The Huffington Post published a pseudo-scientific, confused, self-contradictory mess about gender from the transgender perspective written by transgender advocate Brynn Tannehill. And make no qualms about it, this is a pro-gender screed, as the introduction itself specifies:
Gender and gender expression are complicated, but not nearly so much as critics would like to claim. They are also not inherently contradictory, nor anti-feminist. Indeed, they can be liberating for everyone.
From an actual feminist perspective, this statement makes no sense. Gender by definition is a hierarchy which classifies men as superiors and women as inferiors. To support gender means that you support the oppression of women. How can that not be anti-feminist? We know FETAs hate and exclude women, but they constantly project that exclusion by accusing feminists of excluding transgender people and being “transmisogynists.”
I am not sure what it means to say that gender is not inherently contradictory. FETAs certainly cannot provide any (non-circular) definition of gender, therefore it’s impossible to say whether their concept of gender is contradictory or not. It may be or it may not be. Either way, it’s invalid.
The first point is a jab at right-wingers who reject the FETA concept of gender because they don’t understand it. While I can’t blame them, because FETAs actually have no coherent concept of gender, I will skip over it because all it reduces itself to is “don’t argue against something just because you don’t understand it,” like physics. While I think it’s laughable that Tannehill would equate her petty prejudices with one of the most successful sciences in the history of science, I will simply go on to the next point.
2. It is not a fad: Gender non-conforming people have been around for millennia
There is extensive archaeological evidence that transgender and gender non-conforming people have existed for millennia. In Eastern Europe, 5,000 year old graves were found with female skeletons buried with male warrior accoutrements. There are records of Norse women going Viking (raiding). Joan of Arc was burned for wearing men’s clothing. The Kama Sutra describes a third sex, and the Bible talks of “self-made eunuchs.” The kathoey of Thailand have a place within Buddhist writings. Other cultures have long traditions of gender non-conforming individuals, such as the hijra of Hinduism and India, the fa’a’fa’fine of the Pacific Islands, and two-spirits in Native American culture.
Here we see again the long-standing FETA trend of co-opting non-Western cultures (which applies in all listed cases except Joan of Arc) for non-binary genders and jamming them into the transgender umbrella. There is zero attempt here to discuss what these individual phenomena were about, what they represented to those people at the time and in their culture. They seek to reduce everything to a shallow imperialist Western transgenderist analysis.
Beyond that general criticism, many of these cases are actually great examples of the exclusionary nature of transgender advocacy. These people seriously believe that a woman wearing men’s clothing (for that culture and time) or participating in typically men’s activities (as labeled in that culture and time) means that these women were actually transgender, that a woman cannot wear different clothing or do different things and still be a woman! Did all these women actually identify as transgender? No, because that concept did not exist. They were women wearing men’s clothes and doing men’s activities. Which they are perfectly justified in doing, because being a woman implies nothing about what one should wear, think, or do.
She has no idea what Joan of Arc’s “innate gender” was. She has no idea what gender Norse women identified as. According to the trans cult’s dogma, she is guilty of the worst sin one can commit, misgendering.
Have gender non-conforming people been around for millennia? Of course. But this goes nowhere in proving that the FETA position makes any sense. Trangender people didn’t exist, because there was no such thing as “being transgender.” Identification is not innate, it is constructed by relating to other people and producing inter-subjective agreements, like any other ideological, religious, or relational group.
3. Gender fluid expression is something a lot of straight cisgender people do (to a degree) already
Women in American society can (and do) express their gender in ways that that can change from day to day, if not hour to hour. They can put on a business suit to feel commanding and strong at work or an interview, both of which are stereotyped as masculine traits. Or mix a jacket with a dress to keep it at a business level, but more feminine. Other times they can dress in ways that make them feel attractive, which often means much more stereotypically feminine attire…
Women in our culture have much greater room to express their gender than men do, but this bolsters the underlying point. Given the option, straight cisgender people will change their gender expression to fit how they want to feel about themselves in that moment, whether it is sexy, strong, or comfortable. While these feelings may be tied to stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, they are deeply ingrained into how we see ourselves.
Completely omitted from the discussion here is the reason why women do this. And it is very interesting that Tannehill singles out women here, because women are the category of people who need the most to be “fluid.” Why? Because they have the least power over how they are seen by others. Women must change their gender expression, not because of how they “feel,” but because of the demands imposed on them. There is the constant demand to be attractive, but also the constant pressure on women to outperform men or be forgotten. Women navigate this labyrinth of expectations and demands in order to not be seen as second class citizens, not because they are expressing themselves.
Because FETAs are generally privileged white men, and have never been oppressed because of their gender, they easily think of gender as something you play with, not as something that one struggles with. Brynn Tannehill, a man who graduated college and served in the US military, is a good example of this. It is people like Tannehill, men who treat other people’s lives as a plaything for their ambitions, who see the oppression of others as a game. Because transgender ideology is a genderist ideology, it is also inherently a patriarchal ideology, an ideology which promotes male supremacy. Men appropriate women’s identity and then viciously attack the women, especially lesbians, who complain or argue against that appropriation.
4. Gender has components of both nature and nurture
Demonstrating that gender has components that are social constructs is relatively easy. The colors pink and blue are not intrinsically gendered; they are merely frequencies of light. Dresses and skirts are not either; they are simply bits of fabric any human being can drape over themselves. (The fact that some people are willing to defend the morality of hurting or killing someone for wearing the “wrong” bit of fabric says a lot more about us than it does the fabric.)
At the same time, people seem to have an innate gender identity, whether female, male, or somewhere in between. Anecdotally, we can see this in Dr. John Money’s failed experiment with David Remer, who was raised as a girl but never identified as such. The guevodoces of the Caribbean similarly appear female until puberty and are raised as such as a result of 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. However, at puberty their genitals descend, and are treated as male thereafter. While usually infertile, guevodoces almost universally identify as male, despite their upbringing.
Isn’t it… interesting… that all the examples Tannehill brings up concern people who identify as men? I don’t find that particularly surprising that some people may want to identify as men in a society where we are socialized in a gender hierarchy where men are the superiors. But this is speculation, since I do not know the particulars.
That little curiosity aside, the examples themselves refute what they are supposed to demonstrate. The conceptions of gender operating in one village in the Dominican Republic with a prevalence of a very specific sex-related birth defect are rather different from those operating amongst English-Canadians during the seventies. This disproves the notion of an “innate gender identity,” which would be the same in each case. If gender identity was innate, then there could be no comparison to make between these two contexts, and the argument would be simply invalid.
A valid argument for innate gender would start by stating what those innate genders are exactly, and then compare those innate genders with the ones we have today in various cultures. But the fact that various cultures have wildly different conceptions of gender would then collapse the argument. Any concept of an innate gender is an intellectual dead end.
A recent meta-study at Boston University looked at the peer reviewed evidence, and concluded that gender identity has biological origins, though the exact biological mechanisms remain unknown. This conclusion is not uncommon; it is effectively the same conclusion we have reached about sexual orientation and autism; namely that these have biological origins which are not fully understood.
There is a link provided to the abstract of this meta-study (the full text of this study is available here). The conclusion of the study is not that “gender identity has biological origins,” because the study is about the existing literature, not about presenting scientific evidence for the claim. So this statement by Tannehill is a straightforward lie. Beyond that, there are reasons why the individual studies discussed in this meta-study are irrelevant or disreputable, but there is no point in discussing those since Tannehill doesn’t even bother to do so. At any rate, it seems like the meta-study was thrown in as a way to say that actual evidence was presented, but without even bothering to read the abstract.
Tannehill further shows her lack of desire for real scientific evidence by shackling her case to that of sexual orientation. Actually, there is no credible evidence that sexual orientation has a biological basis. Note that I am not saying that sexual orientation definitely does not have a biological basis, simply that our default position should be to reject that notion unless it is well demonstrated. In the case of transgenderism, we should likewise reject the proposition that transgenderism has a biological basis until such a basis is well demonstrated. But at any rate, this cannot prove the existence of “innate gender,” because such a concept is illogical and contradicts our understanding of human societies. Which brings us to the next point…
5. Cultural gender norms change over time naturally
Remember the whole pink and blue thing for boys and girls? That wasn’t always the case. It used to be that pink was the color for baby boys. This can be seen in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, where the baby that Lady protects is clearly sated to be a boy, and yet is dressed in pink, as was traditional at the time…
Thus, the angst over people eschewing modern gendered norms is less about the norms themselves. If it was about a belief that gender norms are immutable and unchanging, then why aren’t conservatives upset about Lady and the Tramp? They aren’t, and thus fact remains that gender norms are changing and conservatives are angry they have little control over it. The change itself is a normal part of cultural evolution.
Radical feminists, who oppose the trans cult and FETAs, have been repeating this for a while now, because this, as I already pointed out, neatly disproves the concept of “innate gender.” If gender was innate, then it would not change substantially in the way that it actually does in real cultures. We have innate biological needs, a fact that does not change between cultures, which all develop some way to deal with hunger, thirst, shelter, and so on. We have innate morality as social animals, a fact that does not change between cultures, which all develop sets of rules regulating social behavior. We have biological sex, a fact that does not change between cultures. Gender, however, can change rather drastically between cultures and eras.
If changes to the conception of gender are part of cultural evolution, then they cannot, by definition, be innate: they are social constructs.
6. How you were raised does not determine the reality of your gender identity
One line of argument that tries to further segregate transgender people is that they are not “real” women or men because they do not have the exact same experiences as most cisgender people. This is dangerous in the sense that it invalidates the lived experiences of a threatened minority group, while othering them and opening the door for “separate but equal” legal marginalization. It’s also wrong on a number of levels.
I literally have no idea what this argument means. The argument is not that “a transwoman/transman is not a ‘real’ woman/man because she/he did not have the exact same experiences as ‘cisgender’ people.” First of all, there is no such thing as cisgender people (i.e. there are no people who conform completely to their gender role at all times), so I have no idea what the comparison is based on. But secondly, that is not the argument being made by opponents of the trans cult. The experiences of a transgender person don’t have anything to do with their biological sex. Biological sex is a fact of biology, a measurable fact, not a question of experience.
I think this may be a failed attempt at referencing the socialization argument, that transwoman specifically (not all transgender people, as she tries to make us believe here) were socialized as boys and therefore maintain the attitude of male entitlement that they were raised with. If that’s what was intended, then the response is highly inadequate. We are not “invalidating the lived experiences” of transwomen. We take them at their word when they talk about their personal experiences and their sense of identity. Where we disagree is on the ideological implications of these experiences, especially as they relate to gender and the rights of women.
Transgender people are held to a double (read impossible) standard for asserting the validity of their gender identities. David Reimer was raised as a girl, but no one questioned whether he was a “real” boy when he asserted gender identity. The same is true for the guevodoces. In this, we can see that when someone asserts a gender other than the one they were raised in, it is only treated as valid if the individual’s eventual identity is cisgender.
Here Tannehill is just straight contradicting herself. Her argument in previous points was that transgender individuals have an innate sense of gender because of some biological component, and she linked to a meta-study which cites many studies which hold that people’s gender identity is linked to their genetics or some sex-based brain part. Here she is saying that that very argument holds transgender people to an impossible standard. So which is it? Is the validity of gender identity linked to sexed biological component, or isn’t it? If the latter, then what is it linked to? If something in humans is innate but cannot be measured in any way within the human body, then in what way can it possibly be said to be innate?
7. Transgender people do not intrinsically reinforce gender stereotypes
Transgender people, by definition, go directly against societal norms for how a person should dress or act based on their assigned gender. Virtually every Circuit Court in the U.S. has agreed with this interpretation of what it is to be transgender. However, the argument made by anti-transgender conservatives attempting to appeal to women and feminists is that when transgender people transition, they do so by adopting cultural norms and stereotypes of their target gender, thus reinforcing them.
This is a dishonest argument, because Tannehill knows very well that this argument is strictly invalid under her own belief system. If a man adopts female cultural norms, FETAs say that this person is actually a woman, therefore they do conform to societal norms of how their actual gender should dress or act!
To express this more clearly:
A person should adopt the societal norms of their assigned gender.
This man is adopting the societal norms of women.
Therefore this person is acting wrongly.
A person should adopt the societal norms of their innate gender.
This person is adopting the societal norms of women.
Therefore this person is a woman.
Radical feminist argument:
A person should not adopt societal norms of gender, because gender is a social construct which subjugates women.
This person is a man adopting the societal norms of women.
This person is not wrong, and they are also not a woman. There is no norm of dress or action that should be followed by anyone based on gender, because gender is generally irrelevant to determining how one should dress or act. How you dress or act does not make you a man or a woman.
Under the FETA argument, no person can go against the societal norms of their gender. They simply believe that the assigned gender is invalid and that the “innate gender” is valid. Radical feminists do not believe in either assigned gender or “innate gender” as connecting people to an obligation to dress or act in any specific way. People should be free to dress or act in any way they find fit. The FETA argument is merely the flip-side of the right-wing argument.
Both cisgender and transgender people change their gender expression to match how they feel about their gender, and themselves, at any given moment. However, transgender people have traditionally had even less space to express their gender than others.
I’ve already debunked that notion above. Most people do not change the way they dress or act because of “gender expression,” but because they way they dress or act has a direct impact in how seriously other people take them, and how they are able to deal with a hostile capitalist society. Gender roles are prison cells, and we are all prisoners of them to some extent, although women, as I’ve already pointed out, are the primary victims of the gender hierarchy. The only system which would permit us to express ourselves through our mode of dress or the way we act, in short which would permit us to have the same privileges as the white men who think gender is a fun game, would be a system where gender is abolished, capitalism is abolished, and we can all be treated as individuals with our own personal preferences and whose livelihood does not partially depend on what other people think of us.
In the past, transgender people (particularly transgender women) were not allowed to medically transition unless they looked, sounded, and acted in a stereotypically feminine manner. In recent years, people who are visibly gender non-conforming have been at a much higher risk of violence than those who blend in. Religious conservatives have urged violence against transgender people; and the easiest way to avoid this is to adopt an appearance and mannerisms which blend in.
As such, if transgender people have done anything to reinforce stereotypes, it is a result of a patriarchal culture which we have no control over which severely punishes anyone who is seen to violate these stereotypes.
I find it extremely interesting that it is only at the end of this article that Tannehill, after lauding “gender expression” over and over, finally acknowledges that people dress and act in certain ways in order to escape judgment and punishment. Where was this enlightened attitude in the rest of the article? Or does she only sympathize with transgender people (and also giving lip service to gender non-conforming people)? I guess “cis people” (whoever the fuck that is) don’t deserve to be understood.
Also, is it a Freudian slip that she typed “stereotypically feminine manner,” implying that the only transgender people that exist are men wanting to become women? She should have written “stereotypical manner conforming to their innate gender.” I guess the plight of transmen is not that important, right? After all, they are only females, and females are not as important anyway.
Either way, I don’t understand why Tannehill is deploring the fact that transwomen had to “look, sound, and act in a stereotypically feminine manner,” since that’s exactly what FETAs are advocating: that transwomen must “look, sound, and act in a stereotypically feminine manner.” They spend a lot of time telling transwomen how they should move and sit, how they should sound, what attitudes they should have, in order to be “real women.” Why else do transwomen receive estrogen, and go through surgery to get a fake vulva, if not to “look… in a stereotypically feminine manner”? The whole point of transition is to turn a person with their own individuality, their own particularities, into walking stereotypes. All cults seek to brainwash their members so their personalities conform to a certain model, but the trans cult takes that to a whole new level.