Yesterday, The Times published an article (pay-walled, though free access is possible) by Jenni Murray titled ‘Be trans, be proud – but don’t call yourself a “real woman”‘ which explained that biologically and experience-wise there’s no real analogousness between a born-woman and a transgendered woman. It didn’t call for any hatred of transgender people, however.
Not entirely unexpectedly, the article riled a lot of people: there’s those who defend what Murray wrote (me included) and those who think that her pointing out a differentiation was alienating. While I’m sympathetic to transgendered people, at risk of sounding deeply conservative, I do think some things are getting out of hand.
It must be incredibly hard to go through life with a mental gender that is incompatible with your biological sex and that deserves sympathy and compassion, and certainly a lot of psychological support. But I think medicines and surgical techniques which were designed to treat, for example, intersex conditions, have been misused for gender reassignments. Not least because some people regret their transition, but because it’s very invasive and it still doesn’t make you an authentic woman (sorry).
A transgendered woman will not ever be chromosomally (coded) female. A fully-grown man will have a brain programmed by high testosterone, plain hips, an Adam’s apple and other male features that are not muted by gender reassignment. You can put on a dress, grow long hair or get a wig, but you’ll still easily be recognised as a male in denial by both men and women. This is also why some want gender reassignment to be offered to confused children because they can be better physically moulded, yet I don’t think a pre-pubertal child has the ability to make an informed choice.
I recently saw a photo of a gender-neutral toilet which was converted from a women’s toilet. There was no conversion of the men’s toilet or the disabled toilet (which is gender-blind anyway). Why? I can make assumptions: a) the company didn’t want to spend money on an extra room for a facility (transgendered people are very rare, I don’t know any), and b) because transgendered people are likely often men transitioned to women it’s easy to serve both women and transgender women by toilet bowels without urinals. However, as some women have pointed out, this rightly would unnerve many women. If a transgendered woman has a vagina, other women are not going to check for this and will be alarmed at someone probably in a dress, with an Adam’s apple and male hips walking in. If the transgendered person hasn’t had the operation and they just want to urinate, they’d be better standing in front of a urinal in the men’s toilet.
While transgender women feel an affinity with born-women, it’s not a mutually exclusive thing. Women can’t see a fellow sister in someone who is chromosomally male and grew up so. Their social and biological experiences are very different. Women who transition to men would find the same problem.
Intersex is a different thing. A child will likely have features that are more one than the other and will likely connect their gender identity to that. Not only is it easy to shape ambiguity it’s welcome when it’s done young. They will therefore always really be what they’re assigned.
It’s not different to preference for different ethnic features. The black activist Rachel Dolezal was criticised for having a very dark tan, an Afro-Caribbean haircut and conjuring up a story about her ancestry which helped get her job. While, she’s entirely free to modify her appearance, this does not make her a real black woman. Just like Michael Jackson’s skin-bleaching did not make him ethnically white.
The loss or acquisition of body parts doesn’t mean much either. If a woman loses her breasts or womb, she isn’t now somewhat male. If a man loses his testicles or prostate, he’s not now somewhat female. If synthetic hormones weren’t devised for HRT you wouldn’t see transgender operations as viable at all, which is why it’s a bit of a manufactured problem.
I think Murray is right to say that there are women and transgendered women and men and transgendered men. It is better to own the transgender tag because it is unique and you don’t feel alienated by the unacceptance from the gender you want to be and aren’t really.