An open letter to my friend who thinks transwomen are women
I recently sent you an article by a lesbian who has been documenting homophobia within trans activism. You, my otherwise compassionate, patient and warm friend, replied with “sorry, not interested”. You told me that you didn’t want to read an article which referred to transwomen as male’. You said that transwomen suffer from an “accident at birth” transwomen are women born in the wrong body.
Seeing my principled friend (with a first-class undergraduate and a masters degree) actively adopt such a bizarre, anti-materialist and anti-scientific position really worries me. How can you’ be born into’ a body? You are a body. The born in the wrong body’ idea goes beyond poststructuralist ideas about gender onto quasi-religious terrain. How can anyone have an innate, pre-experience knowledge of what it means to be the other sex? What does that even entail? Being male or female refers to your reproductive sex. To argue otherwise is akin to arguing for gendered souls.
Still, you talk about gender identity’ an innate sense of whether someone is male or female. Where is the evidence for this? How do we measure it? What does it mean? Even if we were to accept that a part of your brain could get mixed up’ into an incorrectly’ sexed body, why would gender identity’ override all other physical indicators of whether you are male or female? Why would your subjective sense of self ever be privileged over objective physicality in this way? Transgender is not a medical diagnosis. Gender dysphoria is a psychological condition, characterised by dissatisfaction with your sexed body and/or assigned gender role. The science behind what causes gender dysphoria is inconclusive, but it is likely caused by different biopsychosocial factors which are unique to each trans person. Gender dysphoria has not been proven to have one cause’ (an accident at birth’ leading to being born in the wrong body’) there is no normative standard of feeling like a woman’ or feeling like a man’.
Despite this, children who identify’ as the other sex are being given puberty blockers and cross sex hormones. The systematic medicalisation of gender non-conforming children should be an unthinkable practice. Little girls are too young to understand that wanting short hair, having crushes on other girls and enjoying football doesn’t make you a boy trapped in a girls body. Studies suggest that 80% of gender dysphoric children desist and grow up to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. One reason why older lesbians are so outspoken (“TERFs”) is because they recognise that they could easily have been transed’ had they been children today. One reason why mothers are so outspoken (“TERFs”) is because they know children and their fickleness well.
We are meant to simultaneously believe that gender identity is fixed at around four years old (thus justifying medical intervention in children) but also that trans people don’t all struggle with a lifelong dissatisfaction with their gender’ (thus widening the trans umbrella’ for inclusivity’). How are we to explain genderfluid’, non-binary’ or agender’ identities? If gender has the potential to be fluid, or to change over time, or to not exist, what justification do we have in making permanent changes to a child’s body? Feminists see this practice as being based in gender essentialism??a concept you otherwise recognise and reject. What do you make of Jazz Jennings’ book, I am Jazz’, which opens with “for as long as I can remember, my favourite colour has been pink”? She goes on to argue that “I have a girl brain, but a boy body. This is called transgender”. This book is being read in schools in an effort to educate children about what being trans means.
Jazz’ case is interesting, and certainly complexifies issues around sex and gender??to what extent can Jazz be considered a man’ if she has never been allowed to go through male puberty? How could it be reasonable to expect Jazz to use male spaces? These are conversations we need to have. But Jazz is a very rare case. Transgender’ is an umbrella term coined in the 1990s to unite a variety of gender non-conforming experiences. What was once transsexual’ is now transgender’. What was once transvestite’ is also transgender’. Both Jazz Jennings and Eddie Izzard have the same claim to the term woman’, because woman’ has been extended to mean anyone who identifies as a woman’ (which I guess excludes me, then). Where do you draw the line? Being trans’ is no longer characterised by the material state of having surgically changed your body, but is now characterised by an immaterial, subjective sense of self. Is Danielle Muscato a woman? How about Stonewall activist, Alex Drummond? Again, where do you draw the line? Is it based on passing’? Do women have to look a certain way? What about Jess Bradley, NUS trans spokesperson, who has been suspended from their position for allegedly flashing her’ erect penis in public? Is this a female crime? Are we as a society prepared to accept that it is now possible for a woman to flash her erect penis in public? To extend this further: are we to now accept the possibility of a woman raping another woman with her penis? If nothing else, this is a huge assault on female solidarity and trust. This may be a crude comparison, and I apologise, but consider other animals: would surgically transplanting the feathers of a male peacock onto a female peacock make the latter male? Of course not. Would castrating and shaving the mane of a male lion make him female? Of course not. So why do we accept that surgery has the power to change sex in human beings?
Having said this, we are told by organisations like Stonewall that trans people who do not undergo surgical interventions are still, in all senses, the other sex. This is absurd. What definition of female’ includes the only sex she is not? The female mammal is characterised by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male gametes (spermatozoa). No female mammal can fertilize female gametes. No father is a woman. No man is a woman. A woman is an adult human female. Definitions are, necessarily, exclusionary.
Still, in efforts to be more inclusive’, organisations like Bloody Good Period and Cancer Research are reducing women to their biological functions with terms like “menstruators” and “everyone with a cervix”, respectively. Using such passive terms is explicit dehumanisation: other female animals have cervixes and can menstruate. Perhaps the most Orwellian act of inclusivity’ comes from Healthline, who refer to vaginas as “front holes” in sex-education material. This is clearly offensive and ridiculous. You know this. Yet any woman who protests the erasure of woman’ as a meaningful category is smeared as a TERF’. Women who claim women don’t have penises’ are being investigated by the police for hate crime. This is a laughably grotesque form of sexist injustice. As a leftist, surely you can’t defend this.
These new ideas about gender disproportionately affect women who have their own specific spaces, shortlists and movements. These were created not only to promote solidarity and to address historical disadvantages, but also to safeguard against male violence. The absurd climax of gender activism is that male sex offenders are now being housed in female prisons because they identify’ as women. It seems obvious to me not to lock sex offenders in a space with powerless women, but, again, arguing this position gets you smeared with the slur TERF’ (a term I wish you’d stop using). This may be an uncomfortable truth, but around half of UK trans prisoners are incarcerated for sexual crimes (including rape and paedophilia). This is not to argue that all transwomen are sexually violent, merely to point out that this is over double the 19% figure for sexual violence across the prison population as a whole. Why is this? These are questions we need to be free to ask, alongside many other questions: why are gender identity clinics seeing such dramatic increases in teenage girls with mental health issues and autism? Yet events organised by women to discuss these issues are being systematically shut down. Do you defend this assault on women’s democratic right to free speech and assembly?
I know you have many trans friends, some I know and am also very fond of. I understand that you have seen them struggle and that you naturally want to defend them. As with any feminist position, I am not attacking any individual male or denying their struggles. I am trying to objectively point to facts. Someone told me that in taking a gender-critical position, I am viewing trans people as “either mentally ill or immoral” and that this is cruel and unfair. I sympathise with their point, but this isn’t my position. This reminded me of CS Lewis’ argument that Jesus was either Lunatic, Liar, or Lord. Like CS Lewis, this activist excluded another possibility: simply being mistaken, which is where I sit. I worry that a lot of young trans people have misread their gender dysphoria as signalling that they are literally the other sex. But “Trans Women Are Women” was meant to be compassion, not truth.