Terfs, Transwomen and Trekkies

by Miroslav Imbrišević


Recently I read a definition of ‘Terf’: they are “cis women who deny the womanhood of transwomen.” [https://www.zeit.de/zett/queeres-leben/2022-04/phenix-kuehnert-weiblichkeit-trans-frau].

That made me think about the question of group membership. How do you acquire it? Strangely, it is never through self-ID. Traditionally there are two routes: [1] via the current members; or [2] specific, relevant facts must obtain.

If I want to join the illustrious Marylebone Cricket Club, then only the current members can help me: I must find two full members who would support my membership, and there mustn’t be any objection to my membership by any of the other full members. When I became a British citizen, only the British state, and by extension the British people, could grant me citizenship – regardless of whether I had self-identified as British for years, however many Carry-On movies I had seen, and whether I stood up in the bath (like Jacob Rees-Mogg), whenever the national anthem came on the radio. German or Croatian officials could not grant me British citizenship, only the Brits could.

The other route to membership is via certain relevant facts. If you want to count as a woman, you need to have a female body (which then may lead to a certain socialisation and experiences or not). Without the female body, there is no woman. This is not biological essentialism, but a matter of definition. Similarly, only those who actually are black (i.e., have black ancestors) count as black, and only those who have a recognised disability count as disabled. This isn’t biological essentialism either. People who think they can self-ID into these categories live in a different reality.

If you want to be a rockstar, you need to have done ‘rockstar things’ (released an album; be in the charts, etc., see here). If you want to be a Trekkie, you need to dress up like the actors on Star Trek, and ideally you will have watched most or all episodes of the TV series, and perhaps you speak Klingon. Self-identifying as a Trekkie, without dressing up and without having watched any episode of Star Trek, will not make you into a Trekkie. Some “Trekkie-facts” must obtain.

Some transwomen play the gender role “woman” in a stereotypical way: pearls, frilly blouses, high heels, hand bags, etc. Some have gender-affirming surgery (breasts, facial feminisation, etc.). Others are not playing the part at all; they only rely on self-ID. They have male bodies and look like men, but claim to be women. The latter are like Trekkies who merely self-ID, but who don’t dress up, haven’t seen any episode, and don’t use the phrase “Live long and prosper!” The trouble is, if none of the minimal Star-Trek-facts (wearing a uniform, familiarity with the TV series, etc.) obtain, then you are not a Trekkie.

As far as I see, self-ID never provides group membership. So, would dressing up, and “acting like a woman” make you into a member of the group, just like Trekkies do? At first glance it might look like it, but it turns out that it does not. When we are dealing with a Trekkie, then certain facts must obtain: pretending to be a Starfleet officer, having a uniform, using a hair-dryer as a phaser, etc. Here, acting (pretending to be something you are not) the part of Kirk, Spock or Uhura constitutes being a Trekkie – these are the membership-granting facts. Trekkies understand that you cannot become Spock, you can only pretend to be Spock; and that is how you become a Trekkie.

Those transwomen who play the role of “woman,” have thereby not satisfied any membership-granting conditions, because these differ from those that apply to Trekkies. The membership condition for the class “woman” – the fact that must obtain – is having a female body, not playing a role. The gender-role “woman” is secondary, or parasitic on having a female body. Unlike with Trekkies, playing the gender role of women is not a membership-granting fact; it is only something that is often associated with being a woman. A would-be Trekkie who takes on the role of Captain Kirk thereby becomes a Trekkie; he doesn’t become Kirk, and most Trekkies are aware of this. A transwoman who plays the role of “woman” becomes the equivalent of a Trekkie: she doesn’t become a woman, but only becomes someone who aspires to be a woman.

But perhaps the first route is the way to go? What if there are women – trans allies – who recognise transwomen as women? Could this recognition not grant group membership? As we have seen with club membership and citizenship, certain conventions or legal procedures must be in place. There is no operative convention in place which could bestow membership to the class “woman” when invoked by current members (i.e., women). Feminists in and out of academia may intone the mantra “trans women are women,” but it has no (legal) effect.

There is, of course, a legal procedure in many countries now which provides for a change of gender. And this entails that legal documents may be altered: often the birth certificate will now state under sex: “female.” This does not mean that the original birth certificate was in error; that person is still biologically male and will very likely need treatment for prostate cancer in old age. The state is merely employing a legal fiction, as I have explained here. In a narrow juridical sense, the state will treat a transwoman as if she were a woman. British law-makers were aware of this legal fiction when they debated the Gender Recognition Act in Parliament in 2003 (see here). For this reason, UK legislation permits the exclusion of transwomen from certain contexts (e.g., sport, peerages, single-sex provisions, etc.). If they really were women in all respects, these exclusions would be an injustice. So, the state is only pretending, just like the Trekkies are pretending. The difference is that the pretence of the aspiring Trekkie makes them into a Trekkie, while the pretence of the state doesn’t make a transwoman into a woman. It only grants them certain rights. In the UK, the state treats them, in some respects, as if they were women, but not in all respects. In legislation where there are no exemptions and no recognition of the underlying legal fiction, transwomen and women are legally indistinguishable. And this can lead to confusion among trans people and their allies: they start to believe the mantra.

The above definition of ‘Terf’ assumes that membership to the class “woman” goes via the first route: the current members of the class can bestow membership. But womanhood is not a club one can join, if other members agree to it. In truth, membership relies on route [2]: certain facts must obtain, regardless of what allies may say.

Of course, some legislation (in Ireland, for instance) already permits self-ID when it comes to gender, and the new German government is preparing such a law. But this would create a precedent for group membership, and it is difficult to see why, as a consequence, we shouldn’t allow people to identify into any number of other categories. The possibilities are endless. And this Alice-in-Wonderland scenario explains why up until now self-ID was never an option when it comes to conditions of group membership. But, the times, they are a-changing.

Miroslav Imbrišević teaches philosophy at the Open University/UK


39 responses to “Terfs, Transwomen and Trekkies”

  1. Moti Gorin

    One point of disagreement: I would deny that facial surgeries, breast implants, etc., can count as “gender affirming” on the account of gender according to which gender is not identical to sex. If gender and sex are not the same thing, where the former is some kind of mental state, then changing one’s body cannot affirm gender. Mental states don’t have breasts or faces with this or that cheekbone angle, etc. This is not an objection to the substance of your piece but rather a question about what “gender affirming” is supposed to mean.

  2. Thank you Moti. I see your point, especially for those who claim that self-ID is a sufficient condition to be a ‘woman’. Here we truly have a ‘spectrum’ of motivations. I suppose those who opt for surgery want to pacify their body dysphoria – they find having a male body distressing. So the surgery would affirm them in their belief. I suppose, because of this underlying conflict, the medical profession used to apply the illness model.

    Others choose to dress in ‘women’s’ clothes – often stereotypically – because they wish to pass as a ‘woman’ or look for validation. Again, there is an implied conflict of mismatch here.

    Others are ‘queering’ gender: https://www.buzzfeed.com/patrickstrudwick/this-transgender-woman-has-a-full-beard-and-she-couldnt-be-h .

    Then there is autogynephilia: “a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female. It is the paraphilia that is theorized to underlie transvestism and some forms of male-to-female (MtF) transsexualism.”[https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/328921#:~:text=Autogynephilia%20is%20defined%20as%20a,%2Dfemale%20(MtF)%20transsexualism.].

    And I’m sure there are many more variations: the solution to teenage confusion/discontent is: being trans or non-binary or whatever. And lesbian and gay teenagers are encourage to see themselves as trans, rather than accept their sexual orientation. Here the mental state is a second step, doing away with the initial confusion/discontent.

    Interestingly, UK legislation, introduced in 2004, requires, among other things, that the applicant has lived in the acquired gender for two years. The legislators expected ‘transsexuals’, as they were called then, to change their appearance (e.g. dress, surgery – but also changing your name), probably because at that time most applicants would have suffered from body dysphoria. But today it’s not an illness anymore, it’s all in the mind = self-ID. So you are right – no need to make any outward modifications.

  3. I’m always surprised when I read that some people believe in self-ID.
    Dan recently published a list of things young and older people used to know. One of those things – I don’t remember if Dan mentioned it – is that declaring yourself to be “the social type” guarantees you a very lonely night at a party. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a few boring conversations with the other people everybody else avoids. If you’re very lucky, you can corner someone for a few minutes, but he or she will be desperately looking for a way out.

    Why oh why do males believe it’s different when they self-ID as women? I know some women identify as men, but I’m pretty certain the large majority of males don’t take this very seriously. At best they’re polite, in the full knowledge of the fact that they’re actually dealing with a female who has some illusions and who would be utterly destroyed during the Sunday-morning ride with the boys from the cycling club.

    Why do some males think it’s different for the concept “woman”? Why is membership of the class of women so cheap that certain feelings or convictions about yourself are sufficient?

  4. Moti Gorin

    Thanks, Miroslav. My professional interest is in the bioethical questions that arise when we think of “gender affirming” care against the backdrop of the currently dominant conception of gender, which is the “gender identity” conception. In your piece, you list surgery as a form of “gender affirming”, so I just wanted to point out that on your own account of what it is to be a member of the relevant group, it’s not clear you should think of surgeries as “gender affirming.” I understand you were simply using that term in the way it’s now used conventionally and that you don’t endorse the metaphysics that underlie it.

  5. terranbiped

    Very interesting read. Thank you. You’ve made a rather complicated social and psychological problem sound very simple, at least as far as group identity and membership is concerned vis a vis gender identification. You set the predicate at primary sexual morphological identifiers. So, if you have, more or less, a penis, testicles and prostate you are a male and similarly, if you have a vagina, uterus and mammary glands you are a female – and never the twain shall meet at their respective assigned at birth groups. You’ve set the premise and met the requirements. Case closed. You can sit all day in a garage and go beep, beep, beep – but, that doesn’t make you a car. Quite understandable as far as that goes.

    But what exactly do we mean when we say someone is a woman? The usual answer always seems to begin from the neck down. One might think the essence of what differentiates the female mystique from the male persona, in the complexity of the human psyche, never makes it passed who creates the large or small gamete. If all men were to wake up one fine morning to find their genitalia had transmuted to the female version and likewise a switcheroo for the ladies, would the females start opening doors for the men? And what of the small contingent of intersex people with Xs and Ys all akimbo and various configurations of genitalia manifested? Do they have carte blanche to join the group they want, or both groups, or no groups at all and have to start their own?

    I’ve been a bit tongue in cheek, I admit but, is gender identity as simple as differentiating between melons and bananas? Does morphology trump the wiring of the brain, is my wife just a man with a womb or a person without a penis? We can claim that’s all it is, though I think most of us have an inkling, an intuition that there is more to it. In fact, anyone can search on their Google machine, the research into the anatomical differences between the male and female brain and how recent finding indicate that trans woman and trans men in certain areas of brain structure more closely resemble the opposite CIS gender sex. So, to say you are literally a woman (at least to an innate degree that can’t be ignored) trapped in a man’s body is as true as any other accepted claims made by a complex gestalt called a human. So where does that lead us. I hope to more sensitivity on both sides of the issue. The TERFS have their legitimate concerns but I doubt few of them in their hearts want to be thought of as nothing more than child bearing genitalia. What is it to be a woman or man, surely more than showing your pud or pudendum at the exclusive club’s entry door.

  6. venividigrizzly

    Evidently the word “women” has already been conceded to the “trans women” by their very name. You insist that “women” really just means “female bodies” and leave that undefined, but apparently it doesn’t end there in even your own corpus. And while, it’s only a passing reference, I think it’s tellingly innocent of you to claim that being black is simply having black ancestors. That’s incredibly ignorant of the history and present of the concept of race. Elizabeth Warren is not a Native American.

    A friend confesses to me that they’re gay, but ultimately too timid to engage in romantic relationships and in no rush to be out. I don’t say “Prove it!” because I’m not a pedantic nit. It’s a perfectly coherent situation. I don’t respond with free-floating conceptual analysis, but with humanity, which is what’s typically at stake when a person is explaining their preferences to us. I genuinely have a friend who is bisexual (but do I? you’ll have to trust me) and, despite having plenty of romantic encounters with men, though no long-term relationships, has experienced hostility from gay men as a supposed interloper, a sentiment many leading gender critical folks are happy to encourage. Would a gay passport suffice? How many stamps would it take? You can demand that those gays accept your Trekkie test, but then, well, they probably won’t. Closer to this case, from their anonymous interviews, I believe that the author of the short story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” is probably trans even though they were likely driven back into the closet by rushed backlash from pro-trans readers who took the story as an attack on trans people. A naively behaviorist account just doesn’t cut the cake here.

    Imagine you’re in the pre-bellum South. A slaveowner says his slave isn’t a full-fledged human being and that the slave does not experience pain like we do, that they’re largely inured to it. He doesn’t accept self-identification of pain and insists that the slave’s pain behavior is mainly a put-on to try to dissuade the slave driver. “But my good man,” you say, “he is clearly a man by definition (Quine does not yet exist!),” “He’s a biological man and that’s man enough,” or “he can produce fertile offspring with a white female,” [he’ll surely love that one] or “it’s better to assume that it’s a pain as genuine as ours so long as there’s no way to tell the difference,” or “prove that he doesn’t feel pain like us!” or “uhhhhh, pain just is pain behavior.” That won’t settle the matter since what’s at stake is the acknowledgement of another human being, which its the slave driver’s underlying purpose to deny. Conceptual analysis, again, comes up short in the face of a deeply normative question. If you get the urge to respond, “But I’m not a slaver!” or something like that, you should probably address it to a wall. That is not the point.

  7. I would agree that the issue is the definition of terms. I think there is a lot of imprecisely used terminology being used on the issue on many levels which only confuses the issues.

    For example, having a gender reveal party for a newborn baby is incoherent. Also, men and women sports are now antiquated terms and need to be replaced with male and female sports in order to resolve most of the current conflicts around this issue.

    GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) has been working on the issue for decades and has developed a thoughtful and useful glossary.


  8. Not to sound like a broken record, but this is one area I find the pragmatic way of thinking most helpful. Where most folks see this as a question of what a woman is – what the necessary or sufficient conditions actually are for womanhood – I find that the better questions are: (a) for what purposes and reasons do we categorize women and men, or sort by gender, and (b) given those, in what situations does or doesn’t it make sense to call people – especially those who might not meet traditional criteria for ‘women’ – ‘women’ (or ‘men’).

    The trendy example at the moment is Lia Thomas; all sorts of commentaries on left and right seem interseted only in figuring out whether Thomas IS a woman. It’s an understandable question, but a thankless one, because it becomes obvious very quickly that the ‘two sides’ come in with differing understandings of what the conditions for womanhood are. For one side, it might be self-ID or the social roles one plalys or whether one has undergone certain hormone therapies. For the other, it is genitalia and chromosomes. It does precisely no good to say that we can resolve this impasse by thinking harder about what the criteria for womanhood REALLY is and see if Thomas fits it. Because the “really” is what is precisely in dispute.

    Instead, let’s ask what purposes we have for needing to categorize Thomas, and the rest of us, by gender – and then ask in any given venue, whether it makes more sense to categorize Thomas one way or other. That might not ‘solve’ the dispute, but at least it makes the terms of the dispute more clear. “We aren’t asking the general qeustion of whether Thomas IS a woman, but the more specific question of whether in a given sitiuation, it makes sense to categorize Thomas in one way or other.”

    So, the conditons for Trekkiehood can probably be defined a bit differently by different folks. (Hardcore trekkies will have more exacting standards). So, the better question maybe isn’t what the condition for trekkihood is, but whether it makes sense (say, at a convention for hardcore trekkies) to draw looser or tighter boundaries, what the effects of different boundaries are, and which effects are preferable in that situation. One could be a trekkie for purposes of self-ID on a dating site, but NOT be a trekkie for the purposes of satisfying an ultra-exclusive trekkie-convention.

    I really think that way of thinking would be more productive in thinking about gender (amidst increasing acceptance of transgender) than the way we often do it.

  9. I will say the following as someone who really doesn’t thave a problem with the idea of gender that centers around inner-feeling:

    Regardless of whether that is a possible sufficient condition for gender categorization, it is so fuzzy as to almost be incoherent. AND part of its fuzzliness seems to me because it relies – is parasitic – on the very type of gender essentialism it is trying to avoid. That is, the only possible way it can mean anything clear to ‘feel like a man’ is if there is sme essence of manhood that it feels like to be. If we reject that – and I surely do, and so apparently do gender feminists – you lose any coherence to the idea that ‘feeling like a man’ is possible. At worst, you just resort to the very cluky sterotypes about what manhood must feel like that you were (rightly) trying to smash.

    I have no idea what the conclusion from that should be. Like I said, I have no principled objection to self-ID being a sufficeint condition to consider yourself a member of a certain gender. (Whether that means it entitles you to all the spaces reserved for that gender is a different matter, as I think this article indirectly argues.) Really, I just think this justs means that we will culturally realize at some point that self-ID methods of gender categorization will just clash against the wish to abolish gender essentialism, because the former ultilmately can’t live without the latter.

  10. “And while, it’s only a passing reference, I think it’s tellingly innocent of you to claim that being black is simply having black ancestors. That’s incredibly ignorant of the history and present of the concept of race.”

    Yes, I also scratched my head a bit at that one. You’re right, I think, in your objection to this “simply having black ancestors” objection. (It’s also circular, as it defines by invoking the concept it defines.) For anyone interested, I wrote an entire EA essay recently on precisely how messay racialization (in the US context) is.


    And while “simlpy having black ancestors” was a passing comment, my worry is that it is a reavealing one, revealing a tendency to see what turns out to be a complex categorization into a simple one.

  11. There is nothing “essentialist” about the standard view. Sexes are standard natural kinds, which require no essences.

  12. I’m glad to hear about what you do and don’t have principled objections to. Regardless, my wife and daughter and mother *will* continue to enjoy single sex intimate provisions, as per the current law, decency, and common sense.

  13. I think Miroslav’s characterization was harmless, and I understood exactly what he meant by it.

  14. ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ denote reproductive classes, which are natural kinds.

    Natural kinds do not admit of necessary/sufficient conditions, nor are they undermined by the existence of small numbers of atypical cases, so this entire area of discourse is based on a misunderstanding. Some familiarity with the philosophy of language/science literature on the semantics of natural kind terms is necessary to confront this issue in an intelligible fashion. This is material I’ve taught for decades.

    With regard to the substance of the matter, it’s really simple: Sports are sex segregated for reasons that were obvious to everyone with three brain cells to rub together until about 5 minutes ago. And now that the general public has caught whiff of the mischief that activists are trying to get into here, they will remain sex segregated. And anyone with any understanding of the history and reasons for women’s sports — as well as a modicum of decency — will be glad.

  15. ‘‘Male’ and ‘Female’ denote reproductive classes, which are natural kinds.

    Natural kinds do not admit of necessary/sufficient conditions, nor are they undermined by the existence of small numbers of atypical cases, so this entire area of discourse is based on a misunderstanding.’

    Well, you may be willing to treat ‘male’ and ‘man’ as synonyms, or ‘female’ and ‘woman,’ and maybe there is a case to be made there. (The orignial articls also does this.) But I think part of what is at issue – at least on the trans-inclusive side – is precisely that they do not think it obvious that when talking about whether x is a man, they are not simply talking about whether x is s natally male.

    “With regard to the substance of the matter, it’s really simple: Sports are sex segregated for reasons that were obvious to everyone with three brain cells to rub together until about 5 minutes ago.”

    I’d love to think it really is that simpe and that amateurish groups like, say, the Olympic Commmitee are just too losts to see what is obvious. What I think they – and those other dumb organizations like the know-nothing NCAA! – might be thinking is that in an age where being trans is a legit thing, maybe we need to drill down into precisely why we segregate men and women, not as a rhetorical question, but as a real one. Only that way can we figure out whether competitors like Lia Thomas can ever be sensibly reclassified to the women’s diviision and what she’d need to be able to do to maintain both inclusiveness and fair competition. I doubt that is a simple matter.

  16. Thank you, terranbiped. You write: ‘You set the predicate at primary sexual morphological identifiers.’ I must admit, I don’t understand what this sentence means.

    You use the term ‘assigned at birth’. A good friend in the medical profession explained the origin of the phrase to me. On rare occasions there would be newborns with atypical sex characteristics. Then doctors used to ‘assign’ a sex. Trans activists now use the phrase for all births. They are trying to suggest that the process is arbitrary for every newborn. But in the majority of cases the sex characteristics are unambiguous and easily discerned. This results in a reliable process: sex is observed and recorded.

    I like your analogy: ‘You can sit all day in a garage and go beep, beep, beep – but, that doesn’t make you a car.’ I might use this to illustrate what being transgender means.

    ‘If all men were to wake up one fine morning to find their genitalia had transmuted to the female version and likewise a switcheroo for the ladies, would the females start opening doors for the men?’ You seem to believe in biological essentialism. I don’t, and most gender-critical feminists don’t.

    ‘Does morphology trump the wiring of the brain’. The *opposite oder reversed sex brain theory* goes back to the 90s. The latest research suggests that this is a misinterpretation. See (Gliske 2019): https://www.inverse.com/article/61374-gender-dysphoria-in-the-brain

    ‘What is it to be a woman or man, surely more than showing your pud or pudendum at the exclusive club’s entry door.’ According to self-Id enthusiasts it is surely less. All you need is: believing to be X makes you into X.

    Thomas Bogardus keeps pointing out that this leads us into a viscous circle. What does it mean to be a ‘woman’? It is to identify as a ‘woman’. But what does ‘woman’ mean here, what are you identifying into? The answer must be: into somebody who identifies as a ‘woman’.

  17. Terranbiped

    I feel like a man. Yet, even with social cues, conventions and inferences I still can’t express the essence of the feeling other than I don’t think I feel like a woman. So what and how do gender fluids think about themselves? And if there is no there, there why do people feel anything at all in respect to their feelings of gender identity? Some things are just so natural to one’s experiential and perceptual being that it is as natural as accepting consciousness and free will or fish taking water for granted.

    Why do young children virtually pure of stereotypes gravitate to the center of the sex specific spectrum of certain characteristic behaviors? This is not all on the shoulders of nurture. Physiology, hardwiring and hormones inform most if not all, along certain behavioral pathways that inform our perceptions of who and what we are.

    A thought experiment: A young man for whatever psychological and, or physiological reasons is destined to be a trans woman. He grows up and is nurtured in a male only society with absolutely no conception, references or social cues of women or femaleness. How would his body dysphoria or mysterious uncomfortable feelings manifest themselves?

  18. venividigrizzly

    It’s unclear to me what’s indecent about a trans woman peeing in a women’s bathroom. The majority of the country has no laws against this and the norm for decades has been to allow her to do so. Either you want to convince trans people to comply by choice to sex segregation (in which case accusations of indecency aren’t very persuasive) or you want sex segregation to be enforced (which will undoubtedly result in the obviously indecent harassment of scores of trans and gender non-confirming people). The common sense response is to leave people alone when they are emptying their bowels.

    For others, I’ll point to the third part of this essay, which offers the best defense I’ve seen on the bathroom issue:


  19. venividigrizzly

    Having men’s and women’s sections of clothing isn’t tethered to reproductive classes. Having names traditionally associated with men and women isn’t tethered to reproductive classes. Pronouns aren’t tethered to reproductive classes. All the diverse and complicated notions of masculinity and femininity aren’t strictly tethered to reproductive classes either. You can stomp your foot and demand that everything trace strictly back to sex, that people ignore or erase all the social conventions involved in the construction of gender, and that everyone jump on board your account of natural kinds, but that’s just peeing into the wind. People do not need to take a philosophy class to take part in these discussions.

  20. “maybe we need to drill down into precisely why we segregate men and women, not as a rhetorical question, but as a real one.”

    That’s a question that can only be asked by someone who never played volleyball or football (soccer in the US) or basketball etc. competitively.

    I played volleyball when I was young, so I have some experience that’s real, not rhetorical.

    The women’s team where I lived, played in the top division. They were among the 16 best women’s teams in the country.
    We were 17 and played for a team in a division several ranks lower.

    We would have crushed these women. No, that’s a euphemism. We would have pulverized them. All their players were taller than me, and yet I would have smashed them to pieces. We sometimes offered them to be their sparring partner, but the answer always was a polite “no”.

    There’s the reason why we segregate men and women in sports, the real reason.

    Desegregate men and women in sports, and you’ll never hear about the women again. Your question is an insult to women.

  21. This is why I won’t engage in this kind of conversation. It is based in complete and total ignorance of why we have women’s sports in the first place.

    Males who have gone through a male puberty retain fundamental physical advantage, regardless of how many hormones they take afterwards. And females remain vulnerable to male violence in the broader society.

    Frankly, it’s not a serious conversation. That’s part of why it makes me mad.

  22. I am sure I am ‘ignorant’ in many ways, but I keep reading things like this: ‘Rachel Dolezal, who was heavily involved in Black grassroots activism in Spokane, Washington, until she was revealed as the daughter of white parents.’ [https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/03/krug-carrillo-dolezal-social-munchausen-syndrome/618289/] In such cases ancestry is often stressed. It may not be the only factor, but it seems to be a factor.

    Anyway, this proves my point. Mere self-ID, without certain facts obtaining, will not be tolerated when it comes to race (and disability), but many people nowadays will accept self-ID for trans people. Why the difference? Remember how Rebecca Tuvel was crucified for her paper on transracialism in 2017. Robin Dembroff recognised that trans-racialism and trans-disability is a problem for trans ideology and promptly explained the difference: ‘Unlike gender inequality, racial inequality primarily accumulates across generations. Transracial identification undermines collective reckoning with that injustice.’ https://bostonreview.net/articles/robin-dembroff-dee-payton-breaking-analogy-between-race-and-gender/ . Try telling women that their inequality does/did not accumulate across generations. Fortunately, Rebecca Tuvel is going to edit a book on transracialism: https://philevents.org/event/show/98853 .

  23. terranbiped

    Thank you professor for your gracious and informative reply. I apologize for my clumsy wording. I was merely trying to highlight what I thought was your basic premise that the genitalia made the man or woman. I believe I made a better presentation further along.

    I used the term assigned at birth somewhat facetiously to differentiate those claiming trans status contrary to their genetic and morphological physiology at birth. I do not subscribe at all to the “radical” notion that such common sense and practical assignment is premature. The radicals of any movement (trans) often do go too far in their demands and invariably hurt their cause.

    Biological essentialism versus gender identity are in many ways congruent if you accept the primacy of biology of the brain as a determinate factor in interpreting and responding to environmental stimuli. To my way of thinking, a sort of chicken and egg symbiosis the understanding of which is highly influenced by political and personal motives of the current era and driven by confusion of terns often leading to illogical and contrary conclusions. How do you claim men and women differ *only* in their physical manifestation and the rest is purely cultural indoctrination, then argue that a “man” can’t claim to be a woman with the wrong plumbing?

    Thank you again for the link. It appears that once again we are brought to the hard wiring or short circuitry of the brain and a physical determinism that precludes “free will”. It’s was difficult to read between the lines if the investigators were presenting their thesis as a causative biological finding or as a recommendation for therapy, thus a mental disorder of sorts. Should we accommodate trans people or treat them? I hate to open up Pandora’s Box but, with little difficulty one can insert the word gay in place of trans and realistically announce the same reasoning involved to evoke what is responsible for sexual attraction. The parallel is uncannily similar in past rhetoric and history. Is the lesson to be learned that when a certain percentage of people differ markedly in their identification and expressed behavior from the overwhelming norm that the way to deal with it will be governed by the relative ease of accommodation. Penises in men’s spaces is so much more easy to live with than penises in women’s spaces.

    As Dan has said in the past, trans rights are human rights but there has to be tradeoffs and compromises when rights compete. It’s always the radicals on both sides that keep the tug of war wavering over the middle ground of compromise and progress.

    And please, professor, do not use my car in the garage analogy. It was to make light of those like yourself who I feel have too simple a take on a complicated and sensitive issue. It may adequately relate your feelings on the matter and a good laugh around the table but it is quite insensitive and should be avoided for your sake. Respectfully submitted.

  24. venividigrizzly

    Saying that ancestry can be a factor is far different than saying “only those who actually are black (i.e., have black ancestors) count as black.” That “i.e.” is doing a lot of work. A more decisive factor is associated with the host of physical characteristics society has decided to focus on when slicing up human biodiversity. These characteristics don’t reliably track ancestry. Most people are only aware of their immediate ancestors (some not even that), let alone a deep sense of their ancestry that tracks whatever genetic inheritance we decide to carve out as representing this or that group. A third factor would be an issue of community and one’s relationship to it, as someone might be a descendant of Haitians living in NY who wouldn’t necessarily be embraced by present-day inhabitants of the nation as “truly” Haitian. And where these uncertainties rise (the kind of uncertainties I emphasized in my comment), the questions become deeply normative and much more complex than you seem ready to admit.


    Rachel Dolezal upset people because the history of blackness as a concept in our nation, not to mention in general, is incredibly fraught, and many considered her a kind of tourist to the black experience. But Dolezal exists largely because we can’t totally escape self-ID in matters of race. It’s why Harry Pace, who lived most his life classified as a black man, decided to pass as white and successfully spent the rest of his life as such. His descendants didn’t even know about his black ancestry. Race is a largely arbitrary classification that nevertheless has a profound impact on people’s lives, and by and large, the goal should be to try to treat each other’s racial preferences with respect and care. We will never live in a time without bizarre peripheral cases we’ll disagree over.

    The whole notion of “mere self-ID” among trans people feels like a canard anyway. What percentage of trans people are merely declaring themselves trans to everyone and then manifesting this identity in absolutely zero other ways? No social transition whatsoever? These are people who’ve experienced dysphoria for years, who’ve often socially transitioned long ago, who exhibit clear preferences for how they’re comfortable presenting and being addressed. Is it so hard to respect that?

    I don’t really get what point you’re trying about women’s inequality compounding across generations. Ancestry clearly isn’t related to gender in the way that race is (even by your own reckoning!). My familial line doesn’t make me a man in the way that it makes me white. I could just as easily been a woman. How does that work when accounting for inequities compounding down family trees?

  25. On ‘inclusion’ in sport: In the philosophy of sport literature three values are discussed. John Pike proposed lexical priority, rather than ‘balancing’ values. The order should be: safety, fairness and lastly inclusion. Safety is most important in collision sports and martial arts. Then we consider fairness: since most TW will have gone through male puberty they will have – on average – a considerable physiological advantage. The performance range between males and females differs between disciplines, but is significant: https://resources.world.rugby/worldrugby/document/2020/10/09/a67e3cc3-7dea-4f1e-b523-2cba1073729d/Transgender-Research_Summary-of-data_ENGLISH-09.10.2020.pdf And no, similarities in size and height between males/TW and females don’t equalise this advantage. If that were the case then we could ‘safely and fairly’ match male boxers against female boxers in particular weight categories. Once safety and fairness are settled then we can discuss inclusion. And no, testosterone suppression does not equalise the male advantage [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-020-01389-3]. See also the recent findings of the UK Sports Councils Equality Group: [https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/58732146].

    Pike favours a protected female category and an open category: open to everyone and anyone who wishes to compete. He writes: ‘There is a clear flaw, I think in most trans inclusive arguments: they seem to rest on claims that male physiological advantage does not matter. This is either (with radical implausibility) because it is entirely socially constructed, or (falsely) that it is, or can be, eliminated by Testosterone suppression, or for some other reason – that gender identity matters more than male advantage. But if male advantage does not matter, why have sex segregated sport in the first place? That those excluded from the closed category might define themselves as women or as transwomen is beside the point, since the people are not excluded from a category on the basis of some claim about what gender they are, or identify as (or are not, or do not identify as) but on the basic physiological claim about what advantages particular persons possess, by virtue of the path of physiological development that they have taken.’ [His paper is open access: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00948705.2020.1863814 ]

    Jim Parry and Irena Martínková distinguish ‘competitive’ advantages from ‘category advantages’ [https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17461391.2021.1943715?journalCode=tejs20]. A boxer within a sub-category (say, middle-weight) who is taller than his opponent might have a competitive advantage: longer reach (if he knows how to use it). We tolerate such (competitive) advantages because they are not decisive. It is different when people carry a category advantage into another category: male to female (or think of the sub-categories in the paralympics), or if we allowed a heavier fighter to move into a lower division. Category advantages are on average decisive. That is why we categorise: male/female or sub-categories like age or weight.

    Doriane Lambelet Coleman and Wickliffe Shreve nicely illustrate the category advantages of having gone through male puberty in: “Comparing Athletic Performance: The Best Elite Women to Boys and Men”:

    ‘Just in the single year 2017, Olympic, World, and U.S. Champion Tori Bowie’s 100 meters lifetime best of 10.78 was beaten 15,000 times by men and boys. (Yes, that’s the right number of zeros.) The same is true of Olympic, World, and U.S. Champion Allyson Felix’s 400 meters lifetime best of 49.26. Just in the single year 2017, men and boys around the world outperformed her more than 15,000 times.’

  26. terranbiped

    I’m on team Grizzly here. Of course you are spot on about ancestry and gender but I think the point trying to be made is the analogy of the historicity of the second class standing of women with that of suppressed minorities.

  27. venividigrizzly

    I assume she’s talking about America, but Dembroff’s point seems to be that financial inheritance has more closely tracked racial inheritance, with inequality compounding down the generations for race as a class. That a guy’s grandparents had their land stolen from them as part of a deliberate campaign to divest black people of their property can have a significant impact on the opportunities he’s born into, a knock-on effect spreading out to families and communities. It doesn’t track like that with sex, since sex is necessarily diffuse across families.

  28. No foot stomping, just uttering basic facts that most people know by the fifth grade or so.

    Oh, and sex is obviously relevant to sports, just as gender obviously is not.

    And, finally, I will continue to expect that my wife, daughter, and mother will continue to enjoy single-sex intimate provisions. And I will vote accordingly. Not something I will argue about, especially not with random strangers on the internet. If people do not understand the commonly understood reasons (until 5 minutes ago) at this point, they never will and simply need to be defeated at the ballot box.

    If the Democrats keep beating this and other related drums they will face electoral losses in perpetuity. These are 80/20 issues, which is easy to forget if one spends too much time in the unreality of social media. We’d be wise to return to our labor/economy roots, if we don’t want Trump and the Trumpers back (which no sane person should want).

  29. terranbiped

    Ah, I see. I had to backtrack and reread the chain of replies. The application of the operative word “accumulate” could trigger, aggravate and be misconstrued by some feminists. I don’t see that the good professor disagreed.

    I have to say I found the Dembroff article a most peculiar exposition sprinkled with bouts of logically inconsistent, thesis negating reasoning though, I think she more or less came to the correct practical conclusions. She managed to dine and still have her cake. She ultimately and I think contrary to intent, treats personal identification as an arbitrary fungible commodity based upon ever shifting foundations.

  30. Terranbiped

    Non consensual co-platforming. Now I remember.

  31. venividigrizzly

    I wasn’t commenting on sports. And I don’t know what you mean by voting accordingly, since you won’t be voting Republican. I also don’t understand the knee-jerk turn to bombastic political consultant. I’m talking about the moral standing of human beings, not about their poll numbers. Speaking of which, it’s not very clear where you even get your numbers (errrr, Pareto?). The trans sports issue polls closer to 60/40 and trans bathroom is consistently 50/50. I don’t see punditry benefiting this discussion in any way.

  32. > “As far as I see, self-ID never provides group membership.”

    A nice test case for self-ID group membership is this: tinnitus sufferers. Tinnitus, of the usual kinds, is wholly subjective with no objective measure, so we seem to have a group the membership of which is purely self-ID.

    But we notice that the condition is defined by means of a description that refers to sound, which *is* external. So what seemed subjective is actually linked to the objective. And furthermore, tinnitus sufferers act in a particular way: seeking relevant medical help and receiving certain treatment.

    ‘Theory of mind’ conjures up for self-reports an unignorable solidity. Because what people say of themselves is a good indicator for what they will do (if it was not, we could not communicate at all). But we have to follow the path out and match up with a pattern of objective effects to find what the descriptions really mean.

  33. > “the ‘two sides’ come in with differing understandings of what the conditions for womanhood are”

    No no no. This does not work. Look, suppose I ask the other side what their alternative categorisation is, but I take a neat short cut: I just ask: “by ‘woman’, do you mean ‘adult human female’?”. Do you sense the dilemma barrelling down the tracks:

    * If they say yes, then since Lia Thomas is male, he does not qualify for ‘woman’.
    * If they say no, then since they are talking about another category, he does not qualify for ‘woman’.

    In a nutshell: you cannot get into a category by talking about another category.

    The form of your argument is to equivocate an instance question with a rule question: we start with whether an item is a member of some category (and it clearly not being), but you then switch to whether a particular *rule* of categorisation is right. But that is just changing the subject. The item question never made sense without presupposing *that* particular rule.

    (You are broadly following the ‘conceptual engineering’ redefinition idea, and unfortunately it is terrible! For a fuller explanation see: https://www.hxa.name/articles/content/conceptual-engineering-builds-crooked_hxa7241_2022.html )

  34. Terranbiped

    In response to the train of unambiguous truth barreling down the track: If Lia Thomas answers in the affirmative that a woman is an adult female and claims that is exactly what she is; I think you can say the train has been sidetracked.

    Maybe the next stop is Willoughby but that’s the crux of the problem in a nutshell.

  35. Marc Levesque

    Miroslav Imbrišević

    > Terfs

    I get how your using it. It triggered me for a split second. When someone uses terf I usually take it as a sign I should probably stop reading.

    > The other route to membership is via certain relevant facts. If you want to count as a woman, you need to have a female body (which then may lead to a certain socialisation and experiences or not). Without the female body, there is no woman. This is not biological essentialism, but a matter of definition.

    There’s also argument on what the “relevant facts” are and how they’re defined (I’m not arguing for mixed sports or mixed restrooms).

    Overall, I liked your essay and points on self-ID. It’s trivial but I could only find one exception: to be a part of the group of people who self-ID one needs only to self-ID.


    > ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ denote reproductive classes, which are natural kinds. Natural kinds do not admit of necessary/sufficient conditions, nor are they undermined by the existence of small numbers of atypical cases

    The former depends on the definition of natural kinds. I think the concept of biotypes is relevant. In the case of sexes, a bimodal continuum without sharp transitions, where the relative number of exceptions, or the area of transition, is a matter of the characteristics being considered.

  36. “That made me think about the question of group membership. How do you acquire it? Strangely, it is never through self-ID. Traditionally there are two routes: [1] via the current members; or [2] specific, relevant facts must obtain.”

    The supposition that it is “never through self-ID” has at least two counter-examples which come to mind for me. One would be the category of polyamorous. The other would be bisexual.

    There are a few who will insist that one is only polyamorous if one currently has more than one romantic partner and has the full consent of the two or more partners. But in actual practice, thousands of people identify as polyamorous, and are welcomed among polyamorous groups, simply on the basis of their willingness and desire to practice polyamory. The same is essentially true about bisexuality as well. One is bisexual if one is sexually attracted to persons of the two sexes.

    The difficulty with the notion of trans women actually being women results from biological sex being a natural fact and not merely a social construction, as gender is. One can shift one’s gender around, but not one’s biological sex. Trans women may be trans women, but for this reason they are not really women, since the category “woman” refers to biological sex, not gender (a social construct).

  37. By erasing the meaning of words in an exercise of Derrida-ean futility, then the protection for the oppressed group that is described by that word also disappears. I am a woman. I wish I wasn’t, but I am. I am a lesbian. Lesbians don’t ever have, have never had and don’t do anyone who has or has had a penis. Womanhood is a reality, not a feeling. I am not typically feminine, but I am a woman. I have written extensively about this over the past few days on my blog if you are interested. Over the last week I have been driven off twitter, threatened and slandered in a witchhunt. I am a terf. I believe in kindness, non violence and live and let live. I also believe that a third space has to be made for this third, and artificial state of ‘transness’. I blog at http://www.thepaltrysum.com