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I recently wrote a question on a controversial topic, transgender hormone medication. I knew it was controversial and tried to focus on the least controversial aspect of the question, medication, as well as be as correct in my terminology as possible, so that I did not unintentionally offend the group I was asking about.

As Kingledion commented

You can't close a question because the topic is controversial. The question is adequately scoped, about worldbuilding, and not rude or offensive. The question is about medicine and not current world politics. Even if the answer is 'there is no way to do it,' it is still a valid question. It should stay open.

I really don't mind the downvotes as I expected some, due to the controversial nature of the question. I also tried to be as friendly and open to all comments/answers made, as possible. However, I didn't get answers that answered the core question.

I think I found a workaround. I am hoping to create a new rephrased question with a less controversial example. I need help in figuring out if and how to acknowledge the previous question without too much negative response (from all sides).

I've tried to write the main part of the question in such a way that others with controversial questions may find it useful in their second attempts. The next section is just a bit of background on my particular issue.


Some of my characters are transgender, and I wanted to know if they would have access to the sort of hormonal medications that we know how to create now, without access to what I presume are high precision chemical processes and machines. Googling was not helpful for this information, so after some hesitation, I turned to World-Building SE. I was focussed on how to describe my character's mannerisms/temperaments and physical descriptions, in my fictional far future world. Far future in time, but with a pre modern infrastructure. This was all story based and a matter of opinion, so I tried to focus the question on the crux, what medicine would they have access to, the rest I could decide at my own pleasure. I needed to know if I can describe more of the modern physical changes that we can create with HRT or if I have to rely on purely historical precedents.

I made the mistake of including a one liner at the end, were I attempted to convey that ''I know it's controversial, please don't respond with answers saying it's controversial''. I seen that before on some questions. I know it didn't come across as intended and even though it was edited out early on, I know this put some people off, and I will accept that. That is not what this meta-post is about.

I think I have figured out a way to workaround the controversial subject matter I was so focussed on. I can change the question to be about menopause in men and women and what hormone medication they would have access to in my scenario. No controversy there, as everyone in the world is affected by menopause at some point in their lives. I can then just infer across to my actual controversial subjects of interest. I can even use the menopause answers for my older characters, that I hadn't fully worked out yet as I was so stuck and focussed on my particular problem.


Now my conundrum. The original question was put ON HOLD at one point as being 'too broad', so would this change not be making it even ...boarder? And more importantly, would it not be marked as a duplicate?

I don't want to edit the original question so drastically. I think it would be disingenuous to the transgender community to do so, and others may see it as a complete rewrite of the question even if the core question is exactly the same. Some won't answer such a drastically altered question which would invalidate the few answers I did manage to get.

So I think a fresh question is the way to go.

If I do create a new question, it could technically be marked as a duplicate (as the core question is the same and I probably will use most of the same wording for my thinking).

I also don't really want to hide the original question if I create a new question. If I mention that the question is a rephrasing of the original, I run the chance of some people vtc/downvoting again purely because of previous bias/duplicate etc and seeing it as sneaky or something. Then again, if I don't mention it upfront, I risk people thinking I'm trying to hide from my previous question, which I'm not, which is why I'm here.

So what do I do? I have several interconnected questions on how to do this:

  • edit the original (I really don't like this option)

    • remove the controversial example and replace with a different example.
    • do I explain why and refer to this meta-post or just edit carte blanche style?
  • create a new question with mention of previous question

    • mention the controversial question in the new question and argue that it shouldn't be marked as duplicate?
    • how, as a brief aside at the beginning/end or a detailed explanation?
    • do I reference this Meta Post?
  • create a new question with no mention of previous question.

    • don't mention the controversial question in the new question so as not to bring attention to the previous controversial response?
    • don't mention the original question/meta post in the new question but do mention it in a comment after posting?

If I do create a new question:

  • should I completely reword it so it looks nothing like the previous version
  • or can I use some of the same structure and wording from my thinking process as before?

I possibly may try the sandbox for actual help with the question itself, at the moment I need Meta input on how to deal with the procedure of if and how I should go about the rewriting of controversial questions

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  • $\begingroup$ I think the question has been reopened $\endgroup$ – Ajnatorix Zersolar Apr 10 '18 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @AjnatorixZersolar Yes, the question has been reopened via community vote. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Apr 11 '18 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ I have taken the plunge and made an edit. I hope I have successfully taken everything mentioned onboard, although I did make the executive decision not to remove mention of "transgender". $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Apr 13 '18 at 20:29
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The general process when you don't get answers that answer your real question - no matter if it's a controversial topic or not - are as follows:

  • Make sure that the answers you received are valid and answer the question that is currently asked - if they don't you should:
    • flag the answers as "not an answer" with a comment explaining exactly what parts they are missing so that people in the review queue see and understand this
    • edit your question, for example by putting a little paragraph at the topic that explains what is missing in a few sentences
    • think about adding a bounty that explains what you expect from an answer
  • If all answers to the current question are valid, but they don't answer your real question then there seems to be something missing with your phrasing, so you should:
    • give the Sandbox a try: explain in a notice at the beginning your problem with the likely-duplicate and what you were expecting, but didn't get, from the answers - the regulars in the Sandbox can be extremely pedantic and point out a lot of possible problems as well as help you with making sure it's not a duplicate if that's what you want; it might take some time, though
    • after running your real question through the Sandbox you simply post it on the main site; it's normal to explicitly state in the beginning something like "This is similar to [x], but I wanted [y], which is why this question is different" to prevent duplicate votes, but that should have been worked out in the Sandbox already

In any case: please don't edit your question in any way that would invalidate existing answers - if an edit would be that drastic it means that the edited question is different enough to be posted without being a duplicate of the original.

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I suspect this answer will be as controversial to some as the question was to the rest.

The problem is the distinction between gender and sex.

  • Animals have sex, male or female
  • Languages assign gender to objects, rare in English but ships are "she"

In human terms the same applies, male and female, masculine and feminine.

  • Sex is physical
  • Gender is a linguistic and social construct

Current English usage has blurred these distinctions somewhat, but to an international and scientific audience they remain relatively more important.

  • When I worked in the NHS we never cared how you identified*, only what sort of cancer you had risks for, so your doctor invites you for a smear test or a prostate check based on your sex, not your gender.
  • English almost never uses gender for anything that doesn't also have sex, but many languages have gender running all the way through them, almost every object has a gender and the language adapts around it, the two words have very different meanings to someone coming from that sort of background.

Since you have referred to "gender" consistently all the way through, you have answers giving linguistic and social solutions.

If you change your question to ask how to change sex rather than gender you may start to get the answers you're looking for.


*There's central data authority who were parochial to say the least and I occasionally had to give them an earful when they changed details without asking.

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  • $\begingroup$ I can see the logic behind your last statement, so I went back to the original question to see if I could change the emphasis. I think I have actually already focused on sex rather than gender. I kept referring to transition in the physical sense and physical changes etc. I don't know, maybe I need a third opinion :) $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Apr 11 '18 at 8:12
  • $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps, the physical side of gender is wearing a dress (or not), it's about how society defines masculinity or femininity. The word gender confuses the issue you're looking for a solution to, which is about sex. I think you're underestimating how different the two are to someone whose first language has gender running all the way through it, as opposed to English where we rarely gender anything that doesn't have sex as well. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 11 '18 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ I do realise the difference between sex and gender and i do appreciate the comment about underestimating gendered languages. I did try to avoid the confusion by not referring to gender in particular. Aside from referring to gender identity at the beginning, the rest of the time (i believe or at least intended to) i refer to sex. As in physical bodily changes that can be made and not in physically wearing a dress (which would be a social/cultural gender construct). Should i be specifying even more that I am referring to sexual physical changes?....cont $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Apr 11 '18 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ Cont.... I do want to take your suggestions into account, maybe I'm too close to the question. Isnt by talking about medicine/hormones/body changes implying sex rather than gender. To me when i try analyse how others may percieve the question, i still see reference to sex not gender. I will be editing the original question later, so any input would be appreciated. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Apr 11 '18 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps I'd lose all references to trans/cis gender (those are the sensitive parts), and consider it as a relatively primitive culture where sex change is an accepted thing. Then give your technological constraints and ask the question of how this culture could manage sex change. I know you've put a lot of work and time into this, but there's a lot to say for keeping it shorter. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 11 '18 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ Implying sex when saying gender is the current thing in English, but I think in this case you need to explicitly say sex, never gender, which should help keep it away from anyone crying political agenda. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 11 '18 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, and here I thought explicitly saying sex would infuriate some. Will take that all into account when I edit. I suppose changing the tags from 'gender' to 'sex' could also help. Would adding 'transformation' help? There is no description on that tag. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Apr 11 '18 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps, you'll always upset someone when talking about these subjects, but point them to meta and we can argue linguistics instead of politics. I'm not the best person to ask about tags, I have a bit of a blind spot for them. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 11 '18 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps sex seems to be about the act, so I don't think it's applicable to your situation. transformation seems to be more about a sort of magical transformation, so again not applicable. The tag wiki for gender simply states that if you are asking about physical characteristics, etc. you should use biology. If you are unsure just remove gender, but you should not add sex and transformation. That will likely confuse matters even further. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Apr 11 '18 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ Technically, in biology "gender" is roughly the same as "sex". One will talk about the gender of a fruit fly, not its sex. One will talk about the gender of a plant organ, not the sex. It's only recently that the term gender has begun to mean gender identity rather than biological gender. As a biologist, seeing people treat the word gender like it has always meant gender identity always makes me cringe. $\endgroup$ – forest Apr 13 '18 at 5:42
  • $\begingroup$ @forest, gender identity is a new thing, but I picked up my attitude from my parents who are now in their 70s: People have sex, the table has gender, because gender is a function of language not biology. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 13 '18 at 6:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix I'm American so I have little exposure to gendered language (with a few exceptions like a ship being "she", and waiter vs waitress). My understanding of gender comes from biology where it tends to be synonymous with biological gender. $\endgroup$ – forest Apr 13 '18 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ @forest, that's the standard modern English usage then, it's obviously stepped further into the sciences than I expected. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 13 '18 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ I think the issue is that gender itself is short for either gender identity or biological gender, but alone means one of the two depending entirely on context. In social sciences, especially sexology, it usually implies gender identity. In biology, especially physiology and zoology, it implies biological gender. It only became more murky after political correctness tried to pretend that it means nothing other than gender identity in all contexts. $\endgroup$ – forest Apr 13 '18 at 7:02
  • $\begingroup$ @forest, hence my advice to use "sex" consistently, as the slightly dirty connotations of the word outside a scientific context means that it is free of all the politically sensitive considerations and it still has a clear meaning. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 13 '18 at 7:07
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The question didn't get a good answer because it doesn't have one

As I alluded to in my comment that you quoted, it is entirely possible that the answer is "there is no way to do it." If I was going to take the time to research the question and answer it, I suspect that is what I would have said, if perhaps better cited.

It is entirely possible that no one else among the 271 people who viewed your question (so far) has come up with a good solution. Let us be honest, transgender surgery isn't exactly super-successful even today in modern society. For most trans-gendered people that I see in the news, it is visually obvious that they are trans-gendered. The physiological changes during puberty are pretty hard to erase. Also, the medical evidence that I know of for people who do transition indicates that recidivism and suicide are very common.

Given that, and given that the first sex-change surgery of any kind as in 1930 (and the patient died within 3 months), I would say that your pre-moderns will have a pretty tough go of it.

How to get what you want

What it sounds like you want is to find out if there is a way for a person to synthesize a certain hormone in the pre-modern world. If you want to ask a new qustion, just ask about certain hormones: "Is there any way to synthesize estradiol, spironolactone, and goserelin using pre-modern technology?"

I just looked those up on wikipedia, so I don't know if that is a complete or sufficient hormone therapy, but I will caution you that I would lean to a "No" answer to this new question as well.

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