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How transgender activists define man and woman

BACKGROUNDER | Understanding the new vocabulary


Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

How transgender activists define <em>man</em> and <em>woman</em>
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Have you wondered why politicians, academics and even doctors now struggle to define woman and man? Our new feature, “Backgrounder,” lays out what you need to know:

How do transgender activists explain the difference between sex and gender? They say gender is a social construct. Within the transgender movement, gender is an umbrella term that includes a spectrum of disembodied, intrinsic “identities” a person could assume that do not match his or her biological sex. Transgender ideology rejects sex as binary, or referring only to males and females. Terms such as nonbinary, gender queer, and gender fluidity reflect a belief that one’s gender identity can change over time.

But isn’t sex obvious at birth? Biological sex is an assumption, not a statement of reality, according to transgender proponents. They seek to reframe sex as “assigned at birth” but subject to change based on one’s inner sense of who he or she is.

What are the roots of these ­definitions of sex and gender? Carl Trueman (see “The twisted self,” in this issue) has traced the origins of believing one could be “a woman trapped in a man’s body” to philosophers including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sigmund Freud, who planted ideas that downplayed the physical body and elevated our inner feelings and desires as holding decisive authority on who we think we are. In the 20th and 21st centuries, sexologists Alfred Kinsey and John Money promulgated ideas about childhood sexuality and ­gender norms. They are considered pioneers of the transgender movement.

So what makes a person trans­gender? Transgender people typically change their names, pronouns, and appearance to present as the opposite sex. Many obtain puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries to remove or alter healthy organs to mimic those of the opposite sex. A “transgender woman” is a biological male who identifies as a female.

What about cisgender? Cis in Latin means “on the side of.” Cisgender is a novel term referring to anyone who identifies as and is comfortable with his “sex assigned at birth.”

Do transgender activists believe men can get pregnant? A female who identifies as male and retains her ovaries and uterus may still be able to conceive despite having used cross-sex hormones. Transgender activists call these cases of “pregnant men.” They seek to redefine terminology involving menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth to include male-identifying females, referring to “people who menstruate,” ­“pregnant people,” and “birthing people.”

Can’t a dictionary settle this? Maybe not. Merriam-Webster has updated its online dictionary to include secondary definitions of female as “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male” and of male as “having a gender identity that is the opposite of female.”

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