Statement read in absentia, 'Hate, Heresy and the Fight for Free Speech', Battle of Ideas Saturday 9th October
I'm an academic philosopher at the University of Sussex, a feminist, and have written on
In 2018, following various misrepresentations of my views, I sent an email to students in my Department, explaining and clarifying to them how my views interact (or don't) with my teaching roles. The email text is reproduced here, and everything said there still stands.
"Dear Philosophy student
As some of you know, since May this year I have been writing in public about gender and sex.
My initial starting point was a public government consultation, asking for people’s views about whether the current law (the Gender Recognition Act) should be changed to make a legal sex change purely a matter of administration (at the moment it requires stricter controls). Both as a private citizen and as a professional academic, I exercised my civil right to express my views in writing. My view was, and is, that this law should not be changed, but should stay as it is, for reasons I give in my pieces.
Since then I have widened the focus of my writing to cover issues such as: whether there is any legal right for biologically male, genitally-intact trans women to enter female-only spaces where females undress and sleep, including hostels and prisons, and how facts about structural male violence affects that issue; how we should conceptualise the current unprecedented rise in transitioning teenagers and children; whether trans women should compete in female sports; what it means politically for lesbians to say that trans women are ‘lesbians’, given surrounding facts about misogyny and homophobia; and other complex issues raised by contemporary developments in the public conception of gender. I am also keen to explore the impact of the view that ‘trans women are women’ on traditional second wave feminist conceptions of sex and gender, which I share and wish to defend. I am now writing a book on these issues, and appear regularly in the media to discuss them.
Everything I have written to date is linked at the bottom of this email, and I request that anyone intending to criticise me as ‘transphobic’ or ‘hateful’ for raising these questions, or having the views I do, read everything before doing so.
I am very happy to reassure every student at Sussex, as I do in my writing, that my philosophical beliefs on these complex matters have absolutely no bearing on how I teach or interact with any trans or non-binary students. As I say in my very first Medium piece, I make a practice of using preferred pronouns and names. I would never discriminate against any student for any aspect of their identity, including being trans. I would never try to convince any trans student that my views are right (unless they indicated specifically they were happy to discuss with me first). I have respectfully taught many trans students over 15 years of teaching here, and I have never received a complaint about transphobia. I am not transphobic. I stress in several places in my writing that all trans people share legal rights to be free of violence, discrimination, and harm. My concerns are entirely directed to legal and social structures, and their political implications of proposed laws and social changes for females generally, and are not motivated by any personal animosity or hatred. Those that know me, know this.
I am aware of Philosophy students complaining about me in various online forums, and of complaints to my managers. That is their/your right. Academic freedom is an essential part of being an academic or a student at a University, though being personally harassing or abusive to, or about, individuals (including me) is not.
I would never expect any student to agree with me for agreement’s sake, and welcome constructive disagreement from students. Philosophy is a discipline in which disagreement is normally tolerated and even celebrated as productive. If any student wishes to calmly and constructively discuss these matters with me, they are welcome to make an appointment with me by email (not my office hours, as these are designated for teaching-related issues).