Many of the posts on this blog have been written out of anger. This one is written more out of despair, which is why it’s been the hardest one I’ve ever had to write.
It’s about transgenderism. That will probably be enough to stop many of those who’ve read and enjoyed this blog in the past from reading any further. It appears to be a topic that skeptics don’t want to think deeply about and I can understand that – I didn’t myself for a long time. Sometimes things need to impinge on one’s personal life to make one sit up and take notice. This was the case for my husband – a respected and very active skeptic – whose interest in this topic only dates back to the events of 13 September 2017 at Speakers’ Corner.
But sometimes it’s simply a matter of having one’s eyes and mind open, seeing that harm is being done and wanting to do something about it. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, that was what happened with me and why I became very concerned about a year ago when I was horrified by reactions to what seemed to me to be perfectly reasonable opinions expressed by Dame Jenni Murray in the Sunday Times, by seeing a local newspaper report on a fugitive convicted rapist referred to as “she” throughout and by becoming aware of a website called terf is a slur, which documented tweets made by trans activists about women who disagree with them. The hatred, the vile sexual taunts, the exhortations to assault and kill those women labelled ‘TERFs‘ for having the temerity to disagree, shocked me to the core.
Since then, I have immersed myself deeply in the subject and read everything I can get my hands on from every point of view. I’ve collected several hundred links that I’ve put on a website I’ve made called Peak Trans. One purpose of this post is to introduce that website to those who don’t already know it.
Warning: one “skeptic” who saw it today called it “TERF central”, which leads me to the main purpose of this post and that is to ask:
“What the hell is going on with skeptics?”
I’ve never been one to suffer fools gladly and one of the most dismaying things I’ve discovered recently about those who – apparently in all seriousness – identify as skeptics, is how many of them are fools. I say this because, contrary to what skeptics are supposed to do, they are embracing without question an ideology that any fool should be able to see is untenable and destructive.
And why can’t these “skeptic” fools see this? Is it because they are simply not looking? Because they are letting their hearts rule their heads? Because they are frightened of being publicly denounced as bigots?
I get all that. But why the attempts to silence those they disagree with rather than challenging us on the basis of reason and evidence, as skeptics are supposed to? Why the unfriending, blocking and smearing on social media? Why the sheer nastiness some of them are directing at those of us who see the things that they appear to be oblivious of or would rather not acknowledge?
Is it, perchance, because those who behave like this know somewhere deep down that they’re on a hiding to nothing and it’s an argument they can’t win? (Repeating “trans women are women” like a parrot on speed isn’t an argument, by the way.) Is it because they know that the core tenets of transgender ideology are metaphysical rather than scientific? Block, smear, insult – whatever it takes to get us to shut up, right?
In your dreams. Women and male allies – including many trans people – are fighting back and we will win because the gender ideology that has gained such a strong foothold without most of the population even realising it, is regressive and steeped in sexism.
The fundamental disagreement so far as I can see, is about whether men who “identify” as women are actually women, have in fact been women and girls all along – and vice versa for women who “identify” as men. The scare quotes are in place because it’s not clear what “identifying as” even means. Being a woman or a man is not an “identity” or a personality type and those who have been born male do not know what growing up in a female body and being treated as a girl or woman is like and vice versa.
This disagreement gives rise to a host of others concerning rights to sex-segregated spaces and pastimes. It has given rise to pathological discourse and a toxic environment both on social media and in real life, with trans activists focusing a vast amount of effort into trying to stop women meeting to discuss sex and gender and how proposed changes to relevant legislation may impact our lives. These trans activists are unconcerned at just how sexist and discriminatory they are being. I have heard several veteran feminist campaigners say they’ve experienced nothing like it. I agree.
It has also given rise to deep divisions on the political left and in the Labour party in particular, ably helped by Lily Madigan, who is exceptional only in that he is a male who supposedly identifies as a woman. Madigan was elected to the post of Women’s Officer in a local branch of the Labour Party. Since then he has blocked thousands of feminists on Twitter and his public pronouncements are often horribly entitled and misogynistic (which is why I don’t afford him the courtesy of his preferred pronouns). Nevertheless, he seems to have the unswerving support of the leadership and of many MPs. And we are seeing the same thing happening in other fields: mediocre men gaining advantage by claiming that they are women and stepping over actual women and girls in the process.
A lot of women have already resigned from the Party and hundreds more have vowed to do so if allowing men who say they’re women to be on all-women shortlists – whose very purpose is to redress the under-representation of women electoral candidates – becomes official policy. This is why what was expected to be a straightforward rubber-stamping has now been delayed.
For those of us on the Left in the UK for whom this issue is a deal breaker, there is nowhere else to go: the Green Party, the LibDems, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and, incredibly, even the Women’s Equality Party have all disregarded women’s fears and concerns as well as scientific fact! As for the Tories, the credit for the wholly irresponsible proposal to amend the 2004 Gender Recognition Act in the direction of making it easier to declare oneself something one is not, goes to them. The proposed amendments would effectively allow any male-bodied person the right to declare themselves a woman and, according to some trans identifying people, be potentially catastrophic for transgender people themselves,
What is a woman anyway?
Sometimes people argue on social media that the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are simply genders and have nothing to do with biological sex. I’ll return to the controversial notion of gender in a moment.
First, I’ll state something that is categorically true:
‘Woman’ is the word we use in English to refer to an adult human female.
As for what is ‘female’, this is what I learned through formal education:
‘Sex’ refers to reproductive classes. Human beings are anisogamous. This means we reproduce by the fusion of two gametes – just two: ovum and sperm. There are just two reproductive classes: female and male. The female is the one that produces the ova.
Those rare individuals who, due to sexual ambiguity, are classed as intersex, do not represent a third sex class. I mention this because trans ideologues just love to use intersex conditions to try to obfuscate and divert attention away from certain truths in debates on transgenderism. The fact that, due to a congenital disorder, a tiny number of individuals don’t have a well-defined sex does not mean that there are intermediate sexes.
More worryingly, I am now seeing claims – even from skeptics – that sex isn’t a binary. I am well aware of the Nature article sub-headlined, “The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that.”
As I understand it, current thinking by biologists on sex has it that:
Gametes are binary, chromosomes are binary: X and Y. Everything else about sex is complex; there are a lot of variables going into what makes a male and what makes a female. Anatomically, neurologically, physiologically and behaviourally, male and female aren’t a binary but they are strongly bimodal. We are different on average on several variables.
However, until anyone is prepared to actually demonstrate how any of this undermines the fact that there are two reproductive classes – and that one has historically been oppressed by the other regardless of what point along the “continuum of sexual differentiation” we are on – or how it has anything to do with the phenomenon of transgenderism, I maintain that it is irrelevant to the issue.
As I say on Peak Trans:
Those who, in keeping with cultural norms that value male children more, abort female foetuses, those who denied women the vote, the right to drive cars or pilot planes, who demand that women should be submissive, should forego careers for marriage and motherhood or cover themselves from head to toe or have their genitals mutilated at puberty, those who objectify, harass, rape, traffic and kill girls and women see us only as female and aren’t interested in what points on the psychological or social gender spectrums we fall.
And what is gender?
While often used interchangeably with ‘sex’ in common parlance, the word ‘gender’ is more commonly used in discussions about feminism and about gender ideology to refer to the socially constructed characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity. It represents the notion that certain personality traits, tastes and behaviours are masculine and others are feminine and that we are socialised into particular roles and behaviours, depending on whether we are born male or female.
Women have never produced sperm nor men ova. In contrast to biological sex and our roles in reproduction, gender roles have evolved over the time and they somewhat differ across cultures. Nevertheless, they have traditionally been rigidly adhered to in any given time period. In Western liberal democracies they are becoming less rigid and the credit for that must go to feminists and other progressive thinkers of recent decades – certainly not to trans advocates. It should surely be obvious why, from a feminist perspective, gender is oppressive and serves patriarchal notions of how societies should be organised.
The idea that gender is totally separate from biological sex is patently ridiculous, yet it has spread like wildfire and permeates public life. Worse, some authorities have it that men and women are but two of an improbably large number of “genders” which, I contend, are more properly referred to as “self-described personality types”. New York City lists 31 of them making it a city that appears nuttier than anywhere in the UK, including Brighton.
Facebook reportedly has over 70 gender options, supposedly in the interests of being inclusive but failing miserably. There is no option for ‘gender abolitionist’, for example, which is the only gender-related term that I and others fighting backward ideas about gender could “identify” as. I’m certainly not prepared to go along with dreadful ideologically-loaded terms like ‘cis woman’, which reduces women to a subcategory of women supposedly on a par with ‘trans woman’. If people are to be assigned to subcategories in this way, it makes more sense for the latter to be a subcategory of men.
2018 is the new 1984
Based on what I have learned through formal and informal education and life experience, I submit that if you are born male you are not female, you are not a girl and you cannot become a woman and vice versa. You can claim to be a woman, you can present as “feminine”, you can wear “womanface” – or your idea of it – but you will never actually be a woman.
That is my opinion. Once upon a time, I would have expected any self-proclaimed skeptic who disagreed with my opinion to challenge it in a civil manner with an argument clearly setting out reasons why they disagree. This has not happened. On the contrary, I have been called a transphobe, a bigot, an idiot and – irony of ironies – “irrational”.
Therefore I see no reason to change that opinion or this one, which is that transgender ideology is conservative and regressive. Instead of challenging oppressive cultural expectations about gender, it reinforces them. Instead of encouraging people to be “gender non-conforming” and to express themselves however they so choose, it encourages the idea that one can be “assigned the wrong gender” and that if someone’s “internal sense of self” – whatever that means – is that they are a woman, then a woman is what they are, even if they were born with a perfectly healthy male body.
My opinion about transgender ideology is based on what I’ve heard trans people themselves say, both in real life and in the book Transgender Voices. Indeed the stories of so many of the trans people in that book were stories of pushing against the gender straitjackets they were forced to wear in childhood decades ago. Boys getting beaten for having interests in “girls stuff” and wanting dolls and tea-sets instead of footballs and toy guns. A common sentiment is articulated by a couple of contributors quoted on page 71 of the paperback edition:
If our society had embraced me as I was, I would have felt differently and maybe not changed.
I have always believed that it is better to transcend gender norms and expectations than to tamper with one’s body. We are all consistent as we are. It is cultural expectations that cause all the problems.
The same stories are being played out today with the difference that instead beating children into conforming, parents are being encouraged by transgender ideology into seeing those children who rebel against toxic masculinity and femininity as children who were born in the wrong bodies – a phenomenon for which help is at hand in the form of puberty blockers, hormones and surgery (though reportedly over 80% of transitioning males do not have genital surgery, which leads to the absurd notion that they are “women with penises”). And children and young adults themselves are finding a cesspit of misinformation on the internet. There are record numbers of teenage girls wanting to transition and stories like this one are becoming increasingly common.
Transgender ideology makes ontological claims, not scientific ones. It is about encouraging delusional thinking and anybody who is brave enough to publicly refuse to kowtow to it is fair game for silencing and abuse and they are enabled by politicians from across the political spectrum and by other institutions including, for example, West Yorkshire police.
That may seem a harsh judgement. If it does, then feel free to challenge it. See if you can do so without being personally insulting. I won’t hold my breath. Oh, and before anyone accuses me of being insulting in what I say about trans ideology, remember I am talking about ideas, not individual human beings with hearts and minds. If you are so thin-skinned that you are offended by criticisms of ideas, then find yourself a safe space and some crayons. Most student unions these days seem to be striving to turn their college campuses into such places, with Bristol Uni going for gold.
And please note, nowhere do I suggest that gender dysphoria isn’t real or deserving of compassion or that trans people “don’t exist” (this is one of those bizarre rhetorical devices so beloved of the trans lobby) or that they shouldn’t have the same fundamental human rights as the rest of us. Nowhere do I say that – once they are adults – they shouldn’t take hormones or have surgery if they want to. Nowhere do I say that their decision on how they decide to express themselves and live their lives shouldn’t be respected as long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights of other people.
I am sick of having my position misrepresented as being “opposed to trans rights” and even “hate speech”, while nasty misogynistic trans activists claim the moral high ground. What I would call “hate speech” is, for example, referring to transsexual, Miranda Yardley, as “it”, which is what so-called skeptic tweeters Anarchic Teapot and Dragonblaze do here.
My position is, quite simply, that there is more than one way to be a man or a woman and people with gender dysphoria – or any other condition for that matter – should not be encouraged to see themselves as what they are not and the rest of us should not be forced to go along with a lie. Indeed, it is as unethical to do so as it is to force people to practise a religion they don’t adhere to. Gender non-conformity is good; claiming to be the same as the other sex and demanding access to sex-segregated spaces because you are a refugee from traditional ideas about the sex you are, is not good.
And, by the way, as I mentioned above, there are plenty of trans people who agree with what I say (and vice versa), though few are prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and in the current climate – one in which even academics of impeccable reputation and providing a valuable service can lose their careers and livelihoods due to pressure from the trans lobby – who can blame them? Trans activists have succeeded in alienating many natural allies including real feminists who prioritise women’s progress, safety and emotional and psychological well-being over male entitlement to adjudicate what women are, as they have done throughout history.
I’m a skeptic – a real one – so I care about the truth. I’m not prepared to ring-fence any subject and say it is immune from skeptical inquiry – especially one that has a massive impact on people’s lives. I maintain that anybody who says that transgender ideology (sometimes framed as “people’s identities”) is “not up for debate” shouldn’t be calling themselves skeptics.
Once upon a time I had a live-and-let-live attitude towards trans people and, for the most part, I still do. What does it matter if people want to “live” as the opposite sex? What I hadn’t considered was that “living as a woman” could have a negative impact on the lives of women and girls (and, in light of that, I also maintain that anyone saying transgenderism isn’t up for debate shouldn’t call themselves a feminist).
Here are but a couple of things that, a year ago, I saw as a cause for concern and now see as signs that a century’s struggle for women’s liberation is going down the pan and it is the so-called feminists, progressives and Social Justice Warriors of today who are making it happen by demanding that perfectly normal intelligent people should suspend their reasoning powers and believe absurd falsehoods.
Sports: The accomplishments of girls and women in sports stolen from them by males competing in their events. How can any feminist think this is OK?
Prisons and refuges: Vulnerable women being forced to share living spaces and even communal showers with men, some of whom have used their penises to rape women. According to Dr James Barrett, Chair of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, a majority of prisoners who apply to transition are sex offenders.
I’ve collected plenty more examples here but I highlight these two because they were examples I posted on the personal facebook page of one of the organisers of London Skeptics in the Pub after she had promoted an irresponsible and dishonest article on the transitioning of young people by a writer of questionable integrity. I was mortified by the crassness, callousness and rudeness of the responses from others in her circle. But the most staggeringly idiotic and ironic comment came from the page owner herself who, before blocking us for being “transphobes” asked, in response to an eminently reasonable comment from a very high-profile and popular skeptic blogger, “Have we forgotten how to think?”
Well, yes. It seems they have, judging by that response and by an article posted soon afterwards by the other London SITP organiser in the Bad Science forum, calling it a “a really good guide to debunking anti-trans propaganda”. Anyone with a modicum of critical thinking ability will be able to see how, far from debunking anything, the article promotes fallacious reasoning from the outset. One of the respondents on Bad Science did a nice summary of the problems here but I’m still reeling at how any skeptic could have given it the time of day in the first place.
The word ‘transphobia’, by the way, is an inaccurate and overused term used against anyone who has any questions or concerns or disagreement with any aspect of transgenderism. It is used in a way bears no relation whatsoever to the true meaning of ‘phobia’. As for ‘bigotry’, given the intolerance of the trans lobby, it’s fair to say the bigotry is all theirs.
To my knowledge, the only SITP group brave enough to have invited a speaker who is critical of gender ideology was Coventry. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper’s talk there a couple of years ago can be viewed on youtube. It’s good – for those open-minded enough to watch it.
One of the nastiest responses I received from a “skeptic” was after I’d tweeted an incisive cartoon commenting on last November’s debacle in Topshop. A performance artist called Travis Alabanza who, by the way, does not even call himself a trans woman, wanted to try on a dress in the female changing cubicles of Topshop – a store whose customers are primarily very young women. When he was directed by staff to the men’s changing area instead, Alabanza threw an almighty tantrum.
I’m not sure whether it matched the tantrum thrown by some anonymous tweeter calling himself @metalollie (now @BunsOfHam), who blocked me as soon as he’d tweeted the comment below, denying me the opportunity to respond. He also contemptuously called Jenn Smith, who is transgender, “stupid and wrong and self hating” for disagreeing with him. You couldn’t make it up.
In any event, Alabanza’s behaviour made headlines and, totally disregarding the feelings of their female customers, Topshop declared their changing rooms ‘gender neutral’. The point of the cartoon is clearly to point out a possible consequence of having a gender-neutral changing areas, which is that sexual perverts – and there is nothing about either of those depicted in the cartoon to suggest they are trans – might abuse the policy for their own gratification. Rather like this example from Singapore and this one from the US. In fact there are dozens from the US.
There is nothing transphobic about that cartoon and neither the dummy-spitting “Ollie” nor any of the rabble he roused in support were able to back up their contention that it was. Well done, Ollie – or whatever your real name is – trans activists will applaud your knee-jerk misogyny but I’ve no desire to interact with someone who treats women with such contempt.
These are but a few examples of why, contrary to what I wrote back in 2010, I am now extremely skeptical of skeptics and I wash my hands of the UK skeptics community, such as it is, even though I know there are some individuals still worthy of the name. I spotted someone on Twitter saying that “trans activists simply blow conservative creationists and climate change deniers out of the water when it comes to science denial. It’s incredible to see “progressives” hitch themselves to such dogshit.”
I agree…and it’s all the more incredible that some of those who hitch themselves to it claim to be skeptics.
They are not.