Trans 301: Sex and Gender Part 1 – Introduction

I have been itching to dive into this topic for quite a while. Not only is the relationship between sex and gender something I have been thinking about and learning about for quite some time, but I have noticed some cisgender folks dabbling in the subject as well. Needless to say, my views have evolved as I learned and thought more about this topic. However, I have noticed that a lot of people have some inaccurate–and problematic–views (see the genderbread concept as an example).

I once believed that sex and gender, though related in some ways, were very different things–sex is about your biology (genitals, hormones, chromosomes, etc.) and gender is about your psychology (gender identity). I no longer believe that. I will admit that this model was useful in helping me come to terms with my being a transgender woman, but it is also inaccurrate and harmful. For example, it enables some cis people to still consider trans women ‘male’, and mistreat us accordingly.

I now see sex and gender as synonymous. They are both socially constructed (read here to know exactly what ‘social construction’ actually is as this is a commonly misunderstood concept; and yes, I am aware that this source asserts that sex is biological, but that is beside the point) and sex is hardly grounded in biology, if at all. I will demonstrate this by responding to these primary notions in general, and two YouTube videos in particular in a series of blog posts titled “Trans 301: Sex and Gender”:

marinashutup’s video “What’s the Difference Between Sex and Gender?

  • This video makes certain claims that I will be addressing directly or indirectly
    1. Sex and gender are “very, very different”
    2. Sex refers to one’s biology
    3. Gender is how someone identifies
    4. Gender is a social category
    5. There are two main views of gender: social constructivism and biological essentialism
    6. And, interestingly in apparent contradiction to (1) and (2), sex is not “necessarily natural or essentialist”

PhilosophyTube’s video “What is Gender?

  • I will also be addressing certain claims that this video makes
    1. (Citing Judith Butler) gender is ‘performative’ and constitutes an identity
    2. Judith Butler does not deny that sexual differences exist
    3. There are two primary theories of gender: gender (biological) essentialism, and social constructivism
    4. Describes Julia Serano’s “Intrinsic Inclination Model”
    5. Julia Serano and Judith Butler’s theories are compatible

I will be addressing these claims by referencing and citing the following sources (perhaps in addition to others I may come across as this series progresses):

  1. Decolonizing Trans/Gender 101 by B. Binaohan
  2. Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
  3. Bodies that Matter by Judith Butler
  4. Sexing the Body by Anne Fausto-Sterling
  5. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
  6. “The Extended Mind” by Andy Clark and David J. Chalmers
  7. Whipping Girl by Julia Serano
  8. Evolution’s Rainbow by Joan Roughgarden
  9. Sex Redefined” by Claire Ainsworth

Though this outline is likely to change, I currently plan on organizing the series in the following manner:

Sex and Gender

  1. Part 1: Introduction
    • Introduction to the issue of sex and gender
    • Basic Outline
  2. Part 2: The history of sex and gender
    • The colonization of trans/gender identities
    • How the body came to be sexed
    • Decolonizing/deconstructing sex and gender
  3. Part 3: The “science” of sex
    • A basic introduction of how sex is understood scientifically and how it falls short
  4. Part 4: Judith Butler (click here for a brief introduction to Butler)
    • A brief summary of gender performativism
  5. Part 5: Trans Identities
    • What this means to me personally
    • Where does my experience fit?
  6. Part 6: Conclusion
    • Summary of most critical points in the series
    • Why this all matters

Hopefully by the end of this I will be able to help others, in addition to myself, better understand sex and gender–or rather, help them realize how little we really understand them due to our colonialist and empirically flawed models–in a way that inspires compassion and acceptance. For example, if more people realized how ridiculous it is to have a binary sex system in general, and for segregating bathrooms based on sex specifically, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this debate about allowing trans people the dignity to use the restroom(s) of their choice.

As I have said before, I have been wanting to do this for a while. I now think I am ready to do so. The time is right. It is now or never. Buckle up your seatbelts, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. In the second post to this series, I will summarize the history of sex and gender.

Trans 201: Self, Identity and Why ‘Hating the Sin’ Is Hating the Sinner

Introduction

I have heard the phrase “love the sinner, but hate the sin” many times in my life, but what does it mean to ‘love the sinner’ and to ‘hate the sin’. I have always understood that it means we love the people who do bad things while at the same time hating the bad things that they do. That seems simple and intuitive enough. I can love someone despite their vices. For example, my close friend may say something problematic or deeply offensive to me, but that does not mean I need to disapprove of her as a person. I can still love her while not approving of what she said. This may seem like a rather practical rule-of-thumb in most contexts, but there are times where it runs into problems.

For example, when talking about LGBTQ+ folks, folks of a certain persuasion will often assert that they can love LGBTQ+ folks while simultaneously disliking or disapproving their ‘choices’. “We are not our actions.” They often say. “It’s okay to be queer, but that does not mean you have to act on it.” At first glance, it may seem that one can, for example, disapprove of or detest ‘homosexual acts’ while loving homosexual individuals. However, this is not the case. One cannot ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’ when it comes to LGBTQ+ individuals.

Identity and the Self

So why is it that one cannot love the sinner while hating the sin? It all boils down to identity and the self. Beginning with identity, it helps to use simple, workable definitions:

Identity – traits, characteristics, social relations, roles, and social group memberships that define who one is or gives someone a sense-of-self, or self-concept. 

Self – the sense that something is “about me”, that there is a subject “I” that can think about an object “me” while the subject is aware of this sense.

Self-concept – a cognitive structure that can include content, attitudes, or evaluative judgements and are used to make sense of the world, focus attention on one’s goals, and protect one’s sense of basic worth.

People can take on any number of identities–religious identities, occupational identities, group identities, etc.–and these identities are what make up one’s self-concept. Notice that not only does one’s identity influence one’s actions, but one’s actions also influence one’s identities and self-concept. For example, let’s take religious identity. Jane considers herself a devout Catholic. She prays every day, regularly attends mass, and takes communion. Suppose one day a law was passed prohibiting her religious observance on the basis that “though being a Catholic is okay, acting Catholic is not okay”. She is thus legally, and apparently morally (according to some), prohibited from praying, attending mass, taking communion, etc. In other words, though she may consider herself a Catholic, she is pressured to not observe her religion.

So what would it mean to be a Catholic in this situation without observing Catholicism? I would bet that Jane would experience a lot of distress at this dilemma. Either observe her faith and risk the consequences, or repress her religiosity. Would it make sense for someone in this situation to tell Jane, “I love you and it’s okay that you are Catholic, but I would hate it if you attended mass because it is wrong”? Of course not. One would rightly say that this is nonsense and religious bigotry.

Self-actualization

Now that we have explored these ideas of identity and the self, I would like to turn our attention to two different types of identities: sexual identity and gender identity.

Sexual identity – consists of one’s sexual orientation and how they define their sexuality. 

Gender identity – one’s innermost sense of being male, female, both, or something else; how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. 

To be homosexual is to be attracted to others of the same sex. To be transgender is to have a gender identity that differs from the one that is assigned at birth. So far, all we really have talked about is ‘being’ gay or trans. But what does it actually mean to be gay or trans? As a homosexual trans woman, my sexuality influences who I engage in sexual relations with, i.e., women. However, it is possible for me to be attracted to women without having sexual or romantic relationships with them, but let’s go back to Jane. If Jane’s inability to practice her religion causes distress and that not permitting her to observe Catholicism comes from a place of religious bigotry and intolerance, what does that say about those who would assert that being gay is okay, but ‘acting gay’ is not?

Jane’s ability to self-actualize, i.e., become her truest and best self, is hindered by prohibitions to her observance of Catholicism. Of course, this could all go away if she decided she was no longer Catholic, but to Jane, Catholicism is fundamental to who she is as a person and who she feels she needs to become in order to live a good life. Not being Catholic is not an option for her. Likewise, being a lesbian and being trans are fundamental to who I am. I cannot simply choose not to be homosexual or not trans. It’s not an option for me. Therefore, living authentically is critical for my self-actualization as a person. In other words, I need to be able to express my love for my wife (who is a woman as I am), and I need to be able to live as a woman. I also need to transition. All of these things require action in order to achieve happiness and self-fulfillment. The opposite has not done me well at all. Believe me, I have tried.

Conclusion

I have done what I can in a reasonably short amount of space to make a strong case for the assertion that “love the sinner, but hate the sin” is logically and empirically untenable. Those who use such rhetoric need to consider what they are actually saying. It is simply not loving to deny someone the ability or right to self-actualize by living authentically. In fact, it is just downright cruel.