Social construction and gender identity

It’s surprising how often people seem to assume that respecting people’s gender identity means allowing that everyone has an innate, essential sense of gender that is not shaped by social or cultural factors. (Sidenote: it’s amazing how quickly people become anti-essentialist constructionists about gender once they think that’s a good way to explain what’s wrong/false/delusional about the claims of trans people.) So, for example, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper writes in defense of Germaine Greer:

The doctrine of “gender identity” – the idea that people possess an essential inner gender that is independent both of their sexed body and of the social reality of being treated as a person with such a body – has rapidly been elevated to the status of quasi-religious belief, such that those who do not subscribe to it are seen as not only mistaken and misguided, but dangerous and threatening, and must therefore be silenced.

And Leslie Green, also in defense of Greer, argues that gender is

path dependent. To be a woman is for the pertinent norms and values to apply a result of a certain life history. Being a woman is not only ‘socially constructed’, as they say, it is also constructed by the path from one’s past to one’s present. In our society, to be a woman is to have arrived there by a certain route: for instance, by having been given a girl’s name, by having been made to wear girl’s clothes, by having been excluded from boys’ activities, by having made certain adaptations to the onset of puberty, and by having been seen and evaluated in specific ways. That is why the social significance of being a penis-free person is different for those who never had a penis than it is for those who used to have one and then cut it off.

Curiously, neither Reilly-Cooper nor Green engage with any of the rich literature on gender identity or trans feminism. There are many different and nuanced views defended within that literature, and I won’t make any attempt to summarize it here. What I’ll try to do, instead, is give a brief overview of why, contra what some commentators seem to suggest, there’s no tension between trans-inclusionary feminism, on the one hand, and anti-essentialism or social constructionism, on the other.

  • Gender identity isn’t a magical innate thing – Our experience of gender is a combination of many things, including at least gender role, gender expression, and gender identity. Gender role is, roughly, a matter of how you interact with the wider social world, how others react to you, and what norms and expectations are placed on you based on ideas about your gender. Gender identity is, roughly, how you feel about your relationship to gender roles – whether you feel that that gender role that’s been assigned to you is ‘correct’, whether you identify with other people who have been assigned the same gender role, whether people are perceiving your gender the way you’d like them to, and so on. On this way of thinking about things, gender identity is just as contingent, fluid, and socially constructed as gender role. It’s just different than gender role. Biology isn’t destiny, to quote the social constructionist mantra. But just as biology doesn’t determine the way we in fact assign gender roles, it also doesn’t determine how people experience gender identity. Some people identify with the gender role that is commonly associated with the sex characteristics they are born with. Some people identify with a different binary gender role. Some people identify with neither binary gender role. For some people, their gender identification changes and evolves over time. All of this is consistent with gender identity as it is currently experienced being a product of the – contingent, non-essential – ways our society happens to divide itself into genders.
  • Essentialist language is often forced on trans people. – As a leftover effect of the diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ and ‘gender identity disorder’, trans people are often pressured to say essentialist things (they have ‘always known they were a man/woman’, they were ‘born in the wrong body’, etc) to legitimize their experiences and, in some cases, to gain access to medical treatment. That essentialism is very often something cis people are forcing on trans people, not the other way around.
  • No one is saying there aren’t any differences between trans people and cis people. – Yes, of course there are differences between trans people and cis people. They’ve had different experiences, in some cases they’ve been socialized in different ways, in some cases they’ve faced different barriers. There will be many differences between my (cis) experience of being a woman and a trans woman’s experience of being a woman. But there will also be many profound differences between my white experience of being a woman and a woman of color’s experience of being a woman. And there will be differences between my experiences as a disabled woman and those of a non-disabled woman, or between my experiences as a somewhat gender non-conforming woman and those of a more traditionally feminine woman. As work on intersectionality has emphasized, there’s no one thing that is ‘the experience of being a woman’. What it’s like to be a woman can be radically different, depending on class, race, nationality, etc. And so yes, of course, there will be differences between the experience of being a cis woman and being a trans woman. That doesn’t mean trans women aren’t ‘really women’. Women are different from each other. The category ‘woman’ is a grab-bag, gerrymandered group, and there are lots of different ways to belong to it.
  • Gender can still be ‘path dependent’ – Green might well be right that gender is the result of a lifetime’s worth of social experiences. What he doesn’t make the case for, though, is that this is any sort of challenge to the claim that trans women are women, or that trans men are men. Green seems to assume that, e.g., a trans woman’s experience of gender will basically be the same as a man’s experience of gender up until she decides to undertake a medical process of transition. But this is a very strange thing to assume, given that there is both a large body of psychological evidence and a large body of philosophical literature, feminist literature, and first-person narrative explaining why it’s false. A trans woman’s experience of gender can include so many things – both public and private – that a man’s will not. She might face constant worries of violence and bullying should people discover her gender non-conformity. She might feel intense alienation from her assigned gender roles, or she might deal with intense confusion regarding her own gender identity. She might struggle to learn how to behave in a way that will keep her safe. And so on. All of this can be the process of a lifetime, and none of it is dependent on an operation or hormone therapy. Perhaps gender is ‘path dependent’, as Green suggests. Even so, there are many paths one can take to be a woman, and Green gives no reason to think that a the paths a trans woman might take are for some reason not eligible for womanhood.
  • ‘But I don’t get why gender identity is such a big deal’ – Sometimes, lurking in the background of these kind of criticisms of trans feminism is the suggesting that we probably shouldn’t make such a fuss over gender identity. For those who have a relatively limited sense of or feelings toward their own gender identity, it can sometimes be hard to understand why some people think it’s so important. (Insert obligatory grumbling about ‘identity politics gone mad’.) As trans people have argued, though, this may be one way in which we experience cis privilege. Cis people have often never had to care that much or think that much about gender identity, but that’s part of what it is to be cis – we have gender identity everyone expects of us, our gender identity has never been a source of marginalization, fear, discrimination, or shame for us, etc. If the tables were turned, if our gender identity was constantly being challenged, questioned, policed, and harassed, I’m willing to bet it would be a very big deal. This is one of those points at which it really seems to make sense to listen to the experiences of people in marginalized positions. Yeah, the importance of gender identity can be hard to fully understand if you don’t experience it yourself. But trans people and gender queer people have done a really wonderful job of explaining why it matters so much to them – and that literature is out there waiting for cis people to take advantage of. (By way of analogy, I also have very little day-to-day sense of racial identity. But that’s obviously because I’m white, and I take people of color at their word when they emphasize that racial identity matters. Just because people in privileged positions don’t have a particularly good sense of something doesn’t mean it isn’t important.)
  • There’s good philosophy being written on this stuff. – Just for starters, I highly recommend Katharine Jenkins, Amelioration and Inclusion: Gender Identity and the Concept Woman; Talia Bettcher, ‘Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On transphobic violence and the politics of illusion’; Talia Bettcher, Trans Identities and First-Person Authority; Rachel McKinnon, Stereotype Threat and Attributional Ambiguity for Trans Women.

43 thoughts on “Social construction and gender identity

  1. I don’t engage with the entire theoretical literature on gender identity in a short comment piece, no. I don’t think that’s especially curious. Space was limited. I had a particular focus. However, it’s not correct that I am not familiar with this literature. I’ve been reading and researching this topic for a long time, and so I’m aware of the nuances and complexities one can take with respect to the nature of “gender identity”. But regardless of how nuanced the concept may be in academic literature, in political discourse it has taken on a particular character, which I believe is essentialist and rigid, and takes “gender identity” to be fixed, unchanging, and beyond question or scrutiny. Something I am currently writing for a monograph to be published next year, is the fact that the current political discourse about gender identity has travelled a long way from its queer theoretical origins, in ways that I think the original proponents of these theories would probably now come to reject.

    As an aside, I find it bizarre and pretty uncharitable that you would imply I have only come to this position as a way to attack transgender identities. I have come to this position because I am a radical feminist, and so I don’t believe that gender is innate for any of us. The notion of “gender identity” as it is currently used in political discourse has conservative and damaging implications for all of us, natal women included, and as a woman I have a right to participate in a conversation about the nature of gender without it being assumed that I must be trying to attack trans people by doing so.

    I’m not going to try to lay out my views on the nature of gender and my criticisms of the notion of “gender identity” here, since I’ve written lots and lots about it elsewhere. Anyone who is interested can read my views at sexandgenderintro.com. This piece might also be of interest: http://moreradicalwithage.com/2014/08/04/am-i-cisgender/

  2. Rebecca, I didn’t mean to suggest that you yourself were only adopting a a social constructionist account in order to criticize trans people. I apologize if it came across that way – that wasn’t the intent and I should’ve been clearer that it wasn’t the intent. I put that in as an aside because I’ve noticed that some people who definitely would not, in other circumstances, jump on the anti-essentialist bandwagon do so when they want to criticize trans people.

    That being said, I do think a lot what you said in your article is inaccurate and caricatured. I read a lot of pop feminism, and I’ve seen the kind of social constructionist view of gender identity I’m talking about here defended everywhere from Ted Talks to gawker to buzzfeed. People who are into talking about social identities tend to be fairly anti-essentialist, in my experience, though of course not universally so. So your comment about the ‘quasi-religious’ nature of the doctrine you mention is at the very least odd, unless its a fringe religion you have in mind. . .

    I also think, contra what you claim, that it’s simply not true that Greer has been criticized simply for committing a ‘thought crime’ or for her academic work. She’s been criticized, among other things, for making public comments like this:

    Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a fucking cocker spaniel.

    I do understand that some people are born intersex and they deserve support in coming to terms with their gender but it’s not the same thing. A man who gets his dick chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself.”

    It’s really hard to see, whatever you views might be, how that isn’t just outright trans misogyny. People criticizing her for that aren’t trying to silence careful scholarship, to say the least.

    In any case, we’re not going to agree on gender identity, but of course you have a right to participate in these conversations, and I appreciate your coming here to speak your mind. That being said, I stand by the claim that your post was misleading.

  3. So, Rebecca, I just read through your website, and while I better understand your views, I still don’t see your support for them. You say:

    “Given the free floating nature of gender identity, it’s very unclear what kind of a property or mental state it is purported to be. If by “gender identity” what is meant is a strong feeling or conviction that one’s personality, dispositions and preferences are more closely aligned with the gender norms for one sex over those of the other, such that one can survive and flourish more comfortably in that gender role, then it is plausible to suggest that everybody has a gender identity. However, the term is generally used in ways that suggest something much deeper and more fundamental than this. Gender identity seems to refer to some quasi-metaphysical property or essence that is fixed, unchanging, and may not be challenged. An individual’s professed gender identity is an essential, sacrosanct part of their identity, and must be believed and respected without question.”

    I don’t see any support for this either in the general pop-feminist discourse or in the theoretical literature that underpins it. As I say in the OP, gender identity as I typically hear it discussed is widely thought to be socially constructed, dependent on socialization, contingent, and fluid. You don’t cite any sources for your claims to the contrary, so I don’t know why you believe them. But to me, they really do seem like straw men. We’re unlikely to agree on this, though, so perhaps it’s best just to agree to disagree.

  4. It isn’t me who is caricaturing gender identity. I am accurately reporting how it is frequently used in political discourse. You might not like that usage. I don’t like it either. But I did not make this up. The idea that gender identity is essential and innate is widespread now, and is being used to support the idea that one can be a woman without any social or medical transition of any kind. If you’ve not come across this usage before, it might be because you aren’t as immersed in current political debates about gender identity, and are assuming these are faithful to their philosophical origins. They are not.

    Anyway I’m not going to defend that further, and nor am I going to defend the idea that what Greer has said is not hate speech, because I’ve done that elsewhere, too. The fact that she expressed her views rudely, bluntly and offensively does not entail that they are intended to incite violence or hatred, and whether or not you like those views, she has a right to express them. And further, I don’t think she even wants to express them. She just wants to go to Cardiff and give a talk about women and power, and only keeps saying these things because she is being repeatedly interrogated on it by people who demand that she capitulate to their conception of womanhood. You might not like her conception of womanhood, and you might not like how she expresses it – I certainly don’t – but she has a right to do so. And the people who have bought tickets to hear her speak have a right to that, too.

  5. Thanks Magical and thanks Rebecca, this is very useful for me as someone who is completely outside these debates. It’s not your job to give me a 101 on these debates, but I do have two questions (I will read the papers referred to above, so maybe they’ll help, and feel free to refer me elsewhere – or ignore me – rather than guiding me through these issues). Having said that, I imagine I’m not the only ignorant interested party.

    Magical writes:

    “Gender role is, roughly, a matter of how you interact with the wider social world, how others react to you, and what norms and expectations are placed on you based on ideas about your gender. Gender identity is, roughly, how you feel about your relationship to gender roles – whether you feel that that gender role that’s been assigned to you is ‘correct’, whether you identify with other people who have been assigned the same gender role, whether people are perceiving your gender the way you’d like them to, and so on. … Some people identify with a different binary gender role. Some people identify with neither binary gender role.”

    I was thinking that there is a sense in which feminist trans women don’t/needn’t identify with the gender role assigned to natal women, just as feminist natal women don’t identify with that role, indeed a sense in which feminist natal women reject that role. Is that right? If so, then what is the sense in which feminist trans women do identify with the gender role assigned to natal women? Please don’t take this as a sceptical challenge, I’m not suggesting that there is no sense in which trans women do identify with the female gender role. I’m just trying to get clear on what the issues are here. I have never thought about these things before.

    Second, I think it is very helpful that Rebecca has said that Greer expressed her views ‘rudely, bluntly and offensively’ as that didn’t come out in Rebecca’s original piece. It seems to me that there was absolutely no need for Greer to express her views in the way she did, and the way she expressed those views was completely unhelpful. And I believe this is not the first time. I also see that Greer’s comments *could* have been expressive of trans misogyny. But I’d like to get clear on the nature of the reaction to and the criticism of Greer. Is the problem the way Greer expressed things and the perceived underlying motivating trans misogyny. Or is the criticism that the very view that Greer so crudely expressed, namely that trans women are not women, is itself a trans misogynistic claim?

    (I hope I’ve used the terms above correctly, but if I have misused them in any way, please forgive my ignorance.)

  6. Hi Lee,

    Thanks for your questions, and I’m glad you’ve found the conversation helpful.

    Regarding your first question, as I understand it there’s a difference between ‘identifying with a social role’ in the sense of feeling that that social role is good, appropriate, unproblematic, etc and ‘identifying with a social role’ in the sense of thinking that people aren’t making a mistake when they clump you together with other occupiers of that role, or when they react to you as being an occupier of that role. So, for example, I often resist many of the social roles imposed on women, but I don’t think people are getting something wrong when they classify me as a woman – I identify as an occupier of the role, even though I don’t like a lot of the stuff that gets packed in to the role. In contrast, people often think I’m gay (not all feminists are lesbians, people) and there my reaction is different – I think they’re making a mistake, because I don’t identify as an occupier of the role, even though plenty of the stereotypes about gay women do in fact hold true of me (I’m gender non-conforming, I’m a vegan, I’m a feminist, I own a Subaru. . .). When we talk about people identifying with a given social role, I think the intent is to talk about people identifying with a role qua occupiers of that role, rather than thinking that the role entirely appropriate or fitting for them.

    Regarding the criticism of Greer, I want to separate out the claims that she’s said transmisogynistic things from the claims that she shouldn’t be invited to speak places. To me, those are separate issues. I’ll focus on the former. While I definitely think the way she expresses herself is part of the badness – and does make it start to sound like hate speech – I don’t think it’s all of the badness. I think that saying that trans women aren’t ‘real women’ (especially when you describe them, instead, as men who have ‘unmanned themselves’), you are saying something harmful – both to trans women (because it denies the legitimacy of their gender identification based on their biology) and to cis women (because it assumes there’s some common core experience we all have in common to make us ‘real women’, which trans women somehow lack). Whether to call it transmisogynistic is I suppose a matter of terminology. But I definitely think it’s hurtful and wrong.

    Finally, just regarding the issue of how common it is outside academic discourse to view gender identity as socially constructed and related to socially constructed gender roles, here are a few quick examples. Again, my sense is that this is very common, and also that much of the pressure for trans people to say otherwise comes from gatekeeping mechanisms for transition therapies. Rebecca doesn’t give sources for her opinion otherwise, so I don’t really know what examples she’s thinking of, and can’t really speak to them.

    http://thefeministagenda.blogspot.com/2009/04/social-construction-of-gender.html
    https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender/gender-gender-identity
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nadia-cho/lost-in-trans-lation_b_3656705.html
    http://www.guidetogender.com/2013/10/15/my-tedxtalk-understanding-the-complexities-of-gender-with-full-transcript/
    http://roygbiv.jezebel.com/trans-women-male-privilege-socialisation-and-feminis-472949124

  7. Thanks for taking the time to help me out, and to treat my questions as they were intended. I’m sure this will be helpful to others in a similar situation to me.

    Yes I can see how Greer’s claim itself could be harmful.

    I can also see how natal women can identify as an occupier of the female social gender role (if that’s the right term) even if they don’t endorse that role. And I can see how trans women can be occupiers of that role, and so identify as occupiers of that role, once they have ceased being men (I hope that’s an ok way to put it) or started presenting as women. But I guess it is less clear to me how men who present as men, before they present as women, are occupiers of that role. I guess this comes back to some of what you say in the post:

    “Green seems to assume that, e.g., a trans woman’s experience of gender will basically be the same as a man’s experience of gender up until she decides to undertake a medical process of transition. But this is a very strange thing to assume, given that there is both a large body of psychological evidence and a large body of philosophical literature, feminist literature, and first-person narrative explaining why it’s false. A trans woman’s experience of gender can include so many things – both public and private – that a man’s will not. She might face constant worries of violence and bullying should people discover her gender non-conformity. She might feel intense alienation from her assigned gender roles, or she might deal with intense confusion regarding her own gender identity. She might struggle to learn how to behave in a way that will keep her safe. And so on. All of this can be the process of a lifetime, and none of it is dependent on an operation or hormone therapy.”

    And, of course, a man might not identify with his gender role in the sense that “that social role is good, appropriate, unproblematic, etc”. But at the minute it is harder for me to make sense of a man presenting as a man as not occupying that role and of occupying the female gender role. Just as you don’t think the female social role is appropriate, you still occupy it, and I’m not yet seeing what it would be for you to not occupy it

    Anyway, this is just autobiography about my mental states, and as I’ve said this is all new to me, and I’m sure it will take time for me to assimilate this stuff. Thanks for the references, I’ll be sure to take a look. And once again, thanks for this, it has been helpful in a number of ways.

    BTW, I didn’t know about the Subaru stereotype!

  8. So, I’ve read both linked pieces and found Reilly-Cooper’s a lot more thoughtful than Green’s, and wonder a bit why you’ve yoked them together here (especially since many of your specific objections are to things Green says). I have to say I’ve had very much the reaction Reilly-Cooper describes to being declared “cis” — I’m still trying to think it through, and figure out which parts of it are like “privileged lady can’t believe she’s being called privileged, is huffy!” and which parts (if any) have a there there. But my gut feeling is that figuring out, empirically, whether most of the popular universe thinks gender is essential or gender is constructed is not the key either way.

  9. Hi Lee,

    Sorry, I think what I said was confusing! I don’t think it’s right to say that trans women who pass as men are *in fact* occupiers of the social role associated with being a woman (even though I do think it’s correct to say that they’re women). Trans women who pass as men *want* to occupy that social role, and the fact that they don’t is a big part of the motivation to transition (though not all of it.) What I was trying to say was not that trans women who pass as men *in fact* occupy the social role(s) associated with being a woman, but rather that a way of understanding gender identity is to understand it as self-identifying as an occupier of a role, identifying with others who occupy that role, feeling that that role ‘ought’ (in some sense of social correctness) to apply to you, etc. So the idea is that trans women – even if they pass as men – can feel very strongly that the social roles associated with being a woman are in some sense the ‘correct’ roles for them, while at the same time thinking that so much about those roles are problematic, limiting, etc.

    Btw, I highly recommend Katharine Jenkins paper (‘Amelioration and Inclusion’) if you’re thinking through this topic. I found it incredibly helpful.

  10. I am profoundly sceptical of gender identity as “how you feel about your relationship to gender roles”. The men’s role includes never showing – ideally not having – emotions/ weaknesses / vulnerability, the women’s being objectified, devalued, and abused. Both involve accepting a profound inequality and gender hierarchy. Who feels that this is “correct” for them?
    Your view implies that being trans is completely culture dependent: move to Denmark of Papua New Guinea and you may not be trans there. Also that if we can move away from gender roles there will be no more trans people. At the very least, a relationship between gender role and being trans would make us expect a much higher number of people transitioning towards the higher valued role than vice versa, which seems not to be the case.
    There is evidence to suggest there is a biological basis for being trans, located in the brain. This could explain transness as a group identity based on neurotype recognition. Group identity has nothing to do with roles, but with people.
    It’s abstracting from people and insisting it’s a role people identify with, and that there is an absolute thing to “feel like a (wo)man” that causes resistance.

  11. I’d just like to add support here for Rebecca’s claim that the current use of ‘gender identity’ in popular political discourse is essentialist. You state in the OP that the trans people are often pressured to say essentialist things as a consequence of an inheritance of medical gatekeeping. I do not dispute the role of that gatekeeping, but I do dispute that the essentalist parts of the discourse as they manifest themselves presently are only down to such pressure. If we take the claim that ‘trans women have always been women’ for example, that is now an entirely orthodox claim among trans activists, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/gender-can-t-be-bent-kellie-maloney-always-was-female-9662916.html and any dispute of that claim is treated as de facto transmisogyny. Recall the furor that broke out on Twitter after Janet Mock’s appearance on the Pier’s Morgan show in response to the subtitling of some section of that interview as ‘used to be a man’, or ‘was born male’ or some such. It led to an at least 24 hour barrage of invective and insults. And while we can agree that Greer’s choice of phrasing is extremely insensitive, she didn’t call trans women ‘scum’, or say that should ‘die in a fire’ or be made to choke on ‘girl dick.’ http://terfisaslur.com/. Academic writings on this topic are certainly more nuanced than that found in mainstream political discourse, but Rebecca’s characterisation of that discourse is not a caricature. I have never once seen any of the sources you cite referenced in a popular article or conversation. If a source is cited in these contexts it is almost universally ‘Whipping Girl,’ which, with its concept of ‘subconscious sex’ supports exactly the kind of deployment which Rebecca is indicating.

  12. Thanks Magical.

    So the idea is, that although feminist trans women who pass as men (a) do not in fact occupy the female gender role, (b) do not, as feminists, think that that role is appropriate, in some sense, for them/anyone, (c) there is another sense in which they identify

    “with others who occupy that role feeling that that role ‘ought’ (in some sense of social correctness) to apply to you, etc. So the idea is that trans women – even if they pass as men – can feel very strongly that the social roles associated with being a woman are in some sense the ‘correct’ roles for them, while at the same time thinking that so much about those roles are problematic, limiting,”

    I guess I wasn’t recognizing room for, or understanding (c). Anyway, you’ve helped enough, and I have plenty of reading to do, if I want to learn more.

  13. Channelling, there are a lot of different threads packed into your comment, many of which don’t support essentialism at all. You also only provide one source – a brief op-ed from the Independent – so I suggest you have a look at all the links to mass media discussions of gender identity and trans issues in comment 7. Anyway, a few points:

    – Denying that trans women were ‘born men’ doesn’t commit to essentialism. Quite the opposite. Most any social constructionist will deny that any one is born as man or a woman.
    – Likewise, denying that trans women used to be men doesn’t commit to essentialism, for the reasons outlined in the OP.
    – Respecting pronoun preferences doesn’t commit to essentialism – Trans people often request that you refer to their entire life history via their current preferred pronouns. You don’t have to think people have gendered souls to think this is a reasonable request.
    – There’s in any case lots of variation in how trans people approach the use of pronouns. – For example, Caitlyn Jenner famously didn’t want female pronouns applied to her after she came out. She wanted to wait until she felt her transition was completed to her satisfaction. Trans people aren’t a hive mind.

  14. Hi everyone, I’m glad this discussion is happening! Some thoughts:

    I agree that in ‘pop’ discourse there is often an essentialist view of gender identity at the moment, in the sense of the view that someone’s identity as either a man or a woman is innate in them – sometimes attributed to their having, supposedly, either a ‘female’ or ‘male’ brain from birth. But while I find this view problematic philosophically, I take it that there is a strategic, political motivation for it for trans people: akin to ‘born this way’ for gay and lesbian people – i.e. if someone just has a gender identity as (say) a woman innately, whatever their anatomy, how they are perceived by others, etc., then there’s no point criticising that person or expecting them to change their identity – rather it has to be accommodated and accepted.

    Regarding Green, and totally based on what Magicalersatz says of his views here, I understand that he says that having a life history of being treated as a girl/woman by others, responding to that treatment, etc., makes a difference from having an early life history of being treated as a boy/man by others, responding to it, etc. – and hence, I take it, that trans women and non-trans women haven’t had identical courses of life experience and so are women in different ways. That needn’t imply that trans women are ‘less’ women, though; does Green say that?
    Moreover, Magicalersatz, surely these claims don’t entail the claim that trans women with an early life history of being treated as boys by others have identical experiences to non-trans men who also have an early life history of being treated as boys by others (differing, i.e. as you rightly say, in whether these two sets of people broadly accept the way they are gendered by others, feel comfortable with it, feel that they are recognised in it, etc.). Isn’t Green’s point that the life histories of trans and non-trans women are different, but not that the early life histories of trans women and non-trans men are identical?
    (hope this makes sense)

  15. Also, I meant to say, I wonder whether there are different senses of ‘essentialism’ in play: (1) X is essential to someone if it’s fixed in them inherently and is constitutive of who they are, e.g. (for some people) gender identity; (2) X is essential to someone to someone if it’s fixed in them by biology. These can differ, because gender identity might be ‘at variance’ from one’s anatomy, at least relative to social norms about which identities and anatomical features go together. Or they could converge, if the biology of the brain is taken to be what makes gender identity essential. But an essentialist needn’t be a biological essentialist.

  16. Hi Alison, I don’t want to speak for Green about what he does or doesn’t think – his post is linked above, so you can read for yourself. But he’s arguing that Greer is right about trans people, and Greer is adamant that trans women aren’t women.

    Green’s post is brief, so I was trying to reconstruct why he might’ve thought ‘path dependence’ gives you an argument that trans women aren’t women. I can see two ways of thinking this. One is that everyone who is natally penis-free follows the same path, due to commonalities in the way those perceived as female are socialized. But I’d hope that reflections on intersectional feminism have gone a long way towards showing that this just isn’t true. There are lots of differences in how those perceived as girls are socialized, depending on their race, class, ethnicity, disability status, etc.

    Another way of arguing for Green’s conclusion would be to assume that trans women basically have some version of a man’s experience up until they transition. On this view, there are lots of different ‘paths’ towards womanhood, but any path that involves being socialized as someone who has a penis isn’t one of them. But I don’t see why you’d think that, once you consider the huge variety of paths that can lead to being a woman. In fact, it seems to me that the only reasons to think that, once you consider the incredible variety of ways in which women are socialized, is via smuggling in implicitly essentialist assumptions (e.g., that it’s essential to being socialized as a woman that you are socialized as someone without a penis).

  17. Ah, I see. I guess I was interpreting Green to say what I would have found more plausible, rather than what he actually does say. I hadn’t realised it was all in the name of defending the view that trans women aren’t women. I was just responding to the bit of him that you referred to on ‘path-dependence’, as you reconstructed it.
    I do think, though, that from what you reconstructed of ‘path-dependence’, it’s plausible that there are tendencies to certain differences in the life courses of trans and non-trans women. But not that those are the only such differences of course – likewise, between white and non-white women, white trans and non-white trans women, etc. The intersectionality of differences leaves open that there could be such differences, albeit not that they exist in isolation or are absolute. But they could still be ones it is illuminating to consider. e.g. the difference between a life in which one goes along all the while in the gender one is attributed early on, and one where one for a long time doesn’t feel easy in it until one finds ways to change those attributions. Also, lives, say in adolescence, in which one has to come to grips with menstruation and the possibility (or fact) of pregnancy, and in which one doesn’t do that. Not to say that’s an absolute divide either.

  18. Hi I wrote a comment before which just disappeared. My apologies if I’ve said something wrong but I don’t think it went into moderation, I think it just disappeared. My comment was that I think not enough attention is being paid to the restrictions of gender roles, especially the male role. My comment was partly inspired by how much Caitlyn Jenner appears to have embraced the beauty and glamour aspects of the female role and how much those things would have been denied to [men].

    Feminists including myself are concerned about how much little girls are pushed into the ‘pink and pretty’ role, but the other side of that is how much little boys are forbidden it. As ever, what patriarchy does to men is cruel,
    just as it is to women.

    I hope there is nothing offensive on this comment, will try again.

  19. Hi Val,

    Sorry about that – sometimes comments get caught in our spam filter, which might’ve been what happened. I edited your comment slightly just to remove reference to Caitlyn Jenner’s former name, because I don’t know her preferences about its use, and your point just seems to be a point about what we deny to men in general. Hope that’s okay!

    That being said, I think alongside criticism of gender roles we should be aware of how much pressure there for trans people – especially trans women – to be gender conforming. That’s how their gender identity is recognized (how they get people to see them as ‘real women’, sadly), and it’s also part of how they avoid violence and harassment.

  20. “Gender role is, roughly, a matter of how you interact with the wider social world, how others react to you, and what norms and expectations are placed on you based on ideas about your gender.”

    This entails that whether a trans woman has a female gender role is dependent on whether society acknowledges it. Or at least two of the three criteria definitely entail that, and one arguably entails it.

    “Gender identity is, roughly, how you feel about your relationship to gender roles – whether you feel that that gender role that’s been assigned to you is ‘correct’, whether you identify with other people who have been assigned the same gender role, whether people are perceiving your gender the way you’d like them to, and so on.”

    Together, these statements entail that a trans woman is a man who identifies as a woman. Or at least, that is how things will be until such time as society starts to react to trans women as women, instead of as men failing to properly perform masculinity.

    Was this your intent?

  21. No, Patrick, they really don’t entail any of that. And I don’t know why you think they do – you just assert that they do – so it’s hard for me to respond.

    The Jenkins paper I link to above is a really good take on these issues, fwiw. But just to be clear – saying that trans people don’t occupy (at least pre-transition) a specific gender role doesn’t invalidate their gender identity. And gender isn’t reducible to gender role.

  22. I agree with the above commentators who noted that in much popular discourse, “gender identity” is used in a way that borders on essentialism. One popular definition of “gender identity” is “one’s internal sense of being male or female or something else” or more broadly “one’s internal sense of one’s gender”. I’m not quite sure what that means, but this is what I hear people on the internet say frequently. (One can verify this by a simple Google search). So, it doesn’t seem at all to me that people have in mind by “gender identity” the definition given in this post. In any case, it should not be considered hate speech, transphobic, violent, etc., to question the intelligibility of this decidedly obscure, which a lot of trans folks are using to articulate their experience. I myself don’t think I have a gender identity in either this obscure sense or in the sense that is used in this post. I think neither set of coercively imposed norms of behavior based on perceived reproductive capacity is “correct”.

  23. Hi Befuddled, one thing I was trying to highlight in the OP is that ‘an internal sense’ of being a given gender – which I agree is common usage – needn’t imply anything essentialist at all. In fact, it’s kind of odd to think it would. One can have an internal sense of identity that is formed in response to (contingent, non-essential) social norms and roles. Saying something is internal or private doesn’t mean it wasn’t formed in response to one’s social environment.

    Of course we don’t expect your average person on the street to have a deeply nuanced theory of gender identity, even if they talk about gender identity to explain their experiences. But the point is that most of the things (minus the ‘born in the wrong body’-style rhetoric, which is often imposed and required for legitimacy) said by trans people, gender queer people, and others who talk about gender identity have completely non-essentialist readings, and most trans people who do try to develop more nuanced or theoretical views on the topic aren’t essentialists. (Far from it.) So it seems as though critics are trying to highlight a tension where there really isn’t one.

  24. This is a really interesting discussion, and I feel like I’m learning a lot. Thanks to all who have commented.

    I don’t think Greer’s views will help us get at what Green really means, since, unfortunately, he seems pretty unfamiliar with Greer’s actual views—for example, he says that “Greer is not saying that MTF people are stuck being men.” She calls trans women “post-operative transgender men”! I think Green is likely, unfortunately, here an example of someone with considerable privilege wading into a debate that seems interesting without adequate understanding of either the positions of the people involved or what’s at stake.

    I have trust in trans people’s experiences of their gender identity, but it is different from mine. I’m a woman who experiences her gender identity as socially imposed and flexible—I’m comfortable as a woman, but I think I’d be as comfortable as a man if that is what I’d been assigned. A robust, internal sense of gender identity isn’t introspectively familiar to me, and I’m still having trouble getting a sense of what it means to have a gender identity that’s different from the one you were assigned, different from the one you currently occupy, consistent with objections to what the role involves, and non-essential. Unless I’ve missed something, it’s being fleshed out as perhaps involving: (A) self-identifying with a role that’s different than what you were assigned, (B) thinking that the gender role you were assigned is “mistaken”/that another one is “correct,” (C) identifying with others who occupy that role, (D) wanting to occupy that role. I’m not really sure what to make of this. If we’re asking what it means to have a different gender identity, (A) and (B) don’t seem explanatory. For (C) to work it seems like we need to specify the particular *way* you’re identifying with others that occupy that role, since there are lots of ways we could identify with women that wouldn’t seem to bear on whether we’re also a woman—for example, I could identify with them as a feminine person. It seems like what really matters is identifying with women *as women*, but that doesn’t seem explanatory either. (D) makes sense, but it seems like there has to be more than that.

    I don’t think I’m putting this very well. Radical feminists want to say to trans women: “You don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) play by your assigned gender role. Feeling uncomfortable within your assigned gender role is a reason to reject it, not a reason to take on another. Taking on another role is a way of perpetuating the gender caste system, and as a person born to the privileged caste you are particularly wrong to do that. Merely wanting something different from what you have is not itself a source of oppression.” I thought gender identity was supposed to explain why this is a mistake, and why some people DO have good reason to take on a role, *even though* that involves playing a part in an oppressive system. I can see how “I have a woman’s brain” or “I innately have women’s traits” would be reasons there. But I’m not seeing how “I identify as a woman,” “I think I’m correctly categorized as a woman,” “I want to be a woman,” etc. would themselves work. Maybe I’m wrong to think gender identity is supposed to be what explains this?

    I also don’t see how the offered picture of gender identity makes sense of which interventions are recommended and which seem offensive. From what’s been said, it seems like on this picture, the difference between identifying as a woman and identifying as a feminine man is at it’s core a different way of thinking of and conceptualizing yourself. If gender identity is just a fluid, socialization-dependent way of understanding yourself, it seems plausible that some kind of cognitive behavioral therapy could affect gender identity, especially in preteens. Medical and psychological interventions should be based on what is best for the patient, not what is best for society, so if we *could* reduce individual patients’ suffering via CBT aimed at promoting identification with assigned gender, that seems like it would be the right treatment to recommend. And incongruence between assigned gender and gender identity causes significant suffering. But “transgender conversion” therapies seem badly offensive, and there’s a push to ban them. The ones that currently exist, of course, are largely very bad—bad psychology and abusive practices. But I think the consensus is that the problem isn’t just incidental harms, but the underlying idea of changing someone’s gender identity (whether they are a child or an adult). It doesn’t take people’s gender identities seriously enough. I don’t think we’ve found an understanding of gender identity that makes sense of that.

    re: Delft, an account of gender identity based on “neurotype recognition” alone seems doomed by the fact that neurological sex differences are just different averages with way more overlap than disparity.

  25. Thanks magicalersatz that’s fine I see what you mean about the pressure to conform – and I suppose in a cultural milieu such as Caitlyn Jenner moves in, being ultra-glamorous could be considered normal role conforming behaviour.

    At the same time I do feel strongly about the restriveness of the gender roles that society places on little children. Even when they are families that are very accepting of them, I have seen little boys gradually come to realise that in broader society, liking to wear pretty dresses or jewellery is not ok, and it’s sad.

  26. Hi CP, thanks for your comment.

    So, as I understand it, most people who put a lot of emphasis on gender identity highlight that we (cis, trans, and gender queer people alike) tend for form gender identities very early in life – there seems to be a good bit of psychological evidence supporting this – and those gender identities are an integral part of how we think about ourselves. The importance of gender identity is more to do with how deeply ingrained it is in people’s sense of self than in its something essential or biological (e.g., you have particular ‘type’ of brain or psychological makeup.)

    One issue here is that I think most of us who are cis end up needing to think about gender identity in terms of what we *haven’t* experienced, instead of what we have. When I was a kid, I was very gender nonconforming. I grew up with a close family member – now a fairly ‘femme’ gay man – who was also gender nonconforming. I wanted to dress in boys clothes, he wanted to dress in girls clothes; he wanted to play princess, I wanted to play pirates; etc. But I never for a second thought I was a boy or wanted people to think I was a boy. I just wanted people to let girls do different things. Ditto for him, with genders reversed. And I take it that the lack of pushback we felt about our gender classification (regardless of how much we resisted the implications of the roles imposed on us) is *what it is* for both of us to have had a gender identity that corresponds to our assigned role.

    But I take my trans and gender queer friends at their word when they say their experiences were very different. It wasn’t just that they thought the assigned roles were overly restrictive and should be challenged, it was that they thought the assignment of the role to them was incorrect. If we think that gender socialization is a complex social process and that we form gender identities in response to that complex process, it doesn’t seem too hard to grasp the idea that some people could form gender identities in atypical or unexpected ways, but that those gender identities are still a really important part of how those people think about themselves.

    There are, I take it, at least two ways we can challenge the social roles imposed on us. One is by objecting to the norms and stereotypes associated with the social role. That’s what my family member and I were doing as kids, and still do now. The other is be objecting to the how people are classified as occupiers of the role. That’s what those with non-standard gender identities are doing. By way of (imperfect) analogy, there’s really interesting stuff in disability history about the way in which, historically, some races and ethnicities were seen as types of disabilities. And that produced a specific type of pushback. So, for example, certain ethnicities accepted their identities as members of those ethnic groups, but objected to the harmful stereotypes about those ethnic groups. That is, they accepted their classification into a social role, but objected to harmful aspects of that role. In contrast, they vocally rejected the idea that they were disabled. That is, there was another social role – one with which, at the time, their experiences had a lot in common – which they objected to being classified as members of. I think both these types of resistance to social role make sense, even if I don’t myself have much of a ‘what it’s like’ picture of rejecting my classification into a social role that’s been imposed on me.

    Regarding reparative treatments, I don’t see how the merits of it stand or fall with what line we take on gender identity. Just as a matter of empirical observation, gender identity tends to be very strongly held, and efforts to change it tend to be incredibly harmful. (Ditto for sexuality.) And thinking that gender identity isn’t innate or biologically fixed doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be respected as part of who a person is. (Again, ditto for sexuality.)

  27. Just to feed in one possible way of thinking about gender identity. i.e. a broadly psychoanalytic one – not adhering closely to anything Freud or anyone else specific has said, but that we all form a basic sense of ourselves (as bodily selves) very early on through identification with those who care for us. If I remember right, Robert Stoller, who is indirectly responsible for the concept of gender, made sense of what he then called transsexualism in this way – that someone who feels their attributed sex is incorrect feels this because they have identified with the ‘opposite’ parent to the one expected for someone with their perceived anatomy. Now, I think all that is problematic in various ways, but maybe the root idea that there is a primary sense of what sex one is, which precedes and is the basis for then relating, critically or not or both, to specific sets of norms. That sense of one’s sex (Stoller calls it gender identity, actually, as distinct from gender role) needn’t line up with anatomy in the way that is socially expected.
    I certainly think it is possible that non-trans people, such as me, struggle with the idea of gender identity because we’re so used to our own gender membership, so habituated in it, and find it so unproblematic, that we don’t even notice how deep-rooted it is.
    Regarding radical feminists who are anti-trans, I think part of their stance is that trans women have had an early history of socialisation into the privileged role (masculine) and that trans women need to admit this. Of course in reply it can be said that this mistakenly assumes that those individuals were happy to be socialised into that role and accepted it, i.e. straightforwardly were boys/men in that early period.

  28. Back to empiricism — I guess what give me, at least, a bit of side-eye about this whole constellation of issues is the way that it seems to be consistently women (and particularly feminist women) who are really pushed to change their ways around womanhood and femininity in trans discourse (which much more often focuses on trans women, not trans men: Caitlyn Jenner is Woman of the Year, Chaz Bono isn’t Man of the Year, to pick celebrity examples).

    When directed at manhood and masculinity, a lot of feminist mobilization (let us in to men-only clubs, the military, the trades, etc.) and accompanying discourse has been violent / aggressive: “breaking down barriers”, “battering down resistance” etc. etc. and it has also been powerfully insistent and demanding about “everyone, but especially men, must learn to speak and think differently”. As those battles have been won, the discourse has gotten more gentle and about “inclusivity”, which is a huge victory in one sense and kind of a gyp in another.

    In any event, there are moments for me at least that feel pretty weird when the breaking / battering and insisting / demanding about ways of speaking and ways of thinking is now directed at the category “woman” in general. It feels a bit… familiar in a bad way.

    Of course that might just be the nature of political change, such that there is more than one way to do sex / gender right but only one way to achieve political ends.

    Now, is that because of the patriarchal nature of the culture generally, so that the only way to get power is to do it in a “manly” fashion: loud, angry, threatening? So 70s feminists and aughtie trans activists *have* to speak in that voice to be heard (and get over-accused of anger etc. for expressing any at all, “illegiitimately”)? Or are these things neutral in themselves, and we have to reclaim them from masculinity, whether we are feminist or trans or both or neither — anger, aggression – as universal means to power? Or should everybody reject these things and learn to speak “in a different voice”, which is gentle and groovy but will be effective if we all reorient ourselves in a less patriarchal direction?

    I don’t know. But I do feel like some of the form of trans activism raises feminist issues in and of itself that are not most interestingly thought about or resolved by arguing about the ultimate true nature of sex and gender (which arguments seem to me to consist of a series of unfalsifiable hypotheses: science will have to tell us much more about genetics, epigenetics, develoment, brain development than we know right now to even know what isn’t true, let alone what is; and to get really good answers, we’d also have to produce a specially hatched control population of children raised in a genderless society to see how they turn out).

  29. (Please excuse my ignorance… I am not an academic nor do I know any feminist philosophy)

    This discussion is interesting to me, but one thing I wonder a lot about is how much these analyses of gender might impact (or not) practical questions about the rights of trans-people.

    For instance, does the question of whether or not a trans-woman is a “real woman” have any bearing on what rights she should have, how she should be treated, etc.?

  30. “does the question of whether or not a trans-woman is a “real woman” have any bearing on what rights she should have, how she should be treated, etc.?”

    Perhaps not in the purest realms of theory, but I would say that the idea that trans women aren’t women has been important in things like the defeat of the Houston LGBT rights measure, which was campaigned against with signs like”No Men in women’s bathrooms.” So statements like Greer’s endorse a view that has caused real measurable harm.

  31. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper says:

    “The doctrine of “gender identity” – the idea that people possess an essential inner gender that is independent both of their sexed body and of the social reality of being treated as a person with such a body – has rapidly been elevated to the status of quasi-religious belief, such that those who do not subscribe to it are seen as not only mistaken and misguided, but dangerous and threatening, and must therefore be silenced.”

    But this is a sleight of hand.

    My inner gender as a trans woman is rooted in the complexities of my sexed body, rather than being independent of some oversimplified caricature of human physiology.

    I don’t have access to my state of mind at birth. But I have learned a lot since I started to understand that I really am female. And all of this learning leads me in a single direction–towards the conclusion that I am a natal woman, just like my cisters.

    I applaud the commenters who are trying to understand us!

    And I sincerely hope that someday our species will outgrow demagoguery.

  32. Katharine Jenkins in the cited article writes:

    “Failure to respect the gender identifications of trans people is a serious harm and is conceptually linked to forms of transphobic oppression and even violence.”

    I wonder, does the skepticism expressed in this thread toward the concept of gender identity count as “failure to respect the gender identifications of trans people” and therefore “conceptually linked” to violence?

  33. what a fascinating discussion ! thanks for it, i’ve learned a lot. and i have an honest question. i’m speaking from a position of ignorance, and would like to know more. in one of the bullet points in the main article, magicalersatz claims that the rhetoric of “born this way” or “born in the wrong body” is an essentializing cis-rhetoric forcced on trans people. and yet, throughout most of my life, until fairly recently, i have heard that very rhetoric used by LGB folks (i’m G FYI), and especially by trans folks; in fact, it was from this community and from this rhetoric that, as a teenager, i first began to understand what it meant to be gay. Now, i know that sexuality and gender are not reducible to the same, and, i still here the “born this way argument from a lot of trans folks who are neither theorists nor activists. if the “born in the wrong body” argument is essentializing, then are they in bad faith about their identity? an is the “born this way” argument really truly essentializing? i know this is a huge question and i don’t expect a dissertation in response, but some thoughts and pointers on this specific question would be an appreciated addition to this already excellent discussion.

  34. Hi Felonious, thanks for your comment. I’m short on time right now, so I won’t be able to address everything you brought up, but I’ll say a few quick things. Hopefully others might chime in as well. First of all I think the essentializing rhetoric from the gay rights movement and the rhetoric from the trans movement should probably be treated differently. The issue for trans people, as I understand it, is that their willingness to say things like ‘I’ve always known I was born in the wrong body’ has been used as a gatekeeping mechanism for access to hormone replacement therapy and transition procedures (because it’s been part of the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria and ‘gender identity disorder’). So that’s a big part of how the rhetoric has become so endemic, and it’s something trans communities are currently very critical of (see discussion of the ‘traditional trans narrative’). That being said, I don’t dispute that the rhetoric is common, or that it’s been taken up by trans communities, or – especially – that it’s been politically useful. Essentializing rhetoric seems to often be politically useful, as somehow people are more willing to accept difference if they think it’s innate or biological.

  35. As others have said, thank you Magical for another sensitive discussion of a fraught and complicated issue.

    Re. harm, the kinds of cases that make me, at any rate, feel conflicted are those like the one discussed here:

    https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/query-from-reader-re-trans-issues/

    In that kind of situation, the position taken on the “theoretical” question has pretty immediate consequences. And the role of biological sex versus gender identity seems very significant to the way the analogy with race works (especially in comment 18 at the link). E.g., male biology is central to the repeated rapes that many of the women in that shelter will have suffered, in a way that the race of a rapist is not. So while it would be racist to worry about sharing living space with a black woman after having been raped by a black man, it doesn’t strike me as so obviously bigoted, and certainly not in the same way, for a vulnerable woman in a shelter to worry about sharing living space with someone who is biologically male.

    Of course a case may be made that “biologically male” is problematic, but that hasn’t been the case in most of this thread. So gender identity seems to be doing a lot of very significant work, and that seems to me to be an adequate reason for asking questions about its basis.

    Vaguely related, I wonder what participants in this discussion think about the position of gender-critical trans* people?

  36. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, magicalersatz.

    I think this is the picture, and it seems plausible: (I’m going to focus on trans women to try to keep things simple and avoid binary locutions like “opposite gender”) Some children who were classified as male at birth say that they are girls at a very young age, seemingly because their preferences and behaviors align more with what’s expected of girls than what’s expected of boys (this seems consistent with the way young children deploy concepts in general). They’re nevertheless subject to social pressures to identify as and behave as boys, and most (at least according to current research) do come to identify as boys by the time they reach puberty. Some, though, internalize socializations directed at girls because that is how they identify, further strengthening that identity. Gender is so central in our social lives that gender identity almost invariably becomes deeply ingrained in people’s sense of self, and, by the time a child begins puberty, it’s unlikely to change.

    How should we respond to 5 year olds who were assigned male at birth but say they’re girls? On an essentialist picture, we should try to help them discover, explore, and be true to their inner gender—trying to influence it wouldn’t make any sense. But if we’re social constructionists, wouldn’t it make sense to try to make them comfortable with their natal sex and assigned gender? It seems unlikely that gender identities are so strongly held *from the beginning* that even the most competent intervention along those lines would be harmful. Since gender socialization and identification works in a feedback loop (boy-ish behaviors and presentation—more integration with boys—more identification with boys—more boy-ish behaviors and presentation), it seems like it would even make sense to (carefully and slowly) *encourage* young gender dysphoric children to present in some of the ways typical to their assigned gender. But that seems seriously at odds with most trans* advocacy. (And, I think, the direction psychologists are moving in. Regardless of its source, I think the “born this way” rhetoric, in part because of the parallel with LGB rhetoric, has been impactful on the way psychologists think about gender dysphoria in young children.)

    Re: Not An Academic, I think the background of the “what’s the practical impact?” question is “does this really matter?” In that respect, it’s important to appreciate that the part of their identity trans* people are trying to realize is, very centrally, identity *as a member of a group.* Given that, of course it matters if they’re classified as somehow second class members of that group!

  37. Katharine Jenkins here – Magical, thanks very much for mentioning my paper and I’m glad you found it helpful. If anyone’s looking for it, unfortunately I’m not allowed to post it on academia.edu currently as it is forthcoming and the journal won’t permit me to share a copy until it is out (it will be in the January issue of Ethics).

    LMB, I’m not quite sure what your question is, but my point in that paper is mainly a reference to Talia Bettcher’s paper ‘Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers’ (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1527-2001.2007.tb01090.x/abstract). The general point is that anything that undermines the idea that trans people’s genders are valid (and that trans people should be able to move through social space as members of the genders with which they identify) helps to make life harder for trans people in ways that are both severe and unjust, since many of the unjust harms that trans people suffer are based on denials of their genders. I do think that there are ways of questioning gender identity that undermine the idea that trans people’s genders are valid, but I don’t think all discussion of this issue does this (otherwise I wouldn’t write about it myself) and I don’t have a problem with this thread. In fact, I think there are lots of good points being made in ways that show care and consideration for the implications words can have for people’s lived experiences – thanks all, and thanks Magical for the post.

  38. Okay, I’ve unapproved a previous comment because it appears to be stepping into some kind of twitter war which I have no context for in approving comments and which I absolutely don’t want this comment thread to veer towards. I won’t approve any further comments that references specific individuals (unless it’s a reference to their work) and I’ve edited a previous comment that asked about a specific individual.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s