Well now. Isn’t this nice. In the middle of a huge fight in which I spend a great deal of my time trying to persuade male people that we’re not just projections that exist in their heads, but are actually, y’know, whole real people in our own right, the trans philosopher Rachel Anne Williams has decided to resurrect an ancient philosophical device and treat us to some imaginings about us.
Let’s see what we say shall we?
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of getting into an internet debate with “gender critical” feminists when it comes to issues surrounding gender, you’d know that one of their constant demands is for trans women to define “woman”. This is their ultimate “gotcha” — their best attempt to prove that trans activists are full of bullshit.
- Yup, that’s right, our concerns about the definition of the political category to which we belong and your attempt to erase it, must, of course, be all about you. How could we have any interest in our own self-definition that was about us and our own needs, given that we’re just some walk-on characters in the philosophical movie you are running in your mind? Nope. Of course we’re only bothered about whether women exist because we’re trying to fuck you over. Of course.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +1
Suppose you did attempt to define “woman”. It might go something like this:
Trans woman: A woman is someone with the gender identity of “woman.”
GC feminist: That’s circular! The term “woman” is in the definition itself but you haven’t defined what “woman” means!
Trans woman: Ok, well, women are those people who tend to display [certain traits].
GC feminist: Ahh! You sexist! You’re trying to say that all women act or look a certain way! You’re reducing the concept of womanhood down to a set of stereotypes.
Trans woman: Ok, well, how would you define “woman”?
GC feminist: Well, naturally, woman are adult human females.
Trans woman: But what do you mean by “female”?
GC feminist: Females are those creatures that, under normal circumstances, produce large gametes.
Trans woman: Ok, but why would you want to define woman as “adult human female” and define “female” like that? That excludes trans women.
- We’re not trying to exclude you from the category of female. You just are excluded. Because you’re not female. It takes no effort and no desire whatsoever on our part to get to that conclusion. What, however, would take a great deal of effort and desire is performing the conceptual jiggery-pokery with the meaning of the ontological and political category we belong to in order to include you, which we’re not going to do, because it’s a harm to us, and because the only reason for doing it is to service your feelings, and mate, we’re feminists.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +2
GC feminist: Well, yes, of course — trans women are men and should be happy existing as just feminine men.
- Yeah, some of us think you’re men, quite a number of us think you’re transwomen. What we all agree on is that you’re not female, and that you are not, therefore, straightforwardly women. It’s interesting that a bunch of people who are allegedly so committed to ‘smashing the binary’ cannot conceive of a category which exists between ‘men’ and ‘women.’ But of course you can’t, because your need is to fully appropriate our existence, and it doesn’t serve your narrative to recognise that some of us would meet you halfway if you just backed the fuck off.
If we don’t carve out a political category for women that focuses on our biological sex we will not be able to organize politically. You trans activists want to redefine what it means to be a woman in terms of some nebulous concept of “gender identity”. But I don’t have a “gender identity”. I don’t “identify” as a woman — I am a woman! Because I am female.
Trans woman: I think the problem here is you have a limited understanding of what it means to “identify” as something.
- Oh, do we now?
For example, I identify as pansexual. But I could say, just like you do, that I don’t “identify” as pansexual, I am pansexual. Because being pansexual is an intrinsic part of who I am. But it’s both an intrinsic part of who I am and also something I identify as. So why not think gender identity is similar? You are female but you also identify as female.
- No, I don’t. I’m a woman, and I’m woman-identified, which is a political identification. But I do not identify as female any more than I identify as having curly hair. And your need to impose an identification on me that I do not experience is all about your needs. And, while we’re here, given that I have experienced a life-time of discrimination because I’m female, you telling me that I have effectively identified into that discrimination is also politically reprehensible.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +4
They are not mutually exclusive. This is why a lot of trans activists don’t even talk in terms of gender identity. They will say “I don’t identify as a woman, I am a woman.”
- Not in any sense that a female person is.
GC feminist: But that’s different. When you say you “identify” as a woman you can’t even explain what that means! You can’t say you “identify” is someone with large gametes because that’s ridiculous — you don’t have large gametes. If I identify as seven feet tall, that doesn’t make me seven feet tall.
Trans woman: That’s true.
- Well Rachel, congrats, that may be the first time in this whole protracted interaction in which I’ve actually heard you say something that appears to recognise reality.
- For that I’ll knock half a point off your narcissism score: +3.5
I do not have large gametes (nor am I seven feet tall). But since I see myself as a woman, I think that’s all the more reason to abandon your definition of womanhood in terms of gametes. I’d prefer to try and find a definition that is inclusive, or better, yet, give up on the very quest to define womanhood itself. Perhaps some things cannot be given definitions.
- Are you fucking shitting me??? It was all going so well for a moment there, and then you went and totally trashed it with, “seeing as material reality doesn’t fulfil my own projections and needs I want you to abandon your useful objective definition of the political category to which you belong and replace it with some airy-fairy definition because ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME.”
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +8.5
GC feminist: But if we don’t ground the definition in terms of objective, biological sex, the concept of “woman” will be meaningless and just anyone will be able to identify as a woman. After all, you trans activists are constantly saying that gender cannot be reduced to any physical trait, manner of dress, or behavior. You just keep talking about some nebulous concept of “gender identity” but can’t even explain what that means! All you have are a set of circular definitions.
Trans woman: Think of gender identity like consciousness. Consciousness is experiential and has a first-person aspect. It cannot be so easily defined.
- Yeah, except all of us experience consciousness, and we have ways of communicating different aspects of our phenomenological experience with each other. And I know you don’t understand this because you apparently live in that mirrored-hall known as your brain, but we don’t experience gender identity, and we literally have no idea what you’re talking about. What that means is that whatever the experience is that you’re calling ‘feeling like or being a woman’, isn’t an experience we share with you. We are women. And if we tell you that your experience of ‘being a woman’ is meaningless to us, then, whatever it is an experience of, it isn’t an experience of being a woman.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +9.5
GC feminist: Sure it can! To be conscious of something is to be aware of something.
- I watched this conversation, you were having it with one or two people at the most, one of whom was a sceptic not a feminist, and none of whom were philosophers, because frankly, when you decided to throw consciousness into the mix to try and prop up your nebulous crap, we were too busy rolling our eyes. As Andy told you, if you want to change our civic infrastructure from being organised on the basis of something as objective as sex to something as wishy-washy and potentially regressive as gender identity, you better do better than ‘change all the laws on the basis of a subjective state which is only meaningful to trans people.’
Trans woman: But what does it mean to be aware of something?
GC feminist: To sense that thing.
Trans woman: But sensation and consciousness are two different things. You can put a sensor on a robot but that doesn’t make the robot conscious.
GC feminist: Ok, so conscious awareness is sensation that you experience.
Trans woman: But “experience” is just another way of saying “consciousness”.
GC feminist: Ok, I see what you’re getting at. Consciousness is a tricky concept. But that’s consciousness! Gender identity is different. Gender identity is just a bunch of nonsense. Consciousness is a mental phenomenon and mental phenomena have an irreducible quality.
Trans woman: But don’t you see? Gender identity is also a mental phenomena and it has an irreducible quality as well.
- Wow, this GC feminist in your brain is pleasingly slow on the uptake isn’t she? I refer you to my previous point, why should we a) make laws b) change our entire understanding of our own political class, because of your phenomenological experience?
That’s what makes it so hard to define. Saying “Consciousness is about experiencing the world” is like saying “Womanhood is about identifying as a woman.”
- Yeah, but again, this is what womanhood means to you. That’s not what it means to me. In fact, ‘womanhood’ has no meaning to me at all. I’m not a woman because I have woman-essence. I’m a woman because I’m female. That’s it.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +10.5
When I say I “identify as a woman” it’s really hard to define what that means exactly without resorting to cultural stereotypes about womanhood. It’s not about clothes. It’s not about makeup. It’s not about how I act. It’s just this feeling I have that “woman” is the right conceptual category for me to be in. Thinking of myself as a man just feels so wrong! I can’t explain it.
- You’ve actually said something honest here. Because this is a description of dysphoria. Which is what makes you a transwoman. Let me tell you what’s happening here from my perspective; you have taken the experience of dysphoria – which I accept is a real phenomenological experience – and reified the proposed explanation, i.e. that dysphoria arises because of a mismatch between gender identity and sexed body. In order to ground the claim that you are a woman in a manner continuous with the way we are women, you then posit that we all have a gender identity, and the only difference between you and us is that our gender identity matches our body. That is, your ideology is committed to imposing an experience of gender identity onto us, in order for you to claim continuity with us, despite the fact that we keep telling you that we do not recognise this experience and consider the concept politically pernicious. But what you have told us here when trying to give an honest description of your experience explains exactly why we do not recognise your experience. Because you have dysphoria, and we do not. And not having dysphoria is not an experience of gender identity – because experience has to have some content.
GC feminist: That’s just it! You want to replace the hard facts of biology with mere feelings! That’s hogwash! I don’t “feel” like a woman. I am a woman! Because of my biological sex. It’s not a feeling. It’s reality.
Trans woman: But are not feelings a part of reality? When I feel pain, does that pain not exist? Just because it has an experiential element doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. My feeling of pain is as real to me as anything else in this world. And my feelings about my gender are as real as anything else in this world.
- Yes, they’re real to you. Which is not quite the same as ‘anything else in this world’ which is also real to people who are not inside you.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +11.5
GC feminist: But if we start to define womanhood in terms of wishy-washy feelings, anyone will be able to identify as a woman and the category of “woman” will start to be filled with a bunch of men who are identifying as woman for nefarious purposes in order to infiltrate female spaces and take advantage of the wishy-washy definitions of womanhood. Unless we ground the political category of womanhood in biology the doors will be open for just any ole man to “identify” as a woman, especially since you can’t even define clearly what that means! It’s not like the old days when trans women were transsexuals with gender dysphoria and medically transitioned and had surgery and took hormones and blended into society as women. Now you have all kinds of perverts and freaks who don’t even have dysphoria “identifying” as woman. Don’t you see how dangerous that is for society?
Trans woman: I think you’re confusing that fact that, in theory, any kind of person can identify as a woman with the fact that not everyone will identify as a woman, because although, yes, it is hard to define gender identity in naturalistic terms, that doesn’t mean just anyone will identify as a woman.
- The fact that you will not for one second take seriously what women understand about the lengths male people will go in order to abuse us is just straight up contempt Rachel. Seriously. Fuck off.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +13.5
Afterall, gender identity is an intrinsic part of who you are, and is in fact ultimately grounded in the brain and the brains of people who identify as women are different from the brains of people who identify as men.
- FEMALE BRAIN KLAXON. You’re going to need some trans brain studies that have controlled for sexual orientation and don’t show that once that’s done the only variable is the bit of the brain that deals with body imaging.
In this way gender identity is quite like consciousness. It has a personal, experiential element — there is something-it-is-like to be conscious just as there is something-it-is-like to identify as a particular gender, consciousness is mysterious and hard to define, gender identity is mysterious and hard to define, and yet we have a first-person understanding of both.
- You do. I only have a first person understanding of consciousness. I have no first person understanding of gender identity. As I keep telling you. How come I can recognise that your experience is true to you, but my claims about my own experience don’t seem to register with you at all? I have a vague inkling there could be a structural reason for that. Now what could it be?
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +14.5
GC feminist: But how are we going to ground a political movement protecting females from the oppressive forces of patriarchy unless we have a specific set of terminology that refers specifically to our reproductive biology?
Trans woman: You can still use “female”.
- Gee, thanks. Except actually that’s not what is happening is it? We’re being called ‘uterus havers’ and ‘bleeders’ instead.
Most people will understand the anatomy of cis females to be paradigmatic for that concept. For example, when you think of “bird” you typically think of a bird like a robin who can fly. Robins are paradigm examples of the category “bird”. The penguin is still technically a bird but less paradigmatic for the concept. Cis females are paradigm examples of the example of “female” but trans females are like penguins — they are still females but not a paradigmatic example because it’s not the first thing in people’s mind when they think of “female”.
- What is it with you people and the terrible analogies?? Birds are an entire class of animals. There are over 10, 000 different species of birds, with vastly different body types, ranging from wrens to goddamn ostriches. Females are not a class, or a clade, or even a species. They are a sex. Which occurs across species. And is defined by their capacity to produce large gametes. And in no universe is a male actually a female because penguins are not the same as robins.
GC feminist: But the bodies of trans women are nothing like cis females! If the term is to mean anything it must be a scientific concept that refers to objective reality, namely, the objective reality of everything associated with large gametes.
- The thing is, ‘produces large gametes’ is just what female means. And if trans women want to claim that they are female, then we’re still going to need another word for the class of humans that produces large gametes and we’re still going to insist that producing large gametes is not accidentally related to our oppression.
Trans woman: We already established that gender identity is an intrinsic feature of someone and realized in the brain.
- I do not think you know what ‘established’ means.
Therefore, there must be brain features specific to having a gender identity of a woman that distinguish it from having the gender identity of a man.
- There is no ‘therefore’ about it. Christ, this really is the Judith Butler school of ‘let me build a pile of tottering crap on ridiculous premises I never actually demonstrated.”
Why not include these as part of the cluster concept of “female”?
- Because you. are. not. female.
We can recognize that large gametes are paradigmatic of the category “female” while also recognizing that trans women are also a kind of female and when we want to be specific and distinguish between the different types of bodies we can use the term “trans female”.
- ‘We can recognise that females are paradigmatic of the category female while also recognising that males are a kind of female.’ Yeah no. We can’t
GC feminist: But why not just realize that trans women are males who identify as females? Isn’t that easier?
Trans woman: I mean, yes, in a sense, that is perfectly coherent.
- Yeah, isn’t it?
The problem is ideologies like GC feminism are hellbent in saying that men are adult human males which would make trans women men.
- Nope, I’d be perfectly happy with ‘males who identify as women’ and I accept ‘males who identify as women’ might be something different from just ‘men.’ It’s annoying when you have to deal with what we actually think isn’t it? So, given that you’ve admitted it’s perfectly coherent and I’m also happy with it, I think we have a solution to the whole sorry mess, transwomen are ‘males who identify as women.’ Deal?
But that’s the fundamental claim that we disagree with. I believe that trans women are women because I think whether you are a “man” or a “woman” depends on how you identify, as per my original definition.
- No, you believe trans women are women because you want to believe you are a woman despite the fact that women keep telling you that they do not recognise your experience of ‘being a woman’ and that your making our being women dependent on an extrapolation of your own subjective experience in persistent disregard of our own experience is about the most narcissistic entitled masculine thing we could ever conceive of. For the hundredth millionth fucking time: We are not an idea in your head.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +19.5
GC feminism: You’re just going to open the doors to any pervert to wake up one day and identify as a woman and that will magically make them a woman.
Trans woman: You talk as if the process of identification is shallow when in fact to truly identify as a woman is a deep and meaningful psychological process involving a kind of commitment. It’s not the kind of thing you just wake up and do on a whim. It requires a kind of authenticity.
- I’M BEING DEEP AND MEANINGFUL AND OH MY FEELZ AND NO MEN WOULD EVER TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A HUMVEE BEING DRIVEN THROUGH SAFEGUARDING BECAUSE MY DEEP FEELZ AND WHO GIVES A FUCK IF WOMEN AND CHILDREN GET SEXUALLY ASSAULTED AS LONG AS MY AUTHENTIC FEELZ ARE AUTHENTICATED.
GC feminist: But you cannot empirically measure that authenticity. In places like the UK, they want to get rid of the gatekeeping measures in place that require you to prove you have deep-seated dysphoria and replace them with this nebulous concept of self-identification such that just anyone could self-ID as trans and then be legally granted access to female spaces. Can’t you see how dangerous that is?
Trans woman: You still have to make a sworn statement that you identify as a woman. I think you underestimate the resolve it would take to walk before a panel of legal experts and publically swear you are a different gender.
- I think you underestimate the fact that men decide to spend their entire lives as priests or gym teachers or sports coaches so they can abuse children you fucking selfish asshole.
I just don’t think there is any evidence that predators are going to use this particular legal pathway to abuse women.
- There is. And you know it. And every time we point to the evidence you just scream hate-crime. What you don’t, in fact, think is that women’s safety matters as much as your damn feelings. And that, dear Rachel, is because of male entitlement.
The benefits of getting rid of arduous gatekeeping outweigh the risks.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +119.5
There are many downsides to gatekeeping.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +169.5
It does not lead to the best trans healthcare, a vulnerable and marginalized population.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +189.5
Besides, what do you think gatekeeping is? Gatekeeping is nothing more than having a conversation with a trans person — it’s not about medical testing. The only “test” — even with gatekeeping — is relying on the self-report on the trans person, which is itself a kind of self-ID.
- I dunno, I like to think that they used to try and weed out the people with raging NPD.
GC feminist: But women are marginalized moreso! And there are much more of them!
Trans woman: Yes, but the problem is not trans-identifying women or trans feminine people. The problem is cis men.
- I’m so glad that you’re the expert on our problem Rachel. Because of course, heaven forfend that we would allow female people to make judgements about which male people they consider to be a problem, or – perish the thought! – believe that female people could correctly perceive gargantuan levels of mansplainy condensing narcissism in someone who does not identify as an entitled condescending mansplainer.
For all your concerns about needing precise language to organize politically, the term “cis man” is perfectly precise when it comes to pinpointing the vast bulk of the problem when it comes to dismantling the patriarchy.
- You love, are the patriarchy on fucking crack.
This is why trans women and radical feminists ultimately have the same goal: to dismantle patriarchal structures that target women and create the conditions of liberation for all genders.
- Yeah, you’re doing a grand job of demonstrating your commitment to it here.
Although the nature of the oppression is different in virtue of not having identical biological functions, there is still much that overlaps.
- Until you have the first idea about the fundamental psycho-ontology of patriarchal domination – clue Rachel, look in the Hall of Mirrors – I suggest you don’t lecture me on my oppression.
Trans women are at risk of violence from cis males. We can still get assaulted, raped, and killed. We are at risk of legalized discrimination in the form of healthcare, housing, the workplace, etc. We have objectively worse mental health outcomes on account of social prejudice. We are also subject to unconscious bias and prejudice at an interpersonal level.
- ME ME ME ME ME ME ME. Yeah, we get all that too. And we get it from you as well.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +195.5
This is why we focus on intersectional feminism.
- No, you focus on intersectional feminism because you’ve twisted it to undermine the definition of the class of women in order to insert yourself into it.
- Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +205.5
The discrimination we face as women intersects with the discrimination we face for being trans, just like the discrimination black women face as women intersects with the discrimination they face for being black.
- WE GET MORE POINTS THAN YOU. COOKIE MONSTER WANTS ALL THE LIBERATION MOVEMENTS!
Although our experiences are not the same, why should we expect that all women have the same experiences? Is not our tapestry more rich when we include the voices of trans women?
- You’re not asking to be included. You are asking to be centred. You are asking for all our language to be changed in order to obscure the ways in which we are not the same. You are asking us to give up our analysis of our own oppression so it fits your ideology, you are asking us to relinquish our rights to self-definition and self-organisation, and you are using a whole panoply of coercive methods to achieve those ends. You are, above all, exhibiting the belief that your needs and your feelings are the be all and end all of this matter, which is to say, you are exhibiting the core psychic mechanism of male dominance, with all its attendant coercions and condescentions, with its complete and unrelenting inability to recognise that we. are. our. own. people. To be absolutely blunt Rachel (and I’ve told you this more than once already, but shockingly, you do not hear it), if you wanted to convince us you were women, this display of self-centred bullying is possibly the least effective means you could ever have come up with. Our tapestry is doing just fine without you, we have no intention of letting it become all about you, and we’re going to need you to go and make your own.
Final Hall of Mirrors’ Score: +205.5