This post is my third response to purplesagefem, concerning this post of hers. It’s very late – my apologies for that. A lot of real life stuff happened and required my time and energy, and also I was lazy/more inclined to do things that were more fun.
You originally defined sex based on people’s reproductive genitalia and their function. Specifically, your definitions were:
I) Male: has a penis and testicles which produce sperm which can fertilize ova.
II) Female: has a vagina and a uterus, ovulates, can become pregnant and give birth.
You also wrote that any kind of gendered language (male, female, man, woman, he, she, etc.) were based on sex and conveyed information about sex and nothing else but sex. You literally wrote: “The use of female pronouns doesn’t say anything at all about a person other than the fact that she is female.”
In this post, you contradict all of this by claiming that gendered language conveys information not about people’s sex, but about their socialization and about personality traits and/or action tendencies (e.g. aggressiveness) resulting from said socialization.
While I did ask you to amend or specify your original definitions and did not take them entirely literally (for example, I did always believe that you considered girls not yet ovulating female), I did believe that you wanted pronouns to be based on nothing else but people’s genitals. I took you at your word to the best of my knowledge and in good faith. I did not have reason to suspect that your stated criteria for maleness and femaleness were not your actual criteria until you described Fallon Fox as male despite the fact that she fulfills none of your criteria for maleness, and then I asked for clarification.
Having this discounted as a “tactic” is unfair and rather frustrating. I rely on your answers to accurately reflect your position – if they don’t, I literally cannot understand your position correctly. If you define sex in a certain way as given above, and then claim that you use gendered language based on sex, you cannot fault me for assuming that you actually use gendered language to communicate facts about the criteria you gave for what sex people are.
These are not minor points, they’re central to understanding your worldview and your arguments and to responding to them. So, back to square one, for a badly-needed update:
1. What is “male”, what is “female”? What *exactly* do those words mean to you? What assumptions do you make about someone knowing nothing else about them than that they’re male/female? If there is any possibility for ambiguity at all, what other criteria do you fall back on to determine what language to use? (I know that most people are cis and not intersex by any definition, but these minority cases are exactly where we differ – there’s no need to discuss whether a 25-year-old cis woman with no intersex traits is a woman or not, we both agree that she is.)
2. And to clarify even more: in a hypothetical, hopefully future world in which gendered socialization is a thing of the past, would you still want gendered language etc. to be used?
a. If yes: what information do you think they would convey in such a world?
b. Especially regarding children, it’s rather well-documented that merely separating them into two different groups (red shirts vs. blue shirts, blue-eyed vs. brown-eyed, some other arbitrary group membership) produces various negative effects, including but not limited to perceiving the other group as more homogeneous than it actually is and forming stereotypes about the other group based on individual actions of individual members (Sarah wears a red shirt and does maths wrong? Redshirts are bad at maths!). Given that gender stereotypes are already rampant, don’t you think that making gender a hugely salient characteristic directly impedes any effort to abolish gender stereotypes and norms?
I personally think that doing away with gendered language might help a lot in abolishing other gendered aspects of culture and in softening up and diluting stereotypes and norms.
You also originally argued for segregated locker rooms etc. (places where people will be undressed) due to women’s ability to become pregnant. You’ve dropped this argument for most of this post, which is fine by me, because it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to begin with. However, towards the end, you reiterate that “[h]aving female biology means being vulnerable around people with male biology”. Going by your original stated criteria for sex, this is untrue. I don’t know how it relates to your actual criteria. Unless it already follows from them, some elaboration will be needed here.
You write that “you can tell what sex someone is just by interacting with them, fully clothed”. I cannot judge this claim without knowing your actual definition of sex; based on your stated criteria, it’s untrue, because a trans woman who has no penis and no testicles and does not produce sperm (viable or otherwise) might still have an adam’s apple, facial hair, and broad shoulders, and so might a trans man who has no vagina and no uterus, does not ovulate, and is unable to become pregnant or give birth. To determine the state of these people’s genitalia, normal everyday interaction certainly would not suffice, which makes it impossible to accurately enforce segregation rules based on genitalia on their basis.
In many cases, assumptions made about people’s genitalia based on their (fully clothed) appearance will indeed be roughly correct. However, this is not the case independent of their gender presentation for many people: pre-pubescent children (including babies and toddlers) have little to no physical traits correlating with their genitalia (no adam’s apples or facial hair there, and height and facial features probably do not differ significantly between genders), and people accidentally misgender children with non-conforming presentations quite a lot. Many fat people and many old people have ambiguous body shapes and facial features as well, and presentation will often influence people’s perception of them more than physical features. And even within the adult age range and “normal” weight, there is great variation within a group, some due to race/ethnicity (is there a statistically significant difference between white cis women’s height and Asian cis men’s?) and some simply due to the fact that there is great variation within people, period.
I was once fairly sure a classmate was trans because of her wide shoulders, straight waistline, and muscular, veiny arms. Turns out she wasn’t: she was just a horizontal bar gymnast. Rather recently, I saw a medium-height guy with rather soft facial features and an ambiguous body shape (he was chubby) and suspected he was trans until I realized he was wearing a uniform of an organization that is not open to trans men. Even more recently, I saw a blond person with soft facial features, full lips, and smooth cheeks on public transport and automatically categorized them as a woman until they stood up and turned out to be very tall and move in extremely masculine ways – I still have no idea whether they were a trans woman, a cis guy who happened to look quite feminine, a cis woman with unusual body language, or something else altogether. (Their presentation didn’t give any clues either.)
Sometimes when I get bored on public transport, I turn it into a game, guessing at whether any of the other passengers are trans, looking at shoulders and hips and jawlines and throats and fashion choices that might have been chosen for their ability to conceal or emphasize, and while I assign rather low probabilities to many people, there are a lot that could go either way. And I don’t think I’m somehow extraordinarily bad at this, either – I just think that due to the wide variety among people, there just is that much overlap. There are surely statistical differences, but knowing an average does not enable us to draw conclusions about individuals.
You write that you occasionally run into trans people, and you can tell their gender. I don’t doubt that you have run into trans people you could recognize as trans: so do I, sometimes. But neither you nor I know how many trans people we have run into without recognizing them as trans. (Or, conversely, how many times we’ve read people as trans who actually were not, and never realized our mistake, although I think that’s less common.) I don’t think you’d cast a second glance at, say, the size of Buck Angel‘s hands or the width of his hips if you met him fully clothed in public.
Before I went on testosterone, I once bought beer, and the cashier wanted to see ID. I gave her my student ID. She threw it back at me and said: “No, that’s a woman’s ID.” She read me as male with such certainty that she hardly even looked at the picture, and if I hadn’t bought beer that day, she would never have thought twice about it. (And I would never have known she read me as male.) I don’t know if she was just extraordinarily bad at reading people’s gender, but given other reactions of people around me during that time, I don’t think so.
If everyone can clearly see what sex you are, then calling you by opposite sex pronouns doesn’t have much of a point. Even if they call you by the opposite pronouns, they still know what your sex is and treat you accordingly. You might feel better because they’re “respecting your identity,” but they are being forced to lie in order to make you happy. Forcing other people to lie about what they can clearly see in front of them ranges from a mild nuisance to gas-lighting abuse.
1) Yes, it does have a point: it lessens dysphoria. This is not a small thing, or a negligible thing. It also serves to let me know that they care about my preferences, whereas calling me by a name and pronouns that I’ve explicitly asked not to be called by lets me know they don’t care about or respect my preferences. It’s similar to being called by a nickname that is not the official name stated in my passport in these regards: if Tonks’ official birth name is Nymphadora, and she hates it, then calling her Tonks very much has a point and is very different from calling her Nymphadora, regardless of whether that’s her official name and even regardless of whether everybody knows that’s her official name.
I’ve said this before – I don’t know if it just went past you, or if you take issue with any of it and simply haven’t said so yet.
It also constantly seems contradictory to me that on the one hand, you value people not having surgeries or other medical interventions to change gendered aspects of their appearance, but on the other hand, you use gendered aspects of appearance to determine people’s pronouns, which logically puts pressure on people to have medical interventions if they want different pronouns used for them. (As always, I am in favor of calling people whatever the hell they want to be called, without pressure or hoops to jump through.)
2) Treating people differently based on their sex can go die in a fire. I’ll bring the gasoline and matches.
3) I am not forcing people to lie by asking them to use certain pronouns. I am not holding a gun to anybody’s head. What I will do if people don’t use the right pronouns and name for me is the same thing I’d do if they insisted on calling me nothing but “asshole”: I would cease to interact with them as much as possible. This cannot be considered force – the only alternative would be forcing people to stay in situations and relationships deeply uncomfortable for them due to the other party continually and vocally disrespecting their preferences.
If they like my company so much that losing it would cause them distress, I suggest they don’t deliberately make it extremely unpleasant for me to be around them.
4) As far as I know, gaslighting is a term to refer to making people question their own perceptions and sanity. I am not telling anyone that they don’t see my jawline, or that my hands are not actually the size they think they are: I am telling them that referring to me in certain words makes me uncomfortable. This is not gaslighting – it’s simply true. What they do with that information is usually their prerogative, because see (3) – I am not forcing them to do anything.
Regarding gendered socialization, I agree that boys and girls are (currently) statistically treated differently. I view this as a problem and want it to stop.
However, as with jawlines and hand sizes, I believe there is huge variation within groups and giant overlaps, and I believe that socialization does not neatly happen in binary versions (even less so than physical traits correlated with genitalia), but interacts with many other situational, (sub-)cultural, and personality factors.
Trans people have been found to differ significantly from cis people in many aspects (lazy Wikipedia link) – it seems highly likely that they also differ in at least some personality factors, and that these factors interact with socialization to produce different outcomes than statistically normal for cis people.
In any case, passing judgment on an individual based on statistical averages of a group they are assumed to be a member of often has very, very negative effects for said individual as well as the group as a whole. This is rather obvious especially regarding gender differences: people who believe that women are bad at maths typically perceive individual women as worse at maths and give them worse grades, less job opportunities involving maths, etc., even if they know it’s just a statistical average and should not be used to judge individuals.
Judging people based on their group membership can only ever be justified in cases where:
1) the consequences of not using group membership as a basis for judgment are more negative than the consequences of doing so, and
2) there is neither a better basis for the judgment of individuals nor a way to reach the intended goal by some other way.
Regarding point (1), you write that men are statistically more likely to be violent, and therefore women try to protect themselves by avoiding behaviors like undressing and peeing in spaces where there are men, with “men” and “women” referring to “people who have been socialized as male/female”.
As I already asked in my first response and follow-up questions:
N) On what grounds do you believe that undressing is an important factor (or even /the/ important factor) for sexual assault/abuse/rape?
I’m asking because I know of plenty of mixed spaces where people undress and even hang out naked, such as some saunas and nudist beaches, but can’t remember ever hearing or reading anything that would indicate sexual assault is more frequent there than in public spaces where people are fully dressed. Dress in general is usually discounted as a risk factor for sexual assault especially in feminist spaces – I’ve heard religious fundamentalists and MRAs argue that if women wear little, they’re naturally more likely to be assaulted, but data doesn’t back that up (sexual assaults in Iran, where women wear a lot, don’t seem to be more common than sexual assaults at public pools, where they don’t), and feminists typically argue against that. Seeing you do the opposite is somewhat surprising.
O) Following that: it would be possible to build e.g. locker rooms with lockable single-person stalls, giving everyone the option to undress/change in complete privacy. What is your opinion on such alternatives?
These questions remain (with “and/or peeing” added where where necessary).
Additional socialization questions would be whether you believe that socialization only occurs before a certain age, if so, which age (and what to do with trans people who have transitioned before said age), and if not how to account for the continuing socialization of trans people as members of their actual rather than their assigned gender.
I also wonder what you think the argument of violent men implies about the effects of segregation on trans women. There are basically two outcomes for a trans woman entering a men’s bathroom in the presence of a man with violent tendencies: if he reads her as a woman, she is just as much at risk of sexual or other violence as cis women entering said bathroom, if he reads her as a man performing masculinity insufficiently, she is also at great risk of violence (as you yourself recognize in your post). And if he reads her as a woman, begins to sexually assaults her, and then discovers she has a penis… I don’t think either of us expects this to end well for the trans woman in question.
And this isn’t something we can just get around: we all have to pee. We need to be able to use bathrooms as safely as possible. This, too, is something you and I agree on.
I personally don’t think that trans-inclusive bathroom policies would affect the safety of cis women at all due to the inclusion of trans women, certainly not enough to make even the slightest statistical difference.
I acknowledge that there are women who might feel unsafe in a women’s bathroom in the presence of someone they read as male, and I do think that people should be able to feel safe in bathrooms. However, a trans-exclusive bathroom policy is not a solution here, both because there’d be trans men in there and because there might be cis men in there.
Consider the following: an adult cis male with nefarious intent wants to enter the women’s bathroom.
In a trans-inclusive world, he would have the option to maybe dress up a little, claim to be a trans woman, and enter the women’s bathroom unhindered. In a trans-exclusive world, he would claim to be a trans man, and enter the women’s bathroom unhindered.
And sure, there’s hand sizes and jawlines, but none of those are actually reliable criteria to judge a single individual by, especially if they are rather ambiguous in said individual. Cis women have already been kicked out or harrassed in women’s bathrooms due to trans-exclusive policies because they were misread by others. (And let’s not pretend that this is not due to gender non-conforming presentations and/or deviations from narrow standards of what women should look like. This is definitely something that does and will hit women harder who do not conform to gendered expectations in their presentations and/or who have jawlines considered unfeminine, who are more muscular than is deemed acceptable, who happen to be tall and broad-shouldered, and so on.)
Hence the question of how you would enforce segregation.
The best solution regarding the actual and perceived safety of people (cis, trans, male, or female) in segregated spaces to me is a solution that allows everybody to be and feel as safe as possible from everybody, taking into account individual differences in the need for privacy and feelings of threat. Regarding bathrooms, this may be reached best via gender-neutral single-stall bathrooms in many cases, although other factors seem highly relevant as well (how highly the bathroom is frequented, whether and how quickly help is available in case someone does behave inappropriately, etc.).
Regarding your writings about sexuality, I did write that one’s genitalia are relevant to people one intends to be sexually active with, so that’s not an issue.
Segregation in sports is a whole topic all by itself, and a hotly debated one that I won’t delve into too deeply within this post. Suffice it to say that I am not against evidence-based measures of segregation that are applied equally to everyone here.
Regarding gendered language as a descriptor, we’re right back at your actual criteria for men and women, which I don’t know. If “female” can be used equally to describe a baby, a short skinny nerd with glasses, a world champion in weightlifting, a lumberjack with a face full of beard and a bass voice, a soprano opera singer with five chins and no discernible figure, a stooped 98-year-old with a face full of wrinkles and a voice rough with age, and Megan Fox, I call bullshit. But by all means, do tell what you assume about someone’s appearance given nothing but a pronoun.
Collective statistical data, such as would be gathered about e.g. domestic violence or crimes, does (currently) have its use for using gender categories. However, there is no compelling reason to use purely binary male/female categories rather than offering more categories, a separate question for gender alignment, or using other strategies that give you the data you’re interested in with more accuracy than binary categories and less distress for your study participants. Such strategies are already in use in many surveys etc., and their data is /more/ accurate than data gathered forcing a binary choice. If you e.g. conduct an anonymous survey about partner violence and only give your participants binary choices, the resulting categories will be confounded by trans people, intersex people, and non-binary people, and any relevant statistical differences between e.g. trans women and cis women will be lost in the quagmire.
You mention the right to set boundaries and to keep men out of your private spaces. I don’t know your exact views on rights and boundaries, but as far as I am concerned, the right to set boundaries does not change depending on who you set them for. If you invite people to a gathering in your private home, you are under no obligation to invite people you don’t want in your home, regardless of who they are and what your reasons for not inviting them are. There’s no need to justify not inviting people into your home with statistical likelihoods that may or may not apply to them: if you don’t want person A in your home, they better keep out, and that’s it.
And to identify trans women specifically as trans women instead of cis women, regardless of what implication you believe said identification to have, quite obviously doesn’t require anyone to call them “male”: there is a perfectly serviceable expression to refer to them as a group, and it’s “trans women”. Why does this not work for you?