Is it really too much to ask those who struggle to define the word “woman” to refrain from running for public office? Ketanji Brown Jackson, Joe’s Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, was asked to provide the dreaded definition during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. “No I can’t,” she replied. “I’m not a biologist.”
Jackson hadn’t been asked to explain how blood is deoxygenated, or to offer an intricate overview of the molecular mechanisms by which protein function is regulated in cells. The question “what is a woman?” is hardly the riddle of the sphinx; a reasonably intelligent six-year-old would be able to give an adequate answer.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
Increasingly, the question has become seen as a “gotcha”, but it is a useful gauge of the extent to which figures in authority have been ideologically captured. How can we possibly trust politicians if they cannot acknowledge the most basic realities of human biology? While most voters have a limited understanding of various key political issues, we can all see that a failure to define “woman” is either delusional or dishonest, neither of which are qualities we seek in our elected representatives.
For a long time, most people have been unwilling to express what they know to be true for fear of being monstered as a “transphobe” or, even more absurdly, as a “fascist”. But we appear to have reached a turning point. Today, the term “peaked” is used to describe the moment when an individual realises that he or she has been blindly following the dogma of trans activism at the expense of the truth. To reach this point is an inevitability for the intellectually curious, given that gender identity ideology will always dissolve upon scrutiny.
This has been most aptly demonstrated in the recent tribunal of Maya Forstater, a tax expert who is taking legal action against the Center for Global Development (CGD) for wrongful dismissal. Her erstwhile employer’s case rests on the view that Forstater’s belief that sex is immutable is a sackable offence, and it has been fascinating to read the live tweets of the tribunal in which Ben Cooper QC, counsel for Forstater, has been able to interrogate representatives of the CGD. The typical strategies of gender ideologues — to cry “hate” or “transphobia”, or to proclaim that there must be “no debate” — simply cannot be deployed in the context of a tribunal. As a result, perhaps for the first time, we are seeing what happens when the high priests are forced to defend their creed.
So when Luke Easley, the CGD’s Vice President of HR and Operations, claims that “identity is reality — without identity there’s just a corpse”, the religiosity of this movement is on full display. He is reiterating the view among gender ideologues that we each have a kind of soul that determines our identity, what trans activist Julia Serano has described as a “subconscious sex”. Forstater’s crime was to deny this essential doctrine, or to refuse to pay it the necessary lip-service. Like heretics throughout history, she was willing to exclaim that the emperor has no clothes.
Virtually all of us support equal rights for transgender individuals, and so it is understandable that we would sympathise with those whose happiness depends on presenting as the opposite sex. I am convinced that in most cases the intonation of the mantras “trans women are women” and “trans men are men” comes from a place of empathy.
The recent case of trans swimmer Lia Thomas, however, has prompted many to reconsider the uttering of falsehoods even for compassionate purposes. Thomas ranked 554th in the college league tables when competing among men, but soared to the top of the rankings in the women’s category. The biological advantages of being a man in a woman’s competition became obvious when a photograph was widely circulated of the winners in the 500-yard freestyle in Atlanta: Thomas towers over the other athletes on the podium.
Even those who are determined to hold fast to the view that “trans women are women” will find it difficult to look at the image of Thomas mounting the victor’s podium without sensing a collision with the brick wall of reality. As William Hazlitt put it: “Facts, concrete existences, are stubborn things, and are not so soon tampered with or turned about to any point we please, as mere names and abstractions.”
Yet this hasn’t prevented certain media outlets from disregarding the significance of biological sex, even when reporting on male violence. Only last week, an article appeared on the BBC website that outlined the vicious crimes of an 83-year-old woman in New York who had dismembered another elderly woman she had met online, having already spent 50 years in prison for murdering two female friends. Those new to the story would be forgiven for feeling that something is amiss in the reporting. After all, there are very few female serial killers, and even fewer who target other women. It is only towards the end of the article that the writer acknowledges that the killer had “recently identified as a woman”. This detail is presented as an aside, as though it is an inconsequential aspect of the case.
But perhaps the revelation most likely to “peak” members of the public came last week when Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne spoke in the House of Lords about a woman who had allegedly been raped on a hospital ward. Apparently, when police contacted the hospital they were told that there were no men on the single-sex ward, and “therefore the rape could not have happened”. The attentive reader will have already filled in the gaps.
This kind of gaslighting is part of a policy known as “Annex B”. The NHS accommodates patients by gender identity, not biological sex, and if a female patient complains that there is a man on her ward, she is to be told that this is not true; there are no men present. As the official NHS guidelines make clear: “Views of family members may not accord with the trans person’s wishes, in which case, the trans person’s view takes priority”.
In the same NHS document, it is asserted that sex is “assigned” at birth. Everyone knows that sex is observed and recorded, often before birth, and so it is surprising to see the holy writ of this new religion find its way into an official report. For medical practitioners it is particularly important that there are records of our sex, which is why we each have a unique NHS number to store this information. Yet patients are currently able to change this number on request so that it reflects personal identity rather than biological reality.
Even more worryingly, a 2010 document from the NHS Information Standards Board entitled “Mixed-Sex Accommodation Specification” explicitly states that the public must be misled on these matters in order to avoid general confusion: “The policy commitment relates to gender, not sex, but to ensure a better public understanding it is referred to as Mixed-Sex Accommodation (MSA)”. In other words, although the then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley had announced that NHS wards must be segregated by sex, behind the scenes it was understood that gender was to be the determining factor. It seems that the plebeians cannot be trusted with the truth.
Today, the public are seeing for themselves the impact of gender policies in the real world: male athletes are competing in women’s sports, the media is reporting on male serial killers but using female pronouns, and a rape victim is told that the assault she experienced must have been a figment of her imagination. Incidents of this kind, now occurring too often to be dismissed as aberrations, have led us into what Jürgen Habermas described as a “legitimation crisis”, a general loss of confidence in institutional authority.
This is why it is crucial that we find a way to restore the primacy of truth in our public discourse. It isn’t a “gotcha” to ask a politician to define terms such as “man” and “woman” — it is a means by which we can assess the honesty of the ruling class. Their white lies might be compassionate in nature, but they clearly have damaging effects and the public is losing its patience. For all the false accusations of “hate”, “bigotry” and “transphobia” that stifle open conversation about these important issues, the tipping point is undoubtedly near.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe