Though the epistemological means through which one's gender identity is often erroneously directed solely at transgender persons, I think --- as a cisgender person --- that it can uniformly apply to me and other cis persons.

A common critique of transgenderism is that is metaphysically untenable as it predicated on a highly subjective and thus dangerous predicate: that is, it is often believed that the only way whereby one can ever know of what gender identity one is part is by listening, so to speak, to one's emotions, to one's feelings, by assessing one's own private, subjectively-known psyche-psychology which is inaccessible to persons external to oneself.

If, some trans critics assert, the masses were to accept what the transgender community at large, in some people's estimation, espouses with regard to the framework by which one discovers the gender identity of which oneself is part, no one would be able to know anything with regard to external selves' gender identity. The gender identity of external selves would literally be unknowable. The only framework with which one would have to work with regard to the discovery of the gender identity of external selves is, essentially, guesswork, the process of elimination, or by asking the agent themself with what gender identity they identify and as what and in what way they wish to be addressed when one refers to them.

Because of the reasons mentioned, some trans critics say that the most reliable and great form of epistemology with regard to a person's gender identity is the very body into which they are born, the body in which they are embodied. It is the body which one possesses which defines everything about oneself: with whom one ought to have sex; the gender-based activities in which one ought to partake; the clothes which one ought to wear and the like.

For one to say that one "feels like X in Y's body" is poor epistemology and, most probably, a sign of a very serious mental health and or existential issue according to the trans critic. It seems to, in their estimation, promote a very solipsistic mode of knowing or discovering things --- by 'solipsistic' I mean that it is only one's own gender identity of which one can be absolutely sure --- or at least more sure in comparison to that of others --- sort of like how the solipsist insists that the only thing of which they can be totally sure is that it is they and their mind who exist.

So, my question to you is through what --- to use the trans critic's word --- (objective) epistemological means can one discover the gender identity of oneself and other selves? Does one need to undergo a brain scan to see if one has the sexed brain (if such a thing is believed to exist) of the gender with which one identifies? Does one just need to accept that one is bodied in the way that one is and the problems which one has with regard to what is believed to be one's brain-body or mind-body or soul-body --- it differs because each person, of course, believes that one is the way one is because all people subscribe to different axioms --- mismatch needs to be overcome in non-surgical, non-hormone-taking, therapeutic ways which leads to one's accepting one's body wholly or predominantly? If one's mind and or soul and or spirit is believed to be separate from one's person, how is one's gender identity objectively discoverable?

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    The problem with your question is in presuming that gender identity is "discovered", as if it was some natural property, like biological sex, see sex and gender distinction. Like national, religious, cultural, etc., identities gender is a social construct, albeit developed under social and natural pressures over a period of time. In the end, like them, it is chosen, not "discovered", although it may take time for a person to realize what the most appropriate choice is for them. Often it matches the biological sex, but not always.
    – Conifold
    Mar 9 '19 at 19:24
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    I think if you.could start by deciding what it means to be male or female, without referencing biological traits, you'd be a step forward. But I suppose from the perspective of cognitive function, a simple binary definition may not suffice.
    – Richard
    Mar 9 '19 at 19:25
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    Are you reading some text that motivates the question of gender identity being objectively discoverable? Mar 9 '19 at 20:57
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    @Conifold (refering to your first comment here) While nations, like gender, are certainly social constructs, do you really want to equate gender and national identity, and say that they are both "chosen?" Rebecca Tuvel got into loads of trouble a couple of years ago trying to equate another "social construct" with gender, did she not? If someone is born and raised in, say, Germany, are they free to "identify" as Spaniard? Would it be a correct move in the language game, to put it in your preferred argot?
    – gonzo
    Apr 29 '20 at 22:23
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    @Conifold I am not making an x is like y argument. I am asking WHETHER they belong to the same family of languge games And why. Is it merely happenstance that one is a philia and the other a phoria. Why one is considered disorder and the other not? I suppose there is no maximal (which appears to be a new notion for you, replacing "essential" I suppose) answer. Or at least no answer that differs from why suicidal ideations are disordered, and suicide illegal/immoral. Some folk simply believe that it was a mistake that they even came to be. Why should emotive criteria deny them an out?
    – gonzo
    Apr 30 '20 at 0:09

'Gender' is a term that lacks consensual conceptualisation.

  1. In one historical usage, dusty nowadays, 'sex' and 'gender' are interchangeable. On these lines, 'gender' signifies:

biological sex, which, short of surgical and hormonal intervention, remains constant for most individuals across their life span. While there are some individuals who undergo sex changes and a not-trivial number who are born intersex, most people possess biological organs of reproduction that distinguish them as male or female. (Rose McDermott and Peter K. Hatemi: PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 44, No. 1 (January 2011), pp. 89-92: 89.)

While this usage survives residually in the general population, it has almost vanished from academic usage. It does, however, make one's gender identity easily knowable for most individuals to themselves and others by observation.

  1. 'Gender' can also refer to:

traits of masculinity or femininity, including such characteristics as sex-typed interests and occupations, appearance, mannerisms, and nonverbal behavior (Lippa 2005). The concept of gender is assumed to correlate with various role definitions, personality traits, and components of identity. These constructions become infused with cultural values that differ across time and place and were historically assumed to result from processes of socialization. (McDermitt & Hatemi: 90; R. Lippa, Gender, Nature, and Nurture, 2nd ed., NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005.)

If this is what 'gender' refers to, then again it appears for most individuals to be easily knowable by themselves by introspection and others by observation.

  1. While traditionally sex and gender in senses 1. and 2. were popularly paired, so that (not a view I endorse) the 'normal' person had the gender traits etc. 'appropriate' to their sex, a different and metaphysical-seeming third sense of gender has emerged and gained significant circulation. This is the sense in which, whatever one's biological sex (female, male, intersex ...), one has traits which define one's identity as those associated with a different sex. In the context of this usage, one encounters statements such as that one is a woman in a man's body or vice versa.

If such statements are taken literally, it is a reasonable epistemological question how one knows them to be true. It is also reasonable to ask what kind of entity one's contra-sexual gender identity is, such that it can be known. Is some female or male essence present of which one can become aware? Precisely what kind of thing is this essence?

My own, entirely tentative, view is that there is no such essence to be known. A biologically sexual man who describes himself as a woman in a man's body (to take just this case) is a man whose traits and characteristics, identified under sense 2., are those that culturally (that is, in his own culture) are widely associated with femininity - with being a woman. The language of 'being a woman in a man's body' is a powerful metaphor and may well be the most expressive language available to him. But I am inclined to the view that it is a metaphor and that what he knows is his own personality and not a metaphysical female essence that constitutes and defines his gender identity. Whatever the case, I do not doubt that his psychological predicament is likely to be agonising.

4.There is a final sense of 'gender' in which one's gender is 'decisional' or 'dispositive' - in which one decides to be a woman, a man, an intersexual ... It is hard to see in what sense a biologically sexual woman could simply decide to be a man (without medical intervention) or v.v., however they might choose to describe themselves. This is an area of contestation, as are all the matters discussed above, but one point is clear: no epistemological issue is involved. In such cases, a person does not know but decides their gender. There is nothing to know, only something to be decided.


I believe the answer to this question differs based on whether one accepts the soundness of the concept of gender identity.

Those who accept gender identity as a sound concept would argue that the single epistemological method of determining an external being's gender identity is by asking the person in question. This stems from the fact that the only determining factor of gender identity is self-identification. It is by definition not influenced by any source other than the individual in question (douglas groothuis, for example, agrees).

Those who do not accept the soundness of gender identity would, of course, argue that no epistemological inquiry will ever reveal gender identity, similar to how no such inquiry would ever reveal a square circle.

  • This answer completely glosses over one of the most important positions as if it doesn't exist: the possibility that gender is a state of mind, which may map physically to certain brain configurations. In other words, you may be objectively born with a penis, AND objectively born with a "female"-configured brain. I don't think this possibility is worth wholesale dismissing.
    – TKoL
    Aug 4 at 14:11
  • From my understanding of the (often overloaded and hazily-defined) semantics at play here, any categorization that could be fully discerned by the material structure of one's brain would be a matter of "sex", not one of "gender".
    – Gershy
    Aug 4 at 16:26

Honestly, I think the current answer is we don't know.

Right now, in the current world, we see many thousands of people telling us "I may have been born with a penis, but I am a woman." Some people accept that, some people don't. I personally accept it, to some degree.

I think sex is your genitals, and gender is more of a mind or brain thing, and I think both are quite possibly objective facts. But I don't think we yet have the means to measure gender. We haven't quite discovered, yet, how to tell that this person born with a penis is a boy based on his brain physiology, and this person born with a penis is a girl based on her brain physiology.

I think it's theoretically possible, but for now all we can go on is self-reporting.

The other big alternative to this imo is that gender is entirely a social construct, and that choosing to identify as a woman is the same thing as being a woman. I think this point of view has a host of problems that I'm not sure I can go into here, but I don't think it's true, and I actually think this point of view is possibly anti-trans.

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