Philosophy, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Harold Kincaid and Jennifer McKitrick, eds., Establishing Medical Reality: Essays in the Metaphysics and Epistemology of Biomedical Science, Philosophy and Medicine series, Volume 90 (2007), pp. 137–148.


Copyright © 2007 Springer. Used by permission.


According to the DSM IV, a person with GID is a male or female that feels a strong identification with the opposite sex and experiences considerable stress because of their actual sex (Task Force on DSM-IV and American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The way GID is characterized by health professionals, patients, and lay people belies certain assumptions about gender that are strongly held, yet nevertheless questionable. The phenomena of transsexuality and sex-reassignment surgery puts into stark relief the following question: “What does it mean to be male or female?” But while the answer to that question may be informed by contemplation of GID, we should also be aware that the answer to the question “what does it mean to have GID?” is shaped by our concepts of male and female. First, I consider the concept of transsexuality, and explain how it forces us to clarify our concepts of sex and gender, and leads to the development of what I will call the “standard view.” I then explain GID from a mental-health standpoint, question the concept of gender identity, and try to uncover some fundamental assumptions of the standard view. I argue that these assumptions are at odds with the plausible view that gender supervenes on physical, psychological, and/or social properties. I go on to argue, contra the standard view, that gender has no essence. I suggest an anti-essentialist account of gender according to which “man” and “woman” are cluster concepts. This undermines the dualistic conception of gender that grounds the standard view. An anti-essentialist view of gender cannot make sense of the concept of “gender identity” and hence sees so-called “GID” as primarily conflict between the individual and her society, and only derivatively a conflict between the individual and her body.