A note on "gender tests"

Every now and then, someone writes with a question about transition and mentions the results of taking an online gender test, so I thought I'd share my feelings for the record.

Not only do I consider gender tests unreliable and scientifically unsound, I consider them to be potentially dangerous for younger and less educated members of the community who might take the results seriously.

Here is why I consider these tests to be problematic:

1. Gender tests don't tell you anything you don't already know deep down

If you're taking the test, you obviously already know you have an issue. Confirmation and clarification should come from introspection and discussing your feelings with others, not from an online test.

2. Gender test scores can often be manipulated

Many of these tests have answers or choices on questions where it's clear which answer is considered to be indicative of a gender condition. Lots of these tests can give you different scores depending on when or how you take them.

3. Gender tests might be used as justification for important decisions

A quick test with a score is less work than serious introspection. Many seem to want justification for taking action, as a way to absolve themselves of some of the responsibilities of making an important decision. "Well, the gender test said I am a Type 14 transsexual, so I better get a divorce." Gender tests can actually encourage people to rely on a number or category as a reason for an important life decision rather than thinking carefully about what is best for them personally.

These tests have a danger of being used as a replacement for personal responsibility. Those who do not take personal responsibility for their actions and later have regrets are always looking for someone or something to blame. This kind of amateur benchmarking will always appeal to those who wish to avoid responsibility for their decisions.

4. Gender tests are based on theories masquerading as universally accepted scientific truths

These tests are not based on rigorous scientific methodology, although they appear to be.

I applaud any attempts to further knowledge of transsexualism. I especially applaud work done by academics and others who undertake serious study. A scientifically recognized test that could indicate transsexualism, whether it was a physical or mental test, could allow transition to begin much sooner in life. However, there is no definitive answer at this time about the causes of transsexualism. Theories abound, but none of them have been conclusively proven based on repeatable scientific methodology.

That means that any gender test is fundamentally flawed, since they are not based on conclusive scientific evidence.

5. Gender tests will give false positives and false negatives if given to enough people

Any test invariably results in "false positives" and "false negatives." A taker may then commit to a course of action based on false results.

Even tests for things like HIV and cancer occasionally misdiagnose people. Someone sick is tested to be healthy, and vice versa. History is rife with examples of brilliant scientists and inventors who failed in school, great athletes who get cut from a team, and so on.

Every now and then someone undertakes transition and later regrets it. I would contend that the vast majority of these people had unrealistic expectations about what transition can and can't do to improve one's life. Others put off transition and later regret it. This is often because of denial or fears of the outcome, even if transition will make them happier in the end. Ultimately, people who have regrets almost always spent too little time thinking things through and without doing deep introspection about their feelings. A gender test encourages the most shallow type of introspection before reaching a conclusion-- a dangerous temptation for those who resist thinking about their deepest feelings and needs.

A reader has pointed out that gender tests do not account for other types of developmental and neurological variability. For instance, someone with non-verbal developmental differences may have difficulty associating faces to things, including associating faces to names, and emotions to facial body language, etc. These are items upon which some gender tests base their questions and scores.

6. Gender test results are used by some as competitive forms of hierarchical ranking

I have actually seen people bragging that they got a higher or more female score than someone else, or a more intense type of dysphoria rating than someone else.

There are a lot of people in the world who put a great deal of stock in standardized scores. They seem to want to quantify where they stand among other people:

  • Grades in school
  • Standardized scholastic aptitude tests (SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, GMAT, etc.)
  • IQ tests
  • Mensa
  • "Rate your mate" quizzes in magazines
  • Beauty pageant scoring systems
  • amihotornot.com

For some, it seems to be a competitive thing. For others, a number seems to give some sort of validity to their feelings about themselves. With gender identity and degree of dysphoria, these tests lay a veneer of "hard science" over something that can't be quantified easily or accurately.

7. Gender tests propose rigid categories that are in reality arbitrary and fluid

Categories have limitations. There are always exceptions and people who don't fit into neat categories.

There are also a lot of folks who want to pigeonhole people into a system of classification. Unfortunately, these classifications are often arbitrary in nature, and there are always exceptions or people who don't neatly fit into a given system. For instance, dividing people by clear racial lines becomes blurred when mixed-race people are included, and dividing people into either male or female doesn't take into account all the intersexed people in the world. The gay/straight binary doesn't leave room for bisexual or asexual.

Classifications and categories can have their uses, but there is ultimately a point where any classification system fails. There will always be an exception, and the simpler the categories seem, the more likely there will be exceptions.

See my page on the uses and limitations of transgender categories for more on this subject.


When I was in grade school, there was a test kids used to tell if someone was a boy or girl by how they looked at their fingernails. Supposedly if you look at your nails with fingers bent and palm facing you, you were male, and if you looked at them with fingers outstretched and the back of your hand facing you, you were female.

Ridiculous, huh? There's a funny gender test in Chapter 11 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where Huck is clocked at an old woman's home while dressed as a girl. She tosses Huck a piece of lead to throw at rats that scurry through the house, and he catches the lead by clasping his knees together. When Huck throws the piece of lead at the next rat, the old woman busts him. Luckily for Huck, she assumes he's a runaway apprentice and gives him pointers on female comportment:

"Throw stiff-armed from the shoulder, like there was a pivot there for it to turn on, like a girl; not from the wrist and elbow, with your arm out to one side, like a boy. And, mind you, when a girl tries to catch anything in her lap she throws her knees apart; she don't clap them together, the way you did when you catched the lump of lead."

Ridiculous, huh? Still there are people who think that sex difference can be reduced to a matter of comportment or determined by stereotypical behavior.

A note on horoscopes

Horoscopes are another pseudoscientific attempt to classify people and predict their behavior. Everyone falls into one of twelve categories, depending on when you were born and the alignment of the planets. Based on these categories, people are said to possess certain traits. Capricorns act this way, and Cancers act that way. People tend to dismiss the parts of a zodiac descriptor that don't really match their traits and remember the ones that do. In science, this is called confirmation bias. There are even people who base their actions each day on a horoscope. That's about as smart as basing your actions on a gender test.

Bottom line: These gender tests should be considered to be like horoscopes, rate your mate quizzes, biorhythms, etc. and should be taken for entertainment purposes only. With that in mind, another silly test to take for entertainment purposes only is TheSpark.com's Gender Test. And before you write me an angry note about this piece, you may want to know that I scored in the 90th percentile on the Bitch Test.

Seriously, though... Confirmation and clarification of your gender issues should come from introspection and discussing your feelings with others, not from an online test. Now, let's look at the three most widely discussed tests embraced by some in the community: the Bem, the Moir-Jessel, and the COGIATI.


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