Is the transgender movement playing to stereotypes? Keingenderism, which frees the individual from the restrictive gender binary, could offer a solution.
In a post-truth society, such as the one we live in at the moment, the notion of truth oscillates between being an objective, physically independent, and rigid concept and one which is subjective, physically dependent, and malleable. Truth is no longer solely seen as something which exists independently of the individual but, instead, as something which is created ad hoc according to the needs of the individual.
Truth and the transgender movement
One of the recent debates which highlights the schism between the traditional definition of truth and the more contemporary definition is the debate between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson, in which the two extensively discuss the meaning of truth and whether truth is something which is objective – independent of our interpretation and to be discovered – or whether truth is something which is moulded by the individual to conform her/his needs based on what is beneficial to that individual and to society.
In the subjective interpretation of truth, truthmakers (i.e. what makes a particular proposition p true) and truth-bearers (i.e. a particular proposition p which is either true or false) have a different relation to truth than that of the traditional definition of truth. Subjectivity allows for the individual to be not merely the discoverer of the truthmaker, but rather the truthmaker him/herself. In contrast, in the traditional definition, truthmakers exist over and above the individual, and although their discovery does not lead to propositions that are necessarily true (i.e. propositions that are true in all possible worlds) it, nevertheless, leads to propositions that are (objectively) true, and not dependent on interpretation or to the individual.
Although I will not get into the philosophical debate on what truth is any further, my aim in this article is to point out and discuss one of the most applicable implications of the debate that has emerged recently; that is, the notion of truth in the transgender movement, which has been deeply influenced, and has influenced, the contemporary definition of truth. Put in this context, the truthmaker who will decide whether the truth-bearer “Person X is a man/woman” is true or false is not some biological proposition which is simply available to the individual to discover and accept, but the truthmaker is the individual him/herself.
An entirely subjective approach, however, highlights how the movement essentially acts against one of its core aims: the emancipation of individuals from the gender binary. In contrast, instead of the movement calling for the abolition of the gender binary, it simply distances itself from the conventional notions of the gender binary, in this way strengthening the societal stereotypes on the gender binary even more.
“An entirely subjective approach, however, highlights how the movement essentially acts against one of its core aims: the emancipation of individuals from the gender binary.”
Keingenderism, biology, and further implications
As a response to the actions of this identity movement which undermine the aims of the movement itself, I propose the notion of keingenderism, and how it can help the movement keep consistent with its aim to emancipate the individual from the gender binary. My view is that, by adopting the contemporary ‘trans’ identity, one strengthens the traditional gender binary. As a result of the numerous ‘trans’ identities, the term ‘cisgender’, for example, has become an incredibly exclusive and restrictive term which only includes those who satisfy the stereotypes of what is to be a man or a woman, something counterintuitive to the aims of the transgender movement.
Keingenderism, in its essence, calls for the abolition of genders, not their expansion, in order to fight against the traditional gender binary. It accepts the established sex binary but does not promote further establishment of rules or norms in society which operate under the sex binary i.e. genders.
“Keingenderism, in its essence, calls for the abolition of genders, not their expansion, in order to fight against the traditional gender binary.”
There are undoubtedly differences between the brains and bodies of male and female individuals. Exceptions do exist but cannot invalidate the rule of which they are exceptions.
Biological differences between the two sexes give rise to different behaviours in society, which further give rise to the categorization of male and female individuals as men and women, respectively. Is this a fair categorization? I say no, and most proponents of the transgender movement would agree: Our biological sex should not dictate nor determine our gender. However, upon agreeing onto this, the transgender movement takes a turn that undermines the very proposition that biological sex should not determine our gender and does not justify any categorization of people into socially constructed genders. The turn that the transgender movements takes is towards gender fluidity and categorization within its spectrum. I argue that the case that our biological sex should not determine our gender essentially means that differences in our behaviour from how the average person in our sex group behaves should not give rise to different categorization labels in society, i.e. genders.
“That our biological sex should not determine our gender essentially means that differences in our behaviour from how the average person in our sex group behaves should not give rise to different categorization labels in society, i.e. genders.”
The problem with the transgender movement’s position is that, at the very moment an individual claims “I am not a man/woman”, then, in that very statement, they establish what a man/woman is. The reason is that there is something that you are not. A transwoman, a man-to-woman transgender individual, for example, in an attempt to distance herself by the societal gender stereotypes, has strengthened those stereotypes even more; simply by distancing herself from them, and defining, in her alleged non-acceptance of the traditional gender binary definition, a gender binary definition.
Such a person, essentially, works towards keeping and strengthening the gender binary. This is because their actions indicate that they accept the restrictive nature of the binary and assume that there are certain behaviours that are strictly feminine, or that there are particular emotions associated with the being of a woman (that individual would state, for example, that ‘I feel I am a woman’). However, there is no behaviour which is inherently feminine – both sexes exhibit the same types of behaviour, albeit at different levels. Thus, to want to emancipate individuals in society from the gender binary and at the same time consider that certain behaviours are strictly masculine or feminine is an oxymoron, and it is where one can begin to see where the transgender movement harms itself and its goals.
Putting this in a more applicable context will help explain how the transgender movement strengthens the very stereotypes it fights against. It is true that in most human societies worldwide, it is not socially acceptable for a male to wear heels and dresses and put on makeup and lipstick. Let’s suppose that we want to fight against this stereotype and we want to make it socially acceptable for males to wear heels and put on lipstick, or exhibit any sort of behaviour which is socially regarded ‘feminine’. Now, the worst thing a male can do if he wants to exercise this behaviour is to distance himself from the category of males. Because in the very act of distancing himself from the category, all that is left in the category are those who satisfy the stereotype.
It is here that the transgender movement gets it wrong; in this distancing of people rather than in the incorporation of behaviour into the identity of the individual. Identities are not rigid, but malleable, and transgender individuals have every right to challenge and revise those stereotypes. However, this distancing of people from stereotypes creates all sorts of gender identities which, more than anything, harm the fight against the establishment of the binary, as the category of cis-male and cis-female becomes more and more exclusive.
Instead, as keingenderism would suggest, the right thing to do is to deny that an individual’s biological sex can determine whether it is socially acceptable for them to wear heels and put on lipstick – something on which many transgender individuals would agree – but, at the same time, it does not call for the expansion of the categorization of individuals in society, beyond categorizations which are justified because of biological reasons (e.g. sex segregation in sports). That is, a male who chooses to wear heels and put on lipstick does not have to put any label onto himself, thus freeing himself from the restrictive gender labels.
Instead, in order to fight against the gender binary, a male individual who wants to wear heels and put on lipstick only needs to identify himself as such, as “a male who wears heels and puts on lipstick”. Putting a gender label on himself only strengthens the societal stereotype of what a ‘male’ is. This is why, as keingenderism suggests, societal behaviour or norms, should not be determined by biological sex. Fighting gender stereotypes means making it acceptable for a man who wants to wear heels and put on lipstick to still call himself a man. Inventing another category to which he belongs (as the transgender movement does), only leaves, in the category of ‘men’, those individuals who satisfy the traditional notion of what a man is, which is the very notion transgender individuals, supposedly, fight against.
“Fighting gender stereotypes means making it acceptable for a man who wants to wear heels and put on lipstick to still call himself a man.”
Where the gay liberation movement got it right
In contrast, the gay liberation movements handled their fight against stereotypes in a different manner, and this acted on both their, and the wider society’s, benefit. Given the fact that what was socially acceptable in the mid-20th century was for a male/female to be heterosexual, gay and lesbian activists did not try to generate socially constructed categories in which they would put themselves in but, instead, fought to incorporate their sexual preferences into the already held categories.
That is, while it was not socially acceptable for an individual to be a woman and be attracted to women, lesbian activists fought to establish this. Putting themselves into another category, supposedly in an attempt to fight against this stereotype, would leave in the category ‘women’ only those women who satisfy the stereotype of heterosexual women. Had lesbian activists tried to fight the stereotypes by identifying themselves as something other than women, they would have failed in their efforts towards emancipation, for there is nothing in the essence of a woman that dictates she be heterosexual. The fact that the term ‘lesbian’ comes under the term ‘female’ (i.e. seen as someone who is a female and homosexual), and is not presented as an alternative, highlights how the gay liberation movement handled the issue differently, and I would argue more successfully, than the transgender movement.
“Had lesbian activists tried to fight the stereotypes by identifying themselves as something other than women, they would have failed in their efforts towards emancipation, for there is nothing in the essence of a woman that dictates she be heterosexual.”
Following the keingenderism position, one can see why the gay liberation movement would have been hurt by the creation of ‘sexual preferences categories’. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are not strict or rigid definitions – they also exist fluidly. However, the invention of labels to categorize each part of the spectrum is inherently damaging. A heterosexual woman, for example, who would rarely exhibit homosexual behaviour does not have to distance herself from heterosexual women. The idea is, simply, that distancing oneself from the stereotype strengthens it, instead of challenging it, by making it even more exclusive.
Transracial individuals and the Bell Curve
Furthermore, cases of transracial people highlight the absurd and damaging nature of the tendency to view biological markers of identity as entirely subjective. Transracial people are individuals who claim to belong to a different race than the one they were born into. Following the distinction between truth-bearers and truthmakers that was made earlier, transracial people, such as Ja Du, a white man who identifies as a Filipino woman, claim that they themselves can be the truthmakers of truth-bearers on propositions about race.
But if race (and, equally, gender) is a social construct, then there is no reason for Ja Du, and any individual of any ‘trans’ identity, to distance themselves from the label. But they have to either attempt to get rid of the label they were given, without adopting any other, or include themselves under the label, thus challenging it and revising it.
I, myself, am an individual who has been raised in Cyprus, but due to my studies I have been exposed to British culture. Through my experience, I can say that the average Cypriot is less punctual, drinks less alcohol, and likes to play cricket less than the average Briton. However, if I, as an individual, am more punctual, drink more alcohol, and like to play cricket more than the average Cypriot, and at levels that would resemble the average Briton, the worst thing I can do to challenge the stereotypes of the two cultures would be to stop calling myself a ‘Cypriot’ and start identifying as ‘British’. By such an action, I strengthen the societal stereotypes against Cypriot culture by only allowing those who satisfy the stereotypes to identify themselves as Cypriots.
“If I, as an individual, am more punctual, drink more alcohol, and like to play cricket more than the average Cypriot, and at levels that would resemble the average Briton, the worst thing I can do to challenge the stereotypes of the two cultures would be to stop calling myself a ‘Cypriot’ and start identifying as ‘British’.”
Instead, the right thing to do is accept that I belong at either end of the normal distribution curve, but still within the curve, and, if I wish to challenge the strict and exclusive nature of the stereotypes, call myself a Cypriot and someone who is very punctual, drinks a lot of alcohol, and loves cricket. However, an even better approach would be to adopt the idea behind keingenderism and reject the idea that being Cypriot in any way determines, in the absolute sense of the term, my behaviour. Of course, as someone who has been brought up in Cyprus and into Cypriot culture, I am partly disposed to have a certain lifestyle and behaviour, but this is not strict, and cases which deviate from the average should not be treated as belonging outside the normal distribution and under another normal distribution curve.
Equally, in the case of Ja Du, there are only two rational options that that individual has if he does not want to strengthen stereotypes about American white men and Filipinos. He can either identify as an American who has particular personality traits or exhibits behaviour commonly observed in Filipinos, or, following the idea behind keingenderism, simply adopt a certain lifestyle and behaviour without having to give himself any label. Identifying as a white American would, in no way, restrict Ja Du’s freedom, for there is nothing in being a white American that dictates that a white American should have a certain personality or behave in a particular way.
Likewise, the transgender movement does not treat values that belong to either edge of a normal distribution as belonging inside the bell curve, but as not even being part of the bell curve. The outcome is that those who are left in the bell curve are only those who satisfy the stereotypes i.e. the average.
The above outcome is an undesired consequence of the actions of the transgender movement which run counter to their aims and damage the movement itself. This highlights the reality of the problem that exists in the transgender movement, which claims that anyone can be their own truthmaker and assign themselves a gender.
The concept of truth expands far beyond our view of ourselves, meaning that the individual cannot be the sole truthmaker of a truth-bearer. However, even if gender is a social construct, the transgender movement’s approach is damaging as it’s fighting socially constructed terms with more socially constructed terms, and it’s not freeing the individual from the binary, while strengthening the stereotypes that are attributed to the binary, in this way making the binary even more exclusive and restrictive. It is this issue that keingenderism seeks to resolve in order to free the individual from the restrictive gender binary.
Angelos is a Philosophy (MA) student at the University of Durham, UK. He writes on philosophy, religion, politics, and science.