Thursday 4 February 2021

Sturgeon's woke views are intolerant.


The problem with Nicola Sturgeon denouncing transphobia in the SNP and the whole debate that is tearing the SNP apart is a failure to determine what transphobia is. Lines are added and then taken away from Humza Yousaf’s increasingly troubled hate crime bill, but this serves to confuse rather than clarify the issue. Sturgeon claims that it is possible to debate trans issues, but that this must not be a cover for transphobia. Joanna Cherry has been sacked from the SNP front bench, but it is unclear why. Is it because of her views on transgender? If so, what did she say, write or do that was unacceptable? Before laws are created that could convict someone of the hate crime of transphobia it must be clear what is allowed and what is not.

Sturgeon compares transphobia with racism and homophobia. It is clearly just as wrong to discriminate against someone who is trans. It is also equally wrong to go up to someone in the street who is trans and attack them. But it is wrong to do that to any person and for any reason. Doubtless Joanna Cherry agrees, and it would be surprising if anyone in the SNP thinks it’s fine to beat up, discriminate against or shout hateful things in the street against trans people.  But if transphobia is not about these things what is it about?

Trans people think that it is possible for a man to become a woman and vice versa. Some people may also say that they are non-binary or that they are gender fluid, gender queer or that there are any number of genders and anyone can be any one of them. These are beliefs. Just as there is freedom of religion, so there should be freedom to believe that it is possible for a man to become a woman and anything else about gender. A tolerant society should allow people to believe in this just as we allow people to be Christians or Muslims. But tolerance does not require a Christian to believe in Islam. It merely requires that we agree to differ and respect each other’s right to believe what we please. To require everyone to believe in the truth of each other’s religion, would be to require us to believe things that are incompatible.

Someone’s belief that a man can become a woman is completely unproblematic until he requires another person to believe that it is true. This is the essence of the debate about transphobia. Trans people require not merely that the rest of society treats them with tolerance, but that we treat their beliefs as being true.

It is Islamophobic to beat up, discriminate against or insult Muslims because of their beliefs, but it is not Islamophobic to doubt the truth of Islam. If it were then it would be Christianophobic for Muslims to doubt the truth of Christianity. A tolerant society allows Christians and Muslims to follow their religions, but it does not require Christians to believe in Islam or to follow Islamic rules. But tolerance of trans people cannot therefore require that everyone else believes what trans people believe or agree to the consequences of these beliefs. Just because someone believes he is a woman, it does not follow that others must agree with him or act as if he is a woman.

When people with different beliefs meet in a public space it is unreasonable for one belief to attempt to dominate the other. For example, in a woman’s changing room at a swimming pool it is likely that the majority of women taking off their clothes in public only wish people with the same anatomy as them to be allowed to change. These women may think that what makes someone a girl, or a woman is the physical characteristics that are usually used to define these words. But on seeing someone with male anatomy changing in the women’s changing room, it is likely that many of the women there would think this person ought not to be here because he is a man. The transgender woman has a different belief. This person thinks that it is possible for a man to become a woman and that a transgender woman is no different from any other woman. “Trans women are women”.

But to the women in the changing room what matters is not so much how to define being a woman as that they do not wish to share a changing room for people with female anatomy with people who have male anatomy. It is male and female bodies that share the common public space rather than gender identities. Confronted with a naked body, I cannot see a gender identity, because I cannot see how a person thinks or feels, only how he is.

There is a conflict of beliefs between those who maintain that being a woman is a subjective matter of identity and those who think it is an objective matter of bodies. The trans person maintains that there is no distinction between women with female bodies and women with male bodies. They are all just women. But faced with a naked male body in the women’s changing room many women would think that there is a physical objective difference between the transgender woman and the other people sharing the changing room. There is a difference that can be pointed to.  Look that is the difference.

The transgender woman disagrees and believes that being a woman is about identifying as a woman. But what evidence is there for supposing that something which to ordinary eyesight appears to be different is in fact the same. Is there an experiment that can demonstrate that this male body is a woman and that this trans woman is a woman in exactly the same way as these women with female bodies? If there is not an experiment can it be proved by logic that a trans woman is a woman?

 But it is no more possible to prove that a man can become a woman than it is possible to prove that a square can become round. I can define a square as not having corners, just as I can define being a woman as having male anatomy, but if I use such an argument to prove that squares can be round, my argument will still be circular.

Trans people demand that everyone else accept their beliefs about men being able to become women. They demand that if women see someone with male anatomy in their changing room, that it be deemed transphobic to ask them to leave. People doing so might be convicted by Humza Yousaf of committing hate speech.

Based on no evidence either empirical or logical, transwomen want exactly the same rights as women, merely because they insist transwomen are women. Trans women want to take advantage of women only short lists, scholarships that are available to only to women and all of the legislation that was ever written to protect women, merely because they have a belief that trans women are women and that any man can at will decide that he is a woman, with no other evidence being required than the mere statement “I am a woman”.

But this is intolerant because it is demanding that the belief that sex is something unchangeable and assigned at birth must give way to the trans view that it is subjective and a matter of choice. Tolerance requires that we accept trans beliefs not that we agree with them. If I believe that women are people with female anatomy, why should I be forced to change my belief because someone with male anatomy claims that he is a woman? I am happy for him to believe this if he wishes but ought I to be made to believe something without evidence that is contrary to common sense just because someone says that it is so? It is this that makes transphobia such a problematic concept and quite different to homophobia. I know that homosexual people exist. I do not know that it is possible for a man to become a woman. All of the evidence and logic suggests that he cannot, yet I might be sent to jail for refusing to accept that a person with a male body is in fact a woman.

In the public space it matters not one little bit what someone identifies as. Women in the changing room would not object to someone with female anatomy being there who identifies as a man. It’s the body that is the issue, not the identity. So too it would be unproblematic if someone with female anatomy but identifying as man went to a woman’s prison. 

If people with male bodies were universally described using the words “woman” and “man”, which is the trans goal, all this would mean is that these words would eventually cease to be used as they would no longer reflect a real distinction. But we would still need this distinction, for which reason we would come up with new words that reflected it. But if that is the case we may as well continue to use the word “woman” to refer to people with female bodies and vice versa. 

If trans women are women, we need new words to describe the difference between those people with female bodies and those with male bodies who call themselves women. Words can only be defined by shared objective characteristics. If “woman” ceases to mean people with female anatomy we will need a new word that does mean people with female anatomy. The trans goal of defining woman to mean also someone with male anatomy becomes self-defeating. 

Identity and internal feelings of what I am cannot replace objective characteristics visible to all, because this is to define words by something that is invisible and not shared in the public space. Mere assertion that I am something cannot mean that I actually am that something, especially without evidence and without any sort of check for this is to conflate assertion and belief with truth. If the mere fact that I believe something to be true makes it true, there would no longer be any concept of truth.

It is not people like Joanna Cherry who are being intolerant, rather it is those people like Nicola Sturgeon who think that everyone must believe that a man can become a woman, just because some people believe this. It is perfectly legitimate for transwomen to believe that they are women, but it is equally legitimate for the woman in the changing room faced with male anatomy to disagree and act accordingly.  To call that transphobia and potentially a hate crime is intolerant because it is to demand that everyone believes what the trans person believes. 

This is equivalent of making Muslims believe in Christianity or else face the Inquisition. Freedom of conscience demands that I am allowed to both disagree with the Christian and the claim that men can become women. To suppose that I can’t is to turn my disagreement into heresy in both cases. Transphobia is another word for heresy and it takes us back to the Medieval because it denies me the right to believe what I please.