I have been discussing gender roles for years. Nowadays, when I do that, transgender activists also enter the discussion. From them, I learned that some people in this discussion exclude others and are filled with fear.
After using the words “man” and “woman” for decades without anyone ever misunderstanding me, I became aware of a group with a different idea of what it is to be a man or a woman. They were born with penises, but they say they are women. Or they were born with vaginas, but say they are men. I tried to ask them what they mean with the words man and woman. They called me a bigot for asking. And gave me the non-answer that anyone who say they are a woman is a woman.
I want to discuss gender: I want to discuss stereotypes and what they do to women and men, and girls and boys. I want to discuss how women are more likely to be poor, how sexual assault disproportionally happens to women and girls, how FGM must stop, how female voices are undervalued and vilified in the church, politics, business, everywhere. Even more than that, I want to discuss solutions.
But the trans activism lobby (not all transgender people) comes to the table telling us we use the terms wrong: Everything written on, for example, pregnancy or FGM, is wrong and needs to be re-written. FGM does not happen to girls, it happens to girls and boys with vaginas. Pregnancy, likewise, happens to men and women.
This new party at the discussion table does not stop at telling us to redefine terms: They give us terms too vague to use for any meaningful work on gender.
Imagine you wrote on the topic of the planets in our solar system, and people tell you the meaning of the word planet just changed, so your writing is wrong. You want to be seen as informed, and plan to review your writing to include a section on dwarf planets. But imagine the people who just redefined “planet” does not give you their new definition, and instead say that anything they call a planet is a planet, and if you are not one of them, you do not get to talk about planets. So your books on planets are all obsolete and wrong and you cannot sell anything related to planets any more, you are not one of them.
That is more or less what the new party at the table is doing to the gender discussion. Trans activists act as if they are the only ones who know anything about gender, and if you are not lobbying with them for the things they want, you should keep quiet. “You don’t have a say on this because you are cisgender”, they tell people like me. I am not cisgender.
But that is not all. The trans activists do not only want to redefine terms into ones too muddy to discuss, and for all those who have other ideas to stay out of their discussions. To exclude an informed group of stakeholders from discussions is bigoted and discriminatory, but at least it is not physical violence, and in that case the other stakeholders could organize their own meetings, their own blogs and their own information sessions. (Ironically, the activists’ favorite nickname for their opposition is TERFs: Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. But it is they, not us, who exclude others from even being heard.) These lobbyists also try to shut down those outside their group who try to talk about sex or gender issues, in their own spaces. When women discuss menstruation, or uses the definition of woman which everyone around them still understand (not the vague non-definition of the trans activists), we are said to be discriminating. Many of my friends have been thrown from groups for saying normal things which they found transphobic (sic).
So, please, is there a way we could all come to the table as stakeholders and discuss gender? The so-called TERFs I know do not want to exclude trans people from the discussion. When we discuss the gendered issue of male violence, we know some trans people are perpetrators and others victims of male violence, and some have experienced both. When we discuss the patriarchy of prostitution, we know that a disproportionate percentage of murdered transwomen were prostitutes 1 – and our gender views respect the prostituted.2
The trans community needs such a discussion too. For one thing, it could help to clarify their thinking:
> Many of them claim “a vagina does not make you a woman”, while others of their group spends thousands on surgery to get neovaginas to feel more womanly – does this not devalue their effort and expense?
> They call the opposition transphobic, but accept if some among them threaten “TERFs” with violence. A level-headed discussion may help them to decide if they want people afraid. If they do, they would ask the world to be more transphobic. If they do not, they would oppose transwomen who threaten to kill or punch TERFs, or who go beyond threats and actually attack them.
> The feminists who question transgender ideology believe in teaching body acceptance. I am not naïve enough to believe body acceptance alone will be a cure-all for the transgender community, but it would probably make a difference for at least some. At the moment, therapists are not even allowed to ask a self-diagnosed transgender individual about other ways to deal with dysphoria.
> In the current political climate of transgender activism, the level of hate accusations to all who disagree means those who regret transitioning sometimes do not feel welcome to discuss their regret. Open discussion would also make room for them.
I am sure not everyone in the trans community is a bunch of violent haters, afraid of open discussion. Please, trans people open to discussing the gender-related rights and needs of all, we want to hear from you. If we have an inclusive discussion, we could even hold the discussion at a meeting place with five bathrooms, so nobody feels their group’s definition is ignored.
1 According to http://www.stoptransmurders.org/ , “12 trans women and gender nonconforming (GNC) individuals who engaged in sex work were murdered in the U.S. In 2015” and “There have been at least 23 trans women and gender nonconforming people murdered in 2015, the majority of whom were black and/or Latina”. This means that over half of murdered transgender and GNC individuals were engaged in sex work, by their own count.
2 The radfem view on prostitution comes largely from exited feminists, who experienced prostitution firsthand.
PS, edit: I was banned from an autism group, days after this was published, when they saw this article. They did, however, not tell me what is wrong with it, beyond telling me that I “have my knife in for trans people” and I “say trans people are dangerous.” I asked for open discussion, and this is how the trans activists in the group responded.