A Problem for Gender Identity?


After engaging with a number of online LGBT circles, I have noticed that many LGBT community members are (seemingly) committed to a set of three incompatible theses: (i) the CIS Thesis, (ii) the Unrealizability Thesis, and (iii) the Identity Thesis.

According to the CIS Thesis, a person is cis if and only if they identify with their assigned gender from birth. According to the Unrealizability Thesis, a person can be transgender without their realizing it. And according to the Identity Thesis, gender is self-conferred identity.

The argument for the incompatibility between (i)-(iii) is as follows:

The Incompatibility Argument

Premise 1: A person, S, is assigned male at birth (AMAB) and identifies as a male (Premise)
Premise 2: If S is AMAB and identifies as a male, then S is cis (CIS Thesis)
Conclusion 1: Therefore, S is cis (From 1, 2 Modus Ponens)
Premise 3: S is trans without their realizing it (TWR) (Unrealizability Thesis)
Premise 4: If S is TWR, then S is trans (From 3)
Conclusion 2: Therefore, S is trans (From 3, 4 Modus Ponens)
Conclusion 3: Therefore, S is cis and trans (From C1, C2)


  1. The term ‘male’ in the two opening premises is being used as a ‘gender term’ and not as a ‘sex term.’ When people say they identify as male, they do not mean to (unwittingly) identify as someone whose sex organs have the function of producing sperm.
  2. For our purposes, ‘transgender’ — hereafter ‘trans’ for short — will refer to individuals who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
  3. The Identity Thesis is present in the CIS Thesis, and is responsible for the valid inference to (C1). If gender is self-conferred identity, then a person can, e.g., be assigned male at birth and identify as male and thereby be cis, and their ‘being cis’ is in virtue of their act of self-conferrence.

Defending the Premises

  1. In support of the second premise, it is definitionally true that a person who identifies with their assigned gender from birth is cis. Cis persons just are persons whose gender identity matches what is commonly associated with the sex assigned to them at birth.
  2. In support of the third premise, given our present dialectical context, it would not be inappropriate to say that we should trust trans people’s testimony that they are trans. If so, then we should also be inclined to trust their testimony that it was a discovery, all things being equal.
  3. With respect to the fourth premise, perhaps the discovery is not that they are trans; rather, the discovery is that they have (roughly) trans thoughts. We could be equivocating between two senses of ‘being trans’: (a) ‘being trans’ could refer to not identifying with the gender one was assigned at birth; (b) ‘being trans’ could also refer to having certain kinds of thoughts about wanting to present oneself a certain way. This latter sense of ‘being trans’ does not include anything about identifying as a man or woman. Ultimately, we should favor the former reading of ‘being trans’ in the reports of those who were or are TWR. If those who were or are TWR are claiming to ‘being trans’ according to (b), then they would be claiming to be effeminate cis men or masculine cis women; but the difference between feminine cis men and trans women is that the latter involves not identifying with the gender one was assigned at birth. And we would expect the report of someone not identifying with the gender one was assigned at birth to radically differ from those merely expressing interest in presenting oneself as a gender different from their own. Those who present themselves as a gender different from their own remain cis, and ‘being cis’ is incompatible with ‘being trans’ in the (a) reading.


  1. There might be a difference between identifying as x and having gender identify x. Perhaps someone who is TWR could be AMAB, identify as male, but have a female gender identity. In other words, someone who was AMAB can be female without realizing it, and without conferring that gender upon oneself, all while identifying as male without being male and without being cis.
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