Closing the Question about Trans-Identities

3111086451_91879a4b16_oWas there ever a time in which a person could have argued for the moral acceptability of slavery without doing something gravely wrong in the very arguing? Maybe not, but it ever there were, it is now long, long, past; some questions are simply closed.

Questions about the validity of transpeople’s identities—of whether, e.g., transwomen are “really” women, eligible to apply to Smith College and to use women’s restroom, have been considered fair game since we emerged into public view. Whether expressed in academic prose, in political posturing, or in outright sneers, such questions are heard by many transpeople as profoundly disparaging, and sometimes menacing.

Yet if the tide of social attitudes and practices easing passages between genders keeps swelling, such debates might become as out of place as, say, a serious discussion about whether homosexuality is a mental illness. The sound you hear may be the closing of yet another question about how human beings may live together.

What I wonder about is this: in the time remaining before trans becomes just another way of having a gender, as, say, adoption is just another way of becoming a parent, is there anything that need not be disparaging, that might actually be helpful, to be said? Might it be good for transpeople to take a moment to think about whether their own understandings and practices might sometimes be politically retrograde, or to have some insight into the challenge their lives pose to how cisgender people now have to reimagine themselves?

Jamie Lindemann Nelson

The Hastings Center Report

Professor at Michigan State University

Author: klynch618

I <3 the Humanities & life-long learning.

4 thoughts on “Closing the Question about Trans-Identities”

  1. Isn’t the problem basically that we segregate gender bathrooms in the first place? Why can’t men and women shit together what is the big deal.

  2. “… such debates might become as out of place as, say, a serious discussion about whether homosexuality is a mental illness.”

    Let’s hope that does not happen. Whether, for example, a transman is a man is an ontological question whose answer is by no means obvious (in the sense of being beyond reasonable debate). A person can reasonably and without bigotry deny that people are whatever ‘gender’ they identify, just as they can reasonably and without bigotry deny that one can identify their way into other biological or social kinds, such as age, race, or disability, or indeed deny the existence of some of these kinds. It is not like the question of whether homosexuality is a mental illness, which is a purely normative question, and for which an affirmative answer has no motivation except disgust toward same-sex attraction.

    The question of whether a person can simply choose their ‘gender’, as well as whether gender exists at all and if so what it is, falls under a larger category of questions about social and natural kinds — what they are, whether they exist, what the criteria for membership are, whether they have essences, etc. These are interesting philosophical questions, and have a variety of well-motivated answers. For these reasons, framing this issue in terms of the ‘validity of trans identities’ is misleading.

  3. > Was there ever a time in which a person could have argued for the moral acceptability of slavery without doing something gravely wrong in the very arguing?

    Slavery is immoral, but arguing for the moral acceptability of slavery does not automatically make a person immoral. They might genuinely believe (in error as it turns out) that slavery is moral, and that they are moral for advocating slavery.

    Demanding other people’s property at gunpoint via the state (or any other well armed coercive institution) is immoral. And yet millions of people still argue that it is morally acceptable to behave that way, and they believe they are moral people when they participate in ‘democracy’, even though it is plainly immoral by any standard definition of immorality.

    > Questions about the validity of transpeople’s identities—of whether, e.g., transwomen are “really” women, eligible to apply to Smith College and to use women’s restroom, have been considered fair game since we emerged into public view.

    And these are fair questions. If these questions of validity do not arise, and are not asked, that assumes gender is no more than a matter of choice, of fashion, of whim.

    If a man walks in on you in the restroom and you say “Hey get out this is the ladies!” he can say “I consider myself a lady” and you cannot argue because you just agreed that it is wrong to question the validity of a person’s claimed gender.

    For validity to mean anything, the concept of IN-validity must exist.

    > What I wonder about is this: in the time remaining before trans becomes just another way of having a gender, as, say, adoption is just another way of becoming a parent, is there anything that need not be disparaging, that might actually be helpful, to be said?

    Adoption is not a way to become a parent, at least in the biological sense – which is an important part of the definition of ‘parent’. Adoption is a way to become a surrogate parent, AKA a legal guardian.

    If being trans is ‘another gender’ separate to male or female (as many people now seem to be insisting) then that reinforces the notion that trans women are not ‘real’ women and trans men are not ‘real’ men. Many trans (and non trans) people would take issue with that notion.

    > Might it be good for transpeople to take a moment to think about whether their own understandings and practices might sometimes be politically retrograde, or to have some insight into the challenge their lives pose to how cisgender people now have to reimagine themselves?

    Judging by the unisex toilet sign naturally small framed women (relative to men) must re-imagine themselves as non existent, despite accounting for the majority of the female population.

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