Originally published: 24.04.17
We live in an age of alternative facts.
And so this article will begin with the premise that there are knowable truths, separate from our personal perspectives and belief systems. Water is wet, for example. Whether on the left or right of the political spectrum, water is never dry. With this in mind, here are some long agreed upon and universally recognised word definitions:
1. Woman: An adult human female.
2. Female: Of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilised by male gametes.
3. Gender: The state of being male or female, especially as differentiated by social and cultural roles and behaviour.
So a knowable truth gleaned from these definitions would be that sex is a biological reality, and gender a more malleable social construct. Let’s consider then, the medical condition of gender dysphoria, experienced by individuals as a distressing mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. Let’s imagine it on a spectrum. How many people do we know with no mismatch at all between their biological sex and the stereotypically gendered traits and behaviours associated with it? The truth is very few humans fit perfectly into pink and blue boxes meaning, surely, that we can dispense with any ideas of an existing gender binary.
The binary is biological, thus the ultimate treatment for gender dysphoria involves transitioning in order to live as though one were a member of the opposite sex. I fully support the rights of any individual experiencing psychological distress to receive the appropriate treatment and support, including sex reassignment surgery if necessary. I support their right to live as they choose. Where my incredulity begins however, is at the point a person claims to actually be a member of that opposite sex; indeed that they always were.
I ask in what quantifiable, verifiable way could anyone possibly know that? In direct conflict with biological reality, this knowing is reduced to the entirely subjective measure of feeling, of belief. In an acutely narcissistic climate that often deems measurable, objective facts about the world to be worth less than the personal, internal experiences of individuals, we must say that feelings are not facts.
However much I may not always identify with, or enjoy having to perform the feminine behaviour expected of my sex, I know I am a woman. I know because I was born with a vagina, because I menstruate, have a womb, and because the world has treated me accordingly. What does it even mean to feel like a woman? As a woman I couldn’t tell you. If I ever feel like a woman it is only because I experience a woman’s material reality.
To insist that sex is self selecting, that people are whatever they say they are, is akin to an insistence of the truth being whatever anyone feels it is. Viewed from this angle, an Orwellian potential for the deconstruction of objective meaning becomes worryingly possible.
To state that something is true because one feels it, is never an argument that can be held accountable. It is in this way that internal beliefs around gender identity become similar to religious dogma. Certainly many people believe that a creationist God exists and they are entitled to do so. But because there is no irrefutable proof that he does, and much evidence to suggest he doesn’t – in other words, because their assertion revolves around feelings as opposed to facts – I retain my right to disagree with them; to say there is no God.
In the same way I do not believe that biologically male people ever were (or can become) female, because to believe this we would have to forget everything we have proven true about reproductive biology.
Yet (and this is what is so important) while I am not obliged to accept the truth of a creationist God lest I hurt the feelings of the religious, and can freely proclaim myself an atheist without censure, it is now modern day heresy to declare that men are not, and cannot, become “real” women. Why?
In order to win an ideological argument, a minority claim has to win majority agreement. In an ideal world this involves the free flow of ideas, conceived first in good faith, then exchanged in healthy debate. People won over on the back of disengagement, no platforming, and the labelling of perfectly reasonable, but dissenting views as bigoted, present no real victory at all.
These tactics are suggestive of a standpoint lacking confidence in its position; that fears any scrutiny of its emporers clothing. And so I say to women everywhere: think harder, look closer. If we truly believe the emperor naked, we have the right to say so.