Guest post: The difference between “existential” and “epistemological”

Originally a comment by Papito on The thought-terminating lie.

I think the problem is that people don’t know the difference between “existential” and “epistemological.” I don’t believe that people such as JK Rowling pose an existential threat to transpeople so much as an epistemological threat.

Maybe “existential” sounds more fancy to TRAs, or more dramatic. They want desperately to be validated, but just like stolen library books, they won’t cease to exist because they’re not validated. Nobody is denying trans people (or stolen library books) exist, they’re just denying that trans people know what they think they know. That’s an epistemological quarrel.

The trans religion goes like this: in addition to the physical sex of people, people also have a quality called “gender.” The “gender” is unrelated to the sex of a person, but it is inborn, ever-present, intangible, unmeasurable, and vitally important. The “gender” is more important than sex. Whether a person is sexually male or female is almost irrelevant in trans religion; the important thing is their “gender,” which they are assigned at birth by foolish doctors who get it wrong a lot, and can then later decide to change.

The knowledge of which sex a person is can be gained through objective, scientific measures, such as whether a person has male genitalia or female genitalia, and whether a person has XX chromosomes or XY chromosomes. However, sex is irrelevant if you’re a transgenderist, and the knowledge of which “gender” a person is can only be determined by that person’s feelings and beliefs, not by any external or objective measure. According to the trans religion, “gender” is what makes a person a man or a woman: only bigoted people pay attention to sex, and claiming that sex is what makes a person a man or a woman is transphobic.

The principal dogma of the trans religion is that any person who feels they are a woman – whose sense of “gender identity” is that of a woman – is a woman. Being born of the female sex makes a person a woman no more than realizing at forty, after having two kids as a man, that one is really a woman. That is because knowledge of “gender” can only come from inside. The outside of the body is just an illusion, perhaps a temporary condition.

When TRAs bellow “TWAW,” they are insisting that the cardinal belief of their religion – that it’s “gender” that makes you a woman – must be unassailable. The denial of this dogma would mean that transwomen are not really women, but men dressed up as women. They don’t know they’re women, they just think they’re women. Denial of the result or the process makes their religion untenable. They characterize this denial as a threat to their existence; it threatens their self-concept even more than it would if you were to tell a Catholic that Mary wasn’t a virgin, or that Jesus was just a man.

Transgenderism is a relatively new religion. If it persists, it’s likely to change, as Catholicism has. Anybody remember Limbo? It’s where virtuous pagans used to go, along with unbaptized babies. When I was a little boy in Catholic school, we were encouraged repeatedly to pray for the souls of the poor little babies in Limbo. Limbo was a matter of panic for parents who bore sickly infants. No more, because it wasn’t really central to the Catholic faith. Catholicism dropped Limbo in 1992.

The Gender Identity is not that sort of peripheral belief in the transgender religion; it’s a fundamental tenet of the faith, like the Eternal Soul in Catholicism. Without it, the rest of the structure falls apart. Transgenderism could get rid of all the silly pronouns, or most of the 33 or 58 or however many genders claimed to exist these days. That wouldn’t be important to the faith. What transgenderism can’t get rid of is the idea that gender can only be determined internally, by feelings. Any attempt to assert that external sexual characteristics are important in determining who is a woman and who is a man is an attack on the epistemology of gender identity. When we say “you’re not really a woman, you’re just a man who thinks he’s a woman,” it tears apart their entire religion. It also deflates, for some, their sexual (auto-gynephilic) fantasy.

The degree of the claimed harm in “misgendering” strikes us as absurd. The manager of the building next door referred to me as “Ms…” in an email the other day. Was I irate? Deflated? Did I tweet angry things at his employer, or sob into my couch? No. It’s utterly unimportant to me, far more of an embarrassment to him than to me. Does it anger people that much to have their race mistaken? Based on my multi-racial family, no. It’s annoying if persistent, but more a cause for humor than anything.

That’s because it’s not our religion. I seriously pissed off a devout Catholic once – an educated grown up! – by saying I would have respected the Pope more if he was a go-go dancer when he was young, instead of just staying in the church and doing all that praying and stuff. I like the new Pope better, BTW. I’m not likely to be mad if someone makes fun of Mohammed to me, or the Pope, or Martin Luther, or transsubstantiation, or Ganesha, or the hilarious Book of Mormon. No more than my race is or my sex is, none of these things are my religion. Transpeople are different.

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