Sex vs gender - getting confused

(94 Posts)

I was always taught that sex is a biological condition but that gender is a societal construct. That makes sense to me.

But I've recently become aware of the conflict between some feminists and transgender individuals. And I'm getting very confused. I agree that women-only spaces are important. And I agree that someone who is convinced they are female should be allowed to live their life as female. But then I get myself in a muddle about whether someone who identifies as female but was born male should be included in female-only spaces etc etc.

Can someone please help me untangle my thoughts on this?

WidowWadman Mon 04-Feb-13 21:09:50

There are some who think "yes", there are some who think "no" and some who think "meh". Then there will follow a 1000 points where all sides shout and accuse the others of oppressing and silencing. Then the thread is full, and you have to wait until a new one starts.

ecclesvet Mon 04-Feb-13 21:44:47

And someone will complain about being called a 'cis-woman' in 3...2...1...

Yoghurty Mon 04-Feb-13 21:58:08

This is a tough one for me re: my work. There aren't any refuges for trans people, only women's refuges which are gender-sensitive environments.

But then where do I send my vulnerable, at risk clients who weren't born anatomically female?
If I do place a client there, am I putting her at risk of re-victimisation? (And potentially other clients?)

I don't have an answer for you, as someone else said, some people will say yes, some will say no, and I will still have clients with nowhere safe to go..... sad

kim147 Mon 04-Feb-13 22:51:05

Give us a chance - we've only just had the last 1000 trans thread. grin
Sure someone will be along to explain their views.

At the moment, I have major laptop issues so can't really access MN.

Oh no, I didn't know this had been covered recently! blush Sorry...

What's a cis-woman? Should I just google?

Yoghurty that's really tough.

kim147 Mon 04-Feb-13 23:06:53

You missed that thread grin

Just scroll down to the thread with 1000 posts in that's not about men.

kim147 Mon 04-Feb-13 23:07:38
Pan Mon 04-Feb-13 23:23:22

Yoghurty - really tricky with no obv. solution. Reflects the prison service choices about where to place transgendered people. Every time it arises, HMP central have to get involved and make decisions, based usually in 'what will we be least sued over?' rather than 'what's best for the inmate' and security.

Oh my. Just read the first 30-odd comments on that thread (thanks for the link kim, yes I'd missed that one!). confused

I think educating myself about this will have to wait until tomorrow when my brain isn't so fried!

kim147 Mon 04-Feb-13 23:43:39

I could point you to about 4 more 1000 post ones if you want.

But if you've read one, you've read them all. Happy reading.

No no, just one is fine thanks! grin

I'm pretty new to this part of MN and am still finding my way, hence the thread!

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 00:01:56

I think the confusion is because it is all a matter of degrees O.P.

"I was always taught that sex is a biological condition but that gender is a societal construct. That makes sense to me."

And this also makes sense to me, because it does make sense. Sex is based on biological fact, as a reproductively dimorphic species, humans are born into two sexes, with some ambiguity for example XXY people who have both testes and ovaries, but despite this handful of variations sex is a biological fact - which in whatever case means that female eggs met by male sperm create a human, and is carried to term in the female womb. Unfortunately this biological fact also brings with it a human expectation of a future reproductive role in the female, which is feared and despised - pretty universally, meaning that globally female foetuses get aborted, girl babies are killed, girl children are treated as lesser, girls are highly likely to be emotionally and sexually abused, denied education, sold off as child brides, and so on - a whole host of 'sex-based' violence a discrimination befall the human embryo, foetus, child- from the moment their sex is declared which carries on into womanhood.

"I agree that women-only spaces are important."
So do I - it is a chance that all those who have navigated through to adulthood through this unrelenting shower of misogyny, to share together.

"And I agree that someone who is convinced they are female should be allowed to live their life as female."
This is where I think it gets confusing. Why should someone who is erroneously [I say this because what they believe is counter to the facts] convinced that they are something they are not, be allowed to live as one of those who they wrongly believe they are? The only reason it seems plausible to suggest it is because it is almost possible to imagine being born in the 'wrong sexed body'. If the delusion is something a bit more far out, we'd call the person mentally ill. For example, should people who believe they were born in the 'wrong-species body' be 'allowed' to live as a different species? Should people who believe they are born in the 'wrong-raced body' be 'allowed' to live as they belong to a different race? Should people who believe they are 'wrongly-abled' be 'allowed' to live as a disabled person, blue badge, D.L.A. freedom pass and all?

I think most people would agree that if no one is getting hurt, we should let people pursue their delusions if it makes them happy. But this is a very simplistic dismissal of a more complex situation. For example, what if a violent convicted rapist in jail believes they are a woman and successfully campaigns to get transferred to a woman's prison? (this has happened by the way). The problem, is that unlike the fate that befalls the female, the male has a different set of expectations upon them from the moment their sex is declared, so are universally more likely to be valued and preferred, it means they are less likely to be aborted or suffer infanticide because of it, in fact they will be instilled with expectations that form an unaware, unquestioned sense of entitlement over females. This sense of entitlement actively oppresses women, whether anyone notices or not.

Gender, on the other hand, is a mechanism by which male oppression of female is woven into tradition and culture. Masculine' is any behaviours that are oppressive and 'feminine' is any behaviours that submit to/suggest enjoyment of oppression. It is a social construct.

"But then I get myself in a muddle about whether someone who identifies as female but was born male should be included in female-only spaces etc etc."

I think you can untangle yourself if you examine the off-the-cuff "And I agree that someone who is convinced they are female should be allowed to live their life as female."
Do you really agree? No matter how male-entitled? No matter how vulnerable the females this person likes to move among to prove they've 'passed'? Rape victims? How about the ones who like to keep their penises and try to guilt-trip lesbians into sex with them in a very male-entitled fashion? Should they really be 'allowed' to live among those who want to be free of oppression by men and male entitlement?

Anyway, I've made it clear which camp I belong to...watch the teeth and hair fly!

(BTW Yoghurty - Of course there should be refuges and shelters for anyone fleeing violence, but I don't believe it is the responsibility of women's services to provide them.)

BigSpork Tue 05-Feb-13 00:16:09

OP: You might find interesting. The visual for the 2.0 version, linked on the page, is more accurate but it gives a more detailed explanation of everything in the original I linked.

Speaking as both a rape survivor and someone who is mentally ill that's an interesting post Bubbles. I'll address it properly tomorrow but I'd like to answer your point about 'delusions'.

To me, if someone is 'deluded' enough that they are utterly convinced that they are the opposite gender then yes, I believe that they should be permitted to live their life as that gender. Ditto species and race. Disability is different because that is a medical condition, with certain criteria that must be met. (I say this as someone with mobility problems but not enough that I count as disabled).

To put it another way - I am an atheist. To me anyone who believes in a deity is deluded. Does that mean that I have the right to stop believers going to church and living their lives according to their holy texts?

Right, I really am going to try to sleep now! I'll look at your link tomorrow Spork, thank you.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 00:50:19

Joyful
"Disability is different because that is a medical condition, with certain criteria that must be met. (I say this as someone with mobility problems but not enough that I count as disabled)."

.... Hang on- being female is a condition of sex, and the sexual oppression faced by the female is part of the female human condition.... Why should someone who does not meet the criteria of the female human condition be permitted to have access to all the facilities, spaces and services provided for people who do meet it?... Why do you draw the distinction? Or do you simply not believe in 'the female human condition'?

"To put it another way - I am an atheist. To me anyone who believes in a deity is deluded. Does that mean that I have the right to stop believers going to church and living their lives according to their holy texts?"

That analogy is inconsistent with your argument - it would be more accurate to say "I am an atheist. To me anyone who believes in a deity is deluded. Does that mean that I have the right to stop believers have the right to stop me going into their church and living their lives according to telling them to change their holy texts?"
Because that is more in line with what transwomen do when they insist on full accepted status as women.

If you want the analogy the other way, emphasising the deluded bit, to be consistent you'd have to say: "I am an atheist. To me anyone who believes in a deity is deluded. Does that mean that I have the right to stop believers going to church joining the atheist society to try to convince atheists of their delusion and living their lives according to their holy texts?"

Do you see what I mean?

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 01:07:23

BTW if you are interested in people who are 'transabled' - here is a site dedicated to it and this is the address of an article on comparisons between transsexuality and transability

http://transabled.org/thoughts/a-comparison-between-transsexuality-and-transableism.htm

(I've not converted the link, so you'll have to copy it into your address bar)

FloraFox Tue 05-Feb-13 01:23:40

There's not much I can add to Bubbles excellent posts but you say you say "ditto for species and race". I'm bit sure how it would work for species. Do you think someone who is white but "identifies" as a black person should be able to insist on joining organisations for black people? Or accessing resources or quota allocations? Or saying "why won't any of you cis black people sleep with me, you're all cis racist".

The vulnerable people you have encountered may need help and no doubt face great difficulties from living in a patriarchal, misogynistic and homophobic society but those are different from the issues faced by women and the reasons why women need women's spaces, resources etc.

DioneTheDiabolist Tue 05-Feb-13 01:39:02

Preparing my flame-proof pants but here it goes:

Sex = something you chose to have.
Gender = something you are born with.

williaminajetfighter Tue 05-Feb-13 01:43:23

Sorry but sex is what you are born with whereas gender is more performative and how you choose to act or relate.

That's why I get cross when the say 'what is the baby's gender?' I want to say 'well the sex is female but the gender is still undecided I imagine!'

BigSpork Tue 05-Feb-13 01:57:16

Except female as assigned at birth do not have holy texts. Or specific guidelines we have to follow. We can choose who we include. We can choose to be inclusive or exclusive. Modern Western Feminism seems to thrive on being exclusive and throwing down holy laws, but there are many other branches who do not see it that way.

1 in 100-150 people are born with intersex, many have them without knowing, those who are obvious will be put into one or the other category of sex due to archaic systems, should they be accepted if assigned female at birth or not? Even if they have a penis/testicles? Should those assigned female at birth but were exposed to a higher (male level) amount of testosterone in the womb count as well? Most other societies recognise a plethora of genders/sexes (even ancient Judaism, upon which the Christianity that Western civilisation is based and conquered others for, had 6 separate gender categories).

Should a trans*man, assigned female at birth, be allowed in all women's spaces, facilities, and services? Even if he completely passes as male visibly?

Should someone who is trans* outside of the gender binary - genderqueer, genderfluid, and so on, be allowed if they were assigned female at birth? Even if at that time they pass visibly as male?

The main excuse I hear about not allowing in trans*woman is that someone who appears male might trigger a rape victim so should women who appear traditionally masculine in their features be denied?

Many would argue that there is no one female human experience. While Western (mainly White) feminism likes to make that dichotomy, there are other roles and privileges at play. For example: the female as main identifying factor (and source of oppression) in society, the virgin/whore dichotomy, the being seen as weak, the motherhood as a blessing is a mainly white able bodied ciswoman experience. As a woman of mixed race (though a light skinned one), I have woman kin who've pretty much defined as whores from pre-puberty and forced to be strong because of their skin colour and background has society giving them no room for weakness - when we are weak, it is blamed on our apparent race, not our apparent gender. When we became mothers, we had assumptions made against us and verbal attacks about how there should be less of "us" and that we could not really love our children the way a white mother could and would be better off with them - I had a midwife lie to social services when I had my eldest trying to convince her that I wanted to give him up and refused to believe I was married, literally laughing in my face at the idea. My darker family members go through far worse and have put themselves through dangerous treatment because those of us who are lighter get better treatment (see colourism, not the same as racism or xenophobia). And that's in the UK, here, in the 21st century. You cannot tell me that is part of every person assigned female at birth's "female human experience" because it isn't.

And this barely scrapes the surface. The common statistic about how much less women make than men? That's White able bodied straight cismen (as the standard) versus White ablebodied straight ciswomen. Throw in anything else, the gap widens. Throw in anything else and the experience changes.

Patriarchy wants us divided. White Supermacy Hetero Patriarchy wants there to only to be them as the rulers and the rest as the ruled as useful to them and for that which they deem unimportant to be ignored and pushed into our own boxes where we can suit and make the machine work for them. Personally, I want to dismantle a system that tells me I need to fit into a box I was assigned at birth, I want to give help to my sisters no matter what they were assigned at birth, I want the fullness of human experience recognised not forced to choose an identity to suit the system. My sister is Female and Metis, not one or the other, but both and both should be recognised and how her experience differs from the "norm" of what White Western feminism tells her the female human experience is. I am Genderfluid and Metis, not or or the other, but both and both should be recognised and my experience should be recognised and just as valid as any other person regardless of what the paperwork says or what Western Feminism has to say about it.

Oh, and the reason trans*woman are so loud and fight so hard to change the rules is because it is well known that no marginalized group has ever gained any rights by asking an oppressor nicely. In living memory, Aboriginal Australians were deemed fauna. In living memory (last year), trans* people were forced to be sterilized in order to receive any treatment in a supposedly enlightened Western country under eugenic laws that were never condemned by the world, only the trans* people and their good allies who fought tooth and nail for every inch to get the freedom to reproduce. Which most would consider part of the human experience, but no one in power thought it unfair to deny them that until last year.

It became a novel but I hope someone sees what I mean. Both gender and sex are incredibly broad spectrum and expecting it to fit into two neat categories is bonkers, especially when added to the rest of the spectrum a person is a part of, and fighting to narrow a spectrum doesn't actually narrow it, it just ignores and oppresses part of it.

BigSpork Tue 05-Feb-13 02:16:00

Your transabled issue isn't comparable. No one has ever been sterilized, raped, killed (and has their murderer get away with it with the panic defence), denied employment or housing or the right to parent their children for altering their abilities. It also does not confront cultural structure but, at the sites own admission, is a desire people have nor do those born or have non-purposefully adquired disabilities have any significant or cultural power over them.

Transethnicity (since you brought up race), is a definition of those adopted or otherwise raised in families and communities outside of their own. This creates issues of identity and belonging and often those who were raised within their own culture have social and cultural power over those who are not. Sp compareable differently. Unless we are talking about the new trend of people bringing together stereotypes and appropriation a culture they have no actual connection with - like people who disrespectfully don war bonnets, say they're on spirit quests because they 'feel' Native American. These people have power over those they are imitating, so not comparable at all. They encourage steretypoes that result in deaths, rapes, and denied access to those they 'feel' like. Trans*women (particularly those who are not white) are not doing this, they have a higher rate of death and denied access, not less, though what I guess you see as 'imitation'.

FloraFox Tue 05-Feb-13 02:44:00

The fact that they are subject to abuse and oppression does not make trans people the opposite sex. Sex is science and this is not about intersex. It is about men with every physical and scientific indicator of being male claiming that they are female simply because they say they identify as such, with their female penis etc.

Gender is a construct. Sex is not.

Of course there are other aspects of life where there is oppression. And people in those groups should be able to self identify and organize themselves to address this without being forces to include those from outside the group. If I pitch up at the Southall Black Sisters meeting and say I identify as a woman of colour, they would rightly tell me where no matter how vulnerable I was and how much oppression I had suffered.

If you think the main "excuse" is triggering rape victims, you need to read more. Start with Bubbles post above.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now