Guest post: The word “female” cannot be permitted any such polysemy

Originally a comment by SA Wells on Changing the subject again.

It’s taken me some time to decode that too, but I think I get it. The claim is that any recognition that genitals are relevant to gender is bad and wrong; because in order for the claim that “trans women are women full stop” to be true, all women would have to be women for the same reason, viz. an internal sense of gender identification. This of course flies in the face of the observable reality, which is that almost all women (or men) or regarded as women (or men) because they were born with female (or male) bodies and were told that that makes them girls/women (or boys/men) and they do not feel the sort of dysphoria that would lead them to identify as trans.

In other words, there are in reality multiple senses in which someone can be a woman, of which the most common – sense 1 – is being a person born with a female body and not being trans; one much less common – sense 2 – is being a person born with a male body but being trans and identifying as a woman. Workable trans advocacy is based on advocating that senses 1 and 2 be treated as equivalent for most purposes, and that people who are women in senses 1 or 2 have equal human worth. Unworkable trans advocacy, e.g. the sort of thing that got Ophelia hounded off FtB for thinking, seems to rely on denying sense 1 entirely and insisting that all women are women because they identify as women. To me this seems like advocating for gay rights by claiming that everybody is straight.

This feeds over in several odd directions, one in particular being the claim that if a person is female in the identity sense, then their body is female, tout court, as being the body of a female person. This of course relies on ignoring that there’s a sense of male/female for bodies (bluntly, having tab A or slot B) which doesn’t have to map onto the sense of male/female for persons. This seems like a deliberately or unconsciously Orwellian move to disable the language – and it ignores the way languages work anyway. The word “head” has different senses as applied to a human body, a geographical feature (Beachy Head), a sexual act, a pint of beer, an organisation, or a steam engine, but this doesn’t cause any actual difficulties; yet the word “female” apparently cannot be permitted any such polysemy.

8 Responses to “Guest post: The word “female” cannot be permitted any such polysemy”