Being a woman isn’t like being Napoleon

For some reason, mainstream news organizations still can’t resist giving a platform to some of the oldest, most worn-out and nonsensical tropes about transgender people. Like this:

In a recent Straight Dope Message Board thread about transsexuality, one commenter offered the following: “People who have gender identity disorders . . . are just dudes dressing up as chicks and/or dudes who have gotten a doctor to mutilate them to have imitation female genitalia (or [the other way around for women], I guess.) . . . GID patients have a mental illness and society should be looking into ways to eradicate that mental illness through some form of treatment that isn’t the equivalent of giving a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks he’s Napoleon a bicorn hat and a saber.” Care to comment? — Startled Lurker

Yes, this line of argument is all too familiar to us by now, yet these people seem to think no one has ever thought of it before. To make being trans seem like nothing more than a delusion, they parallel it to identifying as another species, identifying as imaginary animals such as dragons and unicorns, or identifying as another race (apparently multiracial people do not exist and are not allowed to identify as any of their constituent races). To this list of absurd comparisons, we can now add identifying as Napoleon.

This is one of those times when someone just throws a bunch of words together and expects that an actual substantive argument will spontaneously emerge. It’s made to look like it has some kind of meaning, but when you look closer, there’s nothing there. It seems like they think we’ll fail to notice that a solid half of the human population are women, identify as women, go about their lives as women, and no one has a problem with this. Being a woman is not, you know, rare or anything. Saying you’re a woman is not an outlandish claim to make. Expecting to be treated as a woman is not at all unreasonable. And yet they make it sound like this is the same as saying you’re the one Napoleon, as opposed to every other person in history who isn’t Napoleon. That simply doesn’t map to this.

Among the other ways that the Napoleon scenario fails to track with the realities of sex and gender: Fetal humans do not differentiate into Napoleon and not-Napoleon (or white and black and Asian and Latino and so on, or human and dolphin and cat, or dragon and unicorn); they do differentiate into male and female. The hypothetical Napoleon/not-Napoleon differentiation process does not occasionally result in people being born who are part Napoleon and part not-Napoleon (or partially human and partially dolphin or cat or dragon), yet intersex conditions are recognized to exist in humans. Nowhere do we encounter people whose genetic makeup indicates that they are Napoleon (or a dog or unicorn) while their external features make them appear to be not-Napoleon, or vice versa. There are no cultures with established social roles of Napoleon and not-Napoleon (or dragon), let alone additional roles for those who move between these categories, yet a number of cultures recognize three or more genders, encompassing men, women, and others whose assigned sex doesn’t align with their gender.

But suppose we did live in a world where a significant portion of the population lived as Napoleon (or cats or dragons) every day, without issue and without facing any resistance from society. If someone decided, you know what, I think I’d feel more comfortable being a Napoleon, what grounds would you have to deny them that? It’s very telling that to some people, gender is so important, so set in stone, so inseparable from one unchangeable aspect of reality, they expect us to believe it’s just as crucial and relevant and undeniable as the distinction between being Napoleon and being everyone else. In practice, it’s not like that at all. There’s more to it than your insipid pet theory that tells you what you want to hear while failing to account for how the world works.

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