Controversy

On the 24th of September, I chaired a panel discussion for SohoSkeptics about ‘gender’. For some time, there has been a huge “war” raging with trans* activists on one side and radical feminists and lesbians on the other. I hadn’t realised there was a huge battle going on until people I know (two male comedians, one female writer) got attacked for inadvertently saying things that offended people. I say “inadvertently” because none of those people are actually bigoted idiots, instead they were simply unknowledgeable about the current status of words that until recently weren’t considered by some to be offensive. After the third explosion of anger, I decided it might be interesting to have a public discussion about it.

When I started to think about the panel discussion at Soho Skeptics, I was very clear that I wanted it to be a calm discussion. The end of the blurb said, “Soho Skeptics is going to attempt to find some common ground in a night of personal stories, discussion and comedy.” Other people said it was going to be “a debate”. A couple people thought we were going to somehow be debating their right to exist.

existexist2

My aim with the panel was to show that everyone is an emotional, passionate, genuine and sometimes flawed human being… i.e. “normal”. It was intended as bridge building and a night for everyone to learn. All positive, good intentions.

On the night, the panel went really well. Some people were annoyed that it wasn’t a screaming row; others were peeved that we didn’t talk about “this” or “that”; others thought Julie Bindel caved in and was, in effect, too nice; others thought Julie was horrible and nasty… But really, it went well. I think we showed that people, supposedly on opposing sides, can get into the same room and talk without jumping down each others’ throats. And that is a good thing…

Still the next morning, a few people who didn’t attend decided that the panel was something else entirely.

scum

Hey ho…

At the very start of the discussion, I decided that I would define some words. I knew that many of the attendees weren’t knowledgeable about the issues and that they may be a bit lost if they don’t understand some of the terminology. One of the big problems, as I see it, is the conflation of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Technically and non-controversially, they mean two different things.

At the very start of the panel, I defined ‘Sex’ as:

The female is XX and has ovaries; the male is XY and has testes.

From the book Developmental Biology, 6th Edition, by Scott F. Gilbert:

“A male mammal has a penis, seminal vesicles, and prostate gland. A female mammal has a vagina, cervix, uterus, oviducts, and mammary glands. In many species, each sex has a sex-specific size, vocal cartilage, and musculature. These secondary sex characteristics are usually determined by hormones secreted from the gonads.”

I reminded everyone that we are mammals and need to remember that we aren’t something special.

And I defined ‘Gender’ as:

“…according to the World Health Organisation, gender “refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”

During the panel, I tried to use the words Male and Female when talking about sex and Woman and Man when talking about gender. Again, we are mammals. There are Male and Female marmosets and Male and Female humans. There aren’t, of course, Woman and Man marmosets. One is biology, one is culture. I think it’s very important to be accurate when using these words… something that neither side seems to put enough effort into doing. Female and Woman are different but related labels and the words should be used correctly.

The Male and Female categories don’t vary around the world. A Female baby born in the US will have the same biology as a Female baby born in Saudi Arabia. Because of the differences in culture and the expectations, restrictions and opportunities those different cultures have for Females, those two Female babies will grow up with different interests, skills and abilities as well as different views of the world and themselves as Women… Females are the same the world over. There are, however, many, many different ways of being a Woman.

After the audio recording of the panel went online, I was expecting some crap from people who were incapable of seeing the event for what it was i.e. an “attempt to find some common ground”. So I wasn’t surprised when this happened:

XXXY

Or this:
bigoted

Yes, I am a bigot because I like to stick with the scientific definition of ‘sex’…

Because I knew very little about any of them before any of this, I have been reading up on the Radical Feminist and Lesbian and Trans* Activist positions for many, many months now. After all that time, I still genuinely can’t understand why some trans* activists have the idea that biology is socially constructed.

From Tranarchism:

“GENDER ASSIGNED AT BIRTH

Let’s start at the beginning. A baby is born. The doctor says “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl” based on the appearance of the child’s genitals. [...]

“Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. [...]

Transgender people cannot accept our assigned genders. We know ourselves to be something different than what we were told to be. [...]

Sex is as much a social construct as gender, as much subject to self identification, and besides all that, quite easy to modify. Surgical and hormonal techniques are only becoming more sophisticated. If there ever was a need to consider biology destiny, that time is surely past.”

Maybe I’m reading it wrong and they are using different definitions for the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ or, perhaps, conflating them. All that happens at birth is a doctor (or, in my case, my husband and midwife on my livingroom sofa) will, based on a quick look, tell you whether the baby is male or female (And, yes, I know about Intersex conditions). No one says, ‘You must now dress this baby in pink or blue.” or “When this baby grows up she must make 14.9% less per hour than that boy baby over there.” or “This baby must grow up and never cry and use violence to sort out his problems”.

Which genitals a baby has does not say a thing about what kind of person they should be- whether it’s masculine or feminine, or tender and emotional, or aggressive and logical- it can only tell you their biological sex. There is no “gender assigned at birth”. Gender is acquired by constant social conditioning that starts immediately after birth… but isn’t an inevitability at birth.

Neither do I understand why trans* people think that non-trans, or ‘Cis’ people have “no issue with the gender they were assigned at birth”. IF they are using the world ‘Gender’ correctly, then the whole entire reason Feminism exists AT ALL is because a lot of Females have a REALLY, REALLY big issue with “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for” them. This is why a lot of feminists reject the label ‘cis’.

From Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender which you really must read if you are even remotely interested in this topic:

“A marvellous poster, put out by the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage in the UK, depicts a husband returning to ‘a suffragette’s home’. The room is in cheerless disarray, the weeping children have holes in their socks, and a fuel-less lamp emits not light, but smoke. The only evidence of the errant wife and mother is a ‘votes for women’ poster on the wall, on which is pinned a note bearing the callous words, ‘back in an hour or so’.”

So, females have long had a big issue with the gender roles they are forced to play…

suffrage

In a study (“Queering gender: studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals” by Daphna Joel, Ricardo Tarrasch, Zohar Berman, Maya Mukamel & Effi Zive) that was published on the 5th of September this year the researchers looked at the “gender identity” of non-trans people. There were some interesting results:

About 33% of Men, 38% of Women [...]felt both as a man and as a woman.

41% of Men and 46.8% of Women experience themselves to some extent as two genders.

About 30% of Men and 45% of Women expressed a dislike of their sexed body.

36.6% of our [non-trans] subjects reported that they sometimes feel as the ‘other’ gender , 63.7% reported that they sometimes wish to be the ‘other’ gender, 49% did not always wear clothes ‘appropriate’ to their sex and 41.9% were sometimes discontent with their sexed body.

To me, it doesn’t seem that ‘Cis’ pertains to a lot of people based on its current definition.

So, what is “A Woman”?

k-d-lang-02

And what is “A Man”?

Andrej-Pejic-LOfficiel-Turkey-2

When someone decides to “change their sex”- the “surgical and hormonal techniques” mentioned above- they aren’t actually changing their biological sex, they are cosmetically changing their outward appearance. Just like someone who dyes their brunette hair blonde and has to keep dying it because their actual hair colour is brown, if they were born an XY Male, they don’t ever, ever become an XX Female no matter what hormones they take or surgery they have or how long they live as a Woman. They just don’t. To think about it a different way, an XY Male with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy or Hemophilia or colour blindness is not going to be “cured” by having sex reassignment surgery.

Stating that XY Males never become XX Females is not a value judgement on their trans* status at all. It is not bigotry. It is biology. And being a genetic Male doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is or, more importantly, should be a stereotypical Man, nor does it say they should be any kind of a Man at all.

For example, look at XY Males with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). Here are a few:

Orchids01

From NHS Choices:

“Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) affects the normal development of a child’s genitals and reproductive organs.

A child born with AIS is genetically male, but their genitals may appear to be female or somewhere in between male and female.

AIS is a very rare condition thought to occur in around 1 in every 20,000 births.”

From Lise Elliot’s Pink Brain, Blue Brain:

“More interesting is the fact that males with [Complete] AIS regard themselves as unequivocally female. They play like regular girls in childhood, develop breasts and puberty, are sexually attracted to men, typically get married, and often become mothers through adoption. About their only distinguishing feature is height, which tends to fall in the normal male range. But while individuals with AIS prove the great potency of prenatal testosterone on bodily development, they are less helpful for the understanding of psychological sex differences, since they both appear to be and are treated like girls from the moment of birth.”

So, why is it deemed perfectly acceptable to say that women with AIS are “genetically male”, but not say that transgender women are “genetically male”? They are both correct statements, but one of those groups will probably now spend a lot of time and effort harassing me for even asking the question… and the other will get on with happily living their lives as women.

Genetically, transwomen and women with AIS are male. That is reality. Again, I don’t understand why this is an unacceptable statement for some vocal trans* activists. Surely, if one’s aim is to break down the barriers between genders and therefore make it perfectly acceptable and normal to be “gender non-conforming”, should it not be desirable to just say ‘Yes, I am genetically male… and…? Do you have a problem with that?’ rather than promote the idea that one’s biological make-up suddenly, mystically transmogrifies because of “thinking really hard about being a woman”? If one really believes there is nothing wrong with being “gender non-conforming” (as I do), then why the desire to pretend that biology isn’t a real thing? For me, as someone who values rationalism, this argument touted by some trans* activists veers into the same territory as Transubstantiation or Lycanthropy which, frankly, isn’t a very strong position to take in a debate…

I suppose one way I can see the reality of Biology as controversial is that if you believe that there is an innate Gender– so though you were born XY male you believe you were born with a “female brain” and that a sense of Girl/Woman-ness has existed from the moment you popped out- and you believe that your biological sex has no bearing on how the world sees or treats you so you think it is irrelevant.

That, I’m afraid, is problematic.

It is very obvious, as I pointed out, that Women differ around the world. Their ideas (or, if you will, their ‘identity’) of who they are, what they are capable of, what their roles are, how they should behave and how they should look in their society differ, as well. For example, Plains Indian women did not have the same roles as women in Georgian Britain even though they lived at the same time.

differentwomen

There is not some Universal, immutable, innate feeling of Woman-ness. ‘Woman’ is a cultural role that is created by how a person is treated by her society, it’s not created by the mythical “female brain” (again, please, read Delusions of Gender)… The way she is treated, what she is told she is capable of, what she is told her place is in society creates an internal idea of who she is as a person. Your environment, your interpersonal relationships and your experiences create the thing you think of as “You”. (Unless, of course, you believe in a Soul. If you do, then read what Sean Carroll has written about it… I’ll wait…)

As seen in the Queering Gender paper, this “You” can have traits, mannerisms, interests, desires that don’t fit into what our culture currently feels is appropriate for your sex, so you can think this “You” is somehow “not right” or is partly “the opposite sex”. “41% of Men and 46.8% of Women experience themselves to some extent as two genders” It is not unusual. Neither is it unusual for people to want a body or even a body part of the opposite sex. Sometimes the imagined body part will give the person permission to fantasise about behaving in a way that isn’t accepted for their sex – so a male may think about having breasts because they would make him feel sexy and sensuous or a female may think about having a penis because she could then go out and have lots of sex without consequences. Again, this is not unusual. But those aren’t innate feelings, they are reactions to our social construction of what is acceptable behaviour for males and females.

It is also not unusual for Males in many different cultures and throughout history to adopt a role closer to that of a Woman, though more often than not it is considered to be that of a ‘Third Gender‘ which is neither Man nor Woman. The Hijra of India, Kathoeys of Thailand, the Fa’afafine of Samoa, the Travestis of Brazil,even Native American Berdache are all examples of Third Gender people.

indonesian_waria

To say, however, as many trans* activists do that a genetic male can “identify” as a genetic female, and therefore that genetic male is the exact same as a genetic female, means that the biological needs and the social rights and protections females have are no longer relevant. Like the discussion about how we shouldn’t say that abortion is a Women’s Issue because, though most people who can get pregnant are the 3.5 billion Females on the planet, some transmen and “genderqueer” people need abortions, too. So it’s Everyone’s Issue? So, even the rightwing anti-female religious fundamentalist Males who say “Abortion isn’t a Women’s only issue” get to have a say, too? Really? Cos how do we exclude them from claiming control over our bodies if it’s “Everyone’s Issue”? I think that whole discussion is incredibly short-sighted, ill-informed and, frankly, dumb.

There are common experiences that most Females share: our menarche, our periods, the spectre of pregnancy, giving birth, lactation, menopause, etc… I share most of those things with the vast majority of Females on the planet. Those things are what classify us Female Mammals. There are other experiences that Women around the world share: sexual assault, rape, male violence, being denied education, being forced into marriage as a child, being forced to give birth, being prevented from working outside the home or earning less money for doing the same job, dying in childbirth because of the lack of basic care… These are things huge numbers of Women have in common because of the way our societies view people who have the potential to get pregnant, ie Females. As far as I’m concerned, if it happens to one Woman, it happens to us all.

Males are not born to be violent, abusive oppressors just as Females are not born to be weak, abused and oppressed. These things are socially constructed, culturally conditioned, they are NOT innate, they are NOT immutable. They can, and should, be fought against, challenged and changed…

This is the foundational idea underlying feminism.

There is a reality – in this case Biology (Sex) – that exists outside of our experience of the world- Culture (Gender). One is a real, measurable, testable thing. The other is… culture. Like with Science and Religion, there is no conflict between them as long as the proponents of the cultural creation don’t insist that it explains reality.

Comments
82 Responses to “Controversy”
  1. giagia says:

    ADDED OCT 23rd at 15:00-ish. Just a note: I am not going to approve any comments that involve swearing at me, I’m not going to approve comments that are a blogpost in length (very happy to link to your own blog post, if you want), I’m not going to approve comments that are about Intersex conditions (I’d be very interested to hear how people with an Intersex condition feel about the appropriation by some trans* people of their terminology and very different issues) and I’m not going to approve comments that link to MRI scan data or post-mortem dissections etc. I’ve read enough NeuroSkeptic and NeuroBollocks to be wary of jumping to conclusions, especially as a non-expert.

  2. Anon says:

    I think that where people get offended is where they don’t feel believed. Trans* people have faced just as much discrimination as cisgendered women have faced and where ‘debates’ happen around the validity of their identity they may fear (and they have cause to fear this) that a determination of ‘you are biologically the sex you were born with’ will amount to ‘proof’ for those wishing to continue their discrimination. Does that make sense? I get the reason that people want to discuss the issue but I sort of wish that cis gendered women would lend more support to trans* women. In the end I wonder why it’s so important. Not all cis women have periods, babies or breasts, and while I also know that trans women are different to me I also feel that they have a right to self identify as women. It doesn’t hurt me if they do. Something that I think is missing from all this is the fact that trans* people generally identify as the other gender to their assigned one from a very young age. So I wonder how a discussion like this might affect young trans* people who may be terrified to even speak for themselves.

  3. MarinaS says:

    I think the “born this way” “girls like us” stance comes from a place of survival: when you feel your identity is under threat, you double down on it.

    Also, “born this way” has been a very successful political route for the rest of the LGB community, and I can see why trans advocates would want to keep that brand.

    So while I agree with you that reality is what it is, I think the people you’re substantially responding to aren’t really just obtuse or ignorant. They’re engaging in political discourse in the best way the know how, and given the strides that trans liberation has taken, it’s working for them.

    I would also, as a humanist, strongly raise an eyebrow at your probably unintentional separation of things into “real” and “cultural. ;) If culture wasn’t as real as the nose on your face, sexism would be a heck of a lot easier to get rid of!

  4. neil h says:

    Thanks for posting that Gia. It’s helpful to finally find out what cis means, although I think I agree that being a male and a man doesn’t necessarily mean that I am happy with (or even understand) the gender role that society expects of me.

    This may also be a daft question, but why the asterisk on the end of trans*? Is it an abbreviation or a catch all or some other definition? I know language can be a minefield and it’s important that groups can define their own terms and definitions for themselves, but a simple guide might be helpful sometimes!

  5. umlolidunno says:

    Excellent summary, Gia. Thank you. This is precisely the case that radical feminists have been making (and pilloried for). The skeptic community has generally proven itself either unequipped or unwilling to critically discuss claims of gender innateness, so yours is a very welcome contribution indeed.

    One small area where there may be confusion of terminology is the use of “Woman/Man” to denote gender. Radical feminists (and dictionaries/the wider world) typically define “woman” as an adult, human female. ‘Woman’ is to female as ‘mare’, ‘hen’, ‘sow’ and ‘doe’, are to female; they are all adult females of particular species.

    Gender, as you’ve explained really nicely, comprises sex-stereotyped roles and behaviours, which I think can be referred to with greater clarity as Femininity and Masculinity. To use your phrase above, these are ‘ways of being a woman’ (or man). In other words, these are the behaviours male or female humans inherit through their social learning. Since they are inherited behaviours, they vary cross culturally. Gender socialisation into either role is typically predicated upon whether one is born male or female.

  6. Standing ovation. Thank you very VERY much. As a feminist who, like you, values rationality & who, like you, has been the subject of countless inappropriate insults for daring to question gender essentialism, it’s about TIME!

    Skeptics should be skeptical. Thank you. I will be sharing this widely.

  7. Kitty Barber says:

    Thank you so much for this clear and comprehensive look at an issue that has been made into an emotional nightmare for so many feminists and lesbians. Science is on our side, and although there are lots of people in the U.S. who deny most science, it can’t be ignored forever. Global warming is happening and it’s the fault of humans, evolution is quite real, and I am a gender non-conforming female. And I’m not happy that I’ve been called a bigot (and much worse) by people who expect me to somehow consent to this delusional thinking and become an “ally.”

  8. Cel West (@Kosmogrrrl) says:

    You see, you’re not *terribly* wrong, but the sex-as-well-as-gender as discourse thing comes from Butler, who I’m certain you loathe. It makes rather a lot of sense, though. Societies impose all the bad things you list just above on women largely because they buy into this essentialist sex stuff.

    Where you are *very* wrong is to heavily imply that male violence, rape etc are not inflicted on trans women in culturally determined ways too. The stats on murder are out there if you care to look.

  9. Jackie says:

    Amazing. Well written and concise. I admire the work you are doing in this field.

  10. sc says:

    Excellent post, this is something I’ve been trying to articulate for quite some time now. Thank you, thank you.

  11. Sasha David says:

    There is a reality – in this case Biology (Sex) – that exists outside of our experience of the world- Culture (Gender). One is a real, measurable, testable thing. The other is… culture. Like with Science and Religion, there is no conflict between them as long as the proponents of the cultural creation don’t insist that it explains reality.

    I think you have to understand how trans people feel you have to add a third factor, Gender (or perhaps Sex) Identity. Cis people have a sense of Gender Identity as well, but since it is rarely challenged, we don’t notice it.

    Gender Identity is something internal to each individual, it’s the thing which tells you what you ARE, what Sex and what Gender your body should be. This kind of “Gender” is often conflated (by many people writing on this topic, by trans* and anti-trans activists alike) with the social/cultural “Gender” of gender roles.

    This is a slightly light-hearted illustration of what “Gender Identity” is, using Unix
    http://itsfromtheinternet.com/transunix.html

    The nature of gender identity is very hard to access, beyond the internal feeling of each individual. It may be purely genetic, physiological but influenced by environment, or formed in our minds through interaction between our bodies and our experience in the social world.

    I don’t understand why allowing people to live as the gender they identify as must undermine feminist solidarity, or the fight for legal and social protections for women, who quite rightly want to free themselves from the restrictions and oppression of their Social and Cultural Gender. To use the abortion question as an illustration: each person’s body is their own, and only they as an individual have a right to control it. Nasty right-wing men may want to stop women having abortions, but so do OTHER WOMEN. In the UK, polling shows women are more likely than men to want to reduce abortion time limits http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/religion/2012/10/do-pro-choice-feminists-really-speak-women

    It may be that we have to adjust our language and ideas to take account of new experience and understanding, but that’s what skeptics are supposed to do.

  12. Rhonda says:

    I can see from some of the comments here that there is another article due on the myriad misrepresentations of Butler’s work.

    Great article–clear, well researched and respectful!

    Thanks!

  13. Lala says:

    @ Cel West

    I think you have read the piece too quickly. It specifically states that assault/rape etc happen to *women* (ie including trans women) and contrasted with the previous sentence describing the biological experiences of females:

    “I share most of those things with the vast majority of Females on the planet. Those things are what classify us Female Mammals. There are other experiences that Women around the world share: sexual assault, rape, male violence . . .”

  14. Nicky says:

    As an Intersex/DSD person, you deserve great praise for this well written piece. I am glad that someone is using Biology and science in the right context.

  15. Bob Arthur says:

    Excellent and thoughtful piece, and I admire the bravery in writing it despite the abuse that a few individuals can be quick to dish out. And of course, that is not to diminish the bravery or to fail to recognise the abuse suffered by trans* people every day. But it seems to me that many of the people who are perceived as being on opposite “sides” in these debates probably have more in common than they realise, but get tripped up by an occasional poor choice of words. I followed the discussion you had the other day, kicked off by (as far as I could tell) tweeter A being genuinely surprised by tweeter B saying something trans*-friendly despite having something of a “reputation” in some circles, which seems to me to be based on linguistic slip-ups more than anything.

    As an American living in the UK you’ve doubtless heard the “Two nations divided by a common language” chestnut more often than you’d care to (in which case I apologise for dropping it yet again), and it sometimes seems to me that gender debates work in the same way, only with many more nations, leading to exponentially more divides! I think you’ve taken the correct approach here by setting your terms from the get-go; not prescribing terminology, but defining it within the scope of the article. Of course it would be great if we could all agree on a common standard, but as Tanenbaum said (albeit about computers), the nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.

    At the end of the day, it’s my view that while certain words can and do cause hurt, we must strive to judge people by their intent first. And the best way to determine that is to ask them. Politely. Because a potential ally can very quickly become disillusioned when abused for saying the wrong thing out of ignorance. I know some will consider that to be tone-policing, but in my view that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    @Kosmogrrrl I may have misunderstood something, but I didn’t get the impression that Gia was suggesting that trans women aren’t subject to rape/violence; she says that all Women (which she has taken to be the gender) suffer this, as opposed to experiences Females (sex) share. Am I missing something?

  16. Bit mason says:

    This post is outstanding. One of the best that I’ve read about gender versus sex versus …..The politics of “people are who they say they are”, has never sat well w me. I was born and live my life as a female/womyn/butch dyke, w a beard and yr blog has spoken to me. Thank you for writing it.

  17. Joel Nowak says:

    Hey Gia,
    Thank you for this very thoughtful article. One of the great divides between transgenderists and skeptics is whether or not our biological “status” is something that can be “reassigned” through surgical intervention. You do a fantastic job of explaining that recognizing the fact that, except for rare instances, we are born as either “male” or “female” is not bigotry but biology. Of course many in the trans community view this assertion as a way of marginalizing them, or even worse, as a means of denying their very existence. In their view, the distinctions you point out are divisive and are often used as a tool of oppression.
    Your piece does a wonderful job in countering that notion by of showing that, while yes – there are biological realities that can never be changed, we are actually more alike than we think we are. I found the statistics you cited from the gender identity study of “normative” individuals to be the most illuminating of all. Trans people often assert that they are the only ones who face any feelings of gender dysphoria: There is no one out there who can truly “understand them.” Naturally, this is an incredibly isolating feeling (for obvious reasons.) Within the trans community there is often the perception that there are only two types of people in this world – trans and cis. Us and them. That feels like a really tight space to live in and definitely a scary one. As you demonstrate in your article it isn’t entirely the reality of the situation We are not “us and them”, actually we are more like “us and us”.
    Maybe if the trans community focused a little bit less on the perceived differences between trans and non-trans people and recognized that almost EVERYONE feels some gender confusion, it would help trans people feel less isolated from the so called “normative” people they interact with everyday in society. And for those who have been MOSTLY happy enough with their birth gender to not seek transition to a new one, perhaps trans people can serve as a reminder that we can change SOME of this “gender” associated stuff around if it isn’t working for us.
    So yeah, men and women are different and no amount of political activism is going to change that. But embracing the reality that we are more alike than we currently acknowledge is ultimately something that can help bring us closer together. I think that is pretty cool. Thanks for reminding us of this.

  18. Emma Hamer says:

    Responding to commenter ‘Anon’, Oct. 22, 5:38 pm: You say “Not all cis women have periods, babies or breasts, and while I also know that trans women are different to me I also feel that they have a right to self identify as women. It doesn’t hurt me if they do.”

    First of all “cis” is a made-up, and supposedly neutral term, to designate women born female; however, its use implies that trans* is the norm, and everyone else is “cis” and therefore ‘privileged’ over trans*(women). It’s a slur. “Cis” refers to 99.5% of biological women, and every time it is used, it implies there’s something ‘wrong’ with us. (See E. Hungerford’s excellent article http://liberationcollective.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/a-feminist-critique-of-cisgender/).

    Secondly, blind acceptance of any individual who claims the ‘Identity” woman hollows out what it means to be a woman (in various societal contexts). If anyone can ‘be a woman’, then ‘woman’ as a class category worthy of legal protection ceases to exist. If one was prone to conspiracy theories, one might state that the trans* agenda is thus just another tool of the Patriarchy, to erase women’s lived experience. When societal behavioural norms (gender) supercede the biological reality of womanhood, we’ve moved too far away from reality; we’ve entered the realm of the fantastical.

    I suspect that many of the young people who feel alienated by the societal expectations imposed upon them would grow into happily adjusted gay or lesbian adults – unless the trans*activists and the medical establishment gets their hands on them.

    When it is considered better – more acceptable, more ‘logical’ – to be trans* than to be a young (mildly effeminate) gay male or a young butch lesbian, it becomes clear how deeply conservative and regressive the whole trans* ideology and agenda is.

  19. Coendou says:

    From the book Developmental Biology, 9th Edition, by Scott F. Gilbert (re: mammalian sex determination p 512, emphasis mine):

    In most cases, the female’s karyotype is XX and the male’s is XY.

    From the book Genetics: A Conceptual Approach, Fourth Edition, by Benjamin A. Pierce (p 74-75, emphasis mine):

    We define the sex of on individual organism in reference to its phenotype. Sometimes an individual organism has chromosomes or genes that are normally associated with one sex but a morphology corresponding to the opposite sex. For instance, the cells of female humans normally have two X chromosomes, and the cells of males have one X and one Y chromosome. A few rare persons have male anatomy, although their cells each contain two X chromosomes. Even though these people are genetically female, we refer to them as male because their sexual phenotype is male.

    Also from Genetics (re:Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome):

    How can a person be female in appearance when her cells contain a Y chromosome and she has testes that produce testosterone? The answer lies in the complex relation between genes and sex in humans.

    Before you proclaim your notions on sex to be SCIENCE, you might wish to learn the science of sex determination. I humbly suggest you start with some quick google searches to answer these questions:

    Do male chickens have a penis or Y chromosome?
    Do male crocodiles have a penis or Y chromosome?
    Do female clownfish have a two X chromosomes?
    Do male earthworms have a penis or Y chromosome?

    Evolution is a weird and wonderful thing.

  20. Chaz says:

    One of the massive problems with ‘transwomen are genetically male’ as a statement is that it tends to be followed all to often by the words ‘and therefore they should be banned from women’s toilets/hostels/changing rooms/whatever’ ergo it and phrases like that tend to be incredibly inflammatory because we hear them constantly used as excuses to denigrate and abuse us or even used as part of defences when we are beaten, raped and murdered as though we deserved it for daring to be trans. People who respect us tend to refrain from using them not because they aren’t technically factually accurate but rather because they are upsetting and triggering for us and basic human decency should dictate that you refrain from causing unnecessary pain to your fellow human beings.

  21. qvaken says:

    This was fantastic! I second what umlolidunno said about the term “woman”, because that relates to “human”, so adult female human. But I can see where you’re coming from with regard to language and trying to distinguish between male and female, and the male sex role and the female sex role as determined by culture.

    Generally I like how comprehensive you’ve been with this. I learned a lot just from reading it, particularly about males with AIS who, really, live in the female sex role their whole lives. Thank you very much for writing it.

    And I agree that the hate is pretty incredible, and I’m sorry that they targeted you.

  22. del says:

    Those study questions were stupid. ” 63.7% reported that they sometimes wish to be the ‘other’ gender, ”

    *Yes, men do a hell of a lot less work in this world and get paid from 60 percent to 30 percent more than women do.

    41.9% were sometimes discontent with their sexed body.

    *Yes, I am a woman and I do NOT know one woman including me who has not been or is not always discontent with her body.

  23. Andi says:

    Excellent article. I just wanted to say that rejecting one sex (because of associated gender expectations, possibly) doesn’t automatically make you the other. In addition, I think that trans people, possibly without even being aware, are entrenching gender expectations rather than dismantling them. They are saying that SEX/biology is fluid yet seem to adopt extremes of ‘feminine’ identity, which to the outsider looks fetishistic. The whole trans position is, to me, anti-feminist as it requires us to acknowledge the existence of an ‘inner woman’. Anyone with even a basic understanding of feminist history will know how problematic this is.

  24. Sarah lennox says:

    “Yes, I am a bigot because I like to stick with the scientific definition of ‘sex’…”

    Without getting into the dictionary definition of ‘a bigot’, I think you may be unwise in relying on a too simplistic and certain a definition of sex and indeed gender. I’m not aware of any scientist specialising in the field of sex/gender who does not admit the existence of very many unanswered questions. The fact that most of us feel we have an intuitive understanding of sex and gender means many incongruities are not noticed as such even by the most enlightened observers.

    You say you have been
    “… reading up on the Radical Feminist and Lesbian and Trans* Activist positions for many, many months now. After all that time, I still genuinely can’t understand why some trans* activists have the idea that biology is socially constructed.”
    This seems an odd statement. If you are interested in basing your debate on the biology, why are you looking for answers in the work of social activists? There is a crucial point to make here. No sensible trans person I know of is suggesting biology is socially constructed … There is in fact evidence that this occurs in nature through epigenesics but I won’t speculate on the relevance of that here. They are pointing out that there are massive gaps in our understanding of the biological development of sex in utero and throughout life and equally there are massive gaps in our understanding of the extent to which gendered behaviour is or is not dictated by biology.

    I’d like to continue this argument but unfortunately I do not have time at the moment. It is an unhappy consequence of being trans myself, which would perhaps not occur to you, that one finds oneself facing constant demands to justify one’s position from cis- people who have suddenly become aware that apparently ‘there’s a huge battle going on’ and parachuted in … in a moment of exasperation I might be tempted to say ‘questioning my right to exist’ because that’s what it amounts to if one is forced to stop and address every call for a debate. There is a clear analogy to be made with gay. The inestimable Peter Tatchell has dedicated his life to justifying the right of gay people to exist unquestioned and has sacrificed his private and any other professional life in this pursuit. I am no Peter Tatchell. Reams have been written on whether being gay is the result of biology or not and we still cannot conclusively state that it is although all but a fool would now agree it must have a biological basis … in the same way as handedness … given its prevalence throughout human history.

    In any case I’ll post a couple of links here to give you food for thought. To be clear my own position is that I was born with an outwardly male anatomy although I am now existentially woman. Having transitioned as an adult inevitably there are gaps in my shared cultural experience of womanhood in our time. This is a matter of sadness, which I actually feel you might consider taking into account just as you might take into account the sadness of any woman born without a womb … whether as a result of genetics or not … and see no reason to debate the difference there, especially not with an enthusiasm which could be mistaken for glee. However it’s with your simplistic assumptions about sex that I mainly take issue. Given its recorded prevalence throughout history in every human society, there can be little doubt that trans is a natural condition in the same way as gay or handedness. There simply is no way that you or I can start dictating to individuals an absolutely fixed biological sex binary and consequent perception ‘right’ way of perceiving one’s own gender and possibly gendered behaviour . It is a lot more fuzzy than that and a lot more unknown.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/science/dna-double-take.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

    http://www.aissg.org/debates/letters/Quigley.htm

    http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/units/gender/experts/vilain.html

  25. Fiona Hanley says:

    This post got RTed into my timeline several times last night with approving comments from cis people about how thoughtful it is so I tweeted wondering what trans people thought of it. Of those who answered, they weren’t happy at all. If you’re so right Gia how come the people you’re talking about are so upset? I didn’t really want to comment at the time of the debate because as you point out I wasn’t there on the night but can see now exactly why trans people were annoyed. The cool dissection of “you’re a male you know” gist of this post, as if if you weren’t here to tell them differently trans women might somehow have been under the impression they’d sailed through life with a uterus reminds me of pro-lifers waving foetus placards at cis pregnant women as if they somehow might otherwise have been under the impression they were pregnant with a baby octopus or a basket of kittens. We don’t call trans women male or men for the same reason we don’t refer to women in a crisis pregnancy as mothers. Trans women and women in a crisis pregnancy are perfectly aware of what’s going on with their bodies, they just wish bitterly things were otherwise. To insist on spelling it out strikes me as just cruel and obnoxious. “There is not some Universal, immutable, innate feeling of Woman-ness.” Actually a trans woman will tell you differently. She knows, because she just knows, that she is a woman. Trans women exist across all cultures. Gender isn’t of the body and it isn’t a matter of social conditioning. If that were so there would be no such thing as trans people because everybody would be ‘conditioned’, and social conditioning is a powerful thing, into being the gender indicated by the flesh between their legs. Gender is much deeper than that, it’s of our spirit, of our most innermost being. We didn’t know this before but we know it now precisely because trans people bear witness to the powerful reality of their true gender despite all apparent observable evidence to the contrary. “I reminded everyone that we are mammals and need to remember that we aren’t something special.” We are mammals but we are also something special because we have a self-awareness that, as far as we know, no other animal has. It is a trans women’s self-awareness, and that alone, that tells her she is a woman. I’m not a skeptic because I’m not an atheist. I don’t mind people rejecting my “I just know” deep convictions (as long as it’s in a live and let live way) because their experience is different but there seems to me something deeply wrong and weird about a skeptic denial of the human spirit when trans women’s “I just know” isn’t good enough evidence for you. Whether you want to call that inner awareness a soul or not doesn’t really matter. You brought up suffragettes. What’s going on at the moment is a gathering mass emancipation of trans people, especially trans women, in a society that still finds ‘a man in a dress’ the laziest comedy there is. The trans women who have come out now are contemporary suffragettes, they’re incredibly brave and they’re suffering. And what’s more they’re right. Your faux-bored “hey ho” at their distress (Edit by Gia: Just to be clear that comment was from a trans* ally who is not trans*. So it wasn’t “distress”, it was something else.) flies in the face of common decency. Maybe years on from now this post will read in the same way the arguments pitted against the first suffragettes read to us now, because we know now we are so much more than our body and our biologically-indicated destiny. We transcend it. That means all of us and feminism means all the women. Everybody has a right to self-realise and to expect to be supported in that. It must be really tough to be trans, that shouldn’t have to take a massive leap of empathy. The very least a trans woman deserves is for other women to say to her “you are my sister”.

  26. Would it assist the centuries old conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland to wade into their conflict space and wave a dictionary or scientific paper around with a fanfare that empirical science has arrived to set them straight? (Edit by Gia: It’s religion. There is no empirical evidence available for that. But it might be a good idea to point out where their beliefs are different and where they are the same. Trans* people seem to be saying both “We are exactly the same as you!” and at the same time “You cis people are so different from us!” Which is it? I’ve attempted to point out the differences as I see them- biology – and the similarities – culture- that is Male/Female vs Man/Woman… I think I was pretty clear that though they are traditionally connected, they are in fact separate. I also pointed out the research – the first of its kind – into the gender identity of non-trans people, which shows things aren’t nearly as black and white as trans* people like to think it is… There is, however, a biological reality that can’t be explained away. The trans* position seems to be, and I may have inferred incorrectly, that biology is irrelevant – except, of course, when there is a study that shows some slight correlation between MtFs’ and Females’ brain structures (Neuroskeptic has quite a few articles on the myth of male and female brains)- that socialisation has no effect – though quite why there is such a high percentage of transwomen who work in computers and IT when the industry finds it difficult to get females into it is interesting. There are many grey areas and no real answers… but again, there is a biological reality which is not irrelevant to females at all. How does it help better your cause to say it’s not important?)

    Would more dictionary study end the patriarchy? Would it help those fighting for wage equality to be supplied with a ‘helpful intervention’ by a man selectively quoting from the body of research on genetics, when he clearly hasn’t read it all?

    This intervention here seems to be (at best) naïve. For those it affects it is more likely an insult, except where one ‘side’ or the other finds something that supports their cause.

    It is undoubtedly well meant. And I never think that words like ‘bigot’ or ‘transphobia’ help any discussion. However, I recognise the desperate and embattled space where the emotions underlying those cries come from.

    In this particular cultural conflict the sides are far from evenly matched. And they are far from equally informed.

    You should ask WHY these ‘trans activists’ are activists. Why the ‘radical feminists’ (or, rather, a very small minority of people calling themselves that) are so obsessed about arguing the former into the kind of corner from which they have no option but to come out fighting.

    The trans people have a unique experience of life. It is an experience which non-trans (cis-gender) people literally have no frame of reference. So to come into this arena armed with text book definitions written by people who are literally unable to comprehend the other’s experience, and to argue that science has the answers, strikes me as just plain foolhardy on so many levels. (Edit by Gia: If I can’t understand your experience of life, what makes you think you can understand my experience of life? A HUGE amount of my experience involves being a slave to my biology. How does it better your cause to tell females their experience is not relevant?)

    For one thing it is an insult to science. Any science represents the extent of what we know so far. There are no absolutes about it … though non-scientists will gleefully cherry pick what they find as though it were certainty … when it suits them. (Edit by Gia: Yes, I point you to the ton of comments by trans* people pointing to research they don’t understand. Luckily, I used scientists as my source of information in this blog post.)

    The existence of trans people raises questions which challenge the state of science as it exists. It would be better to pull off the dogs and sit down and listen … for the end result would be science that advances to understand more about the complexity of human experience.

    It seems to me that you have done the reverse. You have begun your enquiry brandishing science like a high class game of Top Trumps. This doesn’t enrich science. It doesn’t advance understanding. It reminds me of a long and sad history of people using science to control others. That is BAD science. (Edit by Gia: I’m not a scientist. I have, however, read a lot of work by scientists about research into “male” and “female” brains and written about a tiny amount of it here. There’s a lot more… All of the previous certainty that male and female brains were completely different was used to control women and their choices. Luckily, it seems that certainty is crumbling as more and more research is done. How does it better your cause to believe that male and female brains are fundamentally, innately different?)

  27. Lisa Harney says:

    So, I wouldn’t actually consider the inclusion of Julie Bindel in such a discussion as a neutral act. I am also not really willing to accept a cis person’s word that she was being reasonable, given the things she has written and said about trans people in the past – and given the things cis people think are reasonable to say about trans people.

    I also think that I don’t put much faith into a discussion about trans people that starts off with an overgeneralization combined with so much defensiveness about the 23rd pair of human chromosomes. Your commentary also had some straw men (for example, I wouldn’t call a CAIS woman “male” because it would be inaccurate and misleading – I might say she has XY chromosomes but has developed female).

    Sex is not this blatantly obvious binary biological construction that explicitly creates the categories of “male” and “female,” nor does science actually support this. The labeling of some people as male and some people as female is a social construction, one which all too conveniently links gender and sex (because ultimately, these are really the same thing).

    If you start off a discussion by informing trans people that trans women are really male and trans men are really female, you have added another bias to the discussion – that is, even beyond the notion that we need to have a neutral discussion about the existence of trans people and the merits of being trans. Neutrality itself is a loaded term and nearly always benefits whomever has the most power (and in this case, it would be cis people had the most power).

    Cis is a meaningful label, as it describes people who are not trans. This is exactly the same thing as describing people who are not gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual, etc. as straight. Just as it doesn’t really matter if straight people sometimes fantasize about having gay or lesbian sex in terms of the institutional power and privilege that straight people have compared to people who aren’t straight, it doesn’t really matter if cis people are unhappy with their sex/gender sometimes, or think about changing sometimes. The fact is, that these people do not, and largely do not have issues with it that transition would solve. Because of this, they have institutional power and privilege in comparison to trans people.

    Anyway, many of us have been having this conversation with cis TERFs (trans exclusionist radical feminists) for years now, and I honestly do not see how your discussion could really bring anything new to the table. The problem isn’t that we don’t get invited to sit a room with our active oppressors (such as Julie Bindel) to have a polite conversation often enough. (Edit by Gia: And just the mere fact that we organised this panel meant that I and the Soho Skeptics people were met with a torrent of abuse from trans* people. Even our trans* panelists were subject to that abuse. One was told she was too “privileged” to speak on the panel. It doesn’t really seem to outsiders that the vocal trans* side of this discussion actually wants to talk. ) The problem is that in a lot of ways, it sucks to be trans because of societies and because of attitudes that range from “it’s reasonable to invite trans people to have a discussion with people who virulently hate them” to actual, outright harassment and violence (the most severe of these primarily impact trans women of color, and trans women in general are more severely impacted than trans men).(Edit by Gia: And if you were organising a discussion specifically between trans* people and radfem people and you, as I did, wanted it to be a discussion not a screaming match, who would you invite?)

    The commenter above who claimed that “cis” only refers to cis women is inaccurate. It applies to cis men and cis women. It is also not a slur, and claiming it as such betrays some rather disappointing opinions about what being trans means.

    Anyway, from what you described, it seems like to some extent this event was used as a platform to put trans people in their places (the whole sex thing). That may not have been your intention, but your assertion of a very simplistic model of sex as objective biological reality is exactly that. (Edit by Gia: Why not find the podcast and listen to the panel discussion. That’d be a good start.)

  28. Lisa Harney says:

    Also, when trans people say things like “woman’s brain in a man’s body” and other similar awkward explanations, you’re talking about people who are struggling to find a coherent way to explain what it is like to be trans with a language that is, by default, cissexist. Pointing to Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine as if they’re commenting from equivalent positions rather than one being a highly educated neurologist/neuroscientist and the other being someone trying to verbally express their dissonance when they do not really have a good way to explain it really misses the point.

  29. Marisol Melendez says:

    While I understand the political stakes of each in this debate, it is huge mistake to assume that science is somehow outside of culture. That assumption is part of why you don’t understand why trans* folks would claim that sex is also socially constructed. However, there are several people who have written on this issue that could add an important layer of complication to this argument as laid out. Those titles/authors are:

    1. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud by Thomas Laqueur
    2. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality by Anne Fausto-Sterling
    3. Myths Of Gender: Biological Theories About Women And Men, Revised Edition by Anne Fausto-Sterling
    4. The Medical Construction of Gender, by Suzanne Kessler

    And the list goes on. All of these studies illustrate the extent to which Euro-centric notions of gender have historically and thoroughly informed our conceptions of the body, in other words how we “biologically” define sexual difference. All of these studies illustrate the extent to which “biology” is not “fact,” but is indeed socially constructed as well, in a way that masculinizes certain hormones, and feminizes others. Science, “biology,” like everything else, does not exist as separate or separable from the culture in which it raises its questions. Which is why you get notions of passivity mapped onto the “female egg” and notions of aggressive masculinity mapped onto the “penetrating sperm”. However, it would be worth continuing this conversation after you have had an opportunity to take a look at the arguments of the authors above, to see if in fact there is some room to re-examine some of the assumptions behind your claims.

  30. KT says:

    The irony here, completely, is that in all the critique, there is a huge gaping whole on the disconnect (whether you agree that sex matters or not) between a world that CREATES a category by which to sort human beings (gender: specifically, male and female) and the THING that no one can create or change by their own hand, SEX.

    We lose, once again, the question of what things happen to our bodies culturally once they have been sexed.

    We ignore the video, helpfully posted, that explicitly names how the forced socialization of the body begins immediately upon taking breath.

    Bottom line, all people deserve to be treated with dignity, autonomy and respect.

    If we cannot, as a community, figure out how and where we enter, what it means to be coded, how those codes (as wrong as they feel on our skin) affect us, we get no where. Because then we break each other down, instead of the system that is very clearly trying to off us all.

    I appreciate you, Gia, for bringing the conversation to that truth. The truth of white, supremacist patriarchy and how it stomps on all of our necks.

  31. Sarah lennox says:

    “Edit by Gia: And just the mere fact that we organised this panel meant that I and the Soho Skeptics people were met with a torrent of abuse from trans* people. Even our trans* panelists were subject to that abuse. One was told she was too “privileged” to speak on the panel. It doesn’t really seem to outsiders that the vocal trans* side of this discussion actually wants to talk. ”

    Gia, are you not curious why it is you may have been subjected to ‘a torrent of abuse’? (Edit by Gia: I don’t know. Because trans* activists and allies think that no one else can try and do anything to forward the conversation and get it away from arguing and screaming? You tell me.) The only thing I am seeing in your blog is your view of the importance of your debate (Edit by Gia: I believe I was very clear when I said “it wasn’t a debate” OTHER people called it a debate. It said (as I wrote in the above post) “Soho Skeptics is going to attempt to find some common ground in a night of personal stories, discussion and comedy.” that’s what it was. Listen to the podcast.) and how your own conclusions about trans, garnered from books (Edit by Gia: What books about trans* people have I referenced? I’ve only quoted from books on the science of “Male and female brains”.), should not be challenged. This in turn is finding approval from other cis people. Forgive me for reminding you that this debate (Edit by Gia: It wasn’t a debate.) was apparently about trans people (Edit by Gia: It was a discussion between two trans* people and one radical feminist about their own personal experiences and they all got along spledidly, thanks. Listen to the podcast.), most of whom have spent their whole lives thinking about their situation and tend to be a remarkably self-aware and realistic group as a result (Edit by Gia: And our trans* panelists were awesome. Listen to the podcast.). Personally when I’m accused of not checking my privilege my first reaction is not to exercise that privilege to deny any offence but to ask what it is I am doing/saying which causes offence.

    I don’t accuse you of bad intentions. I don’t blame you if you are confused (Edit by Gia: How kind.). I do ask you to listen to what trans people are saying to you which at core can be summarised as … some people are trans, get over it. (Edit by Gia: I’m interested to know where in my blogpost I sound like I’m “not over it”?) Please take time to consider Fiona Hanley’s words:

    “The cool dissection of “you’re a male you know” gist of this post, as if if you weren’t here to tell them differently trans women might somehow have been under the impression they’d sailed through life with a uterus reminds me of pro-lifers waving foetus placards at cis pregnant women as if they somehow might otherwise have been under the impression they were pregnant with a baby octopus or a basket of kittens.”

  32. Nina says:

    For me the logical conclusion to the argument put forward in this blog concerning genetic males and females is that females who genetically can’t conceive can’t talk about abortion rights despite having had the expectation previously that they could accidentally get pregnant. That’s because they cannot genetically fulfil that biological function. The expectation that they will be able to conceive is a gendered expectation rather than a biological one based on their body. That’s where a feminism based on genetics takes us if we play the argument out properly because women may have shared experiences but females only have biological experiences and that doesn’t work for me. If that logical progression does not work, if that feminism does not work for me when I’m splitting people in to genetic groups then why am I separating women and females at all outside of a medical and possibly, sporadically legal context? I can’t conclude that female has more importance than woman when our cultural experience is so definitive.

  33. Rebecca says:

    Really excellent post. Clarified a lot of issues for me, so thank you.

    I think the abuse you’ve received and continued to receive, although inexcusable, is in many cases at least understandable. Whatever the facts about these issues, what is also true is that there are many people who have the biology of one sex yet don’t feel comfortable with either the biology of that sex, the cultural gender expectations around it, or both. No matter what theory we hold on the explanation for this, most reasonable, decent people recognize that trans* people sincerely and in good faith feel this way, and are probably having a difficult time trying to live with that in a culture that doesn’t deal well with people who don’t fit easily into our familiar categories. So even if you suspect that trans* people are mistaken in their claims about gender identity (which, for the record, I don’t) – most decent, reasonable people respect trans* people’s struggles and don’t want to make life difficult for them. I mean, apart from anything, shouldn’t the fact that being trans* tends to bring such prejudice and discrimination tell us that few people would choose to be trans* when they could be cis, or would choose to fight the battles and the prejudice if they didn’t have to? And therefore, shouldn’t we treat trans* people with kindness and compassion?

    But unfortunately, there are a small handful of people who aren’t decent and reasonable in this regard. There are a handful of people who, for reasons I don’t understand, feel so threatened by the existence of trans* people that they make their lives very difficult indeed – harassing them, doxxing them, abusing them. And of course, many trans* people are subject to verbal and physical assaults on a daily basis.

    I think it is only a handful of people who behave this way. Only a tiny proportion of the population will assault trans* people, and the numbers of people who abuse or harass these women online are small. Moreover, these people aren’t influential or significant, in the great scheme of things – while they have the power to make trans* people’s lives very miserable, I think they are a small die-hard bunch who aren’t the mainstream and aren’t really growing in size or influence. (Just look at most TERFs on twitter – few have more than a few hundred followers). But they are vocal and visible enough to make trans* people’s lives very difficult, and the result as far as I can see is that many trans* people feel constantly under attack and threatened from all sides, when in reality the threat is far smaller and more localised. It is probably an inevitable consequence of being permanently under attack from a tiny but vocal minority that you start to feel attacked from everyone, to see enemies everywhere, even when they don’t exist. That is why reasonable people like you, who just happen to disagree with one part of their story, gets accused of wanting to eradicate trans* people or debate their very right to exist. This is why members of the mainstream media who do a lot to be inclusive, to find and publicize trans* voices, get baselessly accused of transphobia.

    That was all a very long-winded way of saying: it’s understandable that trans* people feel under attack. They are under attack. But not as much as they think they are. The vast majority of feminists are happy for anyone who calls themselves a woman to be included in our movement, and while we may be ignorant of trans* issues, would be happy to rectify this. And though I’m inevitably going to be accused of tone policing here, screaming abuse at everyone who disagrees with any of their views, or tries to even raise questions about trans* issues, is not the way to do this.

    Not every feminist who disagrees with parts of the trans* narrative is a TERF who wants trans* people dead.

  34. Gia, this is so embarrassing to watch. I have never seen a blogger deface the comments on their blog (Edit: Deface? Or answer things as they’re said?) like this below the line. You had your say above it. And now you cannot be content with allowing other people the opportunity to respond below it. You are exercising a power that us commenters don’t have … and it contributes nothing except to reinforce the impression that you want to talk over those who’ve engaged with you. (Edit: Wait, are you telling me how to blog? This is my space. I own it. I’ve had it for over 10 years. I can make my own rules, approve who and what I want, block who I want, reply in whatever say I want. Sorry, this isn’t CIF.)

    Can you not comprehend that you are wading naïvely into something rather late. FORTY YEARS late in fact. And it looks like you can’t contain yourself when people explain that in so many words. Your intervention was neither timely, necessary or helpful in a very old discussion that had already moved on long before you arrived to talk down from your pedestal.

    Where were you when my colleagues and I caused trans rights to be debated for the first time in Parliament in 1996? (Edit: Well done. That’s a good thing. Genuinely. I’m not talking about “trans rights”, but feel free to continue to tell me about all the the things you’ve done in that regard…)

    Where were you when (in 1996) my colleagues and I secured the right in the European Court of Justice for trans people to have protection from summary dismissal and other forms of employment discrimination in the ways everyone else had enjoyed since 1975?

    Where were you when my colleagues and I worked alone (and against enormous odds) to try and address the complete trashing of our lives by one privileged commentator after another in 1980s and 1990s broadsheets?

    Where were you when my colleagues and I successfully won the right for trans people to receive care on the NHS in 1999? (Not specifically gender reassignment surgeries but CARE).

    Where were you on all the occasions since 1984 when one brave trans person after another took their cases all the way through the domestic courts to reach the European Court of Human Rights in pursuit of the right to private and family life and to be able to marry?

    Where were you when a handful of us working in our spare time from our bedrooms shaped and moulded legislation to recognise trans people for all purposes in law and helped the government of the day guide that bill through Parliament without a scratch? Where were you when Julie Bindel wrote what she did in 2004 in the midst of that parliamentary debate, providing succour to those who lined up to deny us simple rights to live our lives in peace?

    Where were you when, every night, my email inbox presented with me with at least one trans person driven to the edge of despair by people putting them down verbally or through violent attack? Where were you when a bunch of locals arranged a meeting to run a colleague of mine out of town?

    No, Gia. You arrived on the scene in the last five minutes of the last day of a long, long, struggle which my colleagues and I have conducted with patience and good humour in the face of vilification and goading. You’ve arrived with the attitude that you know best. I can’t decide whether to classify that as arrogance, scientific imperialism or just plain stupidity. One thing I do know is that you’ve genuinely added nothing, in spite of what you may fancy.

    And I dare you to NOT scribble all over this comment, as that is just plain rude and an abuse of your power as the owner of the blog. (Edit: Again, it’s my blog. Thanks.)

  35. Jane Carnall says:

    It’s somewhat infuriating that Gia has inserted so much text in Sarah Lennox’s post, but once her interpolations are eliminated, I can only agree with her and with Fiona Hanley.

    (Also, with Lisa Harney, that including Julie Bindel in a “conversation” about gender identity is not a neutral act.)

    Regardless of what you would wish, Gia, there are trans women in the world: there are cis women in the world. To demand that trans women should not be allowed to define themselves as female is, as Fiona Hanley says, obnoxious and cruel.

    To be obnoxious and cruel to a discriminated-against minority is the privilege of being in the majority: to demand the minority protest your obnoxious cruelty politely is the aggravation of privilege.

    I say this as a cisgender lesbian feminist. “Cis” is no slur: it fills neatly a lexical gap.

  36. Paris Lees says:

    Trans people just are. Get over it.

  37. Tabitha says:

    This is a great post.
    I have recently discovered this argument myself and have been very confused by what I believe to be a simple biology (XX and XY and other) versus society issue. I believe that people have the right to be whomever they choose, love whomever they choose, and do what they think is best for their body. I have never understood why the people who agree with this type of statement still end up getting attacked and called bigoted for either an accidental word choice or a belief like genetics cannot be changed.
    People tend to get lost in the words and miss the overall meaning of what you are saying and doing.
    I completely agree with what you are saying, and think it is very important to have a well thought out, and researched post explaining the problems and dissecting the arguments.
    Thank you for posting this.

  38. Sasha David says:

    Gia, I think it would help if you could answer one question, yes or no:
    do you think that trans men (FtM) and trans women (MtF) have a real and valid identity as men and women, and do you accept and recognise them as such?

    If you can answer “yes” to this, and you’re clear about it, then you will find far less hostility from trans people when you talk about issues surrounding sex, gender, and biology.

    If “no” then you must understand why trans people see YOU as hostile, and respond to you with hostility.

    (Edit: Yes. That is why I was clear about the distinction between biology and socialisation. I was clear that women with AIS are “genetically male”, but they are women. Sex and Gender are two separate things… I was very, very, very clear about that. Biology, however, is a real thing. That’s what I was saying. Sorry, but it is. And biology is VERY relevant to females’ experience of life because it is used to control them. It is not irrevelant.)

  39. db says:

    Thanks for your very insightful post. Since I’m new to the distinction between sex and gender, it was very helpful. There however, are some minor things I don’t quite understand yet with these concepts, that I would greatly appreciate if someone would explain a little bit further to me:

    1. From what I understand it, AIS women with XY chromosomes don’t get things like beard growth (please correct me if I’m wrong here). Is that because of their sex or their gender? Since it’s hardly society that demands that they should not have any facial hair (hair grows where it grows regardless of society’s opionion about it). it can’t be because of gender. But it can’t be because of sex either, since their sex is that they have XY chromosomes, which is no different from other people with XY chromosomes, who do have beard growth.

    2. When a AIS baby, with XY chromosomes, is born, what sex does the doctor/midwife/etc note down? As you say, the doctor/midwife/etc determines the baby’s sex (i.e. their chromosomes), not gender, so it should be that they are male. But since the doctor/midwife/etc looks at the baby’s genitals, which for AIS babies would be a vagina, why is it that the doctor/midwife/etc still knows that they are males.

    What am I missing here?

    (Edit by Gia: Complete AIS is only usually picked up in puberty when the girl doesn’t have a period. People with Partial AIS can be born with ambiguous genitalia which would be noticed immediately. AIS is an intersex condition and not really anything to do with trans* issues. Intersex people don’t tend to consider themselves trans*- a few do. The reason I mentioned women with AIS is that I wanted to illustrate the previous paragraph in a stark way ie ‘here are some XY males, but they are very clearly women because they’ve been socialised to be’. I don’t want to talk too much about intersex conditions here, but it’s interesting to note that in some of the research I’ve read they say “Recent reviews on gender dysphoria and gender change in patients with intersex conditions show that initial gender assignment still seems to be the best predictor of adult gender identity.” ie socialisation- how one is raised and treated- is very important in defining whether someone “identifies” as a woman or a man in adulthood.)

  40. Sasha David says:

    The problem with that is you were also very clear about the contempt you have for traditional social and cultural “Gender” – which is not unreasonable, and is certainly something that I personally share. Given that contempt, you must understand why trans people would see acceptance on that level as less than meaningful. I should have said: do you consider their gender IDENTITY to be legitimate? Would you consider a trans man’s identity as a man to be as legitimate as a cis or “genetically male” man’s?

    I don’t think biology is irrelevant, and I don’t think most trans people think that biology is irrelevant, either to their own experience of life, or to the issues of feminism and patriarchy. They just want to talk about it in a way that doesn’t exclude them from being considered legitimate and authentic members of the gender that they feel themselves to be – and that feeling is probably just as much a product of their biology as anything else.

  41. MorganA says:

    I truly appreciate this writing! I am going to be linking people who don’t understand the arguments to this, to read and discuss with radical feminists. Thank you especially for calling out areas claimed by transgenderists as really being about a third gender. Feminists of late have been getting charged with racism, as if queer theory had somehow originated among First Nations peoples!

    I do wish that we could move from giving the words ‘woman’ and ‘man’ to transgenderists. We need these words to explain adult + human + female, exactly as umlolidunno explains so well. In the very WHO article you cite, gender is explained as “masculine” and “feminine.” This works best, in that we aren’t giving away words we need: “female” too easily leaves us perpetual children. This also means avoiding the words transwomen and transmen; transwomen are men, and transmen are women, and this only adds to the confusion, which doesn’t benefit feminist clarity at all. And your gift to feminism in this area is clarity!

  42. Sasha David says:

    Oh in answer to your question

    QUOTE: So, why is it deemed perfectly acceptable to say that women with AIS are “genetically male”, but not say that transgender women are “genetically male”? They are both correct statements, but one of those groups will probably now spend a lot of time and effort harassing me for even asking the question… and the other will get on with happily living their lives as women.

    The reason is: if women with AIS have been treated as girls/women from the moment of their birth, and their genetics is only ever referred to as a reason why they should be regarded as women, then obviously the don’t experience the trauma of growing up suffering from gender dysphoria. Imagine taking a woman with AIS and treating her as a boy/man from the moment she was born unless and until the protested enough to satisfy a dragging medical/bureaucratic procedure – what effect would that have on them?

    Trans people, and especially trans women are used to having their genetics AND their socialisation used to attack them, and to undermine their status and identity as women. These attacks will paint trans people as sick, delusional, disgusting, rapists-in-disguise or anti-feminist traitors (depending on thier gender…)

    That is the difference.

  43. Rose says:

    As I understand it, the argument isn’t that XY can become XX. Or that a trans woman is exactly the same as a cis woman. The argument is that there is nothing ‘male’ about XY chromosomes or ‘female’ about XX chromosomes. And the same thing with body parts – according to some, saying a penis cannot be a female organ is disgusting bigotry. Identity is everything. To them, ‘male’ and ‘female’ are words describing an inner identity and nothing else. Essentially, they are using a completely different definition of the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ from 99.99% of the world who understand those words to be physical, biological categories relating to anatomy and reproductive capability (same with ‘man’ and ‘woman’).

    The argument is that the biological categories are irrelevant and that even describing them is bigotry. But how can it possibly be irrelevant? If women had said 100 years ago, ‘actually we identify as men so we’re going to vote’ would they have been allowed? Oppression of women has never been based on who ‘identifies’ as what. If some trans women are truly experiencing similar oppression, violence etc. as cis women isn’t that because they are being mistaken for cis women? If anti-semites think a person is Jewish and abuse her because of that, does that make the victim entitled to join a movement for Jewish people against anti-semitism and try to change the core goals of the movement? I’m not saying trans women do not experience violence for being trans, by the way. I’m saying they don’t experience it for being women. The attitudes that cause violence towards women existed a long time before considering a male-born person to be a woman was possible.

    I have no problem with people being trans. People can dress how they like, change their names, have surgery if doctors agree that it’s necessary, get people to call them ‘he’ or ‘she’. But feminists don’t have to agree with you about everything or act like biology is irrelevant to feminism. Disagreeing doesn’t mean they want you dead.

  44. Cathy Butler says:

    I’m too busy getting on with my life as a woman to address everything in this post. However, I do note that it has the unfortunate habit (common in this kind of debate) of conflating trans people in general with “vocal trans activists”, and selecting a few incendiary quotations to represent the trans population as a whole – tactics that are the stock in trade of Julie Bindel in particular, and don’t inspire confidence in its intellectual rigour.

    I’d like to comment on one point, though.

    “So, why is it deemed perfectly acceptable to say that women with AIS are ‘genetically male’, but not say that transgender women are ‘genetically male’?”

    You can certainly defend saying both these things in certain well defined contexts (in ordinary conversation it would of course be rude), but I notice you slip in a modifier, saying “genetically male” rather than just “male”. Your phrase suggests (perhaps unintentionally) that there are other biological ways of being male or female – as indeed there are. For example, AIS women are phenotypically female, pace XY chromosomes.

    Why did you slip in that supposedly superfluous adverb? You didn’t do it only once, either:

    “Genetically, transwomen and women with AIS are male.”
    “look at XY Males with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome”

    At the top of your post you define male and female purely with reference to chromosomes, so by your own definition, “genetically male” and “XY Males” are tautologies. But your own linguistic practice indicates that you are not as sure of your own ground as you proclaim. Indeed, when you say (rightly) that “biology is VERY relevant to females’ experience of life because it is used to control them” you are clearly referring to phenotype as well as genetics. The lived biological reality of being a women isn’t pure genetic: it’s hormonal and phenotypical as well.

    This is only one of the ways in which the purity the distinctions you propose is less than you would apparently like to believe. I’m not even going to get into the sex/gender question, because – well, see above about getting on with my life, and besides, there are plenty of better writers than me out there. I’ve read and enjoyed Cordelia Fine; may I in return recommend Julia Serano?

  45. Kaethe says:

    I think you ran into trouble with your definition of sex. I was identified as a female at birth by a doctor looking at my genitals. No one has ever bothered to test my genes. People consider me a woman based on my appearance, not because of proof of my ovaries. My state prohibits marriage “between individuals of the same gender”, but doesn’t actually define “gender” or specify what evidence of gender is needed. As far as I can tell, you’ve decided to define sex in a way that no one actually uses in real life.

    So, yeah, whacking people over the head with your biology* definition and yelling “because Science” isn’t really coming across as anything but mean.

    *It’s a perfectly good definition for a biology text, but this isn’t meant to be a conversation about the molecular and chemical components of genetics, is it?

  46. Laix says:

    So clear so precise so educational. Thank you .

  47. Jackie says:

    I agree with Gia, listen to the blog. I did, the day it came out. We are all entitled to our opinions, but Gia dealt calmly and KINDLY with the people who were interviewed at Soho Skeptics. In addition, if she wants to edit her blog, which, as she says, she has paid for, then have the good grace to acknowledge this and accept it. Peace, ladies.

  48. LT says:

    Over all a good read, but I have a couple of issue.

    I think first and foremost as a trans person myself that it is important to note that the vocal, unreasonable and frankly a bit wrong in the thinking department of our ‘community’ are a minority. Admittedly a troublesome and very very vocal, but very much a minority. The vast majority of trans people I know running the whole spectrum are rather more concerned about doing things like getting their car fixed, getting to work on time and paying bills. I am lucky enough to remember a time when the angry and unreasonable people could only bother the people in the sound of their voice :)

    The second is this line: Males are not born to be violent. I think we underestimate as a species how much we are really cave people in nice clothes. Society has evolved far quicker than we have, there is still a lot of that aquatic ape* in all of us.

    *oh controversy!

  49. Ashe WomynBorn says:

    I wish there was a way for all of us Womyn-Born-Females and/or Womyn-Born-Lesbian/Feminists/Female to get together our womyn-consciousness and pull back and meditate on these issues in a manner that is NOT INCLUSIVE. I believe we have gotten off on the wrong foot – we have allowed some folks – folks with male origins – to frame and name and control the discussion, the language used in the discussion, the parameters of the discussion, the results of the discussion, and the consequences of the discussion and in some cases others have attempted to Name us. We have fallen into the behavior of being – REACTIVE TO – what others do, or say, or threaten, or tantrum. We have displayed a deep fear of not being included in other folk’s “community”. We have shown fear of being threatened with being trash-talked-about all around town, or fired from our “inclusive community” jobs for our beliefs and identity. As a WBF-LFF-WOC, there IS life after turning one’s back on biological man and in walking away from a community that disrespects and scapegoats WBF-LFF’s. There is value in stepping back and allowing oneself the time to clarify one’s analysis and position. There is value in re-membering a radical-Lesbian point of view, politic and analysis and deciding if it still works for us, or if one chooses to adapt and change and evolve other ideas from a WBF-LFF perspective. It is my hope that we will not allow ourselves to continue to be led around by the nose as a Brahma bull, but that we will define, determine and choose for ourselves our beliefs, our community, our support systems, and our strengths and only then, when we are ready, will we inform others and others’ “communities” of our decisions.

    I have never experienced a situation where a WBF-LFF of any color, once she has made up her mind, EVER needed a man of any feather.

  50. Veronica says:

    There is so much wrong with the post that I don’t know where to begin. It is an extremely reductionist and naive misrepresentation of a very large field of study. And yes, if anyone is in doubt, it is loaded with transphobia.

    Luckily Will has responded to this post in detail on skepchick. I hope that helps.
    http://skepchick.org/2013/10/44379/

  51. Nicky says:

    As an Intersex/DSD person, I am totally not happy with the way Trans people are trying to appropriate Intersex/DSD people. I get offended and pissed off when you have some trans who try to claim they are Intersex/DSD like me. They try to claim that Intersex/DSD is a sex, gender identity and a sexual orientation. What they try to do is sexualize and fetishise what it means to be Intersex/DSD.

    For me, as an Intersex/DSD person, I am not happy with Trans people and I am totally against them trying to appropriate what it means to be born with an Intersex/DSD condition from Birth. They try to cheapen my experience and upbringing and try to sexualize my medical condition. Which is why I don’t see Intersex/DSD as a sex, gender, gender Idenity or Sexual orientation. I simply see Intersex/DSD as a medical condition that your born with from Birth.

  52. Lint says:

    Fantastic article Gia. You know the other side has gone off the deep end when a simple acknowledgement of biology gets you branded as obnoxious and cruel.

  53. Guls says:

    Great article and debate. Couple comments piqued my interest:

    anon: ‘I think that where people get offended is where they don’t feel believed. Trans* people have faced just as much discrimination as cisgendered women have faced…’

    True – and they face it for the same reason women do and from – mostly – the same people: gender, invented and perpetuated by men who have a vested interest in it.

    MarinaS ‘I think the “born this way” “girls like us” stance comes from a place of survival: when you feel your identity is under threat, you double down on it.

    Also, “born this way” has been a very successful political route for the rest of the LGB community, and I can see why trans advocates would want to keep that brand…’

    Interestingly, I know – personally and thru written testimony – of a growing number of gay/lesbian people who differ from this narrative. I think survival strategy is exactly right – when you’re swimming against the tide, ‘born this way’ is a strong position insofar as it’s very hard – especially for the uneducated – to refute. It’s almost a ‘faith’ position. But…to be ‘gay’/’lesbian’ is equally valid whether it’s a matter of choice or not, and it’s interesting – not to say telling – that homosexuality as an overtly political choice has been embraced much more strongly amongst women than men. It seems to me from what I’ve read from ‘political lesbians’ that it’s about much more than sexual preference: as much or even more about asserting the validity of sorority in the face of the – often toxic – fraternity that we men take for granted. (There’s a reason that heteroNORMATIVITY has been so strongly reinforced for generations, after all, it gives us an inflated stake in a society in which we’d otherwise, like many male animals, be mere bit players….)

    The real meat of Fine’s book, by the way – essential reading – is the revelation of how early, how quickly and how deeply socially-constructed tenets of gender – pink/blue; active/passive etc – become entrenched. Human memory in the first 2-3 years is sketchy at best, so it’s scarce wonder that the ‘born this way’ narrative is so appealing: if – as it so appears – that cornerstones of conditioning are ‘fixed’ as early as 3-6 months. For most of us, it takes inordinate interrogation and introspection to discern just what we were ‘born with’ and that which we otherwise acquired.

    Could be wrong, but I’m gonna stick my neck out and predict that in 50 years Trans* is gonna go the same way – and the language will have changed out of recognition. Gay and now Trans* rights – along with rapidly advancing communications media – have achieved what centuries of feminism couldn’t; they brought the gender debate into the public mainstream, and they deserve credit for that. But they stood on the shoulders of giants – Wolstencraft, Mill, Pankhurst, Daly, Greer, Dworkin… – the one wouldn’t have been possible without the other (Feminism))

    I hope future generations of females (XX) and non-females (any y-inclusive Karyotype) are strong enough to carry this forward.

    I’m an optimist (can we afford not to be)

  54. del says:

    Speak it sister. We all wish that and just have to keep working at making it happen.

    Regarding hysterectomized or castrated women, or women who have had mastectomies… Really I have to laugh. Trans think a woman is just a collection of pop-in parts (like a Japanese car) without any knowledge of the whole FEMALE biological system that supports FEMALE organs, and still exists even if they are all removed. A woman can loose all Female organs and she will still test Female. This may seem evident to us, but apparently not to trans.

  55. del says:

    Chaz just go stand in front of a mirror and read your ridiculous lecture to the image facing you. Trans are the ones doing all that you name there. To Females. How ironic and truly pathetic that you don’t see that.

  56. Lee says:

    I reread the post and the comments again tonight. I think the fundamental confusion here is caused by lumping the different kinds of trans-people into trans*. This appears to be encouraged by those in the transgender group, which in my experience tends to include the vast majority of the loud activists. They tend to be those who identify their own sex as male but wish to deal with society in a female role, ie what you refer to as gender. Those who would refer to themselves as transsexual identify their own sex as female, recognize that their external appearance, etc. appears to be male, feel it should not be, and deal with that discrepancy from a very young age.

    From everything that I have seen and heard from scientists and experts, the transsexual group deals with a brain that at least in the portion that generates sexual identity, is of the sex that they identify as. I’m not aware of the specific mechanism being known yet, but just as with sexual orientation, despite not knowing the biological mechanism, it seems very obvious that the sexual identity in the brain is set, and I am not aware of any studies showing or claiming that that sexual identity changes.

    One of the fundamental differences I’ve noticed between people in either group that I have known in life is that the transgender individuals who are happy with their male biological sex and have a sexual identity which matches it often feel that merely dressing as woman entitles them to access to female-only spaces such as bathrooms. I have not met a female who dressed as a male who felt they were entitled to the same access (as distinguished from a feminist disagreement with other male-only spaces.) Those who identify with the transsexual group generally don’t feel they should intrude on female only spaces until their discrepancy between sexual identity and external sex is treated, and the same has been true for those with female bodies who identify as male.

  57. Patrick Quon says:

    I am very glad that you wrote this post. I found it a fascinating read. My take on those “trans women” who insist that they are really and truly female because…brain stuff…is that they are seriously mis-educated, mentally ill and/or lying (yes, some of them are sexual fetishists who know darn well that they’re lying. Some detransitioners will eventually admit that they were lying to their therapists, lying to their surgeons, lying to their parents, etc.)

    There is no such thing as a reproductively functional XY male with a “female” penis or a “female” testicles or a “female” prostate. Not on this planet.

  58. DD says:

    This is an outstanding post. Thank you. There are many disagreements that I have with the prevalent trans narrative, but the point I find most troublesome is that those who disagree with it are immediately condemned. Women have been discussing “what is gender?” and “what is a woman?” as long as there has been feminism and likely before the term was ever coined. To summarily declare that the discussion is over, and the definition of “woman” is anyone who “identifies” with that term, is absurd. Discussions about women and gender will go on, screaming and name calling notwithstanding. Nobody I know is disputing trans people’s rights to exist. What is being disputed is trans people’s right to shut down the debate and attempt to silence dissenters.

  59. Anke Holst says:

    I’m a mum to a young person who is caught up on this and I’ve written a post in response.

    http://theanke.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/in-response-to-giagias-great-post-on-sex-and-gender/

  60. T says:

    I agree with most things you said, I just don’t think they should be the main point on the trans* discussion. I don’t see why we should spend so much time discussing the nature of sex and gender and creating a battle over this particular issue when there is so much to fight against on behalf of our trans* (and gender-nonconforming in general) friends. As a cis woman, I can not speak for trans* people in any way but the feeling I get is that the reason they may be offended by all that science talk is that this is precisely the very point that everyone everywhere is using against them, and we should be particularly careful with that because it has always been used against us cis women also, this is what every bigot has been using to justify women’s submission since always, same about homosexuality which also gets at me a lot because I am bisexual. It must be somewhat disturbing to them seeing that the point about biological sex is the point being stressed also by feminists, who technically should be supporting them and speaking up about the gender discrimination they too have been suffering, since we make it our missions to speak about our own.
    Also, I think it might be really inappropriate for us to compare our oppression with the oppression of trans* people simply because we are not trans* and we will never really understand what they live, and I get the feeling that when we do that, we look a lot like those straight cis men trying to compare the influence of sexism over them with the influence of sexism over us women. It is not comparable. I do believe men can be feminists, but feminism is not about cis straight men, as trans* issues are not about us cis women.

    (Edit by Gia: You may be interested in reading this article that I only just read myself this morning. It’s on the politics of this issue, which I’ve not touched on…)

  61. Fiona Hanley says:

    Anke Holst, I read your post, I’m so sorry you have this crisis going on. It’s not easy. I commented further up on Gia’s blog. My advice for what it’s worth is, listen to your child. Don’t be afraid to trust what your child is saying to you and believe it. You are the single most important person to your child’s future happiness. This is really a critical time. If it were me, and I appreciate I’m not you, I would accept your child’s femininity and embrace and support it because your child is crying out to you for your support and desperately needs it. Did you know Warren Beatty and Annette Bening have a trans son who’s about 20? He’s doing great. It might be a good idea for you to reach out to some trans adults who are more coolheaded than the people you’re concerned about influencing your child. There are indeed many who engage in radicalism and aggression but there are lots of sensible and compassionate trans moderates on twitter too who might be able to give you a different insight into how your child is feeling. I’m @greenclouds4 on Twitter if you want to get in touch for suggestions on who might be a good idea to talk to, and sorry to keep repeating “your child”, I just didn’t know what pronoun was wisest to use here. Usually I’d use the gender pronoun the person themselves wishes to be referred by. The very best of luck to you anyway in however you decide proceed from here.

  62. Tsipi says:

    If you’ve been reading for months and months… How is it you have not come across any of the articles/posts on the conflation of sex and gender?

    How is it that you don’t understand the difference between gender *roles* and gender *identities*? And let’s throw gender presentation into the mix… (Edit by Gia: There’s a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t write about. You know why? Because I just wanted to write about the idea some people have that biology is a social construction.)

    And in any case, how can you think that for most babies their gender is not assigned at birth? Most will already have been spoken to and about in very particular ways before birth, have a specific nursery/baby-sets waiting for them, don a pink or blue cap or wristband immediately, be named according to a sex-based convention… ie – AT birth. (Edit by Gia: Yes. That is part of socialisation. It is not an immutable destiny though… Which is why the concept of gender needs to be challenged not upheld. I’m fairly sure I made that clear.)

    Also, there is something really wrong with saying – some people were outraged, but really – it was great! I’m pretty sure you don’t get to make that determination for trans* people. I’m sure many trans* people would NOT consider just getting in the same room with Bindel a great achievement – being NICE or POLITE is not a huge priority, when you feel someone is actively contributing to your being killed, raped, outcast, humiliated, abused…

    Not every issue has two equal sides, and most often the attempt to present it that way creates a false parity that further weakens the disenfranchised side, while giving extra legitimacy to the oppressor. The fact that you allow comments, for example, calling trans women by definition mentally ill or lying – is indicative of this. Any trans woman reading this is at risk of the very same kind of trauma of a black person reading that they are a monkey or a jew reading that they should be make into soap. I’m sort of assuming you wouldn’t allow THAT. (Edit by Gia: I’ve only disallowed comments based on the criteria I set out at the top of the comments section. Oh, and the odd potentially libelous comment.)

  63. Rhonda says:

    Anke,

    I read your post and cannot imagine what you are going through. Interestingly your situation speaks to what I believe is at the core of this–culture. There is a strong desire today for young kids to seek out identity because the identities we grasp onto are so slippery, often meaningful for five minutes, and then on to the next. There is the pressing issue of your child’s acceptance of his body in a very real, nurturing and loving way. Then there is the issue of online culture bringing about the myths that we can ‘be anything’ regardless of the reality of our body. We can change our names, our hairstyles, our hair colors, our nails, our muscles, and pretty much everything down to changing genitalia and cheek bones. But this change does not identity make. It is what Baudrillard would call a simulacra of this ‘real’. But this is not the real. As much as I love never having to post another letter again and have all the conveniences of the Internet, the one downside to the Internet is this seemingly real simulation of life online–to include community, friends–and I mean real community and real friends.There is something quite distinct about physical interactions, sight, touch, and all the other senses as opposed to words. See, I am a butterfly, now a dragon, oh and now a human again. It sounds lovely that postmodern discourse can allow language the freedom to deconstruct and imagine anew. But hand in hand with this freedom to construct newer narratives is the responsibility to the real. I feel these narratives of transgenderism have largely reduced the body as artifice to undo and redo. Your son seems to be caught up in this fantasy that sex can be changed or that there is a ‘feeling to a woman’. Aretha Franklin said it but she was speaking/singing metaphorically about love and how the other made her feel. In our society today, the other is sexism (Sartre’s ‘l’enfer c’est l’autre’). I understand that trans people are not at home in their bodies, but that is in and of itself no more indicative of gender than it is of any other ‘pathology’. Why gender and not excema or diabetes? I think you are on target of being suspicious that your son is likely being fed this narrative from the online community. This trans community is reminding me very quickly of people who hand you Watchtower magazine. I very much see a cult developing in a way that is for sure a personal choice for adults to make, but inculcating young kids in this is just wrong.

    If I were you, I would restrict my son’s use of the Internet and literally get him out to spend time with other kids his age. It sounds he is socially isolating himself and this is not good. Being around other kids will help him sort out his life over time. I would also see if maybe he has troubles at school and if changing schools might be in order. He sounds like he needs some friends and support… And it is clear you are getting some really bizarre advice (ie. transgenderism has about as much to do with homosexuality as it has to do with peanut butter!). We are living in a period of history where extremely conservative politics and pseudo science is passing as ‘progressive’. We hear only ‘success stories’ and very little about the suffering in the ‘new body'; we are told hormones are the answer, but why not shea butter or whiskey (ie. there is no proof that hormones = gender change), and of course you should be alarmed by all this. There is no feeling a gender–there is only everything else that is not being discussed.

  64. Bob Arthur says:

    @Sasha David “Trans people, and especially trans women are used to having their genetics AND their socialisation used to attack them

    It seems to me that this is what’s wrong, and what needs to change. I’m not convinced that pretending there to be no biological difference between a trans woman and cis woman is the most efficient way to bring about the acceptance that is needed.

  65. Seaneen says:

    Thanks for this. Clear and concise and to me, fairly irrefutable.

  66. gbh says:

    thank you for such a thoughtful post. i would also like to point out that there is very little help or support for transsexuals who have suffered complications. it should be acknowledged that there is a 49% higher risk of stroke and heart attack in MtF, and 30% higher risk in FtM who take cross sex hormones.
    unfortunately i know this from experience as my sister is paralysed from many strokes and suffers recurrent life-threatening urinary tract infections. she requires full-time care in a specialized hospital. in canada, this is funded by the public health care system.
    she has lost breast tissue completely now and needs to be shaved to prevent her beard from growing thick. she looks like the man she really is. medically it has been difficult because some doctors have taken her off of female hormones as they are contra-indicated in stroke patients. i have insisted that they continue them but give her blood thinners to prevent the recurring embolisms in her legs. she can no longer move except to turn her tv on and off.
    she still has a prostate and i am concerned about cancer there. no doctor seems to know how to care for her. she is genetically male, and yet she is being treated as a female. there is a serious disconnect in the whole scenario and in the translobby’s assumptions about their bodies being of the opposite sex….it is a disaster once the hormones and treatment go haywire.
    also there are no long term studies on the effects of surgery and hormones because there are no real specialists who follow up with transexuals. people like my sister languish without a single gender specialist even knowing about her case, or even that she exists. she had surgery in 1975 and has been paralysed since 1985! nobody in the trans community cares or wants to acknowledge her even though she was one of the first transsexuals in canada and started support groups in several cities.
    the trans community does not want to acknowledge that they are naive about the biology of sex and the impact their delusions have on the their very own people, like my sister.

  67. Patrick Quon says:

    Rhonda,

    Thank you for telling it like it is. Cult-think permeates the “trans” sub-culture and cult-think is not something to take lightly.

    Cult-think is what brought us Jonestown.

    Cult-think is what drives people to give their entire life savings to a “church” — and then sign billion-year contracts to work for the “church” for slave wages.

    Cult-think destroys families, destroys life-long friendships, destroys long-term love relationships, destroys lives.

    People in cults (oppressive, inward-facing, narrowly-focused, anti-intellectual, anti-rational subcultures where charismatic leaders convince the mentally/emotionally weak to let the leaders do their thinking for them) don’t want discussion. They don’t want debate. They don’t want questioning. They can’t tolerate anyone or anything which points a mirror at the irrational beliefs of the cult and says, “Hey, what about this? This isn’t factually correct…or ethical…or responsible…or fair…”

    When someone claims that the simple act of writing “it is impossible for an XY male to know how it feels to be female because he’s male” is tantamount to wishing all “trans women” to be viciously, violently murdered? When a male claims that his penis is “female” because his “brain gender” is female? When a male claims that he is a lesbian and that any female lesbian who doesn’t want to have sex with him is shamefully transphobic and should be shunned by all other lesbians? When a parent claims that their 2-year-old daughter is “really” a boy inside based on the fact that she doesn’t embrace society’s pressure to act-out feminine stereotypes and prefers dogs and baseballs to pink dolls and frilly dresses? And so-called feminist women agree, placate and enable the people promulgating these female-abusing, lesbian-abusing falsehoods? We’ve crossed over far, far into cult territory.

  68. Patrick Quon says:

    Fiona Hanley:

    “The very least a trans woman deserves is for other women to say to her ‘you are my sister’.”

    I mean this from the bottom of my heart: he’s not.

    Why is this so hard for you to understand? He’s not my sister. He’ll never be my sister.

    Is that really so hard for you to comprehend? I don’t hate him. I don’t want him to die. I have no desire to harm him in any way. But I categorically REFUSE to pretend that a man can be my sister. My rational mind, my years of studying science, my logical and my spiritual sides both tell me quite clearly that there is no such thing as a “male sister”.

    It’s like demanding that I absolutely must believe that a teacup is really a persimmon or that the moon is really made of water.

    No.

    It actually MATTERS to me that he’s male, that “woman” is the word we use in the English language for “adult female human being” and that “sister” is a female-sexed word that means “daughter of my mother.”

    It may not matter to you, but it MATTERS to me. The truth about sex matters.

  69. qvaken says:

    Leave this blog post up forever, no matter what hate you get.

  70. Jonathan says:

    Hi giagia

    I agree entirely with the initial premise of your article: that sex and gender are, in general, different things (or if not entirely, it is at least very useful for the purpose of identifying particular oppressions to assume they are), and that conflict often arises because of our different usage of these words – in particular that, when we talk about “gender”, we’re often *talking* about different things. So it would be indeed be helpful to be clear what we each mean when we say “gender”, rather than arguing continually at cross-purposes. Therefore I appreciate your attempt to clarify these terms.

    The trouble is that biological sex is not quite so straightforward as you’ve defined it. Even without considering intersex conditions, sex is not so completely a discrete binary. Regarding the biological science of sex, Coendou highlights some of the discrepancies pretty well above. So yes, male and female are *almost always* as you have defined them – but the key part of that here is “almost”. From trans perspectives, some trans people fall outside the “always” – which you can either accept or not. That some radical feminists do accept this, while others clearly don’t, shows that this is not in itself an inevitable argument between trans perspectives and radical feminism itself, merely with *some* radical feminists.

    Regarding gender: Trans understandings have no *intrinsic* conflict at all with how you’ve defined gender, or with (radical) feminist understandings of gender as an oppressive social construct, etc. (Obviously you could point to particular contrary opinions by particular people, but these are personal and particular perspectives, not intrinsic to trans in general.) In particular, trans understandings of *sex* do not intrinsically conflict with feminist understandings of *gender*, because sex and gender (as we’re discussing them) are not the same thing.

    Regarding brain sex: Yes, this always gets brought up, but it’s a complete red herring. Yes, it’s sometimes offered as a possible aetiology of some trans realities, but so what? Male and female brains already *are* different – microscopically in structure (discovered in post mortem dissection), more significantly in average size and how brains sometimes light up under resonance imaging. But again this has *no bearing* on feminist understandings of *gender*. The whole point of Cordelia Fine’s (and others’) work (which you reference) is that brain sex or neurological difference does *not* imply gender, that brain function and capability is *not* affected by sex difference, that the gendering of aspects of human existence is a social construction and *cannot* be inherently attributed to biological sex, including *brain sex*. If evidence exists (which it does, albeit inconclusively) that some trans people’s brains are similar or parallel to particular binary sexed brains (contrary to other aspects of their morphology), that is merely evidence of *sex*. It again has no effect on feminist understandings of *gender* and gender oppression, because (again) sex and gender are not the same thing.

    As to oppression on the basis of particular morphology (the sex of the body): Obviously this applies to most women throughout history – though *not* including trans women in some instances (in particular as regards female fertility) – but also (in some instances) applying to trans men. If some trans men are therefore angered by erasure arising from calling morphologically-based oppression “women’s issues”, then they are. Okay, if you’re not trans that might seem like a perpetual and annoying distraction; okay, so you’re irritated by it – but turning this is directed anger is misplaced. It isn’t really so hard just to say: Okay, yes, you’re oppressed by this too and just get on with fighting it.

    Incidentally, I wasn’t one who criticized your panel discussion. I watched it on youtube and thought it was quite fair and interesting. Sorry that you’ve had people abusing you on twitter and elsewhere. That’s always nasty stuff – and it really doesn’t help anybody at all. Some people (irrespective of ideology or identity) just seem to spend their entire lives online looking for people to be angry at and hateful to. What can you do.

  71. druidwinter says:

    Great post. In this time of silencing women, it is good to see women that still appreciate feminism.

  72. Sue Fletcher says:

    Ok, I’m now officially confused. I was at the event and as a human being of uncertain gender ( I know what I am – some people agree and others want me gassed or otherwise removed from existance), I get why trans folk get very defensive around this type of discussion. It is difficult to express stuff that better scientists than me have ‘proved’ when I am not a scientist. I interrupted my education in order to get a drug habit that took away the pain of having to lead a societally dictated role that didn’t fit. I’m sorry if that means I can’t refute scientist A or scientist B. I really don’t care. My experience is mine, not yours – and vice versa. I don’t know what it is like to experience menarche or have a period but I do know the pain of an adult penis entering a pre-pubescant orifice and I didn’t go ‘hurrah for the patriarchy’.

    I admit I am chromosomally challenged as a female, but I also didn’t really get to take full advantage of the benefits of being a boy/man. I lived in the margins never fully getting what it was I was supposed to be. I jumped through the hoops and cleared the hurdles laid out by WPATH, Harry Benjamin et al and got myself ‘womaned up’ whatever exact that is. Essentially, I live in a way that is poorer, more dangerous and decidedly less advantaged than what went before. Why? Because I now FEEL right. A very subjective and individual experience. I can’t articulate it better than that and I’m not sure why I should have to. I don’t care what you think. I certainly don’t care what the likes of Cathy Brennan thinks. They have their own issues and demons. I don’t think they should be allowed ot affect the shape of policy and care for trans-folk, though – not enough science.

    I appreciate what you are trying to do, Gia. As a woman with an analytical turn of mind, the whole trans thing is kind of irrational. Is it just a form of body dismorphia, and if so, why is it given such a special staus? Why do trans-folk get to have hormonal and surgical interventions when other forms of the dismorphic condition tend not to? Are there any stats on satisfaction of surgical intervention for those that have limbs removed (there are some who manage to get their wishes fulfilled)? How do they compare with those of Trans-folk. Are we just having our bodies mutilated by pseudo-science or is there a genuine case for what is being done. Like I said, I’m not a scientist and I am in the 98% satisfaction group.

    I think I said most of this to you on the evening of the event but with the unfolding of events since, I feel the need to reiterate some of it and to make the statement that While I appreciate the efforts of many trans-activists, they do not speak for me and I would not dream of claiming to speak for them. I did the evangelical bit and then grew up a bit. I don’t claim to understand much of the science and pseudo-science being floated around. I just intend to live my life the best way I can and to hell with the haters of all stripes.

  73. Kat says:

    Before I read the comments already here I just wanted to say thanks very much for this post, Giagia. You don’t know how much I appreciate seeing this after seeing endless post everywhere claiming ‘sex is a social construct!’ Where social construct to them means its ‘not real’. Which is an inaccurate definition of social construct!

    I cannot wrap my mind around why it’s even an issue. This denial of human biology is almost akin to creationism. Their beliefs don’t override scientific fact. And this I very much agree with ‘There is a reality – in this case Biology (Sex) – that exists outside of our experience of the world’. Even if we did not recognize/label human males and females they would still exist. There would still be differences. The idea that it’s possible to ‘feel like a woman’ is practically a spiritual belief, like the belief in a soul.

    Women are oppressed because our sex is viewed as inferior by males. Yet if you say this, in so many places you would be shouted down as transphobic and bigoted, despite it being the most basic theory of feminism. Women can’t even discuss their own biological reality and how it affects their lives without being told to shut up and that ‘not all women have vaginas’. Its complete misogyny. Do they think women are oppressed because they’re ‘feminine’ (which plenty of women are not) or because of some ethereal feeling of being a woman? It doesn’t make sense. Trans* activists want to divorce the meanings of male/man and female/woman from all biological and socio-historical contexts. This is very dangerous to feminism. Female human beings NEED to be able to recognize our oppression and WHY our oppressors treat us the way they do or we will get no where.

    Anyway, thanks again. Very happy to see this being discussed! I know you may get a lot of hate mail for this. But you aren’t wrong. I hope this post stays up for a very long time.

  74. Kat says:

    Yeesh, and now that I’ve read the comments, I see so many people making the ridiculous claims I mentioned in my first comment.

    The most ridiculous thing to me is ‘gender identity’. Which, as they claim, has nothing to do with biology nor socialization nor gender roles. Its some ‘internal sense of who you are’. What in the world does that mean? And how exactly do you prove that this is something all human beings have? Because I would love to see you try. This is what I’m talking about when I say it’s like the belief in a soul.
    Whenever I try to find a definition of gender identity I always get some vague, new-agey woowoo nonsense that’s its ‘~knowing who you truly are~’. If gender identity has nothing to do with the current definitions and concepts of gender and sex then why call it GENDER identity? How do you know it has to do with gender? And how exactly do you determine that this feeling means you’re a woman? Is there a certain way that all women universally feel that lets them ‘just know’?

    And trying to redefine female and male as anything you want it to be is stupid. Words have meanings. If female can mean someone with a penis and testes and XY chromosomes, if female can mean anything and everything, then it becomes a useless word that describes nothing. Same thing with woman and man, and any word. It is not harmless. Because suddenly female issues are everyone’s issues, as giagia said. And this not conducive to feminism or any social justice issue. If someone told me that they ‘felt jewish’ and attempted to redefine ‘jewish’ in order to suit themselves I would not stand for it anymore than I stand for redefining female out of existence.

    I don’t even know if I want to touch the ignorance of human biology present in the comments despite your clear cut explanations. The tokenizing of intersex individuals is a present as ever in trans* activism I see. It’s ever a wonder to me that the existence of intersex people somehow erases the existence of male and female people, which makes up like 99% percent of the human population. But somehow I guess the exceptions disprove the rule?

    Sorry for making two posts, Giagia. This issue has been on my mind lately and I guess I have a lot to say.

  75. Fiona Hanley says:

    @ Patrick Quan “Fiona Hanley… Why is this so hard for you to understand? He’s not my sister. He’ll never be my sister…. My rational mind, my years of studying science, my logical and my spiritual sides both tell me quite clearly that there is no such thing as a “male sister”.

    Patrick, if science says gender is identified by genitals or hormones or chromosomes or conditioning or whatever else, but a person says “yes, my body is all those things but no, I’m telling you and please believe me, I am not a man. I am not male. I’m a woman, I know this.” then which is wrong? The person or what science says about the person?

    You’ve already resolved this inconsistency for yourself in a previous comment when you said that trans people are “seriously mis-educated, mentally ill and/or lying (yes, some of them are sexual fetishists who know darn well that they’re lying. Some detransitioners will eventually admit that they were lying to their therapists, lying to their surgeons, lying to their parents, etc.)” That’s pretty harsh and seems prejudicial.

    I’m no scientist but Occam’s Razor would suggest to me there’s another possibility. Isn’t it possible that trans women are not fantasists or liars? Haven’t you at all considered the possibility that they’re honest, sane people who are telling the truth? If so isn’t it possible that that which makes us male or female has not yet been discovered? That whatever it is, it coincides usually with the biological markers we already know about but we know from trans people’s very existence that to be male or female is not those markers but something else as yet unknown? As a critical thinker who’s studied science for years it might be more appropriate for you to consider what this contradictory evidence means and how it affects the received body of knowledge instead of shutting this new evidence down as the account of liars and slandering the people testifying to it.

  76. Brendan says:

    Wow, this is the most well written article I’ve read on the issues of gender and sex. It’s clear and concise and evidence based. Thank you so much for being confident enough in yourself to tackle these controversial issues head on and to being to light some of the confrontations based on word use. I’m definitely going to share this article with as many people as I can.

  77. Fran Oliver says:

    Really enjoyed this blog and the comments – thank you Gia and all who replied.

    Just a quick and lazy comment on Kat’s above: indeed it is foolish to ignore biology, as the meaningfulness of the phrase “internal sense of who you are” signally depends on it, at least in the sense that the brain manufactures one’s sense of self as part of its consciousness program and gender identity is clearly an important part of this. As a blueprint is built into a human in the womb, it is subjected to various hormones, genetic quirks and environmental conditions unique to that mother and baby. Ordinarily, “the basic account of a typical brain-hormone interaction for XX and XY fetuses” results in, say, XX females who identify as women, but “not all cases conform to the prototype. Variability is always a part of biology.” In other words, variability in genes leads to variability in brain development and various factors, both genetic and environmental, can deflect the intricate development of a body and its brain from its typical course. Which results in a a glorious diversity of humans and implies that once one has emerged from Mum, one can feel – if only instinctively when very young – “trapped in the wrong body” even before encountering the conditioning and prescribed gender roles that emerge with socialization. Neurophilosopher Pat Churchland’s “Touching a Nerve” from which I’ve quoted is illuminating on this subject and complements Cordelia Fine. I think they would both agree that gender *roles* are socially constructed but Churchland provides a lot of evidence that suggests that an innate – if inchoate – sense of gender precedes this. Of course this internal sense is plastic (at least to a degree) and can be perhaps either weakened or strengthened depending on the social context the individual is exposed to.

    It’s interesting that the WHO definition of gender pointedly includes the word “roles” as if there is nothing else to gender identity except the social. Evidence from neuroscience suggests there is and while I don’t subscribe to the risible “women are from Venus, men from Mars” trope one can still allow for subtle differences *on average* between typical male and female brains without for one second compromising the honorable (and to some, sadly not obvious) principle of equality between, well, all of us.

    There’s an extract here http://integral-options.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/patricia-churchland-touching-nerve.html though it is sadly incomplete.

  78. Fran Oliver says:

    Sorry, one more…

    ‘There is not some Universal, immutable, innate feeling of homesexuality. ‘Gay’ is a cultural role that is created by how a person is treated by society, it’s not created by the mythical “gay brain”. ‘

    Forgive my predictably altering the above. But I have a feeling many more people would be uncomfortable with that statement than the original. To claim being gay is a choice provides ammunition to a lot of unpleasant people, for a start. But why the difference? Why is it fashionable to say gender identity is entirely social but sexual preference may well not be? I’m not saying it isn’t of course – the jury is still out – but there is a whiff of double-standard here.

    ‘Your environment, your interpersonal relationships and your experiences create the thing you think of as “You”. (Unless, of course, you believe in a Soul. If you do, then read what Sean Carroll has written about it… I’ll wait…)”‘

    We don’t need to believe in a soul to concede that external influences act on a unique brain structure that will filter them remorselessly and often subconsciously, perhaps to fit what could be called an innate agenda, which we experience instinctively as “feeling” and “identity”. Perhaps. Anyway I’m on well shaky ground here so will bow out. I find the interaction of nature and nurture absolutely fascinating especially the often heated politics of debate around it.

    (Edit by Gia: There is no evidence that ‘the Gay Gene’ exists at all and is highly unlikely to be discovered as a discrete “thing”. That’s not how we work. Even with most diseases, you can have the genetic markers for them, but require “environmental” influence for them to be activated. Sexual orientation is on a spectrum with a few individuals exclusively hetero- or homosexual at either end and everyone else in between. Within that ‘everywhere else in between’ there is likely to be an active choice being made at any one time- either to act or not on one’s sexual desires however fleeting. For example, someone can be bisexual without being active at all in the LGBT world. They mightn’t even call themselves bisexual. They are making a choice to be (seen as) heterosexual. They are still bisexual… Equally, someone with exactly the same level of bisexual desire [which may or may not be equal for both sexes or genders] can make a choice to opt out of heterosexuality entirely and live as gay or lesbian. At least within sexual orientation there is the acknowledgement of a spectrum. With trans/cis there isn’t that option. As the research I quoted in my blogpost shows, not many people are really “cis” as it’s currently defined.)

  79. Veronica says:

    Firstly, it is truly ignorant of some intersex people to claim that trans* people appropriate intersex identities. A lot of trans* people ARE also intersex. Intersex usually classifies the visible and/or measurable variations, but the we know the same variations that causes these differences also affects the brain, and therin lies the underlying reason for trans*, somewhere. Sometimes these variations are visible in both. Not all intersex conditions are visible, and many go through their entire lives never knowing they are intersex, so it is perfectly possible that many of the invisible intersex people are also the visible trans* people.

    Sexual dimorphism in humans is guided primarily by hormones NOT chromosomes. Chromosomes aren’t even relevant in many mammals, and barely relevant in humans. Some of the same conditions that can cause a person to have a physically visible intersex development can as easily cause a person to appear binary sexed, but have a variation in the brain that isn’t readily visible because we don’t yet fully understand how the brain works. I am transsexual, but I also have a number of intersex symptoms that have not been diagnosed. I never had a typical male development, and my response to hormone treatment has been quite significant. To say there is no connection between intersex and trans* is not only factually wrong, it is also highly unlikely that the connection is insignificant.

    The blunt hostility by some intersex individuals towards trans* people is nothing other than transphobia.

    (Edit by Gia: Is it? Are you saying they don’t have the right to self-define themselves? Can they not feel that the language they use to explain their condition is being/has been cop-opted by the trans* community [eg "sex assigned at birth" means something very specific to someone born with ambiguous genitalia which has nothing to do with the trans* use of it]? Are you denying that they may have very specific issues that are of specific concern to them?)

    Back to the actual blogpost. If the author would just actually read some books on the biology of sex, she might learn something. As a skeptic that should be the proper cause of action, not look up some definition in an introductory text and continue to assume the rest follows exactly like the conservative and normative narrative of development. That’s bias. Nothing less.

    In everyday reality chromosomes are irrelevant as to which of the socially constructed roles one fits into. The body of a trans* woman who was assigned male at birth after a superficial examination of genitals, is not male after HRT. Even without operations, a trans* body is a mosaic of sex by any of society’s standards as well as medical. It also affects the brain, but the trans* brain was also already affected before this point. Otherwise trans* wouldn’t be persistent to such a degree as it is in a trans* person. You can read any psychology text on the topic to verify this.

    The views the original post holds is outdated from a scientific point of view. As in any other field, a theory that doesn’t explain observation is an incomplete theory. A binary two-chromosome view of sex is about as scientifically up to date as creationism, and not significantly better argued by its fervent believers like some of those you clearly have attracted judging by the content of some of these comments.

    All you needed to do to get to this information was to go visit wikipedia and look it up. Then, as a good skeptic using wikipedia, you go and investigate the sources. Some sources are Anne Fausto-Sterling and Julia Serano (biologists) and Cordelia Fine (psychologist) and for an interpretation of society’s understanding of sex and gender, read Judith Butler (philosopher). There’s much much more material too. Stanford has an entire multi-disciplinary institute devoted to this type of research.

  80. Veronica says:

    Kat, the only ignorance displayed here is you who assumes the significantly outdated view you represent is actually biology. It isn’t.. Instead of making claims of ignorance, go read. Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s new-agey woo. There are plenty of concepts in science that are counter-intuitive.

    If you find it so hard to understand gender identity, then how do you understand sexual orientation? Heterosexual people used to object vigorously to the label “heterosexual” because it made no sense to people who assumed they were “normal”. This is no different. Your brain has an internal image of your body that for trans* people does not match the external. Exactly like the quote from Matrix, and I am pretty certain that the concept explained so well in the movie is intended to explain this given that one of the directors is trans.

    This is anything but a dualistic spirit/body argument. This is about how sexual dimorphism isn’t always consistent with human traditional understanding. Arguing with people with your view is like arguing with creationists. Too much dogma and cherry picking science.

  81. Veronica says:

    Just read by Jonathan’s post above …

    My posts have only discussed biology, and not gender identity. Just so that’s clear. Gender identity and conformity to gender roles is an entirely different topic. There are plenty of people with vastly different gender expressions and identities that aren’t transsexual.

  82. teXtine says:

    Thank you for writing this. I feel I have an ever so slightly better grasp on the discussion at hand without having to wade through piles of abuse that seems to accompany this discussion… I intend to continue to read up on/listen up to all perspectives, but have raised the bar as to what I will tolerate regarding civility. Yes, many viewpoints and individuals have the right to be angry, even livid, say stupid things and swear up a bluestreak, but as someone who knows anger and swearing helped/helps me get through some tough identity crises, I’ve learned a small lesson here… that this blog post, and the comments were much easier to process the linguistic finger-flipping found elsewhere online. Thanks again for writing this.