I BEGIN WRITING THIS POST WITH A LOUD, EXASPERATED SIGH AND A FRUSTRATED SHAKE OF MY HEAD BACK AND FORTH.
Old, white, conservative baby boomers like Dennis Prager get so hung up about transgender people in a way that almost certainly ultimately points inward toward their own internal psychological difficulties facing concepts of human sexuality. I saw a video this morning from Real Time’s Overtime, though I don’t recommend watching it, as while it does have Ronan Farrow, one of my favorite human beings ever, it also has an anti-vaxxer and this right-wing nutjob. (And Bill Maher.)
I don’t write/rant about trans issues often, or really ever, because I don’t have any authoritative knowledge on the subject, nor any thought-up insights I feel I have to offer the world.
Except for this one.
Prager is really upset at “men can menstruate.” He sees this as a great sign of how The Left™ is full of great lies and deception. But what he’s doing here is actually just a word trick, and THAT particular brand of logical fallacy is something I feel pretty confidently that I can talk circles around.
Trans people have always existed. It’s not some new technology that George Soros invented 20 years ago. Sex reassignment surgery might be a recent scientific development, but the idea that MALE-FEMALE are not the only two options is not a new concept to human civilization. If you disagree, you’re incorrect.
What IS new is that our modern, global, interconnected society has collectively recognized that trans people’s feelings, rights, and experiences are valid, and they should be treated as human beings. Not to say that nobody has ever thought this before Woke Twitter came along, but it’s certainly true that our society as a whole is moving in the direction of complete trans acceptance in a way that has not been the case over the last 500 years or so (there are civilizations in history who accepted that gender is nonbinary).
I’m going to talk about this issue in a crass way that I also hope is respectful and non-offensive. Which is impossible. So feel free to back out now and scroll on because I’m gonna be using — and critiquing — anachronistic terms that aren’t accepted anymore.
Okay, I’ve gotten all the preface language out of the way, so let’s get into my favorite subject to discuss other than myself: WORDS.
Over the last several decades, the English language has tried on varying iterations of terms we could potentially use to describe humans who “have a gender identity that differs from their sex assigned at birth.” Someone whose outsides don’t match their insides, to put it in mildly offensive terms that are more easily understood by those who aren’t as familiar with this subject.
From what I can gather, the current accepted terms are “trans man” to describe someone who was born with lady parts but is a dude on the inside, and “trans woman” to describe someone who was born with dude parts but is a lady on the inside.
The fact that I had to be so crude in that paragraph is part of the problem that conservative (anti-trans) people have in understanding this issue. The science and cultural acceptance is moving much more fluidly on The Left than it is on The Right, causing an incongruency to develop in the language both sides use.
When Dennis Prager yells out “TO SAY THAT MEN CAN MENSTRUATE IS A LIE” with a little bit of spittle on his lip, he’s jumping a bit further than the term “trans man.”
See, we don’t have to use the word “trans man.” We can just say man. That person is a man. He may have been born with anatomy that doesn’t fit the usual cultural stereotype of what men are typically imagined to possess in their shorts, but psychologically and genderically, that person is a man, and has always been a man.
Though, depending on where the person is in their transition, that person might still be experiencing a bodily phenomenon known as menstruation.
In my opinion, the fact that I had to spell this out in several paragraphs is a problem. We don’t have English language terms that are (1) easy to understand by everyone immediately upon hearing them, (2) respectful, and (3) scientifically accurate.
We used to use terms like MTF-trans and FTM-trans, which definitely fits that first category. If you happened upon a dating profile in 2011 where someone identified themselves as MTF at the top, everyone is immediately on the same page. That is a human being who was “born male” but has transitioned (or is in the process of transitioning) into “outwardly identifying as female.”
But it’s not a respectful choice of terminology, because that person never was a man. She was always a woman. An offensive, objectifying analogy that comes to mind is the idea that we identify vehicle make and model by looking at its outward appearance, what it presents to the world. You don’t need to open the hood and look at the engine to determine whether it’s a Ford or a Chevy. But if I were to take a Ford engine and stick it in a Chevy vehicle (I don’t actually know anything about cars)… well we don’t really have a specific term to describe that hypothetical hybrid.
Terms like “pre-op” and “post-op” might be scientifically accurate and easy to understand, but they’re certainly not respectful. For one, it’s none of your fucking business whether someone has a dick or not. But more importantly, not all trans people go through operations. Someone might identify (outwardly or internally) as a woman but never go through any surgery to alter any of their bodily anatomy. This could be due to money, medical access, personal safety in areas filled with trans hostility, or they just might not want to. Some people within the broad spectrum we refer to as transgender might not feel they were born with the right physical characteristics, but are comfortable moving forward the way they are without changing anything. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Or “right” with that. Morality has no play here; we’re discussing biology, not Fundamentalist Christianity.
The terms “trans man” and “trans woman” are not as linguistically clarifying as MTF/FTM, though certainly more respectful and accurate. Removing the first word from those terms is something that has become accepted, and is not something I have a problem with whatsoever.
The problem is with conservatives who (1) don’t like trans people and are just looking for an excuse to express their hatred in a way they feel might grant them more intellectual sympathy than just being blatant bigots; and (2) are intellectually slow to accept new concepts, such as people who still maintain that the word “they” cannot be grammatically used to describe one singular person, even though the actual dictionary disagrees with them.
When we simplified the terms to call transgender people “men” and “women” without any other clarifying terms, conservatives weren’t brought along for the discussion, and they feel left out. They feel uncomfortable being labeled with the same word used to describe… someone they consider an “other.”
That psychological discomfort they feel toward people who are different than them manifests in intellectually bad faith arguments about whether “men can menstruate” or not. That word “men” is the linguistic problem at hand. Conservatives are using progressives’ own language ambiguities against them. I don’t menstruate, and I’m a man, therefore it’s not accurate to say “men can menstruate” because I sure as hell can’t even if I wanted to. (Why would you want to?) That’s Prager’s entire argument. An association fallacy.
I am NOT suggesting that we need new terms to describe trans people. It’s none of my business, and I feel perfectly comfortable referring to people by however they prefer to be called. I just think Prager’s argument is really dumb, and instead of ranting to my iPad while I was watching a YouTube video, I thought I would transcribe my thoughts into a Facebook post that hopefully clarifies the issue to some on the left and the right.