Being a woman also 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 birth sex doesn’t align with their identity.

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.

Being a woman also isn’t like being Napoleon

36 thoughts on “Being a woman also isn’t like being Napoleon

  1. 4

    I tried posting this in the comments but it wouldn’t let me even after registering. I’ll post it here as well.


    I’m going to correct and expand on a number of things with the article. Good points where raised and others need to be addressed.

    “However, from a certain perspective, he’s got a point.”

    No, he doesn’t. Trans woman, activist, and youtubber Zinna Jones has an excellent post debunking this. We’re well beyond treating this non-sense as though it even touches on the reality of transgender people. Natalie Reed, also on the linked network and another trans woman blogger, as a number of post detailing the science and evidence of why people like this guy are full of bs and have no point with these comments.

    ZJ Link –

    “Fact is, most transsexuals agree there’s something wrong with them. The difference is they think it’s with their bodies, while unsympathetic outsiders say it’s with their heads.”
    And it should be noted that the American Medical Association agrees with us. See Resolution 122 which points out access to the Standards of Care (such as hormones) are a part of the correct life saving medical procedure. Further more, US tax courts have agreed. The process is life-saving and medically necessary, not cosmetic at all. See O’Donnabhain v. Commissioner (Feb 2010). It should further be noted the EOCC ruling points to this as well, laying the ground work for the still much needed legal protection on the federal level.

    “Regardless, few in the field believe transsexual impulses can be eradicated or cured.”
    This is false. It can be cured. This is well documented as we get into later. There is in place an international Standards of Care by WPATH. Transitioning to the correct gender is the cure and it is the only cure known. This is well known in the field.
    "A large-scale 2011 study from the Netherlands found treated transsexuals had much higher than normal death rates due to suicide, drug abuse, AIDS, and so on."
    It should be noted that this study is being portrayed incorrectly. The study was largely about orientation and mental well being (speaking of which, all groups scored within normal, non-pathological range. Confirming early studies from the Netherlands – a nation that provides national health care to the issue so a better sample then most – that transsexuals are better adjusted then the normal population mentally and emotionally). It found transsexuals where not mentally ill any more then the standard population outside the gender disphoria. Early transitioning also has a significant more positive result. Further more, the study makes use of Blanchard’s work, especially when it comes to classification – a well debunked pseudo scientist on the issue of transsexuality which is why it hasn’t been widely circulated – it has a already known flawed foundation. It should also be noted that of all studies about post-ops and happiness is the complete lack of regret. It’s universal. An average 4%-6% report partial regret, all stemming from social stigmas when commenting on it, but 0% have reported complete regret (I will grant that a total of one person did say complete regret when asked in a German study back in the 90s I believe it was. Regardless, it’s less then .001% of everyone the surveyed over 20 years).

    “If I were desperate enough to consider sex reassignment surgery seriously, I’d still want to be damn sure it would help.”
    The cisgendered always are hung up over pre-op and post-op. Truth it, it’s expensive and dangerous so not all of us go through with it or can. Further more, the waiting time for it is an average of 2-3 years and is considerably expensive. Compiling on to that, the previously mentioned lack of equal protection laws, means most transgender people have difficulty finding steady work that can pay for it. States requiring SRS in order to not be outed have forced the transgender community into a catch-22. With murder rates 16x the national average (1 in 12 chance of being murdered for trans women, 1 in 8 if your a trans woman of color), the social hurdles imposed on people trying to get medical care should be the focus – not the surgery only a small percent can even get. What’s important is providing the necessary protection and social understanding for the people going through this life saving medical process. The transgender question is about what’s the right thing to do for this oppressed minority, and the answer is blatantly obvious so it’s not much of a question at all.

    1. 4.1


      I’m actually really interested in seeing a source for that 1 in 12 trans people are murdered statistic. Not because I’m calling you out. I mentioned that once in an online discussion and the reply I got was “wow, that’s awful, do you have a source for that info?” I spent an hour looking around the internet to determine that it’s not easy to find that source if it exists and I couldn’t find any similar stats that are easily discovered and referenced.

      I’m one of those people in the catch-22 you speak of after I got fired for being trans before I could save enough money to get my gender markers changed.

      1. I’ve seen it floating around and haven’t been able to track it down either.

        So I did my own math. I used the statistics from 2004 simply because that’s what I could find across the board for these numbers. Also, these are only REPORTED murders.

        According to the NCAVP, the average murder rate in the US of transgendered people is 213 per year. This number has been up in the 300s, but 213 will do. This is a conservative murder rate to make it less scary. Optimism!
        (Source: National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (2005). Anti-gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender
        Violence in 2004: A Report of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.)

        According to the UCLA and The New Civil Rights Moment, there are approximately 700,000 transgender people in the USA.

        Average life expectancy in 2004 was 77.8 for all races and both sexes according to the CDC.

        So lets plug in these numbers and do some math….I will warn you all that I am an art major so this could be some seriously flawed math.
        700,000 transgender people divided by 213 will give us the number of years that need to go by before we’re all dead by the murder rate statistic (I know, heart warming eh?). So it would take the bigots 3286.3849 years to kill us all off at their current rate. And if we are alive for an average of 77.8 of those years facing the 213 rate, then we have a 1 in 42.24 chance of being killed off in our lifetime. Now, this would be for both trans men and trans women of all races using conservative numbers of only literally reported rates. But still, 1 in 42 lifetime chance is what I got with these numbers.

        1. To clarify, the 213 was the rate in 2004, like the rest of the statistics except for the population estimate which, being an overall estimate in the first place, would largely remain the same.

          These statistics are also only for the US, not world wide.

        1. “For example, one expert estimates that transgender individuals living in America today have a one in 12 chance of being murdered. In contrast, the average person has about a one in 18,000 chance of being murdered.”

          The problem is this book doesn’t site a source for it and the expert is unnamed. The number is given out alot in the trans community. Widely believed, but also widely unsourced. We don’t know where it came from. Unfortunately, I suspect it started from Candice Kay Brown, who isn’t the most reputable of sources the trans community has ever produced.

        1. Yep, I’ve read that before. It’s one of the first hits for many of the searches I did and is partially what convinced me that I might as well not spend all night searching the internet. It’s well written.

          On one hand, who cares. We all know the murder rate is high. We all know about the discrimination. On the other hand, quotable numbers from easy to find reliable sources are great for making your point. Like what the NCTE survey did for discrimation… we could use one for violence.

          Thanks very much to Valerie for your replies ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. 5

    Regarding the quoted comment in the article.
    He points to GID as been a mental illness which is a massive assertion. Which he doesn’t substantiate but did make me curious. So I did some googling looking for brain correlates of gender, which brought me to an article.

    Though still contested there are some thoughts that sexuality is determined by the brain structure at birth; but also some believe external stimuli can change neurological structures which could influence neurological sex or gender identity.

    If(and thats a big if), the second idea is true or accurate then instead of gender reassignment, a pharmacological agent can be used in the treatment.

    Please let me know if I’m not correct in my understanding of these issues. I haven’t had much exposure to the transgender community and would value any corrections.

    1. 5.1

      It’s true, we have observed hormones changing brain structure in mice. Based on the data, brain structures are already close to the correct gender. Hormones just push it the rest of the way and also reverse things like the effects hormones have during puberty on brain structure which is when the dysphoria can really set in for most people.

      However, that doesn’t make a pharmacological agent right or even effective. Giving testosterone to trans women in the early years (60s and 70s) of this research resulted in increased depression and suicides. It doesn’t work. It only makes things worse. Not to mention Natalie Reed has a great post about the morality of changing a critical component of someone’s identity with a pill. So even if it did work, you can’t (nor can any other party), inflict on a trans person the lost of their natural identity to replace it with an artificial, cisgender one. The post by Natalie is here –

      1. Hi Valerie,

        Thanks for the reply and link, definitely an interesting for me.
        From the links regarding gender reassignment, it appears that those who have gone through the process have generally achieved good health outcomes, though one study did mention a discrepancy between one’s happiness with their new gender identity and general life satisfaction.

        In situations where people cannot afford such surgery (as far as gender reassignment is a very expensive procedure, and have no clue as to if it gets covered with health insurance), or have co-morbidities which would make surgery not an option, would pharmacological agents have any role? Then again rather than viewing transgender as a condition (which it isn’t), I suppose pharmacology isn’t really the way to go.
        What other treatments/methods exist to help trans people?

        1. In the study you linked, it showed that subjectively the life was better.

          “Of the TS studied, 85-95% were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the results of their gender transformation operation in respect to gender identity.”

          However, according to life indexes to measure the quality of life, it was below that of the general population.

          “The TS were significantly less satisfied (P>0.001) in overall “general life satisfaction” than the general population. In overall FLZ scores for “health-related life satisfaction”, no differences were seen.”

          Basically, it works. Feel comfortable in your own body. Greatly increases happiness that you now get to live as who you are. But still discriminated against for being trans and still have the stuff life throws at you – only you don’t have gender dysphoria thrown in on top of everything else. Basically, it shows it fixes the problem, but does not increase life quality above the general population.

          I don’t think there have been any studies on “Stealth TS” (those who you would never know are trans in a million years) and their quality of life and happiness index compared to the general cisgendered population, but I would estimate they are almost identical.

          Ummm, transition (or some variant of steps along that path, e.g. stopping at hormones) is the only proven medical response that helps. Hormones alone significantly help, are relatively cheap (And would be pharmacological agents) and these are hormones that people get for things like menopause and hair loss already but in significantly different doses. Every pharmacy has them. They work, so long as your using the correct gender as a target for hormone levels and don’t have other health issues. That should be the deciding factor when it comes to laws (like getting accurate ID) at the furthest, most extreme gatekeeping I would find tolerable, not surgery. I’m a little confused what your asking but hopefully the answer is somewhere in there.

  3. 7

    The identifying as something you weren’t born as actually doesn’t seem that nuts to me. Asian children all seem to go through the first few years of their lives really blind to Caucasian being this different thing than what they are.

    The common experience is when they encounter one of those white children with some racist uncle, who are suddenly parroting back all of what they heard about Asians being innately inferior and/or maliciously aligned against society. The next few years are a series of sucker punches as they learn how common bigots are.

    So they are apparently crazy for not seeing the differences between races. Asians in particular get this impression that if they don’t rock the boat things will get better- they don’t, but this idea keeps them generally very docile in the face of injustice.

    I would imagine the “I’m a different thing called race?” experience isn’t all that different for other people that get classified as “not white” and don’t have really proactive parents explaining race to them.

    If think if black people could put on a certain hat and coat to look like they were white (at least not without close inspection- as if their face would pass for it at a glance,) and there were similar sorts of things you could do for people to identify you as other races, that we’d see a subset of people that wanted to give it a go- just live like that.

    Really though I don’t think the bigot types would see the absurdity in the example of multiracial people. Multiracial still isn’t white to them so they can just keep identifying as whatever the other parent is (I don’t think they even consider multiracial people without white people involved,) for as many generations as it takes to dilute the blood until the kids come out looking white enough that even the racists can’t tell they’re not 100% Western European.

    They’ve got to start to learn about these kinds of issues before things like that even show up on the radar-

  4. 8

    Well, I’m coming from a position of privilege and mostly ignorance here, but here’s my understanding:

    – GID means assigned and experienced gender for a person aren’t the same

    – Making them the same (or closer to it) makes things better

    – Since we can’t just flip a ‘M/F’ switch in a person’s brain that might be on the ‘wrong’ setting or anywhere in between, but we can make significant and useful changes to a person’s body, that’s the best way to make things ‘line up’ and deal with GID.

    – Yay medicine, people can be made happier, and people who have a problem with that (Napoleon guy included) can go jump.

    I guess I just don’t get how this guy goes from “GID should be treated as mental illness” to “you’re all wrong for treating it in the best way we can and letting people be who they are!”

    I know I’m massively over-simplifying for brevity, but I don’t get how cis people can have a problem with trans people doing what they need to do in order to feel comfortable (again, comfortable just feels like I’m totally minimising what must be some serious pain, I just lack a better word to describe it).

    Please feel free to correct me, I read this blog to try to understand things I’ll never experience, not to tell anyone what they should feel.

  5. 9

    Well, for one thing, France is a democracy nowadays. A person who identifies as Napoleon is (assuming he’s a French citizen of course…) free to run for office like everyone else.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with people identifying as animals or mythical creatures getting help to even out the difference between their identity and appearance if it can be shown that it makes their lives better.

  6. 15

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  7. 16

    I think I get it for the most part but when ZJ says identifying as a woman isn’t an outlandish that’s true, but for plenty of people that depends on whose saying it. To many people (and me partially included) having the mind of a woman(Whatever that means) doesn’t make you all woman, which maybe why people have a problem understanding certain aspects of transgenderism and make those claims.

  8. 21

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  9. 23

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