Daniel said: “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.”
It’s important to me to discuss the definition of man and woman because most of our disagreement relates back to that point. As long as we keep talking to each other this is going to keep coming back. (And by “our disagreement” I don’t just mean mine and yours, but the group of all trans activists and gender critical feminists.)
You’re saying here that “woman = adult human female” is a common usage, and that “someone who lives as a woman” is also a common usage. It’s true that people are using the word in these ways. But if you take a closer look you find that only one of these definitions is coherent. If someone who is not female can “live as a woman,” then what does that mean? What is this category “woman” that the person is living as? Can it be described in any way?
In a post I wrote a long time ago, A linguistic analysis of woman, I described two different approaches to defining woman. One approach is to look at current usage and observe that ‘woman’ can either be an adult human female or a human who is “living as a woman.” The second approach is to observe human beings directly, note that approximately half of humans produce ova and can bear young, and assign the term female to that type of human.
What I demonstrated in that post is that if you define ‘women’ as ‘the group of all adult human females and humans who are living as women,’ then the definition of woman dissolves entirely. If male humans who identify as women are women, then the only common characteristic across the group called ‘women’ is that they are all human. There is no other characteristic that this group universally shares. However, if you define a woman as an adult human female, then there is a characteristic that everyone in this group shares—they are genetically programmed to produce ova and bear young. (Whether they do eventually reproduce, and whether their female anatomy works or not isn’t an issue—even non-functioning female anatomy is still female anatomy.)
You said that you can define man and woman coherently even while including trans people in the definition. I don’t believe this is possible—I’ve tried it myself and I can’t do it. For example, can you answer this question: What is the common characteristic that is universally true across the group of all adult human females and humans who are living as women that distinguishes this category from other categories? I do not believe such a characteristic exists.
If there is nothing this group has universally in common, then the word ‘woman’ has no meaning. It could just be replaced by ‘human.’
The trans community wants us to believe that the common characteristic across the group ‘woman’ is that these individuals all identify as women. But if they identify as women, that leads us back to the original question: what is this thing ‘woman’ that they identify as? Surely if they identify as a woman then they can describe what a ‘woman’ is? If no one can describe what a woman is, then how can anyone know if they are one? The definition “a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman” is a circular definition that leads nowhere.
I said: “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.”
Daniel said: “I agree with you! I should have said this more explicitly, but I am 100% in agreement that personality 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.”
A lot of people give their reasons for transition as things like “I always felt like a boy, I always liked boy’s things, I want to wear boy’s clothes,” etc. The words I chose to describe this is “having a masculine personality.” People who say these things are demonstrating that they feel their personality is that of a male and therefore they should not have a female body.
When you describe your reasons for transition, you don’t say things like that, but you have to realize lots of other people do.
A second point about this is that if you are physically female, and you are not masculine, then what is your claim to manhood? To me, if you have neither a male body nor a masculine personality, then there is nothing else that should cause you to believe you are a man. I imagine your answer will be something along the lines of “I have a male gender identity,” or “I have a neurological condition causing me to feel I should be male.” Basically, you having a strong, persistent feeling that you should be male accompanied by distress about being female.
I believe you that you have these feelings. I have no reason to doubt the existence of dysphoria. What I disagree with is the interpretation of the feelings. I don’t think that a female with dysphoria is intrinsically or essentially male, I just think she’s a female with a particular mental illness that presents as a desire to be male. Male and female are not feelings, they are biological realities, and so there is no such thing as “feeling female” or “feeling male.” People can feel all sorts of feelings regardless of their sex, and any feeling felt by a woman is a woman’s feelings.
Although I believe you that you experience dysphoria, I don’t think that those feelings make you a man, and I think the belief that you are intrinsically male is an unfounded and incorrect belief.
I said: “No, you can’t claim that most trans people are intersex. Intersex is a physical condition where your physical sex characteristics are atypical.”
Daniel said: “There is an increasing body of evidence 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.”
The article you linked says: “According to the researchers the article does have some limitations due to the small numbers of individuals studied and therefore conclusions should be drawn with caution” as well as “Different etiologies have been suggested as the cause of transgender identify [sic] however none have been proven definitively.” Researchers have also tried to find a biological basis for homosexuality, and sometimes they come up with something about hormone levels in the womb and other vague things when they do small-scale studies, but they have never gotten to any conclusive proof of anything. There is no conclusive proof that there is a biological basis for transsexualism.
I understand that medical transition will cause you to have atypical sex characteristics, but intersex conditions are physical conditions that you are born with. Getting cosmetic surgery does not give you an intersex condition.
One more note. Trans activists want us to accept any person as trans based on their self-declaration, not based on whether they have had a medical diagnosis. Trans activists are trying to move away from medical diagnosis altogether, calling it “gatekeeping” and saying it’s wrong. I bet there are some trans activists who would declare it ‘transphobic’ to even suggest that a person should be genetically tested before being considered trans, seeing as they don’t want there to be any precise criteria as to who is trans. So what would happen if there was a genetic test that could prove whether someone was trans or not? How would this affect the trans community? Would trans identity stop being based on self declaration and instead be based on a medical test?
I’m thinking about how this would affect the washroom wars. Right now trans activists want anyone to be able to use any washroom without being asked for identification because it is only based on self-declaration, not objective criteria. If there was a genetic test for being trans, and we could prove that some people who currently identify as trans aren’t actually trans, then do you think those people should be obligated to use the washroom that corresponds with their birth sex?
I said: “You really should look up Danielle Muscato.”
Daniel said: “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.”
Really? You don’t know what point I am trying to prove by mentioning Danielle Muscato? Danielle Muscato is proof of how silly trans activism has gotten. A fully-intact masculine man who makes no attempt whatsoever to look like a woman is claiming to be a woman, and he’s also claiming that the way he looks is how a woman looks, and people are taking it seriously. This is a sign that the word ‘woman’ has lost all meaning in the trans community. If a fully-intact masculine man is a woman and looks like a woman, then what the actual fuck is a woman? And if a fully-intact masculine man is a woman and looks like a woman, then why would other transwomen need to get their penis removed, grow breasts, and remove their body hair? Why do they do all those things if they already look like women? Why would they be uncomfortable with their penis and their lack of breasts if a penis and a flat chest are womanly characteristics? (Answer: because the thing they identify as is a human female, and they are trying to resemble a human female. Human females have breasts and a vagina, and they do not have a penis. They all know this. Everybody knows this. You know it and Danielle Muscato knows it. And everyone knows that Muscato does not look like a human female.)
It shocks me that you can look at this face and call him a woman:
If you can look at a masculine man with a beard and mustache and call him a woman, that means you have stopped using your eyes to see what is right in front of you and instead you are believing a nonsensical ideology. The ideology has replaced real life.
There is a word for this situation. When you are made to stop trusting your own perception and instead believe what someone else has told you even though it contradicts what you see with your own eyes, that is called gas-lighting. You are so invested in the idea that anyone can be anything just because they say so that you will believe a man is a woman. I know that transition feels like the only way to deal with your dysphoria, so do it if you must, but you can manage your dysphoria while still believing in reality. You don’t have to believe in nonsense in order to take care of yourself.
I said: “Even feminists who want female-only spaces don’t think the entire world should be divided by sex all the time. ”
Daniel said: “I didn’t think you were advocating that, but a great deal of public participation requires using public restrooms.”
I think we should have fully-enclosed, single user washrooms. That would solve everything. However, trans activists aren’t advocating for that—they are advocating for letting absolutely anyone into any washroom based on self-declaration, and even when someone creates a gender-neutral washroom for them, they insist that this isn’t good enough, that trans women specifically deserve a female washroom. Trans activists are not trying to solve problems, they’re trying to validate their identities at the expense of women.
I said: “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. ”
Daniel said: “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.”
I know that your gender dysphoria isn’t comparable to a personal preference. I believe you that it’s a mental illness. I think it’s this way for a lot of people who identify as trans, but I also have to note that some people identify as trans without making any body modifications, and without being uncomfortable with their bodies, and some people only have minimal discomfort. This changes the meaning of trans identity from ‘someone with dysphoria’ to ‘someone who identifies as trans, for whatever reason.’
I’ve never had gender dysphoria but I’ve had depression. I know that you cannot just “snap out of it” or “cheer up” when you have clinical depression. It’s like going around in a thick fog, and you not only think that life is pointless but you don’t even have the energy to care about the fact that life is pointless. The cure for depression has to be a multi-faceted approach that will normally involve both medication and psychotherapy. Depression doesn’t fully go away and it comes back again and again. It still comes back to me sometimes although I’m good at managing it. So I have a vague understanding of what it might feel like to have gender dysphoria. When people say they are in so much distress they do not want to talk to anyone, or hear the sound of their voice, or look in the mirror, or leave the house, I know this does not amount to a feeling the way “I feel like watching a movie” is a feeling. It’s a serious mental health condition that requires a serious treatment.
I think gender dysphoria can be compared to anorexia. A woman with anorexia will believe that she is fat even when she is thin, because she has an extremely negative self-image and a faulty idea of what she actually looks like. You can’t just explain to her that she’s not fat and expect that to cure it. She’ll need a multi-faceted intervention, over a period of time, just like people need for depression. Her anorexia may never completely go away, she’ll just become better at managing it. Someone with gender dysphoria also has a faulty idea of what their body looks like. They keep expecting to see a man in the mirror even though they are a woman. This can’t be cured by just explaining to her that she’s a woman. Even if she understands intellectually that she is female and that it’s okay to be female, the dysphoria is still there.
I’ve been pondering what my end goal is here: am I trying to get people to stop transitioning just because I don’t like body modification? And I’ve decided that no, that isn’t my goal. What I primarily want is for people to have an honest conversation and for people to care about women. Trans activists keep lying and gas-lighting and they keep disregarding women’s interests and bullying women who have legitimate concerns. However, if a few people have dysphoria that cannot be treated by any other means then maybe they need to transition. Judging by the number of people who desist and who detransition, transition isn’t the answer for everybody and we need to be honest about that. It’s only rarely that transition is the right answer, if at all. That doesn’t mean that transition should be 100% forbidden, it just means that we need to be careful about how we use this treatment.
Still though, dysphoria is a feeling, just like depression is a feeling and believing you’re fat is a feeling.
I said: “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?”
Daniel said: “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.”
This is really just us using words differently. To me, once you take testosterone you will look more masculine. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a macho body builder and wear beer T-shirts every day, you could be a small and nerdy guy or any kind of guy, it just means you will be hairier, more muscular, etc than a woman is. More masculine. You won’t be male though. Male is a biological term that refers to the member of the species that produces the smaller sex gametes, in the case of male humans, they produce sperm. You will never be “more male” or “close to male” because there is no way to turn a female male. You will just look more masculine, or, if you prefer, more like a male.
I said: “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.”
Daniel said: “I’ll try to be more clear.
In one sense, I know exactly why I’m transitioning. I was suicidally 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.”
I can see you have serious dysphoria and that it needs to be treated. What I’m opposed to is not your medical treatment but the dogma being enforced by the trans community which is nonsensical and is taking away women’s rights. I have to point out that not everyone who identifies as trans has the dysphoria that you have. Some people openly admit to not having a problem with their bodies and just wanting to wear the clothes assigned to the opposite sex. At this point, having a trans identity is not synonymous with having dysphoria.
I think you can treat your dysphoria without believing in nonsensical dogma, and I think you can acknowledge that being a female with dysphoria is different from being male without any harm coming to yourself. The conversation about how to accommodate people who are treating dysphoria needs to be an honest conversation grounded in reality and it needs to balance the rights of transsexuals with the rights of other groups, such as women.