This is a response to the piece “No absolute right in clash of biology and gender,” written by Janet Albrechtsen (2022), dated 15 February 2022, carried by The Australian.
The Australian is the only nationally-distributed daily newspaper in Australia. It is a News Corp Australia property with a cross-platform audience of approximately 2.4 million readers as of September 2019. It is particularly noted for its rabid conservative partisanship (Taylor & Collins, 2012).
Janet Albrechtsen (1955–) is the chairman of the Institute for Public Affairs and an opinion columnist at The Australian. She is a former commercial solicitor and law academic. Her other bylines in Australian media have included The Age, The Australian Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the right-wing extremist magazine Quadrant; international media bylines include the National Post and Vancouver Sun of Canada, and The Wall Street Journal in the United States and Asia.
Raquel Rosario Sánchez, who is Dominicana, is named in accordance with Spanish-language conventions; she has a paternal surname, Rosario, and a maternal surname, Sánchez. Typically, someone with this name form is referred to by either the first or both surnames (e.g., “Rosario” or “Rosario Sánchez,” respectively). Some English-language outlets render these names like English double-barrelled surnames (e.g., “Rosario-Sánchez”). My impression is that “Rosario Sánchez” is her preference, so that is how I have rendered her name here.
In the first place, “biological women” is conceptually incoherent; it is not possible to construct a biologically-based definition of womanhood which includes all cis women and excludes all trans women.
In the second place, Albrechtsen asserts a conflict of rights but does not even try to demonstrate that any such conflict exists.
He certainly didn’t (Thomson, 2022). Why the opinion of a retired politician should matter is unclear.
The basis of the assertion that Rowling has “worn the worst of … hatred and threats of violence” is unclear.
However, much more interesting is the choice of wording “one assumes.” One assumes – says the voice of the author – one doesn’t know. We assume it’s not all of them, we give them the benefit of the doubt, because we’re nice, civilised people who use reason and logic. But for all we know, all of those nasty, conniving transgendereds could be in on it. Which would be very convenient because it would give us a casus belli against every single last stinking one of them.
I was unable to verify that either anyone criticising Adele has said this or that anyone summarising criticism of Adele has said this. I am aware that at least one person targeted by the press over Adele has locked their account for reasons of personal safety, so they might have said it – but I can’t be sure.
I was unable to verify that anyone has accused Adele of being a TERF.
This is a lie. The words quoted here are from @puumph (2022a), a passionately transphobic Twitter user who was speaking sarcastically (@puumph, 2022b), and indeed expressed some degree of unease that they had been misinterpreted (@puumph, 2022c). Of course, I expect someone at The Australian knew that – and waved this article through anyway.
The resemblance of this statement to reality is sufficiently limited to make it difficult to figure out what precisely it is supposed to portray.
In the first place, this is categorically untrue. Ms Duffield said she was considering defecting to the Conservative Party because Conservative MPs had been “incredibly supportive” and seemed less prone to infighting, and because she didn’t feel like sharing a party with “Corbynistas” and the “tiny fraction” of supporters of trans rights in Labour (Chantler-Hicks, 2022). However, admitting that would mean conceding that supporters of trans rights have much more democratic power, and thus must make up a much larger portion of the community, than it would be convenient for Albrechtsen to admit. Consequently, she is forced to lie.
In the second place, let’s pretend for a moment that this wasn’t a lie. If that were the case, it would still be unclear how a leader who refuses to publicly agree with one of their MPs on a single ideological point which is not endorsed by any party body and is deeply unpopular with the general public is “witch hunting” that MP, which is the implied accusation here. As someone who has worked in Westminster system politics before, that just seems like Political Communications 101.
In the third place, if Ms Duffield is willing to defect to the (nominally) opposite party solely because her leader is insufficiently transphobic – notwithstanding that that party’s policies are deliberately targeted to cause material harm to women specifically (see, e.g., Wright, 2019) – then Ms Duffield is objectively not defecting out of her concern for the rights of women, and her departure cannot be said to be entirely unfortunate.
In the fourth place, Sir Keir is quite correct. It is neither morally correct nor objectively accurate to say something which is untrue; women are not the only group who have cervixes. Trans men, and nonbinary people assigned female at birth, also often have them too.
To the best of my ability to determine, trans community advocates said Ms Rosario Sánchez was a TERF who was spreading hate about trans people, and they protested a talk she gave (Minchin, 2022).. They did this because Rosario Sánchez was and is prominently and actively involved (Smith, 2022) with Woman’s Place UK, which is an anti-trans hate group (see, e.g., Duffy, 2020).
Rosario Sánchez was not persecuted for her beliefs; people protested her because she used a public platform to launch an unprovoked public attack on a vulnerable marginalised group with essentially no remaining capacity to defend themselves. Community advocates’ characterisation of Rosario Sánchez seems substantially accurate. Albrechtsen’s characterisation of them does not.
In the first place, the use of the word “one” here implies that it is possible a number of community advocates may have engaged in conduct sufficient in the University’s opinion to justify disciplinary proceedings. However, in reality, proceedings were only ever opened against one student, “AA.”
In the second place, the use of the word “after” here implies that the protest, which took place in June 2018, was the direct cause of proceedings being discontinued. In reality, proceedings appear to have continued for over a year, through July 2019 (Smith, 2022). There is no chance this is an accident; it is simply a blunt attempt to imply that correlation does, in fact, equal causation, with the intention of causing the audience to believe a lie.
In the third place, I was not able to find any source which asserted, as Albrechtsen has done, that AA arranged the protests. This is significant because the assertion that AA arranged the protests frames those protests as an entirely petty and vengeful action undertaken at the behest of someone with a significant network of influence. It seems entirely plausible that the protests were substantially ideologically motivated – which would, again, indicate a stronger degree of opposition to transphobia in the community than it would be convenient for any conservative source to convey.
The words attributed here to Dr Emma Williams (Humphries, 2022) are textbook examples of a rhetorical strategy known as “just asking questions” – that is, framing one’s aggressive and repeated attempts to prosecute an ongoing debate as “just asking questions,” and then claiming that when the opponent turns down your offer to do anything from wasting their time to suspending their civil rights, they are “clearly operating in bad faith,” which means you automatically win.
It seems sufficient to note that, like everyone else who has ever made this argument, Albrechtsen cannot name which specific rights are colliding, and to move on.
This is quite extraordinary. The general problem to which trans people are subjected is a lack of natural justice (Goldner, 2021), i.e., the intervention of the law and the state to deny them their natural rights, which are held to be universal, fundamental and inalienable. Given the pivotal importance of that conception of natural rights to classical liberalism, a political philosophy of which Albrechtsen (2016) presents herself as a passionate supporter, one might think this would have jumped to her mind immediately. Then again – one can reason anything away with the right motivation.
In the first place, his name was Kumanjayi.
In the second place, Albrechtsen is explicitly taking a position on both the “thorny issues” she names. She unconditionally endorses “a fetus’ right to life,” a concept from Roman Catholic theology specific to the anti-choice movement. She also unconditionally endorses Zachary Rolfe’s “right of self-defence,” notwithstanding that the existence of grounds on which Rolfe could have been engaging in self-defence by shooting an apparently restrained and unarmed Blak 19-year-old three times at point-blank range is sufficiently unclear that Rolfe is now being tried for Walker’s murder (Gibson, 2022).
In the third place, the IPA is a public policy think tank. Albrechtsen’s task as its chairperson, which I understand is her primary occupation, is literally to explore “thorny issues,” and she has already explored these specific “thorny issues” from her public platform (e.g., Albrechtsen, 2008).
In the first place, as previously discussed, no such right exists because its referents are incoherent, so it’s like saying “the right of colourless green ideas to sleep furiously.”
In the second place, the intention here, under all the ideological masturbation, is obviously to say “The right of cis women and girls not to be hurt or disadvantaged when playing sport against trans women and girls, especially body contact sports,” etc. This specific phrasing is overbroad – presumably intentionally so – because there are some sports in which cis women would be at risk of injury or disadvantage when playing sport against trans women but would be at the same quantity and quality of risk playing against other cis women, because those risks are intrinsic to the sport and not associated with the competitors’ sex assignment category.
That is to say, this framing demands that trans women be subjected to expectations that cis women would not; deliberately chooses expectations that are impossible to fulfil 100% of the time, even for cis women; and then characterises the fulfilment of those expectations as something to which cis women have a “right.”
In the third place, the charitable reading of this framing is that cis women should never be at greater risk of injury or disadvantage when playing against trans women than they would be when playing against other cis women. In that case, it seems apropos to note that I was not able to verify that such a risk differential has ever existed.
This is a reference to the dismissal of Karyn Lisignoli as chief executive officer of Girl Guides Western Australia for damaging GGWA’s reputation by being publicly transphobic. Lisignoli claims she was acting out of concern for the safety of Guides placed in this entirely hypothetical situation.
The obvious response to Albrechtsen is: do these concerned parents exist? The inclusion of trans girls in Girl Guides WA is directed by its Constitution (Girl Guides Western Australia, 2018, “Constitution”). Sections 18.2(b) and 35.2–3 of that Constitution provide that it may only be amended by a 75% supermajority of eligible voting members (i.e., adult members, as well as Girl Guides aged 15 years and over) present at a Special General Meeting of the GGWA association. The Secretary must be advised of amendments to be considered at an SGM no less than six weeks before the Meeting, and the membership must be advised no less than 28 days prior.
The practical upshot is that when it came to allowing trans girls into the Girl Guides, everyone with GGWA voting rights, including the very same 15-year-old cis Girl Guides Albrechtsen implies she is defending, was given an opportunity to express their views on the floor of the association and by vote. Given that opportunity, of the people who cared enough to show up, at least 75% were in favour of trans girls’ admission. For perspective, every Australian constitutional amendment proposal which was supported by that percentage of voters at a referendum is now law.
In essence, Albrechtsen’s position here is a barely cloaked argument for the unchecked and arbitrary rule of the few, based on the fact that those few happen to agree with her.
In the first place, “biological females” is an incoherent concept, etc., etc.
In the second place, can Albrechtsen show that these so-far-hypothetical parents actually exist?
This is basically a restatement of the previous point, but I did need to take a break here to process the thought that Janet Albrechtsen (2015, 2017) has ever cared about the feelings of any devout Muslim to have ever lived.
It is interesting to note that the daughters were 15 years old a second ago. It is also interesting to note that Albrechtsen does not explicitly note the age of the hypothetical trans girl students whose collective character she is so eager to smear. If they are sharing spaces with 12- and 13-year-old cis girls there is every possibility that they, themselves, are also 12 or 13. Of course, that would mean that Albrechtsen is imagining 12- to 13-year-old children as hyperviolent and hypersexual – which says rather more about her than anyone else.
Which is presumably why Albrechtsen has used this column to imply that trans people should be denied their gender’s ordinary rights to, among other things, competent reproductive healthcare, change rooms, domestic violence shelters, protesting, playing sports, being part of Girl Guides, going to school, dressing rooms, and any and all non-residential toilets. This is fine and completely sustainable. As a genius, I agree.
I found it difficult to get properly mad about this article. I advise Albrechtsen to update her library of transphobic tropes – the ones she has are old hat and deeply passé. The intention of this article may have been to own the libs, but it barely managed to rent them.
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