Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Logic of Gender

The logic of gender is pretty obvious when you get to think about it.

Not that TERFs do much thinking (when sloganising and reacting is sooooo much less hard work). But I’ll elaborate my earlier thoughts here just for clarity.

The use of language as a communicational construct is largely a matter of signalling. That is to say, the meaning in any signalled message (be it verbal, bodily dress-wise, etc.) is in the intent of the sender rather than in the message itself. This is pretty much a given in communication science. Consequently, one can add that the meaning of any message is in its use, rather than some externally defined ‘absolute’. I know some will argue that dictionaries give a definition of a word’s meaning, but I would argue that all a dictionary does is reflect historic/cultural use of language. All dictionaries are out of date, since by the time they are compiled and in use the language has already ‘moved on’.

Hence if I use words such as ‘gender’, sex’, ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘woman’, ‘man’, (etc) I’m not signalling some Gods-given absolute of definition (since there isn’t one), but only the current state-of-play in the dialectical battle of meaning. This is a social function; we struggle over what we mean, and in doing so come to acceptable forms of usage. These are by no means ‘closed’ issues though. One need only to think of poetic use of language to realise that a word can mean many things depending on its context and assimilation within a cultural structure.

So what about our use of ‘gender’ and ‘sex’? Well, I know these are used interchangeably by many of us. I have no objection to this. But when it comes to the use of language about myself, I require of others a modicum of polite acceptance that if you want to get my attention and have a fair exchange of views then flexibility over acceptable terminology is necessary.

Just as it would be UNACCEPTABLE (and clearly so!) to use the terms ‘wog’, ‘darkie’, ‘chinky’ or such for people of other cultures, then it is unacceptable to call me a ‘man’ when I am clearly living in the female gender. To say that no one has a right not to be offended is disingenuous, since it is clearly the case that deliberate use of offensive language to describe other cultures is a feature of racism and bigotry. It would be a category error therefore to assume a different set of linguistic criteria apply to me. Yes, it is often wrong to offend, significantly when the offence is based on a personal attribute rather than something another has said or done.

For my part, Gender and Sex are two different things. Gender is the domain in which I live. Sex is my biology. These are related, but not deterministically so. If they were, then feminism as we know it would not be possible. A woman’s cultural and social (and hence economic!) world would be always determined purely by her biology. But it clearly is not. Our society has changed for the better because women have broken free (at least in part) from the traditional over-determination of their roles in society based upon their bodily construction.

Having said that, is it not also so with transgender people? Do our sexual organs ‘determine our being’? Is my existence simply a matter of the chromosomes I was dealt at birth? Pace any references to ‘the patriarchy’, I would deny that my genetics (or what is between my legs) is what makes my identity what it is.

It is the separation of the domain of identity from deterministic (i.e. essentialist) biology that give us all (no matter how we identify) the freedom we need to lead fulfilled lives. Hence, when I use terms such as ‘transwoman’, ‘woman’, ‘female’, etc. to describe myself I am not playing some weirdly mysterious game of infiltrating traditional female privacy. I know where I am not wanted. But I am using these terms within the context of discourse to describe my experience of the world, and how my relationships with others can be best explained. To do otherwise is to read too much into my speech and actions, and closet me once again in a neat box where I can be labeled, categorised, discarded, ignored… and persecuted.

Love me or hate me, I’m more than the sum of my parts (and especially the parts between my legs). If the radical feminists can’t hack it with me, then that’s their loss: they’ve forgotten the face of their mothers and are doing to others exactly what others did to them.

I rest my case m’lud.