“Biological sex” myths

Julia Serano is back with another fantastic takedown of arguments predicated on notions of immutable, discrete sex binaries.

Clarifying the “sex is a social construct” argument

Sometimes people who are trying to debunk “biological sex” myths will point out that sex (like gender) is a social construct. The reason for doing this is to show that the “biological versus social” distinction is far more muddied (as I have detailed in the last two sections) than the “trans women are biological males” camp is willing to admit.

Unfortunately, people who are unaware of, or misinformed about, social constructivism will often mistake the word “constructed” to mean “fake” or “not real,” and thus assume that such claims represent a denial of the existence of sexually dimorphic traits. However, this is not what the word “constructed” means.

Saying that sex is “socially constructed” does not mean that biological sex differences do not exist or do not matter. It simply conveys that our definition of sex, and the way that we categorize people into sexes, is determined by society and our assumptions about how the world works.

In our society, people are assigned a legal sex at birth based on the presence or absence of a penis — that is a social process. When people argue that it must be chromosomes, or a particular reproductive organ, that defines or determines a person’s sex, that is a social decision — one that ignores the multiplicity and variability of sexually dimorphic traits. Indeed, the very fact that, given the same evidence, people will disagree about the nature of sex (strictly binary versus multifaceted and variable; immutable versus somewhat malleable) demonstrates that sex is socially constructed!

So in other words, we can say that biological sex differences exist, and also that our understanding of sex is socially constructed — these are not contradictory statements at all.

Read more here!


A comprehensive review of objections to trans womanhood

I was actually starting to build up a list of arguments that are frequently used as a bludgeon to question the authenticity of trans women (and it’s always trans women) when Julia Serano published her comprehensive review of all that bullshit.

The “trans women refuse to acknowledge any distinction” fallacy

People who make the trans-women-aren’t-women case will often insist that there is a distinction between cis women and trans women, yet trans women refuse to acknowledge this distinction. I find such claims endlessly frustrating. I have never once in my life heard a trans woman claim that our experiences are 100 percent identical to those of cis women. Indeed, the very fact that we in the trans community describe people as being “transgender” and “cisgender” points to an acknowledgement of potential differences!

The problem isn’t that we (i.e., trans women) refuse to acknowledge any differences, but rather that the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd refuses to acknowledge our many similarities.

This has come up a few (just a few) times in my work.

Read the other forms of “real woman” gobbledegook here.


Transition Reactions p11: Facts don’t care about your feelings

It cannot be understated that the sheer volume of ignorance about gender variance weighs down on me. I see the same shit repeating itself over and over. It is not the ignorance that is the problem, at least not by itself–but the belief that knowledge is somehow unnecessary to form an opinion on something, which is likely the sole contributor to my blood pressure problems. That is a belief which should be nuked from orbit, because if people actually practiced it, we wouldn’t have cis people passing shitty laws about trans people based off of knee-jerk “eww cooties” reactions or an entire lobby calling itself pro-“life” despite advocating for policies that continually endanger women.

i pun gud

i pun gud

As today’s Transition Reactions is about facts, I will not be including the usual disclaimer about anecdotes and personal experience.

So let’s dismantle one of the more irritating bludgeons used against trans women: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

Facts exist regardless of how we feel about them–that is true, unless you’re a solipsist. The problem is the people employing this deepity seldom understand the establishment of what makes a fact to begin with.

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Signal boosting: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates

A brief preamble before I give you today’s recommended reading material.

Julia Serano–yes, that Julia Serano–penned a piece on Medium called Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates. Before I give an endorsement of her piece, I’ll reiterate a few important points for you to consider as a presumably trans ally:

The first is that because Serano is discussing transphobic “debate” tropes in the media, she is using the same rhetorical technique that I frequently use–she is accepting the premise of her opponent’s argument in order to demonstrate that the reasoning itself is flawed. The premise that she argues from is rather unsettling, and it has been pointed out to me by self-identifying cisgender gender non conformists (whew, that’s a mouthful) that classifying gender nonconformity per se as trans has unsettling applications for Othering children with uncommon gendered interests. In addition, she accepts another premise–that it’s necessary to separate those who seek medical intervention in their transition from those who don’t–only for the sake of argument. She tears that premise apart later on in the article, but it could be distressing to see someone try to argue by accepting that point, even if it’s to demonstrate why it’s problematic to believe.

The second is that Serano does take time to point out why it’s a superbly bad idea to conflate GNC with trans, but that comes after she tries using the premise in an argument. So please don’t panic–a highly influential trans feminist hasn’t gone full TERF, she’s just demonstrating how misinformed these debate tropes are and how they’re not even internally consistent.

The third is that I have a largely semantic disagreement with Serano on her use of the word transphobia. She recognizes that deliberate actions manifesting an anti-trans bias could easily be called transphobia, but then uses the same word to describe things like “the assumption that cis identities are valid while trans are not.” I preferably delineate this with the term cissexism to differentiate it from actions. “Cissexist beliefs inform transphobic actions. All people are cissexist, however we can interrogate that prejudice and reduce the likelihood we manifest transphobia.” Serano does not subscribe to this model. Cissexist is a word that shows up at no point, despite describing multiple instances where the word popped in my brain.

C’est la vie. This does not take away from Serano’s fantastic work.

Anyways, the intro to her post:

But lately, as transgender people have become more visible and have garnered increasing media scrutiny, trans-unaware politicians, pundits, and journalists have suddenly swooped in to weigh in on these important issues — issues that (conveniently) they themselves are not personally invested in. Some of these people have very clear anti-trans agendas. Others are (perhaps well-meaning) interlopers who believe that by simply reading a few research papers and interviewing a few people here and there, they can acquire an “objective understanding” about this complex subject that spans a half-century of history. And sadly, they often center their op-eds and think-pieces on an especially vulnerable segment of our community: transgender children.

You’ve probably seen some of these articles. They raise concerns about “80% desistance,” and offer examples of trans people who have since “detransitioned,” and they will leave you with the impression that trans health practitioners are engaging in some kind of reckless sociological experiment. Whenever transgender people object to these misrepresentations or the old gatekeeper ideologies, these pundits and journalists will decry “transgender activists are attacking science!” without ever acknowledging the countless trans advocates, researchers, and health providers who actually agree with us on many of these matters.

Rather than write a short pithy critique or rebuttal of the latest “children are at risk!” or “activists are out of hand!” article-du-jour, I decided to write this lengthy nuanced piece. It is intended to be a step-by-step guide for anyone interested, one that fills in all the holes, reads between the lines, and unpacks the many assumptions that riddle the typical op-ed or think-piece about transgender children.

Many of the aforementioned problems begin with an over-simplification of either trans terminology and/or the breadth of transgender experiences, so that is where this guide will begin. I will also provide necessary background regarding gender transition in adults before addressing the more controversial topic of transgender children.

Go check it out. (Don’t read the comments).


Academic transphobia and The Media: The persistence of the “activists vs science” false dichotomy

Content Notice: Transphobia

Introduction to the False Dichotomy of Scientist or Activist

The rise of visibility of transgender people correlates with an increase in the sheer and committed dishonesty of many media outlets any time they cover trans issues. There are the usual suspects: budding radfem academics penning unsubstantiated diatribes riddled with fallacies; established academics angrily penning burning letters to the editor any time their pet pseudoscience is called out for being pseudoscience; religious fundamentalists who can’t decide if they’re sticking to noninformation or disinformation; and the many ignorant journalists caught in between this shitstorm. Many of these trans-antagonistic figures are represented by said ignorant journalists as “martyrs for an inconvenient truth,” where trans-affirmative opponents to these figures are engaging in “pointless witch hunts” that result in these brave champions being “suddenly and unceremoniously fired” while repudiating Real Science™.

Jesse Singal is at the centre of this “activist versus Real Science™” narrative by implying both that activists were the ones that had Galileo’s Middle Finger pulled from Lambda and that said activists are uninterested in “truth, accuracy, or fairness in argument,” having shared on Twitter:

“Lambda Literary has withdrawn Alice Dreger’s book from consideration for its nonfiction literary award. The (very strongly) implied message here is that you can’t be an advocate for social justice and care about the principles of truth, accuracy, and fairness in argument.”

He also penned an article about Dr. Zucker, a notorious conversion “therapy” advocate who was finally discredited and shut down in Ontario after decades of abusing gender nonconforming kids. In this piece, Singal pushes the narrative that anti-science activists are at fault for the clinic’s closure: (emphasis mine)

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