Material Girls: A Conversation with Kathleen Stock

by Daniel A. Kaufman


Kathleen Stock (Sussex) and I discuss Kathleen’s new book, “Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism.” Among other things, we talk the implications of switching our focus from Sex to Gender Identity, why Sex remains essential, and the impact of gender identity politics on the gay and lesbian community.

4:02 – The current state of affairs, vis a vis sex and gender. Focus is on the UK. 9:23 – On Material Girls’ overall aim. 13:52 – The dramatic, recent increase in young people identifying as trans. 20:14 – How we got here. Second Wave Feminism and Queer Theory. 32:03 – Why Sex matters. Medicine. Athletics. 41:59 – We discuss several different conceptions of gender identity. 58:26 – A philosophical analysis of gender concepts. 1:04:05 – Sex and Natural Kinds 1:10:07 – Gay and Lesbian concerns.


33 responses to “Material Girls: A Conversation with Kathleen Stock”

  1. s. wallerstein

    Thanks. A very enlightening dialogue!

    I hope that you can talk to Kathleen Stock more in the future.

  2. Pavo Drovenge

    Wonderful conversation! I appreciate this a great deal because it’s been so hard to find accurate interpretations of what Dr. Stock has said. I didn’t find any of the opinions she expressed in this talk remotely as controversial as social media makes her out to be. I’m open to there being more wiggle-room in interpretations of biological sex than she expresses in this video but I’m also no geneticist or endocrinologist so I’m totally unprepared to challenge that in any meaningful way.

    Just bought her book on Kindle and plan on reading it when I get the time this week. Also, I second Wallerstein’s hope to see her on here again. Thanks to you both!

  3. Azin

    Dan, you really stopped me dead in my tracks when you said you couldn’t think of how you would explain the feeling of being a male. I stopped because I realized I couldn’t either, which I thought to be very strange since one takes such things for granted. I thought about this and figured the best approach to this question and others of gender is to go to the most uncontaminated source of gender role differentiation i.e., young children, and observe their behavior. We are all familiar with these observations between young boys and girls. So, I think the most advantageous way of tackling the problem is in the differences along the spectrum of average behavior, how we act and think in certain circumstances and, not how we might perceive ourselves as being male or female. I might intellectualize how I may feel or think differently than a female, on the average, but you are correct that I couldn’t really express a subjective difference. My wife is more emotional and nurturing, I’m more practical minded and objective, sort of gender division of labor typical. But that doesn’t relate to how I “feel” that I’m male. I’m just me.

    But of course, by my reckoning, one only has to appreciate the marked sexual differences in the male and female form and anatomy to ascertain that they evolved for the different biological roles of egg and sperm creation and other necessities of Darwinian fitness. The imperatives of these different roles must also assume concomitant differences in evolved behaviors, no matter how subtle, which of course, with the vulnerability of pregnancy and nursing, could and obviously did lead to the cascading of past and current cultural and social ideas of gender differences, which can accentuate these differences and be used for control, dominance and dogma in different social settings.

  4. When I was younger I felt like I was a man trapped in a woman’s body. But that all stopped once I was born.

  5. Azin

    Man, I just spent 40 minutes writing a detailed response to you excellent exposition and went to copy the YouTube clip and when I came back to paste it at the end of my work, it was gone, gone, gone. That and the inability to edit really sucks.

    So to condense a page of thought into a few sentences: I agree that social cues between the societal construct of male and female gender roles effects how someone of the opposite sex may feel compelled to express themselves, which can be problematic in public spaces. There are differences between the male and female mind which may in good measure be responsible for who and how we feel we are which can lead to how we feel compelled to express ourselves in the gender roles of our culture. But, whatever it is in the chemical and structural nature of the brain that “assigns” maleness or femaleness, may through the vagaries of prenatal development wind up in the “wrong” XX or XY container. So, if a man says he knows he is a woman, who are we to argue with his brain or his desire to act out the part society has bestowed on the role of gender?

    I should mention a thought experiment I once read about. If a male child who would otherwise grow up in our present culture and was destined to be a transwoman was instead raised and nurtured in a cis male only society with no mention of the existence of a female reality or the associated feminine affectations, how would he express his feelings. We know he wouldn’t have the idea to put on heels or lipstick. Would he just feel that he was a different sort of man, but a man still the same? That is a question that might answer the need to act and appear as a woman but it doesn’t address that his brain in an important sense is feminine and not a clinical understanding of what gender dysphoria.

  6. “So, if a man says he knows he is a woman, who are we to argue with his brain” – exactly what does his vagina feel like to him? How would his brain know what it feels like to have a vagina?

    From my essay

    “But transsexuals aren’t simply expressing the feeling that their genitals-of-birth are somehow inappropriate. They are claiming that the genitals of the opposite sex are specifically appropriate to them. This is where things falls apart. How could they possibly know that? Genitals are not just attractive things dangling in theoretical space; they are rich and complex and possessed of a host of sensations and physiological responses. And one must know these sensations and responses – not simply imagine them – in order to claim the right of possession. A woman claims she should have a penis instead of her vagina. Which penis? the blood-engorged erect penis in copulation? The shriveled penis, in the chilling wind? The irritated penis, feeling pressure from the bladder to urinate? The one accidentally caught in a hastily closed zipper?”

    I consider this definitive. I have no tolerance for Neoplatonic faith in some ‘inner self’ that knows itself better than any actual experience.

    Tell him to diddle his clitoris, that’ll get him off.

    Oh, wait….

  7. When I reached my teens, I started to feel like a man trapped outside a woman’s body.

  8. Azin

    So the essence of a woman, that which makes her, a her , a mind and personality different from a man is her vagina? Well then, all we have to do is master the art of the transplant and viola. I like to think that what I’m attracted to and love in my wife won’t somehow vanish with a hysterectomy.
    Is that what the differences between the sexes are to you, genitalia? Is a fully castrated man no longer a man in your eyes? He certainly wouldn’t be a woman.

    An XX female born without a vagina isn’t a woman even though she has the genes and hormones that otherwise formed her brain like any other women’s. I mean who is running the show here fella, your penis or your brain? [Yeah, I know what women think about that]

    Surely you know the scientific studies of young boys surgically sexually reassigned at birth and raised as girls, who always felt something was not kosher and upon learning the truth transitioned back. The brain runs the show and how it is configured and functions tells the person what they feel they are. Some woman says she feels like she is and ought to be a man, who the hell are you to say that’s a crime against god and nature? If you know the answer to what bequeaths sexual attraction or gender self identification than present your findings and collect your Nobel.

    Maybe the trans phenomenon is a mental disorder and not an innate expression of a male brain configured to think its female and visa versa. I’m only suggesting the possibility that it isn’t anymore a far fetched notion than why some men find other men sexually attractive. It’s not the economy stupid, its the brain. (Not calling you stupid) just making a wry emphasis. Whether a gender dysphoric condition or that part of the brain that tells you what you should be, makes little difference as far as respecting a persons right of expression. And again, I’m not saying this doesn’t represent societal problems that require sensitivity, understanding and compromise from both sides.

    And I sir, have even less faith in someone who claims to know someone else’s inner self better than they do. I think the world has had enough of that type of demeaning patronizing and dangerous assumption.

  9. These days I feel more like a man trapped in a woman’s marriage.

  10. Peter Smith

    And I sir, have even less faith in someone who claims to know someone else’s inner self better than they do

    There are a great many personality disorders where a person’s account of his inner self is manifestly wrong, distorted or faulty in some way. It can take some skill to penetrate the account and uncover the mistaken inner perceptions.

    makes little difference as far as respecting a persons right of expression.
    I am happy to respect other people’s right of expression but resist their attempts to use that right to corral my own right of self expression.

    If someone insists he-she-it-they-whatever is-are-should-be quintisexual I may indulge in an inner smile of amusement but leave it at that. But I certainly refuse to address him as he-she-it-they-whatever.

    I happen to think that worthwhile identity is established by dint of hard work that contributes something important or useful to society. Nobody gives damn about Einstein’s genitalia. His identity is firmly determined by his achievements.

    Claiming an identity is the cheap excuse for retreating from the challenge of creating a useful identity. And useful identities have nothing to do with genitalia.

  11. Hi Azin,

    Thanks for your comments, first of all. Second, I’m certainly willing to believe that there is a module (for lack of a better word) in our brain that is responsible for our sense of gender identity. But I tend to be more of a biological essentialist when it comes to male/female sex differences than most people here, I think. Anyway, let”s say that there is such a module, and when it comes to trans people that at least some of them have a module where their sense of gender identity is at odds with the rest of their bodies (for lack of a better way of putting it). What do you think follows from that? E.g., if I am male-bodied but have a gender identity module that says I’m female, then am I therefore a woman? I mean, I suppose *I’ll* think I am (though I might not!). But what is the argument for making the sense of gender identity fully dispositive? it seems to me that one could just as easily say I’m male (because I’m male-bodied) or intersex (because I’m male-bodied by have a female gender identity). How do we figure out which of these determinations should win out? I have no idea, personally. I’m not a scholar of this literature.

    As for your last line: “I sir, have even less faith in someone who claims to know someone else’s inner self better than they do. I think the world has had enough of that type of demeaning patronizing and dangerous assumption.” I actually disagree with this! I realize, that sounds insane. But hear me out! There’s a lot of literature in psychology according to which people can be self-deceived. They can have cognitive biases, they can have personality quirks or even disorders that blinds them to certain aspects of themselves. And sometimes, others can have better access to the truth about those people than they do. I’m not saying others *always* have more insight into you than you do, but I am saying that *sometimes* they do.

  12. I don’t think there are “inner selves” as distinct from mere selves. And I also can’t agree re: self knowledge. I think it is often if not mostly the case that others see you more clearly than you see yourself.

  13. “Some woman says she feels like she is and ought to be a man, who the hell are you to say that’s a crime against god and nature?”

    It’s not about crimes against nature etc., it’s about the rights claimed by people who say or feel that they’re trans. These claimed rights conflict sometimes with other people’s rights. Kathleen Stock and others give very convincing arguments that incantations like TWAW (“trans women are women”) do not provide a satisfactory solution to these conflicts.

  14. Azin

    “It can take some skill to penetrate the account and uncover the mistaken inner perceptions.”

    Assuredly there is that and I’m also sure that is pretty much how it was explained to Alan Turing sometime before he ingested cyanide. We need to tread very carefully in such matters and I have no problem that psychiatric counseling be mandatory before one goes under the knife.

    “I am happy to respect other people’s right of expression but resist their attempts to use that right to corral my own right of self expression.”

    That goes without saying and shouldn’t cast a cloud of accusation on those that just want to go about their business as trans. I’m no fan of woke extremism and purity witch hunts.

    I also have a problem with the myriad of pronouns especially the ones that corrupt normal language and understanding, such as that infernal “they”. As to the rest of your comment, hear, hear!

  15. s. wallerstein

    Why can’t we operate with 4 (or more) categories: biological men who identify as men, biological women who identify as women, transwomen and transmen? We can even imagine other categories.

  16. Azin

    Thank you. It’s a real honor for a laymen as myself to be acknowledged by an intellectual and a professor such as yourself. Dan has such great guests and friends who are approachable and accessible.

    As to the “inner perception of self” you can read my response to Peter Smith above. I think we can all agree in retrospect hat the canary in the coal mine of such undertakings was the treatment of homosexuals. Think of the untold misery, those who knew better than the patient, perpetuated on sons, fathers and mothers. It brings tears to my eyes.

    I’m very open minded on this issue as you obviously are, and asking questions. I agree, as you may have read in my response to Dan,; (the thought experiment I laid out), that one can have the feelings of being a woman without necessarily feeling compelled to change anything other than one’s behavior and forswear any hormonal or reassignment surgery. A Quentin Crisp type comes to mind. But, I suppose that opens a whole new can of worms about effeminate homosexuals. Egads!

    I do think though, that if one truly feels to be a a woman and is literally aghast at one’s reflection in the mirror, a reflection that at every glimpse defies the inner reality of your expectations, I can empathize with the desire to make things “right”. Imagine being Caitlyn Jenner and having to answer – “Hey, Cait, how’s it hanging?” It seems anecdotally, that if you identify as a woman you want all the perks attainable, from behavior to anatomy.

    The $60,000.00 dollar question, as the isolation booth steams up, are these transwoman, woman? I guess it depends on one’s definition and you, as do I, think, a vagina does not a woman make, beyond the realm of biology,

  17. Peter Smith

    I don’t think there are “inner selves” as distinct from mere selves.

    I agree with your statement in this context. There is only one ‘self’ in the mind of the individual. All that varies is the degree to which the individual practises self-disclosure. With increasing intimacy we practise more self-disclosure but even so there is an inner core the individual never or seldom discloses to others. But this is not an ‘inner self’ that is somehow qualitatively different. It is simply that part of the ‘mere self’ that we choose not to disclose to others, for whatever reason.

  18. Pavo Drovenge

    “Anyway, let”s say that there is such a module, and when it comes to trans people that at least some of them have a module where their sense of gender identity is at odds with the rest of their bodies (for lack of a better way of putting it). What do you think follows from that? E.g., if I am male-bodied but have a gender identity module that says I’m female, then am I therefore a woman? I mean, I suppose *I’ll* think I am (though I might not!). But what is the argument for making the sense of gender identity fully dispositive? it seems to me that one could just as easily say I’m male (because I’m male-bodied) or intersex (because I’m male-bodied by have a female gender identity). How do we figure out which of these determinations should win out? I have no idea, personally. I’m not a scholar of this literature.”

    I think this is one of the most reasonable things I’ve read about this entire topic. I suspect we’re currently in a wait-and-see space. When it comes to neuroscience and genetics we’ve just recently got around to building ships capable of exploring those oceans. Who knows what they’ll find? Not me. Seems to me like the primary task of philosophy isn’t to provide explanations to the trans phenomenon but to help make sense of how to behave in light of its existence (especially in addressing thorny social problems where our desire to be just and compassionate may conflict with our desire to, say, keep women’s sports reserved for those who don’t have bodies built by testosterone). Though I’m not a philosopher so I don’t want to step on any toes or pull a Neil deGrasse Tyson over here.

  19. I don’t know what an “inner self” is supposed to be, but as far as I understand, it’s about truths only you can see. Although you’re biologically a male, the truth about your inner self is that you’re a woman. Nobody can see it, but that’s the truth about your inner self.

    But this doesn’t work. A description of this inner self necessarily needs concepts and words *you don’t own*. Your inner self is that of a “caring person”, but you don’t get to decide what “caring” means. The meaning of caring is communal property. In other words: when you use these concepts, you’re always looking at yourself through the eyes of others. There is no such thing as an inner self only you can see, because you’re always looking through the eyes of others, if you wish it or not.

  20. I would go with 7 billion categories — each person as their own self.

    To me, it seems strange that people who claim to be non-binary are arguing about whether to use “he” or “she”. They could just use their own name, and avoid the binary choice between “he” and “she”.

  21. Azin

    I was being purposely hyperbolic. I agree with you that claiming a right that conflicts with the rights of others requires sensitivity and compromise. But first there has to at least be an agreement that trans is a valid human condition deserving of legitimization and further consideration. The phenomenon is uniquely problematic because of the male, female dynamic.

  22. Marc Levesque

    Enjoyed the interview with Kathleen Stock,

    I found the conversation very interesting and I liked how careful she was about how she expressed things (and also Dan’s openness and re-framing of questions).

    I agree with her that not only females, as the word is commonly used, can feel like a woman, that seems obvious to me too. But I don’t think in that context it makes sense, or maybe is very helpful are better words, to frame usage of the word woman as either fictional or real. I haven’t seen convincing arguments to that effect and social and biological reality seem to me much more complex than that. I agree with most everything else she says.

    I also agree there are some very real and serious concerns, like with safety and spaces and some of the stuff I’ve read about reassignment, specifically at young ages, seem particularly insane.

    I think solutions depend a lot on developing appropriate policies and having a respectful and civil environment to do so.

  23. I address some of your concerns in the essay I linked to.

    I said nothing about “crimes against nature,” and have no interest in such. Humans are a certain species of animal life, and are of nature necessarily.

    I think trying to keep genitalia out of these discussions is absurd. All animals have them; and once genitalia enters the discussion, what we do with them is necessarily allowable. Whoever we are will have something to do with how we accommodate our body as we are born with it (even should we use surgical means to alter that), and what we do with it in our interactions with others.

    I find your insistence that the “brain” determines everything here vapid and confused. One cannot get to an “inner self” through the brain, since the brain is simply a reactive organ; the self is a construct.

    I personally don’t have an interest in any “inner selves;” they’re always so dull. I got rid of mine when I was 17. My friends were much relieved, we held a party. Everybody drank too much, then we all went out and puked in the front yard.

  24. Hi Azin,

    I can’t reply to you directly, on account of the software, but … jeez. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t feel like you should feel honored because I replied to you. Thanks for the compliment, nonetheless. I’m guessing that a lot of credentialed scholars try to make you (or perhaps, people more generally) feel like your interacting with them is a great imposition on them or something?

    As for “making things right”, there seems to me a number of ways that could happen.

    First, everyone could try to convince you that there’s something wrong with you, and you could try to accept that there’s something wrong with you. On this view, no one, not even you, thinks you are the gender the identify with, though when it comes to you, your disbelief in your gender identity is probably half-hearted at most. And also, this could lead to pretty severe mental health problems, if not suicide. (I haven’t studied the literature, but this is what I’ve heard.)

    Second, you could try to convince everyone that there’s something wrong with them. Insofar as they don’t acknowledge you as you think you are, they are making a mistake, one they need to be corrected on. This could go to two places. The first place is that you expect everyone to think whatever they want, but to treat you publicly as though you are what you say you are. This would mean them calling you the name you prefer, and using the pronouns you prefer, at least.
    The second place you could expect people to land is not only to treat you publicly how you want, but to think of you you privately how you want. This would mean not only calling you your preferred name and using your preferred pronouns, but also conceptualizing you as you want to be conceptualized. On this view, people should feel guilt, or at least like they are missing something, if they don’t think of you as you think of you. This also involves a fair bit of revision of our categories. (E.g., if you are a lesbian, then if you don’t consider transwomen as possible partners for sexual attraction, then you’re being unjustifiably discriminatory, and deserve social sanction.)

    The first place to land doesn’t seem to me to impose much of an imposition on others. If it’s clear that your use of a pronoun doesn’t commit you to a whole conceptual scheme, then it’s basically a matter of politeness.
    The second place to land does seem to impose a pretty significant burden on a whole range of people. First, it’s hard for everyone to revise a fairly fundamental part of your conceptual scheme. Maybe some people can’t even do it. This doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done on a social level — think of the conceptual revisions around women and non-whites as full equals in our society –, but it does meant that it’s difficult and time-consuming.
    Second, some people are especially burdened, e.g., people who don’t find themselves (or perhaps: don’t allow themselves) to be attracted to transpeople, not to mention parents who have to decide what to tell their children about how to think of transpeople, but who don’t agree with this conceptual revision. Now of course, it could be that these burdens are slight compared to the burdens of transpeople, and it could be that, even if they’re not, they are outweighed by the burden that transpeople face.

    But maybe there’s a third way. The third way would just be that transpeople are, often or always, intersex people (this is, I think, what s. wallerstein recommends below). I can see why some people wouldn’t be satisfied by this (if you’re a transperson, you might think that’s incredibly insulting, not to mention erasing of your humanity–you think of yourself in one way, and arguably you have the most authority over who you are. On the other hand, if you’re skeptical of the whole trans activism project, then you think this is a way of indulging a fiction). But I would bet that this is a compromise that a lot of people, trans and cis, perhaps even a majority of both groups, could live with.

    Again, though, I am no scholar of this field. I am just a person who reads articles in the popular press, listens to podcasts, and has read a few journal articles here and there. So, no need to be honored by my contributions. I’m just stumbling in the dark here.

  25. iffish

    Azin asks: “So the essence of a woman, that which makes her, a her , a mind and personality different from a man is her vagina?”

    And the blunt answer is, in a way, yes. There is no coherent definition of woman (or girl) that does not refer back to the biology of human femaleness (in whole or majority part). (The word man is slightly more problematic as there is a long male chauvinist tradition of using man as a synecdoche for all humans, as in ‘mankind’.) But woman and man are nouns and nouns refer to a defined something, their primary meaning is a categorical one. Adult human males and adult human females exist as categories, are empirically observable in the world. Humans, finding it useful to refer to those categories, evolved words for them. So if we are using the word woman in its primary categorical sense it is impossible to include someone male without rendering the meaning incoherent, in the same way as including an adult female cat in the meaning would also render it incoherent. You can of course apply the word woman in both cases in a metaphoric or adjectival sense – you could call an anthropomorphised cat figure a woman or refer to a man as womanly etc. but you are always referring back to qualities of the primary category ie. adult human femaleness.

    Feminists and others often ask trans activists to provide a definition for ‘woman’ and the answers are usually incoherent, with circular definitions, or they refuse to give an answer. But a better question would be to ask this: ‘There are some 3.5 to 4 billion people on this planet that in English we name as women or girls. What is it that they all have in common?’ There is only one coherent answer – that they possess the biology of human femaleness (in whole or majority part).

  26. Azin

    Genitalia are of course relevant in the biological sense. I’m not trying to keep them out of the discussion or allow them in inappropriate spaces, (that’s a discussion for another time.) Yeah, all animals have them but I’ve yet to meet a trans bitch or silver back or anything else on the phylogeneitc tree besides a human with the cognitive capacity to be so effected and affected.

    It would probably be helpful if we had some female input to all this. I imagine many would claim the importance of having a vagina as part of their distinct female identity but I don’t imagine that is how they would want to be thought of. I could be wrong but I’ve never expected in the day to day projection of my “maleness” that my penis was on anyone’s mind as a marker of my identity. Hopefully it was for other reasons.

    Well, if we are not talking about the mind and what people think of themselves and others, I don’t know what we are talking about other than fish or beef and why anyone would care either way accept for the social implications of sports, public spaces and what box to check.

    The brain is a reactive organ but how it is constituted will determine the input and output. Perhaps I’m using the term inner self incorrectly. Let’s just say, how someone feels about themselves and who they are.

    You and your buddies got drunk, puked up your brains but, I imagine when you sobered up you didn’t have a hankerin” to fix your lipstick and bitch about your broken heel. Heh! You are a funny guy and I like that. I hope I didn’t sound to strident in my original post, it was late and I hadn’t yet read your thoughtful link. Genitalia are important in more ways than one, and I can think of a host, but not relevant to my contention.

    You might find this amusing. One day, somehow, someway, I wound up clicking my way onto a lesbian comment page. The goils where talking about trans woman and how they wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole, or maybe it was ten inch. One emphatically proclaimed that she spent her adult life adroitly avoiding penises and wasn’t about to put her mouth on one just because it was inverted. Another topic for another day.

  27. Azin

    If the begin all and end all is biological morphology and that is where we are going to draw the line, so be it; yet the problem lingers on. The practicality of that is to deny the self identification of someone who de facto acknowledges they are in the wrong body, so you gain no point pointing that out to them. It is after all the heart of the problem and society can reckon with it as it sees fit. We can make these trans people go to the rest rooms of their birth certificates, throw them into the wolf’s den of penitentiaries with breasts and faux vaginas, keep them from competing in female athletics and fire them from employment for wearing a dress. If that is the sole definition of a woman, I have to admit I find it rather limiting to think of women as vaginas and not unique in their own none male mentality.

    Of course you make a true point if somewhat of a tautology by pointing out the obvious fact that the primordial first cause of differential between the sexes is the obvious physical differences. It is the starting point, the stereotype, the archetype, the kind, the category. That which the proto-trans person recognizes as what he or she “feels” they are and aspires to. No one knows why only that the vast majority of these folks couldn’t be more sincere. Mental derangement or biological/mental imperative? Is a trans woman or trans man really women or men? It’s all definitional at least from the neck up. No one with have a brain doesn’t admit that women and men differ physically. That was never then or now the issue at hand. It has always been a behavioral imperative and awareness.

    “What is it that they all have in common?’ There is only one coherent answer – that they possess the biology of human femaleness (in whole or majority part).”

    And to what extent does that biology of femaleness extend to the – feeling – of being female? Wouldn’t women t have just as difficult a time explaining femaleness as the trams activist? This all started with Dan talking to Stock and saying he wouldn’t be able to explain how he feels like a man as opposed to feeling like himself. Yet feeling like himself is by definition feeling like a man. So does physicality triumph over mentality in self identification? Like all my too many questions, I don’t know. All I do know is there is a problem that isn’t going away and must be dealt with. Personally I don’t care if someone grafts on large pointy ears and jumps around eating carrots. I’d love to ask them, what’s up Doc?

    You’ve made some excellent thought provoking points.

  28. iffish

    Thanks Azin, for the thoughtful reply to me above. To be clear I’m not advocating that we deny anyone’s self-identification, my position is much the same as Dr. Stock’s. Nor that we go around pointing out their sex to trans people for no reason; that can easily constitute harrassment or abuse. And I’m quite happy to treat trans people as the gender they present as, using the (standard) gendered language they prefer. That’s an easy enough social heuristic to adopt and follow. (Though I could add a few caveats to do with sincerity of presentation and more exploration of the idea of sincere imitation as a necessary form of signalling gender dysphoria, but don’t want to make this too long!)

    So when it comes to the claim that ‘transmen are men’ and ‘transwomen are women’ I don’t think there’s much of a problem if that’s understood in a metaphorical sense but it’s definitely an issue if it’s asserted in a categorical sense. And when it comes to access to what have previously been understood as single-sex spaces then categories really matter. A big part of the problems around this issue is that LGBT and trans organisations have made the category ‘trans’ so large and amorphous that many people are justifiably suspicious of attempts to base rights on such a nebulous definition.

    There is also the failure of a movement that declares itself as ‘Intersectional Feminist’ to apply it’s own tools of intersectional thinking to how the identity of transwomen intersects with male privilege and dominance. And to the obvious fact that the relationship of transwomen vis-a-vis women is asymmetrical to transmen vis-a-vis men because of the asymmetrical male, female dynamic that you previously pointed out.

    That also feeds into the debate about single-sex/gender spaces. Though I do think some of those could be solved relatively easily with a bit of compromise and practical thinking. For instance toilets in large public spaces could be subdivided into female only stalls, mixed stalls and urinals. And transwomen who pass relatively well would likely continue to use the former on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell basis as is common now. But it requires those who don’t pass to accept the social responsibility of not trying to use these places as a form of validation for their identities instead of just functional spaces. And to settle these access issues requires negotiation in political spaces and acknowledgement that yes, there are actually conflicts and potential conflicts between trans rights and womens rights and you can’t just handwave those away with incoherent categorical claims.

    As for feelings? When it comes to classification of sex I don’t think they’re relevant, anymore than your feelings about your legs are relevant to your status as a biped. There is no ‘feeling like a man’ there is only men with feelings (some of which might include feelings about masculinity). There is no there there. Now the mountain of stereotypes and assumptions that we socially construct atop of sex and name gender, then yes, plenty of self-image related feelings around that.

  29. iffish

    I should of course have acknowledged Dan’s ‘Feeling like a Man’ article (that he linked above) in my last paragraph. I do hope Azin read it, as it succinctly takes apart the problem of using ‘feelings’ as a basis for any identity claims.

  30. Azin

    Feelings always matter to the individual or the collective. None of us fit neatly into the epistemological framework of categorization with fidelity. That of course is the bane of the human condition and the quagmire science and philosophy try to untangle

    But, I don’t disagree with one jot or tittle of your most eloquent explication.

  31. […] Dan Kaufman, The Electric Agora […]

  32. Marc Levesque

    After reading more recent comments, and various articles and papers,

    On reassignment at young ages, what I found seems to confirm that too often adults are encouraging teenagers and young adults to transition, or making it unintentionally hard for those that have or are considering to ‘detransition’ from getting the appropriate help.

    On spaces and bathrooms in particular, though I understand that a lot of people are very concerned that letting trans women into women’s bathrooms will increase harassment, lewd or other criminal behaviors there doesn’t seem to be any evidence supporting the idea. On other spaces, I really don’t know enough.

    On feelings, I’m not comfortable with arguments that seem to be telling others how they can or cannot use language, or more specifically, with arguments that no one can reasonably feel, or say they feel, wholly or partly like a man or a woman, or even know what that would feel like, unless what they’re expressing are negative or regressive stereotypes, arguments which in my opinion rely too much on unfounded assumptions and in turn both unjustified simplifications, and generalizations.