Hi Helen! I’ve been in touch with Miranda. She suggested that I contact you directly in order to pick up on your statement that “‘Trans women are women’ is a vicious and dangerous lie.” Two questions (for starters) are “how do you define a woman” and “how do you define a transwomen”. I do empathise with much of what you wrote, but I get bogged down with terminology that gets conflated and means different things to different people.

Thanks
for asking this. I think that they are really important questions. On the
surface they seem quite simple questions but once you start to look at the
implications we can start to understand what the real issues might be.

Your
first question is about the definition of woman. A good place to start with
definitions is usually the dictionary.

“woman
noun
An adult human female.

I don’t
think that the definitions of human or adult are in contention, but let’s look
at the dictionary definition of female.

“female
noun
Of or
denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished
biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male
gametes.”

We could
just leave it there, and some people would like us to, but I think that doesn’t
answer your question and wouldn’t help us to understand why these are
contentious words.

The words
man and woman are imbued with social connotation.

“imbue
verb
inspire
or permeate with (a feeling or quality).

“connotation.
noun
an idea
or feeling which a word invokes for a person in addition to its literal or
primary meaning.

In our
society the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ mean so much more than their literal
meanings. The word ‘woman’ is imbued with what we understand women to be in
relation to our culture and our social environment.

We live
in a society where we have very distinct expectations of what men and women are
expected to be. We have commonly accepted rules for what are considered
acceptable and unacceptable behaviours for men and women.

So what
is gender? Well here is where it starts to get tricky because even just looking
at dictionary definitions we seem to get into a bit of a mess.

“gender
noun

  1. The members of one or other sex
  2. The state of being male or
    female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences
    rather than biological ones).
  3. The behavioural, cultural,
    or psychological traits typically associated with one sex

The first
definition isn’t really very helpful as it is just the same as sex.

The
second definition is a bit of a mess and actually encapsulates the confusion
that we often get into. If ‘female’ denotes the sex that can bear offspring or
produce eggs how can the state of being female have anything to do with social
differences rather than biological differences? It’s a contradiction in terms.

The third
definition I think pretty much nails it and that is what I mean if I refer to
gender from now on.

Ok. Still
with me? Good. So armed with this we know that the dictionary definition of ‘woman’
is an adult human female, but it has connotations of gender i.e. it invokes the
idea of the behavioural, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated
with females.

In this
sense it is quite easy to define gender identity and transgender (and apologies
in advance for the repetition that is coming)

Gender
Identity
is how a person identifies with the behavioural, cultural, or
psychological traits typically associated with one sex.”

Transgender
is used to describe a person of one sex who identifies with the behavioural,
cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with the opposite sex.”

“A transwoman
is a male who identifies with the behavioural, cultural, or psychological
traits typically associated with females.”

That last
sentence is probably quite provocative, but it isn’t meant to be. I understand
that saying that a transwoman is male hurts a lot of trans people and I
understand why. But it isn’t meant to hurt. It’s a rational and honest way of
describing the situation. Of course there is merit in deconstructing this
further and stopping to explore why it hurts so much, but that would be a whole
post in itself. We could also explore the fact that the experiences of some
transwomen feel like so much more than identifying with certain traits and
it’s a feeling that the whole body is wrong and that this totally ignores the
feeling of body dysphoria. These are valid points for discussion also.

Now if
everybody agreed on these definitions of gender identity and transwoman we
could stop here, but actually these definitions are problematic to different
groups in different ways.

The trans
community has adopted the mantra that “transwomen are women” and of course
promotes any scientific evidence that suggests that there are physiological
factors in play and rejects any scientific evidence that there aren’t any
inherent differences between male and female brains. “Transwomen are women”
makes sense in the context that we live in a society which is heavily based on
gender and so we are more closely aligned with the superficial traits
associated with females than those associated with males and seek to integrate
with that social group. The argument is that trans people just want to be free
to get on with their lives without rejection or stigma and so the tolerant and
compassionate thing to do is to accept us as women. It is how we identify and
how we attempt to live.

However,
the feminist community rightly points out that women have been oppressed for millennia
not because of their ‘gender identity’, but because of their sexual and
reproductive capacity as females. Feminists, especially radical feminists are
also opposed to the concept of “lady brain” as this has been used as a
justification for the oppression of females and instead assert that male and
female brain function is inherently the same, and that any differences are a
result of socialisation. This community tends to reject that the scientific evidence presented of measurable differences between female and male brain function is evidence that the differences are  innate rather than socialised. Instead they point
to the growing evidence that there are no real differences.

An
important point is also that radical feminists see gender (as described in the
third definition above) as being a tool of oppression. The traits and
behaviours expected of males and females places women (as a class) in a
position of being subjugated by men (as a class). As a result many adopt a
position of gender abolition and believe that the emancipation of women can
only be achieved through abolishing the rules that constrain the acceptable
behaviours of males and females.

So we can
see how these two viewpoints conflict.

Gender abolitionists want to break the association between
sex and behavioural,
cultural, or psychological traits and so find the implication that women are
defined by these things as both insulting and regressive. Hence they reject the
assertion that males who identify with these traits are women as that
reinforces the association that they reject.

Having spent years thinking about these things and exploring them, I
believe that the aims of gender abolition actually serve women and transwomen
equally. Both sides want the same thing. That we can all be free to not conform
to the behaviours and traits assigned to us because of our genitals.

As a result, whilst I can see how “transwomen are women” makes sense
with reference to cultural norms, I support gender abolition as a cause that
better serves women and transwomen and so I don’t believe it’s necessary to
consider transwomen to be a subset of women in order to support us and free us
from constraints and stigma.

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