Shortly after publishing “I Am Transgender“, I got several objections that looked something like this:
“The medical definition of ‘male’ is ‘an individual of the sex that produces spermatozoa (small gametes)’. Why is it necessary to change the scientific definition and usage of ‘male’ which refers to physiological characteristics?
“Being transgender means transitioning from one gender to another.You weren’t always female. Biologically speaking, if you produce sperm, you are still male. You’re a woman, but you are not female. ‘Woman’ is a social term, ‘gender’ is a social term, but female is a scientific term that refers to ‘an individual of the sex that produces ova (large gametes)” (paraphrased).
I will respond to this directly, but before continuing, please read “Sex Redefined” by Claire Ainsworth and reconsider my original argument.
Fact vs Theory
There is a difference between fact and theory (what that fact means). Yes, I was born with a penis. Yes, I most likely have XY chromosome pairs. And yes, I produced sperm. But does that make me ‘male’? That all depends on what you mean by ‘male’. Ainsworth concluded:
“Scientists and advocacy groups mostly agree on this, says Vilain: ‘It might be difficult for children to be raised in a gender that just does not exist out there.’ In most countries, it is legally impossible to be anything but male or female.
“Yet if biologists continue to show that sex is a spectrum, then society and state will have to grapple with the consequences, and work out where and how to draw the line. Many transgender and intersex activists dream of a world where a person’s sex or gender is irrelevant. Although some governments are moving in this direction, Greenberg is pessimistic about the prospects of realizing this dream — in the United States, at least. ‘I think to get rid of gender markers altogether or to allow a third, indeterminate marker, is going to be difficult.’
“So if the law requires that a person is male or female, should that sex be assigned by anatomy, hormones, cells or chromosomes, and what should be done if they clash? ‘My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter,’ says Vilain. In other words, if you want to know whether someone is male or female, it may be best just to ask” (Bolding added for emphasis).
In other words, using the capacity to produce spermatozoa or ova as the deciding criterion is probably not the best way to assign sex. Gender identity appears to be a more pragmatic deciding criterion in today’s world.
The theoretical framework one uses to do research and come to scientific conclusions is called a paradigm, and my paradigm is different from the mainstream scientific one. In other words, data don’t speak for themselves. We interpret data using a pre-existing theoretical framework. Schemata theory says the following:
“…[S]chemata represent knowledge about concepts: objects and the relationships they have with other objects, situations, events, sequences of events, actions, and sequences of actions.
“A simple example is to think of your schema for dog. Within that schema you most likely have knowledge about dogs in general…and probably information about specific dogs…Depending upon your personal experience, the knowledge of a dog as a pet (domesticated and loyal) or as an animal to fear (likely to bite or attack) may be a part of your schema…
“…Long before students come to school, they develop schemata (units of knowledge) about everything they experience. Schemata become theories about reality. These theories not only affect the way information is interpreted, thus affecting comprehension, but also continue to change as new information is received.”
Stated differently, we encounter information and we use our already existing schemata to do the work of observation, i.e., interpreting the information we experience. Thus, observations are theory laden.
Paradigms and What ‘Transgender’ Means
Competing paradigms, i.e., mine and the mainstream’s, cannot be decided by purely rational or empirical means. There are evaluative judgements we make that come from our personal preferences, feelings, beliefs and culture. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes philosophical debate around something called “The Underdetermination of Scientific Theory“. In short, problems surrounding the underdetermination of scientific theory have cropped up throughout the history of philosophy and science from Descartes’ skepticism to the work of Duhem and Quine. The theme remains the same: determining what we believe about the empirical world cannot be decided by purely rational reasons and evidence. Other things, such as our own biases, determine what we ultimately believe is true.
Being transgender does not necessarily mean transitioning from one gender to another. It can mean having a gender that differs from the one assigned to you at birth. Transition means changing one’s presentation with the intention of socially signaling one’s true gender and living authentically which involves living in a way that is congruent with one’s felt gender (or gender identity).
I was always female. I did not transition ‘from male to female’ (I really do not like ‘MTF’ terminology), and contemporary medical science doesn’t say what you think it says. In a future post I will write about what I believe it means to be a woman and defend the the thesis that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are synonymous.
Author’s note: If you think I am really knowledgeable regarding gender/queer theory, just imagine how much I know about exercise science since it was my primary field of study both during and after college. Send all inquiries to email@example.com