Bronwyn, I’m a 45 year old cis woman, a mother, a feminist, and someone who generally can appreciate diverse viewpoints. As a woman, I fully agree with you — it’s a known fact — that women are second class citizens, victims of misogyny and microaggressions, at the chokehold and pleasure of a long-standing patriarchal society.
However, your comments here to Laura-Ann sound pretty “TERFy.” (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, for those who don’t know). Of course, I don’t know you, so I’m not trying to make any assumptions. But it’s hard, because everything you’ve said here is exactly the same sentiments that trans women have been hearing from TERFs forever. It’s nothing new.
I highlighted your phrase: “I have not experienced this discomfort,” because, in my opinion, this represents the moment when a commenter should maybe think about not attempting to speak with any authority on this particular matter.
Can you state your opinion? Of course you can. Just understand that one’s opinion doesn’t change what the professional medical, psychological, psychiatric, and scientific research communities have collectively concluded as fact.
Here’s what’s fact:
Gender dysphoria is a clinical diagnosis (and it’s “gender dysphoria,” not “dysmorphia,” or “sex dysphoria” as you incorrectly labeled it). Gender dysphoria is not at all the same as body dysmorphic disorder, which is a clinical mental disorder. Gender dysphoria is not even a clinical mental disorder. Gender dysphoria is not “discomfort with one’s own body.” That may indeed be a part of a trans person’s gender journey, but not always. And/or, gender dysphoria may be present, but manifests itself differently in different people, and therefore, goes largely ignored and/or misdiagnosed.
In fact, it sounds like you were inferring that gender dysphoria is a condition along the same lines with clinical mental disorders such as as anorexia or bulimia nervosa —specifically, the part where you wrote, “…discomfort with one’s own body can take many forms and lead people so affected to take medication or undergo surgery or starve themselves in order to quiet the pain they feel.”
It’s true that gender dysphoria was once regarded as a clinical mental disorder (i.e., “gender identity disorder”), but several years ago, the communities of professionals who update the DSM (edition 5 now) — which is the “bible,” so to speak, for the nation’s leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology, the APA — concluded, after much research, that being transgender was not a mental disorder after all. That perhaps, instead, our society has vastly misunderstood the concept of “gender” and we’ve gotten it wrong for the entirety of our American history.
This was similar to the APA change made in 1973 to eliminate “homosexuality” from the DSM, which prior to that, classified it as a “disorder.” A major underlying reason for this was the recognition that one could be both homosexual and psychologically healthy. Likewise, one could be homosexual and psychologically unhealthy. Being homosexual wasn’t inherently the reason for a diagnosis of, say, depression.
Similarly, eliminating “Gender Identity Disorder” and replacing it with “Gender Dysphoria” was an APA perspective shift, reflective of the time in which the medical, psychological, scientific, and psychiatric professionals had enough research to conclude and emphasize that the severe distress experienced by transgender people is necessary criteria for diagnosis, and also, it indicates that the disagreement between one’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identity is not necessarily pathological if it doesn’t cause the individual some level of distress.
The professional medical and scientific community also realized that, perhaps, we’ve approached this all wrong, that the severe distress accompanying gender dysphoria in trans individuals arises, or is intensified, as a result of a culture that stigmatizes people who do not conform to society’s prescribed gender norms — and society isn’t about to change its deeply entrenched mindset overnight.
But it’s because of research supporting this notion that we know certain trends today. Like, for instance, that black trans women are the most statistically likely demographic of women to be violently, brutally murdered, just for going about their business, living their lives. We know that fatal violence disproportionately affects black trans women, no doubt because the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia all commingle to deprive this demographic of housing and employment opportunities, adequate (or any) healthcare, and several other resources and necessities. These are all barriers making them more vulnerable in general.
A “passing desire to lose weight and get more exercise,” as you put it, reduces what it is to be transgender to a mindset, and hence, a mindset that one can overcome, if only they had the willpower to do so. This is a bad analogy, and furthermore, a dangerous mindset. Being transgender has absolutely nothing to do with some kind of passing desire to alter one’s appearance — for whatever reason. There’s nothing “passing” about it. It may lie dormant for a while, but when it resurfaces later in life, it can be quadruple the beast that it was during puberty.
Just wanted to clear that up, because trans youth — who are out there and who do read this stuff — are also one of the most statistically likely demographics to attempt or complete suicide, before the age of 20. So we have to be very careful and mindful of a community of people who are among the most vulnerable and marginalized in America. We at least have to be thorough and responsible in our comments regarding their lives and their lived experiences, because their very lives are at stake. As the mom of a trans teen assigned male at birth, I know this all too well.
Also, being (in your words) “an adult human female” is not as much a “material reality” as you believe it to be. For a lot more people than you’re likely aware of, there exists a discrepancy between their external genitals and internal anatomy. These people may or may not be classified as intersex.
For instance, take the example of a man, assigned male at birth, because for all intents and purposes, their external anatomy appears to be a penis and scrotum, however, this person also has the chromosomes, normal uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes that an adult woman has. This person may or may not have a normal period, or may have a medical emergency when their period first starts. They may never get a period. Others may not find out any of this until much later in life. Some take it to the grave.
But as it turns out, this person is indeed a woman; her labia is fused, and her clitoris is enlarged, appearing as, and functioning like male anatomy. And, it turns out that this person is a woman after all, because that’s what she has always known, deep inside herself, to have always been — despite having to “mask” as a male. She finds this info out one day through expensive genetic testing, if she has that privilege, and feels a relief which is unexplainable, because she always “knew,” with “conviction,” if you will, that she was a female. And yet… she’s always lived as a cis male, and she entered into a heterosexual marriage with a woman.
Do we consider this person a male solely because they appear to have a penis, and they seem to dress/act/look like a typical man all their life, and therefore, are assumed to receive all the same cisgender male privilege of a man? Is a penis and masculine appearance what makes a man? I get that society treats males differently. That women are treated as “second class citizens.” No doubt. But society also makes a huge assumption in doing this — sometimes, one that’s grossly incorrect and harmful.
Did you know that trans women can breastfeed? And menstruate? Or that trans men can have a functioning penis?
There are many more variations of intersex conditions, and there are people who truly have androgynous genitalia — inside and outside. Our society is so preoccupied with segregating EVERYTHING by gender, that we literally make no room at the table for many of our trans & intersex people.
Biology is very interesting. One thing’s for sure — neither sex nor gender is exclusively binary. Biological sex allows for all kinds of mutations and variations of a “typical” female and male. And as for gender, America is one of the few countries woefully behind in acknowledging a third (or more) gender(s). Many cultures and religions the world over have three or more genders, and always have.
I’d also argue that not all trans women enjoy the host of benefits available through male privilege, because some of them are so female that they can’t “mask” as cis male. And since our society is patriarchal and misogynistic to the core, the young “boys” who are feminine get relegated down to the status of a female, i.e., “less than.” “Sissy,” “pansy,” “ballerina,” “twinkle toes,” “light-in-the-loafers,” “girly,” “pussy.” All feminine-associated characteristics, but meant to be perjorative, because what’s the worst insult you can call a male in American society? Anything that puts him down on the level with being a female. Misogyny.
Certainly, some trans women who transition later in life mask and pull off “cis male” pretty well, and do reap the benefits of male privilege. I know quite a few of them. Coincidentally, the couple of dozen trans women I personally know are all ex-military. All of them attempted or came excruciatingly close to suicide because of their gender dysphoria. Many of them thought entering the military would “toughen them up,” help them be/act/feel more masculine. But the inner turmoil they lived, pretending, day after day after day, to be a man, was so overwhelming that any male privilege given them was not a benefit or aid — it only stunted their mental growth and worsened their gender dysphoria.
Finally, I have to ask, Bronwyn… have you ever explored your own gender journey? At what point did you know you were indeed “female?” Did someone have to sit you down and tell you? Did they tell you that you were a girl because you had “girl parts” and you didn’t question it; it didn’t feel wrong, or false, or anything negative like that? Or maybe it did — even if that only meant you resented it because of misogyny? Or did you just inherently know, even if you didn’t have the words to describe it, that you were a girl?
I believe everyone should do their own gender journey to figure this out. And if you don’t think you need to, because you’ve just always somehow “known,” or because you learned in science that “female = this + that,” and it felt right to you, then there’s your answer. Trans people know their gender just the same way cis people do.