Debunking the “gender critical” myth

“Sex is binary and immutable” is the great myth that underpins “gender critical” ideology.

At first glance, it might appear to be plausible, but anything beyond a cursory inspection shows it to be shallow and incorrect.

Biology is a complex system, and although broad classifications like sex can be useful for a lay understanding, it falls apart at edge cases and under scrutiny. Intersex people exist, other differences of sexual development do happen, and of course there are also transgender people.

Medical science is wonderful and has helped us overcome constraints of biology. Vaccinations help us develop immunity, LASIK corrects poor eyesight, and trans health care helps transgender people transition their biological sex into that which best aligns with their gender identity.

Every morning I wake up and take 5mg of estradiol valerate, and every night before I go to bed, I take 200mg of progesterone. As a result, more of my body is female than male, and this is monitored every 6 months through blood tests at my GP.

Not everyone who is trans undertakes medical intervention that alters their sex, but using hormones to bring about these changes has been done for more than a century. To deny that it exists and is effective is to deny the reality of medical care.

This is not a controversial view. The most recent legal precedent on this was the employment tribunal “Forstater vs CGD” appeal which confirmed that “there is significant scientific evidence that [gender critical beliefs are] wrong” and called them “profoundly offensive and even distressing”. It is the duty of us as liberals to challenge and call out these beliefs for the lie that it is, especially when they become expressed as justification for transphobia. “Gender critical” beliefs are not protected from challenge, and can not be used as a justification for discrimination or harassment.

Every time I hear the “gender critical” myth of immutable, binary sex, it’s like a paper cut, denying my own life and lived experience. It hurts. Trans people deserve to be able to participate in society without having to constantly justify our biology.

As Liberal Democrats we know the danger of repeating something untrue enough times is that people start to believe it – the Brexit bus was an example of that. We also know that a simple inaccuracy has the perfect environment to flourish when the natural defence to it is “well it’s more complex than that”.

Although most people will fit into the two broad categories of binary sex we use, there is a minority of us that do not and trying to make us fit without a scientific basis is an unjust ideology. And thanks to transgender healthcare, we know sex is not immutable. Forstater confirmed that you can’t be fired from a job just for deeply believing an offensive myth, but it doesn’t mean we should accept it without challenge.

* Chris Northwood (she/her) is a councillor in Manchester, deputy group leader of the Manchester Liberal Democrats and member of Federal Council.

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24 Comments

  • Brave post. Good luck to the mods, and much love to you, Chris

  • Stephen Harte 1st Oct '23 - 1:02pm

    Great article, Chris.

  • Thank you for this Chris – it is saddening how many people seem to believe that openly expressing the view that trans people are living a “lie” is somehow a thing that they are impelled to do. There is no reason to be so casually uncaring, or rude, about another person like that.

  • Great piece, Chris!

    I’m proud that key figures in the party like Ed are fully trans inclusive and supportive.

  • Sam Al-Hamdani 1st Oct '23 - 1:22pm

    Without fail, I always think what nonsense the sex indication on my daughter’s birth certificate is: I have no idea what her chromosomes or hormones are, and neither do the doctors who wrote that in. That’s probably got a lot to do with why two days ago she, at age four, told me off for not saying boys, girls “and non-binary” when she asked me who could use a unisex toilet. At age four she totally gets that it’s just not that simple.

  • Tom (Wimbledon) 1st Oct '23 - 1:35pm

    Excellent article, Chris.

    Building on what you have said, I think the pertinent issue with the transphobic position (disregard of gender in favour of a narrow definition of sex, typically based around chromosomes) is that it has no connection to people’s real lives.

    I’m a long-haired cis man. It’s fairly common for people to assume I’m a woman, especially when I’m abroad. People don’t make that assumption because they‘ve checked my chromosomes or my genitals. And likewise when people assume I’m a man, that isn’t based on a rigorous assessment of my androgen levels.

    If a “gender critical” or any other type of transphobe wants to exclude trans people based on their misunderstanding of GCSE biology then they’re going to end up excluding people who, day to day, are living as men or women. And in most practical terms, how someone lives is surely the important thing. I’d hope that any liberal who suddenly found out that one of their friends was trans or intersex wouldn’t start treating them differently

  • Cass MacDonald 1st Oct '23 - 2:45pm

    Really fantastic work Chris: As a non-binary person, I know that sex and gender are far, far more complex than those with gender critical beliefs would have us believe.
    Far and above the biggest issue facing women, LGBTQ+ and other minorities is violence of all kinds from men, but the disproportionate, false narrative is that trans and non-binary people are dangerous to women and, indeed, seek to erase their identity – which is simply untrue.
    It’s a real shame that many views seek to suggest that trans and non-binary people have sinister, even criminal, intentions which simply is not backed up in global statistics. Before anyone decides to offer examples, I’d point out that EVERY community has its bad apples and criminals, yet there’s no requirement from other communities to “own” their problematic individuals the way ours is. The constant attempts to infringe and roll back trans rights, restrict access to services is deeply sinister, especially as we see what’s happening globally. We are not predators, nor are we grooming others by acknowledging our own and our community members’ identities and recognising them as they are.

  • Rachel Walters 1st Oct '23 - 3:53pm

    Thank you Chris – A great and concise article – it’s a pity that the GCs can’t accept the truth

  • George Thomas 1st Oct '23 - 4:10pm

    Gender critical people are, as with any other group, a wide range of people whose views overlap and separate at different points.

    Some gender critical people, I believe, aren’t worried about trans people rather worried about not being able to challenge people who make them feel uncomfortable in spaces where they used to feel relatively safe. This largely has nothing to do with trans people and instead is a worry about the number of people who will act in bad faith and exploit any rules/regulations set out to support trans people.

    I felt that you wrote very well and made your points very clearly, thank you.

  • Great Article Chris, such an important piece.

  • Bernice Elaine Roust 1st Oct '23 - 5:05pm

    Exactly, something I believed to be done and dusted before I transitioned 30 years ago. The only reason for such discourse now is far right propaganda, lies and hatred and I’m appalled as to the way such rubbish is being uttered by politicians in the 21at century.

  • Adrian Hyyrylainen-T 1st Oct '23 - 8:34pm

    Excellent article Chris – explains so eloquently the more complex nature of gender and the fact that Gender critical people argue “you can’t change biological gender” – you can with appropriate healthcare reflecting the gender identity you feel that’s most appropriate for you – nobody else has that right to make that decision or how to decide what gender you are – only you.

  • Andrew Emmerson 2nd Oct '23 - 10:14am

    I recently saw sex described rather than immutable, but as binomial, and that seemed to me to be a much better understanding of the subject

    Yes of course there are peaks at cisgender male and female points, but it’s much more of a spectrum than any of the GCs would like to admit, and thus it’s much easier to move along said spectrum.

    THis is an excellent piece Chris, thank you for contributing it.

  • Well said, Chris.
    If people want to hold gender-critical beliefs (in the face of just about all the evidence) they are welcome to them. Some people once thought the earth was flat – later developments in science proved otherwise. But they do not have the right to bully and harass others who take a different view and – in some cases – live it.

  • Ronald Murray 2nd Oct '23 - 1:05pm

    An honest brave and thought provoking article. The sort of thing people need to hear. As someone who has had the privilege of knowing gay, transgender and one intersex person this what people should be hearing rather than extreme rhetoric from all sides.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Oct '23 - 10:30pm

    Isn’t it interesting that no even vaguely GC people have contributed to this thread.
    It seems that the government has decided that one of the ways of getting re-elected is to attack wokeness? Such a tragic decision for a government that claims it wants to be exclusive.
    Should we start a movement of “proud to be woke” people?

  • Tristan Ward 5th Oct '23 - 7:59am

    @ Mick Taylor

    “Isn’t it interesting that no even vaguely GC people have contributed to this thread”

    I posted something on 1 October. That post was accepted, and remained for at least 2 days. It is now deleted.

    Do not overlook the effects of moderation. I suspect many attempted posts have not been accepted – certainly two other posts of mine were not posted at all.

    The result is that this site is a bit of an echo chamber – as evidenced by your post. That is a pity, since it is as a result far less interesting and challenging.

    More importantly, it is doubtful whether such a forum is really liberal at all, if opinions, held by many (including many members of our party), and politely and respectfully expressed with a view to establishing collective understanding, are excluded.

    What the editors accept is of course up to them. It is their site. But in my opinion the way the moderation is done here is damaging to and inconsistent with our cause (including the cause of defendimg and advancing LGBQT + rights) and plays into the hands of our political enemies.

  • In reply to Tristan Ward – thank you for acknowledging that “What the editors accept is of course up to them. It is their site.”
    Whilst I can’t go into specifics, we do not publish comments which deny the identity of trans or non-binary people. As Liberal Democrats we have a duty of care towards them, and we recognise them as friends and colleagues. Some commenters need to re-evaluate their comments as though they were written about an ethnic minority. We would not publish comments that reflected racism even if expressed in academic terms. Equally we do not publish comments by climate change deniers.

  • Mick Taylor 5th Oct '23 - 7:04pm

    @Tristan Ward. I have a very personal stake in this discussion. I have a trans grandson and so I take serious issue with GC people, who essentially deny his existence and his right to pursue his life as he wishes.
    I think it is perfectly justified not to give blog time to people who deny rights to their fellow citizens on the basis of a false prospective.

  • Tony Dawson 6th Oct '23 - 4:22am

    “Whilst I can’t go into specifics, we do not publish comments which deny the identity of trans or non-binary people. As Liberal Democrats we have a duty of care towards them, and we recognise them as friends and colleagues”

    While I am sure that this is a genine attitude among some, I cannot but reflect upon the time in the 1980s when I worked closely with a trans female within a major organ of the Party. A considerable number of those around today who wear their wokery on their sleeves did not support that person and even shunned her. I suppose we should have joy at repentant sinners.

  • Tristan Ward 6th Oct '23 - 8:49am

    @Mick Taylor

    Anyone who “denies your grandson’s existance” is obviously a fool or a knave.

    The real issue (it seems to me at any rate) is whether it matters that he is trans. I say fundamentally it does not: he is a human being and entitled to claim the rights every other human being is entitled to claim.

    However and as we all know often these rights are contradictory and collide with the rights of others. The practical problem is working out the compromises that enable everyone including your grandson, to live their best lives

    Unfortunately it seems to matter whether a person is objectively male, female or something else (see transgender/intersex participation in sport for an obvious example, but I can conceive of health situations where the best treatment for a condition depends on a person’s sexuality. One limitation of medicine is that much research has been conducted with one sex in mind for example).

    Refusing to engage in these conversations is counterproductive and illiberal, since whichever side succeeds in imposing its solution does so without the consent of the other, in some cases with enslavement by reason of conformity.

  • @Tony Dawson – Thank goodness attitudes have changed over the last 40 years, partly due to campaigning by Liberal Democrats. And thank goodness that we believe that attitudes are not immutable and can be changed through campaigning and public education.

    I have painful memories of the misogyny of the time, and of course gay men were both the victims of, and blamed for, HIV in the 80s. Many people have gone through a personal transformation over their lifetime, moving from unthinking prejudice to compassion (which you choose to denigrate as wokery).

  • Jenny Barnes 7th Oct '23 - 4:25pm

    “a person is objectively male, female” For most purposes, it’s gender that matters. Clearly there are medical reasons why sex matters – trans men may still need cervical smears, trans women might have prostate problems for example. But mostly the idea that “women” (for which read cis women) have their rights disadvantaged by trans women is part of the culture wars tory nonsense.

    For example Mr. Barclay
    “plans to consult on a ban on trans women from women’s NHS wards: in his Conservative party conference speech, health secretary Steve Barclay warned against “ignoring patients’ voices, especially women’s voices, when it comes to the importance of biological sex in healthcare.” ”
    Strangely, FOI requests as to the number of complaints on this topic revealed that there were none.

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