Now that transgender individuals are just beginning to be accepted into the mainstream—Miss Universe, we're talking to you, sweetie—a new niche of sexuality has emerged, and to certain generations or political alignments (ahem), it may sound like utter science fiction. Of a roughly 600-strong bigender forum, 32 people (11 anatomically female) with an average age of 29 identified themselves as gender-incongruous. In other words, they experience an involuntary change of gender identity (accompanied by "phantom" sexual organs and often ambidexterity or bipolar disorder), sometimes more than once a day, which is sort of incredible and deeply sad and sounds a little bit like a more sophisticated version of the plot of The Time Traveler's Wife.
A paper on Alternating Gender Incongruity was featured in this month's Medical Hypotheses journal, a admittedly patchy and controversial source (please refer to their piece on navel lint). But it's a fascinating study nonetheless. (The navel lint study, I mean. JK JK JK LOL.)
"I sometimes wake up thinking I have a penis," says one female respondent, "or that I have no breasts…I usually end up in tears and I can't get out of bed because once I get up I'll know for sure it's not really true and it's just my mind playing tricks on me, so I just lie there and cry. It's strange though because I normally don't even want to have a penis."
Is this development an increasingly nuanced version of sexuality or a red herring that has more to do with mental illness than it does gender issues? Laura Case, the graduate student spearheading the AGI study, admits that the bipolar tendency of these subject makes it tricky to determine whether the mental imbalance or gender identity issues come first. As of now, there's not enough research to make a "chicken or egg" call. Case was a student of famous neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, known for his pioneering work in body image and behavioral neurology. (He was one of the first researchers to take synesthesia seriously.)
However, while the concept of the study itself is a progressive step that's broadening our vision of sexuality, it may be perpetuating certain pervasive heteronormative stereotypes.
...one nominal AGI subject who was anatomically male performed differently on cognitive tests depending on his gender state: when male, he did better at a targeting task (throwing darts) and he had a superior score on a verbal fluency test after a switch to the female state.
And one another respondent says:
"If I'm in male mode and I see someone crying, I'll think more along the lines of ‘Man up… while if I'm in girl mode I'll think more long the lines of ‘Oh sweety!'"
Obviously it's one thing for the patient to make a subjective comment like this, but it'll be a whole other story if something like the above actually becomes criteria to determine someone's gender identity. It seems entirely possible that AGI is a real sexual alignment, but equally possible that this small demographic is comprised of individuals who have internalized gender norms so completely that this is the way they respond when they have an outlying trait.
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