Following Part One of my response earlier today, here are further brief responses to Luke Roelofs’ prolix arguments against gender-critical feminism. Like the original, this is not a fun read: I’ve not put a lot of effort in, and there are no jokes. So: as briefly as I can, where this is clearly not exhaustive -
Do Trans People Reinforce Gender Stereotypes? (No)
In this section, Roelofs argues that the following is false.
1) “gender transitions, even when voluntary, serve to ‘reinforce gender stereotypes by making sure everyone with ‘feminine’ interests is a woman and making sure everyone with ‘masculine’ interests is a man”
His discussion of this point appears to mix together two historical points of mine and others:
A) that, developmentally, a personal narrative can emerge for some, over time, such that one takes what are perceived — by society and/or by oneself- to be feminine features of oneself as symptomatic of womanhood (or masculine features as symptomatic of manhood).
B) that in the public consciousness, a dominant explanation or justification of why e.g. a biological male counts as ‘really’ a woman, is that the male is ‘feminine’ in some or many ways.
Roelofs rejects both A) and B) on the grounds that lots of transpeople he knows would not self-ascribe their motive to transition as being to do with gender-non-conformity, femininity, or masculinity. This is limited evidence against A), but it hardly shows the claims are ‘just false’ or ‘wildly out of touch with reality’ as is claimed. The story I describe in A) is a developmental one taking place over time, as a process of producing a certain belief about the self; and could be true even if the agent was unconscious of it. The point made in B) could be true independent of any facts about what consciously motivates people to transition. Moreover, the claim in A) was never intended to be a claim about all transpeople. There are other reasons for transition, demonstrably.
Roelofs also cites the DSM as evidence against A). In fact the DSM takes as one diagnostic criterion: ‘A strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender’. This is somewhat suggestive of A), at least.
UPDATE — a reader has pointed me to the DSM for Gender Dysphoria in children. Diagnostic criteria include:
- Strong desire to be or insistence one is the other gender (or some alternative) different from assigned one (mandatory characteristic).
- Strong preference for cross-dressing in or simulating female attire (assigned boys); or only masculine clothing/resistance wearing feminine clothing (assigned girls).
- Strong preference for cross-gender roles in make-believe/fantasy play
- Strong preference for toys, games, or activities stereotypically used/played by other gender.
- Strong preference for playmates of the other gender
- Strong rejection of typically masculine toys/games/activities & strong avoidance of roughand-tumble play (assigned boys); or strong rejection of typically feminine toys, games, and activities (assigned girls)
A further point made by Roelofs against A) is that many transpeople fit social stereotypes typical for their sex (he confusingly describes this as their being ‘very very atypical for their gender’ and ‘not straight’). But in fact, this is consistent with A), of course.
Roelofs argues that transpeople that DO say that they want to transition because they perceive themselves to be feminine/ masculine are usually saying this because they think it is what doctors want to hear; and that they might be motivated to exhibit stereotypical sexed behaviours in order to ‘pass’ or not be mocked. Both of these points seem likely to be true of some people, but as already suggested, are consistent with A) and B).
Roelofs suggests that suggesting that some transpeople might be self-deceived about their own motivations in transitioning is ‘hateful’ and ‘transphobic’ because ‘it amounts to disbelieving or ignoring people’s description of their own motivations for making major personal decisions, and instead advancing theories according to which they have some disreputable motivation that fits one’s own worldview more neatly’. I would disagree. I think most of us have reasons to misdescribe our own motivations most of the time. The literature on cognitive dissonance and confabulation seems to confirm this.
(I’m missing out the rest of the points in this section, because they aren’t philosophy as I recognize it, but rather a bizarre exercise which starts with the conviction that interlocutors are wrong and hateful, and then fills in the gaps retrospectively about the sinister reasons they ask the questions they do, and say what they say.)
Are People Being Pressured to Transition? (No)
(In some parts of this section, Roefels makes some sensible enough points which many gender-critical feminists would agree with, I think, but the rhetorical positioning of his antagonists as deluded, lying, bigoted, hateful, etc. is overwhelmingly difficult for this reader to deal with and absolutely inhibits any desire to find the common ground.)
This section builds on the strawman that gender-critical philosophers think that being gender non-conforming as a child automatically means they are marched to the doctors to be given drugs. The more charitable claim to examine would be that in a society where messages about ‘being born in the wrong body’ are prevalent (and yes, they are prevalent in the UK currently); and in an environment where teachers and parents and clinicians are told by powerful institutions and lobbying groups that this is a natural phenomenon which should not be questioned on pain of counting as ‘conversion therapy’, gender non-conforming and gay or pre-gay children are even more likely to come to a conclusion about their being trans than they otherwise would have done. If we can legitimately talk of ‘pressure’ on young girls to be thin without implying they are being starved by their parents, so too can we talk of pressure here.
Presumably unlike Roefels, I have talked to people working in the UK Tavistock GIDS and what they describe is well-represented here, for instance
Governor quits 'blinkered' Tavistock clinic
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Calls to end transgender 'experiment on children'
The only NHS gender clinic for children is risking a "live experiment" by sending hundreds for life-changing medical…
In this section, Roefels mischaracterizes my position on conversion therapy, which is here. I don’t argue that generally ‘supporting someone’s transition is a form of ‘conversion therapy’”. I say that not questioning a child or teen’s desire to transition is akin to it, if they are actually gay not trans. The argument takes place in the context of a new definition of conversion therapy endorsed in the UK by the BCAP.
Does Admitting Trans Women Make Women’s Spaces Less Safe? (No)
This section is largely based on the idea that sex-separated spaces means a world where you might be ‘missexed and then forced out of the bathroom, or arrested, or threatened, or sexually assaulted by someone determined to ‘unmask’ you by exposing your genitals, or whatever it is that is supposed to keep out the opportunistic cis men who are the focus of this discussion.’
I don’t know what to say to this. Has anyone heard of this regularly happening in the entire history of sex-separated spaces in the UK and US? Because women are regularly assaulted in unisex spaces. Why wasn’t this possibility mentioned when sex-separated spaces were introduced in the first place? Why are we only hearing about it now? But let’s go along with the fantasy that this is a likelihood for people who look like members of the opposite sex. (I am six foot tall with short hair and I dress like a boy; I sometimes get missexed — so maybe I should be worried).
So now we have two sets of possible harms: either we leave some sex-separated spaces, in which case — allegedly — those who look like members of the opposite sex might get their genitals exposed by the police, or get ‘asked for their paperwork’; or we make all spaces unisex, in which case women run a greater risk of being assaulted and aggressed. Isn’t it at least reasonable to respectfully discuss which of these worlds we should go for, rather than automatically ‘transphobic’ etc? I think it is.
A further question is what this has to do with trans people. If it is a genuine worry at all, it is about people who look like the opposite sex (e.g. butch women); and it is being used by Roefels — dare I say “opportunistically” — as a massive rhetorical sledgehammer to distract from the fact that the vast majority of trans people can be recognized as such on sight.