“Biological”

October 3, 2008

“Biological (wo)man”
“Typical biological (fe)male”
“Biologically (fe)male”
“Bio boy”
“Genetic girl”

No. Just, no. Don’t do it.

No really. Don’t. I don’t care if your trans friend uses it. I don’t care if you’re trans. Don’t.

I don’t actually have to explain it. Think for a minute or two. Read a few of my other posts, particularly this one. You have the resources and intellect to figure this one out on your own. Really. I trust you. You can do it.

Don’t click the “more” button if you haven’t already figured it out or at least tried for 5 minutes. The point of what follows isn’t about educating you about why not to say it. That’s stupid. It’s about 1)giving you talking points to explain to other people, and 2)exploring the faulty logic that goes into the usage.

Gender and sex are self determination. “Biological” is determination by other. If we are being honest when we say that it’s self-determination, then what the fuck does some biologist’s view matter?

Besides, if we truly separate gender and sex even in a coercive, trans-negative way, man does not flow from male, nor woman from female, so it makes no sense to say “biological man” “genetic girl” etc etc. This is one case where cissexualist feminism fails itself, where even if cissexual feminists don’t give a shit about trans people, they lose through these statements because it naturalizes the categories (and thereby norms) they supposedly want to end. But that’s only part of it.

Furthermore, even in a gender/sex coercive milieu where the observer determines reality not the person hirself, when a scientist or doctor looks at a body-modified transsexual person’s body or an intersex person’s body and says “Look at this, this, and this! This person is biologically male,” said scientist is also saying “And DON’T look at that, that, or that! Those are just distractions, not natural, not important.” My tits, my skin, the texture of my hair, my fat distribution, my arousal & orgasm patterns are all “biologically female” due to the estrogen and spiro that I take. The carrying angle of my elbows is a better fit to the “biologically female” stats than the “biologically male” standard deviation curve. Furthermore, non-surgically-reconstructed bits of transsexuals who take hormones are not the same, do not act the same, and if you know how to look, do not look the same as cissexual non-intersex bits. I haven’t had any permanent hair removal on my chin, and I don’t shave (part of) it, and you know what? It looks like cis girl facial hair. Even if I grew out the whole damn thing it couldn’t pass for a cis boy’s facial hair. It’s been more than two months, it’s not even a half an inch long, and it’s fine enough as to be hardly visible. It hasn’t affected me passing.

I don’t share these things because I think they make me more validly female/not-male. They don’t. I suspect that everyone, cis, trans, and/or intersex has something that they can point to like that–some of us just have more of them or less of them. I’m bringing these things up to show that it’s arbitrary. If a MAAB person didn’t produce “enough” testosterone, their insurance would cover it, and all the biological changes it would cause would be “real” and “biological”–unlike the biological changes I experience when I take estrogen. What does “biologically male” mean in a trans context? Anatomically male…which characteristics? Hormonally…I’m female. Chromosomally… who knows? (oh and sometimes chromosomes change, btw.)

Look–if aliens came and studied us and sorted us into groups, they wouldn’t put me in with the cis boys. They wouldn’t put me in with the cis girls, either, but it’s only entrenched transphobia in science that allows us to think that I would be put with the cis boys. It’s only this bait and switch, this sleight of hand that allows these things to be clear from an outsider’s perspective. It makes sense if and only if you accept a cissexual supremacist lens, a way of thinking that is designed specifically to erase and undo trans and intersex people. Even in a gender coercive society, this way of thinking is only intelligible through transphobia.

Now let’s get back to the gender self-determination. Here, there are two cases.

1)”Bio male” to mean cis male

So, here, we’re removing the gender/sex conflation of “bio boy” & “genetic girl,” and the presumption is that it’s being paired/opposed to “trans male” (bio female and trans female). The problem here is essentially the same as with “bio boy”–it implies that there’s this legit thing out there, cissexualist science, that lends credence to some people’s self determination, and pretends that by doing so it does not inherently invalidate other people’s self determination. Because if my femaleness is “self determined”, but someone else’s is “natural”, well, we have a problem, right? It presupposes that gender/sex coercion does get some say in the validity of your sex.

2)”biologically (fe)male” meaning “assigned (fe)male at birth”

Here, sex essentialism is rallied to the aid of sex coercion–it says (while you may be able to determine your own gender) you can’t determine your sex, it’s natural, real, etc. “Female man” and Female Masculinity1 come out of this usage. It denies agency over the body, naturalizes cissexual supremacist science, etc. The short answer is that it’s sex coercive. Again, it appeals to the “reality” of the situation (because our scientific lens is more thoroughly determined by cissexual supremacy than some other lenses are).

It’s also generally paired with/legitimating gender coercion as well. It’s a way to group trans women and cis men together and pretend it’s unproblematic, not transphobic, etc. It’s mobilized in support of cissexual supremacy in order to give false credence to all the various things that cis/non-intersex people (and frequently trans misogynistic trans men) like to assume happen based on one’s ‘real sex’ rather than being dispersed by identified sex, lived sex, or more diffusely.

As such, it’s also tied into trans male / cis female complicity in trans misogyny–in that it creates this “natural” ground upon which to create a community between those two groups, that excludes trans women by extension of excluding cis men, a way of claiming that these spaces are not transphobic/trans misogynistic, a way to pretend that it’s not bloody fucking obvious that the oppression of trans women is misogyny, a way to do the whole trans-men-are-the-ones-who-are-oppressed-by-sexism-in-the-trans-community shtick.

23 Responses to ““Biological””

  1. I used “biological sex” once in my latest post, but I think the context was clearly about someone else being a total ass. My comment rules forbid it as transphobic language.

    Also, I totally agree on the hormones thing. People seem to completely not get just how much hormones do vs. the shape of your crotch. One of these has far more impact on bodily functions than the other.

  2. shiva said

    “(oh and sometimes chromosomes change, btw.) ”

    Really? An individual’s chromosomes can change during that individual’s lifetime?😮

    Just sex chromosomes, or autosomes as well? If true, that has some pretty scary possible-biotech implications… do you have sources?

    Agreed with everything else…

  3. Daisy said

    Hi there! Great post. I’m confused by this, though:

    Here, sex essentialism is rallied to the aid of sex coercion–it says (while you may be able to determine your own gender) you can’t determine your sex, it’s natural, real, etc. “Female man” and “Female masculinities” come out of this usage. It denies agency over the body, naturalizes cissexual supremacist science, etc.

    I completely see what you’re saying re: “female man,” but doesn’t “female masculinity” refer to people whose self-determined sex is female but who are nonetheless (self-identified as) masculine? That term (and, I suppose, “male femininity”) seems necessary to me to acknowledge people whose (again, self-determined) sex deviates in that way from their (self-determined) gender.

    I agree with your next two paragraphs about how it’s cissexist to group trans women and cis men together, and that trans misogyny is misogyny, and that it’s absurd to claim that trans men are the ones who are really oppressed by sexism. I see how “female masculinity” could be used in support of that — by claiming that trans men are “female,” which of course implicitly claims that trans women are male, thereby causing the division you describe. It’s just that I usually see “female masculinity” used in relation to women, not trans men — and in that usage it seems legitimate to me.

  4. I could’ve sworn I posted something here last night.

    Daisy, there’s a lot of talk of trans men’s masculinity as “female masculinity” in various places – it’s part of the whole thing where femme cis woman to masculine trans man are seen as a continuum of female gender expression that explicitly excludes trans women.

  5. Daisy said

    Okay, Lisa — I must just be missing those conversations.

    it’s part of the whole thing where femme cis woman to masculine trans man are seen as a continuum of female gender expression that explicitly excludes trans women.

    Yeah, that’s no good, and I can’t imagine trans men much appreciate it, either. “Female masculinity” still doesn’t seem categorically cissexist the way that “female man” does, though, since there is a usage for it that’s appropriate. Though I guess someone somewhere probably does identify as a “female man” and feel that that works for him… So I suppose it’s just my experience of hearing “female masculinity” being used almost exclusively in a non-oppressive (I think) way.

  6. Cedar said

    Daisy, you’re totally right. What I meant to say (and Lisa’s right about this one) is that Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam (and derived thinking) comes from this perspective.

    sorry, that wasn’t clear at all. Will edit.

  7. I think there are female men and male women, and that they’re probably genderqueer, but not strictly trans.

    As for where these conversations happen – in genderqueer/trans/queer spaces, where you see language like “Women and trans only” except the trans means trans men, or where trans women are simply tolerated. An acquaintance of mine once described how a femme lesbian (who was dating a trans man) explained to her that she couldn’t be a lesbian because she was dating a trans woman.

    And no, lots of trans men don’t like it. Some trans men play into it.

  8. Cedar said

    Lisa,

    I could’ve sworn I posted something here last night.

    You did. For some reason I don’t understand it got caught in the spam trap. Approved now.

  9. Daisy said

    What I meant to say (and Lisa’s right about this one) is that Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam (and derived thinking) comes from this perspective.

    Ohhh, okay. Good stuff, that makes perfect sense.

    : )

  10. Daisy said

    As for where these conversations happen – in genderqueer/trans/queer spaces, where you see language like “Women and trans only” except the trans means trans men, or where trans women are simply tolerated. An acquaintance of mine once described how a femme lesbian (who was dating a trans man) explained to her that she couldn’t be a lesbian because she was dating a trans woman.

    Ugh, yeah. That’s awful. I don’t spend that all much time in queer spaces (just due to misanthropy; I don’t spend much time in social spaces at all) so I’m sure that’s part of why I don’t see it much (since it clearly happens).

    I do always notice that out trans men outnumber out trans women in the lesbian/queer women’s community in my town, though, which always seems strange, if predictable. There might be more trans women around than I know of, though, since I don’t know all or even most people. And of course it makes sense that straight trans women wouldn’t be in the lesbian scene. But I imagine it’s at least in part a function of the dynamics you describe.

  11. Yeah, that’s a side effect of trans men being accepted in lesbian spaces and trans women being tolerated.😦

    Seriously, for all the reasons trans women are marginalized, I never expected that trans men in lesbian spaces would be a cause – but you run into stuff like Animal Prufrock claiming that MichFest is trans-inclusive because trans men attend, and the anecdote above, and some of Julia Serano’s writing.

  12. Lucy said

    Oh, ick. I see Animal’s trans misogyny now (which you mentioned in a comment on my blog). I admit to usually keeping my mouth shut about transmen in lesbian spaces because I know a lot of it is my personal jealousy at their personal (nudgenudge, winkwink) acceptance in comparison to me while my brain is going “Since when do lesbians sleep with men? Do they really respect these men’s identities?” I forget there might actually be a rational issue in there as well.

    And, I’m confused about your reference to Julie Serano’s writing. Could you expand on that?

  13. Bucth Boo said

    Heavy stuff!! Come visit me- for some light relief!

  14. Cedar said

    I’m kinda confused, Butch Boo. Is there anything in particular?

  15. Cedar said

    Lucy,

    Which reference to Julia Serano’s writing are you speaking of?

  16. Sarah said

    @Shiva

    >Really? An individual’s chromosomes can change during that individual’s lifetime?

    Hello Shiva

    Ever heard of cancer?

    Sarah

  17. Ettina said

    Most people (or all) have very low-level mosaicism, but one chromosomal type is present in 99.999% (whatever decimal point) percentage of cells. That predominant type is generally assumed, for simplicity’s sake and because it determines the most about the person, to be their sole type, and individuals are only considered mosaic if more than a certain percentage of their cells are not the same as most of their cells are (eg, if someone had about 70% normal cells and 30% with trisomy 21, they’d be said to have mosaic Down Syndrome).
    You can gain new chromosome anomalies in a small percentage of cells (as in cancer) but your overall chromosomal constitution, in the majority of cells, doesn’t change very much. In high-level mosaicism the percentages can change a bit, but both major types will generally remain present.
    So, when you’re looking at the whole person rather than a few cells, it’s most practical to say that a person’s chromosomal constitution can’t change.

  18. shiva said

    Er… yes, but that’s in particular cells or tissues and not “globally”. The way Cedar phrased it, it sounded like someone’s whole karyotype could change during their lifetime.

    Maybe that actually is possible, i don’t know. It’s pretty far from what’s taught in mainstream biology courses, tho… if they’re hiding something as big as that (which i truly believe they could and would hide, given how tainted mainstream science teaching is with gender and other bigotry), then that’s Pretty Fucking Scary.

  19. shiva said

    BTW, dunno if you do silly/memey things like blog awards, but i passed this on to you: Blog Love

  20. Cedar said

    Ettina,

    Sorry it took me a while to approve your comment! oops.

    You’re likely right; it’s not a claim I have a lot of knowledge to back up or context for.

    BUT, it’s a parenthetical for a reason–it’s really a side note for my overall point in that section, which I want to make without appropriating intersex experience/bodies/lives/oppression/etc. Even if chromosomes were 100% as reliable as we think they are as evidence, it wouldn’t change the picture of “which biology?”.

  21. […] of the problems with “(fe)male bodied” would be pretty apparent from my post about “biological”, but I think that it’s worth discussing here specifically in its contrast to “(fe)male […]

  22. […] female undermines his maleness. (And besides, how did you know? Have you looked at his genes?) And, as Cedar points out at Taking Up Too Much Space, describing bodies as male or female based on biology also requires picking and choosing among the […]

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