So I was recently reading this blog post. I am not, technically speaking, an FTM, because I am not heading in a manward direction, but if there’s one thing we know about my blog it’s that I love answering questions, so I am guessing I am in the intended group anyway
- Please explain in your own words what a “man” is and what a “woman” is.
Many people distinguish between “sex” and “gender”. Sex is the biological fact. In that sense, a man is a person with a testosterone-dominant hormone system, a beard, XY chromosomes, a penis, testes, and so on and so forth, while a woman is a person with an estrogen-dominant hormone system, breasts, XX chromosomes, a vagina, ovaries, and so on and so forth. These are clusters, of course, and not everyone fits neatly into one category or the other. For instance, many cisgender dyadic women have facial hair, while many cisgender dyadic men have breasts; many people have had their ovaries or testes removed, for various reasons; about one percent of the population is intersex; and trans people often undergo medical procedures that allow us to have some (but not all) of the traits of our preferred sex.
Gender is the social fact. You are a man if people agree you are a man, in much the same sense that cowrie shells or cigarettes are money if people agree that they are money. A cigarette that is agreed upon to be money is treated in a certain way (for instance, one may gamble with it, or a non-smoker may accept cigarettes in exchange for valuable items like hooch), while a cigarette that is not agreed upon to be money is not treated in those ways. Similarly, a person who is agreed upon to be a man is treated in a certain way (for instance, that person may be referred to with the pronoun ‘he’ or not sexually harassed on street corners), while a person who is agreed upon to not be a man is not treated that way.
Many people have decided that the compassionate way to classify people into genders is based on self-identification: that is, they consider people who want to be women to be women, people who want to be men to be men, and special snowflakes like myself to be special snowflakes. I generally support this plan; it seems sensible and humane, and involves significantly less telling everyone in the whole entire world about my genitals. However, it makes the whole men-are-people-who-are-agreed-upon-to-be-men business somewhat difficult to talk about and leads to recursive definitions. But “a man is a person who identifies as a man” is actually a meaningful statement; it says “I will treat people who identify as men the way I treat men.”
2. What is wrong with having breasts, ovaries, a vagina, a clitoris, and a period?
I don’t want them, and also I am a transhumanist and thus believe in my sacred right to alter my own personal body as I damn well please.
A. Many women find it uncomfortable having a period and having the equipment that can carry a pregnancy because this comes with lots of difficulties (being responsible for preventing pregnancy, being targeted for sexual abuse, cramping and bleeding, etc) What is the difference between you being uncomfortable with having female parts and the discomfort that most other women experience? Is it a matter of degree or is it a qualitatively different feeling?
I think that a lot of the difference is between instrumental values and terminal values. Many people dislike having a uterus as an instrumental value: that is, they don’t like it because they don’t like sexual abuse, pain, the side effects of birth control, and ruining their underwear. If having a uterus did not mean pain, sexual abuse, birth control side effects, and a large underwear replacement budget, and instead meant that you got ten thousand dollars every month and a free pony, they would be much more in favor of having a uterus.
On the other hand, many trans people dislike having a uterus as a terminal value: that is, they don’t like it just because they don’t like it. This might sound kind of arbitrary, but in fact everyone has terminal values: many people like justice, or being happy, or the welfare and success of their children, or chocolate, just because they like justice, or being happy, or the welfare and success of their children, or chocolate. For many trans people, if they were in the No Pain Or Sexual Abuse, Ten Thousand Dollars A Month and A Free Pony situation, they would go “wow, this is a super-nice pony, but I still don’t want to have a uterus.”
(To be clear, I’m a transhumanist, and I support anyone who wants to remove their uterus having a right to do so, whether it is a terminal or instrumental value for them.)
B. Have you ever talked with other women about their discomfort and have you found similarities and differences?
Yes. Some women have far stronger discomfort with their female sex than I do, and I consider it a tremendous injustice that it is much more difficult for a tokophobe to get a hysterectomy than a trans person.
Some women experience gender dysphoria but choose to continue to identify as women, and I respect that decision. Gender is a very personal thing and I would never presume to know what is right for someone else.
Most women are occasionally upset by the awful things associated with having a female reproductive system. Many women enjoy one-upping each other about how awful their reproductive systems are (“yeah, well, one time I had a blood clot the size of my HAND”). Many women I know consider the female reproductive system to be fascinating on a scientific level, and it’s amazing how we can build a person inside of us (I agree). Some women have this whole I Am A Mother Goddess Producer Of New Life thing going on, which I respect as long as they don’t characterize me as a mother goddess. (This opinion is shared by many cis women.) The vast majority of women do not want a hysterectomy.
People who are not gender dysphoric often do not place a terminal value on having a particular sex, and sometimes are deeply confused by the concept that one can place a terminal value on having a particular sex. However, many people who are not gender dysphoric do place a terminal value on continuing to have the sex they currently have.
3. If you could choose how other people treat you, while staying in the body you were born in, would you still need to transition? Let’s say everyone was willing to treat you “as a guy” even without taking testosterone. Would you still need to take it then?
Yes. Last time I checked, social acceptance did not give one the ability to have erections.
4. What does it mean to be treated like a guy? And for that matter, what does it mean to be treated like a woman?
There’s this thing called “patriarchy”. I understand that, as a radical feminist, you might have heard of it.
People treat men differently from women. Men are assumed to be incompetent at changing diapers and soothing boo-boos. Women get fewer parts in TV shows and movies. Men are more heavily criticized for being wimpy. Women are expected to sacrifice their careers for their children. These differences shape people’s lives.
Now, a lot of trans people’s preference to be trans is a terminal value, which is to say that they value being treated as men or women or nonbinary people just because they do, and not because of any benefits they would receive from being a man or woman or nonbinary person. (Being a nonbinary person does not get you benefits. It mostly just increases the number of tedious conversations you have to have about how difficult your pronouns are.) I admit this is a ridiculous preference, but nevertheless I have it. Sometimes people do want ridiculous things.
5. What does it mean to “feel like a boy/man”? Do you think it’s really possible for a female human to know what it feels like to have a male body? Or is it more like you believe your mind or personality are male? If this is the case, then please move on to question (6).
Here’s the deal: describe ‘happy’ to a person who has never experienced happiness and is skeptical of the existence of the emotion, without reference to things that cause you to be happy or the consequences of your happiness, in such a way that you manage to convince them that you’re not lying or making it up. Since you’re asking me to do it, it’s no doubt quite easy. Once you’ve done that, I will gladly explain to you what it feels like to be nonbinary.
6. What exactly is a “male mind” or a “male brain” or a “male personality”? Please describe.
A male mind/brain/personality is one which is attached to a man. In some contexts, this term may be used to discuss brain differences that exist in people of different sexes or the personality differences (a product of socialization and/or biology) that exist in people of different genders. In other contexts, “male brain” may be used as metonymy for gender dysphoria or gender identity. In still other contexts, this term may be used to discuss the theory that trans people are neurologically intersex, that is, that the reason people are trans is that our brains are similar to cis people of our identified gender, at least in some ways. It is uncontroversial that trans people’s brains are similar in some ways to those of cis people of our assigned gender; in this theory, a trans man does not have a typical male brain, he has a brain somewhere between the typical brains of cis men and cis women. While some evidence is suggestive, nobody knows what causes people to experience gender dysphoria or whether the neurological intersex theory will pan out in the long term. Of course, taking hormones causes neurological changes as well, which may cause cis people’s brains to be different from trans people’s of the same assigned sex.
7. What exactly is uncomfortable about hearing female pronouns? What do these pronouns mean to you?
Human cognition involves a lot of categorization. You know how when you look at a table, you think of it as a table, and when you look at a book, you think of it as a book, and when you look at a lamp, you think of it as a lamp? Most people classify others as male or female in a similar way, often as soon as they look at them. I strongly prefer to be classified as nonbinary. Of course, most people don’t have control over their instinctive classification system: if I say “it is very important that you think of this lamp as a table”, you might be able to refer to it as a table, but you’ll still instinctively classify it as a lamp. But I think I can at least ask people not to rub my face in their classification of me, given that it causes me a great deal of pain. So what being referred to by female pronouns means to me is that a person is deliberately choosing to disrespect my preferences, which is rude, and which means I don’t feel super-motivated to spend much more time with them.
Of course, there are exceptions. I have friends who, for reasons of deeply held principles, use female pronouns for me, and as long as they clear that with me ahead of time I don’t mind. And many people screw up my pronouns, and as long as it is an accident it’s painful (because I’m being reminded that you see me as a girl, which hurts) but I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. Shit happens and using the correct pronouns is hard; if you’re not deliberately being disrespectful, you’re not at fault. And of course some people mess up my pronouns but I trust they still see me as the correct gender, and then their pronoun mistakes cause me no harm whatsoever; like I said, I care about how I’m seen, not the pronouns.
8. If you are attracted to women:
A. What is wrong with being a lesbian, anyway?
Nothing is wrong with being a lesbian. I’m just not a lesbian, in much the same way as there is nothing wrong with being an ice dancer, a Francophile, or a collector of exotic geese, but I am not any of those things either.
B. What if there was no such thing as hormones or surgeries and you had to just live your life as a lesbian, how would your life be different?
Well, I used to live my life as a queer woman, so here are the differences I’ve observed:
The closest thing to being seen as nonbinary, if you’re presenting as a cis woman, is to be seen as a butch woman, so I made a lot of effort to be seen as a butch woman. I didn’t wear skirts or colors. I didn’t complain when I was in pain. I didn’t admit to liking Disney movies. I was very clear that typically feminine things were stupid, that most girls were stupid, and that I liked hanging out with men and my exceptional non-stupid female friends.
(It always confuses people when I tell them I conformed more to my assigned gender after transition.)
To be clear, this wasn’t conscious. I had no idea what a trans person was, back when I was trying to be a girl. I thought of myself as a woman. But on a subconscious level, I still valued not being either of the binary genders, and if the closest thing I could get to that was being a gender-non-conforming woman, then by God I would watch as many action movies and wear as much black as necessary to make this happen.
And then I transitioned and about six months into my transition– around the point where I realized that this really wasn’t going to go away and I could be nonbinary as long as I wanted– by some mysterious coincidence colors reappeared in my wardrobe, Alan Menken reappeared on my playlists, and I started whining like hell whenever I had a stomachache.
So there you go. I’d much rather not detransition. I think being a gender-non-conforming women should be left to people who actually want to be gender-non-conforming and actually want to be women, instead of to people who are putting up with it because it’s the closest you can get to being nonbinary.
C. To ask that same question in a different way, in case I get a more thorough response by asking it this way, are there any measurable or observable differences between your life and a lesbian life? Let’s say you are FtM and you live with your girlfriend in an apartment with your cat, and you like weight-lifting in your spare time and you enjoy having strap-on sex. What is the difference between what you’re doing and what every other lesbian couple is doing? Is the difference just “I identify as a man,” or is there anything else?
Well, uh, for one thing, Miranda Selmys aside, lesbians are very rarely married to men.
But looking back at my relationship with my ex-girlfriends… well, they wouldn’t have been much different if I were a girl. Of course, I actually don’t think any of my relationships with girls would have been much different if they were cis men either. We would… have fewer threesomes? In my experience, both sex and gender don’t actually have a huge impact on the people I’m dating. I mean I would say “we’d have to use barriers when we had PIV!” but like all my girlfriends were asexual or tokophobic or living in fucking Narnia so I’m pretty sure our sex lives would have been the same even if they’d been cis dudes.
My partners would probably have spent less time worrying that they were Fake Bisexuals? Eh, probably not. I have literally had someone explain to me that he’s a Fake Bisexual after having a threesome with a woman and a man, so the Fake Bisexuality worry seems completely immune to ‘logic’ and ‘evidence’.
D. In regards to your life outside of home, how would your work life and family life and hobbies be different if you were a lesbian instead of an FtM?
I am interpreting this question as saying “what if you, Ozy, were a non-gender-dysphoric lesbian and everything else was the same?”
My dad would no longer send me emails about how I was mutilating my body, but he probably wouldn’t have come to my wedding either and would have referred to my partner awkwardly as “your… friend” for the rest of time. My mom, instead of awkwardly attempting to understand my transness, would be awkwardly attempting to understand my lesbianism. So that’s a wash.
Work life: my boss would call me “she” instead of “they” and otherwise I can’t imagine how anything would change. My job is not one in which gender is involved very much.
Hobbies: I currently do not attend social events labeled For Women Only, even if the organizers assure me that it is actually For All People Who Aren’t Cis Men Only. So I would probably be more willing to go to things labelled For Women Only. I would also spend significantly less of my time talking to people who are considering transitioning, and my blog would be relatively more composed of mental illness, sex positivity, and effective altruism posts instead of transness posts. Maybe some of the super-cute lesbians I know who won’t date me because I’m not a girl will date me, which would be excellent.
E. If you felt uncomfortable identifying as a lesbian or being seen as a lesbian, why? Have you ever tried to work on internalized homophobia? Why or why not?
Because I am not a woman who is solely attracted to women? I am, like, missing both of the basic qualifications for lesbianism here. I have to say, if I met the qualifications, I would be super-happy to be a lesbian, on account of I really like Sappho and also lesbians have a bitchin’ flag:
None of my flags have a weapon on it! Totally unfair!
I have tried to work on internalized homophobia, because I am bisexual and suffer from internalized homophobia.
F. Have you ever spoken to other lesbians to find out whether they felt the same way you do about some of these issues? Why or why not? If so, what have you found out?
Most butch lesbians of my acquaintance are butch because they like being butch, not because they terminally value being gender-non-conforming. I agree that this is a much more sensible way of going about things. Some of them seem to terminally value being butch women in a similar way to how I terminally value being nonbinary, but few of them seem to feel that their lives would be improved by transitioning so that they can wear colors again. (Most of them don’t seem to show much desire to wear colors.) Some of them are really grumpy about being classified as butch lesbians just because they have short hair and a masculine build.
I am not sure that lesbians of any sort disagree with my assessment of what would happen if I were a lesbian or about whether my relationships would be different if I were a girl. Okay, probably the latter, some of those girls are really into The Innate Purity of Lesbianism, but I feel like that’s the sort of thing that’ll get sorted out once you actually date a girl and realize girls are just as likely to be dickbags as men are.
Lesbians agree with me that Sappho is great and the labrys flag is bitchin’.