Personhood and Being a Transgender Person

This post will focus on the concept of personhood, and how it figures into moral regard. Further it will be explored how this ties together with being a transgender or gender diverse person, who are often denied personhood from those who hold transphobic views, especially religious bigots and those feminists who deny transgender persons existence. I will approach it from a philosophical and advocacy perspective. Philosophically I will explain my premise, and leap frog off of that to advocate for greater acceptance of transgender and gender diverse persons.

I suppose I ought to adequately define or explain personhood. From an article on ethics and personhood there are five traits to personhood: “1. consciousness . . . and in particular the capacity to feel pain; 2. reasoning (the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems); 3. self-motivated activity (activity which is relatively independent of either genetic or direct external control); 4. the capacity to communicate, by whatever means, messages of an indefinite variety of types . . . ; 5. the presence of self-concepts, and self-awareness. . . .” according to philosopher Mary Anne Warren (

A quick glance at these traits and you can see it is not a simple thing to nail down what personhood is. If we stick with these. A transgender woman would be conscious of their feminine gender; they would certainly be able to reason about it. After all it takes a lot of thought to decided whether or not to transition, and doing the transition itself; they are also very motivated to achieve a transition if they desired it; they communicate their womanly gender by words, dress, and actions among other things; they also form the self concept of being a woman. Each of these could apply to any transgender or gender diverse person whether or not they make steps to living in their gender.

These are the same traits that most other human beings obtain to. Certain periods of life and certain medical conditions interfere with these traits of personhood. For one is the maturing brain. As we grow and our brains mature we gain more and more of these traits. Some of us when we grow old lose these traits (or the capacity to exhibit them). Alzheimer’s is one such condition, but there are others. People in a coma do not exhibit any of them. Some die, some continue, and some recover. Other conditions such as ALS, while they have some awareness of them, they loose the capacity to communicate them. Whatever prevents us from having these traits we are still human beings.

A little thought will tell you that if you lack one or more or all of these traits that you would want be treated humanely and given due respect. This leads us to take good medical care of a transgender or gender diverse person when they loose some or all of these capacities. Give them the dignity that is often lost just by being sick. I don’t know how often it happens, but when taking care of the person’s after effects, using their proper name and pronouns in an obituary or grave marker would say a lot of the respect that person would have obtained to.

So, while personhood is possibly the gold standard when moral treatment is concern, it happens to not encompass all those whom we should show moral concern towards. Anyone who is a human being is reason enough. But, this is challenged by end of life issues. When is it morally correct to end a life or allow it to end. And, the lesser challenge of the life of a fetus.† I am not going to discuss these issues as they are not important to the treatment of transgender and gender diverse individuals per se. I will only say that as far as these issues are concern these individuals should be treated with moral regard.

From a personhood viewpoint or from simpler human dignity viewpoint transgender and gender diverse persons are due respect that should be given to all human beings. They are to be given equal treatment and provided with the same rights as all other human beings. The fact is that transgender and gender diverse persons are often denied their rights, nor are they given equal treatment. I am not just talking legal rights and equality.

Some would claim that the golden rule is to be followed in our interactions with the transgender community. But, there is another rule to be followed when we are dealing with other people—this is the platinum rule. Unlike the golden, which bases its treatment towards others on how we would want to be treated, it focuses on how the individual selves wants to be treated. This is a necessary replacement because how we want to be treated may differ than how others want to be treated.

Gender diverse and transgender persons, like anyone else, should not have to have violence done upon them. Which gets worse with the intersection of their gender is one of being a woman, and gets worse again with the intersection of people of color. There may be other intersections between a person’s gender identity and other aspects of themselves. I may find that because of my history of mental illness, I am discriminated against to a greater amount. And my atheism can cause hatred in itself by those who are fundamentalist Christians.

So, personhood is the gold standard for treating someone equally and given civil rights. Almost all transgender and gender diverse people have those previously provided traits of personhood, especially by the time they are old enough to attend to their own gender feelings. Those to early know are also most likely to have developed all five traits later in life. But, as human beings they deserve moral regard. For those of this population who suffer from some some form of disability that takes away the full capacity of all five traits still deserve moral regard anyway. This is the same as anyone in this position.

So, clearly under normal conditions everyone has personhood. This gives transgender and gender non-conforming person’s the full spectrum of human rights. Human rights includes freedom from gender discrimination. This means it is wrong to demean them, harass them, and harm them, and abuse them. It also means they should be free to express their gender in any way they choose too. It also means that their medical needs should not be deny, and gatekeeping kept at the bare minimum (sound mind). So, they deserve the respect due to anyone who has personhood.

Even without some or all of personhood’s traits, transgender and gender diverse individual, deserve the same basic care as any cisgender person. Really, ideally, gender should not even be in the book of moral regard with or without personhood. So, after 1200 words this a small ending. But there you have it.

† The decision to have an abortion should be the sole domain of the pregnant woman contemplating having one. It is immoral to leave it in the hands of fundamentalist Christians. To them the fetus doesn’t count all that much despite how loud they can be other than another a potential soul given over to Christ. There are many reasons for a woman to have an abortion. It is most unfair to poor young women. Having a child would only increase the burden of making a life for herself. But, the child may have an even harder time. So, those against abortion do not do the fetus much good, only make their potential life harder. The fetus is entitled to a healthy birth, but not the birth itself. They hold no personhood. Only potential personhood.


6 thoughts on “Personhood and Being a Transgender Person

      1. Not good either. Been on opiates for over 6 months when addiction caught up and I over used, and had to go through significant withdrawal with clonidine and xanax. I think I’m getting to the end of the Tish. My body still feels somewhat tense up and some anxiety. For a couple of days it was like m y body was screaming for more. I will have a post about the whole deal once it is over and sometime to revise and proof. Take care my lovely friend, Stephie.


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