Blog: A response to a response to “Doing better in arguments about sex, gender, and trans rights”

Here is a recently published article by philosophy professor, Kathleen Stock, on Medium. It was co-written with five other feminist academics, who are united in that they are all

sceptical of the political value of accounts of womanhood that identify it as essentially involving possession of a feminine ‘gender identity’. [They] also all insist that it’s politically essential to retain a clear conceptual differentiation between males and females, in order to continue to be able to name and refer to sex-based patterns of oppression, and harmful sociocultural stereotypes about the ‘right’ ways for males and females respectively to be.

I’ve added the emphasis because it’s a clear explanation of one of the most important reasons why we challenge transgender ideology and why I now believe we should resist every aspect of it (including its vocabulary – something that the article notably doesn’t do but then it would probably be removed by Medium’s anti-feminist censors if it did).

What it does do is competently expose a number of fallacious arguments made by trans activists and allies. It’s a good piece but I suspect it’s way above the heads of most trans activists and that few people who really need to read and engage with it will bother to do so. I doubt that it will succeed in “laying the ground for more fruitful discussion from now on”. Personally, I don’t think the people who resort to the fallacies and false analogies referred to in the article will ever be interested in or capable of fruitful discussion, as they hope. But everyone should give it a go.

A predictably unhinged response was produced on Twitter by Rachel Anne Williams aka @transphilosophr who, in spite of claiming to be an “ex-academic philosopher”, is manifestly incapable of critical thought, gives academic philosophy a bad name and is, frankly, not worth the time of day. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a response to the same piece entitled You keep using this phrase, “adult human females” by Grace Lavery which, in spite of its obvious flaws, is one of the more readable pieces I’ve seen from a writer who promotes transgender ideology.

Note: I said it was ‘readable’ not ‘good’. Let’s face it – most stuff produced by trans ideologues is deadly but after ploughing through anything written by Rachel Anne Williams, anyone else sounds like Wittgenstein in comparison. What I enjoyed most is thinking about the bunch of questions that Lavery directs at Stock et al. I don’t think they’ll bother answering them, so perhaps Lavery would care to consider my answers instead.

Here we go:

1. Do you accept that, if one’s goal is to minimize the occurrence of irreversible bodily changes to trans-identifying kids, a prudent tactic is to prescribe puberty-delaying medication, which has minimal lasting effects, rather than to encourage the onset of puberty, which has many?

No.

Courtesy of Venice Allan

Firstly, I don’t think it should be anyone’s goal to stop puberty in children who are physically healthy. In today’s climate, where the nebulous concept of “gender identity” is being stuffed down their throats on social media and anywhere touched by the monstrous Mermaids charity, it’s hardly surprising if unhappy kids become enticed by the idea that the route to happiness is so-called “gender reassignment”, with the false promise it brings of turning them into something they are not. Maybe for some, having medical interventions to give the appearance of the other sex will ultimately help them to be happier but for others, it certainly won’t.

I don’t know how strong the evidence is that a majority of trans identifying kids desist but whatever the case, I think it’s more important to give children the chance to come to terms with being the sex they are than it is to pander to what may turn out to be a whim of adolescence and set them on the pathway to becoming transgender, when that may mean a life-long dependence on cross-sex hormones, surgically removing healthy body parts and becoming infertile, let alone the potential social difficulties.

I recall Dr Kenneth Zucker saying that, in his very extensive experience, almost all kids put on puberty blockers go on to medically “transition”. I understand there have been no long-term studies that confirm this but, if true, it is likely that many kids whose parents would not countenance the idea of allowing them to go on puberty blockers and who later desisted, would have ended up transitioning unnecessarily. And we know that some kids do come to regret their decision after irreversible changes to their bodies have been made by medical interventions.

Secondly, the current state of knowledge about the safety of puberty blockers is insufficient. I don’t why Lavery is so confident that they have “minimal lasting effects”. Emerging evidence suggests this is not true. There is a lot of helpful and informative information about the evidence on puberty blockers on the TransgenderTrend website – see here, for example. Instead of just reproducing it, I’d like to draw attention to their fundraiser because, as the only UK organisation challenging the spread of transgender ideology in schools, they need all the help they can get.

Oh, and please sign the petition to keep Mermaids out of schools.

 

2. How, honestly, does it feel to be lined up with Donald Trump on this issue? Accepting that there is no logical necessity why this particular generation of fascists should make transphobia such a large part of their cultural platform, doesn’t the fact that they do make you a little skittish?

I wonder if the fact that it was right-wing conservatives in the UK who proposed amending legislation in favour of self-declaration of gender makes Lavery a little skittish? I doubt it, somehow.

I’ve said this so often it should be etched on my gravestone: An argument stands or falls on its own merits, regardless of who makes it and who agrees with it or, as somebody who very kindly made a donation to this website put it in their message to me:

Thanks for your valuable work in publicising those stories our spineless left and liberal press don’t want us to read! (And yes, it grieves me to find them in the rightwing press. But truth is truth, even if people I don’t like are telling it.)

Emphasis added.

And, as the Medium article points out, “The illegitimacy of one argument, or set of arguments, for a particular conclusion doesn’t establish the illegitimacy of every other argument for that conclusion.”

Here on the right, for example, is a screencap of a comment posted on youtube from someone who asserts that one can’t be born in the wrong body – an assertion all those of us who challenge trans ideology agree with but for very different reasons. In fact, those I agree with approach the question from a very different direction – from science, rather than religion.

Does the fact that we agree on that one conclusion mean that we are likely to agree with this individual on everything else? No. It is, as the Medium article mentions, an example of the ‘guilt by association’ fallacy, which I debunked in a previous blog.

One thing I found curious is Lavery’s response to the indented quote by Stock et al in the screencap below.

Even out of context, it is perfectly clear what they mean, it doesn’t even come close to “advocating fascism” or as an “alarming alignment of their own thought with that of the far right”. It is making a point of logicRemember, their wording was “any given far right-wing person”, not “any widely-recognised and established far right position” such as white supremacy or rigid and oppressive gender roles.

And, no, when talking about shared beliefs, they are not talking about facts like Paris being the capital of France!

I can think of many beliefs that could be shared by people from all along the political spectrum. Some of them will be religious beliefs. There are, after all, both religious people and atheists from far right to left. Some will be about the best way to educate children, care for older people, deal with criminal behaviour, about environmental questions, physician-assisted suicide and animal welfare.

It would, for example, be feasible that a supporter of a right-wing group like the EDL or UKIP opposes blood sports or compulsory vaccination, believes in alternative medicine and supports the decriminalisation of marijuana. It would be just as feasible for someone on the left to share those beliefs. Does everyone who voted for Brexit share Nigel Farage’s political stance on everything else? I know of many Brexit voters who don’t.

That said, I know that being an academic philosopher doesn’t preclude a tendency to hyperbolise and I’m not sure I could find “several hundred” beliefs we might all have in common but I’m open to being corrected.

The accusation that feminists who challenge transgender ideology are somehow aligned with the far right is the most common, the most vacuous, the most preposterous and the most desperate accusation targeted at us. It occurs because our critics have no empathy and cannot beat us on grounds of reason and evidence. That is probably why it is “literally the first point” addressed in the article and, as stated therein, it is an ad hominem.

 

3. Is the category of “woman” always imposed upon one, or could it be possible to “choose” to be a woman? Does one “discover” that one is a woman, or does one “assume” that one is? How do you know you are one? Presumably it’s not chromosomes?

The phrasing of this question sounds like something that might be debated at a meeting of the Stepford Men’s Association. As if “the category of ‘woman’” could be nothing more than the cultural expectations and values that are imposed on us, or a mere performance one can choose to do, a condition that can be discovered by accident through subjective experience, or just an assumption that could, by implication, be wrong.

No, “the category of ‘woman’” is neither imposed nor chosen, discovered or assumed.

Sorry to be repetitive but a woman is an adult, human, female – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Whether you like it or not, males and females are defined by their role in reproduction, whether they fulfil that role or not. There can be natural variations within each sex category which, if they interfere with reproductive capacity, may be classified as disorders but those who have them are still either male or female, otherwise known as ‘men’ and ‘women’.

We learn at an early age whether we are girls or boys and that we will grow up to be women or men. We know which of the two we are only because of how our bodies look and function. It has nothing to do with how comfortable we are with them and nothing to do with our personalities and who or what we like and dislike. There is rarely any need to analyse our chromosomes to determine our sex.

Were it not for the fact that men are and always have been the dominant sex class, that women have always been subjugated by men, we could all be Humpty Dumpty and change the meanings of the words we use whenever it suits us to do so. At the moment, it suits some men who are ostensibly unable to come to terms with being male – even though many such men are far more openly misogynistic than the average man – to redefine the word ‘woman’ to include them. But it doesn’t suit women. Once it becomes enshrined in law or rules of governance that the word ‘woman’ includes people who in reality belong to the dominant sex class, it deprives us of the ability to maintain the rights fought for and won by feminists and allied progressives. Transgenderism is a regressive ideology.

 

4. Do you agree that a woman is “some vague number” of the following: being treated like a woman, possessing some of the physical characteristics of a woman, believing oneself to be a woman, acting like a woman? Or is there, despite your euphemistic recourse to “cluster definition,” a single material essence that you all share and I don’t?

None of these things as phrased are helpful in defining what a woman is. The question is provoked by that part of Stock et al‘s article that grapples with what is “sufficient for femaleness”. The article cites, “possession of some vague number of a certain set of endogenously-produced primary sex characteristics — including vagina, ovaries, womb, fallopian tubes, and XX chromosomes ”.

It is a response designed to forestall the inevitable follow-up comments about women who’ve had hysterectomies, women with intersex conditions and DSDs, etc. I think these academics are flattering their detractors by presuming they could care less about the finer details and it certainly seems that Lavery couldn’t.

“Material essence”? Sheesh!

No, what we share with each other but not you, Grace Lavery, is being female.

 

5. Do you consider trans women authorities on our own experiences of socialization and identification? If not, who do you consider to be an authority?

By ‘authority’ I presume Lavery means someone with in-depth knowledge. Only you know how you have experienced socialisation but how you are socialised has no bearing on whether you are a man or a woman, because men and women are not in themselves social constructs. The roles and behaviours expected of them are.

As for “identification”, what does this mean? Elsewhere on this site, I argue that one can only identify as something it is possible to be. I can identify as British or Greek but I can’t identify as an English king or as a Greek dog. Well, actually I can but I can’t be expected to be taken seriously. See where I’m going with this?

By the way, why are men who “identify” as (rather than with) women and vice versa invariably unable to explain why they do so?

Trans activists don’t give a toss how we feel, Professor!

 

6. Do you have a positive vision of a feminist politics that you would be willing to share? We hear mostly from anti-trans feminists that your primary concerns are negative, focused on exclusion, separation, negation. What would you like the relationship between trans women and the rest of the world to look like? What kind of music would we all listen to?

No. Thanks to my personal experiences of dozens of trans activists and allies and the sight of them trying to push back against the rights won by generations of women’s struggles, I no longer have a positive vision of feminism. In an ideal world, people will express themselves however they choose without claiming to be what they are not and we will all listen to whatever music we like but – thanks partly to people like you, Grace Lavery, in alliance with conservatives promoting rigid gender stereotypes – it won’t happen in my lifetime. By the way, excluding adult human males from feminism isn’t “negative” because feminism is or should be about women’s liberation and by ‘women’ you know what I mean.

 

7. How would you explain the presence of trans women within lesbian communities, without recourse to what you call the “no true Scotsman” fallacy?

Two words: Male entitlement.

But Lavery doesn’t appear to understand the No True Scotsman fallacy, which occurs when someone is denounced as not being a member of the group they claim membership of because they behave in a way that is atypical of that group. That some trans people “detransition”, for example, is seen by some as evidence that they were never really transgender in the first place, rather than as evidence that transgender identities might not be permanent. That is the No True Scotsman fallacy. (Stock et al explain in more detail). The reason trans “women” are not women is simply that they are male, not because of how they do or don’t behave.

As I commented beneath the Medium article, I have a page on this site that gives simpler responses to some of the misrepresentations of the “gender critical” position dealt with by Stock et al and their article has given me ideas for a few more. I sincerely hope I am proved wrong and that fruitful discussion can take place but, in any event, I thank them for their work and long may they continue their contributions to this “conversation”, insofar as it exists.

 

Published 06.06.19

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