Having spent a very busy summer reading a lot of sci-fi and urban fantasy to just chill out and get a break from the real world around doing my summer job, I turned back to more serious issues when things got a bit less busy and then into some down time. I ended the summer focussing on At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell to get my mind back into more complex topics. I really enjoy a well researched, well thought out and thought-provoking non-fiction book, when I have some space to process. You can see my review for that one [here].
In October I dived into some very controversial topics that have been on my mind a lot this summer, but put to one side while I was focused on other things. Fair warning, these books, and my reviews, are not suitable for sufferers of butthurt, people who consider themselves “woke” in particular. If that’s you, then leave now or forever hold your peace.
Apart from those, I also read the latest Bobiverse book, one I’ve been looking forward to for ages, which kind of took the edge off all the heavy stuff. I see a few more fiction series in my future given the current state of the world.
The End of Gender — Dr Deborah Soh 4/5
If you want to start to understand the current debate around gender I recommend this book, provided you do not find the hard sciences offensive or believe them to be done in bad faith. Sadly, because of that regressive attitude, for Soh to publish this in August 2020, especially as a Canadian woman, was an act of courage that has, and will, incur the wrath of extremists.
Many on the Left who cannot abide science denial when it comes from conservative political and religious groups are happily cheering on left-wing activists as they vehemently deny obvious and proven truths about sex and gender that are well-supported by science, while also persecuting those who dare question their new orthodoxy. The lies and the punishments for not being seen to believe the lies seem endless. It is hardly any wonder then that Soh was forced to leave academia to pursue shining a light on this subject. She sticks to the scientific facts, talks about how and why navigating the current toxic politics of this debate has become next to impossible while standing by these facts, and still remains fairly sympathetic to all involved. Admirable.
A sex positive, liberal, sexologist whose research specializes in “kinky sex”, Soh is in some strange company, finding common ground with both conservative Christians and radical feminists in her assessments of sex and gender; assessments normally uncontroversial to the majority of people in the secular West. Although I disagree with Soh about some of her opinions based on the facts presented, and I am sure conservative Christians and radical feminists would at various points too, that the facts are clear and undisputed remains a crucial starting point for any reasonable, adult discussion of opinion around these matters to remain possible. Otherwise we are in the land of woo woo, where water literally turns into wine and men literally turn into women, because authoritarians in dresses tell us so, and sane discussion can no longer take place.
Main points: Biological sex in humans is immutable and unchanging. Our biological sex is binary because there are only two kinds of gametes, larger and smaller, that our bodies are structured around the production of. Whichever type of gamete your body is structured around the production of (whether or not it actually produces it) defines your sex, male or female, for life. There is no third gamete and therefore no third sex or “sex spectrum”. Though variations in secondary sexual characteristics can lead to confusion among lay people, due to presentation.
Sexuality also has a biological basis that is fixed. This basis is defined by the development of the nervous system and brain in the womb in conjunction with exposure to hormones, testosterone in particular. No one is “born in the wrong body”, we are simply more or less feminine or masculine as defined by this process, and this fundamentally impacts our sexuality.
Gender is not a spectrum or a social construct. Gender is biologically defined and binary, based in the same biology as sexuality, and so also fixed. You cannot change gender, though its expression changes and this appears to have a socially informed element. What is feminine or masculine can be expressed in very different ways from culture to culture, but the biological basis is real and remains fixed.
My take: I was already very familiar with the biology of sex and sexuality, so this was nothing new. I was not familiar with the biology of gender specifically, beyond a fuzzy understanding of it in relation to sexuality. Speaking as a masculine woman the facts of gender that Soh presents make a lot of sense to me. Within the bounds of contemporary western culture I have been able to be very much more masculine in my everyday self expression for much of my life than I would be in other cultural contexts. Had I been raised in a culture in which it was considered masculine to behave in ways that my culture views as feminine, I would have likely gravitated toward those behaviours instead to express my masculinity. I have not, until this ongoing gender debate, ever had it suggested to me that my masculine self expression meant I was any less a woman.
I imagine had I been raised in a more conservative and restrictive culture I may have had to adapt to present as more feminine due to such suggestions, but this would not have changed my fundamentally more masculine nature, it would have likely just made me very uncomfortable. A girl like me growing up now in the current trans craze would have it suggested to her that she may “really be a man” or “non-binary”; she would also have hormonal and surgical interventions pushed her way. Neither of these are healthy reactions to gender non-conformity as both demand conformity to stereotypes that may not be necessary, healthy or comfortable. In both cases it would be expected of me that I “present as female” to be considered female, when I am objectively female and should be able to present as I wish in a liberal society.
The fact that gender is biologically defined, binary and fixed is a problem for those who consider themselves “non-binary” or “gender fluid”, with gender being objectively neither fluid nor anything other than binary. But it is also a problem for feminism, with gender biologically defined and socially informed, not purely socially constructed. Both camps seem to view gender in terms of performance and social pressures, not as informed by bodies with biological drives. Both would have us wish away our bodies, insisting subjective experience is not only more real than objective reality, it is the only reality, without seeming to realise that this is grounds for psychosis. The biology proves such claims false, giving us an objective basis for understanding gender and transgender people.
The very people at the heart of this debate turn out to be on the side of the objectively verifiable and very much informed by bodies with biological drives. Transgender people are more or less gender non-conforming feminine men and masculine women, tending to almost always be LGB; some of these choose extreme body modification to express their gender, which feels so at odds with their sex that they experience gender dysphoria and wish to live presenting as the opposite sex.
Again, as a masculine woman myself, and a bisexual gender non-conforming one at that, I can understand and relate to this. The “T” in LGBT appears to have been redundant; the majority of truly trans people are LGB according to the science. They also take gender non-conformity to the extreme. Until recently, the existence of such people has not required my womanhood be questioned, as non-conformity to gender stereotypes had been fairly acceptable in my culture and lifetime. Nor had my safety as a woman been actively eroded and compromised for the sake of men who present as women until recent years. I had not been expected to put up with dehumanising labels such as: “menstruator”, “bleeder”, “vulva haver” and “breeder”, in place of “woman”. However, in all cases these changes are being forced currently, for the sake of men who do not just present as women, but claim they actually are women. Men who claim to become, through the power of word-magic, biologically female. Which brings me nicely to autogynephiliacs.
It was Soh’s discussion of this group that I found particularly interesting. These men, for they are exclusively men, are sexually aroused at the thought of being a woman and often desire to use women as props to affirm that thought for their own sexual satisfaction. Soh confirms what I suspected: autogynephiliacs have the same brain development and activity as heterosexual men. They are masculinised heterosexual men with a paraphilia or fetish. Yet these are the men most likely to claim they are actually women, as in biologically female, as in their body is capable of some kind of superhuman form of sexual transubstantiation, and that to deny this is hate. These heterosexual men also often claim to be LGB, because being a man who derives sexual gratification from the idea of himself as a woman is just like being gay. I honestly don’t know where to begin with how homophobic that is.
Soh argues that autogynephiliacs should still be considered trans and with compassion but, frankly, fails to back this argument up with much. These men are not gay or bisexual and they only consider themselves women as a sexual fantasy, they do not have more feminine brains. They seem to consider women and being a woman to fundamentally entail being sexually objectified, reducing us to dehumanising costumes and sexist stereotypes, mere props for their kink. As far as I am concerned they are straight male costume fetishists. They are not trans.
Soh can be as kind as she likes, but she gave me no reason to view these men as anything other than yet more potential sexual predators, ones attempting to legislate themselves, and any other dangerous men who care to join them, into the spaces of women and children on the backs of LGB people and the genuinely trans. No, I will not be kind to them, and I will not be surprised if that is the view of the majority when given the full facts. I strongly suspect that this is why we are usually not and great effort has been made to hide this particular aspect of the trans debate.
Protecting a minority of men with a kink they can’t keep private or among consenting adults has been deemed more important than protecting and respecting the needs and boundaries of the majority. This does not end with autogynephiliacs, they are one of many kinks and lifestyle choices that have colonised and appropriated the trans identity, due to activist groups like Stonewall forcing the trans identity to be “inclusive”, by including identities that objectively have nothing to do with it and calling it the “transgender umbrella”. Many fetishes and lifestyle choices now claim the trans identity via this, examples include: non-binary people, adult babies, cross dressers, drag queens and kings, pups, furries and otherkin. I have even seen activists argue for the inclusion of paedophiles. Not one of these groups directly represents a biological reality in need of the same rights and protections as transgender people. Yet activist groups demand them. Given these are the same activist groups that have shoehorned heterosexual people into the LGB community by calling them “queer”, no insane claim of apples being oranges would surprise me anymore. We are now at the point where someone objectively biologically male claiming to be a “trans-deer girl” must be viewed as an actual woman and, presumably, an actual deer, according to activists.
As with women, there seems to be an attempt to “identify” into various groups and then redefine them out of existence, colonising them so that others may wear their real, objectively definable identities, for kicks and as cover for unacceptable behaviour. For one reason or another, the people doing this are tourists, and quite unwilling to let objective facts get in the way of them being able to indulge themselves at other peoples expense. Apart from being incredibly offensive and dangerous, the abuse of the legal rights and protections of these groups by people who have no right to them is unacceptable. When society’s sympathy runs out, and it will, the backlash must be directed at these abusers, not the identities they are abusing. Unfortunately, that seems less and less likely.
Soh does not discuss this issue of identity appropriation or really go into the issues that the biological facts raise for these abusers and the identities they are abusing. Though she does talk a bit about the role biology should be acknowledged to play in sexual politics, she does not go into the most pertinent issues that the biological facts raise for feminism and why. Nor does she look at the fact that feminism left the door wide open for these issues by claiming anti-science nonsense like men and women are “the same” apart from dress and performance, and that this has enabled the current crisis in women’s rights. That’s why I’m giving the book a 4/5 rather than a 5/5. In my opinion Soh’s frankly baffling desire to be kind to autogynephiliacs stopped her from going far enough with what the facts and the controversy around them point to: the abuse and dismantling of the rights and identities of women, LGB and trans people.
Those who deny the objective existence of biological sex, sexuality and gender are comparable to flat earthers and climate change deniers in the science denial stakes. But they are far more dangerous. Just as finding scientists willing to deny climate change does not change the reality of climate change, forcing scientists into silence and out of their jobs while promoting fringe nutters willing to tell all manner of lies does not change the reality of gender. Damaging the tools we use to investigate something does not change that something, it just renders us incompetent. That this book is necessary, let alone controversial, does not bode well for a world in desperate need of sophisticated scientific solutions to the ongoing pandemic and climate crisis, among other things. Perhaps if activists tried cancelling the rising seas or coronavirus they would finally understand just how little the facts give a fuck about anyone’s feelings.
Irreversible Damage — Abigail Shrier 5/5
An important look at how the trans issue is currently effecting women and children. It is a thorough, well-researched and balanced analysis of a Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. The book offers a combination of statistical data along with a broad range of expert opinion and convincing personal accounts to explore causes and outcomes.
Shrier primarily focuses on teenage girls and attempts to understand why so many, having previously shown no childhood history of gender dysphoria, have suddenly identified as transgender, decided they need testosterone and radical body modification, often leading to infertility and inability to orgasm, and have been fast tracked toward this by educational, medical and psychiatric professionals, often without their parents knowledge or consent.
Activists are, quelle surprise, trying to get this book banned. If it said anything that endangered anyone’s safety for any reason I might agree with them, but it aims to do the opposite. The simple fact is those who feel affirmation, drugs, and life altering surgeries are the only answer to something the majority will walk away from if not offered these things, do not want people reading this book. Understanding what causes Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria seems critical if we wish to learn how to best deal with and prevent unnecessary damage that is in many cases irreversible. Yet activists seem to have no interest in this, or indeed any forms of safeguarding for children and young people. Their solution to everything appears to be “affirm us completely and give us everything we want or we’ll threaten suicide and ruin your careers”. If that sounds abusive and unreasonable, that would be because it is.
The fact is young girl’s in the USA and UK are identifying as trans at a statistically implausible rate. Is this a form of self harm? Cult indoctrination? A result of the hyper sexualisation of women and lesbians causing the desire to reject being female? A result of the hyper normalisation of masculinity as the only way to be seen as worthwhile as a person in society? A result of the power of social media coupled with social isolation? Caused by the social pressure of YouTube influencers? A form of gay conversion therapy? All of the above? Why are these girls being rushed into this and why is the resulting damage, infertility and regret not being talked about or taken seriously? These and many more questioned are well addressed and answered in the book.
Shrier states in the introduction: “This book is not about transgender adults, though in the course of writing it I interviewed many — those who present as women and those who present as men. They are kind, thoughtful, and decent.” This book is not transphobic or racist, as activists posing as reviewers who have obviously never even actually read it, suggest. It is only peripherally about trans people, who are presented sympathetically. As one reviewer on Good Reads put it: “this book can only be described as “transphobic” if that word has come to mean nothing more than respectfully challenging the decisions of some trans-identifying people in the service of protecting adolescent girls from doing irreparable harm to their bodies that they may later come to regret.”
Protecting children and young people from making bad decisions is the duty of parents and society at large. We do not affirm anorexics, offer them stomach stapling and celebrate their starvation. We question, we protect, we take care of and we take responsibility. As Buck Angel, well-known transman, puts it in the book: “How can we not question it? How can our own community not question it? That’s the part that I’m a little bit upset about; my own community not saying, hey we need to take responsibility for these children.”
This book points to the systematic failing of children, in particular young girls, by society and it’s institutions in a desperate bid to seem “inclusive” and “embracing of diversity”. We appear to have become, as the saying goes, so open minded our brains have fallen out. Giving mentally and emotionally unstable children the capacity to make life altering decisions, altar law and redefine reality may be the one of the most bizarre and obscene abdications of adult responsibility and duty of care for our young in generations. A lot of people and institutions are going to, quite rightly, get sued, as a large number of children grow into angry adults and realise what has been taken from them in the name of looking virtuous. From a women’s and children’s rights perspective the whole situation is appalling and needs more exposure. This book and the controversy it has caused is a good start.
The Madness of Crowds — Douglas Murray 5/5
‘”The truth is a construct of the Euro West.” It is hard to think of a phrase which can at one and the same time be so wildly misguided and so dangerous in its implications.’ The Madness of Crowds — Douglas Murray
This may be one of the most important books of the last decade. Well structured, researched and argued. Murray makes a very strong case for the answer to bigots not, in fact, being yet more bigots. Familiar as I am with a lot of the social issues under discussion, Murray still managed to shock me at points with the truth of what has been happening, and his many and varied examples of the application of illiberal, oppressive and anti-science dogma in the name of the emancipation of oppressed groups by the cynical and power hungry purveyors of identity politics. A must read if you wish to understand the culture war currently raging and its implications.
Murray’s emphasis on forgiveness and, indeed, the complete lack of it in the modern world, is particularly important. Without forgiveness there can be no allowance for honest mistakes, no mercy and no incentive to compromise, change or make peace with others. Without forgiveness there is only war. Twinned with the insanely racist notion that Enlightenment values such as truth, reason and consensus are “white European constructs” used to oppress minority groups that must be overthrown and we have a recipe for the destruction of any possibility of civility, which may well be the point. Activists are currently fighting for “truth” as defined by naked power and no salvation for any who stray from its daily changing and contradictory proclamations. Without truth based in objectivity and forgiveness based in empathy we will be doomed to an Orwellian nightmare.
Heaven’s River (Bobiverse #4) — Dennis E. Taylor 5/5
Yay! Bob and the Bobiverse are back! I love the Bobiverse books, so I had high expectations of this one and I was not disappointed. Another excellent instalment of an excellent sci-fi series that leaves plenty of scope for more without needing any cliff-hanger nonsense. I may have had a little tear in my eye at the end of this one, it was very sweet.
If you like sci-fi and want to give this one a whirl, don’t jump in here, you need to start with book one and read them in sequence. Great characters, well paced plot, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, with plenty of tension and momentum to keep the pages turning.
Plan for the Worst (The Chronicles of St Mary’s #11) — Jodi Taylor
Cynical Theories — Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay
Planning to Read:
Off to Be the Wizard — Scott Meyer
Old Man’s War — John Scalzi
Homo Deus — Yuval Noah Harari