What is a woman?

I remember, a year or so ago, finding a mention of “cis” somewhere on the internet. Having a science background I was amused to find it being used as the opposite of “trans”as applied to transgender people.  These latin words are used in chemistry to describe molecules which are the mirror image of each other.  They have the same makeup of atoms but can behave very differently.  Cis means “on this side” whereas trans means “on the other side” or, more usually “across” or “through” e.g. transparent = see-through; trans-Siberian railway goes across or through Siberia.

Anyway, until that moment I hadn’t noticed the transgender movement.  I still had the old, probably politically incorrect, understanding of transsexual as someone who seeks to change sex by undergoing hormonal and surgical treatments.  I had little understanding of the condition but huge compassion for anyone willing to go to those lengths to feel comfortable in their body.  Transgender as a term was new to me and, I presumed, just a new term for transsexual.

At the end of the year there was a rash of news articles about a transgender woman in the UK, Tara Hudson.  She had been convicted of assault in a bar and sent to a male prison, upheld on appeal, and there was a petition to move her from to a female prison.  It talked about her 6 years of gender reconstruction surgery and quoted worrying statistics about the violence meted out to transgender prisoners; mental health issues; suicide rates and even torture.

It gained 140,000 signatures and resulted in a move to the female estate.  This was picked up by numerous papers.  Even the Daily Mail ran a fairly sympathetic story, albeit accompanied by several photos of Tara in the nude or scantily clad.  Quotes included:

“Ms Hudson’s mother Jackie Brooklyn, 48, said on Tuesday: ‘There’s nothing male about her, nobody would know the difference. She looks like a woman. She’s gorgeous.” 

I felt for her.  Poor Tara.  I wondered about how hard her life must have been, trapped in the wrong body and how tough she must have found being incarcerated with men.

Then a friend of mine pointed me to some information which was strangely missing from the news articles and petition but, I thought, of great relevance to her placing in a female prison.  Her fully functioning penis.   A link to Tara’s  ad on an adult escort site, under the pseudonym Tia Star, describing her enjoyment of her work; her willingness to indulge in a wide range of sexual activities with men and her “7 inch surprise” which she

“…don’t have any problems getting hard unlike some other ts escorts out there”.

Hang on a minute… her Mum said “There’s nothing male about her.”  Surely a 7 inch penis that she regularly uses for penetrative sex could be considered male.  Looking a little further into the press coverage, I noted that Tara is still legally male – she hadn’t applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate, hence her initial incarceration in a male jail.  I was baffled.  I felt a little discombobulated – the press and the petition made a big issue that Tara had “lived all her adult life as a woman”.  This got me wondering… how exactly do you do that?  Live your life as a woman?  I was under the impression I did that simply by being an adult human female.  I live my life and, because of my primary and secondary sex characteristics being identifiably female, I am a woman.

So what is a woman?  If someone who is legally a man, physically still a man, albeit with breast implants, and who makes a living having sex with other men, using his penis, can claim to be a woman, how does that change the definition of woman from “adult human female” and what does it change it to?  What makes Tara Hudson enough of a woman to be considered unsafe locked up with other men with penises (who cannot be trusted not to abuse, assault or rape him) yet he, with his penis, can be trusted not to abuse, assault, rape or, indeed, have consensual sex when locked up with women, with vaginas?








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