Is “Trans”Predicative?

“Trans women are women!” they say. Not everyone agrees, but wait a minute? Aren’t trans women a subset of women just by the structure of that sentence itself? After all, “Black cats are cats” is true just by virtue of the conceptual connections in that sentence.

And it really does seem to work like that quite often. Consider this sentence:

S1.“Strelka was a dog who was launched into orbit”

This clearly implies the statements “Strelka was a dog” and “Strelka was launched into orbit”. S1 can be broken up into a conjunction of two simpler statements. So maybe “Cait is a trans woman” implies the statement “Cait is a woman”.

But let’s consider what happens when we analyze this sentence:

S2. “Strelka was a small dog”

At first it seems to imply the statements “Strelka was a dog” and “Strelka was small”, but I think something fishy is going on with “small”. Consider these two arguments:

Dumbo is a gray elephant.
All elephants are mammals.
Therefore; Dumbo is a gray mammal.

Dumbo is a small elephant.
All elephants are mammals.
Therefore; Dumbo is a small mammal.

A1 seems perfectly satisfying. A2 seems a bit off. When I think of a small mammal I think of something hamster-sized, not Dumbo-sized. Gray seems to be able to do logical work small cannot. Strelka is small for a dog. Dumbo is small for an elephant. Red dwarfs are small for stars. But there is no logically coherent class of “Small Things” that Strelka, Dumbo, and red dwarf stars fit in to.

Logicians have a name for the distinction between these types of terms. Black, cat, dog, was launched into orbit, elephant, gray, and mammal,  that I have used in this post are all what logicians call predtacives. They have done all the heavy lifting in logic from Aristotle to modern first-order predicate logics. Words like small that are highly context dependent are called attributives.

Yes, some of you may object that this is not how you might have learned the distinction between predicative and attributive in grammar or linguistics class. Blame this classic Peter Geach article. He’s the one who repurposed those terms. And I like the way logicians do it. To us, there are no important distinctions between “This red book is old” and “This old book is red”.

I think the term “woman” is, or should be, predicative. Yes, there is a bit of vagueness to “woman” if you want to split hairs. But I think it’s pretty clear that folk-prototypes across a lot of cultures are in close agreement about who women are. The sophistry of genderists thrives in this narrow band of vagueness, but I can’t see how a boy born with a wang and nads who made a career of doing male stuff in the Olympics is going to be able to break through that vagueness barrier and be near the core concept of “woman” just because of what he thinks or what he wants to do.

The whole point is that “trans” is attributive and not predicative in the senses logicians use those terms. X is a trans woman does not simply imply that X is a woman by logical structure. “Trans women are women” is not axiomatic the way some think it is. “Trans” is not a clear subset of “women”, and may not be a subset of women at all. I think it isn’t.

Postscript: Some of yall might not know who Strelka was. She was a Soviet Space Dog. Here she is with her co-pilot, Belka:


Strelka is on the left. These are her first press photos right after returning from orbit. Yes, she looks a little stressed. You would be too. The Space Dogs were trained using the positive reenforcement and empathic connection methods of Moscow dog circus trainers recruited into the USSR space program.



5 thoughts on “Is “Trans”Predicative?

  1. If “trans women are women” means “trans women” are a subset of “women” then there is no such thing as a “trans woman” who is not an adult human female.

    It’s not about grammar, it’s about the definition of “woman” as “adult human female” vs “feeling” or “feminine presentation.”

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I do not disagree with you here at all. I am simply saying that “Trans women are women” is not established simply because of its logical structure.

      I think you and I agree that “is a woman” is a predicative class with fairly clear boundaries. You are, and I am not.

      I am just trying to say “trans women are women” is not necessarily true just because of its structure.

      There’s room for debate.


  2. An interesting way of looking at the use of language here and proof that no matter what, it’s illogical. It doesn’t follow on, and everyone is apparently supposed to take it as just that and leave the statements sitting there without following through to the logical end.

    However there isn’t vagueness about the definition of woman rather there has been a lot of obfuscation put out to make out ‘woman’ (as a female person) is unclear – here I’m thinking of other trite thought terminating clichés like “sex is a spectrum” (it is not, and most people even if affected by a intersex condition are easily identified as the males and females they are). Used to be they tried to split hairs and say it was woman as socially, but gender roles or rather really sex-roles/sex-stereotypes are based on sex again. They can’t be untied as they are dependent. What I’m getting at there is the confusion is deliberate, what is wanted is the endpoint of woman being whatever men define it as rather than a discrete category.

    Liked by 3 people

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