Three circles overlapping on a pale green background. One circle is pink, the other is blue and the third is in-between.

I came across this really thoughtful piece on what a woman is by Aella.

I have compiled some of her interesting takes below:

“What is a woman?”

“Someone who can get pregnant.”

“So no infertile people are women?”

“Well no – okay someone who has the equipment to get pregnant.”

“So women can stop being women by getting hysterectomies?”

“No – all right, XX chromosomes.”

“What if I’m a woman – I was born female, have female genitalia, and was raised female – and I discover I have Swyer syndrome, which means I have XY chromosomes. Was I really never a woman this whole time?”

The definition of womanhood

There is no ‘true definition’ of woman, there’s not an answer that will make this all okay. Concepts like this are not discrete points, they’re clusters – collections of a bunch of traits that seem to reappear as a pattern. We can make a giant list of thousands of things that describe ‘cat’ – furry, four legs, meows, temperamental – and it gives us a lot of leeway for changing a few traits and still getting cat. You can have a shaved cat, a three legged cat, a mute cat, a cuddly cat, but it’s still cat because the rest of the thousand list items is the same. Asking “which of the list of a thousand items makes a cat truly a cat?” is nonsensical. Some are more unique to cat-cluster-lists than other lists, but no single entry is the truth.


“Woman” is a cluster of traits that kept reappearing over time. Some of the traits overlap a lot with the man cluster, like “wants their children to be safe” and “has two legs,” but some traits are very rare to find in the male cluster, like “has narrow jaw and large eyes” and “grew up with sexual attention from men” and “identifies with the woman cluster” and “greater interest in looking beautiful”

Trans woman is a cluster of traits that have some overlap with the woman cluster, and some overlap with the man cluster. In some ways they are very like women (identifies with the woman cluster, greater interest in looking beautiful), and in some ways they might be like men (has male biology, was socialized male as a child, wants to have sex with women).

“Identifies as woman” is not the core of being woman in our collective conceptspace, it’s one descriptor, one trait out of many for being a woman, because womanness is not fully described by identification. This aligns with why most trans women don’t consider it sufficient to simply identify as a woman – they also actively try to take on more traits that are unique to the woman cluster. The more unique it is to the woman cluster, the greater a signal it is – e.g., bottom surgery.

So – are trans women, women? The real question should be, how much do trans people overlap with the woman cluster? And the answer is, this varies a lot, per person.


Aella believes the narrative “you are a woman if you identify as one” is cruel. It tells people that the power over their gender is entirely in their hands; it places the responsibility of womanhood on them, if they only believe it fully enough, and then expects them to survive in a world where gender is actually a list of clustered traits we spent millions of years evolving around. If they falter, “I’m not woman enough” then becomes a thought with enough power to make them not woman enough.

Trans people often talk about how their existence is threatened, and in a sense this is actually the case. If womanness exists in mind only, then it is actually existentially threatened by stuff like tweets or blog posts. I think this is at least to some degree an explanation for why some segments of trans people seem to be so aggressive.

Aella’s point is, treating womanhood entirely as an internal identity is psychologically fucked up and places trans people in a shitty position where they are forced to associate only with social realities [social groups that is] that validate their identity, silence anyone who disagrees, or else risk being wiped out entirely. This seems like an unsustainable approach to womanhood.


Is being a trans a disorder? 

Maybe? Yes? Why does it matter? The fundamental question here is what is the most efficient way to be happy and fulfilled – and if taking a pill to ‘cure’ the ‘disorder’ works, then great. If transitioning is the way to do that, also great. Let people do what they want.

But the ‘disorderedness’ of this may be irrelevant. Lots of cis1 women are unhappy with how masculine they look, and getting surgery to become more feminine would make them happy and fulfilled. Should we call this a disorder? Maybe? Yes? Why does it matter? We’re all just a bunch of people in weird brains trying to find the best path for us to feel at ease with ourselves.

You might say, but having a disorder doesn’t make you a woman – if I am convinced I’m a tree, and distressed by not having branches, that doesn’t mean I’m a tree. And you’re right! Thinking you’re a tree doesn’t make you one, becoming a tree makes you one. If we had enough tech to install in you leaves and xylem cells and a disposition for sitting quietly, then anyone who points at you and says “that’s not a tree, that’s a disorder” is someone you should block on twitter.


If your grandmother with severe dementia keeps thinking you’re her long-dead brother, you’d probably have no problem playing along with it. I’m not saying trans people are demented, or that you’re being patronizing to them, I’m just trying to point out that we already have norms installed where we sometimes go along with narratives we don’t believe because we are kind, and if you tell me you won’t use someone’s preferred pronouns because of your unfailing commitment to the truth then I am doubtful.


The whole post is definitely worth a read.

  1. Cis is short for cisgender, which refers to when a person’s gender identity corresponds to their sex as assigned at birth. Cisgender is the opposite of transgender. ↩︎

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