Friday, April 25, 2014

Transgenderism

I want to write a little about transgenderism. Fun Friday, I know, right? I don't think this will be a long post. I'm not sure. I think transgenderism is sort of a tricky issue in some ways, and I don't mean to address all the issues that stem from transgenderism here. Specifically, I have no intention of addressing the moral ramifications of transgenderism. I just want to address the claim that a transgender person might make when he says "I feel like a woman" or more specifically "I have a female brain; I am a woman."

There is a lot of criticism of people who focus on genitalia in defining sex or gender. They're often criticized for being reductionists who are ignoring the whole rest of what makes a person what a person is. These people instead focus a great deal of attention on the brain and cite studies showing that transgender brains are different, that a transgender man has the brain of a female, etc. It's usually put like this: if a person has a penis but has a brain identical to a female brain, why do we favor the penis in deciding that the person is male? Why favor one over the other?

There's something that has always bugged me about this. And I don't want to even get into Thomistic metaphysics (directly) or anything like that. It's the premise of the question. It's question-begging. It's assuming exactly what it's trying to prove and disprove at the same time. What I mean, I think, is obvious. Specifically, what is a "female brain"? The concept cannot make sense without a standard outside of the brain itself. Otherwise, how could you tell a male brain from a female one? Why not call a male brain female and vice versa? Why call one female and one male at all?

When a man says he has a female brain, all he is really saying is that he has a brain similar to someone who has a vagina. In which case, he's defining sex through genital makeup, exactly what he was trying to disprovev as valid. I can't think of what else the statement could possibly mean. There are no other characteristics outside of genitalia that are inherently female or male, that are tied directly to sex---which is really just an extension of sexual reproduction. If reproduction weren't done how it's done, there probably wouldn't be sexes in any relevant sense. 

I think this is a complex issue in different ways, but this has always bothered me. Because people are so convinced by it. "See, he has a female brain!" and everyone has to pause and reevaluate everything. I see it all over the place, even in Catholic circles. And I don't even deny it. It's probably true that transgender people have brains more similar to people of the opposite sex! In fact, I'm almost certain that it's true that their brains are different. But I can only accept the claim that a transgender man has a female brain if I first recognize that a female is a human being with a vagina and a female brain is the brain a person with a vagina usually has. This is why going from "He has a female brain" to "He is a female" should clearly be problematic for people. And it never seems to be.

8 comments:

  1. I don't think it's true at all. A "female brain" is a brain that belongs to a female - and calling a brain a "female brain" to prove that the brain is female is, as you said, pure question-begging.

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  2. I admit this is a complicated issue that rarely gets discussed much by people. The one thing I repeatedly encounter on this (and LGBT subjects generally) is 'Well they're happier now!' or 'This will make them happy!' and that seems to really be the end of it for a lot of people. But the deeper questions are pretty interesting.

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  3. I sometimes make an analogy with race to see if this whole "but my brain is x!" idea makes sense. Suppose that we discovered that the brains of Africans (or, say, African-Americans) are different than those of Caucasians. Would it make sense, then, for a pasty white guy to claim "Oh, I'm 'transracial' because my brain is like that of an African [or African-American]"? Should he be allowed to fill out "African-American" on government forms because, you know, TOLERANCE!!1! and because we wouldn't want to, you know, "hurt his feelings"? It seems not to me. It seems to me that no matter how much one might feel like something they are not (e.g. a woman, an African-American, etc.), the fact of the matter is that they are not that.

    "Transgendered" individuals seem to want to defeat this banality by screaming it down with emotional quips. A man who mutilates his body by injecting himself with strange hormones, growing his hair out, and perhaps even removing his genitals is still a man after all, albeit a terribly mutilated one. That he "feels" like a woman is as irrelevant as my "feeling" like a horse, or "feeling" that I am the King of the Austria.

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  4. Also: How does somebody know if their brain is "female" or "male"? Truthfully, I have no idea if my brain is "male". I know my brain is my brain, and I'm male. I can call my brain male by connecting the dots, but if I didn't know I was male for other reasons then my brain would just be a brain that thought in a certain way.

    It comes down to denying that words have meaning. Yes, if we change what male means to "if I identify as a male", then okay, people who identify as males are male. But that's not what the word means, no matter how long liberals stamp their feet and yell "But it does meant that! It does! It DOES! IT DOES!!!!"

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  5. Joe,

    Have you seen this movie, The Third Way, http://vimeo.com/93079367, your thoughts?

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    1. Actually, I was tempted to ask Joe about this as well. I recall he mentioned watching movies with a "gay" theme before, and I'd love to know what he thinks of this one.

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  6. If you ever go into this topic further, I'd appreciate it if you look into the blog posts below. Thanks!

    1) Anna Magdalena's The Catholic Transgender
    - "Debunking Myth #11: Sex and Gender are Straightforward"
    https://catholictrans.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/debunking-myth-11-sex-and-gender-are-straightforward/

    -"[T*CT Part 1] Aristotle’s Four Causes For Transgenderism"
    https://catholictrans.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/aristotles-four-causes-for-transgenderism/

    2) James Chastek's Just Thomism
    -"Sexism and the order of the sexes in St. Thomas"
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2007/10/25/sexism-and-the-order-of-the-sexes-in-st-thomas/

    3) Rob Vischer's Mirror of Justice "What is the Catholic perspective on a transgendered person's right to marry?"
    http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2011/04/what-is-the-catholic-perspective-on-a-transgendered-persons-right-to-marry.html

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  7. alphazulu99 permalink
    Please Note: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Fellow Christians, I have just received a revelation from our Lord!!!!

    As best I could decipher, Elvis is dead, Jesus was gay, and the U.S. sucks donkey dicks when it comes to soccer!

    If I receive further messages from our Lord I will promptly pass them along.

    Assuming that I am not masturbating to my favorite Sarah Palin picture.

    Or the Virgin Mary

    . ('Virgin'!?....., yeah, right!!)

    Blessings in the name of Jeeezuus!!!!

    Reply

    ReplyDelete