Transgender People, your opinion: so now sex DOES mean gender??

I post to a genderqueer [del]message board[/del] Facebook “group”.

I’m really pissed off and want to vent, and also get some feedback. I use the word “sex” to refer to people’s biological plumbing (whether it be the plumbing with which they were born or otherwise acquired), and “gender” to refer to people’s identity.

The trend on the genderqueer board is for people who consider themselves to be of a gender other than the one their parents and pediatrician considered them to be when they were newborns to ALSO consider themselves to be of the sex that is normally associated with that gender.

In case that’s murky and less than clear, let me give some examples.

One of the classic coming-out stories from a transgender individual was Jan Morris’ book Conundrum: From James to Jan. Using the nomenclature of the time, Morris self-identified as a transsexual (the word “transgender” not being in widespread use yet), and said she knew she was a girl, then, later, a woman, but born in or trapped in a male body. And then addressed that situation by seeking out surgery (at that time referred to as “sex change operation”, in more recent parlance known by the monicker “sex reassignment surgery”.)

Jan, in other words, was always a woman or girl, but once was male, then transitioned to female.

Fast forward to 2015 and drop down into the genderqueer group. I direct your attention to a modern-day Jan. Jan self-identifies as a woman and considers herself to be female. Jan says all women are female. Jan is transgender. Jan was assigned male at birth (a phrase represented by the acronym AMAB), presumably on the basis of Jan’s doctors and parents observing Jan’s reproductive and erogenous bits. Jan does not agree with the statement that she “was born male, recognized that she was a girl or woman, and realized that she would ideally be female instead”. Jan has a penis and testicles but considers herself to be not only a woman but female.

This pisses me off. Because I’ve spent years and years explaining myself to people as having a sex (male) and a gender identity (girl or woman) and it has been essential to that explanation that I can rely on sex and gender as separate, albeit conventionally linked, things. Not everyone agrees or acknowledges that they are two different things, of course. The world is still well-populated with folks who say that if you’ve got a dick you’re a man not a woman, that if you’ve got a vag that makes you a woman not a man, that transgender people are delusional. But a lot of progress has been made.

So what the fucking fuck? Now I have to have this argument, turned inside out, with transgender people? Is this really the general consensus among transgender people, that we’re going to all treat “sex” as a synonym for “gender” after all, this time with both of them meaning “the social construct” and neither of them attempting to refer to one’s physiology?

I don’t get it; how does one explain what it means to be transgender or why one needs or wishes surgery or believes it should be covered by medical insurance, without explaining that there’s a discrepancy between the body and the self that inhabits it?

I’m sorry. I read this 3 or 4 times and have absolutely no idea what we’re supposed to be debating. Perhaps I’m daft.

I can’t really imagine anyone not in the arena of transgendered/transsexual/etc. to be able to render a meaningful opinion on this. Perhaps there can be a discussion on language and what words mean but in my view that kind of pedantry (I feel bad calling it that but for lack of a better word…) will not really affect what that community chooses to call itself.
In short it is something this community needs to settle on and it can take years and remain in flux. I am still a bit confused on when you call someone black/negro/African American and that discussion has been going on for a lot longer.

It seems further confusing/difficult to apply terms in this case because there are more permutations and distinguishing between the differences can be subtle (at least to “outsiders”).

If you could pose a question, I’ll try to explain or elaborate, but if you’re reaction at this point is just an unadulterated “huh???” that makes it difficult for me to know where to begin.

This appears to be a debate about proper terminology. Jan, who the doctors said was male at birth, wants to refer to herself as being of womanly gender and female sex. So instead of distinguishing between plumbing and perspective, she will simply ignore plumbing discrepancies.

I can’t blame her for adopting the term female though. It’s a nice word. Nothing wrong with saying you are of female gender IMHO.

Anyhoo, Jan may be going through a difficult time, so I’m not inclined to get too persnickety about medical terminology.

I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know what you’re debating. That is one long and rambling OP and goes in 13 different directions. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

But wow!

The language is murky. We have “cisgender” and “transgender” and whatnot. What was someone’s original sex? Did their sex and/or gender “change” or were they “always” male, even when they weren’t? Do they insist on having their birth certificate altered…and should the law accommodate that?

I’ve got opinions on all of these matters…but this isn’t really my battle. I’m on the LGBT’s side, politically, and as for my personal views, they don’t matter a hang.

I usually see it as FAAB/MAAB. Scans easier, anyway.

Since being trans is some sort of biological based development disorder I don’t think trying to reduce it to political planks or logic helps much.

But yes, I’ve seen this topic derail into impressive trainwrecks on feminist blogs. Feminists want to deconstruct gender roles and expectations, whereas trans belief, as you note, is basically gender essentialism, often rooted in stereotypes of what being a woman is all about. Basically, the trans logic is gender and the sexual organs must line up. Plenty of other issues there too, but that’s the kernel of what the OP is talking about I think.

Curiously (or not), these debates are almost always about MtF.

I think most average people are still hung up on straight people who defy gender norms. For example, a feminine guy with the stereotypical sitcom gay lisp and camp mannerisms…being a huge womanizer. Plenty of people will think it’s all a show or they’re his beards or something. Ditto the more butch tomboys. I think the term “bear” entered pop culture several years ago, so the wheels are still turning I guess.

I think part of the problem here is that the words “male” and “female” are often used as a dog whistle by transphobic feminists who want to maintain a facade that they aren’t transphobic. So they’ll use words like “trans woman” and perhaps even “she” - unlike the more rabid anti-trans radfems who will always refer to trans women as men - but they’ll throw in “male” and “female” to make the point that they don’t think trans women are, you know, real women. Also, they use “female” where trans people and intersectional feminists would use “cis woman”. So maybe it’s a reaction against that.

I understand the OP just fine, so I’d vote for crazy.

I also understand why AHunter3 would be pissed off and confused.

But I also understand Jan’s perspective and why she would be speaking and writing about gender and sex the way she is. (Note: I’d never heard of her before this thread and haven’t read anything she’s written; my only familiarity is through the OP.)

The thing is that, like ruadh pointed out, for many people the distinction between sex and gender is used as an excuse to identify sex as “real” and gender as something else, and to identify people by their sex when the people being referred to wish to be identified only by their gender.

And this excuse for bigotry is given some justification by the characterization of sex as physiological and gender as “social construction.” As a cis male, a key piece of information that helped me understand and accept trans folks was the fact that male and female brains are different, and that trans people often have physical brain structures that match their gender identity, not their genitalia. So gender isn’t just social or psychological; it’s physical, too. If you’re trans or genderqueer, there isn’t a discrepancy between your body and your mind; there is a discrepancy between one part of your body and another. (Or to be more accurate, your brain and genitalia don’t match up in the socially normative way. In a culture with more fluid understanding of gender, that may not be seen or experienced as any kind of discrepancy. Or maybe it would be; hard to tell.)

As humans, we still talk about our genitals almost as much as we talk about our brains/minds, and so it makes a certain amount of sense to have separate words for the role each organ plays in the whole sex/gender complex. But I can’t disagree with the wish of people like Jan that we pay a little less attention to genitals (at least of the people we aren’t having sex with) and a little more to brains.

In the end, the issue is that people like Jan are less concerned with “correct” or even clear language, and more with social progress. I suspect that if distinguishing sex and gender helps trans people gain social acceptance, they’ll distinguish them, and if conflating them helps them gain social acceptance, they’ll conflate them. And that seems perfectly right to me.

I tend to use the term sex for the fun stuff one does with another and gender for male and female. When sex us used as a term for male and female, I take it as gender. So to me they are the same thing.

I have not had much exposure to the transgendered, but don’t see any difference in the use of the 2 terms when referring to male or female.

I gave up trying to understand the terminology, I just accept whatever the individual tells me or would prefer I use. There is often disagreement even within the transgender community. I feel like some just want to be difficult for the hell of it and no matter what terminology I use I’m wrong.

In some cases perpetuating ambiguitty is helpful as it’s more important people recognize the individual rather than a gender or sex. In other cases this can be damaging to thier own cause as a lack of consistency can frustrate even ardent supporters.

On matters like this especially, no matter what you say, someone is going to get pissed at it.

Language is a social contract, where we agree that certain words mean certain things. And nobody can read minds. If we don’t accept the same meanings, we can’t communicate.

Plus some people use this kind of thing to one-up on other people by being outraged. No amount of circumlocution helps then.


Yeah, I had no problems following the OP. Neener. :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t think so. But then, I’m not convinced there is a consensus of any sort.

A barista at my local coffee shop had a sign on the counter cautioning patrons to not make assumptions about their gender. That was it and it frankly pissed me off.

If you (general “you” or the barista in this case) want to be addressed in a particular way then just tell me but do not warn me and then leave me hanging. For better or worse the English language only has male and female pronouns. We seem to be adopting a singular they to be gender neutral but that cannot work in all circumstances. If I want to get the person’s attention it is usual to say, “Excuse me sir/ma’am.” I could go with, “Hey you” but that feels rude.

As noted there is not even agreement within the LGBT community on what language to use much less society at large. Till the day comes when we all agree I think it is incumbent on the person to make it clear to others how they would like to be referred to. When in an employee/customer situation I think the person will just need to realize people will make mistakes and just have to deal with being referred to as a he or she. I do not think that is the place to have a battle about language and gender.

I’m not even sure how gender would be relevant in a coffee shop.

I can only assume patrons would say “miss” or “sir” or somesuch when talking to them.

The barista was distinctly androgynous in appearance so probably got a bit of both.

A harangue on gender issues and a long discussion of race, and all I wanted was a medium dark roast.


Written but NOT posted to the genderqueer group. Submitted here instead for the further edification of those who haven’t the vaguest idea what I’m on about in the OP: TL/DR Warning: VERBOSE

There’s an important distinction between “what language I should use when referring to your overall gender situation” and “what language should I use to describe what it means to be genderqueer to an audience”.

Being cordial and respectful to each other’s chosen terminologies is easy, or easy enough:

• XXXX, who was assigned male at birth, is a woman and is female because, to XXXX, to be a woman is to be female;

• JJJJ is a person who has a penis and JJJJ is a woman and is female; and that penis of JJJJ’s is a woman’s sexual organ since it is part of a woman’s body.

• VVVV is a man and is male and has a penis. The penis of VVVV was referred to by doctors and parents as a clitoris and is sometimes as long as my thumb when he has an erection and VVVV does not pee through it, but his partner feels his passion there and loves his hungry cock.

• DDDD is a girl and is male, with male sexual anatomy that doesn’t make him a boy or a man because to be a male is not necessarily to be a boy or a man and in his case he isn’t.
We can accommodate all that the same way we accommodate pronoun choices: hey, you are what you say you are, and more power to your authority to define yourself and congratulations for finding your way through the wilderness and knowing who you are.

I trust all of you to respect my self-description choices just as I respect yours. Probably better. (I’ll try to be more careful myself, I’m learning from you).
*** deep breath ***

But meanwhile there’s the, umm, what-would-you-call-it. The “narrative”, the general description about sex and gender that we use when we tell the world who we, in general, are. The public education efforts, the things we post elsewhere on message boards and twitter and the things we say in that human sexuality class or that speakout at the pride march or how we explain it to our 10 year old nieces and cousins when they ask.

Have we (the overall genderqueer activism community) decided that we do not distinguish between sex and gender to explain how we are different and how we want mainstream folks’ thinking to change? So instead we are explaining it how, exactly? “Some people who are assigned male at birth, or assigned female at birth, are mis-assigned. Not everyone with a penis is male and therefore a boy, and not everyone with a vagina is female and therefore a girl. Later on in life, when such people are old enough to use language to identity themselves to others, they may explain that their real sex and gender is something else”.

? something like that ?

That, or something akin to that, seems workable, and unlike saying “Some male people are not boys or men, and some female people are not girls or women; gender is not always a direct match with sex and later on in life such people may explain that their gender is something else”, it doesn’t impose my distinction between sex and gender on those of you who don’t like my use of terminology.

But although it might make you happier (by you in this case I mean those of you who, like XXXX, believe that to be a woman is to be female and so forth), that way of explaining it would be offensive or misgendering to people like VVVV who would object to words like “penis” and “vagina” being hard-wired to the conventional assignment. So have we (the overall genderqueer activism community) decided that yes we will use “penis” and “vagina” to talk about the body structures even at the expense of offending non-surgically-changed AMAB people who regard their erogenous part as a clitoris and non-surgically-changed AFAB people who regard theirs as a penis? But that no, we will not use “sex” to refer to the socially-conventionally assigned body structures and “gender” to refer to the self and personality and identity because we do not wish to offend non-surgically-changed AMAB people who identify as female as well as girls or women and AFAB people who identify as male as well as boys or men?

Terms like “M2F” and “F2M”, although accepted as self-identification terms, would not be available for public discourse, I presume, since they imply that the AMAB person wasn’t female all along and only became female as part of some kind of transition process, prior to which they were male (and vice versa for AFAB folk). But using “AFAB” and “AMAB” terms in our public presentations is likely to cause confusion. Cisgender people are AFAB and AMAB also — they just don’t later come to dissent with those assignments. These terms also don’t provide us with terms for people who are currently in a situation where the body they inhabit would generally cause people to misgender them in the absence of medical corrective interventions, the very medical corrective interventions that many of us would like to see covered by insurance plans and so forth.

Ultimately, it seems to me that we live in a world that is heavily geared towards biological essentialism: anatomy is destiny and all that, you get born and the obstetrician or midwife takes a peek, sees a vagina and says “it’s a girl”. And that, in contrast to that, we have in this community a widespread tendency towards social essentialism: that everything is a social construct in which nothing is intrinsically as it is perceived, it is only perceived that way because we’ve been trained to categorize using those socially constructed criteria.

And ultimately I don’t like either essentialism and I don’t think essentialism works for our public message. If everything is social, what is the “it” that requires reimbursable medical intervention? If people who are men are male, whether because we see them that way because we’re biological essentialists or because we’re social essentialists, what needs modifying? Falling back to specific names for specific organs just narrows the spotlight, it doesn’t change the problem: if what makes this set of cells a penis instead of a clitoris and vagina is its physical morphology, the actual shape and structure, and its owner needs medical intervention to convert it to being a penis because he’s already male and has always been a man, we have an explanation, one that people can follow and understand, but by the same logic that we decided categorizing someone’s body male or female is social construction, someone else— VVVV, for instance, but also the insurance company— could say that categorizing that set of cells as a clitoris instead of a penis is also just social construction so why not devote more effort into explaining that it is already and always has been a penis?

That’s why I just get people’s attention by saying “Hey Honey!”. I only get away with it because (so I’ve been told) I look like somebody’s mother. On the rare occasion some one objects I ask if they would prefer jag off.