Dangerous Federal Decision Claims Being a Woman Is a “Choice”

by Margaret LeClair

Reactions to the November 2015 U.S. Department of Education ruling that a transgender youth who identifies as female must be allowed unrestricted access to girls’ facilities have, for the most part, focused on what this means for the young girls in the locker room that will now be shared with a male-born team member.

But the real issue—the real danger—has nothing to do with whether transgender youth get naked in a room according to their “sex” or their “gender.” What’s frightening is that we live in a country whose legal system is based on precedents, and the Federal government has just set one that clearly defines identification as female as a choice. If you say you are a girl or woman, you are—legally.

This is, without exaggeration, the official, legal beginning of the end: the utter dismantling of all the legal progress women have made over the past few centuries. And ironically, the court decision was argued through Title IX, a federal law that bans sex discrimination.

The notion that identifying as a woman is enough to be a woman has been normalized in the past few years, to the point where it probably no longer strikes many as questionable. But let’s restate it in terms that might help explain the implications of this precedent:

Being a woman, in legal terms, is no longer strictly a biological state but a state of mind. And worse—unlike schizophrenia, or manic depression—it’s one that we supposedly “choose.”

Women are a subjugated class; our subjugation stems from our biological condition and the reproductive work we do. Deeming “gender” to be something purely “performative” implies that there is a choice that all women make to be part of this subjugated class, as if escaping this subjugation were simply a matter of deciding to stop “performing” our womanhood. Casting gender as a conscious—or even unconscious—choice implies fault. It denotes a complicity in one’s own oppression 

The fact that it has fallen out of fashion to rely on any sort of biological framework for talking about womanhood or feminism is, in itself, a very literal misogyny: it is, pure and simple, the erasure of what makes a woman a woman—in the name of liberating her! It is the denial of the vagina, the uterus, the egg, and, in turn, a universalized (even among “feminists”) hatred for female reproductive organs.

The problem stems from the separation of gender and sex—something liberal-minded people have unequivocally embraced as God’s Word since it came out of Judith Butler’s mouth decades ago. But the notion of performativity—like all of Trans Rhetoric itself—incorrectly treats the gender binary as a flow between two equal planes. But gender is not like this. It is acutely, violently, vertical and hierarchical.

This is something we can recognize with racial posturing (a black man “acting white” in order to succeed in the work place is not the same thing as Rachel Dolezal “identifying” as black). Yet we refuse to recognize it in our discussion about transgender. Allowing a girl who identifies as a boy “unfettered access” to male athletes’ facilities does not undermine the entire existence of men—because they are the privileged ones; they sit at the top of the hierarchy. Changing the legal definition of the group at the bottom of this hierarchy, to allow “unfettered access” to womanhood itself, is threatening to all women—because we supposedly rely on this legal system for protection.

This system of legal protection has just effectively erased our biology. The precedent set in Illinois may now be used against women in matters of court cases. Discrimination in the workplace? Well—you did choose to identify as a woman. Gender violence? Rape? Has nothing to do with your vagina—it’s probably how you were “choosing to perform” your femininity.

In spite of how it has been successfully sold to the public, transgenderism is not the overcoming of oppressive gender roles. It is both a symptom and a reinforcement of oppressive gender roles.

Though its champions love to paint themselves as the torch-bearers of the march of progress, don’t be fooled. Transgenderism is reactionary—not revolutionary. It is reactionary in its reiteration of straightjacket gender roles, and it is reactionary in its undoing of the legal progress women have made since the twentieth century. It is dangerously naïve to believe that as women, everything we have achieved in the past few generations is irreversible; that progress will continue to be linear rather than cyclical; that we are so liberated, so equal, that we no longer even need a legal definition of “female.”

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2 comments for “Dangerous Federal Decision Claims Being a Woman Is a “Choice”

  1. December 15, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Very illuminating article. Totally understand what’s at stake. This issue goes even deeper than we realize.
    Previously, the definition of woman (defined by men) was always characterized by genetics, biology: our ‘specific’ anatomy and physiology–just like a ‘man’ is defined by his anatomy and physiology. Recently, like in every other area of women’s lives and existence, the ‘male’ is taking control and center stage: this time it’s by putting on lipstick, a dress and high-heels and calling himself a ‘woman’. And now, legislation has been drawn up by men, no doubt, to redefined woman as merely a label, concept or ‘feminized’ image to be adopted at will It’s almost laughable, if it wasn’t so insidiously misogynistic.

    This whole issue of transgenderism is so out of left field, people haven’t given it much thought– primarily because we don’t understand it. I agree it is reactionary rather than revolutionary. What’s interesting to me about this is why so few journalists–if any– are really covering transgendered men! A part from Chaz Bono, why aren’t transgendered men getting the spotlight, making it on to magazine covers or being interviewed on prime time TV? Is being a man also deemed a ‘choice’? Does this mean we can change our gender depending on how we feel on any given day?

  2. Kathy Scarbrough
    December 18, 2015 at 8:13 am

    The first reaction of many people, women and men, is to see the lack of reality in the idea that someone can switch gender (as you say, “depending on how we feel”) but then we get browbeat into accepting the idea so as not to be seen as a bigot. I am amazed how easily this idea has apparently been accepted by journalists, school officials, the federal government.

    You raise a good question about why transgender men aren’t getting the spotlight, that seems to go to the core of the sexism deeply embedded in this whole issue. And being treated better, being assumed to be smarter, more capable, etc., etc., must be a strong force on women to consider a transgender life. I’m all for men opting out of our male supremacist society but it would be more powerful if they did it as men and fought male supremacy politically as allies of feminists, instead of just “switching sides.”

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