I've noticed that when many transgender allies and even some transgender people themselves have their claims investigated that they, in my estimation, can never really answer them too adequately: one hears that one is the gender one is because "I identify as X"; one hears that "I'm this gender because it's what my feelings and or emotions tell me"; one hears that "gender identity has nothing to do with one's biological sex; it has everything to do with one's subjectively known sense of self". For me, these claims are somewhat problematic. Shouldn't there be an objective way whereby once can discover another person's gender identity, without explicitly asking them as to which they identify?

I have to also say that if gender identity is just subjective--- meaning that one is whatever one says one is, or whatever one feels oneself to be --- does that mean that one who doesn't feel human (like people who are otherkins don't) are not human in some way?

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    – J D
    Nov 24, 2019 at 16:10
  • If you haven't read WP's article on gender identity. It may help you to get a perspective on to what extent the psychological aspect is objective. Psychology is a science, after all. See this related SE post.
    – J D
    Nov 24, 2019 at 16:14
  • The subjective nature of determining gender would also call into question someone unconscious or incapable of making that decision due to an emotional disconnect to any gender.
    – user6591
    Nov 24, 2019 at 22:57
  • 1
    Is there an "objective" way to determine one's favorite color or political beliefs without asking them, or watching them reveal it somehow in their non-verbal behavior? Gender identity does not override biological sex, it can still be objectively determined, nor will somebody's feeling like a cat override that they are still biologically human. So no, there shouldn't be an "objective" way to determine subjective choices, nor is it in any way problematic as long as they are publicly communicated and understood.
    – Conifold
    Nov 24, 2019 at 23:26
  • 4
    You know that little dangly bit at the front? The other gender doesn't have this. Shame really, since it's dead handy on picnics.
    – user20253
    May 1, 2020 at 12:43

3 Answers 3


Identity is always subjective. You are not you except to the extent that you experience you-ness. Societies try to find objective means of guaranteeing identity — they will keep records, issue identity cards, check signatures and fingerprints and DNA — but the fact that your identity card says (e.g.) "John Smith" with a thumbprint that's on file in some computer somewhere does not mean you "John Smith." You are 'John Smith' because you think you are 'John Smith', and all of those external metrics are just there to make sure that your identity is handled consistently by society.

I mean, imagine if you woke up one morning (Twilight Zone style) and found that everyone you encountered knew you as 'Frank Brown'. Your fingerprints are Frank Brown's, your picture is Frank Brown's, your DNA, your job, your friends and family... All of them relate to you as 'Frank Brown' whereas you know yourself as 'John Smith.' Which would you think was your identity? Can you imagine the confusion that would cause for you, being John Smith in a body that society insisted belonged to Frank Brown?

Identity is a matter of how we relate to ourselves and to the world around us. Some people relate to the world as male, some people relate to the world as female, and that subjective relationship does not necessarily align with the physical plumbing that each was born with. Clearly this causes stress and confusion for all parties involved, but trying to impose social identities on people against their will inevitably (and usually tragically) fails.

  • 2
    Dear me, people do not like philosophical thinking on this issue — Hah! Nov 26, 2019 at 19:15
  • I too find it humorous... +1 for daring to answer a contentious question like this when others may not. It is certainly an interesting take. May 1, 2020 at 6:43
  • 3
    You say: "Identity is a matter of how we relate to ourselves and to the world around us." But people get to relate back. A relationship is two-way, and so an identity is also a matter of how you are perceived. This seems to be the crucial point that is not being addressed in the issue. If women don't want someone who looks like a man in their bathroom, don't they get a say?
    – Scott Rowe
    May 1, 2020 at 10:52
  • @ScottRowe: Of course they get a say, but as you suggest, it's 'two way': that implies a discussion. Remember, most of segregation was based on the idea that whites did not want someone who 'looks like a black' in their public space, because 'looking like a black' invoked an imposed identity: the white racist stereotype of blacks as inferior, animalistic, and dangerous. Is that the kind of argument you're reaching for? May 1, 2020 at 14:13
  • 1
    I have absolutely no idea of what your comment means. You say that " I'm...less concerned with how one characterizes an experience than with how the interpersonal conflicts those experiences generate are resolved." Huh? The "resolution" of which you speak presupposes/requires [at least] intersubjectively meaningful and relevant conceptual characterization and discourse. Do you simply refuse to eludicte wht you mean by 'Some people relate to the world as male, some people relate to the world as female." What's the diff?
    – gonzo
    Jun 1, 2020 at 2:38

There seems to be a consideration that gender is just a derivative of a set of hormones, to be controlled, manipulated, done and undone hormonally and with surgery, thereby disregarding the underlying truth that gender is determined by the chromosomes, leaving what distils down to personal whim as the decider. It is a separate philosophical question to ask whether it is wrong to disregard a truth.

  • There is such a consideration, and the reason is that the belief that gender is determined by chromosomes is false.
    – philosodad
    Jul 20 at 19:15

Gender differences occur on many levels: - Genetically, the chromosomes differ (your genotype) - Physically, you may grow up with the characteristics of the other chromosomal gender (your phenotype) - Neurologically, certain brain structures may differ from the rest of your phenotype. - Psychologically, you may feel an identity which differs from one or more of the foregoing. - Psychologically, you may enjoy putting on the appearance of the opposite phenotype, such as cross-dressing.

Note also that gender-bending is surprisingly common in nature. It very evidently has some positive evolutionary role to play in the survival of a great many species. Biologically, it must be accepted as a necessary part of species behaviour and, therefore, philosophically it needs to be dealt with on that same basis.

Few people without pure heterosexual identity across the board have a full understanding of all such differences which may or may not apply to them personally. Moreover many have learned the hard way not to make overt enquiries. Given such circumstance, one can hardly expect them wax lyrical with perfect clarity.

Thus, philosophically, each one of these gender levels must be taken, well, at its own factual level. But questioning their reality, or even perhaps their morality, is based only on ignorance, not on science or psychology.

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