“Trans women are women”: J. K. Rowling is demonized again

J. K. Rowling has got herself in trouble again by implying, in the following tweet, that trans women—biological men who take on the gender identity of a woman—aren’t identical to biological women.

Because of this, she’s been called a “transphobe” and a “TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). She’s been excoriated all over Twitter, people are calling for her books to go unread, a school in England has dropped plans to name a house after her, and some people are saying it’s time for her to stop publishing completely, as in this specimen from The Washington Post (click on screenshot), which argues that it’s time for her to relinquish control of the world she built—i.e., the Harry Potter series. (What struck me about this article, as a new subscriber to the Post, is how abysmally badly written it is, and how convoluted the argument, buried in the author’s desire to show off.)

After the fracas, Rowling defended herself in a longish piece on her own website (click on screenshot):

You can read this for yourself, and decide whether her reasons for not completely equating biological women with trans women are sound. But let us be clear: Rowling is sympathetic towards trans women and feels that, morally, they can be seen as women. Her objections are practical ones: what happens when society decides that whatever gender someone feels they are, we must accept they are in terms of biological sex. This is happening widely, even for people who declare that they must be treated as members of one biological sex even though they retain the morphology of the other sex. As Rowling says:

I’ve read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive. It’s also clear that one of the objectives of denying the importance of sex is to erode what some seem to see as the cruelly segregationist idea of women having their own biological realities or – just as threatening – unifying realities that make them a cohesive political class. The hundreds of emails I’ve received in the last few days prove this erosion concerns many others just as much.  It isn’t enough for women to be trans allies. Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves

.. . . On Saturday morning, I read that the Scottish government is proceeding with its controversial gender recognition plans, which will in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one.

This is the case in Connecticut for athletics, where men who have undergone neither surgery nor hormone treatment have been allowed to compete in women’s sports, and of course they’ve cleaned up in track and field.  This is what ensues from accepting that one’s declaration of what sex they are is how they should be treated in every respect. For, make no mistake about it, the statement “Trans women are women” means “Trans women are biological women.” And that’s the problem with such a declaration:

Although I’ve always seen Rowling as politically progressive, she’s been tossed out of the Leftist camp for a while. I see that this isn’t the first time Rowling has been called a transphobe; I posted a piece last December in which she defended another woman who refused to equate trans females with biological females.

But let’s “unpack”, as the po-mos say, the statement that “Trans women are women.” What does it mean and how far should we follow it?

First, it’s clear, as I said above, that to many the “women” in the slogan’s last word means “the same as biological women.”  If the purveyors of the slogan meant simply “people who feel that their gender is as women”, these people wouldn’t have to replace “woman” with words like “people who menstruate” or “people with a uterus.” Nor would they insist (as the American Civil Liberties Union has done) that trans women should be able to compete in women’s sports without any surgery or hormone treatment.

The statement “trans women are women”, I think, runs into trouble when it equates gender with sex—when it insists that one’s claimed identity is equivalent to one’s biological identity. Insofar as there are real average differences between biological men and women, and insofar as these are in some way relevant to society, then we can’t simply equate gender with sex. (The relevant one for sports is upper body strength and musculature.)

One of the best articles I’ve seen on the difference between gender and sex, which topples the idea that sex isn’t a binary, is this piece in Quillette, which defines “men” and “women” in the same way biologist identify “male” and “female” in other animals (click on screenshot):

Those who equate sex with gender (which, unfortunately, includes three respectable scientific societies dealing with evolution and ecology), often defend that view by claiming that sex, like gender, is a spectrum. They are wrong. Gender is a spectrum, with people identifying themselves all over the place, but biological sex is very nearly a complete binary, with a tiny, tiny fraction (about 0.02 percent) of people who are biologically “intersex”. Wright explains the difference in the article above, in which he simply adopts the conventional biological view of sex in animals:

Both of these arguments—the argument from intersex conditions and the argument from secondary sex organs/characteristics [JAC: these are arguments for biological sex being on a “spectrum”]—follow from fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of biological sex, which is connected to the distinct type of gametes (sex cells) that an organism produces. As a broad concept, males are the sex that produce small gametes (sperm) and females produce large gametes (ova). There are no intermediate gametes, which is why there is no spectrum of sex. Biological sex in humans is a binary system.

It is crucial to note, however, that the sex of individuals within a species isn’t based on whether an individual can actually produce certain gametes at any given moment. Pre-pubertal males don’t produce sperm, and some infertile adults of both sexes never produce gametes due to various infertility issues. Yet it would be incorrect to say that these individuals do not have a discernible sex, as an individual’s biological sex corresponds to one of two distinct types of evolved reproductive anatomy (i.e. ovaries or testes) that develop for the production of sperm or ova, regardless of their past, present, or future functionality. In humans, and transgender and so-called “non-binary” people are no exception, this reproductive anatomy is unambiguously male or female over 99.98 percent of the time.

The binary distinction between ovaries and testes as the criterion determining an individual’s sex is not arbitrary, nor unique to humans. The evolutionary function of ovaries and testes is to produce either eggs or sperm, respectively, which must be combined for sexual reproduction to take place. If that didn’t happen, there would be no humans. While this knowledge may have been cutting edge science in the 1660s, it’s odd that we should suddenly treat it as controversial in 2020.

The problematic nature of equating sex with gender shows up in several ways. I’ve already mentioned sport, in which it’s not so clear that trans women should be allowed to compete with biological women, and it’s certainly unfair for untreated trans women to do so. What about rape counseling or homeless shelters? Some women want someone who’s had the lifelong experience of a woman to talk to about being raped, and I can’t fault them. And if Scotland gets its way so that a flat claim by a biological man can turn him into a “she,” or vice versa, then we run into the problems of single-sex facilities like jails, showers, and so on. (These are less problematic for trans women who have surgery or hormone treatment.) The same issues hold for trans men, though most of the heat does not devolve upon people of that gender.

So I don’t think we should automatically accept the claim that trans women are identical in all social respects to biological women. It’s not an easy issue that can be resolved with a slogan.

When I was lecturing at a college in the South a few years ago, I went to dinner with a group of faculty who told me that some of their students identified as animals (I think they were called “furries”, but I’m not sure). Some of them identified as horses, foxes, or other creatures and all the faculty had to receive special training about how to deal with and be respectful towards these identities. That is fine, but saying that “trans horses are horses” does not mean that they should be allowed to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

Finally, morally, and in terms of civil rights, however, there’s no justification for discriminating against trans people of any gender. I would be more than glad to call a trans woman a “she”, or use whatever pronouns people prefer. That’s a simple matter of respect and decency. And if they somehow want me to treat them personally according to their conception of their own gender, no problem.

But as a biologist I have an issue with conflating sex and gender. There is no more a spectrum of sex in humans than there is in fruit flies or cardinals. And I agree with Rowling that someone born as a biological man who becomes a woman—a trans woman—is not the same as a woman born a biological woman who doesn’t transition.  A claim of what you feel to be should be respected, but not so much a claim of who you are biologically. If it makes me a transphobe to say that men who haven’t received medical treatment or surgery should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports, or, if convicted of a crime, should be put into women’s prisons, then so be it. But I’d reject that label.

99 Comments

  1. Posted June 11, 2020 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    It’s current year and people are still trying to have non-slogan-based conversations in Twitter.

  2. Eric Grobler
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    “Some of them identified as horses, foxes, or other creatures and all the faculty had to receive special training about how to deal with and be respectful towards these identities. That is fine…”

    Not so fine.
    A while ago I would have thought this to be extremely amusing, now I am in deep despair.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps the old TV show Mr. Ed could be in the curriculum?

    • Tom Bombadil
      Posted June 13, 2020 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Madder than hatters.

      Columnist Cathy Young had something of a prescient observation thereon several years ago:

  3. Dawn Flood
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Professor Coyne,

    I am a transgender female, but, as a biological male, I have decided to never part with my primary reproductive organ, which, after all, is part of me. This morning a complete stranger approached me, addressing me as “Maam”, until he got closer whereby he switched to “Sir”. But, with no makeup, no dark round glasses and no skirt, I am more often recognized by my biology than my gender. Still, I can “pass” whenever and wherever I want or need to.

    Dawn

    • Tom Bombadil
      Posted June 13, 2020 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Good thinking, particularly as having your nuts removed is something of an irrevocable step. And would turn you into a sexLESS eunuch – pretty heavy price to pay to “dish with the girls” as Andrew Sullivan once put it.

      But, as being in the “female” category is – by definition – predicated on having functional ovaries, I rather doubt you qualify for membership:

      Though one might reasonably argue that girls and menopausees are likewise excluded from that category.

  4. Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I read Rowling’s piece, it seems fairly well reasoned, and I don’t have a problem with it. In particular, she is certainly entitled to express her opinions on her own website.

    Unfortunately over at pharyngula, they are tearing her apart without actually addressing her arguments as usual. They seem to be just quote mining the article and calling her a transphobe.

    It reminds me a bit of the Islamophobia controversy. It seems whenever certain minority groups don’t get special treatment (instead of just equal treatment) that they will claim discrimination or some kind of phobia.

    • XCellKen
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Pharyngula is still a thing ???

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Some of the comments on Pharyngula are unhinged. Mrs Rowling herself hasn’t written anything violent or deranged, yet in those comments there are calls for her to be “fornicated with a cactus,” or for her to “%$#$ into the sea to join the garbage patch.”

      • Gayle C Ferguson
        Posted June 22, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        Yip. The irony of these people claiming to be progressives with the moral high ground while at the same time opening exhibiting violent misogyny!

    • max blancke
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      They are never going to provide rational arguments for trans ideology, because there just are not any.
      It is about denying basic and eternal realities, which have been obvious to every human since long before we began to walk upright.
      Scientific advances have only reaffirmed what everyone always knew to be true.

      I have talked to people who believe that negative events in their lives are caused by wizards. Those folks have much more observable basis for their beliefs than the trans activists.

      The primary argument I have hears is:
      “trans women are women because shut up!”

  5. dd
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    One of the things I almost immediately noticed as a gay teenager in the 70s, was that male homosexuality was THE contentious point in the fight over the status of gay/lesbian people.

    The vast majority of books were about male homosexuality, next to nothing about female homosexuality, the condemnations, etc etc.

    It was clear why: the consummate transgressive act of homosexuality was “sodomy”, in other words the symbolic, and physical, turning of a man into a woman, or at least the female role of being penetrated.

    It’s very interesting that in the trans debate THE contentious point is again and again male to female transexuality, not the other way.

    Please discuss amongst yourselves as to why that may be.

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      There is an asymmetry. I never hear of people discussing girls who transition to boys. It just doesn’t get any traction. But boys going to girls…that seems to set fires.

      I am with Rowling and I hope she keeps marching forward. People who have not listened to what she has promoted for nearly a decade on social media are deaf to her progressivism.

      She is not the enemy.

      • Max Blancke
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Among the community of parents of trans kids, there seems to be about an even number of boys and girls with the issue.

        I suspect there is less visibility on the female to male trans folks because there have always been girls who adopt masculine styles of dress or behavior, without it being a sign of mental illness or sexual ambiguity.
        But it is more striking to see a guy with a full beard wearing lots of makeup and a frilly dress.

      • Amateur philosopher
        Posted June 30, 2020 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        I have heard some radical feminists describing trans-men as women wanting to have male privilege and not valuing their womanhood and so decided to try become male as a result.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Very true. Why is the discussion about lesbians not wanting to have sex with a ‘woman’ that has a penis? Why don’t we hear bout men (cis men) who do not want to have sex with a ‘woman’ with a penis?
      [And we hear nothing, of course, about women having sex or not with ‘men’ without a penis].
      I find it weird that a man ‘transitioning’ to a ‘woman’ would be lesbian. Does that tell us something? I’m not really sure, but I still find it weird.
      I would certainly not put a ‘trans-woman’, especially if not physically and hormonally altered, in a female jail.
      https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/11/karen-white-how-manipulative-and-controlling-offender-attacked-again-transgender-prison

      • Pablo
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        The majority of MTF trans start out as heterosexual males with an extreme transvestism fetish(autogynephilia). About 25% of MTF are very effeminite homosexuals. Most FTM start out as masculine lesbians. Although transactivist have spent decades demonizing Dr.Blanchard his research has held up.

    • JoanL
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Decades ago I asked a gay friend why it seemed my gay acquaintances all had women friends, but the lesbian ones seemed to have no male friends. His response: “There is a lot of anger there.”

      That stuck with me because I really didn’t understand it. Now, it seems somehow similar to prejudice.

    • jezgrove
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      In the UK lesbianism was never illegal, apparently because Queen Victoria couldn’t envisage such a thing existing (though that might well be a modern myth). And men historically were in leadership positions where their (until relatively recently) homosexuality could be used against them. When women were admitted to Parliament, their gender was a sufficient target, yet alone their orientation. Not a justification, but possibly an explanation.

      • Pablo
        Posted June 13, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        By the rules of intersectionality lesbians should’ve been the more oppressed.

  6. Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    “are” is also ambiguous: it can mean the subclass relation, not just the identity relation: “horses are mammals” “mammals are chordates”. (So “transwomen are women” can mean “the class of transwomen is a subclass of the class of women”.)

    On the other hand, is it possible the corner cases like sports are sufficiently irrelevant that we should take the identity claim?

    • Nobody Special
      Posted June 12, 2020 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      There is no ‘sub-class’ of women, that is an invention of trans-activists who insist that the category ‘women’ is sub-divided into ‘cis’ women and transwomen.

  7. Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Oh, one other thought: I don’t like “tone policing” sometimes, but I dare say the sort of snark in the “menstruation” comment I think might be one aspect of what is ticking people off.

    • Posted June 12, 2020 at 2:58 am | Permalink

      Yes, I have sympathy for Rowling’s point of view but that comment was ill judged. Not all biological women menstruate and some trans gender men menstruate.

      Having said that, if people, instead of ripping into JK Rowling, had calmly pointed out the problem, she might have said “oh yes, sorry about that” instead of circling the wagons.

      • Nobody Special
        Posted June 12, 2020 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        Rowling didn’t suggest that all women menstruate, simply that all people who do menstruate are women (including transgender men, who are women identifying as men. A transgender identity does not reflect the physical reality of sex ). I see no problem with that statement.

        • Posted June 12, 2020 at 10:37 am | Permalink

          I disagree. She made the comment in the context of discussing an article about menstruation health and hygiene in the pandemic.

          The phrase “people who menstruate” in the original article was clearly and unambiguously referring to the humans who menstruate (all of whom are biologically female). There’s no way to infer any other meaning because what it was talking about doesn’t apply to anybody else.

          Rowling was saying there is a label for that group of people and the label is “women”. She’s wrong on that basis, if only because post menopausal women and women who have had hysterectomies no longer menstruate.

          I agree with Rowling’s overall position, it’s just that this particular hill is the wrong one to die on. Not that there needed to be any dying, if people were capable of not behaving like rabid dogs at the first sign that somebody isn’t fully on board with the TRA message.

          • Posted June 12, 2020 at 11:16 am | Permalink

            “She’s wrong on that basis, if only because post menopausal women and women who have had hysterectomies no longer menstruate.”

            Isn’t this flaw in Rowling’s description easily corrected by just adding “who once menstruated”? I’ll admit that I have not followed this battle closely but side with Rowling based on what I’ve heard so far.

  8. Carey Haug
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I am so glad that J.K. Rowling is not backing down on supporting the rights of (natal)women and girls. I understand the strong desire of trans women to be perceived and treated as women under all circumstances whether or not they have transItioned medically. Sometimes this conflicts with the safety of vulnerable women, such as prisoners
    and rape victims. Sometimes it conflicts with fair play in women’s sports. I don’t think women should give up our hard earned rights.

    • Dawn Flood
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Read my tongue-in-check post above. I do not feel such a need; in fact, I do not care what others think of me.

      Dawn

  9. Eric Grobler
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    ” I would be more than glad to call a trans woman a “she”, or use whatever pronouns people prefer. That’s a simple matter of respect and decency.”

    I think this depends on whether the individual did make an actual commitment to transition. (not ideologically motivated)

    I do not understand why using “ANY pronoun” people prefer equates to respect and decency.
    It does not follow that “respecting” and engaging in the delusions of a schizophrenic who claims to be Cleopatra for example is in the interest of that schizophrenic.

    • Mal
      Posted June 12, 2020 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      I find the whole thing about pronouns pretty strange. If I’m speaking to someone I either use their name or I say “you“. So it’s the pronoun argument about needing respect when people are talking and the individual concerned isn’t even present?

      • Mal
        Posted June 12, 2020 at 4:07 am | Permalink

        I meant ”Is the pronoun argumen”

  10. Diki
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Here’s one from Titania McGrath

    https://mobile.twitter.com/TitaniaMcGrath/status/1269692374835507209

  11. Steve Gerrard
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    One thing that enrages Rowling’s critics is that she is so wealthy and successful that she is beyond their reach. No amount of Twitter dumping on her has any effect; she flicks it off her shoulder like Hilary Clinton flicking dandruff.

    I think the trans supporters need to complete their little mantra:
    Trans women are women
    Cis women are women
    Trans women are not Cis women

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      And they realize that calls to boycott her writings isn’t likely to have much impact. Perhaps being out of reach from social media is the new royalty.

    • Nobody Special
      Posted June 12, 2020 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      That still suggests that transwomen and ‘cis’ (i abhor that term) women are equal sub-categories of ‘women’, which is not the case.

  12. Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I’ve been aware of Furries for some time now but the reference to them here made me look it up on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furry_fandom.

    Most of them don’t seem to take this too seriously. Faculty receiving special training on dealing with them sounds like wokeness gone wild. I’m willing to bet that the furries didn’t request this special treatment. Or, if they did, they’re having a good laugh over getting it.

    The names of their “conferences” show a certain sense of humor: Anthrocon, Further Confusion, ConFurence, Califur.

    • Secular Transhumanist
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s probably “otherkin” and not “furries”. Otherkin do indeed take it way more seriously, and think they’re not just animals, but magical creatures like elves and dragons, trapped in a mortal human body.

      Sigh

      • Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        That makes sense. It sounds like a real psychological problem. I guess they should be free to do whatever they want, assuming it is harmless, but there should be no impositions placed on the rest of us.

        • JP415
          Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

          Some psychologists would label them as fantasy-prone personalities. As I understand, the term who refers to people who aren’t clinically insane, but have a difficult time distinguishing imagination from reality. (I’m sure most of us have run across people like that at some point in our lives.)

          • rickflick
            Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

            Young children often exhibit the trait. The parts of the brain that distinguish imagination from reality are probably known to neuroscientists. The syndrome is likely due to in imbalance in several processing centers (I don’t know for sure, but it just must be true).

    • Secular Transhumanist
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s more likely they were called “otherkin” rather than “furries”. Otherkin take it much more seriously, and go so far as to claim they’re not just animals, but sometimes magical creatures like elves and dragons, trapped in mortal human bodies.

      Sigh

      • Secular Transhumanist
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        Apologies for the duplicate!

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Furries seem to be more about transvestism but if you want to go hard core, check out the Therians, those who have species dysphoria
      https://therian.fandom.com/wiki/Species_Dysphoria.

      Have to say, this false report about therians wanting to use a dog park and defecate and coupulate in public like dogs gave me a laugh
      https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/portland-furries-dog-parks/.

      But it might be closer to the truth than I realize: here’s a man who lived as a badger, a wolf, and a fox: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/23/going-underground-meet-man-lived-as-animal-charles-foster.

      • XCellKen
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        Was Tarzan a Proto Therian ™ ?

        • Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          I don’t recall Tarzan being under any illusions regarding his species or sex. Just ask Jane. 😉

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

            Don’t bother asking “Cheeta”; he’s not a kiss-and-tell kinda chimp.

            • Jenny Haniver
              Posted June 11, 2020 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

              To make a bad pun, maybe he swung both ways.

  13. boudiccadylis
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    It is a somewhat numerous situation to consider the outcome of Scotland’s new “law” if it’s passed. As many of you will remember there was an ERA amendment possible to the constitution. I was and am all for it. However, my sister,who has since expired, was very much against it. Her main complaint was that men and women would be able to use the same toilets. Now this was a very intelligent person usually.
    I am sorry she’s not around today. I’m sure we would have some exciting conversations.

  14. Andrew David
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    “For, make no mistake about it, the statement ‘Trans women are women’ means ‘Trans women are biological women.’”

    It isn’t clear to me that the statement ‘Trans women are women’ means that. That statement is likely to be endorsed by those who would take pains to distinguish between “women” and “people who menstruate,” which suggests that they recognize the biological differences.

    The “trans women are women” slogan sounds like a claim about an *essence* of women that transcends biology.

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      If this is the case, then why does the movement argue that trans women should be able to compete in women’s sports? What is the “essence” of woman that is necessary to be in women’s sports?

      • Andrew David
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know, but is Cartesian dualism less common within the movement than among people in general? It seems to be the default position, so if someone is identified as a gender that doesn’t match their morphology, I‘d expect that an “essence” (or “soul” or some other immaterial “self”) is being invoked.

      • Posted June 12, 2020 at 3:39 am | Permalink

        Because it is discrimination. Women’s sports are female activities and trans women want to be treated as women in all aspects. They want to be full members of the club.

        The problem is that trans women not being biologically female is an inconvenient fact because, actually, it does matter. The tactics are to shout down people who point that out in the hope that everybody else will forget about the inconvenient fact. Anything that brings the inconvenient fact to the fore must be suppressed and that includes special categories of sports for biological women.

      • Tom Bombadil
        Posted June 13, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        Very good question, though you might note that Wikipedia argues that “Essentialism has been controversial from its beginning.”:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essentialism

        Apropos of which, you might also be interested in a very good, though not perfect, essay by Robert King at Psychology Today:

        https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hive-mind/202003/terf-wars-what-is-biological-sex

        He argues – essentially – that modern science has replaced the essences of Plato with functions:

        “Being is, as being does:

        We have a name for this in science, ‘functionalism.’ But, don’t worry about the technicalities or the jargon. The essence (see what I did there?) of functionalism is this: Something is, is what it does. Or, to put it another way, the scientific revolution largely replaced nouns, with verbs.”

        And the “essential” function of the sexes is to reproduce because of the ability to produce sperm or ova for reproduction: no gametes, no sex.

        Not a popular opinion, not least because it offends, if not seriously freaks-out, people to be confronted with the possibility that they are sexLESS.

        But, as you probably know, Darwin delayed publication of “Origin” because he thought it would offend his wife, a religious fundamentalist. Being offended is hardly proof that a claim is invalid – something which Sam Harris has recently elaborated on.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

      At least some activists do think trans women are biological women. Period.

      One argument they make is that their biology is as real as any other biology, that theirs is just a special form of female biology.

  15. Oliver S.
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    From the perspective of those gender ideologues, it doesn’t matter at all that Rowling writes that “trans people need and deserve protection,” and “I want trans women to be safe,” because to reject their dogma that trans(wo)men are (wo)men is to commit an inexcusable thoughtcrime.

  16. Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I don’t get it? She isn’t allowed to have her position and opinion? Why isn’t diversity of thought valued anymore? It’s like saying that a transgender person is allowed to do and feel and be then why isn’t this author? She’s not allowed to do and feel and be? That’s just wrong.

    • Curtis
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      It’s a purity test. There is the woke way and the evil way.

  17. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks again to our host for maintaining the
    website, from which one can learn all kinds of things. I had never heard of the Furries before, and was delighted to learn of them. They are unquestionably my kind of, uhhh, critter. A fine picture of them, at one of the Eurofurences, can be found at:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurofurence .

    As to the special training imposed on the faculty to treat Furries without implicit bias or microaggression, we can be sure that this idea came from an Associate Dean for Diversity, endlessly demonstrating the importance of his/her/zher/its office.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      I never saw it myself, but I’m aware there was an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, written by Jerry Stahl of Permanent Midnight fame, about a convention held by such folks in Las Vegas, entitled “Fur and Loathing.” 🙂

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        Haha!

  18. nay
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I’m with Rohling – transwomen are not menstruating women. Your sex is what your genes say you are. While your gender may be whatever you “feel” most comfortable with, male athletes transitioning or “fully” transitioned to female should not compete against actual females. Transitioning but not fully transitioned people should not use the target sex’ public restrooms or changing rooms. Those who wish to be opposite without the will or the funds to complete the transition should simply dress like their target sex and identify themselves as transdressers, but continue to use their actual sex’ public accommodations.
    Modern life can allow you to be WHO you want to be, but nothing changes WHAT you were born as. In my opinion, you should not deny the WHAT; just acknowledge it and move on with the WHO. Application forms should change to accommodate M/F/TransM/TransF as they did when Ms. became an option. Athletics can work on Trans versions if the numbers of such athletes eventually accommodate that.

  19. Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I’ll add just an anecdote. My wife asked an old friend, Director of a Women’s Refuge in Birmingham, U.K., if she would let in a trans woman. “No way,” she replied.

  20. Kevin
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Very recent (April 2020) UK legal case that may be of interest:

    https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2020/05/05/transgender-man-correctly-registered-as-mother-on-childs-birth-certificate/

    I would say that, if you contribute the X-chromosome to your child which was born from your womb and from your ovum, you are biologically the mother, even if your “psychological gender” is male.

    From a legal point of view, expecting to be defined as the father, implies that that child would have two legal fathers and no mother (unless the father is a trans woman who wishes to define herself as the mother). Similar to same-sex adoption I suppose.

    I think it could be legally possible to be the biological mother and also the legal father. Trans parent.

    • Posted June 12, 2020 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      How do you think the child will refer to Mr McConnell as it grows up?

      I’ll bet you £100 it is “Dad”. I don’t see any problem at all with having two dads. It might be against the law at the moment, at least in terms of the birth certificate, but laws can be changed.

      Is it important for the birth certificate to state who the biological mother is? If so, is it important for it to state the real biological father? If so, a lot of people have falsified documents.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 12, 2020 at 7:44 am | Permalink

        The link I gave above summarises the legal situation fairly concisely.

        I note particularly:
        ” Importantly, that word is used in section 2(2)(a) of the Children Act 1989 which provides that a mother has automatic parental responsibility from the moment of birth.”

        The law as is (the juduciary can only interpret the law, parliament is required to change the law) distinguishes the biological mother (including a non-genetically related surrogate) from non biological mother. Two men (either biological or trans) may both be fathers under the law (in a same sex adoption for example), but neither can be the biological mother (unless one is a trans man with female reproductive system still intact and actually birthed the child).

        The law as it stands make clear distiction between the sex of the biological mother and legally acquired fatherhood and motherhood as relating to gender identity of the parent.

        In a sense, this is in line with what many trans people tend to argue for: the law must distinguish between (biological) sex and (psychological) gender.

  21. Karst
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    For those interested in reasoned analyses by a philosopher who is critical of the excesses of those jumping on J.K. Rowling,a good place to start is with the work of Kathleen Stock at https://kathleenstock.com/public-philosophy/

    • ethologist
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Another really powerful voice–coming from a radical progressive feminist stance–is the philosopher Jane Claire Jones. Here are two recent Twitter threads by way of introduction:

      • max blancke
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        I like “performative question”. I need to remember that one.

      • Mike
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Wow that twitter thread by Jane Clare Jones is an eye-opener. The demographics of the trans rights activism (at least in the UK) are upper-middle-class professional white guys strategizing how to access the political privileges and protected status of females. And done at the expense of (and by attacking) female feminists.

  22. rickflick
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    “…men who have undergone neither surgery nor hormone treatment have been allowed to compete in women’s sports…”

    Two things:
    1. Why would any sports authority approve such a policy? I know there is pressure from the woke, but don’t they have any sense or any guts?

    2. Why would any man pawn himself off as a woman just to get a worthless medal? What will they tell their grandchildren? “This one I got by competing against the girls and I beat them all.”

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      “I know there is pressure from the woke, but don’t they have any sense or any guts?”

      No, they don’t. They’re terrified of being labelled an -ist or a -phobe.

      ” What will they tell their grandchildren? “This one I got by competing against the girls and I beat them all.””

      Yep!

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      “Why get a worthless medal?”

      Very good point. But there are a lot of people who like to lie to themselves and others, and they feel good with these lies.

      • jezgrove
        Posted June 11, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        An example eludes me…!

        • rickflick
          Posted June 11, 2020 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

          I was going to comment about how familiar that sounds. 🙂

  23. Curtis
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps we need words to distinguish between people who were born male and identify as women and people who were born female and identify as women. I propose the words trans women and cis women.

    In some cases, trans women should be treated the same cis women. In other cases, they should be treated differently. In all cases, they should be treated with respect. This is not hard to understand.

    If you insist that my daughter has to compete in sports against a biologically male, I will tell you f*** off. I will vote for people who value my daughter’s efforts. It is idiocy like this that gives support to the odious Trump.

    • Nobody Special
      Posted June 12, 2020 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Why add the ‘cis’ prefix at all? ‘Women’ has worked perfectly well to describe adult human females for a long time, and by adding the prefix the implication is that transwomen and ‘cis’ women are sub-categories of ‘women’, whereas the reality is that transwomen are men who identify as women.

  24. A C Harper
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Remember the words of solomon-samolin
    hannamckenzie.wordpress.com back on 3 June:

    “You create your own reality.”

    There are a lot of people that believe this. Why shouldn’t they? They can hold a firm opinion without doing any work to substantiate it. It’s easy.

    I’m actually quite happy for people to ‘create their own reality’… but I see no justification for them to assume tolerance or respect from other people.

  25. jezgrove
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Jo Rowling is absolutely not denigrating trans women, just saying that the biological female sex exists, and continues to face its own problems purely because of that characteristic. Given the historic treatment of the female sex, and her own personal experience, she wants women-only spaces like bathrooms and changing rooms to exclude “women” with penises. The fact that her views, and my own last sentence, are problematic says everything about this debate. Examples like Karen White are rare, but they do exist: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-45825838 I can totally understand why some women, including Jo Rowling apparently, wish to avoid similar scenarios.

  26. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Somehow, this subject makes me think of a
    not-very-good-but-not-so-bad 2005 movie, “The Ringer”. In it, a normal individual pretends to be developmentally disabled, so that he can enter, and presumably win, a Special Olympics event, on which his crafty gambler uncle places a large bet. In the event, the ringer fails to win, but nonetheless a happy ending of sorts is baked into the script.

  27. Posted June 11, 2020 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I can agree with what J.K. Rowling says, but honestly I don’t understand why she chose to get mixed up in this. Her virtual business empire supports many ordinary people who in effect are dependent on the continued popularity of her books for their own employment. If I were one of them, I would be wishing she would just sit out this issue.

    • Posted June 11, 2020 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      I’m guessing she jumps in for reasons similar to our host’s: outrage at the stupidity and injustice of the woke.

    • Mike
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      The statement on her website that Jerry linked to explains her reasons for not sitting this one out. Not outrage so much as deep personal commitment to protection of the interests of females, which she sees as degraded in some specific ways by trans activism. They seem like compelling reasons to me, but others might disagree.

  28. Beaver
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    My cat thinks he’s a dog. Oops! My tom cat thinks he’s a bitch. Oops! He’s been castrated, so now he’s totally confused! But he gets on famously with my friend’s two greyhounds.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I don’t feel comfortable with Wright’s definition of biological sex as a clinically based “binary system” (99.8 % sexed) rather than a clearly bimodel distribution (98.3 % in the peaks) since the difference between the effective population size – which captures ideal conditions – and the “sexed” population size, a difference that should capture variation, decreases. Also, it seems odd that a definition that – possibly to be nice to patients – includes infertile individuals that are “excluded from the sexual competition”, is taken as a support for exclusion in sport competition.

    But on the large, I find allegations of “transphobia” – when it is the attackers that confuse sex and gender – beyond the pale.

    Here is by the way a, for me, new hypothesis on that phenotypic bimodality between sexes that is body length and hip width. It is an essay so far and concludes with a note on bias in science, but is authored by a biological anthropologist and has lots of references to check on. Also, you have to swallow that sex competition isn’t simple:

    “Males Are the Taller Sex. Estrogen, Not Fights for Mates, May Be Why. …

    It’s not about competition; it’s about bone development and how the hormonal output of ovaries and testes affects it differently. …

    Before puberty, people with ovaries and people with testes grow at roughly the same rate. Then those with ovaries ramp up estrogen production, which stimulates the growth plates in their bones and causes the long bones in particular to lengthen. That’s why, during early adolescence, girls are generally taller than boys. The spike in growth isn’t long-lived, however, because high levels of the hormone make the growth plates fuse, …

    … there’s no evidence that hip width affects reproductive success. The width pattern holds even in species for which birthing is much easier …”

    [ https://www.quantamagazine.org/males-are-the-taller-sex-estrogen-not-fights-for-mates-may-be-why-20200608/ ]

    Essentially sex hormones would couple selection for early reproduction in human females, and for having room for more intestines, with sex. YMMV, the body length differentials variation with nutrition over time, and the hip width part, seems less supported from a very quick browsing of the paper.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      “bimodel distribution” – bimodal distribution.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted June 11, 2020 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

      I am not exactly sure what you are saying and I haven’t read whatever it is that you are citing, but, what does the mechanism of bone growth and cessation have to do with anything?

      Isn’t the fundamental issue the flood of testosterone males receive from puberty onward?

      Males and females of equal height have other significant differences.

      What have I missed?

    • Tom Bombadil
      Posted June 13, 2020 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      Looks to be an interesting article.

      But I too am unhappy with “Wright’s definition of biological sex”, although apparently for different reasons than you.

      However, I think he’s more or less spot-on – with a notable failing or two – in his lengthy and quite justified criticisms of the “sex is bimodal” thesis which both you and Jerry seem somewhat supportive of:

      But where he goes off the rails and into the weeds – in a rather spectacular fashion – is in that “99.8 % sexed” number that you apparently also object to, though probably for different reasons.

      My objection is that that number is apparently based on rather idiosyncratic and largely untenable definition for the sexes that he, along with Emma Hilton & Heather Heying, have been peddling thither and yon, including in a published letter in The Times. And I think it’s also figured centrally in a WSJ article of theirs that Jerry had also discussed in some detail in an earlier post. But the salient claim:

      “Sex refers to one of two reproductive roles in this process. Individuals that have developed anatomies for producing either small or large gametes, REGARDLESS of their past, present or future functionality, are referred to as ‘males’ and ‘females’, respectively.”

      Whether they are “referred to” as such doesn’t make them so. As Lincoln put it, calling a dog’s tail a leg doesn’t make it one: “the quality goes in before the name goes on” as an old Zenith commercial once put it.

      But that means that those absent the essential and defining FUNCTION – the “necessary and sufficient condition” – of actually being able to reproduce – the sine qua non of “sex” – can not really be said to have a sex. Which encompasses about 34% of us – at any one time – and includes the prepubescent, menopausees, eunuchs, and the otherwise infertile (about 7% of adult “males”).

  30. JP415
    Posted June 11, 2020 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Referring to women as “people who menstruate” is like referring to humans as “featherless bipeds” or cats as “organisms who meow” — basically, using a convoluted, roundabout phrase as a substitute for an everyday word. I sometimes have to pinch myself to see if I’m awake. Is this all a bizarre dream?

    • Posted June 12, 2020 at 4:07 am | Permalink

      It depends on the context. If it is in an article on some aspect of menstruation, for example VAT on tampons, then “people who menstruate” is absolutely fine because it covers everybody who is affected by VAT on sanitary products and nobody else.

    • Posted June 12, 2020 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      “Featherless biped” was an attempt to give the *essential properties* of humans, not produce a definition of the word “human” or perform a referition (some referitions use essential properties).

      Of course, Plato was wrong about those properties; some argue that there are no such properties these days (based on whatever biological consideration).

      • Posted June 12, 2020 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        What does “referition” mean? Google doesn’t seem to know it.

        • Posted June 12, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

          Definitions, strictly speaking, are sign-sign correspondences. Referitions are sign-[non-sign] correspondences. E.g., “Gold is the element with atomic number 79.”

  31. R.K. Watkins
    Posted June 13, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but I can’t swing along with the crazies. I don’t see any fundamental difference between a man self-identifying as a woman, than a man self-identifying as a dolphin. I wouldn’t support the delusion that the person was a dolphin when they clearly are not, no matter how convincing they made themselves look like a dolphin. I hope they live long and happy lives, but I just can’t go along with the delusion. Men are men, and women are women, and that’s really all there is to that.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 13, 2020 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re missing some of the subtlety.

      • R.K. Watkins
        Posted June 13, 2020 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        I really don’t think I am. I think the “subtlety” is just thinly veiled mental masturbation that vigorously tries to distract people from the truth, but to each their own. Nobody has to agree with me.


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