Another Jesus Mythicism discussion

A little while back, I got into a discussion in a Reddit subthread with a poster by the name of MisanthropicScott. It started when MisanthropicScott claimed Jesus was a liar and I disputed the examples he gave (I make no claims for the overall honesty of Jesus, who might have been a liar for all any of us knows, but I found this particular argument wanting and the accusations unwarranted), and wandered rapidly into ‘Did Jesus exist at all?’ territory. So, we ended up with a long and rambling exchange of views, as you do, and, because I was drafting out my answers in bits and scraps of spare time, I eventually arrived at the point where I had a long and as yet unposted answer written to posts of his that had been written a couple of months previously in a long-dead thread.

(Yes, paragraphs like that do indeed make me wonder about my life choices. To which all I can say is: sometimes we all need a break from the serious stuff.)

Anyway… I don’t want to either waste what I’ve written or reawaken a Reddit thread no-one else cares about any more, so I went for Door Number Three; posting my answer on this blog. If MisanthropicScott still has any remote interest in the discussion, he can read it here and respond as he chooses. If not… well, it’s a discussion about Jesus mythicism. Experience tells me that, most likely, someone‘s going to be interested in responding.

Speaking of which, ground rules for any ensuing discussion:

  1. Stay polite. That includes starting with the assumption that the person disagreeing with you is not actually stupid or ignorant just because they hold a different viewpoint.
  2. Keep your comments directed at points actually raised in the post. Given how many points we’ve raised between us, that should give you plenty of scope.
  3. The historicist vs. mythicist discussion is a discussion between two different non-Christian views of Jesus (the belief that he was a human being with a following who was later mythologised, and the belief that he was entirely a mythical figure, like Hercules). If what you want is to have the somewhat different discussion as to whether Christian views of Jesus are actually the correct ones, then by all means do so, but you’re in the wrong thread for it; here is the post for people who want to have religious debates. If that’s what you’re after, read the rules in that post and jump on in.

Quoted portions are usually from MisanthropicScott; on a few occasions I had to include a bit of the preceding exchange for context, so in those cases I’ve indicated which bits are from me and which from MisanthropicScott. If there’s no attribution, that means it’s from Misanthropic Scott. I’ve also thrown in subheadings for the different portions to try to break things up a bit; these weren’t part of the original discussion, and are there purely as my attempt to break walls of text and show where one section of our discussion stops and another starts. OK; let’s go.

 

The NT; does it give us any useable information?

What corroborative evidence do we have of anything in the New Testament?

Not much. Josephus tells us that there was a Jesus called ‘Kristos’ (the Greek translation of ‘Messiah’ and the word we’ve transliterated into ‘Christ’), who had a brother called James who was executed, and that there was a John the Baptist who went round preaching and baptising others and who was put to death by Herod, though not in the way described in the NT. Tacitus tells us that Christianity was founded by someone called Christus who started a movement in Judea and was executed by Pilate. We also have evidence of the veracity of some of the things mentioned in the background setting (the existence of various places and famous people; basically, just what you’d expect if people who live in that place and time are writing about it, regardless of whether they’re writing truth or fiction). Can’t think of any others.

 

[me] Sometimes a particular story or statement seems to be flat-out against the author’s interests, in which case it’s probably not made up.

I disagree. We don’t know the authors’ (plural) interests.

By ‘interests’, I mean the various messages the authors were trying to get across with their writing. Every so often, there’s something in the gospels that they seem to be trying hard to gloss over, or that contradicts what they’re trying to tell us.

Example: It was clearly important to both Matthew and Luke to convince us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as both of them go to the trouble of making up a complicated and clearly fictitious story explaining why, even though Jesus grew up in Nazareth, he was actually born in Bethlehem. So… why do they put Nazareth in the story at all? They both changed what Mark had to say on other points, so, if they were making up the story from scratch all they had to do was change that point as well, leave Nazareth out of it altogether, and just say that he came from Bethlehem as per the prophecy yadda yadda yadda. Why do we get all this ‘well, he was born in Bethlehem but then they had to flee this mass infanticide I just invented and an angel told them to go to Nazareth’ and ‘his parents came from Nazareth but here is a completely unconvincing reason why they had to go to Bethlehem right at that time’?

If they were making their stories up from scratch, about a totally mythical person, it’s very hard to see why they’d do that instead of just leaving out Nazareth and saying he came from Bethlehem. However, if they were making up stories about an actual founder of their movement who was known to have come from Nazareth, it makes total sense; they had to leave in the bit about him coming from Nazareth and then explain it away, because they couldn’t just ignore something about him that was that widely known.

There are other examples. Why would anyone invent a leader who was a crucified criminal and by all appearances a dismal failure at his mission, when that was so obviously going to be the exact opposite of a selling point? Why, given that the writers clearly wanted to put as much blame as possible on the Jews for Jesus’s death and to gloss over the Romans’ role in it as much as possible, did they not just write the story to portray Jesus as executed by the Jews rather than the Romans? Why, when the writers were painting Jesus as the enemy of the Pharisees, did they cite him as using teachings (such as his teachings on Sabbath healings) that we now know were in fact Pharisee teachings as since recorded in the Talmud? Why did they include the embarrassing detail about Jesus being unable to pull off much in the way of miracles when he visited his hometown?

Sure, you can think of explanations for those, or speculate that maybe there’s some reason we just don’t know. But that does leave us with a lot of points that are really hard to explain away if Jesus was invented, but easy to explain if the authors were working from stories about an actual Jesus and couldn’t completely disregard things that were common knowledge about him among his followers.

 

Problems with a mythical crucifixion story

So, to say that having Jesus die a horrific death is inconsistent with a story line that works really well to sell the religion does not make sense to me.

The ‘humiliating execution’ story line didn’t work well at all to sell the religion. Paul comments in one of his letters on how it’s a problem. The ‘Alexamenos’ graffiti mocks the idea of a crucified god, and that seems to have been the general overall attitude of the culture. Christianity grew very slowly in the first few hundred years, prior to Constantine getting involved and making it the state religion. The fact that it did grow – and eventually struck it lucky with Constantine and took off – was in spite of the crucifixion story, not because of it.

[The founders] had the evidence of the Old Testament having caused people to believe deeply in Judaism. Maybe they figured this would work even better, especially if the stopped telling people not to eat yummy pigs and stopped telling men they needed the tips of their dicks cut off.

Firstly, the original church weren’t telling people that. Paul did, and we know from Galatians and from Acts 21:18 – 24 that this was actually something on which the original group disagreed with him. (They agreed with having Gentiles as part of their group on those terms, because Judaism never expected non-Jews to follow those rules anyway; however, they certainly don’t seem happy to have gone along with saying that Jews could abandon those rules as well.)

Secondly, Judaism has always been much more about action than about belief. Circumcision and dietary rules were key parts of the religion. What you’re essentially describing here is a situation where some Jews decide that the best way to get other Jews to become more Jewish is for them to throw some really key parts of Judaism out of the window; it’s the equivalent of Christians saying “I really want more people to become Christian, so I’m going to start a church in which you don’t have to believe in Jesus so that I can persuade more people to come to it”. I’m not saying that’s impossible, because people do come up with really bizarre justifications sometimes; but it’s certainly improbable.

And thirdly, above all; there is absolutely no way anyone of that time would have thought that inventing a character who was supposed to be the Messiah but had been executed by the Romans would have worked well to sell their religion. A Messiah who died before bringing about the end times was a hard sell for Jews, and an executed criminal as leader was a really hard sell for Gentiles. Yes, we know from hindsight it eventually worked spectacularly; but we also know that was due to factors completely other than the fact that it was based on asking people to follow someone executed as a criminal. If someone at that time was deliberately setting out to figure out what would win over as many people as possible, the answer would not have been ‘Hey, a Jewish Messiah who gets arrested and executed with zero signs of having actually done anything to overthrow the Romans! That’ll definitely do it!’

 

Messianic prophecies and ‘I come to bring not peace but a sword’

(MisanthropicScott) [Messianic prophecies] sure as hell don’t say anything about him starting wars! Please correct me if I’m wrong.

(Me) As I recall, they actually say surprisingly little about the messiah at all, when you read them.

People will beat their swords into plowshares. Nation shall not rise up against nation. Neither shall they know war anymore. (from memory)

Exactly! That’s not describing the Messiah himself or his backstory. It’s talking about what the world is going to be like when that time comes. The prophecies hardly say anything about the actual Messiah. He’s going to be a king of David’s line who rules over Israel in this marvellous future time, and… that’s about it.

Here’s a site for Judaism that explains quite well why Jesus completely and utterly fails to meet the messianic prophesies. There are specifics in there.

No argument from me on that point. Hell, it’s possible to sum up in one sentence why Jesus wasn’t the Messiah: We don’t have the global situation that the prophecies foretold. That’s it. But I find it interesting that that site doesn’t say anything about the ‘come to bring not peace but a sword’ line as a disqualification, so I’m not sure why you think it supports your point here.

(me) They leave a lot of scope for individual interpretation of the details.

(MisanthropicScott) Not enough for the messiah to be a warmonger.

What, you think no-one throughout history has ever believed that the best way to end up with peace is to violently crush all your enemies first? I mean, there are good reasons to disagree with that as a strategy, but your specific claim was that claiming to be the Messiah yet bring a sword makes Jesus (if he really claimed that) a liar. The holding of beliefs with which you disagree, or even of beliefs which are actually incorrect, is not the same as being a liar.

By the way, as far as Messianic expectations in particular are concerned, the belief that the Messiah will take up arms against Israel’s enemies as part of his job description is very common. If you want to read more about that, this page is about military expectations of the Messiah around Jesus’s time, this is an extremely famous rabbi’s list of Messianic expectations, still considered the main go-to list to this day, which clearly includes the expectation that the Messiah will be a military leader, and this page is about one failed Messiah who had a substantial following amongst Jews who were quite happy with his military approach.

And, it is absolutely certain that there must be peace before the messiah’s death.

Actually… no. There is nothing whatsoever in any of the Messianic prophecies saying he can’t be killed and miraculously resurrected prior to bringing peace.

I know, I know. The reason no-one put that in the prophecies was not because anyone actually expected this to happen, but the reverse; because ‘And this will happen within one lifetime, not after a death and resurrection’ is so far off expectations that it doesn’t ever occur to anyone to add that subclause. However, fact remains that there’s nothing at all in the Messianic prophecies saying that this can’t happen. So that left a loophole via which Jesus’s followers could not only keep believing in him after his execution but actually gain new adherents; they’d found a way to give him, as you rather nicely put it in one of your previous statements, a mulligan.

(It also had the probably unplanned side-effect of making Jesus’s messianic claims effectively unfalsifiable. Once you allow for the idea that someone can miraculously come back to get things done after their death, you can go on forever saying that they just haven’t come back yet but are totally going to do it any day now. I mean, here the Christians still are with that line, two thousand years later.)

There was talk recently of Schneerson being the messiah. There may be a small contingent who still think so. But, when he died in a world that still did not have world peace, almost everyone who thought so accepted that he wasn’t the messiah.

‘Almost’ everyone. Exactly. Some people still haven’t accepted that, in spite of his death. There is a small group of people who don’t accept that his death disqualifies him from being the Messiah. Two thousand years ago, that was how Christianity got started.

No peace. No messiah.

Agreed (apart from the get-out clause the early Christians came up with about how he was coming back to do it all after his death). So, since your claim is that Jesus probably never existed, I have a question for you here:

If Jesus was an entirely mythical character invented by his followers, how does that fit with ‘no peace, no Messiah’? Did someone come up with the idea ‘Hey, let’s pretend the Messiah did come to Earth but then got crucified without fulfilling any of the prophecies; we’ll just tell people he was miraculously resurrected and that’ll be fine’? How? Why? What do you think anyone was hoping to gain by that?

I can totally see a situation where a bunch of people had put their faith so much in a real person they thought was the Messiah that they just could not shift gears when he died and accept that he wasn’t. That’s how cognitive dissonance works; people get so sold on believing what they believe that, when evidence comes along disproving it, they find weird ways of explaining that evidence away rather than taking a step back and realising they were wrong in the first place. And, as you pointed out, that’s exactly what happened with Schneerson in modern-day times; a few people could not accept his death and went on thinking he was the Messiah. So it’s totally plausible that that could have happened with a first-century rabbi as well. But, if the movement that would eventually become Christianity didn’t start with a real rabbi but with an invented one, how and why do you think that happened?

 

Reasons to believe in a historical Jesus

If neither of us believes the Bible is accurate, neither of us has any reason to think that a person named Jesus ever existed. […] So, as soon as we say the Bible is unreliable, I fail to see why you say Jesus ever existed.

Because otherwise we need to explain why anyone thought it was a good idea to invent a story about a failed, crucified Messiah when such a story would be highly unlikely to gain followers, why they went to the lengths of naming the person who supposedly crucified him and spreading that story about as public knowledge when it was about the worst advertising you could imagine, why one person mentioned meeting this supposedly imaginary man’s brother and argued about a privilege given to his other brothers, why a historian remembered this imaginary man as having a real brother who was executed, why some of the things he’s claimed to have said are now known to be Pharisean arguments even though the authors were trying to claim he was anti-Pharisee, and why, even though two of the people writing about him clearly really wanted to portray him as coming from Bethlehem, they somehow seemed unable to break free from the idea that he was actually known as coming from Nazareth.

That’s quite a lot of stuff to find explanations for. If you can find explanations for all those things that are better, simpler, and more obvious than ‘the movement actually was started by a real Yeshua and the above stuff about him/his brothers all actually happened’, then be my guest. But they’re going to have to be a lot better then ‘well, maybe they just made it all up’. People make a lot of things up, but it doesn’t make sense that they’d make those particular things up. Occam’s razor -> most likely a real Jesus existed.

Have you considered that it was embroidered from stories that had nothing to do with anyone named Jesus? Maybe a bit of Horus and other myths were all thrown together.

I’m sure other myths did get incorporated into the central story as time went by; but how would it have started out that way? Jesus’s original followers are described as a bunch of poor, rural, Jewish illiterates. That means, in practice, that they wouldn’t have known Egyptian myths, or other non-Jewish myths. It’s not as though they could hear these things on television or pop into the local library for a browse on their way home. (Conversely, if the followers weren’t actually poor illiterates, that raises the question of why the authors consistently present them that way when that, again, only made this new group less attractive to most potential followers.)

 

Lack of extrabiblical documentation

This is one of the big inconsistencies in the story. Was Jesus extremely famous or virtually unknown?

You do realise that those extremes aren’t the only two options? Someone could easily be well-known amongst Jews in Judea/Galilee and insignificant to the kinds of people who were writing things that would survive the next two thousand years.

But, why did the Romans care about some unknown nobody?

Being a nobody in the eyes of the more elite social classes isn’t the same as being unknown, or as not being a problem. Jesus had crowds of Jews calling him Messiah, which meant they thought of him as the king who’d kick out their oppressors (i.e. the Romans) and become their new ruler. That’s the kind of situation that existing rulers are not too happy about and like to get nipped in the bud before it develops into an actual rebellion.

[me] [T]he priestly families were more of a pro-Roman party and might well have collaborated in turning over a Messianic claimant if they thought that might avoid bringing down retribution on the heads of ordinary Jews.

[MisanthropicScott] Why would there be retribution?

If the Jesus-led movement got as far as actually attempting a rebellion against the Romans, then the Romans wouldn’t be too happy about it. At the very least, they’d end up killing off the people who were actively involved in the rebellion, and there was also the risk that they’d then respond by clamping down harder or otherwise making the Jews’ lives more difficult.

And, then it gets harder and harder to explain why no one wrote a thing about him.

Whom would you expect to be writing about a Jewish troublemaker who was arrested and executed for insurrection? Of those writings, which would you expect to have lasted two thousand years?

Jesus’s followers were from a strata of society where literacy levels were very low; even if you were one of the few who could write, not many people around you would be able to read what you wrote. Plus, ink and papyrus were expensive luxuries. If you wanted to get your message out to a lot of people in your part of society, open-air preaching was a much better way to do it than spending time and money on a hand-written manuscript that most other people wouldn’t be able to read. So, little or nothing was going to get written down by his followers. As for the people who weren’t following him… well, if you had to handwrite everything on expensive papyrus, would you spend time doing that just to write about some peasant who was creating a stir among a bunch of other superstitious peasants?

Of course, even with those problems there likely would have been a few things written about him at the time. If we could wave a magic wand and get back every single thing that was written in the early decades of the first century, then somewhere in there there probably would be some mentions of Jesus. But, of course, we actually only have a tiny fraction of everything that was written at the time, because this was two thousand years ago. Even those letters and records that get saved don’t last for that long; the papyrus they’re written on eventually crumbles. For example, we have no remaining copies of the one newspaper that was published in that time.

We do, of course, still have books that were written around that time, but that isn’t because we have the original copies – we don’t – but because scribes copied them over the years. So, if something was considered to be important literature, it was preserved and hand-copied. However, people were hardly going to do that for, say, newspaper reports about some troublemaker from Nazareth getting executed. Having no surviving contemporary writings about you two thousand years later is completely normal, and was the case for people far more important in their own time than Jesus of Nazareth actually was in his. (For comparison, here’s one historian blogger pointing out that the only existing reference to Hannibal that dates back to his own time is one passing mention in an inscription. Not because people didn’t write about Hannibal at the time – they did – but because the writings just didn’t survive. If that was the case for a highly famous and influential general, how much more would it be the case for a rabbi from the backwaters who made a brief stir as a would-be Messiah but was then ignominiously executed?)

So… having a couple of passing mentions from historians several decades later, plus writing preserved by your followers, is actually excellent going for someone from that day and age. Having that amount of writing still preserved two thousand years later isn’t ‘harder and harder to explain’; it’s better than we’d expect.

So, you’re shoe-horning in sort of a Goldilocks theory that Jesus was just annoying enough to get the attention of the Romans but not annoying enough for anyone to write anything about him.

Theudas. First-century Jewish rebel, executed for his attempts. Total surviving contemporary mentions (i.e., dating from the time he lived): zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: one short paragraph in Josephus.

Athronges. Rebel from the end of the first century BCE, led a rebellion that took the Romans two years to defeat. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: several paragraphs from Josephus.

Unnamed Samaritan. Rebel from the first century, led a mob that required armed Roman warriors to defeat them. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: one paragraph in Josephus.

Simon of Peraea. Rebel from the end of the first century BCE, burned down the king’s palace and many of his other houses, had a mob of followers who had to be defeated by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: two paragraphs in Josephus, one line in Tacitus.

Unnamed Egyptian. Rebel from the first century, had a group of followers who were defeated rather rapidly by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: two different paragraphs in Josephus.

Jesus of Nazareth. Rebel from the first century, had a group of followers, kicked up some sort of fuss in the Temple, arrested and executed by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: one passing mention of his brother’s execution by Josephus, possibly one other short paragraph in Josephus, one line in Tacitus.

Notice a pattern? There’s usually very little surviving information about the people who, two thousand years ago, kicked up enough of a problem at the time to get executed. That’s not ‘Goldilocks’ and doesn’t have to be shoehorned. That’s the normal result of us being two thousand years on from a time that had very poor literacy levels and no printing presses. Lots of things didn’t get written down in the first place, and most of what was written down at the time didn’t survive for two thousand years. Having little in the way of independent information about Jesus isn’t strange; it’s exactly what we’d expect.

What we do have is a mention of a James’s execution from Josephus that identifies the executed person as ‘the brother of Jesus called Christ’, and a mention from Tacitus that Jesus was executed under Pilate (and, yes, the latter might just have been what Christians were saying at the time… but why on earth would they be making it such widespread public knowledge that the leader they followed was an executed, humiliated criminal, when that fact was so awkward and counter-productive for them?) While those are very brief and passing mentions, they’re still mentions that are very difficult to explain satisfactorily if Jesus was entirely an imaginary character, but easy to explain if he was a real preacher about whom some factual details were retained alongside the legends that grew up around him.

And, for this Hallowe’en…

 

…it is, once again, time for the monthly fundraiser and general showtime, when you get to see the gifts of FTB’s amazingly talented members!

Unfortunately, this time around, you also get to see me. That’s right; I seem to have signed up to do the FreeThoughtBlogs Hallowe’en QI show tomorrow. (Have you ever had those moments of looking back on the conversation you just had and thinking ‘How… how did that just happen…?’? It was like that.) So… if you guys were hoping for the chance to see me make a total prat of myself, well, I guess this is your lucky weekend. Enjoy! And, y’know, if you wanted to throw a bit of money the way of our fundraiser, so that I get to feel my hideous embarrassment is at least in a good cause, then that’d be great.

A Very Poetic Response To Time Limits

It’s a frequent problem for today’s adolescents: If you’re nearing the limit of the time your parents have put on your electronic device and you want to persuade them to give you more, what’s the best way to go about it? Cajole? Beg? Make a reasoned argument? Throw a tantrum?

Well, if you’re my daughter, you use the medium of verse.

Three minutes before her phone time was up, a few nights ago, I was texted this stanza:

Time is running slowly down,

The hourglass fallen, never found,

I cry for help, yet no-one hears,

‘No time!’ I say, but to deaf ears.

 

Pretty good for a completely impromptu poem, isn’t it? And, yes, I did give her more time. I’m soft-hearted anyway, but, really, who could resist that foray into poetry?

 

‘Walking Disaster’ review: Chapter Thirteen

First, the usual backstory for anyone new here:

‘Walking Disaster’ is the male POV companion novel to ‘Beautiful Disaster’, a romance that’s problematic and awful in all sorts of ways. About a year and a half ago, blogger and author Jenny Trout picked ‘Beautiful Disaster’ for the latest in her series of snarkreviews (in which she goes through terrible books to explain – incisively and hilariously – what’s terrible about them), and I had the bright idea of doing a parallel snarkreview of the parallel novel. So, she has been reviewing ‘Beautiful’ and I have been reviewing ‘Walking’, both at a rate of about one chapter every several months (we’re neither of us very fast). Jenny’s reviews so far can be found on the same page as her others, here; mine can be found here.

Now, an update:

Three months ago, Jamie McGuire reposted a video defending Ahmed Arbury’s killers, saying she was doing this because she thought it ‘discussion worthy’ and ‘interesting’. Jenny wrote a response discussing this decision, the decisions McGuire made in her Facebook comment thread about whom to block and whose behaviour to ignore, and McGuire’s recent attempts at running for public office. Her conclusion at the end of the post was that she no longer wished to give McGuire any attention; not even in the form of critical book reviews. Jenny is, therefore, done with reviewing ‘Beautiful Disaster’.

And me? After some thought, I’ve decided I would prefer to go ahead and finish ‘Walking Disaster’. I hope that’s the right decision, but I do get a certain grim satisfaction from pointing out this book’s awfulness, and I think that anyone who would see McGuire in a positive light as a result of reading these reviews is the kind of person who’s going to be voting for her whether they read these reviews or not. Like Magnus Magnusson, I’ve started so I’ll finish. I might well decide to be a lot briefer in my reviews, but I still aim to finish.

And so, here we go: Chapter Thirteen.

Content warnings:

  • Ablist insult
  • Harmful drinking behaviour encouraged and exalted
  • Animal neglect

[Read more…]

Meet the FreeThoughtBloggers!

It’s the weekend! But not just any old weekend… the weekend of the 25th – 27th! You remember what that means… right? No less than the FreeThoughtBlogs September Carnival of Curiosity!

Do check out the stuff that’s planned if you haven’t done so already… but we’re starting small with a ‘Meet the Bloggers’ Zoom event streamed live on YouTube. Or, indeed, two ‘Meet the Bloggers’ events, due to time zones being the pesky things that they are.

The first one is today at 5 pm PT (Tiempo del Pacifico). Got no idea what time that is your time? Have a Time Zone Converter. And if that time doesn’t work for you, you can always check it out later, as it’s going to be on YouTube.

The second one is tomorrow at 7 am PT; again, click on the Time Zone Converter to work out where it is your time. That one, for obvious reasons, is likely to be more predominantly composed of inhabitants of Europe; including, I hope, myself. (I hope at least some of you consider that a reason to watch it rather than avoid it…). And, again, it’s all going to be recorded on YouTube as well as streamed live.

Once again, if you feel able to donate and help us in our plight, we would be most grateful; the link is here. If not, then you’re very welcome to come along and put faces to names/’nyms anyway. I do hope some of you have the chance to check it out.

Calling all readers: the September Fundraiser!

I’m back… and I’m joining with my fellow FTB-ers to ask you, kind and lovely readers, for your help. Many (most? all?) of you have probably already seen this on the other blogs here, but just in case any of my readers haven’t…

As many of you might know, a few years back we had a rather unpleasant experience on FTB, when a blogger who didn’t like some of the things people were writing about him retaliated by suing everyone involved, which included FTB. You can find further details here, if you’re interested. The short version is that he eventually recognised his lack of any sort of a leg to stand on and gave up, but not before the lawsuit had done what lawsuits generally do; run up enormous legal bills for everyone concerned.

Since then, FTB and the others concerned have been raising money to pay off our debts. Many of you have already been good enough to donate, and we are massively grateful to you all; thanks to you, a significant part of the debt has already been paid off. But we still have a way to go.

Fortunately, the bloggers of FTB have many talents beyond those of simply writing blog posts. And thus, we have come up with the September FreeThoughtBlogs Carnival of Curiosity.

Next weekend, for your viewing pleasure and our debt repayment, assorted FTB-ers will be putting on a series of events designed to thrill and entertain. There will be QI, Chuck Tingle readings, noob attempts at Minecraft, torturing of PZ… check it out.

On top of that, several of the bloggers are holding auctions:

Marcus Ranum of stderr has some gorgeous art objects available! Ant log, anarchy bowl, oak bowl, and flawed knife.

William Brinkman from the Bolingbrook Babbler has a collection of his old posts, no longer online.

Crip Dyke from Pervert Justice will write personalised porn. Or, if that isn’t what floats your boat, then a personalised romance or friendship story.

Iris Vander Pluym from Death to Squirrels is auctioning off an interview with her on absolutely any subject you like. Squirrel-related or not… nothing is off limits.

And T. D. Walker from Freethinking Ahead will provide a creativity coaching session to help you move towards your goals.

If none of that is for you but you want to help us anyway, here is the link for donations. And thank you for all your help, small or large, whatever you can offer.

Silver

Today was pretty much a typical working day for me as a GP. I overran majorly (I have many good points; speed and efficiency appear nowhere on that list) but finished in a contented fuzz of satisfaction mixed in with the exhaustion. I’d spoken with patients I knew well and patients I didn’t, listened to a colleague who wanted advice on whether a patient needed visiting or not, reviewed blood tests, answered questions, explained things. I’d spent my day solving problems, none of which would make a massive difference to the world but many of which would make a difference to the people I spoke to. A good day, a good job.

The end of that working day, for me, marked twenty-five full years in this career. My first house officer job began on Wednesday 1st August, 1995.

Twenty-five years down the line from that terrifying first day, I’m living my best life in a job I love.Like anyone else, I’ve regretted some things in my life, and had my share of decisions I facepalm to look back on. But I’m glad for every choice in my life that brought me to this career, this specialty, and this practice. I’m glad that I’m lucky enough to love what I do.

A cis child gives her opinion on anti-trans myths

Some of you might remember my daughter Katie, who collaborated with me on a book review a few years ago. She’s now twelve, she’s still opinionated, and, when the subject of the anti-trans-mythbusting I was doing on the blog came up in conversation with her, I had a spur-of-the-moment idea; what if I interviewed Katie on the subject of anti-trans myths? I wanted to see what her reaction would be to some of the ideas that were getting put forth.

I hadn’t expected Katie to be keen on the idea, but, in fact, she was; I went ahead without further ado before she could lose interest. I’ve posted the full recording here (it was too large for WordPress to handle easily), but, as it’s just about as polished as you’d expect from an unprepared interview of one untrained person by another untrained person recorded with only the equipment available on a mid-range laptop, I’ve written up a redacted version for this blog.

The interview

I started with the oft-raised concern that the increasing numbers of people choosing to transition are an indicator that people are getting pushed into transitioning.

“Well, that isn’t how that works,” Katie stated. “How it works is because transgenderism wasn’t accepted in the past; so it’s like, well, people wouldn’t be transitioning in the past because they weren’t allowed to. Now they’re allowed to, so they’re going to.

Can I just clarify that you are only trans if you yourself know that you are actually one gender instead of the other?” she went on. (I’ll explain to her about non-binary genders another day; at this point I didn’t want to break the flow.) “If someone says ‘oh, you’re trans because you like boy stuff more than girl stuff’… it’s the 21st century! There is no ‘oh, girls play with dolls and boys play with – I don’t know – sports and stuff’; that isn’t a thing any more! Boys can play with whatever they want… and trans people are the people who are physically one gender but mentally, actually, and truly another, and they get referred to as their true gender rather than their physical gender because that’s just simply how things work.”

“One of the fears,” I told her, “is that somehow doctors who specialise in transition medicine wouldn’t know all this.” I explained the concern that children with interests typically associated with the opposite gender might be misdiagnosed as trans and advised to transition.

“I’m pretty sure that a professional doctor would get taught not to do that,” Katie said, practically rolling her eyes. “You yourself are a doctor; you’ve been through… how many years of medical school?

“Five.”

“And I presume that a transition doctor would go through the same amount, right?”

I confirmed that this was the case, adding that doctors had years of specialty training after graduation as well.

Katie was not impressed by the concern that someone with that many years of training would be trying to talk unwilling people into transitioning. “Their job is to take people who want to transition and transition them, not to pick someone off the street and say ‘You’re trans now! Go be trans!’ even if they do like stuff that’s like ‘boy stuff’, not ‘girl stuff’… you’ll have to imagine the air quotes,” she added to the microphone. “Isn’t it just that someone who’s already trans but just hasn’t had the transition yet… isn’t it only they that go up and say ‘Can you transition me?’ You don’t just go in there and say ‘Hey, I’m a girl and I kind of like wearing trousers’ and get told ‘You’re a trans boy!’ That’s not how it works.”

I brought up the Littman study, an infamously badly-done study supposedly showing that young people are now subject to a new disorder called Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. Littman’s evidence for this was that, when she interviewed parents via anti-transitioning websites, they reported that their children only came out as trans after spending time with groups of new friends who often came out as trans at approximately the same time; Littman felt the likely explanation for this was that non-trans adolescents were being convinced they were trans by peer pressure. The flaws in that methodology seem glaringly obvious to me, but I do have some professional training in the basics of critiquing and interpreting studies, so I don’t know how obvious they are to the average person without training. I was curious to see what Katie would make of it.

“I think,” Katie told me, “rather than it being that a bunch of them had come out as trans and they’re like ‘Oh, well, you be trans too’… I think it’s less of that and more that they might not mentally think to themselves that they were allowed to be trans, but after their friend’s transition they might start realising ‘People do this, I myself personally allow myself to get transitioned’.

I mentioned Littman’s finding that the parents in the study reported that their children spent a lot more time on the internet prior to coming out, which, again, is supposed to be evidence of… something nefarious going on. What, I asked Katie, did this sequence of events suggest to her?

“They went on the internet,” she replied, “and, being the internet, it would probably have mentioned something to do with transness, they might have looked into that more, done a bit more research, ended up on some online group for people who think they might be transgender, and they would have properly discussed things there and then thought to themselves “You know what, I think I might be transgender.”

So, there you are, that is how obvious the flaws in Littman’s study are: some of them can literally be spotted by a bright twelve-year-old. (If you’re interested in a more detailed analysis, check out the multi-post analysis by Zinnia Jones on the Gender Analysis blog, starting here.)

The final topic I raised was the ‘Which Bathroom?’ debate. Katie gave this some thought, saying it was ‘a bit difficult’; she felt that, because ‘a bunch of the other people there might be uncomfortable with seeing other genitals’, it was better to have ‘the trans person shower or whatever in a private room separate from other people’ for anything involving nudity. However, she went on to make her overall opinion on the question clear:

“[T]hey should go with their proper true gender, not their physical gender,” she told me, “because, if you’re really going to stare at someone doing toilet stuff, you’re either a) a parent helping out a young child, which is reasonable, or b) why are you doing that that’s really creepy please stop.” I liked her framing; her response to people bothered by the prospect of possibly seeing trans people’s genitals was to place the issue not with trans people but with whoever was paying so much attention to other people’s genitals in the first place.

I brought up the fear that’s always brought up in these cases; the ‘what if a sex abuser pretended to be trans to get into a women’s public toilet and abuse someone?’

Katie’s immediate response was to object to the implicit idea that sexual abuse only affects women. “Let’s be honest here, this can go either way,” she told me. “That’s another discussion that isn’t right now, but I do feel like there’s a whole thing about how only women can be sexually abused… that’s not true.”

She turned her attention back to the question, which she thought was an interesting problem. “Since things like that [toilet cubicles] are closed off anyway… hmmm…. since the majority of those people [just to be clear, she meant people trying to use toilets of a gender opposite to their birth genitals, not trans people] would be actually trans, we should just go with what will help the majority and put in whatever current measures we have to stop things like that. Surely instead of stopping people faking trans to sexually abuse people, we should stop sexual abuse? That’s the point we need to stop. We shouldn’t worry about all the separate categories.”

I brought up the point that I discussed in my previous post. “If a man wanted to walk into a women’s toilet for purposes of sexually abusing someone, why would he have to pretend he’s trans when right now no-one is actually stopping you to check what sort of genitals you have anyway before you go into the toilet, and it would be incredibly rude if they did?”

Katie thought that was a good point. “Say they’re not trans; that’s just an inconvenience because no-one wants to have their genitals seen. And if you are trans, it’s like that would just feel so personal; it’s like they’re questioning your right to go into those toilets because of your transgenderism.” She agreed that a man who was determined to get into a women’s toilet to abuse someone would do so regardless of rules.

“Once again,” she summed up, “the problem isn’t anything to do with transgender. I’m really not sure how to tackle [abuse], but that’s a separate discussion.”

 

Some further thoughts

I did this interview partly because I love hearing my daughter’s thoughts on issues. But there’s another reason that I only fully articulated to myself as I wrote this up, and it relates to something I’ve realised about the anti-trans movement.

For many people, the attraction of the anti-trans movement is that it frames itself around the idea of protecting others. Transphobics claim that trans rights put cis [the term for non-trans] women and girls at risk of assault and put cis children and adolescents at risk of being somehow convinced to have transitions they’ll regret. While these claims don’t stand up to examination of the evidence, they’re powerful because they sound superficially plausible. And that allows transphobics to paint their views as necessary protection for others, rather than as prejudice or ignorance.

Now… my daughter, as a female adolescent, is at the intersection of the two groups anti-trans-rights lobbyists convince themselves they’re protecting. It doesn’t stop there, either. She’s thought for years that she’s probably gay, though at only twelve she’s still working out her sexuality. She’s almost certainly autistic (she’s on the waiting list for an official diagnosis). She’s struggled with physical aspects of female puberty. She’s struggled with discomfort with her body for reasons unrelated to being trans. She has mental health issues that make her potentially vulnerable. Apart from not being butch, she is pretty much the poster child for someone who, according to anti-trans rhetoric, would be at risk of dire consequences if trans rights are increased. Anti-trans lobbyists are using the existence and problems of thousands of young women as an excuse to deny thousands of other people their rights, and one of the young women they think they’re protecting is my daughter.

Well, I wanted to give my daughter a voice in that. And, as it turned out, that voice is firmly in favour of trans rights. My strong, funny, smart, complicated, wonderful daughter isn’t afraid of trans rights. She isn’t fazed by the existence of trans people. She doesn’t feel that making life more difficult for trans people will somehow solve her problems, because she understands that her problems are nothing to do with trans people or their rights.

When I finally did articulate this in my mind, I put it to Katie. How, I asked, did she feel about the thought that people opposing trans rights were doing so in an attempt to protect people like her? She cocked her head to one side and addressed a firm message to anyone holding those views.

“I appreciate your concern,” she stated, “but shut the frick up.”

To J.K. Rowling: A reply to your letter on transgender issues.

(A very brief message to anyone who doesn’t know the background: The letter to which I’m replying is here, and was posted by JKR after numerous concerns about her views on transgender issues. The backstory about the concerns is… pretty much everywhere on the internet, so if you haven’t already seen it just search.)

 

Dear J.K. Rowling,

OK, this feels… seriously strange. I’m writing this to you but also to others reading or following the current discussion (I do plan to post this publicly on my blog) so it seems strange addressing it to you when I know that, realistically, out of all the people who might read it, you’re one person who almost certainly won’t. But I’m doing so because thinking of this as something you could potentially read keeps me focused on the fact that what I write here isn’t just addressing a collection of views and statements I disagree with, but a human being with real feelings about this.

So. I’m writing this because, having followed the story so far about things you’ve said on transgender-related subjects, I’ve now read the letter you posted on your website. And, whatever else I’ve thought about your views on this topic and how you’ve expressed them, I think that letter was an incredibly brave attempt to open up about something that’s really hard for you and about which you have genuine concerns, and I also know you speak for a lot of people who feel the same way.

And I also disagree with almost every point you made.

So what I want to do… well, I struggled to put this into words, but then realised you’d already done it for me. You wrote:

All I’m asking – all I want – is for similar empathy, similar understanding, to be extended to the many millions of women whose sole crime is wanting their concerns to be heard without receiving threats and abuse.

That’s it. That nails it. I want to be able to hear your concerns and extend sympathy and understanding and also extend that same empathy and understanding to the many, many trans people out there who also desperately need their concerns to be heard and understood without being met with threats or abuse. I want to keep that sympathy and understanding for all concerned at the forefront of my mind as I talk about the points you raised and explain why I disagree. And I hope that, even though you yourself will almost certainly never see this letter, at least some of the people who feel the same way as you will be willing to read what I write in that same spirit and to try for a greater overall understanding.

There’s so much in your letter I want to talk about, and it’s going to take me more than one post to do so. But in this post I’m going to skip straight to your last point, because it’s the nub of the whole thing. What you’ve voiced, here, is a fear that a lot of people hold. And I think that fact gets obscured sometimes by the way these same concerns are so often used as excuses by bigots to justify anti-trans agendas held for much darker reasons; in the midst of the damage those people cause, it’s easy to forget that many people quite genuinely are scared of the scenario you’ve just voiced here:

At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.

Firstly, before doing anything else, I want to correct one point, which is your claim that ‘gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones’. I think this might be technically correct, in that the current law in the UK doesn’t specify that a transgender person needs to have done anything physically about transitioning before applying for a GRC. It does, however, specify that a person can only apply if (among other restrictions) they have lived as the gender in question for two years and are over 18, and that sounds as though it would in practice be virtually impossible to do without physically transitioning. Also, from what I’ve read, getting a GRC is incredibly difficult under the current system; it certainly doesn’t sound as though, in practice, one would be issued to anyone who hadn’t already transitioned.

People are certainly campaigning to have GRCs issued much more easily (with good reason, from what I’ve read in the previous link), but, as far as I’ve been able to find out, the law hasn’t yet been changed. So, the law you have concerns about is actually a proposed law rather than one that’s currently in place. I know that doesn’t in itself affect your concerns, but thought it important to get the facts straight before starting to discuss them.

Anyway. The fear I assume you’re alluding to here – the one shared by many other people who have concerns about trans rights – is that making it easier to gain a gender recognition certificate will lead to male abusers fraudulently gaining gender confirmation certificates naming them to be female in order to enter bathrooms or changing rooms to… oh, well, you know the rest. And I get that that’s a prospect that many people find really concerning (especially, as you said, people with a history of abuse who can find it quite viscerally terrifying).

Here is what does not make sense and has never made sense to me about this scenario, though. Please tell me if you think I’m missing something, but…

Nobody has to show proof of gender to get into public toilets or changing rooms anyway.

(Warning: this discussion has the potential to be triggering to people who fear the thought of male abusers getting into women’s spaces.)

There is no-one standing outside women’s toilets making sure only people who are legally female get in. There usually is someone standing outside changing rooms, but that’s only to make sure people don’t steal the stock; I’ve never heard of anyone checking documentation on the people who go in. So, how does having or not having a gender recognition certificate make any practical difference to these things at all?

As far as I can find, it isn’t even illegal for men to enter women’s toilets. I mean, stop me if I’m wrong about that; I’m not a lawyer, I’m someone who spent five minutes doing an internet search. But I can’t see how it could, in practice, be made illegal for men to enter women’s toilets without causing masses of problems. There are cleaners who are male, there are severely disabled people who need help in toilets and have carers of the opposite gender, there are times when one set of toilets is out of order and the only option is to let people into the other set, there are people with medical conditions that mean they sometimes need a toilet so urgently they can’t take even a few seconds to run round a building looking for the one they’re supposed to be in. There are also thousands of transgender people who don’t have a gender confirmation certificate and thus, even if they’ve transitioned, are still legally recorded as whatever gender was assigned to them at birth. A blanket law stating that men can’t go into women’s toilets would affect people from all those groups… without actually doing much about the very group that we’re worried about here, since a sexual abuser is pretty much by definition not put off by the prospect of breaking the law.

Why is there all this worry that an abuser might go to the work of filling out a form and paying a fee (currently £140) to get access to a public toilet, when he can just walk straight in anyway?

I get that, for the people who are scared about this, that probably doesn’t help much. I get that fears aren’t logical and don’t just vanish as a result of being told that the thing in question isn’t actually harmful. I get that trying to put legal barriers in the way of people with male anatomy or male chromosomes getting into female spaces makes some women feel safer even if it isn’t doing one darned thing in practice to make them safer. I get that fears of things that don’t in practice actually increase your danger level are still fears and still horrible and still real and important emotions. I feel deep sympathy for any woman or girl who’s frightened by the thought of a person with a penis possibly being in a public toilet next to the one she’s in. I hope that anyone who does feel that way has help and support to deal with her fears, and if you have any ideas that might help you or other people affected by this fear feel safer without harming or risking another group of people, I would love to hear about them and see them implemented.

But ‘keep gender confirmation certificates difficult to obtain’ isn’t such an answer. The reason people are campaigning to make GRCs easier to obtain is because the current process is horrendous. (See also this article which I linked to above.) So, when you advocate keeping GRCs difficult to obtain, you are in fact supporting a system that causes massive problems for transgender people without having any actual benefit.

It’s even worse than that, though. In the USA, this myth about trans rights increasing the risk of sexual abuse is one that is being deliberately and actively weaponised by powerful hate groups with anti-trans ideologies. Warning here for descriptions of very serious assaults at some of the following links… because this climate of whipped-up fears drastically increases the risk of assault on trans people generally, and it also increases the risk of public bathroom use for any woman who can potentially be mistaken for a man, whether this is because she actually is trans, because she’s gender non-conforming, or because she just happens to look androgynous. Trans people have to live in fear of something as simple and everyday as using public bathrooms, because for them it is actually dangerous to do so.

I don’t think the UK is as bad from that point of view – we don’t have the Religious Right to the same degree as they have on that side of the Atlantic – but trans people here still suffer transphobia and anti-trans bigotry and even violent assaults, and the fears you’ve described here are a big part of what drives this. I believe you completely when you say that this is not what you want, that you want everyone including trans people to be safe and protected and free from harm. But good intentions don’t mitigate the effects of supporting harmful policies; the policy you’ve just supported above (not to mention the transphobic activists whose pages you read) are, in practice, contributing to the climate that causes these assaults.

So, when I disagree with you, when I stand up against the beliefs you’re supporting, it is not because I dismiss your fears. It is not because I don’t sympathise or want to help. It is because your fears and my sympathy should not be used to support actions that, while doing nothing to change the risk of the abuse you fear, will increase the abuse risk for transgender people and the level of other problems they face. It’s not OK for them to be the collateral damage of your attempts to ease your fears.

J. K. Rowling, if you do ever read this, thank you for all the joy your books have given to me and to my daughter over the years.

Be well,

Sarah

 

(I will hereby stress once again that all comments – from whichever side of the issue – should be polite and respectful. Yes, this means you. Think of how you would wish someone to talk about an issue that’s extremely sensitive to you, and use that same level of respect. Thank you.)

A reply to Lenny Esposito of Come Reason

Lenny Esposito, author of the Christian apologetics site Come Reason, regularly posts ‘in case you missed it’ tweets with links to his past posts; a recent one was to a post from three years ago titled Progressives, Please Help Me Understand International Women’s Day. Since I seem to fit the definition of ‘progressive’, I’ll give it a shot, for what my opinion is worth. As always, please keep comments polite and respectful.

These are the four main questions in the post:

1. How Do We Mark Achievements Today?

You can find examples on the International Women’s Day site under the top menu ‘Missions’.

2. How Do We Accelerate Economic Gender Parity?/3. How Do We Accelerate Cultural Gender Parity?

Huge and important questions; I’ve aimed to give a quick overview rather than an exclusive list. Feel free to chime in with suggestions in the comments.

This article and this article have general suggestions.

This article, this article, and this article have advice on promoting gender parity in the workplace.

This article has advice on promoting gender parity in the home/the family.

Some other thoughts from me: Take relationship abuse and sexual abuse/harassment seriously, and be aware of the many ways in which they can look different from the stereotypes. Make birth control freely and easily accessible to everyone who needs it. And be willing to listen to people’s stories of their lived experience and take them seriously.

4. What do You Mean by Woman?

Short(ish) answer: Any adult whose gender identity is female. For purposes of anti-misogyny endeavours such as International Women’s Day, I would also include a) girls (children whose gender identity is female), and b) anyone who is affected by misogyny as a result of having been determined on the basis of genital configuration to be female, even if their actual gender identity isn’t female. There was going to be a long answer, but it was getting really long and taking forever to write and in the end I decided I just wanted to get this post published already, so I’ve cut that bit and saved it so that if I have more time later I can put it in a future post.

 

As well as those main questions, the post also contained several subsidiary questions, so here are answers to some of those:

[regarding the ‘A Day Without A Woman‘ strike] How does this celebrate achievement?

The strike wasn’t for celebrating achievement, but for protesting the ways in which women (or trans men who still present as women, as per question 4 above) are still disadvantaged or oppressed in society, and for highlighting the extent of invisible work done in society by women or by trans people thought to be female.

[regarding schools with all-female staff on the ‘A Day Without A Woman’ strike] What happens to the female students who are supposed to be taught today?

Same as what happens to the male or transgender students in those schools; they miss one day’s worth of school and catch up over the rest of the year.

Does losing one day’s instruction give them an advantage?

If you’re honest about wanting to understand these issues better, skip the sarcasm; it’s counter-productive.

In educational terms, of course it doesn’t give these children an advantage, but I can’t imagine it’s going to give them a disadvantage compared to other schools; if having your school very occasionally closed for a day puts you at an educational disadvantage, then surely students from the parts of a country with higher snowfall would do worse educationally than students from the warmer areas due to having more snow days during their childhood. In terms of issues other than education, I think it can be an advantage; they see their teachers willing to get involved in protests for what they believe, and I think that’s a positive thing for children to see.

Perhaps we can recognize that women as women offer unique and worthwhile contributions to our society that cannot be measured (or are undervalued) economically. But this seems to get sticky pretty fast.

It can, but not for the reason you’re giving. The trouble with talking about ‘unique contributions of women’ is that it’s an approach which lumps women together as some sort of composite group who supposedly can collectively make contributions men can’t, with the inevitable vice-versa. The trouble with that is that it pigeonholes people. So, for example, a focus on the idea that women have unique gifts for childcare and home-making is frequently used to give women the message that they have to have children/be the primary carer for those children/eschew other careers, while at the same time giving men the message that they don’t get to be stay-at-home carers for their children because that’s a ‘women’s job’. And that sort of pigeonholing limits everyone and harms a lot of people. So I’d rather focus on the fact that each individual can offer unique contributions, and that gender – however you measure it – isn’t the best way to determine what those contributions are going to be.

Progressives have been telling me for a long time that children don’t need women as mothers, they simply need loving individuals. Gender doesn’t matter at all.

The second sentence there might have been meant to echo the first sentence, but it’s actually saying something rather different. There is a difference between ‘don’t need’ and ‘doesn’t matter at all’. I don’t think that gender ‘doesn’t matter at all’, and, in this specific context, I don’t think it makes zero difference to a child’s experience of being parented. But what children need is loving parents who can provide them with a secure and stable home. Your next comment is about how this relates to adoption, and, yes, I believe that adults who can provide this should be allowed to raise children even if their home doesn’t contain two parents of conventionally opposite genders; I’d far, far rather see children in a happy secure home with a parent or parents who love them than stuck in foster care limbo waiting for some mythical perfect home that doesn’t exist.

All that is required to be a woman is to identify as a woman. Is that right? But that means I can be celebrated if I choose to identify as a woman today.

Transgenderism (and cisgenderism, for that matter) isn’t about ‘choosing’ to identify as a particular gender. It’s about the inescapable fact that nearly all of us do identify as particular genders – not because we choose to, but because it’s a key part of us – and that sometimes a person’s gender identity doesn’t match the gender of their body.

Your choice of words here makes me fairly sure that you don’t actually identify as a woman. I mean, if I’m wrong about that and you are secretly a trans woman in the closet, then, yes, I would absolutely consider it worth celebrating if you felt able to come out. If not, then, no, you shouldn’t just be choosing to say you identify as a woman if you actually don’t.

The big question in all this is how do we celebrate the achievements of women and rally to gain parity for women when the concept of what a woman is isn’t defined? This is probably where I need the most help, as I can’t make sense of it at all.

Of the suggestions above about ways to work for gender parity, which do you feel you can’t implement due to the existence of transgenderism? Why?

I mean, there are those who deeply identify as football fans or basketball fans. I’m in the minority as a hockey fan. Should I seek a day for celebration of achievement and a call to parity since hockey fans are so underrepresented in society?

Lenny… celebrate what you want to celebrate, but cut out the attempts at point-scoring. I don’t think that being a hockey fan has a negative impact on your pay scale, or your risk of experiencing sexual assault or domestic violence, or on any major aspects of your life. I don’t know whether you meant any of your other questions more seriously than this one, but, because I prefer to assume the best of people where possible, I’ve taken them as meant in good faith and answered them in that spirit. If you’re being honest about wanting to learn and understand, then I hope it helped with that. But, whether the rest of the post was meant honestly or not, please don’t post trivialising comparisons for issues that so many people don’t have the luxury of dismissing as trivial.