Debunking Transphobic Talking Points
Click here to go to discursive version
On Biology and Language:
- "Trans rights are a threat to women's rights."
- "Sex is fundamental and undeniable. Trans people are denying reality."
- "'Cis' is a made up word I refuse to accept."
- "I'm not cis because I don't have a gender identity, only sex."
- "Cis is misgendering me, use my preferred pronouns."
- "Gender dysphoria is a mental illness."
- "Diseases affecting men and women differently prove sex differences are real."
- "Most young trans people grow out of it."
- "Gay children are being encouraged to be trans instead."
- "Children are being rushed into 'sex change operations/hormones' just because they want to play with different toys or wear different clothes."
- "There is a rash of 'Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria' among our young people."
- "I was a tomboy growing up; nowadays I'd be told I was trans."
- "Puberty blockers have negative long-term health effects."
- "Puberty blockers inevitably lead to hormone therapy; claims that they are reversible are wrong because no-one in practice ever comes off."
On Trans Women, Self-ID and Women's Spaces:
- "Trans women have an unfair advantage in women's sport."
- "Self-ID would let predatory men pose as trans women to gain access to women's spaces."
- "Penises in women's spaces must not be allowed."
- "Trans women are disproportionately likely to be sex offenders."
- "Trans women are working in jobs and volunteer positions that are women-only and give them access to girls (e.g. as Girl Guide leaders)."
- "Jessica Yaniv is trying to sue people who do bikini-waxing for refusing to wax her balls."
On Trans Men and the Patriarchy:
- "Testosterone has lots of negative health effects, e.g. increased risk of heart attacks."
- "Trans people who were assigned female at birth are just victims of a misogynistic society/buying into patriarchy."
- "Butch lesbians are being persuaded that they want to be men."
On Public "Debate":
- "There is a well-funded trans lobby that seeks to infiltrate political parties and convert them to trans ideology. Parties are in thrall to the trans lobby and people are afraid to speak out."
- "The majority of cis women silently agree with my opinion, but are too scared to say so. Those who speak up in favour of trans women have been brainwashed."
- "Trans activists only ever talk about trans women's rights and ignore trans men's rights and this shows how misogynistic they are."
- "JK Rowling didn't say anything objectionable and has been unfairly attacked by a mob."
- "Maya Forstater was 'forced out of her job for stating that sex is real'."
- "Stonewall's definition of 'trans' includes cross-dressers and that means that crossdressing men are women."
- "Lots of trans people who get surgery end up regretting the decision and say they were talked into it."
- "Trans activists want to force people to say 'menstruators' instead of 'women' and abolish the word 'women'."
- "We should concentrate on bread and butter issues that the public care about rather than fringe issues like toilet arrangements."
On Biology and Language
"Trans rights are a threat to women's rights."
- Trans women are women, and suffer many of the same oppressions cis women do.
- Facing one set of rights off against another is unhelpful.
- Many of the arguments for this proposition are easily refuted.
"Sex is fundamental and undeniable. Trans people are denying reality."
- Biology is complex.
- Chromosomes are not as binary as we often think:
- Neurobiological sex differences operate in several ways, some genetic, some not.
- Hormone levels can vary even in cis people.
- Opposing a person's sovereignty over their own body is fundamentally illiberal.
"'Cis' is a made up word I refuse to accept."
- "Cis" is short for "cisgender".
- The word "cis" is simply the opposite of "trans" in Latin, and has long been used as such.
- Gender is not the only area where cis- and trans- are used.
- "Cis" and "Trans" are adjectives describing aspects of identity, not entire identities.
- Resistance to labelling the "default" condition is nothing new. "Straight" was opposed in its day too.
"I'm not cis because I don't have a gender identity, only sex."
- Like saying "I don't have a sexuality, I'm just straight".
- Perceiving that one's gender doesn't exist separately from one's sex is simply a way of describing one's perception of being cis.
"Cis is misgendering me, use my preferred pronouns."
- "Cis" is a characteristic of one's gender (i.e. that it matches one's birth sex), not a gender in itself.
- Preferred pronouns, whilst important, are not a meaningful alternative in any context where "cis" is used correctly.
"Gender dysphoria is a mental illness."
- "Gender dysphoria" (GD) is "a marked incongruence between one's experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender".
- The new (2013) diagnosis recognized that a mismatch between one's assigned (birth) gender and one's identity is not necessarily pathological.
- Not all trans people get GD, not all people with GD are trans.
- As a step towards accessing treatment GD is a useful diagnosis, but it should not be used to "gatekeep" trans identity more widely.
"Diseases affecting men and women differently prove sex differences are real, and that trans people are still 'really' their birth sex."
- Nobody is arguing that sex differences don't exist, only that their importance and unchangeability is overstated.
- Some sex differences depend on genetics, others on hormones, others on other things. The nature of the difference will impact how trans people are affected.
- For instance, oestrogen is thought to be protective against Covid-19, which most trans women will benefit from just as cis women do.
"Most young trans people grow out of it."
- The research often cited in support of this statement is flawed.
- It is crucial to distinguish between gender non-conforming cis children and trans children.
- The introduction of Gender Dysphoria (GD) in DSM5 in 2013 tightened the diagnostic criteria considerably compared to Gender Identity Disorder (GID), the listing in DSM4. Studies that recruited children with GID should not be characterised as describing outcomes for children with GD.
- The often cited 2013 paper by Steensma et al was actually designed to look for factors which were good predictors of persistence, not to measure desistance. It did not recruit subjects to be a representative sample of trans children. Steensma himself says "Providing these [desistance] numbers will only lead to wrong conclusions".
- In 2017 the Australian Royal Children's Hospital Gender Service stated that less than 4% of children assessed and diagnosed with gender dysphoria detransitioned up to and after late adolescence.
- More rigorously designed longitudinal studies are needed. But we do know enough to say that there is no good evidence for a high desistance rate of trans children.
- The best thing for any child is a loving and supportive environment in which to experiment with different expressions of their identity. External pressures to either persist or desist are unhelpful.
"Gay children are being encouraged to be trans instead."
- There is no evidence that this is actually happening, outside of Iran.
- People continue to identify as gay, lesbian and bi in increasing numbers, and young people are the most likely group to identify as LGB.
- In 2017, Stonewall/YouGov found that (pdf) trans and non-binary people identified as: 20% gay or lesbian, 34% bi, 13% straight, 30% other.
- Sexual orientation and gender identity are two separate aspects of a person's identity, and young people deserve to know that whatever they identify as, they are loved unconditionally for who they are.
"Children are being rushed into 'sex change operations/hormones' just because they want to play with different toys or wear different clothes."
- It is not standard for trans youth to undergo medical interventions before puberty.
- The only children having surgical interventions that they arguably shouldn't be having are intersex children.
- A diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria requires much more than gender-non-conforming behaviour. It requires (pdf) "a strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one's assigned gender".
- The English NHS's Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is typical in its approach to trans young people:
- Before puberty, medical interventions are not available, but affirmation for a social transition (changing name, dressing differently, etc.) may be recommended, following an assessment by their specialists.
- Many trans children unsurprisingly find puberty highly distressing, often intensifying gender dysphoria, leading many to seek puberty-blockers as a treatment. Puberty blockers simply delay the effects of puberty. If they stop taking puberty blockers, their puberty will continue as before, so this treatment is reversible.
- Only above age 16 are hormone therapies considered, which are less reversible in that they will induce changes in line with a typical puberty of the corresponding sex (e.g. oestrogen will cause the growth of breast tissues; testosterone will cause the voice to break, etc.).
- Surgical gender-affirming procedures are not available for under-18s at all.
- Social transition and medical transition are frequently conflated by sensationalist media reporting of trans issues.
"There is a rash of 'Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria' among our young people."
- Claimed in a widely criticised paper by American researcher Lisa Littman.
- Littman surveyed parents who "had reported sudden or rapid onsets of gender dysphoria occurring in their teen or young adult children".
- A parent perceiving their child's trans identity to have arrived suddenly doesn't necessarily mean it did. Littman did not survey the children concerned.
- Littman recruited parents from internet forums for unsupportive parents of trans children, where talk of sudden "outbreaks" of trans identities among their childrens' peers was widespread.
- There's more about the specific issues with the paper here.
- Claims that trans identities are a socially-contagious fad are reminiscent of earlier moral panics suggesting that gay and lesbian people might be recruiting young people. Large scale research found that homosexuality wasn't socially contagious.
- A rise in people coming forward as trans when society has become more accepting of trans identities is unsurprising, and in line with previous cases where society stopped trying to suppress particular characteristics in the population:
"I was a tomboy growing up; nowadays I'd be told I was trans."
- Any medical intervention revolves around a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which requires a "strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender (or some alternative gender…)".
- To be told they might be trans, a hypothetical tomboy would have to be saying "I am a boy", not simply "I tend to like boy things".
- No medical interventions would be forthcoming before adolescence at the earliest, as described above.
- Some misguided individuals might tell a tomboy who did not believe herself to be a boy that she is trans, but no professional with any expertise in gender identity would.
"Puberty blockers have negative long-term health effects."
- Puberty blockers have been in use for decades. Longitudinal studies show that puberty blockers do not generally result in negative long-term health effects.
- All medicines can have side-effects, and their use needs to be justified by evaluating the risks and benefits to the patient of that medication.
- The long-term mental health effects on trans children of being denied puberty blockers can be significant.
"Puberty blockers inevitably lead to hormone therapy; claims that they are reversible are wrong because no-one in practice ever comes off."
- Puberty blockers are not only used for trans children. They have also been used for some time in managing precocious puberty, where the goal is clearly to resume puberty at the appropriate time.
- This claim contradicts another common transphobic talking point which claims that most young trans people desist later on (see above). In reality, desistance is rare but not unknown.
- The most important thing for gender non-conforming young people is to know they are accepted and supported whatever decisions they make about their treatment.
- This is made considerably harder by the toxic atmosphere around treatment of trans children created in recent years.
On Trans Women, Self-ID and Women's Spaces
"Trans women have an unfair advantage in women's sport."
- Trans women may on average have an advantage in some sports:
- Trans women who underwent a testosterone puberty may have physical advantages (e.g. height).
- Trans women raised as male are more likely to have been encouraged to play particular sports.
- Conversely, trans people often face marginalization and lack of opportunity in sport due to correlative factors like poverty.
- In practice, women's sports are not dominated by trans women. No out trans women have won Olympic medals yet, despite being able to compete as women since 2004.
- Many sporting communities' protocols on who can play women's sports grew out of concerns of fraudulent participation during the cold war era of sport as a proxy for wider international rivalry (pdf).
- Many sports require women competitors to have testosterone levels that are "typical" to women. These restrictions can pose unjustified barriers to cis women with naturally high testosterone, and to women with intersex characteristics.
- Discussions are ongoing in trans and intersex communities, and among women in general, as to the best approach to women's sport, which will necessarily vary widely from sport to sport. For example, the criteria in chess will be very different from those in football.
- Many sports communities have welcoming approaches to trans inclusion, not least the International Olympic Committee (PDF), and have done for some time, with little evidence that their sports are becoming "dominated" by trans women.
- Elite sports celebrate people whose genetics, environment, psychology, cultural factors, and access to training have made them particularly good at that sport. Characteristics associated with trans status are merely part of any individual's mix of characteristics, and will usually be matched by some cis women.
- Conversations about fairness that don't start with the importance of inclusion will produce mean spirited and problematic rules.
"Self-ID would let predatory men pose as trans women to gain access to women's spaces."
- Self-ID describes someone's identity depending only on their personal statement of their own identity with no third party "verifying" it.
- Occasions when admission to a single-sex space requires the presentation of ID, or a medical exam, are rare. We already have Self-ID in most cases.
- There is no evidence that predatory men are systematically using this as a "loophole" in those places. Sadly, predatory men have plenty of ways to target women without putting on a dress and pretending to be a woman.
- Predatory behaviour is best tackled by prohibiting harmful behaviours and by tackling the toxic aspects of masculinity which drive these behaviours.
- In the case of other spaces like rape and domestic violence shelters, there is already policy and enforcement on who is allowed in and who isn't. This will include having to keep some (abusive) women out.
- The same is true of women's prisons, where any woman who is thought to pose a threat to other inmates, cis or trans, should be dealt with accordingly on an individual basis.
"Penises in women's spaces must not be allowed".
- People generally don't flaunt their genitalia in shared spaces. Trans women, especially, are generally not very keen on their penises (many eventually have it removed), so are especially unlikely to want to display them.
- The presence of penises in women's changing rooms or toilets is largely a hypothetical problem, in as much as generally nobody will know they are there unless they are looking for them.
- Women with penises have been using women's spaces for years.
- The current NHS policy requires that trans people have been living "in role" for some time before they can get surgery. Genital surgery is generally the last step in the process of transition (being the most disruptive and difficult to reverse).
- There are always going to be trans women with penises around. They will often have otherwise feminine bodies, having been on hormones for some time, and be in all other respects presenting as a woman. Clearly they can't use the men's changing rooms. Exclusion from women's spaces effectively bans them from many public spaces.
"Trans women are disproportionately likely to be sex offenders."
- There is no good evidence for this claim.
- Trans-hostile UK organisation Fair Play For Women made this claim in a flawed report.
- The Ministry of Justice's count of trans inmates relies on prisoners having identified themselves as trans to prison staff, and doesn't count anyone with a Gender Recognition Certificate. In practice, only prisoners who had a case conference will be picked up.
- There is little point having a case conference if the inmate won't be in prison long enough to benefit from it, so only prisoners serving long sentences are likely to do so.
- Prisoners serving longer sentences are clearly disproportionately likely to have committed serious offences such as sex offences.
- Some trans people commit crimes, just as some cis people do. Trans people in general should not be held collectively responsible for their actions.
"Trans women shouldn't be working in jobs and volunteer positions that are women-only and give them access to girls (e.g. as Girl Guide leaders)."
- To exclude a whole category of people from certain positions on a safeguarding basis, there needs to be clear evidence that that group poses a higher risk to children than other women.
- There is no evidence that trans women pose a higher risk to children than cis women. Individual cases of child abuse involving both do sadly exist, but should not be taken as representative without wider systematic evidence.
"People who do bikini-waxing are getting sued for refusing to wax trans women's balls."
- Jessica Yaniv, a Canadian trans woman, made a discrimination complaint to the British Columbian Human Rights Council, that aestheticians who had refused to offer her a Brazillian wax were discriminating because she was trans.
- The BCHRC dismissed her complaint as vexatious, finding that she acted with a racial animus and for financial gain.
- Yaniv targeted aestheticians who did not offer scrotum-waxing services (which require different wax and technique), when plenty of such providers exist.
- Her case was not universally supported by trans women, many of whom saw in her at best an attention-seeker and provocateur.
- Yaniv appears to have behaved in highly problematic ways on a number of past occasions.
- Not all criticisms of her by transphobes and sensationalist media (often couched in inappropriate language) are justified.
On Trans Men and The Patriarchy
"Testosterone has lots of negative health effects, e.g. increased risk of heart attacks."
- Some hormone therapies can carry health risks that need to be managed.
- In the case of heart attack risks in trans men, it has not been found to be any higher than the risk to the population of cis men.
- Not all hormone treatments are the same, and research teasing out the differences is still ongoing.
- Researchers in this area have found it difficult to control for the generally poor levels of mental health amongst trans people and correlated high rates of health-impacting activities like smoking.
- The best thing for trans people's health and wellbeing is not to prevent them from transitioning, but to make the world a more inclusive place for them.
"Trans people who were assigned female at birth are just victims of a misogynistic society/buying into patriarchy."
- All of our identities are shaped by the social landscape in which we grow up.
- Transmasculine people (those assigned female at birth who identify as men or non-binary) are no different.
- The requirement many trans people feel to "pass" can cause trans men to adopt behaviours they otherwise might not in order to be seen as masculine enough.
- If growing up female in a patriarchal world is all that's needed to want to transition, why don't we see many more transmasculine people than we do?
- Many transmasculine people have first hand experience of sexism having lived life through both a pre- and post-transition lens, so are not blind to the harm that patriarchy does.
"Butch lesbians are being persuaded that they want to be men."
- There is no evidence that this is the case.
- It is reasonable to suppose that some (not all) butch lesbians in the past might today have identified as men, but didn't feel able at the time.
- Nobody is talking people into transition, the process is built to encourage introspection and careful consideration, not to persuade.
- Thirty years ago we heard similar "concerns" that homosexuals were "recruiting" impressionable people.
- Not all trans men are attracted to women. Sexuality and gender identity are separate aspects of a person.
On Public "Debate"
"There is a well-funded trans lobby that seeks to infiltrate political parties and convert them to trans ideology. Parties are in thrall to the trans lobby and people are afraid to speak out."
- There is no evidence of this.
- Phrases like "trans lobby" and "trans ideology" recall similar, homophobic phrases like "gay lobby" and "gay ideology" from the past. They seek to generate fear and hatred by making the marginalized seem powerful.
- Ironically, many transphobic organisations who make this claim are taking money from the religious right.
"The majority of cis women silently agree with my opinion, but are too scared to say so. Those who speak up in favour of trans women have been brainwashed."
- Anonymous polling, both in the UK and across the English-speaking world, has suggested that support for trans rights is generally high, and higher among women than among men.
- A concerted campaign over the last few years against proposals for Self-ID, including a steady stream of hostile press stories, has barely reduced these levels of support.
- Bigots have often claimed to speak for a "silent majority" on many issues.
"Trans activists only ever talk about trans women's rights and ignore trans men's rights and this shows how misogynistic they are."
- The "debate" around trans issues is frequently dominated by trans women because it is trans women who are most often attacked by transphobes painting them as fraudulent predators.
- Issues facing trans men are less discussed, which should be addressed.
- Transphobes' approach to trans men typically revolves around apparent concern for people who they regard as misguided women.
"JK Rowling didn't say anything objectionable and has been unfairly attacked by a mob."
- Rowling, like most women in online spaces, has faced unacceptable abuse, including from some people acting in the name of trans rights.
- Many trans organisations and people were clear that they condemned that behaviour, and we are happy to join them in doing so.
- Liberation struggles have been opposed for centuries partly by pointing to the worst behaviour of their advocates, whilst ignoring calmer critics.
- A proclaimed concern for the oppressed is another common tactic.
- In recent years transphobes have perpetuated an endless "debate" over trans people's right to viably live their lives, using a well-established playbook of "wedge issues" like the ones we have tackled here.
- Rowling's interventions on trans issues have been immediately identifiable as in line with this formula.
- The response to Rowling should be seen as reflecting that her talking points carry a years-long history of spreading hate and suspicion of trans people.
- It is unreasonable to expect trans people to continually patiently rebut transphobic talking points, just as people of colour should not have to endlessly patiently rebut racist views.
- Critiquing the tone of criticism which Rowling faced is a separate issue to whether her arguments had merit.
"Maya Forstater was 'forced out of her job for stating that sex is real'."
- Maya Forstater was a "gender critical" consultant who did work for the Center for Global Development, until they decided not to renew their contract with her.
- Forstater complained to an Employment Tribunal, alleging that she had suffered direct discrimination for having a protected belief under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 (i.e. her belief being that sex is immutable).
- She had been sustainedly campaigning from a "gender-critical" stance on social media, in a way that had attracted complaints from her co-workers.
- The case was dismissed (pdf) by the tribunal, arguing that "Even paying due regard to the qualified right to freedom of expression, people cannot expect to be protected if their core belief involves violating others dignity and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. ... The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society."
- A later appeal heard at London's Employment Appeal Tribunal concluded that some of the reasoning for this original decision was faulty, and therefore Forstater was entitled to a fresh tribunal hearing.
- The judge writing the appeal decision stated "That does not mean, however, that those with gender-critical beliefs can indiscriminately and gratuitously refer to trans persons in terms other than they would wish. Such conduct could, depending on the circumstances, amount to harassment of, or discrimination against, a trans person."
"Stonewall's definition of 'trans' includes cross-dressers and that means that crossdressing men are women."
- Stonewall do list the term "crossdresser" in the definition of "trans" in their glossary of terms, alongside a long list of other terms which trans people may use.
- Many of the terms they list would not be considered to fit the narrower description of "trans woman" or "trans man". As such it is clearly not the case that Stonewall are arguing that crossdressing men be considered women.
- The definition arguably acknowledges that not all trans people throughout history have used the terminology we use today.
- Trans liberation is relevant to a wide group of gender-variant people, but "trans woman" and "trans man" are narrower categories.
"Lots of trans people who get surgery end up regretting the decision and say they were talked into it."
- Most trans people who get surgery are satisfied by the result, and report increased mental wellbeing, despite the transphobia that they may still face in wider society.
- Often regret is because of lack of support from family or a partner, or rare surgical complications.
- There are occasional cases of detransition because of a genuine change of mind. These cases are exceedingly rare (0.1% in the study linked above).
- For a surgery as major and disruptive as gender-affirmation surgery, the regret rates are low, and compare favourably with other types of surgery.
- Making access to healthcare harder will not help trans people.
- Dismantling the assumption that gender is irrevocably tied to genitals could help trans people to escape pressure to have surgery purely to be accepted, rather than as something they want for themselves.
"Trans activists want to force people to say 'menstruators' instead of 'women' and abolish the word 'women'."
- The widespread use of the word "woman" in everyday language is alive and well, and nobody is saying it shouldn't be.
- What some have advocated is that in specific cases where inclusivity is important, language is used with care (in the case of "menstruators": there are cis women who do not menstruate, as well as transmasculine people who do).
- There are reasonable arguments to be made for various approaches to inclusive language, but good faith arguments must start by recognising that trans people are not trying to erase half of the population's existence.
- Some language that trans people have created specifically for themselves (such as "chestfeeding" instead of "breastfeeding", "front hole" instead of "vagina", etc) has also been misrepresented by transphobes as a wider project to force replacement words on everyone else.
"We should concentrate on bread and butter issues that the public care about rather than fringe issues like toilet arrangements."
- As a political party, we should certainly make our positions clear on issues that affect a majority of the population.
- As liberals we believe in protecting individuals from the tyranny of the majority, as long as the individual in question is not harming anyone else.
- We may wish to spend our time talking about other issues, but we cannot control what others ask us about.
- To abdicate the responsibility to defend liberal positions when challenged on them would be to effectively abandon those positions.
- Trans people are voters too, and for them, living in a free society where they are able to live with dignity and free from conformity is a "bread and butter" issue.
- Years-long NHS waiting lists affect trans people as they would anyone else.
- All children benefit from an inclusive education free from bullying.
- Freedom from discrimination at work is important to trans people like anyone else.
- Trans people deserve the same freedom to live as themselves as anyone else.