Mar 21, 2022Liked by Kathleen Stock

Speaking of fiction, my friends and I grew up on a heavy doses of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena the Warrior Princess. I often wonder how much of an impact the fantasy of a woman using her strength to beat up gangs of men has had on my generation's understanding of reality. As the only high school athlete in my friend group, I had daily exposure to the reality of the physical differences between boys and girls, but everyone else rarely encountered this. Twenty years later I'm having asinine conversations with the same friend group about whether TW's have an advantage in sport.

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Mar 23, 2022Liked by Kathleen Stock

I think you go futher than in Material Girls on the dangers of fictions and yet I think there is futher to go yet. The extended fictions place life-long constraints on those imagining themselves other and on others to believe and to acquiesce to unusual demands. But what is the long term impact of providing those special rights to make a series of non-trivial demands on others when they are kept in place by threats, compulsion and even legal mandates?

Membership of this special group is on the basis of self-selection and thus open to groups of people who are likely to have one of the following characteristics a) high levels of existing, untreated mental health issues and b)never havinvg gone through puberty and have thus have not gone through the associated social maturation processes c) people who seek to take advantage of the special rights on offer who would not otherwise consider themselves to be transgender. Such a grouping is likely to make great demands of the coerction and legal remedies on offer to keep imagined realities aloft.

I expect over time self-id norms will permeate society at large. We will often not know who we are speaking to, (or even if we do will not be able to refer to the dissonance). We will not know who has a made up back story and who has not. We may begin to feel unable to speak frankly with or about anyone we have not known all their lives. Others will do the same with us in case we are not who we purport to be. I believe that we are entering unknown territory and self-id will break the social contract that we have with each other. The ways that groups of humans build bonds of trust are being altered massively at just the time we are facing huge new pressures - environment, climate change, deep fakes, changes from real-life to online relationships, authoritarian governments, the failure of liberalism and a low trust in democracy. As a result I do not believe we have any idea where this will end and what we may lose.

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Apr 1, 2022·edited Apr 3, 2022Liked by Kathleen Stock

As a GP, I worry deeply about the capacity for this fiction to take hold in adolescent peer groups, particularly among teenage girls, and more particularly among those with histories of adverse childhood experiences. Perhaps adolescent identity formation always involves a degree of immersive fiction, as affiliations and identities are explored and discarded. What we mustn't do is mistake the fiction for reality, or the transient for permanent. Medical interventions for these vulnerable, suggestible individuals currently risk causing irreversible lifelong damage, setting children onto treatment pathways that may end up rendering them infertile and sexually non-functioning. While Bell vs Tavistock goes through the courts, these interventions may be largely paused in the UK, but we only have to look across the Atlantic to see where we could be heading. In the meantime, the profession is starting to think more deeply about the complex issues involved, as Hilary Cass's recent review of gender identity services for children and young people demonstrates:




It seems absolutely vital to me that doctors continue pushing back against the activist doctrine of 'affirmation', which insists we collude with the fiction, and that we defend our usual ethical stance of neutrality, which enables empathic exploration of the many complex dimensions of an individual's distress.

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Mar 28, 2022·edited Mar 28, 2022Liked by Kathleen Stock

Kathleen, here's a short follow-up to our earlier exchange about trangenderism and liberalism. I've been reflecting on how we think about bodily autonomy, and how this relates to transgenderism.

As regards what is sometimes called gender confirmation surgery (GCS), there are three main possible positions. (A) Nobody should ever have GCS. It is morally wrong to modify a human body in that way. (B). GCS should be available, but only where certain medical preconditions are met (e.g. a diagnosis of gender dysphoria). (C). GCS should be available to any adult who wants it. Their body, their choice.

You don't often hear arguments for position A. Position B has been widely supported until recently, but position C is now gaining ground.

Compare the following case. Alice grew up as part of a cultural group that practises FGM. Alice herself did not undergo FGM in childhood, but as an adult she now wishes to do so, in order to feel fully part of her cultural group. She wants the procedure to be carried out by a medical practitioner in safe and hygienic conditions. Should she get what she wants? (A). Definitely not. Any medical practitioner who provides Alice with what she is asking for should be struck off and/or convicted of assault. Alice's consent makes no difference. (B). Yes, but only if refusal would cause her serious psychiatric injury. (C). Definitely yes. Her body, her choice.

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In reading, I am continually reminded of accounts of pathological narcissism. Narcissism is the survival into adulthood of infantile intra-and inter-relating. It is a whole personality functioning as psychological defence, against the pain of envy and the pain of loss of self. It is *all* story-telling, to the cost of the individual and those who love them.

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Mar 22, 2022·edited Mar 22, 2022

It is interesting that the rise of the immersive fictions that you discuss seems contemporaneous with the corporate exploitation of literary and cinematic properties into "universes" that spinoff movies, TV Series, books, comics etc in a plethora of interconnecting stories, along with associated fandoms, cosplay events, collectables, user generated artwork, stories and commentary in podcasts and YouTube, etc, etc. Rather immersive.

And that of the two most powerful authorial voices of those properties, George Lucas tends to be seen as failing to deliver with the prequels, and has relinquished control to Disney, and Rowling, well...you know. Ironically, the fans of these things would seem to prefer to see corporations in charge than the Creators.

Also, it appears relevant that a common criticism from trans activists and allies is that such and such a fact/statistic/argument is bad because it "advances or supports a narrative" that is deemed bad (in other words is incompatible with their narrative.)

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Your piece suggests to me a distinction between what one might call "steady state liberalism", and progressivism. The former wants to identify and defend a set of core freedoms, recognising that this work is never completed (eternal vigilance and all that). By contrast, progressivism has no resting-point, always looking for new worlds to conquer and new ways of showing that you are on the right side of history. Steady state liberalism is meliorist, or even Sisyphean. Progressivism is Milan Kundera's "Grand March".

The gender wars illustrate the difference between these two outlooks. Steady state liberals are dismayed when gender critical voices are silenced. Progressives celebrate the silencing: "free speech does not mean consequence-free speech."

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During his nurse-training in the late seventies my partner observed some of the small percentage of teenagers who really had been 'born in the wrong body' - language becomes metaphorical where it is logically impossible to have another person's experience; this whole area reminds me of LW's discussion of feeling another's pain - the transitioning of these people was disconcertingly straightforward, so absolutely necessary was it. Apart from the crims in wigs and middle-aged saddoes (other people's sexual fantasies are so tedious) most of this nonsense seems to be about people in search of a story; but what they are finding is a fiction, which is not sufficient for a story. Thank you for this and Material Girls. They made me join the LGB alliance; some of us have never had a 'gender'-related thought in our lives. The quality of thought on display in yr stuff - though I am a non-proselytising 'Christian' (I much prefer Anglican) and Gray never impressed me much - made me even prouder to have done Philosophy at St A's back in the '80s during the glory days of Crispin Wright: I still reread the Investigations and On Certainty every five years or so.

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Awesome essay; a thoroughly fascinating and comprehensive survey of what is, more or less, the trans-delusion; a commendable “beating of the bounds” of that “slough of despond”. Although I hope your peregrinations around it will be more frequent than once every seven years. 🙂

But not least because transgenderism seems to be the proximate cause of so much pervasive, pernicious, and toxic rot in law, biology, and academia – or maybe it’s just the tip of the iceberg holing the ship of state below the water line. In any case, I quite agree with you that transgenderism provides something of a fascinating, if not arresting and damning, study of the consequences of “abandoning truth as a direct aim” in favour of pursuing fictions and flattering fantasies instead.

And those consequences can be rather damning indeed. You no doubt know of Posie Parker’s – Kellie-Jay Keen’s – emblazoning of the definition for “woman” – i.e., “adult human female” – all across the UK on various billboards and buildings in letters 10 feet high. Which has to be seen as the modern-day equivalent of “mene mene tekel upharsin”; the writing on the walls in more ways than one. If we, if society doesn’t fully endorse and promote that definition – without equivocation or evasiveness or bias, as primary bedrock, as a fundamental axiom of discourse – then the judgement of history may well be starker than any of us wish to contemplate or experience. As Jacob – The Ascent of Man – Bronowski once put it:

“We are a scientific civilization: that means, a civilization in which knowledge and its integrity are crucial. .... We are being weighed in the balance at this moment. If we [abandon those principles], the next step will be taken – but not by us. We have not been given any guarantee that Assyria and Egypt and Rome were not given.”

And that repudiation of “knowledge and its integrity” is no more evident than, as you suggest or pointedly argue, than in transgenderism and all of its odious manifestations. I have been – I guess I still am to some extent – an editor at Wikipedia. Or at least I had been until I got “banned” for challenging the “conventional wisdom” there that supposedly justifies their assertion, in their article on transwoman and Olympian Laurel Hubbard, that “she” had “transitioned to female”. Such rank insanity; why I subsequently argued that Wikipedia, on virtually anything that has anything to do with sex and gender, is engaging in outright Lysenkoism, the paradigmatic repudiation of knowledge in favour of outright fictions and ideological claptrap:


But while Wikipedia sort of alludes to – in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of way – the use of “female” as a gender, the fact of the matter is there’s no coherent definition for “female” as a gender, only as a sex. As Helen Joyce once cogently put it – in her Quillette article on “She Who Must Not Be Named”:

"The problem is that 'female' is not something you can identify as. It's a word with an objective definition [like 'teenager'] that holds right across all of biology, and hardly any of the things it refers to are capable of identifying as anything. It means: 'of or denoting the sex class that produces large gametes (ova)' ...."

Which brings me to your opening salvo, your quite justified criticisms of how so much of feminism has “embraced the stupid story”. No doubt an interesting “story” in itself and, arguably, the crux of the matter on which I will look forward to reading your further elaborations.

But it’s a topic that I’ve looked into in some depth myself – a cogent observation and analysis by feminist philosopher Amia Srinivasan who I’ve quoted in my Medium article above:

“The objection I have in mind is that feminist philosophy rests on a mistake: namely, a conflation of epistemology and politics. Philosophy, at least on the conventional understanding, is an epistemic project, a project oriented toward truth or knowledge, and thus committed to the kind of unfettered inquiry that is conducive to the acquisition of truth and knowledge. Feminism meanwhile is a political project, a project oriented toward the emancipation of women and the dissolution of patriarchy.”

No doubt a worthwhile project in itself, some parts more so than others; as Canadian suffragette Nellie McClung once argued, with a great deal of justification, “no nation rises higher than its women”. But that “project” can not be at the expense of “knowledge and its integrity”. And, rather sadly, the fact of the matter is that far too much of “feminism” is absolutely riven with ideological biases of one sort or another; quite an thorough and detailed summary of that argument here from Marco Del Giudice of the University of New Mexico:


Which brings me around to your own highly problematic contribution to that repudiation of “knowledge and its integrity”:

“There’s the annoying fact that biological sex in humans is immutable.”

But that rather unscientific if not anti-scientific and anti-intellectual assertion is flatly contradicted by standard biological definitions – which is exactly what Helen Joyce underlined in her Quillette article. A fairly succinct summary of that position is provided by an Aeon article by Paul Griffiths – university of Sydney professor, co-author of “Genetics and Philosophy”:

"Nothing in the biological definition of sex requires that every organism be a member of one sex or the other. That might seem surprising, but it follows naturally from *defining* each sex by the ability to do one thing: make eggs or make sperm. Some organisms can do both, while some can't do either."


To have a sex, to be male or female, is to have functional gonads of either of two types, those without either are thereby sexless. Hardly “immutable” – the prepubescent and eunuchs, of both sexes, being sufficient refutation of the assertion. As much as far too many women wish to believe the “fiction”, the "bias" to the contrary.

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Any plans afoot to address my earlier comments?

Particularly relative to your rather untenable assertion that “biological sex in humans is immutable”? Which has to qualify as one of the more egregious cases of “special pleading” that I’ve ever run across. Something that doesn’t look good on anyone, much less on someone who otherwise has some credible claims to being a more or less intellectually honest philosopher.

More particularly, I geddit why you, most women, and many other philosophers, many of whom hardly deserve the title, would want to fall back on a quite idiosyncratic and self-serving re-definition based on structure. As you put it in your own, “The importance of Referring to Sex in Language”: “each sex is defined by the presence of a developmental pathway to produce certain gamete types”.

However, the standard biological definitions – which even Helen Joyce endorses even if she balks at the final hurdle – is based not on structure, but on process: “produces ova” or “produces sperm” – present tense indefinite. The “necessary and sufficient condition" there is the ongoing ability, a rather transitory one at that, to produce either of two types of gametes: no process, no membership card. Which you alluded to with your own “intentionally” with respect to chromosomes.

But it seems to me, and to many others, that far too much of the corpus – if not the corpse – of academic philosophy is still stuck in the “footnotes to Plato”, still stuck in something of an “essentialist” perspective which is rather flatly contradicted by a more scientific perspective. You may wish to read quite a good essay at "Psychology Today" by Robert King who underlines that dichotomy:

“No one has the essence of maleness or femaleness, for one simple reason: Since the 17th century, what science has been showing, in every single field, is that the folk notion of an 'essence' is not reflected in reality. There are no essences in nature. For the last three hundred years or so, the advance of science has been in lockstep with the insight that is what really exists are processes, not essences.”


Process, not structure is the “sine qua non” for the sexes, at least based on the biological definitions for them.



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