November 23, 2018

Last month, Rachel McKinnon won the world title in the women’s 35-44 sprint at the 2018 UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships. Under normal circumstances, such an achievement would have gone unnoticed by most of the public. But this win was controversial: McKinnon was male — a self-identified transwoman.

On Twitter, McKinnon celebrated, announcing: “First transgender woman world champion…ever.” Jennifer Wagner-Assali, the woman who came in third, wasn’t so pleased. She tweeted: “It’s definitely NOT fair.”

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Wagner-Assali later apologised for “not properly congratulating” McKinnon and for “fanning the flames”.

But let’s not pretend she doesn’t have a point. Men and women’s bodies are different. Men are, quite simply, bigger. They have larger organs, bigger bones, and a higher ratio of muscle mass; they have bigger lungs, bigger hearts, and higher oxygen carrying capacity than women. They are generally stronger and faster than women.

Men and women are biologically different in many ways beyond this, but for the purposes of discussing what is “fair” and what is not, in sport, these points are obvious to most. The truth is, there is no possible way to change an adult male, physiologically, into a female.

Despite being a self-declared expert on “the ethics, law, and science of trans athletics”, McKinnon ignores this. Instead, he cites his “human right” to compete, accusing his detractors of having an “irrational fear of transwomen”. As he writes:

“I’m a professor. I teach courses on ethics, including sports ethics, and I’m teaching a course on sport and gender, focusing on the question: Is it fair for trans women to compete in women’s sport? My work answers that question clearly. Yes, it is fair.”

He qualifies this by simply saying that his ID now says he is female. The whole episode pretty much sums up the problem with gender identity ideology and legislation: when males are allowed to change their legal sex on official documents, women get shafted.

The transgender movement has yet to demonstrate what the difference is between a “transwoman” and a male. In fact, it has yet to define what it means to be transgender in any coherent way. But it isn’t even being asked to – all it is being asked for is the correct ID.

So an athlete who competed as a male last year is allowed to compete alongside women today, and any man who declares himself a woman has the right to enter women’s changing rooms, transition houses and washrooms. Those who dispute or question this are called “cruel”, “hateful”, and “bigoted”, and told to live and let live.

In Canada, something similar has happened. A biological man who self-identifies as a woman been calling beauty salons demanding a “Brazilian bikini wax”. When he was refused treatment – waxing male genitalia requires a different technique and supplies, besides the female beauticians might not feel entirely comfortable carrying out the procedure  – he claimed discrimination on account of the fact that he is a “transwoman”. He filed 16 complaints on this basis at the BC Human Rights Tribunal, citing discrimination on the basis of “gender identity”. But what of the rights of the woman asked to wax a man’s scrotum?

And then you have the blatantly abusive cases. Such as that of Karen White (previously Stephen Terence Wood), who was moved to a women’s prison despite numerous rape charges, and, who within days of arriving, attacked four women. In May, nine women filed a lawsuit against Naomi’s House, a shelter for homeless women, and its parent company, the Poverello House, after a man identifying as female was allowed to stay at the shelter, and sexually harassed numerous residents.

The consequences of self-identification can range from the unjust to the criminal. And in all cases it’s the women who are forced to put aside their comfort and safety to accommodate this choice. But when challenged, trans activists like McKinnon reply: “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Let’s be kind to each other.”

Being kind is all fine and good, but when it comes to dramatic policy and legislative changes that have harmful effects on women, we need rational, evidence-based arguments, not appeals to people’s emotions. Unfortunately, though, this is complicated by the fact that there is a troubling trend among young college-age “social justice activists” that expects people to fall in line through emotional manipulation, with no attempt at a convincing argument.

I’ve seen this first hand. Last month, I gave a talk in Kitchener, Ontario about the impact of trans activism on women’s rights. What was most interesting (and revealing) to me were the questions and comments from trans activists. One young woman asked, “How do you think your non-inclusive perception of woman and your non-inclusive language actually affects transgender people… [Do] you think you’re hurting their feelings?” In other words, rather than address any of the arguments I’d made in my talk, respond to any of the questions I’d asked or to any of the concerns I’d brought up, she wanted to talk about people’s “feelings”.

When I asked her to define the word “woman,” she replied, “I don’t want to be put on the spot.” When I asked why the word “woman” shouldn’t exclude men, she didn’t respond, and repeated, “I’m wondering how you think your words are affecting people’s feelings.”

I said, “Your words are affecting people’s lives.” Afterwards, the young woman tweeted, “I want to cry because I was just asking this question in attempt to understand if this woman possesses basic empathy… Deeply saddened by the blatant hate at this event yesterday.”

Far from uncommon, this is a go-to strategy on the parts of trans activists. When asked to explain their claims that “transwomen are women”, that individuals can change their sex, or, simply, what a “transwoman” or a “woman” is, they will refuse to respond, and instead accuse the questioner of being “mean,” “hurtful,” “hateful” or “bigoted”.

It’s a successful tactic, since most people do not wish to be considered “bad” or “hateful”. But when it comes to debating ideas and public policy, it makes no sense to avoid critical thinking or evidence, lest we upset those lobbying for the changes or ideology. Imagine if we were asked not to debate war or capitalism or climate change, lest it hurt the feelings of warmongers and capitalists and climate change deniers?

But beyond that, since when did being “nice” entail lying? Or rejecting critical thought? Is it “nice” to accept dogma one believes is harmful or irrational? If someone told you the earth was flat, would you agree in order to avoid hurting their feelings?

Jonathan Haidt, author of The Coddling of the American Mind, sees this trend as having originated on college campuses, where students have “medicalized” their aversion to certain ideas, books, words, and speakers. Rather than simply protest, as they would have in the past, students are claiming that these ideas, books, words, and speakers are actually harmful, traumatising, or even “literal violence”. And rather than debate these difficult ideas, they no-platform speakers and entirely avoid having to examine what, exactly, they say or believe is troubling about the ideas or words in question.

This isn’t an attitude that will save us from bad policies or harmful political ideologies. In fact, it is already preventing us from forming good ideas and legislation with regard to trans issues. Nor is it good philosophical practice to accept dogma unquestioningly. Besides, how “nice” is it to demand the public go along with your preferred beliefs, lest they be blacklisted, bullied, fired, threatened, or labelled as “bigoted”?

I’ve been threatened with violence online countless times, simply for asking questions about transgender ideology and gender identity legislation. Recently, Twitter locked my account because I tweeted the phrase, “men aren’t women”. This doesn’t strike me as particularly “nice” or open-minded behaviour. Yet somehow I am the one accused of “hate”.

Twitter’s response, after I appealed the suspension, was that I had engaged in “hateful conduct”, thereby breaking “Twitter Rules”. The company declined to elaborate on how saying “men aren’t women” is “hateful” or where, specifically, in Twitter’s Terms of Service, it states users are not permitted to differentiate between men and women.

You may successfully shut people up using these tactics, just as people are silenced and made fearful of rocking the boat under dictatorships. But if this is the preferred way forward, let’s not carry on the charade of describing trans activism as a progressive movement towards acceptance. It smacks, instead, of tyranny.