Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you think it would be a good idea to abolish gender– that is, that you think that the world would be a better place if everyone was treated identically, down to pronouns, regardless of sex. (I do, at least on even-numbered days of the month.) Does this necessitate believing that trans people should not transition?
In spite of the positions of most actually existing gender abolitionists, I argue “no.”
(Inevitably, someone will respond to this post by being like “I don’t like this post because I don’t think gender abolitionism is a good idea for reasons X, Y, and Z!” Regardless of the merits of X, Y, and Z, this is a post which assumes that the reader wants to abolish gender.)
First: for whatever reason, some people born without boobs have extreme distress about not having boobs. They are quite stubborn about it and will gladly inject bathroom tub caulk to obtain them. Fortunately, most of them manage to avoid the bathroom-tub-caulk route and instead take the titty skittles and maybe get a boob job.
What does this have to do with gender, exactly?
You’re a gender abolitionist! Your whole point is that sex and gender are unrelated! What would people’s distress with their sex have to do with your position on gender anyway? In the Kickass Post-Gender Utopia, those people can go about having boobs to their heart’s content, without anyone ascribing any gendered meaning to it whatsoever. If in this world, they have to go about changing their legal gender markers and asking people to use different pronouns and wearing skirts, that is not their fault. That is the fault of legal gender markers and pronouns and gendered clothing, i.e., the things you don’t like anyway.
Second: Let us say a person born with breasts and a vagina wishes to engage in gender-non-conforming behavior, such as breast binding, wearing clothes typically considered male and being referred to as “he”. Which of these do you think he should have to go through?
- Being mocked
- Being fired from his job
- Bullying at school so severe he has to drop out
- Never being able to go to the bathroom in a public space because of responses ranging from dirty looks to insults if he tries
- Being disowned by his family
- Substandard medical care
- Being evicted
- Abuse from the police
If you answered “yes” to one of those questions, I am taking away your gender abolitionist card until you learn better. If you answered “no” to all of those questions, congratulations! You agree with about ninety percent of what trans rights activists want!
Third: gender abolitionist attitudes towards pronouns clearly show different attitudes towards cis people than they do to trans people. Very few gender abolitionists use “they” for everyone. (But if you do: you’re awesome.) Few expect everyone to use gender-neutral pronouns for themselves or even get upset at people for correcting others who are mistaken about their pronoun. But when trans people want people to use the correct pronoun, suddenly everyone is up in arms.
The obvious objection is that pronouns are supposed to go with physical sex. Physical sex divides 98.5% of humanity into two clear categories, which is pretty much in the top tier for accuracy of concept as applied to humans. Unfortunately, for the other 1.5% of us, it’s not so clear.
Many people are like “but chromosomes!” And yet people with nonbinary chromosomes exist: no one seems to use “zie” for people with Klinefelter’s. You could go by hormonal sex: in that case, most trans women are “she” and most trans men are “he”. (And I would be perfectly willing to go on low-dose testosterone if that got me called “they.”)
As far as I can tell, trans-exclusive people seem to go with assigned sex at birth. Women with congenital androgen insensitivity syndrome are called “she”; that poor guy who was reassigned into a girl after a botched circumcision is called “he”, because his initial assignment was male; trans women are called “he.” This is, not to put too fine a point on it, exactly as social as identified gender. We draw an arbitrary line– okay, at this point the intersex child’s genitals will be butchered with surgery into a vagina, at this point they will be butchered with surgery into a penis– and then everyone goes along with it.
As long as you are using pronouns in an arbitrary and social fashion, you might as well use them in an arbitrary and social fashion that doesn’t screw over trans people.
Fourth: the existence of social dysphoria is totally compatible with gender abolitionist assumptions. The thing about social dysphoria is that whether or not people would be socialized into believing that gender is important in the Kickass Post-Gender Utopia, they are clearly socialized to believe gender is important now. I mean, cisgender people think that being seen as a particular gender is important all the time. See: women’s suits and haircuts looking different from men’s, people who get upset when you mistake them for another gender. Is it really that implausible that some people would wind up believing being seen as a particular gender is important but for the wrong gender?
Now, you might think, we should probably encourage people to stop doing that as people not thinking gender is important is often considered to be an important step towards people not thinking gender is important. This is very true! However, trans people are entirely the wrong end to begin on here. It is true that there are many people who value being seen as a particular gender instrumentally– they think it would make them bad or low-status or unattractive to not be seen as a particular gender. If you tell them that, actually, valuing being seen as a particular gender is bad, low-status, and unattractive, then they will probably stop. However, it also seems plausible to me that the constant messaging it is Very Very Very Important that you get seen as the correct gender occasionally results in people valuing being seen as the correct gender for its own sake. (Indeed, it is remarkable that that constant barrage doesn’t do that for everyone.)
However, there are basically no people who wake up one morning and are like “I know! I will use ‘zie’ pronouns for all the status and attractiveness which ‘zie’ pronouns give me!” This is because zie pronouns do not actually give you status. They just make people make fun of you on 8Chan.
The group “trans people with social dysphoria” consists almost entirely of people who actually value being seen as a particular gender for its own sake, and thus almost entirely of people who will not actually stop caring about it if you tell them not to, and thus you are being a dick for no reason. Go bother cis people.