“Political Lesbianism” is Identity Politics

Identity politics is, in part, the act of adopting an identity for the purpose of making a political point. In the case of “political lesbianism,” lesbian is reduced to a social identity that informs others of your political ideology, rather than a factual description of a woman’s private sexual behavior.  As with all identities, “political lesbian” demands external recognition in order to exist. If others do not acknowledge or understand you as a “political lesbian,” there cannot be any resulting social influence. “Political lesbian,” then, functions primarily as a social performance.

First, how does one make herself as a “political lesbian” known to others? Is it accomplished by name, deed, appearance, or some combination thereof? Well, if by name alone, then “political lesbianism” is truly nothing more than a label, a performative utterance.[i] I think even self-identified “political lesbians” would agree it requires more. If “political lesbianism” comes into being by sexual deed alone, it may remain entirely confidential. If women have sex but no one knows it, their deed cannot possibly affect the wider political climate. Publication of oneself as a “political lesbian” is necessary for social influence and political relevancy. So deed may be necessary, but it too is insufficient. Ultimately, appearance may be the most effective method of ensuring that one’s announcement of herself as a “political lesbian” is coherently received by her social audience. Yet “political lesbianism” is not a fashion movement and does not prescribe particular garments or colored hankies for visibility.[ii] I have read as many definitions of “political lesbian” as I can find; there is no consensus on what it means.

Secondly, the efficacy of “political lesbianism” as a political action depends on the same rationale as every other form of identity politics: the loyal volunteers are expected to behave in a certain way that supposedly effectuates positive social change. I’ve made jokes about what “political lesbians” think the best sexual positions for fighting patriarchy are, but it’s not entirely funny. We cannot fuck our way to liberation. I learned that from queer theory. In practice, being a lesbian- “political” or otherwise- does not decrease, but actually increases, women’s experiences of discrimination and social denigration. It is arguably sadistic to encourage women to deliberately expose themselves to oppression in order to advance the collective status of other women.

More broadly, a social performance methodology of politics evades confrontation of forces beyond the immediate realm of one’s personal life. Political activism is not a self-help movement; it is the intellectual and material deconstruction of unequal class-based power dynamics that give rise to oppression. As I have explained elsewhere, oppressed people have not created their own oppression with “bad identity choices,” nor are women’s “bad sexuality choices” the cause of our sexual oppression as females.[iii] The ostensibly feminist theory of “political lesbianism,” however, focuses on the personal choices of women privileged enough to exercise control over their own sexual expression. Unfortunately, most women in the world do not have this liberty.

One’s sexuality should never be in service to her politics. If you’re lesbian, that’s just great. If you’re not a lesbian, who cares? Not me. I don’t care who you have sex with or what you call yourself; that’s your business. Market-constructed, phallocentric sexuality can and should be critiqued. Compulsory heterosexuality must be critiqued.[iv] This critique does not grant feminists license to prescribe certain kinds of sexual behavior, identities, or desires as more “feminist” than others.

Patriarchy manipulates women’s sexuality towards men and heteronormativity. “Political lesbianism” does something similar in the reverse. Here’s how: the theory of “political lesbianism” asserts that sexuality is entirely socially constructed. This framing renders women who are not lesbians—in name or deed, it doesn’t matter seem to matter—as being male-identified. Similarly, the statement “any women can be lesbian” posits lesbianism as a state of being that women should aspire to as a form of feminist consciousness. “Political lesbianism” thereby casts lesbianism as aspirational, not neutral or incidental.

The very definition of hierarchy is “a system or organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status or authority.”[v] It is therefore inevitable that a hierarchy is created when one form of sexual expression is viewed as better, more enlightened, or more politically effective than another. Through the establishment of this hierarchy, pressure to alter ones sexual identity is generated regardless of whether the pressure is intended or not. The positive suggestion of change is inherent to the idea that lesbianism is a (politically) superior or preferred way of being.

Glorifying lesbianism through the lens of feminist politics projects a fantasy onto those women who are “lesbians” regardless of their political views. It abstracts women’s experiences of loving women as if all lesbians were feminists.[vi] This is not fair to the lesbians who bear the burden of the unrealistic expectations of this “political” theory. It is also a demonstrably false assessment of lesbianism in the real world. There are endless examples of lesbians who prioritize men over women, who are abusive to other women, or who do not understand women as oppressed people. I’m not sure that “political lesbians” appreciate the sometimes unpleasant realities of lesbian community, presently and historically. Further, in some areas of the world it is now possible for lesbians to become almost completely assimilated into social norms. As a married lesbian in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I can’t remember the last time someone bristled at our public displays of affection. No one cares that I am a lesbian. It is clearly not a threat to their heterosexuality or anything else they hold dear.

Leveraging a “lesbian” identity for the purpose of political warfare against patriarchy effectively turns some women’s desire into other women’s attempts at retaliation. The classic feminist text Woman Identified Woman states, “A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.”[vii] This definition uses “lesbian” as a message directed at men, an insult. It is the absolute opposite of how I feel about my lesbian partner. Adopting the identity “political lesbian” in reaction to patriarchy is not an expression of love or desire, nor is it even about women. It is fundamentally about men; it uses an identity to “radically” transgress social norms of heterosexuality. We cannot use a social identity to effectuate “liberation” any more than we can gender-fuck ourselves out of patriarchy’s power dynamics. We need to change the system itself, not our individual behavior or identities within this system.

“Political lesbianism” has a long and distinguished feminist history. Some theorists continue to argue that it deserves a place at the “radical feminist” table. But this appeal to tradition does not persuade me. Identity-as-social-performance is not politically effective because it is an individualist approach to a systemic problem. “Political lesbianism” instructs us to view lesbianism from the perspective of an external observer: it is essentially a social I-dentity through which we can and should subvert the dominant paradigm of heterosexuality. Those who support “political lesbianism” as effective feminist political action have allowed identity politics to infect their ideology.

I identify as an anti-political-lesbian lesbian.

_______________________________________

[i] See “I Say It, Therefore It Is” regarding performative verbs here: http://rootveg.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/i-say-it-therefore-it-is-so/

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handkerchief_code

[iii] More on identity as politics here: http://liberationcollective.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/socialization-matters-why-identity-libertarianism-is-failed-politics/

[iv] Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience, by Adrienne Rich http://www.terry.uga.edu/~dawndba/4500compulsoryhet.htm

[v] Google for “hierarchy.”

[vi] See previous entry “Lesbian and feminist are not synonyms, expanded” at https://revolutionarycombustion.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/lesbian-and-feminist-are-not-synonyms-expanded/

[vii] Woman Identified Woman by Radicalesbians: http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/wlm/womid/

R*ape: analyzing damages

In light of current events surrounding male perspectives on RAPE, I would like to revisit the ideas below. REPUBLISHED FROM UNDERCOVER PUNK. Originally posted on October 2, 2011.

The Legitimate Children of Rape, August 29 2012, The New Yorker

Raped, pregnant and ordeal not over, August 23, 2012, CNN

See also, for legal nerds: http://georgetownlawjournal.org/files/pdf/98-3/Prewitt.PDF

*******

There has been some talk recently about the FBI’s archaic definition of rape. The New York Times even covered the story this week. Let’s review.

The FBI provides guidance to states about criminal reporting. As in, what actually happened for the record on a national level. This guidance is published in the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook (hereafter, the Handbook). The first version of the Handbook was issued in 1929, and the most recent version is dated 2004. Well, dontchyaknow some things never change! Including the definition of Forcible Rape:

Definition: The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.

Page 19.

Not-forcible rape does not exist in the Handbook. That’s right sisters, you better fight back or it was. not. rape. As you might expect, this forcibility requirement tops the list of feminist complaints about the FBI’s working definition of rape. But it’s only the beginning.

Another major complaint heard ’round the world is about the exclusion of victims from the definition of rape. By continuing to use the old-fashioned term “carnal knowledge” only females can be victims of “forcible rape.” And only males can perpetrate “forcible rape.” Because it literally. requires. penis. to. vagina. contact.

The Handbook further reads:

Agencies must not classify statutory rape, incest, or other sex offenses, i.e. forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, forcible fondling, etc. as Forcible Rape (2a or 2b).

Page 20, emphasis in original.

So you see, according to NATIONAL CRIME STATISTICS, non-PIV sexual violence is. not. rape. Even statutory rape is excluded from the definition of “forcible rape!” This makes a lot of people very, very upset. Understandably, so. Now, me? Yes. And no. Here’s the thing: I don’t believe that rape is rape is rape is the same as all other rape. I would argue in favor of different classifications of “rape” that take into account penetration, exploitation of power (see Chapter 6 of the Swedish Penal Code as example), and potential or incurred damages. But that is not what we have here.

Here, the FBI has created one very narrow, difficult to prove, definition of rape; then dumps everything else into a second category called “Sex Offenses.” A “sex offense” is simply a catch-all description for non-PIV sexual violence:

This classification includes all sex offenses except forcible rape, prostitution, and commercialized vice.

Page 142. As such, this framework of national reporting fails to classify many acts of unwanted sexual penetration as rape. It also fails to account for important differences between the various non-PIV crimes it shoves under the umbrella term “Sex Offenses.”

But guess what? It gets better! Let me tell you what I think this is the most appalling part of the guidance offered in the Handbook:

The ability of the victim to give consent must be a professional determination by the law enforcement agency. The age of the victim, of course, plays a critical role in this determination. Individuals do not mature mentally at the same rate. Certainly, no 4-year old is capable of consenting, where victims aged 10 or 12 may need to be assessed within the specific circumstances.

Page 142, my emphasis.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is in the OFFICIAL FBI MANUAL OF CRIME REPORTING. And guess what? The exact. same. language. is also featured in the section on Forcible Rape (see page 19). So this pedophilic instruction is given by the government not once, but TWICE!

Ten and twelve-year-old children can NOT, as a matter of state law, consent to sexual contact with adults. I’m sorry people, but sometimes getting all BLACK & WHITE on certain egregious behaviors is appropriate. And this is one where I’m willing to risk Laying Down the Law like there are no legit exceptions. The FBI guidance about ten and twelve year old victims being “assessed within the specific circumstances” NEEDS TO GO. There should be a clear prohibition on sexual contact with a child aged sixteen (or younger) by any person two (or more) years older or younger in age than the child. None. End. Teenagers, find people your own age, or WAIT. Yes, that’s how I really feel. And I could probably get even more complicated about the wording, but I won’t. For now.

Articles about the FBI’s current working definition of rape also discuss the statistical increase in crimes that would inevitably occur if the FBI’s antique definition of “forcible rape” were updated. But really, what would the problem be? First of all, we’d know exactly why the increase has occurred. No need for alarm, people! But more importantly, we’d have a clearer picture of reality with a better understanding of all victims’ experiences. And this new accounting of reality just might result in increased resources and funding for the victims of these crimes. Finally, there is considerable difference in state definitions of rape. Most of them look nothing like the “forcible rape” definition used by the FBI. Comparing apples to statistical oranges inevitably produces misrepresentations. Uniform criminal reporting standards that more accurately captured a greater range of sexual crimes would encourage state adoption and therefore, consistency. Women would benefit from shared legal definitions of “rape” and “sexual assault” that better reflect our experiences by making more detailed analyses of the circumstances.

So let’s do that.

I believe that one of our tasks as feminists is to conceptualize new ways of describing women’s experiences. In this case, experiences of sexual violation. That’s why I think this is the most feminist-interesting part of the Handbook’s guidance. The factors mentioned below help inform our task because they legitimize concern for damages:

Sexual attacks on males are included in this classification [Sex Offenses]. However, depending on the nature of the crime and the extent of the injury, the offense could be classified as an assault. (See explanation of assaults on page 23 of this handbook.)

Page 142.

Let’s start with extent of the injury, which of course is about actual damages. A feminist analysis of rape and sexual assault would take into account all kinds of injuries and their severity/extent, including (but not limited to):

  • emotional distress
  • bodily injury
  • disease transmission; symptoms and curability
  • impregnation

I know it’s hard for some people to read impregnation as a form of injury but, particularly in the context of rape, framing unwanted impregnation as a unique kind of personal damage/injury should be understandable to most. Separate consideration should be made for each of the different kinds of injuries that a person sustains as a result of rape and/or sexual assault. Including pregnancy. Including pregnancy.

In addition to kind and extent, potential injury is also relevant to criminal severity. At least when it comes to aggravated assault, potential counts. The Handbook advises law enforcement agencies:

It is not necessary that injury result from an aggravated assault when a gun, knife, or other weapon that could cause serious personal injury is used.

Page 24.

Here, potential injury from a weapon becomes relevant to the aggravated classification of the crime. Aggravation could therefore provide support for the feminist claim that PIV and/or Male-on-Female penetration has a similar quality of increased “deadliness”– by way of impregnation and disease. Aggravation analysis increases the criminal severity of an act because of the potential damage created by the presence of something in particular: death or severe bodily harm in the case of assault with a weapon, and impregnation and/or disease transmission in the case of sexual assault with a penis (against a female body).

Aggravated assault also recognizes that not all weapons are created equally. The Handbook has sub-sections describing different kinds of weapons commonly used in the commission of assault (4a- firearm; 4b- knife or cutting instrument; 4c- other dangerous weapon; 4d- hands, fists, feet, aggravated injury). Unfortunately, the federal government does not recognize the danger of impregnation as a potential, or even actual, harm. And even more unfortunately, according the FBI, female victims of “forcible rape” -and victims of all “sexual offenses”- do not have an aggravated classification for reporting the sexual crimes committed against them.

Further, transmission of disease by non-sexual methods such as biting or spitting is specifically addressed in the Handbook’s discussion of aggravated assault (see page 24). Yet disease transmission is a conspicuously absent from guidance about Forcible Rape and Sexual Offenses (see page 19-20 and 142-143, respectively).

A feminist analysis of sexual violence and potential injury would review the nature of the crime and consider aggravating circumstances such as:

  • a [structural] power differential/relationship between the parties, including age and threat of retaliation
  • a physical size or ability differential
  • the use of physical force or threat thereof
  • use/threat of a weapon; kind of weapon (deadly or otherwise)
  • PIV/reproductive violation
  • exchange of bodily fluids (disease transmission)

The presence of any one of these factors justifies an increase in the severity of the crime being reported. Combined consideration for actual and potential damages should be built into our nationally recognized standards of reportable sex-crimes. Most of this is already being done for assaults. Why not sexual crimes too?

Smith College to be confronted by a trans test case

Well, I’m back on the tumblr.

For a singular purpose.* To respond to this:

Which I did here. And I’m not done.

Let’s review the original intent for the creation of Smith College. In Sophia Smith’s own words, her will bequest was for:

the establishment and maintenance of an Institution for the higher education of young women, with the design to furnish for my own sex means and facilities for education equal to those which are afforded now in our Colleges to young men.

(See: http://www.smith.edu/about_sophia.php).

Unfortunately, women are still in need of these safe harbors from male entitlement and classroom domination. Women remain significantly underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Despite what Larry Summers might think, it’s not because women are stupid. It’s because of “…environmental and social barriers – including stereotypes, gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities – that continue to block women’s participation…”

As a result, single sexed educational institutions continue to offer critically valuable and unique opportunities to young women:

At Smith, there are no stereotypes about what women should do, but there are unlimited expectations about what women can do. Smith is a great training ground for careers that might still be considered non-traditional for women.

(See: http://www.smith.edu/about_whyissmith.php).

One does not become a woman by complying with the antiquated sex-based stereotypes that Smith College was established for the express purpose of combatting. A male does not become a female by identifying with, nor by expressing, what is traditionally understood as “femininity.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

Traits stereotypically assigned to females – such as care-taking, emotionalism, and weakness – have served as sufficient [] justification for women’s exclusion from employment, participation in government, and many other critical social functions.  Archaic stereotypes are directly responsible for the denial of female credibility and intellectual authority, in addition to causing the historical marginalization of females, lower social status vis-à-vis males, and lack of power to engage equally with males. Even where law has evolved to formally prohibit sex-stereotyping; women continue to suffer from the lingering effects of sexist ideologies about female inferiority. So although we support every individual’s right to freely express their gender identity, it is absolutely critical that [we] not confuse “feminine expression” with [sex].

Gender essentialism is NOT OK. It is regressive and it is counter-productive to female equality. I will never accept that gender expression is what fundamentally constitutes being a “woman.”

Please reblog, please tweet, please help make some anti-gender-essentialism NOISE about this attack on Smith College.

*Yes, I’m a Smith College graduate. Class of 2000. Philosophy: a major I would not have had the confidence to undertake but for the supportive, woman-centered environment and the encouraging words of my female peers and professors. I would have been too intimidated by the arrogance of male intellectual authority in a co-ed environment. I was still scared to take all those upper level philosophy courses, but at least I knew that I wouldn’t have to endure endless mansplaining in the classroom from other students.

Form and function

I’ve most often encountered the form/function distinction in architectural and design contexts, but I’m going to try my hand at applying it to feminist analysis.[i]

Words and meaning

I started thinking about this problem because of feminism’s struggle to retain control of certain words such as ‘woman’ and ‘gender.’ The truth is that feminists want these words to mean certain things. In the context of language, words are the form and meaning is the function. We can utter all kinds of words, but if they don’t mean what we want them to mean, then they don’t function as we intend them to. I may even like the sound or feel of certain words’ forms, but I need not be dependent on particular syllables or letter patterns to convey my ideas; I need to be able to convey the ideas themselves.

If my goal is effective political communication, I need to be able to express the complexity and nuance of how particular details and variables interact. I’m not a poet (!) so it doesn’t actually matter what language I’m using– English, Spanish, Swahili, or American Sign Language– as long as my listener can readily absorb the concepts that my words represent. Particularly because of what feminists and females have at stake in the context of political discourse, I believe that terminology must ultimately take a back seat to meaning.

Woman

Feminists are currently struggling with some very serious communication challenges as a direct result of the trans*/queer movement’s appropriation of terms central to our political analysis, including ‘woman’ and ‘gender.’ These words have become disconnected from their traditional meaning and no longer function, or communicate, in the way that feminists intend them to. For example, saying that “trans women are women” renders the characteristic experience of girlhood– and all of the associated involuntary feminine grooming that it entails– unnecessary to understanding what a ‘woman’ is. It also negates the assumption that to be a ‘woman’ is an immutable characteristic, thereby opening the class ‘woman’ to anyone who wishes to join it (i.e., non-women/men).

If “trans women are women” then the condition of being a ‘woman’ no longer refers to the (1) lifelong from birth and (2) involuntary process of being exposed to and internalizing female-sex-specific social experiences. Instead, ‘woman’ now refers to a potentially temporary and/or freely chosen way of interacting with the world.  This meaning implies that to be a ‘woman’ is created out of the mere belief that one is a ‘woman’ (identity) and/or created when one appears to others to be in the form of a ‘woman’ (external perception, per-form-ance). Using this meaning of ‘woman,’ a drag queen who passes on Saturday night may be no less a woman than I am in that moment.

When we agree that “trans women are women,” we agree that (1) girlhood and (2) lack of choice about being named and treated as a ‘girl’ from birth are not relevant to the meaning of the term ‘woman;’ these experiential elements are deliberately removed from  future communications about ‘women.’ This shift in meaning causes the word ‘woman’ to function differently. It renders it more difficult for feminists to articulate and communicate the mechanics of women’s class-based oppression as an unbroken chain of sex-specific treatment that saturates the social trajectory of our lives with no beginning and no end.

Gender

Another excellent example of modifying semantic function can be demonstrated with the term ‘gender.’ Feminists have historically used this word to describe the normative social constructs of masculinity and femininity. For feminists, the word ‘gender’ functions as a reference to sex-based stereotypes whose sole purpose is to maintain a strictly ordered sex-based social hierarchy that systematically values males and masculinity over females and femininity. By contrast, trans*/queer appropriation of the term ‘gender’ divorces the concept from its social origins and, instead, locates ‘gender’ within individual desires. Now, ‘gender’ is private and personal. It is self-defined; it’s fluid and amorphous. It has nothing to do with hierarchical social orders, sex-based social roles, or class-based oppression. ‘Gender’ is simply a fun dress-up game to be celebrated! ‘Gender’ dysphoria is recast as pathology, rather than being understood as a reasonable reaction to oppressive sex-based stereotypes that control the lives of everyone. This shift in meaning causes the word ‘gender’ to function differently by communicating very different—even conflicting— concepts to the listener. Once again, feminists’ ability to communicate the harm caused to ‘women’ by externally enforced sex-based stereotypes that we understand as ‘gender’ is made more difficult.

Feminists should seriously consider how much it matters whether we use particular words to describe our meaning(s) and to analyze female experiences, or whether it’s actually more important that the meaning itself be well-understood even if it requires us to employ additional or different terminology. I understand that it shouldn’t be necessary to have this particular conversation in the first place; our words should never be appropriated to serve other people’s agendas. But if we are intent on communicating our ideas, if we want feminism and feminist analysis to be understood, we may have little choice but to take advantage of alternate semantic forms in order to remain functional and persuasive in the context of political discourse.

Bodies and reproduction

My favorite thing about using a form and function framework for feminist analysis is that it can be leveraged to illuminate many of the problems caused by the flatness of post-modern political ideology.[ii] For example, it can be applied to how we understand female bodies in two separate ways. First, the sexed form of a body dictates that body’s social function, roles, and treatment (that’s social determinism, not biological determinism, thank you). Secondly, how and whether any particular body form physically functions in terms of reproduction is relevant and important to the individual who is housed in that body.

Trans* activists and other people influenced by post-modern ideology often argue that ‘sex’ is reducible to that which is objectively observable (mere form) or less (subjective identity). This view fails to account for social functions as analyzed above in regard to the feminist meanings of ‘woman’ and ‘gender.’ Further, the physical functions of the female body, especially in terms of reproduction, are critically important to any conversation about ‘sex,’[iii] yet they are deliberately invisibilized by post-modern analysis.

As illustration, understanding the female experience of having breasts must include more than an analysis of the external social attention that the form of one’s breast receives from others; it must also address the physical experience of having breasts, including the potential and actual function of breasts as sources of biologically engineered nutrition for baby humans. Does that part of our female body function as we need and expect it to? Does it hurt; does it heal; and how does it impact female lives and physical possibilities?

It’s important to account for reproductive processes and functions because they operate regardless of whether ‘sex’ is clearly identifiable from apparent physical form and regardless of whether one socially functions as a ‘woman.’ Analyzing the physical functions of multiple female reproductive processes is necessary to developing feminist theory that fully reflects the conditions and experiences of humans living in female bodies. We must pay attention to the ways in which the female  form interacts with both the social and physical functions of female lives.

Additional application

There are many ways and contexts in which a focus on ‘form’ weakens feminist political analysis and hollows out female lives to that which may be externally observed by non-women, by men. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by one-dimensional representations of women’s realities that fail to account for function. There are surely circumstances under which form is relevant to function, but form should not be seen as more important than function nor become a political substitute for it. Feminists must always keep our eyes on the function ball. We must prepare ourselves to explain why the flat, superficiality of post-modern forms are an inadequate basis on which to rest our understanding of women’s lives and, therefore, an inadequate basis from which to generate functional feminist political analysis.

….

up [i] Please note that there is, in some cases, there may be a further distinction between form and substance, as differentiated form and function.

up [ii] Thanks to Kathy Miriam for this related analysis:

http://kmiriam.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/one-dimensional-feminism-and-the-election-of-2008/

up [iii] This is what I’m trying to get at here:

https://revolutionarycombustion.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/what-is-sex/

FURTHER READING:

Clarke, Jessica A., Adverse Possession of Identity: Radical Theory, Conventional Practice (2005). Oregon Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, 2005. Available for download at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1458068

What is sex?

First, from a petition filed in NYC (Berkley v. Farley) that challenges the surgical sex-change requirement for birth certificate revisions:

7. In those forty years, the medical, scientific, legal, and psychological understandings of trans gender persons have progressed substantially. The mainstream view of these communities no longer equates sex with chromosomes or genitalia alone. Rather, it is now accepted that a person’s sex is determined by a host of factors, including
chromosomes, (4)
gonads (ovaries or testes), (3)
hormonal secretions, (5)
internal reproductive organs, (1)
external genitalia, (2)
secondary sexual characteristics, (6) and
the brain sex or one’s self-identified sex. (7)

Bold, numbers, and line spacing have been added to show consistency with the 2003 decision of The Court of Appeals in Maryland In re: Heilig (see page 8).

There is a recognized medical viewpoint that gender is not determined by any single criterion, but that the following seven factors may be relevant:

(1) Internal morphologic sex (seminal vesicles/prostate or vagina/uterus/fallopian tubes);
(2) External morphologic sex (genitalia);
(3) Gonadal sex (testes or ovaries);
(4) Chromosomal sex (presence or absence of Y chromosome);
(5) Hormonal sex (predominance of androgens or estrogens);
(6) Phenotypic sex (secondary sex characteristics, e.g. facial hair, breasts, body type); and
(7) Personal sexual identity.

Bold added to the terms medical and gender. Interestingly, the Berkley petition seeks to prove sex, while Heilig cites gender.

Of the seven factors, all but ONE refer to objectively demonstrable physical criteria. Yet, by promoting “gender identity” legislation, trans activists are arguing that the single subjective factor on the list (7)– the brain sex or one’s self-identified sex/personal sexual identity– should override the other six:

“Gender identity” means a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

I repeat, “regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

As a female and a feminist, I am opposed to the replacement of “sex” with any kind of subjectively asserted identity, appearance, expression, and/or behavior. “Sex” is not an identity or a choice. Sex is a physical reality.

No single factor can or should be dispositive of an individual’s sex. Visual evidence of secondary sex characteristics (6) is generally accepted as proof of an individual’s “sex” despite the fact that these physical markers can be constructed and/or modified through medical interventions. In other words, appearances can be deceiving. Additionally, because factors (2), (5), and (6)–genitals, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics–are more malleable than the other three physical indicators, one or more of them often serve as the only legally necessary proof that a transsexual has had a sex “change.”

By contrast, chromosomes (4) are immutable; and factors (1)  and (3)–internal morphologic sex (seminal vesicles/prostate or vagina/uterus/fallopian tubes) and gonadal sex (testes or ovaries)–can be removed from an individual’s body but medical technology is not able to construct functional facsimiles of them because they cannot be created by any force but “nature.” Either you are born with them, or you are not.  

The biological purpose of these “sex” organs is human reproduction.

From monthly menstruation to fetal gestation, female bodies bear the primary burden of human reproductive processes. This reality is not under human control. Recognizing this, therefore, humans should use the physical manifestations of female reproductive processes as the lens through which we establish the meaning and substance of “sex.” Female bodies and perspectives should be the default, not males’.