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?

kim147 Tue 05-Feb-13 21:59:23

bubbles

There are a lot of other thread widow has posted on which explain her views in great detail. Why post them again just to satisfy your curiosity?

This has been debated so many times and people have posted their opinions and views at length.

So I can see why WW has decided to bullet point.

BubblesOfBliss Tue 05-Feb-13 22:10:55

Mini "it becomes exclusionary to insist that we all use a prescribed debating style."
What are you saying?

"And what WW post makes clear is that theory doesn't substitute for opinion and vice versa and both should be valid."

There are facts, there are ways to analyse those facts and there are opinions based on those facts.

If opinions float around that are not clearly linked to facts or drawn from an analysis of those facts - then where is the validity of those opinions? They are just assertions floating freely without context. Where can you go with that? How does it contribute to debate or even be called a debating style?

Writehand Tue 05-Feb-13 22:18:21

Years ago I went into a tiny shop with a friend. It was a complex transaction -- we were dealing with the lone shop assistant for 10 minutes or more.

Afterwards we walked out, went round the corner and just stared at each other. Neither of us had been able to work out what sex the assistant was. Voice, appearance... It was impossible. My friend, a doctor, thought we'd probably encountered a truly intersex person.

But what sticks in my mind is the way that, if you can't tell for sure whether someone's male or female, your brain just keeps going back to it. All the way through the encounter I kept trying to decide.

I think there's a very basic function in the brain which classifies sex automatically when we encounter strangers, and if there's any dissonance whatsoever our brain just nags and nags. And I'd guess that this is why "passing" as a transsexual is so problematic.

MiniTheMinx Tue 05-Feb-13 22:36:54

>People should be free to identify as they feel

I agree, the difficulty here is that others may not share a persons assertion to be identified in a particular way. If we have individual will to identify, then we also have individual will to hold a different perspective. See how liberalism can actually be transverse?

>what is in their pants is their own business

I agree, in fact if men worried less about what women had in theirs maybe we wouldn't be discussing this.

>hate speech used on sites such as bugbrennan and gendertrender is disgusting

I agree and I think it actually undermines the radical feminist position. It's harmful to feminism.

>trans women have privilege over cis women is ludicrous

This is where the question of what's in ya pants becomes pertenant though isn't it. Its like saying white women always have privilege over black men, they do economically but not in terms of rape/physical assault. I have certainly been made to feel intimidated by working class black men.

>Saying "let them sort out their own shelters, it's not our business" is heartless at best.

Women have provided and lobbied, raised awareness and funds for many years, I am sure that it would be possible to talk in terms of skills sharing. facilitating the trans community to set up their own shelters. In view of the fact that we have government cuts to services & funding, they would find themselves in competition with women's services for scant resources but things may change.

MiniTheMinx Tue 05-Feb-13 22:42:57

I think we shouldn't fall into the trap of being elitist. BubblesOfBliss

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 22:49:52

WidowWadman, I have no issue with disagreement. I have already said many times on MN that I have no issue with disagreement. Disagreement is rich, or at least it can be - it should be, non?

I do however take issue with people who only state their disagreement with me by calling me (or my views) names. And I don't really take such disagreements very seriously because there is no substance to them. There is nowhere to go.

If someone disagrees with me and they explain why, I will always stop and think.

Beachcomber Tue 05-Feb-13 23:02:10

People should be free to identify as they feel they are without fear of ridicule, attack and bullying.

I agree.

Noone has the right to ask anyone no matter whether cis or trans about their genitals, as what is in their pants is their own business.

Context?

Noone has the right to ask anyone about their medical history, as that's a private matter.

I agree.

Noone has the right to out someone else against their will.

If we are talking the internet as long as the person is not stalking or harassing someone, I agree.

The hate speech used on sites such as bugbrennan and gendertrender is disgusting.

Examples?

The idea that trans women have privilege over cis women is ludicrous.

This is an unbacked up assertion.

Judging a whole group of people on the basis of behaviour of a small subgroup of extremists is wrong.

I agree. And would add that it would be great if non extremists spoke up that would be ace.

The constant denial of their own privilege by women who clearly are privileged is ridiculous.

Example? I'm unclear as to what you are referring to here.

Nobody should sleep with anyone they're not attracted to, I doubt anyone's denying that.

I have to disagree that anyone is denying that.

BubblesOfBliss Wed 06-Feb-13 08:33:52

Kim147 "There are a lot of other thread widow has posted on which explain her views in great detail."

As with everyone in FWR since there is a lot of circularity to all this

"Why post them again just to satisfy your curiosity?"

Its not to satisfy my curiosity - it is to make a choice in relation to the all the contributors of the thread - to engage with the arguments or admit a presence on the thread is an attempt to manipulate the outcomes.

"This has been debated so many times and people have posted their opinions and views at length."

Yup, we all feel it. And why is no one else resorting to it?

"So I can see why WW has decided to bullet point."

So can I, but I don't think it is justified.

BubblesOfBliss Wed 06-Feb-13 09:10:00

MiniTheMinx "I think we shouldn't fall into the trap of being elitist."

So do I, but I think the danger in elitism lies in using esoteric language, or making references to things without a context that can be examined or followed-up.

Pulling someone up on voicing a load of strong opinions about people without a rationale (and is therefore being judgemental- making snap-judgements based on feelings of 'nice' and 'nasty') is not being elitist. I don't think condescending to such a person and saying "nasty and nice, like or don't like - is just as valuable a contribution to the discussion as having a rationale behind your statements" because you fear they might be out of their intellectual depth (am I right?) actually helps people at all.

And I don't think it was not having the intellectual depth to argue that was to blame for the unsubstantiated opinion bullet-points - I think it came across as a more superior 'I've made my mind up and you lot aren't even worth bothering with'

BubblesOfBliss Wed 06-Feb-13 10:00:20

Regarding refuge spaces....

One of the problems of assisting people fleeing violence is that demand outstrips supply. Women can't get spaces in women's refuges at the moment.

Having a cut-off point of how many spaces are available in the service you provide, or deliberately having a narrow demographic to provide a specialist service is nothing new or unique to the women's sector. There are men-only hostels that would not admit women, there are homes for recovering alcoholics that don't admit drinkers- and so on. It is always upsetting and difficult for staff to have to reject applicants -who are clearly suffering and desperate- because they don't fit criteria - for whatever reason. And it is common for this to cause bad feelings, often racist or misogynist in the person who is rejected.

You could weep for hundreds of cases daily where people aren't able to get the help they need, from all walks of life. But staff will generally give a lead on where is a more suitable place to seek support.

There are a wide variety of services - for example 'Broken Rainbow' who provide a specialist service for DV in LGBT clients, also local councils have a duty of care to protect vulnerable adults and police forces have domestic violence and hate crime teams that can be very helpful in assisting.

BubblesOfBliss Wed 06-Feb-13 10:51:03

So for the record BigSpork regarding "the ciswoman who allowed a trans*woman to die of hypothermia outside a homeless shelter because finding the trans*woman help wasn't the ciswoman's business, all are oppressors."

I find it a highly suspect and misleading claim which could give the wrong impression.

Firstly, homeless shelters are never staffed by just one person, therefore any course of action can not be down to 'one cis woman' that leads to someone dying of hyperthermia.
Second, lest anyone confuses this anecdote with women's refuges, it could never happen outside a women's refuge because the locations of refuges are kept secret for safety from perpetrators - so no one can just turn up outside to seek shelter.
Thirdly, what is the full story? Did the staff even know the transwoman waited outside the hostel after being turned away?
Fourthly, it is a sad fact that homeless people die of hypothermia every winter and in some cases because there are not the spaces in hostels - this tragedy is irrespective to them being male, female, 'trans' or 'cis' and is certainly not evidence of 'trans oppression' by 'cis' people.

FreyaSnow Wed 06-Feb-13 11:53:51

On these threads people have repeatedly discussed why trans people want to identify by gender and the implications that transgender inclusion might have for women.

I think we can find ways of including transgender women regardless of how they may or may not feel about gender or what anyone else may or may not feel about gender.

The issue seems to me to be what other women should be expected to believe about gender. As WW said, it is rude to expect somebody to declare what is in their pants. It is also pretty rude to expect somebody to declare or make assumptions about the feelings in somebody's head with regard to gender. Just because somebody says they are a woman I am not going to assume they have any particular feeling.

I don't know what the impact is on a woman with anorexia, or a pregnant woman, or a girl going through puberty, or a woman working in engineering, or a 10 year old girl who is good at Maths of believing that biological sex is irrelevant but her internal gender defines what kind of person she is. Sense of self is a huge part of psychology and I don't know anything about psychology. I'm not sure how any of us can say how all women or all people should view gender and sex if we don't understand what the mental health implications of that might be.

BubblesOfBliss Wed 06-Feb-13 12:56:47

Hi FreyaSnowI can't quite get what you are saying here "I think we can find ways of including transgender women regardless of how they may or may not feel about gender or what anyone else may or may not feel about gender." (partly because I don't know who 'they' refers to).

By 'ways of including transwomen'' do you mean ways of fully accepting that they are women with the right to access all areas and service available to women including those that are a refuge from men and male violence? And by 'regardless of how they may or may not feel about gender or what anyone else may or may not feel about gender' do you mean regardless of the threat it poses to women (eg a consequence where a man -violent, perverted and with sinister intent- insists on his right to enter these protective spaces because he claims to be a woman)? Or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

FreyaSnow Wed 06-Feb-13 13:32:59

No BB, I mean that in most practical situations there is no conflict between transgender women and people whose sex is female. So it really doesn't matter what anybody thinks about the ideology of gender. If somebody wants to declare that their name is Miss Sophie Cole, wear dresses, be referred to as she and so on, I don't see how it is anybody else's business. I don't need to know anything about their internal thought processes or their genitalia.

Where there is a conflict, I think that it should work the same as for other any other minority groups who have some issues that intersect and some issues that don't. Which groups experience specific disadvantages shouldn't really be a matter of opinion but one of empirical evidence. Biological females face some disadvantages not faced by transgender women and transgender women face some disadvantages not faced by biological females. As such, both groups sometimes need separate services.

BubblesOfBliss Wed 06-Feb-13 14:26:34

Ah thanks for clarifying FreyaSnow

"Where there is a conflict, I think that it should work the same as for other any other minority groups who have some issues that intersect and some issues that don't. Which groups experience specific disadvantages shouldn't really be a matter of opinion but one of empirical evidence. Biological females face some disadvantages not faced by transgender women and transgender women face some disadvantages not faced by biological females. As such, both groups sometimes need separate services."

I think the conflict is where biological sex is important. For example situations where someone might insist on a female doctor for an intimate examination, or for people who are campaigning around abortion rights, or someone becomes a sports teacher teaching teenage girls P.E. and so on.
Although it is rude to ask what is in a person's underwear, I find it sinister in these situations for a person to claim the opposite biological sex to the one they actually are. Because there are so many situations that are sex-specific often requiring sex segregation- largely in response to the prevalent sexual violence against females perpetrated by males, and also because women are not actually a minority group but in the majority, it is more contentious to declare separate spaces/specialist services for women than for other minority groups.

Writehand Wed 06-Feb-13 16:05:50

WidowWadman wrote: People should be free to identify as they feel they are without fear of ridicule, attack and bullying.

Of course no one should ever be attacked, but if you look bizarre people react even if only by being super polite. The pantomime dame is a stock British figure of fun. Transwomen are seldom wholly convincing and there is sometimes an element of caricature. Being female is nothing to do with hair, cosmetics or clothing (I'd be female tied in a sack), but for transwomen these have to be a top priority -- this being one of the areas where they "bump into" feminist feelings about roles.

When you say "identify as they feel" it leaves a lot of questions up in the air. Do people have to "identify as they feel" all the time, or can they put it on and take it off? If so, how often? If a transman has a baby does this change his gender?

We may politely humour people who have unrealistic self-images, but that doesn't mean we actually believe them. While during conversation I wouldn't have a problem with someone telling me against the evidence of my own eyes that they're an elf or a woman, it might be different if I was being asked to vote for them or share a changing room.

I'm not convinced that a transwoman actually "changes" at all? Is it not all an elaborate self-deception? There are people who believe they're werewolves or vampires. There are people who insist that they are dead, ffs.

There's also a strand of thinking that puts transexual desires into the same box as other philias - very profound sexual drives -- which does make a certain amount of sense and ties in with the fact that far more men are motivated to transition, as they also form most of those affected by philias.

Noone has the right to ask anyone no matter whether cis or trans about their genitals, as what is in their pants is their own business.

If it were easy to adopt the physical being of the opposite sex and all trans people could pass effortlessly the issue wouldn't arise. But biology is not so easily bypassed and it's often easy to guess someone's AAB status. If it's not so easy it can be even more disconcerting. I felt uncomfortable when it became clear that someone I assumed initially was female was a man.

That was kinda the point of my previous post. I wonder whether being able to assign sex to people we meet is particularly strongly developed in women, as throughout our history men have always posed a threat to women in a way other women don't.

Noone has the right to ask anyone about their medical history, as that's a private matter.

In a social context, absolutely. In an intimate context, I think people have every right to ask. More than that: the information should be offered rather than have to be requested.

Noone has the right to out someone else against their will.

Context is all.

The hate speech used on sites such as bugbrennan and gendertrender is disgusting.

I can't agree with you there. I'm interested in these sites and feel they're relevant. Transgender assumptions demand feminist analysis and action. Professor Sheila Jeffreys' submission to the public consultation on the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill being a case in point.

As for hate speech -- the transexual bloggers don't hold back, do they? There's some huge aggression out there.

The idea that trans women have privilege over cis women is ludicrous.

Transwomen are male, and have male privilege. If they decide to live as women any loss of privilege is self-inflicted. But they carry their assumptions with them. The cotton ceiling business sits badly with me: it's such a typically male approach.

Judging a whole group of people on the basis of behaviour of a small subgroup of extremists is wrong.

Absolutely. That's true in all contexts. Unfortunately we don't hear a lot from non-extremists on this issue,

The constant denial of their own privilege by women who clearly are privileged is ridiculous.

?

Nobody should sleep with anyone they're not attracted to, I doubt anyone's denying that.

If the cotton ceiling thing isn't a push to get lesbian females to ignore male genitals on other women then what is it?

(Btw I used "cis" because it types quicker than and I really can't be arsed with that acronym)

Use the terms you like, but I refuse to use the label cis. I am an archetypal woman. I was FAAB but my femininity is far more defined than by my sex as AAB. I have a fully functioning female body and although I feel compassion for transwomen (it's clearly a very tough situation to be in) that doesn't mean I see them as equivalent in all senses. A transwoman and a woman face some of the same challenges, but they are not synonyms.

BubblesOfBliss Wed 06-Feb-13 18:03:24

Writehand

"While during conversation I wouldn't have a problem with someone telling me against the evidence of my own eyes that they're an elf or a woman, it might be different if I was being asked to vote for them or share a changing room."

This is so true - I've been so focused on the male-female thing, I bypassed the issue of delusional people - how they should be treated with caution - and for delusional people that insist others fall in line with their delusion using threats of suicide, legal action, guilt-tactics, etc - they should ring alarm bells even more than those experiencing psychosis.

"I felt uncomfortable when it became clear that someone I assumed initially was female was a man." "That was kinda the point of my previous post. I wonder whether being able to assign sex to people we meet is particularly strongly developed in women, as throughout our history men have always posed a threat to women in a way other women don't."

This makes a lot of sense to me - when I had been in the company of a transman who looked very convincingly male I had a strange feeling from the energy of this person and I've long been trying to put my finger on it - and it must be a lack of a sense of threat and feeling of not having to emotionally/psychologically brace myself for what ever it is I unconsciously fear in men.

Writehand Wed 06-Feb-13 22:58:09

Bubbles of Bliss: a situation where (only in America, as the cliche goes) someone with an entirely male body is legally entitled to lounge around naked in the women's changing rooms because they say they're women, panders to a delusion.

What bothers me is that if this becomes law as it has in Washington State -- that it's up to the individual to decide which changing room they fancy -- there are plenty of men who want to get into women's (and kid's) changing rooms who aren't trans anything, but predators who will use this ruling to give them access. If transwomen are as sisterly and aware of patriarchal oppression as we're told, why expose females to this?

Kelly Dawn Anderson, 49, also known as Kelly Hullenbaugh and Robert Domasky, was arrested after a janitor spotted a man in women's clothing leaving the girls' locker room at Greensburg Salem High School.

Greensburg police said caretakers reported "a man dressed as a woman" in the high school at about 7 p.m. Police thought they knew who it might be and went to the suspect's Otterman Street apartment. The man's Jeep was parked outside and a Greensburg Salem gym bag and a hunting knife were on the back seat.

A hunting knife?

I'm glad you get my point about how much it matters to females to be sure what sex strangers are. Someone I perceive as being a man in disguise may be a totally sincere transwoman. But there are common and far more threatening reasons for a man to pretend to be a woman in an woman-only space, and any female knows this. I'd bet there are more sex offenders than transwomen in the population.

I can see that the whole loo/changing room situation presents real problems for trans and intersex people, but I'm not at all sure that this justifies removing the safety and privacy of woman-only areas.

JuliaScurr Thu 07-Feb-13 12:44:52

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