So, following on from this post:
I want to ask the following question; who or what decides who we are? Who or what is the ultimate arbiter of identity? I guess in previous generations it was decided by factors such as social class, occupation, nationality and so on: Kwame Appiah gave a series of talks on this as the 2016 Reith lecturer called ‘Mistaken Identities’ in which he covered culture, nationality, colour and creed. He could easily have covered gender as well: there’s certainly enough debate going on about this at the moment.
Although ‘debate’ is perhaps something of a misnomer for what is basically a boxing match. On one side we have the traditionalists who think men should be men and women, women: in the same corner are the TERFs who believe that a trans woman is not a ‘real’ woman. And in the opposite corner stand the trans community and their supporters who maintain that a trans woman is, and always has been, a woman.
So how does this work? In what sense is a person born with male sex and reproductive organs, who develops chest and facial hair along with other secondary sexual characteristics, a woman? Explanations are not readily forthcoming: neither is it easy to have respectful debate, with those on one side saying often very rude and hurtful comments and those on the other stating that anyone who doesn’t accept them is effectively denying their right to exist.
But what makes a trans woman a woman? Explanations are long on what a trans person isn’t and very short on what they is. Basically they throw out biology and genetics as indicators of gender and seem to say ‘I am what I feel I am.’
I can’t go along with this. Quite apart from my own issues with what gender dysphoria can do to a heterosexual marriage, I cannot simply throw out biology and agree that your gender is whatever you decide it is. (And yes, I realise this is not done on a whim, but still…) This makes no sense to me – and neither, I suspect, does it make sense to most people.
And there’s the rub: because what concerns me is that an orthodoxy is emerging in academic circles, where one view is being promoted and debate is not encouraged. Some speakers (notably Germaine Greer) have been banned from campuses for expressing certain views, including anti-trans opinions:
Free speech or hate speech? Is expressing anti-trans views to a mixed audience, as some have claimed, like shouting fire in a crowded room?
What do you think?