Today I'd like to talk about transgender issues. I want to try to unravel and dispel as much misinformation as possible because I see so much confusion and frustration surrounding this issue. I also want to try to bridge some gaps and find some common ground between liberals and conservatives because there is a lot of hostility around this subject. My goal is to try to have an honest discussion, get at the facts, and provide my opinions and perspective, all while remaining compassionate and sympathetic to people's feelings. I am doing this as part of my ongoing project to try to make the world a better place by thinking and reasoning publicly (albeit anonymously). I believe that getting a solid handle on reality and finding common ground is crucial to achieving this goal. So, let's begin.
I have always been what you'd call "pro-LGBT", but that's extremely vague, and could encompass so many things. A good way to reduce this position to something clearer would be to say that I don't believe people should be judged based on how they were born--something they can't control. However, it has been pointed out to me that the acronym "LGBT" (sometimes with and added Q or other letters) is a bit illogical and misleading to begin with. The fact is that the L, G, and B are sexual orientations, but the T is not. Being transgender has nothing inherently to do with one's sexual orientation. As we all probably know by now, trans issues have to do with sexual identity, which is what you are, and orientation is who you love. Hence, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to lump T in with L, G, and B, as if they are all one group of people. We constantly hear this term, "The LGBT community", but I've heard gay people say things to the effect of, "I'm just gay. I don't know anything about what it's like to be trans. I'm not part of a trans community. Being gay has nothing to do with being trans." And I've heard vice versa from trans people. So, it's a bit illogical, but I suppose that this label caught on in this way out of a matter of practicality and convenience. I don't think it's particularly useful to combine these terms as such, but I don't think it's particularly harmful, either.
I'd like to make one distinction perfectly clear from the get-go: I think orientation is a simple issue with a clear and simple answer--it's absolutely fine. Gay marriage--absolutely fine. I believe that there's nothing wrong with any sexual orientation. It's all amoral. Love is just love. It doesn't matter who it's with if it's consenting adults. We can't control who and what we're attracted to, anyway. I believe that anyone who is not on this side of the argument is simply on the wrong side of history and reality, and I don't believe it's any more complicated than that, nor warranting of further discussion.
Trans issues are a lot more complex and warrant more discussion. We hear a lot of frustration from the left and right about this. You hear people from the far left talking about how sex, gender, and (depending on who you ask), everything that you are and the totality of your being is a feeling, and that you are whatever you identify as. Then you hear people from the far right saying things like, "Born a man/woman, always a man/woman. Trans people are delusional. Only two genders," and etc. Let's try to get to the bottom of some of this. In particular, I'd like to start by trying to put an end to this "how many genders?" flim-flam, in which I see much confusion and conflicting answers. But before we can do any of that, we must first properly define sex and gender, so let's do that.
Let's look at three different definitions. First, a 1992 copy of The World Book Dictionary:
- Sex - One of two divisions of humans beings and animals; the character of being male or female.
- Gender - 1. Grouping of nouns into certain classes, such as masculine, feminine or neuter. 2. Sex, synonym.
Next, a 2009 copy of the Oxford Dictionary:
- Sex - Either of the two main categories (male or female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive function.
- Gender - 1. A class (usually masculine, feminine, common, or neuter) into which nouns and pronouns are placed in some languages. 2. The state of being male or female (with reference to social or cultural differences.)
Usage on sex and gender:
The words "gender" and "sex" both have the sense 'the state of being male or female,' but they are used in different ways. Sex usually refers to biological differences, while gender tends to refer to cultural or social ones.
And finally, a quick search on dictionary.com:
- Sex - 1. Either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated with reference to the reproductive functions. 2. The sum of the structural and functional differences by which the male and female are distinguished, or the phenomena or behavior dependent on these differences.
- Gender - 1. Either the male or female division of a species, especially as differentiated by social and cultural roles and behavior. 2. A similar category of human beings that is outside the male/female binary classification and is based on the individual's personal awareness or identity.
In school, I was always taught that sex is your biological makeup with respect to reproductive function (male or female), and gender is what you perceive yourself to be socially (masculine or feminine). The three sets of definitions, while varying slightly, seems to align to this. Sex is biological, and gender is social/cultural. When I hear people discussing and debating how many sexes/genders there are, it annoys me that they usually fail to define terms, and instead use them interchangeably, when they are, in fact, different. So, here's my breakdown: there are two sexes. That's it. Pretty simple. Excluding intersex abnormalities and anomalies, such as hermaphrodites, there's just male and female. There are no other options. Gender, on the other hand, is a spectrum between masculine and feminine, and thus, is infinite. Regardless of your sex, your gender can be anything along that spectrum. You can be a feminine male, a masculine female, you can be gender fluid; you can shift between feminine and masculine, you can be one today and the other tomorrow, you can be right in the middle--neither masculine nor feminine. You could even have some of each traits simultaneously. The possibilities are endless. Gender is predominantly a feeling. It's your identity--your self-perception. It is social and cultural. Many, but not all, gender characteristics are arbitrary cultural constructs, such as fashion and hairstyles.
So, to reiterate: Sex--binary. Male or female. (excluding biological anomalies). Gender: Masculine/feminine. Infinite spectrum.
Given these definitions, the term "transsexual" would seem to be a more accurate term for someone who undergoes sexual reassignment surgery, but that term has fallen out of favor for some reason; I'm not quite sure why. For the rest of this essay, I'll typically just say, "trans person".
People often seem to get bogged down in semantics when debating this "how many genders" thing, and it leads to confusion and frustration. I've heard some people try to argue that there's more than two sexes, but this argument hits a wall when you ask them what these additional sexes are. You have male, female, and....what else? What other option is there? What other reproductive organs are there? What other chromosomes are there? There aren't any. If there were, then we'd know what they are. I've seen people argue that they are neither male nor female, and this tends to lead to a frustrated backlash, usually from the political right. I sympathize with that frustration, because the fact is that you have to be either male or female, biologically speaking. There's no other option, no matter how much you'd like there to be. So, when a person states that they are neither male nor female, they appear to many to be delusional, and I can understand that. I believe that the problem comes from the fact that they are confusing sex with gender. They can be neither masculine nor feminine; they can be neither male nor female culturally, or socially, meaning that they don't fit into any societal man/woman archetypes, but they have to be male or female biologically. I would never ask anyone to fit into any cultural boxes. Regardless of your sex, you can have any kind of personality, and you can be anywhere on the gender spectrum, or possibly even somewhere orthogonal to it, or off of it entirely. I'm open to the possibility of more possibilities besides just masculine and feminine, though I'm dubious about what those would be. You don't have to be any sort of man or woman that society expects you to be. However, like it or lump it, you have to be biologically male or female. You just are one or the other, period--either XX or XY. So, if someone argues that they are, literally, neither male nor female biologically, then I would argue that they are indeed delusional. Or just faking for attention or something. My ultimate point here is that I sympathize with conservatives who feel like many of these trans people are delusional. I get it. But I believe that so much of this frustration and confusion could be avoided if we better defined and understood the terms sex and gender from the outset.
So, now let's discuss the actual nitty gritty of gender dysphoria and transitioning. What do we know? Well, let me start a different way, and tell you what I thought I knew--for many years, I thought that male and female brains were uniquely, perfectly different in such a crystal clear way that you could look at a scan of one and say with absolute certainty that that one is a female brain, and that one is a male brain. I thought this to be a plain, cut and dry biological fact. Thus, as I understood it, a trans person was one with the brain of one sex, and the body of the other. I thought that this was a biological certainty, and that we could prove with a scan that person was "born in the wrong body." Because of this, I couldn't understand why so many people had such a hard time believing that gender dysphoria and transgenderism are real, biological conditions. Well, after doing my own research, what I learned is that our understanding of the brain is not nearly as good as I thought. Gender dysphoria absolutely is a real thing, but it's not as cut and dry as just taking a brain scan and saying, "yup, this boy has a female brain." Male and female brains differ in chemistry, but they're not as perfectly defined as I thought. Instead, we see trends. Things that tend to look one way in a male brain, and tend to look another in a female brain. Certain parts will be bigger in one brain than another, suggesting a higher capacity for certain types of abilities or information processing, or multitasking, or emotions, or what have you. These types of brain differences between the sexes are trends, but they're not absolutes, and we cannot simply scan a brain and say, "oh, look a that--sure enough, you've got a female/male brain." Now, the trans brain tends to look different from both. It will appear to have bigger/smaller/different looking regions than either a typical male or typical female. These differences in brain chemistry can create a very real feeling of being the wrong sex. There absolutely is a difference. Gender dysphoria is a real, biological phenomenon, but it is not nearly as understood as I once thought. We can see different trends, but we cannot scan a brain and determine a person to be in the wrong body--not with any certainty. Not yet.
Many of my beliefs about this subject were based on assumption, not research. After learning these facts, I had to backtrack on some of my opinions, such as young children being able to transition. I lean against that now. There are children who seem absolutely certain that they are supposed to be the opposite sex, and I have no doubt of their sincerity, but given our shaky understanding of the brain, it seems risky and irresponsible to allow children to make such drastic decisions for themselves. After all, children's brains are so underdeveloped compared to an adult's, and many children don't really know what they want or how they feel. They can change so dramatically, and as I understand it, many minors who transition regret it later on. But then there are those individuals who feel absolutely horrified at the prospect of going through puberty of their birth sex, and I sympathize with them. That's rough, but I still lean towards not allowing minors to transition, especially after hearing from many adult trans people who are against it for the reasons I've put forth. At the end of the day, I completely support a person's right to transition and to do what they want with their own body, but it is a massive decision that I believe requires maturity to make. That said, I don't see the harm in allowing children to express their gender (masculinity/femininity) as they wish. I think that children ought to be able to choose the clothes and toys that appeal to them most, and I don't think this "warps" their minds, as haters love to say. In some cases, gender nonconformity in children may just be a phase that they will grow out of, and sometimes not. But either way, wearing clothes or playing with toys cannot damage or permanently alter someone, it cannot make a cisgendered person trans, and it certainly cannot affect orientation. I believe that children should get to choose what they're most comfortable with, but should not be allowed to make physical alterations until adulthood.
At this point, it's also worth mentioning that gender dysphoria is indeed a variety of mental illness. That's not to say that it is in any way comparable or equatable to, say, something like schizophrenia, Downs Syndrome, or bipolar disorder, or things of that nature, but it is most certainly a problem in the brain. It's obviously not supposed to happen. It's a glitch in the operating system. It's a bug, not a feature. It's an illness in the same way that clinical depression is a real illness. Many conservatives/anti-trans people will say that trans individuals are mentally ill, which causes an eruption of outrage from the left, with liberals giving retorts to the tune of, "No, their not! There's nothing wrong with this person! They're just a beautiful woman/man/whatever!" There's a couple points to unpack, here. Firstly, when conservatives say this, liberals are usually taking it to mean "trans people are f*cked up, disgusting, and wrong for trying to transition". Now, I'm sure that many people do mean it in this insulting way, and that's terrible. To those people, I would naturally argue that there's nothing wrong with a person taking steps to feel more comfortable in their own skin. However, it should also be understood that when the liberals argue that there's nothing at all wrong with these people, that's not entirely accurate, either. Of course there's something wrong: they have gender dysphoria. If there was nothing wrong, then they wouldn't need to transition to the opposite sex in the first place, now would they? Saying that there's nothing wrong suggests that gender dysphoria isn't a real condition, which is counterproductive to understanding trans issues. It isn't hateful or intolerant to admit that there's a problem. There is something wrong--these people do have a mental illness, and transitioning to the opposite sex is the way that mental illness is fixed. Gender dysphoria is the illness, and transitioning is the treatment.
* * *
I would now like to migrate towards the conversation about how society views trans people, and what really makes a man a man, and a woman a woman. I think that, typically speaking, most people want to be compassionate and sympathetic towards others without entering into any fiction. Depending on where you look, there's something of a war-zone at the moment between people who want others to respect whatever they identify as, and people who flat-out refuse to acknowledge a trans person as the sex they identify as. Let's see if we can't find some common ground and look at each point of view.
Take a character like Ben Shapiro for example: when talking about trans individuals, he will only refer to them as their birth sex. When asked why he won't call this transwoman "she", he replies, "because it is a lie". For convenience, let's use Caitlyn Jenner as an example of transwoman, just because she's probably the most famous one. Ben takes hard-line stance that Caitlyn is a man with some hormone therapy and cosmetic surgery. His opponents will ask why he refuses to respect her sexual identity, and he will explain that it's intellectually dishonest. This is enraging to many, as they feel that a person's internal, self-identity is their true self. I.e., if you feel that you're a woman, then you are a woman. To many, refusing to acknowledge a person's self-identified sex is a heinous act of hate. But surely there is some middle ground.
Is Caitlyn Jenner a woman? Is Caitlyn female? Let's explore this question together from both sides.
At one time, I would have answered, without hesitation, unabashedly, unequivocally, yes. Yes, Caitlyn is a woman. However, now, when I think about this question, it gives me slight pause. I feel like I'm not sure I want to answer, and this hesitation, according to many, instantly makes me a vile, despicable human being and forever disqualifies me from playing for Team Liberal. Lifetime ban. I have to turn in my uniform, right down to the official Leftist underwear, and walk home naked, dragging behind me the Stone of Shame. Well...I'd like to be able to talk about this like rational human beings without jumping to such extreme conclusions.
Here's the facts: Caitlyn has a Y chromosome. She can never truly be biologically female. Not in a reproductive sense. I know it. You know it. Caitlyn knows it. Chromosomes tell the final story, right? So, does that mean that Caitlyn is male? Well.... ....yes. I suppose it does. If I'm being completely intellectually honest, then I have to say yes. I can't argue with that logic. The part of my brain that cares about facts, reality, and intellectual honesty won't let me answer any other way. Imagine it this way: let's suppose there was a zombie apocalypse--one caused by a virus like KV from I Am Legend. Let's suppose that we invented a cure, like Robert Neville did in the movie. Let's suppose we were able to make a vaccine. Let's then suppose that, for whatever reason, the vaccine was sex-specific. It interacts with chromosomes in some way. There's a male vaccine, and a female vaccine. The correct vaccine will make you immune to the virus. The wrong vaccine will kill you. Hospitals are offering free injections. They have huge booths set up with every available doctor and nurse administering the vaccine. People are lined up around the block. There are two lines: the male line, and the female line. Which line is Caitlyn Jenner going to get in? Bear in mind, the wrong one means death. When we look at the question this way, it seems pretty straightforward.
So, the point is, I sympathize with Ben Shapiro's perspective. However, I am comfortable acknowledging and respecting the sex that a trans person presents as because there's more to this stuff than just chromosomes. I know Caitlyn has a Y chromosome. We all know it. Nobody's delusion, here. Nobody's trying to pretend that reality doesn't exist. But the fact of it is this: trans people are human beings telling us of a very real, agonizing condition that they're going through, and they're doing their damnedest to try to navigate it, and to find some way to be at peace with themselves, physically and mentally. A decent person should be compassionate and sympathetic to this, in my opinion. If a person transitions, get the hormones and the surgery, and fully presents as their self-identified sex, then what's the harm in respecting that and referring to them as that sex? (I guess I'm talking directly to the Ben Shapiros of the world, now.) I mean, Caitlyn has breasts and a vagina now; isn't that enough? For all intents and purposes, isn't that enough? Do we really need to worry about her chromosomes in our everyday interactions? If a person has completed the transition, then it seems to me that it's not intellectually dishonest to refer to them as that sex. Physically, they have the body of that sex, now, so what's the problem?
Now, it starts to get grayer when trans people have only partially transitioned, or haven't begun at all. Personally, I am once again comfortable respecting the sex a person identifies as, but I am sympathetic to people who are more squeamish about it. I think the feelings of that side (conservatives, or whoever they may be) become more and more understandable the less and less effort that a trans person has made to transition. I.e. is a person has made zero effort to transition, then I completely understand feeling uncomfortable referring to them as their self-identified sex. Just for kicks, let's take a look at some extreme examples--give this the ol' reductio ad absurdum treatment.
Suppose that this person,
looking exactly as so, suddenly said, "I'm a man. You must acknowledge and treat me as such in every way." How would you feel about that? How would I feel about that?
And suppose that someone who looked exactly like this:
said, "I'm a woman, and you must treat me as such."
I don't know about you, but I'd feel a bit like this:
And who could blame me, y'know?
I do think that conservatives (or whoever is not accepting of trans people) should try to be less rigid and more compassionate, but I also think that trans people need to realize that it's unreasonable to expect people to accept their self-identified sex without a reasonable effort to present that way. And, by and large, I think trans people get that. They do make the effort. I mean, of course they do, because they don't want to look like their birth sex. They're unhappy with it. That's the point. But if zero effort is made, then it gets a little dodgy, and I get that. As far as genitalia goes, that's really nobody's business. If a person presents as a given sex, then I'll accept that; I don't need to know what's between their legs. Nobody does. It's up to them if they want to get surgery, anyway. Ultimately, I think that we can be respectful without denying any reality.
Let's cover the bathroom stuff real quick. I'm in favor of letting trans people use the bathrooms of the sex with which they identify, but I understand the feeling from the other side. Is the worry here that we are approaching an endgame where anyone can go in any bathroom or locker room they want just by saying, "I identify as that thing"? Can any guy just say, "I'm a woman", and hang out in the women's locker room and enjoy the show? Look back up at those example pictures--what if the swimsuit model wanted to go in the men's room? What if ol' Hugh Jackman there wanted to go in the women's room? There would probably be much more of an uproar about the latter. Obviously, there's an asymmetry here due to the (almost exclusively) unidirectional nature of rape and sexual abuse. I.e. the man in the women's room is a potential threat, while the woman in the man's room isn't (a fact which makes me greatly resent being male). This stuff seems sketchy, but here's the thing--do we really need to worry about these problems? Has this kind of thing ever happened? Not to my knowledge. We just don't see these cases of regular, sexually unambiguous people going in the opposite sex's bathrooms. Once again, trans people want to do their best to resemble their self-identified sex, so if they go in the bathroom with which they identify, it will probably look less conspicuous than the other. No one wants to make a horrendous scene. Trans people going in the bathroom will probably either look "passable", or androgynous, so what's the big deal? I think they can be left alone. I don't think any trans people are going in the bathroom to rape anyone. I think that this is an issue that we just don't need to think much about. Let 'em use the damn bathroom, and then let it be out-of-mind.
* * *
I want to be as accepting and non-judgemental as possible. That's the kind of person I want to be, but Celestia help me, there are times when even I feel the cringe when certain liberals say certain things about this stuff. I have repeatedly made it clear that gender dysphoria and transgenderism are real things, and I have also made it clear that your personality (gender) can be anything on an infinite spectrum regardless of your biological sex, but I understand how conservatives feel when liberals toss around phrases like "men with vaginas" and "women with penises". Sometimes I feel conflicted about this stuff. I'm open-minded, and I want to be respectful and supportive of people being true to themselves, but scientific facts also matter to me, and they should matter to you. I think it would dangerous to move further towards this idea that you are whatever you feel you are. That certainly isn't always true. Physical reality matters. A person can be born as one sex but have brain chemistry more closely resembling the other, but I don't think it's entirely accurate to say, for example, that a person born biologically male who identifies as female is "every bit as much of a woman" as a natural born female. I'm worried that that last statement may get me in a lot of trouble, and may be considered the most flammable and controversial thing I've ever said on these forums. Such is the nature of this conversation. But does it make me a bad person to just wonder about these things? To be unsure? To have an opinion? It doesn't mean I hate anyone, or that I want to hurt or offend anyone. But the fact is, I don't think a biological male is "just as much of a woman", simply because they identify as such. I don't think that the definitions of "man" and "woman" are purely cultural, or social, or internal feeling-based. I don't think that simply feeling like a woman makes you "every bit as much of a woman" as any other. I think that biology and physicality actually matters, which is why trans people want to make the physical transition in the first place. I'm sorry if this opinion seems inflammatory, but it is not based in any sort of intolerance or desire to tell others how they feel or who they are. This is just a fact of reality as I see it. Youtuber Stephen Crowder made a great point about Caitlyn Jenner. After Caitlyn had her "downstairs" surgery, she said that she was no less of a woman before the surgery. Stephen said, "Then why get the surgery?" If you are literally, truly just as much of a woman before the surgery, then what's the point of the surgery? Aren't you getting the surgery in order to be a more complete woman? So that your body matches how you feel? I think that one's biological makeup actually does matter, or no one would ever bother having the reassignment surgery.
Before I close, I'd like to mention that it's hypocritical, judgemental, and unfair for trans people to expect or demand that certain people be attracted to them, regardless of genitalia. So, for instance, if a hetero man doesn't want to date a transwoman with a penis, that doesn't make him a bad person. Judging someone for which genitals they'd prefer their partner to have is absolutely ridiculous. In my opinion, this shouldn't even warrant discussion. We have no control over what we're attracted to, and judging someone for such is completely antithetical to the entire LGBT movement.
I don't think that sexual orientation should warrant discussion anymore, either, but I wanted to write this piece because I feel that trans issues are still complex, confusing, controversial, and can be difficult for many to understand. Please don't misconstrue any of my doubts or opinions as intolerance or hatred. Please know that when I read a post by a trans individual who says that they came out to their family, or they began their transition, or finished it, or what have you, I always think to myself, "That's wonderful. Good for you. I'm so glad you're able to be true to yourself and live the way you want, now." That's how I really feel. But that doesn't mean I can't think and reason about facts and reality as well, and have some opinions you may not share. And just to give you a final bit of perspective, this is all coming from someone who's a bit of a gender nonconformist himself. I'm a cis, hetero male, but I wish I was female. I have determined that I'm not trans; I don't have gender dysphoria. I just hate being male in this culture. I believe I'd be happier had I been born female. I have a strong feminine side, and I like to wear dresses and feminine clothing, and I'm always worried about how I will be perceived and accepted. Ultimately, I just want everyone on Earth to be able to be their authentic selves, to be comfortable in their own skin, happy with themselves mentally and physically, able to live as they choose free from judgement and hatred, and I want all of this to able to occur in harmony with scientific facts and physical reality.
[Thanks for reading, thanks for keeping an open mind, and major props to anyone who actually made it through this whole, convoluted pile of garbage.]