I wrote a post asking some questions to FtMs and some lovely people have taken the time to answer. Thank you all! I do want to respond to each of you but this is going to take me quite a while. The first thing I want to respond to is a list of questions for ‘TERFs’ that someone wrote to me in response.
You can find the list of questions here.
Before I start, I just have a little disclaimer about the word TERF. This word is a slur similar to “bitch” or “cunt,” as you can see from the way people use it in conversation. Women don’t identify with this word or call themselves this word unless they are being sarcastic. When I call myself a ‘TERF’ I’m using it sarcastically. I kinda think it’s funny that because I believe that biology exists and because I care about women as a class that makes me a member of a hate group. Well, it’s funny but it’s also not funny. Anyway, here are my first four answers to the questions for TERFs asked by blogger Skepto. Since my answers are so long, I’m just including the first four here and I’ll answer the rest in another post.
(1) What is a “man”, what is a “woman”? If there are people who are neither: what are they?
Simple: a man is an adult human male, and a woman is an adult human female!
However, I never give an answer that short, so I’m going to keep rambling for a while.
We humans reproduce sexually—that means that we reproduce by introducing a sperm from a male human to an ova from a female human. To facilitate this process, males have a penis and testicles, to create sperm and inject it into females, and females have a vagina and a uterus, which allows us to gestate a baby and then give birth to it. You’ll find that these are measurable, observable facts that vastly predate the existence of so-called “TERFs.” We didn’t make this up to oppress trans people, this is what humans have observed about ourselves since the beginning of time.
The word “man” exists to refer to adult humans who are male—that is, they have a male reproductive system that produces sperm which can fertilize ova. The word “woman” refers to adult humans who are female—that is, they have female reproductive systems that can become pregnant and give birth. Everyone who speaks English, unless they have been indoctrinated into the trans cult, understands these meanings of man and woman.
Now on to the topic of intersex. People with intersex conditions are very rare, they are less than 1% of the population, and they are simply people with ambiguous or atypical sex characteristics. They might be males with atypical male organs, females with atypical female organs, or people with a bit of both male and female anatomy. Intersex people do not represent something else entirely besides male and female, they are just atypical males or females, or a combination of the two. There is no third sex that is completely unrelated to male or female. The existence of intersex people doesn’t negate the facts of mammalian reproduction—despite the fact that nature creates a few atypical specimens in any given species, the vast majority of humans are unambiguously male or female, have typical sex characteristics, and can reproduce sexually, whether they choose to or not.
People who claim an identity as neither male nor female don’t usually have an actual intersex condition that makes their sex impossible to classify, they are usually unambiguously male or female and there is no reason for them to believe they’re not. If you want to know what sex you are, it’s quite simple: does your body produce sperm or ova? And it’s not necessary to look into your internal organs to figure that out. If you have a penis and testicles, that’s because your body is male and if you have a vagina and you menstruate, then you are female. I’m betting that 100% of “nonbinary” people know whether they need to use contraception during sex or not, because they understand reproductive anatomy and know what to do to prevent a pregnancy. They know whether they are female or male, they just prefer not to call themselves that or think of themselves that way.
Claiming that you are neither male nor female when you actually are is silly and nonsensical.
(2) A person is born with a vulva. The people around them refer to them as a woman, use “she” pronouns, and tell them they must not use the word “man” or “he” to refer to themselves. One could argue that these are unnecessary rules and limitations placed on them based on their anatomy just as much as the expectation that they wear dresses, play with pink dolls, wear make-up, etc. Do you disagree? If so, why? What difference do you see between the various limitations?
I think that pronoun use and enforcing sexist expectations on people are completely different things, and I don’t think that the use of anatomically correct pronouns is harmful. The reason we use she/her pronouns for people born with vulvas is because she/her pronouns are grammatically correct pronouns for females, and people born with vulvas are female. This is just a function of language. Language is there so we can communicate, and when we are communicating about someone female, female pronouns are used. The use of female pronouns doesn’t say anything at all about a person other than the fact that she is female. Therefore a female who has any kind of presentation, attitude, behaviors, mannerisms, and feelings, is called she/her. People who use male pronouns or plural pronouns to refer to a single female are not communicating effectively—they are misleading the listener about who they are talking about.
The expectations that girls have to wear dresses and makeup are completely unnecessary, sexist cultural expectations. Absolutely nothing is gained by girls wearing dresses and makeup other than the maintenance of a set of social rules about who girls are. This is an unfair and harmful practice for reasons that we can measure and observe. For example, girls often don’t want to wear skirts because they inhibit movement, they make her cold, and boys want to look up her skirt. Girls don’t want to wear makeup because it’s uncomfortable and it takes unnecessary time and money. Name any sexist expectation placed on females and I’ll give you a legitimate reason why its harmful, but I don’t think you’ll be able to make a case that harm is caused to a person by use of pronouns. It’s simply a matter of accurate grammar. It’s impossible to cause someone harm with clear communication and there is no reason why the use of a value neutral part of speech could reasonably cause someone distress.
Trans people do acknowledge their biological sex in other ways. For example, when people call themselves FtM they are acknowledging that they were born female. Similarly, calling someone AFAB acknowledges they were born female. For some reason, acknowledging that someone was born female in these ways doesn’t seem to bother the trans cult, but the use of female pronouns does. This doesn’t make sense. She/her pronouns, AFAB, and FtM all communicate the same thing—that the person in question is biologically female. If there was actually any harm in acknowledging someone’s biology, then trans men would never call themselves FtM or AFAB, they would just call themselves male and nothing else. The thing is though, there is no harm in acknowledging someone’s biology. It’s a morally-neutral, judgment free fact that communicates nothing about a person’s personality or feelings.
When females experience distress at being called a grammatically accurate pronoun, it’s because they are in a social situation in which they wish for people around them to not view them as female. However, it’s almost always possible to tell whether someone is male or female just by interacting with them, and chances are, even if a female gets everyone around her to agree to not calling her female, they still know she’s female. All this pronoun stuff actually accomplishes is that is forces people to play pretend that they don’t know what they know about a person. I don’t think it’s right to force people to pretend something that isn’t true and I don’t think anyone is harmed by acknowledging their sex.
So to summarize that, pronoun use is not a harmful thing, and it does have a purpose—clear communication. Forcing girls to comply with rules about wearing dresses and makeup is demonstratively harmful, and has no positive or necessary purpose.
(3) Similar to (2), but it might elicit different answers, so I’m putting it in as a separate question anyway: what does it mean to you to abolish gender? Would this include abolishing gendered words (like pronouns, “man”, “woman”, etc.)? Would it include abolishing gendered bathrooms, locker rooms, prisons, etc.? Why/why not?
This question is completely different from #2, so I’m glad you asked them both! Feminists want to abolish gender, but not sex. It’s impossible to abolish the realities of mammalian reproduction. Humans will always come in male and female, because that’s the way our species is created. Whether we like this or not, it will always be. There is no reason to abolish the words man and woman because those words simply communicate adult human males and adult human females. These will always exist as long as humans exist, so there is no need to abolish them, and it would be quite impossible to do so.
You are conflating gender and sex in this question, so let’s address that. Sex is whether you have male or female reproductive anatomy, and gender is a set of behaviors, mannerisms and appearances that communicate your sex to other people. We place certain expectations on men and women to look and behave a certain way, and when people defy those expectations they may be able to appear as the opposite sex in certain social contexts. Gender is a social construct that can change according to time period and culture. It’s not a fixed or essential part of human beings, it’s a set of expectations that exist because of the culture that created them. You change the culture, you change the expectations we have of men and women. You’ll also hear feminists say that gender is a hierarchy—that’s because the expectations we place on men and women are specifically designed to keep women subordinate to men—they are a part of the system of patriarchy. Gender is often used as a synonym for sex roles or sex stereotypes—feminists want to abolish these roles and stereotypes about women because they are harmful to us.
We certainly should not end sex segregation of males and females in places such as locker rooms and prisons. These spaces are not segregated by gender, they are segregated by sex. That’s because females are vulnerable due to their ability to become pregnant and need to be separated from males in places where they will be undressed. The reason for this separation is that males have a tendency to sexually abuse females, and this needs to be prevented.
(4) Do you support elective body modifications like piercings (ears or elsewhere), tattoos, braces, implants (e.g. magnetic implants, birth control implants, breast implants, cosmetic implants like artificial horns or artificial cheekbones), breast reductions, mastectomies, hysterectomies, sterilization, hormones (e.g. as form of contraception, to reduce post-menopausal problems, or as part of transition), laser treatment for hair removal or to correct eyesight?
I have done a lot of thinking on this question, because it opens up a whole philosophical discussion. The short answer would be that I do not support any elective body modifications. Of course, I never give a short answer to anything, so here is a long-ass essay!
Human beings are not Mr. Potato Head toys—we can’t just mix and match body parts as we please, taking off one and adding another like it’s no big deal. Humans are living animals and our bodies are what we’re made of and who we are. Any time a knife or a needle cut through flesh, that is an injury to the body and it’s a form of trauma. It’s something the body has to heal and recover from. Even taking hormones is not healthy, it has side effects and we don’t know the long-term effects of taking cross-sex hormones over a lifetime. We should automatically default to NOT injuring our bodies or risking our health unless there is some compelling medical reason to do so, such as for example, having a medically necessary surgery to save one’s life.
Some forms of elective body modification are more serious than others. Obviously a tattoo or a piercing are low risk and minimally invasive, while something like genital reconstruction is more invasive and more risky. I’ve never understood why people get piercings—it would be completely nonsensical to me to poke a hole in my body and put a piece of metal through it. It seems unnecessary and painful. It would give me anxiety to have a piercing. However I don’t write blog posts against piercing just because it’s minimally invasive and low risk, so there’s not much point in getting upset over it. For the record, I find it really horrifying when people pierce the ears of their babies and young children who are too young to consent. I consider this abuse. Laser hair removal is another example of a low-risk, non-invasive body modification. I think it’s unnecessary, but since it doesn’t cause injury, I’m not getting upset over it.
There are more serious forms of body modification that I make more of a point of speaking out against. I’ve written against labiaplasty a couple of times and I’ll be writing against it again—there’s an article I want to address in a future post on that. Any body modification that involves a surgery, a cutting of flesh, a removal of a part, or the sewing on or addition of a part, is an injury to the body and it’s wrong on the basis that people should not injure themselves.
I’m not against surgery that is performed for medical reasons and that is necessary for good health. Having a necessary medical procedure done to improve one’s health is about self-care, rather than about self-hate. Elective surgery is about self-hate. It’s done because the patient believes there is something wrong with them. I don’t believe it’s possible for a body to be ‘wrong.’ If you believe your body is ‘wrong,’ the problem is not your body, the problem is your attitude toward it. The size and shape of functional, healthy body parts is irrelevant—what’s relevant is that they are healthy. The idea that a healthy body part is ‘wrong’ is a negative judgment that is not accurate and is harmful toward yourself. I don’t believe it’s medically necessary to change one’s body in order to resemble a member of the opposite sex, and when people feel distress over their sexed body I think the origins of that distress are mostly cultural, emotional, and cognitive, and should be addressed with psychotherapy.
I am just as against modifications such as breast implants and cosmetic surgery designed to make someone better conform to a cultural ideal as I am against transgender surgery. I’m against body modifications on the basis that they are a form of self-hate and self-injury, regardless of the reasons behind the modification. The degree to which I am against a particular form of body modification depends on how invasive and risky it is, not on the type of reason behind it. I don’t see the various reasons for body modification as being much different from each other. Whether a woman is trying to look more like an ‘ideal’ woman or more like a man, the situation is the same: she doesn’t believe she is right the way she is, and wants to conform to an idea of how she thinks she should look in order to be happier. I don’t believe happiness comes from running away from your physical reality and artificially modifying it, I believe that happiness comes from self-acceptance and self-love. Being grounded in your physical self and in your physical surroundings is necessary for good health.
There is another necessary part of this conversation, and that is that I don’t actually go out in the world and stop people from having cosmetic surgery. Women are free to get breast implants or take testosterone as they please, and nothing I am doing is preventing that. People certainly have a right to do whatever they want with their bodies. What I do is promote an analysis of the cultural conditions that lead women to want to modify their bodies, because I have an interest in the well-being of women as a group. (And by ‘women,’ I mean all humans born female, whether or not they identify as women or have made body modifications.)
At the very heart of this conversation is the philosophical question, “is it acceptable for a living organism to injure itself?” You could argue this two ways. My argument would be that it’s always wrong to injure a living organism, even if it is yourself you are injuring. Sure, you have full agency over your own body, but that doesn’t mean you should harm it. Everyone deserves to be free from harm, including you. You deserve wholeness and good health. The other way you could argue this is that everyone can do what they want with their own body and no one has the right to question it. This second opinion is quite prevalent in society right now—we are encouraged to think of everyone as an individual with agency exercising their own choices. This individualistic notion of people choosing their own choices is coming from neo-liberalism, an ideology that promotes capitalism (the free market) and discourages class consciousness. This is a political position that is being sold to the masses on purpose by people in positions of power because this belief system keeps people focused on consumer spending as a path to fulfillment, which puts money into the hands of the people who are running the world. For more information on this, see Gail Dines’ lecture Neo-liberalism and the defanging of feminism, available on YouTube. I am against neo-liberalism, capitalism, consumer culture, individualism, and “I choose my choice because AGENCY” type politics. I believe in class analysis, which means looking at large numbers of people and social trends, I believe in looking at what is driving social trends, and I believe in fighting on behalf of entire classes of people (women, the working class).
I believe that a whole, natural, unharmed body is a positive thing to value, and that everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin. I believe in changing the culture we live in so that fewer people will be dissatisfied with their bodies, and I’m saddened when people feel so much distress over who they are that they can only continue to live by becoming someone else. Although I agree that everyone can do what they want with their own body, I’m not satisfied to stop my political analysis at the agency of the individual.
Phew! If anyone has made it all the way to the end of this post, I’ll buy you a beer.
I’ll answer the rest of the questions another day, in another post.