A response to Daniel

Daniel wrote a long comment on this thread:

Daniel: “I should have made this clearer in my original response, but I see “man” and “woman” as social designations, with “male” and “female” as your physical sex. People will designate you as a man or woman based on a best guess of your sex, hence the Venn diagram. I was imagining one with the categories “Male Traits” over bubble 1, “Female Traits” over bubble 2, and a large center portion for everybody whose biology is a little off from the ideal. What’s inside the diagram isn’t traits, its people.”

You’ve come close here to seeing the difference between sex and gender. The person who coined the term “gender” was John Money. He named gender as:

the overall degree of masculinity and/or femininity that is privately experienced and publicly manifested in infancy, childhood, and adulthood, and that usually though not invariably correlates with the anatomy of the organs of procreation

gender

So gender is whether someone is masculine or feminine. The words masculine and feminine can refer to physical attributes, like a hairy chest, or a curvy body, or they can refer to personality traits, like aggression or compassion, or they can refer to silly stereotypes, like enjoying sports or shopping. When you say that “man” and “woman” are social designations, you’re talking about the way people perceive males and females. You identified “physical sex” as a different characteristic than the social designation of “man” or “woman.” So you do know that biological sex exists! That’s great—that means we can actually have a conversation.

People assume and expect that anyone who is reproductively male will also present with a hairy body, a deep voice, certain mannerisms and interests, certain speech patterns, etc. But there are exceptions! Some men aren’t very hairy, some men have higher voices, etc. That doesn’t make them less male—anyone whose body produces sperm is male, and that will always be, no matter what he looks like.

What I keep trying to say, over and over, is that you can be physically female, and have a masculine appearance and masculine mannerisms and interests, and that’s okay—that doesn’t need to make you “trans,” that doesn’t require an explanation or an excuse, it doesn’t need to be medicalized, it doesn’t need to be fixed.

Take Gunner for example: she is a woman who has a masculine appearance and that’s fine, it doesn’t need to be an issue. The only reason it’s an issue is because people have ideas about who women are, and they believe someone like Gunner is not acceptable as a woman. That is sexism and homophobia.

(I’m a broken record. Honestly, I could just copy and paste the words “sexism and homophobia” every day, over and over, and that would be my blog.)

What I’m trying to say is that we should entirely abolish the “social category” aspect of man and woman. The social aspects of being a man or a woman are called “gender role.” (Also a term coined by John Money.) If we abolish gender roles, then everyone can just express their personality without being told they’re not performing “man” or “woman” acceptably.

Many trans people don’t want to abolish the social aspects of man and woman (gender role) because that is the only thing propping up their identity. The only way a male can “live as a woman” is by performing appearance and mannerisms associated with women. But women don’t want to perform the social aspects of “womanhood” that are assigned to us—because we don’t like them! Women don’t all like wearing makeup and dresses or talking about shoes and diets. We think this is bullshit.

Daniel: “We don’t take away the man or woman designation if it’s revealed you don’t fit the biological definition, unless you are trans. someone finding out the person they knew as a woman has a chromosomal disorder is taken very differently than finding out the person is trans.”

It truly is different finding out someone has a chromosomal disorder and finding out someone is trans. For example, if a woman has Turner’s syndrome, that means she is physically different from other females. But people who are trans don’t necessarily have a medical intersex condition. They are often unambiguously male or female in a physical sense, and just want to be the other sex.

Daniel: “I mean, I think this is what’s behind so much of the “REAL man/woman” fighting. I can’t speak for all trans people, but I’ll be the first to admit I’m a weird exception to the female=woman and male=man rule. Mostly because I’m changing my sex characteristics to the point that people will guess that my sex is male. If I have to try and prove I’m “really a man” every time someone finds out I’m trans, or try to live as a woman while looking almost indistinguishable from a cis man, my life is going to become exponentially harder. (I’m also not the only trans person who is distressed by being seen as a woman, but even leaving that out its still unfeasible)”

I define a “real man” the same way the dictionary does: an adult human male. If you are an adult human male, then you’re a man, if you’re not, then you’re not.

Daniel: “I don’t have an objection to people making ASAB only groups. I have a big problem if those are ALL gendered groups, including the local men’s bowling club or ladies’ bridge group. It means that trans people are excluded from large portions of society, and for what?”

Even feminists who want female-only spaces don’t think the entire world should be divided by sex all the time. Most places, like the workplace, stores, hospitals, schools, etc, are for anybody. Single-sex spaces are only in specific areas.

Daniel: “1. Man and woman are social categories that are given by other people based on knowledge or perceived knowledge of a person’s sex. I’m arguing that between compassion and most trans people effectively being intersex, self-identification should supersede perceived sex in the determination.”

No, you can’t claim that most trans people are intersex. Intersex is a physical condition where your physical sex characteristics are atypical. Trans just means you want to be the opposite sex or look like the opposite sex. Unless your doctor has actually diagnosed you with some sort of chromosomal disorder or other intersex condition, you can’t claim that.

Daniel: “2. Knowing absolutely nothing about Danielle Muscato other than she’s a trans woman who doesn’t pass, I think of her as a woman for the reasons I stated above. I don’t know why she doesn’t pass, if it’s something she would like to change in the future, or if she is unable to undergo the necessary medical steps to do so.”

You really should look up Danielle Muscato.

Daniel: “I’ve been mulling over A&B for a while, and here is my take on “women can have any traits” and how that plays out in real life:

We both agree that people should take as much time as possible to figure out if they are trans. Well, how do you do that? Jumping into hormones and surgery is foolish, so how do you know if changing those things, changing your sex, will make you feel better?

You change your gender. You ask people to call you a different name and use different pronouns. You wear different clothes and follow different grooming styles. You bind or you tuck. This is the closest you can get to living as the other sex without medical intervention, it’s what we’ve got. You live this way until you are as certain as you can be that changing your sexed traits is the right choice. And this isn’t even talking about the people who will never be able to pass.
Saying that a woman has no breasts and a penis, and saying that as a man I want them, it’s a description of our reality. I’m mid transition, Danielle is probably early in hers, we feel distressed at our current bodies and feel relief being acknowledged as male or female in spite of them. Some people parse this as being ‘really’ a man or a woman; I don’t care, I just want to not be in pain.”

I get what you’re saying. You’re acknowledging that there is a contradiction between males who believe their male traits are “female” traits and females who want those same traits because they are “male” traits. You know this is contradictory but you accept it as is because that’s how people feel. It’s okay if your feelings are contradictory. Feelings can do that, because feelings don’t follow logic. But even if your feelings are contradictory, your ideology and your worldview and your arguments have to be coherent. A female can “feel” that her clitoris is a “dick,” and that’s fine as a feeling, but when she’s actually interacting in real life with people and putting forth a political argument that has real-life implications, then she needs to be coherent. A clitoris isn’t a “dick,” and a penis isn’t a “large clitoris” or a “strapless” or any of the other silly things they say. Why not just tell the truth—that you are female-bodied, but feel uncomfortable with that, and feel better with a masculine presentation? And further, that you need society’s acceptance for being female-bodied and masculine? Why try to turn the facts inside out and say you’re literally male when you’re not? What purpose does that serve?

I support you and respect you as a female who feels dysphoria and wants to change her body. I don’t think body modification is the right approach, but I respect your right to self-determination and safety. When your community wants me to believe things that aren’t true, and when they want to take away women’s rights, that’s where my support ends.

Daniel: “This dose help people, it helped me. I cannot scientifically explain why this is, and that eats at me. I hate that until I pass I need to throw myself on other people’s compassion to maintain my sanity, and I avoid doing so in whatever ways I can. Asserting that I am a man, and always was, is less frightening than asking to be called a man out of kindness.”

I’m not entirely sure what you meant by that last bit. I recognize that you can’t explain why transition helped you. I personally feel that if someone doesn’t know the reason why they are making drastic body modifications, then they shouldn’t make them, because you should have a good reason if you’re going to do that. But I have compassion for the condition you’re in and I hope it all works out. Hopefully it makes more sense later on. If it does, I’d be interested to hear about it.

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9 thoughts on “A response to Daniel

  1. Another great post, thanks. I’m currently working on a piece – I wish I was half as coherent and productive as you! – on the demands by trans activists that we accept things we know are not true. It’s a difficult one. I support trans people in many ways but I’ll never erase myself from my own life. Trans people are always going to be vulnerable if their well being depends on external factors. It would be good for their own sake if they managed to rely on themselves only.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Channel 4 in the UK plan to broadcast a documentary on Tavistock clinic (GID) this week. Today’s Guardian newspaper ran an article on GP in Wales prescribing puberty blockers and an evangicsl Doctor supportive of same ‘at any age’. As in the article their is every indication the media approach will not include serious counter argument of Trans narrative. That will be left to commentators and complainants. Thus the brain washing continues.

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  3. Hi! Thank you for the response, this has given me a lot to think over, and a better understanding of our disagreements. I’m already thinking of a reply, but I’m pretty swamped right now and it might take a week or so, I want it to be as well thought out as it can be.

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  4. Woman is not a social term, it is a species term. Woman is an adult HUMAN female. When you replace Woman with Female, you lose women’s humanity, our beingness. Cows are female. Hens are female. Sows are female. Women are human, we are human females. Human is, by default, Man. Mankind. When you give up Woman and Girl as specific species terminology for female humans, we cease to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, Daniel.

    If it’s okay, I’d like to share a little bit of my story. You see, I’m an older woman who is somewhat gender nonconforming and has been in various ways my entire life. I grew up in a very religious culture – girls were girls and boys were boys and that was that. Only it wasn’t just that. Because I was a girl, my school required that I freeze my ass off in skirts while the boys got to wear pants. Because I was a girl, I had to wear shorts under my skirt and sweat in warm weather if I wanted to be able to play in an active way at recess. Because I was a girl, my teachers would frown when I got answers right in math and science. Their eyes would seem to skim right over my upraised hand and call on one of the boys in the class. Because I was a girl, I was required to keep my hair long and braided and not let it get messy or flyaway. (When you realize that I’m mixed race, that last requirement was particularly irksome for me.)

    When I got older, I stopped being a girl and became “young woman”. Which was even worse, because it meant the list of things I was supposed to do became even shorter (except the chore list at home which became ever longer). And it came with horrible experiences that caused me to hate my own body. I was sexualized by adult men. I was sexually harassed and assaulted by my peers. I was mocked for my interests and my abilities. I was once mocked by my math teacher for getting a particularly difficult problem right. He asked me if I’d solved it through my “feminine intuition.” He did this in front of the entire class (mostly boys). In order to do things I wanted to do, I had to join groups that were mostly boys where I always seemed to be priority number last. I joined a sports team. Title IX said they had to let me. But nobody could make them be nice about it. I majored in a “masculine” STEM degree. My classmates sabotaged my lab bench, slipped ugly notes into my backpack, and generally did their damndest to make my life miserable.

    And every time, I didn’t blame them. Because I’d been taught my entire life that if a boy attacked me, it was my fault. I tempted him. I didn’t conform and had to be taught to do so. Instead, I blamed myself and my body. I sought surgical intervention. Back in the 80s, they discouraged me from that. But I did at least get a surgeon to give me a reduction. And even then, it didn’t work: men still sexualized and belittled me. They tried to interfere with the things I wanted to do and constantly criticized my appearance. I self harmed. Luckily, I realized that I needed help and sought it out. My first shrink was an asshole who should never have gotten a license, but my second one helped me as best she could to process why i hated myself and my body so desperately. She helped me find ways I could turn my focus from how other people perceived me to what I was doing.

    Im doing so much better these days. Im not focused on how I look – neither trying to be pretty (which I never was and never will be) to trying to be perceived as male (which, I’m short with the figure of an athletic cousin to the Venus of Willendorf. I will never and could never pass.). But appearance doesn’t have to limit who I am or what I do. When I talk about my experiences with dysphoria, Ive had transmen nod along and have had offers of emotional support through transition if desired. But I interpret my experience through a different lens.

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  6. I wrote a 3,500 word response to your original questions for trans men, and “what is a man/woman” was the shortest section. It was the least interesting question to me, particularly when trying to make sense of why people transition. The most honest response I can give, that I should have written originally, is “People use ‘woman’ to mean ‘adult human female’. In light of the existence of trans people ‘someone who lives as a woman’ would be a useful addition.” Words are not Platonic Ideals, they have changed meaning and can change again.

    I can try to explain what I mean when I say “I want to live as a man”, and I can point out how the definition of man/woman have changes already, how they are currently used, and how they might be used in the future. I can describe how man/woman remain coherent categories if you include trans people in them.

    Ultimately, man and woman are words. People use words to communicate ideas and information.

    “What I keep trying to say, over and over, is that you can be physically female, and have a masculine appearance and masculine mannerisms and interests, and that’s okay—that doesn’t need to make you “trans,” that doesn’t require an explanation or an excuse, it doesn’t need to be medicalized, it doesn’t need to be fixed.”

    I agree with you! I should have said this more explicitly, but I am 100% in agreement that personalty traits do not, and should not prescriptively be assigned to one gender or another. People transitioning because they have a ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ personality is BAD and shouldn’t happen. I would love to live in a world where the idea of having a ‘masculine’ personality was laughable, people can just be themselves. I’m not a masculine person, in a whole host of ways, and trying to fit myself into that little box sucks. We are on the same side here.

    “No, you can’t claim that most trans people are intersex. Intersex is a physical condition where your physical sex characteristics are atypical.”

    There is an increasing body of eveidnece that we are: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150213112317.htm

    However, I was referring to medically transitioning people. As of right now, my physical sex characteristics are atypical. They are going to get increasingly so in the future.

    “You really should look up Danielle Muscato.”

    I just did: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/11/17/today-im-saying-goodbye-to-my-old-self/

    First, FriendlyAtheist! My old stomping ground, now hosted at Patheos apparently. I regret drifting away from this corner of the internet; Danielle posted her public coming out on November ’14, which was around the time I came out to my mother. I really could have used those kind words at just that time. Based on what she’s written, we have a very similar attitude towards the process of transition and are taking similar steps-

    … expect for the minor detail of her being a public figure, and not able to use my strategy of refusing to be photographed, ever, from the time I was 16 until literally last month. She’s in a situation with no great answers, and from what I can see is navigating it well.

    Transition is not instant, and that is a good thing. It gives people many, many opportunities to stop and reflect if this is the right choice for them. Transition is not drag. Danielle said she might change her style of dress as she physically changes, she might also not.

    Reading about Danielle’s situation changes nothing about what I said, other than confusion at your choice of example. You didn’t pick someone who has doesn’t have the ability or desire to pass, you picked someone who doesn’t pass yet. I honestly don’t know what point you are trying to prove.

    “I define a “real man” the same way the dictionary does: an adult human male. If you are an adult human male, then you’re a man, if you’re not, then you’re not.”

    That’s fine, we disagree. It also doesn’t address what happens when I pass as male.

    “What I’m trying to say is that we should entirely abolish the “social category” aspect of man and woman. The social aspects of being a man or a woman are called “gender role.” ”

    I’m not talking about gender roles, I agree with you that those should be abolished if it is possible to do so. I’m groping for words that currently don’t exists, to describe what motivates myself and others to transition.

    I’m writing a response to friendpilgrim, and I had partially written a response to your post “Video: I hate my arm”, but it got deleted and I said fuck it life’s too short. I shouldn’t have, it was a good question. These might clear up some of this, I will post them once they’re done.

    “Even feminists who want female-only spaces don’t think the entire world should be divided by sex all the time. ”

    I didn’t think you were advocating that, but a great deal of public participation requires using public restrooms.

    “You know this is contradictory but you accept it as is because that’s how people feel. It’s okay if your feelings are contradictory. Feelings can do that, because feelings don’t follow logic. But even if your feelings are contradictory, your ideology and your worldview and your arguments have to be coherent. ”

    The term “feelings” is very imprecise, and in this case eliding the difference between mental illness and personal preference. The only ideology, worldview, or argument I’m trying to advance is that gender dysphoria is a real condition, and transition is for many people the most effective way of treating it.

    Someone in another comment mention that the trans community might be better served by advocating as a disability rights group, and I agree. The reason we are part of the GLBT umbrella is largely historical, and huge amounts of networking and advocacy are being done by GLBT organisations. It’s hard, and sometimes not even possible, to change horses mid-stream.

    I think we share similar feelings about the modern left. They might not stem from the same complaints or suggest similar solutions, but we both agree it’s largely paralyzed and quickly making itself useless. I hope you will talk more about this in the future, it might become a point of agreement.

    “Why not just tell the truth—that you are female-bodied, but feel uncomfortable with that, and feel better with a masculine presentation? And further, that you need society’s acceptance for being female-bodied and masculine? Why try to turn the facts inside out and say you’re literally male when you’re not? What purpose does that serve?”

    Because that’s not what’s going on. I’m willing to admit I’m female-bodied, evidenced by that term, and ones like AFAB and trans man. I don’t ‘feel uncomfortable’ with it, it’s given me psychiatric issues that were resent to multiple other forms of treatment, but respond to transition.

    I don’t want ‘a masculine presentation’. I want to be as close to male as I need to be healthy. I’m not a masculine person, never was, and have no desire to be. Hell, I saved all of my old clothes and am looking forward to wearing them again post transition. I’m not saying I’m currently male, I’m saying becoming more physically male, and other people acknowledging that, is making me more able to function and enjoy life.

    “I’m not entirely sure what you meant by that last bit. I recognize that you can’t explain why transition helped you. I personally feel that if someone doesn’t know the reason why they are making drastic body modifications, then they shouldn’t make them, because you should have a good reason if you’re going to do that.”

    I’ll try to be more clear.

    In one sense, I know exactly why I’m transitioning. I was suicidaly depressed, agoraphobic, had a long list of strange body based mental issues, and nothing other than transition relived them. Other trans people have described incredibly similar if not identical experiences. There is a growing body of scientific research on this that supports something physiological is going on.

    But we don’t know exactly what that is. There is no yes/no test for being trans, I can’t hold up an MRI and show you what region of my brain differs from cis women. It’s a condition that spans the gap between mental and physical disorder, that can only be tentatively diagnosed via self-report. The diagnosis is confirmed if the transition works, and even judging that is messy. The medical establishments previous attempts to create diagnostic criteria was a resounding failure, so now everyone is slowly trying the informed consent model.

    The situation is a mess. Transitioning is a risk. Given my options and the results thus far, I’m willing to take it.

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