Apr 2, 2022Liked by James J. Heaney

I have trouble separating transgenderism from, call it, "tomboyishness". Describing transgenderism as a sense like sight, taste and touch helps but alluding to barbies and hot wheels undoes a lot of that work, making transgenderism a label for people with astereotypical preferences. I really don't like that sentence. Even as a sense, I don't think I understand transgenderism. I feel like a blind person trying to learn about color. But, the article helped nonetheless. I've moved from completely confused to just confused.

If you need a block quote for Facebook that won't get you banned, I'd use this:

"But our inability to name the thing makes it impossible for us to see the thing, which in turn makes it impossible for us to study the thing, to know the thing, to interact with the thing. In a society where "water" is erased from the language, recognized only through facets of itself rather than as a unified whole... well, let's just say that society is going to have a lot of trouble building bridges, or hydroelectric dams, or wells, or raising crops, or putting out fires."

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Apr 3, 2022·edited Apr 4, 2022Author

"Even as a sense, I don't think I understand transgenderism. I feel like a blind person trying to learn about color."

Yeah, I think this is probably about right. The way it's often been explained to me is that it's like our innate sense of balance. We don't even notice we have it, because it's just so natural and normal and constant -- but we would certainly notice if it were broken and made us constantly feel off balance all the time!

That said, because it is something so inaccessible to us, it is fair to ask questions (even pointed questions) about what exactly the nature of it is. A sense? A feeling? A judgment? One reason I enjoyed the short story "I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter" so much was that the story's main purpose was to help understand the experience trans people describe (although it was not so helpful for labeling!).

"If you need a block quote for Facebook that won't get you banned, I'd use this:"

Oh, I like that! Imma use that!

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From the way I think of it there's a difference between gender identity (how one sees oneself) and gender roles (how one behaves). So whilst I, for example, was effeminate as a child, my gender identity continued to be male (in line with my biological sex), because gender identity and gender roles are not the same thing. If one is transgender, one's gender identity is not in line with one's biological sex. If one is a "tomboy" one's gender role is not in line with one's sex.

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Apr 2, 2022Liked by James J. Heaney

"...Jenkins and trans-inclusive feminist theory seem to find this embarrassing, and bury it beneath several layers of theory, oppression, and subjectivity... but, in the final analysis, the definition of WomanB is incoherent without eventual reference to "the female role in biological reproduction."..."

Is the reason for burying it because it points out the fact that they can never fully be what they want? That there will always be a doubt in other people's minds (maybe even their own) about what they are until the unobtainable thing is destroyed?

"...Since gender-id is far more subjective than biosex, the only way to learn someone's "correct" pronouns in this system is to ask that person. (That person will have presumably selected appropriate pronouns after a process of self-reflection.)..."

There is a problem here about who can properly day they have daily-reflected. And given self-reflection is a never ending process there is never a certainty about proper usage.

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"Is the reason for burying it because it points out the fact that they can never fully be what they want? That there will always be a doubt in other people's minds (maybe even their own) about what they are until the unobtainable thing is destroyed?"

It's tempting to say "yes," but most of the philosophers of gender who are engaged in this project are not trans themselves. It's dangerous to try to psychoanalyze the people one disagrees with, so I'll let them speak for themselves before I try:

Jenkins discusses this particularly under Heading 2, "Desiderata": https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/idx/e/ergo/12405314.0005.027/--toward-an-account-of-gender-identity?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Saul's entire paper is both kind-of about it and kind-of not: https://www.academia.edu/30414547

Both seem to start from the premise that transwomen have an undeniable (observable?) experience of womanhood, and then try to journey from that premise to their desired destination: a definition of womanhood that acknowledges trans women as women without collapsing into incoherence. The problem is that their project does not fully succeed, and this is fairly obvious, but it does not lead them to revise their views about womanhood and how trans people relate to it. It leads them to try again (and again and again).

I suspect (and here comes the psychoanalysis, so read with a grain of salt) that they are operating in a paradigm where the result they get simply isn't an acceptable or even intelligible result. It's sort of like the end of the search for luminiferous aether: after Michelson-Morley showed there was no such aether, what did scientists do? They said Michelson & Morley must have screwed up and repeated their experiment, several times, with increasingly sensitive equipment. Until Einstein came along and offered an alternative (relativity), they were kind of stuck.

I personally think our alternative is already here (biological essentialism that acknowledges the teleological purpose of certain organ systems), but the "cost" of that view is very, very high for some people. A huge part of their worldview -- far beyond gender issues -- is built on the idea of a telos being bunk and biology being basically just meat to be manipulated as we please. Since they can't see how to back down from that, they instead keep trying to find better ways to hide the ball.

Grains of salt, though. Grains of salt.

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Apr 3, 2022Liked by James J. Heaney

Had an interesting conversation with my wife about this article. She raised concerns around the issue of pronouns, among other things, when instructing our kids. We are traditional protestant Christians. We adhere, as much as we sinners are able, to live according to the Word. We, subsequently, want to be both loving and align ourselves to Truth. We can often manage this, but with for kids of varying ages it is increasingly hard to raise them to be Godly, but also loving. The semantics of love in this case are not what might be called worldly love but Godly love (i.e agape). This extreme dichotomy puts us in quite the pickle. And kids rarely allow for nuanced, tactful conversations while in the moment. Even if the topic had been broached ahead of time.

I would be interested in anyone's thoughts on this.

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The ‘extreme dichotomy’ here being? A WomanA prefers to be referred to as a ManB and as a result presents masculine and would like to use he/him pronouns. This example provides an extreme dichotomy between behaving Godly and behaving lovingly?

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Apr 6, 2022·edited Apr 6, 2022

To provide more context in case you weren't just being rhetorical:

The real dichotomy is that I am either hateful or supportive. I want to be neither with respect to the concept of idea of transexuality. I still want to be loving to the person beyond

The problem is either I am being hateful by not doing what I believe to be lying or I lie to not be ostracized. I can avoid it personally since I am an adult, but it is difficult ranging on impossible with my kids

I won't tell them someone who is trans is really the gender they want to be identified as (I don't believe they are, even using the definition of womenB).

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I’m not trying to be obtuse, I’m just trying to tie what you’ve said together. In the first comment you say that you’re feeling the pull between behaving Godly and behaving lovingly. Which of those two options represents referring to a Transman as ‘ManB’ and which option represents calling that same Transman ‘WomanA’?

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It has a few layers to it. Behaving loving to me means caring about the other person in a Christ like manner. This means I care about them regardless of their sin or even their righteousness. I am to love everyone the same. This doesn't mean I treat everyone the same. Christ loved everyone purely, but some got a Christ made whip while others got to eat dinner with him. This doesn't mean that I am allowed to lie to someone though and using the same words as womanA to define some one who is not womanA is lying. We can afford some semantics about the word having dual meanings but it isn't the dual means are disjointed. Otherwise there would be no issue with coming up with another word to describe womanB that doesn't confuse what is a womanA.

Lying is never okay. It is a tool that Satan used even against Christ. It tries to separate us from reality and ultimately Truth/God.

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Behaving godly here is me telling the truth but I need to do it in a loving way. The false dichotomy between I am either hateful or for in complete support of someone who is transexual puts me in between a rock and a hard place... Sorry if I am not explaining this well

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Apr 5, 2022Liked by James J. Heaney

An entire behemoth of an article without a single footnote? And yet it still managed to be one of your strongest ones yet! I haven’t spent much/any time thinking about this topic as I’m one of those progressives you mention who is following along with today’s cultural norm out of a desire not to offend. If I learn of someone’s preferred pronouns I try to remember to use them, and have my own (he/him) pronouns listed in my email signature at work in an effort to promote inclusivity. Not having done much/any reading on the topic I really appreciated the painstaking efforts you went through to describe WomanA and WomanB in the way that you did. Maybe this definition is always out there during thinkpieces, but it was minimally new to me.

After 6+ years of revisions you seem to have accomplished the commendable result of neither immediately putting your foot in your mouth by stepping in to a loudly polarizing position nor watering down the piece so much that it doesn’t provide value.

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Apr 5, 2022Liked by James J. Heaney

Thanks for the carefully considered article. I would like to gently point out that the second half seems to be largely based on the "eskimo words for snow" line of linguistic thought, which has been thoroughly debunked. The idea that words lead to thoughts is very popular, but the reality is that thoughts lead to words. We can all worry that newspeak will control our minds (and lots of people do, right and left), but it might as well try to stop the wind from blowing with a paper fan.

That is to say, you can use preferred pronouns without any realistic linguistic worry that you're contributing to the erasure of the concept of womanA.

(Not that erasure of womanA is the goal of proponents of womanB. WomanB proponents just want to use more inclusive language - and the concern that use of inclusive language will erase traditional concepts seems to be largely rooted in discredited linguistic theory.)

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Apr 5, 2022·edited Apr 5, 2022Author

Hi, Lucas. Assuming you're Lucas T and not some mysterious other Lucas, welcome. I didn't really expect you to find this one, and if you did find it I didn't really expect you to read past the "please don't read if it will make smoke come out of your ears" warning. I appreciate it. Indeed, the reason the entire pronoun section didn't get cut out of this article as an unnecessary appendix is largely down to the PM conversation we had... a while ago.

I agree with you that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and "Ferengi words for rain" does not really describe how language works, but I disagree that that's what I'm basing my perspective on, except perhaps in some incidental ways. Sapir-Whorf is largely about how language determines individual thoughts -- and of course it is correct that, even if the word for "offspring-bearing sex" were utterly expunged from all vocabulary somehow, people would continue to individually and independently observe the sex binary.

But what I'm talking about *here* is how a valid observation, naturally occurring to an ordinary individual, can be *prevented* from entering the public discourse due to Enforced Orthodoxy, and how this then distorts the public perception in all sorts of ugly ways. Enforced Orthodoxies come in many forms throughout history.

This article discusses two (the Victorian view of gender and the 2020s view of sex). It's easy to think of others. For example, the Catholic Church's insistence in the 16th/17th century that geocentrism was doctrinally correct and heliocentrism (if entertained at all) may only be entertained as a "hypothesis" had profoundly distorting effects on how astronomy was practiced, how it was taught, how it was conceived by its most erudite scholars, and how it was understood by the most ignorant peasants. It led both to the suppression or chilling of important ideas (some true, some false) and to the oppression of people who dared teach them. It had all these effects despite being *pretty lightly enforced*, all things considered, and, even at its height, being a secondary concern to pretty much everyone in the hierarchy. (The fullest and best history of Catholic Heliocentrism And The Galileo Affair I've ever come across is The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown, by OFloinn: https://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown-table-of.html . Takes all day to get through, but worth it.)

This Enforced Orthodoxy need not come from state censorship, or a pseudo-state like the 16th-century Church. We can see even in very small insular communities (like, say, a certain Hasidic enclave, or even a particularly tight-knit family) where, say, discussion of sexual behavior has become taboo, with predictably distorting effects on the consciences of individuals and the capacity of the community to name and respond to things like sexual abuse. (e.g. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-death-of-richard-sipe/ ) This isn't Sapir-Whorf linguistic determinism, it's just good ol' fashioned fear of heresy.

That intersection between language and thought as they naturally evolve, and the public square as it is shaped/molded/suppressed by religious, political, and cultural authorities, is what I'm really interested in. THAT is where doublethink and newspeak wrap their manacles around the human mind. Their victory can never be complete, because the truth always reasserts itself in every individual, no matter how hard it is to articulate -- but a lot of the public discussion & policy can get warped, and a lot of people hurt, in the meantime.

I touched on this somewhat (in a very different context) in my most recent article, Against Adrian Vermuele-ism (https://decivitate.substack.com/p/against-adrian-vermeule-ism), under the "third pillar of liberalism", but I really think Solzhenitsyn depicted it better in his "Live Not By Lies," which I linked in this very piece (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03064220408537357). He did it better because he lived in such a world, where vast swaths of the public square were distorted or off-limits.

We are a long way from there, but we are slipping in that direction. The judgment against Maya Forstater included the legally-binding conclusion of a U.K. judge that the ideas expressed in this article are "not worthy of respect in a democratic society," and upheld her sacking. Solzhenitsyn lived in the kind of country he lived in because (in order to protect themselves) his ancestors had accepted falsehoods when they were introduced, and so eventually he lived in a world built largely out of falsehoods.

I refuse to use affirming pronouns, then, not because I think I am contributing in some kind of Sapir-Whorfian way to womankind's erasure from human thought (which is, as you say, impossible), but because I think the current meaning of affirming pronouns includes a falsehood about what sex is. I cannot ethically justify to myself participating in that falsehood for the same basic reasons as Solzhenitsyn (although at a much lower intensity level, since we still live in a much freer country than he did).

I also (much less interestingly) think you are mistaken when you say that the goal of womanB proponents is "just" to use more inclusive language. I agree that is nominally their goal, but their *method for attaining* more inclusive language is to systematically erase womanA. (This does not seem to be the conscious decision of most people in the movement, merely a hardcore few.) I gave numerous examples in this article, and I'm not really how that could be in principle refuted at this point. Once medical school professors are apologizing for discussing pregnancy in terms of the female sex, it is no longer plausible to say that we are simply changing labels (like the positive shift from from "Negro" to "African-American" to "Black"); there is definitely an important concept being suppressed outright.

Again, thanks for commenting and for challenging the thinking of the latter half of the article. Hopefully this comment at least serves to show that I don't think much of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis myself (at least, not outside of science fiction, where it can be a lot of fun to play around with!).

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Apr 6, 2022Liked by James J. Heaney

I think part of the problem is that each side of the political divide is always more acutely aware of the worst excesses of the other side than the other side itself is. For example, I'm in some pretty acutely left-spaces, and I have never once encountered the phrase "birthing person" (or "birthing parent") there. Not once, ever... but I encounter it frequently in right-spaces as an example of how radical the left is (it's in your essay seven times in aggregate alone). Similarly, your understanding of the activities of JKR appears to be incomplete, whereas her more egregious commentary is shared early and often in left-space. My point is: yes, many humans are jerks, and it is always possible to find jerks among those with whom you disagree. What to you appears to be irrefutable evidence of a concerted and organized effort to erase womanA is, for me, a few isolated incidents of people taking their performative allyship too far, inevitably hurting a cause because they've wielded it for their own ends. (I think that's probably why I latched on to the linguistic argument, because the non-linguistic arguments felt more like anecdotes than proof.)

In any event, from my perspective, the very existence of a movement towards inviolable orthodoxy is, at best, subjective. But, let's assume it exists. Given the lack of political power actively held by transgender people in actual elected offices or principle media roles or in PTA boards or really anywhere, I think it's fair to suggest that this movement, should it exist, is being run on behalf of transgender individuals, but not directly by them. They may benefit from it (though there are plenty of examples of transgender people who are kind of sick of the performative allyship of sharing pronouns, especially when it doesn't happen until they're noticed), but they aren't the ones enacting it or enforcing it.

That's why I'm having trouble reconciling the refusal to use preferred pronouns with the acknowledged suffering of trans people. Preferred pronoun use is an individual-level action that benefits nobody but the individual who is being treated with dignity - an individual who has very little (if anything) to do with the movement that you're avoiding pronouns in order to protest. Even if there is an orthodoxy movement, and even if it actually gave real power to real trans people, you can still protest against that machine - and, while I think they're just windmills, I also believe it's your right to rage against that movement. I just can't appreciate the logic of extending that protest to individual pronoun use, especially when your answer to the title question is "yes and no". If you can be comfortable with a yes and no answer to that question, I don't see why you couldn't also be comfortable with a yes and no solution to individual versus systemic protest.

(And yes, this is me. I seek out well-written commentary by people I disagree with, especially if they aren't the arguments being held up as an example of how radical the right is.)

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"I think part of the problem is that each side of the political divide is always more acutely aware of the worst excesses of the other side than the other side itself is."

This is an extremely true thing about our politics, the effects of which are not sufficiently widely appreciated, and which I have been trying to find a way to write about for some time. Bringing it up is a sure way to make me pause and ask myself, "Am I really being fair here? Or have I, however inadvertently, started nutpicking?"

However, having paused, three reasons come to mind for why I don't think I'm nutpicking in this instance. (I won't exhaustively explore them in this comment because, in the very next graff, you're willing to concede the point anyway for the sake of discussion. Yet it still seems worth touching on.)

(1) I'm sincerely surprised you haven't encountered "birthing person" in your left-wing spaces. I did NOT get "birthing person" from right-wingers. I try to keep up-to-date on Left spaces as well, and I first noticed "birthing person" while reading a Planned Parenthood press release, then soon thereafter at Jezebel. There's a lot of things you can call Planned Parenthood and Jezebel, but "fringe" isn't really one of them. I watched it slowly percolate out through many of the left-wing circles I monitor. The right-wing press really seemed to notice it during the Xavier Becerra hearings, but, by that point, it was old hat to me; I had already encountered it organically many times by that point.

(2) Refusing to name "woman" in her biological sense is (now) the policy of the United States government. I already mentioned Maya Forstater for our U.K. pals. Denying that this is an enforced orthodoxy on the Left at this point feels kind of like denying (in, say, early 2017) that the Right liked Donald Trump. I was, to be clear, *devoted* to the idea that the Right didn't like Donald Trump, sincerely believed it, and insisted on it to my Left-wing friends. When Trump won a 2012 phone poll, I argued on Facebook that it was pure poll-trolling. When he performed well in 2016's primaries, I insisted at length (on this blog) that it was because the opposition hadn't united against him effectively enough. When he won the presidency, I argued it was because the Right saw Clinton as the lesser of two evils, but had no genuine affection for Trump. My personal right-wing bubbles were all pretty overwhelmingly anti-Trump, even as Election Day approached. It was impossible to believe that the Right had transformed completely like this without my noticing or coming along. Yet it had! The anti-biology view on the Left is now sufficiently entrenched in enough powerful places (even though it is unpopular with the electorate -- much like Trump!) that I can't really dismiss it as "some humans are jerks," and I tend to suspect that lack of exposure to it comes from something like my anti-Trump right-wing bubble.

(3) Last but not least, "this is just a fringe idea" is unconvincing to me because I was a same-sex marriage opponent. I *remember* when people would actually mock you to your face for suggesting that Lawrence v. Texas might somehow lead to nationalized same-sex marriage. "Slippery slope fallacy, slippery slope fallacy, and how would it affect you, anyway?" I *remember* the almost overnight transition from, "Gay marriage isn't something anyone even wants, how ridiculous," to, "Everyone who doesn't want gay marriage is a bigot who inhabits the same moral plane as Bull Connor." (We're now at "Everyone who doesn't want the acceptability of gay marriage *taught in public schools* is a homophobe.") Rod Dreher calls this the "Law of Merited Impossibility." Like, I've already seen this version of *Gaslight*! I know how it ends! To be clear, I don't think you're *deliberately* gaslighting me at all. But I *suspect* you have fallen prey to the inverse of nutpicking: the sometimes-overwhelming temptation, when one's allies are engaged in a foul political project, to downplay what they are doing, to convince oneself that it's just a few bad apples.

(Speaking of potential inverse nutpicking: I *believe* I'm fully up to date on everything J.K.R. has said, but I stuck to the tweet in the artlce because this article was too long and cuts had to be made. I'm really not sure how one could take offense at, e.g., her long essay on her website, if one is okay with acknowledging biological sex exists. Disagreement, yes, but she's clearly no transphobe.)


"But, let's assume it exists."

Yes, let's. Sorry for the lengthy intro.

"Given the lack of political power actively held by transgender people in actual elected offices or principle media roles or in PTA boards or really anywhere, I think it's fair to suggest that this movement, should it exist, is being run on behalf of transgender individuals, but not directly by them."

Here, I am agnostic. I could believe what you suggest. I could also believe that it is being run by some transgender individuals (some of whom do wield substantial power). But I could *also* very easily believe that the whole thing is being run by cis people for reasons that have *nothing to do* with trans people, and that none of this is being done on their behalf at all. I do notice that some of the actual trans people I actually meet IRL are quite reasonable about all this and quick to agree with my three planks. ("But if it's not being done for the sake of trans people, why, then?" I decline to answer that at this time. Too speculative and too tinfoil-hatty.)

"I just can't appreciate the logic of extending that protest to individual pronoun use, especially when your answer to the title question is 'yes and no'."

The problem with pronouns is that there is no pronoun right now that carries any of the yes-*and*-no nuance of my answer. I would like one to exist someday. Since none exists right now, I feel I am obligated to avoid them in the meantime. This is fundamentally not a protest at all (individual or systemic), but an ethical objection to doing harm or speaking falsely. It is the only solution I have found that strips no dignity from anyone, as it harms no one for me to voluntarily avoid a pronoun I consider problematic (just as it does no harm to for someone else to voluntarily embrace a pronoun he/she/ze/etc believes in). I recognize and respect that other people, even who share my beliefs on this, have reached other conclusions.

By contrast, when I use "woman" in everyday speech, generally either (a) it is perfectly obvious from context which meaning of "woman" I am using, or (b) I have an opportunity to define my terms in a way that I just *don't* with pronouns, because they are so ubiquitous. (Also, [c]: "woman" comes up naturally waayyyyy less often than "she/her" and is therefore much easier to deftly avoid.)

Thanks again for the thoughtful challenges. I know it's unfair for me to keep throwing more words at you than you have time to throw back. But, as I said in the intro of this article, it is better on this sensitive topic for me to be clear than concise.

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I do think your point about how both womanA and womanB definitions are relevant is useful, and so, when regarding a situation as to whether include a trans person, I guess the question is what is relevant in that situation - their gender identity (WomanB) or their biological sex (WomanA). That's an important point to note.

With regards to the pronoun question, this may be merely that being in a generally young lefty social group, I am in a situation where I am to see pronouns merely as a statement of gender identity - I feel like this is what is relevant in this situation (when I am saying "she is my friend", that she may have a uterus is not what is relevant in that situation). But that may just be which side of the fence I fall one as such. An ideal solution would be to just get rid of gendered pronouns altogether (as you've acknowledge, second person is not gendered, nor is 3rd person plural (unlike in, say, French)). But given the nature of language evolution, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

I'm not so sure I agree with your point that the WomanB definition ultimately relies upon WomanA for it to have any meaning. One might say that it's definition is circular, but then one could simply argue that it is a basic concept - it's meaning cannot be reduced down to something else. Or maybe its meaning can be reduced down to something else, just that we don't know what it is yet (maybe there are certain differences in the brain - this is something more scientific research will likely be needed to illuminate). It is possible that gender identity is meant to have an innate link to biological sex (which is why people specifically experience dysphoria), or it is possible that the gender dysphoria arises out of a socialised notion that gender identity and biological sex fundamentally link up, and that the gender dysphoria arises out of this - I dunno. Once again, more scientific research may be needed.

I think its important to recognise that gender identity is not merely the social component to sex - if it was, transgender people wouldn't exist. Rather, one might see gender identity as the psychological component and gender roles as the social component.

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"I think its important to recognise that gender identity is not merely the social component to sex - if it was, transgender people wouldn't exist. Rather, one might see gender identity as the psychological component and gender roles as the social component."

This actually raises a very interesting question, which I mostly bracketed in the main article because trying to answer it seemed like biting off more than I could chew:

What *is* this psychological component, exactly? If I were to say, "I am psychologically female," what would that mean? It could not mean that I am biologically female (WomanA), because I am not. It *could* mean that some or many of my behaviors and inclinations are more female-typical (WomanB). This would include "having a brain that has female-typical features," which I think is entirely possibly true of trans people.

Yet I have sometimes seen it argued that there is some other, further sense in which a trans person is female -- as you said in another comment, at a psychological level, one that transcends mere behavior (and behavioral inclination). I'm not quite sure what to make of that, because I haven't been able to put it into words, and I haven't found anyone else able to put it into words. Once you've accounted for the body generally, for the brain in particular, for the ways the intellect is shaped by that brain, and for the behavioral choices the will makes based on that intellect... and said that gender identity is something other than all of those things... what is left to be located as the seat of gender identity?

This is one key reason why I found the idea of "a woman is a person with a female soul" such an interesting notion. An immaterial soul is one of those tricky things that might arguably introduce elements of an identity that aren't otherwise accessible (although this, too, presents difficulties).

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Anyway, thanks for commenting!

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From my understanding (which I will admit is rather limited as a cis man who hasn’t had to think about this as much as others), gender identity is the psychological component specifically of how one regards oneself. This can be linked to gender roles/behaviours/inclinations, but not necessarily (for example, some cis men are effeminate, but still see themselves as men). This idea however raises difficult questions as to what it means to have, say, a male gender identity – how does one know that one’s experience of being/seeing oneself as, say, a man, is the same as another person’s experience thereof? We could on that basis see gender identity as a basic concept, that one just recognises, even if one cannot break it down or explain it. But then, we can observe that people have different understandings of what it exactly means to be a male or a female, so this seems unlikely to me. It’s also possible that the experience of gender identity is fundamentally interpersonal. It could be that my experience of identifying as a man, is rather about saying that I feel more like the other men around than the women (and not on the basis of behaviour or the like; I have always felt like a man, despite having been effeminate as a child). There is a risk with this, however, of seeing it as socially constructed (which I am not entirely convinced it is, given the unfortunate case of David Reimer). However, this needn’t necessarily be the case, as we can observe that autism, is to an extent, interpersonal (one is “neurodivergent” (as autism is increasingly described) in as much as one does not interact/behave/see the world in the same way that neurotypical people do), but is not socially constructed as such (some genetic and environmental causes to autism have been identified, although the causation of autism has not yet been formalised into a comprehensive framework). To a certain extent, the nature of gender identity likely requires more scientific research to be fully understood. As I’ve said, there is some scientific research to indicate that the brain structures of trans women are more similar to cis women than to cis men. It is also possible (at least logically so) that it is down to socialisation (although I am wary of this idea, given the tragic David Reimer case). However, I am not a scientist overly familiar with this field, so what the cause and nature of gender identity is, I cannot say with certainty (and nor can the scientists themselves likely, at least not yet – more research is likely needed to get a more comprehensive picture).

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Apr 9, 2022·edited Apr 9, 2022Liked by James J. Heaney

James, thanks for writing (and finally publishing!) this. I think it's really good and helpful, in the ways that it rigorously lays out your analysis... and I am (very!) glad to find such an abundance of points of extremely strong resonance and emphatic agreement with my own thinking on this. (And not only on the central thesis, but on sandwich discourse!)

I admit I am rather intensely curious about the nature of your "completely fatal error" that upended everything for you in 2015... but I decided I want to comment, more substantively, to dig into some lesser points of disagreement. (I say "lesser" points, because there are only really two points, and because they are both stacked with JUST enough caveats that I can't say I have any real deep/philosophical disagreement with your conclusions. I mean truly, the entire first half of this, I consider flawless, and you're SO CLOSE to my thinking on the following two points, that I wonder if it's really just a question of differing perceptions, about which people of good will can disagree.)

A. I'll start with the "last" one in your piece, because it's the "easiest", and because there's the least to "unpack" and wade through. Regarding pronouns, it seems to me that you asserted – but did not sufficiently argue for – the idea that "by using [affirming pronouns], you affirm a slate of claims about sex and gender". I gather that you just view this as obvious... a simple (however unfortunate) state of things that seems difficult or impossible to deny. But I do disagree, and accordingly find myself in that category of "friends who agree sex is real but who simply don't agree that using affirming pronouns implicitly denies the reality of sex, so they use affirming pronouns [in good conscience]." And I think the reason for my disagreement is twofold:

A1. While open to being proven wrong, I am EXTREMELY confident that if you surveyed transgender people, and asked them what the usage of affirming pronouns meant TO THEM, you would find very-few-if-any who actually believed that the usage of their pronouns signified ANY sort of broader slate of claims about sex and gender, whatsoever. I really do think they would say something like: it signifies that you respect me, full stop. (FWIW, I think they would also say very much the same thing about your stance with regard to avoiding-offending-pronouns entirely, which is a praiseworthy baseline that I wish we had a real cultural consensus on.)

A2. Beyond this, I think your position is – while not in a problematic way, still in a material way – ultimately doing nothing to COMBAT that horrific polarization on this issue that you (rightly) denounce. My competing argument (or at least, a big piece of it) would be that: the deliberate usage of affirming pronouns – ESPECIALLY by those who DO agree with your three "planks" – is one of the best and most powerful ways we have to start chipping away at that polarization. It's sort of a "lead by example" situation IMHO: where the best path forward is to normalize using preferred pronouns WHILE defending the enduring validity of "WomanA". The more visibility we can get of people vocally adhering to that both/and (ideally, in my unrealistic dream world, especially from the Catholic hierarchy), the more progress we can make in guiding society toward a less polarized settlement, rather than just waiting for it to someday arrive.

(Tangent: It seems to me that there is an immediate parallel/analogue to reflect on, regarding the usage of the word "gay" in Catholic circles. Growing up, my perception was – and I would have agreed with those who argued – that using the word "gay" signified some sort of link to ongoing sexual activity. The turning point that broke me out of that was simply SEEING the existence of Catholics who identified as "gay", but were equally committed to sexual chastity. Pretty quickly after that, I realized that "gay" functioned perfectly-well-if-not-most-coherently as a signifier of "orientation", in a way that was logically compatible with chastity. At that point, all of the voices writing that "Catholics shouldn't call themselves 'gay', because that CoNfUsEs people" started to sound idiotic – because they were needlessly maintaining, if not actively reinforcing, an unnecessary polarization around this word; rather than leaning into the tension, and attempting to promote/defend the value of a counter-cultural witness to defending both/and.)

2. The second (and FAR more complex; also less certain in my mind, although still fairly certain) point of disagreement has to do with your confidence that there is a true and significant hostility to biosex... an influential minority that the concept of WomanA "ought to be be marginalized, ignored, erased from the language, even denied outright". I mean, okay, I don't really doubt that SOME handful of people might desire this. But almost none of your linked/cited examples were really able to convince me that this is what's happening, in a pervasive sense that anyone should actually be concerned about.

For instance, I find myself unpersuaded that a term like "birthing parent" is REALLY emerging out of ANY desire to erase biological sex. Rather, I think – or at least, it seems far more charitable and plausible to me to presume that – terms like this are being driven above all by a simple desire to avoid using disputed terminology: as a means of defusing tensions, and being respectful to various competing camps. Like, if we're dealing with a frustrating flashpoint issue, IMHO it's perfectly understandable for teachers/lawmakers to want to AVOID the flashpoint terminology entirely. If the word "woman" is inevitably going to kick off a firestorm of unpacking and distinguishing two possible usages (do you mean "WomanA", or "WomanB"), and justifying each usage in each instance, and we don't even have a confident BASELINE of unanimity on the 3 planks... then, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ awkward phrases like "individual with a cervix" and "pregnant person" and "birthing parent" seem like AT LEAST SANE middle paths forward, however blunt and clinical. Meanwhile you seemed to be interpreting this as... something more sinister, more fundamentally driven by a desire to ERASE the concept of WomanA. I'm just not sure I really see that happening... and I'm deeply opposed to presuming (or easily "buying into") that lens of interpretation, in the absence of a REALLY rigorous set of evidence that THAT is why people are doing it... when it seems like there are just so many less-sinister motives that would make complete sense.

Similarly with the example of individuals like JK Rowling (which again, I realize, is a whole suitcase with an Undetectable Extension Charm on it that needs unpacking)... my own reading is that her "cancellation" is – most fundamentally – NOT REALLY about her claims regarding biological sex, so much as it is FAR MORE fundamentally tied to her refusal to soften her claims with the necessary concessions/distinctions (e.g. affirming and defending the validity of WomanB), and even more critically, about her decision to support and associate with (or at least definitely not distance herself from) "trans-exclusionary" voices who are using her rhetoric to support unjust exclusionary policies. It's not "mere disagreement" about definitions of words that has been getting her in trouble, but the actual policies/stances that she is consciously associating herself with and (either deliberately or irresponsibly) giving her support to. I think this is too much to unpack here, so, I will just link to two resources that should be able to help lay this reading out more coherently and in-depth than I can: (1) this Twitter thread by Andrew James Carter https://twitter.com/carter_andrewj/status/1270787941275762689 and (2) this video by ContraPoints https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gDKbT_l2us (although odds might be good that you have already seen this, it's very fun and honestly I want to make time to re-watch it myself).

Anyway, thank you again for writing this – and in advance, for any additional comments!

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Love this comment. One thing though that I find curious regarding the erasure of the definition of WomanA:

How often do you see phrases like "testicle-owners" or "people with prostates" in medical literature or media? I've seen it once or twice in extremely radical spaces, but note the major discrepancy between the rates of "birthing parent/chestfeeder/menstruator/person with a cervix/vagina owner" to male-oriented re-wordings in the broader culture. Doesn't that say something about the targeted aim at defining biological womanhood out of cultural existence?

I'm open to different interpretations of this, but I don't just see this in radical left spaces. This is stuff published by government health organizations and major medical facilities. Thoughts?

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I think this is a good point (also pairs very well with James' slightly more recent comment via an anonymous reader, about the feeling of erasure)... and I don't really have any counter-claim. It definitely might "say something about the targeted aim" (at least in some spaces, or by some speakers), and I'm entirely open to being persuaded that this is much a greater concern than I am seeing/understanding! Just cautious (by default) about ascribing intentions to anyone, and (personally) inclined to more charitable interpretations when reasonably possible.

...that being said, as I was typing that last sentence about caution with intentions, I was reminded of the infamous (well, at least in my own circles and in my own thinking) distinction between material (racism) vs. formal (racism) that surfaced prominently in 2020. Maybe that distinction is a better path forward? We could talk about the "(material) erasure" of WomanA, without [necessarily] tying it to some sort of malicious agenda (formally) aimed at the erasure of WomanA broadly speaking. (?) That's a half-baked idea, anyway.

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Thanks for a great comment. And for reading!

The "completely fatal error" is kinda fun.

The very first completed draft of this article was about (specifically) Catholic thinking about sex and gender, and whether trans women might be identifying as women because they are, as a matter of fact, ontologically speaking, women. My answer was "maybe," but I was clearly leaning toward "yes," based on my argument (which I know is already controversial), that the soul is sexed. In that draft, I even did the exact thing that I called out in the final version of the article: I brought up intersex conditions, I think Swyer Syndrome instead of CAIS in my case, in order to advance my view on trans conditions and the soul. I thought this was a pretty nifty approach, and (happily) it allowed me to affirm my friends' trans self-identifications without any substantial reservations. I expressly endorsed affirming pronouns in the conclusion.

The fatal error showed up in the concluding paragraph, where I wrote: "Of course, there are still serious philosophical challenges to be answered; for example, this account seems to imply that a child could have two mothers or two fathers (one cissexual and the other pre-operative transsexual)." It wasn't until I finished typing that sentence that the import of it actually hit me. Whatever I meant by "mother" or "father" (or "male" and "female") in that draft, this sentence proved that it was certainly not what any magisterial authority or great Catholic thinker had ever meant by those words, and so my argument about the sexed soul couldn't really do *any* of the work I was counting on it to do. I tried to patch it up for a few weeks, but I kinda knew at that very moment that I had just disproved myself.

I was *not* smart enough to immediately start writing the "words are tricky things" intro after that, mind you. I kept trying to pin down a single, univocal definition of "man" and "woman" for years (and I tried on all kinds of definitions). My wife didn't hit me with the Sandwich Alignment Chart until I wanna say 2018 (she intended it as an amusing "tag urself" meme, but it freaked me out so much I had to buy Ed Feser's book on Scholastic Metaphysics to get my head back on straight) (Feser is wrong about rocks being substances, IMHO, but otherwise I loved the book), and it wasn't until I had resolved my Existential Sandwich Crisis that I finally started to see what became the final shape of this article.

That was more information than you wanted or needed, but GOSH this article has been weighting down my brain for so long, so it takes very little prompting to get me gushing about sandwiches and souls.

Brief (?), gut-level responses to your actual points in no special order:

A1/A2: It does, I admit, feel pretty good that 90% of disagreement with this article so far has been about my pronoun approach, which is one place where I feel quite strongly that reasonable people can disagree in good conscience, even while sharing all the same basic premises and conclusions. There is so much prudential judgment involved here, and so much depends on very particular facts in particular relationships and particular circumstances, that it would be weird if we all *did* agree, or even if we were all entirely consistent in our day-to-day approach.

That being said,

A1: I am sure you are right that a general survey of trans people that asked, "What does the use of my pronouns signify?" the answer would indeed be something like, "It signifies that you respect me." I suspect, however, that this answer only scratches the surface.

Before I go on, I should say that I might be wrong about this. If there is a weakness in this article, I think that it is shaped too much by reading online trans voices in online trans spaces and too little by real-life conversations with my real-life trans friends. (Unsurprisingly, my RL trans friends, both past and present, have not generally invited me, a Known Conservative, into critical conversation about an issue that is very sensitive to them. They have at times evaded or rebuffed attempts on my end, and I took the hint.) Now I will go on.

If you ask a Florida Republican why they support the Parental Rights in Education Act, they're likely to say something like, "Because it protects my kids, full stop." And everyone supports protecting kids! But then you ask, "Well, hang on, why do you think it protects kids?" and you get a whole range of answers, some of them at least reasonable, some of them I actually agree with, some that are nonsensical or based on deep misunderstandings of how schools / laws work, and some that are just blatantly rooted in bigotry against LGBTQ people.

I think if you ask trans people, "*Why* do you feel that using your preferred pronouns shows respect for you?" you will likewise get a range of answers. Some will be quite reasonable and I can probably even agree with some of them. But some of the answers will be along the lines of "Because those pronouns reflect my true self," where "self" is standing in for an ontological claim I'm not prepared to join up with, and some of the answers will be, "My pronouns aren't 'preferred' pronouns. They are. my. pronouns." This (pretty common) position, it seems to me, is clearly affirming *some kind* of "broader slate of claims about sex and gender."

A2: This bit has been making me think pretty hard, harder than anything else in your comment, and it may ultimately grind me toward a different perspective. The parallel between my thinking here and Daniel Mattson's is... I'm not sure it's identical, but it's close enough to give me serious pause.

On JKR: I've watched a good bit of contrapoints over the years, and specifically watched CP's video on TERFs last year to try and help me figure out this article. However, I had never seen the JKR one, because I (as a rule) avoid watching YouTube videos over an hour long and (as a super-rule) definitely avoid watching YouTube videos about online beefing. (I admit I also just don't *enjoy* CP the way others do, perhaps because I disagree with too much.)

I mention the ContraPoints video in particular (over the Twitter thread) because I think it's instructive: by ContraPoints' definition of bigotry and TERFery, this article is a piece of bigoted TERFery, and I am a bigot. ContraPoints tries to make the same unmakeable move that I tried in so many versions of this article: dismissing the semantic and metaphysical argument as so much background nonsense and moving directly to political action ("trans liberation" instead of "define 'woman'") -- then treating anyone who persists in asking the (unavoidable) metaphysical questions about underpinning "trans liberation" as an obsessed transphobe.

You say that ContraPoints and others condemn JKR mostly for her associations and her lack of nuance, rather than for her claims regarding biological sex -- but ContraPoints is *very clear* that JKR is *not* being condemned for her associations or lack of nuance, but *precisely because* of her claims regarding biological sex.

(As for the Andrew James Carter thread, there's so much there it's impractical to unpack it all, but I think he *grossly* misrepresents the Maya Forstater case right off the bat, in Point #1. Among other things, Forstater's later victory on appeal isn't even *comprehensible* if Carter's characterization of the original tribunal were remotely close to accurate. This is typical of his approach throughout the remainder of the thread.)

JKR really did get crucified primarily because she thinks "womanA" exists, and I think the evidence for that is compelling. This also lines up with the *timeline* of "JK Rowling is a transphobe" discourse. The harshest condemnations of Rowling's so-called "transphobia" all came over her "people with cervixes" tweet, well before she posted "TERF Wars" -- and the online trans community had already convinced itself JKR was a vicious transphobe well before that, even.

This, in turn, sheds some light on why I think it stretches imagination to say that there is no substantial campaign to erase womanA. In all seriousness, type the words "Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine is a man. This is not true in every sense, but in at least one sense that remains important," into your Twitter account. If I understand your position correctly, you believe this statement to both true, uncontroversial (even among trans people), and important to maintain publicly. Yet my alt was locked for typing in something similar, after a friend also got locked (appeal denied) for typing something similar. This is not mere politesse.

Nor would it even make *sense* as mere politesse. Calling womenA "birthing people" does not in any sense *avoid* inflammatory language; it *is* inflammatory language, as plenty of women in my orbit will be happy to tell you. The Biden Administration's decision to adopt that language is *choosing* a side, in precisely a moment where all they had to do to be seen as *not* taking a side was *not do anything*.

What you *can* argue -- and indeed you do! -- is whether this erasure is being carried out by a group that is representative of trans people at large, or whether it's just extremists like... well, ContraPoints (who works hard to be respectful but is certainly extreme). If you say it's just extremists, I'm actually inclined to agree with you. But that makes it all the more important to resist the extremists!

In the end, though, we agree on the core bit here, my three "planks," so I don't want to exaggerate the importance of our disagreements around the edges. Thanks again for a great comment.

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Thank you! So I definitely need to revisit the ContraPoints video – if only for the sake of recalibrating my own brain – because it seems as though my memory has likely betrayed me, and/or I simply failed to retain some of the nuances or implications from [whenever it was] when I initially watched it. But as best I recall, the nugget that REALLY stuck in my brain was when she made SOME sort of acknowledgment/concession/claim along the lines of (my words now, at least until I can go back and actually find it) "trans people are not confused about our biology, we're very aware", which sort of logically crystalized the whole concept of the alleged male/female [biology] vs man/woman [social roles] distinction for me. And granted, absolutely not everyone is as rigorous about this as I would like. But insofar as ContraPoints allows that sort of concession (re: biology not REALLY being disputed) in the first place, then – LOGICALLY, whether anyone wants to ADMIT this or not – we're not being philosophically forbidden from thinking/talking about the reality of WomanA... we're just quibbling over what words to use, or how to talk about it respectfully. (But of course, perhaps the answer is that CP is not being logically self-consistent, and this slipped past my attention... or I just let it slide and moved on, happy to have my own new idea.) Anyway, insofar as that angle is in play, at least for some speakers, then the answer to your question about Rachel Levine would cash out "definitely controversial", insofar as "man" is [it seems to me] more commonly being taken to refer to the social role... whereas if you said "male" [biological claim], it's not clear to me how many of the same people would find that ~controversial~ at the end of the day. They might still consider it offensive, in terms of sounding like something proximate/tantamount to a perceived TERF stance (emphasis on the "exclusionary" part being the core offense, as best I understand), or in terms of being something personal/private that we just shouldn't need to be drawing attention to and talking about in polite society (how do you even really know their biology, how do you know they're not intersex, etc)... but offensive to anyone, as a truth claim? Not clear to me at the moment. [But here again I am making a mental note for myself to revisit some of those questions, because I too might well be wrong.]

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May 1, 2022·edited May 1, 2022Author

I finally checked my unread notifications and belatedly saw this comment! I'll leave all the ContraPoints stuff to the side, since we clearly had quite different takeaways from the video. Which just leaves:

" the answer to your question about Rachel Levine would cash out 'definitely controversial', insofar as "man" is [it seems to me] more commonly being taken to refer to the social role... whereas if you said "male" [biological claim], it's not clear to me how many of the same people would find that ~controversial~ at the end of the day."

The tweet I twote (on my alt) was as follows:

"A friend of mine has been sent to Twitter jail for noting that Ass't Secretary of Health Rachel Levine is a man. Yet Ass't Secretary of Health Rachel Levine *is* a man. (Read a dictionary.) Moreover, this ban would be an abuse of Twitter's power even if Levine were otherwise."

This tweet obviously lacks all the qualifications I would have liked to included, but I mostly wanted to talk about Twitter's decision to ban this thought (rather than about the content of the thought itself), and 280 characters is not a lot of space. I didn't want to go to a thread for fear that a single tweet in the thread could be wrenched out of context. So I said the thing truthfully (and, I hope, charitably), but succinctly, then went back to talking about the ban policy. The subject of this tweet is a public person who had made gender identity a centerpiece of Sec. Levine's public persona, so it was clearly not "something personal/private that we just shouldn't draw attention to" in this case.

My account was locked about 36 hours later. Appeal denied. The account has remained locked for a month, and apparently will remain so indefinitely, until I "acknowledge" that this tweet violated Twitter's rules against hateful conduct: "You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of... gender identity."

You propose that my mistake here was in using the contested word "man" instead of the (you suspect) uncontested word "male." Perhaps even "biological male." Had I used "male," it would have been uncontroversial as a truth claim. Perhaps you are correct about this! There's an easy way to find out: take my tweet, change the word "man" to "male", and tweet it out. We can find out what happens. At this point, you've piqued my curiosity!

Yes, some may consider this offensive because it is "proximate" to a TERF stance, but, if no one can say anything that is "proximate" to an offensive stance, there is very little that can be said in the public square at all -- which is kind of my whole point.

(Meanwhile, on the pronoun front: a week later, you've still got me plenty shook over the Daniel Mattson parallel.)

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"Calling womenA "birthing people" does not in any sense *avoid* inflammatory language."

Perhaps this comes off as mere semantics to you, but the people who know who use that term ("birthing people") are not using it to describe the same set of people (womenA), but rather a subset of womenA which are those who are liable to give birth. For example, a woman who has had her uterus removed is still a woman, but is no longer a "birthing person".

For my part, I find the language clunky and sometimes needlessly controversial, and so in most cases I think you should just say "women", but in some contexts the added precision is worth something, and in some contexts it may be the least inflammatory option.

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I owe several replies on this thread, and apologize for my delinquency. (First I was busy with some audio drama things, and then I fell ill.) I will reply!

Meantime, a reader who asked to remain anonymous asked me to share her comment here, as a discussion-stimulator:

"I just gotta LOL at all the dudes commenting on your article like 'idk, is 'birthing parent' really a big deal?' like hi I can't claim to be a woman because there are 'men' who are giving birth and I can't claim to be a woman because there are 'women' who don't have uteruses or cervixes but you're right, dudes on whom this has absolutely no bearing, it's harmless. NBD. No erasure at all! I certainly do not feel like I am being erased! OH. WAIT."

This feeling of erasure has definitely been common, if not pervasive, among the women (womanA) to whom I've spoken offline about these questions.

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Jul 12, 2022Liked by James J. Heaney

you know, I think a deeper question than "what is woman?" actually divides the two sides: "What is 'Human'?"

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I'm very late to the party, but I wanted to comment that I appreciate how careful you were with your definitions and trying to stick to non-offensive parts of the debate.

There is a little weirdness in the middle where you justify the necessity of WomanB because conflating WomanA with Woman B led to discriminatory policies against women. I'm not sure that follows. In fact, the way you describe it, it sounds like discriminatory policies against WomenB are totally fine, it's just tragic that there are some smart WomenA there who were lumped in with the WomenB. Instead, maybe the problem was never conflating a woman's gender role with a woman's sex, but rather the limiting gender role for women in the first place was the problem.

It would be like saying that chattel slavery of African Americans was a problem of conflating the role slave with the biological category African American. Instead the real problem was having a role of slave in the first place.

It was just a weird aside that doesn't detract from your point too much. Setting my cards on the table, I am of the belief that gender roles are a real phenomena, but it's not clear at all if it is possible for a male to have an authentic female gender role or vice versa.

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Thanks for the comment! I wrote a very careful comment in reply, but then accidentally clicked away from this page for two seconds right before I posted it, and lost the whole thing. I will try to reconstruct the main points quickly, and I apologize that it comes across as rushed.

I was very startled when I first read your comment, because I couldn't imagine where you'd gotten what you were saying. Then I reread the passage in question, and I can see it now. What I was trying to do in that passage was essentially to draw out two points: (1) the oppression of women in the 19th century was motivated by treating womanA and womanB as equivalent, and (2) this was a bad motivation, because they are not equivalent. In my focus on those two points, I never actually got around to pointing out that the oppression was bad *in itself*, and would have been even if the motivation had been perfectly sensible. Oops!

This raises an interesting further question, which I didn't touch on in the article: can we really separate the sex-based oppression of the 19th century from its gender-essentialist motivation? That is, does a society that strongly presumes all females are (and should be) feminine *inevitably* end in a Charlotte Perkins Gilman horror story about legal and social discrimination? I'm inclined to think that it will (at least in societies where the concept of femininity includes some notion of submissiveness, which certainly includes ours)... but that may be down to my lack of imagination and/or the bone-deep anti-Victorian propaganda that pervades Boomer and post-Boomer American culture.

"Setting my cards on the table, I am of the belief that gender roles are a real phenomena, but it's not clear at all if it is possible for a male to have an authentic female gender role or vice versa."

Where I get hung up is that word "authentic." My own cards on the table: I share the Abigail Favale / Prudence Allen view that biological sex is closely connected to gender performance, way closer than most people are probably comfortable with in the present climate. However, even with those biological tendencies, there's enough about masculinity and femininity that is socially constructed and culture-specific that I doubt there's a stable fact-of-the-matter about what constitutes "authentic" masculinity or femininity. We can speak of tendencies, driven by biology, but both individuals and cultures are routinely drawn away from those tendencies in interesting ways.

(Someday, if I'm clever, I'll manage to spin this thinking into a piece on why I'm all for well-rounded men, but I'm sick of seminaries trying to force the men to live up to a largely-imaginary "masculine ideal." However, today is not that day.)

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It still comes across that you think feminine must mean something specific, and specifically something bad, weak, which necessitates subjugation.

New Polity has a great series on gender, post modernism, feminism, and Catholicism, "The Politics of Gender" on Youtube or a podcast app. I think it would interest you.

What I mean by "authentic" is shaped by what I understand gender identity to be. Gender identity as a concept of male/female personality traits is a fairly new understanding, but it is colloquially used to describe ways that a person's personality is impacted by their sex. For example, if a woman likes pink because all her favorite dolls growing up were pink because some marketing executive in the 60s arbitrarily decided that pink was a feminine color - liking pink is part of her gender identity. If a teenage boy is more aggressive and belligerent because of a testosterone surge - that is gender identity. However, it is unidirectional. A man who likes pink still has a man's gender identity. A woman yelling at a barista after she was refused service for not wearing a mask during a pandemic is aggressive but still has a woman's gender.

Everyone's gender identity is, in this way, unique to them. You can get three women together and ask them if they like A) hot baths, B) dark chocolate and wine, and C) romantic comedies. The first woman may like A and B, the second woman may like B and C, and the third woman may like A and C. Each of these are expressions of their unique female gender. If you take a sampling of the American population, it would be found that women admit to liking these things more often than men, therefore these things are a part of the American Female Gender Gestalt. These preferences are a combination of enculturated and biological differences between members of the biological female class and members of the biological male class. The cultural gender gestalts also influence the cultural gender roles, and both feed off each other in a cycle.

It is rare in percentages but common in sheer numbers for a man to like more things of the American Female Gender Gestalt than things in the American Male Gender Gestalt. Does this give them an authentic female gender identity? For me and my understanding of all these terms, that is swapping the cause and effect. It makes them a man who was especially resistant to the American Male Gender Gestalt - which might be a sign of great strength of personality. But it isn't the same thing as a woman is influenced to conform to the American Female Gender Gestalt. It is a phenomenon with a very different etiology.

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Mar 15, 2023Liked by James J. Heaney

You've put a lot of thought into the semantics, and I admire how you're grappling with what compassion and truth mean in this context. As an anthropologist with some training in linguistics, I struggle to restrain response to the semantic argument, because the most important response here is that a semantic framing misses the mark. The focus in the comments on your pronoun use--on behavior--is your signal that the substance is not semantics. Your essay at one point hits on the substance squarely:

People exist who experience physical suffering in relation to their primary and secondary sex characteristics, and who also usually experience psychological suffering attempting to meet the roles and presentations culturally assigned to people with those characteristics.

How do we treat those people? That is our issue.

Across human history, many cultures have treated these people with respect. Sometimes this has involved a transition across binary gender categories, and other times it involves third, fourth, or additional categories, and I'm not aware that either approach correlates with more humane treatment. Other cultures, including the traditions to which you and I belong, have targeted such people for violence. Amidst this cultural backdrop, early twentieth-century doctors treated transness as a deviance or disorder. Empirical evidence has since established that this approach only causes harm, and that transitioning, and treating people as the gender that they experience, alleviates suffering and saves lives.

So how do we treat these people, now? If we assume that the answer is, "with love and kindness, as our ethics tell us to treat all humans," what does this mean? Do we need to consider rectifications of previous wrongs? Are there any balances of kindness and harm to these people versus others?

These are the real questions. Although semantic issues can rise with these questions, mistaking semantics for substance takes us toward outcomes that are more violent, or at minimum, less kind. If the questions of rights were settled, and trans people could traverse the United States as safely as you can, then your tweet would have been greeted with a shrug.

The troubles with semantic framing become clear with your discussion of stakes, where the targeting for violence, both historical and current, drops from the picture. We have an attack on civilization itself versus an attack on identities. But the attack that trans people are constantly aware of is the attack on our bodies. We are more likely to be raped, assaulted, or murdered than cis people--by a wide margin.

The lifetime rates of sexual assault against women generally in the USA are appalling, and against trans women they are about twice as high (about 1/6 of cis women and 1/3 of trans women in lower estimates, and 1/4 of cis women and 1/2 of trans women on higher estimates). A study publicized in March 2021 found that trans people were about quadruple as likely as cis people to be targeted for violent crime in general. The data come from 2017 and 2018, after a decade of trans people having become massively more accepted and eeking out spaces of relative safety. If data existed for times that all but the youngest trans people vividly remember, or if trans people weren't clustering in the cities where we're relatively safe, I would not be surprised if that quadruple were quadrupled again.

Trans discourse did not originate after the 70s, as you suggest. In broad terms, dysphoric people and gender diversity appear always to have existed, with different solutions across cultures and histories. Modern trans discourse has its origins in the Weimar Republic, with empirical research on trans people leading to conclusions that Americans would reach again decades later. This progress was brought to a screeching halt when the Nazis burned the books and threw our forebears into gas chambers. Our numbers murdered were a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of others killed, but we are left to wonder where trans rights might be had science continued from the 1930s without our being targeted by the Third Reich.

So when you raise the specter of a totalitarian government punishing thought crimes of the cis majority, on behalf of a tiny minority who were actual targets of the Holocaust, it feels... off. Trans people have few positions of authority, high poverty, and high vulnerability, and we are all constantly aware, from every example historic and present, that the more authoritarian the regime, the more we die.

There is a history of rhetoric for justifying violence against us. When contemporary "Gender Criticals" use that rhetoric, it is not particularly material whether each individual doing so privately dreams of gas chambers. That language has been refined to sound reasonable to smart people on the outskirts of the issue--people like you.

What you call "attacks on identity" don't simply hurt someone's feelings or damage their worth--although they do that too. They are, in historical context, both threat and incitement to violence. If you use that language, people in the targeted group have no way of knowing whether you mean direct personal harm, whether you would actively support mass violence through the state, or whether your threat merely extends to tacit support for politicians who would make us more vulnerable than we already are. But do any of those options sound like someone you would feel comfortable with?

When people haven't wanted much to discuss the topic with you personally, it isn't simply sensitive feelings. Instead, people who may have already experienced targeted violence and almost certainly have experienced targeted harassment have every reason to perceive you as potentially dangerous. When Twitter decides not to platform tweets like yours, it is because people know how clever arguments to target minorities for violence start, and distinguishing intent to harm from lack of awareness isn't worth their time to moderate.

In your essay, the threat of violence toward trans people is by their own hands, and your choices of examples of activism showcases trans activists as threatening. The realities of trans people being primarily the targets for violence are erased. The erasure of violence in discussion is conducive to conclusions that enable its perpetuation.

I considered commenting on an unborn rights post, "Is a fetus a person?" The substance, I would claim, is the semantics. “PersonA clearly did not include phenomena that we could not see before the advent of the microscope, and in many cultures, even born infants were not people before families' decisions to keep them. PersonB, meanwhile, originated with anti-abortion rhetoric in the wake of Roe v Wade.” But the world has enough bad-faith arguments. Can you argue for the rights of the unborn without getting into semantics of whether they are people? If no, you don't have an argument. If yes, you might notice that the semantic debate does nothing but allow different sides to define "person" however they like and act accordingly.

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Mar 15, 2023Liked by James J. Heaney

In practical terms, the most ethical, sensible, and kind solutions for most situations align with what we would do by answering "yes" to "are trans women women?" You would probably say the same for answering "yes" to "are fetuses people?" even though there are many cases where a fetus does not align with how we use person in everyday language. Humans avoid cognitive stress by putting things into tidy categories, so it's easy to understand why we would argue this way. But semantic arguments muddy the waters more than they lead to more humane solutions.

With bathrooms, domestic violence shelters, and so on, are they separate because someone is going to give birth there? Or are they separate in order to provide safety for a gender that is vulnerable or targeted? The answer is the latter. Trans women thus belong. By this argument, shelters would also accept trans men as well as non-binary people, when a strict semantic division of a “women's shelter” would exclude them. Making semantics the substance results in less protection of the vulnerable from either direction!

(DV shelters should exist for cis men too, but that is another conversation.)

Willful denial of needed medical care is also a form of violence. From my perspective as a progressive, this makes America's privatized healthcare system inherently violent to the disabled and chronically ill, and to varying extents to everyone aside from the quite well off. As a conservative, you might not agree--but hopefully you would speak against a law treating the provision of insulin to diabetic children as abuse? Trans women in particular have the best chance of avoiding being targeted for violence if they begin transitioning early; denial of medical care is both direct violence upon their bodies and a guarantee of lifelong targeting.

In the past year, “gender criticals” have gone from “we just want to make girls' sports fair” to “let's deny medical care to kids” to “let's arrest doctors and force adults to detransition.” Far-right candidates have become quite open about attempting to eliminate transness and trans people entirely. Meanwhile, your mention that people get over dysphoria “all the time” is misrepresentative—we know from the medical literature that they generally don't, and that detransition is rare, and even rarer for reasons other than social stigma.

Let's take this back to pronouns. Purposive misgendering, in our current context, means "I wish violence upon you." Correct use of pronouns means, "I respect you and your basic physical safety." You've posited that correct pronoun use, to a typical audience, also implies a whole set of negative things, including “a full-bodied affirmation that biological sex should be hidden, memory-holed, and un-named”. This leads to my only direct question:

Who is your typical audience, and what the hell is wrong with them? The ontologically extreme positions you describe have nothing to do with anything trans people are fighting for. At least one other trans person in the comments appears to be telling you that this take on our discourse is not only incorrect, but utterly out of touch with our reality. Which it is! It's about on the level of claiming that parental rights for adoptive parents imply a negation of the belief that children result from pregnancies. The trans agenda is not memory-holing biological sex. The trans agenda is an average life expectancy.

I have to assume that the “typical audience” you have in mind are the friends who think that affirming transness is indulging mental illness. Regarding your pursuit of Truth, some of your friends are correct regarding whether transness is mental illness, and others are incorrect. Psychologists and doctors have not overwhelmingly about-faced on this issue thanks to the power of trans brainwashing. They changed their positions because of empirical science. Check left or right wing blog posts and you'll find a horrible mishmash, but check medical literature reviews and the evidence over decades is overwhelming.

Here's a literature review of all peer-reviewed articles on the relationship between transition and well-being from 1991 to 2017.


A commitment to Truth cannot give equal weight to scientific consensus and political positions that oppose it. Even if most trans people believed in this denial of biology (and since trans people nearly all need to learn much more about sex and biology than most cis people ever do, I feel pretty confident saying that they don't), people using pronouns correctly does not imply to us that a person believes these things. So if you know people to whom it does convey a bunch of absurdities, it's on you to correct them.

The idea that trans people deserve to live with dignity and safety has moved from fringe to mainstream because all people desire and deserve dignity and safety, and the scientific and medical communities have found empirically that affirming trans identities achieves this and treating them as mental illness does not. They've also determined a great deal about biology, culture, language, and identity, the bottom line of which is that treating trans men and women as their presenting genders in everyday life makes no false statements about biology. It just lets people live in safety. That's it.

Whenever a targeted or subordinate group stands to gain equality, fears of reversals of violence circulate among the long-dominant. Those fears will always find substance somewhere within the discourse of the minoritized. To speak to one of those fears, genital preference as transphobia will not move from fringe to mainstream, because it does not even agree with the experience of most trans people (many if not most of whom have preferences themselves), to say nothing of current research on sexuality, or of contemporary left-wing languages of consent. It's not a position that's taken seriously in the queer spaces I inhabit. No, after a history of our being targets of assault, the tables will not turn to force you to have sex with trans people.

Your very long post deserved a long response. I could speak to the semantic argument, but only if we're able to get on the same page about it being something of a sideshow. Centering it detracts from the primary issues of safety, medical care, and dignity. Meanwhile, I'm down to discuss more about trans experience, biology, and so on in a private conversation sometime. Amidst our differing politics, I hope it's clear that this is a gesture of meaningful trust.

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[PART 1]

Catching up on comments, Part Deux! Thanks for the comment, which is thoughtful and charitable as always, and (in this case) is supported by your particular life experience. I could be mistaken, but I believe you're the first actual trans person to participate in this comment thread. (Daniel Quinan's a mensch, and a good canon lawyer, but as far as I know quite cis. Other trans people have read it but not commented publicly.)

"The focus in the comments on your pronoun use--on behavior--is your signal that the substance is not semantics."

This is an interesting place to start, because, to me, pronoun use falls *squarely* within the semantics bucket. Determining how to address dysphoria in a certain individual is substance. Setting a policy for who can make use of this or that shelter is substance. Defining a test for whether someone can or cannot play in a certain sports league is substance. But deciding how we name something (or someone), what label we attach, what pronoun we use... I think that is semantics.

The basic premise of my article is that, once we get a handle on the semantics, figuring out the substance is relatively straightforward. Probably not actually *easy* -- as I said, working through the evidence behind the WPATH guidelines alone is a fact-intensive inquiry that would take us a very long time even under ideal circumstances -- but the path would be clear. (At least, a lot clearer than it is right now.) So if we can get to, "Biological womanhood exists", "feminine gender performance exists", and "trans women possess one of those traits but not the other," then I think that's enough to start building on.

Once we start building, there are lots of things we can start building towards, but you're certainly correct that the most urgent thing to build towards is a correct answer to the question, "How should we treat people who experience suffering in relation to their sex characteristics in such a way as to bring about their maximum human flourishing?" I came to believe, over the course of writing this article, that we can't reach agreements about the answer to that question without first coming to an agreement about how to talk about the question (semantically) in the first place.

Of course, as you note, the road forward from there is only open if everyone in the conversation agrees that we have a moral imperative to treat all human persons with respect and kindness! For what it is worth, I strongly agree with you that that *is* our moral imperative.

This is the central thing. I think we disagree on how to get there, in that I think we have to go through the semantics before we can have a productive conversation about substance, but the central thing will always be the well-being of our fellow humans. The rest is details.

"What you call 'attacks on identity' don't simply hurt someone's feelings or damage their worth--although they do that too. They are, in historical context, both threat and incitement to violence."

I thank you for sharing your perspective on how these discussions can play out, and the fear with which you therefore regard them. Of course, I came across all of these points at times in my research, but it is different when it is coming directly from a friend.

However, assuming that the studies are correct, and that trans people face rampant violence because of their transness, I *still* think it would be a mistake to treat contrary ideas as inherently "threat and incitement to violence." I have to believe (if I am to believe in free society at all) that *most* people are trying to work through these questions and reach good answers in good faith, as best they can. This isn't just "people on the outskirts" who are picking up ideas that have been specially "refined to sound reasonable." It's the reasonable mainstream of our society, many of them (not me) with strong personal stakes on these questions, picking up on reasonable ideas *because they are reasonable*. Reasonable ideas can still be wrong, of course, and persuading people that they are mistaken is a challenging process.

That process can't happen if the conversation is stifled in the crib. When gatekeepers like Twitter silence the conversation, they push the good-faith people to seek out and listen to radicals instead. That, I think, drives more violence than Graham Linehan ever has. (I think this is true on all kinds of issues, not just this one. It's why I consider myself a liberal, not a post-liberal.)

I think this is a better model of what's really going on in the conversation than the notion that Jesse Singal, Ryan Anderson, and J.K. Rowling want to erect gas chambers but are trying to find the magic argument that will make gas chambers seem reasonable to the gullible public. Ryan Anderson has been wrong about stuff, I've seen him do it, but I am certain he shares your goal: the well-being of every human.

Of course, that doesn't mean everyone has to *participate* in the conversation if they consider it harmful to do so. I can understand why someone would not want to participate here, especially if they have no track record on which to base their trust in me. That's why there's a big disclaimer at the start of this post.

In this article, specifically, I chose to set aside violent rhetoric that I came across (on both sides) (not saying it was equivalent, just that it existed on both sides) in the interest of helping my readers understand the strongest, most defensible, steel-manned version of each position while helping to illustrate where and how reasonable people come to disagree so vehemently. I didn't think centering violent rhetoric helped accomplish that for anyone.

"Trans discourse did not originate after the 70s, as you suggest. In broad terms, dysphoric people and gender diversity appear always to have existed,"

Trans *people* did not originate in the 1970s, and I did not intend to suggest that they did. I think the modern trans *discourse* originated in the 1970s, though. The way we frame and understand questions of sex and gender comes firmly out of that academic-feminist tradition I described, and that has consequences for how trans people in our society understand themselves, and how they are understood by the rest of this culture. You can certainly trace *some* of the modern trans discourse back to Weimar Germany, but, as you said, so much of that work (and so many of the people involved) were simply flat-out destroyed by the Nazis that the whole project had to pretty much start from scratch... and it did, in 1970s liberal arts departments. Regardless, though, I've stumbled across trans *people* (or, at least, that's how my modern eye would have labeled it) while reading random ecclesial court cases from the 13th century. Clearly transness isn't just something that was invented in the 1970s; it simply found a new way of talking about itself.

I hope that clarifies the point. I don't think we really disagree here, just misunderstood one another briefly.

"I considered commenting on an unborn rights post, "Is a fetus a person?" The substance, I would claim, is the semantics. 'PersonA clearly did not include phenomena that we could not see before the advent of the microscope, and in many cultures, even born infants were not people before families' decisions to keep them. PersonB, meanwhile, originated with anti-abortion rhetoric in the wake of Roe v Wade.'"

I actually agree that quite a lot of the abortion debate is reducible to semantics.

It's not *quite* the same thing, because, in the abortion debate, we are trying to define "that class of entities worthy of human love, respect, and protection." You can label that class "persons" or "human beings" or "rights-bearers" and nobody particularly cares what particular label you use as long as the terms are clear. (The term "person" is particularly important in the U.S. abortion debate, but only because "person" is the label our law typically uses as shorthand for "that class of entities worthy of human love, respect, and protection.") Much of the abortion debate is about trying to gently push your opponent into recognizing that "unborn children" are *already* part of the way your opponent intuitively conceives the class of entities worthy of human love, respect, and protection (or aren't part of it, if you're pro-choice)... which involves a lot of very careful semantic maneuvering. But if U.S. law changed tomorrow to label all rights-bearing entities "blorbos," the abortion debate would be barely affected; we'd just find-and-replace "person" to "blorbo" in our arguments wherever our arguments touched on the law and carry on.

In trans discourse, by contrast, the *labels themselves* matter enormously to a lot of people on all sides. If the U.S. changed all legal references to "women" to "blorbos" tomorrow (for no reason), my sense is that most people involved in the discussion would be *very upset*, and it would be central to the ongoing debate.

However, it's close enough to the same thing (there's a lot of semantics going on in both debates) that I don't really disagree with your point -- at least, not if I understood it correctly.

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[PART 2]

"With bathrooms, domestic violence shelters, and so on, are they separate because someone is going to give birth there? Or are they separate in order to provide safety for a gender that is vulnerable or targeted? The answer is the latter. Trans women thus belong."

Here, as we get into substance, I find that we do have some disagreements. With bathrooms, I have come to think that they're separated only for traditional or aesthetic reasons. I've become skeptical that sex-segregated bathrooms ought to exist at all. If someone can convince me that they need to exist in the first place, then I can probably say who should be allowed inside them, but I'm not there yet.

With domestic violence shelters, I agree that they exist to provide safety to people of a particular sex or gender -- but where I think I disagree with you is that, in some cases, I believe providing safety *requires* exclusion of another sex and/or gender. For at least some women fleeing traumatic domestic violence, it seems to be constitutive of their safety that they not be domiciled with any ManA.

That isn't the fault of the ManA's! If domestic violence shelters had no sex segregation at all, I *know* that nobody in the same shelter as me would have anything to fear from me -- but *they* don't know that, that's the whole trauma, and helping them move forward means (temporarily) segregating them from me, even though I am perfectly safe.

In some cases, that may mean segregating people from a particular sex, in others it might mean segregating them from a particular gender, and in still others it might mean segregating them from both. So I think we need DV shelters of all varieties out there, providing services to those they can serve and directing others to other locations. As a result, I think it's GOOD that one Canadian city has a shelter that serves WomanA and excludes ManA while others in the same town serve WomanB and exclude ManB. (I agree with you that men, in both senses, probably need shelters as well. I wonder which sex or gender(s) those shelters would need to exclude, if any.)

"Willful denial of needed medical care is also a form of violence."

I actually don't agree with this. I agree that willful denial of needed medical care "abuse," a word you use later on, but that isn't "violence." I'm becoming a stickler about this because I think "violence" has been stretched well past its limits in order to justify escalated rhetoric. (This is not unique to gender discourse.)

Of course, "needed" and "willful" are both doing a lot of work in this sentence. I would also add that, to constitute abuse, the person standing in the way of care would have to know that the care is needed (or be *willfully* ignorant of that fact).

"Who is your typical audience, and what the hell is wrong with them?"

I live in a D+30 city in a D+1 blue state. I conceive of my typical audience as mostly center-leftists, with a smattering of right-wingers (few of them MAGA, most of them center-right), certain Catholics who are hard to politically map (shout out to any tradinistas reading this!), and a fair share of true leftists. That's a fair composite of the people I'm interacting with on a day-to-day basis.

The one thing *all* of my readers seem to agree on is that I'm being completely ridiculous by ascribing certain meanings to certain pronouns. The reason I still think I'm right is that my readers don't agree on *which* meanings are ridiculous. More than one has vehemently expressed to me that it's insane to suppose the use of biopronouns communicates violence, and that anyone who thinks that can't be speaking in good faith.

That's the annoying thing about language: *every* group gets a vote about what it means! There are groups to my left *and* groups to my right that use pronouns to communicate things I really wish they wouldn't, but I can't change it! Only time, discussion, and general acceptance can do that.

Until then, I think pronouns communicate the things that I suggested to a typical representative audience of normies.

"The trans agenda is not memory-holing biological sex. The trans agenda is an average life expectancy."

If this were entirely true, there would have been no reason whatsoever for the backlash against J.K. Rowling after her "wimmun" tweet. Since there was a backlash, I don't think this can be entirely true. If the argument is that Rowling was inciting violence by talking about biological labels, and she had to be silenced because of the violence, not the biology... well, then the agenda is still memory-holing biological sex, just for slightly different reasons.

Now, where I *do* agree with you is that both ontological extremes are minority positions. I don't think most trans people actually have a problem with what J.K. Rowling said in her "wimmun" tweet. As I said in the article, not all, not even close, but a *critical mass* have made memory-holing biological sex central to their agenda. I don't know that I'd label anyone's particular agenda "the trans agenda" any more than I think there is a single coherent "gay agenda" -- but there are enough people who feel this way that it has shaped the entire discourse about sex and gender.

"All people desire and deserve dignity and safety, and the scientific and medical communities have found empirically that affirming trans identities achieves this and treating them as mental illness does not. They've also determined a great deal about biology, culture, language, and identity, the bottom line of which is that treating trans men and women as their presenting genders in everyday life makes no false statements about biology."

I think you specifically *didn't* want to get into the details of biology and medical care until all the preliminaries were cleared out of the way, so I will say only this: you clearly have great faith in the current scientific and medical communities.

For many years, my faith in these communities has been pretty weak, *especially* whenever they intersect with politics. (Hardly a day goes by without ACOG promoting some Orwellian language about abortion that defies every ounce of medical research ever conducted. *That* is a field where I know the literature reasonably well for a layperson, and the state is *not good*.) After covid-19 and the calamitous failure of the public health and medical establishments to conduct open and honest scientific inquiry when we needed it most, much less communicate true facts to the general population, I have to tell you that I have almost no faith in them at all.

This presents epistemic problems. I can still be persuaded by research with certain characteristics, conducted by researchers who seem to have no axe to grind, but it's a tall hill to climb.

Of course, that cuts both ways. I have a hard time drawing conclusions for *or against* certain medical interventions for trans people. Which was another reason why I didn't delve too deeply into them in this article. I am sincerely agnostic about most medical interventions, although the way my agnosticism plays out in policy terms is likely to be different if we are talking about adults versus minors.

"Amidst our differing politics, I hope it's clear that this is a gesture of meaningful trust."

Quite so. I thank you again, and I hope my gratitude for your trust comes through in this long-overdue reply comment.

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May 7, 2023Liked by James J. Heaney

I enjoyed your discourse and thought it to be well-balanced. But I couldn't help but notice your deference to "academia" -- as though it is the be-all and the end-all.

Imagine, for a moment a civil court case between plaintiff "J. Doe" and the XYZ Company. whatever the actual reason for the suit, each side brings in "expert testimony". Here we have two industry experts each making a definitive argument to support their client's given contention. The ultimate decision as to the validity of the suit falls on the jury. But is the jury saying that one expert is right and the other wrong? Or are they saying that one expert's argument is more compelling than the other's? Maybe their decision has less to do with the experts, and more to do with the "chemistry" between themselves and the respective counsel.

In my personal experience, I have found many in academia having high regard for themselves and forming an almost "mutual admiration society" ( thank you, Teresa Brewer). And, though they may differ in approach, there's a certain amount of pandering among them -- on the off-chance that the other proves to be right. And this pandering -- this quest for always being politically correct -- has led us down a slippery slope.

I'm reminded of something that I read a l-o-n-g time ago and attributed to Abraham Lincoln. A reporter asked him about a debate that was currently going on in the Congress. Lincoln said to the reporter (paraphrased) that if his esteemed colleagues were to decide that a sheep's tail was a leg, how many legs would a sheep have? The reporter, naturally, answered "Five". Lincoln retorted that he was incorrect; a sheep would still only have four legs, because calling it so doesn't make it so.

I have accepted that there is a difference between "sex" and "gender" -- one is defined and the other is discerned -- and I've acquiesced to the idea that a female isn't necessarily a woman. But I perceive that transpeople are themselves ambivalent, as if they're straddling a fence. The transwoman doesn't see themselves as being trans-female. So, when pressed to use pronouns, I resort to using "they" (finding the concept of "he/she" much more offensive). Academia may fault me, but I'd prefer "Let "they" who is without sin cast the first stone..." and be able to shave my face in the morning than to grovel at the feet of P.C.

As you have so adroitly pointed out, linguistics change but biology in and of itself is immutable. IMHO.

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Hi, Ted! Thanks for your comment! (Tonight is another "go through the old comment threads to try and catch up" night.)

As the child of academics, I probably am too deferential to academia. Academia is an institution, and, if the twenty-first century teaches us anything, it is that institutions are corruptible and need to earn trust. Academia, by contrast, has spent quite a lot of time and energy over the past few decades *expending* the trust we put in it.

On the other hand, a lot of this article's discussion is just me trying to present the best possible version of views that I personally don't agree with. That may come across as obsequious, but it's more out of respect for the conversation than out of respect for the inherent authority of the academics.

The constant, back-breaking effort to remain politically correct as academia in particular has continue to change the rules, in more and more alien directions, has indeed been a slippery slope, as you say, and I can understand when people just snap, turn over the table, and refuse to play anymore by the rules of what passes for civil discussion in our universities. Possibly I'm making that problem worse by largely going along with it in this piece. I like to think that, by going along with as much of the "other side's" language and thinking as I could, I opened up some real opportunities for people to read this who might not normally agree with me and have them say, "ah!"

But, ultimately, the only way out of all this is going to be to assert the existence of some kind of objective human nature to which individual human beings either conform or fail to conform -- like in that wonderful Abraham Lincoln quote (which natural law people have been using for a long time, and presumably will keep using for a long time, because it's absolutely perfect for a lot of the anti-reality stuff we get from the sciences today).

Anyway. Bit of a ramble! But I thought I owed you a response and now I've typed one. Hope to see you around some more. :)

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