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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I have wondered that too. See also, Black Widow in the Avengers.. and I also wonder about the reduction in opportunities for physical competition at school.

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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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Interesting thank you. I'm not as pessimistic as you about self-id norms permeating society at large. I think they require a specific sort of context to get a grip and that won't be found everywhere.

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"I believe that we are entering unknown territory and self-id will break the social contract that we have with each other."

I think your very dismal vision is not beyond bounds of possibility. In one Twitter exchange I had, I imagined a future where the cultural meanings of 'man' and 'woman' are lost and there is a only - globally - an undifferentiated multiplicity of rootless 'gender' 'citations'. My interlocutor was gleeful. The people who, today, thrill to disruption of 'heteronormativity' will be lost, and their descendants will want to 'disrupt the multiplicity'.

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But we can always tell a person's sex. There might be some very rare cases where it's hard to tell visually, but those are already a tiny number and the more visible trans people are, the more people learn (unconsciously) to recognize the tells that give even the most "passing" of them away. We can all play a huge game where we pretend not to recognize the sex of other people, but that's as far as it gets offline ("offline" being the important word in that sentence).

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I think I wouldn't put it as strongly as "always" - especially in the case of transmen who have taken testosterone for a good while, it can be impossible to tell on an ordinary encounter. Bu I do think most of the time we can, and there is a natural explanation for this universal ability - the species would die out if we couldn't. Our capacity to sex humans is a bit like a frog having the capacity to sense flies in the vicinity, so it can eat them - sometimes it gets it wrong and tries to eat something that isn't a fly but looks like one. But that doesn't mean the times it does eat flies is a coincidence or a fluke.

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Jan: “the dangers of fictions and yet I think there is futher to go yet”

Indeed – “one toke over the line”. More or less acceptable to “entertain” various fictions and fantasies, but there’s some danger, potential at least, of becoming unmoored and unhinged from “reality”.

But quite a solid “theme” that Kathleen used as a framework – something I’ve also used in my own article at Medium on “Reality and Illusion: Being (X) vs Identifying As (X)”:


A great many people clearly don’t seem to understand the difference between substance and appearance, between being X and identifying-as X, between reality and illusion; I blame video games ... 😉

But an interesting observation or perspective from the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, the Wikipedia article on which I’ve linked to in my article, and which Kathleen more or less used as a point of departure:

“According to Lawrence Kingsley, Albee’s characters create illusions to help them evade feelings of their own inadequacy—as ‘George and Martha have evaded the ugliness of their marriage by taking refuge in illusion.’ The play demonstrates ‘how his characters must rid themselves of falsehood and return to the world in which they must live.’ ....”

Guess the many “detransitioners” are the ones who have, thankfully, rid themselves of the “trans-delusion”; moot whether the rest will be able to do so.

Jan: “long term impact of providing those special rights to make a series of non-trivial demands on others”

Exactly. Far too many – the disingenuous, the clueless, or the politically motivated – ask, “what’s the harm in playing along with their fantasies?” If the “female gender identity” [what a profoundly risible and fraudulent “concept”] was just an “accessory” that we might all put on and take off as we do our shoes without any attendant rights and benefits being acquired or lost then, sure, we’re all females, we're all women:

“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together, I am the eggman [“ova-men”?], they are the eggmen; I am the walrus, goo goo a'joob” 🙄

But that is clearly not the case – a fact that various clowns, jokers, deluded idiots, and political opportunists, of all stripes, try to sweep under the carpet.

Jan: “I expect over time self-id norms will permeate society at large”

Might make an interesting “dystopian novel”, but I think more and more people are thankfully recognizing the profound idiocy and rank insanity of self-identification, and the pernicious problems that follow in its wake. We might just as well argue that a child of 12 who “self-identifies as 35” should be allowed to drive cars, and buy booze and cigarettes.

But somewhat apropos of which, interesting YouTube video wherein Boris Johnson acknowledges that “the basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important”, even if he doesn’t actually say, may well not know himself, which “facts of biology” are the important ones (i.e., the biological definitions for the sexes based on functional gonads of two and only two types):


Probably something of a shot across the bows of Keir Starmer, and company, who recently insisted that “a woman is an adult human female, and that transwomen are women”.

An oxymoron, a contradiction in terms – so transwomen, AKA male transvestites, are also females – or the result of conflating sex (reproductive abilities based on two types of gonads) and genders (basically personalities; billions and billions of them). A thorny question that too many refuse to acknowledge, much less grapple with; a bottomless pit wherein legions have been lost without a trace; a rabbit hole of insanity that is corrupting so much of law, philosophy – feminist in particular, politics, logic, and academia.

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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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I couldn't agree more.

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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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Yes I think the explosion of fictional universes is very interesting and potentially relevant .. and also the internet genres of fanfic and head canon (and other genres I'm too old to keep up with). The point you make about some arguments being bad because they "support a narrative' is (am afraid) standard for feminism for years. Some truths - or bits of suggestive evidence anyway -are highly inconvenient because they might easily be misused by powerful enemies, and so have been suppressed. I don't think that has proved a brilliant strategy in the end.

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Kathleen, part of what fascinates me is the extent to which this stuff is NOT talked about when it comes to gender issues. Teen girl interests are generally dismissed as being trivial. I have never seen ANYONE mention, for example, the rise in the early-mid 2010s of a *very* popular form of fanfiction that took place in an alternative universe in which men could get pregnant and give birth (the genre is called "omegaverse," if you want to risk a NSFW google search). Girls growing up in the 2010s (the nerdy, introverted ones anyway) marinated their brains in this stuff. And yet not even people interested in stuff like ROGD seem to know it exists.

It is frustrating to be screaming this stuff and so very few people listening!

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Thank you very much for that tip, I will go off to look at omegaverse..

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No problem at all, and I am glad to answer any follow-up questions if you have them... I feel like there are very few GC people who are inside fandom, or spent a lot of time in fandoms, so most people are not aware of how bizarre things have gotten.

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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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I think that steady state liberalism might have got us here though - not because its founders would have assented to the present state of affairs, but because the metaphors of "freedom" and "equality" have taken on a life of their own when combined with the idea that we each are the arbiter of what is best for us.

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Kathleen, this raises a really important issue about how we think of the relationship between trans ideology and liberalism. From what I've seen, gender critical people tend to take two different lines on this. Some GC people see themselves as liberals, and regard trans ideology (especially in its more intolerant manifestations) as a departure from liberalism. Others see themselves as postliberals, and see trans ideology as an illustration of what was wrong with liberalism all along. Roughly speaking, the Economist and Unherd - both of which have published a lot that is GC-friendly - illustrate these two different positions.

For those of us who are GC but have always thought of themselves as liberal, this is an uncomfortable debate. I feel there's a cluster of issues where I now depart from the left-liberal consensus: not just on trans issues, but also on sex work, surrogacy, and assisted dying. But at the same time, I want to live in a society that places a very high value on individual freedom and human rights. The trans debate is one factor that has left me feeling politically unsettled, not just in terms of party affiliation, but in terms of political ideology more generally.

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Thanks. This deserves more space than I can give it, and I hope to write a newsletter on liberalism and its relation to gender ideologies when I can get my thoughts straight - but in a nutshell I don't think postliberalism needs to abandon freedom or equality or rights, in some sense of "rights', as values. Indeed communitarianism/ common good accounts can explain why these are values in a way that liberalism can't, because liberalism can't supply any other ultimate account of the good than "what the individual wants". And of course the latter might include cutting off body parts or selling your body or your baby - but the liberal has nothing convincing to say about why this might be wrong. That's all a bit broadbrush but I think covers the jist of what I think!

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Thanks for this. I really hope you will write something on these topics. I will look forward to reading it!

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"what one might call 'steady state liberalism' ..."

One might argue that a more accurate model might be called "inflationary state liberalism" ... 😉

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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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Ha, thank you! That's a lovely compliment. I did a Masters at St Andrews in the 90s.- Crispin was still looming large.

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"born in the wrong body"

A rather risible concept - personally, I'm sure I had been slated to have been born in the body of Bill Gates, but that's the genetic lottery for you ... 🙄

No doubt many if not most of us periodically wish we'd had a different body. And those born with various medical conditions - Huntington's disease or childhood cancer for examples - might reasonably wish things had been otherwise. But "wrong body" seems to be looking at things through the wrong end of the telescope; not likely to get a new body but we might fix the ones we have - not including changing sexes.

And while it is certainly true that it is at least rather difficult to fully "have another person's experience", the question is whether entirely subjective claims to being a member of a sex category that are flatly contradicted by objective facts and quite objective criteria for sex category membership [functional gonads of either of two types] should be seen as anything other than an outright delusion.

While some concepts or aspects of gender - particularly "the range of characteristics pertaining to femininity and masculinity and differentiating between them" - has some merit, other aspects - "gender identity" in particular - looks more like a Frankensteinian monster, a transmogrification of those more credible aspects. A transmogrification that much of feminism bears some responsibility for - one of those "risible absurdities", of several, that Kathleen has alluded to.


Somewhat apropos of which, you both might be interested in a post by the "Parents with Inconvenient Truths about Trans":


"Society must defeat this Gender Ideology cult craze, and it will. But think past simply defeating it: a dangerous Gnostic delusion has destroyed the lives of countless young people ...."

Although, as suggested, I think they're tarring all of gender with the brush of gender identity. But that latter concept seems to be more or less precisely what might reasonably be seen as a "gnostic delusion":

"Gnosis refers to knowledge based on personal experience or perception."


That many people have had a "personal perception" of being Jesus or Napoleon or the Mahdi is no reason whatsoever to play along with their delusions, with their fantasies or desperate fictions.

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I agree with you with you about this trans business in general and about the philosophic background; and I am extremely angry about the low bar to teenage sex changes revealed in the Tavvy case, and about - with, actually - the parents who encourage such changes for homophobic and other (a-hem) debatable reasons; my partner too. But as I possibly did not make clear, he was (as it were, merely) surprised at the complete absence of any regret by the transitioned people in the tiny sample of a tiny minority he observed in his work 40 years ago. Things were perhaps policed better back then.

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"extremely angry", indeed. Hard not to see "parents encouraging" such transitions as prima facie evidence of child abuse. "a medical scandal unfolding in plain sight" as Kathleen put it.

But certainly many "transitioners" seem happy with the results and don't show much if any "regret". Andrea Long Chu - what a name - for example. Though not sure how much of that might be making the best of a bad choice.

But many others seem rather peeved, at best, at being tricked into that choice - as Kathleen's reference to the 27k members on the Detrans Subreddit would suggest. Kinda think that they probably have a better grasp on "reality", and are not quite so ready and willing to fool themselves. Quite a good essay by Michele Goldberg on "The Trans Women Who Say That Trans Women Aren’t Women", though it should be "transwomen" - compound word like "crayfish" which ain't:


Of particular note from Goldberg on transwoman Helen Highwater:

"Though 'trans women are women' has become a trans rights rallying cry, Highwater writes, it primes trans women for failure, disappointment, and cognitive dissonance. She calls it a 'vicious lie.' ...."

Amen to that.

But the whole phenomenon is something of a bizarre if quite fascinating puzzle, although I think it provides something of an entry point into understanding how we all develop our senses of self. Arguably, transwomen - for example - have a surfeit of empathy: they "identify" with someone of the opposite sex - mothers, probably - to such an extent that they lose contact with their own selves. "The Chameleon Man" of Woody Allen's Zelig:



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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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Sorry, you will have to spell out your objection to biology being immutable. Would it follow from the definition you favour that if I don't produce ova I'm not female?

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It’s not a question of “biology being immutable”, but whether, in general, membership in categories is necessarily so – the “female” sex category in particular. Though it’s maybe moot whether “mutability” is applicable to categories themselves as they are only abstractions and mental constructions.

But, analogously, is membership in the category “teenager” immutable? Once granted, never to be rescinded? Or do people – or members of other sexually-reproducing species in the case of "female" – lose their membership cards therein when they can no longer pay the dues? When, as Wikipedia puts it, they no longer possess “the properties that an object needs to have in order to be counted as a referent of the term”?


But I think I did, in fact, “spell out my objection to [the sex categories] being immutable” in some detail in an earlier comment which you apparently didn’t bother to read or think about in much depth. Of particular note thereat was a comment, from an Aeon article by Paul Griffiths – university of Sydney, philosophy professor, philosophy of biology, co-author of Genetics and Philosophy – that underlines my argument:

"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."

That “ability to do one thing: make eggs or make sperm” is the “necessary and sufficient condition” to qualify any entity as a member of the male or female sex categories. No ability to do so, ergo no membership card; many individuals are thereby sexless. For all sexually-reproducing species; no exceptions.

But it’s rather curious, if sardonically disconcerting, that so many feminists will, quite justifiably, throw stones at transwomen, in particular, for trying to make “female” and thereby “woman” into some sort of “immutable” and mythic identity yet seem bound and determined to do likewise. Pots and kettles.

You may wish to take a gander at an article by Jane Clare Jones – particularly as she starts off by quoting you – wherein she made a rather cogent if not more or less absolutely brilliant observation, though maybe not as well-phrased as it could have been – even if she subsequently snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by insisting that “Infertile Women Are Women” (IWAW !!11!! 🙄):

“Because I’m going to say that what’s being concealed is the reality of sex, and the conflation of sex and gender enabled by pretending this horrendous clusterfuck is a bun-fight over some mythic essence of womanhood which confers some kind of privilege we’re all so jealously guarding.”


Hard not to see that “bun-fight” as evidence of a cat-fight over who’s going to claim the golden apple “for the fairest”. Sexes are just transitory categories with quite specific and hard-edged criteria for membership; they’re most certainly not “immutable identities” based on some “mythic essence” – notwithstanding the bogus claims of being “offended” coming from many on both sides.

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Have you found that being really arsey with people encourages them to respond to you in life? Interesting strategy :) In haste - I didn't see the full comment, no, - I didn't click on the "expand" but now I have. I don't agree with the definition you offered and am unimpressed by the fact that a biologist made it - I know plenty of biologists who would disagree so that leaves us neither here nor there. Prepubescent females are still female, menopausal women are still female, etc so that definition you prefer is pretty anachronistic as far as ordinary language goes. It's much more sensible imo to talk about a disposition/ developmental pathway to produce sperm or eggs, which can be disrupted by variation, disease, age, etc. I offer a detailed discussion of possible accounts of sex in my book.

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Sorry about that Chief 😉, although you may wish to consider your own comment - "engage with me"; sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander - that JCJ quoted in her article. You really haven't at all addressed my charge of special pleading.

But, sure, some biologists might disagree with me, but some "biologists" - like PZ Myers - will insist that sex is a spectrum; would you endorse their views? Some analysis is required - which "thesis" holds more water?

However, the functional definition IS what is specified in virtually all dictionary definitions, and is in fact what Helen Joyce endorsed. To wit:

"Of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male gametes."


You see ANYTHING at all there about structures, about "form" as JCJ Herself desperately insists on peddling? If rather incoherently.


Your "prepubescent females are females" is little more than an ipse dixit, an assertion based on an insistence on accepting your premise, your article of faith that it is form not process that should be used as the "necessary and sufficient condition" to qualify individuals as members of the sex categories. That may well have some utility, but it is flatly contradicted by various published definitions that have some currency in biological literature and philosophy:


"This is not an empirical observation, but a definition: in a system with two markedly different gamete sizes, we DEFINE females to be the sex that produces the larger gametes and vice-versa for males (Parker et al. 1972), and the same definition applies to the female and male functions in hermaphrodites."

But I'm curious - like you, as to reasons and causes - why so many, mostly women by the look of it, are, apparently, so desperate to retain their memberships in the "female" category. The word is just a label; the transitory function it denotes is not the be-all and end-all of a person: neither of us winked-out of existence when we lost our memberships in the "teenager" category ...

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Again in brief: what you propose as a category seems to me utterly useless for most common purposes of reference, not just for humans but any animal which goes through a menopause (which is a lot of them though many die shortly after though not all do). You propose (if I get you right - and I may not, because your writing style is quite circuitous) that female individuals cease to have biological sexes after they cease to actually produce eggs. Presumably you also think, or you should do given your starting point, that any male who has a vasectomy or otherwise loses the capacity to ejaculate live sperm is a sexless ex-male. So (I assume) these all go into one big sexless category, according to you, alongside the males and the females. Yet the ex-males and the ex-females in the sexless category will continue to have big differences between them, in terms of health and physical capacity if nothing else, based on their past membership of either male or female. So in fact, there's a continued need to distinguish the (according to you) sexless ex-males from the sexless-ex females. So now, for the purposes of efficient reference, we need two new extra categories - males, females, ex-males, ex-females - on your taxonomy. And so now we could just as easily stick with what we already have which is 'male' and 'female' as the umbrella categories for all of them, and then 'post-menopausal females', 'post-vasectomy males' etc as sub-kinds. In other words, what you propose is either not fit for the purpose of common and useful kinds of reference, or else a giant, inefficient, and ultimately pointless exercise in word-replacement whilst leaving underlying categories intact.

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Just to add - I'm afraid I won't be engaging with this question any more even if you press it. I have a feeling I have encountered you several times on twitter in the past, or at least, I've had run-ins with someone with this very same taxonomical obsession, and my life is too short to keep thrashing it out.

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"what you propose as a category seems to me utterly useless"

That you may think that category definition is useless is clearly not what the many biologists - and philosopher of biology (Paul Griffiths) - I've quoted think; you really might want to read Griffiths' Aeon essay in some detail.

But you probably know of Holly Lawford-Smith who underlined those same definitions of Parker, Lehtonen, and Griffiths, and of Lexico and the OED:

"Whenever you chat to a biologist about what they understand ‘sex’ to be – and I have chatted to a few – they tend to talk about large and small gametes. Human sexual reproduction proceeds through the combination of sex cells of two different sizes (this is known as anisogamy): small gametes (sperm) and large gametes (ova). Males produce sperm, and females produce eggs. Almost no definitions that we give in philosophy have a single necessary condition, but sex is one of the few instances where such a definition works well."


The "single necessary condition" is functional gonads. Period. Applicable to all sexually-reproducing species.

In addition, you really haven't at all addressed the fact that the standard dictionary definitions echo the biological ones - almost word for word. Do they say anything at all about structure or form? Or is it all about the presence of a quite transitory process?

You and most feminists seem to be peddling a definition that is flatly contradicted by the biological one. Do you seriously think that biology can have one definition while sociology has a quite contradictory one?

Many feminists seem to think that the sun never sets on the feminist empire, that their definitions and terminology should hold sway everywhere, that feminism is be-all and end-all, the only measure of all things. You might consider that as the proximate cause of many of those "risible absurdities" you talked of.

In any case, I'm not sure that your "sexless ex-males" and "sexless ex-females" isn't little more than a red-herring, a disingenuous straw-man. Griffiths emphasizes, in some detail, that sex isn't all that useful for the "social-engineering" objectives it's being pressed into performing. But that that should not lead to the corruption of science and the biological definitions on which so much of our civilization depends:

"Human societies can’t delegate to biology the job of defining sex as a social institution. The biological definition of sex wasn’t designed to ensure fair sporting competition, or to settle disputes about access to healthcare. Theorists who want to use the biological definition of sex in those ways need to show that it will do a good job at the Olympics or in Medicare. The fact that it’s needed in biology isn’t good enough. On the other hand, whatever its shortcomings as an institutional definition, the concept of biological sex remains essential to understand the diversity of life. It shouldn’t be discarded or distorted because of arguments about its use in law, sport or medicine. That would be a tragic mistake."


Think that you and far too many other feminists have a rather short-sighted if not narrow-minded perception of the issues in play; that you're engaging in that "distortion" that Griffiths talked of. What you are doing is little short of outright Lysenkoism - the "deliberate distortion of scientific facts or theories for purposes that are deemed politically, religiously or socially desirable".

You may wish to read my own tale of woe on that score, my banning as a Wikipedian editor for challenging the "risible absurdity" that Laurel Hubbard" had "transitioned to female":


That's what happens when you put feelings and wishful-thinking ahead of facts.

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Oh yes, why on earth would "so many women" have a problem with people trying to erase them as a category? Why aren't we all just thrilled to be lectured by random smug internet males about how perhaps "sex is a spectrum" (what is the spectrum measured in? What is the intermediary gamete? A spegg?)

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Pray tell, where did I say ANYTHING about sex being a spectrum?

If you'd make some effort to put brain in gear before putting mouth in motion and actually read what I've said then you might realize I'm NOT saying there are more than two sexes.

What I'm saying is that many members of many species - including the human one - are sexless. The standard biological definitions stipulate that to have a sex is to have functional gonads of either of two types. Which means that those who have neither are thereby sexless.

You too might read a very good essay by Paul Griffiths - philosophy of biology, 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."


That IS standard terminology in many biological textbooks and journals. Not to mention standard dictionaries like the OED.

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debaaaate meeeeee

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"debaate meee"

You might try reading JCJ's article which describe both Kathleen's and JCJ's call to Alison Phipps to debate them. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.


And I think I have a far better case than does Phipps who, on the basis of a quick skim of her sample, is looking a bit unhinged. For instance

"[the] key tactics [of those rejecting gender ideology] are opposing women’s rights ...; defending heterosexuality and the nuclear family; and opposing the substitution of the biological language of ‘sex’ with the social and cultural term ‘gender’."


Phipps may have a point about Trump insisting that "biological sex is immutable" - something that Kathleen tends to endorse; strange bedfellows and all that ... - but hard not to see the "substitution of 'sex' with ... gender'" as a serious problem.

In any case, Kathleen has - quite credibly and commendably - pointed to the many "risible absurdities" in so much of feminism - Phipps a case in point. But I think my many links and quotes point to and discuss many of those same absurdities - which one would think Kathleen would be interested in delving into ...

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Kathleen is an actual philosopher with genuinely compelling ideas; it's reasonable for her to want to debate and for people to be interested. You are a 'debate me bro' hoping to sound philosophical by using strange pompous language and talking down to people. You are not the same.

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Certainly some "genuinely compelling ideas" - she certainly has me on tenterhooks, waiting with bated breath for her elaboration on those "risible absurdities" that she, with some justification, seems to think characterizes too much of feminism.

I've even suggested a few avenues that she might pursue, notably the argument that feminism is less a philosophy than a political project - which is probably why it manifests so much quite egregious Lysenkoism. And, as part of that Lysenkoism, that there's a great deal of "ideological bias in the psychology of sex and gender", much of it encompassed - if not swallowed hook, line, and sinker - by great swaths of feminism. Part and parcel of what the reviewers of "Professing Feminism" referred to as the "virulent anti-science, anti-intellectual sentiment driving many of the professors, staff and students” in many Women Studies programs:


However, for all of the more or less credible arguments and positions she has made and endorsed - which I've conceded many times and in many places, she has certainly made and taken many others that are rather untenable at best if not responsible for creating a few "risible absurdities" of her own. For instance, she once argued for a cluster category definition of the sexes, that there's "no set of characteristics a male or female must have, to count as such":


However, the fact of the matter is that cluster categories - polythetic categories - boil down into spectra - which makes it rather moot at best what uniquely differentiates males from females, of all sexually-reproducing species. Although one might be encouraged that, of late, she has apparently repudiated that argument - progress ...


But even if the latest and fairly common version, - i.e., "the presence of a developmental pathway to produce certain gamete types" - is flatly contradicted by standard definitions published in various reputable dictionaries such as the OED and Lexico. And which have been explicitly published in and by any number reputable journals, biologists, and philosophers of biology. To wit:

"female: Of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male gametes."


You see anything at all there about any "developmental pathways"? The necessary and sufficient condition, what DISTINGUISHES females from males, from those who are not females, is the ability to produce ova: no functional ovaries, not a female. Q.E.D.


One would think that that any philosopher worth their salt might be somewhat nonplussed at best, if not feeling a great deal of trepidation, at seeing a popular and well-regarded definition, one with a great deal of currency in the biological literature, that flatly contradicts their own rather idiosyncratic definition, one that leads to any number of quite "risible absurdities". That Kathleen - and most feminists, if not most women - has repeatedly refused to address that contradiction, that I've repeatedly brought to her attention, is not a good look at all.

Almost as if there was some "ideological bias" in play ...

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It's amazing how you can magically recognize what a woman is when it comes to which intellectual superiors you choose to treat with utter condescension.

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"magically recognize what a woman is ..."

You mean because I referred to Kathleen as "she" and "her"? Generally, words can be used in a nominal sense, for reference purposes only:

"(of a role or status) existing in name only."


If someone LOOKS like a woman then those pronouns are useful for discussion purposes without that meaning one accepts any claim to that state.

As for "condescension", respect is a two-way street. Given her "reluctance" to address the contradictions to her "articles of faith" that I've described in some detail, given her rather dismissive attitude to what I've put on the table, I don't see that I've been particularly harsh. And particularly given her more or less credible criticism of the "be kind" mantra of so many on the left:


You might want to be a bit more critical of who and what you read; Kathleen doesn't walk on water, she's as fallible as any of us, even if more knowledgeable in some areas than others. Think of Richard Feynman's quip:

"Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look at what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, 'Is it reasonable?' "

You think it "reasonable" that she claims that "sex in humans is immutable" when standard biological definitions show that to be so much errant moonshine?


"Richard Feynman said that science is 'a belief in the ignorance of experts.' Modern scientists [and philosophers] need to do a better job of showing the public that science [and philosophy] is fueled by doubt and the constant revision of ideas as new evidence comes to light."


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