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.