“Natural State of Affairs”

| Dec 7, 2015
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A particularly insidious aspect of gender–our gender systems in the West, and perhaps for the planet as a whole–is that it is an oppressive class system made all the more dangerous by the belief that it is a natural state of affairs. –Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw

In previous posts, we have discussed that being transgender appears to have both biological and cultural origins. The biological component is a DNA gender predisposition and the cultural component is the inappropriate assignment of people to gender behavior categories based on birth sex. But how did this DNA predisposition evolve? There are two types of theories circulating in scientific circles that would remain in obscure scientific circles except for their importance for gender systems. One of these, which we will call the “Sex-based Traditional Evolutionary” type, provides the intellectual underpinning for the Western gender system. Knowledge of the other theory, which we will call “Kinship-based” theories, is important because they provide alternatives that undermine the Western gender system. What is the natural state of affairs of gender from a scientific viewpoint?

“Traditional Sex-based” Evolutionary Theories

These theories provide the underpinning for the Western gender system but the evidence does not support them. The central idea is that sex differences between male and female resulted in a division of labor categorized by sex. Sex-based evolutionary theories involve the idea that natural selection in human evolution resulted in different gender behaviors for each sex. So the theory goes, gender behaviors emerged during the time when humans were organized into hunter-gatherer societies primarily during the period 40,000-10,000 years ago. Proponents argue that this biological division of labor by sex has changed little since then.

So the “sex-based traditional” theories go, behavior was adapted to fit the human reproduction situation with females primarily involved in tasks related to pregnancy and childrearing and males involved in hunting and group protection. Females were responsible for gathering foods near home base camp, primarily vegetable in nature. The females were believed to stay close to home base camp because childrearing impaired their ability to run during hunting and to go far from home. Males on the other hand were responsible for hunting and protection of the society. Males ranged far from the home camp and brought back animal meat as a high-calorie source of food. For this reason, males evolved to have higher levels of androgens that facilitated muscle development, strength and aggression. Since the males could not prove that they had fathered a particular child, they did not participate in child rearing but instead attempted to impregnate as many females as possible.

According to these theories, female hormones such as estrogen and oxytocin evolved encouraged social bonding within the tribe. Tasks within the tribe were assigned by sex. Masculine gender behavior evolved into a separate category that featured aggression, both physical and sexual. Feminine gender behavior evolved into a separate category that featured childcare and maintaining social relations.

In the past, evolutionary theories have postulated that gender behaviors were passed on by parent through DNA genetic mechanisms. Some theorists believe that gender behavior is rigidly genetically predetermined by inheritance, while others believe that evolved attributes, predispositions and temperaments interact with learning and the environment to develop gender behavior.

The most obvious criticism of sex-based traditional evolutionary theory of gender development is the rapid change in gender behavior categories that have occurred over the past century. These changes have occurred so rapidly that they could not possibly have been caused by natural selection through DNA. In contemporary culture, behaviors which were considered by sex-based evolutionary theorists to be in only one gender behavior category are now performed in both categories. Both males and females now customarily are involved in child rearing and some males have become dedicated homemakers. Marriage law has recognized the need to provide economic and legal protection for spouses who do not work outside the home. Due to technology advances, modern warfare requires less body strength and both males and females participate in the military due to necessity and career ambition. Agriculture as largely supplanted the need for hunter-gatherer activities resulting in a precipitous decline in personal hunting and fishing for food. Although movement between gender behavior categories is still frowned upon, transgender people are now being increasingly accepted.

Studies of contemporary hunter-gathers show that the much of the food calories consumed by a group are scavenged by females, the young and the elderly who remain at or near home camp. The people at the camp also engage in hunting for small game nearby and for the occasional big game that wander through the area. Hunter-gatherer groups cannot afford the luxury of a clean division of labor based on sex because they struggle even to remain above the subsistence level.

Kinship-based Theories

The second type of evolutionary theory of gender development is termed “Sex-based Kinship” theory. The rationale for this type of theory is that early humans lived in family groups, tribes and clans for cooperation and protection. Related by blood, much of the DNA information within group members was similar. Such theories say that it was the fitness of the group, not individual fitness that was most effective in survival. It is the “intrinsic fitness” of the group as a whole that is subject to natural selection and evolution. Natural selection also favored those groups in which survival skills and behaviors had redundant representation within the group. This also means that there was a natural advantage to spread critical behaviors across many members of the group. The groups with “backup” members with crucial skills had a better chance of survival. Individual behavior within the group can be seen in the short run as altruistic but in the long run as maintaining and improving group genes. They are sometimes called “uncle” theories because even an uncle without children could pass on his DNA by contributing to the survival of his relatives in the group who carried similar DNA. Individuals might pass on their genes, not from direct involvement in reproduction but from facilitating group survival.

Much of the anthropological scientific evidence supports kinship theories rather than sex-based theories of gender development. I have reported previously on the social anthropological evidence that was acquired from contemporary hunter-gatherer societies starting in the late 1800s. The societies that have been most extensively studied are the Native American tribes. As I have previously reported, about 100 of these Native American tribes had 3 gender behavior categories and half of them had 4 categories. Two of the 4 categories involved males and two involved females. Some males followed an alternate gender behavior category that included what might be considered “feminine” behavior such as weaving, childcare and cooking. While some females followed an alternate gender behavior category that included warfare and hunting.

Some children were designated as “two-spirit” based on their early childhood behavior and were taught two gender behavior categories and allowed to move freely between them as needed. One day they might present in feminine clothing and pursue pottery making and the next day they might present in masculine clothing and wage war or go on a hunt. Having multiple skills facilitated the survival of the group and allowed members to express more than one gender. Many of the two-spirits became respected society leaders such as shamans and chiefs based on their understanding of human behavior. In such societies, both males and females participated in child rearing, social relations, hunting and warfare behaviors. Similar results have been found in other historical cultures and subcultures that still survive

So the next time you hear someone say that the Western gender system is the “natural state of affairs,” you will know that the evidence does not support this contention. The human species has survived and progressed because of its diversity, including its gender diversity. Any system that seeks to reject us based on gender behavior prevents our progress.

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul


About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at [email protected]

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