When arguing with transphobes online, you’re bound to come across someone who cites an incorrect definition in a dictionary in order to justify their claim that trans women cannot possibly be women or trans men cannot possibly be men because they are not “adult human females” or “adult human males” respectively. This is absurd and a logical fallacy. It even has a name: Argumentum ad dictionarium.
In this long post, I intend to dismantle this argument by proving why it is fallacious. I intend to show how the usage of such wrong definitions harms society, other people, and themselves and I intend to do so through two of my favourite things: food and sovereign citizens. So, let’s jump right in!
What is a dictionary?
A dictionary is supposed to be a reference to describe language and how it is used. This is how it is supposed to work for the vast majority of definitions currently being published and maintained. However, the crux of the problem that transphobes have is the phrase: “how it is used”.
To be clear, the definition “adult human female” for the word “woman” is pretty spot on and holds up when it comes to reality. Unfortunately for transphobes, the definition that they cite for “female” is where their argument fails.
Thankfully, a number of dictionaries have corrected their definition thus far. Merriam-Webster has added the following definiton to provide a more accurate definition of the word “female”:
having a gender identity that is the opposite of male
Belonging to the sex which typically produces eggs (ova), or to the gender which is typically associated with it.
A female person; a woman or girl
So, if we consider an argument from the dictionary, it’s already becoming harder and harder to prove. However, it is much worse than that. Transphobes use a logical fallacy known as “Argumentum ad dictionarium”.
What is Argumentum ad dictionarium?
Argumentum ad dictionarium is a logical fallacy where someone tries to use a dictionary definition to make a point. This ignores several key facts about dictionaries and definitions, that I pointed out to you above.
A great example of Argumentum ad dictionarium is the sovereign citizen usage of Black’s Law Dictionary. Specifically, the definition for the word “driving”. Sovereign citizens claim that “driving” is a commercial term. As a result, since they’re not being compensated for driving, that they’re travelling.
How do transphobes use the fallacy?
They falsely claim that trans women cannot be women because the definition of woman is “adult human female”. They then define female as something akin to the following:
of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male gametesThe definition of “female” in the dictionary that comes packaged in MacOS Catalina, the Oxford Dictionary of English.
They abuse this definition to claim that trans women cannot be adult human females and thus, cannot be women. This is no less fallacious reasoning than the sovereign citizen who claims that he is not driving, he is travelling. And just like with sovereign citizens, the facts and nuance don’t matter at all to these people.
Taking the Fallacy to Lunch.
Today for lunch, I had a hamburger and fries. … Or did I?
The dictionary app on my computer reads that a hamburger is “a flat round cake of minced beef, fried or grilled and typically served in a bread roll garnished with various condiments; a burger.” Simple, no? Also, they define French fries as “a thin strip of deep-fried potato; a chip.”.
If we look at the definition of these words, I did not have a hamburger and fries for lunch. If you look at what I had for lunch, I could convince you that it’s a hamburger and fries. So, how so?
The hamburger… or is it?
I actually made the burger out of ground buffalo, not beef. My definition further defines beef as “the flesh of a cow, bull, or ox, used as food”. So, if we go hard on the definition, it’s not a hamburger. However, if we want to communicate ideas to people… it’s a hamburger.
The fries… or are they?
I didn’t deep fry my fries. I air fried my fries in my air fryer. Going by the definition, these fried strips of potato aren’t fries.
So, what is my meal?
Are my taste buds wrong? Or did I just show how this fallacy is little more than gristle in the pan? If we remove all context and stick to the definition, I did not have a hamburger and fries for lunch today. If you ask anyone who saw me have lunch today, you would say that I had a burger and fries.
Because definitions are supposed to be descriptive, not prescriptive.
Word Magic: The Problems With Incorrect Definitions
What transphobes and sovereign citizens have in common is the use of word magic. By trying to make “driving” a commercial term and trying to make women into “men” by fiat, transphobes and sovereign citizens are ultimately hurting themselves. Tragically, they are divorcing themselves further and further from reality.
When a sovereign citizen engages in word magic, they stop abiding by the things that aim to make driving safe. Because they do not drive with a license, they do not regard driving an automobile as a privilege but a right. They confuse driving with their “right to travel”. They also tend to eschew other elements of driving such as insurance and registration. This is because the sovereign citizen regards “registration” as giving up their property to the state. They interpret this as consent to laws that they do not agree with.
Or, in the words of Sovereign Citizens:
Naturally, this has consequences for society, other citizens, and themselves.
When they run into someone on the road, it is harder to make them whole if they do not have insurance. When they don’t pay their auto registration fees, they are denying the state those resources. And when the law finally catches up with them, they can be violently extracted from the vehicle once they start their word magic. Because regardless of their incorrect definitions, they are still breaking the law and putting others at risk.
… But how does this relate to transphobes, pray tell? How do their incorrect definitions harm society, others, and themselves?
How transphobes’ incorrect definitions are harmful
By mischaracterizing trans women as “men” it makes it easier to scaremonger about trans women. Transphobes promulgate the idea that perverts will use advances in human rights for trans people to access the restrooms to prey on girls and women. Each and every time equal rights for trans people are proposed, they bring this up. However, they present no evidence for this claim.
By mischaracterizing trans women as “men”, they also plant the seeds of transphobia in the minds of men like Allen Andrade, the murderer of Angie Zapata. Even Andrade’s defense attorney, Annette Kundelius, denied Angie any dignity in death, referring to her as such:
[deadname] Zapata lived like a female, looked like a female, sounded like a female, That’s what Mr. Andrade believed. And when he found it wasn’t Angie, it was actually [deadname], he lost control.Andrade’s scumbag attorney, who denied Angie Zapata dignity, even in death.
The thing that Andrade’s scumbag attorney got wrong is that Angie was actually Angie. Mr. Andrade didn’t find out she “wasn’t Angie”, she was always Angie. She was Angie when she met Allen. She was never the identity erroneously assigned to her at birth. But because trans people are treated as less worthy of basic human dignity, we can’t even be guaranteed dignity in death.
This is the harm done by mischaracterizing trans women as men instead of the women we are. You gin up irrational fear of trans women, portray us as predators, and mix that with societal homophobia and you know what you get? Dead women. Dead women who did nothing wrong and deserved a chance to make something out of their lives. Angie Zapata was an adult human female. She was a woman. And she deserved dignity in death.
So, are trans women really women?
Unequivocally, yes. Trans women are women by gender and female by sex. The fact that transphobes use the argumentum ad dictionarium fallacy proves one thing. They know that they cannot prove their arguments on the merits. This is why they cling to the dictionary and to faulty definitions.