Open for Debate

Is JK Rowling transphobic?

Is JK Rowling transphobic? According to many transgender activists and their supporters, including Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Eddie Redmayne she is. The LGBTQ+ organisation GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has said that the author “continues to align herself with an ideology which wilfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people.”

Rowling herself thinks these accusations are absurd. In one tweet she said, “The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women—i.e., to male violence—‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences—is a nonsense.”

For someone like myself – a white, cisgender, heterosexual man – the rancour and bile generated by this debate is puzzling. My experience organising a public debate with someone closely identified with one side of this dispute only added to my bafflement. It left me convinced that our current inability to discuss our disagreements about trans issues in a respectful non-adversarial way is a problem not only in academe and philosophy, but for society as a whole.

When I started organising the Royal Institute of Philosophy debate on the topic of “What’s the point of diversity?”, the trans debate was only on the periphery of my vision. In inviting speakers, I was not looking to pick people for their views but their ability to debate them openly.

I invited one woman because I knew she was the target of a lot of abuse on social media and in real life for her views on trans issues. I also knew that many good and decent philosophers I knew had voiced their support for her. However, I was soon to discover that she was a hate figure for more than just a handful of extremists.

In short, the philosopher was a gender critical feminist, meaning that she questions the emphasis placed on gender as social construct and believes that biological sex is a significant factor in distinguishing male and female. Such feminists are labelled by their critics as “TERFs” – trans-exclusionary radical feminists. This is because their views on sex mean that a trans woman is  not a woman in the same way that a cisgender woman is.

This position is considered transphobic by those who insist that “Transgender women are women” and “transgender men are men”, full stop. As one trans woman put it to me, she saw those who denied this as “people who want to deny my right to exist”.

Recognising how controversial a figure my invited speaker was, I tried to find someone else to add to the panel who took a different view. This was not to set up a fight or to turn it into a debate about trans people: the other two speakers had nothing at all to say about this. It was simply to ensure some balance. But none of the people I invited would share a stage with the “TERF”, except one who couldn’t make the date.

I despaired. My intention for the debate was to jettison the traditional for/against format to show how philosophy could model a better way to discuss our deep differences. As I said to one who refused to speak, “If two philosophers cannot discuss these matters, then how can we ever expect anyone else to? If this debate can’t happen then how is any rational discourse possible? We might as well all go home and throw metaphorical Molotov cocktails at each other.”

I could not and still cannot see why it is transphobic to believe that gender and sex is not quite as simple as the “Transgender women are women” implies. I accept I could be wrong about this. I am open to persuasion. People like myself,  JK Rowling and the trolled gender critical feminist could be tragically mistaken and our views could be deeply damaging for trans people. But if that is true it needs to be shown why it is true. It is not self-evident that it is.

Let me give just a few examples of why someone might reject the “Transgender women are women” doctrine without being in any way clearly, deliberately or consciously anti trans people.

First, one of the invited speakers who refused told me that since they would be speaking for gender diversity, it must be that the “TERF” was speaking against it. But it seems to me that to insist that the category of, say “man” must include both cisgender and trans men without distinction is to argue for less not more gender diversity. I could be wrong, but if so I am mistaken, not transphobic.

Also, if biology is irrelevant to gender, why do so many trans people have surgery to change their anatomies? Again, there may be a good answer to this question, but it is at worst naive, not transphobic, to ask it.

“TERFs” are often criticised for trying to keep people with penises out of certain all-women spaces such as rape shelters, which critics complain characterises trans people as threats. But as a cisgender man, I do not think that my exclusion from these spaces implies that all men are sexual threats, or that I am personally under any suspicion. Nor would I think the rule should not apply if I were gay and so uninterested in sex with women. So how is it transphobic to argue that some all-women spaces should exclude trans women with penises, even if that argument can be shown to be misguided?

What these examples all show, I stress, is not that the gender critical position is correct, but that it is not self-evidently wrong and certainly not inherently prejudiced or hateful. It could be the the gender critical position is inherently harmful to trans people. It could be that despite all the reasonable-sounding doubts, in all law and practice gender self-identification should be the end of the matter. But it is so far from being clear that this is the case that the argument still has to be won. And how can it be won if people who disagree are dismissed as phobic?

In an attempt to seek some clarity, I ended up talking to pretty much every woman philosopher I met, asking them to explain what I was missing. Almost all were on the side of the so-called “TERFs” but were too afraid to say so publicly.

We have to do better than this. This should be a calm, reasoned debate about the very specific question of whether sex has any important role to play in determining gender. At the moment, the debate can’t be had because one side believes there is no debate, there are only supporters of trans rights and transphobes. As a result, discussion is shut down.

My appeal to defenders of the “trans women are women” argument is stop dismissing those of us who are not yet persuaded as transphobic. Instead, engage with us, show us the errors of our ways, while being prepared to question the absolute rightness of your own.

Alec Perkins from Hoboken, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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Comments

  • Jake Herbert

    “if biology is irrelevant to gender, why do so many trans people have surgery to change their anatomies?”

    the claim being made isn’t that biology is irrelevant to gender – there is clearly an observable correlation between sex and gender.

    the claim being made is that biology does not automatically determine gender without exception, and that the two can be independent.

    this is medically uncontroversial: there are cis women born with XY chromosomes, cis women unable to have children, cis men and women who lack “normal” genitalia for their sex from birth etc

    “how is it transphobic to argue that some all-women spaces should exclude trans women with penises, even if that argument can be shown to be misguided?”

    because the argument is specifically made with the intention of excluding trans women from those spaces. the question of whether cis men, gay or not, should have access to women-only spaces is not being litigated

  • Kyrill

    Seems like we could say the responses of philosophers you spoke to are themselves a product of the lack of prior open debate, causing people to go to their own “lived experience” in negotiating these issues. It seems very few philosophers, like Alenka Zupančič and Katerina Kolozova, have openly explained why they support trans women’s self-determination. I have no authority to speak here but I feel Ian Hacking is a useful mediator here.

  • Nicholas Hamlyn

    This chimes with my own views. The difficulty is is that some trans women who want be identified as indistinguishable from natal women are bound to take offence: it’s going to be difficult to persuade such people, when they ‘feel’ that they are what they believe themselves to be. However, there are trans women out there who accept that they’re not the same as natal women and that’s not a problem for them: they are who they are and are quite happy as such. This raises the question why do trans women want to insist on being ‘women’? What’s at stake? My question doesn’t relate to issues around discrimination or persecution, which I condemn. I am trying to understand what’s at stake in socio-political and other senses. It seems to be as much about power and entitlement as about a desire for equality.

  • Rakesh Bhandari

    Julian, you lose me when you express skepticism of trans women being allowed into rape shelters reserved for cis women. Aren’t some trans women raped as women with the same kind of misogynistic violence? Why would you deny trans women the resources of a rape shelter as the threat they pose to other women is a hallucination as Judith Butler might point out?

  • Tom

    @Jake Herbert

    > because the argument is specifically made with the intention of excluding trans women from those spaces. the question of whether cis men, gay or not, should have access to women-only spaces is not being litigated

    But if trans women *aren’t* women then it’s no more “phobic” to exclude them than it is to exclude men. You’re starting from the assumption that “trans women are women” and that anyone/thing that disagrees is transphobic – but you’re not explaining WHY.

    You might even be right! But it’s impossible to have that conversation when one side constantly shouts “bigot”, which is kinda the point of the article.

    • Jake Herbert

      @Tom

      “But if trans women *aren’t* women then it’s no more “phobic” to exclude them than it is to exclude men. You’re starting from the assumption that “trans women are women” and that anyone/thing that disagrees is transphobic – but you’re not explaining WHY.

      Nobody has called anyone a bigot (an essentialist claim about a person’s attributes). I have only tried to answer why a particular claim is transphobic, a direct question asked in the blogpost.

      Why not apply your line of reasoning to black women? A person says they don’t think black women are real women, and that they therefore shouldn’t be given access to women’s spaces. Don’t accuse them of prejudice, that would be starting from the assumption that black women are women!

      That would be a nonsense approach. The act of disputing the womanhood of black women and insisting that your argument should lead to their exclusion from services they use would be an indicator of racism. Likewise, disputing the womanhood of trans women and insisting they are excluded from services they use as a result is an indicator of transphobia, which means dislike of or prejudice against trans people.

      It’s important that people are able to freely dispute facts and claims, nobody is saying anyone should be stopped from doing so. But the act of disputing is not somehow immune from being an indicator of prejudice when it has a particular social context.

  • DecR

    2 very thoughtful responses to this question from women on either side of the debate on the Philosophy Bites podcast. Search for ‘what is a woman’ and there are 2 separate episodes.

  • Simon

    This is a disappointing article. The main point seems to be that those who are yet to be persuaded – of what, exactly, it is unclear – should be gently and politely escorted through the literature on trans issues while they continue to make harmful comparisons that endanger trans lives. This article’s brutish handling of the issue of trans exclusion from women-only spaces is a prime example of this. While for cis male philosophers, the idea of being excluded from a women’s space does not have any serious effect on you, for trans people to constantly be viewed as potential-abusers is yet another justification for the brutal treatment of trans people in Western societies. It may not be explicitly stated in someone’s article that they believe trans women are threatening abusers, but the implication is always there – even if that may horrify the original author. This debate has so thoroughly entrenched the connection in society’s collective consciousness between trans women and abusers that a 12 year old trans girl I work with is scared to change with the other girls because she “would feel like a predator”. Like it or not, by continuously putting the word ‘trans’ with the word ‘abuser’ or ‘predator’ in articles, these authors are reinforcing a destructive view of trans people. It is not the complex discussion of the relationship between sex and gender that trans activists are worried about – there are COUNTLESS articles exploring this in sensitive, interesting ways. It is people, who have no skin in the game when it comes to how trans people are viewed and treated, coming into this debate completely unaware of how their words, their arguments, impact real trans people’s lives. When we understand that, then discussion can be had. Philosophical, rational discussion does not exist in a vacuum and we must be aware of how our arguments will be read and how they will materially affect people’s lives.

  • Lee L

    There are a few points in this piece which I would like to pick up on.

    Firstly, your vocabulary is inaccurate. Your definition of a ‘gender critical feminist’ is flawed. Someone who “questions the emphasis placed on gender as social construct and believes that biological sex is a significant factor in distinguishing male and female” could be a trans-inclusive position of a materialist feminist or radical feminist. ‘Gender critical feminist’ is a term *specifically* adopted by people who were being referred to as Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists as an attempt to legitimise their position and imply that being referred to as a TERF is insulting. (It also suggests that other feminist approaches are NOT critical of gendered structures and that it is doing something new, which is frustrating as those claiming it don’t express a coherent critique or theory of gender, or any new arguments)

    Honestly, you seem to have fallen into the trap that people calling themselves ‘gender critical’ have spent the past 5 years setting up – taking the slogans and statements used for activism, and assuming both that this is the extent of critical thought on the matter and that the objections are new. You apparently also believe that ‘trans women are women’ is a doctrine, but not ‘trans women are not women’.

    If you would like to find serious considerations of the different issues you raise, such as the use of single sex spaces, the specific issue of women’s spaces, the significance of different body changes for trans people, the ways of defining sex or gender, the complex relationships between anatomy and gender identity, or the question of legal self-identification of gender then these can be readily found in work spanning the last 50 years between trans people and non-transphobic cis people. There is not a single ‘trans answer’ to these – they are complex and serious issues which can be engaged in from a number of different perspectives. You are right that there has been a serious problem with being able to have these discussions recently – though from my perspective it is the sudden intrusion of bigots who are unwilling or unable to engage with facts or theory, and attempt to reduce an entire area of social activism which is intertwined with decades of theory into a single slogan.

    You may not consider this to be the kind of engagement you have asked for. All I can say in response is that I am tired. And so, I expect, are the people who you approached, who heard that they were being asked to rebut a TERF (again), and refused. From many people’s perspectives, the arguments that they have have already been comprehensively answered.

  • Tom

    @Jake Herbert

    > Nobody has called anyone a bigot

    You may not have directly called me a bigot but you’ve strongly implied that I have a dislike or prejudice against trans people because I’m “disputing the womanhood of trans women”, which is pretty much the same thing, no?

    > Why not apply your line of reasoning to black women?

    Why not? I suspect anyone who said black women weren’t women would quickly be shown up as a racist with no good arguments to back up their distinction.

    But the whole idea of being trans raises a whole load of completely valid philosophical questions. What does “woman” mean? What does “female” mean? Is sex binary or a spectrum? What is a “gender identity”? For most people the answer is more nuanced than just “trans women are women”.

    > It’s important that people are able to freely dispute facts and claims… But the act of disputing is not somehow immune from being an indicator of prejudice when it has a particular social context.

    But you’re not even allowing people to dispute facts. The debate is never had. As you’ve just said, simply raising the subject is itself an indication of transphobia, and transphobes are prejudiced, therefore there’s no point talking to them. You’ve successfully insulated yourself against any opposing views with circular reasoning.

  • Kelly

    The taboos placed around any examination of trans-ideological claims are as fascinating as they are damaging.

    Watching these taboos being enforced is equally fascinating: you can see people throw away their self-stated values in realtime in rare instances where anyone dare examine the absurdities inherent in trans-ideological claims.

    Cases in point are constantly provided when these discussions arise amongst philosophers. We can watch as trained thinkers demand that their fellows boycott thought itself.

    The phenomenon of people discarding their self-stated values to protect the taboo is bad enough. But it’s ghastly to see this happening across the professional of philosophy itself.

    When any culture gives it’s members the choice between critically examining claims or facing ostracism and smears then that culture is in some way broken. This is how cults work. Not functional societies.

    Free enquire into incredible claims has never harmed anyone. No lives are harmed by inquiring into the meanings of words or apparent clashes of rights.

    Anyone who believes in the strength of their intellectual positions should welcome interrogations of their position. This is how our positions become stronger. The fact that philosophers have to be reminded of this is bizarre.

  • J

    Hi,

    I think it’s a bit strange to have an article about the difficulty of debating of the subject because some people are systematically caricaturing people who disagree with them and then, in the comment, saying, in substance, “so if you are not agreeing with me, you are a bad person who call people who don’t agree with you “bigot”” 😀

    OK, let’s start on more solid ground:
    Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that people who say “trans women are women” are incorrect (whatever the term means).
    The context is still the following: trans women are in a really stressful social situation, being bullied because of something they cannot control, being subject to a lot of prejudice (rapist, “trap”, perverts, toxically unstable personalities, …) and there is a population (small, hopefully) of intolerant people who will attack them based on bigotry and stupidity.
    I’m not myself a bigot, I’m just considering the idea that the hypothesis “trans women are not women” is worthwhile.
    But in this condition, I cannot really understand why I would not take a lot of precaution to not fuel the difficulties of this group of people.
    I don’t need to openly say “I think it’s ok if we say “trans women are not women””. I can just approach this problem by saying “ok, let’s consider the two sides, but because of the situation, let’s, as long as the debate is not finished, debate in a form that consider that “trans women are women” is the default explanation”. As long as it is clear in my mind that I’m not blindly rejecting the other options, it does not change anything for the science.
    (on other term: good science does not require that in the group of scientists, 50% should believe in A and 50% should believe in non-A)

    I think that the main reason why some people are called “bigot” is not because they have a different opinion, but because they tolerate an environment that suit very much to the bigots.
    As a reasonable person, I just think that that saying to the bigots “you are right, for the wrong reason, but you are right” will do way more bad than good. And as it is totally possible for me to explore the situation without making any statement that will help the bigots, I don’t understand why I would not do it this way.

    I guess an easy response to that is “but I tried to do that, and I was still called bigot”.
    Well, first, yes, some stupid people would call you bigot, or commies, or libtard, or any other offensive term, whatever you say anyway.
    But, second, the large majority of example of “people not bigot being called bigot” were clearly not doing that.
    This article itself is clearly not in this optic, this article itself is built around the fact that it should be ok to just state seriously “trans women are not women” because it is an open question, without being careful of the impact this sentence can have.

    In summary, my personal answer to your question “Let me give just a few examples of why someone might reject the “Transgender women are women” doctrine without being in any way clearly, deliberately or consciously anti trans people.” is:
    It is ok to reject the hypothesis that “transgender women are women” in itself, it is not ok to do it in a way that takes zero protection to mitigate the damage such public message will have on trans people in a situation where, clearly, the transgender people are in a delicate situation and the bigotry, close-mindness, and even violence, is so unbalanced against them.
    If someone, knowing this situation, is still, willingly, ok of saying “transgender women are not women”, then this person clearly does not care that, because of that, some transgender people will suffer, and this can legitimately be called an anti-trans-people position.
    If someone is unaware of this situation, then this person is not consciously anti trans people, but then, some stupid people will call this person “bigot”, and some other will try to explain (and will be answered “so you are calling me a bigot” 😀 ).
    Lastly, someone can say that the situation of transgender people is not that bad, or at least debatable, despite the scientific consensus on the subject. But in this case, the first step (and a very useful thing to do for the progress of the science, so I really don’t see why someone would not do that) would be to overturn the consensus by providing proper proof of that, which is a different subject.

  • Chris

    There are quite a few very eloquent arguments stated above by Simon, Lee L, and ‘J’ in particular, which point to this article as a “just asking questions” post.
    By which I mean, the sentiment behind it is not exactly mean spirited, or completely disingenuous, by not rigorous enough in the language used to phrase the contention.
    This lets it down in it’s intention for open, reasoned debate because the assumptions and language used already give the questions a flawed position.

    Lee said they were tired of arguing the same points over again.
    This is it. Why is the burden of proof on the most marginalised and vulnerable?
    Of course people pulled out of the debate.

    I really hope you can do some better research and come up with some better questions.

    I’ve thought up some (hopefully) good questions around this topic.

    How does the idea of a gender binary contribute to gender dysphoria, and does does the ability to adhere, or not, to socially conditioned expectations of gender within this binary contribute to social displacement, and exclusion from social power structures?

    Does the biological, reproductive origin of a gender binary contribute to a woman’s social worth being linked to her ability and desire to reproduce?

    Does a variety of gender identities harm the rights and freedoms of cisgender women? Do trans rights and women’s rights have mutually exclusive conditions of benifit?

    As the perpetrator of violence and sexual assault on both cisgender and transgender women, how much is the cisgender male identity broken or distorted, and what is it that leads to dominance and violence?

    How much does homophobia and fear of non-binary norms contribute to fear and violence towards trans women, and gay men, and is dimissal and suppression of non-binary feelings or desires within boys and young men a significant contributing factor in these negative behaviours later in life? Does it contribute to violence against cis women? Does argument against trans rights create an environment where excuses for violence against women incubate in receptive and naive men?

    I’m not expecting answers, and I’m aware that many of these are loaded questions. But if they’re aggressive, it’s towards ideas and systems, and not people.

  • Mellifera

    There’s often this assumption that transwomen are the most vulnerable and therefore that their pain gives them the right to override everyone else. Why is that? Rowling says that women’s trauma is often treated as mere white noise and I think she’s right. If society should accommodate transwomen’s pain then it should also accommodate the pain of cis women’s and women who don’t experience gender identity.

    There’s a really simple reason why cis women and women who don’t experience gender identity should have their own shelters. A normal response to male violence is for women to have a trauma reaction to male bodies, especially if they are not allowed to be in control around those male bodies. This is why workmen are *always* escorted at a refuge and teen boys are not permitted to stay, even with their own mums. You simply cannot provide an effective service to deal with trauma if male bodies are there. In any event, every person at a specialist service for transwomen would be a woman, so why would that present a problem? It would give transwomen the space to discuss their unique experience (I don’t believe for a second that a perpetrator wouldn’t use her trans status against her). Trauma reactions come from the amygdala, you can’t be ‘educated’ out of them, and it would only replicate the dynamic of abuse to force a victim into a situation that triggers her trauma response and force her to be silent about that. The only way to run an effective domestic abuse programme is for it to be single sex. Ref: https://kareningalasmith.com/tag/single-sex-services/

  • MK

    I have been following this debate for nearly three years. And one question I really want people on both sides to answer is whether it is morally right or permissible for trans women to identify as women in the first place.

    I have come across examples of transracial people – especially, white people identifying as black. I take it that white people identifying as black is problematic because historically, the white is the dominant group and the black the subordinate. Well, some feminists claim that men are the dominant group and women the subordinate in patriarchal society. In that case, why doesn’t the same objection apply to trans women? I’m not talking about trans men here because that is a different case. If the same objection applies to trans women, the fact that they even want to identify as women should be seen as worthy of criticisms. It shouldn’t matter whether they are marginalised or suffer because that doesn’t change the fact that what they are doing is morally wrong.

    Of course I may be completely wrong and I am willing to be corrected. But it’s just not self-evident to me why trans women shouldn’t be criticised at least as much as white people identifying as black seem to.

  • Richard

    My impression is not that the arguments in favour of “trans women are women” are so well-known that their proponents are justifiably tired of making them. It is that the arguments have hardly been made at all. My suspicion is that those who refuse to appear on a platform with Prof Stock are not merely horrified at the thought of thereby lending respectability to her views, but “frit” (to use a favourite word of another woman who aroused irrational hostility) at the prospect of having to put forward and then defend their own.
    The standard dictionary definition of “woman” is “adult human female”. Until a very few years ago no-one queried it, as far as I am aware. The onus is really on those who wish to impose a novel, counter-intuitive meaning on society to explain their reasoning using compelling arguments. But what we are offered instead is a limited and indigestible diet of slogans, question-begging, circularity, obscurity and intimidation. As a layman, that seems to me no way to do philosophy.

  • Alan Henness

    Don’t think this refusal to debate is confined to philosophers, Julian. Employment and discrimination barrister Naomi Cunningham has been trying to have a “relaxed and mutually respectful dialogue” with a practising or academic lawyer who disagrees with her ““gender critical” stance on the interaction of trans rights and women’s rights”. She’s had no takers.

    The Curious Incident of the Lawyers Who Didn’t Argue

    NO DEBATE! is the cry in these legal circles too, but the interaction of these rights has to be debated, discussed and teased out – or end up in court or with one group losing hard-won rights.

    Lawyers not wanting to argue is as odd as philosophers not wanting to argue.

  • Charlie

    <>

    What you claim there, @Jake Herbert, is both a misrepresentation of our position and in ignorance of the current situation. We do not argue that males who identify as trans should be excluded from female-only space because they are trans, but because they are male. Because a female-only space can only serve its purpose if ALL males are excluded from such spaces, regardless of how they identify. Furthermore, in practice, one of the most harmful side effects of the adoption of policies that seek to include males in female-only spaces on the basis of their self-identification is that female-only provisions are increasingly attacked as exclusionary to ALL males and as regressive, outdated and superfluous practices unjustifiable in the modern world. This has led to facilities previously designated female-only being opened up to all male users as so-called “gender neutral” facilities. Without any thought given to the detrimental impact this would have on female users. These practices now occur in schools, hospitals, workplaces, retail, leisure and entertainment facilities, even prisons. Which has resulted in demonstrated harm to women and girls as well as to the exclusion of those women and girls from large parts of public life who are unable to use mixed-sex provisions on the basis of their ethnicity, culture or religion or because they have suffered trauma at the hands of males.

    Our campaigning has therefore been focused on once again defending the overall need of females of all ages to be able to access female-only provisions as well as on maintaining such provisions that do prevail as female-only to the exclusion of ALL males, regardless of their identity. And I’ve lost count of the number of women who are outraged at having to once again fight for safe spaces for female victims of male violence after already having done so 40 or 50 years ago when those spaces were first set up by these very women.

    It is in my view not transphobic to argue that ALL males should be excluded from the limited provisions reserved for females only, because the demand for their exclusion isn’t based on their membership of the trans community but of the male sex class. I do however consider the position that frames our defence of female-only spaces as hateful, prejudiced, bigoted or transphobic as arising from the same place that opposed the creation of female-only provisions in the first place – misogyny. Whether it stems from an inability to view females as people and their needs as equally important as those of male people or from a deeply felt hatred and mistrust of the female sex class is irrelevant when one looks at the harm this has already done to countless women and girls, myself included. And given the treatment many of us have experienced at the hands of such “progressive” campaigners against women’s sex-based rights, I can also tell you the effect is no different from that of the good old-fashioned hatred and contempt women and girls have endured for eons.

    P.S. We do not argue that males who identify as trans and who have been victims of male violence should be denied support by rape crisis or domestic violence services (even though their users, I should add, continue to be almost exclusively female). Our argument is that these services can and should support such male victims in a separate-but-equal part of the service. A practice that allows both female victims and male victims who identify as trans to recover from the trauma of male violence while still meeting the needs of female victims through a female-only service.

    P.S.S. And I am not even touching here on the loss of opportunity and harm that has resulted from the elimination of a whole range of other legal set asides created to remedy inequality experienced by women and girls on the basis of their sex in education, employment, healthcare provisions, sport and other areas.

    It seems to me that for you discussing the debate around the demand to include males who identify as trans in rape crisis and domestic violence services – organisations that need to deliver a female-only service to meet the needs of female victims of male violence – is a merely theoretical, philosophical discussion about potential harms suffered by males who identify as trans due to feelings of rejection and non-acceptance caused by these same philosophical arguments. For us, the realisation of this demand in the form of numerous trans-inclusion policies adopted without considering the needs of females has already resulted in tangible, physical and mental harms to women and girls, most worryingly to female victims of male violence who are re-victimised and re-traumatised by such practices for the benefit of males (who could, as I state in my postscript above, be supported in ways that avoid all of this).

    It is bizarre to see a whole range of men who pride themselves in having a progressive, egalitarian, even feminist outlook engage in debating the existence of women not as the female of the species but as walking talking stereotypes that their fellow males can embody if they so wish and the inequalities and violence we suffer on the basis of our sex at the hands of their own sex contemptuously dismissed as irrelevant in the name of rather self-servingly supporting none other than members of their own sex, especially in the context of living in a hierarchical system that already situates their sex above ours.

    To us this is the patriarchy on steroids: Deny the existence of women and girls qua females, thus denying this entire axis of oppression on the basis of sex even exists. Roll back women rights and equality a good hundred years or so. This is happening on every continent, including in countries with abysmal human rights records on women and LGB people. Severely punish any women and girls speaking out against this with isolation, ostracism, loss of reputation or income, threats of rape, violence and death, and, of course, actual violence.

    I never dreamt women living in the UK in the 21st century would have to hire security just to meet in order to discuss the effect a proposed law reform may have on their existing legal rights. Or that even those merely accused of attending such a meeting would be attacked. Or that the police would refuse to protect us from the violence meted out by male trans rights campaigners protesting these meetings. But here we are. And here you are: Men are whatever men say they are and women are whatever men say they are.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  • Leonarda

    There is a group of transwomen (the majority actually) who, before transition, were heterosexual, and after transition identify as lesbian. These former men often maintain very male behavior towards women, as every lesbian woman who uses dating apps can testify: If a lesbian states that she only wants to date natal women she is inundated with insults, accusations of being a ‘vagina fetishist’ and threats of rape. Gay men (who can also be victims of domestic violence since perpetrators are typically men) do not insist on access to women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence. Only transwomen cannot stop going on about it. This has more to do with a desperate need for ‘validation’ than for a real need to get access to these places. In the whole of Australia for instance, there is one ocean pool for women only, and… you guessed it: Transwomen now desperately need access to that particular pool! The harassment of lesbians stems from this same need for validation. Lesbian transwomen are not interested in dating other lesbian transwomen (even though “transwomen are women”). Sexual access to natal lesbian women is the holy grail, as that means validation as a real woman. Trans people have the right to be treated with respect. But transwomen (most of whom keep their penises), especially those who are sexually interested in other women, use bully tactics to get access to women-only spaces. The whole point of these spaces is that they are needed because women need protection from sexual violence by males. All the rape threats and invitations to “choke on my girl dick” to gender critical women by transgender activists do not convince me that admitting transwomen to women’s safe spaces is such a good idea. I am close to losing all sympathy for the transgender cause…

  • J

    @ MK:

    “I take it that white people identifying as black is problematic because historically, the white is the dominant group and the black the subordinate. Well, some feminists claim that men are the dominant group and women the subordinate in patriarchal society. In that case, why doesn’t the same objection apply to trans women?”

    I don’t really understand the logic behind the argument “trans-women were born male, so they are the same as the male oppressors”.

    First, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that men are the dominant group and women the subordinate. In the following, I will summarize this domination with “the message that “women are lame”” (it’s obviously more complex then that, but if you are dominated, it implies that there are actions/messages that create and maintain this domination).
    It does not mean that I believe it’s the reality, but it is part of the argument, so let’s assume it’s true to demonstrate that the argument is not perfect.

    The important point I want to make is the following:
    – a little girl, who identifies as a girl, who receives, during her childhood, the message that “women are lame” will be in a position of feeling put into the “bad” group, and to accept that the boys are better than her.
    – a little boy, who identifies as a boy, who receives, during his childhood, the message that “women are lame” will be in a position of feeling proud to be in the “best” group, and to accept that he can consider girls as inferior.
    – but a little boy who is unsure of his gender identity, and will later identify as a woman, when receiving the message that “women are lame”, will NOT feel proud to be in the “best” group, and will probably feel torn, feel like a traitor or a failure for identifying with the “bad” group, and feel targeted (“women are lame” + “I consider myself as a woman” = “they say I am lame”).

    Therefore, I don’t think it’s as simple as saying “this person was born as a boy, so he is part of the dominant group”. Sure, this person has had advantages when growing up, but this person also took personally as a domination each of those messages saying that “women are lame”.
    So, I think that they should be in a specific group: they are not in the dominant group, because they felt being the target of things as “women are lame”, but they may be less dominated because people having those prejudices treated them as men.
    Or not: if they were too feminine, they may have been considered even worse than a standard woman.
    It’s surely not the same kind of domination, but it means it’s just too easy to say “they were men, so they grow up thinking they are better than women”.
    And after all, the kind of sexism that undergo beautiful-looking women is also not totally the same as bad-looking ones, does it mean that one of this group is “less woman” than the other?

    As for transracial people, I think it’s the same. You are saying the situation “is problematic”, but I would tend to say that if the person identified from the childhood as a non-white and was looking like a non-white and was treated like a non-white during the majority of the social interaction, then I would think that this person has lived as much domination as a non-transracial non-white. Isn’t that true? I mean, take a non-transracial non-white’s life and switch him with a transracial person that act and look exactly like him. Is the society suddenly going to act differently toward this person because people can “sense” that this person does not have the specific genes?
    Then, of course, as I’ve said, if it’s a person who spend the majority of his life as a white, identifying himself as a white, and then suddenly decided to change race, then, yes, it’s different. But this is far from being the situation for the majority of transgender persons (despite the prejudice that any male pervert can just snap his fingers to turn into a trans-women in order to get in the girl’s locker room), and it’s not fair to reduce them to that.

  • Deb Joffe

    I am still torn on this issue and excellent arguments are being made on both sides. At least this is a space where insults are not being thrown and people are not being shut down as they try to explore something which is frankly new and confusing to a lot of us (I come from an era where the women’s centre on campus was established as a safe space to stay at night following the murder of a student by the Yorkshire Ripper).
    Perhaps I am a little phobic about transwomen who want to occupy women-only positions on electoral shortlists or enter women’s refuges or women’s swimming sessions. And perhaps that is understandable given my five decades of life experience as a female in a patriarchy. By the same token I might understandably feel a little possessive about the compensations of womanhood in this society – childbearing for example. None of this means I do not accept that life as a transperson is very challenging and needs ameliorating; nor does it mean I might not be persuaded to let go of some of my fears.

  • Shane West

    I believe a large part of the issue here is, we don’t have a clear definition. What makes a man a man. What makes a woman a woman. If I called my wife a “Person who ministrates,” she would backhand me and possibly file for divorce. I’m not a philosopher, an ethicist, or a theologian, I am a biologist.

    From this perspective, the thing that separates the genders of men and women are the internal structures of the Endocrine System, the chromosomes, and genitalia. So, from a strictly biological perspective, the definition is pretty clear. Two XX Chromosomes, a woman, an X, and a Y Chromosome man. So from a Biological Standpoint, it is pretty cut and dried. However, pure science is not all that relevant to this discussion and I not only understand that. I also greatly respect it.
    The whole issue, at least as I see it is the DEFINITION. Trans-women Vs. Cis women is confusing enough to me. But now, “a person who ministrates?” I understand not wanting to say “real,” woman because that would say they are not real. That a trans-woman is somehow less than a cis-woman. So I get that part. But, what is wrong with saying “woman?” Am I missing something here? Are we at war? Are we trying to erase the female gender completely?
    So, we need to get clear and definitive with our words. We need to take a step back and say, Man. Why? Woman. Why?. Then and ONLY THEN can we start to wrap our heads around the nuances of the true intricacies of Gender Identity in the 21st Century.

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