Response to Christa Peterson's blog

A philosophy graduate student in the US, Christa Peterson, has monitored my tweets for two and a half years, offence-mining my twitter feed for anything that looked like it might harm my reputation and archiving it, and has now published a blog piece attempting to construct a convincing narrative about my transphobia. I wouldn't normally give this any time or attention but I’m told that the blog has been published approvingly on one of the main news sources for academic philosophy, read by many professional colleagues and peers, and is being taken by some in the comments section as a reliable guide to my motives and character. Most onlookers will realise that an explicit character assassination that refers selectively to certain statements but not also to more considered relevant points by the same author, prosecuted elsewhere, is already epistemically suspect. If, given the intensity of Peterson's focus on my twitter feed for the past two and a half years, this blog - clearly desperate to find fault with me, and often presenting differences of opinion with her on empirical matters as themselves severe character flaws - is the worst she can find to say about me, I feel fairly confident I am doing OK. However, I also know that mud sticks, that some philosophers are delighted to be given a pretext to believe the worst about me, and that false or distorted claims about me are sometimes used against me by non-philosophers in the context of my workplace. Hence, I wish to address certain misleading defamatory points this blog makes below.

I won’t engage on the substantive philosophical differences I have with the author, as I’m happy – obviously - to let her have a different view on these matters to myself. Debate in the blogosphere is normal and I’m very glad to see the philosophy profession starting to have some about sex and gender identity,  the social effects of each, and the influence of trans activism on contemporary life. I’m also glad to see that philosophers are now looking outside philosophy to psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and other empirical work, both quantitive and qualitative - rather than simply thinking they can work out what is going on a priori, or based on a few chats with their trans friends. Empirical researchers are now increasingly engaged in this area and the next few years will, I predict, see several new studies come out about the phenomenon of gender identity and its interactions with the social world. I was delighted to see that, in Dan Kaufman’s excellent counter-letter in defence of my academic freedom to explore these matters, signatories included several psychologists and psychiatrists, including some working in the fields of gender identity and gender dysphoria. (I am incredibly grateful to Dan, and to all signatories, and this is as good a place to say so as any).

I got into this debate out of a sense of political urgency. As I have repeatedly stated (though not often enough for it to get through to the writers of the recent open letter against me, apparently) the context was a public consultation in 2018 about introducing reforms to the protections we already have for trans people in the UK. (In the UK, unlike in the US, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic in our Equality Act, and this is a very good thing about which I have only ever expressed support). The proposed reforms were in the direction of protecting an “inner” gender identity rather than an outward behavioural or otherwise observable indication of being trans, and were being pushed hard by LGBT organisations (they still are). At the time of the consultation, no philosophers were talking about these reforms in anything other than glowing terms, despite the reservations of some women and some transsexuals, for whom an inner gender identity is not an important concept. As I have proceeded from this starting point, I have refined my philosophical views, which will presumably continue to evolve as I go through life – again, something I take to be normal for philosophy. The most up-to-date take on my substantive views on the history of trans activism; the social importance of sex; the nature and stability, or otherwise, of gender identity; the role of fiction in the trans debate - both in terms of its helpful aspect and its harmful ones; the use of propaganda by trans activist organisations, and how trans activists and feminists can move forward from the toxic war they seem to find themselves in, are all elaborated in my forthcoming book Material Girls: Why Reality Matters to Feminism, published by Little Brown in May 2021. Suffice it to say that Peterson does not, in her blog, correctly anticipate what my current and substantive views are, for a number of these areas. (My views on sexual orientation and its relation to gender identity are expressed here.)

I turn now to Peterson’s section “Stock does not treat trans people with respect” which makes some inaccurate and defamatory charges which I strongly reject.

  • “She habitually uses vocabulary to talk about trans people that she knows most find inappropriate and offensive”. ME: This isn’t true. In two and a half years of tweeting, it seems I have occasionally made poor word choices at certain times, in the heat of twitter battle, which I accept and regret (see below). But what I “habitually” do is talk respectfully about trans people without accepting every identity claim made on their behalf. What I also do is use twitter to rant, chat, announce, opine, and discuss - in an informal, politicised way, using sometimes humorous, sometimes furious, and often vivid language to make my point. (I see that Peterson also uses Twitter this way – many people do).
  • “She has called gender-affirming surgery "self-mutilation."” The tweet of mine in question reads: “"Disquieting aspect of trans activism #475: late-transitioning trans women, at least some of whom transition for autogynephilic reasons, maintain highly-constrained narrative leading gender-dysphoric young girls towards hormones & self-mutilation." ME: I regret the insensitive choice of words “self-mutilation” here, as indicated (somewhat ironically, it turns out) by the fact I chastise others in my forthcoming book for using such language, which I argue is unhelpful. Mea culpa. The rest of the tweet, I take to be a statement of fact. My considered position on surgery and hormones is that they should be for adults after a proper period of reflection, involving extended talking therapies. (I recently contributed to a trans comrade’s facial feminisation crowdfunder, something that caused a whole other group of people to be mad at me online). The growing number of detransitioners who strongly regret their irrevocable past medical treatments suggests this is vital.
  • “She has called trans lesbians "incels' dress wearing equivalents."  ME: The full tweet, obviously laced with irony, ends “NB: Some but not all, on both counts”. Peterson ignores this part. That is, it was nothing like a general exceptionless claim and I made that clear. However I do consider claims that lesbians should  - as a matter of morality - be open to sex with trans women with penises, and tweets  such as “"Other times, the cis lesbian gets over her genitals hangups and realizes she can cope just fine” (R. McKinnon) as distinctly incel-like.
  • “When Rachel McKinnon (now Veronica Ivy), a fellow philosopher, won an important bike race, Stock accused her of having a "desire to dominate females."  ME: My strong objections to the behaviour, language, and philosophy of Rachel McKinnon/Veronica Ivy are not indicative of my attitude to trans people generally. Unlike many of my critics, I do not treat trans people as a monolith or hivemind. (Aside – it really is depressing to have to make these obvious points to trained philosophers).
  • “She has repeatedly baselessly implied that individual trans women are sexually predatory.” ME: This is false. In fact, I have stated, over and over and over again (to no avail) that this is not an automatic implication of any discussion of individual trans crime, nor of expressed worries about making inner gender identity a criterion of entry into woman-only spaces; just as the discussion of particular male crimes, or the desirability of  the exclusion of males generally from woman-only spaces, is not a character reference for men.
  • “The law professor Alex Sharpe once noted, in conversation with someone else, that sexual desire is not just about genitalia: "Desire cannot be impoverished in this way. When you see a hot woman across the room, the heat is heat. We know nothing about what lies beneath her clothes. Stock arrived: "So basically Prof Sharpe is saying: 'if a lesbian flirts with me, on the basis of superficial appearance, it means they must want what's 'underneath,' there's no other explanation—and now they have to follow through, or be branded a close-minded uptight bigot by me.' Got it." ME: Professor Alex Sharpe, a member of the Law Department of Warwick University (we met professionally in this very recent encounter in the UK Parliament), has published several academic and popular blog pieces arguing for the changing of ‘sex by deception’ laws, in order to protect trans people’s “privacy”. This is also apparently an ambition of Stonewall, our main LGBT lobbying group in the UK, as indicated in their influential “Vision for Change” document from 2015. If this lobbying was successful, this apparently could  mean there would be no requirement of a trans person to declare their biological sex to a partner, prior to an encounter. The blog of Sharpe’s I was probably referring to (from memory) is this one, entitle “Blind Desire”. I consider it perfectly reasonable to argue with Sharpe’s views, as a fellow academic, including in the colourful and informal way I do in the quoted tweet, and my tweets here seem to me a reasonable response to this blog post.
  • "You were attracted to me when you DIDN'T know about the rash! What's changed?!" someone joked. "Loosen up baby, it's just a Nazi tattoo," said Stock. ME: The point in both cases was to make an analogy with something else ‘under the clothes’ that one might want to know about prior to sex with them. The point was not – sigh – that trans women are Nazis.
  • “Stock has repeatedly accused trans women defending trans adolescents' access to puberty suppression of having "autogynephilia," a supposed sexual fetish for being a woman—a fancy name for the old, venomous trope that trans women's real motivation for transitioning is secretly that they get off on it.” ME: I believe it to be incontrovertible that the condition of autogynephilia exists, though many or perhaps even most trans people don't have it. I am sorry if this fact offends gentle readers, but in the UK, at least, the phenomenon of some heterosexual or bisexual men wearing their wives’ clothes for arousal purposes has been around for much longer than the modern trans activist movement. It is of relevance to discuss this, given that the trans activist movement a) explicitly includes “cross-dressing” under the “trans umbrella” and b) is strongly focused on granting access to woman-only spaces on the basis of gender identity. Though it is common for trans activists to deny the existence of autogynephilia, there is strong empirical evidence for it - and of course not just in my view, but also the published views of other trans academics, including Anne Lawrence, who studies it, and Andrea Long Chu who writes about the fetishes of ‘forced feminisation” and ‘sissification” in her recent book Females. J. Michael Bailey, also discusses the phenomenon at length in his work.  I discuss autogynephilia, and supposed debunkings of its existence from trans activists, in my forthcoming book.
  • ‘Stock has other sources. She quoted the president of the American College of Pediatricians: “transgender physician activists—some of them trans-identified—[have] achieved positions of authority allowing them to craft the current standards of care.” "That’s Dr. Michelle Cretella, the president of the American College of Pediatricians talking," Stock said. "Still, what does she know? Probably has a hate agenda." Someone informed her that the "American College of Pediatricians" is in fact a SPLC designated hate group designed to trick people into thinking it is the pediatric professional body while it fights against LGBT rights and promotes sexual orientation conversion therapy. "Still seems they might have some relevant expertise," Stock said.” ME: I don’t know if the American College of Pediatricians are literally a “hate group” or not, as I don’t have the expertise on the US to gauge, and - I know this might sound shocking -  I don’t take my opinions straight and undigested from the Southern Poverty Law Center – but I can see why I was misled by their name, if so. Still, luckily for me, other organisations are emerging to confirm that the area of medical treatment for trans-identified children has become unacceptably politicised, with a model of “affirmative care”- meaning affirmation of gender identity - which denies the possibility of other often more helpful narratives. (I have no doubt that Peterson will attempt to rubbish the reputation of these people too).
  • “She is a denialist about anti-trans discrimination. She has claimed that "being trans isn't reliably associated with inequality."This is baldly false. But Stock appears committed to disputing all statistics suggesting trans people's lives are difficult, one study at a time. She has repeatedly dismissed and attempted to debunk statistics about the prevalence of suicide among trans people". ME: I discuss the misuse of suicide and hate crime statistics by trans activist in my book. I do not “dispute all statistics suggesting trans people’s lives are difficult”.  I do regularly draw people’s attention to the fact that a) in the UK the murder rate for trans people is 1 person a year on average, over a decade, and in the last two years, thankfully, there have been no trans murders at all; b) also in the UK, the supposed threat of violence to trans women in men-only spaces is constantly politically leveraged by trans activist organisations as a reason to reform laws in favour of gender identity and further open up woman-only spaces to those self-identifying as female; c) again in the UK, the femicide rate is on average is one murder of a woman by a man every three days.
  • “In her hands, evidence of a harm trans people suffer becomes evidence they do something wrong.” ME: This is utterly false and the quoted point linked to try and demonstrate this, is completely irrelevant.

Kathleen Stock, 13th January 2020

Addendum: since I wrote this I have become aware of a different response to Peterson, by philosopher Tomas Bogardus here. I am grateful to him.