Bad arguments

When I first started feeling concerned about the kinds of things a lot of trans people were saying, I looked forward to hearing arguments that would help to shape my ideas one way or another. Part of me wanted to be convinced by the trans activists and so rekindle the warmth and compassion I’d felt after hearing the likes of Rikki Arundel and Stephen Whittle and watching the My Transsexual Summer series (see My Peak Trans Story). While it’s been frustrating and disappointing to find that so many trans activists’ arguments are short on reason and overly emotional, at least they have helped me to clarify my own position. Here are some of the “arguments” – for want of a better word – that don’t impress me. I had originally intended to include the assertion that ‘Trans Women are Women’ on this page as all the arguments made in support of it are very bad indeed. However, as it is the core tenet of transgender ideology, I decided to put it here.

 

“Anyone who self-defines as a woman is a woman. Got it?”

The above quote comes from an abominable article by Josh Jackman on the Pink News site but as an argument it’s as common as dog poo in Paris and often given as a response to, ‘What is a woman?’, ‘Define woman?’ etc, by people who are being deliberately obtuse. They must know that asking for a definition of the word ‘woman’ is a request for the specific qualities that distinguish women from other things, such as men, cats, bricks, etc. The word ‘woman’, like every other word in existence, has a definition and that is what the question, ‘What is a woman?’ is asking you to provide. Got it?

Identifying as something isn’t enough to make you that something. If a white American identifies as an African American and wins a scholarship and college place intended for a black person, teaches classes on the African American experience and become President of a branch of a campaigning organisation on the strength of their adopted African American identity would that be OK with you? Because, strangely enough, it isn’t OK with trans ally Ijeoma Oluo, who explains why in her interview with Rachel Dolezal. Yet as strongly as Ijeoma rejects a white woman’s right to identify as black, she defends a man’s right to identify as a woman. I haven’t been able to find out why but there are others who have bravely stepped forth to explain why they see the two situations as different. One of them is Zinnia Jones, who has a blog misnamed ‘Gender Analysis’ on which he wrote an excruciatingly awful piece called ‘No more Rachel Dolezals’. Search for it if you like, I’m not linking to it. There is so much so obviously wrong with this piece that I don’t think I need to spend time pointing out the many flaws. What I will do is quickly deal with the very first argument Zinnia presents:

First, its semantic content reduces to saying: “Gender and race are the same thing – now you prove that they’re not.” The individual “asking” the “question” notably fails to show why these concepts are directly comparable to begin with.

I think Zinnia is trying to suggest that the analogy is false and the argument it gives rise to as I expressed it above, is therefore fallacious. I don’t think anyone has said that races and gender are the same thing but they are comparable in the sense that neither are biological realities, both are widely considered to be social constructs, both give rise to prejudices and, most importantly for the purposes of the argument, both are taken as ‘identities’. It is not a false analogy. Much of what follows that opening shot is obscurantist drivel or plain gibberish plus a heavy reliance on appeal to popularity – basically, “but there are loads of us and only one of her”. Now that‘s a fallacious argument.

As an antidote, I recommend this article by Nuriddeen Knight entitled An African-American Woman Reflects on the Transgender Movement and, for a thorough deconstruction of the contention that the claim to a gender identity is OK but the claim to a ethnic identity isn’t, try this essay by Adolph Reed Jr, a professor of political science: From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much.

“I just know I’m a woman”

Still hoping to find something well-reasoned to counter my instinctive belief that the Dolezal conundrum is insurmountable for trans ideology, on Ijeoma’s advice, I googled ‘transgender vs transracial’ and found this piece in the Guardian by Meredith Talusan, a male-born trans person of colour who is “by and large, perceived by strangers as white”.

Unfortunately, this article doesn’t help us any because, yet again, it is written by someone who expects us to suspend our critical faculties and accept that subjective internal experiences trump physical reality.

The fundamental difference between Dolezal’s actions and trans people’s is that her decision to identify as black was an active choice, whereas transgender people’s decision to transition is almost always involuntary…

Changing name, taking hormones, possibly undergoing surgery, dressing differently, coming out to family, friends, employers, colleagues, teachers, in the knowledge that some of those relationships may be damaged beyond repair. All this can only take place as the result of an active decision. The feelings that drive people to do all this may be involuntary but people still have to choose whether to transition or not. What I think the author means here is that the choice is between transitioning and being happy or continuing to be depressed every day for the rest of one’s life – perhaps coming to the conclusion that life isn’t worth living. It’s not clear why the author thinks the same wouldn’t be true for Dolezal, if she were somehow forced to stop identifying as black. In any event, I have read enough accounts posted directly by trans people to be sceptical of the claim that transitioning is “almost always involuntary”. I am persuaded that trans people are not a homogenous group and, as one poster on this online TG forum puts it, transgender refers to a range of experiences.

Honestly, I do know lots of transgender folks who are not and have no plans to transition.  I also know some who are taking a few steps, living on HRT, and a few who are having or planning to have surgical work done.  There is a huge range of experience within the broad transgender community. Just keep in mind that what is right for one may not be right for another.

I certainly do not wish to make light of or belittle the feelings of people who feel they were born the wrong sex. I believe they are suffering from a terrible disorder for which, it seems, there is currently no cure that doesn’t involve potentially life-shattering changes to their lives. But these changes – including drastic amendments to their bodies  – do not make them the opposite sex. Men who take oestrogen and even what is called ‘bottom surgery’ to make them more like women are still men – and there is nothing wrong with being a feminised man, if that’s what makes life bearable.

More from Meredith Talusan:

Dolezal identified as black, but I am a woman, and other trans people are the gender they feel themselves to be.

In other words,

“I’m a woman because I feel like one”

And what does being a woman feel like?

This, apparently, is one of the imponderable questions of our time because it seems that nobody can answer it. I certainly can’t. I know I’m a woman for other reasons but not because I feel like one. This woman ­­– a trans ally and English undergraduate – can’t answer it either, in spite of being one of those who apparently accepts that anyone who says they feel like a woman is indeed a woman.

 

 

Seriously?

Unsurprisingly, the question of what being a woman actually feels like comes up time and again in online conversations with trans activists and their allies and they absolutely hate it because they can’t answer it.

I’ll say more about what a woman is elsewhere on this site. Here I’ll confine myself to pointing out that feeling you are a woman – whatever that’s supposed to mean and I still hope somebody will explain it to me – does not make you a woman. It’s a nonsensical idea and yet, without a trace of irony, people who reduce being a woman to a feeling will blithely accuse other people of reducing women to vaginas or uteruses.

So here we go:

“You’re reducing women to their vaginas”

For something so blatantly intellectually dishonest, this one is incredibly common. Typically, it arises because someone points out that women are biologically female and men are biologically male. We use the word ‘biological’ in common parlance to refer to our reproductive roles, which is why we have different primary and secondary sexual characteristics and, although people of each sex may “feel” they are more like the opposite one – whatever that means – they are not actually women if they were born male and vice versa.

What ‘reduces’ women is the denial of their biological reality and the fact that we are forced into rigid, oppressive gender roles on the basis of our biology. It’s offensive and regressive to reduce womanhood to a feeling!

I only had to tweet an objection to women being described as “non prostate owners” in an article about anal sex in Teen Vogue to be accused by a female trans ally of reducing women to their vaginas. Based on my exchange with this woman, I’m going to be charitable and assume that most of those who make this accusation are genuinely stupid and not deliberately dishonest.

A great piece by Elemental Witch makes a pertinent point:

By taking a male human being, removing his penis, and drilling a hole between his legs, he is a woman. There is nothing—nothing—that more blatantly reduces womanhood to “human with a hole” (for penis entry!!! seriously what the ever-loving hell!!!) aka “reducing women to our genitals” than such a view. To assert that women—and by women, I mean biological females, always—are reducing ourselves to our genitals by refusing to accept this mockery of female biology is a reversal.

So anyone who seriously believes that saying women are biologically female = reducing women to their vaginas/uteruses or, as the ones who try to sound clever sometimes put it, “biological essentialism”, should read this slowly:

Pointing out that an elephant has a trunk ≠ reducing elephants to their trunks. People recognise that there is more to an elephant than their trunks but that the trunk is one of an elephant’s distinguishing features.

In this article Jonah Mix puts it like this:

This is a common argument, that identifying women’s biology reduces them to their genitals. Leave off for a moment that only a sexist would equate “female body” with just a certain type of genitals — is there any other realm in which this standard applies, where simply acknowledging a shared trait is seen as reductive? No one believes we “reduce” black people to their melanin levels by acknowledging that, yes, most will have darker skin. I’ve yet to see a labor activist say we “reduce” carpenters and steel mill workers to a set of fingers by acknowledging they do work with their hands.

Pointing out that women have vaginas/uteruses/female reproductive systems ≠ reducing women to their body parts. This is so flaming obvious that I can hardly believe I have to explain it and – even worse – that some people pursue it with this equally ridiculous question:

“So women who’ve had hysterectomies are no longer women?”

No! Nobody has ever said, implied, suggested or believed any such thing ever! Hysterectomy – the surgical removal of the uterus – is something only women can go through and a woman is still a woman after having her uterus removed just as a man is still a man after he’s had his testicles removed. And while we’re at it, nobody thinks young infertile women or young women who don’t menstruate aren’t real women. I mean, seriously, how dumb do you have to be to even ask stuff like this and think you’re saying something worthwhile?

The classic response is to point out that having a leg amputated – or being born without – doesn’t stop you being a human being even though humans are bipeds. The point is that if you are born with a female reproductive system you are a woman and if you are born with a penis and testicles you are a man. There are a number of verifiable reasons why women may not be able to get pregnant. For trans identified males the only reason is that they don’t have female reproductive organs because they’re men.

“Feminists used to fight biological determinism; now they embrace it.”

Another piece of crap I see time and again on social media. Here it is spelled out in full in a blog by Katy Jon Went, in response to Jenni Murray.

They define women just as men used to do, by the presence of a womb, ovaries, ability to conceive, or by the experience of puberty, menstruation, menopause – the very biological essentialism and reproductive value that women’s liberation and feminism sought to overcome. Now, some feminists are resorting to those self-same arguments to define themselves in opposition to trans women (men in their eyes).

It is not a biological determinist or essentialist view to say that a woman is an adult human female or that if you have a female reproductive system you are a woman not a man, and vice versa. These are biological facts and nothing to do with biological determinism or essentialism, which are concerned with how human behaviour and personal qualities – NOT reproductive organs – are determined by biology. The reason feminists have always challenged biological determinist and essentialist ideas about women is that they lead people to think that women are not equipped to do a lot of stuff that men can do, like politics, driving, piloting planes, fighting wars and much else besides. For all I know, some biologically determinist theories may yet prove to be of value but all I’ve mentioned so far has proven to be hogwash as feminist campaigners have broken down more and more of the barriers against women.

Basically this accusation is one that reflects the inexcusable ignorance of the accuser than any reality about gender critical feminists.

“Why not separate bathrooms for black women?”

Because black women are women and transwomen aren’t. How hard is this to understand?

There obviously needs to be more to this one if it is to qualify in any sense as an argument and the way I’ve seen it presented is in terms of ‘different experiences’, which simply makes it a really bad argument in the form of a dumb question:

The ‘they have different experiences’ argument does not invalidate the womanhood of transwomen. If it did, would we be okay with creating separate spaces for white women because their experiences were different from those of women of colour?

Huh? Do you think black women menstruate from their ears or something? Apart from the obvious point that all female humans share experiences that male humans don’t have, black women don’t have a track record of stalking and molesting white women and vice versa. Coming from a particular ethnic heritage doesn’t make you more likely to be violent to women – being male does.

 

“Your (gender critical) views remind me of homophobia in the 1960s/70s/80s”.

Obviously this is another way of telling you you’re a transphobe ie a bigot and the fear of being seen as such tends to have a powerful inhibiting effect on people.

But being gender critical is nothing like being homophobic. Homophobia is an irrational prejudice, while challenging trans ideology is an entirely rational thing to do. Unlike trans cultists, gay men and lesbians were not trying to do anything that could potentially affect the psychological and emotional well-being of anyone else by demanding access to spaces reserved for people opposite to their biological sex. Nor were they trying to force people to pretend they were what they were not and use their preferred words and pronouns. They weren’t trying to stop people talking about everyday things pertaining to biological sex like menstruation, pregnancy and breast-feeding. They weren’t accusing people who didn’t want to sleep with them of being exclusionary or homophobic and they weren’t promoting violence and sexual assault against women for simply acknowledging material reality. They weren’t undermining feminist campaigns against rigid, backwards gender stereotypes. They weren’t campaigning to get feminists challenging men’s right to simply self-declare as women thrown out of the Labour Party or anywhere else. They weren’t asking for or promoting puberty blockers or other medical interventions and they weren’t trying to get teachers who expressed concerns about the use of such interventions on teenagers sacked from their teaching jobs.

A piece by MtT Debbie Hayton in the Morning Star puts it succinctly.

Gay rights do not have an impact on heterosexual rights, but women’s rights may well be affected if society changes the definitions of men and women.

I’ve recently heard a very similar argument which goes like this:

“History will judge you as it judges racists”

I confess I did wonder whether to post this on my I can’t even page… but decided to post it here because it is another example of the overused trans cult trope of comparing opponents to fascists and Nazis, even though tactics like silencing, intimidation and the promotion of violence are now well-established parts of the trans activists armoury and not ours. It’s an argument that tells us something about how the trans cult thinks – or rather doesn’t think.

I expect the reason this is an unutterably stupid assertion will be immediately obvious to the vast majority of readers. I mean, how could it not be? But for the small minority to whom this might seem a plausible prediction, the reason why there is a world of difference between, say, the civil rights movement in the USA and the trans cult is that the rights African Americans were demanding did not include acceptance that they were white. They wanted to be accepted as what they were, to have equal rights with whites, an end to institutional racism, freedom from oppression by a system created by and for the benefit of white people. Same in South Africa. Same everywhere.

 

 “I hear the same arguments from the alt-right/fundamentalist Christians/etc”

So what? Arguments stand or fall on their own merits, regardless of who makes them and you don’t defeat an argument by pointing out that someone else says the same thing!

 

“Transgender people exist”

We’re seeing this one more and more every day and I know some of those see it are wondering what to make of it. I mean, we know you exist, trans people. We see your tweets, your articles, your videos, your TV appearances and sometimes we even see and talk to you in real life – so why do you feel the need to keep saying you exist as if anyone is in any doubt?

I love how Jeni Harvey puts it in this article:

There can be no civil discourse with those known to be critical of trans ideology because the existence of trans people is not up for debate. This is now a well worn line, the second half of which is, of course, perfectly accurate. The existence of trans people is not up for debate. After all, it is not possible to debate a non-existent person. No one has ever felt threatened by an empty changing room, and women are not being beaten in their sporting events by nobody. Such passionate feeling could never come about over thin air. Human beings that identify as trans exist, just as I and you exist. The questioning of a belief that male people are female people simply because they claim so, does not constitute a denial of anyones existence. Neither is it a denial of their entitlement to exactly the same human rights as everyone else.

It wasn’t until I saw this tweet (right) by the Lib Dem peer Brian Paddick that I suddenly got it. The key words are “in one sense”.

When they say “trans people exist” what they mean is – guess what? – that transwomen are women and transmen are men. They are not suggesting that transgender people are a fiction. It is an example of the equivocation fallacy in that it can be understood to mean two different things. If we take as an analogy the statement, “Jedi Knights exist”, we can understand this to mean that there are people who identify as Jedi Knights. We could also understand it to mean that whoever is claiming that Jedi Knights exist believes that members of the Jedi Order (or whatever it’s called) have genuine “force powers”, as depicted in the Star Wars movies.

We know there are people who identify as Jedi Knights, not least because in the two most recent censuses, thousands of people in many different countries declared themselves as such when asked their religion. However, we can be confident that not one of those people has ever had a genuine “force power” because such powers are supernatural. They don’t exist in the real world.

So it is with adult human males who “identify as” women. They are called ‘transwomen’, therefore transwomen exist. But they do not function as females and therefore they are not women.

I used to think that all those saying “trans people exist” were being deliberately disingenuous and trying to head off the kind of challenges that are inevitably made when they claim that transwomen are women. As Jeni Harvey puts it,

Disingenuous hyperbole around denying the existence of trans people is specifically designed to shut down dialogue, in much the same way as accusations of fascism, and threats of violence.

But now I’m more inclined to believe that they are just stupid.

 

These are the really, really bad arguments I can think of at the moment but no doubt there are others out there and I will add them when I come across them.

Last updated 24.05.18