Originally published 17 July 2022; migrated to website 24 November 2022.
On or around 30 January 2019, in the Australian Greens Victoria, a paper titled Response to the paper circulated for the Workshop on Trans-Exclusionary Rhetoric (Gale & Vallins, 2019), was circulated by two members of the AGV State Council, Nina Vallins and Linda Gale. The paper is now typically referred to by a shorter title, Contending Views, of unknown provenance (that phrase never appears in the text).
Contending Views has several problems. Here are a few.
This article includes two direct quotations from allegations of sexual assault.
Contending Views was a response to discussion and proposals surrounding a motion (“Proposal,” n.d.) which was moved at the AGV State Council that month, which called for a firmer stance against transphobia within the AGV.
The core flaw of Contending Views — not particularly surprisingly, in hindsight — is that while it pays lip service to trans inclusion, at one point saying “women (including trans women),” it makes several assertions which are incomprehensible in that context.
In particular, Contending Views‘ philosophical framework requires that:
- trans women are not women;
- trans women are men, or are, at the very least, not presumed innocent of — so to speak — the sins of men.
I will highlight this in instances where it is clear and relevant.
… the paper raises these issues [concerning trans-exclusionary rhetoric —Ed.] in a way which will inevitably provoke a vigorous internal debate which might be better addressed after the next1 Federal Election.
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
Off to a running start with this one.
Contending Views does very pointedly make a show of objecting on the grounds of trans-agnostic issues like electoral tactics, State Council protocol, etc. However, most of its content is, in fact, engaging in the very debate that the authors claim to want to have not now, but later.
Consequently, it reads less as, “I am concerned that this debate might genuinely impair the performance of the party at the election,” and more “let’s end this debate— which we’ll do by us having the last word,” and then responding to any objections with “No I WIN! I WIN! I WIN! I WIN—“
If ‘woman’ is a category predicated entirely on a person’s subjective self-identification rather than on an objective, identifiable fact such as biology, what are the policy and practical implications for these hard-won sex-segregated spaces or sex-specific affirmative actions?
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
The issue here seems pretty obvious: “woman” (and for that matter, “man”) is already a “category predicated entirely on” subjective identification — just generally by others, not the self. For all practical social intents and purposes, biology does not come into it.
Sure, a man might want to know whether the woman he wants to sleep with has a penis or a vagina. Nowadays, though, society generall and quite rightlyy avoids the thinking that Is she the right kind of woman for me to desire? and Is she the right kind of woman to be a woman? are the same question.
A woman can use gendered amenities, like a women’s toilet, because she says she is a woman and no one disagrees. If her gender is contested, the most invasive verification which is widely considered permitted is asking her to produce ID — which itself is a statement by the government saying they consider her to be a woman.
More invasive means of sex verification — such as groping someone, a violation to which both cis men and cis women regularly subject trans people — would be rightly considered sick and wrong if done to a cis person. It is telling that they only emerge where transphobia exists.
Even in modern history, the fact that your gender is what you say it is has been, verifiably, broadly uncontroversial. “Chicks with dicks” was never a polite, respectful, or — for lack of a better word — politically correct term, but it conceptualised the people it described as chicks, dicks notwithstanding.
This is also the paper’s first instance of “trans women aren’t women”. After all, if the authors believe trans women are women then they should have no problem admitting them to facilities which are for women; it wouldn’t be considered right to deny such admission to a cis woman. As the authors quickly make apparent, they are quite willing to fall down at that first hurdle.
It raises serious practical social policy questions if any person who asserts ‘I am a woman’ is then without question to be granted access to women’s domestic violence shelters, women’s scholarships, and women’s change rooms.
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
Well, it might, if anyone were proposing that. Even cis women aren’t let into domestic violence (DV) shelters “without question” based on gender alone — not least because, while it isn’t known to happen anywhere near as often as cis men’s DV against cis women, it’s still entirely possible for a cis woman’s DV assailant to be a cis woman (DVConnect, n.d.).
Admission to DV shelters has always been a matter of judgement by whoever controls admission. The proposition is that since women generally are admitted, women who are trans, being women, should be admitted under the same circumstances under which a cis woman would be admitted.
Scholarships are comparable in that
- they are also access-controlled by an authority with the ability to assess and determine good faith, and that
- trans women, being women, should be able to access them under the same conditions as other women — not “without question”.
The mention of change rooms is a different matter — not factually, but rhetorically. The reference to change rooms conventionally implies physical presence, nudity, and sexual vulnerability — but, of course, cis women are already vulnerable to sexual violence by other cis women in such places. For instance, relevant allegations have been levelled against vocal trans-exterminationist Lily Cade:
Lily Cade assaulted me at my very first Xbiz awards in a bathroom stall directly after assaulting another girl in another bathroom stall.
[Cade] assaulted me on a party bus in front of a bunch of porn people. I went along with it so it would stop sooner and be less embarrassing. But she ruined my first exxxotica and i cringe every time i see her
It cannot “raise serious practical social policy questions” to admit women to a space for women. If the authors believe that admitting trans women raises such questions then the authors cannot believe that trans women are women. The question is what they believe them to be.
The choice to invoke sexual vulnerability makes the answer pretty clear. Current dominant culture promotes an instinctive understanding that sexual violence is characteristic of men. By implying that allowing trans women in a space puts cis women at risk of sexual violence, the authors imply that trans women are men.
Incidentally, while the other venues mentioned here haven’t been studied, there is no evidence that acknowledging that trans people can use the correct amenities for their gender makes anyone less safe (Barnett et al., 2018). There is, however, plenty of evidence that not acknowledging trans people’s right to use the correct amenities subjects them to more harassment and, indeed, sexual violence (e.g., National Center for Transgender Equality, 2015); this predates Contending Views but I can only assume it didn’t reach the authors.
What does it mean for evidence-based policy if we record acts of violence committed by trans women as violence perpetrated by a female person?
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
It means our policy can be based on more accurate evidence, because we acknowledge violence by women as violence by women.
I admittedly find it a bit ironic that I’m reviewing this one, as the daughter of an entirely cis woman with a propensity for domestic battery, violent home invasion, and attempted murder. Women, cis and trans, are morally and often physically equally able to do harm.
This is incidentally obviously another case of “trans women are men”. Violence generally, like sexual violence, is the subject of a (not inaccurate!) dominant-culture understanding that it is usually male. Trans women could only affect “evidence-based policy” by contaminating women’s “evidence base” with a residual male propensity to do harm.
As with the other implications here, I am not aware of any evidence that trans women are more violent than cis women — but I am aware that they are vastly more likely to be made victims (UCLA Williams Institute, 2021).
Should a man who has been convicted and incarcerated for sexual crimes against women be able, by asserting that they are now a woman, to therefore be housed in a female prison?
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
This is obviously another case of “trans women are men,” which the use of singular “they” does nothing to blunt — “they” is a word which cis people of all stripes are liable to abruptly discover if the alternative is calling a trans woman “she”.
In this case, the “trans women are men” isn’t entirely in the choice to invoke the (again, for this purpose, characteristically male) “sexual crimes” — it’s also in the deliberate construction of the hypothetical trans woman as simply “a man … asserting that they are now a woman,” reducing her womanhood to nothing more than a series of words.
The answer to the underlying question is, of course — accepting for the sake of argument, and wrongly, that prisons should exist — that prisons that confine women confine cis women even if they committed “sexual crimes”; trans women being women, they should confine them too.
There is incidentally an inline citation in the document at this point to a “prison review” by UK trans-eliminationist group Fair Play for Women (FPFW). The review (Fair Play For Women, 2018) is, to put not too fine a point on it, bullshit, and it doesn’t make any particularly careful attempt to appear not to be.
The short version is that the review asserts trans women are much more violent, and to make its claim, it exploits a quirk in British Ministry of Justice (MoJ) administration meaning that the only trans women whose genders are recorded are those convicted of particularly severe crimes (Harris, 2016).
To be crudely reductive: it’s much as if the MoJ had limited the registration of trans womanhood to prisoners convicted of murder and rape, and then FPFW had claimed 100% of all transfem prisoners were murderers or rapists. What the MoJ actually did, and what FPFW actually claimed, are only slightly diluted versions of this.
Is it OK for lesbian women to prefer that their sexual partners have female anatomy, or is this transphobic and should they be encouraged to welcome sexual relationships with people with penises who identify as women?
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
Now, to start with, this rather unkindly assumes that cis women can’t get phalloplasty. Personally I think they should be able to if they want.
More seriously, what’s actually going on here is an intentional misrepresentation of the concept of the cotton ceiling. The core of the cotton ceiling concept is: If you find someone romantically and sexually attractive, but then you immediately stop finding them attractive because you found out they were trans, then there may be a degree of prejudice there that you need to examine.
The assertion has never been “… so therefore cis women are obliged to sleep with trans women”. You can’t litigate someone into having to fuck you, and if anyone genuinely thinks you can, then that person is not a safe person in any place, at any time.
Moreover, the fact that the core proposition of the “cotton ceiling” concept is true is immediately clear. For example, I might refuse to sleep with neurodivergent (ND) people on the grounds that they’re all speds2 who can’t consent (I’m ND and have been called a sped for it, hence why I picked this example).
If I were this bizarrely ableist person, then nobody would be entitled to force me to sleep with an ND person. However, even if I treated ND people with perfect civility in other ways, my position on romance and sexuality would still clearly be bizarrely ableist. “Cotton ceiling” means no more and no less than this.
Tangentially, TERFs like to claim “cotton” refers to cis women’s panties that trans women are unable to break into. The truth is, as usual with TERFs, the opposite — “cotton” refers to trans women’s panties and the fact that what’s stereotypically in them causes trans women to be defined in ways they are unable to break out of. This becomes really obvious when you consider that the “x ceiling” snowclone describes something which people unsuccessfully try to break through from beneath it, i.e., inside it — compare “service ceiling,” the highest altitude at which a given aircraft is usable. Nobody is trying to get to the glass ceiling from the emergency door on the roof.
The framing here also neatly erases the fact that plenty of lesbian cis women do have sexual and romantic relationships with trans women, who, as women, fall within the normal scope of their attractions. Much as with the few (the proud?) cis women who are violent assailants, the authors require the nonexistence of: those cis lesbians; their relationships; the girlness of their girlfriends.
And, of course, there’s another round of “trans women are not women” — this paragraph describes them as simply “people with penises who identify as women,” which in this case is not just reducing them to words but (that old TERF favourite) reducing them to reproductive organs. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think (Morissette, 1996)?
Should a beautician be able to specify that she serves a female clientele only, and then be forced to wax the testicles of a person who now identifies as a woman [GenderTrender, 2018]?
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.); citation in source
As the inline citation makes clear, this is a reference to Canadian woman Jessica Yaniv.
Through 2018 and 2019 — relatively recent at the time of Contending Views — Yaniv filed 15 complaints of anti-trans discrimination with the Human Rights Tribunal of the Canadian province of British Columbia, naming various beauty practitioners who, or whose staff, were not trained to wax her testicles, and accordingly refused (Larsen, 2019).
The issue is, of course, that Yaniv cannot be legitimately treated as representative for one very simple reason: she didn’t actually want her genitals waxed. The tribunal found — in my opinion credibly — that Yaniv was looking for an excuse to litigate, for cruel amusement and financial gain (Little, 2019; Macnab, 2019; Stueck, 2019).
Moreover, Yaniv, as well as a manipulative sadist, was a racist and arguably a fascist; her targets were all of Indian origin. This appears to be because she agreed with a variant form of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory; while the Anglophone classical form of Great Replacement theory blames Jews (Jones D., 2022), Yaniv appeared to blame Indian people as well, or instead (Wakefield, 2019).
Beyond all of our laws and conventions, society unavoidably operates on a degree of good faith. There is no way to construct a hard-and-fast rule such that someone who wanted to abuse it could never find a way to do so. Yaniv wanted to do so.
We are going to eventually need to hammer out a solid logic allowing trans women with penises to get genital waxing services under the same circumstances where it is allowable for other women (e.g., cis women, and trans women with vaginas) and other people with penises (e.g., cis men and some nonbinary people). It’s not priority 1 on the trans agenda, but it’s in there.
In the meantime, however, if a sadistic racist trans women decides to harm racialised people, the problem is not that she’s a trans woman, it’s that she’s a sadistic racist. Fair enough though — the curse of being a TERF is, as many have observed (Clifton, 2021; Lavin, 2021; Doyle, 2022; etc.), you’re not allowed to condemn sadistic racists because they make up too many of your core constituents.
Should doctors refrain from inquiring as to a person’s sex, even though we know that people experience some diseases differently depending on their biological sex, and respond differently to some pharmaceuticals?
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
This is my wheelhouse, so I’m gonna help myself to the wheel.
“Biological sex” insofar as it is relevant to disease experiences and drug response is not a monolith. For instance, an archetypal trans woman has an endocrine system in which the dominant sex hormone(s) are estrogen and possibly progesterone with minimal testosterone (e.g., Hembree et al., 2017; Cheung et al., 2019), one result of which is that she likely has relatively prominent breasts. For all but an infinitesimal proportion of cis men (Shulman et al., 2008; Shozu et al., 2014), these things are not both (or all) true.
For these reasons, trans women broadly have a lifetime risk of breast cancer which is closer to that of cis women than cis men — for every 10 cis women who develop breast cancer, about 4 trans women will develop it, but for every 1 cis man who develops breast cancer, about 46 trans women will develop it (de Blok et al., 2019). Indeed, this specific fact is currently used as an excuse to deny trans women progesterone (Prior, 2019), and has historically been used as an excuse to deny them any hormones at all — for a broader discussion of this kind of thinking and its impact, see Nelson (2019).
On the other hand, a trans woman has a prostate and therefore has a vanishingly small (but non-zero!) chance of developing cancer in it (Ingham et al., 2018). This would seem to be a slam-dunk in favour of the Trans Women as Essentially Men thesis … except that cis women also have prostates — historically euphemistically referred to as the Skene’s gland — and are fully capable of developing cancer in them (Dodson et al., 1994).
Similarly, there are many congenital disorders which have a much higher clinically visible prevalence (i.e., are much more often severe enough for you to know they’re there) in one assigned-sex group (typically, they are much more often clinically observable in cis women than cis men).
The thing is that trans people switch over as they transition. For example, sex hormones including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are known to influence the symptomatic severity of Ehlers–Danlos syndrome/s (EDS), by causing changes in ligament laxity, chance of and healing of muscle injuries, etc. (Gensemer et al., 2021).
The nature of the influence is such that people with estrogen/progesterone-dominant endocrine systems seemingly tend to have worse EDS, and, accordingly, among cis people, cis women are more frequently diagnosed with it at a ratio of about 4 cis women to every 1 cis man (Castori et al., 2010; Hermanns-Lê et al., 2016; etc.).
One small case series (Boris et al., 2019) and a mountain of community-sourced anecdotal evidence indicates that HRT does indeed worsen or improve EDS and related complex chronic illnesses, depending on which HRT is taken; the evidence (ibid.) and community reports suggest that masculinising HRT makes it better, and community reports suggest that feminising HRT makes it worse.
Along the same lines, migraine is sex-linked; thus, as Jones Z. (2021) notes, as the “sex-determining” characteristics of trans women’s bodies change — in effect, as their sex changes — they develop a correspondingly greater propensity to migraine.
I can personally verify that both of these things are true because the hypothetical overly flexible transmigraineuse of the previous two paragraphs is me, which is why I picked those conditions to examine here. I’m definitely not the only one; at least one study (n = 1,363) suggests that the prevalence of EDS among trans people is more than 100× (!!!) that in the general population (Najafian et al., 2022). In the end, the reality is obviously that:
- doctors do need to know about a trans person’s traditionally “sexed” characteristics;
- the trans person is going to tell them that because it’s necessary to do so in order to get well, and suffering fucking sucks;
- this has zero impact on whether that trans person is the man, woman, etc., that they in fact are.
It is essential that we support trans women to have safe spaces which address the violence they experience while still allowing women to have their own safe spaces.
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
Which trans women will also be allowed into, right, because the authors recognise that trans women are women, right? … What’s that chirping noise?
This is separate-but-equal rhetoric, which, as hegemonic white supremacy made clear at Black people’s expense throughout the first half of the 20th century, is nothing more than a way to force marginalised people into facilities which are nowhere near equal, if they exist at all.
Being trans is not comparable to being Black. However, similarly-motivated and similarly-structured anti-minoritarian thinking, from many of the same authorities, underpins the authors’ rhetoric. It also underpins actions like the FINA, British Triathlon, etc., “open” category push which was current at the initial publication of this article (Evans, 2022; Ingle, 2022; George, 2022): it’s a way to force trans people to fuck off out of public life, while finding a convenient pretext to avoid accepting any blame for having forced that.
Both trans women and women deserve to be safe; but in a world in which women’s concerns have been designated inferior to men’s for many centuries, we should not easily give up sex-specific spaces and opportunities for women.
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
And as the authors recognise that trans women are women, they shouldn’t have to give up sex-specific spaces and opportunities for women either, right?
Of course, in appealing implicitly to the scarcity of “sex-specific spaces and opportunities,” the authors also conveniently elide the fact that trans men exist, and about as many of them in absolute terms want to transition as do trans women (Leinung & Joseph, 2020), which should neatly balance out any transfem-related addition to demand.
There’s no really viable argument here that trans women being able to access these facilities somehow makes cis women less able to do so. However much digging one does, the only throughline here that one can dig up is that trans women have a “male essence” that means they deserve those opportunities less.
If women are now no longer able to publicly acknowledge that an adult human male is a man, …
Yardley (2018), quoted in Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
Oh well, so much for “women (including trans women),” mask predictably all the way off,4 yada yada (I don’t have enough energy right now to feign surprise).
… this takes away from women the ability to describe their own lived lives:
Yardley (op. cit.), quoted in Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
It’s not clear how a cis woman is less able to describe her own life if she is expected to acknowledge that another woman is a woman.
… they can no longer use meaningful language to describe their interactions with members of the dominant sex class:
Yardley (op. cit.), quoted in Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
This is interesting. Obviously the argument here is that:
- “man” and “woman” are “sex classes” (we’ll go with it);
- “man” is the dominant sex class;
- trans women are men;
- thus, including trans women in the class “woman” prevents that class from being rigorously defined and makes it meaningless.
We do know men are given dominance in society, but the question here is why. Is it their physiology? Is it their testosterone, their muscle mass? If so, it’s difficult to see how trans women can inherit that dominance when they generally have the same amount of testosterone as cis women (Hembree et al., op. cit.), and cis-female-range proportions of lean and fat mass and muscle when controlling for height (Nokoff et al., 2019).
The other obvious possibility is that it’s socioeconomic dominance, but it’s difficult to see how. Cis women are famously paid almost 20% less than cis men (Vandenbroek, 2020) — but trans people are paid even less than that, with trans women paid least of all (Wareham, 2021).
Cis women are discriminated against in employment. Statistically they appear to be less discriminated against than trans people, and there are laws against discriminating against women — there was a whole movie about this! — whose applicability to cis women has never been contested since their enactment.
Meanwhile, trans people can often legally be fired specifically for being trans; as Gillespie (2022) notes, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) s 28(1)(b) explicitly allows employment discrimination against trans people engaged in “the care or instruction of minors” because the “physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of [those] minors” might be endangered by the mere fact that the person is trans.
The only way this societal “dominance” can somehow attach to trans women is by making a magical, metaphysical claim about their essence. Sure, they might be socioeconomically subordinate in every respect that cis women are, and some extra ones for the road, but they have an indelibly dominant inborn magical sex spirit, so dominant they must be.
Women lose the language and ability to describe themselves even as women;
Yardley (op. cit.), quoted in Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
This would be slightly more effective in context if Gale & Vallins, who included this quote, hadn’t described themselves as women in literally the paragraph prior to the beginning of the quote. After all, you can only give up something you have possession of, and:
… we should not easily give up sex-specific spaces and opportunities for women.
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
It seems pretty clear that there is no case here to answer.
Women lose the language, right and ability to describe the perpetrators and acts of sexual violence;
Yardley (op. cit), quoted in Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
It’s unclear how having to describe a sexually violent trans woman as a woman takes away the ability to describe her — unless you believe that being a woman and being sexually violent are fundamentally incompatible, i.e., you believe that women cannot commit sexual violence.
While sexual violence by cis women, as a category of acts, happens nowhere near as often and is nowhere near as systematic as the patriarchal sexual violence enacted by cis men, it demonstrably does happen (Stemple & Meyer, 2017). This line of argument needs it to be existentially impossible: to have never happened, not once, ever. This is clearly untrue and therefore unviable.
Women lose the right to challenge the sexual enslavement and exploitation of members of their own sex class.
Yardley (op. cit.), quoted in Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
Oh, cool, trans exclusion and vaguely coded sex worker exclusion in the same strike. Spinifex Press would be proud.
Sex work is work, and continues to exist despite millennia of attempts to squash it. It’s criminalised and therefore marginalised work, but all that that actually achieves is denying safeguards, options, and justice to those engaged in it (Global Network of Sex Work Projects, 2017). Sex work can become enslavement and exploitation because its being pushed to the margins means society can pretend not to see it, and therefore pretend they don’t notice what happens to those engaged in it (Vanwesenbeeck, 2017).
The fact is that regardless of their own views on the morality of the abstract concept of sex work, or of how it exists in reality, many people end up having to do sex work anyway. Due to their economic marginalisation, trans people — very much including trans women (Mock, 2014; Logie et al., 2017; Fisher et al., 2021)! — are among those people. If, by quoting Yardley, the authors are indicating they won’t advocate for sex workers because the ranks of sex workers include trans women … well, that’s on them.
We are in a world of proscribed truth and compelled thought. Whatever your political stance, this should strike you cold with terror.
Yardley (op. cit.), quoted in Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
This is transparently not even vaguely true. Trans advocacy doesn’t make claims on “truth” or “thought”; it seeks material action. The fact that trans men are men and trans women are men, which has been validated by every test science has applied, justifies trans advocacy. However, the point of that advocacy isn’t to impose belief in that fact; it’s to get you to stop being a horrible little bastard to trans people.
This was, however, 2019, and this argument was new in this country back then so I suppose I can’t fault the authors for being fashion forward. Before them, the most recent people to argue it were Katter’s Australian Party (Hirst, 2018), who very obviously got it from Jordan Peterson (Beauchamp, 2018). Nominal eco-liberals and social-democrats borrowing from the open Christofascists of the KAP — does this prove horseshoe theory correct at last … ?
Further, it is a central tenet of much feminist theory that the very concept of gender is harmful and should be rejected in its entirety.
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
This is a neat little bit of sleight-of-hand designed to slip past the theoretical knowledge of the informed feminist reader.
The “feminist theory” to which the authors refer is the mainline second-wave radical feminism of which TERFism is a mutation, in which gender is what the authors call “assumptions about … gender characteristics attributed to [one’s] … sex”.
The authors, however — and the TERF tendency in general — perform a magic trick by pretending that this is the same thing that trans people mean when they discuss gender, when what trans people mean is approximately “the state of being a man, a woman, or of another gender”.
In short, the authors are pretending that when a trans woman says she’s a woman, she’s actually expressing the view that all women are housewives or supermodels or what have you, and asserting that she’s one of those — when she is in fact just pointing out that she’s a woman. Trans readers may very well be particularly nettled by this, since they know that when a trans woman isn’t a supermodel housewife, these same TERFs use precisely that to pretend she’s not a woman.
In this context, we should be able to challenge the choices of many women (including trans women) to present themselves in highly ‘feminised’ (gendered) ways.
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
In the first place, this is blatantly just leveraging stereotypes about trans women, namely that they’re all unconvincing patriarchal caricatures of traditionalist hyperfemininity — think Emily Howard from Little Britain (Plowman & Moore, 2003–2006): “I’m a lady!”.
In reality, trans women just present themselves like other women. There is, however, a kernel of truth here, albeit a distorted and mirrored one: trans women are subjected to an enforced expectation of hyperfemininity, but the people enforcing that expectation are those who ideologically agree with the authors of this letter.
In the second place, this is directly antithetical to the bodily autonomy which is an essential underpinning of feminist and leftist politics (Perry, 2017; Letzing, 2022). Why should Gale & Vallins be able to “challenge the choices of” any woman “to present [herself]” in any way? It’s not their fucking body.
If the purpose of this workshop is to develop a proposal for a Sate Council decree that statements such as ‘There are two sexes,’ ‘The science is not conclusive,’ ‘This is an active debate in feminism,’ ‘Shutting down debate is censorship,’ or ‘Trans women aren’t the same as biological women,’ are banned within the Greens and would constitute behaviour worthy of censure, suspension or expulsion, this is totally contrary to a Greens ethos which encourages robust debate and the development of policy based on real evidence.
Gale & Vallins (op. cit.)
“There are two sexes” is not “based on real evidence”. Sex is a bimodal distribution; it has two peaks that it slopes up to. The fact that most people fit on the slopes of one of those peaks isn’t contested. This doesn’t mean — as the proposition “there are two sexes” requires — that every other contour on the map is flattened out (Novella, 2022).
Even if trans people didn’t exist, if you think that sex is a clean binary, and that intersex people are deviations from that binary, then you can’t adequately serve intersex people who know themselves to be complete and not deviating from anything at all; you can’t respect them for who they actually are (McDonough, 2022).
There’s no good reason to say “the science is not conclusive,” because good science can never be completely, eternally, invincibly conclusive; it always has to be open to change. The function of saying “the science is not conclusive” is to say that action can’t be taken because a specific point does not have literal 100% agreement, knowing full well that it is bound to never rise above 99.999…%.
In reality, action is justified if a consensus exists that it should be taken. Given that the authors were AGV State Councillors at the time, I — a former Queensland Greens State Council delegate myself — suspect they were very familiar with that principle indeed; Greens decision-making is extremely heavily consensus-based.
Despite attempts to rig it, such as Lisa Littman’s 2018 paper which spuriously proposed a “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” that was essentially “transgender because it’s cool” (Littman, 2018) — later shown at length to be complete bullshit (Bauer et al., 2021; Turban et al., 2022) — consensus exists on the proper treatment and accommodation of trans people to a degree which almost no other topic enjoys, with 93% of primary research publications between 1991 and June 2017 finding that transition improves well-being, and 0% finding that it causes harm (What We Know Project, 2018). The scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, which is a couple of points ahead at >99% (Lynas et al., 2021), is the only other well-known field of scientific endeavour whose core question has been so firmly answered.
In asserting that it’s valuable to say “the science is not conclusive” and it should not be a forbidden thing to say, here is what the authors are communicating: you must defer action which is supported by all of the evidence, because at some point in the future, an additional piece of evidence might be added that would cause the sum of human knowledge to pull a 180°. This is clearly ludicrous and not worth bothering with.
“This is an active debate in feminism”? Objectively it is not. TERFism is a residue of the second wave of feminism. Modern third- and fourth-wave feminism have consistently considered trans liberation to be integral to the feminist movement (Grady, 2018).
There could not be a more telling sign of this than that the very same “feminists” who represent the authors’ views have opted to cling onto existence by selling any legitimacy to groups like the Australian Christian Lobby (“Radical feminists … ?”, 2017) and the Heritage Foundation (Fitzsimons, 2019), which make absolutely no bones about considering the whole feminist movement their enemy (Shields, 2014; Whitehall, 2018; Iles, 2020; Hafera, 2021).
“Shutting down debate is censorship” is an old chestnut, the only purpose of which is to make it okay to incessantly and in bad faith invite someone to engage in debate and make free inferences if they refuse. It’s designed to normalise bombarding people, talking over them, and wearing them down; it’s not designed to make it any easier to seek the truth.
“Trans women aren’t the same as biological women” … well, trans women are biological women, so jot that down. Trans women aren’t the same as cis women, though, and nobody’s ever asserted that they are; simply that they are women, which they are.
This, more than anything else, illustrates that the authors both have no genuine commitment to debate and are fully aware that they don’t. This is noticeable because it’s a response to an element in the original motion: “Trans women aren’t the same as cis women”. We’ll come back to this in a sec.
When discussing legitimate debate, insofar as that’s a thing, we talk about “the terms of the debate,” like “the terms of an agreement,” because any actual debate has to be conducted on a common set of terms. Any debate not conducted in that way is posturing followed eventually by random noise.
The term “cis women” acknowledges cis women and trans women on an equal footing, and thus equally entitled to negotiate the terms on which debate should take place. This enables the debate to be a dialectic: a dialogue with the objective of finding truth.
The term “biological woman” is an appeal to a subset of essentialism known as biologism. Essentialism asserts that entities, usually people, are different from each other because of a difference in what they fundamentally, metaphysically, essentially are — a difference in their essences. Gender essentialism is the assertion of such a difference between, typically, (all) men and (all) women (Abrams, 2020).
Historically, while belief in a physically existing soul remained widespread — up to and even after the development of the modern scientific method in its basic form — scientists and other professionals charged with truth-seeking tried to find the physical soul, e.g., by looking for changes in body mass on death (MacDougall, 1907). They also tried to find its seat, the physical place in the body where it resided; for instance, Leonardo da Vinci hypothesised, quite sensibly given what was known, that it was in the optic chiasm, the junction of the optic nerves (Santoro et al., 2009).
One school of essentialist claims amounts to “finding the seat of the soul,” but for “soul” substitute the “essence” of whatever difference is at issue. Biologism is the faction of that school which locates the essence in the “biology” (typically not more specifically defined, at least not in any rigorous way). Gender-essentialist biologism asserts that cis women have the Female Biology, they carry the Female Essence, and that makes them the Real Women (Grosz, 1989). It establishes a hierarchy of womanhood legitimacy, with trans women all the way at the bottom.
This makes it impossible to have a debate which seeks truth, because Alice can’t advance or refine her position through “legitimate debate” with Bob when Bob believes that the mere fact that Alice holds that position means that Alice by definition does not have a legitimate right to debate.
A second ago we noted that the authors were responding to a line in the original motion. However, they also changed it, deleting the original “cis women” and substituting “biological women”. Their belief that their opponents had no legitimate standing to debate them was so strong that they felt free to literally reword a direct quote — they considered themselves legitimately able to define what their opponents’ position was, to the point of overriding those opponents themselves.
There is no reason to believe that truth-seeking debate would ever have been possible here — and none to believe that Gale or Vallins wanted it.
This article took me hours to write as a Twitter thread, and a couple of days to redraft as a WordPress post. It was one of the longer pieces I’d written, because it was one of the more conceptually dense works I’d had to analyse. Conceptual density is fine here — the authors were writing in the context of party internal politics, meaning they knew that baseline knowledge and acceptance of certain concepts was a given and that their audience spoke or at least understood their language.
The conceptual density and specialised language gives the impression, however, that this is somehow intellectually, discursively, of a better or higher quality than any of the News Corp or Ninefax op-eds which even at that time had already reared their ugly heads. It didn’t. It made it more of a pain in the arse to pull apart, but it didn’t make it any closer to being right.
- The 2019 federal election, the date of which hadn’t been confirmed when Contending Views was written (see Fernando & Palin, 2019).
- An insulting term for neurodivergent people, a portmanteau of “special education”.
- “An excuse” because it’s spurious — “limited epidemiologic data generally do not show an association of circulating progesterone levels with risk” (Trabert et al., 2019).
- This was early 2019 so, on further reflection, it may not be fair to criticise their less-than-ideal mask discipline.
If this article was in any way useful to you, please consider supporting me on Ko-fi, on Patreon, or by PayPal.
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