How to argue with conservatives on transgender issues: The Skywalker argument

by Felix Conrad - Clinical Philosopher on June 18, 2017

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THE CONSERVATIVE POSITION:

Right wing arguments on transgender issues all come down to the idea that gender is purely biological and unchanging. For them, gender pertains to a number of common biological characteristics present at birth (chromosomes, genitalia etc.) and just as you don’t see ducks change gender – humans can’t change gender either.

In their mind, trying to change gender is like having a dog that you really wish was a cat. So you make it a little catsuit and refer to it as a cat and even persuade your neighbours and town hall to refer to it as a cat. However, the reality is that it’s a dog…

…and nothing can change that!

Conservatives insist on strict biological definitions of gender.

Conservatives insist on strict biological definitions of gender.

MY EXPERIENCE:

A lot of transpeople try to challenge this biological definition of gender by pointing to intersex people. However, few conservatives find this convincing.

You see, for every biological entity that exists – be it a limb or a process or a cell – there is always a percentage that mutate. Therefore, the existence of intersex people doesn’t disprove the existence of a gender binary…only that nature does not always manufacture perfect copies of the same limb, process or cell.

MY ADVICE: THE SKYWALKER ARGUMENT

Do not try to challenge the primacy and existence of the biological binary. It is an anatomical fact. Instead, agree that gender is a biological reality but make them see the social component of gender as well.

How do you do this? With the Skywalker argument.

Here’s the script…

I recently got into a big argument about the model, Valentina Sampaio. This is how it went.

I recently got into a big argument about the model, Valentina Sampaio. This is how it went.

CON: I’m sorry…but boys can’t become girls or vice versa. If you’re born a boy then you can have all the operations and hormones you like…but you’ll never be a woman.

LIB: You mean…‘a biological woman’…a boy can never become a ‘biological woman.’ But it’s not necessary you say that because no-one is claiming that a transwoman is a biological woman.

CON: Excellent…so you admit that a ‘transwoman’ isn’t a woman.

LIB: No, I’m admitting that she isn’t a ‘biological’ woman.

(Note: in the opening exchange you must repeatedly correct them and say ‘biological woman’ every time they say a transwoman is not a ‘woman’ or a ‘real woman’. Eventually they will say that the only type of woman is a biological woman. That is the point where you proceed.)

argue with conservatives

CON: Right…well, as there isn’t any other type of woman apart from a biological woman…then you’re admitting I’m right.

LIB: No! That’s where you’re wrong. You can still be a woman without being a biological woman.

CON: Just like you can be a dog without being a dog?

LIB: Listen, imagine your parents had adopted a boy when you were a kid. And you loved that boy and you grewup together. Would you – everytime he claimed to be your brother – point out that because he didn’t meet the biological criteria for ‘brother’ that he wasn’t your brother?

CON: No. But that’s different.

LIB: No it isn’t. As with the term ‘woman’ the term ‘brother’ has a specific biological meaning with specific genetic requirements…yet you are willing to forgo that biological meaning and still call him brother.

CON: Yes, but that’s because the term ‘brother’ doesn’t just have a biological meaning..it can also have social and legal dimensions.

LIB: Exactly…and that’s the same with the term ‘woman’. Our understanding of transgender people has led the term ‘woman’ to take on a number of social, legal and medical dimensions…and the fact you just want to stay with the narrow biological term is to deny advances in psychology and society. Furthermore, it’s deeply insensitive.

CON: (Confused) But…

LIB: (Seizing the initiative) Let me ask you a question: do you remember the classic scene in Star Wars where Darth cuts Luke’s hand off with a light saber?

CON: Yes.

LIB: And what do the doctors do for Luke?

CON: They make him a metal hand.

LIB: Right. And…is it correct to call it a hand?

CON: Well…not biologically. It looks like one…but it’s not a biological hand it’s a prosthetic hand.

LIB: Right…it’s a prosthetic hand. But imagine you’re at a dinner and you wanna put a dish on the table but his hand’s in the way. Would you say… “could you move your prosthetic hand please.”?

CON: No. I’d say… ‘could you move your hand?’

LIB: But why?…It has no nails, no flesh, no bones and none of the biological components of a hand…it’s just a metal construction.

CON: Yeah…but it would be rude to remind a person with a prosthetic limb that the limb wasn’t ‘real.’ I’d never do that.

LIB: Exactly. What you need to understand is that just as it’s rude to remind Luke Skywalker that he doesn’t have a ‘real’ hand because it’s not a biological hand…it’s rude to remind a transgender woman that she’s not a biological woman. You’ve just proved the point that humans sometimes forego biological definitions for social reasons. And that that’s the right thing to do.

CON: No…no…wait a minute…they’re different examples. The hand thing is a medical problem…the dude had his hand chopped off.

LIB: Gender dysphoria is a medical condition. It’s been a recognised medical condition for decades. And if you examine the anthropological record you’ll see that gender variance isn’t some new phenomenon that was cooked up in the last decade…it’s as old as mankind itself.

CON: But…but…

Doing battle with conservatives on transgender issues

LIB: You need to stop obsessing over biological definitions. We all know that a transwoman isn’t literally a biological woman…and no one’s saying that she is.

The situation is that she’s suffering from a crippling disease called gender dysphoria and the best treatment is to allow her to live as a woman and to help with that treatment by cooperating and thinking of her and referring to her as a woman. Just as you would refer to Luke Skywalker’s hand as a hand (and not start getting all hung up on biological definitions of hand) and just as you might refer to your foster son as your ‘son’ (even though he’s not your biological son) there are plenty of cases where we forgo biological definitions for social ones.

The world – and language – is complicated and we are not necessarily bound by the laws of biology when talking about that world. Therefore, is a transgender woman a biological woman…no she is not.

Is she a woman? Yes, she is.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack Molay June 18, 2017 at 11:30 am

Brilliant tactic! Thanks for this one.

There are also other way of derailing TERFs and other transphobes (as you also has pointed out), which is to put their transphobia in a historical context.

Bathroom laws? Show them how Apartheid South Africa and the Southern States used bathroom laws to invalidate and control black people.

The fetish argument: Show them how the establishment has used sexualisation and the mental illness argument to attack all kinds of outsiders: People of color (“primitive sexual predators”), independent women (“hysterics and nymphomaniacs”), lesbian women (“hypermasculine perverts and defilers of good women”), gay men (“effeminate child molesters”), trans women (“perverted men”) and so on and so forth.

This works very well, because the parallels are so undeniably true.

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Transcend Everything June 18, 2017 at 11:51 am

Hooray… you’re back in the T-movement commentsphere.

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Liam June 20, 2017 at 1:35 am

Gender is between the ears. Gender is not a biological expression, it is psychological. A trans woman is not a cis woman.. by heart after transitioning she is a biological woman… cuz the body responds to hormones not to chromosomes…end of story..WPATH conference 12-2016.

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Random Conservative June 23, 2017 at 2:22 am

So gender is a social construct? I mean, you said Luke’s hand is a construct.

So is race a construct?
It’s not? Ok, ok. Rachel Dozecal is the worst.

Is cancer a construct? I mean, It’s a biological reality, like sex.
It’s not? Ok.

Is privilege a construct? People perceive it very differently.
White privilege is real. Got it.

What about marriage? I mean, it’s obviously a social construct, but I keep being told that my definition of it is not acceptable.
Oh, it’s not that kind of social construct. People of the same sex… I mean gender… er, basically and 2 people can get married. OK.

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Transcend Everything June 23, 2017 at 6:21 am

I think that if you read the post again you’ll see that it’s more nuanced than that. Gender is a biological reality with a social dimension.

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Bobbi Dare July 4, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Hey Random Conservative – how about instead of shooting down any and all attempts to change the conversation why not give your opinion and add to the discussion. We seem to be challenged to visualize the difference between Gender Expression and biology. But let’s try to remember some basic facts about biology – nature is weird. Just because you have never (or think you have never) met a person with non-conforming genitals, does not mean they do not exist. These are people born with genitalia that do not look like (or function as) the textbook example of male of female genitals. At birth the vast majority of these folks are surgically altered to appear to be either male or female. So where is the construction there? Are they any more male or female if the surgery happens at age 10? 20? 40?
You mentioned Rachel Dozecal and white privileged – obviously these are sore points for you. I cannot know what it must be like to be you but I can still listen and be sympathetic and at least not add to your pain. It’s is the same with the Gender Identity discussion were are now having (as a society). Not everyone is going to agree on all opinions presented, but at the very least we can listen, try to sympathize and add a constructive counterpoint.

*hugs* Bobbi

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Majeric July 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm

Interesting argument. I think using Luke from Star Wars is a bit superfluous and possibly distracting. You could use any example of an amputee.

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Transcend Everything July 20, 2017 at 8:41 am

Well, anything to grab the attention. Thanks for the comment xx

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