June 18, 2020

"Of course sex materially exists"

There's a new phenomenon I'm starting to witness amongst academic philosophers of ostentatiously progressive stripe.  Since these people rarely do anything without getting permission from the wider progressive culture first, I'm assuming some of you are seeing it in your circles too. They are starting to say to me  - or more accurately, about me on social media, in irritation, since they don't actually talk to me, God forbid  - "of course sex materially exists! Whoever said that it didn't!".

I find this funny, in the way I find most hypocrisy and gaslighting funny - you have to laugh or else you'd retire to a cork-lined room. These are people, who, when I started writing in response to the UK public consultation into the Gender Recognition Act in 2018, were absolutely outraged by my referring to trans women (delicately, I thought) as "male-bodied persons" or "male". Whenever I and a few others tried to emphasize the important fact that they were of the opposite sex, could not literally change sex,  and that this made a significant causal impact on certain areas of life (e.g. sport, sexual assault statistics, how women and men respectively fare in workplaces when you factor in pregnancy and childcare, sexual orientation) we were shouted down. We didn't just start pointing these things out for amusement. It was necessary to mention them because the cult of gender identity was then rising strongly within trans activism, and it was being argued by organizations like Stonewall that "self-ID" should be the norm - not just for Gender Recognition Certificates,  but also for woman-only sport teams, changing rooms, dormitories, domestic violence refuges, prisons; for woman-only shortlists, prizes, scholarships, or Woman Officer roles (etc); and for whether or not you are a lesbian or not. That is, the activists argued, you should be able to "identify" your way into all of these as a male, by saying you have a misaligned female gender identity - an inner feeling of being female. At the time Stonewall was actively petitioning to have single sex exemptions removed from the UK Equality Act, and also trying to change the law about "sex by deception" to exclude trans people from prosecution from actively dissimulating their sex in sexual encounters. They were also petitioning to have - take note, North Americans -  the already legally protected characteristic "gender reassignment" changed to an inner feeling of "gender identity". Not much has apparently changed in this political agenda since.

When I pointed out in this context that most trans women still had penises and many were opposite-sex attracted - which seemed to me pretty relevant in the context of making self-ID the national norm for changing rooms, dormitories, and prisons, as Stonewall wants  - one prominent feminist philosopher (Jennifer Saul) said of me "what is this genital fetish?". Yes: a woman who has spent a lot of her career discussing the sexual mores of individual male philosophers in great detail and with much outrage, suddenly dismisses a general worry about potential sexual violence from males against females as a "genital fetish" of mine. When I would point, as proof of the realness of the worry, to cases such as Karen White - who, as a trans woman without GRC or medical intervention, sexually assaulted two female fellow prisoners in a UK female prison in 2018 ("her penis was erect and sticking out the top of her trousers", as the prosecutor said in court)- or Katie Dolatowski, who committed a series of sexual offences against young girls in supermarket toilets, and who then was housed in a women's hostel after conviction - feminist philosophers would write that I was being "inflammatory" and implying that "all trans women" were predators; apparently oblivious to the fact that normally, pointing out that some men offend, in the context of discussions about what laws and policies to adopt in light of that fact, isn't supposed to be a character reference for all men. My use of the word "male" was (still is!) constantly described as a "transphobic dogwhistle". Another constant refrain is that I must be implying that trans women are "not who they say they are".  (I am saying they are male. They are male. Most trans women I know acknowledge this). Feminist and progressive philosophers wrote endless think pieces about why I shouldn't have academic freedom, blocked me on twitter, wrote to journals saying I should not have been published, and helped ensure that a volume in which I was to be interviewed was cancelled. They also enthusiastically supported a no-platforming campaign against me by the group Minorities And Philosophy, for a paper in which I argued that sex was ineliminable from same-sex sexual orientation, and also from "gender".  

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that the VERY SAME PHILOSOPHERS, including Saul, have recently signed off an amicus brief to the Supreme Court emphasizing that... wait for it... sex is ineliminable from being trans, and from same-sex sexual orientation, and from "gender"!! Even more surprising, a main author of the brief is Yale philosopher Robin Dembroff, who has done more than most to make sure my name is never uttered in respectable philosophical circles again. This, for instance, is an indicative quote from a forthcoming publication of Dembroff's in Transgender Studies Quarterly:

“The situation in philosophy is, to be blunt, a massive, complex, and thorny transgender trashfire. This trashfire manifests most explicitly in the context of social media, blogs, interpersonal interactions, and the occasional journal publication, and has serious repercussions. (To name one, a number of high-profile court briefing opposing trans rights in both the US and the UK cite blog posts by philosophers such as Kathleen Stock and Alex Byrne as evidence that trans persons are dangerous and deluded.)”

This, by the way, is a lie. To my knowledge, no court briefings in which my work has been cited have ever said that trans persons are dangerous and deluded, or anything close to it. This is, effectively, the philosophers' (selectively employed) refrain that talking about biology is saying that trans people "aren't who they say they are". Dembroff is partly referring to Maya Forstater's court case, in which Forstater argued that it was a philosophical belief, protected under the UK Equality Act, that people cannot change their sex. (She lost). Forstater's tweets, for which she had previously lost her position, included “I think that male people are not women. I don’t think being a woman/female is a matter of identity or womanly feelings. It is biology”. My work was included by Forstater in a "bundle" for the judge (which included work by Susan Stryker, Janet Mock, Katharine Jenkins and er.. one Robin Dembroff). I also wrote a witness statement for the Harry Miller judicial review, about the use of "hate speech" to refer to discussion of biological sex, which can be read here. And my work was cited by Professor W. Burlette Carter in an amicus brief in the Aimee Stephens case (sum total: "Professor Kathleen Stock recently published anonymized comments that revealed significant fear of reprisals among UK academics"). I know of no other briefs - needless to say, I don't get a bat signal when someone mentions my work and nor can I control how others write about me.  If I could, Dembroff's defamatory paragraph about me would not have been published. But I would be astounded if anything I have ever written could be reasonably used to support the thoughts Dembroff apparently ascribes to me.

But to return to the main theme - in short, the message from these hypocrites is that when I (or Holly Lawford-Smith, or Alex Byrne, or any of the few other philosophers who have dared stick their heads over the parapet) talk about the sex of trans people, we can only be "really" saying that all trans people are "dangerous and deluded", "not who they say they are" and so on. However when they do it, it's fine. They are the good ones, after all. Four legs good, two legs bad.  

Moreover, these philosophers are now adding: "whoever said sex doesn't materially exist?" Scoff, scoff, eyeroll, eyeroll. Well, dear philosophers, apart from the fact that - as you know damn well -  hundred of articles in continentally-influenced Philosophy and Trans Studies and Queer Theory and Gender Studies published every year say this; and thousands of graduates schooled in these disciplines go out into the world and carry on saying it; and apart from the fact that when they do say it, you never argue out loud with them in any context that pertains to trans issues; and apart from the fact that you yourselves frequently instrumentalize the histories of people with DSDs (who you call "intersex" people) to try to show that sex is at least "complicated" and so maybe we should just agree trans women are women - apart from all that, if you are going to constantly shout down anyone who talks about sex in a way you don't like, then you might as well be saying sex doesn't materially exist, because what exactly is the bloody difference in the end? Kids are still growing up not understanding what sex is, because nobody is talking about it as anything other than a "social construct", and suffering their own identity issues accordingly, sometimes with radical mastectomies and hysterectomies before they are 20. Young lesbians are still getting the message that, to be good non-transphobic people, they should consider sex with fellow "lesbian" trans women. Women are still being edged out of sporting competitions by males with whom they couldn't hope to compete (in fact, one such male is also an academic philosopher, Rachel McKinnon, whose transparently terrible arguments about women's sport, and own victories over females on the track,  most of you have uncritically supported). Women and girls are still being assaulted (though, as one feminist philosopher said in my presence, in a stunning vindication of why most philosophers should never get anywhere near national safeguarding policies, "women will get raped anyway"). And by the way, these things are happening to one sex in particular, but that can't be mentioned either. Your silence, feminist and progressive philosophers, is deafening; and the occasional muttered demurral that of course sex exists, and whoever said it didn't, isn't going to save you.