Paul Vasey, a comparative psychologist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. studies behaviors in animals. And he’s noticed that how animals behave in terms of their biological sex often is not rigid or unchanging. Some behaviors can rather transform.
To compare behaviors across species, it is important to keep in mind some important differences, Vasey notes. For instance: “When you have an identity, you have to have a concept of self.” In fact, identity and gender are tightly braided together in people. The two can be nearly impossible to untangle.
But outside of perhaps the great apes, he says, there’s very little evidence of a concept of “self” in animals. This means animals don’t have a sense that they are acting male or female. They merely express behaviors that are typical and sometimes not typical of the sex they belong to. Despite that, there are many examples of intersex conditions within the animal kingdom. Such signs of both sexes can show up both in behaviours and in physical traits. With that established, does the same goes for humans?
Zoë was 4 when she first asked for a dress. Her mom, Carolyn MacGregor, remembers agreeing hesitantly — but didn’t promise to buy one right away. “It was the third time she asked when I thought, ‘I really need to not put this off.’”
The next day, the two went to a store and picked out a few dresses. Zoë put one on as soon as she got home. Within a few minutes, a sitter arrived to watch Zoë and her younger sister. Before Carolyn knew it, her two kids and the sitter headed out the door to a park. Zoë was still wearing the dress.
“At that moment, I realized it wasn’t just for dress-up. She wanted a dress as part of her clothing,” Carolyn says of Zoë. Looking back, she adds, “It was something [Zoë] quickly integrated into her everyday life. It wasn’t, ‘I’m going to go play dress-up.’ I never felt like it was something that was just a role.”
Today, Zoë is an otherwise typical eighth-grader. Outspoken and confident, she says it’s important that people understand that being transgender isn’t really a “choice.” Instead, she explains, “It’s more like a realization that you are that different gender.”
What’s your say?