Trans Activists are Clearly Wrong About the “Kitchen Sink” Defense

I thought I’d write today about a very specific criticism trans and queer activists make of radical feminists, sometimes called the “Kitchen Sink” defense. Julia Serano, a popular trans writer, summarizes it in this excerpt from a longer essay:

More often than not, people who claim that trans women aren’t women make both the biology and socialization arguments simultaneously, even though they are seemingly contradictory (i.e., if biology is the predominant criteria, then one’s socialization shouldn’t matter, and vice versa). Much like their homophobic counterparts who make appeals to biology (“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”) then hypocritically invoke socialization (e.g., claiming that people can be turned gay as a result of gay teachers or the “homosexual agenda”), the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd desperately throws the entire kitchen sink at us rather than attempting to make a coherent argument.

This point — radical feminists are incoherent because they criticize the validity of trans identity on both social and biological grounds — is a very popular one among the wokest of trans royalty. I can recall Zinnia Jones, Riley Dennis, Andrea Long Chu, Shon Faye, Munroe Bergdorf, and others all hitting on some variation of this critique over the last few years.

If nothing else, I commend them on their bravery; it’s a pretty bold move, all things considered, to say your opponent isn’t to be trusted because they found too many reasons you’re wrong. But it’s a good response, in a rhetorical sense, because Twitter bystanders are always hungry for these kinds of meta-analytical gotchas (think BEN SHAPIRO DESTROYS HIS OPPONENT WITH LOGIC and all that). Combine our love of crying fallacy with a background assumption of women’s hysterical irrationality, and it’s easy to see how arguments like this quickly convince people that objections to queer theory are fundamentally an ad hoc emotional response.

But is it actually a reasonable critique of radical feminists, or anyone else? Of course not. And anyone who takes a moment to think about it can see why.

The fundamental flaw in Serano’s argument is the assumption that two dissimilar objections necessarily indicate a contradiction. But that’s not true, even in the example provided in the essay. So long as socialization in some way relates to biology, or if socialization and biology in some way both relate to a third feature, then bringing up both isn’t inconsistent at all.

(Oddly enough, even the homophobic argument presented isn’t really a contradiction. It’s possible to believe that heterosexuality is an innate biological default while also believing that “gay socialization” can override it. That’s a stupid argument on empirical and theoretical grounds, but it’s not particularly open to the “kitchen sink” accusation. Does Serano even understand what the logical fallacy here is?)

“Trans women aren’t women because they’re born male, and also because they sometimes have an Iowa driver’s license” would be a kitchen sink argument, because there’s no coherent feature incompatible with womanhood that links those two things. But “Trans women aren’t women because they’re born male, and also because they receive male socialization” is a perfectly reasonable response; either one feature provides evidence for the other (i.e. socialization is indicative of biology, which determines manhood) or because both point to a third determining feature (i.e. both male socialization and male biology are reason to believe in someone’s placement into the male sex-class, which determines manhood). In either case, there’s no logical foundation for declaring the objection incoherent or inconsistent so long as those relationships exist.

You can be sure this argument fails simply by applying it to almost any other claim. Here’s a simple example: I am slightly overweight, five-foot-ten, and I live in a 700 square foot apartment in the cheap(er) part of Seattle. Imagine I told you that I play professional basketball for the NBA. Chances are, you wouldn’t believe me — and if I asked why, you would probably make reference to both my physical fitness level (most NBA players don’t get winded climbing up a flight of stairs) and my meager living situation (most NBA players don’t split the rent on a one-bedroom apartment).

Now, imagine I respond by quoting Serano’s argument:

More often than not, people who claim that I am not an NBA star make both the physical fitness and wealth arguments simultaneously, even though they are seemingly contradictory (i.e., if athleticism is the predominant criteria, then one’s standard of living shouldn’t matter, and vice versa)… the ‘I don’t play for the NBA’ crowd desperately throws the entire kitchen sink at me rather than attempting to make a coherent argument.

That would obviously be a stupid fucking response. And it’s a stupid fucking response in the exact same way Serano’s is a stupid fucking response — because it assumes that providing two pieces of evidence is the same thing as providing two sets of criteria. But “You are not x because of y, and also z” does not mean “y, and also z, is what determines that you are x.” That’s a disingenuous bait-and-switch, and I’m fairly certain Serano (and Jones and Dennis and all the others) knows it.

Perhaps this is all a bit of projection on the part of trans activists. After all, they’ve been happy to use their own “kitchen sink” explanations to justify why trans women are women — because they identify as such, because their brains are female, because they live as women, and so on. When Serano himself regularly makes brings up psychological, biological, and sociological justifications for trans womanhood in the same essay, there’s hardly room to talk about feminists’ inconsistency.

Either way, the point still stands: Serano and other trans activists are wrong about the Kitchen Sink Defense. If an opponent raises two unrelated objections to your argument, that does not immediately signal that they are appealing to an inconsistent standard. It just means you might be wrong in two different ways.