Trans Sandwiched
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Trans Sandwiched

The Problems with Debra Soh’s The End Of Gender

Let’s take a deeper dive from a scientific point of view.

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Welcome back to Trans Deeper, a show where we take a deeper look at what people are saying in the trans conversation, and whether their claims are valid or not.

Last time, we looked at the reaction to Debra Soh’s The End Of Gender among gender critical feminist circles, and what we can learn from that. This time, I want to look at what is in the book itself.

The End Of Gender claims to debunk ‘the myths about sex and identity in our society’ in a way that is ‘backed by science and facts’. This alone had got me excited, because I believe the current discourse around sex and gender has too much unscientific philosophy and theory, and too little reference to the facts of biological science. However, when I actually got the opportunity to read the book, I was left a little disappointed, to be honest. The book emphasizes the need to do good science and resist unscientific biases and social pressures throughout, but I don’t think it has lived up to this promise in reality. In particular, as someone with both undergraduate and postgraduate academic training in the medical sciences, I found plenty of things to be concerned about in the book.

Firstly, let’s talk about the style of writing. The book mixes scientific findings, anecdotal information, and the author’s own opinions throughout. The latter two are clearly not scientific, but the book does not clearly enough demarcate what is and isn’t of scientific standard, in my opinion. An even bigger problem is that it mixes plenty of culture war stories in with descriptions of the science. These culture war stories are particularly familiar to those of us who follow right-leaning news media regularly (I follow news media from across the political spectrum regularly, because my political views don’t fit neatly into a box, and because I want to hear all sides of the story). I mean, if I had wanted a greatest hits of conservative culture war stories, I would have read Dave Rubin’s books instead. I really think it is inappropriate to include culture war stuff in books supposedly about the science, because it could bias the overall impression readers get, even if the science presented is otherwise sound.

The problem with casually mixing scientific findings and anecdotal information is that readers can get confused about what is fact, and what is merely opinion. This is especially problematic since the book covered plenty of areas where research is currently relatively lacking, including gender dysphoria in childhood and non-binary gender identities. For example, Soh offers a lot of thoughts on why people might be identifying as non-binary, but this is not backed by any vigorous research data. She even suggests that trans people who subsequently switch to non-binary identification sound ‘like they are experiencing transition regret’, a statement not backed up by any solid evidence, and also not consistent with what I have observed about such people in the trans community. Later on, Soh states that ‘gender identity is flexible in children’, even though this is by no means scientifically established to be true for every individual. I personally have had gender dysphoria since before age 3, and my own gender identity has been stable since the beginning, for example.

The book also presents highly controversial theories as if they were fact. The biggest example of this is the Blanchard typology of trans people, which has been repeatedly challenged and debunked. As a trans person who has seen the whole range of the diversity in the trans community, I definitely know that there are plenty of trans women who don’t fit into the two boxes prescribed by the Blanchard typology. Proponents of the Blanchard typology have never satisfactorily addressed this problem, and this book is no exception. Soh also states that biological sex ‘is defined not by chromosomes or our genitals or hormonal profiles, but by gametes’. However, this view is not universally accepted by scientists, and as Soh later illustrates, there are plenty of exceptions to this ‘rule’, which means that it is not a better way to define biological sex compared with chromosomes, for example. The fact remains that the commonly accepted ways to define biological sex (chromosomes, reproductive organs, gametes, and so on) all have ‘exceptions to the rule’, and they don’t 100% line up either. Soh’s rejection of this area of ambiguity is not good science, in my opinion. This is actually not directly related to trans issues, because we are talking about ways to define biological sex and not gender here. However, there is currently a wish by some people for a simple rule to reliably classify every individual on Earth by biological sex, usually to serve trans-skeptical political agendas, and I am worried that the way Soh rejected the gray areas in biology could fuel this unscientific sentiment. Good science should be upheld, even if it does not deliver what some people want.

There is also an outrightly incorrect statement. Soh says that transmedicalism is ‘to question whether nonbinary people are the same as trans people’. In reality, the defining belief of transmedicalism is ‘one needs gender dysphoria to be trans’. Transmeds have a variety of views on non-binary people, and many actually accept non-binary people with dysphoria as fulfilling their definition. While this is not a major theme in the book, it just shows how Soh has an inadequately clear understanding of the trans community, and the different stances of the various ‘factions’ within the community. Given this, I think it is legitimate to question the soundness of her commentary on the state of the trans community.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is still a good thing that Soh has promoted and emphasized the need to take a science and facts based approach in examining issues around gender. There are still plenty of things in the book that are actually scientifically sound, and this is more than can be said for many opinion pieces about gender issues these days, for example. However, if we want people to adopt a more scientific approach in their views of gender, we must start by doing good science in a consistent way. Using my academic training in the medical sciences, I judge that this book has failed to do that.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, who recently published her autobiography The TaraElla Story, in which she described the events that inspired her writing.

She is also the author of The Trans Case Against Queer Theory.

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Because the fundamental experience of being trans is being eternally sandwiched between forces bigger than yourself. Forces with their own agendas, who use trans people for their own purposes.

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TaraElla

TaraElla

Author and singer-songwriter. Doing sociology and philosophy by looking at Western politics and culture. Moral Libertarian. https://www.taraella.com

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