A Philosopher Discusses Gender

‘Transgressive’ by Rachel Anne Williams

Tucker Lieberman
6 min readNov 27, 2022

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book cover of Transgressive: A Trans Woman on Gender, Feminism, and Politics by Rachel Anne Williams

I stumbled across a fabulous trans philosophy book by Rachel Anne Williams. It’s a long collection of short essays, and it’s called Transgressive: A Trans Woman on Gender, Feminism, and Politics.

In the book, Williams covers topics like these.

What Does It Mean to Be Trans?

  • We don’t need to know how our brains or chromosomes are sexed.
  • We can be agnostic about our own “gender identities.”
  • In a pragmatic sense, you’re trans if you want to take some action toward gender transition. Williams — just trying to explain the word, not to gatekeep the community or the language — proposes that “trans” means the desire to “self-consciously move away from one’s birth assignment” and to do something (anything) to move toward one’s gender. “To be trans means to transition.” It’s not always a major anatomical change. It could be a legal document or a gesture as apparently small as a haircut, which, “for a trans boy…might mean the world.”
  • There could be various factors in trans identity: some innate, some non-innate. (Anyway, “the whole idea of traits being ‘innate’ is deeply problematic.”) This this “does not mean we can just consciously choose to be trans.” Nor can we ever “fully embody some arbitrary stereotype of what it means to be trans.” Even so, we are what we are, by whatever manner we came to be this way. If we choose our gender, that doesn’t mean we’re “phony,” since we really are the things we choose to be.

What’s ‘Cis Normativity’?

  • It’s a “belief that the cis experience is the ‘default’ and the trans experience is a pale imitation,” or in other words, that “cis people’s genders are more valid and real than the genders of trans people.” The implication is that if a trans person’s life is markedly different in any way from a cis person’s, they’re less of a woman or man (because they’re trans). You can see it in cis-sexist demands to know “whether trans women’s experiences are identical to cis women’s experiences” when the rhetorical implication is that any difference between a trans woman and a cis woman makes the trans woman lesser. Trans-philosophically, there is no…

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Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/