Sex and Sports

by Daniel A. Kaufman


The politics swirling around the question of gender identity are developing so quickly and furiously both in the US and the UK that it is difficult to keep track, but my interest here is the current brouhaha over Rachel McKinnon’s gold medal win in the UCI Masters Track World Championship and the questions it raises about women’s sports.  (McKinnon is a trans-woman.) In particular, I’m interested in an argument that McKinnon has made in response to those who have deemed her victory unfair.  (McKinnon also has hurled accusations of bigotry and “transphobia,” to which I will pay no attention, given that they are dialectically irrelevant.)  That argument, roughly, is as follows:

To suggest that there is something unfair about biological males who identify as women competing in women’s sports, because as biological males they enjoy any number of physical advantages over their female counterparts, would force us also to deem it unfair for females who have greater natural height, strength, endurance, etc. to compete with other females, which is obviously absurd. (McKinnon also points out that she has lost races to female cyclists in the past.) (1)

Rachel McKinnon (center), flanked by those who took second and third place.

As I said, I’m not really interested in the particulars of McKinnon’s case (or even in the question of trans-people in sports), but in the implications of the argument she has made with respect to it.  Specifically, I don’t see how McKinnon’s argument is not effectively a case against sports being sex-segregated at all. That is, I don’t see how the argument that invokes natural advantages/disadvantages within a sex as a relevant analogy to natural advantages/disadvantages between sexes can only apply to trans people.  If the argument is a reason to think that Rachel McKinnon should be able to compete against female cyclists, then I don’t see why it isn’t also a reason to think that Rafael Nadal should be able to compete against female tennis players.  McKinnon’s argument that one should limit this to trans-women, because they are women – she points out that all of her legal documents have her down as a woman – is easily ignored, insofar as sports are sex-segregated, not gender-segregated.  And the argument that trans athletes are a special case, because the hormone treatment they receive renders them weaker/stronger than their non-trans sex-counterparts also seems unavailable, given the argument we have been discussing. (It is worth noting that McKinnon opposes testosterone limits on trans-women athletes. (2))

It seems clear that the elimination of sex segregation in sports would mean that women could pretty much forget about ever being athletically competitive to any significant degree again.  Not too long ago, John McEnroe made the case that as good a tennis player as Serena Williams is, she wouldn’t rank much better than around 500 in the world if she had to compete with the men.  (Others have suggested she would rank even lower.)  And Williams herself has admitted that against top male players, she wouldn’t stand a chance; that the men’s and women’s games are fundamentally different because of the physical differences between males and females.

For a visceral confirmation of this point, consider the following, in which we watch male professional tennis players serving against female professional tennis players.

Surely there are men whom these women could beat, just as there clearly are men whom, say, former UFC champion, Ronda Rousey could beat up.  But that really isn’t the point is it?  No one in their right mind would suggest that Serena Williams should have to face Rafa at the French Open or that Ronda Rousey should have to face Conor MacGregor in the ring.

Or perhaps they would.  More and more, the current arguments being made by gender-identity activists seem to be pointed in the direction of eliminating sex segregation altogether, across our society.  Certainly, that is the direction the arguments have taken in the UK (see the ongoing battle over the Gender Recognition Act, in which my friend and colleague Kathleen Stock has been involved).  This greatly disturbs me, as I believe that there are very good reasons for maintaining sex-segregated prisons, shelters, and yes, sports.  Undoubtedly, it is a complicated question, as my Provocations piece on bathrooms indicates (and over which I remain somewhat conflicted, given the arguments being made by gender-critical feminists), but the speed at which this is all developing and the ferocity with which the gender-over-sex case is being made seems to suggest that for gender-identity activists, it’s not complicated at all.



(2) From USA Today:

Jillian Bearden and Rachel McKinnon have much in common as cyclists, Olympic hopefuls and transgender women — and much in conflict as opposite poles of an intractable argument over how to balance what’s fair with what’s right.

Bearden agrees with the International Olympic Committee that naturally occurring testosterone gives transgender women an unfair advantage in competition against cisgender women, meaning women who were born female, while McKinnon believes subjecting trans women to testosterone blocking violates their human rights.







151 responses to “Sex and Sports”

  1. One would think that a reductio ad absurdum argument would resolve the matter of eliminating sex segregation in sports. Imagine for a moment the wholesale slaughter that would ensue if women were to compete on the same rugby playing field as men.

    The really interesting thing for me is why this matter is manifesting itself so vigorously. What are the underlying causes? The rights and wrongs are not nearly as interesting as understanding the causes. Hmm, this requires quite some thought!

  2. s. wallerstein

    I wish I could add something to your post, but all I can say is that I agree with you. I will resist the impulse to comment ironically about “Ms” Mackinnon’s feminine physique.

  3. Bunsen Burner

    I suspect that you are right. Sex segragation may very well be a thing of the past. Especially now that transgender children are recognized. No more sex segragated schools soon. I suspect sports will have to introduce some form of physical grading, such as used in boxing, to try and keep everyone at the same physical level. One area that interests me is what will happen to female scholarships? Presumably scholarships created only for cis women will be considered discrimatory.

  4. I’m afraid that you are likely correct. In sport, even if they do as you suggest,it will mean that few if any women will ever be competitive again. And it will mean on so many areas that the protections and special consideration we give to women will no longer be sustainable.

    I won’t deny that I am shocked and dismayed at the extent to which progressives seem willing — eager even — to ditch all of the accomplishments women have made in these areas so quickly.

  5. Well, this whole ‘trans’ fad is becoming ridiculous. Let’s set aside the physiognomy and physiological issues involved, and consider Bunsen Burner’s remark: “One area that interests me is what will happen to female scholarships? Presumably scholarships created only for cis women will be considered discrimatory.” Bunsen may have intended this tongue in cheek, but this is really important, since it doesn’t involve any physiological or physiognomic distinction; and yet almost assuredly this prophesized event will happen, very shortly, I imagine. It is now becoming more and more obvious that ‘trans’ activists are no longer insisting on equal rights, but pleading special privilege accruing to their self-identification. The problem is that they are not only insulting those who oppose even their basic rights, they are losing those who have supported them in their struggle for basic rights. But those rights do not, and cannot, include displacing women, competing unfairly with women, demanding special accommodations. This is crossing a line, and it will backlash, pretty badly. Especially given the Supreme Court we have now, there will be major cases wherein they will not only lose whatever special privilege they’ve acquired through cultural manipulation, they may very well lose some of their basic rights as well..

  6. Will it backlash? I keep hoping so, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. I think what happens with the GRA in Britain will tell us a lot.

  7. Kyle

    In sports, the tendency has been to add classifications, i.e., special olympics, masters. Rather than going unisex, governing bodies are creating more categories. There is bantamweight football leagues, short guy basketball leagues, etc.

    And, yet, at the same time, the categories are getting removed in other ways. In masters swimming, for example, the heats are often arranged by speed, irrespective of gender. 50-year old men dive into the pool alongside 35-year old women. They race against each other based on prior best times. Likewise in Marathons. Runners come to the finish line all mixed together. Everyone races against people of their ability level. Only later are the times sorted by sex, age class, disability for the sake of awards.

    What’s BS in MacKinnon’s view is, just as the whole sporting world embraces more and more categories to offer awards in, she wants to limit the categories to just men and women. Rather than say, “Let’s have trans categories, too!” MacKinnon is saying, “No, I want that woman’s award. It’s a question of my basic human rights.”

    Beyond the fact that it reeks of a creeping masculinism, the problem with trans women jumping onto the podium and elbowing cis women off is that it leaves behind trans men who will never have the chance for a podium without special trans categories. The real political fight would be to add trans categories. For this reason, MacKinnon’s view is bogus. It’s one of personal self-absorption masquerading as liberation politics. It reaches for an empty moment of glory that we can all see through while disregarding the challenges faced by trans male athletes.

  8. Kyle wrote:

    “the problem with trans women jumping onto the podium and elbowing cis women off ”

    = = =

    And while I think you raise an interesting and sound point regarding trans men, I think what you describe is objectionable in and of itself. The fight for pay, prestige, etc., with regard to women’s sports was hard fought by many dedicated people and has just begun to bear real fruit. It is flat out wrong to suddenly say, “Never mind. Sports are now unisex.”

  9. Kyle,
    Likewise in Marathons. Runners come to the finish line all mixed together. Everyone races against people of their ability level. Only later are the times sorted by sex, age class, disability for the sake of awards.

    As a marathon runner myself, I think this is the only reasonable way to do it(in the case of mass sports). And there is a wonderful sense of camaraderie among runners. We greatly enjoy all running together.

    But I get your more general point and agree when you said:

    MacKinnon’s view is bogus. It’s one of personal self-absorption masquerading as liberation politics. It reaches for an empty moment of glory that we can all see through“.

    The basic idea of ‘fairness‘ has been lost, along with the general decline in virtue ethics. The shocking rise of cheating and drug taking perfectly illustrates, as does the bad faith of losers.

  10. Sport used to be the training ground for life. It was a place where we tested and reinforced the concept of ‘fairness‘, carrying it over into the conduct of the rest of our lives.

    With sport we learnt to abide by certain rules and to accept the verdict of the arbiter(the referee). We learnt the discipline of training and the value of preparation. Most importantly, we learnt to lose and to respect the winners. This developed a hardiness of spirit and inculcated perseverance.

    The basic idea of fairness has been lost and replaced with the desire to win at any cost. This can be traced back to earlier generations who were trained to think they were all winners. And if we cannot win we blame the system, pervert the rules and seek any number of unfair advantages. And if that still does not work we indulge in an orgy of whining, moaning and blaming.

    In sport we see the public demonstration of the values of society. Done properly it is a role model for ideal conduct.

    Look at today’s sport and draw your own conclusions.

  11. Old fashioned liberals believe that understanding is what matters. Modern liberals tend to believe that blame and condemnation is what matters. Well, I am an old fashioned liberal. Do you remember them? they used to believe in decency, tolerance and kindness, as well as understanding. And being an old fashioned liberal I want to seek understanding of this matter.

    My first observation is this. As we grow into adulthood, two crucial things happen. We acquire and develop a unique sense of identity. And we acquire a moral framework that determines how we fulfil our identity. It seems to me that both crucial stages have been fractured.

    My second observation is that the the stress of public contest that is sport, is revelatory. The stress of competition strips away pretences and reveal who we really are. You cannot maintain pretences when you have strenuously committed your entire being to an outcome.

    So what is going on? Turning first to identity, the kindest thing we can say is that the process of developing an identity has become problematic with the result that we have the toxic outcomes described by Dan-K. Identity formation is a vital stage of our growth into adulthood. This formation takes place in the robust company of our childhood peers, guided from afar by wise parenting. This process has been fractured in three ways:

    1. screen time has replaced face time in our homes with the result that Hollywood is becoming the prime parenting influence. That cannot be good. The young are enabled to choose their role models while immature and without the guidance of the mature. The narratives of the parents are vital to the formation of healthy values but these narratives are instead replaced by Hollywood narratives. It is as if we have outsourced the moral education of our children to Hollywood producers. Can you imagine a worse choice?

    2. screen time is displacing face time with peers. This matters because when hiding behind the screen you can become a poseur, creating imagined, what to you are desirable, identities. This is far less possible in the physical company of your young peers who are quick to scorn your pretensions. The result is that many form unrealistic and even toxic identities.

    3. transition into adulthood is being delayed until the late twenties or the early thirties. This slow transition tends to set in place the immaturity of youth, with its poorly developed sense of identity.

    The result of all of this is unhealthy, incomplete, unrealistic and immature identity formation. Poor identity formation distorts the remainder of a person’s life. This is a probable explanation for the growing rates of depression.

    In my next comment I will deal with the problems in the way we acquire a moral framework that determines how we fulfil our identity. For this I will draw on the insights provided by that ever-so-perceptive NY Times writer, David Brooks.

  12. Turning now to the development of moral frameworks. With a sense of identity comes an imperative to fulfil that sense of identity. It is in part aspirational as we seek to fulfil that identity in the way we develop ourselves. It is in part confirmational as we act to confirm our identity and we seek feedback from our peers that confirms our identity. It is in part symbolic as we don the symbols of our identity. A healthy sense of identity is in sync with who we really are, how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. The social dimension of identity is what anchors our identity in reality.

    However the gap between how we perceive ourselves and others perceive us can be the occasion for great stress. And it is this stress that tests our moral framework and reveals our moral shortcomings.

    This is why the way we act to fulfil our identity is inescapably a moral act that depends on a sense of integrity. Poseurs lack a sense of integrity. So the second great cause for the toxic expression of identity, described by Dan-K, is, in my opinion, the result of poorly formed moral frameworks.

    The Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith, has documented this in his really good book, Lost in Transition. David Brooks writes about it in the article ‘If it feels right…‘,

    Here are the important parts, but read the article(and the book if you can). It is really worth it:

    Poorly formed moral categories:
    Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing…What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues…you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters.

    Extreme relativism
    The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?…I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.

    The rise of extreme individualism
    For decades, writers from different perspectives have been warning about the erosion of shared moral frameworks and the rise of an easygoing moral individualism.

    Allan Bloom and Gertrude Himmelfarb warned that sturdy virtues are being diluted into shallow values. Alasdair MacIntyre has written about emotivism, the idea that it’s impossible to secure moral agreement in our culture because all judgments are based on how we feel at the moment.

    The loss of moral sources
    Charles Taylor has argued that morals have become separated from moral sources. People are less likely to feel embedded on a moral landscape that transcends self.

    In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit …. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines.

    The exclusive appeal to internal guidance
    now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart

  13. Finally I want to comment on how it is that we acquire moral frameworks. Easy, you say, we educate our children. It is the responsibility of parents and teachers to give children a moral education.

    That sounds plausible but try teaching your children about morality. You will quickly see their eyes glaze over, they will start to fidget, steal a glance at their smartphone and touch their groin. No, it doesn’t work and never has.

    This is what happens. We construct narratives in our lives and share these narratives. Our children listen to these narratives and are intrigued by them. Now here’s the thing. Our narratives always have implicit moral content. Our children hear this and absorb it painlessly, without knowing it is happening. This also happens with our nursery stories and children’s books. When you read to your children you are doing something very important.

    But screen time is displacing face time in our homes and with that the sharing of narratives is greatly diminishing. And that means we have outsourced our responsibility to other, persuasive voices that have no concern about the moral well being of our children.

  14. Bunsen Burner

    What dismays me most is the number of women, and especially feminists who have been cheering on these changes. I wonder if many really understand the social forces they have unleashed. I suspect many took on trans rights due to feeling sorry for a small minority of tran people. However, society, with its laws and institutions, can’t easily work with special cases. The issues posed by trans individuals requires quite radical social changes, that unfortunately have a large negative impact on women.

  15. Bunsen Burner

    I can assure you I was quite serious. A while ago there was a women’s march here in London. Many trans women were very disparaging about it. Too much emphasis on vaginas and uteruses they said. Apparently women’s reproduction is ‘reductive’ was one comment. Misogynistic crap that would have gotten a man killed if he dared say it.

    As for a backlash. There is one at what we might call a personal level. However, taking it public usually gets you called transphobic by the ideological police. It can in fact have you fined as a hate crime.

  16. Bharath Vallabha

    Really good, balanced post. I get how a trans-woman would feel that she wants everything that a cis-woman gets. And maybe trans-gendered activists will jump and down at the question, but what puzzles me is: why isnt it a form of trans-women putting themselves down to ask to be treated like cis-women?

    In my teens, when I was new to America, my favorite atheletes were Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott (of the 49ers). One was white, the other black. And I really wanted to be a football player, though I was not good at it. Not seeing any Indian-American football players, I started to wish partly that I was white or black. But it was a phase and I grew eventually to see Indian-American as its own category.

    I get Mackinnon wants to compete at a high level and get recognition she feels is due. But the moral push that is being used to do so is bound to have a backlash. Or perhaps we are already seeing the backlash. This is the new world we live in: leftist cultural activism and the backlash against that gaining steam with the new Republican party. In a way the latter is more powerful because I think even many liberals will have a backlash to the way things are being pushed through culturally without discussion.

  17. Welcome to the human condition, I think. 🙂

    The frustration I sense is that our issues do not resolve into neat and tidy solutions, that there are even unresolvable conflicts between things that different people care about differently, and that arguments that seem persuasive in one context are intolerable in another. I am reminded of that quote you posted in your essay on course notes for the Bernard Williams class last December:

    “We can act intelligibly from these concerns only if we see them as aspects of human life. It is not an accident or a limitation or a prejudice that we cannot care equally about all the suffering in the world: it is a condition of our existence and our sanity. Equally, it is not that the demands of the moral consciousness require us to leave human life altogether and then come back to regulate the distribution of concerns, including our own, by criteria derived from nowhere. We are surrounded by a world which we can regard with a very large range of reactions: wonder, joy, sympathy, disgust, horror. We can, being as we are, reflect on these reactions and modify them to some extent… But it is a total illusion to think that this enterprise can be licensed in some respects and condemned in others by credentials that come from another source, a source that is not already involved in the peculiarities of the human enterprise. (p. 147)”

    The “peculiarities of the human enterprise” are what seem in question here, not a “distribution of concerns… derived from nowhere”. One of the reasons I am such a huge fan of Wittgenstein is that he saw this very clearly. Thinking that we can ‘solve’ issues like these merely pits one set of criteria against another. What are the things that hold fast for us and what things are open to question? The folks advocating in a way different from us may not simply be making a ‘mistake’ so much as engaged in another enterprise.

    Our confusion (at least sometimes) is taking the moves in one conversation as necessarily being moves in the other. In other words, we often make things too simple, such as by imagining all gender concerns as treading the same ground. Is ‘gender’ quite possibly now even a family resemblance term if it no longer refers to the merely physiological in a straight forward way? What would that mean for our attempts to apply it consistently out in the hurly burly of human enterprises?

    One of my favorite lines from Julian Baggini is “Clarity of thought often replaces vague confusion with bewildering complexity. Better understanding just leads to a better class of headache.” The bewildering complexity of making all these gender distinctions and relating them to practices and effects in the world should never be confused with something simple. We should expect the headache, even welcome it. Navigating through the tangle will not solve everything to everyone’s liking.

    We can’t look for ‘criteria from nowhere’ to bail us out. Instead we can show the difference that differences make, and see if that impresses folks. Just like your point about McKinnon’s argument effectively being a case against sex-segregation on the whole. The consequences of that seem unacceptable, to both of us at least. It matters where we draw the line, Williams says, as “a condition of our existence and our sanity.” This should be the *staring* *point* of our inquiries rather than expecting it somehow magically at the end.

  18. Dan, typo alert! Last line should be “starting point”. Oops! If you could edit that for me I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

  19. Kyle

    If we think it is patently wrong in sports, then, we must ask why it would not be wrong in affirmative action hiring? All other things being equal, has a philosophy department with few female members discharged its duties properly by hiring a trans women, especially if that trans woman studied philosophy at some level as a man?

    Sports offers an instructive test for our intuitions about competing social goals.

  20. Yes, I agree that how we think about the sports case is an important test for these other crucial areas. I would think it outrageous if affirmative action targets for women were satisfied by trans applicants.

  21. Bharath Vallabha

    Very astute analysis. Screen time is replacing face time not only at home but across our social lives. Or if not replacing, rather altering. More and more our in person interactions are themselves being mediated through the screen.

    This sets up the task: what does living a virtuous life, personally, publically and passing it on at home and classrooms, look like in this new digital context? It will look kind of the same as before, since human nature is still roughly the same. But it will also look different in some ways since we are becoming more cyborg like.

    Blaming only liberals for their activism, as if that is the root cause, is no more correct than blaming it on conservatives for transphobia, etc. Post WWII till the 90s, inclusion and diversity were understood in the older, face time model. The social media and internet world disrupted this, and so what virtutous behavior is in an inclusive, digital context is now very much up in the air.

    Its no mystery why many of my fellow citizens love my president: even though he doesn’t talk of virtues and in a sense doesn’t seem to care, he is exhibiting a certain Twitter mode of being which looks virtuous from a certain angle. The liberals will continue to lose until they come up with an alternate picture of virtue in the age of Twitter and Facebook. Lacking that, and because most of social media creators are liberal, they are trying to code liberal values into the digital world, or through Hollywood, sports, etc. Wont work. People need to see competing pictures of virtue in this social media age and make that choice for themselves.

  22. > If the argument is a reason to think that Rachel McKinnon should be able to compete against female cyclists, then I don’t see why it isn’t also a reason to think that Rafael Nadal should be able to compete against female tennis players.

    I think it’s even stronger. The argument is self-defeating, in a slightly absurd way.

    If sports weren’t sex-segregated at all – and McKinnon’s argument implies they shouldn’t be – then she couldn’t have competed in the Women’s UCI Masters Track World Championship. This competition only exists because sports are sex-segregated above a certain level.

    She want to compete against females; however, there are no good arguments to have sex-segregated competitions. You can’t have it both ways, or can you?

    But perhaps McKinnon doesn’t wants to compete against females. Perhaps she wants to ride against women. Gender-segregation.

    It’s unclear to me how this could be organized. How can the governing body decided which gender a person belongs to? Self-identification?

    Suppose cycling were gender- and not sex-segregated. McKinnon would compete with the women. One day somebody shows up. This person is razor-thin, but has muscles like cables on the thighs & calves. The body is rather male-looking, to be honest. The person declares she identifies as a woman and beats McKinnon (and the other women) in the most humiliating way, finishing a couple of laps before her.

    Something tells me some women in the competition wouldn’t find this very fair. I can imagine McKinnon saying: “Yeah, but he – he! – is not really a woman!”

    But the word spreads, and after a short while, there are ten or twelve of these self-identifying persons, who routinely finish a couple of laps before the others. These others … well perhaps they are happy to be the Best of Rest … or they start thinking that gender-separation don’t seem to work very well in sports, after all.

    A thought experiment, but an amusing one.

    Of course, women may argue that this is never going to happen. Males don’t want to compete with females (and women). Where’s the fun in beating females? However, this implies that women believe gender-segregated cycling can work because of the gender stereotype that women’s cycling is, you know, really second-rate (wink, wink). Feminists all over the world are going to like this, I assume.

    Another solution would be to move these ten or twelve individuals to a higher-level competition. The result? Sex-segregated cycling. Something that shouldn’t exist, if I understand McKinnon correctly.

    And there’s going to be a backlash. Not on the public fora. In the voting booth.

  23. But perhaps McKinnon doesn’t wants to compete against females. Perhaps she wants to ride against women. Gender-segregation.
    It’s unclear to me how this could be organized. How can the governing body decided which gender a person belongs to? Self-identification?
    = = =
    The latter. This is what is at issue in Britain right now with the GRA. It will take no more than self-identification to be counted as a woman and allowed into women’s only spaces.

  24. s. wallerstein

    Is it really true that in the U.K. with self-identification you can be counted as a woman and allowed into women only spaces?

    I ask that because back when I was a lot younger, I knew a lot of guys who were not rapists but just to show off that they could defy stupid customs and laws would have claimed to be a woman in order to be allowed into women’s only spaces, to take a few surreptitious photos (with a Minox back then, now it’s easier with an I-phone) and to have a good laugh with their friends afterwards. I’m sure that the same type of personality still exists among university age males and that could cause problems.

    Once again, these guys were not rapists or sexual perverts, just university-age kids who liked to challenge society.

  25. Yes, that’s what is being proposed in amendments to the GRA. (Gender Recognition Act.) It’s what my friend Kathleen Stock has been fighting against for the last year. (And getting a lot of abuse from trans activists for it.)

  26. Thanks Bharath.

    What I find disturbing in these pages is the absence of system thinking. The contributors have concentrated on the early stage of problem recognition, what is going wrong and why it is wrong. But system thinking goes further than problem recognition and asks instead why it is going wrong in terms of causes. It searches for immediate causes, symptomatic, systemic and root causes. It recognise that these causes are part of a process. It searches for process understanding and that, I think, it is the role of the philosopher, to promote the search for deeper understanding.

    This kind of problem is not simple and is the complex outcome of several intertwining developments in society. What are they? I have given a quick, first look at the problem but there is much more to it. Certainly we are seeing toxic trends in identity formation and poorly formed moral frameworks are enabling this. I have put forward my explanation for this but my intuitions tell me there is much more.

  27. Hmm, let’s look at the problem another way.

    Gaining freedom of speech was our great win. But preserving our freedoms demands that you be immune from the inevitable consequences of free speech. We are entering the period of the great silencing as our cultural overlords consolidate their hold on the process. How else can we preserve our wins other than by silencing the voices of the critics?

    But life does not stand still and there are new battles to be fought. The battle of the groin is all but won and today we celebrate not only freedom of speech but also freedom of the groin. This is lovely stuff and we have opened all orifices for our unrestrained pleasure. There are still some pesky problems though. Ageism remains a serious problem, putting younger orifices out of bounds. We can look to Austria for a solution to that problem, but we must do more to outlaw ageism. Sexual selectivity is another(as Weinfeldt discovered) but I suspect we can overcome that by extending our anti-discrimination laws. The battle of the groin will have been won and freedom of the groin assured.

    But just as freedom of speech must be assured by silencing it, it turns out that freedom of the groin requires a silencing of the groin.

    But why is the silencing of the groin so important. That is because because our ancient, retrograde administrators use the groin as evidence of identity. This is shockingly discriminatory. To overcome this problem we must silence the groin so that it cannot be used as prima facie evidence.

    Thus we have liberated ourselves by discovering that we can only assure free speech by practising the silencing of speech and in the same spirit we can only assure freedom of the groin by silencing the groin.

    Yes, like the Red Queen, I also think impossible things before breakfast. As Alice discovered, this takes some effort but it comes naturally to toxic liberalism. Now let me go and have breakfast.

  28. Bunsen Burner

    Yes, that is correct. They say that there will be a lot of checks involved, however the British beauracracy only has two modes of operations. It either rubber stamps everythings without thinking, or makes things completely impossible to obtain. How that switch is flipped tends to be set by the current political context. There was in fact some concern that before male and female pension ages came into alignment, that elderly men would use the law to retire early. It may seem a bit silly to some, but in all honestly its something I would consider if I had trouble finding work and could retire on a state pension instead.

  29. Max

    Am I the only one that found the youtube presentation not very clear? I thought Professor McKinnon mixed up the measured advantages of testosterone between men and women proper (or “cis”, if you will) with those of healthy men/women compared to those men/women suffering from hyperandrogenism. McKinnon makes a huge deal of the comparatively small (?) 1-3% in increased performance that is due to testosterone. On one slide it says clearly that the number of 1-3% is based on a comparison of hyperandrogenetic people and healthy people of the same sex, but then Professor McKinnon appears to make the argument that higher testosterone in men leads to only a 1-3% percent advantage in performance when compared to normal healthy women. (Most hyperandrogenetic women barely reach the testosterone levels of men and still have up to five times lower testosterone levels.)

    It appears to me that her argument is more like a reductio as mentioned above and, in addition to that, makes some questionable use of data.

  30. Danielle

    I’m dismayed at the space you have opened for unapologetic transphobia.

    I would have also liked to hear from your contributor Margaret Rowley, who at least has the word “gender” listed in her fields of expertise.

  31. I’m dismayed at name-calling and accusation, as a replacement for argument. No one is falling for it anymore. It’s been wildly overused.

  32. Fairness lies at the heart of the matter.

    To suggest that there is something unfair about biological males, who identify as women, competing in women’s sports, because as biological males, they enjoy any number of physical advantages over their female counterparts, would force us also to deem it unfair for females who have greater natural height, strength, endurance, etc. to compete with other females, which is obviously absurd.

    Of course s/he is disregarding the well known fact that, in the interests of fairness, sport generally places people in like categories of roughly equivalent endowment, so that there can be genuine competition between people within those categories. We accept, as a matter of practicality, that we cannot erase natural differences within the categories, and we don’t want to. This is all in accordance with our basic intuition of fairness. For example boxers compete in weight categories of the same sex but we pragmatically accept weight variation within the category.

    This intuition of fairness is so deeply embedded that sport is closely regulated in a bewildering variety of ways. For example, competitors must all start from the same place at the same time. They must follow the same route. They may not accept assistance. They may not use artificial means to assist their performance. The rules must be applied equally to all, etc, etc.

    Now here is the really interesting thing. S/he won in the 35 to 39 year age bracket. By doing doing so s/he is accepting the concept of competing in age categories that reflect roughly equivalent endowment. And that makes her/him a profound hypocrite because s/he has inserted him/herself in a category that gives she/him a great advantage. You cannot have your cake and eat it. If s/he really believes her/his statement s/he would compete against the young cyclists in the open category, where of course s/he would lose. If s/he is prepared to accept the protection of competing in her/his age category then s/he must grant the principle of categories that protect other competitors, such as females. To do otherwise is self-seeking hypocrisy.

    Then we must ask what s/he means by fairness. Is it fairness to her/himself or fairness to the community of competitors? Where we have conflicting kinds of fairness, as in this case, which concept should prevail? Why should her/his selfish interpretation of fairness prevail over the broader community interpretation of fairness which segregates competitors in like categories?

    Paul Woodruff wrote a fascinating book, The Ajax Dilemma, Justice, Fairness, and Rewards, which deals with this complex subject. Our good friend Massimo Pigliucci reviews the book here,

    I don’t think Massimo does justice to the book and I think it deserves a closer reading. For example he does not examine the relationship between honour and respect that Woodruff discusses in Part Four of the book and which I think is key to understanding the Ajax dilemma. I mention this because I also believe that the distinction between honour and respect is also key to understanding the central issue of Dan-K’s essay.

  33. To deviate a little, Paul Woodruff is not only a fine classical scholar but he wrote two books that I can recommend:
    Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue
    The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched

    I particularly enjoyed The Necessity of Theatre.

  34. Bharath Vallabha

    Danielle, would a trans-woman feel comfortable and easy to participate in the conversation here? I imagine not. If she feels it is not easy for her, is it because we are being transphobic? That doesn’t follow. Speaking for myself, i want to respect trans-woman, but I am not sure how best to think of the category ‘trans-woman’ and how society should change accordingly.

    No doubt a trans-woman has more insight into this than I do in some ways, and I would respect her courage and confidence if she were to comment on this thread and help us better understand. But pretending like I understand, and nodding along to say, Mackinnon, is not helpful. That is not same as respecting her. Anymore than when I nod along in math class even though I don’t quite get it means I am respecting the teacher. People who don’t understand, or who think they have a different understanding, should be able to raise questions, as that is the process of understanding.

    I don’t know personally any trans-woman. If I did, I might understand better. But this only raises the importance of a space like this for me, because it gives an opportunity for discussion. Granted it is very hard for a trans-woman to deal with us commentators who don’t ‘get it’, perhaps others who are not trans who understand better can help us think it through.

    I worry that behind these quick claims of transphobia is a positivist and reductive attitude to moral discourse, as if feelings and morality are non-cognitive gruntings. Morality being part of rationality means talking and listening and yes, disagreeing. Am not using reason here to just affirm status quo, but if it feels that way, I am open to that conversation.

  35. Trans women do not all have the same view on this. I’m the piece I quoted an excerpt from, the person disagreeing with McKinnon is another trans athlete.

  36. Hi Danielle,

    Let’s get away from the accusations of transphobia and have a constructive discussion, focused on the quote by Rachel McKinnon.

    I’ll give you an opinion and a few questions. I’d like to read your response.

    1) The argument in the quote is very weak. It’s true that there is a distribution of capabilities within sexes. But we’re talking about competitive sports, and almost by definition competition is – above a certain level – about the tail end of the distribution. At the tail ends of the male and the female distributions there is a vanishingly small or even no overlap. Even if there is variation in the capabilities of the males, it still is unfair to let males compete against females.

    2) The argument is in my opinion self-defeating, for the reasons I gave in an earlier contribution. McKinnon want access to a sex-segregated space in cycling, and the solution seems to be that sex-segregation should be abolished. Which means that she can’t have access to a seks-segregated space.

    3) Perhaps it can be made less self-defeating by going from sex-segregated cycling to gender-segregated cycling. But then I would like to know how a governing body like UCI should define which gender a person belongs to, while keeping cycling at the same time competitive and fair (and without falling in the trap of the worst gender stereotypes …).

    4) If Rachel McKinnon wants to introduce gender-segregated cycling, then how is she going to convince all the other male and female competitive cyclists? The fraction of transwomen in cycling is very small, and not everybody may be prepared to redefine what a “fair competition” is to please a very tiny minority.

    5) How would you counter Labnut’s objection? McKinnon seems to have no problem with the protection offered by an age category. Age categories are not perfect, but they are a pragmatic response to the biological fact that capabilities decrease with age. Why does she have a problem with a pragmatic response to a another biological phenomenon, the fact that males have an indisputable advantage over females in cycling?

    This may be too much about the particulars of McKinnon’s case for Dan’s taste, but I feel that 2-5 have counterparts in other domains than sports (5 in the sense that it’s difficult to ignore biology).

    I’m interested in your response, because I’m a physicist. In physics, if you have an idea, you first try it on simple, relatively clear-cut examples. If it doesn’t work in those circumstances, there’s not a chance in hell it’s going to work on more realistic, messy and complicated things.

    (And if an idea does work for simple examples, it still isn’t certain it will work in more complex situations.)

    Something similar is true for the abolishment of sex-segregated “spaces” in my opinion. If it doesn’t work for something very simple like cycling, it’s highly questionable it’s going to work in more complicated situations.

  37. Danielle,
    unapologetic transphobia

    Don’t you think unapologetic critical thinking is the name of the game?

    Mao Zedong said “let a hundred flowers bloom and let a hundred schools of thought contend”

    The result surprised him and he launched the cultural revolution in response, silencing all schools of thought.

    That’s the thing about critical thinking, it has unintended consequences, but the Mao Way has only one consequence, the death of independent, creative thought. Silencing results in the death of useful thought.

    It was said of one person who claimed to have an open mind that he only ever opened it to refresh his bigotry and renew his prejudices. There is a little bit of that in all of us. The antidote is to expose our mind to the tempestuous storms of critical thinking. It is an uncomfortable experience because the cognitive storms rattle our shutters, break the windows and burst open the doors. After the storm you cleanup, pick up the pieces and rearrange the room. But it will never look the same again, meaning you have gained fresh and valuable perspectives.

  38. davidlduffy

    It is not quite this straightforward, but we are engaging in sport for fun (professionals for other people’s fun). Rules are defined to maximize pleasure, and changed when the sport has become less fun (or excessively dangerous), eg stopping particular individuals or teams from always winning, or perhaps allowing particular teams to always win eg soccer v. other sports with salary caps. If the number of transgendered or intersex individuals (the same issues re muscle mass etc are present, but there was no individual choice involved) is relatively small and they don’t invariably win, then maybe it is more fun to just let them play. If it doesn’t work out, then change the rules, but not just because of economic effects on a very few stars.

  39. David: My point was that the arguments for allowing trans women to compete in women’s sports is also equally an argument for letting men do so and that doing so would destroy women’s athletics.

  40. I agree with Dan’s general take here. Athletic activities, at least interesting ones, are not engaged in primarily via the sex organs. Rather the limbs, musculature, senses and hand-eye coordination are what is biologically relevant, and these are where the focus of training reside. It is immaterial, sportswise, that a person had or had not a sex change procedure. The winner’s photo, showing Rachel in the middle, and obviously visually out of place with the other competitors stands as its own clear testimonial to the absurdity of the situation. The reason special olympics events are clearly segregated from mainstream athletics is because aspects of the human anatomy directly relevant to the athletic competition have been irrevocably altered. This makes sense, therefore. I have no interest in watching an athletic event wherein trans-gendered originally male athletes are competing with women — because they are athletically uninteresting.

    Also, Danielle’s drive-by commentary is out of line, and as has been mentioned, unsubstantiated. If one wanted to be slightly rude, one could propose that since the “T” component of the LGBQT community has asked for special language provisions, they should perhaps also have their own competition category within athletics as opposed to competing either as males or females.

  41. Bunsen Burner

    There are many scholarships tied to sports performance for young people. Its not unreasonable to worry that these will eventually be mostly taken by trans women. They may be a small minority, but there are enough to to have a serious effect on the availability of scholarships.

  42. davidlduffy

    My point is that much of this misses the point – what is the difference between:

    P1 “Rachel McKinnon should be able to compete against female cyclists” analogously implies
    P2 “Rafael Nadal should be able to compete against female tennis players”, but

    P3 “Dutee Chand should be able to compete against female printers” does not imply P2

    especially given that

    “Bearden agrees with the International Olympic Committee that naturally occurring testosterone gives transgender women an unfair advantage in competition” is presumably equivalent to

    “the Hyperandrogenism Regulations are intended to protect female athletes from having to compete against other athletes who enjoy a competitive advantage similar to the competitive advantage that males have by reason of higher levels of testosterone and the resulting higher lean body mass”

    In the Chand case, CAS decided the evidence that her natural testosterone levels gave her a great enough advantage for a ban or a handicapping treatment was not strong enough. In their overview,

    “It is inappropriate to subject athletes to gender verification; or to mere examination of external genitalia; or to chromosomal testing in order to determine eligibility to compete as women or for the purpose of making a determination about their sex or gender status.” That is, one must discriminate on a physical difference relevant to fairness – they seemed to think testosterone level a legitimate one.

    The IAAF relied on an argument along my lines: “What is unfair is decided, to a large extent, by the community of athletes and other stakeholders who understand and love the sport…The limitations each sport chooses for itself reflect a shared understanding of what that sport is meant to display and reward.” The CAS seemed to find it acceptable that one might define a “new category of ineligible female athletes within the female category” for reasons of fairness, but “[t]he necessity and proportionality of that restriction therefore requires particularly careful analysis…[because] every athlete must in principle be afforded the opportunity to compete in one of the two categories and should not be prevented from competing in
    any category as a consequence of the natural and unaltered state of their body”. This latter principle is that expanded by
    McKinnon to include trans females, given they may experience a significant disadvantage with respect to male athletes. I think one could argue their disadvantage might not be 12%, but might be 5% (hyperandrogenic females might have a 3% advantage).

  43. Bharath Vallabha

    Totally agree fairness is the heart of the issue. And of the disagreement. And there are different issues of fairness colliding, which makes this philosophically interesting and complex.

    Having Mckinnon in the race seems unfair to cis-women. But I also get the intution that not having Mckinnon in the race is unfair to _her_ and to trans-women who think like her. After all, if McKinnon leaves the event, then since historically ‘woman’ has been identified with ‘cis-woman’, then McKinnon is bound to feel like she is a second-class kind of woman. If one agreess McKinnon is a woman, this does seem unfair (if one thinks McKinnon is just a man, that’s a whole other argument to be had).

    This is where we are culturally in many issues. Public recognition and prominence is a scarcity. Very few people have it. But it also casts a very big shadow, such that it effects most everyone. So, the lack of trans-women in prominent positions in women’s cycling historically is unfair to them. But gaining prominence in this way also seems unfair to cis-women. The issue we as a society face is: can this square be circled? Both sides holding on one notion of fairness is good for making clear their positions, but also bad for seeing the overall terrain and making progress.

    Same is true on this comment thread. A trans-person might not feel welcome here and feel it is transphobic. Which might mean not that the commentators are transphobic, but the habits of discourse exhibited here have usually been identified with cis-gendered people (we don’t have many prominent trans-gendered philosophers). That can genuinely feel unfair to a trans-person, and to feel that isn’t being emotionally weak or crying wolf, etc. But of course there is a whole other axis of fairness along which the commentators here are I think very fair and open to dialogue. Denying that, as Danielle seems to do, is also unfair.

    ‘Fairness’, like ‘justice’, ‘truth’, ‘virtue’, is not a monolithic concept – with one clear meaning that all thinking people automatically know. That is a good ideal. But in reality, these are all family resemblence terms, often with shifting contours and dimensions which conflict and cut against each other. Debating means being with this complexity.

  44. In the comments above it was suggested that “Sport used to be the training ground for life. It was a place where we tested and reinforced the concept of ‘fairness‘, carrying it over into the conduct of the rest of our lives.” That is a nice fairy tale, but much too simple and utterly wrong in many instances. Treating sport as a monolithic testament to ideals of fairness botches what sport has often been and still continues to be to this day. Sure, there are sports where fairness is promoted, and institutions of sport that make it a priority, but this is only one small part of ‘sport’. It is nothing so universally simple. ‘Sport’ also is something of a family relation type. There are many other things that sport is ‘about’.

    For instance, gladiators in the ancient world would fight to the death, so it might be a question whether the whole institution was in some sense ‘unfair’ (If it somehow was a part of being ‘fair’ that the loser also dies, then applying it to chess matches and tennis would be something). But also, the combatants were not always given equal advantage. They were sometimes matched purposely *unfairly*. Two against five. Different weapons. Chariots against people on foot. Unarmed humans against lions……

    The idea that sport is somehow inherently ‘about’ fairness is a delusion. Take sport fishing. In what sense is that ‘fair’? Take trophy hunting. In what sense is that fair? Fox hunting where a pack of dogs is set after a poor half starved animal and then chased to its exhaustion by a mob of humans on horses is a strange conception of ‘fairness’. But folks love doing these things. All in the name of ‘sport’.

    That is, sport isn’t simply ‘competition’ but also entertainment.

    Consider the phrase “making sport of someone”. This is specifically a description of bullying behavior. We mock and ridicule another when we make *sport* of them. The idea that sporting behavior necessarily helps make us more fair minded is laughable.

    To suggest that sport is only about ‘fairness’ misses the point. It’s not. It isn’t even always about ‘competition’ as much as it is an exercise of power. And it isn’t always about what happens within the playing of the sport as much as it is what the playing constitutes in the lives of spectators. Sport can be a spectacle. And if that makes it sometimes a matter of what we *want* to see, then what we often want to see are cars crashing, the hapless defender getting dunked on, the Sport Center highlight reel of crushing hits, the blow outs and blow ups……

    The idea that sport has to be fair, much less that it always has been, is simply not borne out.

    There is a story line in the film ‘Red Belt’ by David Mamet that pits contestants in mixed martial arts fighting with randomly chosen handicaps. One of the fighters may have a hand tied behind the back, etc. Even if that is only what happens in a movie, doesn’t it speak volumes for the way that actual sporting contests are thought of? If we have an ideal of fairness in some sports that may be something to aspire to, but it is not the underlying truth that in every instance guides us.

    What I see Dan’s post asking is whether it makes sense to provide a space for ‘fair’ sporting events and practices. I too think that is important. But you cannot make that argument based on an mistaken conception of what sports in general actually are. If there is a case to be made for these fair practices, then they cannot appeal to the nature of sports in general but to different ideals. It is not so much that sport teaches us how to behave (as the quote I stared this with suggests). Sport gets both its ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’ character from the way humans already ARE.

    If we think sports should be universally fair we are missing the point that sport does not exist in society in order to BE fair. Sport isn’t ‘evidence’ for the cause of fairness. We don’t care about sports because they always promote fairness. To make all sports miraculously a matter of fairness we wouldn’t need to just change our sporting practices, we would need to change what it means to be human. That is, our sometimes barbaric instincts and desires.

    Sport is not always the shining example of what many of us would call the best qualities of being human. Sometimes it exemplifies our worst. The inequality in sports is just a reflection of the inequalities we more broadly approach the world with.

  45. It isn’t as complicated as it seems. I suggest 4 categories: men, women, trans-men, and trans-women. Then competition will be fair for everyone.

  46. EmmBee

    Lesbian and gay men are happy to celebrate their own identities within their sex class. Why can’t transgender people be similarly out and proud as a separate subset of their own sex? What’s wrong with being referred to as a transwoman? They act as though it’s something to be covered up and ashamed off…and it shouldn’t be.

    That way, Rachel would be able to compete as a transwoman against her peers in the male category. Rachel may not win, but as a 5’1″ female, I’ve had to accept I was never going to make the school netball team either. Sometimes real life sucks.

  47. Bharath Vallabha

    This is like saying: “white and black men have different capacities re basketball. So there should be white nba and black nba.”

    Is Michael Jordan better than Danny Ainge because he is black or just because he is better at basketball? I take is how McKinnon sees it: she won because she is just better (on that day), not because she is a trans-woman. There is something to this reasoning, since there could be cis-woman cyclists who are better than trans-women cyclists. Just as Danny Ainge, though white, was better than many black players.

  48. Bharath: that’s the whole point of my piece. McKinnon’s is essentially an argument against sex segregation in sport, and the result of that will be that females will never be competitive in athletics again. Hence the Serena Williams point.

    If that’s what they are after them activists should just say it. Of course if they did — if they were actually straightforward I’m that way — they’d be having a lot less success on the political front.l

  49. Bharath Vallabha

    Dan, I see. I think I disagree. Though I like your post a lot in challenging, in a rational way, McKinnon’s argument.

    You say in the post: “McKinnon’s argument that one should limit this to trans-women, because they are women – she points out that all of her legal documents have her down as a woman – is easily ignored, insofar as sports are sex-segregated, not gender-segregated.”

    But sports are, and have been, sex _and_ gender segregated, since we didn’t use to make that distinction. McKinnon’s point – as I understand it, please correct if I am wrong – is that cycling should be gender segregated, but not sex segregated. So Lance Armstrong can’t compete with women, because he is not a woman by gender.

    We have male and female sports for both biological and social reasons. You seem to be saying it is mainly due to biological reasons. Not true. A lot of it has to also do with steoretypes of what woman as gendered should be like: less aggressive than men, more dainty, etc. Not saying biology doesn’t play a role here; of course it does (as the serving video shows). But culture plays a big role as well, and that is what McKinnon is pushing against.

    I understand the worry that if McKinnon’s argument is accepted, cis-women will lose much more to trans-women. But the worry that now they will lose to men – that doesn’t follow. Because we can have social, gendered reasons for keeping men and women in different associations. Just like having social services is a direction towards socialism, but it doesn’t mean it implies socialism; it can stop many places well before then.

  50. Bharath, you are missing the point. It’s the argument about relative physical differences *within* the sexes and its relationship to the physical differences *between* the sexes that makes hers an argument against sex segregation.

    And I also think you are flat-out wrong that the rationales for gender segregation — if there are any good ones — are comparable in any way to the rationales for sex segregation, for which there are many good ones.

    One of the very deep points is that feminism was a response to *sex* not gender discrimination. Or, to the extent that it was a response to gender discrimination, it was a response to the fact that a certain gender identity and presentation were forced on the female sex by males. That’s also the reason why many feminists find the whole gender identity movement strangely regressive, insofar as it relies for its conception of gender identity, on sexist tropes. I talked about all of this in my essay on Sex and Gender.

  51. Bharath Vallabha

    “Bharath, you are missing the point. It’s the argument about relative physical differences *within* the sexes and its relationship to the physical differences *between* the sexes that makes hers an argument against sex segregation.”

    Dan, I probably am not getting it. I find the whole topic kind of confusing and haven’t thought about it enough. I might need to understand some basic issues better. I get though the tension between feminism and gender identity, though you probably more about both than I do.

    So, not to impose my ignorance onto the conversation, let me ask something very basic. I am sympathetic to McKinnon as a trans-person. On your view, how do I support her without being unfair to others?

  52. Bunsen Burner

    How can you keep sports gender segregated in a world of non-binary gender fluidity? If people can change genders like clothes then what is the point of even pretending that there is any segregation. It seems to me that the only meaningful segregation possible in sports is based only on physical characteristics.

  53. There are certain ontological and epistemological issues here we haven’t touched upon, but which we would do well to bear in mind. Many current trans activists are basing their claims on a Platonic ontological essentialism dragged through a Cartesian epistemology by way of Shulamith Firestone and Jacques Lacan.

    1. The claim is this (and given our context we’ll adopt the one born with male genitals, but it applies to those born with female genitals as well):

    2. There is an essence to being a female.

    3. Biology is thus mere appearance.

    4. I ‘feel’ and thus know (since these feelings belong solely to me cannot be contradicted externally) that I am a woman.

    5. Gender is simply the accumulated cultural signifiers built up over centuries of insistence on a ‘biological’ essentialism which is now in the process of dialectical ‘withering away’ towards an eventual non-binary reality in which science or culture (it’s unclear which) will make even biology a matter of expression of an inner self (‘true subjectivity).

    6. From this derives a moral realist claim of right: Rights arise by way of the ontology of the individual.
    Variants: a: As determined by god; b: as determined by nature: c: as determined by biology itself (a gene determined my genitals, but but another gene determined my inner essence, my feeling-derived knowledge).

    7. All humans must be allowed the rights of their essence, not of their appearance.

    8. Since my essence is that of a female – codified culturally through the signifying appearances of a ‘woman – I therefore demand all rights accruing to a female, at least until such time as the dialectic between culture and essence, and that between essence and biology, can be sublated into a truly non-binary social reality which allows me my true subjectivity.

    Well, I know some weren’t expecting this. It seems like too great an abstraction of the arguments buzzing around trans activism. And surely trans activists aren’t reading the books from which such arguments derive.

    No, but their teachers did, in certain undergraduate courses taught in Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, Queer Studies, since the late 1980s. I’m not saying that any of these professional fields are simply wrong and should be abandoned; in fact they have been and can be useful, especially, for instance, in the reading of certain literary works.. But I am saying that that there were (and are) radical activists who gravitated to these fields, and were allowed to get away with all sorts of nonsense in their dissertations and publications, and who went on to teach undergraduates this nonsense. And clearly some of these undergraduates took such teaching to heart, and began disseminating it beyond the academy.

    And I think that if my reader reviews the argument I present and the arguments actually used by the more strident trans activists, it can be seen that their arguments really don’t make much sense unless they are grounded in arguments much like that which I’ve presented here.

    (BTW, this is why the analogy between trans arguments and arguments concerning race that Bharath suggested at one point will not hold up. There are race essentialists on both the Right and the Left; but biology has proven a strong defense against deriving any moral realist arguments grounded in such, except those insisted on by various margiunalized religious factions. But the argument I presented cannot be contradicted by biological evidence, since biology itself is considered suspect as mere appearance, and it’s only biological component, genetics, is indeterminate in such matters.)

    Finally, now in my own voice: It is my belief that every human should be respected as a human. I do not derive this ‘realistically’ but because, moving forward, I don’t see how a healthy social contract can be maintained otherwise. Therefore, political efforts to achieve parity between minorities, to have both individuals and minority collectives allowed their rights of preference are clearly desirable, and that this can be achieved political and contingencies determined by law through the judicial system, errors corrected again through political processes..

    However, I do not accept any of the premises or the conclusion of the argument I presented above. I think it bad epistemology, bad ontology, bad moral theory, bad politics, I think it contributes to a fragmentation of society, and to a weakened reasoning. It closes off possible solutions, rather than opening them up; itr shuts down dialogue and builds walls between people. It looks forward to a society is never coming into being, while crippling the real political possibilities of the society we actually have.

    I will continue to support the struggle for basic civil rights and human rights for the trans community. I will not support their claim for special privilege.

    This may require re-thinking a number of my sympathies going forward However one thing I assure my reader of: I will never use the prefix ‘cis’ to any sex or gender signifier. The whole neologistic terminology of radical trans activism and the theories it derives from – simply over-intellectualized Lacanian hoo-doo – magical words for a magical thinking, utterly untethered from the real social world in which real politics must be engaged..

  54. Bharath,

    > I am sympathetic to McKinnon as a trans-person. On your view, how do I support her without being unfair to others?

    How do you support her, without being unfair to Serena Williams? (and countless others …)

    If you’re sympathetic to McKinnon to the point that you accept her argument as valid, then you’re sympathetic to the idea that sex-segregated sports should be abolished.

    That means Serena Williams being beaten by mister 287 on the ranking, day in and day out. And she’s one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. Other females would routinely lose from nr. 453 and nr. 511.

    Which must be slightly depressing. My guess is that most of them would stop playing competitive tennis.

    Or take the last lap fight between Marianne Vos and Sanne Cant during the WC Cyclo-Cross 2017 in Bieles. Vos with her power against Cant with her technique and her never-give-up Flandrien style. Fabulous! Two riders, right on the edge, in one of the most exciting moments in the history of cyclo-cross (m/f). Sanne won, and her explosion of joy brought tears to my eyes.

    The video is on Youtube, go straight to the last two laps. Not available if sex-segregated cycling had been abolished in 2017, however. Who cares about an on the edge fight for 36th and 37th place, while the – male – winner is already taking a shower? Close family perhaps?

    I can’t give you the answer to your question. It’s your choice.

  55. s. wallerstein

    The weird thing is that when Rachel Dolezal said that since she felt that she was a black person, she was a black person, the same crowd who believe that anyone who believes that they are a woman, is a woman, attacked her and would not accept her right to be black.

    By the way, if I feel like I’m a billionaire on the Forbes List, am I a billionaire on the Forbes List? If so, I’m going to treat all you guys to a cruise on my yacht.

  56. The “unfair advantages” part is the thing lost in McKinnon’s quest for acknowledgment as being a true-blue-all-through-woman.

    The point of sports isn’t to confirm identity. It’s to allow people to compete on a level, fair, playing field.

    Otherwise I could insist that I (as a fairly fit adult) feel my inner child deeply. My place is to compete in primary school football (soccer for the US). W00T! I always can make the goals.

    It’s all such utter bollocks. And it’s all about winning instead of fair play, as you say. You’ll notice none of the “I’m really a woman” trans athletes are trying to break into women’s gymnastics. The natural advantages are on Simone Biles’s side there.

  57. […] Also on this topic: Daniel Kauffman on Sex and Gender and Sex and Sport. […]

  58. Take out the commas in the top half, all best.

  59. Sarah

    Hannah Mouncey, a trans-identified male, has been cleared to play football at the state league level in Australia’s women’s football league, the VFLW. Mouncey has previously declared his intention not to hold back on hitting female players, and has already broken a woman’s leg during play.

  60. A B

    Dare to disagree as a feminist or even not as a feminist, and you become a TERF.

  61. This is an opportunity for some new coalitions to form. I consider myself a traditional liberal, in the tradition of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, which makes me a feminist by default.

    The original civil rights coalition of the 1950s and 60s was liberal in its core principles. It was essentially absorbed into the progressive movement, and now, I believe, the problems with that movement are being revealed.

  62. Nice one EJ. You have made a good analysis of the way certain sections of the, er, intelligentsia, construct elaborate, post facto rationalisations of this type of behaviour. It is an elaborate edifice resting on a most questionable foundation.

  63. EmmBee

    A male who takes drugs which then allow him to compete in a female category is every bit as much of a cheat as the likes of Lance Armstrong.

    Humans can’t change sex.

  64. Carter,
    That is a nice fairy tale, but much too simple and utterly wrong in many instances.

    Hmm, you seem to have taken a strong exception to my comment(you are an acolyte of Julian Baggini, I take it). Calling a thoughtful contribution to the conversation a “fairy tale” seems to be rather over the top. So lets see if your rebuttal is of the same quality.

    1. “There are many other things that sport is ‘about’. For instance, gladiators in the ancient world would fight to the death
    Comparing gladiatorial combat with modern sport is so far fetched that it does not even deserve a reply. The essential differences should be obvious. In any case we are talking about reasonably modern sport. Searching for a 2000 year old example is more than a stretch.

    2. “Take sport fishing. In what sense is that ‘fair’? Take trophy hunting. In what sense is that fair? Fox hunting
    Here you have taken fringe examples that stretch the word sport to its limits. Fringe examples do not define the core of an idea. The word ‘sport’ is misused to justify many things. It should go without saying that the misuse of ‘sport’ does not define sport.

    3. “That is, sport isn’t simply ‘competition’ but also entertainment.
    Yes, of course we find entertainment value in sport, but that doesn’t change the essential idea. I am much too old to continue playing rugby but I greatly enjoy watching it, as so many others do. But here’s the thing, we as spectators are often the first to demand fairness in sport. How often have we not been outraged by what seems to be an unfair call by the referee?

    4. “Consider the phrase “making sport of someone”. This is specifically a description of bullying behavior. We mock and ridicule another when we make *sport* of them.
    Here you have resorted to using the word in a completely different way. That is the fallacy of equivocation.

    5. “To suggest that sport is only about ‘fairness’ misses the point.
    Here you misrepresent me. I never said “only”. After all even you admit that I called it the training ground for life. But I am claiming that fairness is an essential element of sport. Once fairness disappears it ceases to be sport, except perhaps in a grotesque way, like gladiatorial combat.

    6. “The idea that sport has to be fair, much less that it always has been, is simply not borne out.
    Once again you misrepresent me. I never used the words “it always has been”. I have never said that it has always been fair. We endeavour to make sport fair, with more or less success, because we believe that fairness is an essential ingredient of sport. We may on occasion fail but fairness remains our goal.

    7. “If we think sports should be universally fair we are missing the point that sport does not exist in society in order to BE fair
    But that was not the claim. Again you misrepresent me. The reasons for play behaviour in mammals are quite well known. It is a form of preparation for adult life. But we, as humans, have ritualised play behaviour in order to make it fair. This we call sport. We have done this because fairness is a deeply embedded intuition in our advanced cooperative society. This intuition extends to most areas of our life. But we most obviously exercise that intuition in the public arena of sport. We do this in order to entrench fairness as a public virtue. The fact that it has great entertainment value assists in this.

    8. “To make all sports miraculously a matter of fairness we wouldn’t need to just change our sporting practices, we would need to change what it means to be human.
    On the contrary, fairness is one our most deeply embedded intuitions. This is part of what makes us human. You can see this in the way we invariably demand fairness towards ourselves from others. Our weakness is that sometimes we are not consistent and do not extend the same fairness to others. This is the concept of ‘freeriders’ which has been extensively treated in the literature. I suggest you consult the literature. For example, MacKinnon is a freerider.

    The problem is that competition requires a deep investment of emotional intensity. The strength of that emotional investment distorts our interpretation of desirable conduct, leading us, on some occasions to act disreputably. This is why the manifold rules in sport and various institutions such as referees, linesmen, etc, etc, have been developed. They are there to ensure that the principle of fair competition is observed, despite the mist of intense emotion that might pervert our judgement. This is why the whole concept of fairness is so deeply embedded in the rules and conduct of sport.

    From the above arguments provided by you I must regretfully conclude that your rebuttals simply do not work, much like your over the top preamble. But I thank you for your generous spirit in calling it a “nice” fairy tale. I thought so too. And this is the whole point. We all think that fairness is nice, indeed much more than nice, but desirable to the point of being essential. Added to that I must state the obvious, that fairness is not a fairy tale, it is an essential element of our being.

  65. In the last year a top Australian cricket bowler was sent home from the South African test series in deep disgrace. Once home he was pilloried by the press and severely punished by the sporting authorities, to the extent that his cricketing career is all but over. His crime was that he surreptitiously scratched the seam of the ball so that it would follow a swerving path to the batsman. His side was facing the prospect of losing the test series and so he sought an unfair advantage with a practice that was outlawed by the laws of the game.

    What do we conclude from this?

    1) we deeply care about fairness, as was shown by him being sent home early, being pilloried by the press and the severe punishment that effectively ended his career.

    2) we find cheating to be shameful and the Australians were humiliated that one of their top players behaved this way.

    3) the stresses of competition may induce some, even the best players, to cheat.

    4) continued vigilance is required to deter, detect and punish cheating.

    5) we bend all our efforts and vigilance towards this end because it matters so much to us.

    Now you might reply that this is only sport. But sport has a unique hold on our imagination and the norms evident in sport can strongly influence us. And it is undeniable that sport has become increasingly problematic. The problem is that we are beginning to validate cheating and this is more and more evident in life. Those teaching at schools and university have to contend with widespread plagiarism and cheating. Cheating on insurance claims is almost normal. Cheating on your spouse/partner is similarly normal. Cheating on your tax, cheating on your expense claims, have become everyday. And so on, and so on.

    Underlying this is a sea change in ethical concepts from guilt to shame. If guilt motivates, then you refrain from an act because you know it is wrong. If shame motivates, then you refrain from an act that others will perceive as wrong, if detected. In other words your knowledge of wrong does not motivate but your fear of exposure does. If you think you will not be exposed you feel free to commit the act. This is the case with the Australian bowler. He carefully concealed his act but did not realise that the all revealing eye of a TV camera was carefully scrutinising him.

    He and his mates thought that his crime was not so much what he did but that he was so incompetent that he was caught.

    What is happening is that moral consequentialism is becoming the prevailing ethical framework. It is an easy, self rewarding approach that does not require the inherent discipline of virtue ethics. If the bowler had not been detected and the Australians had won the match they would have reasoned that the act had beneficial consequences and therefore was justified. As this example illustrates, virtue ethics is waning and with it fairness is becoming a virtue more honoured in the breach than the observance.

    MacKinnon is arguing that fairness to herself matters more than fairness to others and that is an example of how moral consequentialism plays out in practice, just as it did with the Australian cricketers.

  66. Dan-K,
    This is an opportunity for some new coalitions to form. I consider myself a traditional liberal, in the tradition of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, which makes me a feminist by default.

    I agree with you and wish this would happen. But it won’t. Progressive liberalism’s raison d’etre is passionate radicalism that opposes. That is a good thing that supplies the emotional energy that dismantles rigid, unfair institutions. But what happens when society accepts these changes and moderates/conservatives move onto this ground in their usual pragmatic way?

    Progressive liberalism, to maintain its existence, must differentiate itself by becoming increasingly radical and there comes a point where this radicalism is less useful, more alienating and increasingly irrelevant. They then start becoming a fringe movement. The liberal war is largely won but the moderates/conservatives have occupied the ground, so who was the winner? This is an existential dilemma for progressive liberalism.

    It shouldn’t be because the poor and suffering remain with us and urgently need a voice. But progressive liberalism would rather attend a gay pride march than a soup kitchen.

  67. Bunsen Burner

    I’ve of ten though this too. I wonder if Dolezal was just too ahead of her time. I can certainly imagine a time when gender fluidity concepts begin to justify race fluidity too.

  68. Bharath Vallabha

    Thanks for helpful reply. I am still trying to understand, so my comment is in that spirit.

    I read Dan’s piece on sex and gender:

    It’s really good. Obviously he and McKinnon disagree on gender identity; she is committed to it, he is saying let’s do without it. I haven’t decided who I agree with. On his view, biological sex + gender expression gives everything that that is needed for civil rights, and gender identity just adds confusion by essentializing gender.

    One issue here, a conceptual one, is whether McKinnon’s saying she is a woman is a confusion. Dan seems to be saying it is; on his view, ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are just sex designations, and anyone can gender express any way we want. But the dilemma is: part of gender expression is saying which gender you are. When I say “I am a man”, I am expressing much more than just my sex. I don’t say “I am a woman” not only because I have a penis, but because I “don’t feel like” a woman. Shania Twain’s song “Feel like a woman” both seems feminist and affirming something other than her biological sex – she is not talking about what it feels like to menstruate. Dan’s view seems to be: McKinnon can sing along and identify fully with, say, Shania Twain’s song, but shouldn’t utter the words “I am a woman” in normal contexts of work, family, sports. This seems to me implausible.

    The empirical issue is whether allowing trans-athletes will make women’ cycling boring, as you suggest. I get this anxiety. McKinnon’s, predictably, expresses no anxiety about this. Maybe we just need to wait and see. If women’s sports have trans-women winning every event, all the time, a kind of segregation within women’s sport will naturally arise.

    I understand McKinnon as saying, “sports should allow trans-athletes but be gender segregated.” Her point that the differences within the sexes are greater than those between the sexes isn’t mean to say that Serena Williams should play Nadal. But that the justification for the segregation is based on gender rather than sex. She seems to want ‘gender’ to play the role that Dan thinks ‘sex’ plays for justifying why Williams and Nadal don’t play each other. This brings out their disagreement clearly: McKinnon thinks gender identity is robust enough to do that, whereas Dad thinks it is too amorphous to play such a role. If I am getting it, I think it’s a powerful debate.

  69. Bharath, part of the difficulty in discussing the topic is that those making the trans-rights arguments are entirely self-selected. It’s not at all obvious that the average trans person even *wants* the things that people like McKinnon are demanding. Consider this essay, with which it seems to me any reasonable person could find plenty of agreement with.

  70. Her point that the differences within the sexes are greater than those between the sexes isn’t mean to say that Serena Williams should play Nadal.

    = = =

    Bharath, it *entails* it.

  71. Bharath: It is hard to reply to the main portion of your comment, without your saying more about what exactly is supposed to be meant by McKinnon saying she is a woman, beyond her gender expression and presentation. That she “feels” like one? What does that mean? I couldn’t tell you what it is to “feel like a man,” other than by reference either to my physical condition or to my gender expression/presentation, which are the ones traditionally associated with males.

    The problem, Bharath, is that there is no there there.

  72. That is a good thing that supplies the emotional energy that dismantles rigid, unfair institutions. But what happens when society accepts these changes and moderates/conservatives move onto this ground in their usual pragmatic way?

    Progressive liberalism, to maintain its existence, must differentiate itself by becoming increasingly radical and there comes a point where this radicalism is less useful, more alienating and increasingly irrelevant. They then start becoming a fringe movement. The liberal war is largely won but the moderates/conservatives have occupied the ground, so who was the winner? This is an existential dilemma for progressive liberalism.

    = = =

    Labnut, this is a really good analysis. I agree with you entirely. And it explains the weird phenomenon of the activism getting more shrill even as things have overwhelmingly, demonstrably improved. I’ve noted the weirdness of this before — that people are more angry about race and gender now than they were during the 1960’s — but you’ve very clearly described the logic of it.

  73. s. wallerstein

    Could you explain, perhaps one day in a separate post, what you mean by “liberalism” today? I know that you did a Sophia episode about liberalism, but as I recall, it was more about the historical roots in Locke and Mill than about what form liberalism takes in the 21st century.

    I myself get confused because “liberal” is used to designate people like Obama in the U.S. and on the other hand, the British magazine The Economist (which is far to the right of Obama on economic policies) is considered “liberal”. In Chile and in most of Latin America the word “liberal” is associated with people who are in favor of free, unregulated markets and with liberalizing legislation about gay marriage and abortion, etc. I recall that during the last U.S. presidential election a radio commenter, obviously reading a badly translated press dispatch, referred to Bernie Sanders (in Spanish) as the “most liberal candidate”, but in Latin America Bernie Sanders would not be considered “a liberal” (although he would in the U.S.), but a “social democrat”.

    I realize that “liberalism” has something to do with freedom, but as you know, there are many definitions of freedom, positive and negative freedoms, etc., so I’m still confused. There are very few politicians on the left and on the right today who are not in favor of freedom: they just differ radically on what “freedom” means. So where does a liberal like you stand on the important issues of the 21st century?

  74. Some basic liberal ideas:

    1. The individual is intrinsically valuable; an end in him or herself.

    2. The individual is the source of all value.

    3. The individual is the source of all authority.

    **By “the individual, we mean the autonomous, rational adult.”

    = = =

    Some basic positions. As a liberal…

    –I am for maximal freedom in what Mill called “experiments in living.”

    –I am for maximal freedom in speech and thought.

    –I think liberty with respect to the above should only be constrained by the Harm Principle. And freedom of thought should be utterly unlimited.

    –The Harm Principle should be interpreted strictly and limited to quantifiable, demonstrable harms.

  75. In terms of economics, I believe in the right to private property, and in a broadly speaking capitalist system. I take these to be non-accidental features of liberalism — they are featured quite prominently in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. I do believe in the maintenance of a welfare system, so while I believe that economic inequality is an acceptable (and in my view, unavoidable) state of affairs, I do not believe a society should allow people to die or suffer significant harm because of poverty. I think the safety net is perfectly consistent with a private ownership/capitalist society.

    Finally, with respect to hot-button issues of the day, the traditional liberal must abhor all identity politics, as they violate some of the most fundamental principles of liberalism. I would make a strong distinction between the traditional civil rights movements — which were motivated, ultimately, by liberal principles — and the current, progressive identity politics movement, whose motivations are antithetical to liberalism.

    In my reading of the history of ideas, liberalism is a profoundly honorable tradition. I cannot say the same about progressivism, which going back to its early Eugenics days, has been — in my view — mostly a villain on the American political scene.

  76. s. wallerstein

    Thanks. I was just listening to this interview with John Skorupski about Mill’s Liberty Principle.

    Now I have to ask you what you mean by “progressivism”. In Chile and in Latin America in general progressivism refers to the non-Marxist left, people who want to increase the safety net, without doing away with capitalism entirely.

  77. Apparently Dr. McKinnon is doubling down on this argument.

    Her inclination to mock is unfortunate, because it only makes her doubling down seem all the more foolish. Because, of course, as I described, her argument is an argument against sex segregated sports, period, which lands her right in the middle of the Serena Williams problem.

    So once full-blown men are competing against women & trans women — difference within a sex bigger than difference between them!! — neither women nor trans women will be competitive in sports.

    The whole conversation is, honestly, an embarrassment to everyone involved, in that it represents a departure from even the most basic kinds of good sense that almost everyone seemed to have just a very short time ago. That this dive into madness is being led by our scholarly community is even a greater embarrassment. I am becoming ashamed of my own profession.

  78. s. wallerstein

    Thank you.

  79. Bharath,

    > McKinnon thinks gender identity is robust enough to do that

    Does she?
    She says that she’s sometimes beaten by females. Implicit is the statement “I have no decisive physiological advantage over them”.

    She wants to compete against females. Perhaps she feels her wish is supported by science. There’s a study that claims to show hormone therapy decreases the physiological capabilities of transwomen to such a degree that they don’t have an advantage over females.

    It’s a highly dubious argument. If you go to Dr. Fuentes, get a therapy and declare that you are now on the same level as Chris Froome and therefore should be permitted to compete against him in the Tour de France, people will call WADA and you can forget about cycling competitively for a couple of years.

    But if a transwoman is approximately on the same level as well-trained females after hormone therapy, she should be permitted to compete against them? Since when do serious sports, the Olympics, World Championships cycling etc. assign competitors to a category according to the therapy they had?

    But what’s more important: it’s an argument about physiology, i.e. about biology. Even McKinnon doesn’t seem to believe gender identity is “robust” enough in this debate.

  80. Strongest man >>>> Weakest man
    Avg man ≥ Avg woman

    That’s easily the lamest statement I’ve seen in this debate.
    I had the impression McKinnon didn’t realize what the consequences of her argument are.
    Now I think she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
    Competitive sports is not a competion between the strongest and the weakest males (or females), and it’s certainly not a competion between the average male and the average female.

  81. What I’ve come away with from reading her work on this subject is that she is either seriously confused or playing a very cynical game.

  82. “Cynical” is not the word that comes to my mind, but thoroughly depressing it is.

    I made the mistake of clicking on the link to Kathleen Stock you inserted.
    Particularly shocking was the piece in which she quoted academics who have to live in a constant climate of fear, in which being gender-critical is a crime that jeopardizes your career opportunities, in which interesting philosophical questions are totally off limits.

    Some university departments seem to be an intellectual Albania where Enver Hoxha still rules.

    I’ve read a few interesting analyses by labnut and EJ, but I think it was you who made the most important point: progressive is becoming regressive. At the same time, I wonder if a certain type of rhetoric hasn’t sown the seeds of its own destruction. If you look at rhetoric – not at the subject or the content of an argument, but at its structure, at the ground on which it rests, at the inferences it assumes to be unproblematic – then it’s sometimes striking how similar the rhetoric of the fringe of the trans-movement is to the rhetoric of other movements.

    The crudest example is the tendency to accuse people of X-phobia, another example is the tendency to police language.

  83. Zac

    Doesn’t seem viable to so neatly sever liberalism and progressivism. These are big, evolving, overlapping traditions–perhaps better put, the latter being a historical subset of the former. Even treating them as separate, there’s a great deal of diverse opinions within them, not only across, but within any given, time. And to complicate things further, there are the wide variety of uses these terms have fallen under down through the years. Yeah, back when it was a more concrete political moniker, many historical progressives were enthusiastic eugenicists. They were also at the forefront of women’s suffrage and the welfare state you now take for granted. Many classical liberals had awful views about imperialism and race. Many of them were also pivotal in giving us the rhetorical weapons for reassessing these very views. Didn’t you already have this conversation? It’s all well and good to set our what constitutes your political identity as a liberal, but I don’t think that should entail engaging in the tactics you decry on the Left where a tradition is trashed for specific historical faults at the expense of a holistic, nuanced treatment.

  84. I was trying to answer S. Wallerstein’s question, in the simplest way possible. You are right, of course, that liberals and progressives have overlapped on a number of important issues.

  85. s. wallerstein

    The climate of fear has escalated. Today in his blog Professor Leiter, who has been among the most supportive defenders of Professor Stock, tells us that he has received death threats. Now Professor Leiter is hardly known outside of the field of philosophy and related academic disciplines, so one can imagine where the death threats come from.

  86. ” I cannot say the same about progressivism, which going back to its early Eugenics days, has been — in my view — mostly a villain on the American political scene.” I would disagree, because as the wiki article you refer us to makes clear, the original Progressives introduced a great many reforms in social policy and politics. They did make serious mistakes – you mention their involvement in Eugenics, I would cite their support for Prohibition. They also found themselves mired in a ridiculous educational practice (sometimes citing Dewey which caused Dewey serious problems because his well-developed philosophy of education really was only tangentially related to ‘Progressive education’ practices). But they did contribute to melioration of certain undeniable harms of big business practices, injustice to immigrants, oppression of women, corruption in local politics,

    I also think that a problem today is that many people – including myself – began to publically identify as “progressive,” because the Republicans had so successfully demonized liberalism and the Democratic Party in public discourse – it was a way of saying, ‘no, change perspective, we’re really about social and political progress, not Marxist socialism and tearing apart the nuclear family.’

    The term “Progressive” is probably as dead as “fascist” (although “fascist” really needs to be resurrected and recognized historically as the nationalist/economic/militarist/personality cult that it really is, with many variations across different cultures – although such discrimination in political discourse is not likely given our present social context). Suffice it to say, that many of our well-worn political language has really become unnecessarily reductive – a slogan is not an argument.

    I myself think that the sturdy terms “Far Left” and “Far Right” are actually serviceable in situations like this. Trump is not a conservative, and radical trans activists are not liberals (do they even vote?), Death threats to liberals not aligned with the Far Left are no more acceptable than pipe bombs sent from the Far Right to Trump’s critics. Those who feel the need to shoot someone maybe doing so because they have nothing of interest to say beyond “kill them all” – which is not an expression of outrage but of asocial weakness and frustration with same.

    We called them the “Far Left” and the “Far Right” because they were once recognized as marginal to the general polity. The late ’60s began the historic change in that, for both liberals and conservatives, and this is what we’ve ended up with.

    As sidebar, I just had a conversation with a friend, wherein I admitted my belief that the rise of the dialectical politics of Black Nationalism in the late ’60s is what brought the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement to and end. Thinkers like the Frankfurt School (I make exception for Adorno, who hated everything Modern) and Franz Fanon, didn’t realize that their theories could only achieve praxis in a revolution – and if America ever experiences a true revolt, it will come from the Right. So the dialectical politics, once accepted in principle by the Left, has pretty much destroyed the liberal coalition of the Roosevelt’s New Deal. The most obvious casualty is unionization. Unions should have been the place where left/right, black/white, young/old conflicts could be hashed out and overcome. But the McGovern crowd simply ignored the unions, and by the ’80s Reagan began the deconstruction of unions with little push-back. Did Hilary appeal to the unions? Even Obama simply took them for granted. Without appeal to the working class, not only do the Democrats lose appeal to the people who first brought them to power back when, they lose an important institutional apparatus for bring people of differing interests together.

    Will Democrats realize this and formulate a new agenda to bring people together and appeal to the working class in the process? At this point – and with a major election only none days away – the answer is still uncertain..

    It can be done; but liberals are not known for their political will these days, and the Democratic Party even less so.

  87. Yeah, I put it too strongly. What I was trying to get at was that to there were a number of things on which liberals and progressives overlapped, but there were two significant things about progressivism that were (and are) terrible and fundamentally illiberal. Then, eugenics and prohibition. Now, the scourge of identity politics.

  88. I am tired of referring to McKinnon as “her.” The hair style is male, the dress is male, the demeanor is male. The genitals are male. The genes are male.

    Even Ed Wood wanted to be referred to as “he.” He simply wanted the right to wear women’s clothing because he was more comfortable in them.

    I have a question to ask of Dr. McKinnon – who does he want to have sex with? Because that is an important question lost in many such issues (and answered, in a bizarre way, by the Youtube trans demanding that women have sex with him/’her’). I noted this in my own article on this issue about a year ago. I believe it is a serious issue too oft overlooked. Lesbians are such not because of their sexual identity but because of their sexual desires. Denying those desires is, to my thinking, unjust. Insisting that a non-binary identity ideology makes such a question irrelevant is also thus unjust.

    If Dr. McKinnon wants to have sex with men, let him be gay – from my perspective, there’s noting wrong with that. But let him not pretend to be a ‘woman’ and then have sex with women. That’s abhorrent, because manipulative.

    And manipulation – of Far Left Ideology for personal gain – is what is really at issue here.

    I’m sorry, I have been too supportive of women’s rights and too aware of how males manipulate women, to refer to McKinnon as anything other than ‘HE.”

    There is nothing the term ‘cis woman’ refers to There are females who express themselves as women – and they have a right to their history, and the right to the political gains they have fought for for more than 2 centuries.

    Mr. McKinnon had better rethink his approach here, because as Dan says in his response to Danielle, more and more of us are simply not buying this.

  89. EmmBee

    I have no issue at all with the likes of McKinnon becoming a transwoman if that makes them happier. They could have happily taken up cycling, or in the case of Laurel Hubbard, the NZ weightlifter, carried on their training in private, and no-one would have cared or been any the wiser. Lots of us take part in sport which brings us satisfaction at a personal level.

    But no, that wasn’t enough, was it? They both opted to push themselves out into the public gaze. I would suggest that their entry into female competitive sport is less about the win itself and all to do with getting public validation that they are, indeed, now accepted as women. And it feels that that action, that assertion for power, is an act of aggression against me and my fellow females.

  90. Seren Rose

    This I find a helpful Venn diagram that lays out what conservative, trans*, and gender-critical feminist positions have in common, and where they diverge:

    (Text version –
    Gender critical: 1. (in common with trans* theories) accept that gendered traits are not essentially associated with physical sex; 2. (in common with conservatives) accept that sex is a non-changeable physical characteristic

    Trans*: 1. (in common with gender-critical theories) accept that gendered traits are not essentially associated with physical sex; 2. (in common with conservatives) believe gender is innate and edifying

    Conservative: 1. (in common with gender-critical theories) accept that sex is a non-changeable physical characteristic; 2. (in common with trans* theories) believe gender is innate and edifying

    Many thanks to A Trans Widow).

    This long introduction brings me to my response to your (Daniel Kaufman’s) argument, in the opening piece and comments.
    My concern is, while I agree with your philosophical objections to many of the ontological and epistemological claims of trans* theories, I think something different is required politically – a liberal response has to allow for a society in which people are free to live with a variety of different beliefs about gender and sex.

    One option involves creating truly robust rights of free association – so that a feminist group could provide a rape crisis counselling service for those of the female sex; a gym located in a Hasidic suburb could restrict it’s membership to people of the female sex who are not trans men; a sporting competition could segregate races on the basis of gender, rather than sex. (These 3 are real life examples). This lets the market decide, rather crassly. It also involves winding back legislation that offers sex-based protections and rights (but I think these are currently being rendered redundant by the eliding of sex and gender). Can we legislate sex-based protections alongside gender-expression protections? – but then conservative religious groups will fall foul of the law. I won’t keep going around in circles here.

    I think the political philosophy, here, is very different from the ontological arguments – which I really appreciate E. John Winner’s take on – I think he’s right, I just don’t know what we do in a society where large numbers of people are Platonist-Cartesian-Lacanians, and large traditional communities have their own metaphysical beliefs.

  91. Seren Rose

    I also suspect that McKinnon is a performative Sokal-to-infinity-power hoax.

  92. Bharath Vallabha

    EJ, I took Dan’s point (in his Sex and Gender post) to be that there is no such thing as hair style being male or dress being male. Critiquing McKinnon doesn’t require this view, though if you believe it additionally, ok, that is clearly something to discuss.

    Whether McKinnon is transgressing against (some? all?) women’s rights is of course the big issue. If you think she is, I can respect that as a view you hold. But I don’t get why you are downplaying the “feeling like a woman” or “feeling like a man” aspect of gender. McKinnon isn’t just dressing up as a woman, like she is permanently stuck in hallowen mode. She feels like and identifies as a woman. Like with Rachel Dolezal, the issue is how much weight to give to this identification. To dismiss it out of hand seems unfair.

    I will ask again, as I did in an earlier comment: what is McKinnon supposed to do? Your point seems to be that she should just recognize that she is conceptually/gender-wise/morally confused, and…do what? Stop causing trouble? Stop identifying as a woman? It’s not clear to me this kind of identification is something a person, once it has happened, can just turn off. Changing deep views is already hard enough. but identifications of such a deep kind, rooted so deep in our cognitive schemas and self-images, is not something that can be turned off that way.

    Not saying therefore others ought to bend over backwards to agree with McKinnon. Identification can’t itself settle the issue – and surely some progressives are just wrong to treat it as such. But downplaying it seems also wrong.

    The issue we haven’t talked about on this thread is really the way science and our ability to changes our bodies and also through capitalism to change our social identities is running against millenia of human culture, based as it was on models – now outdated – of what kinds of features are hardwired and impossible to change.

  93. Bharath Vallabha

    Nice article.

    As I understand it, McKinnon’s point about difference within and between sexes entails EITHER Williams and Nadal play each other, OR that there is a non-sex based reason for why they shouldn’t (say, because, as a society we want people who identify as different genders to not play each other). I get that you think the latter is dumb and just not possible. Maybe you are right. But it’s not obvious (to me) you are right.

    I think there is a third thing we mean by ‘male’, ‘female’ etc beyond sex and gender expression. Or maybe it is not a third thing, but the way sex and gender play off of each other. If I ask myself, “Why don’t I wear lipstick and skirts?”, I think: because I am a man. ‘Man’ here seems like a deeper cause. So I don’t wear lipstick and skirts because I have a penis? That doesn’t seem right either, since I can easily imagine myself, with a penis, and wanting to wear lipstick and skirts. So the feeling isn’t a third thing, but it’s also not nothing. It is something like identification. That has to be respected, but – as in the article you cite – it can’t also be the final word that others just have to accept. That’s what make this issue, at least to me, hard to figure out.

  94. I confess I wrote my previous comment so stridently because I was having difficulty signing onto WordPress, making it difficult to post or read comments. This happens occasionally, and usually I can back away and remain cool until I can log on. But sometimes I get frustrated and post less thoughtfully than I might when I do manage to log on.

    It is courteous to use gendered signifiers of the choice of the one to whom one is referring to in public. Indeed it can be a bullying maneuver to do otherwise. I don’t mean to do that with Dr. McKinnon. However, by the same token, radical trans activist attempts to shame others into accepting them solely on their outwardly professed ‘inner essence,’ in situations where such possibly impinges the rights of women, are also engaged in a kind of bullying, thus making their behavior annoying and in given situations unacceptable. .

    The prefix ‘cis’ is clearly an attempt to section off males and females from their traditional gender identification, and thus is aggressive nearing the point of insult.

    As to the question of sexual desire – I believe this is an important complementary issue. All the men I’ve known who have been openly transvestite have also been openly gay, but I know that there are men who engage in transvestism for its own sake and have satisfying sexual relations with women. With women, the matter is more complicated because the male domination in our particular culture has led to a universalization of casual male dress and behavior. .Is a lesbian who dresses “butch” engaging in transvestism? Probably not.

    But when a male presents in the gender signifiers of a man but then insists “I am ‘really’ a female” I think we can then seriously question the ‘trans’ identification of this person. And should this person then goes on to claim to be a lesbian (as the notorious Youtube trans I mentioned earlier, demanding sex from women), then we’ve entered a never never land where nothing can be taken seriously.

    Finally, “manipulation – of Far Left Ideology for personal gain – is what is really at issue here,” may not be *the* issue, and I’m not familiar enough with Dr. McKinnon to raise any question of integrity. However, Dr. McKinnon ought to realize that the question raises itself unavoidably given behaviors exhibited and arguments put forth defending them.

  95. Bharath,
    “I took Dan’s point (in his Sex and Gender post) to be that there is no such thing as hair style being male or dress being male.”
    Quite right. The sentences “The hair style is male, the dress is male, the demeanor is male. The genitals are male. The genes are male” should read “The hair style is a man’s, the dress is a man’s, the demeanor is a man’s. The genitals are male. The genes are male.” Common language slides signifiers for sex and those for gender fairly easily and quickly, and calls for greater precision in discussions like this. However, that doesn’t make common language wrong. Rather, the common language reminds us that we naturally respond to the appearances others sign to us. Let’s be honest: In the presence of a male dressed as a female – whether a comedian in drag or a professional nightclub queen, or the person next door – I naturally read through multiple layers of signification in order to gauge appropriate response. Radical trans activists are insisting that the common language is just plain wrong, requiring a different language, a different reading of the various signifiers – that’s not just misguided, it is hopeless.

    In my own article on this topic (, I came to the conclusion that the surgical manipulation of genitalia was really just another form of cosmetic surgery, The bottom line is genetics, and the only genetic cross expression is hermaphroditism. The biologic determination of sex is to be found in the genetics we cannot change. While it is possible that there are other genes that determine some of our psychology in response to the cultures in which we’re raised, that remains highly doubtful at this stage.

    ” But I don’t get why you are downplaying the “feeling like a woman” or “feeling like a man” aspect of gender.” What does it fell like to have a vagina – in the only real sense, the physiological sense. And I don’t mean simply a surgical construction – I mean the vagina that menstruates, that requires a certain proper hygiene, that includes a naturally occurring clitoris and naturally formed labia? I don’t know – and it is quite clear that no male, regardless of *gender* identification, can ever know that.

    The first menses is biologically programmed rite of passage, historically recognized as a social rite of progress in some cultures. McKinnon has never experienced that, how could he – or by courtesy, she – ever know what that is like. Yet that is just as much a part of a female’s history – and by right a woman’s history – as my first ejaculation following puberty is a part my male history, my man’s history.

    These are not simply existential facts, they are fundamental psychological facts – and in a meaningful way, epistemological facts.

    Which makes it a fact that when a male claims to “feel like a woman,” he can only be imagining what a certain gender identification might be like.

    Which is why the question of sexual desire is actually pertinent here. I was always a little embarrassed, and a little amused when reading a poem by Allen Ginsburg where he would describe his anus as his “pussy.”

    But Ginsberg knew his anus was not a vagina. And it is asking too much to extrapolate from a male’s penetration through his anus to what it must feel like to experience coitus having a vagina. What it may feel like to experience it with a surgically constructed ‘vagina’ is a matter I could never guess at – and only those with such experience can know. But if a view from nowhere were possible, I would guess it is not at all like experiencing coitus with a vagina one was born with and which one has properly cared for for a lifetime.

    We are fooling ourselves that biology is somehow an illusion, that an unsatisfactory nature is something we can so control as to change ancient codes overnight.

    This has nothing to do with whether McKinnon can stop identifying as a woman. I will wholly allow that he can’t. But that isn’t going to make him female, and it won’t make any female who identifies as a woman a ‘cis.’

    “[W]hat is McKinnon supposed to do?” There have been transvestite communities in many cultures for centuries. In some societies they were harried and brutalized. In rare instances they were actually honored. For the most part they have been used or abused as prostitutes. But sometimes they gained respect as entertainers. Consider from this perspective – should we allow females who identify as men but as transvestite men to perform in drag queen competitions? What would be the point of having such a competition? – since the female ‘men’ in their transvestite roles now dressed as females, will likely look and sound more like female women than the males in drag. Do we not see how utterly absurd this could get?

    We need to sift out the rich and complex history of transvestism referred to above, to discover what worked in the achievement of a just respect for transvestites, and what abuses we don’t need to repeat or continue. We also need a better understanding of the place of male prostitution in developed cultures, since, deny it though we may, this is an important part of the history of such issues. But certainly, at a base level, we should recognize the right of transvestites to exist and to share community, and to share common ground with the larger communities in which they exist.

  96. Dan,
    this is just a quick break from the conversation to express a profound sense of shock, outrage and pain at what happened in the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday. My deepest sympathies to the victims, relatives, friends and all Jewish people. As a Jewish person you are directly affected but we are all much diminished by attacks on the Jewish people. Antisemitism must be fought at every level and at every opportunity. We cannot remain silent because silence becomes complicity.

  97. Labnut: I appreciate it. It is shocking and creates a pervasive sense of unease.

  98. Bharath, it’s interesting that you make so much of this idea, because I can’t make anything of it. If you asked me what it feels like to be a man, I couldn’t answer you, so when someone tells me they feel like a woman, I don’t know what they mean.

  99. Zac

    Hey Bharath,

    I wonder to what extent we should have to focus on the ways in which science intervenes into our biology rather to what extent we’re still trying to clarify the science behind the biology itself. Part of the problem is that we’re talking about very coarse distinctions here: there are male sports and female sports you have to fit neatly into one or the other. Before sports would, very intrusively, have doctors just check your sex organs. Then we checked for presence of Y chromosomes. As biology has progressed, we’ve come to realize that the presentation of chromosomes isn’t nearly as decisive as we thought, with a good number of people presenting as prima facie men having double XX and women with XY. Gradually we’ve moved on to checks of testosterone (although only in the case of putting on upper limit on people competing in women’s sports). The thinking is that this is the magic bullet for explaining men’s competitive advantage at the margins. As McKinnon argues, this still appears to be too coarse. McKinnon herself says her endogenous testosterone is low that it barely registers, so even by that standard should wouldn’t be kept from competing. From recent studies of the top competing men, she says that a large minority of elite men in sports would fall under that limit as well, and that the data doesn’t show a clear competitive advantage or disadvantage to their t-levels. Maybe she’s wrong, but all these appear (to me at least) to be open, complicated questions and worth. We certainly divide up competitive cohorts in various ways to make the games more interesting: weight classes for boxing, age groups (as in McKinnon’s event), etc. Where we draw the lines and why is the essential question here. Should McKinnon be disallowed from competing with women because of average advantages among biological men at the elite levels of sports? Does McKinnon as an individual actually fall within that advantaged cohort and how do we establish what gives her that advantage? These seems like thorny questions to me and well worth exploring.

  100. They may be worth exploring, but until there is some sort of serious consensus, the exploration should not be done at the expense of female athletes , whose sports we have tried scrupulously to protect and which are really only now coming fully into their own. And I don’t agree that we are talking about a “good number of people.” We are talking of a tiny, tiny number of people, relative to the population.

    And again, the point is not about trans athletes per se. The point is that the *argument* McKinnon makes has the much stronger consequence of being a reason to allow full-blown men to compete in women’s sports. And then, neither women, nor trans women will every be competitive again.

  101. Dan,
    “If you asked me what it feels like to be a man, I couldn’t answer you, so when someone tells me they feel like a woman, I don’t know what they mean.” Yes, I think that is right. I always bring this issue down to the level of sexual physiognomy/physiology, because experience with this is fairly concrete and can be fairly well communicated with others of the same sex. But the gestalt of gender – beyond physiology and physiognomy – is simply a given to our experience. Humor and literature get far closer to it than any attempted reportage or description.

    reviewing my final two paragraphs here, I also express concern that widely adopting McKinnon’s (and any similar) position could actually tear at the fabric of established transvestite communities. I think in such communities is exactly where application of social justice is really to be found. The socially isolated anybody is in a poor position for making demands on the greater whole.

  102. Zac

    Your sentiments seems like they’re in tension with one another here. If we’re only talking about a tiny, tiny number of people relative to the population, are women’s sports really in peril? And even if we just take as a question of the argument, how seriously we take it hovers between whether we consider it on the abstract level of pure arguments floating the land or Dialectic, or whether as a clear and present danger within the actual persuasive landscape. I don’t think we’re anywhere near crossing the Rubicon, far as the latter goes, and the former remains, at most, an open question that we should hash out. This, indeed, is a small snippet of an argument, and addressing issues we ultimately do have to address when figuring out how we want to define fair competition. People are born with competitive advantages, some of which we consider legitimate and some illegitimate for the purpose of competing with a given group. But there’s no saying that this little sub-argument is the only consideration or the only argument that we’re obligated to consider when deciding our priorities and figuring out how we want to carve up our cohorts.

  103. No, what I’m saying is that there is a by now well-established practice of sex segregation in sports, about which we have had substantial time to think and come to a consensus on and for which there are any number of very good, well-rehearsed reasons. That there are a handful of Rachel McKinnon’s out there doesn’t change this fact, nor should it. And when the arguments they make are as poor in quality as McKinnon’s are, and have logical implications that would undermine well-established, well-reasoned practices designed to protect half the population, who have suffered systemic discrimination for millennia, I don’t think they should be given the time of day.

    Come back when there are a lot more of you and you have a lot better arguments. Until then, leave women’s sports alone. That’s essentially my view on this. The arguments are terrible, and the implications are devastating.

  104. s. wallerstein

    I don’t know what it feels to be a man either, but that may be because it’s never been a problem. I’ve never been uncomfortable as a man nor has anyone ever questioned whether I am one or not. I’ve never given the matter much thought.

    However, let’s say that from a very early age I always had felt a bit uncomfortable about playing with boys instead of with girls, that I always wanted to wear pink instead of blue, that I’ve always wanted to play with dolls instead of
    a baseball (actually, I never really wanted to play with dolls or with a baseball), etc.. Then maybe I would have begun to think about whether I felt like a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.

  105. Right, but notice that those are all sexist tropes. That girls should like pink and dolls and boys should like blue and trucks. That’s why feminists see gender identity theory as being fundamentally regressive and sexist. It defines “woman” and “feminine” in precisely the sexist terms that have been enshrined by patriarchy.

  106. S.,
    But I’m not sure this really changes anything in the arguments. I don’t think anybody here denies that transvestism and transgender identification are real phenomena. The problems have to do with how far we’re willing to push such phenomena – to the extent that they interfere with the rights of others? Hopefully not.

    My position has been that those identifying with the gender expression of those of the opposite sex have every right to do so; but cannot be taken seriously when they claim a special privilege over and against the rights of those of the opposite sex.

    One problem I have with McKinnon is that he doesn’t really adopt the signifiers of a woman, so McKinnon’s claim, though expressed in terms of gender, seem really about some internal ‘femaleness,’ which has little ground.

  107. s. wallerstein

    Sure, but I recall as a child that I wanted to wear blue instead of pink because I felt like I belonged to the category of boys. Let’s imagine that a child feels uneasy with belonging to the gender that corresponds to their biological sex, that they don’t fit in, that they’re a stranger there, not a citizen. Since we all need to fit in somewhere, especially as small children (the need to fit in decreases radically with age in my experience), that child who feels they are a stranger in the gender which corresponds to their biological sex, will gravitate towards the opposite gender.

    I guess that one of the things that turns me off towards the whole transgender thing is that it’s childish. As we get older, most of us learn how to build our identity out of more creative elements than gender identification.

  108. Zac

    Hearing the history of decisions regarding trans people in sports, it doesn’t sound like the arguments are well-rehearsed at all. It sounds like there’s been a lot of blundering and misinterpretation, and that the present judgments are struggling through a lot of difficult ambiguities. Her arguments, of which there are many beyond this, are a matter of carrying on that conversation and forcing people to refine their judgments.

    If you think cherry-picking this sub-argument, claiming a reductio and then insinuating that this reductio tars the bulk or the entirety of considerations in favor of allowing trans people to compete with women–well, I don’t find that very convincing. For one, that doesn’t address her detailed arguments that set aside what she might consider ideal and simply address the contradictions, blindspots and weaknesses of the already-existing judgments of the relevant sports legislative bodies. The failed attempt to make testosterone a deciding measure (and for women alone) suggests that the former status quo wasn’t as robust as you make it out to be. Indeed, it wasn’t able to exclude to her. She’s competing. Second off, it leaves the door wide open for any number of separate considerations for allowing degrees and kinds of segregation in sport for the sake of competition. She has no obligation to treat this argument, like you do, as absolute. At bottom, it’s an argument saying that we can never totally cancel out natural endowments as an advantage in sports, and that the very idea is incoherent. This is something we already believe. And yet we, and McKinnon, are also perfectly ok with weight-classes in boxing, with dividing people up to allow a wider variety of groups of people to compete at a professional level. So we’re already living with some of these differing priorities. We already aren’t, and I don’t think we should have to be, absolutist with any of them.

  109. Zac

    Incidentally, in the past year Radiolab has done a lot of interesting episodes on gender that I’d highly recommend. They had one that touches on the issue of sports and sex segregation, too:

    There was another one further back dealing with trans issues in a really intimate and interesting way:

  110. We don’t let men box women. McKinnon’s argument entails that we should. It’s really as simple as that.

    I don’t think we are going to convince each other at this point. But those of us on our side of the issue are going to fight fiercely to protect women’s sports.

    I also think testosterone is a red-herring. There are a score of other ways in which males are simply physically superior to females, which is why there is no sport that depends on physical speed, dexterity, or endurance, where females outperform males.

  111. In all truth, I’m not all that interested in this issue. I got involved in it, when I saw what was being done to my friend and colleague Kathleen Stock, in the UK. But I don’t find trans issues particularly important or interesting, otherwise. Very much a niche issue that is only blowing up, because of the effort to erode or outright destroy essential sex-based protections for women that have been hard-won over many decades. If it weren’t for that, I doubt anyone would care about it. Live and let live.

  112. Zac

    What I like about both of those stories is that the issue doesn’t drive the narrative. The story does. And the story deals with them on a very individual level with two individuals that don’t neatly fit whatever political and scientific narratives. We can’t rely on the political cant or scientific consensus of the day to tell us once and for all what to say about these cases. We have to confront them as persons and sift through a lot of complicated feelings.

  113. I appreciate your point of view, Zac. It’s well thought through and earnestly felt. The differences between us may come down to temperament.

  114. EmmBee

    Here’s a philosophical question for Dr McKinnon: if it’s OK for a white middle-aged male to compete against females in a cycling competition because they have taken testosterone-reducing drugs and they now ‘live’ and ‘feel’ like a woman, then would it be OK for a slightly older male*, a father of seven, who now ‘lives’ and ‘feels’ like a six year old girl to join in their new playmates’ girls’ soccer team or run in an under-7’s race? If not, why not?

    *Stefonknee Wolscht, another well-documented Canadian transgender person

    I don’t see the difference between the two – they are both equally delusional, only one is blatantly more extreme than the other. I suspect Mx(?) Wolscht is fully aware that the backlash would not be pleasant if they tried to apply for kindergarden, insisted on using the children’s changing room or indeed, tried to join in childrens’ sports events.

    Dr McKinnon, however, is clearly enjoying the notoriety…and sticking two fingers up to women everywhere in the process. Not exactly a ‘womanly’ trait.

  115. Well, I *am* confused now. You say things like “But I am claiming that fairness is an essential element of sport” and end this new comment with “We all think that fairness is nice, indeed much more than nice, but desirable to the point of being essential” and yet you suggest that I am misrepresenting you when I question whether or not the idea of fairness in sport is essential…..

    You seem to want to narrow the idea of ‘sport’ not only by what is “contemporary” (not sure how that helps your argument for ‘essences’) but by excluding “fringe examples” that actually ARE contemporary. It sounds like a contingent and provisional idea of ‘essential’ you have in mind, a non-essential essential, so I’m not really sure what you are suggesting.

    It may be convenient to narrow the idea of ‘sport’ to what fits your preconception, but it hardly builds a case for essential characteristics. When you say “We endeavor to make sport fair, with more or less success, because we believe that fairness is an essential ingredient of sport. We may on occasion fail but fairness remains our goal” you are putting words in every other persons’ mouth. Obviously YOU believe this, but you are not looking at the evidence of other people. You are making grand gestures from the tiny corner of your own beliefs…… Some sports actually DO aim for fairness, as I said in the other comment, but not in all cases. If ‘essential’ characteristics are even in some cases necessarily absent I have no idea what you are talking about when you use that word…..

    Well, since it is college football season have you ever heard the term ‘cupcake’ used to describe an opponent purposely scheduled for a powerhouse program to pad its win totals? Happens in college basketball too. These are not “fringe examples”, but indicative of significant parts of the sports world. The competition is inherently unequal. These smaller programs accept being over-matched by their opponents not from any ideals of fairness, or expectation that they will have a fair chance to win, and certainly NOT from the idea of sport being “essentially fair”, but because they have other incentives. Like the money their program receives to play opponents out of their league. We can accept being part of an unequal sporting contest not because we have failed to be fair but because unfairness is the whole point.

    One of the great events in soccer mad England is the FA Cup. This is a cup competition that starts out in the lower leagues where teams are barely professional, where players often are working outside jobs to support themselves, and through a qualifying process they are faced with increasingly higher level competition. That is some of the beauty and attraction of the Cup. It pits minnows against giants. It is the story of David and Goliath. It is not about fairness and does not express in any sense the idea that “fairness remains our goal”.

    No one is saying that fairness is not a desirable human value, simply that it is not a part of every human enterprise universally. Especially not sports. To suggest that it is is just making things up to fit your personal beliefs. If I am misrepresenting you I apologize, but the way you casually invoke the idea of something essential and then ignore all the evidence that contradicts it just confuses me.

  116. Zac

    Because, for the time being, I live and feel like Dr. McKinnon, I’ll speak on her behalf. To your question, I’d say that age is connected to a strict and immutable timeline. There’s no turning back time, no Benjamin Buttoning. I mean, if we approached the speed of light, we could age slower than people remaining at lower velocities, but that looks like it’s about it. Likewise, someone couldn’t claim to be in a different weight-class based on how heavy they subjectively feel. They would actually have to lose or gain weight (a SOMEWHAT closer analogy than what you’re forwarding).

    Sex is less clear-cut. Gender even less so. Intersex people, after all, obviously exist. That’s a scientific fact. There are people with conditions whose bodies undergo the aging process at an accelerated rate, but I don’t see that helping your point. While we’re coming to learn that chromosomes aren’t as decisive as, weirdly, a single gene that actively enforces our sexual phenotype throughout our life, it doesn’t look like this means we can sex-switch as decisively as the profusion of animals that do so in nature. In any case, the fact that we aren’t dealing with a simple on-off switch, but a profusion of characteristics that vary even within sexes and can be manipulated suggests that your challenge isn’t as decisive as you seem to think.

  117. Zac

    Thanks, Dan. I appreciate it. I’m wearing my pacific hat right now. Who knows what kind of wind could blow it off!?!

  118. I’m not going to debate the issue here, but I don’t think this is a fair comparison. I’m not denying that the person in question exists, but whether his very odd case is a good analogy for those who are transsexual or transgender.

  119. Bharath Vallabha

    EJ, Thanks for a thought-provoking response. I found it interesting and compassionate.

    Still, not sure I agree. Mainly because I am not sure if McKinnon identifies as a transvestite – and even if she did, whether that precludes her from being a woman. What I am uncomfortable with is you claiming to know with such certainty which category McKinnon belongs to. Maybe you are right, maybe you aren’t. I don’t know. I just don’t have enough of a grasp of these categories to know which way to apply them.

    If I think I am a dinosaur, and you say, “Bharath, you are just wrong”, I get that. But if I argue with a family member and say I hate my family and I don’t identify with it at all and am changing my last name, and they and the government, says, “No, you are a Vallabha because you have genes of Vallabhas”, that seems wrong. Which one is ‘woman’ more like? That’s the debate, and not at all obvious.

    I don’t think self-identification is the be all and end all; one can be wrong. But self-identification also seems relevant and important, and can’t be just dismissed. The vast murky terrain in between is where we are at.

    This doesn’t require that everyone have such a self-identification, or that everyone has to know ‘what it feels like’. S. Wallerstein, if I hear rightly, has evocatively said he doesn’t really self-identify. Dad has said that even though he self-identifies as a man, there is no feeling associated with that for him. I get both points. But that is just part of the diversity of experiences. I identify as a man, and think (maybe incorrectly) that there is a feeling of being a man – which are mainly a phenomenological sense of affordances. This feeling doesn’t require essentizing gender. I have a feeling of what it is to play games, as opposed to take exams, but both ‘games’ and ‘exams’ don’t have essential, Platonic definitions.

  120. Bharath Vallabha

    Of course, I meant “Dan”, not Dad!

  121. Bharath, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, but I *did* mean to question whether there actually is such a thing as “feeling like a man” or “feeling like a woman” or even, whether, such a feeling can be coherently made sense of. It’s not good to just say “well, I feel it, so there.” One has to at least give some sort of characterization of what that feeling consists of. And I don’t see how that can be answered without either (a) invoking physiological things — e.g. feeling the effects of, say, menopause — or (b) gendered things — e.g. feeling the touch of silk undergarments or the distinctive feeling of walking around in heels. Of course, the former will not include trans women, and the latter consist in precisely the sorts of gender stereotypes that feminism traditionally opposed.

    So neither of these types of answers helps the trans activist case, and I haven’t heard any other type of answer proposed. And I suspect it’s because there aren’t any.

  122. EmmBee

    And I would argue that “someone couldn’t claim to be in a different sex-class based on how masculine/feminine they subjectively feel.” They would actually have to change sex, which is impossible.

  123. Bharath Vallabha

    Zac, Great points. Your first sentence captures a nice distinction. Either way, I do think, like you, that what’s happening is that we have categories that have developed over millenia for a variety of purposes running up against more nuances that are coming from our understanding of biology.

    This is a great, confusing situation of the mixing of the Sellerian manifest and scientific images which is inevitable. There is a Pandora’s box that is being opened here. It is not being opened by McKinnon, but by the fact that we are on the verge of being, in Yuval Harir’s term, homo deus – that we feel able create ourselves in all sorts of ways, and break beyond social and even biological and birth conditions. I think many of our hot button issues in the coming decades will have, and already have, exactly this form: with disagreements all mixed together about self-identification, science, history, culture and, especially, what is means to speak as an individual and as member of a group. We as a community can, and probably will, argue till we are blue in the face about who is what and why, but ultimately we need to figure out a meta-method for dealing with these kinds of issues. A kind of Cartesian “Discourse on Method” for our time and situation.

  124. Oh, I agree with that.

  125. Bharath Vallabha

    “One has to at least give some sort of characterization of what that feeling consists of. And I don’t see how that can be answered without either (a) invoking physiological things — e.g. feeling the effects of, say, menopause — or (b) gendered things — e.g. feeling the touch of silk undergarments or the distinctive feeling of walking around in heels… neither of these types of answers helps the trans activist case, and I haven’t heard any other type of answer proposed. And I suspect it’s because there aren’t any.”

    Here is a third type of answer: as a conduit of power dynamics in society. This relates to physiology and also gender expression, but is not reducible to them.

    For example, if my wife says I as a man am unwittingly reaffirming paternalistic practices in our marriage, she is not talking about my penis or the fact that I don’t wear heels. She is referring to advantages I have in the social matrix due to, yes, my penis and my not wearing heels, but also from my identification with being a man. “I am a man” (or any such) often functions like “I christian this ship ‘the Beagle’” or “I pronounce you man and wife” – it is a speech act which creates and reenforces what it speaks of. What my wife is objecting to is that the way I am performing this identification is not mindful of its consequences in the social matrix. She wouldn’t be ok with me wearing heels or saying I am a woman – that’s not her point. Her point is that she wants me to be a different kind of man – one who is more self-aware of the matrices of power.

    Again, this is why Shania Twain’s song makes sense: she is saying/showing that the self-identification as a woman can also affirm power in the social matrix, that “I am a woman” doesn’t have to feel weak.

  126. Bunsen Burner

    I think a better example is Rachel Dolezal. What makes it ok for a man to feel like a woman, but not ok for a white person to feel like a black person? I honestly would like to hear an aswer if someone can think of one. Both seem to me take a ridiculously essentialist – even platonic – view of gender/race, that I think is completely unsustainable.

  127. s. wallerstein


    I don’t consciously self-identify as a man, no, but I assume that others see me as one and I don’t have any problems with that.

    For example, I consciously self-identify as a Jew, as an intellectual and as a leftist. As neurotic and introverted too.
    As sensitive. As a lover classic music.

    My sense is that for most people your gender comes fairly easily when you are very young, and by the time you’re old enough to think about who you are, it’s not even worth thinking about since it’s something you take for granted.

    I really feel for small children who don’t feel that their gender coincides with their biological sex. I’m sure that they go through hell and all my sympathies go out to them. On the other hand, it seems that adults who feel that their gender does not coincide with their biological sex can live with that. I have two closets full of men’s clothing: what would be the point of replacing that whole wardrobe with female clothing? I got better things to do than to shop for clothes and if other adults don’t have better things to do than to shop for clothes, I don’t feel much sympathy for them.

  128. Sorry but I’m not buying it. This actually strikes me as the least plausible account I’ve heard so far.

    I think it’s pretty clear that the idea is pretty confused. It shouldn’t be that difficult to
    Explain and require twisting oneself into intellectual pretzels.

  129. Bunsen:
    (Sub-head): “CULT TV host Dr Phil has been accused of exploiting an African- American teen who believes she’s white and is a fan of the Ku Klux Klan.”
    “‘“People try to tell me I’m an African-American, but that’s not true, I’m a caucasian because everything about me is different from African-Americans.’”
    Well, there we go….

  130. Bharath Vallabha

    No intellectual pretzels here. If we ask Brett Cavanaugh, “what does it feel like to be a man now?”, I don’t think he will say, “Nothing much. It doesn’t feel any which way.” He will say, “It sucks. We are under attack.” And lots of other men (and women) are saying that on his behalf. Same if we ask Christine Ford.

    ‘Male’, ‘female’, etc are used, yes, physiologically, and to indicate social stereotypes. But they are also used the way we use ‘king’, ‘queen’, ‘rook’ in chess: that is, in relation to each other, and what the moves allowed for them in the space of interactions. What people are fighting over in part is how to think of the internal dynamics between our gender concepts and power relations. After all, that is why many feminists are upset with people like McKinnon. It’s not just because McKinnon has a false theory of gender. It’s because they feel her view is taking away strides they made in terms of power. And similar for those who support McKinnon.

    It’s like the chess board is being knocked over (due to scientific knowledge and capitialism upending older cultural frameworks from the 1600s and also from 1960s), and people are arguing not only over who is what piece, but also what each piece can do. This is the Pandora’s box that is opening. We need to see no one person or group or mindset is the problem before we can address it together.

  131. Like I said. Not buying it. At all.

  132. Fairness, fairness, fairness, that is all it is about.

    I respect the fact that the gender identity of some people is expressed in surprising and unconventional ways. The increasing openness of today’s society has allowed this to happen. I also want to recognise and acknowledge the pain that other people feel because they do not fit conventional categories.

    On the other hand we cannot compound wrongs. Fairness is an irredeemably basic part of our moral fabric. When we compromise fairness we wrong society in a way that jeopardises society to its core. The very way we structure sport is informed by fairness. Carter, for reasons that seem to me to be hopelessly opaque, argues against this. I have lost the will to even attempt a reply. It hardly seems worthwhile.

    We handicap golfers and we handicap racehorses to introduce a semblance of fairness. We do the most obvious and basic, like insisting runners start at the same time and follow the same course so that the race is fair. We put people into age, weight or sex categories for exactly the same reason. We try to control the use of drugs so that some sportsmen don’t acquire unfair advantages. We segregate competitors into different leagues for the same reason, so that people of reasonably similar ability compete against each other. Another way to do this is through the mechanism of Swiss tournaments in chess. The ladder system in my squash club was another example.

    In the corporate world we tried so hard to be fair in the way we awarded salaries, salary increases, promotions and job assignments. A lot of people won’t believe that, but I had an inside seat on the process, was part of it, and could see it happen. We often got it wrong but we never, ever lost sight of the end goal that was fairness, even if we could not agree on what was fair.

    We do our damnedness to detect, deter and punish corrupt behaviour such as bribes and kickbacks because such behaviour is essentially an attempt to gain an unfair advantage.

    If you stand in a queue you expect others to take their turn, because, you would say, that is only fair. You always expect equity in the way other people treat you. In fact I have never known anyone, ever, on any occasion to welcome being treated unfairly. You can usually be sure that people will protest vigorously at unfair treatment of themselves.

    Fairness informs every part of our lives.

    Of course we don’t get it right all the time because some people are impelled by their selfish instincts to gain unfair advantages. We call them cheats, free-riders, etc..

    Now let me ask you a basic question. Do you admire cheating? Do you admire people who cheat? Were you glad when someone cheated you? Most people will express abhorrence at cheating. We despise cheating(or we should) And let me assure you, you will discover that on the day you discover your spouse in a bed with another person. Would you boast to your friends and colleagues that your son gained a place in a prestigious university by cheating? Would you boast of winning a marathon by cheating?

    Sometimes it is only by examining our feelings about the opposite(the vice) that we discover how valuable the virtue is to us.

    By all means, let us examine gender identity. Let us accord respect to the many forms by which we express gender identity. We should fight bigotry and prejudice. I happen to believe that extending respect to people is one of the most important things we can do in this instance. But no-one earns respect by cheating.

    We can never, ever sacrifice the principle of fairness. It is too basic to the way society operates.

  133. Bunsen Burner

    Wow. If I was a young kid I would probably post a gif of a facepalm. There we go indeed…

  134. Zac

    The majority of the criticisms of Dolezal aren’t coming it from a strictly biological standpoint, let alone a biologically essentialist standpoint. Most of the emphasis is on ethnicity, which is wrapped up in questions of lineage, tradition, not just physical appearance. Throw that into a country with a history containing the one-drop rule and intense racial oppression, and people are bound to be sensitive when it seems like someone is adopting that identity in a way that they feel misunderstands that tradition.

  135. EmmBee

    Stefonknee Wolscht is recognised as a male to female trans person. as is Danielle Muscato, who presents at the other end of the scale. McKinnon, I guess, sits somewhere in the middle. We can’t dismiss any of them, as the whole trans movement revolves around accepting – without question – the gender identity of a person as being what they say it is. Either they are all ‘women’ or none of them are. Either this tenet of trans-ideology is true, or the whole thing is based on a lie.

    And there are consequences to all this : as a female, I am expected to welcome all three into my changing rooms, my sports, my space, without question. There is no impact on males; they do, however, impact on people like me, my daughter and granddaughter.

    I have no issue with transwomen being transwomen – sport a beard, wear a little girl’s dress, I really don’t care. Be out and proud of who you are, like the LGBs. I was at uni in the early 70s and the men had longer hair and more flamboyant clothes than the girls! But this goes way beyond fairness in sport – this is obliging others to collude with a lie. Funnily enough though, it’s only when the obvious unfairness in sport is pointed out that suddenly most men sit up and take notice.

    None of the above are women. Let them live their lives as they wish, free from prejudice, but as a different sort of male.

  136. EmmBee

    For the record, the pressure on Prof. Stock is on-going: this is in today’s edition of the UK’s leading left-wing newspaper, which hardly ever publishes gender-critical views.

    There’s far more at stake than women’s sport.

  137. Bunsen Burner

    But that makes trans gender issues even stranger. I have friends that have grown up in an Afro-Carribean neighbourhood. Their skin is white. However their language, their dress, their tastes, and so on, are very much those of their black neighbours. Now, they don’t pretend to be black, but they could make a compelling case they do understand what its like to be black. However, can someone that has never experienced girlhood, a period, pregnancy, menopause, and all the other important changes that define womanhood, honestly know what it ‘feels’ like to be a woman?

  138. Yes I agree with you. It’s my friendship with Kathleen — which goes back some 15 years — that led me to weigh in on the issue to begin with.

  139. EmmBee

    Your support will be very welcome, I’m sure. I don’t know Prof. Stock at all, but hold her in high esteem as she’s been one of the few academics in the UK who has been prepared to put her head above the parapet to say what needs to be said.

    Her position is not anti-trans; it’s pro-women and children, and that’s an important distinction.

    But men in positions of influence need to step up and speak out too, and I’m encouraged by what I’ve read on here, so thank you.

  140. I feel the same way. Trans people should have every civil right that we extend to every person in our society. I believe that is compatible with maintaining all of the social and political gains that we have made with respect to women, and this includes female-only spaces and activities (like sport) and prerogatives (i.e. scholarships, etc.).

  141. As for men and women, I think we are all in this together, and only together can we create and maintain a good, decent society, in which we all can flourish.

  142. In my earlier reply to S. Wallerstein, I indicated that the traditional civil rights movement was drawn from liberal ideas and that this is what distinguishes it from identity politics, which, if anything, is opposed to liberalism. This essay, which I just discovered today, is relevant.

  143. Thanks. That article helps clarify the issues.

  144. EmmBee

    Thank you for those links. Very thought provoking. I’m afraid I’m no longer bothered about being called a transphobic bigot or a Terf. as I have science, and indeed logic, on my side. Humans can’t change sex.

    However, I must admit I’m finding it worrying that late transitioning males, who may well have fathered children, are fighting for the right to be given the legal status of female without having to undergo any treatment, be it surgery or hormones, but teenagers going through puberty are being encouraged to do precisely the opposite by mutilating their bodies with surgery and/or changing them irrevocably with drugs. There’s something not right about that.

  145. Zac

    If you don’t accept an essentialist view, which it doesn’t sound like you do, then it should make sense that there isn’t a simple, definite, one-shot answer to this. At most I can say they usually appeal to a suite of traits they associate with femininity. Maybe some of them consider this necessary and sufficient for womanhood. I doubt that most do. If you plop me in a northern city, I might suddenly start feeling southern. Can I really put my finger on what that means? In an impressionistic way perhaps.

  146. s. wallerstein

    I agree. The article on the difference between the civil rights movement and identity politics was very illuminating. By the way, many of the differences between liberalism and identity politics also hold for the differences between Marxism and identity politics.
    Thanks, Dan K.

  147. EmmBee

    Spotted this today

    Really sweet story.

    Third grade transitioner – what happens in five years or so when puberty kicks in? Will it be fair on the female team mates to be playing against a male? Or is that trans child going to be put on a life-time cocktail of hormone-adjusting drugs?

    This doesn’t sit well with me. Let him be the feminine boy he is.