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I am going to set out my current views about the transgender problem. It’s something that has caused a lot of discussion on twitter, much of it unpleasantly vituperative. When I refer to ‘problem’ I’m referring to the vituperation, not, of course, the existence of transgender people.  Short posts on twitter don’t allow nuance, so I thought it might be helpful to lay out my views here in the (doubtless vain) hope of being able to move on to talk about other things.  This will be my last word on it, because I feel that the time spent on this single problem has become counterproductive.

  1. The problem is very complicated and nobody knows the answers. Why, for example has the number of people referred to the Tavistock clinic increased 25-fold since 2009? Nobody knows. There has been a great deal of disagreement within the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock about whether and when to refer children for treatment with puberty blockers or surgery. There was a good report by Deborah Cohen about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTRnrp9pXHY 
  2. There’s also a good report from BBC Newsnight about people who have chosen to detransition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDi-jFVBLA8. It shows how much is not known, even by experts.
  3. Anyone who pretends that it’s a simple problem that can be solved with slogans just isn’t listening. The long term effects of hormone treatments are simply not known.
  4. This poses a real problem for doctors who are asked for advice by people who feel that they were born in the wrong sex. There is an empathetic discussion from the front line in a recent paper
  5.  I’m very conscious that trans people have often been subjected to discrimination and abuse. That’s totally unacceptable. It’s also unacceptable to vilify women whose views are a bit different.
  6. Most of the arguments have centred on the meanings of the words ‘woman’, ‘female’, ‘gender’ and ‘sex’.  Many of the bitter rows about this topic might be avoided if people defined these words before using them.
  7. ‘Sex’ and ‘gender’ are relatively easy.  When I was growing up, ‘gender’ was a grammatical term, unrelated to sex. Then it evolved to be used as a euphemism for ‘sex’ by those who were too squeamish to use the word ‘sex’. The current use of these words is quite different. It’s discussed at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gender#usage-1.

    “Sex as the preferred term for biological forms, and gender limited to its meanings involving behavioral, cultural, and psychological traits.“.

    This is a sensible distinction, I think. But beware that it’s by no means universally agreed. The meanings are changing all the time and you can get pilloried if you use the ‘wrong’ word.

  8. The words ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘women’ are much more contentious.  Some people say that they refer to biology, having XX chromosomes.  This is certainly the definition used in every dictionary I’ve seen.  The vast majority of people are born male or female. Apart from the small number of people who are born with chromosomal abnormalities, it’s unambiguous and can’t change.
  9. But other people now insist, often stridently, the ‘woman’ now refers to gender rather than sex. It would certainly help to avoid misapprehensions if, when using slogans like “trans women are women”, they made clear that they are using this new and unconventional definition of ‘woman’.
  10. Someone on twitter said that someone had said “transwomen are not women. That is transphobic. If she’d said that transwomen are not female, she’d have just been correct.” I doubt that this distinction is widely accepted.  Both statements seem to me to mean much the same thing, but again it’s a matter of definitions.
  11. If someone who is biologically male feels happier as a woman, that’s fine. They should be able to live as a woman safely, and without discrimination.  They should be treated as though they were women.  This I take to be the intention of the tweet from J.K. Rowling:

    Rowling tweet

  12. It seems to me to be totally unfair, and deeply misogynist, to pillory Rowling as a ‘transphobe’ on the basis of this (or anything else) she’s said. She’s had some pretty vile abuse. There’s already a problem of women getting abuse on social media, and that’s only added to by the way she’s been treated because of this tweet.

  13. It seems to me that there is a wafer-thin distinction between “trans women are women” and “trans women should be treated as though they were women”. Yet if you say the wrong one you can be pilloried.
  14. Many of my friends in what’s known loosely as the skeptical movement have been quite unreasonably exercised about this fine distinction.  Many of today’s problems arise from the extreme polarisation of views (on almost everything). This seems to me to be deeply unhelpful.
  15. I was pilloried by some people when I posted this tweet: “I’ve just finished reading the whole of the post by @jk_rowling. It only increases my admiration for her -a deeply empathetic human.  The attacks on her are utterly unjustified.”   It’s true that I gained several hundred followers after posting it (though I suspect that not all of them were followers that I would wish to have).
  16. The problems arise when a small minority of people who have male genitalia (whether they are trans women or predatory males) have used their access to spaces that have been traditionally reserved for women as an opportunity of voyeurism or even rape.  In such cases the law should take its course.  The existence of a few such cases shouldn’t be used as an excuse to discriminate against all trans women.
  17. Another case that’s often cited is sports.  Being biologically male gives advantages in many sports.  Given the huge advances that women have made in sports since the 1960s, it would be very unfortunate if they were to be beaten regularly by people who were biologically male (this has actually happened in sprinting and in weightlifting). In contact sports it could be dangerous. The Rugby Football Union has a policy which will have the effect of stopping most trans women from joining their women’s teams. That seems fair to me. Sports themselves should make the rules to ensure fair play. Some of the rules are summarised in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender_people_in_sports.The problem is to weigh the discrimination against trans women against the discrimination against biological women.  In this case, you can’t have both.
  18. The trans problem has been particularly virulent in the Green Party.  I recently endorsed Dr Rosi Sexton for leadership of the Green Party, because she has committed to having better regard for evidence than the other candidates, and because she’s committed to inclusion of minority groups.  They are both good things.  She has also said “trans women are women”, and that led to prolonged harassment from some of my best skeptical friends. She’s undoubtedly aware of X and Y chromosomes so I take it that she’s using ‘woman’ in the sense of gender rather than sex.  Although I’d prefer slightly different words, such as “trans women should be treated as though they were women”, the difference between these two forms of wording seems to be far too small to justify the heat, and even hate, generated on both sides of the argument. Neither form of wording is “transphobic”. To say that they are is, in my opinion, absurd.
  19. All that I ask is that there should be less stridency and a bit more tolerance of views that don’t differ as much as people seem to think. Of course, anyone who advocates violence should be condemned. Be clear about definitions and don’t try to get people fired because their definitions are different from yours. Be kind to people.
  20. Postcript

    The fairness and safety of sports is very often raised in this context. The answer isn’t as obvious as I thought at first, This is a very thoughtful article on that topic: MMA pioneer Rosi Sexton once opposed Fallon Fox competing. Now she explains why she supports trans athletes. The following quotation from it seems totally sensible to me.

    “The International Olympic Committee has had a trans-inclusive policy since 2003. In that time, there have been no publicly out trans Olympic athletes (though that will likely change in 2021).

    The idea that trans women would make women’s sport meaningless by easily dominating the competition has not, so far, materialized at any level.

    If trans women do have an unfair advantage over cis women, then it’s a hard one to spot.”

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55 Responses to The transgender question

  • Richard Rawlins says:

    Thank you very much for a most helpful, and rational, review of a complex issue.

    Can DC please comment on the role/implication of the presence or otherwise of Barr bodies in drawing any distinction.

    Could a person with no Barr bodies legitimately claim to be a woman?

  • @Richard Rawlins

    I guess that comes under the heading of chromosomal abnormalities.  They are rare, and usually they are not the focus of the transgender wars.


  • Sheena says:

    Thanks for posting this. I don’t agree with some of it but it is just good to see someone clearly set out their reasoning on the issue. One point I did want to address though: you say “I feel that the time spent on this single problem has become counterproductive”; you’ve said the same on Twitter.

    To me, the debate on gender seems to be bound up with very fundamental principles in science and democracy: that reason and evidence should be used to settle matters, and that peer pressure, political bias, or fear of personal consequences should not be allowed to erode the free exchange of ideas. I believe what happens with regard to this debate will have repercussions far beyond laws about gender or sex. Scientific integrity cannot be switched on and off, neither can trust in experts.

    So I think any time spent trying to reach resolution on this – even if the only resolution we can reach any time soon is that we should be able to talk about it civilly and freely – is time well spent.

  • Richard Rawlins says:

    The Prof’s article is most excellent and articulates the problems well.
    The real problem is that the facts of life stir emotions and feelings that are not always commensurate with rational decision making.
    As we have to communicate, we have to use language, and there are whole branches of science dealing with the subject – linguistics (and its sub-branches of cognitive, psycho and neuro-), semiotics, semantics and ‘science’ itself.
    When I studied biology, I learned of Barr bodies – Murray Barr described a “morphological distinction between the neurones of males and females” in 1949. The body is an inactive X chromosome in a cell with more than one X chromosome.
    I understand that in humans with more than one X chromosome, the number of visible Barr bodies is always one fewer than the total number of X chromosomes. Humans with two X chromosomes (such as most females) have one Barr body per somatic cell, males – none. (Setting aside those who have XXY or XXX).
    So my question is: Has the existence or otherwise of Barr bodies been used to determine (a) a person’s sex, (b) a person’s gender (by any definition) – and if not, why not?
    I am unaware of Barr body identification being used to assess athletes involved in these controversies. Is there any information available on this point?
    Just asking.

  • You’ve written, “The vast majority of people are born male or female. Apart from the small number of people who are born with chromosomal abnormalities, it’s unambiguous and can’t change.”.
    This isn’t so. Everyone is born male or female, including so-called intersex people. See Claire Graham’s blog. She is intersex.

    Is Sex a Spectrum? Sex Determination and Differentiation

    Otherwise, I’m sorry to say that “be kind” isn’t a helpful response to the extremely destructive ideology of transgenderism, which is irrational and damaging to the status of women and the health and well being of children. Dissent isn’t tolerated by transgender activists, and I have been reported to the police for simply stating a fact; that it is impossible to change your sex.
    See my blog post about my 15 minutes of fame

    • @Margaret Nelson. I don’t think that’s quite right. Most people are unambiguously male or female, but a few are not. The number of different chromosomal abnormalities is large, but all of them are rare: see the table, here. This does not make sex a spectrum. It means that there are two predominant categories, and one, very small and heterogeneous category.

  • Andy Lewis says:

    Understanding what a sex is, is one of those almost humdrum but necessary things that needs to be done here as the postmodernists ideology of queer theory has appropriated this term and (like it does with all things) tried to deny the word ‘sex’ any meaning and stability. This is classic postmodernists tactics, as it then allows them to argue any shit they like when words do not have meaning. If we cannot talk with any clarity about males and females, then the terms men and women are obviously up for grabs. And if we cannot talk about sex then sexuality can also be dismantled so that no-one can have any personal sexual boundaries anymore. This is the explicit aim of queer theory and being done in plain sight as young lesbians (for example) are told daily online that they must date “women” with penises.

    So, Claire Graham’s article above is a must read as it makes clear that your sex is not defined by chromosomes – typical or atypical – or even by any specific phenotypic outcome. Sex is a billion+ year old reproductive method where distinct male and female reproductive roles have emerged and remained stable based on the asymmetry in gamete types – sperm and eggs. In organisms that have individuals that play one or either reproductive role, evolution has created precisely two (male and female) development paths that an organism can follow. As with all biological development, atypical variation can be followed *on each path* because of mutations, chromosome issues etc. But the male or female path is still followed. Hence we can still say 47, XXY individuals are still very much male and Triple-X individuals still very much female. There are some *exceedingly* rare individuals where there may be some genuine ambiguity. These are of course not new sexes but serious conditions of sex development.

    The conflations, misunderstandings and deliberate attempts never to properly define words like male and female are done for a very specific reason. The exemplar for this style of argument is perhaps Claire Ainsworth’s dire article in Nature News (Sex Redefined) where she uses such tactics to create a sense of helplessness in the reader such that sex can no longer be seen as a meaningful, let alone useful category, and so then is able to deliver the Queer Theory payload as the last sentence, “In other words, if you want to know whether someone is male or female, it may be best just to ask.” “Gender Identity” is left as the only “meaningful” concept with which to categorise people even if this concept is ill-defined, incoherent and pseudoscientific. But note, gender identity is never exposed to the same dismantling scrutiny that the concept of sex is.

    It is a trick that needs to be exposed as it is fatal for justice for women and gay and lesbian people.

    • I certainly agree that the question is taking too much time.  Anyone would think that matters like COVID, brexit and climate change barely existed.  As I see it, there are two questions. One is about biological reality. The other is about a group of people who are bullied and harassed to a shocking extent.  In my opinion, the latter is more important.   It’s important, I think, the remember that far from all people who agree with that view are postmodernist fantasists.  I don’t think that you could classify me as being postmodernist. See this.

    • Joe Hepperle says:

      “. . . young lesbians (for example) are told daily online that they must date ‘women’ with penises.”

      Nonsense. ‘Women’ with penises have no ‘dating’ desire for lesbians. ‘Women’ with penises are attracted to Men with penises, or other ‘women’ with penises. Any comments you may have seen online about lesbians dating ‘women’ with penises — were comments by straight people trying to show the nonsensical hypocrisy of the logic. What those commentators miss is that those ‘women’ with penises identify as STRAIGHT women, not gay women. A ‘woman’ with a penis wants to date a person with a penis. Same is true of the lesbian — the lesbian wants to date a person with a vagina. Finally, Claire Graham is not a ‘must read’. I’m glad that she has written a tome that aligns with your opinion, but her writing is just her opinion. Every opposing group in this difficulty has their own theories, opinions, and ‘facts’ to back it up. To be more valuable to the conversation, please try to understand why the other groups believe what they believe. You don’t have to agree with them in the end, but you would present a better argument than just telling us to read someone elses (Claire Graham’s) opinions.

  • alan_b says:

     Two things.First, your paragraph 16 suggests that misuse of female only facilities should be dealt with under criminal law.  You appear to miss the point that such misuse may not be criminal.  A man who cross-dresses and obtains sexual gratification from entering women only spaces such as changing rooms may not be committing a crime;  indeed under self identification legislation still under consideration in Scotland, it could be a hate crime to question his bona fides. Consider the hypothetical example of a senior manager in a financial institution who presents as male or female depending on the day of the week.  His subordinates may encounter Briony in the women’s toilet and have to address her as such, when yesterday he presented as Brian.  No crime may be committed, but the power imbalance is disturbing.Second, and relatedly, you avoid any discussion of a conflict of rights.  If transwomen must be treated as women, where does that leave single sex spaces such as hospital wards, prisons and sports facilities? If a woman wishes to have her cervical smear done by a female health professional must she accept someone who has adopted a feminine identity but is clearly biologically male? Helen Staniland’s question puts it concisely:  do women and girls have the right to change, undress and shower in a penis free space?

  • I think that the previous two comments make a mountain out of a mole hill. Nobody is less tolerant than I of post-modernist waffle, and some trans activists certainly do suffer from that tendency. They make a great deal of noise but they are, I think, small in number.  Most people who say that trans people should not suffer from discrimination understand XX and XY perfectly well. See paras 6 to 9, above.

    I think that the sensible trans activists are perfectly aware of the problems that can arise, for example, with women’s prisons. There is, at present, no automatic right for a trans woman to enter any  female space, and I don’t think that sensible advocates for trans rights are saying that there should be.

    • Richard Rawlins says:

      I have yet to see, anywhere, commentary on the importance/relevance of using the presence/absence of Barr Bodies to determine sex, or gender.
      I do not understand the relevance, but is there none?

  • alan_b says:

    Oh, dear.
    “I think that the previous two comments make a mountain out of a mole hill. Nobody is less tolerant than I of post-modernist waffle”
    Well I am, for one. If you think that the little ladies are getting into a tizzy over nothing, you might care to peruse this Twitter thread

    You appear to have no idea of the extent of regulatory, legislative, institutional, broadcast and print media and social medial capture by transactivism. There are women who have been banned from social media platforms for the hatespeech of asserting biological reality, attempts to dismiss academics for non-conformity with gender theory, an elderly feminist who was assaulted by a transactivist at Speakers’ Corner and was then compelled by the judge at his subsequent trial to refer to her assailant as “she” and recording by the police of non-crime “hate incidents” which will appear on criminal records checks. All this has passed you by.
    And as for
    “The vast majority of people are born male or female. Apart from the small number of people who are born with chromosomal abnormalities, it’s unambiguous and can’t change.”
    in your original post you miss the point that everyone is either male or female. There is no third gamete for people with DSDs (disorders of sexual development). Everyone is on a developmental pathway to either sperm or egg production, though sometimes the pathway does not complete successfully.
    I would recommend Dr Emma Hilton, Dr Jane Clare Jones and Prof Kathleen Stock on Twitter for a different perspective on the mountain/molehill spectrum.

    • I’m aware that too many men behave badly, especially on twitter, but also in real life. You don’t say how many of them are trans and that is very relevant to this discussion. I have no idea; have you?

      Of course there are some abuses, like the case of Maria Maclachlan that you mention. The legal system worked well in that case.

      My point is explained at length on the letter, below, in response to Peter Ashby.

  • Richard Rawlins says:

    And the relevance of Barr bodies is…?

    • alan_b says:

      And the relevance of Barr bodies is…?

      None.  Barr bodies are to do with biological reality.  The transgender question is a metaphysical one.

  • Richard Rawlins says:

    So,  a branch of philosophy.
    But might not Barr body presence, or otherwise, help authorities with decisions in sport or justice?

    • alan_b says:

      But might not Barr body presence, or otherwise, help authorities with decisions in sport or justice?

      No.  There is no uncertainty about the original biological sex of transwomen;  being male is an essential precondition.  Their claim is that their physical sex is irrelevant to their being a woman and that  they have an internal sense of their gender identity which overrides the physical evidence.  This can never be disproved, hence my comment about metaphysics.

  • Richard Rawlins says:

    For me, the mists are beginning to clear.
    This blog is about ‘The Transgender Question’ – that is the cultural and psychological traits by which people are, or want to be, known – irrespective of their biological sex.
    I hope I have precied DC well enough!
    The issues in the back of my mind about difficulties for sporting authorities with ‘sex’ are a different matter, e.g. Semenya, the RFU and team allocation. Here, Barr bodies might be helpful in determining biological sex. What the authorities do when they have that knowledge is another thing.
    And DC’s paragraph 19 above is the nub.
    So the question is, just why do trans people feel the way they do? Or anyone feel the way we do?
    Certainly a question for psychology, but metaphysics underpins it all, and I guess we will never really understand. Meantime, tolerance must be exercised – by all. And for the more scientifically minded, exact definitions should be agreed and accepted. That’s tough. It’s called ‘life’.

  • Peter Ashby says:

    The problem is David that the Woke don’t want clarity of definitions. They are all about demolishing categories through obfuscation until they become meaningless. Hence the confusion, it is deliberate. You have to understand this point. The conflations are also deliberate. It is very, very post modern. 
    They do NOT like us biologists with our pesky chromosomes & genetic & physiological understandings injecting facts into the debate. It does not add the confusion. 
    Read up on the mind control tactics used in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The Woke have and they are trying them without the total milieu control. This also adds to the chaos. 
    Know your enemy. That is not aggressive, it is sensible strategy. 

    • @Peter Ashby
      I dislike the term “woke” when it’s used as a way to abuse people with whom you disagree. It’s like “political correctness” and “virtue signalling”. Since when was virtue a vice? Amanda Taub put it well when she said that political correctness is a “sort of catch-all term we apply to people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we’re willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them”.

      I recently sent this letter to friends who have been very active in opposing trans activists. I fear that they have missed the point. I think that perhaps you have too.

      “I’m writing because I have come to think that your campaigning about the trans problem may have crossed a line. It may have become closer to bullying and harassment than to a defence of biological truth.

      I have set out my view at http://www.dcscience.net/2020/07/28/the-transgender-problem/

      The fact is that trans people exist. It’s also true that they often have a very hard time. They have to pee somewhere and most of them are entirely peaceful and considerate. A few are not. I can’t find any numbers that give any idea how many abusive trans people exist, but I suspect that it’s far smaller than one might guess from the noise they make.

      I said (link above)

      16. The problems arise when a small minority of people who have male genitalia (whether they are trans women or predatory males) have used their access to spaces that have been traditionally reserved for women as an opportunity of voyeurism or even rape. In such cases the law should take its course. The existence of a few such cases shouldn’t be used as an excuse to discriminate against all trans women.

      I suspect that predatory males might be a bigger problem than trans women. I have no numbers, but I suspect that both would be rare, and could be dealt with by the normal legal processes.

      But consider this
      “Nearly 14% of adolescents reported a previous suicide attempt; disparities by gender identity in suicide attempts were found. Female to male adolescents reported the highest rate of attempted suicide (50.8%), followed by adolescents who identified as not exclusively male or female (41.8%), male to female adolescents (29.9%), questioning adolescents (27.9%), female adolescents (17.6%), and male adolescents (9.8%). Identifying as nonheterosexual exacerbated the risk for all adolescents except for those who did not exclusively identify as male or female (ie, nonbinary). For transgender adolescents, no other sociodemographic characteristic was associated with suicide attempts.”

      30% of male-to-female adolescents attempt suicide. That’s a serious amount of unhappiness.

      There is a huge amount that isn’t known in this area -that itself is a reason not to take dogmatic positions on it. Nobody knows why the Tavistock clinic has had an increase in referrals recently. It’s interesting that far more of these referrals are about female-to-male transitions than about male-to-female (and that their attempted suicide rate is still higher, ~50%), though it’s the latter than have been the sort that have attracted all the attention. I thought that Deborah Cohen’s Newsnight report was very interesting (and totally non-judgemental). Hormone treatment is controversial -nobody really knows how reversible it is. We do know that gender-reassignment surgery is irreversible and shouldn’t be committed to when young.

      I know personally two people whose kids have attempted suicide during adolescence (though neither was connected with gender AFAIK) and it’s incredibly traumatic for the parents as well as the children.

      It seems to me that the possibility of harming trans people is much more important than continually emphasizing biological reality. Most people understand perfectly well that XX and XY don’t change. People’s perceptions of whether they feel male or female can and do change, and that’s OK.

      It’s a bad mistake to appear to being bullying or harassing people on this (or any other) problem. Please consider whether you may have crossed that line.”

    • Peter Ashby says:

      Woke is a philosophy David, I am not using it pejoratively but to refer those who espouse it’s belief systems. Indeed they use it to refer to themselves. To be ‘woke’ is to be supposedly switched onto stuff like privilege & beat yourself up about this and that and patronise the poor & Black, BME, Asian people as inferior because they allowed themselves to be dominated by whites. Vis video of young woke people shoving a Black woman in the US explaining things to a cop & trying to speak for her. 
      It is pernicious and if you were still at a university you would be encountering students espousing it. I’m glad I’m out of academia so I don’t have to keep my head down about this. 

    • Peter Ashby.
      I was going into the lab regularly until the lockdown.  I find that often I enjoy the company of students and postdocs at  least as much as I enjoy the established scientists.  I especially enjoy the open science movement and efforts to improve the reproducibility of science.  The publish or perish culture,and the abuse of metrics, has done huge harm.
      ‘Wokeness’ it isn’t a philosophy, nor a movement. It has no leaders and no rules.  As far as I can tell it’s a term that’s usually used by hard-right people, like Toby Young, as away to sneer at people who show empathy for others.  It’s supplanted ‘political correctness’  and  ‘virtue signalling’ as the right’s favoured sneer.  
      Of course, some people overdo it: there’s some dreadful postmodernist nonsense around.  That can’t be used as an excuse to disparage the young people who want to iive in a better world than we’ve left them.

  • Sheena says:

    I’m not really sure why you keep implying that, because of covid, climate change or Brexit, we can’t devote time to defending women’s rights. I’m wondering if you told people that they shouldn’t discuss #MeToo? That’s not a gotcha question, I’m genuinely curious.
    What’s at stake here is the safety of women, for example:
    1. female prisoners. Rhona Hotchkiss and Richard Garside have discussed this. https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/resources/transgender-prisoners, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-scotland-51452489
    2. women who have been victims of domestic violence. Karen Ingala Smith, who runs refuges:
    3.women in sports. Ross Tucker:
    Before I became aware of the problems, I was spending much of my time on climate change. I belonged to a small Irish political party & spent probably hundreds of hours putting together resources & documents to help them formulate environmental policy. They want nothing to do with me now, because I believe that gender critical people have a right to be heard.
    It’s really not those of us who are opposing this that decided to spend so much time on it. I’d love to be thinking about other things. We’re reacting to protections being taken away.

    • @Sheena

      It’s easy to produce scare stories. I’m well aware of the cases that you mention.  What  you need to know before getting too scared is what proportion of trans women have caused those problems. I don’t know that, do you?  My guess is that they are rare exceptions, and that most trans people just want to live their lives in peace.

      Please read the letter (in the post above yours).  

  • Sheena says:

    I did read the letter. Did you read the links I sent? Because they weren’t addressing isolated incidents, they were discussing rates of risk when sex segregation is relaxed.Again, I’d just like to know if you had the same reaction to #MeToo, which was also about the risk that male people (all male people, there is no evidence that trans women present less of a risk than men) pose to women.

  • I see little or no parallel with #metoo -that’s something which I supported enthusiastically, and have been doing ever since the 1960s. It’s because I have a tendency to side with the oppressed that I take the views that I’ve expressed here.


    I sorted out the formatting of the links that you provided.

    They deal with well known problems, all of which can be dealt with under the present legislation.

    What they don’t deal with is the proportion of problems that are caused by males and the proportion that are caused by trans women.  Another post by Karen Ingala Smith suggests that the latter are not the major problem (Unfortunately there is some ambiguity in her numbers).

    Total number of female homicide victims aged 16 years and over = 1,816

    Total number of male homicide victims aged 16 years and over = 4,288

    Total number of trans male homicide victims aged 16 years and over = 8

    • Sheena says:

      What does it mean that they all deal with well-known problems that can be dealt with under present legislation? They deal with conflicts between what trans rights groups want (and are in most cases getting) and what women need.Trans women *are* male. The quote from Karen Ingala Smith’s blog above is referring to victims, not perpetrators. The numbers for perpetrators are also low, because at the moment, official numbers of trans people is low. But what you didn’t include is the fact that also according to her numbers, trans women are *more* likely to be perpetrators than victims.The last link was to Ross Tucker’s explanation of the need for sex segregation in rugby. Trans women are playing in women’s rugby at the moment, which is putting women at higher risk of serious injury. Every instance of sex-segregation which we have for very good reason, is being taken away from us and we have to fight to get it back. I can’t believe that you’re just hand-waving this away like it doesn’t matter.Can I just ask you again – this is about the risk that males pose to women.

    • Kim says:

      I completely agree, definitions need to be established. It’s the only way a productive dialogue can be had. In your main post, you provide a link to the dictionary definition of both ‘sex’ & ‘gender,’ but it’s unclear how you are defining ‘trans’ in the context of your comment – you make a distinction between ‘males’ & ‘trans women.’ Going by the definition of ‘sex’ you put in your post – trans women are male, but with a female gender identity. 
      Trans is already considered a protected class under the law, as is sex. You’re making the case that trans women should also have sex-based rights; there needs to be a legal framework for what makes ‘biological male’ & ‘trans woman’  distinct from one another. Advocating for self-identification alone is reprehensible, in my opinion. 
      You mentioned in another comment – trans people just want to live in peace. They have been, for several decades. In the last 5 years, there has been an enormous increase in self-identified ‘trans women,’ who are aggressively demanding access to single-sex spaces where females are vulnerable. Alarmingly, people such as yourself, believe females should just accept this without question. 
      You enthusiastically supported the #metoo movement, so you obviously believe men to be capable of such actions against women, yet you don’t seem to acknowledge that those same men might be capable of self-identifying as a trans women in order to abuse females? Those same women you enthusiastically supported when they were the victims are now inconsequential? 

  • @Sheena

    If you look at my post, you’ll find that I quoted, approvingly

    “The Rugby Football Union has a policy which will have the effect of stopping most trans women from joining their women’s teams. That seems fair to me.”


    Most sports now have made their own rules about this problem. Personally I’m not entirely happy about the Olympics’ criterion of testosterone levels, but its early days and the rules will evolve.

    • Sheena says:

      World Rugby are currently under serious pressure to reverse the ban on trans women in women’s rugby, and trans women *are* playing rugby in some places.
      But – you seem to be saying that conflating women and trans women in law doesn’t matter, except in the places where it does matter, but we shouldn’t talk about where it does & doesn’t matter?
      Should women who are victims of domestic violence have the right to single sex refuges? Karen Ingala Smith thinks they should. Many women in that sector think they should, but are afraid to say this because if they say it, they lose funding. Why is this not an issue worth people’s time?
      And again – did you object to #MeToo?

  • Sheena

    I already answered your question about #metoo, above.  Please take a look at the link.

    This blog is all about ‘where it matters’.  That’s important and I think that it can be dealt with without oppressing an already oppressed minority: those who are unhappy with their sex.  

  • Sheena says:

    Apologies, I missed that. The parallel with #MeToo is that in both cases, we are talking about the reality of the risk that male people pose to female people. Presumably, then, you do accept that this is a real risk, and that women have the right to protections that reduce that risk. But you say

    have used their access to spaces that have been traditionally reserved for women as an opportunity of voyeurism or even rape.  In such cases the law should take its course.

    Here is the reality of that, from an article about #MeToo by Helen Lewis

    a very low percentage of sexual assault victims report the offence through shame, guilt and fear of the consequences; conviction rates are low, which is a further disincentive. And the penalty for speaking out can be ostracism and disbelief, compounding the trauma of the original incident

    Women insisting on the single-sex spaces which reduce the risk of sexual assault and voyeurism are not seeking to oppress anyone, and I asked you about your views on #MeToo because it seems entirely inconsistent to me that you can support it and on the other hand use this framing.
    I am in favour of third spaces for trans people, as are most GC people. Anything that can be done to protect and support trans people, I am in favour of, so long as it does not infringe on rights and protections that women need.

    • Sheena,
      A while ago it was proposed to have unisex toilets at UCL. I voted for that, if only because it would reduce the distance you’d have to walk to find a toilet. It didn’t happen, but I still think that it would have been worth trying. To have three separate sorts of toilet (or four, if you thought it necessary to separate trans women and trans men) would be enormously expensive and would involve having to walk much further to find a toilet.  I’d support that solution only if it turned that attacks by trans people on women (or on men) turned out to occur at an unacceptable frequency.  At the moment I can’t find any evidence that this is happening.

  • Sheena says:

    Think about what you’re saying – that women actually have to be assaulted (and they have been, which leads us to the question of how many are enough) before you will accept what we already know – that male people pose a risk to women. Why do you think we have male and female toilets to begin with? Or male and female changing & shower rooms? Or male & female prisons? Sexual assaults are much higher in mixed-sex facilities.

    • Yes, but the vast majority of assaults by men on women are perpetrated by men, not by trans people.  I would think again if it were shown that trans women posed a bigger danger than men.  I’m not aware of any evidence to that effect. Are you?

  • Sheena says:

    Trans women are male. There is no evidence that identifying as trans affects the risk they pose to women.
    There is also no objective criteria for being trans – you do not need gender dysphoria or to ‘present as a woman’, there are trans women with beards, for example – so it’s not possible to say anything about them as a group separate from men. In Ireland, male people, indistinguishable from any other man, now use women’s toilets and when challenged say they are trans. There are also occasionally signs up telling women *not* to challenge anyone male in the bathroom, in case they are trans. This is partly why unisex toilets are being brought in – because once you segregate on gender identity instead of sex, there is no practical way of enforcing the segregation.

    • I agree that it’s difficult. But until it’s shown that trans women pose a greater risk than predatory males, I see no feasible solution but to show some charity to trans people, who suffer enough persecution already.
      The whole question has become wretchedly divisive. I’m attacked by people like you. I’ve also been blocked by an old friend on Twitter who takes the opposite view to you.  
      All I can do is reiterate my last point

      19. All that I ask is that there should be less stridency and a bit more tolerance of views that don’t differ as much as people seem to think. Of course, anyone who advocates violence should be condemned. Be clear about definitions and don’t try to get people fired because their definitions are different from yours. Be kind to people.

      I see no point in discussing this matter for any longer. It’s already occupied a large fraction of my day, and we’ve both had our say.

    • Sheena says:

      I agree that this is a deeply unpleasant debate. I wish it was not necessary, I wish that politicians, policy makers and human rights organisations had done their job to balance the needs & rights of women with those of trans people. But they did not do that. Women’s rights have been ignored, and women like me, and men who care about our rights, have to spend time on this that we would prefer to spend on other things. I’ve also spent a large amount of my day on this, rather than on work that I enjoy and that needed to be done. It is exhausting and upsetting to have to fight tooth and nail for protections we won years ago. I am happy to leave it there, sadly I don’t see this conversation going anywhere either.

  • alan_b says:

    But until it’s shown that trans women pose a greater risk than predatory males, I see no feasible solution but to show some charity to trans people, who suffer enough persecution already.

    Here’s one of the problems.   You have not defined your terms.  The Stonewall trans umbrella encompasses not only those with gender dysphoria but drag queens, cross dressers and fetishists. You or I, both elderly males, could be transwomen, and could have access to all female spaces, rape crisis centres, all female shortlists, women’s officer positions in political parties;  who could prove we were not sincerely identifying as women?  Where is the validated test to distinguish the genuine trans woman from the predatory male? 
    Female safe spaces are not made safe by excluding trans people, but by excluding males, however they identify.  Most males do not present a threat, but some may.
    The only solution you can see is for women to show some kindness to trans identifying males.  Why not the reverse?  Why can trans identifying males not consider that if their presence causes alarm and distress to the users of an all female service, it might not be kind to demand a right if entry? 
    I appreciate your reluctance to discuss this at even more length, but before I go, one more twitter thread

    • Part of the aim of my post was to define terms clearly. Personally I think Stonewall go too far. I’m opposing extreme views in both directions.
       The one thing that you’ve omitted to consider is this: where are trans women going to pee?  That is really the heart of the problem. Are you advocating three (or four) categories of toilet?   You produce a long list of potential problems.  If they materialised as often as you fear it might be necessary to think again. I suspect that would not happen.

  • Geoff says:

    David, there’s one point I’d like to add to your very sensible essay, which I think you’ve implied but haven’t stated explicitly:

    There doesn’t have to be a single factor that determines the answer to all questions.

    Should a person be… able to play in professional women’s rugby? Called for a smear test? Referred to by ‘he’ or ‘she’? Permitted in the women’s changing rooms?

    These are different questions, which may have different answers. And that’s where slogans like “trans women are women” are unhelpful and over-simplistic – they assert that gender identity should determine *all* decisions where sex or gender may be relevant.

  • Hi David,
    This is a large topic, but it’s at least a topic today. 
    The only things everybody should ask, it’s equality and equity. The laws have to evolve with the society, and mainly to protect citizens.
    About the social medias wrong fights, they are just misunderstanding and misknowledge.

  • David, you remain unconvinced that trans women are a threat to women equivalent to “predatory males”.
    Crimes of violence are mainly committed by men. Male pattern violence is as evident among trans women as among men as a whole, whether towards themselves or directed towards other men or women. The “woman” part of trans women is superficial.
    Very few women commit such crimes. Sex offenders are overwhelmingly male. The proportion of trans women sex offenders is higher than among the male prison population as a whole, which isn’t surprising when you consider that a significant number of male trans people are, as defined by Ray Blanchard, autogynephiles, a form of paraphilia involving being sexually aroused by wearing women’s clothes.
    In other words, men who identify as women are no less likely to be a threat to women than any other predatory male, and many are a threat to women they know, who they manipulate as much as any other domestic abuser.
    Ergo, there are equally good reasons to segregate trans women (who are men) and women as there are to segregate men and women in all the spaces we’ve hitherto kept sex-specific.
    But this is only a small part of the transgender story. It is far more complex and destructive,  including to trans people themselves, than the issue of unisex toilets. The biggest threat is to children and young people who are being influenced by an ideology that’s worth $millions to the industry that promotes it. You have no idea.

    Male-Bodied Rapists Are Being Imprisoned With Women. Why Do so Few People Care?

  • Oh, and see this for more on the difference, or lack of difference between male and trans women crime rates.


  • Chris says:

    Male and female sexual dimorphism is about as absolute as it gets in mammalian biology, and your logic relies on a tiny variance in negligible populations as a political justification for identifying a novel ‘phenomenon’ that requires special interest (by way of protections etc). What you omit from your initial assumptions is why a group seeks to suppress or remove certain behaviours, which will be objectionable for a good reason, and the most important aspect in observing and interpreting the behaviours of any social animal is to recognise the overall situation which you have not. Your assumptions are anchored to an individuals perspective yet you’re meant to be making a generalised assessment if being scientific at all. Humans like any other primate are xenophobic, racist, sexist and just about everything modern people dislike. Why? Because:
    1. Xenophobic: Organisms naturally reject external cultures out of self-preservation and security by protecting limited resources, territory and mates from those externally, thereby gaining selective advantages in survival.
    2. Racism: For the same reasons above, humans are tribal animals that rely on sealed homogenous cultures to function in optimal configuration. Hence, we naturally reject alternative phenotypes that are visibly different via pigmentations or features which immediately identifies them as not from the same tribe as we are. Our ancestral diversity only occurred under (1) necessity of limited mates, or (2), from rape and (3) asserting dominance. Not because we are one big happy family looking to get along. (We only get along even now because money is at stake) 
    3. Sexist: Males and females have different brains and evolutionary features, creating opposite strengths and weaknesses, which human societies have organised into optimality by creating roles relative to competency. 
    (The list goes on by you’ll see my point next).
    If you or I go to a remote human community to visit and say hello, we’d likely be killed immediately because we are not from that tribe nor a neighbouring one. Why? We carry pathogens that are deadly, have traits that may displace theirs (that were already better suited to that environ) and we have needs that use their resources, and different ways of doing things which disrupt the status quo. Homosexuality for example, tends to get people killed in non-complex sedentist communities. Why? Because our brains are programmed to ensure the perpetuation of the species thorough heterosexuality which is something nature does not leave to the chance of human whimsy. If homosexuality or the other socially constructed sexualities were unchecked or normative, then a whole population could potentially die out if enough people turned gay, trans or whatever, which is theoretically possible if enough social constructs removed every means of selection by way of stigma and so forth.
    Social animals regulate themselves and their own group to flush out irregularities and maintain homeostasis, which means abnormal behaviours are stigmatised, ostracised, and punished to keep a genetic group healthy and ‘normal’ in biological terms. Why would you think modern political philosophy changes 6-million years of Hominid ecology? It doesn’t. Where are these prevailing pseudo-sexualities in that same 6-million year ancestral descent? There are none. Human societies cannot function without the robust structures built around being male and female, alongside their entailing gendered roles. The same can be said of how civilisation without the construct of marriage would ultimately fall apart very quickly.
    As you know, nature doesn’t leave things to chance, and by that we mean that the design of self-organising systems is to offset probabilities to increase its survival odds. Luck is a huge part of survival, but we offset luck through deliberate behaviours which involves complex self-regulation as an organism. Nature does not take the risk that a clade, genus or species may die out because it somehow strayed from its heterosexual dimorphism in confusion. Had primates not the genetic propensity to favour predetermined sexual orientations and suppress all others, then not only would the survival of the genes in question lower due to sexual maladaptivity, but the social instability created by sexual nonconformity would compromise the fundamental structure of the group and its ability to coordinate and regulate itself in the most optimal way. Ergo, allowing groups to naturally regulate themselves is essential, and individual concessions at the cost of the group are problematic.
    This begins and ends at the classic case of the ‘individual versus the group’, and who is most important. Where biology or any natural system are concerned it is averages and not outliers that matter, and there’s no logic on this earth that defends a case for any minority which confers a cost on the majority from idiosyncrasy or incongruous social orientations. That’s just the harsh reality of how it goes. You cannot be so biased in assuming individual human preferences mean anything, or have a ‘right’ to go ungoverned by the overall social selection that arises in stigmatisation and so forth. If every ‘no-go’ was removed because people don’t like them, then you have a situation where literally anything goes and society collapses as a result. Why should crime be stigmatised? It’s just an alternative means of making money? Because it has a cost, that’s why. Well so does undermining manhood and womanhood for heterosexuals, which is what transsexualism does without regard. Not to mention how it subverts the very foundations of civilisation which is built on monogamous male/female contracts that parent offspring who repeat the exact same thing. Why would you think it safe to assume that the many modern psychological disorders resultant of civilised super-complexity are anything significant in need of expressed protections, when they carry a cost to the overall health and functionality of human societies? Counter-cultural groups do not provide a missing link or special contribution beyond the average person who plays the game we are all ultimately bound. Your view is not consistent with biology and you are wrong to think it is. 
    Modern politics constantly tells the majority their instincts and biases are wrong and that they’ll have to change, when actually it’s the nuances that are the imposition on otherwise functional societies. The only argument that can be made in favour of the topic in question is one that’s purely political, emotional or personal; in which case is totally unscientific and therefore cannot include only the marginal aspects of science that suit the case being made. This is textbook ignorance which you should be wise enough to recognise of yourself. You are arguing from politics with zero substance on the relevant anthropology and biology concerned. I’m sure you’ll have some tangential retort to offer in a bid to retain a high-ground on this hot subject, but as a veteran biological anthropologist myself, I find what you say here to be baseless, absurd and diminishing of your academic authority.
    Science is a hard slap in the face when done properly, so you have to double check your work when it routinely agrees with political agendas that are conveniently reliant on scientific support to survive.
    London, UK

    • I was going to say thank you for your contribution. Until you became personally abusive at the end.
      I’ll content myself by saying that  your assertion that “your logic relies on a tiny variance in negligible populations . . .” is not true. I thought that I’d made this quite clear.

  • Please take a look at the postscript that I’ve added at the end of this post.

    • alan_b says:

      I had thought that you were sincere in your attempt to debate this issue, and attempted to engage with you on that basis in the comments above.  Your postscript removes all doubt.  Trolling is a brave strategy for anyone who previously had some scientific credibility.  Brave, and stunning.
      La comedia e finita.

  • @alan_b 
    Trolls like to  stay anonymous, like you. The article to which I refer in the postscript is thoughtful and nuanced. And perhaps most importantly, it’s written by someone with very direct experience of sports.  It’s a serious attempt to deal with a difficult question. In contrast, your response only flings abuse at me.  If you have serious arguments, please present them, with evidence.  Any more abuse will get you blocked.

  • Sheena says:

    David I don’t know whether you saw the last comment I submitted, it doesn’t seem to have been published. I recommended that you read arguments put forward by Jon Pike, Emma Hilton and Ross Tucker. I’m guessing that the reason Alan was so exasperated is that the article you have linked to makes claims that have been shown to be false.
    For example, Sexton claims that while males may have an advantage in some ways, females have advantages in other ways. Here’s a quote from Ross Tucker:

    These biological differences [between male and female] create a sports performance chasm that necessitates a separate women’s category to ensure fairness and opportunity. The only reason we can celebrate the accomplishments of exceptional female athletes as equal to those of males is because a separate women’s category exists.
    Without this protected category, the biological reality is that at every single matched level — high school, club, county, Olympic Games — the best men outperform the best women by margins large enough that in a single sex category, women would disappear from that sport.

    Regarding her claim that hormone treatment dramatically reduces male advantage:

    But is there any evidence that the required testosterone reduction removes the biological differences that create male performance advantages? The short answer is no. In 13 longitudinal studies tracking trans women who undergo testosterone suppression for more than a year, measures such as total mass, bone density, muscle mass and muscle strength are either unchanged, or removed by only a fraction of the initial male vs female advantage. For instance, where an initial difference in muscle strength was 50 per cent, testosterone suppression reduced strength by between 0 and 10 per cent.
    This is crucially important — it means that a significant portion of the male biological advantages are retained. The “fix” does not work.

    As to Sexton’s claim that there is no evidence that playing against males puts women at greater risk, World Rugby found that in fact there was

    “at least a 20-30% greater risk” of injury risk factors when a female player is tackled by someone who has gone through male puberty.


    • alan_b says:

      Thank you for that, Sheena. I had not intended to return to this, but my comment was driven not by exasperation but by rage.  Fallon Fox (this Fallon Fox,  https://thepostmillennial.com/biological-male-who-broke-a-womans-skull-named-bravest-athlete-in-history), was being presented as a shining example of inclusion.  I prefer to regard him as a violent misogynist who makes a living injuring women;  one can buy tickets to watch.
      The article David linked to was a retraction by a woman who had previously thought that Fallon Fox should not be allowed to hit women professionally.  David describes it as “thoughtful and nuanced.” I would regard it as the sort of retraction one might make if one’s dog was being held hostage.  It appeared in “Outsports”, a journal which declared Fallon Fox as “The bravest athlete ever.” There is little science in it, but if anyone has evidence of the effect of testosterone suppression post puberty on the relevant physiological differences between men and women I would be glad to hear it;  not everything, perhaps just muscle mass, bone density, cardiac output, FVC, blood volume and haemoglobin.  Oh, and arm length.

  • Brian Egdell says:

    From paragraph 17:

    [Dr. Rosi Sexton] has also said “trans women are women”, and that led to prolonged harassment from some of my best skeptical friends. She’s undoubtedly aware of X and Y chromosomes so I take it that she’s using ‘woman’ in the sense of gender rather than sex.  Although I’d prefer slightly different words, such as “trans women should be treated as though they were women”, the difference between these two forms of wording seems to be far too small to justify the heat, and even hate, generated on both sides of the argument. Neither form of wording is “transphobic”. To say that they are is, in my opinion, absurd.

    This, to me, is the crux when we view the debate from the point of view of a trans person. Unfortunately, I think the difference between the two forms of wording is actually very important. I, too, would not go so far as to call the “as though” phrase transphobic, and the practicalities behind the sentiment are entirely appropriate, but I still think it fails to acknowledge the trans person’s identity. That failure is precisely what trans and non-binary people have been trying to combat ever since they were self-aware, at whatever age that occurred (often since they were small children). Receiving acknowledgement of your identity after so many years of being told by everyone that you are someone you are not is a monumentally important milestone in a trans person’s life. An idea that we are proceeding “as though” someone is the gender they say they are is, in contrast, more of the same self-destroying rhetoric that trans and non-binary people have had to live through before they transitioned, however well meant it is.
    So I think “trans women are women”, “trans men are men”, and “non-binary people are non-binary” is the right way forward. Of course we are talking about gender, not sex, and we need to redefine historical concepts of male and female gender as best we can as we discover more about gender. But I think we owe that effort to people who are not cisgender. Acknowledgement of an individual’s identity is an important human right.
    Aside from that I admire your treatise and the way you have conducted the discussion in the face of a considerable amount of abuse directed against you.

    • Thanks for your comment. It seems to me to be a problem that people spend so much time arguing about tiny differences in wording when discussing this question. It also seems undesirable to try to re-define everyday words, like “woman”. Attempts to do that inevitably lead to misunderstanding and friction. And there is already far too much friction in these discussions.

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