January 24, 2017

No, trans women are not men and trans men are not women

You meet them online, you meet them in various social settings: The people who think that gender is so simple that it is only a matter of what’s between your legs. Here is my response to one such individual.
Photo: Visivasnc
 “Transwomen are male, Transmen are female, there is nothing wrong with that fact at all.”
I hear this argument over and over again: "Men are men, and women are women. It is simple!"
No, this is not simple.
In this context I normally hear one of three explanations for what male and female are:
1. It is about genitalia -- taken as a sign of biological sex.
(The reality is much more complex, by the way. Many are born with ambiguous genitalia)
2.. It is about chromosomes -- XX is female, XY is male.
(This is not true either, there are intersex XX males and XY females who live as -- and identify with -- their assigned gender).
3. It is all about upbringing and socialization 
(Nope: The fundamental gender identity rarely changes even if you are raised as the opposite sex.)
Transgender feelings are real, regardless of what is causing them
In spite of genitalia, chromosomes and upbringing. In spite of a culture that harasses and ridicules gender variance (and in particular femininity and female identities in those assigned male). In spite of societies that reward men richly for playing the manly game: There they are, trans people who dream, long and desperately need to live their lives as the gender they feel they are. 
They did not ask for this mismatch. Most of them would give a lot not to feel this way. But they do and it does not go away.  For many of them this is a matter of life and death. The attempted suicide rate among transgender people is 40 percent. You do not try to kill yourself unless you are experiencing something very, very real.
In other words: The very existence of transgender men and women, the very people you try to invalidate, proves that you are wrong.
Genderqueer and nonbinary people prove that gender is a complex issue
And, on top of that, there are quite a few transgender and genderqueer people who find it hard to identify with only one of the two genders. They may feel that they are somewhere in between, or that their identity is both male and female or masculine and feminine at the same time. 
This is another indication of gender not being as clear-cut and binary as you might think.
Biological sex and experienced gender are often two separate things
If you are trying to say that biological sex is real, by all means say so. You could simply say that "trans women were born with biological male characteristics" or something to that effect. But the very existence of gender dysphoric trans people tells us that biological sex is not the same as experienced gender.
(I know that there are trans activists who are not willing to use the term biological sex at all, arguing that the biological male body of a non-transitioning male to female transgender person is a female body, since her gender identity is female. This is equally pedantic. While you make biological sex the only real factor, they insist that experienced gender is. We need some kind of language to talk about gender incongruence, and in order to do that, we need to talk about both biological sex and gender, even if the terms are ambiguous and complicated.)
A word does not equal a “thing” out there
The idea that words can be reduced to a sign referring to something “out there” in the “real world”, has been abandoned by most linguists and philosophers. 
I am not a post-modernist, and I do believe that natural science has a lot to say about sex, sexuality and gender, but the words “man” and “woman”, as we use them in everyday language, cannot be reduced to biology. 
Felix Conrad gives an excellent example of the flexibility of language his book Am I a Woman?where he refers to the fact that a “mother” who does not give physically birth to a child may nevertheless be recognized as its mother. She might have adopted her child.  (The linguist George Lakoff makes a similar point in his excellent book, Women, Fire and Dangerous Things, a book I highly recommend to those who think word’s can be reduced to physics and biology, detached from the metaphors we make use of.)
Even if there is a biological reality (and there is!), the way we classify what we see is in most ways cultural. This also applies to terms like "mental illness", "paraphilia" and "fetish", which are often used to invalidate trans people. These are words made by people who feel threatened by gender variance and who want to  push transgender people back into the closet.
There is more than enough room in words like “man” and “woman” to include trans men and trans women, if we want to.
And why shouldn't we?

7 comments:

Shae Guerin said...

Nicely written. Still, I can't agree. Gender fluidity and non-binary orientation aside, I've met very few transpeople who are entirely their preferred gender. Rather, I celebrate with them our unique gender euphoria. No rationalizing needed, be different, be yourself, just don't make the general public uneasy about their interactions with us.

Shae Guerin
http://shae.tic.ab.ca

Emma Sweet said...

"Preferred gender"? Hmmm. My first reaction was that I didn't like the use of preferred. But the more I thought about it, I guess that's correct in some ways. But as Jack wrote, my preference isn't a choice. I'd very gladly not have to think about it at all. The word "preference" to me implies a choice, like choosing steak instead of fish at a restaurant. And that's not accurate for me.

I do wonder if I am a woman in my soul or not. My wife asked me this, and I answered, "How could I know?" Just like I don't know if my perception of a color is the same as anyone else's, I don't know if my internal thinking is male, female, or some combination.

For me, at 60 years of age, transitioning isn't very attractive. While I'm sure there would be some joys I also sense that I'd be in a running race to catch up, to be an older woman, and that doesn't feel right.... for me. If I could live my life over again with the awareness, acceptance, and puberty blockers that they have now, sure, I might very well try blazing that trail.

I will say that I don't understand the nonbinary identify, although I suppose that is me in a nutshell. My opinion is that would be so hard to live and be, even today. But maybe at my age I'm just not with it, and that's cool.

Last, I'll say that gender euphoria does feel great. But like the thrill of a new relationship it doesn't last. I wish I could just wear leggings and a top, and just be myself as a woman in the world, probably running errands, not feeling much of anything about my clothing. Just being me. To me, that's the ideal, just in harmony with myself, internally and externally.

Jack Molay said...

//I've met very few transpeople who are entirely their preferred gender. //

I have never met any non-transgender people who are entirely their preferred gender, in the sense that they all display variation in interests, behavior, personality traits and abilities.

And I agree, it would be better if we could all celebrate this diversity opening up for a feeling of gender euphoria.

//I do wonder if I am a woman in my soul or not.//

I think you know, deep inside.

For me it helped to let go of the idea that being a woman is somehow the same as living up to the gender stereotypes. It is more about a way of orienting yourself in the world, seeing the world.

joanna Santos said...

We are seeing more and more everyday as Trans people come out that we are dealing with a spectrum. Some wholly identify with the opposite gender but some reside somewhere in a nebulous middle. Most of us bought into the idea that gender was static and we had to play a predefined role but the reality of what lies in people's hearts and minds often flies against these rigid norms. Once you liberate yourself you can then celebrate where you are on that spectrum by proceeding accordingly. For some that can mean transition and once there you should be considered a woman (or a man) because the plumbing you were born with does not define your true gender identity.

I didn't choose to be born this way so I don't see it as a preferred gender since it bucked against the system and resulted in my suffering in suppressive silence but now as a fully realized transgender person I can finally breathe.

Emma Sweet said...

Jack, I think you're correct, that I know I have the heart of a woman deep inside. I've always felt that way so there's really no denying it.

Joanna, your own liberation is so inspiring and compelling. I may have to follow in your footsteps.

I certainly also didn't choose to be born this way, and if I'd had a choice I doubt I would have chosen to be transgender. These days I see it as a facet of what makes me the person that I am, and my friends and family acknowledge that I'm a good person so how would I be if not trans? Likely good as well, but different for sure.

Transgender people are, I think, a bit more caring, sensitive, and warm. It's just part of our nature.

I'm a natural transwoman!

Anonymous said...

Well....

Just went on my first shopping spree in the jungle called London as Marion today. Fourth trip to England to "be myself" or at least the Hermione part of me for a while. Fourth time in 15 months.
The first 4 days was spent in a grand hall and hotel outside Manchester with people just like us with fine dining, and spa treatment.

Found two favorite stores, Vivian of Holloway and Collectif. None of the girls working in either places found it strange or unnatural that I was in there. Perhaps, it's because I am fairly passable and have an impeccable taste in clothes as well as the figure to show for it?

Or perhaps it's just London where "everything goes"?
Tried on frocks as it was the most natural thing in the world. I spent "too much money". Luckily, I could afford it, and the money was well earned (as opposed to being a stockbroker or CEO).
How many "macho men" can go into a women's store and try on 50s style dresses without some sort of notice by others?

When I order my supper at the hotel, I'm being referred to as "mam". Most staff are Asian, but treats me like a lady.
I look myself in the mirror. I don't see a "warrior" as per se, but a beautiful woman. Yet I still know that there is plenty of history behind that look. Pain...Anguish...Remorse...Shame...Guilt trips that could measure to Kain's Guilt. No more.
If anyone would call me "sir", it will be an invitation to a knee in his groin.
Is that wrong of me? I feel feminine in every way as Marion, yet there is still some "balls" behind it all that needs to be there to assert myself in new situations.
What is difficult it is to "go back" after these trips and continue my work back in Norway.
Questions are still stirring.
Such as "how far down the Harry Benjamin scale have I slided down now"?

Does my gender identity scream Trans woman all over, or is there a thing called Bi-gender?

Jack Molay said...

Thank you for sharing this, Marion. We need as many examples of how to explore this side of ours as possible.

//Does my gender identity scream Trans woman all over, or is there a thing called Bi-gender?//

Well, what do you feel? What does your heart tell you?

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