Some Things to Keep in Mind When Engaging with the Gender Identity Debate

by Daniel A. Kaufman


The political battle over sex and gender continues to escalate, with increasingly consequential results. Adolescents and pre-teens are finding themselves confronted with opposite-sexed bodies in changing rooms, toilets, and other places where they undress.[1] Female athletes are watching their potential fortunes dim in competition. [2] Homosexuals are being criticized and often berated for being same-sex, rather than same-gender attracted. [3] There is a push to replace sex with gender in the census and on other important government documents, potentially undercutting or muddying the collection of data that is essential for the distribution of medical and other vital resources. [4] No longer merely a matter of disagreeing points of view on the ontological status of gender, the issue has become one with substantial public policy implications, so I thought it would be a good idea to list a number of things worth keeping in mind, as we engage with these issues.


1) Everyone enters the world with a reproductive complement of some sort or other, so the fact that we are born with a sex is demonstrable.  ‘Gender’ refers to the socio-cultural expectations that we attach to the sexes – expectations to which a person can accede or not, as he or she grows up – so, it is equally demonstrable that no one has a gender-identity at birth.

2) The term ‘transition’ implies both a prior and a post state.  One cannot transition to something, if one was not something else before.

3) The statement “human beings have five fingers and five toes on each hand and foot” is true, despite there being a small percentage of anomalous cases.  The statement “human beings are bipedal” is true, despite there being a small percentage of anomalous cases.  Likewise, the statement, “human beings are either male or female” is true, despite there being a small percentage of anomalous (or ambiguous) cases.

4) Pronouns do not “belong” to anyone.  They are the generic terms by which we refer to individuals and groups.  Thus, a pronoun cannot be “my” pronoun, in the way that ‘Daniel Kaufman’ can be my name. (And it is worth noting, with regard to the latter, that it can be multiple people’s name.)

5) With the exception of certain formally defined terms, the meaning of a word is determined by its customary use.  Consequently, the meaning of a word cannot be changed on the part of an individual or group, by fiat, but only through a process of emerging social consensus.

6) Depending on the context, ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ are commonly used both to indicate sex and to indicate gender, so it makes perfect sense to say that a trans woman is a woman in one sense, but not in another, and that a trans man is a man in one sense, but not in another.

7) In light of point 6., while a person who is a woman in the gendered sense of the word might have a penis, a person who is a woman in the sexed sense of the word, cannot.  Hence the currently fashionable talk about “female penises” is incoherent. [5]

8) Social identities – of which gender is one – are social constructions and consequently, are determined by way of social negotiation.  They are determined neither by nature nor by individual decision.

9) Sexes are natural kinds and are determined neither by social negotiation nor by individual decision.

10) Toilets and changing-rooms are sex, not gender-segregated.  If we are to make them gender-segregated, then the fact that there are allegedly dozens of genders poses an overwhelming practical obstacle.

11) Pubertal kids are anxious and insecure about the bodily changes they are experiencing.  It is entirely appropriate – and wise – for the facilities in which they undress to be sex-segregated.

12) Females have a reasonable fear of sexual assault from males and are therefore entirely reasonable in expecting that facilities in which they undress should be sex-segregated. [6]

13) Some activists claim that same-sex romantic preferences are discriminatory and evidence of “genital fetishism.”  (See: “cotton ceiling”)  By the same logic, same-gender romantic preferences should also be deemed discriminatory and evidence of “gender fetishism.” Indeed, it is hard to see how any romantic preferences of any kind would not be deemed discriminatory, in light of this logic.

14) Historically, women have been discriminated against on the basis of their sex.  It is because women are the childbearing sex that they have been deemed overly emotional, irrational, unsuited for leadership roles, the political franchise, etc.  It is therefore entirely reasonable for women to enjoy sex-based protections, under the umbrella of civil rights law.  Transgender people are also discriminated against and consequently, deserve their own distinctive protections, within the civil rights code.

15) In a liberal society (which is what the US, UK, and other Western societies are), language cannot be construed as “violence,” other than in very narrowly drawn sets of circumstances, such as incitements to engage in physical assault, directed against specific people.

16) In a liberal society, while certain speech can be prohibited under a very narrowly drawn set of circumstances, it cannot be compelled, which means that while you might wish that someone would speak of you in a certain way, you cannot force them to do so.

17) In a liberal society, the sort of harm that justifies interference with a person’s liberty must be limited to demonstrable, quantifiable injuries, and cannot be determined subjectively by the person claiming it.

18) In a liberal society, people may dress or otherwise present or identify themselves as they see fit, so long as they do not harm anyone in the manner described in 17.







[6] Some may think that this contradicts the point I made re: bathroom-laws several years ago, and it might.  While I think the principle articulated here is sound, I wonder about the potentially disruptive effect of “passing” trans people going into the bathroom aligned with their sex.


    1. Thank you Daniel, clear and well-argued piece. 2 points: firstly, British Gymnastics has just announced their new trans inclusion policy (following what looks like template advice from one of the trans lobby groups). It in effect forces a girl who objects to being in a changing room with someone who is legally a male, to choose between that and being ostracised from the company of her female friends and stigmatised as a transphobe. So potentially,damage to her either way.

      Secondly re toilets – to note recent events in Fife in Scotland where a 17 year old trans woman was convicted on 2 charges of sexual assault in a woman’s toilet in a supermarket – one on a 10 year old girl, the other involving a 12 year old girl. “She” was subsequently place in a woman’s hostel, to understandable public criticism. Stonewall continue to claim that trans women ‘have been using public toilets for years without any problem”. Either they do not consider sexual assault on girls to be a problem or they need to retract this claim – it flies in the face of the evidence.

      Bland assertions that safeguarding issues have been taken account of in policy development need to be challenged, especially in the light of the fact that one third of sexual assault on children are committed by other children, almost all boys on girls.

  1. Point #10 implies that ‘gender identity’ will doom segregation by sex. I agree with this, but it should be noted that the logic of ‘marriage equality’ dooms segregation by sex as well. Segregation by sex is premised upon heterosexist assumptions which the logic of ‘marriage equality’ simply does away with. The objection that ‘marriage equality’ declares only that sexual differences are not relevant for erotic relationships does not save segregation by sex at all. The assumption that underpins sexual segregation is that erotic attraction is only heterosexual, the very assumption that was decisively laid to rest by the ‘marriage equality’ decisions.

    Also, it should be pointed out in response to point #13 that while ‘gender identity’ does make romantic preferences invidiously discriminatory and, thus, bigoted, so does, you guessed it, the logic of ‘marriage equality’. ‘Marriage equality’ is premised upon the notion that there are no important differences between opposite- and same-sex relationships. If that is the case, then sex is irrelevant to a relationship, and a sexual orientation can only be an irrational prejudice or a bigotry.

    1. What is it with you and repeating the same 2 or the 3 points about marriage equality? They’ve already been rebutted several times, but for the record they’re not very good.
      Regarding the first one, sex segregation isn’t premised on romantic attraction being only heterosexual, and it’s demonstrably not whether or not gay marriage is legal. Homosexuals still need to get changed somewhere whether or not they can get married. Given that most people are heterosexual, sex segregation is the most pragmatic system available. Perhaps that won’t always be the case, but given that it currently is, nothing about same sex marriage itself that undermines the rationale for sex segregated changing rooms.
      Regarding the second, that’s just silly. I suppose you think that recognising that there’s no morally significant difference between relationships between people in the same age group and relationships between age groups means that preferring someone the same age is ageist bigotry. This is bizarre reasoning. The conclusion doesn’t follow at all. I see no issue with the idea that it’s fine for me not to be attracted to someone with whom I could have a morally legitimate relationship. Indeed, I think there’s no getting around this, since sexual preferences are in a descriptive sense discriminatory even if we limit ourselves to opposite sex relstionships only.
      I don’t mean to be rude, but this does seem a bit like a case of a conclusion searching for an argument.

      1. If segregation by sex is not premised upon the heterosexist assumption that heterosexual attraction is at least normative, then what the deuce is its premise? Yeah, most people are heterosexual. That did not stop the courts from allowing a tiny minority to re-define a heterosexual institution. So, if the heterosexual majority is not allowed to define ‘marriage’, why should it be allowed to determine segregation of intimate spaces, eh? Why is heterosexism normative for segregation but not for ‘marriage’? This has NEVER been explained to me beyond a most unRawlsian appeal to the tyranny of the majority. If homosexuals are expected to suppress their urges in locker rooms, then the dictates of equality (and fairness) that gave us same-sex ‘marriage’ mandates the same expectation for heterosexuals, n’est-ce pas?

        The recognition that there are no morally significant differences between mono- and interracial relationships implies that racial dating preferences are bigoted, right? That’s what I had in mind when I wrote the comment above, especially since in this country at least the advocates of ‘marriage equality’ insisted AD NAUSEAM upon the analogy between the criminalization of interracial marriage and the non-recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’. But I suppose you might disagree and say that racial dating preferences just like age preferences are NOT bigoted. Really? Would you be comfortable with saying that? The problem with comparing racial dating preferences with age preferences is that the latter can be defended rationally, the former cannot. A twenty year old woman is not being a bigot if she rebuffs the advances of a fifty-year-old man. She understandably wants the father of her children not to be on his deathbed when the kids are in their teens. It’s really simple math. One cannot provide such justifications for racial preferences, and it was with race, not age, that sex was explicitly compared during the ‘marriage equality’ debate. By the logic of this comparison, if a racial dating preference is bigotry, then so is sexual orientation.

        1. The point of locker room segregation is to make people safe and comfortable. Most sexual violence within civilian populations is male on female, and most people prefer not to get changed while surrounded with people who are potentially attracted to them. If that’s not a good reason for sex segregation, I think nothing is. If you’re right that you need some kind of Thomistic approach to sexual ethics to justify locker room segregation, then I will gladly renounce my support for it. However, I must say, this is one of the weirdest claims I have encountered in a while.

          1. You wrote, “…and most people prefer not to get changed while surrounded with people who are potentially attracted to them. If that’s not a good reason for sex segregation, I think nothing is.” Yes, and I have been saying exactly this, pointing out, though, that this justification currently does not even consider the possibility of same-sex attraction because segregation by sex rests on the assumption that erotic attraction is only heterosexual. And if the dictates of equality demand that the homosexual be treated in EXACTLY the same way as the heterosexual, then segregation by heterosexist assumptions must go. I do not understand why this is such a weird claim.

          2. The point of locker room segregation is to make people safe and comfortable. Most sexual violence within civilian populations is male on female, and most people prefer not to get changed while surrounded with people who are potentially attracted to them.
            I don’t think the second point is relevant, which is why I didn’t make it. My argument was based entirely on (a) adolescent insecurity and (b) women’s safety.

        2. That you can give a rational justification for not wanting an older partner is beside the point, since I don’t see why you need one. It’s fine to just not be attracted to older people, or to overweight people, or to people with acne. Would it be nice if we didn’t care about these things so much? Sure, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything intrinsically wrong with having these preferences. Moreover, there are many other perfectly innocuous preferences that don’t seem to have any rational justification. People have preferred hair colours for partners, for goodness sake!
          Regarding racial dating preferences, I think that it’s not intrinsically wrong. However, we may reasonably worry that there is some bigoted motive informing the preference, which is why, yeah, I would feel uncomfortable saying that I had such a preference. But that doesn’t make such a preference in itself morally wrong. Furthermore, if your claim is that in order to be consistent, one had to either: accept a natural law view of human sexuality, affirm that sexual orientation is bigotry, or accept racial dating preferences as in principle okay, then I certainly would find the last of these the least objectionable, although I think that in order to get to the claim that there is a strict trichotomy here, you’d have to assume that ethics can and should be rather more systematic than I would be willing to grant.

          1. Legally speaking I agree, Dan. However, since Paul was denying that there could be any decent rationale for wanting sex segregated locker rooms, I felt it was relevant, since if I owned a gym, I would consider that a reason for providing sex segregated changing rooms, to maximise the comfort of those who frequent it. However, you’re certainly right that these considerations don’t justify anything legally, since the kind of discomfort we are talking about does not constitute Millian harm, whereas the threat of sexual assault obviously does. It was sloppy of me to run these 2 things together, so my bad there.

          2. the trouble also is that if sexual attraction is the reason, it would be a reason to segregate gay and straight people too.

            Ultimately, there is no entirely principled way of implementing these kinds of regulations. there are heavily prudential considerations as well. This is why my own view is somewhat inconsistent, if you read the Provocations piece, in which I initially addressed the bathroom issue. There, I suggested that you should use the bathroom consistent with the sex you most superficially resemble.

        3. One thing that I really don’t understand about your position here is that even if we grant that legitimate sexual relations are only between members of the opposite sex, which I assume you believe, I don’t see how that tells us anything about how locker rooms should work. That is a pragmatic decision, no matter what.

          1. Well, the great big irony here, as I see it, is that you are assuming that ‘marriage’ as it is currently defined has something to do with sexual or physically intimate relations, and I have been going along with this assumption, even though I think it is dead wrong. “Marriage” now is no longer a sexual or physically intimate relationship because there is no way to come up with a definition of ‘marital consummation’ that will apply equally to same- and opposite-sex couples. The English Parliament tried to do just this when it recognized same-sex ‘marriage’ in 2013 and could not do it because it’s impossible (here’s why: So, the English Parliament decided to let the old definition of consummation stand, even though it can apply only to heterosexual couples. But such a solution violates the sacred dictates of equality. Opposite- and same-sex couples must be treated equally, and so if it is impossible to define ‘marital consummation’ in a way that applies EQUALLY to both heterosexual and homosexual couples, then it must be thrown out, but once you do that, ‘marriage’ no longer can be understood as a sexual relationship.

            And if ‘marriage’ is not a sexual relationship, that’s all the more reason to consider a sexual preference when seeking a spouse to be a bigotry simply because ‘marriage’ now has NOTHING to do with sex!

          2. Paul, I notice you didn’t address the first point about sexual assaults, which by itself is enough to justify segregation. My initial comment failed to make the distinction between legislation and company policy, but now that my reply to Dan addressed that, let me just say that it is beyond me how my deciding to segregate locker rooms in my gym because that maximises the number of people who are comfortable, fails to consider the possibility of homosexual attraction. And again, I don’t see what that proves, because if we consider homosexual relationships inferior, that doesn’t change the fact that gay people exist and need to get changed somewhere. Any problems that may exist for justifying sex segregation in changing rooms due to the existence of homosexuals wouldn’t magically disappear if we agreed that homosexuality was wrong lol. So your point is utterly lost on me. And I’m sorry, but thinking that you need to have a Natural Law type view about sexual orientation in order to justify sex segregation is decidedly odd, which isn’t to say that it’s wrong, of course. If your rationale is the only one, then I will gladly embrace co-ed changing rooms, but I don’t think that is the case.

          3. Well, there is indeed a principled way, and that is heterosexism, but your commitment to ‘marriage equality’ bars you from citing this as a principle. So, you must smuggle it in under a different name like, say, “women’s safety”.

          4. Also, Dan, I don’t actually care that much about the second reason, but simply cited as a reason for preferring sex segregated changing rooms that someone might sensibly have. If Paul could convince me that the sexual assault rationale was overblown, I would not really have even personal reservations about co-ed locker rooms anymore.

          5. But I think that the most important thing to remember is that no purely principled rationale is possible for a policy like this. It will be a mixture of principles and prudential considerations. So, while there may even be some argument for segregating gay and straight, doing so would be wildly impractical, which in my view is sufficient reason not to do it.

          6. I did not address your point about sexual assault because I didn’t think I had to. As I told Dr. Kaufman I regard that argument as heterosexist under a different name. Men are more likely to commit sexual assault if in close proximity with naked bodies. But this is still assuming that physical attraction is still heterosexual. Again, gay men are supposed suppress their urges when in a locker room, but heterosexual men are considered such wild, feral, undisciplined beasts that they must be segregated away from the women. I don’t see how you can call this anything but what it is, a blatant heterosexist standard that justifies unequal treatment of gay and straight men.

          7. Paul, there are many more heterosexuals than homosexuals. It’s a numbers issue, a practical issue as Dan says. Nothing to do with ‘heterosexism’ as you keep insisting without argument. And again, you haven’t actually explained how regarding homosexual attraction as illegitimate or inferior helps us to navigate this fundamentally practical issue. If you’re just going to keep saying ‘no, but all these other justifications are tacit acknowledgement of heterosexism’ we are not going to get anywhere.
            Further, you keep ignoring between what is relevant to marriage from a legal and a personal point of view. The fact that your argument about why sexual orientation is bigotry depends on this conflation has been pointed out in previous threads on this. What about the distinction don’t you get?
            Lastly, the State’s inability to provide a strict definition for consummation doesn’t mean marriage has nothing to do with sex. There’s no reason why over time how to think of consumation can’t be worked out over time through precedent setting in divorce cases, and either way it has no bearing on the personal significance of sexual intimacy in marriage, which is why these legal issues are immaterial to the ‘bigotry’ argument.

          8. Dan, I agree that there’s no principled way of settling it and that it’s reasonable to segregate men and women but not heterosexuals and homosexuals largely due to practical considerations. I fear that my lack of clarity has again confused you as to what my position is.

          9. Also, Dan, if you think we should have legally enforced sex segregation for adolescents, then presumably you think that the harm caused to their mental health by mixed changing rooms meets Mill’s standard, right? How do you think we can demonstrate that?

          10. I don’t think there is really any harm in the segregation, so, I think it a prudential measure in dealing with a virtually universal adolescent experience.

          11. I agree it isn’t a harm, although obviously trans activists would disagree. I guess what I’m trying to say is that government intervention in people lives is only justified when there is harm as narrowly defined that can be demonstrated in a liberal society. And since the state enforcing segregation is such an intervention, it would seem to have to meet that burden of justification. And I’m wondering how we can do that without falling back on woolier notions of harm.

          12. I get the point you are making. We are interfering with someone’s ability to walk into a toilet or changing room. I guess that I think with regard to minors, we legitimately take greater precautions and that this need not involve woolly notions of harm, and with regardless, the reasonable fear of sexual assault is sufficient. It is also worth remembering that in a great many cases, these are a matter of the policies of private companies like those that own stores and gyms and the like.

          13. You wrote, “And again, you haven’t actually explained how regarding homosexual attraction as illegitimate or inferior helps us to navigate this fundamentally practical issue. If you’re just going to keep saying ‘no, but all these other justifications are tacit acknowledgements of heterosexism’ we are not going to get anywhere.”

            I think I have answered this, at least implicitly. Let me try to answer it explicitly. Because of the heterosexist standard that determines segregation by sex, heterosexual attraction is considered and homosexual attraction is not. Homosexual men are just supposed to act like heterosexual men in the locker room.

            You’ve basically admitted that I am right. Your contention is that the segregation by sex is determined by the overwhelming majority of heterosexuals. Okay, yes, of course, and that majority is going to impose a heterosexist standard. So, your insistence that the heterosexual majority and NOT a heterosexist standard is what determines segregation by sex is a distinction without a difference. And if the tyranny of the majority prevails simply because it’s easier that way, then I really do not understand why the tyranny of the majority should not have prevailed in the ‘marriage’ debate, either. The heterosexual definition of marriage makes it a lot easier to define sexual relations, consummation, adultery, paternity, and the presumption of paternity and also a lot easier for the law to recognize the usually less powerful spouse, i.e. the wife.

            Funny that you should say that divorce cases will settle the matter of ‘consummation’. There has already been a case about whether or no the intimate relations between two women counts as adultery. It’s Blanchflower v. Blanchflower, and its majority decision essentially agrees with my argument against the possibility of re-defining ‘consummation’ to include same-sex intimacies. In fact, I pretty much steal my argument about ‘consummation’ from the Majority’s argument about ‘adultery’.

            Okay, fine, perhaps, I do conflate what is important to ‘marriage’ from personal and legal points of view. Fine. So, let me me spell out what that means. Just because that law says that race is irrelevant to ‘marriage’ does not mean that a racial dating preference is bigotry. And just because the law says that sex is irrelevant to ‘marriage’ does not mean that sexual orientation is bigotry. Okay, fine, so if marches celebrating a specific sexual orientation are fine and dandy, I suppose you would not be uncomfortable with marches and parades celebrating specific racial dating preferences, either, hmm?

          14. Paul, I’d be more than happy to support marches celebrating interracial marriages in societies where there is a historical stigma attached to it. Otherwise, it would be weird, and I might well suspect nefarious ideological motives, but it should still be tolerated.

          15. Dan, in the case of private policies, I agree, there’s no issue. It’s the state enforcement part I was wondering about. But it’s true that considerations of autonomy as less weighty in the case of children, so I guess that’s a fair point. However, I’m still inclined to push a bit. Suppose there’s a private school where there are mixed changing rooms – should the principal be legally sanctioned? If so, I feel like more needs to be said about how to justify it without using a vaguer concept of harm. But I agree that the sexual assault risk is justification enough, and there we are clearly talking about Millian harm, which is why I tend to see it as the strongest consideration.

          16. What do you mean by ‘act like heterosexual men’? Do you just mean that they shouldn’t stare or hit on people in the locker room? If so, then I agree but I don’t see how that’s acting straight. I’d hope that straight guys would be similarly restrained in a mixed changing room, but that doesn’t mean they should ‘act gay’ lol. Pragmatically, we can agree to these kinds of norms. I don’t see why we should devalue homosexual relations in order to argue for this though.
            And you might complain that that is just the tyranny of the majority, and to that I say that the tyranny of the majority is sometimes the least bad option, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be very wary about it in a liberal society. And so I don’t see why we should therefore conclude that the tyranny of the majority is as justifiable in the same-sex marriage debate.
            There may be practical issues that gay marriage poses for the state, but they’re not comparable to the challenge of segregating people by sexual orientation. In the latter case, we have to make do and let these practical considerations rule, in the former, we don’t. Further, administrative considerations shouldn’t be a trump card where we are discussing something which has the generally acknowledged significance marriage has. When it comes to issues which are universally recognised to be more trivial, practical/administrative considerations can more plausibly be allowed to override.
            Lastly, regarding legal precedents in divorce cases, I’m sure that difficulties and controversies will be thrown up by these changes, and I don’t think we’re gonna find perfect solutions, but we can and will do the grown up thing and satisfice. I haven’t studied these legal issues enough to comment any further, but I’m not at all persuaded.

          17. Again, straight men are not expected to act with restraint because heterosexual desire is considered normal. That’s why you have segregation by sex and NOT, as a rule, mixed changing rooms. Gay men are expected to act with restraint because their desire is not considered normal. You say, no, it’s just impractical to segregate gay from straight men. Well, we can have individual dressing cabins. Or we can just expect straight men to suppress their urges. Heterosexism, even when done for pragmatic reasons, still re-inforces the notion that straight desire is normal and, thus, should not be prevoked and gay desire is not and, hence, can easily be suppressed–as if it were simply a whimsical lifestyle choice.

            And, one last thing I’ll say about same-sex ‘marrriage’: If society is not prepared to overthrow heterosexism completely, then it has no business de-sexing THE central heterosexual institution. If sex is irrelevant for intimate relationships, and that’s what ‘marriage equality’ declares, then it follows that it’s irrelevant for the regulation of intimate space. If a society is not prepared to accept this consequence, then it should not sign on to the Brave New World of ‘marriage equality’.

          18. I would expect men to control themselves if for whatever reason they had to get changed with women, and I would not consider it ‘acting gay.’
            Homosexuality isn’t a whimsical lifestyle choice and proposing that we pretend otherwise doesn’t solve the issues around changing room polices. I really don’t get what you think the attitude towards homosexuality you’re recommending achieves that can’t be achieved otherwise.
            Regarding the claim that pragmatic majoritarian appeals in this context reinforce heteronormative ideas, I don’t see why they have to as long was we recognise these norms for what they are, an imperfect solution to an issue to which some solution is necessary, the kind of satisficing that grown ups have to accept to some degree in any society.
            However, if they do reinforce illiberal attitudes, then that’s a shame, but it doesn’t warrant giving up on gay rights altogether. You seem to be construing this in an all-or-nothing way. Either we exterpate every discriminatory norm at every level of society no matter the cost, or we don’t bother trying to achieve equality where it matters most and where we are clearly able to do so. I can see no appeal in this way of thinking. You might as well say that if we aren’t going to eradicate income inequality, then we have no business having any redistributive taxation at all. Sorry if I come across as uncharitable, but in this thread I’ve often found myself struggling to see how your conclusions follow from your premises, and perhaps the fault lies with me.

          19. It’s not you. The conclusions are a string of non-sequiturs, because they ignore they substantial prudential dimension of such policies.

          20. Fine, I will take your repeated claim that heterosexist segregation of intimate spaces is a pragmatic as opposed to a principled solution as a tacit admission that it is inconsistent with the logic of ‘marriage equality’ which basically rules sexual differences unconstitutional. ‘Marriage equality’ after all rests upon the notion that there are no important differences between opposite- and same-sex relationships. If that is the case, then there can be no important sexual differences, either. So, ‘marriage equality’ says there are no important sexual differences, and heterosexist segregation says there are. Do you see the glaring contradiction? To argue for heterosexist segregation while defending ‘marriage equality’ would be, I dunno, like arguing for racial segregation while defending Loving v. Virginia–unless, of course, you reject the analogy between same-sex ‘marriage’ and interracial marriage, but that’s very unlikely because almost all supporters of ‘marriage equality’ accept this (demonstrably bogus) analogy as unquestioned dogma now.

          21. Okay, Paul, I really don’t know what to say anymore. You’re repeating yourself quite a bit now, and I think I’ve already addressed everything in your last comment, so unless you have something new to add, I think imma tap out.

    2. And, by the way, you stated that you would expect straight men to be able to control themselves in mixed changing rooms. Fine, if that’s a reasonable expectation, then why doesn’t that vitiate your ‘pragmatic’ rationale for heterosexist segregation?

      1. When I said that’s what I would expect, I was making a statement about what they ought to do, not a statement about probability. There are enough people who would not behave themselves that segregation is justified, but even so, if men are forced by circumstance to cahange with women, it ought to be expected of them that they do behave. And, again, notice that in thinking that men ought to restrain themselves in such circumstances, I’m not thereby expecting them to pretend that they’re gay, and so I don’t see why in order for us to have the norm that gay people behave themselves in the changing room, we have to deem homosexuality an abnormal orientation in the normative sense of the word. This is why I don’t get what practical use ‘heterosexism’ serves that couldn’t be served by other means.

        At this point I’m repeating myself quite a bit as well, and I’m getting tired of my own voice. I think I’m done with this discussion. Thanks, Paul, it’s been interesting 🙂

  2. The bathroom debate seems better solved by taking gender/sex labels off the rooms and make all bathrooms open to any person. Using stalls and curtains can provide privacy. Emergency call buttons can be installed for safety — assaults can happen in single sex bathrooms too, so call buttons should probably be installed regardless.

    1. “Gender identity” does not just threaten to end segregation of public restrooms, but locker rooms, shelters, prisons, and ever dorm rooms as well.

      1. Please, post this instead. Sorry. “Gender identity” does not just threaten to end segregation of public restrooms, but of locker rooms, shelters, prisons, and even of dorm rooms as well.

      2. Sure. And many of those could be handled the same way, or could be subdivided by gender identitities. It’s going to take some time and cost some money, but it’s not an impossible fix.

        1. If you think that all swimming pools, gyms, saunas, sports changing rooms can be made unisex, then I question whether you have ever been in any of these places. The cost of such an undertaking would be prohibitive. Also, there is simply not enough space to make this practical.

          1. I haven’t done the cost study — but that was the same argument against accessible bathrooms. Over time the cost just got absorbed in new building and remodels. In a lot of cases a uni-gender room would be as simple as curtains, or adding a wall to split a locker room or open shower into sections… I would guess most of the time it would be cheaper than the political ads complaining about the cost…

          2. And all dorm rooms be single occupancy? And what are you going to do about shelters and prisons?

          3. If you are just suggesting adding a single gender non-conforming changing room, then maybe that’s doable. It’s not clear that that would be enough though. Consider my gym. There is a sauna, men and women use it on alternate nights. How do you plan to solve that issue? Furthermore, your suggestion is at odds with what many trans women have said they want. Which is to use the normal female facilities, even if they themselves are completey male bodied.

          4. Which is why we make sensible restrictions, understanding that considerations of practicality will entail that none of these restrictions will complete conform to a general principle.

            Regardless of what trans people want, there simply aren’t enough of them to override the desires of half the population (women). The trans lobby is ascendant right now, but it won’t last, when these sorts of things start to be implemented. I suspect that sex segregation will remain the rule, over the long run.

          5. But why IS the trans lobby ascendant now? Because, as I have argued before, the overthrow of the heterosexist standard in the wake of Obergefell has made it impossible to define physiological sex. The definition of physiological sex requires the context of reproductive complementarity, but precisely that is THE heterosexist standard which dooms homosexuality to deviancy. Therefore, if we still want the identities of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, we can only have them by self-assertion because the very notion of physiological sex is homophobic bigotry.

          6. I wrote an entire essay devoted to the question of how we got to this point. I argued that trans activism is a product of identitarianism and that identitarianism represents a deformation of the liberal idea of autonomy. I also argued in an even earlier piece that it is partly a product of a deformation of the modern conception of the self.



          7. Paul, you really are quite the broken record on this issue lol. And again you’re conflating descriptive notions of biological function with normative notions of purpose of the kind that are deployed in the Catholic moral tradition to argue that homosexuality is ‘intrinsically disordered.’ You can accept definitions of sex that make reference to biological complimentarity and think that has no implications for how we should live. You’re just smuggling your values into how you characterise the biology .

          8. Yes, I am confusing an ‘is’ for an ‘ought’. Thanks very much, David Hume. But the definition of physiological sex smuggles in an ‘ought’, doesn’t it, by singling out reproduction as its defining function. If the definition stuck by the ‘is’, it would include functions that do not exclude same-sex intimacies, but, once you do that, anatomical sex becomes indistinguishable from, say, fingers, feet, fists, and an assortment of pornographic toys and thereby loses the unicity that defines men and women.

          9. There are 2 main approaches to thinking about function in philosophy of biology. One is the causal role view, the other is the reason for selection view. Neither seem to me to entail any oughts. So I’m afraid I don’t agree. Gay advocates have always known that evolutionarily, sex organs are for reproduction. It just didn’t bother them because evolution doesn’t dictate morality.

            Here is a video which explains the different approaches to functions I mentioned:

          10. It’s very interesting that in that video Kane B defends the Causal Role Analysis of function against charges that this is just Aristotelian teleology in disguise by bowing to the constructivists and arguing that Causal Roles can be understood as conventional instead of objectivist. Well, once you’ve conceded that the causal role of biological function is merely a convention, you’re just a very short hop, skip, and a jump (perhaps, not even a jump) from saying that biological sex is a social construct, and, presto, you have just boarded the transgenderist bandwagon.

          11. I disagree. On his analysis, there’s still a kind of objectivity that is retained, because it’s an objective matter how we can functionally characterise something relative to a set of interests. This is because of objective non-functional facts about sexed phenotypes that stubbornly wont go away. Penises objectively can be characterised as playing a causal role which is complimentary to a role that vaginas objectively can be characterised as playing. We need not care about the processes in the context of which these functional characterisations are appropriate, but that doesn’t mean we lose all objectivity and are doomed to radical constructivism. Interesting point, though.

          12. Sounds like either you or Kane B (or both) want the certainty of unchanging objectivity and the flux of Protagorean relativism at the same time.

          13. Ha, maybe. Although I wouldn’t say it’s exactly certainty that I want. But I don’t see why we can’t have the best of both worlds so long as we are careful about how we understand both objectivity and relativity in this context.
            And besides, we aren’t going to stop characterising sex organs in ways that entail the binary and the associated complimentarity, so long as we continue to reproduce sexually. If we either find ways to replicate that don’t involve that or collectively decide to die out because we’re so impressed by David Benetar’s arguments, then sure these sex classifications would no longer be of interest, but until then, we will continue to functionally characterise sex organs relative to reproduction, among other things, and once we decide to do that there is an objective way of doing it right, so sex categories on this view would still retain a kind of objectivity that gender talk lacks.

          14. Don’t be so sure. People are talking about “female penises” now.

            This needs to be actively fought. It won’t simply go away on its own.

          15. Proofread, sorry.

            Dr. Kaufman can avoid the nonsense of ‘female penises’ because he explicitly regards sexes as NATURAL KINDS. The very idea of NATURAL KINDS is problematic, as you know, for it suggests that our classifications are not impositions of patterns but reflective of patterns found in nature itself which suggest that nature may not be as devoid of purpose as you atheists insist.

          16. Dan, I’m aware of this idea, but my point is that so long as we keep reproducing there will always be some reason for accepting binary sex categories even in the absence of a concept of objective function in biology. If you watch the video, I linked in an earlier comment, what I’m saying will make a lot more sense.

          17. I never said I don’t believe in natural kinds, I simply stated that if the causal role analysis of function is correct, and hence function is not entirely objective, we can still have a significant kind of objectivity in our concept of sex. I mean, even if the selected effect view of function is wrong, the fact that sex organs evolved for reproduction, in large part, makes sex categories important to biologists. If ideology undermines that, that cannot be seen as a straightforward consequence of rejecting a kind of objective function. And I’m pretty sure Dr. Kaufman doesn’t believe there is purpose in nature given what he said in his dialogue with Robert Wright on the matter, but I’ll let him speak for himself.

          18. I do not think there is purpose in nature. Nothing about the view that there are natural kinds implies anything of the sort. Most of the people who believe in natural kinds are materialists.

          19. Fine, the natural kinds of man- and womanhood are simply accidents. Why should anyone obey accidents? I don’t want my identity to be accidental. So, if accident says I am male, but my deliberate intellect tells me I am a woman, why should I obey the former and ignore the latter?

          20. I don’t see what obeying has to do with anything. A person can think he/she is whatever he/she likes. That doesn’t make it the case. And in a liberal society, he/she cannot force others to concur.

          21. Apologies for the confusion, Dan. I was replying to your comment about the emergence of terminology such as ‘female penis’, and I was just trying to say that I agreed with you that biological language isn’t safe from ideological attacks, and to clarify that my previous comments had been about the implications of a particular account of biological function that is defended in the video I linked for the objectivity of the sex binary, and were not contradicting your claim.

          22. Dan, I think what Paul is arguing is that in the absence of objective teleology in nature, a taxonomy of binary sex is arbitrary, or at least constructed in some sense, and so those of us who deny purpose in nature have no way of responding to people who think they can define their sex for themselves.

          23. I agree, but I think Paul wants to say that identifying reproductive capacities as being what defines the sexes implies giving some kind of special normative status to reproductive sex acts, which is why he thinks that deeming gay relationships equal to straight ones undermines the possibility of objective sex classification.

          24. Nothing arbitrary about it? But if there is no purpose in nature, as you claim, then everything in nature is arbitrary, including how we reproduce.

          25. A transactivist may well say that you’re granting reproductive capacities ‘special normative status’ in determining man- and womanhood. You would deny this, of course, explaining that you are merely naming natural kinds. But one person’s natural kind is another person’s deeply felt sense of identity, and who has the special normative status to tell who is wrong?

          26. Hence the negotiation and politicking and voting necessary to make and change policy in democracies. And it’s not as if that wouldn’t be necessary regardless. It’s not as if your objective normativity calls down heavenly soldiers to force people to do things.

  3. Dan,

    This is so reasonable and well-balanced that you’ll be called a transphobe by someone, somewhere.

    I personally think the gender-identity debate is a new step to a further democratization of things that were in the past beyond the power of mere individuals.

    If you piss on an American flag, some people would feel – not without reason – that you’re pissing on America. In this case, by some weird transubstantiation, the symbol becomes the thing it symbolizes.

    Two things are relevant here.
    1) In a certain sense, this is irrational. America is definitely not a piece of fabric with stripes and stars on it.
    2) In the past, mere individuals had little power to define what precise type of symbol had these transubstantiating qualities. That was decided over their heads.

    In recent years, there has been a democratization of these and similar processes. “The personal is political” was one of the rallying cries of feminism. Of course, the personal is political. But in the past, this was a privilege of the powerful and the rich, of princes and dukes (read “Le rouge et le noir” by Stendhal!).

    Feminism democratized the notion: “the personal” of every woman in the street has now the potential of being politicala. Everybody can now have something that once was the privilege of princes and dukes.

    The gender-identity debate is another step in the direction of more democratization of these processes. A piece of fabric can be America? Well, in a truly democratic society I can do these things too. Perhaps I was born as a biological male, but simply by declaring “I am a woman”, I can be a woman for all aspects the meaning of the word “woman” might have. By making this declaration, I become the thing my words designate. I don’t need a religion or some mythical nationhood to do this – I can do it myself.

    Sure, it’s not entirely rational. But the irrationality that makes the American flag America when you piss on it, should be democratized. I have every right to be just as irrational. I have the right to transubstantiate things too!

    (And who are you to tell me I don’t have that right!? You feel you’re better than me?).

  4. I thought I’d share some amusing articles showing the extent of incoherence that this debate has reached in the UK. They come form the Guardian, which is a British news paper that has become quite devoted to the Identity Politics view of things, and the current Gender Identity propaganda in particular.

    The first article is not unreasonable. It points out that women are quite different to men, having different morphology, hormones, immune system, metabolism, and so on. Many aspects of the world are designed for men however, and this can cause problems and even danger to women.

    The second article is about the neuroscience of the brain. In particular about the ‘myth’ of the gendered brain. Apparently there is no such thing as a male or female brain.

    Finally we have an article on the problems gender non-binary people face seeing the Doctor. You see the Doctor often needs to know if the patient is a man or a woman. Apparently this is bad. Knowing whether someone is male or female can’t possibly be medically useful except ina few narrow cases!!

    So this is how the debate is being carefully compartmentalised in the UK. Men and women are different, except when they aren’t. Then men and women are the same. Except of course trans women, who are women and very different to men. No discussion of this is allowed of course. The Guardian no longer allows any comments on most of these sort of articles, or else moderates them so heavily that websites have arisen with irate readers sharing the the comments that got them banned.

    I honestly don’t know if I should care any more. I keep feeling like I am living in a Monty Python sketch.

  5. A well reasoned summary.

    I will take this moment to emphasize a point I have tried to make before, which still remains unremarked in such debates.

    A most important question to ask one’s self in this issue is: ‘Who would I want to have sex with?’ and secondarily (but no less importantly) ‘who would want to have sex with me?’ (The suggestion that people should have sex with those they do not want as partners is absurd and borders on an ideological justification for rape.)

    The loss of these questions reveal that most positions in these debates are various forms of puritanism.

    I might like nothing more than to have a female who believes she’s a ‘man’ sharing a locker-room with me. I’d love to atch her undress, although touching her or saying anything suggestive to her might be disrespectful, so I’d avoid that. And I understand that, as a male, if I claimed I were a ‘woman,’ were I to enter a ‘woman’s’ locker room, I understand that at least some of the females therein would suspect that my motivation would be to watch them undress. Why? Because men and women have sex! And visual stimuli excite our urges in this matter.

    Now yes, gay males and straight males in a locker room – but somehow misses that point. Social proscriptions constrain behavior in such circumstances (as also lesbians in ‘women’s’ locker rooms); and have for many decades now. (Approx. 10% of the population has always been homosexual; and gosh knows what percentage has been willing to experiment. Did these never visit the locker room? That’s too much to ask.)

    Maybe all this will not be the case in the future. I personally have always advocated sexless/genderless restrooms. We may all convert to naturalism and walk about naked in future. Who knows.

    But before we get to that blessed state, let’s remember what it’s all about, what it’s always been about: the genitals are excited, and orgasm proceeds.

    Some transvestites want sex with others of their own sex’ some want sex with those of the opposite sex. Some who are not transvestites want sex with their own sex; some want sex with those of the other sex. Gender sometimes gets in the way. Social customs and norms have developed as ornate, sometimes beautiful, sometimes banal, sometimes even unpleasant means of attracting and finally achieving union – that is, having sexual intercourse, the physical touching and excitation of genitals to the point of orgasm – with a preferred, accepting other. This is what gender complications and their social expressions and resolutions are all about. It’s not supposed to be easy! It never was, never is! That’s the real result of evolution! Not that it determines who is more fit, but how difficult to find the one who is.

    Finally, it should be remarked that the various complications noticed here have had this beneficial result – the development of sub-cultural groups that act as communities of support. The loss of these communities would be of profound detriment to this society. The extremist activists threaten everybody in this regard.

    (Dan – in our discussion on punk rock, I remarked that I think that most college students involved in such ‘identity politics’ activism are just going through a phase, which would fade as they left school and had to deal with the ‘real world.’ I did want to append comment that this doesn’t excuse professors engaged in such nonsense, who were pampered as grad students and who wouldn’t last long in the ‘real world.’ They have found their home in the ivied toer, now they want it to look like their fantasy. The universities did no one any service by pampering them and then hiring them.)

  6. (Given my comment above, some readers might wonder what my own sexual preferences are or what my sex life is like. My response is simple – it’s none of their business. What others do in their bedrooms does not interest me, what I do in mine should not interest them. I am so sick of this culture of sexual vampirism that demands that everyone’s sex life should be on display and open to judgment; to this, “I raise my middle finger in salute.”)

    An open discussion of the nature of sexual relations is a good thing; voyeuristic fascination with individual choices is deplorable and yet another indication that such issues in public discourse are riddled with puritanism; and with its pathological obverse.

  7. Excellent article, but I have to take issue with this:

    “Depending on the context, ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ are commonly used both to indicate sex and to indicate gender, so it makes perfect sense to say that a trans woman is a woman in one sense, but not in another, and that a trans man is a man in one sense, but not in another.”

    There is no evidence that a man who adopts feminine appearance norms takes on the gender ‘woman’. If we understand ‘gender’ to mean ‘sex roles’, then lipstick, dresses, long hair etc are only a tiny sliver of that, and the most superficial aspect, too.

    First and most obviously, when men take on the markers of superficial femininity, they are not treated like women. They are treated like feminine-presenting males. Which sometimes involves discrimination and even violence, but the point is it remains a male experience. To truly be treated like a woman by society, a ‘trans woman’ would have to pass as female, which the vast majority do not. Adult male bone structure and musculature is almost impossible to disguise with lipstick and a low-cut dress, nor can it be mitigated by hormones or surgery, and even the very few who do ‘pass’ are usually understood to be ‘trans’ (i.e., male) by others around them, which by definition means they aren’t being treated as female, and thus avoid the sexist expectation that they are supposed to put everyone else’s needs before their own. (There’s a reason that in the trans debate only one group of ‘women’ is constantly being guilt-tripped into giving up their boundaries and always told to be kind and compassionate, and funnily enough, its never the penis-having ones.)

    Cross-culturally, ‘gender’ for women primarily means being expected to nurture others at one’s own expense: taking on most of the housework, doing most of the child care and elder care. This ‘nurturing’ role shapes every aspect of female existence: sexism means that women (and girls) exist not as individuals but in relation to others, our bodies, our labour, our very selves are believed to exist for the use of others. We are perceived to lack both inherent worth or any defensible boundaries. Indeed, the abusive term TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) expresses this logic perfectly: it implies that women have no right to ‘exclude’ men from anything – that everything about us, even our ontological existence itself, ought to be open to men to claim.

    I cannot see any evidence that these sex roles are applied to feminine-presenting men, nor have I seen any ‘trans women’ show the slightest interest in taking on THIS aspect of femininity, except as part of a sexual fantasy (submissive maid, etc). In every article or blog I’ve read about a man who wants to live his ‘true self’ as a ‘woman’, I’ve yet to hear of how he expressed that true self buy taking on most of the housework or child care. It’s always about clothes, make-up and fantasising about getting ‘fucked like a girl’.

    In short, when people try to argue of transgender males that ‘they’re women (sex role) but not female (sex)’, they are wrong. Not only are they reducing ‘woman’ to feminine sex roles, which is sexist in itself, they are reducing the complex and lifelong impact of those sex roles to feminine appearance norms.

    1. This is a fair observation, and it is probably the point I am the least confident in. In all truth, I was trying to be as generous to the other side as I could be. Perhaps, too much so, but there it is.

  8. Rule #10. I totally agree and I have been wondering when someone might point this out. If one argues that bathrooms are gender-segregated, then there are no bathrooms for non-binary and agender individuals.

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