So, following on from this post:
I want to ask the following question; who or what decides who we are? Who or what is the ultimate arbiter of identity? I guess in previous generations it was decided by factors such as social class, occupation, nationality and so on: Kwame Appiah gave a series of talks on this as the 2016 Reith lecturer called ‘Mistaken Identities’ in which he covered culture, nationality, colour and creed. He could easily have covered gender as well: there’s certainly enough debate going on about this at the moment.
Although ‘debate’ is perhaps something of a misnomer for what is basically a boxing match. On one side we have the traditionalists who think men should be men and women, women: in the same corner are the TERFs who believe that a trans woman is not a ‘real’ woman. And in the opposite corner stand the trans community and their supporters who maintain that a trans woman is, and always has been, a woman.
So how does this work? In what sense is a person born with male sex and reproductive organs, who develops chest and facial hair along with other secondary sexual characteristics, a woman? Explanations are not readily forthcoming: neither is it easy to have respectful debate, with those on one side saying often very rude and hurtful comments and those on the other stating that anyone who doesn’t accept them is effectively denying their right to exist.
But what makes a trans woman a woman? Explanations are long on what a trans person isn’t and very short on what they is. Basically they throw out biology and genetics as indicators of gender and seem to say ‘I am what I feel I am.’
I can’t go along with this. Quite apart from my own issues with what gender dysphoria can do to a heterosexual marriage, I cannot simply throw out biology and agree that your gender is whatever you decide it is. (And yes, I realise this is not done on a whim, but still…) This makes no sense to me – and neither, I suspect, does it make sense to most people.
And there’s the rub: because what concerns me is that an orthodoxy is emerging in academic circles, where one view is being promoted and debate is not encouraged. Some speakers (notably Germaine Greer) have been banned from campuses for expressing certain views, including anti-trans opinions:
Free speech or hate speech? Is expressing anti-trans views to a mixed audience, as some have claimed, like shouting fire in a crowded room?
What do you think?
4 thoughts on “And What Am I?”
Interesting issues… There is a generational shift here. My children make me feel like a dinosaur in this: my son has a girlfriend who self-identifies as a boy and I have to be respectful with the pronouns i.e. calling “her” “him”. It doesn’t come easily and I don’t know whether it is petulant teenager or petulant fifty-year-old at fault.
I quite agree. I find it very hard to call people by the right pronouns, particularly when the person is non-binary and wants to be called ‘they’
This is an interesting debate. Personally, as I believe that gender is a social construct, then for me definition or identity has to be a matter of “what one feels themselves to be”, as you put it. However, I recognise that is a very simplistic approach to a very complex issue. But then I wonder whether the complexity is derived from the simplistic binary construction of identity we have assumed as human beings. If we argue that gender is intricately linked to our sex, then what becomes of those people who are born with both sets of sexual organs? They literally cannot fit into the simple gender binaries as they are currently defined. Often, these people are unaware of the situation (as one set of genitalia remains internal) So, in these cases surely, we have to say, you are what you feel. Then by extension why does this not apply to all of us? Is gender a static thing? Can one not decide over a period of time that they would prefer to identify as the other or neutral position? Finally, whilst I don’t agree with closing down debate, I think Greer is fundamentally wrong to deny trans people their own sense of identity. Stating that a trans woman is not a real woman is ludicrous – because how does one define a ‘real’ woman? As a woman, I don’t identify with a lot of feminine traits (although I play around with them from time to time – but see this as me ‘acting out’ or ‘trying it on for size’). Does this mean I am not a real woman, I wonder? At the end of the day are we not all human beings, and if we could regard gender as a fluid thing then the world would be an easier place to ‘be’.
(Of course, this is all written in the abstract and it isn’t to play down the difficult emotional roller-coaster that must play out in these situations, both for the individuals concerned and for those around them).
I guess the question that goes along with that is, Is sexuality fluid? OK some people are straight, some are gay and some are bi; others, we are told, are polyamorous. But I would suggest that whatever you are, you don’t have a choice about it. Therefore if you are in a marriage where one partner changes gender you are in effect supposed to alter your sexual orientation in order to make the marriage work. It means effectively turning a gay relationship into a straight one, or vice versa; I don’t think this is possible for most people. Gays and lesbians have spent decades campaigning on the issue that sexuality is not a choice. So in effect if you are in a marriage and want to change gender you are asking your partner to change their sexuality. This in my view is neither acceptable nor possible