Purplesagefem recently posted a response to the responses to the first question in her list of questions in which she asked some more questions. This is my response to those questions. (And it’s not horribly long for a change!)
Let me be completely transparent about this. I did ask those questions in what you might call “bad faith,” meaning they were meant to be “gotcha” questions. Those questions were meant to catch the sexism, homophobia, and lack of coherent logic that so many transitioners display.
I caught on to that as well – I kind of suspected it from the questions, and then read your own confirmation in the comments. I was pissed off about it for about two seconds, then I figured I’d answer honestly anyway and see where things went from there. So far, I’m quite happy with how that worked out, and glad that you did (and do) listen to us.
There is a similarity between Daniel’s and Skepto’s responses—both of them have defined man and woman as clusters of traits, where people tend to have most of one set or the other. I therefore propose that we debate the question: “Is it possible to define ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as clusters of traits?”
I didn’t define man and woman as clusters of traits, I wrote that they are categories commonly associated with certain clusters of traits. Which is rather undeniably true, both regarding how people view the categories (most people will associate women with vaginas, breasts, and a whole host of character traits and interests in addition) and actual statistical differences between the categories (most women do indeed have vaginas, and women e.g. statistically score higher on the personality trait agreeableness).
However, this is clearly not the same as saying that the number of traits from a given cluster an individual possesses determines what category it belongs in.
As for whether it’s possible to define “man” and “woman” as clusters of traits, the answer is yes – you yourself have done so in your own response, defining “man” as a person possessing a cluster of the physical traits (penis, testicles, viable sperm) and “woman” as a person possessing a different cluster (vagina, uterus, ovulates, can become pregnant and give birth).
From this answer and some basic knowledge about how some of these work (for example, it’s impossible to become pregnant and give birth without a uterus and vagina, but it’s possible to do so without ovulation thanks to IVF), one could create the following Venn diagram for “woman”:
As I pointed out in my response to your response, many people who possess commonly recognized as women do not possess all traits from the cluster, and even more people recognized as female do not. This is also clearly visible in the Venn diagram – only the people in the grey area where all the circles overlap have all the traits.
Rather than whether it’s possible to define man and woman via clusters of traits, your question seems to aim at whether it’s possible to define them via clusters of traits in a way consistent with a worldview that has room for gender non-conforming women with penisses.
And you’re absolutely right in your analysis: if people of all genders can have penisses, vaginas, hair of any length etc., then clearly none of those can serve as defining criteria.
In real life, this often seems to result in a kind of scoring system: you get -50 female points if you have a penis, and if you still want a score high enough to be allowed in the hallowed halls of womanhood, you need to make up for that by being extra sweet and gentle, or wearing make-up every day. I personally think such scoring systems suck and nobody should need to “make up” for non-conforming traits by exhibiting extra-conforming others.
(I cautiously suspect that such a scoring system, whether conscious or not, might be the cause for your denial of Fallon Fox’ gender – I don’t think you’d bat an eyelid at an AFAB woman serving in the army, driving trucks, and doing MMA, let alone deny that she is a woman because of this. But I might be wrong there.)
Of course, this is where transgender ideology eats itself. If men and women cannot be described in any way, and are only identified by the subjective internal feelings of the individual, then how would anyone even know which one they identify with? How can you identify with a concept that cannot be defined? How can you know you are a woman when ‘woman’ can mean absolutely anything?
Once again, these are exactly the same questions I asked and struggled to find answers to when I started reading up on trans stuff.
And I think this is a place where conceptualizing gender as an identity might be more harmful than helpful – few, if any, people seem to have a clear idea of what a gender identity even means, especially leaving aside stereotypes and purely physical criteria. Identifying as a woman, feeling like a woman, living as a woman – none of these phrases seem to carry any significant meaning if women can be and do anything!
In the end, it appears far more useful to cut down the concept of gender to the bare essentials of day-to-day life: which pronouns would you like to be referred by? Which gendered forms of address or other gendered language feel best to you? Which checkbox on forms would you most like to tick? If you have to be categorized by gender for some reason (because there are gendered bathrooms, gendered changing rooms, etc.), and other people’s reactions are of no concern, which category would you rather be sorted (or sort yourself) into?
Whatever your answers to the above questions are is what I’ll consider your gender, unless you have some objection to that. (For example, if you want to be referred to by “he” pronouns because you’re cosplaying a male character right now, but by “she” pronouns in everyday life, I’ll refer to you by “he” pronouns and still consider you female.)
1. Can you demonstrate how ‘man’ and ‘woman’ can be coherently defined as clusters of traits? What traits would you put in each box so that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are recognizable categories that people can identify with but no one’s gender identity is invalidated?
I could demonstrate lots of different ways to define them as clusters of traits, but none I agree with. I use the answers to the questions I mentioned above as well as whatever else the people to be sorted consider relevant to determine someone’s gender. (In practice, I also often use less reliable indicators like physical features and presentation, but those are secondary, and if I assumed some gender on basis of those indicators and was corrected later, I’d apologize and give more weight to the correction than to any of the indicators.)
2. One example of a transwoman who has all the traits traditionally thought of as “male” traits is Danielle Muscato. Do you think Muscato is a woman?
Yep, she is!
(Although I’d debate “all the traits” – I am certain Danielle Muscato lacks many traits that people in many human societies have thought of as essential for maleness over the course of human history.)
(a) Do you recognize that XY, penis, testicles, high testosterone, ample body hair, Addam’s apple, are all female traits? If Muscato, a woman, has these traits, then surely they are female traits, right?
I don’t view any of these traits as inherently male or female any more than I view pinkie fingers or earlobes as male or female. I also don’t think that those adjectives add anything of value to any description – the sentences “she has a female penis”, “she has a male penis”, and “she has a penis” all transport exactly the same information, and the first two options read as unnecessarily cluttered and weird to me. Given their lack of value and the fact that many people feel uncomfortable with them, I believe they shouldn’t be used at all if possible and don’t do so myself.
(I did see a thing on TV once where a trans man’s midwife said she usually referred to his uterus as “male uterus” etc. to affirm his gender – I think that was a pretty nice touch. And obviously the world did not end and it had exactly zero negative consequences for anyone, because “male” and “female” add literally no information about “uterus”, so why the hell not.)
(b) If you are AFAB and identify as a man, and you would like to have penis, testicles, high testosterone, ample body hair, etc, because of your male identity—how can you call these male traits when a woman like Muscato has them and calls them female traits? How can a trans man want these traits because they are “male” traits while a trans woman can retain these exact traits and call them “female traits”? How can we reconcile this?
I don’t want any of these things because I am a man, I want some of them and I am a man.
There are women who are perfectly comfortable with “she” pronouns and all that who spend considerable amounts of time and energy working towards a body with muscle strength and/or muscle definition more common in people with testosterone-dominant endocrine systems. There are men perfectly comfortable with “he” pronouns and such who still don’t really like or want ample body hair and spend time and energy removing body hair they have. These preferences and desires are not inextricably linked to one’s gender!
Long before I started questioning my assigned gender, I wanted a flat chest (ever since it stopped being flat!), disliked my body shape and fat distribution, and was uncomfortable with the sound of my own voice, let alone the whole period mess. This wasn’t due to those things being associated with being female, it just was, and while those desires had a part in my process of questioning my gender, they were not a consequence of said process.
Since many of the things I wanted are also things commonly associated with maleness, they make other people more likely to recognize me as male – I’m not sure whether or how much that influenced them even before I consciously thought of myself as male, and I won’t ever find out. I suspect that there’d still be people wanting some of those physical traits in a society in which they’re not associated with maleness (or even just not-femaleness), but I can’t be sure – finding out would be a very exciting side-effect of de-gendering them.
On the other hand, many things commonly associated with maleness are things I didn’t/don’t particularly care for (the ample body hair you mentioned was one of those things), and some are things I actively don’t want. Male-pattern baldness, for example – I hope I’ll escape that one for a long time yet. (I’m pretty optimistic about that – it’s genetic, and both my father and my paternal grandfather still have a lot of hair.)
None of them are things I consciously and solely want because I think they’re male and/or because I think I have to have them because I’m male. Trans women having penisses and facial hair etc. has no bearing on whether or not I want any of that, just like women wearing pants bought in the men’s section of a store has no bearing on whether or not I want pants from there.