1. To the extent that a transsexual is someone who experiences body dysphoria, someone who feels they’re in the ‘wrong’ body, someone who feels their body is the ‘wrong’ sex — how do they know? What is it like to feel female (or male)? I was born female, and I don’t know. So how can they know? It’s Nagel’s ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ problem. (1) I know what it is to feel healthy only because I have also been sick. I don’t know what it is to feel female because I haven’t been male. Anything that I feel that I can know for sure is due to being female, rather than due to simply being human, is related to having a uterus (which can ache and hurt during menstruation) and breasts (which can feel heavy).
Other things subjectively felt are certainly due to my body — to its levels of estrogen and progesterone, for example, but also to its levels of dopamine and vasopressin, for example. But given the overlapping range of levels of these biochemicals in males and females (many of which are not differentiated for males and females), again, how can one say ‘I feel this—because I’m female’?
If transsexuals feel like their exterior doesn’t match their interior, why do they (also) get hormone treatment—which will change their interior (as well as their exterior)? Doing that suggests they want to change their sex, not that they were born with the wrong sex. Even if sex is brain-based, and they feel like they have a female brain in a male body — it’s the brain that produces hormones. So if they do have a female brain, it would be producing estrogen, and there would be no need for hormone treatments.
I’m not saying body dysphoria isn’t ‘real’. In fact, I experience every day the mismatch between what’s inside and what’s outside: I look like a middle-aged woman, but I don’t feel like a middle-aged woman. Then again, I do. I must. This must be what a middle-aged woman can feel like. (Similarly, if you’re in a male body, what you feel must be male. Maybe it’s not the male you see on billboards and television, but it is male nevertheless.) (Welcome to our world.) When I say I don’t feel like a middle-aged woman, I’m using my personal and thus limited experience (my interaction with other middle-aged women) and I’m using stereotypes, pushed at me primarily by profit-seeking marketing departments.
But even so, in this case, I can know that my interior doesn’t match my exterior: at forty, for example, I know what I felt at twenty, so when I say I still feel twenty, I know what I’m talking about. I could mean, for example, that my skin feels the same, even though when I look in the mirror, I see that it’s lost its elasticity. Usually, though, I mean something like I still feel energetic and impassioned, not bland and resigned. But this takes us back to my point about referencing limited experience and stereotypes.
What we need are thorough and carefully conducted studies of MTFs and FTMs. Only they know what it felt like when they were male or female and what it feels like after they add or subtract certain body parts. (To the extent that those parts aren’t connected to the whole in the same way, though, any change in subjective experience won’t be very useful.)
More importantly, only they know what it felt like when they were, for example, flooded with testosterone and what it feels like to be flooded with estrogen. Sadly, those studies aren’t being done, as far as I can tell (which may mean they’re just not being publicized). And even if they were, their reliability would be compromised by the nature of subjective report and a self-selected sample, both of which are likely to be further confounded by the subject’s conflation of sex and gender.
2. To the extent that a transgendered person is someone who adopts the gender that is traditionally aligned with the other sex, there are several problems.
If gender is socially constructed, then it’s not dependent on sex—so one need not change one’s sex in order to change one’s gender. In fact, transgendered people don’t even need their own label. Every woman who refuses to wear make-up and shave her legs is as much a transgendered person as the man who insists on wearing make-up and shaving his legs. (Assuming that not wearing make-up is not just not-feminine, but is masculine. If it’s just not-feminine, then perhaps it’s more accurate to call such a woman non-gendered. So would a woman who wears pants instead of a dress be transgendered? Still no. It turns out that aspects of appearance commonly associated with men are more acceptable for women than vice versa. Perhaps that’s why there are more men than women seeking to cross the gender divide. Women already can, at least on superficial matters.)
And if it isn’t socially constructed—that is, if is dependent on sex, how do we explain effeminate men and ‘tomboys’? How is it that many males use their voice and their hands in a very expressive fashion? How is it that many females are strong and aggressive?
3. Are MTFs female? The answer to this question requires an informed understanding of biology, chemistry, and biochemistry that I don’t have. It also requires a definition: how much of how many (and which) primary and secondary sexual characteristics is required to be a member of that sex category? Is a female who has undergone a hysterectomy and a bilateral mastectomy still female? Is a post-menopausal and thus low-estrogen female still female?
4. Are MTFs women? To the extent that being a woman is a matter of gender rather than sex, maybe. Again, we need a definition: which, how many, how much… And does a woman need to be a female?
Of course it is possible, by observation and comparison, to identify what it’s like to be treated as a female/woman. I was born female, raised as a girl, and all of my adult life, treated, by most people most of the time, as a woman. And what does that feel like? It feels like shit. To be patronized, marginalized, objectified…
So perhaps a more useful question is ‘Should MTFs be treated as women?’ Should we pay them less for work of equal value? Should we mock or at least ignore their contributions to society? If we want consistency, yes. If we want justice, no.
On that note, it needs to be said (apparently) that how you’re treated affects the person you become. Kick a dog often enough, and it becomes a cowering, fearful mess. The same is true for humans: ignore a person often enough, and she stops speaking up; make her feel like all of her value is in her body, and she obsesses over it; and so on (and so on, and so on). There is a difference between being a FAAB (female assigned at birth) and being an MTF: a lifetime lived in a female body. That difference is not inconsequential. To understate. And if MTFs had any understanding at all of sexism, they’d know this. (But perhaps they’ve been too busy dealing with their dysphoria.) (Or they’ve just been, well, men.)
So answering the question of whether MTFs are women is a no-brainer for the people who’ve been women all their lives. MTFs make demands, not polite requests. (2) They are quick to resort to insult, threat, aggression. They compete. They dominate. They convey a sense of entitlement none of us has ever had. They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They scream “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU TO KEEP US OUT WE HAVE A FUCKING RIGHT TO BE HERE TO GO WHEREVER THE FUCK WE WANT!”—a response to exclusion from FAAB spaces that is “right up there, ideologically, with demanding that girls and women be sexually available visually and physically, for and with men” (Julian Real, http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.ca/2011/02/who-gets-to-define-women-only-space.html). (3, 4) In short, it quacks like a duck.
In any case, perhaps the most important question is ‘Why does it matter?’ —whether one is male or female, a man or a woman? It matters only to those who want to maintain a rigid sex/gender dichotomy. And why would someone want to do that? To support a sexist system/society.
So, I say to MTFs, who are apparently among those who want to maintain such a system/society, if you want to be considered a woman, act like one. Sit down and shut up. Understand that your opinion doesn’t count. Be sensitive to everyone else’s feelings, respect them, accommodate them. Don’t assume you know more than anyone else. In particular, don’t assume you know more about sex and gender than second-generation feminists and radfems; they are Ph.D.s (in fact, many of them have Ph.D.s) when it comes to sex and gender, and no man of any kind comes close to their level of understanding: “They lost many of [their] privileges when they started identifying as women, but rather than recognising that this is because of sexism, they decided it was because they are trans. Why? Because, being male, they knew fuck all about sexism” (thebeardedlady, Nov17/09 at https://factcheckme.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/the-fallacy-of-cis-privilege/).
It is no surprise to me that twice as many MTFs as FTMs commit suicide. I haven’t read many accounts of their transition, but in most of those I have read, I see a shocking naiveté with regard to sexism, gender politics, etc. It is as if these people had no idea that they were voluntarily becoming a member of the sexed subordinate class. So no wonder, on top of everything else, they can’t handle, are broadsided by, the sudden and almost complete disenfranchisement …
(So as for the dysphoria, like the person who rejects their leg because it doesn’t feel right, because it doesn’t feel like it’s theirs, isn’t it better to deal with the dysphoria than to go through life as an amputee?) (Because yes, being a woman in the patriarchy is, in many ways, like being an amputee. We are crippled. We are, relative to men, dis-abled.)