Biology, recent, Sex

Ignoring Differences Between Men and Women Is the Wrong Way to Address Gender Dysphoria

Among the many divisive topics animating people these days, sex and gender are perhaps the most incendiary. This is in large part because not one but two groups feel that their political identities are at stake.

On one hand, many women feel blindsided by the argument that trans women should be considered literal women, and question the effect of the trans movement on female sex-based rights and protections, as they have come to define them. On the other, many trans people are aghast at what they feel are attempts to block their political advancement toward equal social and legal status. Whether the arenas of dispute are bathrooms, schools, sport, women’s organizations, or parades, the emotions are intense and the arguments apparently intractable.

To understand what’s at stake, it’s helpful to delineate two argumentative positions at play: (1) sex eliminationism, which argues for the abolition of the recognition of biological sex as a meaningful category; and (2) gender eliminationism, which argues for the abolition of gender. As a feminist and philosopher who finds herself stuck between these two positions and their passionate advocates, I see it as a defining challenge of our complicated modern times to carve out some pragmatic middle ground: to find a narrative and set of policies protective of both the rights of trans people in a gender-conforming society, and those of females in a misogynist society. In attempting this, we should recognize that many on both sides of the dispute share at least some common ground. Specifically, they both share a deep discomfort with the sociocultural norms and stereotypes associated with being a woman or a man. I believe that this common ground may provide some basis for rapprochement.

Since a lot of skirmishes in the gender wars involve people talking past each other, we first need to pause to clarify certain terminology. We should remember that “sex” here primarily refers to a biological category and has nothing to do with sexuality (or not directly, anyway). We also need to note that “gender” has several common meanings. Often, “gender” is used, perfectly correctly, as an ordinary synonym for “sex.” Equally, the terms “woman” and “man” have traditionally been treated as straightforward synonyms for “female” and “male,” and all four terms have referred to sex category. But in the 1970s, as Pepperdine University philosopher Tomas Bogardus recently noted in Quillette, “gender” also came to refer to the social and cultural norms and stereotypes governing a particular sex category, in relation to behavior, role, mental characteristics and appearance.

There is also a third use of “gender,” which is particularly prevalent in academic circles, though not more widely. This is the idea, perceptively explored by Bogardus, that “gender” should stand not only for the sociocultural norms associated with biological sex, but also that we should define the terms “woman” and “man” in terms of the sociocultural roles associated with those norms. This is a step that goes well beyond previously staked claims, which left our sex-based definitions of the terms “woman” and “man” as they were. In contrast, this move, as Bogardus makes clear, defines the very notions of womanhood and manhood, not in terms of the biological, but the sociocultural.

Some feminist philosophers use “gender,” “woman” and “man” in this way. A particular riff on this move, grounded in the prior work of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, is the argument that we should take a pattern of specifically oppressive sociocultural relations, associated with femaleness and maleness respectively, as definitive of what counts as womanhood and manhood. It seems to follow that, to be truly progressive, we should aim to eliminate womanhood and manhood altogether as meaningful categories.

Later on, I shall have mostly negative things to say about such “social-role” views of gender, as Bogardus calls them—but not yet. In the meantime, I’ll use “sex” to refer to biological sex, and “gender” only to refer to the sociocultural norms and stereotypes governing biological sex. Since I disagree with the idea that the terms “woman” and “man” either do, or should, refer only to distinctive sociocultural roles, I will continue to use these two terms with their original, still-perfectly-respectable meanings, as denoting females and males, in the biological sense, respectively.

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A somewhat odd aspect of this dispute is that both sides nominally tend to have at least one core belief in common. This is the thought that gender, in the sense of sociocultural norms, can be a source of harm. It harms women, who are endlessly confronted with objectifying images purporting to represent them. It harms men who feel like failures for being unable to provide for their families. It harms children who find themselves read against type, teased as “scaredy-cat” boys or “bossy” girls. It makes older women seem less authoritative and older men more so. It teaches girls to be sexually submissive, and boys to be sexually aggressive, against the better interests of both. It’s a likely contributory factor to the prevalence of self-harm and anorexia in females, and of depression and suicide in males. At every turn, by way of external or internal pressures, gender can limit one’s life—including in ways that go unnoticed.

No doubt, many readers disagree with a lot of this. They might argue that what I am treating here as sociocultural norms are in fact biologically produced differences. They might say that at least some gender norms conform to expectations that arise from the different forms of genetically encoded, evolutionarily developed programming contained in men and women. In either case, there’s less likely to be talk about harm.

Even so, it’s possible to coherently combine a view that some behavioral and mental characteristics are endogenously sexed and unalterable, with the view that many others are functions of environment and culture. So any differences on this score should not prevent us from joining to lament the harms caused by at least some sociocultural norms in regard to maleness and femaleness.

One group that apparently is particularly harmed by gender comprises those whose alienation from prescribed norms contributes to their feeling radically at odds with their bodies. The words we use for this distress is “gender dysphoria”: strong discomfort at the sexed aspects of physiognomy, even to the point of feeling “born into the wrong body.” It seems likely that gender-dysphoric people have been around for as long as gendered societies have existed. Indeed, it’s tempting to speculate about a causal link between the two. In social worlds with rigid physical and mental stereotypes governing males and females, it is predictable that some people, having unconsciously internalized those stereotypes as the “right” way for males and females to be, will then look at their particular, non-stereotypical bodies or minds, and self-diagnose as internally discordant, with radicalized feelings to match. Feelings of wrongness can, in certain cases, tip over into a dualist narrative of an outside that doesn’t fully fit one’s insides.

Though it’s hard to pin down the reasons, the expression of gender dysphoria is on the increase. The UK Gender Identity Service, a National Health Service provider, has in the last few years seen a big rise in referrals among children, from ninety-seven in 2009–2010 to 2,519 in 2017–2018.  One, though not the only, recognized therapeutic response to feelings of gender dysphoria is social transition: living as a different sex. Most trans women, trans men and so-called non-binary people have, in response to feelings of dysphoria, made the decision to live as the opposite sex, or in the case of some non-binary people, as no sex at all. Some of these people go on to procure a legal sex change. Yet neither social nor legal transition can change facts about individual sex determination and differentiation at a biological level. No surgery or hormone treatment can achieve this, either. Nevertheless, by social (or sometimes socio-legal) means—such as by adopting gendered behaviors, clothing and sometimes surgically-constructed or drug-altered appearances, culturally indicative of a particular sex (or, in the case of nonbinary people, indicative of androgyny)—these individuals can attempt to reduce the distressing mismatch they feel between how they wish to be perceived and how they are perceived, both by themselves and others.

Transition may be effective for many. And it is commonly claimed that it reduces overall suicide risk in dysphoric individuals. But it can also have severe personal costs. Where stark differences are promoted between the sexes, those perceived to sit uncomfortably between gendered worlds are vulnerable to projected ridicule, harassment or even disgust. All trans people recognized as such—whether through self-declaration or because they don’t “pass”—are vulnerable in this regard. Arguably, then, gender can doubly harm trans people: by helping to induce their dysphoria in the first place, then punishing them for their survival strategy.

What kind of society, then, should we attempt to build, to help gender-dysphoric people? In contemporary public discussion and practice, two competing approaches can be discerned, each with different social consequences. (In what follows, I deliberately articulate extreme versions of both; in reality, of course, many on each side endorse only certain aspects and reject others, but it remains true that a significant number of people would, in each case, endorse the extreme version).

The first approach—what I’m calling sex eliminationismsays we should remove any social practice whatsoever that would serve to differentiate trans people from those who are born into (or, if you prefer, “assigned at birth” into) their preferred (i.e., self-identified) sex category. The ideal, under this strategy, would be the seamless integration of trans women into all female social and legal categories, and trans men into corresponding male categories, without any unsought reference to either’s sex category. An underlying assumption of sex eliminationism is that if we built a society that didn’t recognize biological sex, the social problems faced by trans people would be minimized.

The second approach—which I call gender eliminationism—argues that we should instead get rid of gender, as that word is understood to encompass sociocultural norms and stereotypes. The ideal, under this strategy, is a world of males and females, recognized biologically as such, but with none of the prevalent stereotypes associated with those categories. This strategy, as it intersects with the issue of gender dysphoria, seeks to counter the narrative that there is a particular right or “normal” way for males and females to be, in the hope that those suffering from dysphoria will no longer feel so ill-at-ease.

Though activist groups do not, to my knowledge, use the term “sex eliminationism,” this has in effect become the preferred approach of all mainstream LGBT charities and lobbying groups in western countries. Within a limited but influential sphere, the strategy has had considerable political success. Under Barack Obama in 2016, reference to “sex” as a characteristic protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 was officially interpreted as a reference to “gender identity.” When the UK Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt told reporters in 2018 that “trans women are women,” she was echoing the stance of the British LGBT charity Stonewall: Trans women, such groups tell us, are women in every literal sense, and anyone who disagrees should “get over it.” Many public organizations in the UK have followed states such as California by making the sex one “identifies as having”—not the sex one has by birth, or even at law—the determinant of whether they may permissibly enter women-only spaces, with or without a legal sex change. This policy is known internationally as “self-ID.” From prisons to youth hostels to colleges to changing rooms to swimming pools to shared train sleeper carriages to hospital wards, self-ID has become the de facto criterion of entry.

The UK government recently has come under significant pressure to use self-ID as the sole criterion required for a legal sex change—without any confirmation of surgery, medical diagnosis of dysphoria, or other substantive constraints. A vast and fractious public government consultation took place about this last year, the results of which have yet to be published. Countries that already have made self-ID a largely sufficient basis for sex change-eligibility include Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, as have New York State, California and Nevada. According to many sex eliminationists, we should make a universal practice of referring to “gender identity” instead of sex, and encode this practice in law and policy. And gender identity, in turn, means the sex with which one feels strongly aligned.

To buttress the claim that sex is not a useful category, sex eliminationists tend to emphasize the existence of differences in sexual development (“DSDs”), which characterize the relatively small group of people sometimes also known as “intersex.” The appearance of DSDs is consistent with the view of many philosophers, including me, that there is no hard and fast “essence” to biological sex, at least in our everyday sense: no set of characteristics a male or female must have, to count as such. But competent non-essentialists don’t think it follows from this that there are no real constraints on what counts as sex (or biological kinds, for that matter). Rather, as the philosopher Alison Stone has argued, the concept of biological sex is what philosophers call a “cluster concept.” That is, it’s determined by possession of most or all of a cluster of particular designated properties—chromosomal, gametic, hormonal and morphological—produced via endogenous biological processes. The vast majority of us have all of the designated properties for a given sex; a smaller number have most; a tiny number—much smaller than typically reported—have some of both. Perhaps this entails that sex is not a binary, or that there are more than two sexes—or perhaps not. Either way, there’s no good reason to think we can coherently go from facts about proliferating material sex categories to a conclusion about the nonexistence of material sex.

A further source of support for sex eliminationism comes from post-structuralist philosophy. Biological sex, we are told by enthusiastic readers of Judith Butler, is socially constructed. This isn’t just the claim that sex has social meaning, or that sex isn’t a binary. It’s the much more radical claim that sex is socially produced all the way down: There are no material, non-social facts underpinning our habitual division into male and female. It’s easy to see how this otherwise startling claim fits nicely into a sex-eliminationist case—for if there’s no such thing as material facts about sex, then all that we’re left with is gender identity.

This is not a widely endorsed view—in part because, as I have just noted, there is an entirely respectable (and far less radical) alternative to this conclusion, which is that sex categories are effectively clusters of (non-social) material properties. And even if this were wrong, and it were true that sex is thoroughly socially constructed, this wouldn’t support the idea that the collective social fact of sex should be ignored, politically, in favor of a subjective inner feeling of gender identity. A social fact is no less a fact for being social in character.

A final source of argumentative support for sex eliminationism is allegedly embedded in the social-role view of womanhood and manhood, as described by Bogardus, and sketched out in my introduction above. This says that—whether or not material facts about femaleness and maleness exist or not—the terms “woman” and “man” don’t actually refer to those facts, but rather refer to sociocultural roles. One of the main draws of this sort of view has been its apparently “inclusive” nature: If womanhood is no longer shackled to femaleness, transwomen can be women too, at least in this sense. As Bogardus writes: “Adopting this view of sex and gender allowed the acceptance of transgender people as individuals who genuinely are the gender they take themselves to be—with, one hopes, a consequent reduction in oppression, bullying and medical pathologizing.”

There are, however, several problems with the social-role view. I agree with Bogardus that, as a supposed reconstruction of our existing public concepts of woman and man, the social-role view is alien to the ordinary, non-academic manner by which people discuss and classify human beings. Some philosophers acknowledge this, explicitly arguing instead for a revisionary or “ameliorative “ approach. They argue that “woman” and “man” ideally should refer to two social roles, as an improvement on ordinary usage, even if the ordinary terms don’t do so now.

But advocates of this proposal fail to properly consider the likely negative effects of any such revision that would appear alongside any expected benefits. For many women, to have such a fundamental category as womanhood so closely tied, via definition, to a socially disadvantaged position, is offensively reductive, not to mention demoralizing. (This is especially so in relation to the version of a social-role view that explicitly identifies womanhood in terms of oppression and objectification.) This isn’t, of course, to deny that oppressive social roles exist for women; it’s to argue that womanhood shouldn’t be defined in those terms. Moreover, social-role views arguably are just as divisive as they are inclusive, since they apparently suggest that females who don’t occupy whatever social role is supposed to be normative for womanhood aren’t real women.

Social-role views also fail on the narrow goal of being “inclusive” to trans people. If we are to take the concept of social role seriously, we must acknowledge that it entails complex processes of formation, starting in childhood development, and manifesting in many different facets of behavior, self-conception and one’s treatment by others. They certainly cannot be easily shifted or cast off by a relatively “surface” change such as changing one’s appearance or getting drugs or surgery. Many trans men retain their pre-transition social role, post-transition; as do many trans women. This is often noted wryly by old-school feminists, but is equally noted by trans activists, unhappy at the still-chafing restrictions this apparently puts upon who may count as a woman or man, and who may not.

For this reason, as Bogardus relates, some philosophers in tune with the zeitgeist recently have rejected social-role views of womanhood, and moved to accounts more firmly rooted in a subjective feeling of gender identity. As Bogardus describes, one variant of the latter makes womanhood a matter of self-identification directly; another makes womanhood a matter of feeling that the norms of womanhood apply to oneself. I share Bogardus’s reservations about both of these variants. But either way, the argument here is that feelings maketh the woman; and, as with the social-role view, biological sex is firmly out of the picture as irrelevant.

The main public, non-academic driver of sex eliminationism isn’t biology or philosophy. It’s a political project rooted in the commendably empathic desire to make things right for vulnerable people in psychological distress; to shield them from harassment; and to provide them with an environment in which gender dysphoria is minimized. Yet a growing number of voices are pointing out that sex eliminationism is detrimental to the interests of another group, also with historical claims to vulnerability.

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The main problem with sex eliminationism is that, in a nutshell, it leaves us with no adequate language to describe a politically important feature of material reality. For a range of purposes, academics and statisticians need to track actual facts about sex, as it operates across various social groups, practices and discourses. The elimination of talk of sex hampers that. To take a concrete example: current proposals to base data about the numbers of males and females in the Scottish 2021 Census directly on the basis of the individual self-identification of respondents, and even to introduce a third “non-binary” option, risk corrupting what is normally a major source of research data for academics and policy-makers about sex and related matters.

Categorizing sex is particularly important if you want to describe the effects of sexism and misogyny. Most participants in this dispute recognize, at least on paper, that sexism and misogyny exist. A major source of opposition to sex eliminationism has come from second-wave-inspired feminists, concerned about inequality predicated on sex-category membership. These feminists—of which I am one—assume that, alongside inequality based on race, class and other markers, there is a distinctive form of inequality directed at females as such, by virtue of their belonging to the category of people associated with the burden of reproduction, as well as, on average, their being the physically weaker sex. These two facts, so the story goes (a story I happen to believe), have led to the historical exploitation and oppression of females. Indeed, many harmful gender stereotypes are thought to stem indirectly from these facts.

We can see the negative effects on sex eliminationism upon data about sex, and so upon data about harm to females in a misogynist society, if we look at new practices regarding the statistical tracking of crime. Guidance offered by the UK Crown Prosecution Service, and apparently currently followed by UK police and the court system, advises that “all relevant papers regarding prosecutions involving victims…or defendants make reference to the correct presented gender status.” Lobbying organizations such as GLAAD advise the U.S. media to report crimes by trans people in a manner consonant with the criminals’ and victims’ preferred self-identification. This practice thwarts the reasonable aim of getting a clear statistical picture of certain types of crime according to sex category, both in terms of perpetrators and victims. In a society where sexual assaults on females by males is apparently endemic, this aim is especially pressing.

Removing references to sex, and replacing them with self-ID, also means undermining the capacity to combat sexism, since the practice undermines special measures originally introduced to create equality of opportunity in a sexist world. To take just one example, the UK Labour Party’s decision in 2018 to admit trans women as eligible for the role of Constituency Party Women’s Officer —a role naturally understood as designed to facilitate equality of opportunity for females in a male-dominated organization—has resulted in at least two cases of trans women successfully obtaining the role in their respective constituencies.

There are also issues for females in relation to a policy of self-ID in certain public spaces. Sex-separated spaces are an imperfect but useful form of protection for females in places where they are vulnerable to sexual aggression and invasions of privacy, such as bathrooms, changing rooms, dormitories, refuges and prisons. Recent Freedom of Information requests reveal that in the UK, two-thirds of sexual assaults in public pools and leisure centers took place in mixed-sex or “unisex” facilities. A pre-operative trans woman prisoner, Karen White, sexually assaulted two female inmates recently whilst on remand in a British women’s prison. Critics argue from such evidence that making self-ID the legitimate means of accessing women-only spaces puts females in those spaces at risk—occasionally from trans women, but also from predatory males who are not trans, but who now cannot be confidently challenged in such spaces. The inclusive language of “gender-neutrality” tends to obscure the fact that a policy of self-ID effectively makes spaces mixed-sex by stealth.

Though defenders of self-ID eagerly point to studies apparently dismissing such worries as unfounded, plenty of time is needed to see the real impact. And those with expertise in safeguarding would prefer a cautious attitude in the meantime. We also shouldn’t forget that, alarmingly, it’s unclear how authorities would even know about the extent of any problems, given the approach to crime recording just described.

In considering this difficult issue, we need to be aware of the fact, often glossed over or treated as heresy if mentioned, that a substantial number of trans women are pre-operative and retain natal genitalia, and that many are sexually attracted to females. The public stereotype of a trans woman as a post-operative transsexual, attracted only to males, has yet to catch up with the reality of the so-called “trans umbrella.”

With respect to the point about female-attraction, critics tend to cry: “But what about lesbians in woman-only spaces”? But crucially, there’s no analogous pattern of lesbian aggression here that is even remotely equivalent to background facts regarding statistical male violence patterns, generally; not to mention the average strength differentials between biological men and biological women. (Even if there were, there would be no practically available conventional means of keeping lesbians out of female-only spaces, as we already have, more or less, for males in the case of single-sex provision.)

Another important though neglected aspect of sex eliminationism is its far-reaching implications for how we categorize, and then politically protect, sexual orientation, including lesbianism. Orientation categories—heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality—are normally defined in terms of: (1) the sex of the subject; and (2) the sex (or sexes) to which the subject is attracted. In the new sex-eliminationist paradigm, however, each orientation is now supposed to be defined in terms of: (1) the gender identity of the subject; and (2) the gender identity (or identities) to which the subject is attracted. Hence female-attracted trans women, and trans woman-attracted females, can be “lesbians.“ Male-attracted trans men, and trans man-attracted males, can be “gay men.” This apparently leaves us with no linguistic resources to talk about that form of sexual orientation that continues to arouse the distinctive kind of bigotry known as homophobia. This won’t cease to exist just because it’s no longer talked about.

There’s also a significant worry about the effect on vulnerable emerging sexualities of gay children and teens, when told by peers and lobbying organizations that trans people of the opposite sex are “lesbians” and “gay men” just like them. In most other settings, progressives would be quick to denounce the peer-pressuring of gay young people to renounce their fundamental orientation; in queer circles, matters now do not seem so clear-cut.

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We now move to gender eliminationists, in whose idealized world there would be candid and unproblematic talk of sex, but there would be no gender—no behaviors stereotypically associated with being male or female at all. Gender eliminationists therefore reject the quasi-mystical notion of “gender identity.” They see it as contributing to the promulgation of gender hang-ups, assuming that gender identity is in fact determined by whichever gendered stereotypes one feels fit one best. We are told of trans teenager Jazz Jennings that, “growing up, Jazz’s bedroom was filled with girly things—pink bed linen, a closet filled with dresses and an ample collection of stuffed animals.” We are told of British trans celebrity Munroe Bergdorf that “as a child, she would regularly steal her mum’s lip gloss and wear it to school.” There’s nothing remotely harmful about these activities for males, gender eliminationists argue. What is harmful, however, is society agreeing that such activities are a part of what it means to be a woman or girl.

For gender eliminationists, then, a fundamental problem with sex eliminationism is its inherent conservativism. And indeed, some draw attention to the fact that many of the supposedly tell-tale signs of gender dysphoria among trans-identified children seem like stereotypes plucked out of ladies’ home-furnishing magazines from the early Cold War era. Sex eliminationism appears to calcify gender, imprisoning both trans and non-trans people alike in its restrictive grip. The application of the category “cis” is thought to contribute to this phenomenon. Sex eliminationists often use the term “cis” to designate, within the otherwise supposedly unified classes of women and men, those members who don’t feel challenged by the gender norms applicable to them, and therefore are not trans. Yet this seems inadequately simplistic, since many people who aren’t trans still feel strong unease at the gendered constraints imposed upon them.

Gender eliminationists prefer to focus on protecting existing sex-based protections and resources, while simultaneously inhibiting the further entrenchment of gender. They protest the stratification of societies into pink and blue. They defend and celebrate gender non-conformity, whether in career or fashion choice: stay-at-home dads and men in dresses, female engineers and women in tuxes. And many of them refuse to use the preferred pronouns or category-nouns of trans people. Though this practice is widely criticized, most don’t do it to be insulting. Rather, they do so as an expression of their allegiance to a philosophical position: one in which shifting one’s use of pronouns and other descriptors to fit a person’s gender identity, rather than their sex, contributes inadvertently to the further conservation of harmful gender norms.

The pursuit of gender eliminationism comes at an obvious cost: namely, distress caused to trans people. If successful integration is a therapeutic goal for trans people, the insistent use of sex-based pronouns, and other constant reminders of the sex they wish to forget, may seriously undermine well-being. When trans people describe themselves as living in fear, it’s rarely hyperbole. These are facts to which some gender eliminationists seem either oblivious or indifferent—inexplicably, since the threat to trans people for their nonconformity is another terrible by-product of the rigidly gendered social environment that gender eliminationists decry.

The point is most starkly made in relation to policy decisions about how best to accommodate trans women in public spaces where they, too, can be vulnerable. Hardliners insist that trans women should be in male bathrooms, male hostels, male dormitories and prisons; that what happens to them there is of no concern to females, since females won’t be the direct perpetrators of any subsequent harm.

A different and more general critique of gender eliminationism is whether the strategic objective of eliminating gender makes coherent sense in the light of knowledge about cognition. Increasingly, cognitive scientists are emphasizing that our brains are essentially predictive: constantly modelling on the basis of past experience, and updating the model only when incoming data doesn’t match the prediction. From vision to emotion to action choices, the role of unconscious, reflexive prediction is increasingly thought to be critical to cognitive processes. This potentially includes implicit stereotypes, such as gender stereotypes. Some cognitive scientists propose that brains use stereotypes unavoidably, as part of their ordinary working, as a kind of energy-saving fast heuristic.

If this is correct, then it seems that we cannot eliminate gender completely—since there will always be some social stereotypes about the sexes that remain programmed in our minds, if only because they correspond to statistically recurrent empirical truths about biological men and women. Instead of being gender eliminationists, the most we can reasonably be, perhaps, is “gender critical”: consciously critical of the particularly damaging social stereotypes we collectively uphold, aiming to replace them over time with better and more socially useful ones.

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And so we are left with two factions, feeling united only by resentment. Members of each camp delight in taking the most radicalized possible example of the opposition as representative. Each thinks the other more powerful. Both are right, in a sense. Sex eliminationism as a strategy has had extraordinary success in a small but influential circle, though it remains mostly incomprehensible to the population as a whole. (Thus, those who insist on the point that trans women are biologically male are left in the surreal position of being accused of heresy in the faculty lounge and banality in the pub.) Many on both sides, meanwhile, feel scared. Females, especially survivors of sexual assault, are frightened of losing places they can go without aggressive biological males being present. Trans women feel frightened for roughly the same reason, and worry that they won’t feel welcome in any space. Both feel as though they are losing their political identity.

Social media doesn’t help, siphoning users into paranoid, angry silos. Critics of sex eliminationism are reduced by their opponents to the status of “TERF,” a pejorative that stands for “trans exclusive radical feminist,” whose use is habitually accompanied by sneering and sometimes threats of violence. For their part, gender eliminationists are also capable of dehumanizing and insulting language: referring to trans women as “trannies,” “men in frocks,” and so on.

The wider political climate also doesn’t help. One obvious obstacle to encouraging calm discussion is the aggressive manner in which U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to undermine trans people in a number of arenas, for reasons that have, apparently, little to do with progressive concerns about gender in the sociocultural sense.

To return to my premise: It’s worth remembering that both sides of this dispute are strongly uncomfortable with aspects of gender, though each has a different strategic response to the discomfort. Sex eliminationists want to help individual people “identify out” of a particular set of gendered norms, by eliminating talk of sex; gender eliminationists want to get rid of the norms that cause discomfort in the first place, for everyone. Pragmatists should try to draw upon this limited common ground, constructively.

I confess that I skew to the gender-eliminationist side of the debate—or, at least, that I reject sex eliminationism as a workable or desirable strategy. And the proposal I offer below reflects this. But I also ask whether it is possible simultaneously to, on the one hand, act compassionately and respectfully toward trans people in a way that fits their desired self-image, and doesn’t expose them to harm; while, on the other hand, avoid entrenching the gendered norms that harm people generally, especially females, and that may well partly cause dysphoria in the first place.

I think one important first step is to talk about an aspect of the debate that most people—especially trans advocates—would prefer to ignore, because it feels impolite. But we cannot dance around the issue if we hope to make progress.

Legally, we are where we are: People have built the fabric of their lives around the possibility of legal transition, and that legal option shouldn’t be ripped away. However, in my view, we have to remain clear-eyed that legal transition is, and always was, fictional, not actual. The existence of a legal category of trans people implicitly asks people to inhabit a fiction in which trans people are actually members of another sex, even if many don’t actually believe these equivalences to be real (the term I use later on is “fictionalizing”). Indeed, one of the reasons the debate over this issue seems so raw and divisive is that even the most passionate trans advocates know, on some level, that they can’t get what they truly want (and never will)—which is the widespread and total acceptance, at the individual psychological level, of all trans women as full-on women and all trans-men as full-on men. There are limits to what policy and language can achieve. The human brain remains a reality-based organ.

We’re generally very familiar with the social practice of acting: consciously inhabiting a role for a limited amount of time, and living “as if” something were true. When we watch a tragedy, we might laugh, cry, and cower in fear, but we don’t run onto the stage to save the protagonist. Away from the arts, knowingly engaging with and generating fictions are often a crucial part of sensitive social interaction, and of sparing the feelings of others. Reality often hurts, after all. But equally, there are contexts where reference to reality is still needed. To help her recovery, I may act as if a loved one isn’t ill; but not when the doctor visits.

My critics will no doubt leap to the point that trans women, in particular, have been presented throughout history as—in philosopher Talia Mae Bettcher’s words—“evil deceivers and make believers,” and that my position here taps into that trope, egregiously. But that would be to miss my point. “Make-believe” has connotations of playfulness and unseriousness that fictionalizing need not share. Fictionalizing, as I’ve just emphasized, can be a serious and socially valuable exercise: life-saving, even. Meanwhile, as I’ve also stressed, a practice of fictionalizing that is known to be such, exercised within circumscribed limits, and which is compatible with truth-telling in other contexts, is by definition not deceitful, nor (obviously) is it evil.

On one reading, current attempts to suppress talk of material facts about sex by progressive institutions and academics can be read as a sympathetic attempt to bolster the fiction of actual transition: to preserve an illusion that sex-change is literally possible. In the background seems to be the assumption that to fictionalize about something successfully, you also need to fictionalize that you aren’t fictionalizing. But that would only be true if the goal of fictionalizing was getting people to actually and permanently believe something was real. In contrast, much social fictionalizing is non-deceptive: it doesn’t attempt to fully disguise its own nature. This is the kind of thing I’m suggesting we should aim for.

How should this all work in terms of policy? We should continue to grant those suffering from severe dysphoria the option of a legal sex-change in order to help them, assuming the evidence continues to show that it does indeed help. But equally, we must not detach that option from careful medical oversight and diagnosis, and proof of strong commitment from the applicants, for fear of the obvious dangers for females that such detachment would pose. Self-ID as a route to a legal sex change continues to be a terrible idea. Nor, more generally, should we lose track of the fact that sex isn’t literally changed. In some cases, it is good manners to pretend that a person really has changed their sex. But this act of politeness should not be encoded in law.

As individuals and institutions, we should sympathetically encourage the voluntary use of preferred pronouns in interpersonal contexts for trans people, as a therapeutic device. But in the services of retaining a much-needed grip on reality, we must not enforce this practice, and nor should we banish reference to sex from those many discourses where we still absolutely need to discuss it. As a society, we should put resources into dedicated “third” spaces for trans people, wherever they risk harm: bathrooms, refuges, hostels, prisons. But sex-based legal protections, resources, and spaces should also be robustly maintained, wherever they are the best solution to sex-based harms. (Ironically, to date the public conversation has operated in strikingly binary fashion: either sex-based spaces and resources or trans-accommodating spaces and resources; yet we could have both).

I realize that stating things so baldly will inevitably be shocking for those whose only goal seems to be to preserve illusions in this area, both for themselves and others. Sometimes you just have to step out of the fiction for a while, and say how things really are. Too much is at stake not to. I also know that my proposal is unlikely to satisfy those at either pole of the dispute. Sex eliminationists will argue that trans people don’t want others to insultingly pretend. Gender eliminationists will object that fictions are inherently unstable things, constantly tempting us to take them more seriously than we should. The latter point doesn’t seem true; most of us can draw a clear line between fiction and reality, as long as we know it’s fiction we’re dealing with in the first place. Meanwhile, to the former we should say: in a case of genuinely competing interests, as this undoubtedly is, it’s unreasonable to think that everyone will get exactly what they want.

One might also ask the two sides what their objection is, precisely, to engaging with fictions: not least because each side seems to be doing a good deal of rather more deceptive fictionalizing already. Effectively, many sex eliminationists pretend that sex-based harm doesn’t exist; and many gender eliminationists pretend that trans-directed discrimination doesn’t exist. Yet the fact is that both do. We therefore need a sensible collective approach that doesn’t leave us stuck, between a damaging tendency toward reality-denial on one side, and a brutal realism destructive of good social relations on the other.

 

Kathleen Stock is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex. Follow her on Twitter at @Docstockk.

Featured image: A section of Vitruvian Man, 1492, by Leonardo Da Vinci 

198 Comments

  1. Morgan Foster says

    @Kathleen Stock

    “I see it as a defining challenge of our complicated modern times to carve out some pragmatic middle ground: to find a narrative and set of policies protective of both the rights of trans people in a gender-conforming society, and those of females in a misogynist society.

    You’ve started off with a slander against half the population of the western world with your crack about “a misogynist society”.

    But I suppose you know who your audience is.

    • Cara Lee says

      Amen. If anything, the western world has become gynocentric, to the detriment of both men and women. A lot of women just don’t realize it yet. But they will, when the dominant demographic changes to one that is truly misogynistic. And then it will be too late.

    • Yeah, but reading the rest of the article, it’s certain the author will be crucified as transphobic for writing it.

    • All this feminist gender/sex/sexuality garbage is rich-white-people-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands nonsense. It’s tired, it’s played out, and frankly, it makes you look ridiculous.

      The exhausted majority could care less. The utility of the things are what is most important. Everything past that is you just being an asshole.

      • Wentworth Horton says

        Take a load off, crack a beer. You’ve done well.

      • Craig Willms says

        @Ike

        I was about to say the same thing (perhaps in a different way) but you more or less summed it up nicely. Thanks.

        • Lightning Rose says

          TRIGGER WARNING: I’m gonna REALLY take the kid gloves off here.

          Saying, thinking, believing you “feel” like the opposite sex doesn’t make it true. Any more than my “feeling” like a horse gives me 4 hoofs, a tail, and the ability to eat hay. Believe it or not there are people out there who likewise claim to “identify” as “dragons,” “otherkin,” “furries,” take your pick. Probably as Klingons or Voldemort for all I know. We normals call all of the above “abnormal” for a reason. It’s because they ARE. As in, “vanishingly rare specimens of severely mixed-up people who attempt to live a lifestyle of extreme nonconformity.” Many less complimentary phrases have been applied.

          Historically, nonconformity of the drag, butch, femme, flamer etc. kinds were tolerated as colorful cultural “wildlife” in urban enclaves where they mostly socialized “in character” among each other. Certain trades (theater, fashion, beauty) they colonized and made their own. Outside those enclaves, though, you had to “pass;” however girly-man you think you “feel” inside, if you wanted to work on Wall Street it was in a suit and tie and the office called you Mister. Same went for the gal with the crew-cut and Doc Martins under her scrubs; you may be disturbingly butch, hon, but you’re NOT a man and the office still calls you Persephone, see?

          This daft “gender” movement is nothing more than a thought experiment out of fruitbat universities’ “studies” departments where rich people with nothing to really do make up alternate universes to foment “grievances.” The problem this time is your nano-minority means to FORCE everyone else to salute your freak flag–via language policing, coerced going along with your performative delusions, and government granting of a newly untouchable “protected” status like some exotic, endangered woodpecker.

          If all that was required was for us to wink and call the girl in the suit or the guy in the dress by their chosen name at the office and play “let’s pretend,” treating them exactly like the biological man or woman they are presumably attempting to be, there would be no problem and this whole issue would be a rare, marginal, barely commented on curiosity few would even experience. After all, if you’re doing “trans” correctly, the would should see you as your chosen sex, yes? They shouldn’t even notice short of being stripped by the EMT’s!

          But that’s not what the “trans” activists forcing this issue seem to want. They want attention, and lots of it. They want Drag Queen Story Hours. They want Pride Parades. They want our kindergarteners indoctrinated into the idea that “trans” is normal and that they, too, can be “trans.” (Yeah, because Gender Dysphoria with that 41% suicide rate, sterility and hormonally induced cancer some day is our fondest wish for all our kids!)

          They insist on not just the unremarked, quiet normality of indifferent acceptance, but publicity, approbation, even CELEBRATION and kowtowing to their specialness by the ENTIRE NORMAL WORLD. The rest of us, you see, have to live in the skin we’re given, sans fantasy. No one’s obliged by law to service my claim to be Napoleon, OR his horse! Or any other break from reality I might enjoy.

          The real reason this issue is so “incendiary” is that most of us hate cognitive dissonance; deception of our senses makes us very, very uncomfortable. We like to know whom we’re talking to, in the ways we’ve understood since the dawn of human sentience. Most of us don’t do paradox very well. Most of us are also instinctively uncomfortable around people behaving like they are mentally off their rails. That’s a survival instinct, sorry.

          SOMEDAY we may evolve to the point where “neither fish nor fowl” paradoxes are within our cognitive comfort zones, but that’s not here yet. Most of us outside university “studies” depts. are still trying to get our brains around a man calling another man his “husband” in public. It’s confusing. We thought the Queer Nation would leave us alone, happy to be treated as “the same” as the rest of us if only we re-defined marriage to include you.

          We thought wrong. This just may be the point where society starts pushing back. We normals believe in live and let live. Do your own thing. But let us do ours, okay? We are not going to re-define the English language, and we are NOT going to bake your cake.

          • Cindy says

            Thank you. It sounded harsh but I truly get where you’re coming from. If we accept trans individuals as the gender they believe they are and not their biological sex, we may as well throw out distictions between the sexes all together because the terms “man” and “woman” will become meaningless. But that is not reality. In reality we are sexed beings for a biological imperative, that being the propagation of our species. There are real harmful consequences to befall both sexes if we all pretend there are no differences between men and women. Not the least of which is that you can kiss objective truth goodbye. It will impose a fiction on humans that will undermine our ability to come to consensus about the way things are. Much more is at stake here than the feelings of transgenders.

          • Speaking Truth to Power says

            Thank You for posting! Your comment doesn’t sound harsh at all. There is nothing triggering about the truth. I profoundly agree that there is much more at stake here than the feelings of “transgenders.” Thanks again, for having the courage to say this.

          • Speaking Truth to Power says

            It should be noted that our species is armed with nuclear weapons. We cannot allow our respective civilizations to become this far unhinged from objective reality. I say again: there are far more elemental issues at play than the feelings of so-called “transgenders.”

          • Maria says

            So I get where you’re coming from. I am a trans-woman, 24, living in New Jersey. In my social life I am accepted as a woman 100%. Am I biologically female? The answer, at least to me, is yes, kind of. The author is wrong when she asserts that hormones and hormone blockers do not affect biology. They certainly do. I have a female body composition (fat and muscle distribution), I have grown breasts, and my entire body is soft.

            Like most woman, I am sort of scared of men and need a separate space. I have experienced sexism and assault from men much in the same way that many females have. I also need to be protected, and I do not think it’s a fiction to classify me as a woman. Are there biological distinctions? Yes, of course. Should self ID be the criteria for admitting someone as a member of the opposite gender? No, literally the worst idea ever.

            Transitioning is about more than a declaration. It literally is, in part, a biological transition. I do not want to be thrown into a male bathroom or prison where I will be the subject of abuse and discomfort. I am not a threat to other woman and I am not sexually ‘aggressive’. Most of my sex, if I’m being honest, is just a submission to ‘his’ needs. I’m more motivated by emotional intimacy than anything else.

            My ultimate point is this: if others naturally identify me as woman of their own volition, if I am soft like a woman, have breasts and a vagina, then obviously I should be as protected as a woman. There should be criteria to protect all woman, including vulnerable trans woman, from assault. I really don’t want to be murdered or be raped, it’s just not on my list of things to do this year. There’s obviously a place in the middle where we can all meet and agree.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Lightning Rose

            Are you denying my right to exist? … as a dolphin, I mean?

            Seriously, that was a brilliant bit of rhetoric there, it’s hardly ever been said better.

            “We thought the Queer Nation would leave us alone, happy to be treated as “the same” as the rest of us if only we re-defined marriage to include you.”

            I remember the feeling that, OK, we’ll back off and leave you alone on the agreement that you’ll leave us alone. As you say, we thought wrong. They will not stop until they have buggered everything, both literal and symbolic and institutional.

          • TemplarOz says

            Thank you Lightning Rose. Exceptional comment.

          • Bravo! You said what needs to be said and did it very well. Thanks.

          • Ria says

            @Lightning Rose: I won’t contest your whole post, suffice to say that, according to the often-cited statistic, trans people (like me) do not have a 41% suicide rater but a 41% rate of attempted suicide. that had, I imagine, a lot to do with the lack of acceptance (at the time) of trans people. I don’t know what the figure would look like now but lower than 41%.

            okay, just one other point: “SOMEDAY we may evolve to the point where ‘neither fish nor fowl’ paradoxes are within our cognitive comfort zones, but that’s not here yet.” yes, and in part because of rhetoric like yours. you say you can’t accept it, therefore nobody should.

            lastly I would like to say: I believe in your having a platform. you have right to your opinion. I don’t believe in compelled speech.

      • I am a white female by birth. I am not rich. I am exhausted by political correctness and identity politics.

        Still, I am very concerned about being forced, by law, as is the case in Canada, to participate in gas lighting myself.

        Example: when I see a person that is clearly a man dressed in woman’s clothing, I refuse to deny my perceptions and call him female. That is what Canada has forced on its citizens.

        Outrageous.

    • Phillip Galey says

      Time was, when “piss” was considered, in proper form, . . . then~if, as I suppose, being just too real, though tangentially, indicative of the physical side of our being, as showing ourselves to be physical and spiritual~it fell from dignified employment and was tossed off to those how to represent the coarse and vulgar side of life; and, then reaching to the scientific side of things, “urinate” appeared.

      Some~if as I suppose~again wishing themselves to be quite above the physical things of this life, have brought in “urinate”, . . . and, from the not-too-distant future, I’m now hearing echoes of “micturate”, forsooth!

      Why not accept ourselves, . . . why not!

      Do you know, at the birth of most babies, . . . there’s just a whole lotta blood-n-guts~were you aware of this? Yea!

      Did you know that, some languages have “gender”; and for a long time have things been so, . . . and, they don’t have sex!

      Languages are not even sexual creatures, . . . nor also, are they squeamish, or coquettish because they are used to describe Mankind, . . . who ARE DIVIDED per sexual difference!

      Did I mention that, I seldom find occasion to to use “gender”?

    • Wlonw says

      Yes, it’s hard to have a serious conversation with someone who posits that our culture hates women. That’s a very darkly colored set of glasses to look through, and not one that leads to any clarity.

    • Scott M says

      I stopped there and jumped to the comments. I may go back to reading the rest of it and I’m at least open to the author explaining it in terms of that phrase using a feminist’s voice, but that’s not a good way to kick things off

    • Urban Leprechaun says

      I am very much of the opinion that the word ‘misogyny’ is massively over-used and mis-used word of the 21st century. I tend to stop reading when the word is used. However, there are some (=some) good points here from the author, so do please read on.

  2. “It harms women, who are endlessly confronted with objectifying images purporting to represent them.”
    Really? What images does the author mean? Images of other women who have freely chosen to pose for them? And how exactly do such images harm women?

    • Canadian Moxie says

      As they say, ignorance is bliss. Is it comfortable living under that rock?

    • Here Today, Gone Tomorrow says

      Indeed, most of those “objectifying images” can be found on Instagram, where numerous self-hating women constantly objectify themselves.

      • It causes harm because trans ideology is spreading, as is the rise of those objectifying and altered images. Young girls are self-IDing into being trans more often these days, often hand in hand with eating disordered behavior. So the harm is psychological but very real. They refuse to marry, have children, chemically and surgically alter themselves out of self-hatred for their female bodies. There is almost an entire generation lost to this nonsense now.

      • @Here Today – as a woman it is very disturbing that women participate in their own self-objectification which also reflects on all women. It is doubly disturbing that trans men think that being a women means dressing up with makeup, pearls, heels, etc. Insulting, frustrating and disgusting.

        • Ria says

          @mj: “trans men” (you mean trans women) do not dress that way. trans women haven’t done that since the ’90’s, and even then, not all of us did. I transitioned in the late ’90’s and don’t wear makeup and have short hair, let alone the other stuff.

    • Maria says

      It makes them feel inadequate, causes eating disorders, self-harm, etc.

    • Brent says

      When everything you hear or see is filtered through the victimhood card everything will be twisted and evil. The radical left is bent on destroying western civilization.

    • @johntshea – “And how exactly do such images harm women?” That ignorant comment could only come from a man. Start by watching -Killing us Softly.

  3. Kathleen, congratulations on a remarkably even-handed essay on a very fraught topic. I wish more voices in the debate were as rational and pragmatic.

  4. William says

    This is a great piece and it’s a little annoying to see comments instantly barreling off in the direction of “sexism isn’t real!”

    Even if this argument were correct, it would miss the point. The problems and harms described here, especially those resulting from the growing power of “sex eliminationism” and its impact on female people, would be just as real whether you think we’re starting from a misogynistic society or a non-misogynistic one.

  5. Sylv says

    The author is from England, so maybe it’s understandable why she fails to mention the one arena where biological sex still matters a great deal: reproduction. Over here in the States, birth control ain’t free, comprehensive health care is prohibitively expensive for much of the population, most employers don’t provide parental leave, and many states are moving aggressively to effectively outlaw abortion. These are all issues that disproportionately impact people with functioning uteruses, whatever term we are currently using to describe such people. The contentious political battles surrounding biological reproduction have by no means gone away, they are still being hotly debated from the halls of Congress to the high school to the pulpit. By many measures, the hard-won reproductive rights victories secured by the Women’s Movement over decades are being steadily reversed.

    Pretending that biological sex isn’t real is a luxury chiefly reserved for people who don’t worry about getting unintentionally pregnant.

    • Stephanie says

      You won’t be able to kill your offspring?? Oh, the horror!!

    • Joana George says

      Abstinence is free.

      I know this sounds extreme and at odds with reality, but do you deny that being able to have sex for pleasure is also a luxury?

      As I see it, you trade the risk of an unintentional pregnancy (which can be really, really small, depending on the method of birth control) for the pleasure of a particular sexual act. It is your right as an adult to make that trade-off. Why do you think women should be entitled to more than that?

    • E. Olson says

      sylv – “people with functioning uteruses” – don’t you mean women? There is also a 100% sure way to avoid getting unintentionally pregnant – just say no to sex – at least until you are in a committed long-term relationship. If such sacrifice is too much to bear, then instead of spending so much money getting drunk and getting into regrettable sexual predicaments, you might spend the drink money instead of cheap, effective, widely available birth control instead of expecting taxpayers to provide it.

      As for contentious political battles surrounding biological reproduction, what exactly are you talking about? Reproduction implies giving birth to a living baby, and as far as I know there is little political battle regarding that issue. If you are referring to abortion rights, that isn’t about reproduction, it is about killing fetuses before they have a chance to become a living baby outside the womb, and there shouldn’t be much need to abortion if women would just follow the simple advice in the first paragraph.

      • The definition of misogyny – E. Olson. I bet he doesn’t have a clue just how misogynistic he is.

    • FYI, the overwhelming majority of trans people support women’s reproductive rights, certainly moreso than Stephanie and Joana below. It’s really confusing that y’all somehow see us as the enemy in this regard when compared to conservative cisgender women who are actually fighting to strip away these rights.

      • Joana George says

        @Tori Baker

        Even if you equate “reproductive rights” with the right to have an abortion (which is quite a big leap), I don’t know how you got that I don’t support women’s reproductive rights from my comment.

        Especially when using the word “certainly”, it’s better to not make assumptions or extrapolate.

      • Stephanie says

        Tori, of course they do, because being trans apparently comes with a singular political ideology. That intellectual homogeneity and tendency to deny basic biological facts is nothing to be proud of.

        I strongly support reproductive rights. Women should have the ability to control when they reproduce, and thankfully they do in all Western countries.

        However, once they reproduce, to think there is any “right” to kill the offspring is macabre.

      • Sahila says

        “cisgender”…… how dare you ASSUME the gender of women….

        have you asked every single women to whom your comment refers what is their own subjective sense of self?

        you’re MISGENDERING 51% of the species – FEMALES – by assuming how much or how little women and girls accept or reject sex role stereotypes imposed on them by a patriarchal society….

        for myself, because i REJECT the NOTION of GENDER, i self-ID as #Genderfree….

        which – under trans ideology and STONEWALL DEFINITIONS – makes me ‘TRANS’….

        so i – a BIOLOGICAL FEMALE, am in fact a TRANS WOMAN….

        so funny!

  6. Blue Lobster says

    Thanks to Kathleen and Quillette for this is an excellent piece!

    I think the most important ideas presented here are contained in the following paragraphs:

    “How should this all work in terms of policy? We should continue to grant those suffering from severe dysphoria the option of a legal sex-change in order to help them, assuming the evidence continues to show that it does indeed help. But equally, we must not detach that option from careful medical oversight and diagnosis, and proof of strong commitment from the applicants, for fear of the obvious dangers for females that such detachment would pose. Self-ID as a route to a legal sex change continues to be a terrible idea. Nor, more generally, should we lose track of the fact that sex isn’t literally changed. In some cases, it is good manners to pretend that a person really has changed their sex. But this polite deception should not be encoded in law.

    As individuals and institutions, we should sympathetically encourage the voluntary use of preferred pronouns in interpersonal contexts for trans people, as a therapeutic device. But in the services of retaining a much-needed grip on reality, we must not enforce this practice, and nor should we banish reference to sex from those many discourses where we still absolutely need to discuss it. As a society, we should put resources into dedicated “third” spaces for trans people, wherever they risk harm: bathrooms, refuges, hostels, prisons. But sex-based legal protections, resources, and spaces should also be robustly maintained, wherever they are the best solution to sex-based harms. (Ironically, to date the public conversation has operated in strikingly binary fashion: either sex-based spaces and resources or trans-accommodating spaces and resources; yet we could have both).”

    I would really be genuinely interested in reading a rebuttal to this, particularly the above paragraphs, written in good faith with the interest of societal (which necessarily includes ALL of its component members) well-being in mind because, frankly, I can’t imagine a particularly cogent one.

    • Stephanie says

      Blue Lobster, I think the author’s take as you summarised is reasonable, but she does earlier argue that changing people’s legal sex corrupts important databases. I’d say my only major criticism of the approach she describes is that she endorses taking that fiction to a legal level in a way that makes it impossible to distinguish trans people from the sex they identify as. I would suggest introducing the categories of MTF and FTM, which would not only be more truthful, but would also allow for useful statistics to be gathered about these populations.

      The problem of course would be that asexuals and gender non-conforming people would want their own too, in which case we would either cave or someone would have to sit them down to explain that being a woman who doesn’t like wearing dresses and makeup doesn’t mean you’re anything but a woman.

      I would also add that the “strong commitment” that would be necessary to change sex should include bottom surgery, at least for the men. If you want to keep your penis, you are nothing close to a woman and should not be treated as such in any way.

      • Blue Lobster says

        Stephanie,

        I do prefer your categorizations over legal fictionalization of any kind. It seems to me that the interpersonal fictionalization that the author mentions would be the most obviously therapeutic. There’s no need to be cruel directly to someone’s face regardless of what one says or thinks in private or in confidence but neither is there cause for denying the truth – especially in a manner that is legally binding.

        I take your point regarding the specifics of a “strong commitment” but would add that the enforcement of such a commitment would be impractical (at least in the United States).

        • Blue Lobster says

          As a follow-up, I think the crux of Stock’s assertion regarding legal sex change is contained in the phrase: “…assuming the evidence continues to show that it does indeed help.”

          And therein lies the rub.

          Due to the highly emotionally charged nature of the topic and the associated machinations of activist groups, it seems to be prohibitively difficult to conduct the research that’s truly necessary to produce sufficient evidence in order to evaluate the therapeutic value of legal sex change.

          Policy attendant to trans issues, as with anything, should be science-based. Unfortunately, certain individuals/groups have acquired the power to subvert the scientific process in this case and it will, it seems to me, require concerted effort on the part of those committed to that process in spirit, practice, or both so as to wrest control back from those who would prefer for the truth to remain cryptic.

          • Stephanie says

            Blue Lobster, yes, being realistic in our legal and medical proceedings shouldn’t preclude us from being kind in our treatment of individuals suffering from gender dysphoria.

            It does seem to be a real concern that researchers would self-censor work that casts doubt on the efficacy of sex reassignment surgery as a treatment for gender dysphoria. I’m even more concerned that alternative treatments might not be explored. Considering sex can never actually be changed, it seems likely that addressing the dysphoria through medication would be a better avenue for treatment. However, if such a treatment became available, trans activists already howling about “erasure” would actually have cause to feel “erased.”

            Now that transgenderism has coalesced into a social and political identity, is it even ethical to cure or treat gender dysphoria? I suspect the necessary ethical and regulatory boards will say “no,” killing this research before it ever takes off.

    • Polite deception? I don’t think so – I see it as societal gas-lighting, risking the sanity of all of us.

  7. Can we all just stop this madness and call transgenderism what it is….gender appropriation.
    No, just because you get boobs and grow your hair out you are not a woman no more than I could call myself black if I dyed my skin and permed my hair. Remember Rachel Dolezal? She got roasted for claiming to be black. And no matter what surgery I have or hormones I take I will never be a man.

    When I think transgender I think someone who is in pain and is confused being preyed on by an unscrupulous medical profession. I do not envy anyone going through this very painful affliction of gender disphoria. I have also spent years hating my body and myself but with a different outcome.

    Because gender disphoria is a very real, painful mental health issue. Another real and painful affliction is body dysmorphia. When as an underweight teenager with a raging case of bulimia I looked in the mirror and saw an obese person no one agreed with me. Instead it was pointed out for what it was, a painful debilitating delusion; a result of past trauma and my particular way of dealing with that trauma. I was expected to get over this delusion of self abuse, low self worth, and self hate. I didn’t get to call people bigots if they didn’t agree with me that I was fat and disgusting, imagine that! There were medical protocols in place, services available to help me understand that I was mistaken.I imagine if I was given the choice of an instant miracle cure (transgender) I would have taken it. Instead I was given the opportunity to painfully and slowly recover.

    I know this comment is not completely on point with the posted piece but I just can’t take one more article debating how society is supposed to uphold the delusions of a subset of people with untreated mental heath issues. Isn’t it bad enough that we have creationists in our Congress?

    • AmyGDala says

      Well said Kathy, you raise important issues here. Fictionalising and making accommodations for gender dysphoric people may be appear to be a kindness and may indeed help some dysphoric people feel more comfortable in the short term but it does nothing to help these people in the long term. There are people who have ‘detransitioned’ or are in the process of ‘detranistioning’ and are finding other ways to recover from their dysphoria. This process demands an honesty about the underlying mental health issues that accompany gender dysphoria and an unfettered ability of healthcare professionals to research, develop and provide therapeutic services for those suffering with the condition.

    • Hutch says

      Are you open to the idea that we don’t call it gender appropriation? That feeds into the poorly conceived idea that adoption of other traits or ideas is inherently forbidden.

      Its simply “polite” acknowledgment of delusion (for now). Impracticable and potentially harmful as the aiding of the delusion is, I’m hesitant to attribute gender as a sacred characteristic.

      Perhaps one day a person can be altered completely by medical science into the opposite gender.

      As the transition is currently biologically incomplete, the is no rational argument that people can actually change gender.

      If one day they can completely change their gender then they won’t be deluded either. They will have simply exercised a choice to change.

      Appropriation of gender suggests no person should ever be permitted to change their birth sex, even if they could completely. I don’t buy into the concept that a person wouldn’t be a woman if they had not experienced much (or key points) of their life as a woman. That’s a no true scott’sman if there ever was one.

      It would be great fun to see an age when people could completely change their biology to such an extent. Maybe even swopping more than once.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Actually, I worry a lot more about the Hamas faction, the Commies and the green utopians than any Creationists!

    • @Kathy Mitchell

      Your ignorance is encapsulated by the fact that hormones really do change phenotypic sex at a tissue level in a variety of ways. The very fact the human body responds to hormones of the opposite sex after puberty at all shows that the line between the sexes is somewhat permeable.

      In contrast no medical regimen can give a person recent African ancestors if they otherwise did not have recent African ancestry. That puts to rest you fallacious comparison to Rachel Dolezal. That sort of ill thought-out comparison shows your compassion is a façade.

      On that note, you also assume like most anti-trans bigots that gender dysphoria is mental illness and not physiologically rooted. If it were mental illness then pre-hormone trans persons would show no difference from their biological sex, but in fact research shows they do show differences in the brain, even though they do not exactly resemble the sex they identify as.

      • @Mr. Victoria – just because someone does not agree with you does not make them a bigot. You shut down conversation with name calling. Hate it when people do that.

      • El Uro says

        @Mr. Victoria, when you start calling a “bigot” someone you know nothing about, be prepared to be called an “ignorant fanatic”
        I would be happy to make a mistake, but I have little hope.

        • @El Uro

          But I do know a bit about Kathy simply from reading her viewpoint.

          You in contrast conspicuously ignore my arguments to instead stomp your feet about a single word.

          I’m not trans (I’m a single mom actually), but calling me “Mr.” rather proves my point that you lot are nothing but bigots looking to belittle trans people.

          Still, I rather like that Ani DiFranco song “In or Out” where she sings “that’s Mr. DiFranco to you.” So thanks for reminding me of the 90’s!

  8. ga gamba says

    Remarkable that an article about trans people actually mentioned trans men. I was beginning to think they were a fiction. Granted it was only four times vice the 18 mentions of trans women. Still, a start.

    It would be interesting for someone who knows the media to delve into why issues about trans women overshadow trans men greatly. Even better, I think, if a trans man were to write whether or not they’ve noticed or experienced marginalisation by the media. Most of the media’s attention is devoted to women’s complaints and very little given to men’s, and this even includes male-centered magazines such as Esquire and GQ.

    Frankly, I’m kind of worn out about the trans debate. It seems to keep covering the same old ground. I recognise Ms Stock did better than most others trying to accommodate both views, so that was novel. Yet, the charade blows up if one looks to her op-ed pieces published elsewhere, such as the Economist on 6 July 2018.

    And changing the concept of “woman” to include self-declared trans women also threatens a secure understanding of the concept “lesbian”. Lesbians are traditionally understood as females with a sexual orientation towards other females.

    And what about political lesbians who don’t have a natural sexual orientation towards other women but who have been gaslighted by other lesbians to demonstrate they’re down with the cause by denying their innate nature? Do they help secure the concept of “lesbian”?

    Again, the categorisation is socially useful. It helps members of the category understand themselves in a positive, distinctive way, despite living in a heteronormative society. It motivates them to create their own social spaces. It gives them special protections, as a discriminated-against minority; and access to special sources of charity funding. (Bold mine)

    There’s the reveal. It’s about the maintenance of special privileges and access to pools of money set aside for them.

    There will be some problems with enforcement of women’s spaces. For those trans people who have completed their transitions with surgery, how is bathroom or locker room attendant able to determine by sight who is the interloping trans woman? Will they perform blood tests and/or gynecological examinations on those they suspect? Pity about the intrusion on the masculine women who have hyperandrogenism, yeah? All to maintain safety, you know?

    Ultimately, the real problem is the over reach by government into the private realm. It appears to me many take this to be normal. The tension now exists in just far how and at whose expense will these further intrusions be. It seems to me a preferable solution is to allow those who invest their time, money, and talent into their businesses to exclude those they wish to. There’s no reason for a gay bar to put up with a hen do, a women’s yoga centre to accommodate men or transwomen, or a male golf course to welcome women if they choose not to. Many businesses have their niches and target markets. If a clothing store doesn’t want to carry sizes XXXXXXL and 76, then that creates opportunities for other shops that do. Yes, this may mean a men’s sports team my decline to welcome female sports reporters into the locker room, but a women’s sports team may choose to exclude male reporters as well.

    We’ve established an unrealistic expectation in many minds that we must be included by all no matter what and if we’re not embraced and celebrated a high crime has been perpetrated. It hasn’t.

    • Jack Meoff says

      @Ga Gamba you touch on interesting point. Discussions about trans people almost always center on trans women. I think this is likely due to the fact that the people who like to talk about trans issues are usually feminists. If you’re a feminist you either like trans women because seeing a natal male reject his maleness reinforces your view that men are toxic, or you DISLIKE trans women because they’re men invading natal women’s spaces and taking resources earmarked for natal women. Either way, trans men aren’t really relevant to your narrow world view and concerns. If anything, they’re an embarrassment. (“Women wanting to be men? Don’t they know men are the root of all evil”)

      Since we’re on the topic, note that feminists are obsessed with gay men but rarely ever talk about lesbians. Again, men acting like women aligns with their world view. (Men who are men are worthless shit, but men acting like women are allies. If only the straight ones would follow their example). But butch women dressing and acting like men? Again, that’s an embarrassment to a feminist. To a feminist, a butch dyke is something of a “gender traitor.

      • LisaM says

        Note Stock not mentioning that she identifies as a lesbian…..

    • Ray Andrews says

      @ga gamba

      “but a women’s sports team may choose to exclude male reporters as well.”

      There was a time when Freedom of Association was as fundamental as Freedom of Speech. For some reason the former is now forgotten. We now have forced association at the pleasure of the government.

    • @ga gamba – I too wonder why there are so many more mtf than ftm. Is it just lack of mention or something else? I wonder too, if the ratio points to it being more psychological and societal (like girls have more fun – as in Bruce Jenner)) than physical.

    • Trans men aren’t talked about because they aren’t a threat to men. Can you imagine why that would be? Perhaps because women aren’t violent against men nearly as much. Trans women are written about because they appear to threaten women’s safety and privacy. Why are they a threat? Because women are a more vulnerable class than men and have fought for separate spaces due to violence against them. Historically, there have always been men who try to shut down or invade female spaces. What do you think the Inquisition was about? This just seems so obvious to me.

  9. Rupert R. Mc"Rupert says

    Lysenko was all the rage in the USSR. Biology as politically constructed. A joke now. All this guff is no different.

  10. I start to struggle in any argument when statements which are clearly false are baldly stated as facts.

    We should remember that “sex” here primarily refers to a biological category and has nothing to do with sexuality (or not directly, anyway).

    How can anyone write this? How can I take seriously anything that someone who makes this statement says?

    I will try to continue reading the article but this is a big problem I have with many feminists and other in the ‘gender debate’. There seems not just a willingness but an eagerness to subordinate scientific evidence and logic to ideology.

    • Sahila says

      i’m an old woman, a 2nd wave feminist with threads of radical feminism running through my thinking…

      on the idea that SEXuality and SEXual orientation is divorced in some way from SEXed bodies… um – no!

      we’ve had this covered for many, many years:
      two sex chromosomes
      two gametes
      two sexes – male and female
      THREE possible SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS
      a) HETEROsexual (attraction to OPPOSITE sex)
      b) HOMOsexual (attraction to SAME sex)
      c) BIsexual (attraction to BOTH sexes)

      that’s it…..

      and beware of the current initiative to REBRAND pedophilia as just another ‘SEXual ORIENTATION’ and pedophiles as “minor attracted persons (MAPs)”…

      some people in the psych community claim that pedophiles cant help themselves because they’re wired that way and that they ought not to be vilified IF THEY DONT ACT ON THEIR “ORIENTATION”…

      the problem with that view is that pedophilia is not a SEXual orientation…

      PEDOPHILIA is a PARAPHILIA, a FETISH (just as AUTOGYNEPHILIA which is what drives most males wearing womanface is a FETISH)….

      like some people have a sexual attraction for SHOES, these people have a sexual attraction for CHILDREN….

      a SEXual orientation is about whether one is attracted to the OTHER sex (heteroSEXual), the SAME sex (homoSEXual) or BOTH sexes (biSEXual)….

      pedophiles have SEXual orientation, just like everyone else;
      some are attracted to children of the OTHER sex,
      some are attracted to children of the SAME sex and
      some dont have a preference….
      and (according to the FBI, in a public statement made some time ago) pedophiles signal to each other just what are their SEXual preferences, in terms of their attraction to children…

      their FETISH is based on the AGE of the child, not the SEX of the child…

      pedophilia is a general term we use to talk about adults who want to have sex with children; but that term is one of three distinct categories, which describe the specific child-age groups these people are attracted to…

      Pedophilia is used for individuals with a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children aged 13 or younger.

      Infantophilia is used to refer to a sexual preference for children under the age of 5 (especially infants and toddlers) This is sometimes referred to as nepiophilia (from the Greek: νήπιος (népios) meaning “infant” or “child,” which in turn derives from “ne-” and “epos” meaning “not speaking”).

      Hebephilia is defined as individuals with a primary or exclusive sexual interest in 11- to 14-year-old pubescents.

  11. C Young says

    All sex and gender-related characteristics form a normal distribution. Everyday concepts fit people within the two standard deviations. It is simply impossible for ‘male’ or ‘female’ to cover the complete range. “Reforming” these concepts so that they primarily fit those outside this range will displease more people than it pleases.

    The attempt to change the meaning of natural language are driven by the c.8% of the population who are gender’s discontents. The vast majority of these people are women who are unhappy with traditional femininity, or have been persuaded they ought to be unhappy with traditional femininity. Approximately 1 in 80 of these people are happy with traditional sex roles, but believe they should have been born into the other sex. These people we call ‘trans’.

    There is no reform that will please everyone here. We must not allow what Taleb calls the ‘victory of the most intolerant’. A tiny minority can often force arrangements onto us that are suboptimal for the majority. In fact, everyone agrees that that’s where we are currently heading. They just disagree who that intolerant minority is – trans or feminists, or both.

    Let’s look at the big picture – Kathleen Stock’s project is a totalitarian one.

    Reading the piece above reminds me of the supreme soviet of the USSR discussing the reform of Hungarian politics c. 1949. Kathleen Stock and fellow outliers plan to determine how the 92% of the population who are happy with traditional gender will use language in future and then mandate whatever they decide along with their chosen penalties for transgression.

    In their eyes, language isn’t owned by the people who speak it, its dictated by self-designated commissars like Kathleen Stock.

    How will these self-appointed authorities deliver the new gender paradise? By twitter-mobbing, call outs, and by that golden oldie, getting people sacked from their jobs for crimes against ideology – the same method used across the soviet empire in the 1980s if you recall.

    • “How will these self-appointed authorities deliver the new gender paradise? By twitter-mobbing, call outs, and by that golden oldie, getting people sacked from their jobs for crimes against ideology…”

      You mean the way you and your open borders ilk treat people who disagree with your ideological views on immigration, Cathy?

  12. chris says

    She could have made herself clearer, but the key word in that sentence is “here”. She was trying to say that “here” in the discussion about whether males can be women, the word ‘sex’ is used to refer to male/female, and not to sexual acts or relationships. She’s trying to be very precise about her language and what she means by it, in a way that philosophers often do. Of course, this shouldn’t be necessary, but when other people are claiming that penises can be female……

  13. the gardner says

    Well, I made it through this over wrought article on gender, sex, trans, etc etc. Why does the author think that 99+% of the population needs to be reinvented to accommodate less than 1% of the population, many, most? of whom have a psychopathology? When 10 or 20 categories of gender confused people can be invented based on self declaration and the rest of us folks, going about our lives, minding our own business, are suddenly bullied into accepting whatever absurd definition of themselves they’ve come up with, excuse me if I have a hard time taking it seriously. For those few people who have chromosomal aberrations or ambiguous genitalia, I feel for you and certainly believe society should embrace you.
    My own version of trans—- I’m 70 1/2 yrs old and would like my full social security benefits now. Do you think the SS office will accommodate me?

  14. “What kind of society, then, should we attempt to build, to help gender-dysphoric people?”

    What kind of society, then, should we attempt to build, to help schizophrenic people?
    What kind of society, then, should we attempt to build, to help claustrophobic people?
    What kind of society, then, should we attempt to build, to help anorexic people?
    What kind of society, then, should we attempt to build, to help neurotic people?
    Etc., etc.

    So sick of trannies…

    • the gardner says

      I will never forget a show I saw several years ago in which a man, who believed he was really a tiger, had transitioned himself to tigerhood by extensive tattooing , sharpening of teeth, insertion of whiskers, dying of hair. So at what point do we decide believing you are something you are not needs to be accommodated by society but something else is beyond the pale? If a vocal support group develops to defend trans-animal people, will we all get in line and add inserting whiskers to covered health insurance? Will normality become a function of how vocal and intimidating your advocacy group is?

    • E. Olson says

      Good comment BC (and Gardner above and below).

      “I see it as a defining challenge of our complicated modern times to carve out some pragmatic middle ground: to find a narrative and set of policies protective of both the rights of trans people in a gender-conforming society, and those of females in a misogynist society.”

      I find it interesting that the author thinks the “defining role of our complicated modern times” is to find some way to get mentally unwell people representing well under 1% of the population into the bathroom of their choice. Thus to her the trannie question is more important than global warming (the world ends in 12 years), or the millions of women in Muslim countries that must endure genital mutilation and severe restrictions on how they dress or whether they can drive or study? Or how about the millions of boys without a father figure who are failing in school, or the pension crises effecting millions of people, or the deplatforming and violent protests affecting millions of conservatives on campus and social media (have there been any trannie activists banned from speaking on campus or having their YouTube channel demonetized)? Seems like it is not difficult to find dozens of issues that are a much bigger “defining challenge” than where a few thousand mentally deluded people go to the bathroom.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @benita canova

      “So sick of trannies…”

      We are all troubled less by trannies than we are by the politico/media/academic complex which uses them as a weapon against traditional Western culture.

  15. Thank you Kathleen Stock for this interesting piece. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything so measured on this particular issue and it’s admirable how you tried to reach a conclusion that would satisfy everyone as much as possible… while knowing that no perfect solution exists.

  16. Canadian Moxie says

    A very important concern regarding the elimination of sex is in the area of medical research. It is well known that men and women have different health concerns, but also we have different reactions to medication and present with different symptoms for the same issue. How can this critical research continue if we ignore the biological realities of sex differences?

    • svhk says

      I’ll second that, Canadian Moxie, and was thinking about this aspect while reading the article.
      Replacing biological sex markers with self-ID in research statistics would skew this relevant research effort hopelessly, to the detriment of the vast majority of people who recognize, for good or for worse, their original biologic entity.
      Moreover, once the current tendency of refining drugs according to biological sex begins to influence treatments, trans people will face the tough decision between being treated according to the gender they identify with – risking inefficiency – and recognizing a biological origin they have paid so dearly to leave behind. Much harder than choosing which toilet room to use.

  17. The Virile Member says

    “Females, especially survivors of sexual assault, are frightened of losing places they can go without aggressive biological males being present.”
    Why would an “aggressive biological male” be present in a shelter or sexual violence counselling clinic? Seems like an odd career choice for someone who’s aggressive. I understand how a traumatised victim can come to see any male-bodied person as aggressive, but we shouldn’t lend credence to that belief and certainly not treat it as fact. People who are aggressive or butch are presumably off playing rugby or working at the fire brigade.

    • Stephanie says

      TVM, predators go to great lengths to gain access to vulnerable people they can victimize. It should be expected that if men are allowed into female-only spaces, predators will take advantage of that. That includes not only MTF trans people (whom we have no reason to believe have less propensity towards crime as other males) and men willing to put on a wig and pretend, because they know no one can safely question them.

  18. Peter Kriens says

    So much to argue in this article, so little time.

    1) The author clearly suffers from the same motivation as trans gender activists: They want to enforce their theoretical framework on all members of society to prevent suffering. In this case, feminists ran into a competing framework from the in-group that got traction but is clearly theoretically so incompatible that even logically challenged people could not ignore the glaring contradiction. Either gender is mostly nurture (feminists) or mostly nature (trans genders). Instead of addressing this dichotomy that is at the heart of her problem she skates around it with way too many words. (Even making a failed attempt to blame transgenders on the misogynistic society that double harms trans genders.)

    2) Personally I detest the idea that we need a theoretical framework for our society. Laws and institutions in our society should not be there to decide how we should live according to a theoretical framework; they should make sure we can do our own thing without harming the rest. My reason for happiness is not your cause of happiness. The law of unintended consequences should make everybody hesitant to enforce an untested theoretical framework on society. We’re doing quite well in the west looking at all the people that want to come our ways. Not to forget the unbelievable level of welfare historically seen.

    3) Surprisingly often the feminists point of view is devoid of any quantities. Our society is misogynistic. Ok, but how much? Is there a place on earth where it is better? (They also still complain in Sweden, I lived there.) Trans genders are extremely rare, should we change the far majority fundamentally for such a small group? If so, how do we handle the ‘tyranny of the minorities’. (There are many minorities and restricting the majority to the common denominator will severely restrict the majority even though each minority has a minor demand. See Taleb.)

    4) We live in a misogynistic society and we’re being told that by a well paid professor in philosophy on a renowned university …

    5) So much more …

    So how do we solve this ‘incendiary’ problem? Asking professors to stop using their time to ‘improve the world’ and start doing science might help I think.

    • Sahila says

      in a patriarchy, males (members of the patriarchy and enablers/enforcers/beneficiaries of the patriarchy) do not become ‘oppressed’ just because they begin to wear womanface….

      you dont get to “identify” out of your oppressor status…

    • Sahila says

      you want a measure of “misogyny”?

      you could start with the statistics on male violence directed at females….

      you could start with the data on just how many women and children are murdered by males compared to how many males are murdered by women and children

      you could start with the erasure of 200 million females in the world via sex selective abortions

      you could start with the continuing SEX-based gaps in economic equality and opportunity

      you could start with the continuing discrimination against women in employment, based on their reproductive capacity/potential

      you could start with the continuing control of women’s bodies/reproductive capacity by laws devised and enacted by males in MALE CONTROLLED GOVERNMENT…

  19. Wiz says

    There are a few places in everyday life where academics and advocates for the sex eliminationist approach come into conflict with the broader population, and which weren’t fully addressed in this column.
    1. In sports, we see trans-women competing in women’s sports, despite the advantages they have in that arena. And in one case, I heard of a trans-man who was legally required to compete as a woman, despite undergoing testosterone therapy. Few people believe that such examples are “fair” in the everyday sense, or that the physical differences between biological men and women are imaginary or socially constructed. The solution is going to have to be regarding women’s sports as a protected class, where eligibility is determined by being born female and never having used testosterone. Otherwise, there’s no real point to having women’s sports.
    2. In the dating arena we’re seeing the LGBT community argue that cis-hetero-men (to use their terminology) are transphobic if they do not wish to date trans-women (pre- or post-operative), and, similarly, cis-hetero-women are transphobic if they don’t wish to date trans-men. We see articles decrying hetero people as bigots when they are not attracted to “non-binary” people. In the broader population, we can recognize that, as Ms. Stock says, there are times and places where it may be polite to respect others’ gender identity, but in our personal dating and sex lives, we are going to continue to behave in a manner that reflects our preferences in partners, and demonizing us is not going to aid the trans community in its quest for acceptance.
    3. In terms of people choosing which bathroom to use, I see two popular approaches being promoted by the two sides, and both seem unrealistic to me. One approach is, “use whichever bathroom conforms to your gender identity”. The other is “Use the bathroom that corresponds to your birth sex.” The column above references the issue with the first approach, and the second seems unproductive. There’s also an issue where it’s difficult on the spot to identify suspected interlopers who are, for example, using the women’s locker room for voyeuristic or predatory reasons. And, again, the disconnect with the everyday person: most people agree that 12-year-old girls should not be exposed naked male genitalia parading around the locker room. The solution to these issues, to my mind, is to have a policy where people who currently have male genitalia go in one room, and those without go in another. It’s objective, it can be checked on the spot, and trans-men who have committed to the extent that they have been surgically altered will be using a facility they are comfortable with.

    • Stephanie says

      Wiz, the bathroom/locker room issue is a little more complicated than that. I’ve known FTM trans men you would never guess are women (and are attracted to women), so putting them in women’s bathrooms or locker rooms would cause great alarm and would likely trigger someone to assume they are claiming to be a MTF trans person and call the authorities.

      I don’t think we can have hard and fast rules about this, not only because of situations like this but because such rules are unenforceable.

      I’d suggest that people use the bathroom they identify as, if they are passable. They don’t have to be the hottest “chick” or the manliest “man,” but sufficiently so that people don’t look at them and know they’re trans. In this case, we accept that there will be people sounding the alarm about trans people that don’t pass invading protected spaces, but be tolerant of that because safety comes first.

      A sizeable proportion of washrooms have separate, dual-sex, single-user handicap washrooms, which would be the ideal place for trans people who wouldn’t pass in either.

      • Sahila says

        stop handing over women’s SEX-based rights/spaces/shelters/sports/resources/language to males….

        the issue in terms of ‘trans’ entry into SAME SEX male and female spaces is MALE VIOLENCE…. deal with that…

        the issue in terms of ‘trans’ death by murder is MALE VIOLENCE…. deal with that….

        stop demanding women give up their SEX-based rights to give ‘sanctuary’ to males wearing womanface who are – in themselves – a threat to women and children by virtue of the fact that they are MALES….

        trans ideology is HOMOPHOBIC….
        it denies SEX and homoSEXual attraction;
        it claims that males can be women and lesbians (which is nonsense cos humans cant change sex and lesbians are females who are SEXually attracted to other females)…
        it then demands that lesbians (adult human FEMALES who are SEXually attracted to other adult human FEMALES) agree to include males in their dating pool/SEXual activity…

        which is NONSENSE, you must admit….
        which is HOMOphobic, you must admit….
        which is MISOGYNISTIC, you must admit….
        which is COERCIVE RAPE, you must admit….

        trans ideology is also ISLAMOPHOBIC and ANTI-SEMITIC….
        it claims that males can be women (adult FEMALE humans) and that they should therefore be allowed into all FEMALE spaces;

        which means that FEMALES who are MUSLIM and females who are ORTHODOX JEWISH now cant engage in the public sphere because these MALES claim the right to use SEX-segregated facilities, female bathrooms for example, and ISLAM and orthodox JUDAISM insists on females NOT sharing these spaces with males….

        so not only is trans ideology:
        SEXist and
        MISOGYNISTIC and
        HOMOPHOBIC,
        it’s also ISLAMOPHOBIC and ANTI-SEMITIC because orthodox MUSLIM and JEWISH women are also prevented by their faith teachings from sharing bathroom, locker room, changing facilities, rape and DV shelters with males…

        and it’s a fact that there are more MUSLIM and JEWISH women who would be harmed by this lose of access to the public commons than there are males wearing womanface who would be harmed by having to use the facilities aligned with their SEX…

        we need to refuse to be a tool of the patriarchy, erasing women’s rights while extending those of males…

  20. Craig Willms says

    A few years ago, OK maybe a few decades ago now this same article could have been written with gay (lesbian) inserted where trans-genger appears. For a while every TV show and every movie was required to have a gay character (usually not the main character) that was pure and and above reproach – smarter, wiser – than the misguided and foolish hetero main character. The side-story, completely irrelevant to the main story, always resolved with the gay character stumbling into love and a happy ending. It was as predictable as sunrise..Seems that’s where we are heading with the ‘trans” thing now.

    Do I have a point?

    How can such a tiny phenomenon percentage wise (even tinier with the trans people) come to dominate so much attention? Societal norms/expectations should not be altered radically to appease what amounts to a mole hill..

  21. Joana George says

    I am ridiculously biased on this issue, but I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason that more young people are looking to transition is because of the ideology supported and popularized by trans activism.

    I say I am ridiculously biased about this because I was very,very masculine well into my early twenties. It happened on several occasions that I was mistaken for a boy or that people in public transport would ask me what my gender was. I definitely had some issues regarding my femininity and I desperately wanted to be seen as “one of the guys”, which I considered impossible if they found me at all attractive. I now think that I was just a girl who happened to have mostly masculine interests and had some serious insecurity issues.

    I’m not sure if I would have been able to grow out of my issues if I would have been told that the reason I had them was because I was a man trapped into a woman’s body or that I could just “turn into a man”.

    I’m not trying to say that gender dysphoria is not a real, serious condition and that everybody can just grow out of it. I’m just wondering if all this publicity isn’t pushing some borderline cases over the edge.

    • BrainFireBob says

      Spike is being driven by clusters of teen girls who as a group demonstrate rapid onset first time gender dysphoria- in a pattern identical to teen girls going anorexic.

      So, yes.

  22. There seem to be some intriguing points raised in this article, but christ almighty, the author is prolix. Oh, a philosopher — that explains it.

    Quillette should consider retaining a content editor.

    • Jake Dee says

      Agreed,

      “my position here taps into that trope, egregiously”

      Run for your lives ! The egregious trope tappers are loose !

  23. Jack Meoff says

    The author claims we live in a misogynist society. Which society in particular is she referring to and what’s the evidence that it’s misogynistic? I live in the US. In my society a wife who sits on her ass and dies nothing all day can divorce her husband and is automatically entitled to alimony payments, 50% of her husbands assets, and gets full custody of the children.

    And I’m sorry, but I’m tired of hearing about trans people. There a tiny portion of the population. They suffer from a psychological problem. We should fix their broken minds, not butcher their bodies to cater to their deluded self perception.

  24. Asenath Waite says

    Had to stop reading at “in a misogynist society.”

    • Etiamsi omnes says

      A misogynist society is one where man-hating lesbian feminists have not quite yet succeded in dissuading heterosexual women from having relationships (whether sexual or other), from which they derive pleasure, with men.

  25. Shatterface says

    If ‘fictionalising’ just meant going along with a cosplay for therapeutic reasons I might be more sympathetic but many of those being pushed down the trans-route are autistic and medical transition – rather than social transition – is, in practice, little short of eugenics.

    If we discovered that any group, eg, black people), were more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the preferred treatment rendered them sterile, we’d see this for what it is.

    We’d start asking whether the diagnosis of schizophrenia was objective and whether criteria were being consistently applied in the diagnosis of other ethnic groups; whether white analysts were reading schizophrenia into cultural differences; or even if social factors were pushing black people towards schizophrenic behaviour.

    We certainly wouldn’t be celebrating schizophrenia as a colourful new way of living best celebrated by castrating children on their 16th birthday.

  26. Victoria says

    Many of the arguments in this piece are proven inadequate by trans persons who ‘pass’ as their target sex.

    Trans people are subject to prejudice not because of the gender binary, but because most trans women are physically identifiable as being different. People who are different attract negative attention, which sadly is human nature.

    There seems to a particularly atavistic dislike of masculine traits in women, which may have an evolutionary basis, namely masculine traits signal lower reproductive fitness. But of course this gets into the unwillingness among most feminists to accept evolutionary psychology.

    Trans women who pass have transcended the burdens of visible difference, even if they then share new risks and burdens with natal women. In any case, that disproves the claim that dismantling gender is necessary to eliminate intolerance towards trans people.

    A lot of the feminist and ‘skeptic’ moral panic over trans adolescents can be reframed as fear of a situation where trans people increasingly blend seamlessly into their desired sexes by only going through puberty as the sex with which they identify. That challenges both the reactionary and gender theory viewpoints.

    Also passing proves that hormone therapy can effect a phenotypic sex change for purposes of all but sexual contact, so again the oversimplified biology being used of late by anti-trans commenters fails.

    Finally, the piece, like most trans-skeptic one’s, deals inadequately with trans men, but since feminist and misandrist heavily correlate, that’s hardly a surprise.

    • Stephanie says

      Victoria, I agree with you the drama comes from those who can’t pass. Sadly there’s no winning on this front: people are more likely to be passable if they transition before puberty, but transitioning before puberty means empowering a child to make irreversible decisions about their body and sexual functioning. Such pedophilic motivations should be flatly rejected, even if it means a child must wait until adulthood to transition, and thus achieve a less-than-desirable result.

      • Victoria says

        “pedophilic motivations”

        I’ve seen some bizarre comments on trans articles, but this is a class all by itself.

        • Stephanie says

          Victoria, ponder if you would the implications of claiming children can make decisions about their sexuality.

          • The age of consent is 14-16 in almost all Western nations, so we allow “children” routinely to “make decisions” about their “sexuality.”

            We also allow them to engage sports, drive cars, and do other activities that risk death, injury, and other life-altering consequences. I’m a mom with a toddler, so this is hardly abstract for me.

            Pedophilia refers to post-pubescent or age-of-majority persons experiencing sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. My impression is you don’t know what the word means.

            Of course we’re not talking about sexuality here, we’re talking about a core sense of identity. Despite your voluminous opinion on this subject, you don’t even grasp the basics.

    • Sahila says

      humans cant change sex…..

      once a male, always a male/man/boy and never a female/woman/girl…
      once a female, always a female/woman/girl and never a male/man/boy…

      the end….

    • Sahila says

      “trans women are physically identifiable as being different…”

      that would be because they are MALES and not the ‘women’ they demand we ‘see’ them as….

      you must realise that people dont respond well to demands from others that we deny what we know to be true – that the male standing in front of us is a male/man/boy and not a female/woman/girl….

      no one responds positively to being forced to deny material reality and biological facts….

      #Orwell1984
      #FourLights
      #TwoPlusTwoEqualsFive

      • David Mathers says

        Remember when we said that adopted parents were parents and this horrendous attack on biological truth destroyed Western civilization and it’s Enlightenment tradition and brought about a totalitarian communist state? No? Possibly because that didn’t happen?

  27. Urban Leprechaun. says

    This is a very long (but readable) article from a philosopher.
    Not all of us have the luxury to be a philosopher (nor the intelligence and skills).
    So from me, sitting here in the UK, as a now-retired tree feller, my take on this is the ‘Emperor With No Clothes’ one…..or as one logger would say to another (while resting on a tree stump, while having his break pouring his well-earned Thermos tea, and while rolling a ciggie) is, when coming across a bloke who says he is a bird, will opine “You are taking the p*ss; pull the other one mate”.

    • Jake Dee says

      No, that’s not all of us have the luxury of being an academic. You can be a philosopher in a cave in the mountains.

  28. This is an awful lot of words to avoid stating the obvious: men and women are different. Equal in human dignity, but not the same. Anyone who does not recognize that obvious fact needs a refresher on the birds and the bees.

    On the plus side, this lunacy will end. But restructuring our entire society on the false pretense that we are not sexual beings can only end in misery. No matter how strongly you attempt to deny reality, reality will win eventually.

    • jakesbrain says

      Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret et mala perrumpet furtim fastidia victrix.

      “You may drive Nature out with a pitchfork, but it will hurry back all the same, and stealthily take the victory over your foolish scorn.” — Horace

    • David Mathers says

      ‘This is an awful lot of words to avoid stating the obvious: men and women are different.’ That’s not anything like a full summary what the article says. For a supposedly intellectual magazine this sure attracts a lot of commentators who hate having to grapple with complexity and regard any complicated argument as pretentious or associated with the dreaded humanities.

  29. Thomas Klose says

    I guess there’s one good thing about catastrophic climate change and the breakdown of civilisation: We won’t have to worry about these kinds of problems any more.

  30. Damon says

    I’ll start believing in this stuff when a ‘trans’ man wins the heavyweight boxing championship.

  31. Excellent and thoughtful analysis of the transgender issues. Even the ritual Trump-is-bad comment was actually on point. Less impressed with the wild overstatement about western societies, but that is more of a ritualised annoyance.

  32. Stephanie says

    Either I must be extremely stupid or this whole debate makes no sense. No matter how many of these articles come around on Quillette, I finish them wondering what the hell I just read. The arguments from both the “sex elimiationist” and “gender eliminationist” camp make my head spin.

    Perhaps the source of my continued confusion is that I can’t follow the logic that leads us to reject biological definitions for men and women. (Which are not synonymous with male and female but rather defined as human male and female, respectively.) Why in the world would we choose to complicate beyond recognition a concept as old as humans themselves? Of course no alternative definitions are going to make sense, so why expend effort (at the taxpayer’s expense) to flesh out such meaningless thought experiments?

    The simplest and most physically verifyable definition of men and women is the biological definition. The existence of outliers (intersex) does not diminish the robustness of this definition. If it hasn’t been done already, you could quantify male and female genotypic and phenotypic characteristics to generate a sex “spectrum” that would be strongly bimodal in distribution. That these two normal distributions have tails reinforces rather than challenges the interpretation of these distributions. Such is the nature of nature.

    Any similarly constructed sex spectrum based on social factors would be highly subjective and produce nonsensical results. If you define feminine social stereotypes as such things as “nurturing,” “focused on childcare,” “agreeable,” and “emotionally aware,” you will generate nonsensical results where people will be assigned “man” or “women” differently depending on which collection of attributes are used. Such poor replicability means such models are not robust.

    Self-ID is also an unacceptable criteria because it is by definition subjective. Subjective feelings (particularly of the mentally ill) cannot be interpreted as accurate reflections of reality, and are no basis as an organisational principal for organising society.

    More fundamentally, it is not the appropriate place of academics or government to redefine concepts in use by broader society. Our understanding has always been, and continues to be, that women and men are biological categories, and that people who believe themselves to be the opposite sex have a mental issue that impacts their perception. Accepting that reality doesn’t mean we can’t play along if we feel more comfortable doing so, but there is absolutely no need to change anything about our society’s organising concepts.

    • David Mathers says

      Actually, in real life, you typically verify whether someone is a man/woman by looking at their secondary sexual characteristics (i.e. do they have boobs) and conventional markers of gender (length of hair, make-up etc.), so the most easily verifiable definition isn’t based on genital or chromosomes. Obviously a definition of man or woman in terms of ‘do they have boobs and long hair and wear make-up’ (etc.) is a bad one, but since it’s the easiest to practically verify, it can’t be that ease of verification determines whether or not a definition is good.

  33. Centrist Gal says

    The author misses the big elephant in the room:

    This debate is SO stupid! Enough! Sex elimination & gender elimination ultimately destroys the possibility of there being both transsexual people AND transgender people at all because it DESTROYS the ‘hitching’ posts that allow the concept of ‘trans’ to exist in the first place. Without the stability of the biological basis of the words ‘man’ ‘woman’, and with the increasing erosion of any cultural norms,the language necessary for somebody to define as ‘the other’ is erased.

    How will people with sex/gender dysphoria be able to describe their condition? If women can have penises, what will it mean when somebody says they are a woman trapped in the wrong body? What words will they use when there are no stable biological characteristics denoting that word? They will have to say “I am a vagina-having person trapped in the body of a penis-having person”. Stop this MADNESS now! So sick of it! And how will transgender people express their ‘otherness’ if there are no cultural norms associated with the words man or woman? We already have beard sporting, suit-wearing, penis-having men claiming they are women. So what will it mean for somebody to say they wish to dress or live as a ‘woman’? When men are wearing dresses as a matter of course, what fetish or psychological need for ‘otherness’ will be possible?

    This movement is NOT about being kind to trans people. It’s about POWER and causing utter chaos and turning us into sexless, genderless, culture-less robots trying to pretend that we can’t see that men and women are physically different. And guess what? When we get together, we make babies!

    We already live in a world that is pretty much gender-eliminated in terms of the costumes/roles we adopt, but that freedom only makes sense on top of a stable structure. We ALREADY live in a world in which it is perfectly OK for women to have short hair, wear a T shirt, jeans and no make up and be a plumber, or a President, or a whatever! We ALREADY are widely accepting of gender bending (David Bowie is idolised, Boy George, Prince) etc. None of them ever claimed to BE women!

    This sinister attempt to destroy language and culture will be fought tooth and nail. Who is pushing this, really? What will happen to our language, our literature? Who gave a small vocal group of radical academics/activists the right to mess with our language and destroy all the cultural weight of terms like motherhood and fatherhood, or womanhood and manhood, that we take for granted? Did these intellectuals ever consider that the majority of the population is quite happy with the status quo, which ALREADY allows a great deal of flexibility around how one expresses themselves, without denying reality. Why is Western culture always the patsy for the destruction of traditional concepts, language and culture? Are the trans activists pushing their way into other cultures, insisting that Indigenous people redefine concepts such as ‘secret women’s business’? Are they storming mosques and demanding that a woman who identifies as a man be allowed in the male only sections?

    The only good thing if this madness proceeds will be gender studies departments closing down, as the topic itself will become impossible to discuss because there will be NO meaning of the words gender, sex, male or female.

    • David Mathers says

      People like you said all this about gay rights before and civilization seems to be surviving gay rights fine.

  34. Morgan Foster says

    @Centrist Gal

    “This movement is NOT about being kind to trans people. It’s about POWER and causing utter chaos and turning us into sexless, genderless, culture-less robots …”

    It’s also about publications in peer-reviewed journals on the tenure track to a full-professorship and an endowed chair.

    One can do that while still believing privately that Bruce Jenner is as mad as a hatter.

  35. LisaM says

    Let’s summarise Kathleen Stock’s argument:

    (1) No legal gender change should ever be allowed for trans people.
    (2) Society should be built on the ‘biological truths’ about men and women.
    (3) Non-binary people should not be allowed to exist because it corruptsresearch data for academics.
    (4) Trans women should be excluded from all women’s spaces Over and above bathrooms, prisons etc that would have to also mean women’s clothing and lingerie shops (and presumably trans men from men’s places as well).
    (5) Lesbians cannot be excluded from women’s spaces because it is too hard to do so…odd logic from a lesbian.
    (6) Trans people are ‘fictional’, in ‘reality’ there are only ‘biological’ men and women.
    (7) Intersex people are ‘sometimes known’ as “intersex”…and are a tiny number.
    (8) It’s ok to be voluntarily ‘nice’ to trans people, but it is ok to misgender them and to ‘brutally’ tell them the ‘biological’ truth that there are only ‘biological’ men and women.
    (9) Homophobia can be cured by ensuring that only sex between same sex ‘biological’ people is called ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’.
    (10) Sex stereotypes are based on “empirical truths about biological men and women”, thus gender cannot be abolished.
    (11) Gender cannot be eliminated (as it is based on ‘biological truths’), but it can be ‘criticised’.
    (12) The illusion that sex-change is possible is ‘fictionalizing that you aren’t fictionalizing’.
    (13) Trans men and women are pressurizing gay children and teens to renounce their sexual orientation. This has to be the weirdest take. If someone is born female, sexually attracted to females, transitions to male and is still attracted for females ..then their sexual orientation hasn’t changed at all.

    Love this one:
    (14) People that support trans people ‘don’t believe’ that discrimination and harm against women happens.

    So in what way is this a ‘compromise’? Since she is just parroting the standard anti-trans fauxminist (and Catholic church, religious right, etc) line of ‘eliminating trans people from society’.

  36. Sahila ChangeBringer says

    humans are mammals

    mammals are DIMORPHIC – ie, they come in two SEXES (male OR female) for the purpose of reproduction

    mammals cant change sex

    even humans with disorders of sexual development (aka INTERSEX people) are still EITHER male OR female and their disorders are SEX-specific; DSDs come in two broad groupings with one group only affecting MALES and the other only affecting FEMALES; one DSD condition affects BOTH males and females…

    in almost every human language on the planet,
    humans have decided that the noun ‘woman’ is the word we use as shorthand to name an “adult FEMALE human”

    humans have decided that the noun ‘man’ is the word we use as shorthand to name an “adult MALE human”

    humans have decided that the noun ‘girl’ is the word we use as shorthand to name a “juvenile FEMALE human”

    humans have decided that the noun ‘boy’ is the word we use as shorthand to name a “juvenile MALE human”

    since humans cant change sex, no adult MALE human is a ‘woman’…

    since humans cant change sex, no adult FEMALE human is a ‘man’….

    since humans cant change sex, no juvenile MALE human is a ‘girl’…

    since humans cant change sex, no juvenile FEMALE human is a ‘boy’…

    humans are sexed in every cell in their body…

    sex in humans is established at the moment of impregnation, by the sperm’s delivery to the egg of one of two human sex chromosomes…
    the delivery of a Y sex chromosome establishes/denotes a MALE human…
    the delivery of an X sex chromosome establishes/denotes a FEMALE human….

    the SEX of an embryo can be observed by blood test at 7 weeks gestation and by imaging of the foetus at 12 weeks gestation …

    SEX is established at impregnation and is OBSERVED AND RECORDED at birth (if it hasnt been done so earlier by blood test or imaging); sex is NOT “assigned at birth” in some arbitrary manner by the attending medical professionals…

    while human brains are sexed at cellular level in accordance with the sex of the rest of the body, PERSONALITY TRAITS and SKILLS are not SEXED…..

    brain imaging shows that there are no ‘pink/feminine brains’ or ‘blue/masculine brains’…
    traits and skills are MOSAIC – ie, they are common to/found across both sexes and are also PLASTIC – ie, change rapidly and profoundly in response to sustained stimuli and to trauma…

    a human skeleton, dug up from the earth 1000 years after death, can still be determined to be EITHER male OR female, both from differences in bone shape/size/structure and from the DNA that can be found in the cells of the bones…

    the belief that a consiousness can be born in the wrong body is an act of RELIGIOUS/SPIRITUAL FAITH, which requires a religious/spiritual belief in the existence of a ‘soul’ which is sexed….

    the existence of a ‘soul’, let alone that of SEXED SOULS, has never been established by science…

    ‘gender’ doesnt exist except as a social construct;

    ‘gender’ claims that certain personality traits and preferences for activities, presentation, behaviour and emoting are either ‘masculine’ (assigned to/associated with males) or ‘feminine’ (assigned to/associated with females)….

    this is an arbitrary assignment to each sex of SEX ROLE STEREOTYPES, imposed on children from birth, or earlier if the sex of the embryo/foetus is known…

    ‘gender’ has no validity as a concept because there are no traits which are exclusive and common to all females and there are no traits which are exclusive and common to all males…

    there is no “feeling like a woman” because ‘WOMAN’ is a BIOLOGICAL STATE OF BEING, ‘woman’ is the ADULT PHASE in the HUMAN FEMALE LIFE CYCLE….

    there is no “feeling like a man” because ‘MAN’ is a BIOLOGICAL STATE OF BEING, ‘man’ is the ADULT PHASE in the HUMAN MALE LIFE CYCLE….

    humans dont FEEL like their SEX, they ARE their SEX…. we are each our bodies, male/man/boy OR female/woman/girl…

    no human male conforms 100% to the sex role stereotypes imposed on him and no human female conforms 100% to the sex role stereotypes imposed on her….

    every human is a unique combination of traits and preferences,
    every human conforms to/rejects sex role stereotypes to a unique degree, so it would be accurate to say that:
    every human is GENDER NON CONFORMING and it would be true to say that
    every human is GENDER FLUID and it would be true to say that
    every human is NON BINARY and it would be true to say that
    every human is TRANSGENDER and it would be true to say that
    there are 7.5 BILLIONS GENDERS ON THE PLANET…

    given the above, that we are ALL ‘transgender’, we find ourselves in the rather perplexing position of having 0.3% of the population claiming to be a special kind of ‘trans’…..

    and that 0.3% of the population – which has all the same LEGAL AND CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS WE ALL DO, BASED ON OUR SEX, is demanding extra rights that the other 99.97% of the population do not have… and in so doing, demands that we ignore material reality and biological facts and that 51% of the species – women and girls, FEMALE humans – give up their SEX-BASED RIGHTS, because a few males keep repeating the lie that they too are women and girls…..

    to which i say: NO!

    • Anoneemous One says

      Well said Sahila ChangeBringer.

      I am not troubled by any person who want to dress, look, act, or call themselves “transgender women or transgender men.”

      In America, we have the freedom to call ourselves what ever we want. However, no America should ever be forced by law to use certain speech, such as improper pronouns. I will use the pronouns the person I am talking to or about wishes me to use out of a sense of respect and civility, but I should never be forced to comply with speech dictates of the trans community or law.

      My bottom line is that transpeople can be whomever they want to be, but no American should ever be forced to agree. There are real genetic women and men. There are also transgender men and women. I say we should all be kind, follow the Golden Rule, and treat all with kindness and respect, but trans women are not real women. Period.

      • I can’t agree with calling someone who is clearly a man, a woman. It would further their political fight possibly enforcing government dictates such as using improper pronouns and
        incorrect sex identities. I am not going there. Bruce Jenner is not Christine Jenner in my world.

    • Asenath Waite says

      @Sahila ChangeBringer

      All good points, except that you seem to be indicating that all behavioral differences between the sexes are socially constructed, which is clearly not the case. There’s significant overlap in psychology and resultant behavior between men and women, but there are also very strong average differences in the two populations which seem to be to a large extent innate rather than conditioned.

  37. andie says

    my stock response to all gendercrit pieces is that at its root trans people desire to be X and science makes this possible in increasingly meaningful ways. the justifications people provide (X soul, X brain, X whatever) are largely irrelevant.
    90% of feminist push back is disbelief that people don’t share their opinion on what it means to be a woman. and while most people simply ignore feminism, trans – in their actions at least – are actively heretic/apostacizing

    • Sahila says

      humans cant change sex…..

      science has no yet found a way to change SEX CHROMOSOMES, found in every cell in the body, from the XX of a FEMALE to the XY of a MALE and vice versa….

      if you dont have the biology, you dont get the noun (or pronouns)….

      • LisaM says

        Untrue. The Y chromosome is just a carrier for the SRY gene, which itself is just a signaler to 3 ‘dark DNA’ regions to produce more SOX9 genes.

        If there is enough SOX9 then testes form in the very early fetus, if not enough then ovaries form.

        And you can get ‘sex reversal’ where a person is XY and a woman, or XX and a man, because:
        (1) Sometimes the SRY gene is carried by the X chromosome, and they become XX and a man.
        (2) Sometimes one or more of the 3 Dark DNA regions are missing or damaged, and even if the SRY is present not enough SOX9 s produced…and they form ovaries, then they are XY and a woman.
        (3) Sometimes there are more of the Dark DNA regions, and even if the SRY is not there then enough SOX9 is produced…and they form testes. Thus XX and a man.

        The Y chromosome by itself does nothing (and is disappearing as well) all that matters is the amount of SOX9 genes produced, either by SRY signalling or by themselves.

        Note that is just the start of sex differentiation in the fetus, many other things (genetic and/or womb environment) can happen along the way, and thus have full or partial sex reversal or any number of other intersex conditions.

        • Sahila says

          dont be daft….

          these still are all DISORDERS OF SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT…..which are vanishingly rare, occurring in 0.018% of the population…

          and dont give me that FAUSTO STERLING twaddle about intersex conditions being as common as red heads; FAUSTO STERLING is a male wearing womanface, who conflated a bunch of other conditions and stuffed them into the ‘intersex’ duffel bag, to inflate the numbers…

          if you’re on twitter, this woman (who also has a DSD condition) will EDUCATE YOU on said disorders and what’s really going on…

          she pretty much got sucked into the bottomless pit that is the #transcult ideological rabbithole because she and other people like her have been WEAPONISED by the transcult and used as pawns in their game, and now she spends all her time debunking the BS they spout about intersex conditions…

          https://twitter.com/mrkhtake2/status/1033341907223674881

        • Peter Kriens says

          But I understand that XY women are not fertile except in a few cases where extensive gene mutation has taken place?

  38. andie says

    “humans can’t change sex” …yet

    and also, on a different reading, isn’t part of the problem (your problem), the fact that we already are?

    ps: you don’t get to decide what pronouns i get – sowee!

    • Stephanie says

      Andie, do you actually think a therapy that actually changes sex is forthcoming? For males you would need to induce the elimination of all Y chromosomes and introduce an additional X chromosome, for women erase one X chromosome and introduce a new Y. This would have to change the expression of hundreds of genes to achieve the aim of the procedure. What comes out the other end would not be the same person. This will not be deemed acceptable or desirable for gender dysphoric people.

      Also, Andie, people do get to decide what pronouns they refer to you by. You do not dictate people’s speech.

      • andie says

        gamete size, rather than chromosomes, is the best way to determine sex. if there turns out to be enough demand for it, yeah, i think sex changes are possible. but even without them, trans are changing sex, or at least are part of the process of the changing meaning of sex.

        you get to decide what pronouns you use for me, you don’t get to decide what pronouns everyone else uses (i realise this may be difficult to grok considering your entire ideology is about claiming to speak for an entire class of people whether ot not they care to be part of it or not)

        xx

    • Sahila says

      i do get to choose…..

      english (like many other languages) is a SEXed language….

      there are three sets of pronouns …..

      1: MALE pronouns which we use to refer to MALE animals/humans/plants

      (yes, plants too have dimorphic sex – you need male and female kiwifruit vines, for example, to produce kiwifruit)…

      2: FEMALE pronouns which we use to refer to FEMALE animals/humans/plants

      3: and neutral pronouns which we generally use to refer to plants, inanimate objects and sometimes castrated/neutered animals…

      in english:
      the pronouns we apply to FEMALES are SHE, HER and HERS…
      the pronouns we apply to MALES are HE, HIM and HIS….

      we use IT, ITS for things which do not have a sex or for which the sex is not immediately obvious….
      most humans object to being referred to as “it”…

      we use THEY, THEM and THEIRS when we’re referring to a collective/group (MORE THAN ONE) of things, animate or inanimate…

      so — when i’m referring to a MALE in the third person and there is only one MALE, i will use MALE PRONOUNS…..

      and when i’m referring to a FEMALE in the third person and there is only one FEMALE, i will use FEMALE PRONOUNS….

      you dont get to force me to deny material reality and biological facts just because you somehow think you are more ‘special’ than all other humans….

      geeze louise….. someone needs to take all these people back to school and teach them basic biology and grammar….

    • Sahila says

      cutting off your genitals doesnt make a male a woman…. it just makes him a eunuch…

      cutting off your breasts doesnt make a female a man…. many women have their breasts cut off because of breast cancer – they’re still women, not males/men….

      having a dead-end open wound cut into your perineum doesnt make a male a woman…
      having a tube of your forearm tissue stitched to your mons veneris doesnt make a female a man…

      and cross sex hormones dont change your body from male to female or female to male at cellular level…. nothing humans can do can change their sex…

      cross sex hormones just poison the body and throw it into confusion…..

      once you stop taking them, the body attempts to return to its original form (which had been MASKED by the effects of the cross sex hormones)…

      it’s not changing sex when you have to mutilate a healthy body and administer a poison to the body every day to get a very poor simulacrum of the sex you fantasise about being…

      and trying to force other people to go along with your fantasy is narcissistic manipulation and tyranny…

      • Urban Leprechaun says

        A man would only become a woman if that person were to develop a working set of ovaries. All the other parts are just delivery systems and product maintenance devices.

  39. Jim says

    Clearly a well thought-out, considered article, but at the end it occurs to me that one can overthink things.

    Here’s how it works in my little world: if all your nucleated cells contain XX chromosomes, you are a woman; if XY, you are a man. If you are XO, XXY, or one of the other so-called “intersex” people – which are, fortunately, quite rare – then the sex you are considered is handled on a case-by-case basis. That’s how we learned it in medical school, nearly 40 years ago now, and the current fashion of forty “genders” – whatever that is – is just a distraction for people with too much time on their hands.

    • Lightning Rose says

      I have a baseball cap embroidered with “Whatever” on the front. Maybe I should start making and selling them on eBay . . . 😉

      • svhk says

        I don’t think you’d make much money out of it, Lightning Rose… just imagine the outcry for specific recognition 🤣

  40. the gardner says

    In the post modernist world invented by so-called intellectuals, there is no actual reality. Reality is what we choose it to be, and our language is modified to describe it. So, men with penises are actually women and the rest of us are supposed to nod in agreement. The rest of us are supposed to stand by in submission as society is changed is accommodate this latest lunacy, we are brow beaten if we push back a little, we could even be sued if we refuse to use the sanctioned pronoun. This is anti-reason. It is a throw back to magical, mythical thinking. We need to reject it in all its forms.

    • David Mathers says

      ‘In the post modernist world invented by so-called intellectuals, there is no actual reality. Reality is what we choose it to be, and our language is modified to describe it. So, people who have gone through the purely socially constructed ritual of adoption are actually the parents of children to whom they have no biological connection whatsoever! This is anti-reason. It is a throw back to magical, mythical thinking. We need to reject it in all its forms.’

  41. I see what you are trying to do here – trying to be the reasonable person in the room, play the middle ground. I can tell you with 100% certainty, there is no middle ground to be had here. The transactivists will not let you. All failure to comply with their platform will earn you death threats and shrill admonitions of bigotry. If you try to be the calm person in the middle and say people on each side have a point, they will label you a bigot for even talking to “the evil TERFS” and “the evil Right Wing Christians”.

    There is only reality. Men are men and women are women and people with GID have a mental disorder they are trying to force down the throat of society. They are winning.

  42. estepheavfm says

    I was born long, long ago, with a sex (male). We did not have genders then. But I do have a preferred gender pronoun now. It is: “Sir take-your-social-construction-superstition-and-jump-in-a-lake.”

  43. “gender-conforming society, and those of females in a misogynist society”

    Blinkered hype. You want to see a misogynist society? try India where women get gang-raped and killed on a public bus.

    Stock is too much of a radical to accrue the sympathy needed from normal people.

    • Alex – we are from more advanced societies than India. Your comparison is pointless.

  44. Just Me says

    Excellent article. I generally agree.

    I would just add one more consideration.

    Despite the lip service given to Simone de Beauvoir as feminist icon, it seems few feminists have actually read her. She is only dragged out for her saying that “women are made, not born” as justification for the social constructionist view of gender, but that is taken out of context.

    Her whole argument was that being born with a female body puts women in a certain situation which is different from a man’s. It is the fact that women have to deal with being in that situation of having that body, that makes them develop into the social being of having the female gender. There are different ways of adapting to similar situations, but the fact of the situation cannot just be ignored. And that is what women have in common that is different from men, who have another situation in common.

    The fact women have to deal with a different physical situation than men is what makes them women, and men, men. The existential philosophy de Beauvoir applied to the analysis of the dilemmas women face gets totally ignored by those quoting her.

    • Sahila says

      thanks for pointing that out…..

      de beauvoir was making two points…..

      women are women because they have a female body and that brings its own lived experience that is different to that of males/men/boys AND women are shaped and moulded, told ‘how’ to be a woman by the sex role stereotypes a patriarchal society imposes on them….

      none of what she said can legitimately be used to validate the trans ideology that a male can be a woman…

  45. I confess that I haven’t been able to read most of this article. Gender dysphoria is a (formerly) uncommon psychiatric disorder. Seems to me the fundamental question is whether the public should be required to yield to people who suffer from the disorder by pretending to believe or believing that they are what they are not. The answer is “no.”

    • It’s disturbing, but revealing, that for you the “fundamental question” isn’t what causes sex identity disorders. Rather you a priori assume that it is a psychiatric disorder with no underlying physiological basis, a position that contradicts contemporary research, in order to condemn accommodation on even a level of compassionate social interaction.

      • Sahila says

        of course it’s a psychiatric disorder….

        the dutch (pre-eminent researchers in the field) have said categorically that it has no biological etiology….

        it’s not rooted in the body’s chromosomes, the endocrine system or in the brain….

        endocrinologists are on the record saying that kids who ID as trans have no difference in their endocrine systems (their hormones) compared to kids who dont ID as trans (that is, they have fully NORMAL endocrine systems/hormone levels)…

        “Professor Gary Butler of UCLH and the Tavistock GIDS introduced proceedings. He remarked that no chromosomal, hormonal, or other physical anomalies had been detected in the clinical population using the GIDS, despite initially screening for these. ” The 2018 European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology (ESPE) Science Symposium on 18-19 October 2018 at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust entitled ‘The Science of Gender: Evidence for what influences gender development and gender dysphoria and what are the respective influences of nature and nurture’.

        and the claim that trans people have brains similar to those of the gender with which they ID has been debunked — those scans show their brains are similar to others with the same SEXUAL ORIENTATION…

        it’s only recently that transactivists have been pushing to have transgenderism/transsexualism removed from the DSM and WHO classifications as a PARAPHILIA (aka FETISH)…

        but they dont want it removed completely from the DSM because then they couldnt get insurance to pay for their ‘transition’… which would all be ELECTIVE MEDICAL PROCEDURES…

        and ‘gender dysphoria’ is often a symptom found in many other psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia…

      • Mr. Victoria – it not ‘compassionate social interaction’ to gaslight an entire society.

  46. Cranky Attorney says

    Kathleen Stock is a philospher of the imagination not a biologist, physiologist, psychologist or anyone with any subject matter expertise on these issues. She ignores the growing body of evidence about the biological causes of gender identity because of her politics and hate. Her publication here is a tacit admission she is in league with socially and politically regressive policies. Her comedic vitriol has the veneer of credibility because people confer that on PhDs but know what she really is: a bewildered fraud.

    • @Cranky Attorney

      Bravo. I’ve also previously pointed out the conspicuous lack of engagement with research on the etiology of gender identity disorders. When radical feminists or religious reactionaries avoid science, it’s hardly a surprise. What disturbs me, and is indicative of bigotry, is that Quillette’s editors, who otherwise profess such faith and grounding in science, also ignore that research.

      • Sahila says

        “Professor Gary Butler of UCLH and the Tavistock GIDS introduced proceedings. He remarked that no chromosomal, hormonal, or other physical anomalies had been detected in the clinical population using the GIDS, despite initially screening for these. ”

        The 2018 European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology (ESPE) Science Symposium on 18-19 October 2018 at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust entitled ‘The Science of Gender: Evidence for what influences gender development and gender dysphoria and what are the respective influences of nature and nurture’.

        which means this is a PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUE…. not a biological one… the dutch have been saying this for a long time – there is no BIOLOGICAL ETIOLOGY for ‘trans’

        • Speaking of “PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUE[s]”…

          LOL.

          In any case, an open-minded person can look at the range of recent research findings:

          https://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_ylo=2015&q=gender+dysphoria+brain+&hl=en&as_sdt=0,48

          While it seems clear that trans brains largely resembles their natal sex, the anti-trans narrative rests on there being no physiological differences between trans brains and their natal sex peers whatsoever.

          The claim “the dutch [sic] have been saying this for a long time” — odd how for all your ALL-CAPS shouting, you suddenly can’t find your shift-key to capitalize words that are supposed to be capitalized — is contradicted by the second link down, Hoekzema et al (2015):

          “Deviations from the natal sex within sexually dimorphic structures were also observed in the untreated subsamples. Our findings thus indicate that GM distribution and regional volumes in GD adolescents are largely in accordance with their respective natal sex. However, there are subtle deviations from the natal sex in sexually dimorphic structures, which can represent signs of a partial sex-atypical differentiation of the brain.”

          That’s what an actual, nuanced research finding looks like. There are many more like it.

          • M.K. says

            And I bet the brains of homosexual adolescents show the same sex-atypicality…

            On evidence to date the brains of transwomen attracted to women are not feminized at all. Suggests that this is sexual orientation we are seeing here, not “gender identity”,,,

      • David Mathers says

        You’re all confused about this: psychological issues are biological because the mind is the brain.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Cranky Attorney

      I would have simply given you an uptick and left it at that, but Quillette makes no provision.

      I agree with everything you’ve said about the article and the apparent character of its author.

    • Urban Leprechaun says

      I certainly see ‘politics’ (in a broad sense of the word) in Stock’s view of transgender, but I do think you are wrong to talk about ‘hate’.

  47. Based on the length of this article I am guessing the author is paid by word count — bad idea.

  48. @Maria (which I hate to use) You seem to be saying your psychological sexual dysfunction justifies gas-lighting 99% of society. Outrageous.

    Tension between the sexes exists, we all deal with it.

  49. Ann O'Nymous says

    @ Cranky Attorney:

    Etiology is irrelevant. In all probability, gender dysphoria, like every other mental illness (and indeed, all human thoughts and feelings), emerges from a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors. You will not find a single researcher who believes that gender dysphoria is purely biologically determined.

    No doubt you are thinking of the studies that purport to demonstrate sex-atypical features in the neuroanatomy of trans people. However, very few of these studies control for sexual orientation. This is a glaring omission, given that previous research has found a link between sex-atypical neuroanatomy and homosexuality. The few studies on transgender neuroanatomy that do control for sexuality do not support the conclusion that opposite-sex attracted transgender people have sex-atypical brains. For example:

    “Gender dysphoria is suggested to be a consequence of sex atypical cerebral differentiation. We tested this hypothesis in a magnetic resonance study of voxel-based morphometry and structural volumetry in 48 heterosexual men (HeM) and women (HeW) and 24 gynephilic male to female transsexuals (MtF-TR) . . . The present data do not support the notion that brains of MtF-TR are feminized. The observed changes in MtF-TR bring attention to the networks inferred in processing of body perception.” (Savic and Arver 2011)

    Also of interest is a recent study in Nature comparing the brains of transgender individuals to the brains of non-trans homosexuals. (Unfortunately, the authors did not control for the sexuality of their trans subjects.) The conclusion? “Our findings suggest that the neuroanatomical signature of transgenderism is related to brain areas processing the perception of self and body ownership, whereas homosexuality seems to be associated with less cerebral sexual differentiation.”

    In other words, “transwomen have ladybrains and transmen have dude brains” is a politically expedient narrative, but a gross distortion of the current research on the topic. In all probability, there are two distinct etiologies for gender dysphoria, as hypothesized by Blanchard: trans people can be subdivided into extremely gender non-conforming homosexuals (i.e., very butch lesbians and very femme gay men; these are the ones who will have sex-atypical neuroanatomy) and heterosexual/bisexual paraphiliacs (whose brains may be atypical, but will not be sex atypical).

    A concluding thought: schizophrenia, like gender dysphoria, is known to be associated with neurological abnormalities. Just because we can point to the place in a schizophrenic man’s brain that makes him think he’s Jesus, it does not therefore follow that he is actually Jesus.

    • Jesus’s don’t become more stable and mentally well when you affirm them as Jesus. Trans people do generally become more emotionally functional and mentally more healthy when they undergo a correctly supported transition.

      So no, psychosis is not like gender dysphoria in any way whatsoever.

    • @Ann O’Nymous

      Thank you for inadvertently showing that feminist opposition to trans people is really about maintaining denial of sex differences in the brain.

      According to feminist “biology,” sex hormones and evolution create a rigid physical sex binary everywhere except the brain. As soon as you use a term like “ladybrain” you tip your ideological agenda. Ironically, Quillette’s Editor-in-Chief, Claire Lehamnn got her start debunking feminist claims like those of Cordelia Fine.

      Besides trans people don’t even need to have ” ladybrains and dude brains” to have a biological basis for their disorder, that’s a strawman you set up, after having just introduced the very sort of brain difference that might explain body dysphoria (I tend to regard that as the sine qua non of a genuine sex identity disorder).

      Another thing close-mindedness (“[e]tiology is irrelevant”) does is prevent consideration of multiple etiologies. That is not only may MTF and FTM etilogies differ, but there may be differing etilogies based on sexuality, including the paraphilia research that upsets trans activists. But even the paraphilia proponents don’t claim it is merely a delusion and they support transition as treatment. Nevertheless if your ideological goal is disproving biological sex differences in the brain, then all of that is moot.

      Like most anti-trans narratives, you make a denigrating comparison to schizophrenia and other delusional disorders, but omit that sex identity disorders do not respond to treatments found to help with those disorders.

      Jesus is either a fictional being or distinct historical person. There’s no biological mechanism for a person here and now to be Jesus (or Napoleon or a tiger). The ability of cross-sex hormones to change secondary sexual characteristics, even after going through puberty as the natal sex, shows that there very much is a mechanism for the biological line between the sexes to blur, as do chromosomal abnormalities and other intersex conditions.

      Your position is driven by fear that sex identity disorders will ipso facto prove that brain sex exists overall. I admit that there are a lot of trans activists, who hold unscientific and irreconcilable positions, but you both ultimately emerge from the Postmodern and Marxist Left.

  50. RamBam says

    Let’s cut to the chase. If someone looks like a woman and uses the Women’s rest room, doing what needs doing in a closed stall, who cares? The problem is two-fold. First, such people are now encouraged to brag and crow about the fact that they smuggled a penis into the Women’s room. Add to this, we are now supposed to simply accept the declaration of someone obviously male that HE (yes, he is a HE) is a woman.

    This whole collection of madness was once a declared mental illness on the order of limb dysphoria, wherein the victim wants a hand or a leg removed. Why is it now “normalized”? Who has something to gain by main-streaming a mental illness? I submit this is a stepping stone to normalizing anything and everything, and in particular, I strongly believe it is those who want pedophilia normalized who are pushing this foolishness.

  51. Many trans people don’t identify as ‘trans’ anything. They live (with varying degrees) just as ‘women’ or as ‘men’. Even the most committed post op usually doesn’t think they have literally changed sex in every way. It’s changing aspects of physical and biological sex to alleviate dysphoria, or become who they know they are, and enough that they are accorded most rights of their acquired sex.

    I can see universal third spaces would be of use to your Alex Drummond type (ie identifies as woman but keeps full beard on display etc). Also in a specialised situation like for certain categories of prisoners (ie sex offender with penis) as has been done now with a trans wing. But more generally 3rd spaces are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

    Also many trans people have a level of dysphoria that would make it extremely difficult to mis-identify into a 3rd space. It’s not just about ‘validation’ or ‘power’. Some trans men and trans women would find it extremely painful to use something publicly labelled essentially ‘not really women’ or ‘not really men’. They just wouldn’t be able to do it.

    • Urban Leprechaun says

      Just a ‘Third Space’ really won’t work. As there would really need to be third and fourth spaces. That’s spaces for women, spaces for men, spaces for trans men and spaces for trans women. Life gets so complicated :).

    • Julia says

      In a society with very little gender roles left, what are the universal characteristics of “living as a woman” vs “living as a man”?

      It’s true that homosexual transsexuals marry men and become prostitutes but it has more relation to their sexual orientation. The only role I can think of is a mother of adopted children, fully playing this role (not a “mother” in name only in the presence of the real mother).

      Other than that? I still would like to see a trans woman dropping a nice job in software and becoming a preschool teacher. Or becoming a housewife, clean, cook, wash and please her partner. Or enthusiastically baking cookies and knitting sweaters for her grandkids. Likewise, do all trans men become soldiers, firefighters and bodybuilders after transition? Wearing a dress or a beard isn’t a social role.

      Instead, it is “wearing a woman’s (or man’s) costume” and demanding that the world read it the same as “sex”. Except the world reads it as it sees fit. Not everybody can pass. Even if everybody around is perfectly PC, it doesn’t change what people think in their head and say behind the person’s back. Desperately wanting to control minds but never achieving it is always painful.

      • In one sense ‘living as a woman’ can be living in a way that leads all or most of the people around you to think your are, and treat you as, a woman. If they truly think you are a woman then you could be said to be living as a woman.

        But what if people know you are a trans woman but refer to you as ‘she’ etc. Are you living as a ‘trans woman’ or living as a ‘woman’? Or both? It all gets very ontological and you end up falling down a philosophy hole. In reality we all have to get on with life and live together.

        Some trans women are housewives or teachers. Some trans men are youth workers.

        Of course you can’t control minds and ultimately it’s a waste of life trying. As you say some pass well enough to be perceived as the sex they feel they are. The best others can expect is politeness. Some have to accept a compromise and live as a trans woman as for them it’s better than living as a regular male. Other trans people wear their trans identity openly and with pride.

  52. Fran says

    Can’t wait for hormones in MTF’s to be manipulated so they go through ‘menopause’ – after all, its the normal for women.

    • Menpause is the Bomb! says

      Do you think they will choose the dry flaky skin that prickles like tiny ants are biting you all over? Or the hot flushes that have you trying to sleep with with a fan, even though it is below freezing outside? Will surgery be needed to provide the cervical thinning that has has an increased risk of cancer?

      Oh the agony of choice….

  53. urban leprechaun says

    As a (male) pub or bar room-philosopher I would offer this comment.
    If a bloke walks into my pub and claims he is a dolly-bird all the other blokes at the bar would be saying “Stop taking the piss – pull the other one … … mate!”

    (This may be the Gordian Knot solution to the issue?)

  54. Urban Leprechaun says

    Technology may have something to do with this newly appearing concept transsexuality and transgender. And it could be this has not been recognised. And I am a believer that technologies have a greater impact on society than philosophy.

    Something deeper may be part of what is happening here. I offer a half-formed and not fully though through comment, but on an aspect I have never seen raised. That it has not been raised could mean that my idea is not a runner – or it could be that I have yet to see anyone play with the idea.

    And this is due to the relatively new technologies of contraception and safe abortion.,

    Contraception and easy abortion have to a great respect changed the nature of sexual intercourse, and sexual relations. No longer is sex essentially about procreation and having children for, over the last 60 years or so, sex has essentially become a ‘recreation’. And when sex moves from procreation to recreation things become very different.

    I’m tossing this in as an idea … would people like to play with my idea?

  55. Urban Leprechaun says

    When it comes to the lifeboat situation and it’s “women and children first” do trans women get onto the boat before men?

    And for what it’s worth, back in the day, I have been in a modern lifeboat (the last small plane taking foreigners out of a war zone) it was woman and children first. Us blokes had to walk the 50km.

    • Peter Kriens says

      Not reported anywhere in the main stream press is the fact that with the plane that landed on the Hudson there were a number of men refusing to leave the plane before all the women and children were out. (To the frustration of the flight attendants.)

  56. Avid Reader says

    I would like a tenured, radical feminist academic to explain to me why they stay in their cushy, secure taxpayer-funded jobs (paid for by me and other middle aged women -and men too for that matter- with no secure employment anymore) whilst shouting about misogyny in venerable Institutions built by (the shock, the horror!) the patriarchy they claim to so despise. If they had real guts they would build their own feminist institutions with their own money, and see how well they do attracting funding from from only women to teach only women about terrible Western Society is.

    I have worked with hundreds of decent, blue-collar men and women for 10 years in mining, and Judith Butler sounds like a complete fruitloop to me. Why these women think anyone should take them seriously is complete mystery to me. They have obviously never felt what it means to work somewhere where men ( i was one of 2 women in a 50-odd mining crew) and I counted on each other for our lives, everyday.

    @Lightning Rose @ benita casanova @ stephanie, you go girls! You have lots of ordinary women like me admiring your articulate posts! At least I know I am not alone in loving and appreciating men.

    @ E Olsen, @ ga gamba, @the Dolphin @tsar tsarkis thanks for your knowledge of history that broadens my perspectives, even I dont always agree.

    Happy Easter everyone on the community! May there be abundant quality Quillette for us to digest

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  58. Julia says

    In the world of self-ID there is no such thing as “real trans” as nobody’s self-ID is “fake”. If you eliminate sex, “sex assigned at birth” is a meaningless construct as well as taking cross-sex hormones and sex change surgery don’t make sense.

    Transgenderism doesn’t sound like “sex eliminationism” as it doesn’t call for elimination of sex segregated spaces, sex based affirmative action, removal of “sex” as a category in government identification and such. It is more than happy to benefit from those by creating confusion. It uses “gender” only when it serves the purpose. Maybe, it should be called “sex-appropriation” instead.

    For the record, I don’t see modern Western societies as being misogynistic or blatantly sexist (for either sex) and I treat “patriarchy” the same way as “gender id” and “soul”, neither can be proven or disproven but it’s sacreligious to deny them. However, it’s interesting enough that the majority of those who talk about “rape culture” and “misogyny” don’t have any objection to penises in women private spaces and males in women sports. It’s an enormous cognitive dissonance.

    Speaking of sex segregated spaces, criminals always accessed spaces where they were not supposed to be. There were never concerns about bathroom use by transsexuals who look like their chosen sex when the spaces were not ruled be self-ID. However, the self-ID makes it a “human right” for everybody, overriding the occupant’s right to safety, privacy and even the right to complain about it, which might result in impossibility to use the facility for some. With regards to toilets and showers, safety alone is a low standard. If you remove doors from toilet stalls, get rid of seats and replace toilet paper with old magazines, it doesn’t render this restroom less safe. It just makes it less private, comfortable and usable. Hell, it’s not even a political discussion.

    The difference between sex and gender expression is that one is an immutable characteristic, the other one is not, unless we’re ready to accept the unscientific notion of “sex identity” fused into the brain. If you focus on gender dysphoria instead, this category is called “people with disabilities”, shouldn’t be treated differently from other disorders, and has nothing to do with sex vs gender.

    I would also like to remind that everybody is entitled only to equality and safety, not to special self-declared rights like affirmation of a “desired self-image”. For example, overweight women shouldn’t be treated differently from slim women when being considered for a job; however, nobody is required to call overweight women slim and label clothing size 14 as 4 not to trigger their “weight dysphoria”. We provide accommodations to people with disabilities but doing so requires to recognize them as disabled, not to refer to them as healthy. If the reality of a trans person doesn’t match the desired outcome, maybe, the transition wasn’t a right treatment choice after all? Don’t we have doctors and digital technologies to make predictions? I also remember how the bathroom debates started. They were not about safety at all, but how feelings get hurt when somebody goes to a bathroom which doesn’t match their “gender identity” (I went to single occupancy men’s bathrooms many times, didn’t feel anything). But I would imagine, there are safety concerns for trans people that started as a result of the absurdity and unreasonable demands.

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  61. Andrew says

    Thanks Doc Stock, that was very helpful.
    Synthesizing Marxist Feminism, Post Modernist Feminism and your article has been a lightbulb experience.
    So, finally, it’s all understandable. As a man my stereotypical gender role is exploitative, oppressive misogynist. Barred from speaking in the public forum except to confess and agree because anything else would be perpetuating oppression.
    In fulfilling my stereotype of sexual aggression I can see two choices . Approach a woman with the statement… as a misogynist I particularly hate you, are you willing to consent to rape.
    Alternatively… I could ask… what gender are you?
    Oh I was hoping you might be a sex doll. Stereotypically men treat women as sex objects, but object is too vague so I prefer doll. If she says that sounds like an overly constrained role, I can say you can still negotiate the who, what, when, where and why.
    Have I got that right Doc?

  62. Eddie says

    This poor woman probably hasn’t seen a tree in years. Her grasp of rudimentary biology is so poor… I’m genuinely embarrassed for her. Anyway, three points I wanted to add:

    One important fact that Prof. Stock neglects to mention is that approximately three-quarters of ‘trans’ people are biological males who want to be women, and it’s estimated that about half of those males are primarily motivated by their sexual festishization of female norms of behaviour and dress. So that means that more than one-third of the ‘transgender community’ is just sad dudes trying to get their rocks off. Nice to see ‘philosophers’ really getting down to business on the important stuff for once.
    Most of this argument depends on a particular understanding of ‘harm’. Prof. Stock seems to be assuming that some behaviour, policy, action, etc. is ‘harmful’ to an individual if and only if that individual subjectively (whether contemporaneously or retrospectively) regards that behaviour, policy, action, etc. as unwanted or produces any unwanted or unpleasant mental state. Maybe I haven’t got that quite right (though, to be fair, she does not define what she means by ‘harm’, and she uses it to refer to things ranging from feeling unwelcome to being murdered), but if it’s even in the vicinity of accurate, then her whole argument is useless. No responsible clinical psychologist (or judge, or parent…) would regard ‘feeling unwelcome’ as a harm, and frankly, it is impossible (both theoretically and practically) to construct a society in which these feelings were absent.
    This argument seems to assume that ‘trans’ people have an underdeveloped sense of personal agency–as in, the sense that you can actually make choices and decisions, rather than just get passively pushed around by the world. I noticed this in two sorts of claims Prof. Stock makes. First, she talks about suicide as though the person committing suicide isn’t making a wholly voluntary choice but is instead somehow ’caused’ to make this choice by external factors (like sometimes feeling unwelcome). Second, her concern with what ‘society’ thinks seems to assume that ‘trans’ people are neither capable of compromising personal values, goals, desires, etc. in order to better fit into social expectations nor of facing whatever social consequences arise from choosing not to make those compromises. Everybody makes these sorts of choices all the time; consider how often visible members of religious minorities probably ‘feel unwelcome’.

    The only other way Prof. Stock could avoid this would be to argue that gender identity is more important in some sense than all or most other categories of personal identification. And she might be able to make a plausible philosophical argument to this effect, but she couldn’t make the psychological argument: as a matter of fact, most people do not consider their gender identity (or biological sex, since most people, believe it or not, don’t know what ‘gender identity’ even means) to be anywhere close to the most important social category to which they belong.

    • Urban Leprechaun says

      Yes. I very rarely ever think of myself as a man. I am aware I am white, I am aware I am fairly intelligent, I am aware I am uneducated. I am aware I am old, and getting weaker. I am aware I am artistic. I see myself as a one-time building draftsman and a one-time woodland manager. I identify as being skilled with a chainsaw, and skilled with an artist’s paint brush. I am aware that others see me as eccentric. I am aware I am dyslexic. I am aware I am Irish. But I really very seldom think of myself as a man.

      (Oh! And I am aware I am very interested in freedom of speech and thought, which is why I post here; people are being no-platformed and the like, and Dr Stock is one such person, when it comes to trans issues. And that freedom of though allows me to say that feminism does not seem to answer what is happening around trans issues)

  63. Love Liberty says

    “scaredy-cat” boys or “bossy” girls.
    Neither of these is going against type. I was a child in the 1950s and 1960s. What was ‘going against type’ would have been boys who sat with toys offering them tea or girls running around shooting imaginary weapons.

  64. Urban Leprechaun says

    Dr Stock is a philosopher (and philosophers can be useful here)
    Dr Stock is also a feminist (feminists talk of how they consider men affect women … but seldom actually understand men)
    Indeed, either Dr Stock herself, or others have called Dr Stock a feminist philosopher.

    There are a lot of feminists who are involved with trans issues, Some who challenge the new trans orthodoxy and some who support, and even champion, trans issues.

    But could I humbly ask, is the trans thing something totally outside any of the many different steams of feminist thinking and theory and lie elsewhere?

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  68. Albigensian says

    I gave up counting how many times this article used the word “feel.” Is it really necessary to point out that facts don’t care how you feel about them?

    In Orwell’s 1984, Winston says “”Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.” Yet at least part of the argument here seems to be that if something might make someone feel really, really bad- such as an asssertion that a trans “woman” really isn’t a woman at all- well, then, perhaps it just shouldn’t be said. And to insure that it isn’t, social pressure (including loss of employment) may be justified.

    This seems a strange position for an academic to take. Evolution remains the single over-arching theory that best explains biology, and sexual selection (among species that reproduce sexually, of course) remains one of the most important engines that drive evolution.

    And then comes Ms Trans declaring, “sex doesn’t really exist, ya know.” Even though everyone understands that sex inevitably drives behaviors and characteristics in animals because these lead to differential reproductive success. Yet we’re to ignore this, or somehow believe this doesn’t apply to our own species?

    How is this different from insisting that the heliocentric view of the solar system must be suppressed because it makes some people feel bad to imagine that they and their planet might not be the center of the universe? How can anyone (but especially any academic scholar) justify suppressing this all-too-obvious “2+4=4” on the grounds that this might make some people feel bad?

    • David Mathers says

      The article isn’t saying sex doesn’t exist. It is saying that sometimes it is morally right to pretend that Ms Trans is a woman even though (according to the article) they really aren’t. This is so clearly and obviously stated in the article that I can only think that (like the “social justice warriors” you no doubt despise) you simply had a standard spiel of the (politically in?)correct ideas on X that you just repeat on the topic before you’ve discovered what the person you disagree with actually says (or, if you’re an advanced case, because you literally cannot comprehend that the person who disagrees with you might not have what you see as the standard view of people on ‘the other side’ on X, to the degree that it fucks with your reading comprehension and you literally cannot read them as saying something different, even when they have.)

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  75. Whatnot says

    “Among the many divisive topics animating people these days, sex and gender are perhaps the most incendiary.”
    Seriously?
    Do you not follow news of world-events at all?
    This is beyond ridiculous.

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