About year ago, Rick Worly posted a video on YouTube in which he argues that J.K. Rowling, did nothing wrong, in relation to trans-genders. He denies that Rowling is transphobic. He also denies that he is transphobic, and mentions that he is a gay liberal himself, juist like Rowling is a liberal on most subjects except transgenderism.
I will talk about Rowling later, but I would like to argue that he and his video, is transphobic, or rather, a shade of transphobic.
In the first place it is of course it is very well possible to be a liberal and a bigot. We see it all the time, like how some people in the LGTBQ& scene delve into anti Islamic bigotry. How some people who care, rightfully so, about the plight of Palestine, delve into anti-Semitism. And of course, how some radical feminists delve into transphobia, and thus these people are often called TERFs (Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists).
And a lot of this bigotry start off with some valid questions and issues. It is a very valid question what the immigration of Muslims (or any conservative group) will do for the people in the LGBTQ& communities. The treatment of Palestinians by Israel is just incredible awful. And there are some valid questions to be asked about transgender people.
But sometimes, these valid questions are abused and lead to bigotry. A shade of bigotry. And I say a shade, because I think there are several levels of bigotry possible.
In the case of transphobia, the highest level is wanting to exterminate transgender people, or locking them up, or forcing them to detransition. A lower level could be denying them any treatment, and denying any acknowledgment of their gender expression, forbidding them to express it, and to allow discrimination of them. And then there is a shade where you are “just asking questions”.
But first, I think it is good to talk about the questions and issues they ask, because I do think these are issues worth discussing.
It is also important to state that you are not a bigot for just asking those questions, if you are sincere in wanting to have a nuanced discossion, are genuinely interested in finding solutions an are empathic with all parties involved.
But Worly is not like that at all in his video. His tone is far from nuanced, cherry picking quotes from the most extreme trans radical activists, feigning emtpathy with everyone but the trans people, and not coming with real solutions except total exclusion and also coming up without any arguments or sources but just saying “everyone with internet access can read about it”. Do your own research, the motto of many internet conspiracists.
Safe spaces for women. Like bathrooms, dressing rooms, but also safe spaces for women who have been the victim of domestic abuse. But how big of a problem is it? We do have some statistics, the occurrence of men or transgender men assaulting women in bathrooms is not zero but extremely rare. In fact, women are much more likely to experience violence from other women in bathrooms. And if a man wants to go into a women’s bathroom to assault a woman, does it matter that he identifies as a woman? And what would be the solution? Women’s bathrooms only for cis women? What about the safety of transgender women? Do you think they will be safe in men’s bathrooms? And if you want to ban transgender women from women’s bathrooms, who is going to enforce it? How? DO they have to show ID? DO they have to show their genitals? Will a masculine cis woman be banned?
Of course there are still some matters that warrant further examinations, like safe spaces for victims of domestic abuse, and prisons.
Then there is the discussion about transgender women having an advantage in competitive sports. This is a valid discussion, and I get the impression that the research is still very limited on this. There is some research that show that transgender women are at an advantage, but some others that say that transgender women lose their advantage after transitioning. More research is needed, but is it really that relevant in amateur sports, non competitive sports or sports in which there are no gender advantages, like chess?
And then.. pronouns. Including neo pronouns. Personally, I am not a big fan of neo-pronouns, like xhi en sher, they sound convulated and ugly to me. But what I find ugly is not relevant, and if they gain momentum I would be fine with using them. But it is a hard sell for a lot of people, even for people who are in favour of inclusivity for transgender and non binary people. Even more so, if I look at examples I saw, of neo-pronouns in French, which also had their own conjugations different from the usual masculine and feminine ones. But I think those in favour of these are very rare. Personally, I think the use of “they” is an elegant and simple solution in English. For other languages, the consequences might be more (and sometimes less). In Indonesian “dia” is he or she in third person. In Hebrew pronouns and conjugations change in second person, אַתָּה and אַתְּ for you male and you female. A lot of people complain about pronouns, and they think it is weird to change a plural pronoun in than singular one, Or come up with the most exotic pronouns. But there is precedent, like sie (Sie) in German is she in third person singular, but also they third person plural, and you in second person singular or plural but formal. Pronounce change, we don’t use thee and thy any more in modern English, or gij in modern Dutch. And in this case, the only consequence for most people is that they might refer to a person in another pronoun that hey expect, that there is one little bit extra of information about that person.
Then there’s the children. Somebody think of the children. And we should think of them, but this has been the excuse for a lot of bigotry and a lot of awful actions, from book burning, to denying kids their gender identity or their sexual identity, keeping them from getting an education on subjects like sexuality and gender, keeping history from them, forcing them to detransition, and not protecting their right of privacy. And much worse.
But contrary to what the transphobes think, children who come out as transgender are not subject to bottom surgery until they really want it and are adults. What does happen is that in some cases they get puberty blockers, which will make transitioning as adults much easier, and is reversible.
In his video Worly comes up with all kinds of unsubstantiated or anecdotal evidence, of children wanting to detransition, or unable to get orgasms after using puberty blockers. “Do your own research” he says again. Let’s be clear, there is of course a risk to this medical intervention, using puberty blockers, and these risks need to be examined, and be made clear to the children seeking this treatment. But any medical intervention has a risk, and not treating gender dysphoria has a huge risk, resulting in the deaths of many transgender children to suicide. Worly argues that is because transgender kids have more mental health issues, but what was there first, the gender dysphoria, or the mental health issues? Issues that might stem from not being treated, and the awful bigotry that transgender people experience all the time. WE have the statistics that show that treatment of gender dysphoria decreases the changes of suicide. Treatment is endorsed by the professionals, like the AMA and the APA. And the argument that transgender kids are the result of peer pressure: also possible, but how strong is this peer pressure compared to the bigotry, the bullying and the violence they will certainly experience when they come out as transgender?
The video does make some arguments that go beyond the usual transphobic drivel, from a philosophical point of view. But as always, we should be careful not to dive into intellectual auto erotic asphyxiation while losing our empathy, while forgetting that these questions involve people.
Worly questions non binary people. Asks whether people who identify as non binary aren’t simply people who are just less gender stereotypical. But who is he to decide that for someone else? It reminds me of lesbians who are told that they just haven’t found the right man yet, or my gay best friend who’s mom said to him that he’s just afraid of girls.
We can of course ask about gender identity in relation to the different levels of sex and gender. From genetic, chromosomal, primary and secondary qualities, to social gender, but also it’s role in relation to sexual orientation, language etc. I would like to briefly talk about biological sex. Because a lot of the transphobes argue that there are only two genders, referring to biological sex. But biological sex is not entirely binary either.
I am simplifying this, but for most people biological sex works like: sex determining gene (SRY) -> chromosomal expression -> primary sex qualities - > secondary sex qualities.
So: female SRY -> XX chromosomes -> vagina / vulva / clitoris / ovaries / oestrogen levels &C -> breasts, broad hips. Male SRY -> XY chromosomes -> clitoris turns into penis / scrotum / testes / testosterone levels &C -> Adam’s apple, broad shoulders, facial hear etc.
But of course, in reality it is not that simple, sometimes the SRY actually results in a different chromosomal expression, in some cases other than XX or XY (XXY, Klinefelder syndrome). And in some cases, a certain chromosomal expression does not result in the usual primary or secondary sex qualities. And then there are some people who in any those elements (can be chromosomal, primary or secondary) fall somewhere in between, like in the case of intersex people. So even in biological sex there is room for ambivalence. Now, Worly argues that those situations affect only a small number of people, somewhere between 0,05 and 2 percent, and he chooses 0,05 percent (why?), he argues that it would be like acknowledging people with 12 fingers instead of 10 as a separate category of people (but aren’t they, in a way?). But people who identify as transgender are also around 2 percent, so that would fit these so called “anomalies”, although I am not sure about the numbers for non binary people.
I would also like to mention that I use abbreviations. I refer to LGTBQIA2+ and others as LGTBG& or queer people, and I use non binary as an abbreviation for people including gender queer, agender, non binary etc. That does not mean I do not acknowledge the people I do not mention explicitly.
Finally, I think the most interesting question asked in the video is how gender identity affects or is affected by sexual orientation. Worly quotes a radical transgender activist who says that if, as a heterosexual male or a lesbian woman, are not attracted to a transgender woman with a penis, that you are transphobic. I strongly disagree with this. Sexual and intimate attraction is very personal, we all have our own preferences, although I do agree that this is influenced by culture, upbringing, stereotypes, propaganda etc. Radical feminist Paul Preciado wrote the Manifiesto contrasexual (2002) in which he argues, that in order to get rid of the cis heterosexual programming, we should refrain from conventional PIV (penis in vagina) sex, and only use dildo’s and the anus. This is of course a very radical idea and not for everyone, but people are of course free to do so. Intimate attraction, especially sexual attraction is very personal, and having these preferences is not necessarily transphobic (or bigoted). It is OK to have those preferences, but I can understand that it can be painful if people shout these preferences in their dating apps (people who explicitly say that they are not into transgender people, or into Asian, Jewish, Muslim or black people, for example).
As I said before, there are shaded of transphobia. Worly is not of the highest level of transphobia, but he is on a certain level. He asks questions, but in his extreme cherry picking and omitting of information he does not seem sincere. I am sure he has no problem with transgender adults. But his attitude seems to be of: transgender people are OK. But not in women’s bathrooms. Not in women’s sport. If they are kids they don’t deserve treatment. And non binary people are not real. That is a shade of bigotry.
As for Rowling, in the way she expresses herself in her essays, she has the same shade of transphobia, “just asking questions”, but she is in fact much worse. The way she posts on social media, it is even worse. And not only does she express her own transphobia, she also supports much more extreme radical transphobes with financial support and by sharing their posts on social media. She sees womanhood being threatened by transgender women (you know, like how white supremacists see POC people getting rights as white genocide), and thinks that transgender women do not have the right to the same emancipation as cis women. But of course, transgender women will experience the sexism and misogyny that many women experience in addition to the horrible transphobia.
Worly finally argues that, because Rowling supports a lot of good (non transphobic) charities for children, a boycott of her work would deny those charities money. Which is weird. We can choose to directly support those charities, while being confident that none of our money goes to the transphobic cause.
There are a lot more things that we could talk about in relation to transgenderism. Whether it is enough to be a different gender by just saying it is. Or only using hormone treatment and no bottom surgery. One of my favourite transgender YouTubers, contrapoints got into hot water because she argued that bottom surgery is required to be a transgender person. But she changed her opinion, after some fruitful (and some horrible not so fruitful) discussions. In spite of that, she is still vilified by some of the transgender community, and that makes me sad. It does not help the cause. Like any extremely orthodox or extremist radicals.