Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Addendum: The language of love

There are women. Women are adult female human beings. Most are born anatomically and neurologically female. A relative few are born neurologically female but anatomically male—a congenital disorder—and so must take corrective steps in order to be as fully female as possible in body as they are in their brain. Once they have done so, they are simply women.

There are also trans women. And even transwomen. I can't explain about them because I don't really understand. That's no matter, however, because they are more than willing to explain about themselves. It's their quotidian reality, and they are rarely quiet about it.

I read on the one hand that there is nothing wrong with their bodies, just the way they are. And yet I also read that they have, somehow, always been female. Not just neurologically, apparently, but completely female. And thus their having been reared as male was a mistake. And yet there is nothing wrong with their bodies. And yet usually they take hormones. I find this confusing.

I admit that I'm a bit old fashioned. For me, words have meanings apart from how I might feel about them. Using words in standard ways allows us to communicate with one another. But some people feel words and their meanings are not something to respect but rather something to manipulate, even to destroy.

In his novel 1984, George Orwell posited something similar. The totalitarian government in the book has invented Newspeak, a sharply reduced form of the English language, which was known as Oldspeak. "Ministry of Truth" (meaning propaganda) is Newspeak. So is "war is peace." The idea behind Newspeak is that when you control language, you control thought. If you can't express a concept with language, how can you actually think it?

An important Newspeak word is doublethink, which means holding two contraditory thoughts in one's head at the same time. "Female penis" is not a phrase that occurred in 1984, but it certainly has an Orwellian ring to it.

Those who do not think of themselves simply as women spend a great deal of time and energy trying to explain the unexplainable. "Female penis" is only the tip of the iceberg. Some conflate sex and gender. Others denigrate sex and promote gender as being more important, saying that what's between your legs doesn't count. They are women by their own assertion. They are women because they claim to be.

Those who use Oldspeak, also known as English, are called "transphobic." A transphobe can, of course, be someone who fears or hates transsexual or transgender people. In the language of Newspeak, however, a transphobe is someone who does not accept the party line or the "new reality." A transphobe is someone who calls a spade a spade and refuses to bend or even break the language to accommodate the wishes of some people for black to be white and hate to be love.

I feel sorry for heterosexual men and lesbian women in the future. I never, ever condone violence, but really, it's going to get difficult. Someone is going to have to figure out how to ask, delicately, that all-important question: "Are you the kind of woman with a vagina or the kind with a penis?" Because really, lesbian women and straight men don't care about any "cotton ceiling." They're attracted to adult females with the parts they expect. And there's nothing wrong or bigoted or transphobic about that.

There are male-assigned-at-birth people who want to be seen as female. There are MAAB people who take hormones but retain their male sex organs, wholly or partially. There are MAAB people who don't like the gender roles people tend to expect from them. None of this bothers me. It's their lives.

What bothers me is when people try to pretend reality doesn't exist, that it can be changed by how we speak of it. What bothers me is the twisting of language until saying anything clearly becomes difficult. What bothers me is the assertion that your sex, excuse me, gender, is whatever you claim it to be, and that some governments go along with this. What bothers me is the unfounded assertion that certain rights are owed and that anyone who questions those so-called rights is benighted rather than simply talking sense.


Anonymous said...

Such sweet reason.

Thank You.

Zoe Brain said...

There's no such thing as a "male brain" or "female brain", though it's really convenient to talk about a brain whose anatomical structures are mostly conformant to a male stereotype as "male", even if bits are more female, and other bits in-between.

The brain is complex. While if one part is feminised, it's likely other parts will be too, it's not certain.

Gender Identity depends on the hypothalamus, the seat of emotional response and instinct. Usually if that's feminised, so is the Superior Parietal Lobule, the bit that controls body map - how you "know" you should have two atms, two legs, only one head etc.

Also whether you instinctively feel you should have an "innie" or an "outie", breasts, a smooth dry skin etc.

So it's possible to have a woman with a neutral or even masculinised SPL. If she has male genitalia, she's fine with it. Many Intersex women, with masculinised genitalia, even if the rest of the body is feminine, are OK with that.

So are some Trans women.

Other people don't match either a male or female norm when it comes to gender identity. It depends on their neuro-anatomy, and like all biology, that isn't strictly binary.

One person we studied had untreated male gender dysphoria (S7), took no hormones and kept his transsexual feelings under wraps. He appeared to have a large INAH3 volume - in the male range - but a female INAH3 number of neurons (68) and a female BSTc somatostatin neuron number (95). Hence, this individual's hypothalamic characteristics were mid-way between male and female values
-- Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation D.Swaab & A.Garcia-Fulgaras Functional Neurology, Jan-Mar 2009

Anonymous said...

That proves the person studied did not have nuerology typically expected of his biological sex, however it DOES NOT prove he was transsexual.

One person we studied had untreated male gender dysphoria (S7), took no hormones and kept his transsexual feelings under wraps.?.....

how exactly do we know WHAT his "gender identity" (as you put it) was?

he'd have had to be DEAD for them to do these studies NO?... and he didn't ever report his feelings, he kept them "under wraps"

as with all studies on TS'ism, it is the (poor) makeup of the sample group that influences the results into inaccuracy

Sagebrush said...

I never used the terms "male brain" or "female brain." I know well that there is very little difference between the brains of girls and boys at birth.

Yet most girls know they are girls, and most boys know they are boys. And for some, how they feel and how they are built do not match. As far as I know, no study has really determined why any of this is so. Yet somehow, most of us have a sex identity.

I'm not familiar enough with any exceptions to address that issue. Most people sense themselves to be either female or male -- innie or outie, as you put it.

Anonymous said...

All these efforts at self-justification. All these big words. All this "science" by those who have not a clue yet strive so hard to 'mansplain' it all to those of us who simply know, and live...that simple unqualified, unjustifed and intuitively obvious reality.


Brenda Fernández said...

Sorry that I won't comment on the whole article, but on a particular sentence that caught my attention.

You say
"I feel sorry for heterosexual men and lesbian women in the future. I never, ever condone violence, but really, it's going to get difficult. Someone is going to have to figure out how to ask, delicately, that all-important question: "Lesbian women and heterosexual males [...] They're attracted to adult females with the parts they expect. And there's nothing wrong or bigoted or transphobic about that."

I wouldn't be so sure that people are attracted to the persons "with the parts they expect". For many (most?) it does seem to be the case, but there are numerous cases of, for instance, lesbian couples where one of them is trans and hasn't had her male parts surgically modified. And they both consider themselves lesbians. I imagine that the same happens with some gay couples where one of them is trans and pre-op/non-op, although I don't know any.

As for me, I'm attracted to people, not to a certain genital configuration. When I like someone, I couldn't care less what their private parts look like. But then again, I'm bisexual, so maybe I don't count.

Sagebrush said...


There are always exceptions, but you yourself wrote that "many (most?)" want to find the parts they expect. And I do think it's "most." For most heterosexual women, a man without a penis would be a deal breaker. Same for most men and a woman *with* a penis (and no vagina).

I like all kinds of people, but when we're talking about sexual attraction and the possibility of having sex, we're generally talking about physical attributes, even if that's not all that involved.

Brenda Fernández said...

Hi Sagebrush!

Thanks for your reply!
Yes, I do agree that most people are attracted to a person provided they have a certain genital configuration, and not regardless of that... I probably didn't word it correctly in my previous comment.
That's not the case with every heterosexual male or lesbian woman, thankfully, as a few of them still consider themselves heterosexual men/lesbians if they are sexually or romantically involved with a woman who (still) has male genitalia.

I understand what you say that for most people it's important to know what the genitals of their partners look like. I have a bit of a hard time understanding that, but maybe that's only because I'm bisexual and really don't mind what a person's intimate parts look like; to me the genitals are hot regardless of their form if the rest of the person is attractive. (But I understand that for the majority of people it doesn't work like that!)

And, yes, it is complicated to be in the situation of having to ask a person what kind of parts they have. However, that should be no reason not to accept the validity of those people's gender identity. If one identifies as female, there's no reason to deny them that, even if you find inconceivable that someone might be female and non-op. You even suggest that governments shouldn't really recognize them a female if they (still or forever) have male genitalia. In my eyes that's profoundly fucked up.

If some people are comfortable with their genitals even though those very genitals don't match their gender identity, then who are we to judge or to invalidate that very identity or to mock the idea that they have "a female penis", just because it's not our case. I think that's as bigoted and self-centered as cis people claiming (pos-op) transsexuals can't claim the identity of women, because they are fundamentally different for some reason (like being born with a penis).

When your identity as a woman is considered invalid by so many people, it's striking that you then go on to consider invalid the female identity of non-op people and mock their "female penises". We're all in the same boat, whether we hate our born-with genitals or have accepted them as part of our female self.

Sagebrush said...


I haven't taken a survey of bisexual people, but my guess is that most of them expect a penis on a man and a vagina on a woman. I think someone like you might be considered polysexual or omnisexual. And that's fine.

It's true that "identify as" doesn't get much credence in this blog. But I'm not mocking the idea of "female penis." I just don't think it has real meaning.

"Identifying as" seems to me to be like "wishing and hoping." Most women born transsexual have probably prayed for a miracle at some point in their lives. And then they realize that the "miracle" requires hormone therapy and a surgical procedure. If they know they should have been born female, they do what they must to make that miracle happen.

It seems to me that "identifying as" is a step toward the goal. Identifying as female doesn't change a person's anatomy. But it might signal to the person that they should take further steps until the problem is fixed.

There are people who stop at the "identify as" stage. They seem to think that gender (appearance, behavior) is the same as sex (anatomical configuration). And if they're happy that way, I have no objection.

I'm respectful of people's beliefs, but that doesn't mean I subscribe to them. Wishes won't make someone male-assigned-at-birth female. I can't deny my own perception of reality just because there are people who think I am my birth sex forever.

Brenda Fernández said...

@Sagebrush: Ok, yes, probably those terms for my sexuality would be more technically correct. I just stick to calling myself bisexual because most people do have more or less an idea of what that means, whereas poly/onmisexual aren't common terms and I think they sound like "I'd fuck anything that moves". ;)

I see many people (at least in the blogosphere) decrying the "identify as" thing as a mere expression of wish or longing, something mutually exclusive with actually being that what one identifies as. To me, all people no matter if they are cis- or transsexual identify as something, which doesn't mean that they are something else and just wish to be that. For that matter I also identify as a human, and so far nobody has called that into question or accused me of just "wishing to be or become" one.

I do wonder, however, how it would work if we extended that reasoning to other things. For instance if I identify as a lawyer, as an Argentine, as a cat person, etc. Does that mean that I can't possibly be any of those things? I doubt it.

These days it's generally understood that we all have a gender identity, no matter if one is cissexual or transsexual or whatever. So we all identify as something. One can identify as a woman and be a woman.

Sagebrush said...


Thank you for all of your thoughtful comments.

If someone wants to be a lawyer, they graduate from law school and pass a bar exam. If someone wants to be Argentine, they are either born there or migrate there and become a citizen. If someone wants to be a cat person, they get a cat!

If someone identifies as a lawyer but doesn't have credentials, I think that's called fraud.