain indignities and relished certain courtesies in a culture that reacted to you as one.”

         b.      “Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails. They haven’t suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they’d forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before. They haven’t had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners’ checks were far larger than theirs, or the ear of being too weak to ward off rapists.”

Questions on Julia Serano, “Intrinsic Inclinations: Explaining Gender and Sexual Diversity”


1.      What is physical sex? Is it binary? What is intersex?

2.      What is subconscious sex? What is a “disposition?” Explain what it means to “identify as a certain sex.”

3.      What does it mean to say our society is “a binary gendered one?” What does it mean for someone to be “beyond the binary.”

4.       Define each and then explain the difference between transgendered and cisgendered people.

5.      What is “gender expression” (i.e., being feminine or masculine”) and how is it different from both physical sex and subconscious sex?

6.      What is sexual orientation? How is it different from physical sex, subconscious sex, and gender expression?

7.      Explain the difference between social constructivism about gender and gender essentailism and give arguments for each position. Which side does Serano choose, if either?

8.      Explain Serano’s “intrinsic inclination model” for gender, sexual orientation and subconscious sex.

9.      What does it mean to say they are intrinsic? Does she think they are changeable?

10.    Explain Serano’s argument that these gender characteristics are not binary but exist in a range of diversity (like height) and are naturally occurring human variations that should not be seen as errors or mistakes.

11.    Evaluate from your own perspective Serano’s “intrinsic inclination model” for gender, sexual orientation and subconscious sex. Do you think she is correct about this theory? Why or why not? Which aspects make more or less sense to you?

12.    What is “gender oppositional sexism” and why does Serano oppose it?

13.    Why does the existence of transgendered women (men) feel threatening to some women/men? Should it? Does it undermine what it means to be a woman or man? Consider the analogy with how some feel like marriage is threatened by allowing gay marriage.