This summer I was watching a lot of FtM videos and they led me to write this post: Questions for FtMs. I honestly wasn’t expecting any responses, but a few people have responded. Thanks! The responses were pretty thoughtful and sincere and they were interesting to read. The only things I was unsatisfied with were that sometimes people tried to answer generally for all FtMs rather than sharing their own perspective, and several people answered the questions for lesbians even though they weren’t lesbian. That was question #8, and perhaps I should have worded it better to be more clear, but I intended people who are bisexual or exclusively attracted to men to skip that question.
There is something I want to address right up front. Commenter Daniel wrote: “I’m not surprised you haven’t gotten many satisfactory answers to these questions. While the questions themselves are asked reasonably, it becomes very clear in the comments they are in bad faith. A few people in comments mention asking them irl (one person to their child, in a therapy session! How the hell did they expect that to go over?) – with less than stellar results. People don’t like being asked deeply personal, hard to articulate, difficult questions that they themselves are probably struggling with, only to be met with “Gotcha!” when they can’t immediately provide an answer. Not everyone has the ability or inclination to obsessively introspect like I do, and that shouldn’t be a prerequisite to transition.”
Let me be completely transparent about this. I did ask those questions in what you might call “bad faith,” meaning they were meant to be “gotcha” questions. Those questions were meant to catch the sexism, homophobia, and lack of coherent logic that so many transitioners display. However, the people who answered didn’t display much in the way of sexism or homophobia, and they gave me a lot of food for thought. Regardless of my original intentions, I have paid attention to the answers.
There is so much to discuss that I’ll probably still be working on this until Christmas, but that’s okay, I love blogging! I’m going to organize my responses by writing one post per question, with everyone’s responses to that question together.
There were two nonbinary people who responded, and I’m going to keep them separate from those identifying as FtM.
I’ll be using male pronouns for the FtMs who answered, but sex-specific pronouns for any other people who are mentioned. (There is no real reason behind this other than I feel like it.)
Question one was:
“Please explain in your own words what a “man” is and what a “woman” is.”
Commenter “Blob” gave the following answer: “A man & a woman are defined biologically (chromosomes, genitalia etc). I’m very aware that I’ll never fit the definition of a man. Despite that, I feel a deep need to have a body that resembles a male one.”
Well, I’m gonna get along with Blob, because he knows that men and women are biological realities and that he’s not literally male, he just wants to resemble a male. I respect someone who tells the truth.
“Daniel” gave this answer: “Imagine a Venn diagram. In one section you have you “Breasts, vagina, XX, Less Body Hair, Estrogen Dominant System, Uterus, Self-Identified Woman, etc.” In the other you have you have corresponding male traits. In a combo of having most of those traits, and having them sense birth, you are identified by other people as a man or a woman. This is independent from being masculine or feminine. Some people have a strong internal sense of being a man or a woman, others don’t (I will elaborate on this lower down). I am a trans man because having female traits and being perceived as a woman causes me intense distress, and I am changing both of those things. In essence, I am not a man yet, but am working to become one. I do have an internal sense of being a man.”
“Skepto” gave this answer: “Man” and “woman” are words used to refer to two gender categories people sort others and often also themselves into. Each of them is commonly associated with a cluster of (physical and character) traits as well as certain behaviors and presentations. The specific traits that get marked as male or female as well as which associated aspects are given more weight when sorting a person into one of the categories vary widely over time and differ from culture to culture. Due to this somewhat frustrating fact, any explanation of the categories referencing particular aspects is doomed to be highly subjective and erase a significant number of people who would belong to them by many other explanations. (Also, lots of people don’t give gender categories a whole lot of thought before attempting explanations and end up backpedalling when faced with examples that don’t match some or all of their stated criteria, but whom they’d still sort into the category in question without pause if they had been introduced to them in other circumstances.) Since whether or not someone is a man or a woman is not relevant to me personally except regarding their pronouns/grammatical gender, I take people at their word regarding their preferences here. In everyday life, I also use indicators like names and presentations (measured by the standards of my cultural cluster) and usually get by just fine with that. (Sometimes the indicators are ambivalent enough that I’m not sure, in which case I hang back until I have collected more or – if I’m in a context where that seems acceptable – ask more or less directly. Most of the time I get by just fine, though.) I realize that none of this was actually an explanation of what a “man” or a “woman” is. I’m afraid an explanation of why such an explanation would invariably fail somehow has to suffice, because that’s all I have.”
There is a similarity between Daniel’s and Skepto’s responses—both of them have defined man and woman as clusters of traits, where people tend to have most of one set or the other. I therefore propose that we debate the question: “Is it possible to define ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as clusters of traits?”
Daniel proposed a Venn diagram with the male traits on one side and the female traits on the other side. Since Venn diagrams overlap, and since males and females can share some of the same traits, I assume that there will be traits in the middle that both men and women share. I’ll try making this Venn diagram and see what I come up with!
Here’s a quick Venn diagram to use as an example of how we might describe man and woman as clusters of traits. I’ve put the male traits on one side, and the female traits on the other. Hair length can differ in both, so any kind of hair length goes in the middle. Daniel has proposed that people get identified as man or woman based on having most of one set of traits. That sounds good at first. However, trans people always say that people can have basically any traits and call themselves anything. If we follow the logic of the trans movement, then anyone can have any of these traits, and if anyone can have any of these traits, then don’t they all belong in the middle?
For example, you can be a woman with XY, penis, testicles, sperm, etc and you can be a man with XX, vagina, uterus, etc. Real people say this in real life all the time! And we are supposed to accept it as fact in order to be a trans ally. So if women can have XY, penis, testicles, sperm, a deep voice, and an Addam’s apple, then all those traits should go in the middle, because they are shared traits. If a man can have XX, breasts, vagina, uterus, ova, and become pregnant and breastfeed (sorry, “chestfeed”) an infant, then obviously all those traits belong in the middle too. Right?
The only traits that cannot go in the middle are the male gender identity and female gender identity. The physical traits are things anyone can have. After all, as the trans people say, “No physical trait is inherently male or female at all.”
Therefore I propose that we cannot define man and woman as clusters of traits, because, according to the trans movement’s own ideology, no physical traits can be considered only for men or only for women. I propose that, if anyone puts any trait in the outside boxes other than “gender identity,” then they’re invalidating some trans person’s identity, which is “literal violence.” Skepto makes a similar observation in his comment—that any time you place any of these traits in a certain box you erase someone who belongs to that category. Why do they belong to that category? Because of their “gender identity”—the only thing that truly defines a man or a woman.
Of course, this is where transgender ideology eats itself. If men and women cannot be described in any way, and are only identified by the subjective internal feelings of the individual, then how would anyone even know which one they identify with? How can you identify with a concept that cannot be defined? How can you know you are a woman when ‘woman’ can mean absolutely anything?
There has to be a way to describe what a man or a woman is, because if there wasn’t, then these words wouldn’t even exist. I think that all trans people know that a man is an adult human male and a woman is an adult human female. They also know exactly what male and female mean. That’s why trans people want certain body parts. The reason trans women want breasts and less body hair is because ‘woman’ is a recognizable category of person who has breasts and has less body hair than men. They know what women are and want to be one. If they actually believed that any trait can belong to anybody, then they wouldn’t be trying to get certain traits. Same with trans men. They want deep voices and flat, hairy chests because these are male traits. Men are a recognizable category of people with specific traits and trans men want to have them. They know what men are.
I also bet that all trans people understand human biology well enough to prevent a pregnancy. I think that no matter how strongly a female human insists she is “nonbinary” or “a man,” she knows she can get pregnant if a sperm enters her uterus.
In the spirit of debate, I have some questions regarding this topic for any trans people or trans supporters to answer if they feel so inclined.
1. Can you demonstrate how ‘man’ and ‘woman’ can be coherently defined as clusters of traits? What traits would you put in each box so that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are recognizable categories that people can identify with but no one’s gender identity is invalidated?
2. One example of a transwoman who has all the traits traditionally thought of as “male” traits is Danielle Muscato. Do you think Muscato is a woman? If you do think Muscato is a woman:
(a) Do you recognize that XY, penis, testicles, high testosterone, ample body hair, Addam’s apple, are all female traits? If Muscato, a woman, has these traits, then surely they are female traits, right?
(b) If you are AFAB and identify as a man, and you would like to have penis, testicles, high testosterone, ample body hair, etc, because of your male identity—how can you call these male traits when a woman like Muscato has them and calls them female traits? How can a trans man want these traits because they are “male” traits while a trans woman can retain these exact traits and call them “female traits”? How can we reconcile this?
3. If you don’t think that Muscato is a woman,
(a) Why not? If he identifies as one can’t he be one?
(b) What’s the difference between a “TERF” not recognizing a trans person’s identity and you not recognizing Muscato’s identity?
I look forward to your answers!