Normally, I would refrain from piggybacking on other people's questions, but I am not sure when I will again find occasion to ask the kinds of questions I have in mind. Very recently, a woman asked a question about transsexuals and how they could feel that they were of a certain gender (Question #4282). I have some related questions, although it does not exclusively concern the transsexual and transgender identities. I will focus for now on the transgender identity in asking my questions, but I hope it is clear that my question applies just as much to the cisgender identity. It seems to me that many people whom I encounter confidently hold both of these beliefs: (A): Gender, as distinct from sex, is a social construction. (B): People can be transgender. I have struggled to reconcile what has struck me as a glaring contradiction between these two beliefs. For people to be able to be transgender, it must be possible for them to have genders; this cannot be possible lest, in some fundamental sense, gender exists. But if gender is a social construction and nothing more, then gender does not exist in this fundamental sense. If my reasoning so far is sound, then it cannot both be the case that gender is a social construction and that people can be transgender. If we assume the reality of gender (thereby rejecting the social construction thesis of gender), then it follows almost as a matter of course that people can be transgender. It may even be our conviction that people can be transgender that leads us to affirm the ultimate reality of gender itself. But what if we aren't ready to abandon the social construction thesis of gender? If what I have said thus far is right, then it seems that not only can people not be transgender, but they cannot be of any gender whatsoever. And indeed, I must confess that I cannot help but wonder why people in general put themselves through hell and back solely in the pursuit of gender, costing themselves immensely in the way of their time, their energy, their money, and even their health and well-being. For if I am understanding the social construction thesis and its implications correctly, then gender identity must be itself a falsehood. If everything I have said is sound, then my line of thought leads to two questions: (1) If gender itself is a social construction and nothing more, are we committed to an error theory or a false consciousness thesis on gender identity? (2) If gender itself is a social construction and nothing more, is it possible for us to see a person's pursuit of gender as being a worthwhile enterprise, even for her? I mean no offense in asking these questions, and my apologies if I have caused any offense. These sorts of questions about the existential nature of gender and gender identity have fascinated me for years now but I have been afraid to talk about them openly for fear of how people might react to my asking such questions. Furthermore, I have not had much luck in finding relevant literature pertaining to these kinds of questions, making me wonder if there is some obvious and embarrassing flaw in my reasoning or if I just happen to be a minority of one in holding the views I do. Thank you for considering my rather long-winded set of questions. :)

Since I answered the original question, I will try also to answer this one.

We need to reconsider the phrase "social construction and nothing more", or at least to what you take to be the implications of such a description, that somehow what is socially constructed isn't real. One would need a lot of argument to establish that conclusion. Prima facie, socially constituted facts are no less real than biological or anatomical facts; they are just different. Consider, e.g., facts about political and legal authority. Surely these are socially constituted, but I would not suggest you tell a military tribunal that you can't be guilty of disobeying an order from a superior because social facts are unreal. That should answer question (1), I hope.

Similarly, socially constituted facts matter to people every bit as much (and in some cases more) than biological facts. As I pointed out in response to the previous question, the mere fact that gender is a social (not merely anatomical) matter does not imply that people do not experience it as a fundamental part of their identity. Indeed, since humans are "social animals", there is nothing at all surprising about this. How we relate to ourselves is bound up very much with how we relate to the world around us, and that includes the social world. And that, I hope, answers question (2): Whether gender is a social construction just doesn't bear upon the question whether one's gender identity can or should be important to one's sense of self. Indeed, since it is just obvious that gender identity is important to people's sense of self, it's not clear what's left to discuss here.

So, people do have genders, and they can have them even if gender does not "exist in [the] fundamental sense", meaning, I take it: even if gender is not a biological notion. People can have jobs, and friends, and husbands and wives, and stand in relations of authority to one another, too, even though these do not "exist in [the] fundamental sense" either. One ought not get carried away with the language here, even if one does think there is something to be made of this "fundamental sense" language (as I am not entirely sure there is).

I'd love to be able to point you towards more to read, as I do think these are fascinating issues. Unfortunately, I'm no expert. But you might start with the article on Feminist Metaphysics over at the Stanford Encyclopedia. The soon to be out book The Metaphysics of Gender, by Charlotte Witt, will be technical, but it might be something to which you would be sympathetic.

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