It’s possible to define “woman” in a way that is both coherent and inclusive—but ignoring biological sex is not the way to do it.
While I appreciate the author's attempt to create social comity by splitting the linguistic difference, I don't think this proposal accomplishes much.
The entire reason to insist that "transwomen are women, period" is to make it impossible to distinguish between woman (1) and woman (2) and therefore short-circuit the debate about "the important moral and political questions around transgender individuals". How are these definitions better than saying "(cis)woman" and "transwoman"?
The entire Orwellian exercise is to make the debate impossible by eliminating the ability of language to express the difference between woman (1) and woman (2), and collapse them into the same indistinguishable entity. This proposed solution will please no one and only further obscure the important issues by making them harder to discuss.
The proposed definition of woman ("wants to be treated as a woman") will never be accepted by trans activists, because it implicitly acknowledges the inconvenient fact that the trans movement wants to deny at all costs:
Sex change operations (gender reassignment surgery is an incoherent term) don't actually change a person's sex. There's no surgery in the world that will make a biological male capable of menstruating and having babies, and similarly no surgery that will make a biological female produce semen.
The surgeries & hormones can create a superficial facsimile of the opposite sex, but that's not what anybody seeking those surgeries (or selling them, for that matter) wants to hear. Hence all the convoluted sophistries about gender identities and "sex is a spectrum" wishful thinking, all of which increasingly resembles religious apologetics.
The women(2) definition is absurd. It's like defining "professional basketball player"(2) as anyone who WANTS to be a "professional basketball player"(1), but is not. How is that in any way useful?
The project of the sane must now be to reclaim the language that has been lost to the "trans" activist assault.
"Woman" means woman(1), period.
Sex is DETERMINED at birth (with 99.98% accuracy), not "assigned".
It is physically impossible to "transition" the sex of a mammal. (So "trans" should always be in quotes: never in the history of the world has the sex of any mammal, including any human, been "transitioned" from one to the other.)
And this is, fundamentally, kind.
Because it is unkind to let people continue to believe that they are professional basketball players when they are, in fact, not.
It seems to me the author is labouring under the misapprehension that this is a matter of logical confusion in people of good faith, that a bit of rational argument can fix.
It is about emotions and desire.
The desire of trans women to be socially validated as the women they desperately want to be, and to force "society", and every individual in it, to do just that.
That is why this kind of argument will go nowhere.
Just like all lies become increasingly difficult to prop up because of the risk of utterances that identify the lie, the same is true with absurdity of language use in the culture war.
This absurd denial by the radical left (aka Democrats) that there are two biological genders is at risk of unraveling their entire narrative as they also opine for women's rights.
This is the common-sense view of most people, I should think, but it precisely one the trans activists and their "allies" refuse, because it does not meet their objective, to demand the validation of their self concept, period. Any reminder that they are NOT "just another woman" shatters their sense of self and is thus "hateful, cruel, bigoted", etc.
At most some reluctantly accept a distinction between "cis-women" and "trans-women" as simply variations of the same thing.
So I'm not sure how useful this exercise is.
I am at ease with the two-fold definition provided here. I consistently appreciate the attempt at finding middle-ground at Persuasion.
I would like to propose two definitions of a black person. A black person is a) someone whose ancestors were slaves in the US and b) anyone who is not (a) but desires to be (a). Now to be inclusive we shall henceforth have two definitions of black person. This will solve the racism directed at asian people who are rejected by selective universities. They can then faithfully put on their application that they are a black person. And Harvard and Yale will be okay with that. Right? And Black Lives Matter, since they are trans inclusive, will also be okay with it, as this is trans racially inclusive. Right?
Actually, nevermind that is lunacy.
Trans “women” are men. Instead of creating another definition of women to satisfy the desires of men who want to be women how about the men who desire to be women accept reality and satisfy my desire not to affirm crazy thinking?
We should actually stop calling the men who want to be women “trans women” at all. We should call them trans men. Because they are men who want to transition away from being men. But they can’t because physical reality. It is about time society stops playing along with the crazy games of this cult out of a desire to be “kind.” It isn’t kind to expect people to affirm irrational ideas. The people who are demanding others change their rational usage of language is concerning to me. They are starting to try to use the government-- aka violence -- to require it.
Men who don’t want to be men and women who don’t want to be women should be free to have those desires and behave in any gendered way they wish without fear. However they do not have the right to coerce other people to affirm the idea that they are in fact the sex they desire to be. Any coercion to do so is in fact immoral. To assist in their coercion is likewise immoral.
If a trans man wants me call him “she”--he will have to demonstrate to me he realizes he isnt a woman and that he isn’t a self-absorbed asshole. Lia Thomas for example--he has not demonstrated this. Any trans man who competes in women sports fails this criteria.
If a person who is a “trans-woman” really is not a “woman” but we agree to call them a woman for the sake of comity, where does such foolish thinking ever stop?
Isn’t that the kind of wrong-headed thinking that got society to this breaking point in the first place?
And, if it’s to be really resolved in the political realm, why does society have to accommodate one tiny group’s demand to change language? What’s the benefit to society? We have a perfectly good word for women and it doesn’t include men trying to say that they’re really women.
Let’s be real — the reason all of this is being pushed is so that proponents of such thinking can say all societal institutions are nothing more than social constructs. They don’t reflect or serve to support any ultimate, immutable truth about humans or their innate nature.
Man is god…
I appreciate the attempt to do the impossible here, and this issue has to be resolved somehow, but I don’t think the current brand of trans activist will go for it as it denies their central fiction. I’m a biological woman, married to a trans woman who agrees with me that it is impossible to change sex, and fully understands and admits that they are male, but that acceptance hurts them deeply and it’s this pain in the face of reality that causes the problem. It’s far easier to claim someone else is a bigot than to accept your own internal dysfunction. We are being asked to deny reality because not doing so hurts feelings - I recognise this situation from my own marriage, and it’s very uncomfortable - however this is wholly unacceptable and unsustainable in law, reality and society generally and we must resist it absolutely. How to do so in a way that is kind and inclusive, without pandering to the lie, is a huge challenge; I applaud you for trying.
A biologist would find that the male/female percentage is even higher than 99.98%. Most of the 0.02% is clearly male or female with a DSD (Disorder of Sexual Development). For example, Caster Semenya was/is clearly male (with XY chromosomes), but 5-ARD (which made him look female at birth). Do very rare exceptions exist? Sure they do. CAIS persons are XY males, but Completely Androgen InSensitive (CAIS). They look like ordinary women and think like women. They can never have children and some do suffer from physical abnormalities. Very rarely a baby is born with different sex chromosomes in different cells. This is called sex chromosome mosaicism.
I don't understand. The Constitution protects minority populations against discrimination by the majority. This is not a constitutional issue but you can apply a similar method around cultural disputes. In this case the minority is attacking the majority usage of language and scientific thought.
Regardless of the demands of activists, the majority has absolutely no moral, political or social duty to adopt the language and definitions of a small minority. If the transman or trans woman fills out a form or legal document, he can check off whichever sex he wants to. But changing a language or scientific term is rather self indulgent, not necessary and is causing rancor that's outside the limits of its importance.
In spite of surgeries, hormones, and redefined words, one cannot change one's chromosomes, and therefore will always be what one became at conception.
Sorry. You can’t change biology.
A reasonable approach. Seeking ultimate precision in the definition of individual words simply results in cumbersome and easily parodied phrases.
This is a complex area and needs words that are easy to use in general discussions. When necessary the details can be added.
This was a helpful post. I am a bit lost in the debates and the seeming hysteria (also a linguistically-misogynist word, btw) on all sides around what constitutes transgender-inclusivity. Biological sex vs. Gender are two separate concepts that we have generally conflated to the detriment of all people. This post resonated with me because of how uncomfortable I am now that my coerced use of conventional terminology to describe myself makes me feel like I have somehow subscribed to patriarchal norms around gender. I present as female and people treat me as such. Having to tell people my pronouns feels like I am now making a political statement that I somehow enjoy being treated as lesser. If medical technology would permit, wouldn't everyone want to turn their outward appearance into that of a white, middle-aged man? How does my acceptance of my biological physiology transform my choice of pronouns into a political statement that I'm happy to be treated as a second-class person?