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It’s Simple. Sex is a Fact. Gender is a Story

Call it the triumph of wishful thinking. That’s the lesson that’s filtered down to (some) regular people from the unreachable heights of Derrida and Foucault, from deconstruction and postmodernism. If our thinking shapes how we see reality, then why bother with reality at all? So many pesky problems gone in a puff of words.

Bone-tired of the infinite sexism on which societies are built? Get rid of sex! Do like Dawn Butler and say on national media that “a child is born without sex.” Babies have no sex, she said. No, seriously, she said this. Children, as Brendan O’Neill paraphrases her, should be allowed to decide for themselves what their own sex is.

The thing is, Butler is using the wrong words, but there’s truth buried in that thinking. And that is hugely important because while our thinking does shape how we see reality, reality itself always gets the last word. We have nowhere else to live but the real world, and we can do a much more satisfying job of it if the stories we tell ourselves embroider only on the parts that really are up to us. The parts we have no choice about have to be recognized and dealt with.

That isn’t easy. All of scientific methodology, all of scholarship, is a massive exercise in telling fact from fiction. That’s how hard it is and how much work it takes. It’s human nature to grab on to stories that seem like they could get us something.

How much we actually lose by ignoring reality can be seen in the difference between life before and after we started using scientific methodology for a few things.

So what’s true in Butler’s vaporing? Echoes of de Beauvoir’s famous line that nobody is born a woman. Human babies definitely have a sex. What they don’t do is wear eyeshadow or feel naked without big trucks.

The social definitions associated with the biology are entirely human stories. They’re made up. We can take them or leave them. The word used for that now is usually gender. But gender is also sometimes used to mean ineffable internal essence of the state of your soul.

Gender the social narrative and gender the ineffable are two very different things. It’s important to avoid confusion even though the same word is used for both.

I’m afraid we have to be agnostic on the state of souls. There is no way to get actual, objective — what people sometimes call scientific — evidence of the state or even the existence of souls. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Or that they do. That’s what agnostic means. “I don’t know.” Beliefs are something internal to people that we can all only agree to ignore in each other. Live and let live is the only way to handle differences of belief. The separation of Church and State, of our beliefs and our interactions with each other in the real world, is essential to a peaceful life. Holy wars have no end because there is no objective way to decide who is right.

But we do not have to be agnostic about how our stories interact with reality. Reality is right there to give us objective data.

The data are clear. Social definitions are what’s causing all the grief. The stories we tell ourselves about gender are what make some — too many — people miserable. They persist because too many people hope they can use them to gain status. Too many people are way too willing to be very miserable for the sake of status.

(Not that narratives are necessarily bad. The idea of human rights is one dream that makes life much better when we dream it together.)

Alice talking to the Caterpillar in Wonderland

Butler and everyone who thinks like her is right that we shouldn’t have those stories imposed on us. We should be able to make our own stories that fit our own sense of who we are as we grow into it.

The thing is, the word for those stories is gender. Not sex. Gender is what doesn’t exist in reality. Gender is what can, or could be, changed at will. Or dispensed with entirely which, according to me, would be best of all. Who needs it?

That is not even a microbit true of sex. Sex is very much a biological reality.

By using the wrong words, she sounds like a Flat Earther. By thinking in the wrong words, she is a Flat Earther. And being a Flat Earther doesn’t work. Reality doesn’t care what you think. Ignoring it Does Not Work.



The Wokeus Dei Are Pushing Us Into A Republican Trap

The Republican Noise Machine™ shows all the signs of testing a new rile-up-the-vote message. Unless the reality-based community wakes up it’s going to blindside us.

Here’s how it works. Step 1 is to support anti-transgender issues. It’s the typical trampling of civil rights. The Repub base loves it. The Dems speak out against it. Then say it’s the end of civilization as we know it and, look!, those horrible Dems are in favor of it.

In the case of migrants, it was Caravans! They’ll overrun the country! You’ll never get a burger again! You’ll have to live on tacos!

In the case of civil rights for trans people it’s They’ll get in your school! They’ll twist your kid’s mind! (Link is to Drag Queens Story Hour, so not necessarily trans, but it’s much the same to Repubs.) Big Hairy Men will be in your daughter’s bathroom!

There’s a new wrinkle, though. There’s an element of truth to the trans scaremongering. It’s going to work even better for them than the laughable notion that a few thousand workers can destroy a country of hundreds of millions.

Unfortunately, the reality-based community didn’t stop to check with reality before reflexively coming down against whatever the Repubs might be saying.

Another difference is this isn’t about some caravan a thousand miles away. This is about people’s children. Nobody has any tolerance for risks to their kids. In order to explain which risks are real and which are bogus, we have to have some clue about the difference ourselves. Otherwise we don’t stand the chance of a grain of sense in a Trump tweetstorm.

Feminists: Don’t change biology. Change society. Eliminate gender boxes.

Traditionalists: gender must match biology.

Transactivists: gender must match internal essence, biology is irrelevant.

Most people like to think of themselves as fairminded, and the trans rights movement hooks in to that by borrowing the language of gay rights. When it comes to civil rights, that’s as it should be. But gay rights never took anything away from women. On the contrary. Gay rights supported and furthered women’s rights. No movement for civil rights, whether for blacks or the disabled or any other group, takes actual rights away from anyone else. That’s the essence of it. Rights enable us to mind our own business and stop at the point where they damage someone else’s right to do the same thing. (I have a long discussion on the implications of that small sentence here.)

Some of the trans movement didn’t stop there. It’s important to note it is #NotAllTrans, but it is a very vocal subset. They feel that women, and children, should just learn to deal with it when trans activist issues affect them. And since women are the only group remaining whose rights can be described as a “pet rock” without causing more than a few verbal tut-tuts, the activist message that women should be quiet and make no demands has met with its usual success in a sexist society. That doesn’t make it fair or good. It doesn’t mean there will be no resentment or lost votes in the privacy of the voting booth. And if there’s one thing the Republicans are good at, it’s using resentment for their own purposes. That’s why it’s vital to be clear on what really is fair. To everybody. To articulate which demands are civil rights and must be respected, and which are not.

So the first step, as Socrates pointed out thousands of years ago, is to define terms. I’ve tried to make a potted summary in Table 1 of the simplified differences between the viewpoints.

The biggest difference in practical terms are the highlighted points. Feminists say, “Don’t change biology. Change society. Eliminate gender boxes.” The traditionalists want the status quo ante, preferably all the way back to 1820 or so, it seems. And the transactivists believe deeply in gender. They just think they’re in the wrong one.

Table 1.

“traditional”

feminist

transactivist*

biological sex comes with whole sets of masculine and feminine traits biological sex does not imply non-sexual traits. Masculinity and femininity are learned and called genders as opposed to sexes. biological sex does not exist. Gender is assigned at birth, but that may not match the internal essence of gender a person feels.

how to deal with people who are “outside the box”

force them into one of two boxes based on their biology variations are fine, there are no boxes maintain boxes, but people can switch among them depending on their sense of their internal essence (self-ID as a woman, man, or other genders such as asexual or maverique)

how other types of self ID are viewed

self ID not accepted because biology is a fact, a material reality. self ID not accepted because biology is a fact, a material reality. only gender self-ID accepted       self-ID as a race, for instance, is not valid because race is real like gender, whereas sex is a social construct that can be changed.

attitude to males in women’s spaces

not allowed males allowed in some cases: transitioned, appear womanly, are committed to participating in society as women. (E.g.: public toilets, yes; rape crisis centers, probably no.) always allowed, whether visibly transitioned or not, because the felt essence is what matters

the source of the problem

Problem? What problem? oppression and the loss of self-determination because of gender straitjackets lack of belief in self-identified genders

the solution

everybody must believe in and act according to biologically based gender everyone can live their own way but not past the point where it stops others from doing so everybody must believe in and act according to a felt gender.

*Not all trans people have this extreme view (eg Debbie Hayton, Miranda Yardley, Fionne Orlander, many others), but the most visible trans activists try, often successfully, to give the impression it’s universal.

Views on biological sex

Denying biological sex exists is half the source of all the downstream issues because it denies reality. (The other half is denying the reality that women are the targets of abuse because of their sex. I’ll get to that.) To say biological sex doesn’t exist requires denialism on the order of the Flat Earth Society. There are bacteria that reproduce entirely asexually, and that’s about it. They also don’t evolve much because they don’t have the variability to do it. Everything else we see survived because it uses the advantages conferred by sex. They’re not what you might think. Sex vastly increases the variability among organisms by giving a way to mix and match DNA from different ones. And since evolution requires variability to favor useful traits, sex speeds up adaptability a lot and results in the endless variety of life we see around us.

That doesn’t have anything to do with sex being necessarily binary. Some fungi, for instance, have dozens of mating strains. Mammals, the group of animals that includes humans, are not like that. They produce two kinds and only two kinds of gametes. The larger and therefore not too mobile gamete is defined as the egg, the smaller mobile one is the sperm. In mammals, sex is irretrievably binary.

Biological sex exists. If it didn’t, women would identify right out of being raped.

Trying to pretend away misogynist power structures doesn’t make it so. It just ignores all their harm. Their victims don’t have that luxury.

Pretence ends in attitudes that say having a penis does not make someone male, but wearing eyeshadow does make them female.

Denialism never happens without an agenda. The big effort of maintaining fictions has to be worth it, whether it’s trying not to understand evolution, the roundness of the earth, climate change, or vaccination. Or sex. The payoff for pretending sex doesn’t exist is being able to pretend the whole patriarchal power structure and all its attendant oppressions don’t exist. Better yet, since they don’t exist you can avoid doing anything about them.

Women can’t identify out of being paid less. They can’t identify out of violence by male partners. They can’t identify out of rape. Female embryos can’t identify out of being aborted. The scale of that violence can be hard to grasp partly because it’s so horrible, but also partly because the data aren’t even collected (Karen Ingala-Smith, Caroline Criado-Perez).

Fifty thousand (50,000) women are killed by male partners or male family members per year. (Global numbers for 2017. Approximately 87,000 killed per year total, overwhelmingly, as in over 90%, by men.) 500,000 in ten years. Six million within the lifetimes of many people alive now. The violence shows no signs of slowing down. So another six million will be exterminated within the lifetimes of present day teenagers. And that’s just the fatalities. That doesn’t count women crippled by violence or suffering permanent post traumatic stress disorder. Women have PTSD at higher rates than combat soldiers. (This is not because women are more prone to it.) They have higher rates of brain injury than soldiers and NFL football players combined.

One hundred and sixty three million (163,000,000) female fetuses were aborted in Asia (pdf). The numbers are from 2005. They would be higher now, and higher if the whole world was included. One hundred and sixty three million. Half the population of the USA. Gone because all women do is produce the next generation and take care of everybody. They’re worthless.

On that background, we hear that the rates of murder and violence for trans people are much worse. The trans suicide rate is said to be sky high unless transitioning treatment is immediately available. Let’s look at those numbers.

Any suicide is awful, as is any violent death. But, the high number for trans people comes from unfortunate sources. One study which is the source for widely repeated statistics is McNeil et al. 2012. Although it’s clearly stated to be a pilot study, it’s been cited as if it had bulletproof methods. It did not. The data was collected using internet surveys publicized in the trans community, the respondents were self-selected, and the issues discussed were self-reported. There was no control group. This would be similar to floating a survey on Amazon about a Widget and finding a high proportion of respondents were dissatisfied. Not too surprising since unhappy people are much more prone to take the trouble to let surveys know. As for self-reporting, that’s like asking people in a web survey how closely they stick to a new diet. Without actual independent measures, there’s no way to know how close to reality their answers are, even when they think they’re close. So the fact that 48% of 436 respondents reported a suicide attempt at some point or points in their lives tells us nothing about the prevalence of suicide attempts even among the 436 respondents, to say nothing of all trans people.

Methodologically less fraught studies do not show trans suicides as being any higher than the rest of their demographic group, as summarized by Paul Hewson. Dhejne et al. 2011 found that severe issues were actually more frequent after sex reassignment surgery.

Numbers for the murders of trans people also lack accuracy due to poor methods. Some very high numbers are global and skewed by the horrifically high rates in Brazil and SE Asia where transgender prostitution is much more common (together with other forms of prostitution). I haven’t seen any evidence that those murders were due to trans status rather than prostitute status. Prostitution is by far the most dangerous way to make money. Just as an indication: yearly numbers for prostitutes of fatalities due to violence: 229 per 100,000; the next most dangerous occupation, fishermen: 132 per 100,000 or in other statistics, loggers, 136 per 100,000. All numbers from USA. The outrage would be better directed at the enormous amount of male violence victimizing prostitutes. Trans prostitutes compared to all prostitutes are murdered at about the same appalling rate.

To get a sense of how the murder statistics compare within one Western country, the folowing are from Adrian Sullivan, USA 2016 rates, using Human Rights Commission and FBI data, showing murder per 100,000:

0.8 – females who are trans 1.6 – all trans people 2.1 – males who are trans
2.1 – females 5.0 – black females 5.4 – all US population
7.4 – males 18.3 – black people 32.7 – black males

204.0 – prostitutes (2004 data, comparable 2016 number is higher)

At least in the US, trans people appear to be safer than non-trans, if anything.

On the background of this massive, war-scale violence inflicted on women, the staggering absolute numbers of suffering involved, and the evidence that trans people are not any more targeted than other disadvantaged groups, on this background there are men on the web insisting that there is no real damage to women from making them more vulnerable to male-bodied people so that they, the male-bodied people, can feel accepted as women. This was an exchange recently on Twitter, since disappeared on both @Glinner and @bloggerheads, by Tim Ireland:

  • TI: Why are you so convinced that rights for Trans people means fewer rights for women?
  • Graham Linehan: because of the examples we’ve seen with the prison system in Denmark and Ireland, the clear effect it’s already had on women’s sports, the fact that feminists can’t talk without being harassed and threatened. The question is why are you *not* convinced?
  • TI: … The hill you’ve chosen to die on is both very small, and very far away.

Women dying in their millions are minor and “far away”to this guy. Or inconsequential. Which would be even worse. As if women were just aphids who can pile up on the ground after pesticide spray and why would anyone care?

More charitably, motivated reasoning may play a part in pretending women aren’t human. There’s a problem with insisting that transwomen are women, but then also insisting that they take precedence over women whenever there’s a conflict. In an attempt to make that work, first one has to deny that women are a class with their own rights and needs. Make them something as nebulous as a feeling, and there can be no conflict of rights. There’s nobody to have a conflict with. And second deny the mountain of evidence of violent abuse, so that transwomen’s own troubles stand out more starkly. See Jane Clare Jones for a thorough analysis of this whole line of thinking. If women don’t exist and they don’t hurt, then there’s no problem.

Male violence against women isn’t often articulated as part of a system functioning to keep women down, but there’s not a woman alive who really ignores it. We all feel and act like we live in a war zone, even if many of us try to convince ourselves otherwise for our own sanity. There’s a huge body of evidence that shows women are unsafe. Not bigotry, not imagination. Evidence. If Repubs try to scaremonger women about “big, hairy men” on top of that background, how successful do you think they’ll be?

Republicans are going to win that PR battle before they even start unless Dems can wrap their heads around the fact that women and girls have legitimate safety concerns which need to be accommodated.

I’ll answer a few objections before they’re trotted out as usual. One is that no true transwoman would commit such crimes, so nothing I’ve said justifies excluding them. However, the innocence of all transwomen is not supported by the evidence. (Transmen don’t seem to appear as an issue.) In the UK, 90% of assaults, harassment and voyeurism occur in unisex changing rooms, although they’re less than half the total of those facilities.

Once the UK decided to allow self-ID’ed male-bodied prisoners in women’s jails, reports of rapes and harassment started. (Yes, the link is to the Mail which is right wing. The events are not invented. They happened.) In the UK, suspicious numbers of male offenders announce their trans status so that they’re jailed among women. (Another conservative newspaper. They love these stories. It’s not often they have any reality on their side.) Saying the prisoners are not really trans doesn’t change anything for the traumatised women. Besides, if self-ID is gospel, how can you say they’re not really trans? Do only good people discover they are trans?

Of course, not all or even many transwomen are predators. Transwomen are not the problem. Predators are the problem no matter how they identify. Self-ID is a problem because it opens the door and lays down the welcome mat for predators. It allows any predatory man to self identify as female to gain access to women or children.

There are mountains of evidence — again, not bigotry, not imagination, evidence — that men use deceit to get at their victims. The Catholic Church and Scoutmaster sex abuse scandals are only some of the examples. Unlike the gay panics of the bad old days, which were not based on evidence, women’s fear of males is based on reality. (Men who don’t like being reminded of that should curb the other men creating the problem, not the information that it exists.)

Because some men are horrible, transwomen run a risk of violence using male spaces. That says they need their own spaces without violent males, not that women don’t. Insisting that transwomen have a right to be safe does not explain why women must become less safe. Also, men are causing the problem. So why is it up to women to compensate for it?

Male-to-female trans have shown themselves capable of crimes against women.

Predatory men also use any available trick to get within striking distance of women (and boys) to prey on.

Women have the same right to physical safety as anyone, without the added burden of mindreading whether random males are harmless or not.

 

One peculiar bogus objection is that men victimize women anyway, so why bother excluding males. No, excluding men doesn’t stop all attacks. Unfortunately. But it does reduce them. That’s all the law ever hopes for. You could as well say we shouldn’t have laws against drunk driving because some people will drink and drive regardless. Women have the same right as everyone else to physical safety, without having to read the minds of random males to guess their intentions. So women have the right to keep men out of their public toilets, changing rooms, dormitories, prisons, and refuges from male violence, just on the grounds of the right to personal safety.

Allowing male-bodied people to compete in women’s sports is another absurdity resulting from the attempt to deny biological reality.

Weight classes in boxing are separated by a few pounds. But women are supposed to compete against males of completely different build and be happy to lose championships, prize money, and scholarships.

Flyweight boxers are not ignored like that. Only women.

Men’s boxing has eight categories separated by a few kilos. But somehow women’s sports are supposed to be fair when athletes who went through male puberty and are in a completely different physical category compete against them. This is just nonsense. Why not have college baseball players identify into Little League? They could win everything and get into the Majors, right? As usual with nonsense, it’s astonishing how often it’s applied only against women. It’s only women who are supposed to compete on a steeply tilted playing field, lose scholarships and championships and sponsorships, and act like there’s no problem. And don’t kid yourself, it is about taking away the benefits. You don’t see male-bodied competitors breaking in to sports where those bodies are not an advantage, like women’s gymnastics.

As a final absurd example of pretending biological sex doesn’t exist, transactivists insist having a penis does not make anyone male, but at least one feels wearing eyeshadow makes him female. When the Repubs sneer at that kind of thing to discredit Dems, the reality-based community has to be ready to come down on the side of reality or lose all credibility with anyone who still has a grasp of it.

It’s a bitter pill, but we better get used to agreeing with the Repubs about the reality of biological sex. Then when we say that forcing people into one of two genders is a violation of civil rights, we’ll still have enough reality-based cred to sound right instead of stupid.

Attitude to Gender

In this case, it’s the transactivists who agree with the traditionalists. Both see gender as an immutable essence expressed as a set of character traits. The difference is that traditionalists see them as irrevocably bound to biology, whereas transactivists think biology doesn’t exist. Gender depends only on an internal sense of having it.

It’s worth pointing out that any belief in an immutable essence, tied to biology or not, is a belief. There’s no scientific evidence for any internal sense of femininity or masculinity any more than there is for souls or God or similar concepts. It’s an article of faith. It’s in the same category as religious beliefs. That doesn’t mean it’s unreal to the person holding it, but it does mean it’s objectively unverifiable. (Hence the title, using Graham Linehan’s great term for the Church of the WokeBros who want to burn all unbelievers at the stake.) Like other beliefs, it must be respected in a civilized free society, to the extent that it does not encroach on other people’s fundamental rights.

There is no objective, scientific evidence on which feelings of gender can be based.

Belief in a gender may be deeply felt, but that does not change the fact that it is an article of faith, a belief.

I need to go on a tangent here about rights since it helps clarify how to handle conflicts between them.

Rights are universally applicable. My free speech has no effect on your ability to speak freely, unless I’m shouting too loud right next to you. Then I’m not exercising a right. I’m being a harasser. Rights also have a hierarchy in that some are dependent on others. We understand this intuitively, which is why killing an attacker in self-defense is allowed. Physical safety, control over your own body, is the absolute first right which must be respected. Without that, all the other rights are meaningless. You’re not going to be exercising much freedom of speech if you can be whipped for it. Or lose your livelihood. Freedom of movement and assembly have to both be available before freedom to worship in the place of your choice has any meaning. Freedom of assembly depends on being able to define your own group, if that group has relatively less power. A union meeting that bosses could make themselves members of would not do the union much good.

Those points have direct relevance to some of the controversies around male-bodied people in women’s spaces where women are more vulnerable, such as dormitories, changing rooms, and toilets, as well as those where they’re trying to recover from problems due to men, such as counseling groups, rape crisis centers, or family violence refuges.

One is that they have the same right to safety as everyone else. Two is that women have the same right to assembly as anyone else. If women want to run a music festival or a discussion group or a rape crisis center limited to people born female, the right to assemble means that they can. Having a right means that it is illegal to harass anyone for exercising it. You don’t have to give them jobs or prizes, you can ignore them, you can argue against them with logic and evidence, but it is very wrong to try to make them so miserable they shut up, go away, and stop exercising their right. There’s no way to insist women must accept males without arguing that every other group has to accept everyone who wants to join: Cherokee can’t self-define, unions can’t, blacks can’t. Even transwomen can’t. Nobody can. Unless you want to say that women are not really people and don’t have rights like real people.

Transwomen may want validation that others see them as women, which is much like the many other social recognitions we provide each other whether or not we feel them ourselves. However, that does not confer some kind of right to insist that everyone has to participate in those ambitions. Especially when the price of a social courtesy can be the lifelong trauma of a sexual attack. Transactivists often don’t feel that provision of separate space is a solution for them. They have to be in women’s spaces. That shows the first priority is validation, not safety.

Other forms of self-ID

The feeling of being in the wrong body has other forms besides gender dysphoria.

Anorexia is a feeling of being in the “wrong” body (a fat one in that case).

The “transabled” identify with a disability to the point of maiming themselves to create it.

Race, age, poverty have all been assumed as identities.

Except in the case of gender, all the other body dysphorias are viewed as disorders.

The best known recent example involved a woman, Rachel Dolezal, who self-ID’ed as black even though she didn’t have traceable black ancestors. The predominant feeling was that she had no business appropriating a black identity. A 52 year old man decided he was a six year old girl and wanted to participate in playgroups with other six year olds. Hilarity did not ensue. A 69 year old Dutchman insisted you’re as young as you feel and wanted the government to shift his birth date by 20 years so he’d have better luck on Tinder. They didn’t. There are the “transabled” who identify so strongly with a disability some even maim themselves. Anorexia is yet another form of feeling trapped in the wrong body, as discussed by the always brilliant Victoria Smith, aka Glosswitch.

Interestingly, except for gender mismatch, the other dissatisfactions with one’s body are considered to show a need for therapy, not facilitation. So much so that dysphoria is used in the case of gender and dysmorphia for all the others. I could see a feminist argument that gender straitjackets are the unhealthiest social constructs, so attempts to escape them are a sign of sanity. Although when the escape requires a whole new set of straitjackets, it’s maybe not the best route out.

Shutting down discussion

Considering how obvious all these issues are, it’s strange that convoluted transactivist thinking is everywhere. In part that’s because women don’t count and their rights are constantly overlooked. In part, it’s because it turns out there really is some central coordination. But I think the largest factor is that no other viewpoint is allowed. Thinking critically is not allowed. The harassment has to be seen to be believed. People, almost always women, have been silenced for discussing or trying to discuss their own rights. Jane Clare Jones has written many outstanding pieces, such as this one about the treatment of Martina Navratilova for stating the obvious.

The justification is that any criticism of gender identities is like Nazi hate speech because it’s all anti-trans and it kills trans people. That is, it either inflames men to kill trans people or it drives trans to suicide. It’s never women killing trans people. It’s just women’s fault. Since they call it hate speech, nobody should ever hear any of it.

But if anyone did, all they would hear is women who are worried about losing their own right to safety or self-definition, and who are strongly in favor of civil rights and human rights for all trans people. That’s not really hate speech.

Maybe I should repeat that. That is not hate speech.

Research is also silenced. (E.g. James Caspian, Ken Zucker). A mild response to campaigns of harassment, including major consequences such as job loss, was organized by Kathleen Stock. Many were fearful to sign. In a very sketchy case, it turned out that a trans lecturer was encouraging their closed Facebook group to keep lists of academics to target for harassment. (Link is to an available copy. Original at The Times not freely available.)

“Transphobia!” is the instant charge hurled when anyone says women have rights worth respecting. Just recently, Hillary Clinton was tarred for noting that women’s experiences are not identical to those of transwomen. The same happened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It would seem that’s an obvious statement of fact, right up there with “water is wet.” In my book, excommunication for statements of fact says the believer has a problem, not the target.

Just to be clear: there is nothing transphobic about saying trans people should have the same rights as everyone else. There is nothing transphobic about saying they don’t get special privileges, any more than anyone else.

Actual transphobia would be saying they’re not allowed out in public because they cause heebyjeebies, rather like the male Saudi attitude to women. Or claiming “trans panic” as a defense for murder and having that treated seriously in court.

It is not phobia to refuse participation in someone else’s beliefs about their inner essence. Catholics are not Protestantophobics. Atheists are not religiophobes. In a civilized and free society we respect each others’ beliefs by not going out of our way to interfere with them. It is the opposite of respecting beliefs to silence people, even women, on pain of harassment and death threats.

It is not phobia to live and let live. Women do not have to support anyone’s beliefs about themselves, any more than others have to support women. None of this is supportive of transwomen, and plenty of transwomen aren’t supportive of women. Nor do they have to be. We have no right to supportiveness. We only have a right to live our own lives as best we can without encroaching on anyone else’s right to do the same thing.

Women discussing their rights differs from hate speech or denialism in a very important respect. Women are not lying or being vicious. Women do have rights. They’re just like everyone else. When their rights are violated, they get to identify the problem and insist that it stop, just like everyone else. Even when it hurts someone’s feelings. Even when the counterargument is “Fuck TERFs.”

That is the weirdest thing about this whole mess: the invisibility of half the human race to people who think they’re the most inclusive, respectful, progressive group ever.

#FactsMatter

The reality-based community has to distinguish between trans people who’d just like to live their own life their own way — which everyone has a right to do — and weirdos trading on transness and wokeness to practice misogyny or pedophilia — which no one has a right to do. Because that is a real and valid and essential distinction.

Without it, the Repubs will be able to shout about the Yanivs and conflate them with all trans. They’ll say it’s what Dems do when they insist that anyone who self-IDs as trans must instantly have their feelings respected. And they’ll be right. Both sides are currently big on conflation, but one side sees them as all bad while the other thinks they must be all good.

In reality: no. Trans people who respect other people’s rights are fine, just like anyone else who lives a quiet life. Trans people who don’t are not fine. Just like anyone else who violates other people’s rights.

We have to be willing to draw that reality-based distinction or we’ll be playing right into the Repubs’ scaremongering hands.

And, yes, they will be, and are, scaremongering. There’s the Ben Carson comment about hairy men in bathrooms cited earlier. Trump has been doing his bit with Executive Orders to keep the issue simmering. In this case he’s denying their civil rights to serve in the military. A headline in June of this year yelled, “233 Out of 234 House Dems Just Agreed To Let Biological Men Take Over Women’s Athletics.” (conservativeflash.com/2019/06/18/)

Don Trump Jr. seems to be one of the designated Floaters of Trial Balloons on trans issues. In February 2019 he was very concerned about unfairness in women’s sports. There’s a laff-a-minute quality to Don Jr. coming over all concerned about fairness, but the commonest first reaction is going to be “well, yes, it is weird.” Because it is. That kind of inequality isn’t tolerated in any other sport demographic. He’s been continuing to talk about it, including more recently about Rachel McKinnon, mentioned earlier for their appalling celebration of the death of a young woman from brain cancer.

The pattern of generating support for violation of civil rights by stoking resentment over the disregard for women can be expected to ramp up. It serves all their purposes. They can paint themselves as the real Defenders of Women and Children™, they have a sex-related target for hatefests which always works to rile people up, and they can continue to chip away at everybody’s rights.

The UK is ahead of the US again, as it was with election cheating in favor of Brexit during the 2016 referendum. They’ll have another election Dec 12th (a few days from now as I write this), and the always astute Janice Turner points out:

Meanwhile the Conservatives, who were expected to “weaponise” the trans issue, have wisely stayed silent. Their policy of retaining existing law is far more in line with voter opinion than Swinson, whose Twitter feed contains thousands of livid women saying they’ll no longer vote Lib Dem. [note: The Times uses paywalls, so link may not work.]

If the center and left sacrifice women’s rights for woke points, it’s not even necessary for the Cons, or Repubs, to say much. They can just let their opponents have as much rope as they want to hang themselves.

By stressing how bizarre it is to pretend men are women, Republicans can sound like they’re making sense. Then when they crosslink other Democratic attitudes to abortion and homosexuality, they can tar everything with the same brush. It’s all “disrespect of the body.” The Democrats should really stop helping them create that confusion by falling for it themselves. The difference is that the Dems think it’s all good instead of all bad, but in reality both are wrong.

Imagine if the Repubs succeed in making people believe that only their brand of meddling in the details of other people’s sex lives will work to provide women with their rights to privacy and safety. Masses of women will vote for their own safety. Fairness to gay or trans people, or even to women themselves, is a distant second to bogeymen in bathrooms.

The conflation feeds takes like this piece in the Washington Post, “Conservatives find unlikely ally in fighting transgender rights: Radical feminists.” (Just for the record, “radical” feminists are what used to just be called “feminists.” People focused on women’s rights.) In the high and far off times, it took more than agreeing on basic reality to be considered allies. The two parties agree that biological sex exists. The conservatives use it to control women. Feminists want to end oppressions based on it. Those two are opposed to each other. Agreeing that water is wet means only that reality is understood. It’s the opposite of shared politics.

Unlike right wing BS regarding migrants getting free health care, there’s truth buried in the general bigotry about trans people. The women-don’t-matter attitudes really do exist and really are supported by mainstream Democrats.

That article skips lightly over the fact that protections for gender identity without protections for sex-based categories have bizarre downstream consequences. For instance, in addition to all the problems with ignoring biological sex already discussed, medical research on differences in treatments of heart attacks between men and women could be denied funding for being discriminatory against trans people. It’s probably obvious that would mean continued excess deaths among women. It would also legitimize the current version of conversion therapy which transitions same-sex attracted people to the opposite gender. If the law requires everyone to ignore sex, large parts of biological reality become off-limits.

Considering the levels of vitriol mentioned under Shutting Down Discussion, the lack of loud voices disputing transactivists isn’t too surprising, at least in the US mainstream. (The UK has more protestors.) So the Republicans can point to the Left’s uncritical acceptance of unsavory characters like Yaniv and McKinnon, conflate them with all trans people, and put themselves as all that stands between good people™ and perverts. (Update: Yaniv is finally beyond the pale after evidence of pedophilia and racism and loss of a court case.) I’ll be surprised if whipping up anti-trans resentment isn’t a major get-out-the-vote tactic this time around.

The only hope is clarity on when the Repubs are right. If they are, agree with them. The truth is what matters, not the fight. And then when you have to disagree with them about everything else it’s easier for people to see you’re still being honest.

  • Repubs are right about the existence of biological sex. What they’re wrong about is the need to stuff everyone into gender straitjackets. What they’re horribly wrong about is their need to control women’s biology and everyone’s sex lives.

  • Republicans are right about the need for women-only spaces. They’re wrong that women are delicate nitwits who need protecting. The problem is too many men are indelicate nitwits whose idea of fun is attacking others.

  • They’re right about the need for female-only women’s sports, not because women are special but because they aren’t. They deserve the same level playing field everyone else is given.


So, now what?

The rule of law was taken off life support and euthanized in the US Senate on January 31st, 2020. What does this mean for the future?

There will be an infinite fractal series of spinoffs reflecting the hellishness from the smallest dimensions to the largest. A few things seem obvious, though.

Might now makes right. That’s the only alternative once the rule of law disintegrates, so we’re there.

When might makes right, there can be no trust because nobody knows what’s coming next. It all depends on the whims of whoever has money, guns, and all the attendant power.

Civilization — and I do mean civilization, that’s not hyperbole — depends on trust. Humans live in groups and divide tasks because we’re able to trust each other in very basic ways. Cooking food for a group requires trust, for instance. The cook is in a strong strategic position to just take it all. She (or he) doesn’t because human societies are based on trust.

Cooked food provides much more calories, so we have the energy to build buildings, and invent alphabets, and also do nasty but effortful stuff like organize for war. Contrast that with our near cousins the chimpanzees who could never start down that road because food sharing is minimal among them. When one of them has food, they tend to eat it right quick before some other chimp can beg or steal it away.

Yes, that’s an astronomically oversimplified point, but that doesn’t make it untrue. You get the picture. Civilization is completely based on trust. We have to trust thousands of people not to cheat us so our vehicles actually work, so our buildings don’t fall down on us, so our food is not poisoned. And so our governments will take care of business which allows us to get on with our lives.

You can see that last one eroding away before our eyes, because it’s the highest meta-level of trust and the first one to go.

Now that the Senate has dumped us all into a might makes right society, that trust will erode even faster and farther than it has so far. That means groups of people will hate and mistrust each other more than they already do. That means so-called “polarization” will get worse.

That doesn’t mean the US will fall apart into different countries. Yet. The side with power will be able to continue forcing itself on everybody for a while.

How long?

Well, a nonfunctional government means all the accumulating disasters stay unaddressed. The most inexorable of those disasters is the climate crisis. Big economic inequalities, which also destroy trust, we could reverse tomorrow. The climate? Not so much. The emergencies we’re already seeing, the wildfires, floods, famines will pile up more and more. (Have you heard about the locusts in East Africa that flew over from Yemen which had a huge hatch because climate change which people knew about four months ago and which nobody did anything about because war?)

Since people trust each other less and less, their response will be to try to solve their own problems by taking what they can from those horrible other people. Which will do nothing to solve the actual problem of setting the whole and only planet we have on fire.

So we’re now on a bad case scenario trajectory. Just how bad it will get before humans decide to do things differently, who knows. I’m sure it will be patchy. Some places where people still help each other will do better than those that fall for warlords. But one thing is for sure. Maybe soon, maybe in one hundred years, it means the end of the USA.

Unless USians bring back the rule of law. I’m no longer hopeful for November 2020, but that’s our next chance.

Another group of people who thought appealing to powers would somehow help them. Photo: Keith Jenkins. Alteration: three people removed from background.
Another group of people who thought appealing to powers would somehow help them. (Photo: Keith Jenkins)


Denial, Inequality, and Ignorance, Oh My

There’s a long piece I’ve been procrastinating on / working on for weeks (WokeBros™ Are Pushing Us Into A Republican Trap) , and now all this blows up. Maya Forstater’s judge with no judgement. JKRowling deciding enough is enough. By the time I push the “publish” button, this will be hours out of date and suitable for the Stone Ages.

Anyway, just some minor commentary which everyone else has already said too.

Mammalian sexes are not a spectrum. They are binary. There is the large gamete sex, female, and the small gamete sex, male. That’s it. There ain’t no more. Spergs and speggs don’t exist.

Earliest instance found: by Pinepalm on reddit.

Denying this biological reality is more la-la than being a Flat Earther. At least a Flat Earth *looks* plausible if you’re completely ignorant. Denying biological sex is denying how babies get made and that is something all of humanity is rather clear on. (Well, except for WokeBros™, male or female.) It’s much much much stupider than denying evolution or climate science since those require a minimal understanding of not-always-immediately-obvious evidence.

The usual refrain, including from some biologists, is “but, but clownfish!” Yes, there are clownfish. Yes, there’s sea lettuce (Ulva sp.) with identical sized gametes. Yes, some fungi have dozens of mating strains with very complex ways of producing the next generation. Invertebrate animals have all sorts of gametic flexibility. Even alligators and some birds have temperature-dependent sex ratios in their offspring.

Notice one thing about all of those? They are not mammals. Humans are mammals. We have none of that sexual diversity. In humans sex is binary. End of story.

Intersex individuals do not change that. They have chromosomal or developmental variants superimposed on the basic binary. Their secondary sexual characteristics can vary from the usual. Since everything except the production of egg or sperm is a secondary sexual characteristic, including organs like penis, vagina, or breasts, looks can be unrelated to genetics. That means without scientific tools, like karyotyping or DNA sequencing, the genetics is unknown.

The existence of variants does not turn sex into a spectrum any more than the existence of babies born without limbs means that there’s a spectrum of leg formation. Chimeric inheritance is a condition where two zygotes (fused egg and sperm) fuse together and develop as one individual. The cells derived from one of the two can be interspersed or more or less separate in different organ systems or even sides of the person. That can result in a very rare Difference of Sex Development (DSD) where there’s one ovary and one testicle in one body. (The two hormone systems interfere with each other during development, so there have been no documented cases of both systems being fertile.) In another situation, separation of one embryo into two may stop before completion and conjoined twins result. But the existence of developmental variants like chimerism or conjoined twins does not imply we’re all on a spectrum from one to multiple people.

Intersex individuals are uncommon. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is the commonest, at about 1.4% of live births. All the other forms combined come to 0.1%, one in a thousand, live births. CAH causes overproduction of hormones. Since a number of sex organs are developed from homologous embryonic tissues (clitoris – penis, outer labia – scrotum) overproduction during development can — does not always — alter external morphology to superficially resemble the opposite sex.

Chromosomal abnormalities, like XXY, or XYY, or XO, also change nothing about the sex binary. They either result in individuals indistinguishable from XX / XY without genetic testing, or in individuals who don’t reproduce but look and are treated as female or male. They have nothing to do with the desire to transition to some other social role.

To me, an interesting side note is XO, also known as 45X, aka Turner syndrome. Just one X chromosome results in a female-looking individual who is sterile. The second X has a role only in the formation of the female reproductive tract. One of the two Xs is eventually inactivated in each cell during development. The only function of the Y chromosome is to develop the variants on the female pattern that result in male reproduction. In other words, human society has been wrong about this for millenia. Male is not the default. Female is the default.

A chart of DSDs annotated to show their rarity and the point that about 75% of them are due to just one of the factors noted, congenital adrenal hyperplasia. (The original image is here, full size image here)

None of the above has anything to do with gender, which is the main concern of trans people. Gender is defined as the collection of character traits society decides belong to people based on their sex. Social constructs can be anything society decides — there’s no limit on alphabets, for instance. So if trans people want to invert or subvert or multiply genders, that’s up to them.

Which brings me to the other thing that made my jaw drop about this massive kerfuffle. When JKRowling made her extraordinarily obvious tweet:


the bad feelings engendered in some of the trans community were explained in a thread on Twitter.

@alicegoldfuss / ms claws is a protected account. This quote was in a comment by @jackstarbright / Amanda.

JKRowling’s points are “not actual support.”

Well, DUH. Of course they’re not. You’re not supporting me, you know. Nor do you have to. Neither do I have to support you. In a free society we all have equal rights and nobody gets to demand service from others. We just leave each other alone to live our lives as we want and as best we can.

It’s called equal rights. Not equal support. Who died and made you king of deciding who has to stand ready with support?

That attitude of expecting others to forget their own needs and support transwomen is so blitheringly smug and entitled, it’s mindboggling.

It also reminds me a lot of something I see out in the world all the time. Something like a class of people who seem to think women should always hover about fulfilling their needs…. It’s on the tip of my tongue…. But that can’t be right because the transwomen who have that attitude are quite sure they’re women.



A crime of state and a crime against honor

It’s a crime even against the sort of honor there is supposed to be among thieves. It’s a crime Moscow Mitch can see. Lindsay –Lindsay!– Graham is revolted.

We all knew Agent Orange would try to foment war to distract from the law once it got close. But betraying military allies?

He’s the husk of a roach in a long slimming tie.

Abandoning our Kurdish allies would be the most egregious and craven foreign policy mistake since the appeasement of Hitler.



The world’s most taboo subject

Do you remember this article from a couple of years back? It was big in the media for a few days. Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children.

Having a child contributes some thirty times as much to warming the planet as the next closest action an individual can take: living without a car.

Climate change impact of having a child: each one adds 58.6 tons of CO2 equivalents per year. Using a car adds 2.4 tCO2e per year.

And yet, amidst all the discussion of air travel and bicycling and electric vehicles, there’s a ban on mentioning population control.

Another example I came across recently was in a very encouraging article about greening the Sahel in Africa.

… {Farmers had a] cheap, effective way to regreen the Sahel. They did so by using simple water harvesting techniques and protecting trees that emerged naturally on their farms.

Garrity recalls walking through farms in Niger, fields of grains like millet and sorghum stretching to the sun planted around trees, anywhere from a handful to 80 per acre. “In most cases, the trees are in random locations because they sprouted and the farmer protected them and let them grow,” he says. [Depending on species] [t]he trees can be cut for fuel… They can be pruned for livestock fodder. Their leaves and fruit are nutritious.

One tree, Faidherbia albida, goes dormant during the wet season when most trees grow. When the rains begin, the trees defoliate, dropping leaves that fertilize the soil. Because they have dropped their leaves, the trees do not shade crops during the growing season. Their value had long been recognized by farmers….

[But] “He laments that work is moving too slowly. With the Sahel’s population doubling in 20 years, Reij says regreening needs to be finished within 10 to 15 years.”

He makes it sound as if this doubling is a great force beyond human influence, like a solar storm or a meteor strike. It’s not. It’s merely human reproduction. We’re helpless only because the subject is so untouchable it can’t even be said out loud.

What’s up with that?.

I think the answer lies in the two possible trajectories to control births.

One is coercive. China’s one child policy is perhaps the most famous recent example. Since women are the ones giving birth, you have to control women. You punish them if they have too many children. You enforce abortions on mothers. Or, if you’re a Nazi in the 1930s who wants lots of blond babies and no browner ones, you try to enforce a eugenics program on women. You sterilize gypsies or the disabled or Jews while giving “your” women the option to be incubators or nothing.

All those methods involve hideously totalitarian pre-emption of individual choice and body autonomy (like the supporters of forced pregnancy, but we’re more used to them so it doesn’t feel as outlandish). But on the bright side, they don’t require any changes to misogynist and patriarchal social systems.

The other trajectory is to give women control over their own reproduction. Wherever that is done, birth rates drop dramatically. They may not fall all the way to replacement levels, but they get much closer than any other method. Giving women control works, it works sustainably and long term.

But.

But it deprives society of its main tool to control all aspects of women’s lives. Your reliable producers of the next generation, your unpaid domestic servants and nannies and handholders and caregivers, gradually find other things to do with their lives. Members of the upper caste might have to do their own dishes. Your whole system falls apart.

And therein lies the rub. All our current problems are made much worse by overpopulation. Dealing with that requires treating women like human beings. Which gives the patriarchy the vapors.

So suddenly respect for medieval religions and medieval cultures make it impossible to promote birth control. They might be offended!

There’s not the same action-limiting respect when it comes to things that serve the caste system. Porn is all over the place even though the Pope disapproves. But breastfeeding is too avantgarde for the delicate sensibilities of men on Facebook. Nor is there ever equivalent concern that women object to being erased.

The discrepancy has a name. Sady Doyle wrote about it almost three years ago, Trump, Putin, Assange, and the politics of sexism. Supposedly all three are exponents of radically different systems, and yet they have a lizard brain-level understanding that they’re on the same side. Her focus is social and political effects, but the same allergy to anything kind or well-meaning is everywhere.

Recently, reactionaries have made The Misogyny of Climate Deniers obvious by their revolting comments against a 16 year old who’s done nothing except use the full weight of all the evidence to disagree with them.

The connection has to do with a sense of group identity under threat, … both by developing gender equality—Hultman pointed specifically to the shock some men felt at the #MeToo movement—and now climate activism’s challenge to their way of life, male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another. … Climate change used to be a bipartisan concern, the first Bush senior presidency famously promising to tackle global warming. But as conservative male mockery of Thunberg and others shows, climate politics has quickly become the next big battle in the culture war—on a global scale.

Misogyny isn’t the only motivation of reactionaries. There’s greed and garden variety hatred in there, too, but misogyny is the core. It’s misogyny, not greed or racism or ordinary hatred, that makes men fear weakness more than anything. And fear of weakness is what ties together the worst of what they do.

They think strong man governments are a good idea. They like guns and “defence” — war, really, so long as somebody else dies in it. Peace is only tolerable “through strength.” The reactionaries are against anything that doesn’t shout big power. They like nukes because gigawatts! dangerous! The truth is that even building a new gigawatt nuke every two months from 2010 till 2050 would solve only a small part of climate change and energy needs. Meanwhile renewables could provide all our energy by 2050 for a fraction of the cost and without radioactive waste. But distributed power, whether that’s rooftop solar or real democracy, strikes reactionaries as la-la limp-wristed hippie crap. Likewise, restraint against environmental destruction is pathetic weakness in the face of hard choices.

And weakness is the worst thing you can show. They (“They”) come and take your man card away. It’s the only thing that gave you any standing and it’s gone.

That is a future so horrible it’s worth burning the world down to avoid it. It must never be spoken lest saying its name calls it forth.



One of the endless raft of things that are Not On

You may have noticed that when it comes to trans rights, I’ve been hot and bothered about people casually stepping all over women as if they didn’t matter or even exist. I’ve also tried to be careful to say that transpeople should most definitely have all the same civil rights as all other people.

This falls into Category 2.

The Dumpsterfire’s administration has come up with some more codswallop:

An amicus brief filed by the Justice Department weighed in on two cases involving gay workers and what is meant by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination “because of sex.” The administration argued courts nationwide should stop reading the civil rights law to protect gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers from bias because it was not originally intended to do so. …

[I]t argued last week in a related brief against transgender rights, in which the Justice Department said companies should be able to fire people because they are transgender as well.

Next to concentration camps for children, losing jobs could be seen as a small potatoes human rights violation, but it is a human rights violation. It’s all cut from the same cloth of this horrific transnational crime syndicate of an Administration.



Women’s physical and athletic abilities

[This started as a comment on a post about this topic. It’s since expanded.]

One of the side effects of all the discussion around including transwomen in women’s sports has been the regular repetition that women are slower and weaker and can’t compete with the male-bodied. I wanted to add a biologist’s view on that and then mention something I saw about ultramarathoners.

So I’ll start with women being smaller, weaker, and all the rest.

When I was young and foolish I once asked my biology teacher why it was that way. It seems to cause nothing but problems. She pointed out that female physiology and anatomy puts its first priority on producing the next generation. Take for instance menstruation. If you have that level of internal bleeding in any other organ, male or female, you’re in the emergency room. Women’s physiology can withstand it to the extent that some women can even run marathons at the same time.

Males, on the other hand, expend very little physical capital in producing the next generation. In nature’s cold calculations, that means they’re expendable. You don’t need very many of them and you’ll still have a next generation. The tribes that survived the most were the ones where males used that expendability in the service of the tribe: they did the dangerous jobs of defense against other people and wild animals. Obviously, for that task, you’ll last longer if you’re big, fast and strong.

But wouldn’t women last longer too, by the same logic, if they were big and fast and strong? No, for a very simple reason. All that muscle and large skeleton and higher basal metabolism takes calories to maintain. For most of human history, calories were in short supply.

A pregnant or nursing woman with male athletic abilities would have a physiology that required way more calories per day, on the order of over 4000, instead of the 3000 or so she needs if she’s woman-sized. Interestingly enough, athletic men have caloric requirements of around 3000 too.

So the system as evolution worked it out for us is that both sexes have similar peak needs and can survive under similar conditions. Some of the peak work they do differs, but the overall requirements are the same. That allows them to live together in groups, which has lots of survival value itself, instead of living like two different species that have different requirements.

As for the problems caused by strength differences, it’s worth remembering that from an evolutionary standpoint, no tribe would last very long if the bear-fighters in it decided to use their strength to damage the next generation instead of help it. Hurting the mothers of it does exactly that. Evolutionary biologists call that reduction in offspring “reducing evolutionary fitness,” and a very small reduction is enough to wipe out a species.

Misogyny is a luxury available only to rich species.

Point 1 is that women push their bodies and physical abilities to a level like that of elite athletes, with the difference that most women do childbirth and nursing, but plenty of men don’t put large demands on their bodies at all. The weakness people keep yammering on about is pretty much limited to a few specific activities that men excel in.

Point 2 is that the usual solution to significant differences in sporting ability is to segregate the participants into different classes. There are youth leagues and seniors’ events. There are eight (8!) classes in boxing separated by approximately eight pounds, just a bit over three and a half kilos. And there are men’s sports and women’s. Only in the latter case do some people claim that large differences in bone and muscle mass don’t matter. They’ve decided only testosterone levels must approach those found in women. That’s particularly odd given that, for instance, in a sport like boxing fighters will try to dehydrate themselves to pass as a lower weight class and then have the advantage of an extra few pounds of mass (not muscle, just water) during the fight itself.

It’s actually more than odd since scholarships, prize money, or college tuition can be at stake. Taking those away from women on grounds that aren’t applied in any male classes of sport smacks of misogyny.

And, last, point 3. The much-ballyhooed business of being weaker. Turns out that’s not true in some very demanding sports. Are women better ultra-endurance athletes than men? asks Sophie Williams.

“He [Dr Nicholas Tiller, a senior lecturer in applied physiology at Sheffield Hallam University] said that in ultra-endurance races, athletes are never working close to their maximum capacity. It is much more about peripheral conditioning, oxygen efficiency and mental toughness.” …

Fiona Oakes, an ultra-marathon runner and holder of four world records [said,]

“Certainly from when I’ve done races, women manage themselves in a completely different way,” she told the BBC.

Let’s see … tougher, better able to cope with emotions, more stamina … not your usual definition of “weaker,” is it?

Sometimes — well, all the time — I dream of a better world in which we’ve dropped all the stupid boxes nobody really fits in anyway. Instead, we’re in awe of the amazing diversity of strengths we have.

Fiona Kolbinger, winner, 2019 Transcontinental Race

Fiona Kolbinger, whose day job is cancer research, wins the 4000km 2019 Transcontinental (Europe) Race 10 hours ahead of the guy in second place. (Photographer unknown)



One of these things is not like the others

This is a public service announcement? I don’t know. An announcement, anyway.

Start with the flatteningly obvious. Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, creed, national origin, age, weight, or sexual orientation is Not Okay. It’s not okay because it has no basis in fact. None of those characteristics is correlated in any way with anything that matters. (Yes, there is a boatload of excellent research supporting that point.) They are irrelevant. Discriminating on that basis does not work, in the sense of improving human life in any way.

Now continue with the equally obvious. Being transgender is also irrelevant to intelligence, kindness, or competence. Discriminating against transgender people in work, housing, education, or who can get married will also not improve anyone’s life in any way.

Let’s end with the one blindingly obvious difference. Sex does affect anything to do with biology, including medicine. Sex is a fact. Facts don’t care how you feel. Pretending otherwise changes exactly nothing. Hounding people for “transphobia” if they research the consequences of hormone therapy might get them fired, hounded, no platformed, or piled on [the Times article is behind a paywall], but it won’t change the resulting sterility, loss of orgasm, osteoporosis, stroke, and so on (pdf) through a list of side effects as long as your arm.

Sex also makes a difference in a world organized on a sexual caste system to exploit women’s labor and reproductive ability. Unlike biology, we can change society, and it would be great if we entered a new age of humankind where none of the gendered bullshit operated anymore.

We do not live in that world. Pretending otherwise does nothing but enable willful blindness to the injustice, and the people who suffer from that most immediately are women. Women can’t identify out of being raped or being underpaid. When those with a male developmental trajectory identify into women’s athletics and take the scholarships or money prizes, women can’t identify into a lifetime of enough testosterone to take the prizes back. Nor can female fetuses identify out of being aborted on the basis of their sex.

public restrooms at Exmoor National Park labelled one for men, the other for everyone
“There is a word for a situation where women talking about female bodies is considered impermissibly antisocial, where describing the consequences of sexism for women is systematically impeded, where resources for women are redistributed to male users while resources for men are left in male hands…. The word is misogyny.” Sarah Ditum, The Economist, 2018-07-05

In this world it’s a fact that almost all (around 98%) of sexual violence is done by males. (Are we all sufficently tired of Not All Men? I hope so. The link is to an article about violent crime, but the same pattern holds for mere harassment. Very few perps can make a majority suffer.) Putting women in the bind of having to mindread male intentions in places where they undress or can’t escape is not a hallmark of tolerance. It’s a hallmark of assuming women don’t count. We all have a right to be, as the law puts it, secure in our persons. We get to do that without mindreading. The fact that men also target transpeople doesn’t make it women’s responsibility to compensate for the violence.

And that is the difference with other liberation movements. They struggled for their own civil rights. None of them tried to deprive others of what they wanted for themselves. Calling people who point these things out “transphobic” does not indicate virtuous tolerance for transpeople. It indicates a denial of facts on the order of flat earthers or creationists. It indicates a complete disregard for the human rights of women.



Help! I’m being oppressed by birds!

Don’t get me wrong. I love New Zealand’s birds. That’s why I have a calendar full of them.

But, I’m sorry, this is too much. The third month in a row of judgey birds! Who do they think they are?

It started in May with this one. Eyeing me the whole month, wanting to know whether I’ve been saved.

species of albatross, a mollymawk, floating in the ocean with a real glare in its eye
“Have you been saved?”

Then June broke with dignified disdain:

North Island saddleback, which has small wattles at the corners of its beak that give it a disapproving expression
“Have you balanced your checkbook? Really? Then why is there a fudge factor on line 86?”

And then, when I turn to July, hoping for relief at long last, this horrified critter shows up.

Morpork, a common native New Zealand owl, with its eyes very wide open
“What ARE you doing?”

Trying to balance my checkbook, if you must know.



Immigration: there’s good news and bad news

First the good news. How a small Turkish city successfully absorbed half a million migrants:

Gaziantep has grown by 30% due to newcomers fleeing the crisis across the border in Syria, but remains a model of tolerance and pragmatism. …

In one 24-hour period alone, Gaziantep took in 200,000 people. To put that in perspective, Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, with a population of 15 million, hosts 560,000 refugees in total. Gaziantep has just a 10th of the population but took in 500,000. …

Early on, the Turkish government pursued a policy of integrating the newcomers into urban areas, rather than let them fester in refugee camps. Only 4% still live in camps.

This put pressure, however, on the existing housing stock in Gaziantep, forcing up rents. Employers, meanwhile, took advantage of the sudden increase in the workforce to push down wages. There was also conflict over access to drinking water, and burgeoning resentment that the aid pouring in was going to Syrians, not to poor Turks. …

It was precisely to avoid this sort of conflict that the city adopted a new approach, based on integration.

The mayor, Fatma Sahin, established a migration management department. The idea was that Turks and migrants would receive equal treatment and benefits.

It persuaded the government to pipe in water from over 80 miles away to address the water crisis, and then set up a plan to build 50,000 new homes, as well as new hospitals and better public services. All were available to Turks and migrants alike.

“I said to them, we have to work together,” Yalçin says. “We are aiming for social cohesion, because Turkish and Syrian people are going to live together here[.”] …

What sets Gaziantep apart is that it didn’t wait. It was quick to accept the reality that the migrants were there to stay – and the sooner integrated, the better.

“Migration has always been with us,” says Yalcin. “It’s not a problem to be solved but a reality you have to manage. You should see the advantages. And you need to tell people the truth: these people are not stealing your jobs, they’re not stealing your houses.”

(It’s worth mentioning, since it may not be obvious to English-speaking readers, that Fatma is a woman’s name. Margaret Thatcher and many others are evidence to the contrary, but on the whole leaders who are women seem to do a damn good and visionary job more often than not.)

building a home using sand-filled plastic bottles for new refugees in SE Algeria
A project to help new Sahrawi refugees in SE Algeria by building them homes using sand-filled plastic bottles for walls. This is old refugees helping new ones, so not an example of integration among foreigners, but it’s the same idea.

So the good news is that solutions to the plight of refugees exist.

The bad news is that most places are doing the 180° opposite.

As I’ve pointed out in other blogposts, Trump is not the first to try sadism to stop refugees. The Australians did it years earlier. And they’ve dealt with the downstream consequences that we’re only imagining. The outlook is terminal.

The USA is imprisoning people it finds undesirable. Australia has already lived this nightmare

It’s long been observed that any network of camps, once established, becomes worse. As Andrea Pitzer shows in her history of concentration camps, One Long Night, over and over again since the invention of concentration camps in the late 19th century, in each iteration they develop their own terrible, internal logic. Laws are circumvented or changed, secrecy inhibits scrutiny, logistical problems complicate detention such that the brunt is always borne by prisoners, and a dynamic of brutalisation sweeps up prisoner, jailer and the whole society surrounding them.

Even if such camps are not deliberately constructed for the purposes of murder, they kill people. In Australia’s camps, dozens have died, a score or more at their own hands. …

Australia’s camps are now baked into its national politics. They look set to remain as long as there are elections to win, focus groups to placate, and no outside agency truly capable of enforcing any consequences for its architects. The longer that they are in place in the US, Italy and elsewhere, the more likely it is that in those countries, too, they will become permanent features of the political landscape. … [emphasis mine]

The difficulty of holding a nation’s most powerful people accountable is why it seems likely that the camps won’t be shut down on the basis of national politics. Angela Mitropoulos, a scholar on the topic, says only a globalized opposition can succeed.

And to me, that sounds even more depressing than the fact that we’re back to explaining that concentration camps are a bad idea. In a world with Xi Jinping, who puts millions of Uighurs in camps, with Putin, with The US’s own flabby version of an autocrat, with elections being rigged to make Europe fall apart, with the lack of respect and funding for the UN — with all of that the chances of a useful global response seem kind of microscopic.

But then there are the Greta Thunberg’s of the world. An idea catches fire and people decide they’re not going to take it anymore.

I just hope maybe once we can reach that point before the full disaster strikes, not afterward as we’re dragging ourselves out of the horror.

Crossposted to Widdershins



It’s 2019. Women aren’t even three fifths of a person.

“I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” Joe Biden, 1974

Compare and contrast, as they used to say on essay exams, with this:

Jennifer Wright.
You can’t take organs from a corpse without the deceased’s written permission, even if it will save lives. When you outlaw abortion, you’re allowing women less bodily autonomy than the dead.

Betty Bowers.
In Alabama is it is now more illegal to be a woman who aborts a child of rape than to be the man who raped her.

Chambliss, responding to the IVF argument from Smitherman, cites a part of the bill that says it applies to a pregnant woman. “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” (But, but, but, now it’s not about the sacred egg+sperm? All that sacredness is only when there’s a woman to control?)

And then, this good idea:

Daniel Silvermint
We should pass a Woman’s Heartbeat law: if a woman has a heartbeat, you can’t tell her what to do with her goddamn body, ever.

B.e.c.a.u.s.e. t.h.a.t. i.s. t.h.e. p.o.i.n.t.

If your heartbeat counts (or counted!), nobody can take parts of you, even to save someone else. No real human being can be forced to donate life support. If the fetus’s heartbeat counts for more than the woman’s providing life support, then she has to be a non-person.



Are Women Human? Part Umpteen

The talk about fetal personhood bills, and especially Lauren Kelley’s point about the activists turning a health issue into a criminal one, got me thinking. So much so that I actually wrote her some feedback, which now, I guess, I’m going to turn into an open letter of feedback. (There’s a whole series in the NYTimes, a newspaper I’m terminally annoyed with, so I have most of this secondhand from public twitter feeds.)

Pregnancy is a health issue if women are people.

But they really can’t be people to those pushing fetal personhood. If women were actual humans in their minds, the pro-fetus crowd would know that personhood does not mean a guaranteed right to erase women.

After all, if an adult man is about to die for lack of a kidney transplant, we don’t send tissue-typing trucks to roam the streets until a match is found for him and the required spare kidney is extracted. Yet it’s a parallel case. A person (everyone agrees an adult man is a person) will die unless he can use another person’s kidney. If you wanted an exactly parallel case, the healthy person would be drafted to dialyse his blood for nine months. We don’t do that either.

That’s for the simple reason that the counterparty really is a person in that example. In the case of pregnancy, it’s necessarily a woman which somehow makes everything different.

But it isn’t. The only thing that’s different is that plenty of people are not used to thinking of women as actual human beings. They’re brood mares first, humans, maybe, second.

The real assumptions behind all this are important because they determine the ground on which you argue. Remember the old Roe v Wade days and the anti-choicers calling themselves “pro-life”? The size of the joke on us is becoming clearer by the day. At the time too few wanted to hear that accepting bogus terminology ceded the high ground before we’d even begun to fight. Now here we are, pleading for our lives, not our rights.

We need to be as clear as we can about the real terms of the argument. This isn’t really about anyone’s health. If it was, we’d have had those tissue-typing vans driving around ever since organ transplantation was feasible. This isn’t even about whether fetuses are persons. It’s about whether women are persons.



Transnational Crime Syndicate Replacing Governments Requires Civility!

The enablers, Republicans in the US case, say we have to maintain civility to the syndicate (and the enablers themselves, of course) at all costs.

While the ship of state is falling apart around us, the trusty Democrats scurry around trying to figure out which salad fork to use so that Emily Post McTurtle won’t sneer at them.

Hillary, as always, says it well: “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.”

But, zomg, then what to do?! We can’t sink to their level! Right?! !Eleventy!

I’m going to be serious for a second and shout the obvious answer:

You speak the truth. You call things what they are. You stop worrying about Repub fee-fees.

No, it’s not civil. No, you wouldn’t do it at a garden party. This is not a goddamn garden party.

You don’t shut down your most direct truthtellers. Maxine Waters, bless her, can’t be shut down. But give her a megaphone! Alan Grayson — remember Alan Grayson? The Repub health plan was don’t get sick, and if you do, die quickly — was somehow shut down and disappeared. Al Franken was bundled off by what looks to me a lot like a Rove-style plot to blow backstage comedy trip weirdness, in which all participated, out of proportion. Maizie Hirono is brilliant. Give her another megaphone!

Impeachment? Sure, if you’re Pelosi, you can point out that enablers in the Senate would make it a waste of time, but make it clear: impeachment for treason is deserved. It’s what checks and balances are for. It’s not the same as using it to try to kneecap a popular president with a popular agenda.

So, stop being civil. In the service of truth. Not lies. It’s that simple.

 

arrestee in handcuffs

I wish

 

Apologies about all the shouting. But … honestly.



The livestock speaks

Gillian Flynn’s words echo and echo and echo inside my skull.

They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.

(Via Sarah Kendzior. I’ve said the same too, repeatedly, less efficiently.)

There’s Senator Orrin Hatch saying, “…consider who the judge is today – because that’s the issue. Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is.”

“By any measure.” Any measure.

Kavanaugh has never shown any repentance or made any amends, but by any measure he’s in Hatch’s good books. Despite every indication of willingness to commit a crime so bad it’s right up there with murder. Technically, of course. It’s vanishingly unlikely to happen to Hatch. So Kavanaugh is a “good man.”

They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.

You wonder how the slavers could do what they did to black human beings two hundred years ago? This is how. They thought it was natural, normal, just how things were. They could think well of themselves with no trouble while they sold people. Those people were livestock. Just as people now consider themselves “good” while thinking that a little rape never hurt anyone. Not any real people. Slaveholders were Supreme Court Justices once. What could possibly be the objection to a rapist on the highest court in the land?

They don’t care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock.

 


Dancing and Assault Are Different

Everything I’m about to say is that obvious. Rights are rules that benefit everyone the same way and make life easier. All the rest — privileges, abuse, crimes — don’t work that way. Considering how simple it is, I’m convinced that when people pretend not to get it, it’s because they don’t want to. That implies talking about it isn’t very useful. The problem lies deeper. But since I don’t know how to fix the actual problem, I’ll talk about it anyway.

Planting seeds

First a few definitions. Rights, the way I’ll be using the word, are based on a given concept of fairness. In a grim development, “fair” is losing its meaning through overuse as every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and especially Donald, uses it to whine about not getting their own way. For the purposes of this discussion, I have to ask you to forget all the abuse of the word and pretend it could actually mean something.

Fairness intuitively means equal treatment, but there are problems with that definition when context is willfully ignored. If a nonexistent equality of circumstances is assumed, then in no time the magnificent impartiality of the law allows rich and poor alike to buy their own fast internet. Willful ignorance always leads to bad consequences, so keeping in mind that context is an integral factor of fairness, let’s look at equal treatment specifically.

The simplest definition of equality is the absence of double standards. What is allowed or punished for P is the same for Q. It’s not a rigid list allowing only specific things. It’s the equal application of general rules to specific situations as they arise.

For instance, let’s say you wanted to keep email secure. You could tell everyone, equally, that they must have their correspondence on a specific IBM server running a specific operating system and use two-factor authentication. But then Person A, let’s call her Amanda, uses a Hewlett Packard server, which is not the one specified. Bad, even though everything is still secure. Person B, on the other hand, let’s call him Egbert, uses the right setup, but has an automated script accessible to anyone to avoid the authentication bother. The specifics are all fine, he’s just added a layer that’s not in the book, so he’s good, even though nothing is secure. Everybody’s immediate reaction to that is, well, that’s stupid. That’s what I mean when I say the specifics of the particular situation are not the point.

Even less fairness can be achieved if Amanda is punished for incorrect email handling, while Egbert keeps his work on AOL and nobody cares. Equal treatment requires the relative distance of each from the goal of security to be judged and for the punishment to be proportional to that distance. That would be equal application of the rule, without double standards.

Keeping the avoidance of double standards firmly in mind, the distinction between rights and not-rights is easy.

Rights are those things we can do which do not curtail anyone else’s ability to do the same thing. They require no double standards, no inequality. My freedom to speak does not limit yours. My need to be free of physical harm doesn’t change your life in any way. My intention to marry someone doesn’t affect your ability to get married. None of those limits others’ abilities to have the same benefits or protections. Those are rights. I’ll go into some examples in a bit.

Privileges, on the other hand, depend on an asymmetry of power. If they’re applied to everyone equally they lead to absurdity in a couple of steps. The asymmetry can come from subtle social privilege or not so subtle economic or military force, but whatever the source, it’s used to allow some actions that would cause impossible situations if everyone did them.

For instance, if you insist on a right to make others live according to your religion, then, since it’s a right, I can equally insist that you live according to mine. But my religion is to kill all members of your religion. (That’s not just an impossible thought experiment. Both Christianity and Islam have clauses, best ignored, about holy war against heathens.) We’ve reached an absurd situation in exactly one step. There’s no way to resolve it on the basis of rights. One side has to have more power to force compliance from the other.

The crowning irony is that nobody has freedom of religion in that system since at any moment others could grab enough power to impose their will instead. Rights impose limits but allow more freedom than a complete free-for-all.

Violence is another easy example. It’s sometimes necessary to stop criminals or invaders, and yet if everyone had license to kill it would be impossible to have any kind of a society. Even the top banana, the last one standing, would soon die. That’s why the state is given a monopoly on the use of force, because some force is necessary but it cannot be a right. Freelance gun nuts are incompatible with having a life, as we’re finding out in the U. S. of A.

Another current example is vaccination. If it’s not voluntary, it’s taking away a person’s control over their own body, which is a very bad idea. There’s no way to apply that loss equally to everyone, and it has to be based on mere power to force compliance. On the other hand, an unvaccinated person can spread preventable disease, which is another kind of attack on a person. Given that spreading disease is a hugely bigger harm than a vaccination, that’s one case where it’s appropriate for the state to enforce compliance.

(Medically, voluntary compliance is much more effective. But purely as a matter of rights, there is no right to spread disease. Vaccination is a good example of how seamlessly rights come to mean what-I-think-is-good-for-me rather than what is good for everyone. We’re all susceptible to it, not just corporate executives and Donalds. Another tangent: obviously, if vaccines caused neurological problems that would be a major harm and change the balance of rights. But they do not. Vaccines do not cause autism. The links are a scientific article and a pdf that list many studies showing no connection and including millions of people. And on the other side is the one Wakefield study which did say there was a connection. That was based on 12 patients, with no controls in the experimental sense, and which turned out to be fraudulent. Developmental neurological issues do happen, unfortunately, but not due to vaccines. Disbelieving the mountain of evidence on vaccines is somewhere between rejecting evolution and rejecting the reality of climate change.)

Rights, unlike the previous examples, involve those actions which can be done by everyone equally. That has an important corollary. Once they’re applied in a way not available to everyone, they’re no longer rights. They’re the abuse of one or another kind of privilege.

Consider, for instance, free speech. It’s mainly interpreted as a right not to be silenced, and that is important. But our bigger problem now is being drowned out. With ads and clickbait shouting at us 24/7, what we need is a complementary right to silence. (Some of my thinking on that and the following issues here.) If we could all broadcast all the time, there would be no point trying to communicate at all. It’s a less bloody version of of the murder free-for-all. Nobody is heard, not even the person shouting.

Another current perversion of the right to free speech is spewing hate speech. The confusion between the two is in the process of destroying democracy, but we’re petrified to do anything about it in case it opens the door to government control over what can be said. That’s not an idle fear. Look at how quickly every resistance to people in power was labelled terrorism, whether it had any of the hallmarks of terrorism or not. Look at how quickly the Donald started labelling everything he didn’t like “fake news.” If he had a hope of shutting it down, he would. It is very important not to go down that road.

But it’s equally important to preserve democracy, which depends on free speech. Somehow, the right to free expression has to be limited to communication and has to exclude hate. I think we could make a start by improving the definition of what constitutes speech. At its essence, it’s about communicating something. Sharing ideas is a fundamentally different process than bamboozling or hurting people. Communication can be universal, hatred cannot be (in a functioning society). It ought to be possible to draw a more accurate line between them.

It’s interesting in this context that the people who use hate speech seem to know quite well what they’re doing, even if they won’t usually admit it. I’ll never forget when Steve Bannon left the White House to return to Breitbart where he’d once again be free to spout anything. “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he said. Speech as a weapon should be no more protected than knives can be used to “communicate.”

If we could wrap our minds around the rights of the situation, we could stop getting sidetracked into thinking punching Nazis will get us anywhere except down the spiralling hole where violence always leads. If we have a right to punch them because we think they’re bad people, they have the same right to punch us because they think we’re bad people. Might makes right is not the route to a fun life. Instead, understanding rights means we know the solution is to figure out the definition of hate speech and then to shut the poison down.

One last example of how not to twist free speech is the policing of discussions of trans issues. Part of the trans activist community feels that transwomen must be considered women in all respects, not just socially but also when biology is in conflict with that categorization. (There is no noticeable equivalent pressure on behalf of transmen, i.e. people born female.) To do other than that is considered transphobic which has such a severe impact on transwomen it can lead some to suicide. Therefore any discussion that does not accept those assumptions is lethal hate speech and must be stopped.

That thinking requires an obvious double standard. We can’t all be on the edge of suicide and demanding from others that they do everything our way or they’re guilty of pushing us into it. Nobody would be able to do anything if emotional blackmail was a legitimate tactic to shut people down.

Transpeople, men and women, do suffer violence, but as with most violence, it is committed by men. (For instance, globally 96% of homicides are committed by men p.95.) Assault and murder are already illegal. They’re also in a different class than speech one doesn’t like. Free speech definitely covers unpopular topics. Trying to police women, for instance discussing pregnancy, by using emotional blackmail because men are committing crimes is very much an illegitimate suppression of speech that should be free.

As the free speech examples show, distinguishing between rights and their abuse gets into some gray areas. But just because there are murky zones doesn’t mean we have to give up on the clear ones. When there is actual doubt, by all means let’s give that area the benefit of the doubt. When it’s pretty clear that something is nothing but trash talk, we should stop protecting it and throw it out.

I’ve tried to show how it’s possible to distinguish rights from privilege by seeing whether the action in question can be done by everyone equally. When not, people aren’t demanding their rights. They’re demanding special treatment. The title isn’t totally facetious. Rights are like a dance where everyone follows the same rules to everyone’s benefit.

Crossposted to Skydancing/a>