On the Science of Changing Sex

JK Rowling and the Transphobic Big Lie Machine

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on July 6, 2020

Kay BrownShe didn’t create these lies.  JK Rowling has gotten them from transphobic propaganda generated by various groups whose vitriol has swirled around the bowl for decades.  She has spent several years immersing herself in this poison.  But because of her fame and now the recent media kerfluffle, it is reaching new audiences.

A long time friend, a woman I’ve known for decades, a guest at my wedding, had never heard these lies before.  She was confused, as they didn’t match what she knew of my life, my personality, my… well… everything.  So she wrote a note to me via social media asking what it was all about.  What was Rowling ranting about?

Fortunately, I was in a position to send her links to several essays I’ve written over the years.  I was able to share with her that the culture war she was just now seeing had begun in the early 1970s, at the dawn of the modern Gay Rights Movement just after Stonewall.

For instance, Rowling has voiced the lie that transsexuals transition because of homophobia, that they want to escape the label “homosexual”.  I first encountered that lie in print in a history book written by a gay man in the ’70s, as he systematically ‘erased’ transfolk from our joint history by redefining transfolk as self-hating homosexuals.

The lie that transsexual medical services are a “new” form of “gay conversion therapy”, turning homosexual people into straight by changing their sex, was central to Janice Raymond’s hateful book, The Transsexual Empire, published in 1979.  We’ve seen this lie more recently morph into the false agit-prop story line that gays and lesbians are forced to undergo unwanted sex changes in Iran.

Rowling repeated the lie that has been used recently about the purported danger of allowing transwomen to use women’s bathrooms, falsely claiming that invites sexual assault.  She used her own history of abuse and assault to attempt to increase that fear and to garner sympathy.  Well… young transwomen are just as likely to be assaulted, both sexually and violently.

Rowling uses the classic defense of her bigotry by attempting to claim that she supports transfolk and even uses the classic lie, “…some of my best friends are {fill-in-the-blank}”, all the while spreading vicious, hurtful lies.

Rowling joining the ranks of the openly transphobic will re-energize them.  There will be a renewal of the culture war against transfolk, especially centered on transkids, as they are the easiest to speak over, drowning out their voices.  It is more important than ever that those who seek the truth over lies know how the propaganda works and what the truth is.  So, I am putting together here links to my own essays, both historical and recent.

The Big Lie Machine

Lying about other people is ancient, so ancient that a prohibition against it was included in the basic Ten Commandments of the Book of Genesis, “Thou shall not bear false witness.”  Generating and spreading false propaganda about other groups is just as old.  The people who do so professionally have studied the art and science of lying for thousands of years.  So, it should be no surprise that they’ve gotten pretty good at it.  One of the techniques is the Big Lie:  Tell a lie so outrageous that no one could believe that the teller could have made up such an outrageous lie, so it must be true.  Or if not fully true, then some part of it, or some lesser shade of it must be true.  It fits the informal logical fallacy that ‘the truth lies in the middle’ or ‘two sides to every story’.  So, the bigger the whopper, the more effective it is as propaganda.

But the middle ground between a lie and the truth is still a lie.  The compromise between injustice and justice is still injustice.  This is where transfolk find themselves.  (Oh don’t mistake me, there are several propaganda lies being pushed by subsets of transfolk… as this blog has covered extensively… they just aren’t the lies that the transphobes care about for the most part… or they weaponize those lies as well.)

Transfolk like me have spent decades debunking the worst to the silliest of these lies.  But one lie has been the bane for decades.

That one agit-prop lie is being pushed right now and has gained traction lately.  It too is an echo of an earlier one.  One can see it emblazoned on twitter feeds and other social media as a photo-icon or plain text: “Biological Reality”.  Like many powerful propaganda lies this one consists of a Motte & Bailey Fallacy combined with a Strawman Fallacy.

Let’s carefully unpack it, deconstruct it, and examine its history and current usage.

Back in the early 1950s, as the Western public first became aware of transsexuality, most notably through press coverage of Christine Jorgensen in the U.S. and Roberta Cowell in the U.K., many were quick to note that “there is no such thing as a sex change”, as though that proved something profoundly debunking.  Well, this is both a true and yet misleading statement.  It is true in that no surgery, then or now, can take a fertile individual of one sex and result in a fertile member of the other sex.  What is misleading is that the goal of surgery was never fertility, but palliative.  It is to allow individuals who suffer, and suffer greatly, from somatic gender dysphoria to inhabit a body that approximates that of the opposite sex to a close enough degree that it alleviates their dysphoria.  Although many transfolk would love to be fertile in their new gender, they are willing to accept this trade-off to enable a good enough life.  The short hand for this process was “sex change”.

Part of that good enough life is social acceptance as full members of the opposite sex.  Thus the need for documentation that agrees and enables that acceptance, lest it interfere with that good enough life at every turn.

But here is where those anti-trans propagandists enter the picture.  It is their primary goal, whether they admit it publicly or not, to deny that social acceptance, to make it as difficult as possible.  While individuals may have varying levels of animosity and animus, as a group, their goal is to make life difficult to impossible for transsexuals to reach that goal of social acceptance as full member of the opposite sex.  Their weapon of choice?  “Biological Reality”.

The Motte of “Biological Reality” is one that every reasonable person can agree with and can’t directly refute.  Transsexuals have a biological reality of having (for most of them) been fertile (or potentially fertile if allowed to go through an unwanted puberty) in one sex, but now living as the other socially.  The Bailey defenders scream “No such thing as a sex change” and “Biological Reality” (…but their chromosomes… !!!) by definition precludes social acceptance as the opposite sex.  And when critics point out that this is not strictly true, rush back to the Motte.

Why can’t the Bailey be defended?  Let’s look at some “biological reality”?

Consider individuals with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.  These are “biological males” with XY chromosomes, healthy testicles producing male hormones, etc.  But their bodies do not recognize nor respond to male hormones, so their bodies instead remain feminine.  That is their biological reality; They are biologically “male”.  Yet, if you were to meet one, you would read them as conventionally female.  They have completely feminine bodies and minds, personalities, from birth.  Most are exclusively androphilic (attracted to men).  They can have conventional heterosexual coitus with men.  It would be both nonsensical and cruel to deny them complete social acceptance as women, as fully “female”.  Biological reality be damned, these are women in every social sense that matters.  This is what is meant by SOCIAL GENDER.

Many people, far more than there are transfolk, no matter how that is defined, are born with Disorders of Sexual Development that preclude fertility, or even having conventional heterosexual coitus.  Yet, their “Biological Reality” is accommodated and they are socially accepted as men and women without garnering a hateful lobby to dispossess them of that acceptance.

When transfolk say, “transwomen are women” and “transmen are men”.  They (we) are speaking in this very same SOCIAL sense, as both aspirational and accomplished, both petitioning for and demanding as a human right, this basic recognition as both reasonable and kind, in the same sense that people with DSDs are accepted.

But, as transfolk do so, the anti-trans forces scream out from behind the Bailey walls, “NO!  Cause there’s no such thing as a sex change, no exceptions, no acceptance!”

And when transfolk point out that is both cruel and hateful; That it is wrong to use “biological reality” as a polemic weapon and as a legal tool to deny us social acceptance, the anti-trans propagandists rush back to the Motte and say, “See how crazy and unreasonable these Trans Rights Activists (TRAs) are, pushing their evil, twisted ‘transgender ideology’?  They are ‘erasing’ women!  They are denying Biological Reality !!!  We are only defending Biological Reality !!!  They are pushing to have us ‘canceled’, calling us ‘transphobic’ merely for defending Biological Reality.”

There it is, another Big Lie… the lie, the strawman, the Aunt Sally, that TRAs are crazy, irrational, and want to redefine the biological meaning of sex, that we don’t understand science.  They argue against an imaginary position that they literally put into our mouths.

No, they (we) are defending and depending upon the SOCIAL meaning of GENDER.  We ask only for reasonable and kind medical, social, and legal acceptance and assistance, to live our “good enough” life.

Further Reading:

Yet More Big Lies:  Transphobic Propaganda Targeting Parents of Transkids

Historic Transphobia in the Gay and Lesbian Community

Invisible Transgender People – Stolen History

Misplaced Moralizing: Transwomen & Sexual Assault

Further External Reading:

Examples of Transphobes using Rowlings public support include outspoken transphobe Helen Lewis at the Atlantic dissing “millennials” for supporting transfolk and being disappointed in Rowling, ruining their love for Harry Potter and the Wizarding World:  https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/07/why-millennial-harry-potter-fans-reject-jk-rowling/613870/

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