Transmissions: what is a woman? :: Bay Area Reporter


Conservative commentator and provocateur Matt Walsh recently released a film called “What Is A Woman?” Many members of the transgender community came out following the release of the documentary, alleging they were asked to be part of the film under false pretences.

The question of what makes a woman is used as a kind of ambush throughout the film or, as Walsh himself put it, “most people we talked to didn’t want it. talking or they seemed confused about something as simple as what a woman is.”

The purpose of the film, of course, is to portray transgender people and those who support us as delusions, idiots, or both.

The idea was not new to Walsh. A particular type of fanatic known as the Transgender Exclusion Radical Feminist, or TERF, has focused heavily on defining woman in the most restrictive way possible, to exclude trans women and others from the word.

By the way, I personally don’t prefer to use the term TERF. Not because those same people said it was an insult, but because I don’t consider them radical or feminist, and they seem to want something more than just the exclusion of transgender people. Also, well, the word bigot already exists.

You will also notice that you usually only hear the question posed as what is a woman, rather than what is a man? The idea is, I suppose, that trans women are much easier to frame a controversy, while erasing trans men from the discussion altogether – but I digress.

This question of how to define a woman is treated as little more than reciting a simplified definition from the Merriam-Webster Children’s Dictionary. What makes such a definition so difficult, however, is not in what a woman is, but in realizing what she is not. That is, any time you try to state a specific, specific example of what a woman is, it can quickly fall apart on scrutiny.

Consider the most obvious and simplistic example, now all the more painfully relevant in a post-Roe v. Wade: a childish woman. It looks cut and dried out, but falls apart very quickly. When someone goes through menopause, is he no longer a woman? What about a woman who simply cannot have children or who has taken other measures to avoid childbirth?

You can try to identify it with anatomy, but not all people assigned female at birth may have the same anatomy, and that anatomy can and does change throughout our lives. .

It should probably be noted that a fetus initially has proto-genitals that are not sexually dimorphic and will require the presence of androgens to differentiate into what are generally considered male genitalia.

Of course, the one most often pointed to is her chromosomes, usually simplified to XX for females and XY for males. Yet even that fails even the slightest scrutiny: some carriers of XX or XY chromosomes, but otherwise having the physical appearance of a different sex, or those whose chromosome pairs do not match the XX and XY dichotomy.

In none of the above cases was I specifically referring to transgender people either. There are enough variations beyond transgender identities that a simple definition is nothing more than a quaint rule of thumb, at best, with dozens of natural variations.

So let’s talk about transgender people in particular. Those who take hormones change their bodies more or less, triggering puberty effects in accordance with their true selves. These changes can be as powerful as for any other person.

Even though such treatments will also affect the genitals, they will not completely transform the average vagina into a penis, even with the aforementioned analogous prenatal parts. Therefore, many will undergo surgeries to eliminate their own dysphoria with their primary or secondary sex characteristics. These changes, as a whole, will produce genitalia – and breast topography, in many cases – that function much like their non-surgical counterparts.

In addition to the medical changes one may experience, a transgender person will also take on a different physical appearance through clothing, hairstyles, identity documents, etc. Each of them can specify their gender.

Ultimately, I find that the only good, solid way to determine if someone is female – or, frankly, of any gender – is to simply ask a person.

You might want to dismiss this, saying that explaining identity as nothing more than “feeling” isn’t enough to declare someone a woman. You’ll see people scoff at the idea, claiming they identify as “attack helicopters” or whatever.

But how many of these “attack helicopters” considered having a rotor attached, took daily injections of Jet-A aviation turbine fuel. They don’t live on an Air Force base, and their driver’s license – as if an attack helicopter needs one – doesn’t represent a Sikorsky UH-60.

I suspect that most of those who wish to argue that the definition of a woman is so simple have never thought about how they would define her for themselves. They might just say they’re female because, well, they just are. They may not feel the need for deeper introspection than that.

Those of us who may be trans women have an equally deep identity with our gender. It really is an essential part of our identity.

Maybe more: we’ve had to fight for that identity in a world where people like Walsh want to paint us as monsters rather than people.

Gwen Smith is a woman. You will find it at

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