Guest post by Tigger the Wing, originally a comment on a Facebook thread, published with permission.
To me, it is whatever the person calling themselves a woman says it is, for them and them alone.
What society says a woman is, fits few (if any) real people.
We need to have this discussion, and we need to do it without attacking other people for perceived transgressions (or even trans aggressions. Ouch. Sorry).
Ophelia has been entirely honest – she acknowledges that if a person says she’s a woman, then she is a woman. And she also says we need to discuss what is meant by that word ‘woman’; not because of individual women, but because of how wider society treats people that find themselves in that artificial class of ‘womanhood’.
The biggest problem is that, apparently for simplicity’s sake, humanity has been divided into two categories in the English-speaking world – well, possibly the entire part of the world previously and/or currently dominated by the Mosaic religions – dominated and although the majority might appear happy to fit into one of those two, a sizeable minority don’t.
And our language, customs and laws ignore us.
When I was still hiding who I am from even myself, before I even knew that I am autistic, I yet still wished that children were born undifferentiated, and could choose which sex they wished to be on entering puberty. That way, I (perhaps naïvely) thought, everyone would be raised the same way since no parent or teacher would know if they were raising a future male or female child.
All the ridiculous add-on baggage that society attaches to apparent biological sex would vanish.
Since I knew that it was at best a sci-fi fantasy (I was wishful, not delusional) I fervently hoped (and still hope) that we would stop at least gendering children, since their biological sex is irrelevant before puberty, and also stop assigning greater value to masculinity and maleness than we do to femininity and femaleness.
We could have real conversations about how different levels of different hormones, in the womb and later, affect brain and body development. We could acknowledge that even those who are able to cram themselves into their assigned box, and appear comfortable, don’t always feel that they actually fit.
What if male, female, masculinity, femininity, were understood to be fluid, on a spectrum, and weren’t assigned intrinsic value but were just random facts of life, like eye colour?
We could allow people to express themselves without frowning on their efforts, or denying them their humanity, or doubting their self-assessment. People could acknowledge that sometimes a person is born with a body in one biological category, and a brain in another – and it doesn’t matter, they can do what they like with their own body, because it is them.
Sex-changes would be no more problematic than ear-piercing, or tattoos. And there wouldn’t be the pressure that there is today, in either direction, to conform to a particular set of behaviours.
The problem is that we use the same word – gender – and mean different things by it, and sometimes the meaning that one person is using and deconstructing isn’t the one another person is using, and a third person might think that either (or both) of them is being mean to the other.
Since I am transgender, I understand that my biological brain doesn’t match my biological body, and no amount of ignoring societal pressure to be feminine (something I’ve blithely done my entire life; thanks, autism) makes that fact any different.
But the question remains – what is a ‘woman’ (and so, by extension, what is a ‘man’).