Trans rights activists want to redefine the word woman to include trans-identified men. What’s wrong with that?
In my view, a lot. But in this era of an almost religious commitment to non-judgmental acceptance and inclusion, I feel a need to justify that stance in some detail.
What is a woman?
If I have to say what makes me a woman, I end up talking about body parts and reproductive capabilities. Women have XX chromosomes, uteruses, ovaries and vagina.; We contribute eggs to the reproductive mix and we are, or could be, mothers. All of this is what I would consider female hardware — the inborn blueprint of womanhood.
Secondarily, the conventions of femininity are imposed on those of us born with female hardware. In the West, we are expected to be more passive and nurturing; to prefer skirts, heels and makeup. We find ourselves positioned as object rather than subject, and when members of society are sexually objectified, harassed or assaulted, nearly all of those, outside of male prison populations, are women.
Traits and roles are like software, downloaded from our culture (I personally believe that a few conventional feminine traits may be rooted in biology, but there are convincing alternative arguments). Many women run variations on the culturally approved program, but we are all judged by the conventional one. Crucially, “feminine” attributes do not manifest from an internal feeling of being a woman that enables us to “sit comfortably” (as Stonewall would have it) with our female bodies.
It’s the other way around. I’m a woman because I was born with a female body. This results in my being formed over time, defined, judged (and, yes, oppressed) in specific, socially coded ways.
What being a woman is not
- Being a woman has nothing to do with a feeling or an innate sense of identity. Indeed, I don’t have a “gender identity” at all in that sense.
- Being a woman is not a matter of performance. I’m not a woman because I’ve told people I’m one and l look enough like one that they believe me.
Trans rights activists want to change the definition of woman
Team Trans Rights wants society to agree that anyone is a woman who feels or wishes him or herself to be one. In their view, what makes one a woman is an innate, subjective sense of “gender identity,” a feeling that one is a woman, consistent with biology or not. They have successfully convinced authoritative psychological and medical organizations of this.
Trans people (and the authorities cited above) suggest that feeling like a woman involves some combination of the following:
- Wishing deeply to have a body with female sexual organs and characteristics (a vagina, breasts, etc.).
- Wanting to “present” as female,” to look convincingly like a woman and be taken for a woman in social situations.
- Liking things women are conventionally supposed to like, such as dresses, makeup, long hair, shopping, gossip, the color pink.
- Having a personality coded as feminine — i.e. passive, nurturing or sensitive.
To sum up, Team Trans’s “signs of womanhood” are a laundry list of female stereotypes: sexy, feminine clothes, makeup; knitting, gossip; the color pink. In practice, they often manifest in a hyper-sexualized presentation of silicone tits and ass, drag-queen hair, painted faces Barbie-ized by plastic surgery and so on (Blaire White, Jazz Jennings, Laverne Cox, Caitlin Jenner and Candis Cayne are only a few very public examples). A “woman” in Trans World has internalized these backward cliches as the deepest truth of “her” being.
Can’t it be both?
Most trans activists would say the problem with my definition of woman is that it’s exclusive.They would insist they just want to create a more inclusive idea of what a woman can be: i.e. anyone who experiences a subjective sense, a “gender identity,” of being a woman, whether born that way or not. Who could object to being more inclusive?
Three insurmountable problems with the trans definition of woman
1. It gives a small minority of men the power to define women.
It should go without saying that transgender individuals should be treated with dignity, compassion and politeness. No one should be subjected to discrimination or violence. But it cannot be lost on anyone how regressive it would be to put natal men in charge of dictating what the word “woman” is allowed to mean.
2. It has no basis in reality.
The argument for the trans definition is political and emotional, not factual or scientific. It resonates in a society where greater openness is a virtue and where we frown on distinctions that make people feel bad or excluded.
A definition of woman that excludes trans-identified men leaves many of them feeling their right to exist is questioned. Additionally, trans people do face discrimination and harrassment in many areas of life, and this is wrong.
I also don’t want to downplay the complexities of a discussion where people’s deeply felt personal identity is intertwined with a political project to redefine sex and gender altogether. Emotions about the former invariably overwhelm rational debate about the latter.
However, the reality is that the existing definition of woman has the vast weight of science, rationality and history on its side. Any change merits serious debate about the implications for women and society as a whole. We cannot let ourselves be emotionally blackmailed into not having it.
3. The trans definition is regressive for all women
The basic idea of transgenderism is that one’s gender identity is opposite to one’s biological sex. For that statement to have any meaning, there needs to be a reference point — opposite to what? Logically, the reference point must be the package of sexist tropes that underpins the gender binary in our culture.
And this bears out in experience. Virtually every discussion of trans-identified-male identity turns on the idea that the person’s tastes and sensibilities are other than what we conventionally expect of men. And when little boys are identified as trans girls, it’s always because they like to play with dolls or dress up as princesses. “My son is becoming my daughter, because she’s a tomboy who loves playing with toy trucks,” said no one ever.
This might be all right if only trans people had to embody these stereotypes, but the trans redefinition of “woman” forces all of us to do so. Because if gender identity replaces sex as the immutable truth at the core of every person, then everyone has to have one.
And in order for trans people to claim a gender identity opposite their sex, the rest of us must implicitly accept the gender identity supposedly congruent with our sex — trendily termed “cis.” That means we accept our own identification with a regressive model of femininity — and not just superficially, but as the core truth of who we are, our “gender identity.” We are right back in the 1950s, with “woman” now synonymous with “Stepford Wife.”
Just say no
I refuse to accept it. I have no “gender identity.” I’m just a woman. Trans-feminine men deserve respect and politeness. They should live free from discrimination and violence, but they are men. Any discussion of the definition of “woman” needs to start there, and women must have the final word.