In which I am canceled as a transphobe

July 11, 2023 • 10:45 am

A while back I was invited to go on a video podcast to talk about evolution. I agreed and was fully prepared to talk only about evolution, as requested.  Then the host, whom I won’t name, had a family emergency and had to cancel the podcast.  There was no mention about rescheduling the show for a later date.

After a few weeks, a reader asked me about the podcast, which I’d mentioned before, so I wrote the host inquiring about it, asking whether we could reschedule. In the reply was this, which shocked me down to my soles:

Since our last message, I have been advised that our Q&A would unfortunately not likely remain focused on evolution so much as on recent comments from yourself regarding the trans community. This being a live show, that would be unavoidable. I am not comfortable speaking for groups to which I do not belong, especially not on a topic where I, like you, have no formal education or experience. Though I do have close relatives on both sides of my family, as well as dear friends who are trans. I will support them (like the activist I have always been) against our State legislators who have begun targeting their own constituents. ‘Muricah!
I have always admired your voice as an advocate of evolution, but other fields of science overlap human rights issues where you and I disagree, and this would inevitably come up. That is not the show that I had hoped to have.

I responded politely, pointing out that I have never been a transphobe but have questioned the “rights” of trans women to occupy “female spaces,” most particularly women’s athletics. As you know, this view is based on scientific grounds: data showing convincingly that biological men who transition to women during or after puberty retain a significant level of male physiological and morphological traits (greater muscle mass, grip strength, bone strength and density, etc.) that would give them an athletic advantage over biological women.  To me that is unfair, which is a moral conclusion drawn from the data. If there were no such advantages, I wouldn’t be at all opposed to trans women competing against biological women.

As you also know if you read here regularly, my only other objection to trans women occupying women’s spaces are places like women’s prisons, shelters for battered women, and rape-counseling centers. That’s as far as I go. And I’ve said a gazillion times, in all other respects I think that trans people, whether they identify as men or women, should have all the rights, respect, and equal treatment by others. I also have no issue with calling people whatever pronouns they like.

If I sound defensive here, I’m really not: I want to point out that this person has clearly no idea of what my views on trans people are, or, if the host does, then we have an honest disagreement which isn’t “transphobic.” And there is some scientific support for my position on sports, at least.  Although I wrote a polite response, upon thinking it over I think that what the host wrote is ignorant, offensive, and absurd.

In my response I also reiterated that I wanted to talk only about evolution, not gender issues, and I would certainly not have brought the latter up. I’m not sure whether this podcast takes questions from viewers, but even so the gender issue could easily have been avoided by simply announcing that we’re talking only about evolution.  I have no idea why talking about trans issues would have been “unavoidable.”

I’m curious who “advised” this host, but the host should have done their own research. The “advice” was simply bad.

Finally, I am not speaking “for” trans people, but about them, and I know enough, I think, to have an opinion about athletics and other moral issues. This is like saying that we can have no opinion on any issue involving minorities or oppressed people unless we are one of them. It behooves us to listen, of course, but it doesn’t behoove us to turn off our brains.

In the end, I am appalled that this mentality exists. It’s one thing to damn someone as a hater of trans people, but another completely to punish someone—yes, that’s what this person is trying to do—for discussing the athletic and ethical implications of a limited set of trans “rights.”

As for the host, it’s their loss. The result is that people don’t get to hear about evolution simply because I have “wrongthink” on an issue that wouldn’t even have arisen. What a world!

Oh, I should add that I use the word “canceled” above as a bit of hyperbole. A host has the right to boot a guest off their private podcast, even if it’s for things not connected with the topic at hand. But it might as well have been cancelation, because I’m banned for. . . . well, it’s really not clear!

110 thoughts on “In which I am canceled as a transphobe

  1. “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” – Groucho Marx

    1. Nor would I. Strange that the ordinary, majority, opinions I post here and elsewhere sometimes result in criminal charges as ‘hate speech’ in some jurisdictions. No doubt Canada will follow suit. Wear your silly transphobe badge with pride, Jerry.

  2. I’m not sure the pod caster is worth the trouble of your explanation. If one is that spooky, not sure he or she is in the right business.

  3. Personally, I would have named the podcaster. Many podcasters present themselves as news, or news-adjacent, or at least as educational. Edutainment perhaps? Either way, once an information source begins to filter out facts on a topic for reason A or B, then it is no longer as useful to its audience. Personally, I would like to know which podcasts that I might have assumed to be neutral and curious are, in fact, not.

  4. My experience is much minor but I was almost banned from a web site because I used inadvertently the expression trans-woman, as opposed to the allowed trans woman or transwoman. Apparently the hyphen made me a transphobe (but not a trans-phobe).
    I’m afraid some people feel they have accomplished something positive for calling someone a name.

    1. Foucault wrote about how language is power. I’ll have to get that book again – to power up my language power.

    2. They object to transwoman too, because they say it’s an adjective and a noun and needs a space, which it can’t be because men are not any type of woman. I got fed up with them policing speech and appropriating women’s words so, like most sane people I know, I have switched to the accurate term ‘trans identifying males’, or TIMs for brevity.

      TIMs are demanding that women are called ‘cervix havers’ etc, but still use the term ‘woman’ for themselves and they now even drop the ‘trans’. They insist men can be lesbians and any lesbian who rejects their ‘ladydick’ is a bigot..

      This piece in The Telegraph, yes Telegraph, not the Daily Mail, shows where we are headed if people don’t defend basic biological terms.

      Of course men get to keep the word ‘penis’. It isn’t being renamed a ‘flesh tube’ because men would tell them to get lost, it’s only women they want to oppress and they don’t listen to us.

    3. I ran into the hyphen kerfuffle myself a couple years ago. A person was raging at me online for my “phobia” because I had used a hyphen, having absolutely no idea that navel-gazers and offense-mongers had determined the “correct” way to present the word, as well as the supposedly “obvious” differences between the three options and evident “phobia” in one’s hyphen.

      Eventually, the person explained to me the “correct” presentation.

      “I had no clue,” I replied.

      “Then you are still a transphobe,” the person wrote.

      Can’t win.

  5. “community”

    I’d point out that this ubiquitous word suggests all ages. Adults are one thing. But the problem of age-appropriate is not easy to solve.

    So it is peculiar, the interest in ages below 25 or 18, whichever rough idea we have of the line between “adult” and “child”. Which, by definition, is in “community” – and if only “the ____s in our community”, why not say “the ____s”?


    1. No, nor do I expect one. I didn’t feel like saying that “yes, we can do a podcast all about evolution.” I was too ticked off to ask for that, nor do I favor promoting the person’s podcast by being on it.

  6. “Transphobe”, like all words connected with gender identity ideology, is cast about with no attention paid to the real definition. I’m sorry to hear that you have been branded with this now meaningless word – but it is the podcast host’s loss, as others have said.

    1. I suspect that part of Aron’s criticism of our host is not just what our host has written on this site (pretty uncontroversial overall) but that many commenters here have been much more outspoken than Jerry himself: saying no to pronouns; arguing that trans is a mental disorder and not a physical or physiological trait; insisting that there are only two sexes and that trans women are males; and ridiculing the, well, ridiculous claims of some of the more woke biologists who have generated suspect scholarship in support of dubious inclusion goals (cf. sparrows, clownfish).

    2. Yes, like the imaginary, ‘terf’ I wear it as a badge of honour as it shows that I accept evolution, through which mammals came to be immutably binary male or female.

      Many trans friends also understand their biology.

      1. TERF is a badge of honor. It means we accept biological reality and demand that we (Women) have the dignity, privacy, and safety of Women-only spaces.

  7. Our Prime Minister calls it transphobic hate to say that transwomen are not women. He even said it on International Women’s Day. I’m sure he doesn’t really believe it and neither do most ordinary people with common sense. But say it he will if his handlers want the Party’s brand to promote this ideology.

    So yes you are a transphobe for wanting to keep women from getting into women’s spaces on the grounds they are trans (I.e., men)
    . To them it’s like saying you want to exclude black women because they are black.

    Wear it with pride, PCC(E). Wear it with pride. Or else don’t give uptake to it. Once they call you a transphobe, denying it just proves you are. You have conceded the field to them. You can no more say, “I am not: a transphobe,” than you can say “I am not a racist.” The only proper response to an accusation of transphobia now is, “So? … your point?”

    1. “Wear it with pride, PCC(E). Wear it with pride. ”

      But the suggestion is an insult, given the assiduous analysis PCC(E) does here – and opens for discussion – and highlights other work similarly (e.g. Colin Wright) for free.

      1. I take your point. Jerry has been scrupulous in bearing no ill will toward trans people as people, which makes his scientific arguments all the more compelling. It is probably a label he would not be proud to wear and in fact he wasn’t called one. But the times are changing as the trans extremists lose ground and become desperate. He and others who speak out may become saddled with the insult. But that’s all it is. An insult.

        1. You aren’t alone. No one I know is a ‘transphobe’. Every gender critical person supports equal rights for trans people, which they have already in the UK.

          But the trans activist element wants to remove women’s right to safety and dignity under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They want the ‘right’ to be naked with women and girls in changing rooms, hospital wards, refuges and toilets, where females deal with personal hygiene, and they want to give personal care to disabled or elderly women without a chaperone and without their consent.

          Women, and men who respect women, have drawn a line.

        2. Yes, exactly. I have some sympathy for the argument that “transphobe” has become a badge of honor, because these days it is usually thrown at people starting facts, questioning medical procedures that haven’t been well tested for long term effects, or who are arguing for non-trans (usually women’s) rights. It’s easy to see that many good people are being tagged with this term. On the other hand, there are real transphobes that do and say awful things. I would not accept the term as a badge of honor because I despise real transphobes.

    2. Leslie, are we really sure our Prime Minister “doesn’t really believe it”?
      I hesitate to call him “our”.
      I understand his virtue signalling woke activist agenda but can he stoop that low and honestly look his wife in the face?

      1. I try not to be partisan here, Robert, especially when discussing the politics of what is no longer a serious country. I point out that the Opposition parties consented to the unanimous passage in 2021 of Bill C-4. It makes it a criminal offence (as conversion therapy) to carry out or even “promote” psychotherapy intended to help someone with gender dysphoria to become comfortable in the body s/he was born in, even though this happens spontaneously in many people, even adults, if left to their own devices. WPATH itself acknowledges this. The gender soul is not fixed at conception after all.

        I don’t think anyone believes that transwomen are women. Yet all the MPs voted for a law that could put a person (not just a doctor or a therapist) in jail for advocating against the proposition, depending on how “problematic” the police regarded the speaker’s words.

  8. Though I do have close relatives on both sides of my family, as well as dear friends who are trans. I will support them (like the activist I have always been) against our State legislators who have begun targeting their own constituents. ‘Muricah!

    I’ve noticed that self-identified Rationalists who condemn skepticism of transgender issues almost always bring up two points:

    1.) They have friends and/or family who identify as trans
    2.) Opposition to transgender issues is coming from the political Right.

    This is apparently sufficient to resolve the topic by deciding who’s on the side of the angels.

    Personally, I never deny (or agree) with charges of being a “transphobe.” Not only is the term defined so broadly as to be useless, but it refocuses the issue on me — which is irrelevant. Who cares? Even if I was indeed a steaming cauldron of hatred, malice, and conformity, I could still be right.

    1. “… it refocuses the issue on me — which is irrelevant.”

      Precisely – you have to admire the strategy, it is clever.

      But in particular, it is different from e.g. “Islamophobe” because of the simple attraction factor – perhaps a person is not attracted to trans people – so the curse of “transphobe” can make sense at some level – but it is a conflation of the attractiveness with fear. Or perhaps a different angle, perhaps it is a way to get the target to doubt their own confidence in themselves, that they might actually want to be trans but are in denial. It’s a psychological game.

      That is not active in “Islamophobia” (which I think we are pretty clear on here).

    2. Your two reasons are exactly why formerly rational orgs like Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Atheists have quickly capitulated to trans ideology.

    3. It also implies that having trans relatives would somehow automatically make somebody accept all tenets of the current trans-activist dogma. But is silly, because it would not. Just as having religious relatives won’t make me support theocracy.

      1. It’s just as reasonable to posit that losing a relative, especially an offspring, to the trans cult would galvanize one to fight back against trans ideology, especially in medicine or other (supposedly) knowledge-based disciplines.

  9. BTW

    Don’t say the “g” word. That will bring grief one’s way (from what I gather).

    As in, what one does perhaps with a brush – combing one’s hair… rhymes with “tomb”…

    I don’t want to say it myself.

  10. A commenter on Matt Taibbi’s post about the history of flag burning points out that our right to burn the American flag is protected as free speech whereas burning a rainbow flag could get you charged with hate speech. Interesting to think about.

    1. That’s completely false under US First Amendment law. There’s a real case upholding literal KKK cross-burning, for example. How many times has the literal Nazi parade case been mentioned in debates? There’s no such First Amendment exception for “hate speech” at all, no matter how many times ignorant people on the “Left” want one, or how many people on the “Right” just make it up that such exists for the causes they hate.

  11. The thing about being woke is that you can simply align yourself with the rest of the herd and know you are 100% right without ever having to think for yourself.

    A perfect combination of ignorance and arrogance — no wonder it is so popular.

  12. There is one other thing comes to mind in these discussions, and Jerry has alluded to it. My source is a VERY old article in a special issue of the journal Social Education (for social sciences teachers in pre-college classrooms). The special issue is on teaching about social controversies and the author (Lockwood) makes what I thought immediately was a brilliant suggestion for untangling the issues in these arguments.
    He suggested that teachers should help students to separate those issues that could be resolved by “disciplined inquiry” (by that, he meant, inquiry within a scholarly discipline). So, questions about athletic performance can be studied biologically, biomechanically, experimentally, and so on within the disciplines that typically study this sort of thing.
    For example, students in a colleague’s class were objecting because there was no “intermediate” or “non-binary” category for regressions that estimate lung capacity from stature, age, and biologic sex. So, my suggestion was to collect data in the course lab, set up an analysis, and explore how the data they collected fit with the predictions of the regressions. Did the non-binary students fall outside BOTH of the confidence ranges of predictions from the existing sex-based regressions?
    The second thing that Lockwood suggested was that we categorize the rest of the issues by what sphere generates them: morals and ethics, laws and regulations, religious doctrine and ideology, and so on. And THEN to ask how scholars in those arenas approach issues.
    This is a summary of the main impact of turning these arguments into fruitful discussions (and also getting students to learn ways of engaging the essential elements of these issues without reverting to calling someone a “transphobe” or a “speciesist” or (as ultimately happens so often, a “Nazi”).
    Lockwood G. 1996. Controversial issues: the teacher’s crucial role. Social Education 60(1):28‒31

    1. That would be a great approach, provided the trans activist lobby were prepared to enter into serious, structured, intelligent discussions.

      Trouble is, they’re not interested in that sort of stuff at all. They have a quasi-religious dogma to impose, and intelligent discussion doesn’t contribute to that ideological objective.

  13. The key thing in the trans issue (and apologies if you already covered this–I only skimmed your post) is the fixed pie problem.

    When it comes to same-sex marriage, for example, why should I care if someone else gets rights that I already have? Doesn’t hurt my marriage at all. But in the case of “a trans woman is a woman,” you’ve got to pick who gets shortchanged. Is it the women athletes who must compete against trans women, or is it the trans women who are excluded from women’s sporting events? Is it the women and girls in a shelter or changing room who must have a trans woman with them or the trans women who are excluded from women-only spaces?

    I have no answers to these questions, but first we should see that there is an issue. The pie is fixed, and if trans women get a piece of it, XX women and girls get less. Contrast this with same-sex marriage, where you only need to change attitudes to eliminate the problem.

    1. Bob, welcome among the transphobes!
      Or did you not get the memo?: Claiming that there is a conflict of interests between transwomen and any other group is transphobic.
      Bob, it won’t do to say, like you do, that you “have no answers to these questions.” Just stating that there is at least one conflict of interest involving transwomen is transphobic.
      Sorry, pal.

      While working through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance that you are a transphobe), I recommend for perusal:
      Eliza Mondegreen: The falsehood at the heart of the trans movement. Oct 21, 2022

      1. The Belgian Waffle Ride (bike race), which recently had a trans person win the female division, has just created an ‘open’ division. The female division is now open only to “racers who were born female”. My female bike racer friends were outraged about the recent results – maybe this will help. (Although BWR also stated that there will be equal prize money for male, female and open divisions, so expect to see some not-quite-elite male racers dominating the open division.)

      2. Has anyone actually done this, had an open category in addition to the men’s category? In most sports you’d have one “open” competitor show up to race by him/herself. My eminently testable hypothesis is that you’d actually have nobody enter the open category because there would be no women in that category for them to beat. I don’t think it’s likely that hundreds of male-bodied trans athletes (MBTAs) would take up competitive sport to compete fairly against each other where only one would win. But we could find out.

        The alternative, to have the men’s category re-defined as open, would result in the MBTAs eliminated from competition far far down the competitive ladders. MBTAs as they appear now would not show up in any major meet and might not even make the qualifying time for a marathon like Boston. You’re not going to have MBTAs in even the preliminary heats. 250th is just not fast enough to get an invitation.

        If an elite male athlete did decide to become trans and retained his competitive edge in drug-free competition, more power to him. It wouldn’t make sense to tell him he couldn’t compete with the men just because he was now presenting as a woman.

        1. I recently heard of a race that had categories for men, open, and women, with equal prize money. Males won 2/3 of the prize money. Equity!

    2. MacPherson’s Law – women are always short changed. When any other right comes up against a woman’s rights, the woman must concede.

    1. I had the same thought!

      I started compiling in my head a list of rock songs that would be cancelled today. For example, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (transphobic), and sexist songs like Rod Stewart’s “Stay With Me” and The Nails “88 Lines About 44 Women.”

      No wonder I’m so corrupted – I came of age listening to songs like those.

  14. I agree that nowadays, “transphobe” is a label one should wear with pride, and it puts him in a good company.
    I’d also say that, while it is a pity that Prof. Coyne lost the potential audience of the podcast about evolution, clarity about sex is much more important with regard to social activism to which his not-host referred. I mean, denying evolution is regrettable but does not make people infertile, ruin the lives of children and entire families, or turn women into second-class citizens, while the trans madness does all of these and therefore must be fought.

  15. I’ve gotten into this tussle as well, being labeled a transphobe because I questioned that trans women athletes should be allowed to compete in high level women’s sports without constraint. This really is my only concern, otherwise I welcome trans women having complete equality.
    For me, it helps to keep perspective. Most people I meet who support trans do not feel I’m a transphobe, it’s just a vocal minority. The damage done to athletics is numerically small – there aren’t very many trans high level athletes – and the space created for trans people on the whole by this rabid defense seems a much larger societal good. This is my view, ymmv.
    The accommodation of trans is new, and the pronouns and roles haven’t had generations to sort things out. Those will come, hopefully, until then most trans I’ve met – family members and work colleagues – have been shown themselves to be very patient. Again, my experience, ymmv.
    So, yeah, it hurts when someone who you normally count as an ally or comrade suddenly turns on you. And it especially hurts when their reason is ignorance or ideological purity enforcement, and their reaction is outsized and rude, and ignores that you’re ninety percent on the same page.
    But on the grand scale of problems in our society, this is a very, very minor one – and I don’t generally give it the attention that I would to global warming, racism, income inequality, existence of Trump and his millions of supporters, Ukraine war, corporate person hood, oligarchy, plutocracy… you get the picture.

    1. Thing is, though, you can actually do something to curtail the damage trans ideology does to women and adolescents of both sexes. The small number of trans male athletes taking titles from women in every sport they choose to compete in can and will be reduced to zero and laws prohibiting gender mutilation of adolescents are making headway in state legislatures and in the courts where they are an inspiration to us in Canada. Those are fixable problems because the behaviour is recognized as deviant and we can accelerate the passing of the fad. All those other “grand scale” problems are things that you must know you can’t do anything about, largely because they are collective-action problems or are not universally regarded as things that even need fixing. Corporate personhood does far more good than harm, which is why it exists, and “oligarchy” or “plutocracy” are too vaguely specified to be actionable.

      You will have allies on the right and left in bringing radical transgender ideology to heel. The other hard problems are partisan-polarized.

    2. I don’t care about sports, but I do care about women, and women’s rights, dignity, and safety. These are being eroded daily, and many objectors to the gender cult have been vilified, risked job loss, and been physically attacked.

      One thing I do care about is the treatment of incarcerated people — and I watch while in the interest of “fairness” and “inclusion” we have women in prison asking for contraception, because they are locked in cells with “trans” women, and they know what that means. I could go on. For quite a while.

      I even care about trans people! Because frankly, the honest ones, at least, suffer from a delusion which is causing them distress, and I want them to get better. And yet, the current fad is to not to help that person come to terms with reality but to “affirm” the delusion, even to the extent of radical surgeries and drug therapies administered to children. And guess what, after all that they’re still their natal sex.

      And “complete equality”? As Ophelia Benson once put it,

      If you really thought that they were women, you would ignore them and talk over them, at best, just as you do us. If you really thought that they were women, you would bully and threaten them as you do us. If you really thought that they were women, you would unleash violence against them, at worst, just as you do us.

    3. RE: “The damage done to athletics is numerically small – there aren’t very many trans high level athletes.”
      The damage to women’s sports is still small, but it is increasing at a fairly brisk pace. Also, who ever claimed that a small number of illegally doped athletes would be acceptable? Nobody. Because it would not be okay!

      Transwomen are not women. They are biological males who identify as women. Identifying as something does not turn you into that something. You cannot change your sex, or your skin color, etc. (Could I become a member of the National Academy of the Sciences by identifying as one?) Calling men women is gaslighting, pure and simple. And let’s not play dumb here: Making us accept calling men women, in the name of kindness, is only the opening gambit in a play aiming to abolish all female-only spaces (bathrooms, women’s prisons, rape shelters, etc.). These spaces were created to protect women. And this rationale is still valid. (Also, ask your mom, sister(s), daughter(s), how they feel about stripping naked in front of male strangers.)
      These are not radical thoughts. The majority of the population in countries like the US, Canada and UK agree:

      United States:
      Most Americans support anti-trans policies favored by GOP, poll shows. Washington Post, May 5, 2023
      Poll: Opposition to trans minors’ health care, sports access hardening. May 5, 2023

      United Kingdom/Great Britain:
      Our polling reveals Scottish voters are the most trans-sceptical. Feb. 2023

      Macdonald-Laurier Institute, Ottawa: Canadians’ Views on Women’s Sport and Gender Identity. August 4, 2021
      Majority of [Canadian] recreational athletes say sports should be separated by sex: poll. Jan 9, 2023

      Of course, this won’t stop radical trans activists and their allies call us transphobes and fascists. I don’t care.
      As Peter Boghossian mentioned in a recent interview he conducted with Helen Joyce*, people like himself, me, and many of the commenters here, are deemed “on the wrong side of history” in not accepting that the penis can be a female sex organ. Helen Joyce’s comment on that: “Let history be the judge of that.”

      *the author of the bestselling book Trans: When ideology meets reality (2021), and now a women’s rights campaigner with Sex Matters, in the UK

    4. I’ll just comment here and then leave the thread – the folks replying to my comment are exactly the sort of folks… “trans is a delusion”, “no such thing as trans”… that I’m not. People should be able to choose their gender, even if they can’t choose their sex. Sorry to see they seem to find oxygen in this blog – which I have been reading for so many years. I rarely venture into the comments, and don’t think I will again.

      1. Robert, that’s too bad. I wish you’d stay and tell folks like me why you think we’re wrong. It’s a conversation.

        1. Exactly. Storming off in a huff(?) without a conversation is a poor response. If a male wishes to live his life as a female,that’s his right to do so. But a transwoman who retains those biological traits of a male – greater strength, greater speed etc – then he exhibits the very things which separated out men and women in sports in the first place. Sports need to retain their fairness, and women need to retain the right to women-only spaces.

      2. “People should be able to choose their gender, even if they can’t choose their sex.” – Robert Waltz

        What is gender? Your statement seems to presuppose a complete conceptual separation of manhood/womanhood (boyhood/girlhood) as gender (≠ sex) categories from maleness/femaleness as sex categories, such that “male woman”/”female man” is no longer a contradiction in terms. But how do you define “man”/”woman” (“boy”/”girl”) as nonbiological, purely psychological or sociological categories? (The circular pseudodefinition in terms of self-identification as a man/woman is obviously inadequate and irrelevant!)

        1. I had a thought to add about gender:

          Gender is funny because everyone has one. They have a damn good idea what it is, and how significant it is, how meaningful, how distinct, its limits, etc. There’s stuff I do that is sorta feminine, there’s stuff that’s sorta masculine. Yet, it is predominantly one of those. So what?

          IOW it should be pretty plain and obvious.

          So what would explain the Epic Proportions to which gender is raised? I think it has to do with how closely gender resembles soul. Judith Butler uses the word “soul” in her writing – and I think they means it. It is not figurative. It is congruous to other writing by other authors where humans are transcendent beings.

          So to wrap up – gender is – to many – their soul – and especially so if they are not religious (IMHO). I need to assemble some clear excerpts to show this though.

          1. Actually, TP, nobody has a gender. Gender is a grammatical term that applies to nouns and other parts of speech that have to agree with them. It doesn’t apply to real physical objects like people. Its application to people is a purely invented concept because, in English, the word was lying around on the couch not even looking for work because English does not have gender. You only first meet the word when you start learning a second language that uses it, like French. In French, gender is so busy making adjectives, possessives, and participles agree with nouns for oranges, fruit flies, motorcycles, pizzas, and countries it doesn’t have time for psychological navel gazing.

            Gender crept into English as a euphemism for sex. Our Prime Minister preened over his “gender-balanced” Cabinet of sycophants of both sexes in 2015. Gender-neutral language, the ubiquitous “he/she” in bureaucratic directives, has been around since the 1980s. But gender never described anything about a person’s personality or social role. Women who did neurosurgery or firefighting were challenging sex-role stereotypes and we had sexual harassment when it was the powerful sex exploiting the less powerful sex.

            Gender burst onto the scene only when it became the thing you had to change in order to join a cult. Since people don’t have gender (nor souls), and what we call gender is just an epi-phenomenon of sexual dimorphism, why not just drop the whole concept into the Dustbin of History?

          2. Ah, well done.

            Then I’d borrow Sam Harris’ line of reasoning on the Self and posit that everyone has the illusion of gender.

            But the point is the sleight of hand – we all have whatever it is that is meant by “gender” but look how easily “we” can be fooled when someone like Judith Butler unloads their prose to spin us in circles and effectively redefine what we already know – like how a theologian can ostensibly make anyone a Christian.

            Maybe Sam Harris does that too in some sense but at least he is empirical, asking us to “look” for the self, “where is it”, etc.

          3. The dictionary documents prior use as a guide to etymology and documents current use to help readers understand a word in current context. It has no prescriptive authority. I reject most of what it says on gender identity as something distinct from personality shaped and displayed in a sexually dimorphic species. The implication that a socio-culturally and psychologically effeminate person can be called a woman notwithstanding that he’s a man is pernicious.

  16. To suggest that you “have no formal education” on the issue is also offensive. You’re an evolutionary biologist. You have extensive education on sex and sexual dimorphism. There are few people who could be more educated.

    This person isn’t interested in a discussion with you because they are, as they said, an “activist.” They don’t care if your views are scientifically sound and grounded in reality. They only care that your views do not comport with their own, and with that of the activist line.

  17. The podcaster says “I will support them (like the activist I have always been) . . . ”

    This is, I am convinced, part of our political problem. A certain number of people are activists by disposition. No problem? Find a problem. Still no problem? Imagine a problem. Minor problem? Exaggerate the problem. Fix the problem? Never.

  18. Dear Professor Coyne,

    Everything in this post appears very reasonable except for where you say, “biological men who transition to women”. By the scientific standards that you espouse, this expression seems non-sensical. Accepting that a man can transition to being a woman is on the level of accepting that a spoon can be bent via telekinesis. If we all accept that Uri Geller bends spoons with his sight, is he actually doing so? I know I’m at risk of sounding pedantic here, but why refer to human fantasies with language that legitimates them as truths? Isn’t this at the root of our current mess regarding the trans issue?

    With my best,

    Sergio Mariscal

    1. I will comment here, although this certainly isn’t the only spot where this comment could go. It is technically correct to say that “trans women are women”, but it wouldn’t be correct to say “trans women are female”. Its a semantic mine field, but let me try to explain.
      1. The terms man and women refer to ones’ gender, and that involves ones’ gender identity — what kind of sexualized anatomy you should have. So trans women are women, and trans men are men because the little thing in ones’ head that tells you what anatomy you should have is apparently out of kilter in their case. It is tragic that this is, but it’s important to be supportive bc the experience is actually real (to them). In the cases I am referring to, their incorrect gender identity can appear in early childhood, just like it would with cis people. Only it’s wrong for them, and it must be terribly frightening, quite frankly. I know something of this from indirect experience bc I’ve known a couple trans kids.
      2. The terms male and female refer to biological sex, and at the basal level that is about ones’ potential to make certain kinds of gametes (eggs in the case of females, and sperm in the case of males). This is why it isn’t right for transactivists to say that trans women are female, or that trans men are male. That is where they go wrong.

      1. Thanks for your reply. Would you mind explaining what do you mean by “that little thing in one’s head”? Are we talking about of a functional disorder? Why “should” one have a type of anatomy and not another? Why do we say, for example, “women’s swimming”?

        1. Good question, and the answer is ‘we don’t know’. I was referring to whatever it is that makes everyone come to believe their gender identity. Cis people and trans people, and there are those who are in between, have something in their brain that makes them identify as a certain gender. Is the brain gendered? It is apparently so in humans and in other animals, and we simply don’t know how it works.
          But somehow, transpeople have a brain that makes them believe their gender ID is different from their anatomy. There are also people who are sort of in between. I made an acquaintance with a person who was biologically male, but identified as female. Full female dress. Big beehive hairdo, high heal shoes, the works. He (I will say ‘he’ here) was older and a bit old-fashioned. But over a few weeks he gradually moved back to more and more male dress. I had asked him what was going on and he explained that he was feeling more like being a man and that this happens every year or so. Go figure.
          Strangely, trans activists are apparently very much against research that would study how the brain is gendered. It seems to me, though, that understanding that would lend a great deal of credibility and acceptance to the claims of trans people.

      2. Mark, the women I know, including the one I live with, respectfully submit that it is not for you, a man, to decide what women are. The tribe gets to decide who its members are, not the outsiders. A woman is an adult female human, identified as female from having been born with the body plan that makes large immotile gametes. No one born with a male body can be a woman under any circumstances or definition, ever. Whatever they are, women they are not. Gender, whatever that is, doesn’t even enter into it. That’s what women say.

        Whatever is wrong with men who think their bodies don’t match their “gender soul” — and this must truly be distressing — the problem is not that they are really women, just as people who think in their souls they must be part Cherokee really aren’t, unless the Cherokee Nation says they are.

        I’m not singling you out but every straight man (or male if you like) and every lesbian woman (female) who says transwomen are women should answer two questions: 1) Would you have a romantic sexual relationship with a transwoman? and 2) Do transwomen get to compete in women’s sports, or not?

        1. I’m having some difficulty in parsing all that right now (went out to dinner. Two beers). But of course the self-governing answer to the first question is ‘no’. That is bc trans woman is still anatomically similar to the characteristics of a male, and we cis men and lesbian women are not attracted to that. We don’t want big hands, a deep voice, body hair, and definitely no penis. This would be similar to not wanting to “do it” with anyone that we don’t find attractive. Of course that won’t set well with proper trans activists.
          To go back to my earlier comment, trans women are women bc they identify with that, and it’s ok with me to call them women, ‘she’, ‘her’, etc., because those terms refer to gender and that is what they say they are. But not female, which is biological sex, and I and my lesbian sisters are only attracted to females and in particular to the secondary characteristics that go with that. Attractive females, mind you (& it feels weird writing this).
          As for your second question: Trans women should be restricted from participating in elite female sports because it as unfair to cis women.

          1. Women don’t like to be referred to as females, just as I don’t like to be called “a male.” (Fe)male is an adjective. To use it as a noun implies a (wo)man’s whole being is reduced to what the adjective describes.* “Woman” is a perfectly serviceable noun that captures everything that goes into being a woman, femaleness being an essential part. I doubt that your lesbian sisters actually say they are attracted to “females.” Females of what species?

            I think you have conceded with your qualifications that, in your own estimation, transwomen aren’t really women. It’s only because you seem to accept that people have gender as some attribute distinct from sex that should trump it in defining “woman” that you can even say that transwomen ought to be regarded as women at all, ever, based on some putative thing in their heads. But as soon as a situation arises where it matters to you, you say, “Nuh-uh! They’re not female enough to count as women.”

            Think how much easier intellectually it becomes if you just call them trans-identified males (or men) as a commenter says upthread. Then a man’s imagination that he is a woman becomes a private mental matter that gains him no access to spaces reserved for women: locker rooms, short-lists for corporate advancement through the glass ceiling, sports, refuges, and prisons. He’s just a man with a personality quirk, autogynephilia, say, not a woman. If you don’t want a sexual relationship with a ordinary bloke, there is no reason why you should want one with a trans-identified man.

            The whole deception around trans ideology is that a man can become a woman, just by some imaginary thing he says he has in his head and the rest of us are obliged to accept that on its face. This is where Alice has to say, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”
            * This is a general objection to the nounification of adjectives. We prefer “John has diabetes” to “John is a diabetic.” Instead of referring to “the homeless” (homeless what?), we should call them bums. So it should be a female person. Which equates to “woman.”

      3. It is a semantic minefield, and part of the polysemous swamp is that most people would not define ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as you have chosen to here. It is only very recently that it was Decided that these words properly refer only to one’s gender identification (and/or presentation). They used to mean adult human male and female, respectively. When we talk about boars and sows, bulls and cows, ducks and drakes, etc, we are still referring to the animal’s (‘biological’) sex. Why for our species do the species-specific terms refer to psychological factors instead?

      4. I’m trying to understand this.

        Sex: what kind of sexual anatomy you have.
        Gender: socially-constructed ideals of masculine and feminine.(standard definition)
        Gender Identity: what kind of sexual anatomy you think you should have.

        What is the relationship between Gender and Gender Identity?

        1. Polysemy again. It seems that Gender Roles, Gender Identification, and Gender Presentation are all meant sometimes by the single word ‘gender’. Presumably they can vary independently of each other (and of Sexual Orientation).

      5. The standard, basic definition for “woman” that I’ve known since childhood and that goes back centuries is “adult human female.” By that definition, a male cannot be a woman. Now, I wasn’t really very concerned about conflating “transwoman” with “woman” or “transman” with “man” until gender ideology came along where you are supposed to think of the terms as meaning exactly the same thing and are supposed to ignore a person’s actual sex, to the point of ridiculousness (like arguments that both heterosexuals and homosexuals are bigots for only accepting one physical sex as possible sexual partners – they should, according to ideologists, be considering partners based on gender identity). I feel that saying “transwomen/men are women/men” is dangerous, since people who keep chanting this seem to be performing something like self-hypnosis, convincing themselves that unreality is reality. I think we need to be careful with the terms, at least until the current extreme anti-reality form of gender ideology fades.

      6. “The terms man and women refer to ones’ gender, and that involves ones’ gender identity”

        Who says?!? And when and why did they get the power to declare that to be the authoritative understanding? Surely you can see that this version of the definition has not been the dominant one in use for the history of the English language or, probably, any language. Man vs. woman referred to the biological sex of adult humans. Playing this definitional trick, and then (as often happens) using it to overturn equal-rights law for women and girls, or to gaslight children and everyone else, is risible.

        This exact issue is why the “What is a woman?” question now causes such an absurd quandary for Democrat politicians, and why this issue could easily cause a disaster for Biden and other Democrats in the election next year. Just how many woman voters do you think Democrats can afford to lose?

        1. Thanks to you and to all the others who have responded so generously to my original question. From what you all have said, a few things have become clear to me. Firstly, gender is a pseudo-explanatory theory whose purpose seems to be the separation of physical from socio-cultural characteristics. Taken to its logical conclusion, this separation is spurious as social-cultural categories are always connected to a physical substratum. Secondly, categories such as “women” function as socially organising principles (women’s toilets, women’s sports, etc.), so it seems absurd that every individual should feel free to redefine them willy-nilly according to his or her feelings. Finally, it still does not make any sense for a scientist, so careful with language as Professor Coyne is, to speak of “men who transition to women”. I assume he has his reasons to use such an absurd expression, and it would still be great if he could share them in this forum, which he so generously provides.

  19. There have always been trans for as long as we know. Just like with those who are gay were brushed under the rug.

    I’m not making a lecture on this. I’m honestly asking if anyone agrees on that?

    1. I agree, but what’s the point? The fact that trans (gender-dysphoria) and gay people have always existed says exactly nothing about whether or not trans-women should be given free access to women’s competitive sports, shelters, crisis centers and prisons. It says nothing at all about that.

      1. Not a great deal to be honest. My view is that in the past it was shoved under the rug and now a tit=for-tat fight is out over whatever criticism is still there creating more issues. The criticism is both good and bad.

    2. I’ve made a comment like the one below a couple different times in the past on this site. Sorry for repeating myself.

      Have “there have always been trans”? It depends on what one means. If one just means that there have always been people who feel uncomfortable with their sex and sexuality, and who imagine their discomfort might be relieved were they to be a member of the other sex, then yes of course there have always been trans.

      But if one means that there have always been people who have a gendered soul that’s born in a body with the wrong sex, and whose only relief can come from medical and social transformation and affirmation to mimic a stereotype of the members of the other sex, then no absolutely not trans do not and have never existed.

      Humans don’t have souls. Anybody of either sex can choose to conform to or ignore sex stereotypes. Gay and lesbian people, people with autism or other unusual psychiatric conditions, people with DSDs, and other relatively unusual sexual or psychological phenotypes who fail to conform to those stereotypes should not be bamboozled into thinking they can change sex or that doing so will alleviate their other symptoms or problems. And nobody who falls into those categories should experience anything but equal rights, respect, and love.

      None of this is like being gay or lesbian, which are same-sex sexual orientations for which there are well-known genetic and neurological correlates and plausible evolutionary explanations for their origin and persistence. Trans on the other hand is, as Helen Joyce put it, “a culture-bound syndrome.”

      1. Maybe. Too me a “soul” is just a metaphor for personality/character.
        One should never force another to fit a mold they don’t fit.

        1. Well sure that’s an ok metaphor. Like I said, “Anybody of either sex can choose to conform to or ignore sex stereotypes.” Nobody should have to conform that way. But it’s the gender borg who are urging “trans” people to use medical and surgical means to conform to the other stereotype.

          1. In my book it’s their own bloody choice. Once no one really cared. It only got like this as it’s a new fad. There’ll be something new in a decade.

          2. It seems to me it only got like this when the borg started encouraging minors to take blockers & hormones and undergo surgery for “trans”.

          3. You are knowledgeable enough, Mike, that you could write to the Canadian Pediatric Society expressing concern about their recently released clinical practice guidelines, especially since you can cite deficiencies in the evidence on which their statements are based.

  20. I will point out that the podcaster in question has an association with Free(From)ThoughtBlogs.

    There is your answer…

  21. According to TRAs (Trans Rights Activists) you are a ‘transphobe’. They define ‘transphobe’ as anyone who dissents from gender-ideology, even slightly. The standard definition of a phobia was/is ‘irrational fear’. Of course, by that (much more traditional) definition you are not a ‘transphobe’. Of course, J.K. Rowling isn’t (by that definition) a ‘transphobe’ either. That hasn’t even slightly dented the willingness of TRAs to call her (and you) ‘transphobes’. They also call her a TERF.

    Gender-ideology demands that people believe that ‘sex is a spectrum’ and ‘trans-women are women’. If you don’t accept both propositions as basic truths, then you are (to them) a ‘transphobe’. Whether you have a phobia of trans people (who does?) is irrelevant to them (the TRAs). Of course, you also have to believe in gender self-id and the ‘right’ of biological males (such as William Thomas) to compete (in all sports, including swimming) with biological females (such as Riley Gains). If you dissent even slightly, then you are (to them) a ‘transphobe’.

    For the record, I do not object to transwomen in prisons, bathrooms, and/or homeless shelters if they have completed full ‘bottom surgery’. Of course, that rules out most (but not all) transwomen (for example, Dylan Mulvaney boasts that he has not completed ‘bottom surgery’). I think rape-counseling services should consider all candidates (including cis-males). However, I do not think they should be required to do so (by law).

    As for sports, even full ‘bottom surgery’ does not eliminate the advantages of male puberty. For better or worse, the gains in size, strength, muscle mass, etc. are at least partially retained, not matter what.

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