Gender: what is it? Is it different than biological sex? Is gender identity even real? Can it be changed? Why do people change it? All of these are big questions, but there really is only one actual answer.
Let's explore this, by way of analyzing common rhetorical arguments against gender identity, and therein, common rhetorical arguments against GNC individuals.
We'll start with a common expression in opposition, work our way to gender identity, then biological sex, then emotional appeals, and finally come out the other side to "simple".
"You can't change what you're born with", some say
But if you could, what would that mean?
Let's start off very simply by merely asking this question: Why Not?
Why can't a person born as a woman/man change their body to something else? Why can they not transition socially? Why can they not even simply state they wish to be [word here]?
And if they can do all of this (which they can), why suggest it's not possible?
Therein lies the problem of this rhetoric. If something is possible, declaring it impossible doesn't make it so.
It also isn't very rational to assume anyone can dictate what someone does with their body, as long as they aren't hurting anyone.
If it isn't rational to require someone to use their body in the way someone else wants, then what is the rationale behind denying "the possible"?
Perhaps some think gender identity does not exist, and biological sex is therein the immutable signifier we are stuck in, from birth to death, thus rendering the swapping of trade-dress moot.
However, this requires proving that gender identity doesn't exist.
Is gender identity real, or not?
If it isn't real, then how do we define a static innate, wherein some people do not actually feel it (or feel a different one)?
Perhaps, some would would say, there's a mystical innate essence to one's gender, that of which is somehow intrinsically tied to your junk.
But to even feel this "essence" to begin with is a form of gender identity congruency, isn't it? To feel otherwise is dysphoric...isn't it?
Here's a thought experiment: a scientist puts your brain in a jar. Does your idea of your gender immediately vanish? Probably not.
You'd probably have an existential crisis about being a brain floating in a jar, and not having the expected human body parts.
If the brain is aware its a brain (it is), it therein has an identity of itself. That identity holds the concept of one's gender.
But what does science say about this?
Science has found differences in brain chemistry, and a plethora of other factors, none of which 100% solves the "gender identity incongruence" or "essence" debate.
Though there is promise in recent studies:
"It doesn't matter which sex organs you have, it's whether estrogen, or androgen, which is converted to estrogen in the brain, masculinizes the brain during this critical period," says Dr. Lawrence C. Layman, chief of the MCG Section of Reproductive Endocrinology, Infertility and Genetics in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
There are a lot of things we actually don't know about the human brain. We are learning new things all the time.
One thing we do know is that the existence of GNC people suggests gender and biological sex are not fixable to each other.
The innate, immutable, never incongruent "essence" rhetorical framework eats itself by proving that of which it wishes to disprove: gender identity.
Therein, we must turn to biological sex for our next point. If we assume biological sex is the only definable aspect, what does this mean?
If people wish to transition physically, what does common oppositional rhetoric suggest is happening?
A common piece of rhetoric on this juncture is "biological sex is under attack"
And if it isn't, what does this mean?
If the immutable "essence" logic doesn't work, or it refuses to be critiqued enough to decouple terminologies, some rhetoricians suggest "biological sex is under attack".
Let's analyze this further:
Trans and nonbinary people are aware of their biological sex (painfully, at times), especially where healthcare is concerned. They have to be: their medical care requires it.
Furthermore, if one wasn't aware of one's biological sex—imagine being a brain in a jar and screaming eternally—why would they seek to transition?
Trans people and nonbinary people don't deny biological sex, they just wish for a different option, and that's their decision to make.
Let's ask the real question: whose biological sex is actually under attack? What does transitioning, or otherwise, impact outside of the person doing so?
Does it upend society? Does it hurt others—is that the real problem? If it is, can we prove it, and how does this happen?
The bathroom debate comes to mind:
"If we let males into female spaces, then they'll assault them!"
Let's ignore the implications of that statement and take this argument at face value.
To prove this, we must prove this is an accessible way to assault people in women's spaces. We must prove that there's data that show this as a statistically viable outcome.
Transitioning isn't easy, and often it's not even accessible, even from a social standpoint.
Furthermore, sexual abusers are simply going to abuse, and it doesn't matter who they are.
The statistically viable outcome? Not statistically viable:
As of March 2017, 19 states, the District of Columbia and more than 200 municipalities have anti-discrimination laws and ordinances allowing transgender people to use public facilities that correspond to their gender identity.
We have one case of this actually happening in a state that has had this anti-discrimination law, for 4 years now.
Because being GNC isn't a laissez faire experience, and the data does not present the outcome expected of the rhetoric, it is rendered moot.
And what of the children?
I'm going to let this article do much of the talking, because where the safety of children is concerned, I do not ever want to philosophize.
New York City has banned discrimination based on gender identity for more than a decade. California has affirmed the rights of K-12 students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity for years. Advocates say that while there are some past examples of heterosexual men dressing up like women to gain access to women’s spaces, there’s no record of that behavior increasing when there’s an LGBT non-discrimination law on the books.
Police and school officials say they haven’t seen it either.
“We have not seen that,” a Des Moines police department spokesman told the outlet in 2014. “I doubt that’s gonna encourage the behavior. If the behavior’s there, [sexual predators are] gonna behave as they’re gonna behave no matter what the laws are.”
When the DSM de-pathologized homosexuality, we heard the same kinds of arguments. They didn't hold up then, and they do not hold up now.
This rhetoric of "harm" doesn't seem to hold much weight.
Let's address another piece of rhetoric I've seen during "the gender topic" discourse:
Nonbinary people and trans men "divest" femininity, and this leaves women's liberation movements behind
Another rhetorical play that I've seen is that nonbinary people and trans men just wish to "shuck off" femininity, and somehow this means abandoning the fight for women's rights altogether. Don't believe me?
For both trans men and non-binary people, womanhood is a burden that cannot be reconciled with.
Rhetoric like contained in the above posits that because trans men have decided: "well, I would prefer to be a man, that seems more aligned to how I feel" that somehow means we have "tapped out" on the fight for women's rights.
And what of enbies, who were born female (the article conveniently ignores those born male)?
For non-binary females, the desire for personhood via rejecting womanhood, undermines the feminist goal of female liberation, as Rebecca Reilly-Cooper summarises: “the solution is not to try to slip through the bars of the cage while leaving the rest of the cage intact”.
This article suggests that because nonbinary people have decided: "well, I actually don't really feel like either gender, or maybe sometimes (demi)", that they've left cis women in the rhetorical, somehow immutable, cage.
If we charitably assume the cage is real, can it be dismantled, or is it fixed? And if it's fixed, how does one hope to escape it? By gnawing the bars?
Furthermore, why does leaving the cage mean you can't help break the bars while you're outside of it? Why is gender even a cage, anyways?
Moreover, why are decisions made by nonbinary people and trans men about their own bodies/lives a direct affront to cis women?
Pathologizing peoples' choices about themselves through an emotional appeal to women's rights is both rhetorically unsound and intellectually narcissistic.
And what of the metaphorical cage, anyways?
If it's a cage, how does it impact GNC people?
Many cultures suffer women to face an unfathomable burden of oppression.
Logically, this suggests that trans women would now face the issues many cis women face as they make their journey, with the added burden of transphobia, violence, sexual harassment, navigating social-relationship challenges, and more.
Regardless of the stage of her journey, this ends up looking like a sea of irrevocably gendered daggers held at her throat.
Where trans men are concerned, privilege does have the potential to arise, and it often does. But it's not as simple as assumed. Trans men don't just transition and suddenly become meninists. Why?
Because trans men know what it feels like to be socialized as women. Trans men, therein, should be powerful allies for women's rights. Shouldn't they?
Regardless of the stage of his journey, he also has to deal with healthcare restrictions, transphobia, harassment, and social-relationship challenges.
Just like trans women.
Where nonbinary people are concerned, their existence is a radical stance against the norms. Of course society pushes back (by law the UK doesn't even acknowledge they exist) because their existence unhinges the entire gender binary.
Intersex people? They are a part of this GNC conversation too. Yet they're rarely mentioned in these rhetorical debates. Why is that?
It's because to admit there is variability in biology itself nulls several arguments, all at once. Intersex people are inconvenient for rhetorical opposition to "the gender topic". Therefore, they're ignored.
Yet, ignoring something doesn't make it go away. It just makes the rhetoric brittle.
If these talking points are rhetorically unsatisfactory, what ends do they chase?
Observation: It has to do with the politics of power
If all of our experiences are impacted by the dynamics of gender identity in the politics of power (or the metaphorical cage, if you will), why do some people suggest trans people and nonbinary people do not suffer from it?
Why concoct laws off of assumptions, and not data?
Why pretend intersex people don't exist for rhetoric's sake?
Why use all this rhetoric, when it clearly doesn't hold up to scrutiny?
I'll tell you why: it's a weaponizing of the politics of power.
To argue that autonomy, rights, and healthcare access should only be available for cis people is a blatant effort to restrict the freedoms of others. It is a scarcity mindset predicated on there somehow not being enough rights for everyone.
This rhetorical position is not only irrational, but it serves only one master, and that master is the metaphorical cage itself.
All of these rhetorical arguments slung at "the gender topic" are unsatisfactory
So why does it matter? And how is any of this simple?
It's really much more simple than people think:
The autonomy to say that one's gender identity does not serve a person, and then to do something different, because it would benefit them.
Emotionally, physically, mentally, or otherwise.
It is the matter of autonomy, a staple of feminism, that of which I'm a card-carrying member as a trans man.
That is why "the gender topic" is painfully simple.
The individual's autonomy to make choices for themselves, for their body, for their mind, for them alone, that does not hurt anyone else, is to be held sacrosanct.
I had to make it complicated to show you the trees put in your path, so you could see the forest as a whole.
Now that you know, you have a decision to make.
If you're ready to fight for equality
You may just want to make sure your rhetoric is up for the task at hand
So I ask, when questioning "the gender topic", perhaps come to it with fresh eyes. Perhaps do research into these issues from different sources, dissect the rhetoric present, and talk to GNC people about their experiences.
Perhaps rely on the Socratic Method, as I have in this article, to discern the true problem at hand.
The problem, which I suggest, is the metaphorical cage itself.
The cage known as societies built long before we were born, that set arbitrary boons and hardships, using arbitrary categories, to measure and catalogue the worth of a person, and affix them to their station.
If you're already on-board with addressing systematic issues that impact all persons, that's awesome. I'd love to chat with you more.
For the rest of you, when you're ready to fight for the autonomy and freedom of all human beings, let me know.
Because we could really use more people fighting for the good of all, and less fighting each other to keep the focus off of what needs to be fixed:
The systematic, forced design of our lives.
*a prior version of this article stated "lazy trans man" a few paragraphs up. It has been removed.
This is in reference to myself, nobody else. I like the term lazy-trans, for me, for myself. It both acknowledges my nature [lazy], and my personal ambivalence towards medically transitioning. The transhumanist android future is too far away, and I don't like doctors.
So if you've read this part and felt jilted, apologies, but it isn't about you. Cheers~