Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Big Transgender Post

This article expects you to have a basic understanding of terminology surrounding the transgender movement, but in case you don't, here's the one-paragraph summary: "Sex" refers to one's maleness of femaleness in the physical sense (ie; your plumbing). "Gender" refers to someone's mental sense of identity of being male or female (what you consider yourself to be or "identify" as). "Female-to-Male" (or FTM) refers to a transgendered1 person who was born with a female body but identifies as a male. "Male-to-Female" or MTF would be the opposite of that2. A person who's not transgendered is called "cisgendered."
I don't really have a blanket acceptance for all transgender issues nor a blanket denial of them. It's a little more complicated with that, so I'm going to list some statements that would generally be used to describe what the transgender rights movement supports, then whether I consider then true or false and why. If any of the issues require further clarification or support after this, I'll write a separate article for them.

  • A person is a man3 or a woman based on what they identify with. Sort of. Like many discussions, this one comes down to a matter. Here, we have two different definitions for man,* one stemmed in gender, and the other stemmed in sex. The exact wording that I most often hear for the gender-based definitions is that a male is "anyone who identifies as a male." The sex-based definition I like to use is that someone is male if they're "phenotypically male," that is to say if they've grown male reproductive organs.
    As far as which of these is correct, they both are to some extent. Some people, when they say "male" are referring to someone who identifies as male, regardless of gender. At the same time, some people are referring to anyone who has a male sex when they say it. Really, in a way, these are two separate words that just happen to be spelled and pronounced the same way. So, they're both useable definitions.
    My position, though, would be that the sex-based version is more useable. The reason for this being mostly that it's the meaning that most people are thinking of when they say male, and most dictionaries would agree with it. There are also some inherent problems with the gender-based definition, probably the greatest of which is that it's a circular definition; it includes the word "male" in the definition for "male." It also implies that anyone who doesn't speak English can't really be male, because they probably wouldn't identify with a word that they don't even know. I know this sounds like I'm being pretty ridiculous in my interpretation of this definition, but when a definition doesn't create any meaning in a word besides the word itself, then it's just not a good definition and opens itself up to these problems.
    I can also see how people might see the gender-based definition as sort of a "straw-man," but that is honestly the definition I've heard most often offered by people who consider maleness to be gender-determined. Still, I'm also willing to listen to other definitions if any readers have another one to offer.
  • A transgendered person feels a strong compulsion to express their gender which they cannot help. Sure. I mean, I don't have the experience of being any of the people out there who say these feelings are so compelling, so who am I to disagree with them when they tell me how they feel.
  • A person should be allowed to wear the clothes and then present themselves in such a way that reflects their gender identity. Yes , with a caveat. This is all about being honest with yourself. If you a person feels that their gender compells them to wear a skirt instead of pants or visa versa, then more power to them. There's really no harm in dressing to express. I put a caveat in here though, with regards to dressing in order to convince people that your sex is something it isn't. I've noticed a pre-occupation amongst transgendered people with their ability to "pass," or present themselves in such a way that no one guesses their sex. This is different than dressing in a certain way for the purposes of self-expression; it's dressing for the purpose of creating an idea in other people's heads, and a false idea at that. I'm not saying that this should be illegal or anything like that, but there is a moral obligation not to, as it is dishonest.
  • Transgender people should be free from violence and harassment because their presentation doesn't match up with society's proscription for how people of their sex act. Absolutely. There are very few things in this world that someone can do to warrant violence against them, and choosing not to fall in with society's gender roles is not one of them. Anti-transgender violence is also (I've heard) one of the factors that pressures transgendered people into hiding their birth sex, for their own safety. So any act of violence against transgendered people for anger over dishonesty about sex is having the opposite effect intended.
  • A transgendered person should be able to use the bathroom, locker-room, or similar facility which corresponds with their gender. No. This goes back to the first issue I brought up, about what makes someone a man or a woman. The reason that we have separate facilities for men and women has nothing to do with self-identities or gender roles and has everything to do with bodies. Being nude is a very corporal thing. In our society, we have this pervasive idea that seeing a nude person who has the same kind of body as oneself and being seen nude by people of the same kind of body is really no big deal, but seeing or being seen by a member of the opposite sex is something to be avoided, or at least reserved for people one is intimate with. Now, one can certainly argue that this idea is pointless or wrong or whatever. It's not my intention to defend this idea as something necessary, but rather just to point out that it is there and that it is the basis for why we have "men's" and "women's" facilities. So it only makes sense that how we divide people into these facilities should follow along corporal lines. Also, there are some single-user, unisex restroom out there; an idea that I'm totally in favour of.
  • Transwomen should be allowed to attend the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Yes, but there's more to it than that. for those of you who've never heard of it, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (or MWMF) is an annual music festival built around female artists and has had a long-running rule of only allowing "womyn-born-womyn" to attend. Recently, they started agreeing to sell tickets to transwomen, but informing them that they are violating the spirit of the festival. Then, they eventually just dropped the rule altogether, but I feel it's still an issue worth discussing. I could probably write a whole post on the MWMF, but I'll try to keep it brief here. Preventing transwomen from attending the festival was wrong and discriminatory, but it wasn't wrong because doing so didn't recognize them as women; it was wrong because trying to limit the festival to only women in the first place was bigoted and discriminatory. There has been a noticeable movement in the transgender community to try and gain access to the MWMF, but they're not doing it by saying that they should end their discriminatory admittance policy, but rather that they should just revise it so that transwomen aren't excluded. The thing about how the transgendered movement has treated this policy, is that they've implicitly said "It's okay that you discriminate; you're just discriminating wrong." The fundamental difference between the MWMF and the places mentioned in the above issue is that a music festival has nothing to do with one's sex or body, so it doesn't justify to exclude people based on their sex or body.
  • A transgendered person should be allowed to marry someone of their birth sex (and opposite their gender). Yes, but same with cysgendered people. I'm definitely in favour of marriage equality (see previous post), so I don't think sex (or gender) should be a factor that prevents anyone from getting married.
  • A person should be legally protected from being discriminated against for employment, based on their gender. I agree. A person shouldn't be disqualified from a job because of their gender, their sex, or whether or not the two "match." The reason being is that none of these things have any baring on a person's ability to work. There are a few jobs that would count as exceptions (e.g. stripper), but these really are just small exceptions and shouldn't allow discrimination in other positions.

1Some people have a problem with using "Transgendered" as an adjective. I am not one of them.
2Of course, there are more categories out there than "male" or "female," but I'm trying not to over-complicate thing
3For brevity's sake, I'm just going to be talking about how this argument applies to whether or not someone is a man. Everything in this section can be applied to whether someone's a woman, as well.


  1. The locker room argument is the one that troubles me the most. If the basis for having separate locker rooms based on phenotypic sex is to prevent people from being seen naked or semi-clothed by the opposite sex, I think that assumes that the people using the locker rooms are heterosexual.

    A woman attracted to women or a man attracted to men could be equally as uncomfortable in the locker room assigned to them by virtue of their sex for the same reason as heterosexual people would be with the opposite sex.

    Then there's the whole issue about the comfort of the transperson. Maybe they're uncomfortable being in the locker room of their birth sex for the reasons listed above. What are they supposed to do? And then there's the issue of post-op transsexual/transgendered people. That's a whole other bucket of worms.

    What I'm saying, basically, is that there's no real good way to divide locker rooms in a way that makes everyone comfortable and is still financially reasonable. I think we just have to do the best with what we have. I mean, heck, lots of people change in bathroom stalls anyway for the reasons above or body image issues.

    I do like the discussion of the MWMF and I think if you did a little research you could very well expand that into another blog post. One thing to start with would be the existence of "Camp Trans" (I think that's what it's called) across the street.

    That's all I can think of for now. Very engaging on a basic level.

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