The question is simple, but in this charged political environment you should brace for 3,000 words of qualification and background. This sort of thing can be a lightning rod for terrible people.
With respect to trans rights, there is an element to it that I do not understand. This is not meant to imply that it’s not there to be understood, just the upfront admission that I do not understand it. At all. Why I can offer are my thoughts surrounding it not as “devil’s advocate” or as a counterpoint, but as the context so that, hopefully, in addition to helping me with an answer we might identify where my thinking about the matter breaks down.
Sex, gender, and sexual orientation are three distinct yet closely related concepts.
Sex is a biological term relating to the reproductive functions of a species. It has two broad categories, male and female, but the actual distribution of a species falls along a spectrum rather than into two buckets. Biology is not as simple as XX or XY in all cases.
Gender is the socio-cultural component of sex. This is the element where this piece focuses. In the reductive sense, a man is an adult male and a woman is an adult female. As the term is socio-cultural though, that association exists because society has expectations of the sexes. Those expectations bleed over into the gender expectations.
The question is going to relate to this matter of expectations.
Sexual orientation is so complex that I’m not going to get into it at all. I’ve seen definitions relating to both sex and gender, and there are so many other variables that it’s beyond the scope. Suffice to say, it’s a definition regarding who is attracted to who.
So, the question.
With gender as a socio-cultural characteristic, my confusion is how being trans relates to gender equality/feminist arguments against gender expectations.
Or, what distinguishes being trans from being cis and identifying with the socio-cultural gender expectations of something other than the gender one was assigned?
That is, say one is born male and identified as a man, but that person is trans and presents as a woman. Ultimately, I’m not clear on what that really means. In this socio-cultural context, or any, what does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a man?
In a broader gender equality discussion, the emphasis is always on eliminating gendered expectations regarding behaviours, beliefs, and such.
“It’s not manly to cry,” “Man up,” and so forth are expressions of toxic masculinity that one wishes to eliminate from society. Men can cry and be vulnerable – this idea that it’s weak (e.g. feminine) and somehow diminishes masculinity is a problem.
Obviously being masculine is not a matter of wearing masculine clothes and doing masculine things any more than an actor wearing a costume and affecting an accent is another person. Being trans is a question of personal identity and runs much deeper than that.
Alternately, as a cishet male, I identify as a man solely on the grounds that I am male. It’s almost an apathetic matter. My wife (as well as probably others) feels I have more of a feminine energy – and even that I’m not quite sure what it means beyond traditional gender expectations – but I’ve always stuck with “man” and he/him pronouns because that’s just what it was and nothing felt off about it. Why not?
When I empathise, I try to imagine being in my situation but feeling innately that I am a woman. That’s where I struggle – again, not with the reality of it. The fact that I cannot get into that mental space does not mean that mental space does not exist.
From a mental health perspective, I can empathise. I’ve gone through a version of this exercise for years trying to explain to neurotypical people what living with anxiety and a personality disorder is like. They ask well-meaning questions (like the one in this piece), but the questions also bely their ignorance about the subject.
If anyone wants to take a shot at explaining or can point me to good resources I would appreciate it. The topic is too highly charged right now, there’s too much misinformation, and I don’t think I can interpret the actual medical pieces on the topic well enough to understand things for me to trust digging into it on my own.