Full disclosure: Kathleen, very kindly, donated a signed copy of her book which she took the trouble to post to me. This was done with the clear understanding that I am unlikely to agree with every one of her ideas or conclusions. It is true that I diverge on some, significant, issues. I do, however, highly recommend this book and I hope it gets a second edition as the public discourse facilitates more women speaking up.
Kathleen (Professor Stock) writes from the perspective of an academic, philospher, whilst currently holding a post within a UK University. She has been subjected to a campaign of villification, from within her own discipline, and the university sector more generally. Even the main union for University staff, UCU, has not stepped up to protect women in Kathleen’s position. I cannot begin to imagine writing this book, from within academia, and I commend her courage in doing so. As Kathleen points out there is a huge struggle to get dissenting voices into the literature on this topic. This book represents a significant milestone in breaking this silence.
My reception of the book probably deserves some clarity about my own perspective, or biases, if you will. I am not pure enough to claim the label radical feminist but I would say I am radical feminist adjacent; since their analysis makes the most sense to me. In a twist of fate I now find myself the mum of a trans-identified male and caught up in a fucked up, post modern, version of Sophie’s Choice. I am expected to hand my son over to the medical profession who, I am assured, will return a living “daughter”. My perspective is thus informed by both my feminism and the impact on my son. This is not easy terrain to navigate when you are also a stalwart defender of women’s, sex based rights. It also makes me more, perhaps too, inclined to want to understand motivations for homosexual transitioners. My compassion should not be taken as compromise where women’s rights are concerned.
A brief history of Gender Identity
The book traces the origins of Gender Identity as a concept and covers feminist voices who argued that feminism could be advanced by a more extreme belief that sex differences were wholly “culturally constructed”. She covers Simone de Beauvoir, John Money, Anne Fausto-Sterling (of “five sexes” fame), Judith Butler and also cites Julia Serano as one of the trans voices covered. I would have added the work of Janice Raymond to this list because “Transsexual Empire” is a seminal text on this area. Its omission may have been tactical because Raymond’s book tends to inflame those who see themselves as activists for the “Transgender” community.
John Money and Robert Stoller concieved of the idea we each have a “gender identity” which, as we have seen, is now being embedded in society and rapidly being privileged over biological sex.
This chapter also covers the Yogakarta principles which are essential to understanding how activists envision a world where gender identity is embedded in the law. There is also a section on the origin of the term “Terf” ; which is useful for those of you unaware of the history of it’s coinage.
What is sex?
The What is Sex chapter is a good debunking of the common arguments claiming it is difficult to define sex, that we are not sexually dimorphic and conflating issues of intersex (disorders of sexual development) with a trans identity. It may seem ludicrous but some, self-identified, serious academics proclaim we didn’t know to which sex to deny the vote. Apparently it was all a random act of disenfranchisement based on the nebulous concept of “gender identity”. If only Emmeline had come out as Edward Pankhurst the women’s rights movement could have been exposed as a complete waste of time. Below is a seaside postcard from the time.
For those of a philosophical bent this chapter will particularly appeal. I have rehearsed these arguments with trans-activists over many years so much of the content was familiar. One of the key issues that resonates with me is that we must not simply reduce everything to XX chromosomes. I am thinking of women with no abiliity to process testosterone. Their chromosomes will be XY but they will have had a female (oestrogen led) puberty They often have no idea they have male chromosomes until they fail to menstruate. (I am thinking of twitter user @ClaireCais when I type this and some of the painful things she has had to endure). If only for women with DSDs this chapter is important. It is also a useful source to debunk the false conflation of a transgender identity disorders of sexual development.
Why Sex Matters?
Stock then goes on to make a compelling case for why sex matters. She covers medicine, sport, sexual orientation and sex based statistics on crime. Women are still fighting for a world which doesn’t treat males as the default humans. Denying that sex is a significant variable in many areas will further, negatively, impact women. For more on this you can read Caroline Criado-Perez.
Though it is possible that somebody at the Guardian has read Kathleen’s book since the clarification, below, is from the Guardian in July 2021!
Now we are starting to see males competing, at the Olympics, in the women’s category will more people start speak out. Laurel Hubbard , who is competing in the 87kg women’s weight lifting category, may prove a tipping point.
Legal cases addressing the issue of males in women’s prisons and the recording of male sex crimes as if they were committed by women is also a key issue covered in this chapter. I have covered many such cases on my blog about this so I am pleased to see this.
What is Gender Identity?
The topic on Gender Identity I found a difficult read, for personal reasons. As a woman I instintively recoiled from Monroe Bergdorf locating the film “clueless” as prompting their thoughts of transition. After watching this film they state: “Oh my God, this is where I fit in, these are my people”. Stock does not include some of the more controversial utterances from Monroe Bergdorf; one of them being to demand that women stop centring reproductive rights on a women’s march. This won’t please all readers but I think she is wise to avoid more sensationalist copy.
The recollections of Paris Lees and other gay trans people echo what I know of the impact homophobic bullying can have on self-acceptance. Interestingly this is a Paris Lees quote from an article (London Review of Books 2014). This was quite an honest assessment and pre-dates Lees adding “Adult Human Female” to their twitter bio:
On the topic of homosexual transsexuals I , inevitably, find myself conflicted. I want boys like my son to be protected in all their variant masculinity. I don’t want to enshrine “gender identity” in law and legitimate the sterilising of likely gay males. Neither do I want those gay males, who do fail to reconcile to their sex, to be unprotected. What I do know is that “gender identity ” must never take primacy over biological sex, for the sake of women, and enshrining “gender identity” in law , i fear would be disastrous for women’s rights. Sex also matters for trans-identified people. It is dangerous to become so immersed in an identity you deny that sex matters for your health care.
I was pleased to see this statement in the book: “in my view there are no cirumstances in which minors should be making fertility and health affecting decisions involving blockers, hormones or surgery”. Personally I take a harder line re decisions to embark on medical pathways. Achieving the magical age of majority is not sufficient for me. I know, from personal experience, our teenagers are being handed prescriptions with no counselling and no interrogation of what motivates a flight from their sex. I would ban it for under 25’s which we know is the average age of brain maturity. Whether it would deflect many from this path we can’t foresee. We do know many de-transitioners embarked on surgery, in their early twenties, only to regret it. Persuading legislators of this is likely to be an uphill, near impossible struggle at this moment in time. Alarm bells should be rining as the number of detransitioners in increasing daily. Sadly I fear many more broken bodies before this madness gets reined in.
In this chapter the author also attempts to elucidate the position of various schools of thought on Gender Identity. This is no mean feat giving the contradictions inherent in Gender Identity Ideology. This chapter uses the terminology of Trans Idealogues comparing “Cis” people to “trans people” and even using “non-trans”. That will irk some readers. I, however, see this chapter aimed at an audience (academics? politicians? ) who have wholesale adopted the nomenclature of Gender identity Ideologues. The chapter does end with an unequivocal statement warning of the danger in accepting something which is “in danger of looking unverifiable as when Stonewall tells young people “” Someone else can’t tell you what your gender identity is – only you know how you feel””. This is not a sound basis on which to enact legislation, perhaps using trans based language will convince more people?
What makes a woman?
There follows a long chapter interrogating “What makes a Woman” and looking at the definition of Adult Human Female versus Woman as Social Role. I suspect some people view this chapter as capitulation and some as compassionate. I subscribe to Adult Human Female but welcome the recognition that some people have built their lives around the narrative “Trans Women are Women”. These quotes sum up the difficulty, with the demand that the word “woman” is handed over to males in flight from their sex.
Marilyn Frye is quoted on page 152:
“If a woman has little or no economic or political power, or achieves little of what she wants to achieve, a major causal factor is she is a woman. For any woman of any race or economic class being a woman is significantly attached to whatever disadvantages and deprivations she suffers be they great or small” In response to the (much longer) quote Stock argues “Getting rid of the concept WOMAN would mean we couldn’t desribe, explain, predict or manage these distinctively caused phenomena”.
To those who have built their lives around the idea they are really women, Stock has this to say:
“People have built their lives around this narrative. Perhaps it feels as though I’m ripping all that away, and that causes you pain”.
I have seen this pain up close and its not the performative, twitter, transperbole: though that certain exists. It can be raw and very real. I think compassion has a very real place on this topic and it needn’t include abandoning a very clear view about the necessity for sex based rights and a male exclusionary feminism. We don’t need to be inhibited from centring women in our feminism, indeed it is a necessity if women’s rights organisations are to serve women, as a sex class.
Once again, I quote Miranda Yardley (male transsexual): “Refugees from masculinity exist” and add my own caveat “it is not women’s job to run the refugee camps”.
Immersed in a fiction
This chapter begins with some commentary on the passing of the Gender Recognition Act, 2004. This enshrined to idea of a “legal fiction” allowing males, then the vast majority, to have their birth certificate at amended to show their sex as female. Its astonishing to see the quality (or lack thereof) of contributions to this debate. Well worth checking hansard to look at the discussions. Below is a link to historic archives on Hansard. I find myself in the unusual position, for me, of recommending Norman Tebbit’s contribution which Professor Stocks also references in this chapter.
Stock them goes on to discuss the difference between fiction and reality and quotes both Miranda Yardley and Fione Orlander. I met both Fionne and Miranda on the same night and it was the first time I spoke publicly about my situation. Here Miranda clearly states ” I now disavow use of the word “woman” for myself and other transgender males, preferring to use the term “transsexual” or “transsexual male”. I should also point out that both Miranda and Fionne used male facilities at the meeting.
Stock covers the therapeutic benefit , to the individual, of being immersed in a fictional belief about your place within the sex binary. She also expresses concern about the risk of losing capacity to think rationally about your biological reality. This detachment from reality can be maladaptive and harmful. Moreover what latter day trans activists are increasingly demanding is the coercion of others to overtly participate in this fiction. This can result in the controlling of others around you. I was particularly pleased to see this sentence“Yet it isn’t reasonable to expect the person who gave birth to you, or the person who married you, or your own children to permanently relate to you mentally as of a different sex when they know you are not”
In addition the author sounds the alarm about the corruption of data which occurs when “gender identity” is substituted for sex. A particular danger is to criminalise speech such as “misgendering”. Something, by the way, which is already criminalised in some of the United States.
How did we get here?
This chapter is an excellent overview of how trans-activists have been allowed to lobby government to set the legal agend whilst politicans were negligent, in seeking contributions from women’s groups. Stonewall figure prominently, as do Mermaids, and The Guardian newspaper does not emerge covered in glory. Jess Bradley of Action for Trans Health is also consulted. Professor Stock refrains from any reference to the sacking of Jess Bradley. He was the first Trans Officer at Manchester University and departed for sharing a bit more his anatomy ,at work, than would be considered decent.
This chapter has an excellent overview of the propaganda deployed to further Transgender Ideology. One of these is the egregious use of suicide statistics, which are based on dubious data. Hate crime statistics also create a false narrative about widespread abuse of this population.
This chapter also looks at the pornified representations of women and those public “transwomen” who draw on these depictions to demonstrate membership of the female “gender”. These performances reify dehumanising representations of what it means to be a woman; another reason why women are not served by any alliance.
The chapter on autogynephilia is where our attitudes diverge. In part this because my empathy goes to the women who find their husbands are autogynephiles. These women are now getting a voice by organising as “trans-widows”. I have read enough of these accounts to see commonalities with men who coercively control their wives. Many of these women found themselves subject to degrading and humiliating treatment. At the extreme end it involved forced participation in sexual acts which validated their husbands alter ego. At the milder end women report having their personal style and friendship groups co-opted by their husbands almost as if they were replicating, or replacing, their wives.
Even, seemingly, benign, behavioural autogynephilia includes males inserting themselves into female spaces, and conversations, to gratify their need to assert their membership of the female group. The wives, or trans widows, then find themselves excluded from the support of women because their ertswhile husbands have colonised their places of refuge.
Kathleen asks why the lack of coverage, on the gender critical side, relating to trans-identified females. This is surely because, whilst it exists, androphilia (sexually fetishising a male identity) is relatively rare? Women tend to focus on “trans-men” as female and gay males. Gay males are latterly, waking up to the encroachment of these femaled on (gay) male spaces. Defending gay male spaces is surely the job of gay men and they do seem to be, belatedly, joining the debate in growing numbers.
A better activism in future.
Those not immersed in this debate may regard this chapter as even-handed and reaching out to those who have feared to dip their toe in the water. Others may bristle at the criticism of Radical/Gender Critical feminists.
Julia Long came in for some criticism by name. For the record I am an admirer of Julia Long’s uncompromising stance. I think we need straight-talking women who reject the mantle of “Be Kind”. As a (heterosexual) woman who lives with three males I think Lesbian feminists, of a separatist persuasion, have often been the clearest sighted about the threats Gender Identity Ideology poses to women’s rights. I wish I had listened to them sooner. I also find Julia funny, she has Ovaries of steel; and is unafraid to offend in her direct action. She appeals to my Yorkshire bluntness and I admire her, albeit from some ideological distance. She is unashamedly woman-centred and some of the terminology used is reminiscient of attacks used by Men’s rights activists. For me we need the range of activists challenging this ideology and some of the women shifting the overton window won’t be invited to the top table discussions but will have opened the doors for the women who do get a seat.
At the same time Julia warns about using terms, such as “transsexual” and “transwomen”. I no longer use the latter but I do sometimes uses the former whilst also sometimes, speaking plainly about “men”. I am inconsistent in my application and I don’t advocate for my, selective, approach as a basis for any women’s movement. It just happens to be a response to my personal circumstances. I choose to use less alienating language for those I love, or like and respect. I therefore do perform “polite fiction” on this issue and live with some cognitive dissonance.
Kathleen also warns about the alienating use of words like “mutilated” when describing the surgical harms to girls; subject to double mastectomies and other surgical procedures. Again those of us with our offspring’s skin in the game, literally, adopt different tactics in this area. I do regard these surgeons as butchers who are mining my son’s body for profit. I am angry about this. At the same time we need to find a welcome back, into the sex class they never left, for detransitioners. I was irritated by blue-tick feminists (not Kathleen) getting the vapours about some graphic images of phallioplasty procedures. Simultaneously nobody wants to exacerbate the regret of those who have found their way out of the gender cult. This is extremely difficult terrain to navigate because we want people to stare directly at the reality and not minimise by using euphemisms like “top surgery”.
The chapter outlines some ways in which these disparate groups might make common cause. I honestly don’t know if the extreme sex denialism, of the Trans lobby, will allow for compromise. Will it allow women the right to define ourselves and exclude males in any settings?
At an individual level, I find some of the more ruminative transsexuals, suprisingly, find meaning in a radical feminist analysis. They see common elements in questioning sex based expectations and are reflective on how they may have been followed very diffent paths had they encountered this framework. At the same time I know of transsexuals who found Kathleen’s analysis of their path as an immersion in a fiction meaningful. Invariably these are homosexual transsexuals who are not quite so invested in the need to validate the “woman” they wish to consecrate their lives to….
It is possible therefore that some of the linguistic concessions, in this book, will reach a new audience who would shrink from the plain speaking of a Janice Raymond. It is also a book written from within existing employment in academia and that surely has an impact on which audience it is intended to reach.
One page 272, there is a really useful list of all the areas which need more exploration (data) and research. She devotes three pages to these areas and it is quite shocking to consider the policy decisions taken without this data. Stock argues that their is a “surfeit high theory” in activism and public discussion. This includes Trans Studies. She goes on to say “High theory is abstract, totalising, seductively dramatic in its conclusions and relatively insulated from any directly observable empirical consequences – which ….makes it harder to dislodge”. She then returns to a critique of Judith Butler whose conclusions are “reached through a byzantine set of theoretical manoevres”. I think it fitting that a critique of the High Priestess of Gender Bollox is in the conclusion.
My conclusion. I think this is a very important book. I imagine every single reader will diverge at some points with the book’s stance. We all are in this with varying perspectives and we need to navigate a path to enable disagreements to be voiced from within feminism. I am one of six sisters and only one of them feels able to agree with me. I still love them and hope they will come round. Thanks for writing this book Kathleen. I hope I have done it justice.
Researching Gender Identity Ideology and its impact on Women and our Gay Youth. Support is always appreciated (I have no income). All my content is open access so if you can’t speak publicly, and you have spare cash, this helps me maintain some independence.