Tuesday 8 March 2022

Is Nicola Sturgeon a wee boy?


Most of us will soon be filling in the Census which is now done online. Quite why it needed to be done a year later than the other parts of the UK is therefore unclear as doing things on the Internet does not involve any risk of catching Covid. But SNP Scotland loves to be different.

I haven’t done my census yet, but from past experience the vast majority of questions will be about matters of fact. I will be expected to answer truthfully. So too if any of us fill in an application form about a job or even apply to join a club it is expected that we answer questions factually and truthfully. Of course, we can lie about our age or our qualifications, but if found out we might lose the job or even be convicted of fraud.

But on one issue and I think one issue only the SNP now thinks we can answer questions without reference to the facts. It wants to bring in a self-declaration model about gender. What this means is that someone will be able to simply declare that he is a woman despite having a male body or that she is man despite having a female body. We will not, at least not yet, be able to self-declare about any other aspect of our body. If I am white, I cannot self-declare that I am black. If I am 93, I cannot self-declare that I am 23. If I have Covid I cannot self-declare that I don’t have it, until my body is free from the illness. But I can change my gender whenever I want and without any checks from doctors or anyone else.

Self-declaration about gender involves something rather strange about language. It divorces being a woman from the objective characteristics of being female. It is not possible, I think even the SNP admits, to self-declare about one’s biology. A person is objectively either male or female. It is not possible to change this. A man who changes his body to mimic as far as possible the body of a woman, remains biologically male. But what then is the self-declaration about? If I can be a woman even though I have a male body, what is it that tells me I am a woman? It cannot be my body. But if it is not my body, what can it be?

I am nearly always confident of describing someone as a man or a woman based on appearance. Apart from infants we nearly always can tell just by looking. This is how we learn the words “man” and “woman”. But if self-declaration is not based on appearance or physical characteristics, the words “woman” and “man” when used by people self-declaring are being used in a completely novel way. They are being defined perhaps by some inner feeling, but they are not being used as the rest of us use them. This makes them homonyms. Someone may say “I am a woman”, based on an inner feeling, but it is the equivalent of someone using words like “bank” to mean both a place that stores money and a place next to the river.

When I learn a foreign language such as French, I may say “Je suis une femme”, but if I looked like a man my French teacher would correct me. “Non, vous êtes un homme”. If I based being un homme or being une femme on an inner feeling that no one else could share, it would be impossible for me to learn French. But the same obviously goes for English. Every person who wishes to self-declare their gender has learned English by means of objective physical characteristics which are sharable.

I could not learn the words hot or cold unless being hot or cold was an objective characteristic of things that everyone talking can perceive in the same way. But the same goes for words like “man” and “woman”. Everyone including the person wishing to self-declare learned these words by their parents and teachers correcting them. If as a child I pointed to a large breasted person in a dress and said “Mummy it’s a man”, she would have said “No, it’s a woman”. The word would not have been learned in relation to anything going on in the head of the woman.

The SNP therefore wants to have a new definition of “woman” based on the feelings going on in some people’s heads, but they want this new word to be used in exactly the same way as the old one. This is the problem with self-defining. No one else is doing it. Our words are defined by the linguistic community.

The reason why women are concerned about self-declaration is that it will allow the self-declarer all the rights that the rest of women have who have obtained them not be means of self-declaration, but by means of having female bodies.

Society over the centuries has developed certain social rules. While it is acceptable for women to take off their clothes with other women, it is not normally acceptable with men. This is because of the difference between male and female bodies. Women don’t want men to see them naked unless they are sexual partners.

So too women’s bodies are usually less strong than men’s bodies for which reason there is women’s sport.

If a woman is raped, she is likely to be scared of men for which reason she would hope to be examined by a woman doctor and would hope that her rape counsellor would also be a woman

Women only want people with female bodies to be in the changing room. They want to compete only against people with female bodies and they want their doctors and rape counsellors to have female bodies.

Normally this isn’t a problem. When everyone used the word “woman” to mean someone with a female body “women only spaces” were safe. But self-declaration changes that. It allows people with male bodies to define “woman” in a way that allows those with male bodies to go into those spaces.

Women in those spaces do not care what is going on in the head of a person who self-declares as a woman, what they care about is that this “woman” has a male body.

Every male in Scotland who does not self-declare he is a woman is defined as a man based on his male body. It is for this reason that such men cannot take part in women’s sport, cannot be women doctors and women rape counsellors. But a subcategory who define “woman” in a different way can access women only spaces simply because despite having male bodies they define themselves as women. But the reason for keeping them out of women only spaces remains the same. They have male bodies. How they define themselves has nothing to do with it.

The SNP pretends that those of us who object to self-declaration are doing so out of prejudice and that there is nothing to fear. But the example of the American swimmer who despite being male is competing in women’s races shows exactly why we should be concerned.

This swimmer despite having male anatomy shares the changing room with young women. If any of these women object they will be thrown off the team. But the trans swimmer still dates women. It is likely that he is still attracted to female anatomy and uses the male anatomy he retains sexually. It is unclear if this trans swimmer is heterosexual or a lesbian. Can lesbians father children?

It may be that this trans swimmer is entirely honest, but his team mates will be evaluated in their swimsuits as to whether they might be suitable for date and they might notice the enthusiasm in his swimsuit if he finds them attractive. It is for precisely this reason that women have fought to keep male bodies out of changing rooms and for women’s sport to be a contest between female bodies.

Everyone in Scotland defines every word we speak objectively and collectively, because we speak a shared language with definitions and rules that are not made up by me or you, but by all language users together. It is this that makes the SNP’s attempt to change the meaning of “man” and “woman” so bizarre. They might as well change the meaning of “English” to “Scottish”, if a man can become a woman simply by saying that he is one.

If being a woman has nothing to do with having a female body, what is to stop me declaring that Nicola Sturgeon is a wee boy?