The Trans Question

Question from Fraser:

Is it okay to be trans?

Answer by SmartLX:

From an atheist perspective, why wouldn’t it be?

So many of the condemnations of transgender people are rooted in the essentialist idea that God (or whoever) deliberately created two genders and the apparent gender at one’s birth is one’s divine destiny. Without this idea we are left with fairly simple facts.

Gender is in most cases determined by chromosomes, with most of us possessing either XX or XY. Transgender people’s brains have not received the usual effects of this, six to eight weeks after pregnancy, leaving them with traits putting them much closer to brains of those of the opposite gender. In a sense, they literally have a man’s brain in a woman’s body or vice versa.

There is nothing they can do about their brains, but they may choose to change their bodies or at least outwardly adopt a transgender identity. This is a far more honest expression of who they truly are than to simply accept the gender they were assigned at birth. If others have strongly negative emotional responses to this, they may try to rationalise them with the aforementioned essentialism but in the end it’s their own problem, until they start to attack trans people. When these attacks are justified using religion, atheists have an opportunity to point out that using religion to police the actions of others is counter to any secular society.

Sex Isn’t Gender Anymore

Question from Claire:
I am a college student taking a Philosophy of Gender class and need to interview people of different religions, including an atheist, on their opinions on sex and gender, and I realized I don’t know any atheists. I was wondering if you would be willing to give your answer to the following questions for me (and allow me to use them in a paper).

1. Please define what you think “biological sex” means. For example, when someone says that “Paul is biologically male” or “Jennifer biologically female,” what do you think that means?

2. What does “gender” mean? Is it different than biological sex or the same? If the same, why do you believe this? If different, how are they different?

3. What would you say is the basis for your answers? For example, science, religion, tradition/upbringing, etc.? Why do you trust that basis?

I realize this is a lot to answer but if you had the time I would really appreciate it and if not I understand. Thank you,

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s not so much to answer. You may use my responses in your paper. So, let’s get to it.

1. “Biological sex” is the sex of your body’s anatomy, including hormones and chromosomes as well as genitals and other obvious features. If someone is biologically male, either he lives as a man and their body suits the role or she feels she’s a woman and may need to explore the possibility of transitioning.

2. Gender is imposed by culture and society. It’s what a man or a woman should be, do, and want. “Biological gender” is sometimes used to mean the same as “biological sex” above, but only because “sex” and “gender” are so often treated as interchangeable when people aren’t thinking about gender issues. “Gender” is not the same as “sex” or “biological sex” because, and this is what blows people’s minds, it has nothing to do with the state of one’s body. This is why people with one sex essentially belong in the other gender, or somewhere in between.

3. As trans people and others in related situations (e.g. intersex, bigender) are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories and be open about their circumstances (including a good friend of mine), it’s becoming increasingly clear that traditional and most or all religious positions on these issues apply very poorly to reality. in these worldviews a person should not grow up as an unhappy man and suddenly begin to flourish as a woman or vice versa because sex is equivalent to gender, but it happens and it gets sillier and sillier to deny it. So I try to keep up with the biological science but I mostly go by academic positions based on large-scale survey data. These are based on what people say about their own situations and what their doctors say about them, but they have sufficient sample sizes and statistical analysis to go beyond the anecdotal. It’s the best kind of source to tell you what’s really going on.