Sex is real. I am a trans woman who knows hundreds of trans people and who is very active in the community, and I’ve never heard any trans person or expert say or imply otherwise even once. Trans people are often more keenly aware of sex characteristics than anyone else, having often spent their whole lives dealing with the dysphoria that their various sex characteristics cause them, and seeing how other people react to them. I, and almost every trans person I’ve talked to, have had to teach the doctors and nurses who aren’t experts how our biology works just to get basic healthcare. Often one of the main things that trans people want for the world is a better understanding of trans bodies and of biology.
So why did she say that? Why does anyone? This is a very common “Gender Critical” (read anti-trans) rhetorical device. It is an attempt to create a false dichotomy between supporting trans rights and just agreeing with the entire field of biology. The argument is “If we call trans women women, then we can’t discuss sexism against women or sexuality”, but in fact the truth is the exact opposite. Trans women face misogynistic sexism and sexual violence for being women every day. Trans lesbians face structural and street homophobia/lesphobia across the world. Both of those are observable facts. After all, does a sexist abuser ask to see your original birth certificate before sexually harassing you? No. And if we aren’t allowed to describe that reality then how can we address these problems?
This all revolves around the desire to label trans women as men in order to justify taking away the rights they have today. Trans women have used women’s spaces in the UK — the country JK Rowling and I live in — longer than either of us have been alive, and they have been legally protected to do so for over a decade (before that there were no laws either way. It has never been illegal). Some people have only just learned what a trans person is since the rise of trans visibility in the media, and they just don’t like it.
If those opposing trans rights were to just say “we want to take away the rights and freedoms of trans people” they know it’d sound as heinous as it is, so, just like “Race Realism”, the goal is to find something in biology that they can point to and say “see I’m not transphobic, that’s just what the science says”. And it’s so much easier to win people over to your side if it looks like you aren’t expressing an opinion and are in fact just “saying the truth”. The common argument you’ll see here is “trans women can’t be women because they have XY chromosomes” or the “wrong gametes”, or just “if you were born with a penis you are a man”. Firstly it’s not as if any of that was a good enough justification to take away their freedoms and protections, your chromosomes don’t protect you from sexual harassment for being a woman. But also importantly here, it’s scientifically wrong. There isn’t any one trait that all cis women (cis means not trans) have that no trans women do. Sex isn’t just a M/F tickbox in your DNA somewhere, it’s a hugely complicated set of characteristics that can have all kinds of variations that mean all kinds of different things to different people. It often doesn’t take more than 30 seconds on Google to find a clear set of counterexamples to any strict definition they try to give you.
Trans people, intersex people, feminists, medical professionals and experts across the world aren’t saying “sex isn’t real” they are saying “sex is more complicated than what they taught you at school”, and that is a fact. Sex is real and, like all biology, it is incredibly complicated. They are also saying “sex and sexism is more complicated than XY = privilege”. Misogynistic sexism is very real and it affects half of the world. We have to be able to talk about it, and we need the words to do that. Any attempt to define woman in a way that excludes trans and intersex women is not only futile, it’s inherently malicious. It doesn’t come from a place of following the evidence and understanding the science, nor from a place of wanting to end sexism, it is an attempted ad hoc justification for the premise “trans women are men”. Trans women being women is a conclusion of the evidence, not a premise. Please don’t fall for it.
Insisting that we treat sex as an unchangeable binary based on some invisible characteristic removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.
Happy Pride month 🏳️🌈