Updated 16/06/2021 to include some references dismissing some dumb arguments.
If you’re trans and you think I’ve misrepresented an issue in this post, then DM me (@KieranGeary) and I’ll be sure to correct it.
I have so much to say about this topic that I don’t really know where to start.
In my second year I did a project for my uni course where I designed an album cover for my all-time favorite band, The Replacements. Their third album, Let It Be (named after the Beatles song) is one of their more rowdy works, featuring nonsense punky messes like “Gary’s Got A Boner” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”, Let It Be also incorporates some of Paul Westerberg’s most honest and soulful pieces of writing, “Sixteen Blue” and “Androgynous”. The tone of their albums are what draws me to them, you can tell that they’re a bunch of nobodies just vibing in a studio, aspiring to do great things, but never feeling like they’re achieving anything. This is shown extremely clearly in a song from their final album, “Happy Town”, in which Westerberg looks back on his career with the band:
“The plan was to sweep the world off its feet
So you sweep the garage for the neighbors to see
The plan was to set the world on its ear
And I bet you don’t know why you’re here”
The Replacements are nothing incredible to most people, just another American midwestern rock band, typical of the 80s scene at the time, they make some fun loud music at the start of their career, gain a small audience, then slowly adopt a more pop-y aesthetic towards the end of their career. But this “blandness” is exactly why I bring them up. The song I did my project on was “Androgynous”, a song about a non-binary couple:
“Now, something meets Boy, and something meets Girl
They both look the same, they’re overjoyed in this world
Same hair, revolution
Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss
And tomorrow Dick is wearing pants
And tomorrow Janie’s wearing a dress
Future outcasts and they don’t last
And today, the people dress the way that they please
The way they tried to do in the last centuries
And they love each other so
Closer than you know, love each other so
They even joke in the verse that gendered clothing would be considered outlandish in the future!
But it’s so strange and bizarre to me that this song by an insignificant band from the 80s is able to capture exactly the mood of trans and non-binary rights today.
“Tomorrow, who’s gonna fuss?” - Well, tomorrow is here… and everyone’s making a big ol’ fuss.
Well, like anything midly political post-2010, everything is hyper-partisan and overstated. The proponents of transgender rights will tell you that they want to exist in a similar capacity to cis-gender (non-transgender) people, meaning that they just want to be able to exist without persecution, which normally involves some protection in law against targeted abuse, removal/change of any laws/systems that lead to inequality, legal recognition of their identity and finally, social acceptance. Opponents argue that the rights being talked about would cut into women’s rights (or more recently gay rights, though they will never say which rights and why), or just don’t make any sense when considering “science”, which is what this blog post is about, I want to throw my opinion out there.
Before I get into it, I want to make sure people know that I do support transgender rights. If that’s enough to make you want to stop reading, then fair enough, but I’ll encourage you to keep reading since you might be the kind of person who needs a differing perspective. For example, Graham Linehan is not an unbiased or reliable news source, he’s just a dickhead who doesn’t listen to his wife about women’s issuesfull text (transphobia), while claiming constantly that “he is speaking on behalf of women”, even more ironic when you read his blog, where he constantly criticizes men for speaking on women’s issues as a way to refute their points! Or alternatively J.K Rowling, who’s essay (which received an award nomination from the BBC), has been widely criticised by journalists everywhere for containing a horrible misrepresentation of how transgender healthcare & legal recognition currently works1, 2, 3.
I likely won’t mention Linehan and Rowling after this, Linehan is such a pathetic human being who quite literally makes a living off of frivolously bullying people he deems ugly and weird on the internet, and Rowling, likely tweeting from her ivory tower made of her £0.82 billion, just needed to get people interested in her new two books which just happened to release a few short weeks after “the controversy” (one under her alias, named after the disgraced gay conversion therapy doctor, Robert Galbraith Heath). I honestly have no clue why you would chose the pen name of a terrible person for your book series, but it feels very gross and slimy, especially when she refuses to acknowledge it. She picked that pen name at around 2013, when her first Cormoran Strike novel was released, the next year gay marriage was legalized in England & Wales. Is it a dog-whistle or not? We’ll likely never know. The “trans rights will diminish cis women’s rights” argument has been thoroughly debunked plenty of times, here’s an academic law article stating that thats not how the law works, and the things gender critical people are raising concerns about have been a thing since the Equality Act and Gender Recognition Act were instated years ago with no issues.. And the sports argument is also kinda dumb because trans women have been competing in sports for decades, rarely make it to “elite”/olympic status, rarely get “found out” (as if they’re deceiving people in the first place), and when they do and tests are done, it’s revealed that they have basically no advantage over cis women. Here’s a review of trans-women in sport just in Australia.
Linehan and Rowling are the most prominent volcanoes of toxicity and I hate that I have to mention them. I can imagine that for many people, they’re the reason that they’re “gender critical”, but unfortunately for them, they have the worst arguments - a well educated snail could see the logical fallacies, weird jumps and lack of good references, let alone the infamous “just raising concerns”, which is practically a meme at this point.
The most recent lot of political arguments over here in the U.K. is about “LGB Alliance”, a charity aiming to oppose the largest LGBT charity, Stonewall, on it’s support for trans issues1. Their website says that they aim to “advance lesbian, gay and bisexual rights”, and to “promote free speech on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues”, but those two phrases quite literally mean nothing when you realise that they consider campaigning for sex based rights over gender based ones as one in the same. In other words, they exist to resist trans activism.
LGB Alliance can be more convincing than Linehan and Rowling simply by the fact that they’re appointed a charity by the current Conservative government, but make no mistake they spout the same strange sources and weird logical errors as other anti-trans activists. Sources like transgendertrend.com, a.k.a. Stephanie Davies-Arai and a few more people who aren’t experts, and the Paradox Institute. I’ll talk about “Transgender Trend” first though, and we’ll go through their points.
“Transgender Trend” does have one Michael Briggs however, likely the only person who could be considered an expert on the entire website. In December 2019 he got his first taste of anti-trans activism by “debunking” a 2020 study which showed that puberty blockers alleviated gender dysphoria. He disputed that it was based on a survey open to the general public and that Briggs assumes that “adolescents with severe psychological problems would have been less eligible for drug treatment” and these people would skew the results. He never entertains the possibility that those with “severe conditions” are a population which even within the trans community are a minority (and hence are not likely able to skew results, even on this scale), and he never entertains the idea that severe conditions and gender dysphoria interact with each other, treating gender dysphoria may alleviate some symptoms of these “severe conditions” and vice versa. Personally I think that puberty blockers should obviously be applied carefully (like all medical treatment), bone-density observations are legitimate, but I feel that the risk of osteoporosis and “increased risk of broken bones” by people like Briggs is quite overstated. At the end of the day people will accept side effects, just look at birth control. “Transgender Trend” raising “concerns” just serves to slow down progress for trans acceptance by targeting their healthcare systems. Their name alone is incredibly harmful and stupid, transness is very clearly not a trend, since you can look back throughout history and find many prominent trans people. The only “trend” is the surge in trans rights activism, which has lead many trans people to be more open than previously. Trans kids deserve recognition and treatment if they’re in distress, just like any other human being, if they and their parents consent to it, and it’s applied with care and careful observation then there’s no issue.
I’ve found that most journal articles (including Briggs’), that anti-trans activists point to have awfully misleading citations which actually argue the opposite of what the conclusion of the articles they’re citing come to. The most commonly cited articles is easily one by an Australian journal of Psychiatry about “informed consent” and “raising concerns”. It also completely misrepresents other studies as evidence for it’s laughably stereotypical anti-trans claims. One example of these mis-characterisations is when the Australian articles paraphrases two papers as saying that “sex hormonal treatments have irreversible, long-lasting harmful effects on physical and emotional/cognitive health”. Contrast this with two direct quotes from the cited articles’ conclusions: the study from 2011 which concludes that their “findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group” - clearly just saying that SRS is not the be-all-and-end-all of trans healthcare. The other, an article from 2018 concludes “GnRHa treatment was associated with improvement across multiple measures of psychological functioning but not gender dysphoria itself, whereas the psychosocial effects of gender-affirming hormones in transgender youth have not yet been adequately assessed”. Clearly, the Austrailian paper inaccurately represents both papers, the 2018 paper even mentions bone-mass-density as a subject for more research, rather than halting treatment - “overall, hormonal treatments for transgender youth were observed to be relatively safe but not without potential adverse effects”. More silly is where the Australian paper tries to pass off “the high suicide rates and psychiatric morbidity post-transition” as a reason for not going through with treatment (without source), they could just take the logical next step to find that discrimination is the leading cause of suicide ideation in across the entire literature1, so it’s fair to conclude that medical treatment leading to percieved social acceptance (as well as more general trans acceptance and self acceptance) improves suicide ideation rates among trans people. I find it quite disgusting that the people penning that article attempt to use the suicides of real marginalised people to try and take away those people’s right to self-affirming medicine.
It’s also people like Michael Briggs, who constantly cite lack of research into trans topics as a way of protesting trans positive research, but he would never do any research himself, and he has never had an interest in trans issues until recently, it seems the real “Transgender Trend” is actually just the recent and relentless attacks of trans people/healthcare from British media & right-wingers.
Anyway… moving on.
The Paradox Institute - Oklahoma architecture student and serial self-publisher, Zachary Elliott, or as I know him, guy with a YouTube channel who is obsessed with proving that intersex/DSD people should not be considered in any debate.
It’s fair to say that the majority of sources that anti-trans rights activists reference are not experts in any way, but people like Zachary Elliott/The Paradox Institute. But just because they don’t have biology degrees doesn’t mean they’re instantly wrong, I’m a graphic design student after all, I’m no better! But if you’re getting your information from people like Zachary Elliott, who aren’t experts, and they’re disagreeing with the general consensus, then it’s likely that something is wrong.
It seems to be a theme of the current right wing to just invent official sounding organisations to back up their points. Just like how Prager University is not a university, The Paradox Institute is not an institute for academic research. The word “institute” is a protected word in the UK, so Zach is lucky he’s in the US, otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed to mislead his audience so easily. There may even be a case that the name is illegal in his home state of Oklahoma, since they have similar laws against business names which “mislead the public”. Anyway, let’s get to his content.
One of the first (and most frequent) points that Elliott makes on his channel is that intersex people and DSDs (differences in sexual development) should not be “used as a third-gender” in his video “Is Intersex a Third Category”. He cites the idea that people are very morphologically diverse, small breasts don’t make you less of a woman blah blah blah… you sex is defined by your genitalia blah blah blah. Reading through his script it’s like he’s getting most of the facts right, but drawing all the wrong conclusions. Elliott states that lots of people considered intersex have either testes or ovaries, and thus they can be neatly divided into male and female, fair enough for them, and that more complex intersex conditions require a case by case examination 1(a.k.a. he hadn’t researched them at the time of making this video). He also clearly didn’t look up the definition of the word intersex, the “inter” part very clearly meaning “in-between two things”. This video is kind of pointless relating back to trans activism in the first place, Elliott’s ultimate point is that intersex isn’t outside of the male/female spectrum (we’ll get to this later), so gender isn’t either, which is just silly because that’s not the point of non-binary & trans activism (it’s also a false equivalency - gender and sex are linked but not the same thing). Trans-activists never claim that intersex is a “third group outside of male & female”, they claim that it is what it is, it’s somewhere between the two, ambiguous, if you will. Generally, when intersex & non-binary people say they’re not male or female, they’re saying they’re somewhere in the middle, not something entirely new, they may even identify more with one term than another, i.e. being slightly more masculine than feminine, or vice-versa. You would be hard-pressed to find a non-binary activist who doesn’t contextualise their gender without the terms masculine/feminine, other than agender people, or alternatively those who use their gender terminology as a political statement, like Jim Sterling’s self defined “gendertrash”, a refusal of traditional gendered terms altogether.
He then states that “intersex individuals, those with real differences in sex development, are hurt, not helped, by conflating their reality with identity and expression”. A complete misread of the entire premise of trans activism, the whole point of trans activism is to uncouple biology from identity. It’s also bold to imply that intersex people are harmed by trans activism (especially by implying that they do something they don’t), since intersex individuals have gotten much more recognition and advocacy alongside trans activism than without. Them.us, a trans news and activist site consistently publishes tons of articles promoting real intersex people, their stories, their issues. Trans activism has done far more good for intersex people than the concept of binary sex, which Elliott defends in the next quote.
Elliott then quotes Claire, an intersex woman, “Unnecessary surgeries on babies with differences in sex development never happened because doctors didn’t know the infants’ sex… It was because they believed society would never be able to accept their different bodies as the sex they are”. This is kind of a deceptive quote. Claire doesn’t say why society wouldn’t accept their bodies because if she did she would be forced to admit that the reason is that a rigid binary sex system creates the idea that if people who deviate too much from the binary should not exist, that they are “disordered” and must be corrected, and the reason they “must be corrected” is because they are “ambiguous”. Elliott signs off with “Sex is not a spectrum, it’s a binary, a gene-defined dimorphic system of development which allows us to reproduce in the first place… Do [intersex people] have a third gamete? Are intersex people a third sex? Are they not male or female?”.
This idea of gamete production categorisation of sex is further explored in a subsequent video “Why Sex Is Binary”, yet it is lost on him that basing sex on the gametes you produce completely excludes otherwise biologically typical sterile people who don’t produce gametes, as well as lots of intersex people, it’s basically the same argument as “if you can’t have babies you’re not a woman”. Except Elliott takes it one step further, he claims that the developmental pathway your gonads take is undoubtedly your biological sex (except when its convenient for his argument to claim otherwise), which is again quite silly because there are DSDs where you can be outwardly developmentally female, but have testes, like Emily Quinn, who gave a TED talk in 2019 on the subject of intersex. This also goes against his earlier claim that morphology is not gender or sex. Although again, the whole point of this argument is to later argue that sex is binary so gender is too, when again, that’s the same false equivalency from earlier.
Since it keeps coming up over and over again, if you want a definition of gender from someone with authority on the subject, Judith Butler, renowned feminist scholar & philosopher, describes gender in her critically acclaimed Gender Trouble (1990) as “the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce over time the appearance of substance, of a natural sorted being”. Or in simpler terms, its the surface level performance/aesthetic that society enforces that results in categorization, as opposed to the categorization being the starting point or goal.
In “Sex vs. Gender”, Elliott states that “99.98%” of births are unambiguously male or female”, and provides no source. This statement is only in the video out of context to lead the viewer to the conclusion that most people will never meet an intersex person in their life, and that they should not be considered for the rest of the video when he talks about gender. Even if this were true, 0.02% of the entire human population is a whole lot of people, 1 in 5,000, it really isn’t a small number. In a more recent study it was estimated that up around 1 in 100 of all people have some form of DSD, in an analytical article covering it, they state that 1/3 of listed conditions lead to ambiguous genitalia, granted that’s not the same as 1/3 of the total 1/100, but 0.02% is still a whole of people, likely millions.
Anyway back to the point of the video, this is where the meat of anti-trans anti-logic is at. “While it may be true that more boys than girls play with trucks, it would be incorrect to say that 1) all boys play with trucks, and 2) that boys SHOULD play with trucks simply because they are boys.” Correct, keep going Elliott, you’re almost there! “Because of this, predicting an individual’s behavior and interests based on stereotyped behavioral patterns is not without serious flaws” - YES YES YES HE’S DOING IT, HE’S DOING IT!! “What happens when gender, not sex, becomes your immutable trait? Such a phenomenon is happening now” - wait… what? No Zach, you’ve completely misread the entire issue… “Our society used to say a girl who plays with male-typical toys was a tomboy. Now we say she is a boy, that she should become a boy. But, why? Only if you believe that gender expression is the indicator of your true sex” - Zach… are you in there buddy?? Anyone home? I think your brain stopped working…
Elliott seems to think that the early popular trans-activism is the trans-activism of today. Pretty much no politically engaged trans person today will tell you that they were a boy trapped in a girl’s body, because that’s the bogus narrative they used to tell media people like Zachary Elliot so they’d give them basic human rights and recognition.
Trans people are just being interested in the things that they’re interested in, they’re changing their presentation, and behaviors to ones that are more comfortable, in other words, they are changing their outward gender, the aesthetic. The tomboy analogy is silly too, the structures of society would rather crash and burn than tell people they are trans, because then society would have to accommodate for their trans-ness (something they clearly don’t want to do) if you actually believe this, you should go and talk to a trans man, they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s more than just playing with trucks or, to use a more accurate LGBT term, being butch (if that trans man is even butch in the first place). Many trans exclusionary feminists will claim that trans men are “opting out of their oppression” as a woman, as if living as a trans man in a deeply transphobic society is easier than living as a woman in a semi-literally patriarchal one.
Also, as we mentioned earlier, we live in a society that still relies heavily on binary gender, if you want to be accepted as a functioning member of society, well, you’re gonna want to fit in with the majority of your gender group, not everyone can be a revolutionary activist and not everyone wants to be after all. For some trans people that means medical transition, but lots of trans people never get to medically transition, and lots don’t even want to. So it’s not the trans activists who are conflating gender and sex, its you Zachary Elliot. Hilariously, almost all of Elliott’s videos are about how in the case of intersex people, sex and gender should not be conflated something that nobody was ever saying anyway, yet Elliott consistently conflated sex and gender for trans people, purely out of necessity for his anti-trans points to make sense.
I really don’t have the energy to keep writing, I may come back in a few weeks to edit this, but for now, I’ve done all I can handle.
In 1984, Paul Westerberg wrote ‘Androgynous’, a song about a non-binary couple of the time, the nuances of their identities, their struggles for recognition, and government pandering/discrimination.
In 2021, the song has been covered by Jubilee, Crash Test Dummies, Ezra Furman, Miley Cyrus, Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, Joan Jett, Peace. In other words, there has been a consistent push for trans and non-binary rights from regular people since the 80s, and likely since gender has existed as a cultural concept. At the very least, we have not progressed in over 35 years. It is not acceptable.