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. :)
Read another response by Richard Heck
Read another response about Gender