Feelings and opinions have displaced facts and evidence in many areas of the liberal arts. This is nothing new. A more recent phenomenon, however, is the extension of this trend into the realm of biology, which has fallen victim to the idea that men can become women—and vice versa—merely by reciting a statement of belief. It is an insidious movement that combines the postmodern contempt for objective truth with pre-modern religious superstitions regarding the nature of the human soul.
The subordination of science to myth was exemplified in the recent British case of Maya Forstater, who’d lost her job after pointing out the plain truth that transgender people like me cannot change our biological sex by proclamation. “I conclude from…the totality of the evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate,” concluded Judge James Tayler at her employment tribunal. “The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
I’m not sure where that leaves me, a British transgender person who agrees with Forstater. As I know better than most, sex is immutable. I may have transitioned socially, medically and surgically, but I am as male now as I was the day I was born (and the days I fathered each of my three children). As a scientist, I know this to be a fact. It’s Judge Tayler who’s the absolutist here: Under the guise of tolerance, he’s put the force of law behind a cultish movement that treats biological reality in much the same way that the Catholic Church once treated Galileo and his heliocentric ideas. Just like its medieval forbears, this neo-religious crusade demands that adherents chant an absurdist liturgy—in this case, “Transwomen are women. Transmen are men.”
trans women are not invading lesbian spaces
because trans women BELONG in lesbian spaces
trans women are women, period
— venustas (@comradevenustas) January 30, 2020
In July 2019, before the Forstater controversy broke, I made up a t-shirt with my own slogan: “Transwomen are men. Get over it.” It caused considerable outrage. But my question was sincere: Why can’t we, as trans people, just get over it? It’s merely another political slogan. What does it matter if we are men or women in some technical sense, so long as we can live our lives in peace, free from abuse, harassment and discrimination?
In recent months, I have been accused of hate speech and reported to my professional colleagues, while newspaper reports suggest that I am at risk of being banned from an LGBT committee connected to my trade union.
By now, many readers will be familiar with the basic elements of the officially enforced system of dogma that sometimes is referred to as “gender ideology,” and which is now legally encoded in many jurisdictions under the policy known as “self-identification” or “self-declaration”:
- We all have an innate gender identity—analogous to the divine spark that religious adherents claim is lodged within us—which determines whether we are a man, a woman or non-binary;
- A (possibly incorrect) gender is arbitrarily assigned to us at birth based on the appearance of our genitals;
- Our true gender is determined through an unerring process of inward examination, and, once articulated, can never be falsified or even questioned by anyone else;
- Any human adult who says “I am a woman” must be treated as if they were a biological woman, full stop, which requires their admission into vulnerable female spaces—including, but not limited to, shared prison cells, rape-crisis centres, locker rooms and sporting events; and
- Opposition to any of the above-stated propositions amounts to transphobia, one of the worst kinds of hate crime.
The most obvious problem with gender ideology is that it is entirely circular. It’s like defining an airline pilot as someone who just has that indescribable “feeling” of being an airline pilot. When Massachusetts legislators tried to nail down the idea of gender identity in legislation, for instance, the best they could come up with was “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.”
Moreover, when people begin trying to get around this circularity by actually detailing what it means to “feel like” a woman, they typically just catalogue a bunch of sexist stereotypes about how they always liked the idea of wearing dresses and maybe played with dolls as a child.
Yes, gender dysphoria is a real condition. I know, because I have it: the feeling that my male biology is at odds with my desire to have a female body. But I don’t have to invent some mystical spiritual force called gender identity to explain it.
Just as there is no single cause of chest pain or headaches, there doesn’t need to be a single cause of gender dysphoria. But there is a well-observed typology. In the 1980s, American-Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard proposed that transsexualism (as it was then commonly called) in males generally manifested as either (1) effeminate gay men seeking to further accentuate their appeal to other men (homosexual transsexualism, or HSTS); or (2) heterosexual autogynephiles—self-attracted men who prefer to conceive of themselves as women—who typically come out as trans women later in life (and often to the great surprise of family and friends). The most vocal and aggressive proponents of trans rights—biological males who often will express themselves aggressively to women who bring up the issue of biology—appear to be drawn disproportionately from this second, autogynephilic category.
Transsexualism in females appears to be substantially different, and more rooted in socially propagated factors, as suggested by the recent vast increase in the number of teenage girls being referred to gender-identity clinics (sometimes originating in self-reinforcing clusters of friends or classmates). As former Tavistock governor Marcus Evans recently wrote in Quillette, this is the first time in recorded clinical practice that females outnumbered males in this treatment area. Moreover, the girls who present as transgender are now disproportionately autistic, and affected with other developmental and mental-health conditions—which is consistent with the observation that many adolescent trans children aren’t driven by some mysterious gendered force field.
And yet, reporting on these facts in the scientific literature remains difficult. Lisa Littman of Brown University—who first published on the phenomenon now known as Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (or ROGD)—has been denounced as a transphobe, and concerted attempts were made to smear her research. Scientists in the field note that it is relatively easy to get a study published if it supports the idea of “affirming” a child’s self-conception, but difficult to impossible if the data leads to another conclusion.
As noted above, my own experience leads me to believe that efforts to protect gender ideology from critique are most vigorously led by a specific and identifiable sub-section within the trans community. Autogynephilic males who abruptly declare themselves to be trans often experience a sense of insecurity and even shame, especially since the transitioning process can have a traumatic effect on their wives and children. Demanding that the world recognize them as actual women is a strategy for absolving them of responsibility. If gender is an innate quality, like height or sexual orientation, how can they be morally responsible? Gender ideology is the tool they use to legitimize that emotional reflex. Their sudden rejection of their old life is reimagined as a mystical journey into their own gendered soul.
Of course, adults are free to act in this way—and to explain themselves to their friends and loved ones in whatever fashion they please. Unfortunately, this gender mysticism is romanticized in a way that makes the idea of transformation seem attractive to children, especially children struggling with identity and relationships.
Indeed, there is an especially ghoulish militant fringe within the autogynephilic subcategory that explicitly seeks to break family bonds in order to groom children for transition. This apparently includes notorious transgender cyclist Rachel McKinnon (rebranded recently as “Veronica Ivy”), who has appealed to children to “dump moms on Mother’s Day and join the ‘glitter-queer’ family of adult trans activists.”
I speak from experience when I say that it’s difficult for autogynephiles to admit the simple truth that they are simply heterosexual males who use the conceit of female self-identification as a means to rationalize their sexual attraction to a female version of themselves. As any sex therapist can attest, people often feel ashamed about unusual sexual proclivities. Shame is a powerful emotion, and a person who suffers from it often will be driven to control their narrative in a way that protects their sense of self-worth.
Autogynephilia drove my own transsexualism. And I can attest that there is huge mental dissonance built up in the brain of a male who somehow is heterosexually attracted to their own body. This paradox can have a devastating effect on one’s mental health. I also can attest that the process of gender reassignment can help alleviate that dissonance. My critique of gender ideology should in no way be interpreted as an argument to deny such therapies to males such as myself.
Rather than protect the emotional fragility of people who don’t want to investigate the nature of their autogynephilia, a better strategy would be to simply demystify and destigmatize autogynephilia itself (much as we have demystified and destigmatized any number of victimless paraphilias), while also ensuring that therapies are available for trans adults who understand the attendant medical ramifications. We should not need to pretend that we are women (to ourselves or anyone else) in order to find relief from gender dysphoria.
Cross-dressing—or transvestism as it once was called—is more common than some imagine: A 2005 study in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that almost three percent of Swedish men reported at least one episode of transvestic fetishism. Of course, this is not the same as being transgender. But since autogynephilia is associated with both the need to dress in women’s clothes and feminize one’s body, we can never fully demarcate the two. (Thus, an old joke in the community about transitioners who start out as occasional cross-dressers: “What’s the difference between a transvestite and a transsexual? About five years.”)
Unfortunately, many trans advocates would prefer to shoot the messenger, and a whole sub-industry of censorship and ostracism has been created to deal with anyone who casts doubt on the gender-identity framework. As many readers will know, Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy was thrown off Twitter, and is subject to constant harassment in regard to her live speaking events, because she spoke the plain truth of biology to a vexatious Vancouver-area individual who goes by the name Jessica Yaniv. Here in the UK, Katie Alcock and Helen Watts were both removed from leadership positions and expelled from Girlguiding UK for objecting to the inclusion of boys who identified as female in their single-sex organisation.
My transgender identity has not protected me from this censorship regime, and I have been excluded and shamed for my political statements (as I regard them). Both my employer and my professional associations have been contacted by activists who claim that my political views should disqualify me from being able to work with children (I’m a teacher), or represent my colleagues. An email campaign targeting my school purported to express “deep concern about Debbie Hayton’s continual harassment and bigotry towards transgender females on Twitter. She provokes anti-trans feelings and mis-represents the trans community. She has sided with several pseudo-feminist and anti-trans groups.”
Not so long ago, we truly did live in a transphobic society, where people like me were subject to public abuse (or worse). And there are still scattered reports of actual transphobia. In extreme cases, trans people have been physically attacked, or even killed, because of who they are.
But on an everyday basis, many trans people are now more afraid, for their reputations and livelihoods, of the opposite threat: They are afraid of saying the wrong thing—which is to say, something based in truth and actual science—about who we are. For their own emotional purposes, members of a militant and vociferous group within our own ranks have found a way to embed a lie at the very heart of our public discussion about gender.
For the rest of society to acquiesce to this lie is not only a betrayal of science, but of democracy. And we must work to restore an attitude of honesty before more harm is done to women, children and trans people ourselves. When society realises that there is no rational basis for gender ideology, the backlash may be very severe indeed.
Debbie Hayton is a physics teacher and trade unionist. She Tweets @DebbieHayton.
* This article was first published by Quilette on 2 February 2020: I May Have Gender Dysphoria. But I Still Prefer to Base My Life on Biology, Not Fantasy