Answering the question, “Why does it matter what genitals people have?”

It’s not uncommon for transgenderists to ask gender critical feminists a question about why we need to know information about other people’s genitals. This is because transgenderists believe that genitals are of absolutely no consequence and that there is no reason for anybody to think about them.

This topic came up between me and blogger Skepto, who wrote a post that asked several variations on the question “Why do we need to know what genitals someone has?”

This subject came up in relation to me saying that we use pronouns based on whether people are male or female, not based on their “gender,” and that male and female are words that refer to reproductive anatomy. Skepto doesn’t believe he knows anything or needs to know anything about the reproductive anatomy of people he’s not in an intimate relationship with. He says the following:

“The notion that I need to know about other people’s genitalia and vice versa doesn’t just feel absurd to me, but actively gross and invasive. Not only do I not know details about my landlady’s genitalia, I don’t want to know! Not only do I not know whether my ex-boyfriend’s ejaculate contained viable sperm, talking about the topic feels quite disrespectful of his privacy and very much like too much information!”

This is a common tactic that transgenderists use when gender critical feminists point out that you can tell whether people are male or female and that it matters which one someone is. They like to act as though feminists are somehow weirdly obsessed over genitals and wanting to know invasive information about them. In this post, I will explore the issue of how we know whether people are male or female and why we need to know.

To begin, identifying someone’s sex is not as mysterious as transgenderists claim it is. There is no need for “genital checks,” or asking people what genitals they have, or anything invasive at all. You can tell what sex someone is just by interacting with them, fully clothed, in normal social situations. It’s very rare that there is a person who is actually so ambiguous that you can’t tell. I feel quite confident in saying that you can identify the sex of at least 99% of people just by interacting with them normally. That’s because intersex conditions are less than 1% of the population and most of us have typical sex characteristics. We can identify people’s sex when they’re fully clothed because there is a common set of secondary sex characteristics that come with our reproductive organs. For example, men have a strong jaw line, an Adam’s apple, and a deeper voice, and women have a curvy shape, a higher voice, and smaller hands. There are many more secondary sex characteristics than this, of course.

A person’s sex is obvious and identifiable, whether you have an interest in knowing it or not. I don’t want to know anything about the details of my landlord’s genitals any more than Skepto does, but I do know that he is male because this is plain to see just by talking to him about how my refrigerator is running. No need for invasive questions at all. Since the vast majority of people have typical sex characteristics, I can assume that because my landlord has all the male secondary sex characteristics, he also has male genitals. This is a reasonable assumption to make about anybody since it’s true almost all the time. This doesn’t mean I want any information about the appearance or function of his genitals, it just means that I can tell he is male.

I’m quite sure that even transgenderists can identify the sex of the person they are talking to, even though they refer to people by their “gender” instead. If you have fully functioning eyes and ears, you can tell.

Now let’s talk about identifying the sex of people who feel that they have a gender identity. This is a varied group of people so I will talk about a few different categories. There are some people who don’t take any steps to medically transition and they only “socially transition.” That means they are a fully intact, unambiguous male or female and they have asked people to refer to them as being the opposite sex, or being neither sex. I don’t think this is an appropriate thing to do. If everyone can clearly see what sex you are, then calling you by opposite sex pronouns doesn’t have much of a point. Even if they call you by the opposite pronouns, they still know what your sex is and treat you accordingly. You might feel better because they’re “respecting your identity,” but they are being forced to lie in order to make you happy. Forcing other people to lie about what they can clearly see in front of them ranges from a mild nuisance to gas-lighting abuse.

I live in a liberal urban area and occasionally I do run into a trans person. Not long ago I went to the drug store and the clerk who checked out my purchase had a gender neutral hairstyle and outfit and a trans bracelet on (blue, pink, and white colours.) It looked as if she was identifying as trans because of the deliberately neutral outfit and the bracelet, and I’m guessing she was probably “non-binary” based on what she was wearing, although I didn’t ask. Whatever she identifies as, I could tell she was female.

There was one time a few years ago when I went to the bank and had a male-to-female bank teller. His sex was obviously male but he had “women’s” clothing on, long hair, and makeup. I did my banking as usual and didn’t say a word about it, because men can wear dresses if they want and that’s fine with me, but I knew he was male.

I have also been to a couple of trans events where I saw a few dozen trans people all together. Again, their sex was obvious. I saw a lot of young, short men with small skeletons, small hands, feminine jaw lines, and rounded shoulders. They were obviously female even though they had beards. I also saw a lot of really tall women with broad shoulders, Adam’s apples, and strong jaw lines, and they were obviously male although I could tell what ‘gender’ they were supposed to be. The point here is, even when people make modifications to their bodies, their sex is usually quite obvious. Trans women hardly ever pass, and trans men definitely pass more often than trans women do, but someone who knows what to look for can see it. I’m guessing that females who make body modifications don’t have a hard time passing as men around complete strangers who aren’t expecting to see a trans person, but as I’ve explained, there are many trans people whose sex is obvious. Cases where someone’s sex isn’t obvious are very, very rare.

The second half of this conversation is “why do we need to know?” I wish it didn’t matter what sex someone was. Both males and females should be treated with dignity,  and taken seriously as full human beings. There should be no different expectations placed on males and females based on what people think they can do or say or wear. For example, females should be able to run for President and get elected based on their merit, without being subjected to misogynist abuse, and males should be able to express feminine personality traits and clothing styles without getting beaten up and called “faggot.” But males and females are treated differently, and this is a reality we have to deal with.

Right from infancy, boy and girl children are treated differently. Parents buy certain toys and clothes for their small children based on whether they are male or female. They hug girl children more and they teach boy children not to cry. Then when they’re sent to school, teachers treat boys and girls differently too. Messages from culture (books, movies, and other media) teach the same lessons. By the time kids reach adolescence they are full of cultural ideas about who boys and girls are and these ideas are firmly ingrained in their minds. We call this process socialization. Socialization causes men and women to behave in different ways and expect certain behaviours of each other.

I’m somewhere in the middle of the continuum between social constructionism and biological determinism. I’m probably about three-quarters social constructionist. I think that the differences in male and female behaviour can be accounted for mostly by socialization and partly by biological differences. For example, males, as a group, tend to be more aggressive and violent than females as a group. Males might be partially more prone to violence and aggression due to their biology (testosterone, for example) but I think it’s mostly that they’re taught to be aggressive by our culture. Men are expected not to show emotion, to be tough and strong all the time, to be leaders and protectors who think rationally and don’t get upset. They’re expected to be completely intolerant of “sissy” behaviour and to beat up any men who aren’t sufficiently masculine, to prove their own adherence to masculinity. They’re also taught that in order to be a real man they should treat women like sexual objects whose bodies they are entitled to. This is where I’m coming from when I make the following statement: we need to know what sex people are because males are dangerous and we need to protect ourselves.

Now, just because I say that, doesn’t mean I think that literally every single man in the world is violent. It just means that men, as a group, tend to be more violent. Most people who commit rape, murder, sexual assault, and plain old assault, are men. Women never know which men are going to be violent until they are—there is no way to tell ahead of time. We are expected to be “vigilant” all the time and “never walk alone at night” because any man has the potential to be one of the dangerous ones at any time. Since male violence against women is so prevalent, large numbers of women actually have been abused by men and are actively trying to prevent being abused again.

Women try to prevent being abused by doing things like keeping track of the men around us and their behaviour, and avoiding men in some situations. We avoid doing things like undressing or peeing in rooms where there are men, or being alone with men who we’re not intimately involved with. We set boundaries, we watch our drinks, and we don’t walk alone at night, because we understand the problem of male violence against women.

When transgenderists ask the question, “why do you need to know what genitals people have,” the first thing I wonder is, “Have you never heard of male violence?” Most people have. All sorts of people, even if they’re not feminists, have heard of male violence. You know how macho fathers are hesitant to allow their teenage daughters to start dating? That’s not because they’ve read Andrea Dworkin, it’s because they live in the world and they know that men are violent and their daughters are in danger.

There are other reasons why people need to know who is male and who is female. One of them is sexual orientation. Not everybody is “pansexual,” lots of us actually have preferences for one sex or the other. We would only consider dating people of one sex and we identify which people are our preferred sex. It’s also important in sports situations. Males and females are separated on sports teams so that it’s fair. We have different physical attributes, so we can’t be competing against each other fairly or safely. Finally, sex is but one of many attributes that we notice about people and can use as an identifying factor. If you are trying to describe someone to another person, identifying the person’s sex is one of the ways to communicate what the person looks like, just like their eye colour, hair colour, height and weight. It’s not “bigoted” to identify someone’s sex, just like it’s not bigoted to identify that someone is tall, or has brown eyes, or has long hair. It’s just an accurate observation. Sometimes we do need to make observations about people’s physical attributes in order to identify them.

In many social situations, someone’s sex will never matter. Chances are if I go to the bank, it doesn’t matter if the teller is male or female. Most of the time, strangers walk past me without incident and it doesn’t matter what sex they are. But sometimes it does matter. It matters particularly to women, because we are vulnerable due to our female biology and the fact that men are socialized to see us as objects for their use. (Have you seen the dudes on Twitter laughing about grabbing random women by the pussy lately?) Men abuse women because they can, because they like to, because they are in fact encouraged to, and because they rarely ever get punished for it. Women have the right to identify that males are the people most likely to harm us, we have the right to name male violence as a social problem, we have the right to identify who around us is male, we have the right to set boundaries keeping males out of our private spaces for our own protection, and we have the right to call men men. It doesn’t do any harm to men when we identify their sex, but it does harm us when we cannot identify male violence or protect ourselves from it. When women are required to not notice what sex men are, that means we can’t set boundaries.

It would be nice if it didn’t matter so much. There shouldn’t be so much of a need to treat males and females differently. But in this world, we do have to treat males and females differently, because they behave differently, and this matters. Having female biology means being vulnerable around people with male biology. And even if everyone were a nice person who didn’t want to harm anyone, it would still be obvious what sex people are, and it would still be an identifying factor that we use occasionally, and it would still be important to anyone who is conducting an intimate relationship, a medical examination, or a sports game. Like it or not, sex is a significant physical characteristic of human beings.

16 thoughts on “Answering the question, “Why does it matter what genitals people have?”

  1. >You know how macho fathers are hesitant to allow their teenage daughters to start dating? That’s not because they’ve read Andrea Dworkin…

    Damn. Nailed it again! This line made me LOL (even though the male violence it refers to is not funny).

    Your writing is so sharp and spot on! I am a big fan.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. If biology was so unimportant, if we didn’t life in a sex-based hierarchy that places men over women and dictates, in varying forms, what behaviour is acceptable for what sex, there probably wouldn’t be any “trans” in the first place. I doubt those rare cases of actual sex dysphoria would exist, and there certainly wouldn’t be women kidding themselves that they can escape oppression by pretending to be male, or men indulging disgusting fetishes about being female.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I find it informative to look at the etymology of the word “vagina.” It comes from a word that means “husk” or “sheath” as if its only purpose was to be a receptacle; as if it’s simply empty without a penis inside it. Anatomy matters because women have been treated as “sheaths” for penises for centuries–not as humans.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’ve decided I’ve had a gutsful of this disingenuous shite that denies sex is relevant at all, particularly coming from males who will never face pregnancy and childbirth or the sex based discrimination women face from day one. It’s so easy to dismiss something as irrelevant when it doesn’t matter to you and you can easily opt out from responsibility for the impact of what you say when reality intrudes.

    …Skepto doesn’t believe he knows anything or needs to know anything about the reproductive anatomy of people he’s not in an intimate relationship with…because it suits him that way. It’s via styling it as being irrelevant a person can claim to be progressive whilst doing absolutely nothing at all. But it is a lie, their language says a lot. LandLADY slips in there, what was that in there for? Didn’t mean to indicate something about that person there did they, and not about genitalia at all? Then when it comes to intimate relationships, it’s EX-boyfriend’s ejaculate contained viable sperm. Ejaculate is a loaded term for a start because it refers to something only males can produce, but lets be honest, if you are female and a current or ex-partner of someone it does in fact very much matter because you carry the can for contraception. The use of the ex- here dodges addressing the issues, that it would be or could be very relevant.

    Then it goes even further downhill when you click through to the article, the torturous initial discussion of how hard it would be for them not to use the slur TERF because it is just such a handy acronym for describing things (even if it doesn’t as most people labelled with that are hardly rad fems). Then it gets even more laughable, they completely strawman even the description of biological sex to suit their ends, my goodness, we find the claim that saying female – ovulates is twisted to mean only currently ovulating. They say that most children wouldn’t be male or female if we used biological definitions. They fail to notice that by their redefinition you end up with the ridiculous proposition female persons would only be female intermittently, because we only ovulate once a month if that. It’s the capability, even if it isn’t present all the time that counts, but that’s easy to dispense with in service of strawmanning your opponent.

    So anyway, they carry on and then drop this one: …”but the existence of a certain cluster of anatomical facts doesn’t mean there has to be a word to describe said cluster…”

    Oh, yes, does one do logic and basic reasoning again? I fear this person has twisted things so far they cannot return from the brink. And P.S. in many medical conditions, such as Marfan’s, a connective tissue disorder, finger length is relevant diagnostically. It’s easy to make out that because one thing is generally not taken into account because it is part of normal variation that there are not times it isn’t important or that other characteristics may remain important and relevant much more frequently.

    Thank you, Purple Sage, for taking the time to thoroughly cover this and so well too.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I like your point that pronouns have no meaning if they are not a reality to the person saying it. All it does it create pretence to keep a peace. Much like when my aunt, in her dementia believed her son was Primr Minister and her best friend the Queen. Hospital visits were easier if we played along. Transgenderists don’t care what is believed. As long as the world they are escaping into is accommodated. I don’t beleive their distress is really alleviated by an illusion.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love this, ‘Sage…

    Yes, it would be nice if pronouns and appearances didn’t matter so much, but it does and, apparently, I have come to realize, it mostly ‘matters much’ to males. And, Oh, the burden that these poor, put-upon men carry, how it breaks my f*cking heart. Raised the way they are, I’m sure it just destroys their fragile little egos when adults won’t play their game of reality-bending make-believe. Of course, they don’t have to consider the potential for violence and abuse since they’ve forced themselves into women’s safe spaces, they don’t have to think about pregnancy, they really don’t have to think about anything at all except their own satisfaction, which is a basic male thought process from beginning to end.

    And while they fear the response of other men to their deception, they readily threaten to beat or kill any woman who denies their fantasy…

    These men are the most protected and privileged ‘women’ in my country.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. This is a fantastic breakdown of the argument.
    Of course I don’t care about the genitals of most people I meet. But I do observe their sex and, for the reasons you described, in many cases this matters.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hey, just wanted to say I agree with you for the most part, but I think you’re underestimating the amount of passing, stealth trans folks out there (esp. Trans men–testosterone is a powerful, powerful substance…). I see a lot of radical feminists with a kind of attitude like, “my trans radar is perfect, I clock all the trans folks!!” But the truth is, it’s confirmation bias. The ones you don’t clock and assume are not trans will never enter into your calculations.

    I’ve discovered, over the years, that several people I assumed were male were natal females, including some folks I’ve spent a lot of time with. I didn’t discover it because I noticed anything, but because the individal or someone close to them told me.

    It really is impossible to know what percentage of people you can clock without doing genital checks or DNA testing on everyone you meet, because there will be a margin of error–well-passing stealth folks you assume are not trans, intersex folks you clock wrong, and maybe even non trans folks with certain features that make you wonder…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. To the commenter “VilifiedandExiled”, I did not post your comments because you made some claims that were completely bonkers. Commenters here are required to know what they are talking about and make coherent arguments. No weird and obviously untrue claims are allowed.


  10. Pingback: Third response – Omphaloskeptomai

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