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Gender Identity is Personal Identity

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1500 words

It has been common in recent years to claim that gender identity (GI) doesn’t exist. For example, one religious argument that GI doesn’t exist is that since God made only men and women, then we should not “overrule the work of God.” However, to claim that GI doesn’t exist is patently ridiculous. It’s ridiculous since GI is merely a subset of personal identity (PI). PI exists, so GI exists too, since GI is a subset of PI. I will provide an argument for the claim that GI is PI and if GI is PI, then GI exists.

The origins of the nature-versus-nurture debate

In his book Genes, Determinism, and God, Denis Alexander cited what may be the first instance of the nature versus nurture dichotomy. A 13th century novel called Silence was discovered in 1911, and in it is perhaps the first discussion of nature versus nurture. In the story, the kind of England married the daughter of the king of Norway which the ended a long war they were in. The king of England then passed a law stating that family inheritances cannot be passed on to women. After passing this law, the king was rescued by a knight from a dragon. So the king offered the knight an estate and a lady of his choosing, who turned out to be the king’s nurse. They then got married and then had a daughter who was unable to inherit their money due to the law the king previously passed. So the knight and the nurse named their child Silentius, and then tasked two of their servants to raise the child as a boy.

Alexander then quotes the book in which nature, nurture, and reason are personified and then duel over the ultimate identity of Slientius. Nature states that Silentius is a girl, and that she should return to her appropriate gender role. Nurture and reason then convince Silentius that it would be better go continue being a boy, since they could be put to death if her identity was discovered.

Alexander (2074: 39) quotes what Nature and Nurture said to Silentius in the novel:

This is a fine state of affairs,
You conducting yourself like a man,
running about in the wind and scorching sun
when I used a special mold for you,
When I created you with my own hands,
When I heaped all the beauty I had stored up upon you alone! (2502-9)

But nurture will have none of it:

Nature, leave my nursing alone,
or I will put a curse on you!
I have completely dis-natured her. (2593-5)

Silentius is then brought to the king’s court, where the queen falls in love with Silentius since she sees Silentius as a man. The queen then eventually grows to hare Silentius and tries to have Silentius killed. So the queen sends Silentius to try to capture Merlin, since it is said that he could not be captured since he acted like a beast. Silentius then cooked him some meat and gave him some wine and captured him. So Nurture influenced Merlin to become like a beast and not eat cooked food, so when Silentius gave Merlin cooked food, Merlin then gave into his nature and rejected the nurturing of himself as a beast. Now that Nature had won out with Merlin, now it was Silentius’ turn to have nature win out with them.

With Nature’s final triumph, the time is ripe for unmasking Silence. On his way to Eban’s palace, Merlin laughs at various people for no apparent reason. Attacked by people as a false prophet and pressed by King Eban, Merlin is forced to reveal the reasons behind his laugh: he laughs at a group of lepers begging for alms because they are standing on buried treasures; at a man burying his child with a priest by his side because the child is in fact the priest’s. Finally, he laughs at a nun in the Queen’s entourage because that nun is only a woman in clothing, just as Silence is only dressed up as male. The ‘nun’ turns out to be the Queen’s lover in disguise, while, marvelled by all, Silence reveals why ‘she’ becomes ‘he’. The romance ends with a classic happy ending: the Queen is punished by death, and Silence, now changing her name to Silentia, becomes the new queen. (The Boy Who Was a Girl: The Romance of Silence)

So Nature won out from Nurture two times in this story, once regarding Silentius and then again regarding Merlin. So, contrary to popular belief that Francis Galton was the one to pit nature and nurture against each other, (one of) the earliest instances of the dueling aspects of Nature and Nurture was from that 13th century French novel. Obviously, Silentius’ GI was that of a man since that is how they were raised. But then, ultimately, Nature won out and Silentius went back to living as a women.

Now, this is just a story and of course nature vs nurture is a false dichotomy, but it is interesting to note the earliest instances of the nature-nurture debate. In any case, it’s also a good illustration of how GI is PI.

The argument that gender identity is personal identity

The argument is simple—PI is the unique numerical identity identity of a person over time. On a bodily account of PI, persons are identical to their bodies. On the brain account, we are identical to our brains. We are not identical to our bodies (Lowe’s 2010 argument), nor are we identical to our brains (Gabriel’s 2017 argument). So I am not my body nor am I my brain. So what am I? I am an immaterial self (Lund’s 2005 argument) and I am not reducible to the brain or nervous system (aspects that are studiable by science) (Hasker’s 2010 argument). So I hold to the simple view of personal identity.

Noonan (2019a: 27-28; also see Noonan, 2019b) writes:

Persistence of body and brain or psychological continuity and connectedness are criteria of personal identity only in the sense of evidence: they are not what personal identity consists in. Indeed, there is nothing (else) that personal identity consists in: personal identity is an ultimate unanalysable fact, distinct from everything observable or experienceable that might be evidence for it. Persons are separately existing entities, distinct from their brains, bodies and experiences. On the best-known version of this view, a person is a purely mental entity: a Cartesian pure ego, or spiritual substance. This is in fact the form in which the view is adopted by its contemporary defenders, among whom the most prominent are Chisholm and Swinburne. Following Parfit, I shall call this the simple view.

Mental entities are “private, non-material objects” (Sussman, 1975) so persons are purely mental entities which are not reducible nor identical to brains or bodies. GI is one’s personal conception of self and GI is a subset of PI. So if PI exists, then so does GI. Now here is the argument that gender identity is a form of personal identity.

P1: PI refers to the unique characteristics and qualities that define an individual as a distinct entity.
P2: GI is a core aspect of one’s self-concept and self-expression which deeply influences their personal experiences and relationships.
P3: If an aspect of a person’s self-concept and self-expression deeply influences their personal experiences and relationships, then it is a key component of their PI.
C: Thus, GI is a form of PI.


P1: If PI is the set of characteristics that define an individual, then GI is a form of PI.
P2: If GI is a fundamental aspect of a person’s self-concept and self-expression, then GI is a form of PI.
P3: GI is a fundamental aspect of a person’s self-concept and self-expression.
C: So GI is a form of PI.

Both of these arguments are valid and sound, therefore GI is a form of PI. So if PI exists then it follows that GI exists. So claims to the contrary that GI doesn’t exist are therefore false.


I have shown that GI exists and I have successfully argued that it is a form of PI. This then refutes claims that GI doesn’t exist. I discussed one of the first instances of the nature versus nurture dichotomy from a 13th century French novel called Silence, where Nature, Nurture, and Reason are personified, in an attempt to get people to go with their “natures” over their nurtures. In the story, Nature eventually wins out. Though in real life, this doesn’t work out due to the interaction between nature and nurture, genes and environment. So this instance is one of the first instances of the debate, which predates Galton by almost 500 years.

I then discussed what PI is and of course rejected the brain, body and physical views of PI. This is because we are partly immaterial, that is, the self is an immaterial substance or mental entities. I then, finally, presented two arguments that GI is a form of PI. PI clearly exists, so if PI exists then GI exists. It’s that simple.



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