Letting go of gender
I doubt anyone who reads my content thinks much of traditional conservative beliefs about gender roles, and as those beliefs are usually based on Christianity or a similar religion, I don't see much point in arguing against them. But there's a huge space of ideas between that and the most radical of leftist ideas about gender. The day I left Catholicism was not at all the day I started believing what I do now, and there are two things I hope to accomplish with this page:
- Provide guidance for those who are not steeped in religious bias and bigotry, but still use the conservative dictionary of gender, so they can follow the path I did more easily
- Make such positions more understandable to people who are the farthest away from them
For the rest of this article, I'm going to use the word 'conservative' to mean someone who adheres to the typical conservative axiom that gender = sex, not necessarily someone who's conservative in any other way.
For the most part, arguments about the nature of gender are purely semantic, which is part of why I give little weight to the issue. There are a couple of non-semantic issues attached, like bathrooms and sports, but I actually think the correct arguments on those are both independent from what you think gender means or should mean or what you think about transgender people, so I'll just get those out of the way first.
A common issue people rage about is caused by gender divisions in sports. Of course, trans people want to be placed based on their gender identity and conservatives want them to be placed based on their birth sex, claiming that otherwise trans women have an advantage over cis women since they are "really" men.
Such advantage is of course not tied to birth sex and is reduced or removed by HRT, and I have never heard anyone on that side of the aisle acknowledge this. But I think there's a more important argument here: gender divisions in sports are unwarranted in the first place.
Consider this: some men are stronger than other men, but we don't divide sports teams based on individual strength differences within a gender. So why does the gender division exist? Clearly the people advocating it don't believe that strength differences between competitors should be minimized, because using that as an argument for gender division is a correlated trait fallacy.
Correlated trait fallacy
Conservatives often fear that without the division there will be no women at high levels in sports. Well, maybe that's true. But is it the problem it appears to be? If women can only reach the nth highest tier, then a woman reaching that tier is equally impressive as a man reaching the highest. You just have to adjust for it in your mind. This allows the actual extent of the difference to be shown naturally.
I have favored the abolition of gendered bathrooms ever since it occurred to me as a kid, but since they're still gendered in many places, we do have to deal with them.
Understandably, many cishet people don't want to see members of the opposite sex in such a context. But although trans people are a minority, they are affected far more severely by this kind of thing, due to the intensity of gender dysphoria and the fact that such a huge portion of them are already suicidal. Also consider how this affects cis gay people.
Some people would probably like to add another argument to this: policing it leads to mistakes, because cis people can be mistaken for the opposite sex. But I think that's a strawman because I don't think anyone worth arguing with actually wants it enforced, they only think that going into the bathroom that doesn't match your sex is ignoble.
When I was an atheistic "LGB drop the T" person, my reason for opposing the T had nothing to do with tradcath residue and everything to do with the idea that T is based on a failure to erase gender roles from one's mind. My argument was basically this: if gender doesn't and shouldn't affect your social status or roles, what possible reason is there to reject the gender you were born as? Shouldn't it be as inconsequential as your skin color, your height? Why is it an "identity" when those things aren't? Basically, I thought transgenderism was just misunderstood gender nonconformity.
This was an ignorant argument to make for many reasons, most obvious one is that gender dysphoria is a neurological condition which can afflict even people who clearly understand gender noncomformity; this was proven to me when I met a non-binary friend who believed that trans people were only legitimate if they had gender dysphoria, and made my exact same argument against trans people without it ("transtrenders").
This is the transmedicalist or "exclu" position: deviations from the conservative definition of gender are only allowed because of gender dysphoria. According to this position, gender is *not* a choice, and that's precisely the source of transgender legitimacy. A transmed saying is "sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears".
A position I passed through after learning about this was that gender should still be defined based on procreative ability, but that people with gender dysphoria should be referred to by their desired pronouns in their presence. But there's another reason not to define gender based on procreative ability, this one fatal: *there are infertile cis people*! If gender is which role someone's body can play in procreation (which is what I said when I was an LGB drop the T person), then an infertile cis woman is not a real woman, which is not something I believed.
Conservatives might try defining it based on genital organs regardless of fertility. I think this doesn't make much sense because why should the shape of the organ be more important than its actual functionality? It seems like a typical materialist's focus on a physical representation rather than the actual reason something matters. But this definition does seem to actually work out the way conservatives want it to (as long as they're willing to admit that sex reassigment surgery can legitimately change someone's gender).
Another option is to define gender based on secondary sex characteristics. This would mean that at least trans people who undergo hormone replacement therapy (but not surgery) to the point of primarily having the secondary sex characteristics of the opposite sex legitimately change their gender. Also note that it's possible for people who take HRT to be fertile *in the role of their birth sex*:
meaning it fails to avoid conclusions like "men can get pregnant".
This definition also has the consequence that, due to the existence of HRT (if not just due to natural variances in hormone levels), gender is a spectrum. Which is something that almost everyone trying to invalidate trans people also wants to reject.
You *could* argue that gender should be defined as reproductive ability for people who are fertile in either role and as secondary sex characteristics for people who aren't. But even that wouldn't avoid the consequence that gender is a spectrum. And using a multi-layered definition loses the elegance of either of them; what's the actual impetus to use that definition?
One might say that there isn't an impetus to use it, admit that it's a bad definition but argue that it's still the 'correct' one because it most accurately reflects how people use it. But if that's your position, then transgender acceptance is basically a giant movement to change language which is already so far advanced that its dictionary is plausibly more popular than the conservative one. And if the only argument for the conservative dictionary is "it's what the word actually means to people", then it must be conceded as soon as the conservative dictionary is not the most popular one.
The transmed definition seems reasonable, if counterintuitive. Its big selling point is that there's an obvious reason why it should be how we decide what pronouns to use: avoid triggering gender dysphoria and causing people unnecessary discomfort. But now let me make an argument for going further than that; for allowing anyone to request any of the pronoun sets for any reason.
Does any serious philosopher of language believe that gendered pronouns are desirable? The issue with having only 1 3rd person pronoun is that it would be frequently ambiguous; any splitting of 3rd person pronouns has the benefit of mitigating this problem by decreasing the rate of situations where a pronoun can't be used because of ambiguity, but it should be obvious that gender is not the best split for achieving this. I think the best way to split based on grammatical position of the antecedent, as it's always useful (no conversations about two people that have the same pronouns so you can never use them without ambiguity).
One of the reasons why I don't like gendered pronouns is that I think it fuels sexism. A language that attaches gender to every reference to a person implies that gender is a more essential characteristic than it is.
Now to get to my point: if gendered pronouns should not exist anyway, should we maybe believe that the best course of action while they exist is to let them become meaningless and people choose arbitrarily? Note that that would still preserve the usefulness of pronoun splitting, but without the risk of fueling any harmful ideas.
As for they/them, yes I also believe that grammatical plurality is bad and my conlang doesn't have it, although it's obviously more reasonable than grammatical gender.
One could apply this argument to pronouns but not to nouns, since splitting nouns requires a lot less justification than splitting pronouns, but I'm happy to apply it to nouns too.
Many of my trans friends embrace the idea that there *is* no objective definition of man or woman or any closed set of valid genders and they should just be labels that anyone can put on themselves for any reason, like I argued for pronouns.
I don't think it's an unreasonable position. It's consistent and principled. Gender loses its association with sex altogether and is just a slot for whatever you want to identify as. In fact, this line of thinking led me to wonder if *I* should identify as non-binary too because my "manhood" has never been part of my identity to me. I am cassgender (means I don't experience gender identity) and any pronoun set is acceptable to me.
It makes less sense to me when extended to sexual orientation labels as well as gender identity labels, since sexual orientation labels are supposed to actually describe something practical (a category of people outside of which someone is not romantically or sexually attracted). I believe those should stay meaningful.
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