A big thanks to Amy Lane and email@example.com! Your feedback on my last article inspired this post.
For anyone interested, here’s my current (but rapidly evolving) view of sex vs gender.
Both sex and gender exist on a spectrum. Intersex people prove this; an intersex person is one born with a mix of both male and female organs and/or chromosomes.
Such a person might be born with male chromosomes but genitalia that looks like a vagina; this person might be declared female at birth and spend childhood engaged in traditionally female activities while suffering from sexism; then realize at adolescence that he’s a male and go on to engage in traditionally male activities while benefiting from and perpetuating sexism.
So whether you define a male or female by their chromosomes, genitalia, internal sense of self or experiences, there are people who aren’t 100% male or female. Therefore, the binaries supported by both feminists opposed to transgender inclusion (elsewhere called TERFs) and transgender people are false. (Link to information about intersex people at the bottom of this post.)
Radical Feminists don’t have standing to grant or revoke access to “womanhood”; that would be like nurse’s aides being in charge of who gets to be a doctor.
Sex is whether you’re born with male or female genitalia AND male or female chromosomes, with most people being 100% “sex-male” or “sex-female” but some people inhabiting the spectrum between those extremes.
Gender is the sum total of a person’s experiences of being male/female/both/neither. So gender would include sex, because (for example) having a penis is part of a “gender-male’s” understanding of being gender-male; he knows he can use his penis to rape, assert dominance, give pleasure, etc; he knows he can be kicked in the balls as well.
Intersex people prove that gender-male and gender-female are also extremes on a spectrum, as a person with both male and female sex characteristics at birth can have both gender-male and gender-female experiences (raping or being raped, buying flowers or receiving them, going to a football game or a taping of Ellen).
However, all gender-men will inevitably have some gender-female experiences and vice-versa; a man might like Ellen or hate football (guilty!) while a woman might hate Ellen or love football. So nobody is 100% gender-male or gender-female (possible exception: Tom Selleck?).
Most people are at one extreme or the other on the sex spectrum; nobody is at either extreme on the gender spectrum.
Therefore, a transgender woman (MTF) can easily be a gender-woman, which doesn’t have a concrete threshold, but it’s hard for her to become a sex-woman. She can go through reassignment and get female genitalia, so she can become a sex-woman, but not as much of a sex-woman as a woman born with all female chromosomes AND genitalia. But how does she compare to an intersex person?- another spectrum!
So really there’s two kinds of sex (chromosome-sex and genitalia-sex) and one kind of gender. Gender can include a person’s sense of being male or female (as a transgender person might believe), but that’s not all of gender, it’s just internal sense of self (without, say, the physical sensation of pulling on leggings). Gender can include the effects of living in a sexist society, as a radical feminist might believe, but that’s just one specific type of experience; for example, it doesn’t include the taste of white wine (a traditionally female experience that has little to do with sexism). Gender is a catchall; it’s everything about male or female except the plumbing and the chromosomes. In other words:
Sex = genitalia + chromosomes
Most are at an extreme; intersex people and transgender people who have undergone sexual reassignment are on the spectrum
Gender = sex + (external experience except for sex) + (internal felt sense of gender except sex)
All of this on a spectrum that includes everybody, including transgender people
External experience = effects of sexism + all other experience as it relates to gender (radical feminists might say all of these experiences are effects of sexism; however, I think a girl can play with a doll without perpetuating sexism- room for debate)
Internal felt sense = thoughts + emotions + sensations as they relate to gender
I’m 100% sex-male (as far as I know) but maybe 70% gender male, as I have many gender-female qualities, such as not being interested in sports. There’s a cost to this: I miss opportunities for small talk about sports and networking opportunities at games, a type of exclusion traditionally suffered by gender-women as well; in other words, I suffer from more sexism in correlation to how gender-female I am.
Implications: transgender people are not fully correct in demanding recognition as men or women because they can never be fully male nor female, because there’s no such thing as pure male or female. However, they may be correct if judged by use of the terms “man” or “woman” as they’re used in day-to-day conversation.
Anti-transgender feminists are wrong to exclude transgender women from being women; the feminists themselves aren’t 100% female- so who are they to judge? They don’t have standing to grant or revoke access to “womanhood”; that would be like nurse’s aides being in charge of who gets to be a doctor.
The only people who are truly correct are those identifying as either both male and female or neither male nor female ( e.g. many genderqueer people); saying either amounts to the same thing.
Gender-men can have some gender-female traits or experiences that are of concern to radical feminists; e.g. a gender-male like myself can be raped, can be subordinate to a given gender-woman, etc; similarly, gender-women can rape, talk over a gender-male and give him instructions, etc. By putting everything on a spectrum it might become easier to discuss some controversial issues. For example, women sometimes rape men- a radical feminist would have to deny, minimize or explain this; in my framework it’s inevitable that gender-women would occasionally do gender-male things (the rape) to gender men.
This does not change the fact that gender-males enjoy most of the advantages in America and in all sexist societies; nor should it hide the fact that they’re responsible for the majority of sexual violence. None of this should be taken as a get out of jail free card for gender-men.
Lastly, “sexism” is probably an incorrect term, as oppression of women (and transgender people) can be about more than penises and vaginas, even if the oppression ultimately relates to genitalia. If I choose not to hire a female accountant because I believe all women are bad at math I’m not thinking about her vagina itself when I make this decision; if confronted about my discrimination I might say that I don’t hire women because I think schools fail to teach them math effectively; thus shifting the blame (speciously and indefensibly) to society. Nonetheless, it would never fully escape my mind that the person I’m oppressing has a vagina. So a better term for this kind of oppression might gender-sexual discrimination.
We’re all genderqueer! Welcome and Ubuntu, all!
Did I just blow your mind? Am I a long-winded idiot? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll do my best to include your feedback in a future post! (Tell me how you’d like to be identified if you have a preference.)
Info on intersex people: http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/intersex.aspx