If there’s one thing I love, it’s answering strawmanny questions. Gender critical philosopher Kathleen Stock wrote an article in which she provided several questions that she felt anti-gender-critical feminists should answer. I will do so to the best of my ability.

  1. What, metaphysically speaking, is gender identity? What ensures that when Person 1 identifies as X and Person 2 identifies as X they are identifying as the same thing?

The concept of “gender identity” is unnecessary for transness to be a thing. For example, one might argue for a principle of “consensual gender” or “gender exit rights”: if a person dislikes their current social gender, they should be allowed to have a new one. Under this principle, it would not matter why a person chooses to transition.

Observably, nearly everyone who transitions does so because of a deep-seated desire to be a different gender. There is often a physical aspect: there’s a longing for the primary and secondary sexual characteristics associated with a different sex. There is often also a social aspect: there is a longing to be seen as a different gender, to be referred to with an appropriately gendered name and pronouns, to wear certain clothes, to be treated as that gender even in the ways which are generally awful. (There is a very common trans girl experience of being street-harassed for the first time and going ‘I passed!’ Street harassment is, obviously, stressful and frightening for cis and trans women alike, but for trans women it is often mingled with the deep-seated desire to be properly gendered.)

You can characterize this phenomenon as a “gender identity” if you like. I personally prefer the “gender dysphoria” terminology. We don’t know yet why people are this way, but clearly they are.

2. Do you think that ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ gender stereotypes are bad and should be changed and/or reduced? If so, do you also think we should accept an account of ‘woman’ that ties womanhood to a feeling that the gender stereotypes typically associated with being female apply to oneself? Do you see a tension there? How does this strategy avoid conservatively reinforcing the association of womanhood with femininity?

Many transgender women are not feminine; many transgender men are not masculine. It is not at all uncommon for a transgender man to want to be a feminine man such as David Bowie; it is not at all uncommon for a transgender woman to listen to Ring of Keys with longing in her heart.

Asking this question implies a profound disconnection from transgender experiences. A trans man does not want to be a masculine woman, he wants to be a man. A trans woman does not want to be a feminine man, she wants to be a woman. As your very own analysis points out, these are different things.

Do some transgender people articulate their desire to be a particular gender as a desire to be feminine or masculine? Of course. It turns out there is actually no Feminism Test to be allowed to transition. Just as many cis people articulate their understanding of their genders in sexist or regressive ways, so do many transgender people.

Whether or not femininity and womanhood are necessarily linked, they are certainly linked in our culture. A person who desperately wants to be a woman will often desperately want to do things our culture associates with womanhood: to wear dresses and skirts and makeup, to watch My Little Pony, to work in a predominantly feminine occupation, to be allowed to cry. While there is no necessary linkage, that doesn’t mean there is no linkage at all.

3. We think that patriarchy is, definitionally, a system which structurally oppresses females, on the basis of their sex. What do you think patriarchy is? If you think patriarchy is not as we’ve described, do you think there is any system in the world, such as we have just described, whether or not you would call it ‘patriarchy’? If yes, do you think the recognition of this system is politically important? If no, on what grounds do you deny the existence of any such system?

I like Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s description of patriarchy in The Woman That Never Evolved as a patrilocal, patrilineal society with male-biased inheritance and an ideology of male authority. (This, of course, means that our society is not precisely a patriarchy, but rather a non-patriarchal society with certain ideological elements carried over from when it was a patriarchy.)

Of course, the “male” in patriarchy is not precisely the same thing as the biological sex male. Many patriarchal societies had third-gendered people who were not treated the same as men or women. Intersex people were generally classified as either male or female.

I believe our society is currently sexist in ways that harm women and ways that harm men (although in general sexism tends to harm men less severely than it harms women). Some forms of sexism, such as discrimination against pregnant people or the understudying of conditions that affect female-sexed people, affect people based on their sex. Some forms of sexism, such as sexual harassment or most forms of job discrimination, affect people based on the gender they are read as. Some forms of sexism, such as shame about being ‘slutty’ or socialization not to speak up about your preferences, affect people based on the gender they are socialized as; the way gender socialization affects trans people is complicated, as many trans people internalize norms applying to their identified gender rather than their assigned gender. I believe ignoring any form of sexism tends to harm your analysis.

4. Do you think facts about male physical development and gendered male socialisation have any causal connection to male violence patterns? If so, do you think this connection generally ceases to operate in the case of late-transitioning trans women? If so, what is your explanation for this fact? Is this an empirical question, in your view?

Sort of baffling that “men are inherently more violent because genetics” is a feminist position now but okay.

Transgender people’s gender socialization is complicated, as I said above. Many transgender people internalize the norms of their identified gender; of course, they are also affected by being raised as their assigned gender. As Stock acknowledges with the phrase “late-transitioning”, many transgender people have lived decades as their identified gender and were socialized as that gender. I believe it is most accurate to characterize trans women’s socialization not as male socialization but as transgender female socialization.

Biomedical transition affects a person’s sex. To the extent that men’s propensity towards violence is caused by testosterone, trans women on HRT would not be affected by it. Surgery which removes the testicles often leaves trans women with lower testosterone levels than cis women. Of course, to the extent that it’s caused by some other factor– a Y chromosome, early-life exposure to testosterone– it would not be affected.

Of course, this is an empirical matter. But the studies need to be conducted carefully. Trans women are a marginalized group; trans women are discriminated against in the workplace, are more likely than cis women to use drugs or do sex work, and experience violent crimes at an elevated level. If not carefully done, studies would show nothing more than the fact that drug addicts, sex workers, and people who can’t get legal jobs do more crimes.

5. If you think that the existence of people with Differences of Sexual Development (sometimes “disorders of sexual development” or “intersex”) shows something about whether trans women are literally women, what is it? Please lay this out clearly, in stages, with no skipping.

Human sex is bimodal. Most people are pretty easily classified as “male” or “female.” (Of course, even people who are unambiguously male or female pretty often have sex characteristics associated with the other sex: dyadic cis women of some ethnicities and with certain medical conditions grow facial hair; some dyadic cis men have breasts. These conditions often cause shame, and people with sex-nonconforming bodies are pressured to change them, often in ways that are expensive or painful. One would hope a gender-critical feminist would be sufficiently concerned about these unfair beauty standards to pause before making fun of the idea that a woman would have a beard.)

However, some people are not easily classified as male or female. We call these people “intersex.” They have some sex characteristics associated with one sex and some sex characteristics associated with a different sex.

Intersex people tend to complicate simplistic definitions of sex. For example, some people believe that a person with no Y chromosome is female, and a person with at least one Y chromosome is male. However, for many purposes, it makes sense to classify an intersex person as a member of a sex different than their chromosomal sex. In some cases, it is best to classify them as a member of the other primary sex: for example, an XY person with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) needs to be screened for breast cancer, just like an XX woman, and the vaginal tissue is elastic, like an XX woman’s. In other cases, it is best to classify them as their own thing: for example, unlike both male-sexed and female-sexed people, people with CAIS are infertile and should have their gonads removed to prevent cancer.

Biomedical transition is an artificially induced intersex condition. Just like naturally intersex people, we complicate a simplistic definition of sex. I have had top surgery and am on testosterone. In some ways, I am best classified as a woman: I can get pregnant. In other ways, I am best classified as a man: I am at very low risk of breast cancer. In still other ways, I am best classified as a third sex: I am at elevated risk for ovarian cancer, and my diabetes risk is between a male-sexed person’s and a female-sexed person’s. I am not literally the same thing as a cisgender man, but for many medical purposes I am best classified as a cisgender man.

6. Do you consider the question of the organisation of public spaces where people get undressed, sleep, or are otherwise vulnerable to aggression: a) a moral question of desert/ rights; or b) a practical question about how best to avoid violence and harm to members of certain groups?

I am unclear on the distinction you are making. Morally, people have a right to use public accommodations, such as bathrooms, hostels, and dormitories. People have a right to be free from violence and fear of violence. People also have a right to keep their private medical information private.

In some cases, these rights may trade off against each other. For example, a woman may be frightened when she sees a butch cis woman whom she reads as a man in the women’s bathroom. However, the butch cis woman also has a right to pee somewhere, and may herself be afraid of using the men’s restroom; she may also find it embarrassing and invalidating to use the men’s room due to her gender presentation.

Similarly, a woman might prefer not to share a locker room with a person who has a penis, even if that person is consistently read as a woman and changes in a stall. However, if the person with a penis used the men’s room, it would reveal to everyone private information about her genitalia and which surgeries she has had performed.

I believe the best way to manage these tradeoffs is to say that (a) everyone is entitled to use public accommodations and (b) people should, in general, use the public accommodation which causes the least trouble and disturbance for everyone involved. In general, this suggests that trans people who are pre-transition or very early in transition should use the accommodations associated with their assigned sex; those who pass more consistently should use the accommodations associated with their identified sex. Trans people should be mindful of the risk of harassment and violence they face in men’s accommodations; this may justify use of the women’s accommodations even if one is regularly read as male, for both trans men and trans women. People should avoid thinking about complete strangers’ genitalia, as that is creepy and invasive. I believe this is a sensible policy and one which was generally followed without problem before the invention of “bathroom bills.”

7. Do you think all spaces such as bathrooms, dormitories, hostels, showers, and prisons, should be completely mixed-sex? (i.e. that there should be no spaces from which trans women and “cis” men can be excluded, in principle?). If not, explain why “cis” men should be kept out of these spaces but not trans women*.

Providing information to complete strangers about your private medical history should not be a requirement to pee. Trans women who are consistently read as female and trans men who are consistently read as male exist. Therefore, at least some trans people should use the public accommodations of their preferred gender.

(Other cases, of course, can be handled on a case-by-case basis, as I suggested above.)

8. If you prefer to advocate for public policy which allows trans women into women-only spaces, rather than advocate for additional, third spaces — on what grounds do you think the former is a preferable option to the latter? Please try to give some consideration to religious women and women who are survivors of male violence in your answer.

Which trans people should be included in a women-only space depends on the purpose of the space. For example, one might create a woman-only munch, which is intended to include the sort of people lesbians would like to have sex with; this space would include cis women, trans women, and trans men. One might create a polycystic ovary syndrome support group, which would include cis women and trans men. One might create a group for people currently living as women, which would include cis women and trans women (and presumably some pre-everything trans men who would be asked to leave once they started to transition). One might have a women’s clothing swap group, which would include cis women and trans women. One might create a support group for cis women unlearning transmisogyny, which would (of course) include only cis women.

There is no substitute for thinking carefully about why a space is women-only and how including trans people would affect your space’s dynamics.

Some survivors of male violence may find penises or people they read as male triggering. However, most survivors of male violence do not. The physical features they find triggering may include certain accents, hair colors or styles, clothing, or physical builds. Is there a reason that the procedures used for women who are triggered by certain physical builds can’t be used for women who are triggered by people they read as certain sexes?

As I discussed above, some cis women are read as men. I myself pass as a man despite being, by Stock’s definitions, a woman. Are all women (or “women”) occasionally read as men to be excluded from women-only spaces that cater to survivors? I feel this is not very supportive to gender-non-conforming cis women or intersex people.

Religions may, of course, create whichever policies they like about transgender people. A space may consider welcomingness to religious people as one of its considerations when deciding what “woman-only” means in its context; this may mean transgender men are excluded from certain polycystic ovary syndrome support groups, while women of certain religions are excluded from others.

I am not aware of any religion that forbids peeing in a room in which people with penises occasionally also pee, but I believe (like kosher laws) perhaps society should not take on the burden of accommodating this.

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