Crikey recently published a piece (Deves, 2021) by anti-trans activist Katherine Deves. There were a number of places in which the writing, editing and truth value of the piece was less than satisfactory, so I decided to point them out.
This piece is written with the intent of being readable in a linear fashion from start to finish, but its primary intent is as a fisking — an exhaustive, line-by-line refutation — and expansion of a similarly-structured Twitter thread I wrote on the subject. I expect if it is used in the future it will primarily be used for reference purposes, but I think I may also write a redux of this piece to make the same arguments in a more efficient fashion.
As I would like this post to be transparent to a non-trans audience, here is a glossary of selected terms used.
Androgens. The class of hormones which regulate the development and maintenance of male characteristics. Notable androgens include testosterone (T), dihydrotestosterone, and androstenedione.
Argument from ignorance. The assertion that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false, or vice versa.
Assigned female at birth (AFAB). What happens to a baby of whom it is said “It’s a girl!”
Assigned male at birth (AMAB). What happens to a baby of whom it is said “It’s a boy!”
Australasia (noun). A region comprising at least Australia and New Zealand, plus a number of neighbouring islands (varying depending on the specific sense of “Australasia” being used).
Canard. An idea or piece of information that is false, especially one that is spread deliberately in order to harm someone or their work.
Cisfeminine (adjective). The quality of the gender of someone who was assigned female at birth and has a predominantly feminine gender identity and presentation.
Cis (adjective). Cisgender.
Cisgender (adjective). Of a person, having a gender identity corresponding to the sex one was assigned at birth. Coined by analogy to “transgender,” but replacing the prefix trans- (“on the other side of”) with cis- (“on this side of”).
Dogwhistle, or dog whistle (noun). An item of coded or suggestive language used in political messaging to garner support from a particular group without provoking opposition.
Endogenous (adjective). Having a cause or origin within the body. Opposite of exogenous.
Endosex (adjective). Of a person or their body, having socially or medically normative sex characteristics. Opposite of intersex.
Estrogen (noun). A category of sex hormones responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. Notable estrogens include estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3), and estetrol (E4).
Exogenous (adjective). Having a cause or origin outside the body. Opposite of endogenous.
Feminising HRT (noun phrase). The HRT regimen taken by trans women and other transfeminine people. Typically includes an antiandrogen (“T blocker”), an estrogen, and occasionally a progestogen.
Gonad (noun). A mixed gland which produces an organism’s gametes (sperm or eggs) and sex hormones (most prominently estrogens, progesterone, and testosterone).
HRT (abbreviation). Hormone replacement therapy. The medication regimen taken by trans people to effect physiological changes in their body toward their identified gender.
Intersex (adjective). Of a person or their body, having chromosome patterns, gonads, or genitals which do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.
IOC. The International Olympic Committee, the body that organises the Olympics.
- The process of determining the number of chromosomes an individual has and any variations within those chromosomes.
- A test which makes that determination.
- The number and nature of the chromosomes detected by such a test.
With regard to meaning #3, a karyotype is usually given in the format (number,sex chromosomes). For example, someone with karyotype 46,XY has 46 chromosomes, including X and Y sex chromosomes.
LGBTQ+ (abbreviation). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and related communities. A relatively current popular usage (with slight variations) because it seems to strike a balance between inclusivity and practicality.
nmol/L (abbreviation). Nanomoles per litre, an SI derived unit for the concentration of a substance within a solution.
Nondimorphic (adjective). The quality of development of sex characteristics, etc., other than as would be expected for an individual of that nominal sex within that species.
Pronouns (plural noun). In this case, specifically third-person gendered singular pronouns: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs.
Realpolitik (noun). An approach to politics based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises.
Sexual dimorphism (noun). The condition where two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs.
T (abbreviation). Testosterone.
TERF (abbreviation). Trans-exclusionary radical feminist. Used here in general reference to the anti-trans movement as a whole.
Transfeminine (adjective). The quality of the gender of someone who was assigned male at birth and has a predominantly feminine gender identity or presentation.
Transmasculine (adjective). The quality of the gender of someone who was assigned female at birth and has a predominantly masculine gender identity or presentation.
1. Deves degenders Laurel Hubbard.
The article focuses on NZ weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who is a trans woman. At no point does Deves refer to Hubbard with any feminine-gendered term whatsoever; she does not refer to her using either an honorific (Miss, Mrs, Ms, etc.) or a singular feminine third-person pronoun (she, her, etc.). Where Deves refers to Hubbard specifically, she refers to her only by her name.
This is what I have heard described as “punitive degendering,” a tactic in popular use by transphobes against trans people. A relatively recent prominent example occurred when a teacher in the US state of Virginia was fired for refusing to use a transmasculine student’s pronouns at all and referring to him only by his name, despite having made multiple previous agreements and been given multiple chances to do otherwise (Armus, 2019).
2. Deves calls Hubbard a “transwoman.”
“Transwoman” is not a term which enjoys currency in the trans community; the preferred term is “trans woman,” with a space (Gender Minorities Aotearoa, 2020). The reason is that “transwoman” frames transness as a fundamental and defining aspect of the subjects’ womanhood, implicitly setting them apart and marking them as a third gender (Trans Guernsey, 2021). The fact is that trans women are women in the same sense that cis women are; “trans” is simply a descriptive adjective, like “tall” or “Australian.”
While “transwoman” was once a relatively standard term in general use, and it is not at all uncommon for it to be used innocently by people who don’t know, it is now sufficiently strongly associated with TERF politics to be widely recognised as a dogwhistle.
3. Deves refers to Hubbard as “male-born.”
This is a fundamental misrepresentation of “birth sex” as something metaphysically real, intrinsic, and immutable. In actual fact, sex is assigned at birth — i.e., a clinician says, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” — by visual inspection of the genitalia (Reiner, 2002).
However, this is insufficient to actually determine sex; even the relatively conservative mainline model of “biological sex” which is currently conventional holds that there are multiple determinants of sex, including chromosomes, genitalia, gonads, and hormone levels (Sax, 2002; United Nations Committee against Torture et al., 2016). Consequently, sex assignment at birth is essentially a best guess for functional reasons, rather than a statement about a material reality.
This also means Deves’ argument contradicts itself at a very fundamental level; for more information on that, see #27 below.
4. Deves refers to Hubbard as a “trans-identified male.”
This particular framing of trans womanhood is both offensive and objectively inaccurate. However, that isn’t why it’s interesting; trans women are subjected to many things that are offensive and objectively inaccurate.
What makes it interesting is what it conveys about Kath Deves. “Trans-identified male” is a well-attested, widely-recognised dogwhistle (Mouche, 2020; Stone, 2020; Spectrum, 2021). It is used specifically because (Mouche, op. cit.) it avoids acknowledging a trans person’s actual gender; more than any notional linguistic function it might have, it is a term of deliberate exclusion and disrespect.
5. Deves refers to Helen Joyce’s book as “bestselling.”
This is a minor quibble, but while “bestselling” is an extremely broad term at this point, using it to refer to Joyce’s book is stretching it arguably further than it bears. For example, Joyce herself is currently waxing triumphant over her book being #7 on the Sunday Times general hardbacks bestseller list (Joyce, 2021) — a list noted for having a threshold for entry so low that “the list doesn’t mean anything,” and for at least one case of an author simply buying up half their own print run to get to roughly where Joyce is (Hoffelder, 2020).
At date, on the Amazon Kindle bestseller charts, the currently released Kindle edition of Joyce’s book is sitting around a comfortable 16,000th overall. It appears to have been the subject of what is known as “category hacking” (see Gaughran, 2021), putting it in the Transgender Rights & Expression category; in that category, it is currently trailing the 2011 edition of Jan Morris’ Conundrum and the 2016 audiobook edition of Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl.
6. Deves suggests “women’s bodies were designed.”
This is, once again, a minor quibble, but this choice of words implies the acceptance of a teleological argument, i.e., that complex functionality in the natural world must have been designed by an intelligent creator (“An intelligently designed response,” 2007). The teleological argument is essentially the philosophical spearhead of the creationist movement (Scott & Matzke, 2007).
There’s an air of “it’s turtles all the way down”. TERF groups worldwide have consistently had, and continue to have, durable relationships with far-right Christian groups, including organisationally cooperating with, sharing strategy with, and even being funded by them (Baker, 2017; Barthélemy, 2017; Burns, 2019; Glenza, 2020; George, 2021). The anti-trans movement’s general plan of attack has typically been consistent with a specific document issued by the US Family Research Council in 2015 (O’Leary & Sprigg, 2015). The wave of state-level “protecting women’s sports” legislation in 2020 was spearheaded by the Christian-conservative Republican Party. The lawsuit against trans athletes described in #14, below, was bankrolled (Ennis, 2020) by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a well-known Christian anti-LGBTQ+ extremist group (Percelay, 2015).
Deves is part of Save Women’s Sports Australasia, which describes itself as a satellite group of Speak Up For Women NZ. SUFW—NZ represents itself as non-partisan and non-religiously-affiliated (Speak Up For Women NZ, 2019), and claims to be funded by small private donations, as other TERF groups have in the past (Baker, 2017). However, its primary political allies have been the socially conservative New Zealand National Party (Small, 2021), led by Judith Collins MP, who is considered unusually Christian (Latif, 2020).
Deves’ use of the teleological argument here, therefore, may be a Freudian slip, or from another point of view an example of “crossing the streams.”
7. Deves engages in not only lies and damned lies, but statistics.
the average adult man has 41% more non-fat body mass, 50% more muscle mass in his legs, and 75% more in his arms than the average adult woman.Deves (2021)
Deves frames this statement in a way that suggests it directly applies to Laurel Hubbard and other transfeminine athletes. However, it indisputably does not — feminising HRT is robustly established as causing a significant increase in body fat percentage and decrease in lean mass (Klaver et al., 2017; Klaver et al., 2018; Suppakitjanusant et al., 2020) and decrease in muscle mass (Radix, 2016; Tangpricha & den Heijer, 2017; Wesp & Deutsch, 2017; etc.).
Even without taking into account the magnitude of these effects, their existence means that representing the athletic parameters of cis men as applying to trans women is overtly false.
8. Deves implies trans women’s performance is enhanced by testosterone.
[The IOC’s limit for trans women of] 10 nanomoles per litre [of testosterone] is still many times higher than the average [cis] woman. As disgraced former cycling champion Lance Armstrong knows only too well, testosterone is a very efficient performance-enhancing hormone.Deves (op. cit.)
There is a fundamental flaw in this argument, but we’ll come to that in a second. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that athletic performance is linked directly to endogenous testosterone (the amount of testosterone being produced and processed by the body).
First, if it is true that athletic performance is linked directly to testosterone levels, then it’s relevant that every feminising HRT protocol includes testosterone blockers. Standard blockers include cyproterone acetate/Androcur and spironolactone/Aldactone (Hembree et al., 2017); other commonly used blockers include bicalutamide/Casodex (Randolph, 2018) and enzalutamide/Xtandi (Fishman et al., 2019). All are used for and are known to be effective in suppressing testosterone produced and/or processed to within the range normal for cis women, hence their use.
In the second place, however, all this is rendered irrelevant by that fundamental flaw: There is actually no link whatsoever between endogenous testosterone and sports performance (Ivy & Conrad, 2018). Cis male athletes with unaltered endogenous T (“UET”) of 0.5 nmol/L are competing against cis male athletes with UET of 40 nmol/L with no perceptible competitive disadvantage. The reason for this is that every person’s body is used to processing a given level of endogenous T. Performance benefits are only available if, as Lance Armstrong did, you artificially boost your T levels above the set point by taking exogenous T (i.e., T produced outside the body).
Consequently, the degree to which trans women’s endogenous production or processing of testosterone is suppressed is irrelevant; due to their high UET set point, they receive less benefit per nmol/L T than cis women with the same serum T level.
9. Deves asserts that “sex is a spectrum” is a subjective belief.
The contention that “sex is a spectrum” is a subjective belief is a fairly popular trans-exclusionary canard (Rosario Sánchez & Graham, 2019; Wright, 2020; Wright & Hilton, 2020). It is not, however, substantiated by the science. For example, on the topic which is the focus of Deves’ article — testosterone levels — there is significant overlap between endosex cis men and endosex cis women (Keevil et al., 2017).
In general, there is simply no meaningful professional controversy over the spectral distribution of sex (Ainsworth, 2015; Brusman, 2017). Every trait recognised as a determinant of sex — karyotype, mutation profile, genital structure, gonad morphology, hormone levels — has a panoply of options which manifest in a massive variety of different sex phenotypes. It is estimated that the total number of people displaying distinctly nondimorphic sexual development not qualifying for specific classification could be almost 100 times larger than the total number of people who are officially intersex (Blackless et al., 2000).
10. Deves contradicts herself on “biological sex.”
99.98% of human beings are born unambiguously, immutably and observably male or female, and the material reality of being born into a male or female sexed body cannot be overriddenDeves (op. cit.)
Deves is calling for the universal application of rules based on binary sex assignment at birth. However, even the extremely conservative figure she cites here — the lower-end estimate of the number of babies born with ambiguous genitalia (Witchel, 2018) — makes that philosophically impossible; even if it were the case that only 0.02% of human beings were not able to be classified as endosex male or female at birth (and, for the sake of simplicity, trans people didn’t exist), that would still prevent the universal applicability of rules based on binary sex assignment at birth.
11. Deves alleges a “collision of incompatible, competing rights.”
Since Deves fails to note which specific rights are incompatible or competing here, this appears to be a reference to the general TERF canard of “sex-based rights.” This is an import from the UK anti-trans agglomeration; it did not stand up to scrutiny there (Gellman, 2021) and has not travelled well.
12. Deves implies that sporting organisations are caving to pressure.
“Nobody wants to be seen as failing to play along with this notion of progressivism, nobody wants to be accused of failing to demonstrate sufficient allegiance, …”
The main problem with this argument is that it is not, in fact, true; sporting authorities have been and continue to be quite comfortable with opposing progressive trans politics and openly antagonising trans athletes, with or without a demonstrable purpose. The State of Texas was content to compel teenage trans boy Mack Beggs to wrestle in the girls’ division in 2019, notwithstanding that as he was taking exogenous testosterone, he did in fact have a demonstrable advantage (Reuters, 2017). World Athletics, then the International Association of Athletics Federations, was quite happy to exclude trans women with greater than 5 nmol/L testosterone in 2019 (Francis, 2019). The only reason the IOC was not able to further tighten its regulations on transfeminine athletes in 2019 was because the science did not in fact allow it to do so (Ingle, “IOC delays,” 2019).
Plenty of people are quite comfortable with being seen as opposing trans participation in sports, in the national and international spotlight. Arguably the number is in fact increasing. The idea, despite this, that people are under pressure to “play along” and “demonstrate sufficient allegiance” is a construction deliberately designed to allow the reader to feel enough victimhood to justify striking back.
13. Deves says “nobody is stopping to think about what ‘inclusion’ actually means.”
Given that Deves knows, at a bare minimum, that the IOC regulates the circumstances under which trans athletes can be included, and does so in order to achieve a specific set of circumstances, Deves therefore certainly knows that the proposition that “nobody is stopping to think about what ‘inclusion’ actually means” is untrue.
14. Deves presents her hypotheses about “what happens to women and girls” as fact.
When [trans women] are included in the female category, what happens to the women and girls? They miss a spot on the team, they self-exclude, they are withdrawn by their parents, they are silenced if they resist, they lose out on the opportunity for prizes and scholarships and are threatened with loss of sponsorship.Deves (op. cit.)
This is, false on a couple of levels. I decided to examine “they are silenced if they resist” in a separate bullet point (see #15, below) because it isn’t of a piece with the rest, which I will examine in this one.
In the first place, “they self-exclude” and “they are withdrawn by their parents” are not actually valid arguments for negative effects on cis women in any case. If trans women and girls are included in women’s sports, and cis women or girls choose to withdraw, or cis girls are withdrawn by their parents, the root cause isn’t trans women and girls’ (invisible) “biological advantage” — because one hasn’t been demonstrated to exist.
What has been demonstrated in any such cases is that the party that chooses to withdraw feels sufficiently strong dislike toward trans women to believe things about them that have no meaningful prospect of being true. Transphobia is not trans women’s responsibility; to suggest otherwise is victim-blaming, of an all too familiar kind.
In the second place, “they lose out on the opportunity for prizes and scholarships” is an oft-cited canard with no basis in fact. The “prizes and scholarships” argument has been circulating for years, but as of late March this year (Newberry, 2021) — and to the best of my ability to determine, since then — it has never actually happened, to the point of NCAA coaching personnel explicitly speaking out against the perception that it had (Quimby, 2021).
One of the flagship cases for this argument is the one brought by co-plaintiffs Alanna Smith, Chelsea Mitchell and Selina Soule, arguing that “forcing them to compete against [trans girls] isn’t fair, shatters their dreams, and destroys their athletic opportunities,” and advancing the argument that trans girls had an insurmountable biological advantage (Ennis, 2021).
However, that case was undermined from the word go. As it turned out, both Mitchell and Soule had beaten trans athletes in the year prior to filing the case (Ennis, 2020). Within eight days of the news conference announcing the case, Mitchell, whose athletic scholarship to NCAA D1 school William & Mary (deSimas, 2019) apparently survived intact, twice defeated one of the girls she had claimed to be unable to beat (Webb, 2020). Soule, meanwhile, also chose to go to an NCAA D1 school, but did not qualify for a scholarship — and ultimately, while she has gotten to run at Charleston, she did not perform sufficiently well even to get onto the track and field roster there (Ennis, 2021).
15. Deves says that opponents of trans participation in sport are “silenced if they resist.”
This assertion does not stand up to critical examination, at either the macro- or micro-level. For being silenced, opponents of trans participation have an absolutely remarkable record of either being extensively quoted and cited in, or actually writing for, major platforms such as the Daily Mail (Morgan, 2021), The Economist (“Why are transgender Olympians …?”, 2021) The Guardian (Ingle, “How can we end … ?,” 2019), the National Review (Holcomb, 2021), NBC News (Yurcaba, 2021), the New York Post (Spitznagel, 2021), Sky News Australia (2021), USA Today (Stanescu, 2020; Mir & Schilling, 2021), and Yahoo! News (Schorr, 2021).
Even this specific article opposing trans women’s participation in sport is in Crikey, “the most popular website in Parliament House” (Latham, 2005). If your political philosophy can be uncritically published and endorsed in an e-zine noted for its popularity with the people who literally govern its country of publication, “silenced” may not be the word.
16. Deves calls Dr Joanna Harper a “transactivist”.
This specific and rather inorganic verbal construction is fairly obviously designed to parallel “transwoman.” This is typical of anti-trans language games; the previous term du jour for people defending trans rights was TRA (trans rights activist), clearly intended to evoke an association with the incel-adjacent movement known as men’s rights activists or MRAs.
At date, “transactivist” is emerging as a replacement for “TRA,” the former term having become too obviously a loaded, pejorative dogwhistle. The first page of Google for “transactivist” returns results showing uncritical use of the term by Lily Maynard, Mumsnet, and Wings Over Scotland, among other individuals and groups known primarily for their anti-trans political orientation (“Weekly wanker #017,” 2013; Livingston, 2018; Lewis, 2019).
17. Deves frames Dr Harper as the driving force behind the IOC’s Consensus.
In particular, in not describing who was actually on the committee, Deves allows the impression to be given, in effect, that Dr Harper flimflammed an assortment of well-meaning generalists into making concessions to the woke mob. In actual fact, the membership of the committee included (International Olympic Committee, 2015) two former IOC Medical & Scientific Commission chairmen, as well as senior international experts in genomics, gynaecology, paediatrics, sports sciences and medicine, and urology.
By an interesting coincidence, the members of the committee included two academics from the Karolinska Institute (KI), which was then and is now notorious for either becoming entangled with (Dhejne et al., 2011; Williams & Dhejne, 2014), or leaning into (Gräffin et al., 2021; Parsons, 2021), scientific legitimisation of transphobia. The KI academics who were present had previously explicitly voiced the opposite stance to Dr Harper, in Chand v. Athletics Federation of India et al. (2014) — yet Deves makes no representation that their presence led undue weight to a biased view.
It is not in serious dispute that the committee was more than qualified to evaluate the evidence placed in front of them (i.e. Harper, 2015), and that they made their decision on that basis.
18. Deves calls Dr Harper’s work “methodologically flawed.”
This is a particularly interesting assertion to present as objective and well-established fact. It appears to be traceable back to an opinion piece published on Medium (Lee, 2019). The writer of that piece openly refuses to cite sources for her analysis and makes a number of unevidenced assertions about how Harper’s work must have been done — yet Deves presents this as if it were widely accepted and wholly uncontroversial.
19. Deves implies that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
A year later, committee panellists acknowledged a “paucity of evidence” on this issueDeves (op. cit.)
What Deves is doing here is executing an argument from ignorance — giving undue weight to the idea that additional research will necessarily change the Committee’s position on the issue. A lack of evidence does not, in and of itself, imply anything whatsoever (Altman & Bland, 1995).
20. Deves claims offhand that the IOC has “chosen to ignore recent research.”
I would love to investigate this claim in more depth, but Deves does not clarify or provide supporting material to establish what she meant — not an uncommon trait, as trans-hostile reactionaries tend to find it rather inconvenient to be bound by the empirical facts.
In any case, however, inferring from context, it appears possible that Deves is taking advantage of a delay in the IOC’s action to falsely portray it as taking no action. The IOC moved to tighten its rules to exclude more trans athletes in 2019, but suspended implementing the changes after strong and consistent objection from medical and scientific experts (Ingle, “IOC delays,” 2019). The final form of the rules changes is scheduled to be implemented after the Tokyo Games; the announcement is attracting significant trepidation from trans athletes who fear that after almost two intervening years of increasingly vicious anti-trans campaigning, the new rules may constitute anything up to a complete rollback and ban of any trans participation whatsoever (Lavoipierre, 2021).
If the new rules confirm the status quo or liberalise participation standards further, the onus will continue to be on Deves and her co-ideologists to show that “recent research” was not taken into account in their formulation. If the new rules are stricter than the current rules, however, Deves will only be incorrect insofar as she will have shown ingratitude for the IOC’s support of her position.
21. Deves makes spurious claims about “competitive advantage.”
It is extraordinarily naive or wilfully ignorant of the IOC to trust that this will not be exploited by any athlete or nation seeking to gain even the slightest competitive advantage.Deves (op. cit.)
This argument is critically undermined by the fact that the current guidelines were in place at the Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 Olympics and yet no athlete and no nation “sought to exploit” them then — before Tokyo, no trans athletes ran at all. It is further undermined by the fact that there have, in fact, been no recorded cases of any athlete or entity seeking to exploit trans inclusion guidelines in any sport in which they exist. The IOC cannot come to a trust position other than the one it has on the strength of the evidence that actually exists.
22. Deves alleges that “the rules themselves are broken.”
Hubbard, Wolfe and Barrett are not technically cheating, they are not breaking any rules, but when male-born transgender athletes are allowed to compete with women it is clear that the rules themselves are broken.Deves (op. cit.)
This is a rhetorically interesting and well-crafted paragraph which manages to pack in a particularly dense psychologically charged payload.
In the first place, of course, “not technically cheating” is over-specific in a way which is difficult to read other than as a deliberate accusation. Cheating is, by definition, rules-based: it requires one to subvert the rules in order to obtain unfair advantages. Given that Hubbard and Wolfe — and Barrett, who has been dragooned into this paragraph from the Paralympics apparently for rhetorical effect — are “not technically cheating,” they are actually not cheating in any sense. To imply that there might exist a sense in which they are cheating is a false accusation.
In the second place, “the rules themselves are broken” is a deft use of double meaning. Charitably, the intended meaning is that the rules themselves are inconsistent and nonfunctional. Viewed with an eye to Realpolitik, however, it is a metaphysical restatement of the accusation of cheating — Hubbard, Wolfe, and Barrett may not have broken the rules, but they broke The Rules. Essentially, Deves is implying that there exists an objective moral code which excludes trans women from participating in sports, and presumably relying on her readers, most of whom will be cis, not to notice.
23. Deves uses the false classification “biological male.”
“Biological male” is an attempt to put cis men and trans women in the same box because they were both assigned male at birth. However, like most of Deves’ other attempts to identify trans women with cis men, this classification is fatally flawed.
As we previously discussed, even the more conservative existing models acknowledge multiple determinants of “biological sex” — chromosomes, genitals, gonads, and hormones., at minimum None of those characteristics and no combination of those characteristics is effective in establishing the hard male—female divide to which the label “biological sex” aspires.
24. Deves uses “androgenised” to mislead.
“Due to their androgenised bodies, transwomen have substantial and observable performance advantages … a male’s physiology gives him greater speed, strength, size and stamina”
The only sense in which trans women were “androgenised” is that they once had higher than normal levels of serum testosterone. Of course, Deves avoids mentioning that trans women on HRT are highly estrogenised.
She also avoids mentioning that after starting HRT, trans women lose speed (Harper, 2015), strength (Scharff et al., 2019), and stamina (Harper et al., 2021). Size is a backup argument seemingly intended to evade other criticism, but equally unfounded — even people who underwent a testosterone puberty are not by definition taller or broader, and cisfeminine professional athletes are statistically more likely to be significantly larger (Chang, 2016).
Even if a height differential had existed, professional sports do not typically impose height limits — hence, for example, the infamously often misrepresented MMA bout between Gabi Garcia (6’2”) and Destanie Yarbrough (5’6”), both of whom are cis women. Arguments about the relative size of trans women athletes are, in my experience, never based on a genuine concern about any putative safety and fairness issues that might exist; they are intended to evoke an image of trans women as hulking, musclebound, predatory animals.
25. Deves engages in not only lies and damned lies, but statistics (Pt. II).
Allyson Felix, the fastest woman in the world, is annually beaten by 15,000 men and boys. The world champion US women’s soccer team were beaten by under-15 schoolboys 5-2, as were the Australian Matildas by under-16 schoolboys, 7-0.Deves (op. cit.)
I would investigate this in depth except that the fundamental objection to it is quite simple: Once again, Deves is knowingly taking statistics about cis men and applying them to trans women, to whom they are not applicable for reasons previously explained.
26. Deves says intersex people are “be[ing] weaponised.”
intersex people repeatedly request for their congenital medical conditions not to be weaponised in this cultural debate around gender
First, Deves commits a historical error by treating the intersex and LGBTQ+ communities as entirely discrete and having no overlap. Intersex people are part of the LGBTIQ+ acronym not (or not only) out of some sort of perceived symbolic resonance, but because they are demonstrably more likely to be LGBTQ+ — over 10 times as likely to be queer (Jones et al., 2016; Gates, 2011) and up to 40 times as likely to be trans (Furtado et al., 2012; Collin et al., 2016). More directly, intersex people are in this fight partly because they are being dragged into it by the side Deves represents.
Second, intersex and LGBTQ+ people have historically worked together because dominant societal norms of sex and gender are used to police both groups out of existence (UN Human Rights Office, 2016). While the failures of LGBTIQ+ groups to serve the particular needs of intersex people have been the subject of comment from both LGBTQ+ and intersex perspectives (Cabral, 2016; Kaggwa, 2016; Koyama, n.d.), the idea that there is no solidarity between intersex and LGBTQ+ people is straightforwardly false (Intersex Human Rights Australia, 2012/2021). To assert that it is the case is characteristic of the “divide and conquer” strategy used to defuse movements for change since time immemorial (Xypolia, 2016).
27. Deves says Christine Mboma, Beatrice Masilingi, and Caster Semenya are “biologically male with Y chromosomes.”
This is false on a number of levels.
Masilingi and Mboma do not have Y chromosomes; that assertion by Deves is straightforwardly false (Berkeley, 2021). According to the Namibia National Olympic Committee, Mboma and Masilingi have been excluded because they have higher-than-average levels of serum testosterone (Namibia National Olympic Committee, 2021). Semenya, meanwhile, has a Y chromosome. However, that does not make her biologically or in any other sense male, for reasons well explained by Savulescu (2019), and she was assigned female at birth (BBC News, 2009).
More fundamentally, this introduces an(other) irreconcilable contradiction in Deves’ line of argument. As I’ve mentioned, “biological sex” is a fatally flawed basis for categorisation, but obviously we have to accept it here arguendo in order to evaluate it. The problem is that no matter which determinant of sex you use, there’s no way of fitting all of Deves’ targets in the same box.
- If Hubbard is “biologically male” because she was assigned male at birth, then Masilingi, Mboma and Semenya are biologically female because they weren’t.
- If Hubbard and Semenya are “biologically male” because they have Y chromosomes, then Masilingi and Mboma are biologically female because they don’t.
- If Masilingi, Mboma and Semenya are “biologically male” because they have high serum testosterone levels, then Hubbard, who has had GCS and is on HRT, is biologically female because she doesn’t.
28. Deves uses the term “disorders of sexual development” (DSD).
Much like “trans-identified male,” the importance of this choice is what it indicates about the author. Brusman (2019) notes that “many intersex advocates argue against the use of DSD as it implies that they need to be ‘fixed.’” Holmes (2011) remarks that DSD “works to paper over a problematic understanding of morphological variation as disease” and “reinstitutionalises clinical power to delineate and silence those marked by the diagnosis[, which is] precisely the point of the new terminology”. This is reflected in community attitudes: Jones et al. (2016, p. 95) noted that 60% of survey respondents characterised their bodies as intersex, while only 3% characterised their bodies as DSD.
In the context of her notional concern for the intersex community, Deves’ choice to use such a deeply disliked and potentially problematic term strikes an odd note. It is, however, fully consistent with media style guidance issued by the Christian-Right-affiliated (Baker, 2017) anti-trans organisation calling itself the Women’s Liberation Front, which stipulates (WoLF, 2021, p. 7) that both “intersex” and “DSD” may be used, but that “DSD” is preferred.
29. Deves invokes the old canard of “protecting women.”
The female sports category must be protected for biological femalesDeves (op. cit.)
The notability of this canard isn’t internal to Deves’ argument; it’s external and historical. The arguments of organised bigotry are often set-dressed in such a way as to appear to arise seamlessly from the actions and qualities of the people they oppress. In reality, however, those arguments are almost always simply arguments previously used against completely different groups, then broken and now reforged to serve another day, like some sort of shitty Andúril.
The “innate superiority in sports” argument falls into this category. Its fundamentals are much the same now as they were when the argument was deployed against Black people (Kerr, 2010): the proposition that a demographic is genetically predisposed to athletic dominance; the assertion of the existence of population biological differences without evidence; dismissal of individual effort as a factor in a marginalised group’s success; the reduction of wide variation in human complexity to an unsustainable and oversimplified us-and-them binary; and reliance on a dominant-group readership to feel threatened enough by the relevant minority not to check any of the facts.
While it would be untrue to say that trans people and Black people’s oppressions are fundamentally comparable, it would be true to say that the same bigots have persisted in oppressing each, and those bigots have consequently reused the same tropes.
30. Deves says the issue is a lack of “accept[ance] and inclusi[on] of gender non-conforming males.”
Trying to frame gender variance in male-assigned people and trans womanhood as synonymous is not only contradictory to trans women’s understanding of their own womanhood, but contradictory to the prevailing medical model of gender dysphoria, which is widely considered rather conservative and incomplete.
While transness may entail gender-variant expression and behaviour, trying to conflate the two phenomena intentionally ignores that gender variance is a variance in external gender performance. Transness, meanwhile, is uncontroversially acknowledged (Turban, 2020) as encompassing aspects including one’s relationship to and comfort with gendered peer groups, with gendered social performance and ritual, with shared gendered experience and empathy, and with one’s own body. Acceptance of gender variance in all of its considerable depth and beauty is of vital and indispensable importance — but no amount of acceptance of “gender-nonconforming men” will make trans women stop being women.
31. Deves makes a fallacious claim about what “men” “expect.”
“[cis] men must … [stop] expecting [cis] women and girls to sacrifice the opportunity to play safely and fairly in their own sports.”
This is wrong on two fairly simple levels.
- Since trans women’s participation in sports has not led to any demonstrable safety or fairness differential, nobody is expecting cis women or girls to sacrifice anything whatsoever.
- This line of attack presents trans rights as something forced on cis women by cis men. However, cis men have been consistently shown to be more conservative on trans rights than cis women, and it’s not close (Carroll et al., 2012; Stones, 2016; Morgan et al., 2020). The presentation here of a specifically man-powered attack has little to do with reality, but much to do presenting protection of women as a justificatory motive for violence by men, a tactic used to legitimise conflicts from the local to the international (Sjoberg, 2016).
32. Deves falsely implies that trans women are athletically dominant.
This claim is long since discredited, but enjoys continued currency among transphobes because it “feels true.”
Trans people comprise approximately 0.6% of the population. If they were proportionally represented among athletes, of, e.g., the Tokyo Olympic cohort of 11,326, there would be approximately 68 trans competitors. There are 3 total: Laurel Hubbard and Chelsea Wolfe, who are trans women, and Quinn, who is not. Another transfeminine athlete, Tifanny Abreu, failed to qualify.
Of course, since the guidelines which allowed Hubbard and Wolfe to qualify for the Olympics were introduced in November 2015, the claim has been insistently made that there will be a delayed wave of trans women taking over women’s sport.
In August 2011, the US National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) introduced a trans policy that required 12 months of testosterone suppression for trans women. In the intervening time, precisely one trans woman has won a championship title — CeCé Telfer, who took out gold in the Division II 400m hurdles in 2019. Telfer’s time was 2 seconds behind the Division II record and 4 seconds behind the Division I record; meanwhile, in the 100m hurdles, she came 6th. As with the Olympics, a total of 1 gold medallist trans woman out of 70,000+ female athletes in 10 years is in fact a severe underrepresentation proportional to population.
Over the timespan over which formal trans inclusion has meaningfully existed, the prophesied wave of trans women conquering all women’s sports has thoroughly failed to materialise. Under those circumstances, there is no available charitable interpretation of Deves’ “commitment to the bit.”
33. Crikey endorses Deves’ framing.
“What do you think? Do male-born transgender athletes have a right to compete in women’s sports, even if it puts female-born athletes at a biological disadvantage?”
By including this italicised paragraph at the end, Crikey states that it endorses the “male-born” / “female-born” dichotomy, and that it treats the idea that cis women might be at a “biological disadvantage” against trans women as being credible, despite having no basis — other than partisanship — to do so.
34. Deves wouldn’t have a platform if Crikey didn’t platform her.
Some months ago, I watched Kath Deves spreading anti-trans hatred in the comments on a conservative Australian Senator’s Facebook page. She got comprehensively schooled by the first pro-trans commentator to come along, even though that person was clearly fairly jaded and not paying much attention. Even though her opponent wasn’t trying, it appeared easy to publicly show Deves up in an environment where her only legitimating authority was herself and the strength of her arguments — where her opponents had an equal right of reply and she wasn’t legitimised by a well-known masthead.
The anti-trans movement has been characterised by growing support in the upper echelons of the political and media class, but virtually no actual grassroots activism backing it up. The reason is, quite frankly, that assuming a free marketplace of ideas exists, this ideology is not in demand. When Crikey chose to platform Deves, it chose to intervene in the market and prop up an ideological offering which could not survive on its own. Given that the ideology in question is actively harmful and has historically served an onramp to ideologies that were even worse, it is unlikely Crikey‘s decision will soon be forgotten.
This article didn’t have to be published. It made false statements about anatomy, biomechanics, endocrinology, evolutionary biology, genetics, myology, paediatrics, publishing, and urology. It misrepresented the “debate” around trans inclusion, the English language, the intersex community, the political orientation of the mass media, the politics of gender variance, status quo in US politics, and the trans community, and it did so almost certainly knowingly and maliciously in every instance.
Moreover, it contained a sufficient number of obvious dogwhistles that any editor worth their salt could have and should have been alerted to the fascist-friendly and ideologically-driven content of the article, to at least the degree necessary to fact-check it.
If Crikey editorial staff didn’t notice any of this, that calls into question their suitability as editors. If Crikey editorial staff did notice these things and ran the piece anyway, that calls into question the journalistic credibility of the organisation as a whole. I have a fair idea which, but I expect it will eventually be confirmed. That day can’t come soon enough.
Please note that I do not link to TERF websites, as doing so increases their search engine rankings. I suspect it also increases the number of crawlers which will archive their content. As I don’t want TERF content to remain available long-term, I don’t intend to make that any easier than it has to be.
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