2007 - 2021

Cowardice & Capitulation: “[W]hy should ‘gender critics’ be beyond criticism?”


‘It is very appalling and sometimes quite frightening to see how trans-exclusionary feminists have allied with rightwing attacks on gender’. – Judith Butler (2021)

This week, controversy abound concerning edits made post-publication by The Guardian to an interview with U.S. American queer theorist Judith Butler outlining the direct correlation between enforcing gender-binaries and fascism. Produced by Jules Joanne Gleeson (queer academic and historian), the ‘career breakthrough’ of an article originally contained the following passage, only for it to be removed mere hours later, with The Guardian online editors citing ‘developments which occurred after the interview took place’. This, Natacha Kennedy stressed, is ‘an excuse that will not survive any examination’:

‘It is very appalling and sometimes quite frightening to see how trans-exclusionary feminists have allied with rightwing attacks on gender. The anti-gender ideology movement is not opposing a specific account of gender, but seeking to eradicate “gender” as a concept or discourse, a field of study, an approach to social power. Sometimes they claim that “sex” alone has scientific standing, but other times they appeal to divine mandates for masculine domination and difference. They don’t seem to mind contradicting themselves.

The Terfs (trans exclusionary radical feminists) and the so-called gender critical writers have also rejected the important work in feminist philosophy of science showing how culture and nature interact (such as Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, EM Hammonds or Anne Fausto-Sterling) in favor of a regressive and spurious form of biological essentialism. So they will not be part of the coalition that seeks to fight the anti-gender movement. The anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times. So the Terfs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism, one that requires a coalition guided by struggles against racism, nationalism, xenophobia and carceral violence, one that is mindful of the high rates of femicide throughout the world, which include high rates of attacks on trans and genderqueer people.

The anti-gender movement circulates a spectre of “gender” as a force of destruction, but they never actually read any works in gender studies. Quick and fearful conclusions take the place of considered judgments. Yes, some work on gender is difficult and not everyone can read it, so we have to do better in reaching a broader public. As important as it is, however, to make complex concepts available to a popular audience, it is equally important to encourage intellectual inquiry as part of public life. Unfortunately, we are living in anti-intellectual times, and neo-fascism is becoming more normalized.’

Fortunately, for those eager to review the piece in-full, the article has been preserved here, at Ill Will. A Turkish version can be found at 5Harfliler where, again, the editors stress that the removed ‘excerpt from the interview raises important questions about where TERFs will stand in the fight against contemporary fascism, noting the dangerous convergence of trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF) with the rapidly rising and expanding global anti-gender movement’. A Spanish edition is available here.

For those somewhat unfamiliar with the terminology, take a moment to read through the following definitions offered by Junkee amidst the controversy:

‘The former camp is made up of TERFs, AKA trans-exclusionary radical feminists, those who see trans and non-binary people as somehow invading a space carved out for women. These TERFs do not accept that gender is fluid, and instead fall back on an outdated notion of scientific naturalism, where gender is what human biology tells us it is.

Of course, such an argument is based on a flawed understanding of the separation between sex and gender. But that doesn’t stop TERFs from loudly proclaiming that they are the only ones who understand what the human body tells us.’

The article was altered without consent from either Gleeson or Butler, raising concerns over what such revisions mean for future free speech and written comments. And, as must repeatedly be addressed, despite what many conservatives, right-wing thinkers, and others proclaim, ‘freedom of speech’ is not the right to offer comment without consequences. Any notion of a sincere commitment to defending uncensored comments rapidly evaporated given the near absolute silence of opponents who could have utilised their platform to challenge The Guardian’s edits.

‘This flies directly in the face of the TERF rhetoric that they are the ones being silenced. Here’s a point of view being openly suppressed — and TERFs, supposed free speech warriors, are silent.’

Likewise, despite proclamations of commitment by some amongst the gender critical folk that they are not denying the existence of trans or non-binary people, the consistency with which Butler is misgendered by those who are either ignorant to the actual reality of them and their work (including revealing that they have not, in fact, read the article) runs counter to that and is, sadly, unsurprising.

Indeed, at times, reading or listening to the responses begins to feel like looking through the data where ‘12% of men think they could win a point against Serena Williams’; some respondents in this case claiming they could ‘win a debate’ with Butler on the very topic of gender constructs ‘without any preparation’ – as if this would progress anything or be desirable – only to later argue the need for ‘meaningful debate’. It’s worth advising folk that the YouTuber who made that comment offers just about every ignorance and stereotype you could envision for gender identity, non-bunary, and trans people’s lives in their faux intellectualism videos, whilst also all but perpetuating the erasure of transmen and arguing for a children’s author with zero expertise in the field of gender studies to be platformed as an expert. Really not worth your time or energy…

Though published on The Guardian’s website, it’s been noted that the article was commissioned by The Guardian U.S.; with some suggesting that the interview would ordinarily not have been produced in the U.K. due to divergent editorial lines. Caplan echoes this situation in observing that ‘though the Butler interview was commissioned and published by the Guardian’s US site, the post-publication editorial conversation was had entirely by Guardian UK editors’. This brings the proposal from Siobhan Ball that the retrospective delegation was ‘not technically censorship (something which requires the intervention of an external authority to qualify), into question as the distinctly separate division of The Guardian chose to override the other, however, the relationship between departments at The Guardian is not the focus. What does impact the whole organisation though is that, as noted by Eoin Higgins, ‘the Butler interview was meant to launch a series called Gender Now’, yet, for anyone able to access the original links, the contents of the hyperlinked page is blank.

The revisions became a controversy of their own, with ‘Judith Butler’ and ‘TERFs’ trending simultaneously on Twitter. A significant proportion of the posts leading to the phrases trending came from those defining themselves in their online bios as ‘adult human female’, advocates of ‘sex-based rights’, or ‘Gender Critical’ and perhaps concerningly, perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these Tweets made the false suggestion that Butler had explicitly stated that all TERFs are fascist rather that outlining the direct correlation between the imposed gender lines. If the anti-trans crew identify themselves with that assessment, that’s on them, but fascism is as fascism does… ‘Christian right and some UK feminists “unlikely allies” against trans rights’; ‘When public officials and elected politicians employ intolerant rhetoric, this signals to others that they too can engage in hateful actions with impunity’; ‘Transphobic feminism and far-right activism rapidly converging’; ‘Divide and conquer? The conservative Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of “radical feminists” fighting trans rights’; ‘The Far Right and Anti-Trans Movements’ Unholy Alliance’; ‘Right wing and gender critical disinformation sparks anti-trans protest and abuse’; etc.

As the evening progressed, a screen-grabbed letter described by a co-founder of End Conversion Therapy Scotland as what appeared to be ‘a coordinated letter-writing campaign from transphobes to ensure it was pulled’ suggested a cause for the change – further advising that ‘The Guardian caved to them in record time’. The letter’s author – a self-declared ‘staunch ally to gay and bisexual people’ – misgendered both Gleeson (indeed, aggressively so) and Butler, become decrying the latter to be both ‘anti-woman’ and ‘anti-gay’ in a, seemingly, conscious effort to erase decades of work from Butler in progressing queer theory, queer-centred activism.

What makes this post-publication revision even more fascinating is the reportedly ‘unprecedented’ nature of this action – a situation several others weighed in similarly on. Following surely hundreds of messages, Gleeson advised that:

What makes the situation even more bizarre is that, as stated by Caplan:

‘Prior to the publication of the interview, said Gleeson, the interview went through several rounds of edits, and several other questions and answers were cut. No concerns about Wi Spa or Butler’s answer were raised during those edits. The reader complaints which prompted this edit came from the very trans exclusionary radical feminists critiqued in Butler’s answer.’

A member of The Guardian editorial team has since responded to a quietly by Gleeson, demanding an explanation for the retrospective edits to her article claimed:

‘We have not censored Judith Butler but addressed a failure in our editorial standards. This particular question omitted the new details that had come to light, and therefore risked misleading our readers. For that reason we decided to remove both the question and Judith Butler’s answer. As it was only this one question that referred to the Wi Spa incident in LA, the rest of the Q+A remains in place’.

The event in question, Gleeson advises,  resulted in ‘Proud Boys stabbing antifa counter-protestors, and at one point even each other’. The Guardian’s own Sam Levin and Lois Beckett had previously reported on the incident, stating that the two successive weekends of clashes ‘offered a case study in how viral misinformation can result in violence, and provided clear evidence of the links between anti-trans and far-right movements, including QAnon conspiracy theorists, who believe that a cabal of elite pedophiles is manipulating the American government’. Beckett was actually amongst those beaten and bottled by the anti-trans protestors whilst attending the demonstration in her professional capacity.

It’s shocking, therefore, that whilst simultaneously acting as if the four removed paragraphs were removed in an act of journalistic integrity, and feigning that such behaviour would never occur as ‘Judith Butler has written for us several times in the past.’. It’s difficult, therefore, to believe the editors when they stage that ‘The Guardian remains committed to reporting on the rights of trans people in the US and globally, including the worrying attacks on trans people and their allies by far right groups’ – particularly so given the sustained criticism of The Guardian’s record on gender-based issues. Thus, when Gleeson states that ‘my question was flexible, but Judith’s answer was essential’, we witness the author’s fight for her own work in the face of a harsh editorial line that seeks to prevent particular narratives seeing light of day.

The article – both Butler’s responses and how Gleeson directed her line of questioning – offered far more than the now-deleted callout, with the commentary around the reality many face in having to ‘come out’ not once, but in almost every social, workplace, familial, or romantic  relationship they have (at least where safe to do so), as ‘a slew of expectations […] continue to “assign” gender to us.’ It’s also encouraging – and validating for many – that Butler also addresses non-binary identities and the spaces in which trans-masculinities can also be considered (‘we should be prepared and even joyous to see what trans men are doing with the category of “men”’).

Frequently, and largely as a consequence of how trans rights are framed by ‘TERFs’ as a ‘threat’ to women’s spaces, with a seeming erasure of trans men amongst a majority of their discourse. And, though, like Gleeson, many of us may have been unaware of Junkee previously, their understanding of Butler’s work is amongst the most impressive takes, stressing that the fall out stems from the situations whereby ‘[n]ow more than ever, people are falling into one of two camps: those essentialists who think that there is a criteria to be satisfied if one is to “be” a woman or a man, and those like Butler who understand that we are free to move between these and other labels as we wish’.

Gleeson stated that she ‘was expecting the Guardian US to stand by me as a writer, and while I have received apologies from their side, this has been a draining and consuming episode that I didn’t expect’. Given the sheer cowardice displayed by the publication, it will surprise no one when / if this becomes an increasingly common practice. Maiberg eventually achieved a response from The Guardian which stated that:

As many have stressed, none of Butler’s response addressed Wi Spa beyond noting ‘how the Proud Boys were involved, and why anti-trans folk and fascists are oft allies’, making it easy for the question to remain with an Editor’s note concerning the ‘developments’ that occurred post-interview. Regardless, folk including Juno Dawson – author of What’s the T? The No-nonsense Guide to All Things Trans And/or Non-binary for Teens (2021); This Book is Gay (2014); and The Gender Games: The Problem With Men and Women, From Someone Who Has Been Both (2018) – as well as Gleeson, herself, have noted that the censorship has led to the removed paragraphs benefiting from the Streisand Effect. As quoted in VICE Motherboard, ‘news of the arrest warrant [at Wi Spa] does not negate [Butler’s] description of the incident as a “furore” which is largely fueled by “Gender Critical” activists and the far-right’. It’s worth reminding ourselves that although the warrant was issued, this came after multiple other women (and at least one man) were targeted online with threats of violence, and all manner of disgusting, baseless, and harmful accusations.

 

 

Censoring Butler’s interview – and just to remind ourselves, a news outlet retrospectively censored published comments from someone they interviewed! – is, as Eoin Higgins stated, ‘actual cancel culture’. Similar sentiments have been offered elsewhere, such as stressing that ‘“Cancel culture” is a myth, as is the idea that trans activists are part of a vast network wielding immense influence and resources to “cancel” public figures. Actually, the columnists at The Guardian are far more influential in this respect, as the censoring of the Gleeson-Butler interview makes obvious’. It’s difficult to make any serious case to the contrary.

Even stepping away from the cross-community coalitions and solidarity movements Butler describes – referred to by bell hooks as ‘multidimensional gathers’ (that is to say, groups who may be indirectly or not impacted by an issue lending their support to those who are) – the sustained divisive tactics of the small number of, admittedly, highly vocal ‘gender critical’ activists with their aggressive rejection of intersectional feminism, has led to suggestions that ‘Sisterhood seems more like a fairytale than a lived reality’. This is, no doubt, fuels by commentary from the likes of Bina Shah who proclaim that – despite its use since the early 1990’s in academic texts and significantly earlier in some circles – to her, the term cisgender ‘feels like an imposition’. That comment comes from the same Shah who intentionally misrepresented Butler’s responses as:

The fallout has placed significant demands on Gleeson, indeed she notes that many journalists have sought her time to produce their own follow-up pieces (see e.g. VICE Motherboard’s article by Emanuel Maiberg; or that by Walker Caplan on LitHub). Yet, Gleeson is amongst the first to admit that, prior to publication, many would assume based on precedent that ‘the most likely outcome [would be] a string of hateful comments from people who’d barely read the piece, and on the other side glowing appreciation by those who were already familiar with Butler’s work’; offering a similar comment to Maiberg that ‘[h]abitual bigots online are going to do their thing, and usually respond to pieces without even reading them’.

‘I will repeat this for emphasis: this wasn’t a piece focusing on transphobic feminism! It was meant to be an overview of Judith Butler’s intellectual career. Unfortunately a lot of her most venomous critics are now other feminists… or militant Christians who use the exact same language of “gender ideology” as those feminists. So it felt like we had to explore why that had happened, there.’

‘Readers must be trusted to face things they don’t like without crying for redactions, apologies and censorship. Likewise, newspapers must get better at defending their own freedom to publish, and understand that if they’re going to put out controversial opinions, they might need to grow a spine.’ – Ella Whelan

With recent faux-outrage created by a number of self-described ‘gender critical activists’ and victim-narratives posted online after inappropriate behaviour, littering, and eventual removal from pubs, and Labour Party placed Jess Barnard under investigation for calling out transphobia – sorry, ‘conduct that “may reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on age; disability; gender reassignment or identity; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or sexual orientation’ – these issues aren’t going away.

It’s interesting to note that where hooks sought societal change via feminist theory and has spent a career challenging toxic gender stereotypes, fighting the harm done to women – particularly women of colour – as well as broader queer and trans communities, supporting sex workers, and dismantling harmful masculinities (see anything from Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and Sisterhood: political solidarity between women, to Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism and The will to change: men, masculinity, and love), yet gender critical celebrity Julie Bindel is about to release Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation in what serves as a deep contrast to what hooks’ Feminism is for everybody: passionate politics has offered over the last two decades. For anyone blissfully unaware, Bindel is very much the type of stereoptical biological essentialist to dole out comments about a ‘man in a dress’ when referring to transwomen, and who genuinely – and was published by, you guessed it, The Guardian – wrote that transmen have ‘a penis made out of their beer bellies’.

If we needed a clear reminder that those whose feminism defies what the likes of leading feminists like hooks, Sara Ahmed, Emi Koyama, Donna Haraway, and Angela Davis advocate are not and cannot be part of a coalition that strives towards inclusion, social progress, and safety for all, this is it.

Ultimately, then, Butler’s conclusion is right. Given their proximity to – and, frequently, their position within or allied with – the far right, conservative, and reductionist reviews, there’s almost no clearer way to state it than Butler does – ‘Terfs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism, one that requires a coalition guided by struggles against racism, nationalism, xenophobia and carceral violence, one that is mindful of the high rates of femicide throughout the world, which include high rates of attacks on trans and genderqueer people’.

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Comments (71)

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  1. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    Terfs will terf – and transactivists will be active – in the fields of gender. This whole ‘controversy’ is too convoluted and confusing a struggle for many to fully engage with in any meaningful way. As someone who seems likely to be identified as a ‘gender-critical’ woman (all these terms must be taken lightly, since on examination, the meaning tends rather to disappear than become transparent), I would be upset if my relaxation in a single-sex space was interrupted and disturbed by a naked male-bodied person, as (allegedly) at the Wi Spa. I am also disturbed at the idea that young children are being subjected to the ideology that ‘gender is fluid’, that they might have ‘the wrong body’, and that sex is of no account.

    I don’t consider that the ideas I work with, or my belief in the reality of biological sex, are not open to critical examination. As to my behaviour, I try to work with and stay close to the best evidence available to me at the time.

    This ‘controversy’ developed over time, as less and then more evidence became available to those who were discussing and writing about it.

    Judith Butler is an interesting academic who writes and speaks both inside and outside her own discipline.

  2. Stephen Cowley says:

    All real knowledge claims involve categories of essence. I can’t help but suspect when this nonsense is taken seriously, there is someone in the background running off with a stash of money. The love of money is the root of all evil. E. Michael Jones argues that one real significance of the sexual revolution of the 1930s and 1960s was that people who are not in families with children and traditional gender roles are more easily exploited in employment because they won’t or can’t combine politically to demand a family wage. Maybe the “terf wars” are just a rehash of those episodes.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      ‘All real knowledge claims involve categories of essence.’

      Indeed they do; and in this, their claimants are mistaken. The old Platonic theory that reality consists in fixed and timeless independent essences can’t be made good, despite over two thousand years of trying.

      1. Mons Meg says:

        That said, you’re right about the commercialisation of self-creation. It is possible to buy the simulacrum of an identity ‘off the peg’. That road leads also to inauthenticity. As Nietzsche said, becoming who you are can be a bit like walking a tightrope.

      2. Tom Ultuous says:

        “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream” – Edgar Allan Poe.

        Meg, didn’t you recently transition from Colin?

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Have you not been keeping up with the ongoing soap opera?

        2. Mons Meg says:

          “Creatures of a day, what is anyone? What is he not? Man is but a dream of a shadow. Yet when there comes a gleam of sunshine, there rests upon men a radiant light and, aye, a gentle life.” – Pindar

  3. Tom Ultuous says:

    Are there really women who, while the planet burns, toss and turn all night worrying about a trans woman with a penis being in a shower or toilet with them? How many have actual experience of this?

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Whether it’s irrational or not, transphobia is a thing that needs to be recognised, acknowledged, and respected in the design and management of our public spaces. To simply dismiss it as ‘fascism’ (to use the go-to pejorative term here) is a socially irresponsible response.

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        I don’t know. The people I’ve heard shouting about it are usually the same people who prattle on about immigrants or who’re looking forward to the orange walk. There are people out there who would rather their kid ended up a serial killer than trans or gay.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Right enough! I saw those very folk shouting the odds about it outside the Scottish parliament just owre a week ago. The complicity of the polis was also in evidence.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            Fair point Colin. It’s obviously the circles I move in although that doesn’t necessarily imply I think the protesters were fascist free.

  4. Malcolm Kerr says:

    I tried, I really did. I thought: “There must be a full stop somewhere in there”. But this *sentence* was just too much for me:
    <>
    Terfs could be fascists (I don’t believe it) but a 121-word sentence will convince no one. The world is burning, democracy is being dismantled before our eyes and no one has yet self-identified out of poverty. Let’s concentrate on what’s important and write about it in short sentences.

    1. Malcolm Kerr says:

      “It’s interesting to note that where hooks sought societal change via feminist theory and has spent a career challenging toxic gender stereotypes, fighting the harm done to women – particularly women of colour – as well as broader queer and trans communities, supporting sex workers, and dismantling harmful masculinities (see anything from Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and Sisterhood: political solidarity between women, to Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism and The will to change: men, masculinity, and love), yet gender critical celebrity Julie Bindel is about to release Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation in what serves as a deep contrast to what hooks’ Feminism is for everybody: passionate politics has offered over the last two decades.”

  5. SleepingDog says:

    What is a woman? If ‘adult human female’ is a description that can practically and usefully applied to some people, why object to calling them ‘women’ if this is a common usage of the word? I am reminded that ‘man’ and its translations has historically had double meanings in various languages:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_as_norm

    So we seem to have at least two meanings of the word ‘woman’ here: ‘adult human female’, and another which seems to be self-assignable and whose definition is difficult to pin down in writings like the article above. Problems with a definition of ‘woman’ as ‘someone who thinks they are a woman’ include using the word in its own definition, and relying upon an unverifiable mental state, which is difficult to legislate for. But a lot of the crucial points seem to come down to the meaning and definitions of words used in legislation (some of which had to be revised to remove the male-as-norm bias, I think, around the world).

    The reportedly often intolerant debates centring on these issues seem to frequently reflect on harms (perhaps the tolerant debates are less reported on). Presumably there is a difference of opinion on whether a statement of perceived fact is causing mental harm to others, and whether fears of potential harms are themselves harmful.

    As for fascism, along with British imperial institutions and the Taliban, I had idly associated such movements with a tendency toward male homosexuality rather than feminism. To me, it appears that some trans activists take the fundamentally rightwing position of the individual over the collective. If right-left ideological labels are ever useful. Sadly, I think the volumes of difficult texts mentioned in the article are a sign that screeds of dogma are needed to avoid commonsense conclusions, and it is no surprise that the general public may find these inaccessible and somewhat non-enticing. I also noted some slippery wording in the article which seemed intended to imply that one of the authors was an expert in gender studies and therefore an expert on gender, and therefore their opinions should be given corresponding weight, over, say, a non-academic woman who has given birth to four children, for example.

    As for all this talk of ‘transphobes’, wasn’t it the cultural commonplace not so long ago to view trans people as mostly harmless eccentrics with a visible fetish? I suppose one thing that has changed is the medical processes in the UK, and the lifechanging procedures offered to children. If adults are confused, can we really expect children to make informed choices on these?

    1. Mons Meg says:

      ‘…wasn’t it the cultural commonplace not so long ago to view trans people as mostly harmless eccentrics with a visible fetish?’

      Yes, and this was a denial of their identity. Trans aren’t ‘mostly harmless eccentrics with a visible fetish’; they’re people who reject the sex they were assigned at birth and identify instead with the opposite or with neither sex.

      A problem that many women have with the assertion of trans identity is that it allows for situations in which predatory men could masquerade as trans in order to invade their safe spaces and erode their other sex-based rights. A problem that many men have with the assertion of trans identity is that they see it as a deconstructive threat to their masculinity. Hence the curious unspoken alliance that’s sprung up between some feminists and the traditional queer-bashers.

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        Are TERFS now in danger of being confused with non-decimals (union jack wavers who pine for British imperial measure)?

        1. Mons Meg says:

          I don’t know about that, but trans exclusionary feminists and traditional queer-bashers do share the assumption of a biological essentialism that also underpins the race theories by which we justified our colonisation/civilisation of non-European worlds. The deconstruction of biological essentialism in its various institutional forms is crucial to our liberation from lots of different oppressions.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            Well put Colin.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Mons Meg, biological essentialism as opposed to what? Essence essentialism? Male and female souls?

            Anyway, I read an interesting article which at least addressed some of the obvious questions around parental influence and motivation in the NHS’s Tavistock Trust programme: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/may/02/tavistock-trust-whistleblower-david-bell-transgender-children-gids
            One of the obvious questions is around the young person’s sexuality, and if they are attempting to fit in to a mould perhaps prescribed by parents (who may be anti-gay/lesbian or at least prefer a trans child) or attract a love interest or appeal to a favoured ‘type’. So your comments may, on the evidence, be wide of the mark. Transitioning may be an attempt to avoid homosexual relationships.

            There is, on the face of it, no LGBT ‘community’, certainly not in terms of coherent ideology. It seems difficult to reconcile the messages ‘accept yourself as you are’ and ‘change yourself’. If a person is supposed to accept trans procedures to be happy, why not sexuality conversion to be happy? Or if they should reject the latter, why not also reject the former?

            I wonder if you have ever studied biology. I have, amongst other sciences, and studied psychology at uni, where we looked at research into sex differences in the brain, in development and in behaviour, although more modern research tools (brain scanning) have revealed far more neuroplasticity and far longer active periods of neuron growth than previously detected, pushing human development into the later twenties. In any case, the field has moved on, as Angela Saini covers in Inferior: The True Power of Women and the Science that Shows It.

            While there are various non-binary human individuals, we have a historic causal web in the Tree of Life, where binary combinations of human sperm and egg result in successive generations of humans. Nowadays, science and technology can mix things up with donor eggs with transplanted chromosomes, and cell organelles like mitochondria can also be transplanted. But our history is mothers and fathers, egg-donors and sperm-donors, brought to life in the womb, just like many other species, and we inherit our DNA from those women and men, while science has never found the soul, as far as I know. Rather than being ‘social constructs’, biological species (although not completely hard-edged as categories) have a deeply practical construction. If you want to reject your ‘human’ label and call yourself a ‘transhuman’ or something, go ahead. I just don’t expect the legal system to bow to your wishful thinking. And if you are excitedly hoping to break society’s taboo against cross-species relationships and get away with it using your typical sophistry, I think you’d better choose your jurisdiction carefully.

          3. Niemand says:

            What exactly do you mean by biological essentialism in this debate? It is easy to say such a thing and clearly use it in a pejorative term (essentialism is rarely cast as positive) but unless you spell it out is all so much hot air and the association with ‘queer bashers’ is dishonest.

            There are two human sexes so what is essentialist about that? Biological essentialism was originally used as a critique of the view that biological influences precede cultural influences but to assume that ‘gender’ somehow replaces biology as ‘essential’ gets us no further from that and is built on a sand as well since gender is actually a construct.

            What is needed is that what we think a man or woman can be, how they can express their gender (‘themselves’) needs to be far more open but without needing to remove the notion of sex and sexual difference. One might think of this, in certain people, as being ‘trans’ (transwoman, transman) but the ‘man’ and ‘woman’ distinction is biological and is not affected by this. A homosexual is attracted to the body of someone of the same sex, not someone who simply calls themselves a woman or man (and dresses as such, say) but is male or female-bodied, male or female-sexed. Women worried about a man in spaces legally protected for women are worried by the man’s biology, their capacity for sexual violence for example, so a male bodied transwoman will always remain a man in that situation. This is not essentialism.

          4. Mons Meg says:

            @Niemand and Sleeping Dog

            I’m currently contrasting biological essentialism (the theory that one’s sexuality, race, etc. is innate or naturally given) with social constructivism (the theory that it’s acquired or culturally given).

            However, I recently had a short email exchange with the performer and dialectician, Julia Serano, and she linked me to chapter 13 of her book, Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, entitled ‘Homogenizing Versus Holistic Views of Gender and Sexuality’. In this chapter, Julia critiques both biological essentialism and social constructivism, which is suggestive of how I might outgrow the latter.

            Julia argues that biological essentialists present a simplistic 20th-century version of human biology, which assumes that a simple gene or hormone or chromosome works unilaterally to trigger a domino effect of binary outcomes. But human biology, she argues, is more complex and heterogeneous than that, and the essentialist assumption serves only to reduce this complexity to simplistic ‘yes/no’, ‘on/off’ processes that have exclusively binary and homogenised outcomes (e.g. ‘male/female’).

            At the same time, Julia outlines the failings in social constructivism. For decades, she points out, social services were dominated by constructivists, who believed (among other things) that children couldn’t ‘really’ be trans and that such children could be engineered into accepting their assigned sex. Yet their efforts to ‘correct’ children failed. The medical consensus is now clear that such conversion therapy is unethical and ineffective. It doesn’t change a person’s sexual identity; it merely produces shame, self-hatred, and depression.

            Julia goes on to suggest that it might be better (‘healthier’ in a holistic sense) to understand one’s sexual identity as being existentially chosen rather than either biologically or socially determined. This would allow one to treat his or her own sexuality as sui generis – unique, profound, and deeply felt – and not as a homogeneous instance of some abstract scientific classification. She also suggests that it might be better (‘healthier’) to understand one’s sexuality as being fluid rather than fixed over one’s lifetime and that such shifts as do inexplicably and unexpectedly occur in one’s sexuality are accepted freely rather than repressed as a result of social pressure or coercion.

            So, Julia has urged me to reject both biological essentialism and social constructivism and replace them with a less homogenising, more holistic understanding of sexuality, in which both nature and culture are ascribed as contributory factors in shaping how one chooses to identify oneself or ‘to be’, but in which neither is ascribed as a determinant of that identity.

          5. SleepingDog says:

            @Mons Meg nobody here is arguing that race is innate/naturally given, since race does not objectively exist in humans, so let’s clear that straw out of the way. Neither am I claiming that ‘a woman’ or ‘a man’ is born; there are various stages of development: embryology, childhood, adolescence, adulthood etc where a large number of factors come into play. There are viable variations in chromosome configuration in humans, though some negatively impact chances of reaching adulthood. Yes, there is complexity. But reproduction in humans is still essentially binary: one DNA payload from sperm, one DNA payload and cellular support (with maternal mitochondria etc) from egg.

            I would also point out that sex offenders/sex pests are often encouraged to go through reconditioning processes to change their sexual and social behaviour and cognition. Society sometimes has sound reasons for changing people, or attempting to.

            One view from inside the medical profession I heard years ago was that the evolutionary explanation for rises in non-reproductive sexual behaviours was likely linked to evolved responses to overcrowding, and this seems preferable to the four horsemen of the apocalypse on our populous planet with various impending environmental disasters (for insight into how aquifers are being drained worldwide see the BBC documentary series on H2O). I believe this has been observed in other mammal studies.

            What I am fairly certain about is that it will be very difficult to draw assessments from the average teenager when talking about sensitive, private or embarrassing matters. Vulnerable youngsters pressured by adults in authority positions can break down quickly and agree to say what they think the adult wants them to. For an example of this, see A Killing in Tiger Bay, also on the BBC. And youngsters may be swayed more by social media influencers (on a range of topics) than is wise, in a maximally-filtered way that has not been possible (indeed, so easy now) before. Plus there are ideologues, activists, politicians and so forth who may, consciously or not, be using vulnerable people as pawns, possibly in some cases to validate their own lifestyle choices. My impression is that the reasonable voices are advocating caution, minimising potential harms of new approaches, and calling for more research and open data on these issues. And not trying to sweep negative outcomes under the carpet.

          6. Tom Ultuous says:

            And there was me thinking you were just saying “we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns”. Another good post Colin.

          7. Tom Ultuous says:

            “Transitioning may be an attempt to avoid homosexual relationships.”

            SD, Is it not the case that most trans women end up with women?

          8. SleepingDog says:

            @Tom Ultuous, I think the whistleblower article suggests it was the parents who might be thinking that, not the children. I thought that was indicated from the context of my comments, but anyway it has been a while since I read the original Guardian piece, and who knows, maybe it has been edited since (too).

          9. Mons Meg says:

            @SD Yes, life does reproduce itself sexually through humans. So what? What’s that got to do with how one experiences one’s own sexuality?

          10. Topher Dawson says:

            As far as I can see Meg, biological essentialism is what brings us into this world. It’s not a negotiable concept. Gender is I agree a social role and thus negotiable, but sex is written into every cell we possess as I understand it. To call this fascist is just calling an idea you don’t like a bad name.

            The puzzling and worrying thing is why the leadership of the SNP and the SGP have swallowed Butler’s ideas wholesale and are happy to exclude whole swathes of their membership as transphobic and fascist?

          11. Mons Meg says:

            No, it’s definitely ‘just’ a theory, Topher. It’s the theory that one’s sexuality, race, etc. is innate or naturally given; that one’s identity is reducible to biology, and thereby objectifiable as a fixed quality, rather than left as an irreducibly ‘felt’ or subjective reality.

            I say ‘just’, but such theories have profound practical importance insofar as they shape how we understand and respond to the world. It’s important (not least for the sake of one’s own mental health) that we can understand and respond to the world in ways that suit us personally and not just in the socially prescribed manner.

          12. SleepingDog says:

            @ Mons Meg, or rather you seem to be just making up these claims in your usual strawman sophistry style. Whoever is arguing (for example) that ‘identity’ (whatever that is) can be reduced to biology? Even followers of BF Skinner don’t make that claim. Provide a link to anyone claiming what you assert they are claiming, or your own assertions are worthless (and I suspect, entirely bogus).

          13. Mons Meg says:

            @SD I’d just have to reference this thread, where several contributors seem hell-bent on reducing one’s sexuality (‘male’/’female’) to/making it dependent on biology (on whether one has a willie of not) rather than leaving it as a matter of personal choice.

            One’s sex is only determined by biology if you reduce it to a biological model of sex determination.

          14. Topher Dawson says:

            Let’s at least try to use the right words. Sexuality is how you express yourself sexually, i.e. heterosexual, homosexual, gay, lesbian, bi, and so on. It is not one’s sex or gender.

            You said
            “@SD I’d just have to reference this thread, where several contributors seem hell-bent on reducing one’s sexuality (‘male’/’female’) to/making it dependent on biology (on whether one has a willie of not) rather than leaving it as a matter of personal choice.

            One’s sex is only determined by biology if you reduce it to a biological model of sex determination.”

            I’d say one’s sex is definitely determined by biology, but one’s gender (the social role) can be changed.

          15. Mons Meg says:

            Yep, apologies for that. It’s always useful to clarify.

            ‘Sexuality’: how one expresses oneself sexually.

            ‘Sex’: the sum of the structural and/or functional characteristics by reference to which we assign a male/female identity to an individual organism.

            ‘Gender’: the sum of the behavioural traits we typically associate with the sex we assign an individual organism.

            Certainly, if you reduce sex thus to biology, then the assignment of one’s sex will be determined by biology rather than sui generis as the unique, profound, and deeply felt sense of self that trans people themselves – and only they – experience. To insist on that reduction is to deny the validity of that experience, to invalidate trans people themselves and their identities.

            As I’ve also said before, the whole import of the trans debate is that it challenges (indeed, transgresses) our preconception of sex as a fixed biological given to which one ought to conform one’s own deeply felt yet dissonant experiences. That the assertion of trans identity contradicts our received wisdom on the matter is a virtue rather than a vice.

          16. SleepingDog says:

            @Mons Meg, throughout your comments, I detect a lack of modern understanding of complexity. You keep claiming that having a restricted set of simple building blocks necessitates reductionism, when the reverse is true. Perhaps you never played with plastic bricks as a child.

            Rather than being reductionist, human biology (at its base, only four nucleotides in DNA) allows for many kinds of complex structures and emergent characteristics. However, that biology is still binary as the two halves of DNA combine from two parents (until the era of genetic tinkering, anyway). If you go away and read up on emergence you should have a better understanding how unpredictable complexity arises from the interconnection of only a few interoperable components and a few simple rules. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence

            And that is complex systems from basic building blocks. Human society builds on that with adaptive agents who respond to each other and their environment. Sometimes you seem to come from age of clockwork automata (not that I am knocking the exquisite craftspersonship of the makers of the older exhibits featured in the Robots exhibition I saw in Edinburgh).

  6. Niemand says:

    Gender critical people are not fascists. They are sensible people. Butler has always been suspect to me as her theories (and this is all they are) do not tally with the real world, are a kind of fantasy of how she would like things to be, but aren’t. But the Guardian interview was the nail in the coffin of any credibility she might have: feminists worried about women’s rights who she does not agree with are ‘fascists’ (they are all far right now apparently because they refuse her demand that ‘woman’ is redefined to include men who simply say they are women), and biological ‘essentialists’ (as ludicrous a notion as ‘assigning’ of sex at birth, a blatantly factually incorrect description).

    I also note that Nicola Sturgeon called out ‘shame on you / them’ at FM questions the other day to Douglas Ross who said he had been at the gender critical demo outside Holyrood the other day. It is very clear to me where the shame lies – an FM calling those women and their supporters outside parliament worried about the removal of their sex-baed rights, currently enshrined in law, ‘shameful’. How on Earth could NS say such a thing and get away with it?

  7. Tom Ultuous says:

    SD, reading the article again I may well have misunderstood although I’m finding it hard to believe that parents would prefer their child to commit to a difficult to reverse transition rather than accept they may be gay. I’m also dubious about the implication that many of the 98% who start and continue the hormone therapy do so because they’re being coerced. Wouldn’t the coercion more likely be about giving it up? The publicity given to the court case of the girl who de-transitioned also seemed disingenuous. A bit like an antivax channel showing the heartbreak of a family who had a member die of a blood clot..

  8. John Monro says:

    I understand (from 12,000 miles distance) that Scotland is getting its legislative knickers in something of a gender twist about all this? All very alien, to me, in what I’ve always thought as a pragmatic, protestently robust society. So here’s an incredibly long article which is barely readable about a subject I care not a hoot about. Of all the problems that our society and planet faces, this must be both the least important and most spurious? But what it does illustrate is the sociopathic way we can construct such silos of thought and emotion and attack each other from their protective defences – this is certainly worth urgent study as our societies appear to become ever more seriously fractured and dysfunctional and which in some areas which will literally bring our lives to a stop if it continues. So thanks for the time, but I’ll pass on this one……..

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Therein lies its importance, John: the deconstruction of some old ways of thinking; the disintegration of an ideology of capitalism and the ‘master/slave’ social divisions (‘male/female’, ‘white/black’, ‘straight/queer’, ‘cis/trans’) of which it’s an expression. That’s what we’re about here: anticapitalism in a postindustrial age.

      1. Topher Dawson says:

        To clarify what I meant, Meg, perhaps biological essentialism is the wrong label for me to have used. I’m definitely not saying biology defines sexuality, or the social role gender, but it does define the sex chromosomes in all our cells. That is a characteristic I don’t think anyone can change. The other thing people can’t change is their history which usually involves being brought up in the role of their perceived birth gender. These two facts seem to me to make trans women different to women, and trans men different to men.

        I don’t say this out of transphobia, it just feels important to get the facts right. I can see that some people feel trapped in a body of the “wrong” sex, and for their mental health need to transition to the social role of the other sex. They can change gender, i.e. adopt the social role of the other gender, but I think it would be wrong to say they have changed their sex. I’m happy to accept trans men in any single sex space I’m entitled to as a man, but I think we should listen to what women say about sharing their single sex spaces with trans women.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          I don’t think anyone is denying that trans women are different from cis women or that trans men are different from cis men. We’re only asserting that trans subjectively experience themselves as other than the sex they were assigned at birth (most likely on biological grounds), that this subjective experience is profound, deeply felt, and real/immediate, and that in a free and open society it should be okay to identify/be this way.

          1. Topher Dawson says:

            I agree with you Meg. Trans people should be free to make that gender choice and I for one will respect it.

          2. Niemand says:

            You are not assigned a sex at birth. It is observed. This is not an opinion but what actually happens – the doctor looks and sees the sex of the baby. Nothing is ‘assigned’ i.e. ‘given’ (unless you want to go down a pointless semantic route that says all language assigns words to things), but using the word is a slight of hand to try and avoid the fact that sex is somehow not fixed, which is false. Your discussion of biological ‘essentialism’ above misinterprets what the phrase was invented to mean, but then that is now common as is the new interpretation of ‘gender’ which beyond its original use for discussing grammar, and sometimes as simply a different word for sex, was used by feminists to designate gender stereotypes i.e. constructed societal norms about how each sex should behave, feel even. Only recently has it come to be used to describe some kind of actual thing, ‘essence’ that we all somehow have that is more fundamental than our sex.

            I am not a cis-male. I am a male. Cis is an invention that is required if you believe in the idea of a gender essence. That is a belief that people are perfectly fine to believe but it is an act of faith like believing in a deity or the like, but I do not believe it, and until someone can actually prove that in fact it does exist, like we know sex exists, so going well beyond the current state of relying on some people just saying they really ‘feel’ it, it should not be used as a basis for changing any laws that infringe on women’s rights. I am perfectly open to having my mind changed if ‘gender’ can be objectively shown to be a biological / scientific reality.

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Niemand, there are faith-like aspects to this. Some trans activists and academics appear to be trying to impose a narrow orthodoxy. While we can research gender dysphoria and its relationship to trans preferences, we might also look for as much range as in William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. There is a character in the Skulduggery Pleasant series of novels that on some days presents as male and on other days as female, and does not pledge allegiance to either mode (there is nothing derogatory about this characterisation I can see). If there are actual case studies similar to this, it would raise temporal and impermanency issues (like the male mutineers who dressed up as women as apparently part of a long tradition of the carnival nature of revolt). I think some characters in Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time went through episodic phase changes, not to mention Iain M Banks’ Culture future-humans.

          4. Tom Ultuous says:

            There is a tribe somewhere (Africa I think) where it’s fairly common for a child identified as a girl to grow a penis & testicles at puberty. There is no stigma attached to it. The child just cuts their hair short and becomes a boy.

            No idea what this adds to the debate, I’ll leave that to you philosopher types to argue over as I’m more of a numbers man. What I will say is that I see the stance the SNP & Greens are taking as analogous to the simplicity of universal basic income but, hey, some people aren’t happy unless there’s at least 10 layers of bureaucracy.

          5. Mons Meg says:

            @SD I think you might be misunderstanding what I mean by ‘reductionism’. It’s not about reducing complexity to simplicity (which is probably why I don’t even mention complexity); it’s about explaining one reality (in this case, the immediacy of one’s lived experience) in terms of another reality (in this case, the abstract world of biology). Another example of reductionism might be the reduction of (simple) folk psychology to (complex) neuroscience.

            For the sake of one’s own mental health, one should always as a rule of thumb prioritise the immediacy of one’s own lived experience over the abstract world of biology whenever those two realities contradict one another. One should never repress one’s own felt reality for the sake of a conventional system of classification.

            @Niemand It’s assigned on the basis of observation AND with reference to some classificatory criteria, which are merely conventional and have no basis in nature. If these criteria were different, then different observations would be made and alternative assignments would be possible on the basis of those observations. If you like, sex is fixed. But it’s fixed by the criteria we use to determine it, not by nature.

            ‘I am not a cis-male. I am a male.’

            So are trans men; that is their immediate experience, which is denied by the reduction of that experience to biology.

            But you’re right: ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ don’t name anything that actually exists; they function merely to distinguish those who go with the sex they were assigned at birth from those who go with the sex they’ve since reassigned themselves.

          6. SleepingDog says:

            @Mons Meg, I think you may have a naive idea about human minds and an unhelpful fixation on immediacy. Socialization is built around the idea of conditioning young people to live in society without running amok on the basis of every instinct and emotion that comes into their heads. It is one of many ongoing processes that help restrain anti-social impulses, foster friendship relations, conflict resolution, builds a system of ethics, produces politeness norms; while a healthy society allows these to be contested and updated in a rational way.

            For an example of antisocial normalisation, see Mariella Frostrup’s Panorama programme on BBC.
            https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000zgwk/panorama-whos-protecting-our-kids

            Modern cross-disciplinary research into the mind suggests that the function of consciousness is to make these good/bad decisions, and specifically to inhibit (or repress) the bad ones (which is why ‘free will’ is sometimes recast as ‘free won’t’).

            You might pretend, like Coriolanus, that you are the author of yourself and recognize no other kin, but the reality is that you cannot escape the causal chain of the Tree of Life, the unravelling binary partnership of DNA, the active genetics that control embryo development in a dynamic relationship with womb and environment, that continues on into adulthood if the child survives and thrives. Genes are switched on in the womb that have powerful influences later on, although the complexity of the systems and interactions involved mean you cannot predict the outcomes for any individual. You can make significant observations at scale, such as that most crime in the UK may be committed by young men (at least, some of the old ones have learnt to avoid being caught and convicted), and one factor is a tendency towards greater aggression that may be to some extent become patterned in embryonic development.

            Whatever someone says about their beliefs, the Problem of Other Minds means we cannot confirm what they say, and the law is easier to enforce when it avoids basing judgements on these (though mens rea is required for degrees of culpability in criminal cases). People have claimed to believe all kinds of things about themselves and others, from past lives as an Egyptian pharaoh to the Puritan Elect on to modern-day cults and ideologies. Indeed, cult deprogramming (and the UK anti-terrorism deradicalisation programmes) are intended to break previous conditioning and/or grooming. And before you say some of these radical ideologies may be good and worthwhile, say Extinction Rebellion, that does not make the harmful ideologies less harmful.

            Indeed, for all the talk of sexuality conversion conditioning, the main offenders are single-sex education institutions, which the supergay Taliban movement is enforcing in Afghanistan (not that the author will want them inside the cosy imagined community tent). Indeed, IICSA have recently said that their latest “Inquiry report finds child sexual abuse in most major UK religions”. In spite of what some articles imply, there is nothing progressive about LGBT+, only the tolerance where no harm is done and support for individuals. Some of the most reactionary tracts I read at Uni were by Plato in his late, grumpy, misogynistic, male-homosexual-supremacy phase (although he did commend Solon the Lawgiver whose constitution banned pederasty). I presume the Proud Boys are another supergay movement from their branding, although I have not paid much attention.

            Simply put, if masses of school kids can copy and internalise the harmful behaviours of porn stars and social media influencers, and commit escalating numbers of crimes against the person every year, the Court of Appeal decision is unlikely to reassure (the Guardian: “The court of appeal has overturned a controversial judgment that children under the age of 16 considering gender reassignment are unlikely to be mature enough to give informed consent to be prescribed puberty-blocking drugs.”), although effectively it seems the Appeal Court has bounced the decisions back to clinicians. Although if identity is all in the mind, what is focus on puberty for, exactly? Perhaps it is exactly one of those biological processes I began this comment describing. Your immediacy would be ridiculously inappropriate to give weight to, given the stakes.

          7. Mons Meg says:

            I’ll ask you again, SD; haven’t we gone beyond the Cartesian ‘ghost in the machine’ concept of ‘mind’?

            And do you really see nothing wrong with socialisation as a means to producing conformity to some normalised behaviour? Are you really likening the transgression of trans people to a kind of juvenile delinquency or disorder? You’ll be defending conversion/reverse reassignment therapy next to restore the ‘natural’ order of things.

          8. SleepingDog says:

            @Mons Meg, so, to be clear, you are against socialisation in social animals like humans? Aristotle called humans animals of the polis, and anyone completely outside society would be a beast or a god. A more modern perspective is provided by AC Grayling who argues that minds are social creations. This is really just a formalisation of the age-old idea that it takes a village to raise a child. Perhaps you can take your objections up with Africa.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It_takes_a_village
            Of course there are often harms in society, particularly in power relations, which is why we should be concerned about the practical implications of putting ideologies like the Taliban’s into practice, and should be concerned about unprecedented influences on children (which is why the UK has recently legislated on social media access, and tech corporations have followed). And as I have said repeatedly, the variety that occurs in human sexuality occurs naturally (until the sex-with-robots era, perhaps), and some aspects may have evolved in response to population variation, although we are reaching the point where human technology can hack into natural processes (genetics, embryology, puberty) and interfere with the biological core of ethics (which billionaires are attempting to do by creating a pseudo-immortal class of super-rich, trying to stand outside of social norms like Aristotlean gods).

          9. Mons Meg says:

            @SD To be clear, I’m neither for nor against socialisation. Why do you think I’m against it?

            And, yes, AC Graying takes a social constructivist position in his theorising about our behavioural dispositions. So what?

            ‘…we should be concerned about the practical implications of putting ideologies like the Taliban’s into practice…’

            But isn’t your disposition to believe this not just a product of your socialisation?

          10. SleepingDog says:

            @Mons Meg, were you an only child?

          11. Mons Meg says:

            No, there were lots of children in our village.

            But tell me: do you really think that trans people could be eliminated from the population through the proper socialisation of children? Do you think that’s even desirable?

        2. Mons Meg says:

          And, yes; as I said somewhere above, a problem that many women rightly have with the assertion of trans identity is that it allows for situations in which predatory men could masquerade as trans in order to invade their safe spaces and erode their sex-based rights. This is a possibility that needs to be guarded against.

          1. Topher Dawson says:

            You are right Meg, and there is another confusing aspect. I know there are some men who are not trans and do not aspire to permanently change their gender, but who dress as women and go into public spaces. Outwardly they look as though they may be trans women, but are in fact men dressed as women. I got into a conversation with a person who might have been either, and as we were on cordial terms I asked whether she was interested in men or women? She replied “I am straight” which turned out to mean that she considered herself to be a woman, and was seeking men.

          2. Niemand says:

            Yes, agreed and this is the practical nub of the matter. The only way to guard against it is not to allow self ID. I cannot see how else you can do it – you need a series of requirements and checks before a trans person can be allowed the legal status of the opposite sex to which they were born, so , to put it crudely, we know they really mean it. This is the current law, challenged by activists because they say it is discriminatory, which it is because it has to discriminate. The trouble is every time it is conceded this does matter, no answer is given as to what to actually do – see Nicola Sturgeon on numerous occasions.

          3. Mons Meg says:

            The ‘solution’ needs to be negotiated as a settlement between trans and cis women themselves. But, of course, our adversarial style of politics and its radical polarisation of opinion into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘angels’ and ‘demons’, tends to inhibit this.

          4. Niemand says:

            In other words you have no idea what the solution is.

            It is always at this point that those that defend self-ID abdicate from discussing how they see the current rights of women being compatible with self-ID because they know they are not but cannot bring themselves to say it, hiding instead behind a solution they say others must come up with ‘between themselves’. If it is compatible you need to say why and how. You can wax lyrically about the philosophy of it all and where you think right lies (essentially with the trans activist position based on your act of faith that sex ‘classificatory criteria . . . are merely conventional and have no basis in nature'(!!)) but have no argument when it comes to protecting the lawful rights women currently enjoy that protect them from male-bodied people (which currently includes self-identified trans women) in certain spaces.

            If the solution can only be found by discussion between trans people and women, why are you pontificating at all? Like many who come up against this impasse, the sneaking feeling is, though you are aware of the concerns of women for their safety, and presumably sympathise and accept them as real, you do not support them because you do not think those concerns justified or important enough to not allow lawful self-ID. This would be the honest and logical position to take based on what you believe. Unless something miraculous happens, this is an either / or and dishonesty about that is itself, dishonest. NS has said exactly the same as you about protecting women and what is happening? Self-ID is going to become law in Scotland and there has been zero ‘negotiation’ between trans activist and women rights groups and that is because she has no interest in seeking any.

          5. Mons Meg says:

            It’s not really any of my business, Niemand. It’s for trans and cis women to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution; I’m neither. It would be terribly presumptuous of me, a man, to mansplain to women how they should sorting out tier differences.

            My interest in this lies less in the immediate dispute between these two communities than in the wider questions of identity, liberty, and reductionism we’ve been discussing.

            I do think, however, that both communities have right on their side, and it will be interesting to see how the dispute’s dialectic unfolds and how our society develops in consequence.

  9. cobb says:

    I don’t understand any of this-

  10. Mons Meg says:

    Okay, for anyone who’s interested, here’s a wee summary of the position I’ve wrought over the course of this discussion.

    ‘Trans’ are people whom we’d normally classify as one sex who experience themselves as the opposite sex and who choose to live as they experience themselves rather than in accordance with how we’d normally classify them,

    Some people object to this behaviour because it’s ‘unnatural’. This objection is based on the assumption that the actual system of classification by means of which we separate people into ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories is essential rather than conventional; that the taxonomy is somehow given in the nature of things themselves rather than a tool we use to comprehend/order the world. That assumption is questionable, however; although to question it does challenge the traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity with which we normally/conventionally identify ourselves and others, and many find such challenges threatening.

    Other people object to this behaviour because it risks the possibility that predatory men might masquerade as women in order to invade their safe spaces and similarly undermine their other sex-based rights. The enlightened response to this threat, however, is not to deny and demonise trans people, but to negotiate mutually acceptable arrangements with them that would mitigate this risk.

  11. Malcolm Kerr says:

    I’m pleased to say I’ve not had enough time to follow this discussion to the letter. What has struck (and surprised) me though is that it does seem to be possible to discuss the issue without too much rancour. MM’s position and demeanour is much more convincing than the original article which started off with the premise that anyone who disagreed was a transphobe and fascist. No one here seemed to be using the debate to bolster their own ego or power, and that was refreshing.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      I don’t think anyone here has any interest in whipping up inter-communal hatred by using pejorative language in order to further a wider political agenda.

      1. Topher Dawson says:

        Hi Mons, I agree with Malcolm that this is a rare opportunity to have a civil and decent debate without rancour, and I value it.

        In a previous reply to someone else, you said ” But tell me: do you really think that trans people could be eliminated from the population through the proper socialisation of children? Do you think that’s even desirable? ”

        Speaking for myself I’m not suggesting the elimination of anybody, that sounds like police state stuff. I’ve not heard anyone else suggest elimination either. People have to do what their hearts want, unless it harms others, and for some this will mean transitioning. Being trans is a new idea for most people even though it has been going on quietly for centuries, and the social norms and customs need to adapt to take this new category into account. A similar process has got lesbian and gay people into wider acceptance over the last 20 years and continues.

        Your willingness to engage without antagonism is very welcome; such a discussion is part of the social adjustment needed to accommodate trans people as part of the wider society. Your contributions are also a lot more accessible and less confrontational than the headline article!

  12. Tom Ultuous says:

    If only men worried so much about violence against women or equal pay.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Tom Ultuous, I wonder if you have thought through all the logical implications of these positions. If police issued a statement that the body of a woman had been found violently done to death, the trans activist position here is that nobody can say whether that was a woman or not, since only the person (now deceased) could make that judgement call. If police tried to add the death of the woman to the category of violent crimes against women, again the trans activist position would be against that, on the basis that the body does not determine whether you are a man or woman. Therefore under this ideology some crimes against women would be impractical to compile statistics on. Similarly, according to that trans activist doctrine, we cannot know if any historical person was a man or woman, since we don’t have immediate access to their statement about self-identification. Therefore logically women and men would be erased from the historical narrative, replaced with persons of unknown gender.

      But paradoxically, trans activists often lead with claims of persecution against trans people, which they do claim to know about, and presumably would like police to compile statistics on. But how do you know that a person is a trans person? From the ‘anyone who says they are a woman is a woman’ perspective there is no difference between a woman and a trans woman, so the trans distinction would disappear. This is not the only ideology based on nonsense, as far as I can see, but it is making headway in Scottish law at a time that secularism has driven out (eventually) much of religious discrimination in law.

      1. Mons Meg says:

        ‘…the trans activist position here is that nobody can say whether that was a woman or not, since only the person (now deceased) could make that judgement call.’

        Are you sure? Where is this position stated?

      2. Tom Ultuous says:

        I think you’re grasping at straws there SD. If a naked unidentified body is found on a desert island then IMO they should go by the genitals. Would trans activists be against that? I doubt it. From the little I know trans people see themselves as trans people, they just don’t want to have it emblazoned on their forehead.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @Tom Ultuous, sure, you are talking about trans people, but I am talking about the ideology of trans activists and their supporters here (who may not be trans themselves). Indeed, old-school misogynists and patriarchs seem to be getting in on the action, revelling in the spectacle of subalterns fighting.

          When legislating we need to work out what the unintended effects as well as intended effects might be. In the case of self-identification, it looks like a previously protected characteristic is being removed for a class of people. You can’t have a protected characteristic if it’s opt-in, surely. Self-identification would undoubtedly be abused for other currently protected characteristics, and could cause problems when compiling statistics (as vagueness about census questions could), measuring hate crimes and discrimination, and monitoring equal representation.

          The claim that fascism (which the author mentions ten times in the article) can in any way overlap with feminism is to my mind an obscene slur, an attack not an argument, and something I would call out as misogynistic in itself. BBC Click reports on real research carried out by a team over three months looking at online far right extremism in game chat (which may be a refuge as other social media attempt some degree of clampdown), and their findings are summarised by one of them (at 04:52) as:
          “The topics are all too familiar: misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia.”
          https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000zyy0/click-extremism-online
          Anyone with basic familiarity with WW2 Italian fascism and German National Socialism will know that they were either openly misogynistic or so keen to keep women in degraded, subordinate and domestic roles that it vastly undermined their war efforts (German industrial mobilisation did not get fully underway until Albert Speer’s reforms that came into effect around 1943 and of course they exploited much forced labour, while women’s roles suffered greatly under Mussolini). Indeed women played an enormously significant part in Resistance and Partisan movements, and in the armed forces of the Soviet Union, all fighting against fascism. There is no overlap between fascism and feminism. They are diametrically opposed on the role of women in society.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            SD, if my grandkid turned out to be trans I’d rather not have to look back and think I was remotely on the side of the DUP. My daughter’s a teacher in a rough area and has trans kids in some of her classes. She says the kids are a lot more tolerant of differences than even her generation were. Probably my view on the subject would’ve been different 10-20 years ago but we’re always learning and these days my aim is only to be intolerant of intolerance. I know self-identification will cause a lot of problems and the right-wing media will go into a frenzy at any rare incident that supports their narrative (a bit like the de-transitioning girl court case) but in 50 years time Women-Won’t-Weesht will be seen in the same light as Mary Whitehouse is now.

          2. SleepingDog says:

            @Tom Ultuous, but I am advocating tolerance, support and reasonable levels of accommodation for trans people. I am arguing against accepting the ideologies of some extreme trans activists wholesale into law.

            You can hardly have more sound leftwing qualifications than Helen Steel, and you should read and hear what she has to say about her experiences, her views and her reasons (there’s a 19-minute video of her giving a statement at a public meeting).
            https://helensteel12.wordpress.com
            After watching that, you can ask yourself if Helen Steel is a fascist, has any similarities with the DUP, and where the greatest amounts of intolerance, unreason and intimidation are possibly coming from.

            There was also a useful documentary on the subject by a medical practitioner in the field on the BBC, who is sceptical about some aspects of modern transitioning processes, and is relieved that she did not go through such a process when she went through a ‘tomboy’ phase as a youngster. Remember that fascism and fundamental Christian political party ideology contain harmful gender stereotypes, and these are the very things that feminists labelled ‘TERFs’ (by some trans activists) are fighting against, so it makes no sense that they can be considered fellow-travellers. And I am sure there are some points in the DUP manifesto you find yourself in agreement with.

          3. Tom Ultuous says:

            SD, just to be clear, I personally don’t see you as the enemy. I’ve seen the ‘tomboy’ one but again I think you’re relying too much on the exception rather than the rule. I’m not on social media so I don’t know the language that is used but, to listen to the right-wing press, you’d think that the most dangerous group in the “UK” was not the far right or “radicalised” Muslims but trans activists. Have they bombed, killed or assaulted anyone yet? Is it not just a case of trans people, afraid of being prevented from leading their lives, sticking up for themselves? I would imagine the number of trans hate posts would instil a siege mentality where all who are against them are seen as being of the same ilk. I tend to go that way myself when listening to NS = “wee krankie” types.

            What would satisfy TERFS such that they would become RFS?

          4. SleepingDog says:

            @Tom Ultuous, I think there needs to be more research into gender dysphoria and the effects of modern living conditions (technological, environmental, cultural etc) on children and young people. Helen Steel said in 2017 that her views were not fixed, and she was open to new information. And yes, she gives examples of campaigns of intimidation, assaults and death threats from trans activists (apparently) in her video statement:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9sGJOKmoIg
            Some trans prisoners have been extremely violent and some pose especial risks in women’s prisons, although I don’t know if any were activists. I think the consensus is coming round to treat extreme wings of groups like incels as terrorist in nature, but I don’t know if there are specific concerns of behaviour or escalation in the trans–feminist arena in the UK.

            Of course the problem with intimidation is that people are being silenced, and we don’t have the full picture (and therefore it is unsafe to say exactly what are the exceptional cases). That is also why I posted a link to an article about a whistleblower, which perhaps reveals more problems, mistakes, changes of mind and unknowns than the trust management would like made public. It is also far too early to tell what the long term effect of medical procedures (like puberty blocking) will be when they have only recently been approved (I think NICE calls the outcomes ‘of very low certainty’ or something).

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