Is there such a thing as healthy masculinity? What about healthy butchness? Is sex a social construct? Is transness a spectrum? Should we abolish gender or just spectrumify it and dehierarchize it?

I made this post in /r/feminisms, /r/SRSSocialism, and /r/asktransgender.

Hey, you all. I know there can be a lot of tension around these questions and I hope it’s okay that I bring it up.

What I want to ask is not exactly one thing, but I wanted to start a discussion by raising multiple questions. So here’s where I’m coming from in making this post:

About 1.5 years ago, I read in John Stoltenberg’s Refusing to Be a Man and The End of Manhood that sex, in addition to gender, is a social construct. This blew my mind–I realized that even as a feminist I’d been treating women as sort of a different species–a group whose mentality was utterly alien to me.

After that, I started a thought experiment where I would imagine the women I interact with are “actually” men–and sometimes also imagine myself and everyone I’m interacting with as “actually” being women. It’s definitely helped me observe and work on my own sexism to try these out. Before you say anything, I know it’s messed up that I have to think of someone as being a man before my brain accords them certain kinds of respect, but at least it’s less true now as a result of this exercise. Anyway.

I’ve continued studying and thinking about sex and gender since then. I’m a communist, and I want to completely overturn all oppressive systems. I also want to liberate myself from the gender-cop in my own head.

With all that said, I find myself at an impasse. A Facebook page I’m subscribed to turns out to be TERF, and I’ve been reading a few articles they posted that took the TERF position. One of the most striking points one of them made was that all people who appear to be cis women are viewed as capable of being impregnated, and that this means that oppression against them plays out differently than it does against trans women.

Sex may be socially constructed, but the ability to get pregnant obviously is not. So I thought that was a good point. It doesn’t necessarily make trans women not actually women, but it gave me pause.

Then, I recently read this article that argues against TERF from a marxist/proletarian feminist perspective, “Trans People and the Dialectics of Sex and Gender: Against Radical and Liberal Feminism.”

Unfortunately, this article takes an anti-trans man perspective. I did find some of the ideas in it useful, however. Here are some things it claims:

We should thoroughly reject the chauvinist practices of both liberal and radical feminism, and instead adopt a praxis informed by a nuanced, dialectical view of the world.

This means staunchly combating the reactionary subsections of the trans population overtly influenced by gender roles in their decision to transition as this only serves to reinforce gender roles and provide a smaller space in which womanhood or manhood can reside. Radical feminists rightly criticise this to some degree but draw the wrong conclusions, and liberal feminists fail to engage with this at all. We must be very careful in our own criticisms, however, as some people take any trans woman’s display of femininity as automatically illegitimate, as a sign that they’re “faking” or “appropriating” womanhood, or that they’re some sort of drag queen.

This means wholly rejecting the biological-essentialist “brain sex” framework that liberal feminists cosy up to, but radical feminists rightly oppose.

This means wholly rejecting the notions of a hard divide between cis and trans people. It’s both theoretically and experientially unsound. A recent study[2] found that:

  • About 33% of men and 38% of women felt both as a man and as a woman

  • About 30% of men and 45% of women expressed a dislike of their sexed body

  • 41% of men and 46.8% of women experience themselves to some extent as two genders

  • 36.6% of the [non-trans] subjects reported that they sometimes feel like the ‘other’ gender

  • 63.7% reported that they sometimes wish to be the ‘other’ gender

  • 41.9% were sometimes discontent with their sexed body

Wow. Does that mean that transness is a spectrum? That there is no trans/not-trans binary just as there’s no gender binary?

Does this mean that there is some biological underpinning in what makes those individuals whom society currently refers to as “cis” and “trans” feel the specific way they feel? Does this idea threaten to resurrect notions of “brain sex” that should stay dead? Or should we actually believe in brain sex so long as we do it in a non-hierarchical, spectrum-based way?

This article also says,

The only progressive way forward is for men – cis and trans alike – to give up manhood, to abdicate their patriarchal throne. To consciously decide to fight sexism at every opportunity and to disassociate as much as possible from their privileged position, masculinity, and exploitation of women. To strive to undermine their social position at every turn. Progressive men should stop trying to envision a “better” manhood or a “better” masculinity, men hurt themselves, other men, women, and non-men when they assert their masculinity, and they should stop trying to imagine ways to redeem themselves without fundamental change.

I’ve been thinking about this, too. It makes sense to me to get rid of the category of “manhood” or discrete “maleness.” Less clear to me is the idea that we should get rid of “butchness” as one end of a gender spectrum.

I don’t know, hopefully I’ve raised enough questions to let you know where I’m looking at all this from and what sorts of things I’m hoping to understand.

Also, if you couldn’t tell, society has always treated me as a straight white cis male, so I apologize if I’ve said something foolish and hurtful in the process of writing this post.