Kathleen Stock Receives OBE; Philosophers Sign Letter Opposing the Honor (Updated)


Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, was one of 1,123 people awarded honors at the end of December by Queen Elizabeth in the UK government’s annual “New Year Honours.”

Professor Stock was named an “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” (OBE) for “services to higher education.” Professor Stock’s academic specialization is in philosophy of fiction and imagination, but in recent years she has become a major participant in public disputes on issues related to trans women, defending a trans-exclusionary position in posts on social media, in self-published pieces and in popular media outlets, and before government commissions. Professor Stock opposes “self-identification” as a means for people to change their gender, opposes making legal changes of gender easier, and supports restricting the access trans women have to some facilities reserved for women. It appears to be for the advocacy of these views, which are largely in agreement with or slightly more conservative than that of the “average” British person, that Professor Stock was honored.

Following the announcement of the OBE for Professor Stock, many philosophers took to social media to respond, and yesterday saw the publication of “An Open Letter Concerning Transphobia in Philosophy,” signed by a number of philosophers, objecting to the honor. The authors identify themselves as philosophers “committed to the inclusion and acceptance of trans and gender non-conforming people, both in the public at large, and within philosophy in particular,” and authored the letter “to affirm our commitment to developing a more inclusive environment, disavowing the use of professional and cultural authority to further gendered oppression.”

They write:

Stock is best-known in recent years for her trans-exclusionary public and academic discourse on sex and gender, especially for opposition to the UK Gender Recognition Act and the importance of self-identification to establish gender identity, and for advocating that trans women should be excluded from places like women’s locker rooms or shelters. She used the occasion of her OBE award to post on Twitter, calling for UK universities to end their association with Stonewall, the prominent LGBTQ+ rights charity, describing its trans-inclusive stance as a threat to free speech.

Trans people are already deeply marginalized in society, facing well-documented discrimination, ranging from government policy to physical violence. Discourse like that Stock is producing and amplifying contributes to these harms, serving to restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatments, encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people, and otherwise reinforce the patriarchal status quo. We are dismayed that the British government has chosen to honour her for this harmful rhetoric.

Anticipating a certain kind of caricature of their position, the authors take up the question of how their objection relates to academic freedom:

We do not say Stock should not be permitted to say the things she does. We believe in the principles of academic freedom, and note that objecting to someone being lauded or honoured for their speech simply does not conflict with those principles. Academic freedom comes with responsibility; we should not use that freedom to harm people, particularly the more vulnerable members of our community. Conflating concern about the harms of Stock’s work with threats to academic freedom obfuscates important issues.

The authors also acknowledge that there are open philosophical questions related to sex and gender, and that the popular characterization that these topics are taboo in academia is mistaken:

By no means are we suggesting that there aren’t deep and important questions about sex and gender, or that philosophers should not pursue them. Indeed, an open letter from 2019, written and signed by feminist philosophers who have worked on these questions, has made this very point. Rather, our concern is that some—apparently including the British government—have a tendency to mistake transphobic fearmongering for valuable scholarship, and attacks on already marginalized people for courageous exercises of free speech.

In a thread on Twitter, one of the letter’s signatories, Liam Kofi Bright (LSE) explains why he signed:

I’ve largely avoided the academic open letter trend (& not gonna make a habit of this!) so a thread to explain why I signed… Substantial intellectual disputes should be settled by means of argumentation. So, e.g., with the open letter calling for the Case for Colonialism piece to be retracted, I encouraged people *not* to sign and wrote a critique of the substance… [T]he case of Stock and the OBE is not that.

This is purely a matter of what in my field receives public honours and lauding. That is to say, it is a matter of sending out a signal on what we value, what we consider especially noteworthy and positive contributions…

[G]iven what’s morally and politically at stake here, it’s worth sending out a strong counter-signal to the suggestion that Dr. Stock’s recent concerted public campaign is an exceptional philosophical contribution to higher education. If you agree, please sign!

Stock’s career and public philosophising will go on quite unperturbed by this letter. In fact, she’s thriving. Besides the OBE, keynoting the Aristotelian Society, getting a book deal, and regular media appearances, 2020 seems to have been her most cited year. So it goes…. I say that to reassure: if you’re inclined to worry about Stock being silenced you needn’t.

Open letters don’t persuade, no one who didn’t already agree will be swayed. The value of the exercise is making clear to onlookers, especially trans people considering philosophy, that many of us don’t in fact agree that what she has contributed through our field and its public role in UK life should be lauded with the highest civilian honour. Again, if you think that’s something which trans people looking at philosophy might like to know, please sign.

You can see the full list of those receiving New Years Honours here. The open letter and its list of signatories is here.

UPDATE: The authors of the letter have issued a correction on their site: “the original version of this letter incorrectly stated that Stock opposes the UK’s Gender Recognition Act. This was an error; it should have said that Stock is well-known for opposing amendments to the Gender Recognition Act that would have made it easier for people to self-identify their gender. Since it is the version that many people signed, we have left the incorrect version up above. But we do wish to correct the record, and apologize for the error.”

UPDATE (1/11/21): Another open letter, this time in support of Professor Stock and her advocacy for her views about trans women, is here. An excerpt:

Much academic research, including philosophy, engages with difficult and controversial subjects, and it is critical that this work be brought to bear on matters of real, imminent public concern. Sex-specific intimate spaces, athletics, medical services, and prisons have long been the norm in our societies and are represented in the very infrastructure in which we conduct our daily lives. Significant changes to these practices and norms are the kinds of things that our professional scholars must be able to discuss, without constant threat of public vilification.

It cannot become our standard that where analysis and discussion of matters of public concern may cause offense, the social and institutional consequences of engagement are so costly that few will be willing to do the work. It cannot become our standard that the mere allegation of harm caused by some writing or speech, in the absence of any specific evidence to that effect, is sufficient to trigger such consequences. And it cannot become our standard that the mere fact that someone who causes harm agrees with something said or written by an academic is sufficient to saddle that academic with responsibility for that harm.

UPDATE (1/11/21): Christa Peterson, a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Southern California, has posted a detailed and documented critique of Stock’s advocacy for her views about trans women here, including a discussion of academic freedom and “silencing” regarding this subject. Towards the end of the post, Ms. Peterson takes up the question of harm and ethics in academic philosophy:

As a discipline, philosophy has gotten away with not talking about academic ethics because it is in general rare that our work has serious practical implications. Here, the possible consequences are chilling. Creating a public perception of trans people as fundamentally unreasonable and unreliable is a very serious harm. Convincing institutional bodies that the actual research, the actual evidence, cannot be trusted is a very serious harm. Convincing parents to pursue conversion therapy for their trans kid, against the advice of every serious professional body, is a very serious harm. Doing a priori psychology about what treatment vulnerable teenagers should receive and then reporting it to the public as though it is based on anything other than your imagination is a real violation of basic academic ethics. We have to take this seriously…

Academics have public responsibilities. If we think free academic debate is an essential good, we have to participate. Academic freedom doesn’t mean keeping quiet while members of our discipline mislead the public, use their status as experts to promote misinformation and prejudice, and represent as serious research things that flatly do not meet basic scholarly standards. Critical peer evaluation of academics publicly presenting themselves as experts is necessary to for academic freedom to function as more than a sanctuary for politically motivated misinformation.

UPDATE (1/13/21): Professor Stock responds to Peterson here. (via Mary Leng in the comments)


NOTE: Commenters on this post must use their real name and email address (email addresses are not published).


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David Wallace
David Wallace
3 months ago

A narrow comment on Professor Stock’s OBE: there seems to be some idea that it was supposedly given to her for her academic work (and that this is pretextual) – the Open Letter describes it as ‘ostensibly given for services to higher education’, and comments that Professor Stock’s work is not ‘valuable scholarship’; some of the Twitter discourse says that the academic merit of her work clearly doesn’t deserve an honor. But these are misreadings of how UK honors are normally described in the official announcements. An honor awarded for one’s academic work would be described as ‘services to [academic field]’ (Peter Strawson’s knighthood, for instance, was for ‘services to philosophy’). Professor Stock’s award wasn’t described that way, and so isn’t for her academic work. An award for ‘services to higher education’ is for activity relevant to the profession of higher education. Professor Stock has been visibly and publicly active trying to influence the profession as a whole on trans issues; the UK government has honored her for that activism, not even ostensibly for her scholarship. Whether or not the UK government should have done so, there’s nothing pretextual about it.Report

Simon C. May
Simon C. May
3 months ago

I find this very odd.

An OBE is not an honour, it is an imperialist bauble.* It may be intended as an honour, and it may be taken by many as an honour, but it remains a bauble, handed out by an empire-loving racist reactionary as part of the repulsive pomp and pageantry of the British class system. And it dismays you that this system is prettified in one way rather than another? It mystifies me why any philosopher would debase themselves by accepting the award. But nor do I know why any philosopher would want to stoop to the level of debating who deserves or does not deserve this ignoble, inglorious trinket, as if that mattered on its own terms. Nothing worthwhile is added to the already very vocal criticism of Stock’s views and Stock herself that anyone with half a Google can find in an instant. Whether Boris Johnson sees fit to stamp those views and that person with an archaic royalist smiley face is *in principle* not something to get het up about.

(*Speaking as someone with an MBE and KCB in the recent family tree.)Report

John Collins
John Collins
3 months ago

While a perfectly reasonable argument might be mounted against the UK awards system in general, the letter does nothing to establish that KS in particular does not merit an OBE for her public engagement over the last couple of years. The letter is by turns factually inaccurate – as anyone familiar with the issues will know, KS opposes the proposed reform of the GRA, not the GRA itself – and simply defamatory, for KS has persistently denied any transphobia, and none of her writings evince any prejudice. As for giving a message to trans people, it is odd to assume that trans people might not be interested in open rational debate. More generally, the message given appears to be that people ought to stay in step on any matter the self-styled defenders of the soul of the ‘philosophy community’ decree lest one gets the open letter. The letter amounts to a shameful harassment of a dignified and serious thinker.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 months ago

Another narrow point: I think the Open Letter misstates some of Professor Stock’s views. Specifically, it says that she’s known ‘especially for opposition to the UK Gender Recognition Act [GRA]’. But – unless I’m completely misremembering – the whole recent debate over the GRA started because the (previous) UK government was exploring changes to the GRA that would make it easier to get official recognition of gender change. Stock was *opposed* to those changes and *in favor* of the GRA’s requirements for recognition of gender change. It was her opponents who opposed the GRA in its current form and wanted it changed. (And the (current) UK government has dropped the proposed changes, so it’s not as if there’s a new GRA that Stock could be said to oppose.
(I don’t think anything deeply hangs on this – I assume the authors meant to write something like ‘especially for opposition to reform of the UK Gender Recognition Act [GRA]’ or somesuch.)Report

Miroslav Imbrisevic
3 months ago

“NOTE: Commenters on this post must use their real name and email address (email addresses are not published).” Is SCM a real name?

[Thanks for catching this, Miroslav. That was an oversight on my part. The comment in question has been updated with the author’s full name.]Report

Kaila Draper
Kaila Draper
3 months ago

One group of philosophers believes that some of what Stock has written is harmful or hateful or transphobic or otherwise morally problematic. Another group believes that her writings are merely well-intentioned attempts to protect rights, or that her writings are at least free of prejudice against or bigotry towards trans folks. A third group may be agnostic to varying degrees. How sympathetic you are to the open letter is likely to reflect, at least in part, which of these three groups includes you as a member. I sincerely doubt, however, that a serious discussion of the issues that divide the first two groups is possible on this thread. Maybe there is something else worth discussing here, but tbh what I expect is a painful (for me) and largely pointless exchange.Report

Greg Littmann
Greg Littmann
3 months ago

On a side point, it seems odd to allow pseudonyms in some cases while requiring that real names be used for this topic. Isn’t the whole point of allowing pseudonyms that people can express views without being held “accountable” by those who object to them? If so, isn’t this article precisely the sort of case where pseudonyms would be appropriate, if they are ever appropriate?Report

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
3 months ago

I suspect, Kaila Draper, that you are right about the low likelihood of much progress being on the underlying issue in this (or any other) comments thread.

However in the in the interests of completeness I wish to register as a fourth group: I think ‘open letters’ signed by large numbers of people suck. I may agree, disagree, or nor care about the topic but I still don’t think people should write these posturing letters. Clearly Liam Kofi Bright addresses this in the piece that he wrote, but frankly if the purpose of this letter is to tell potential entrants in the field of academic philosophy that many philosophers don’t agree with Stock, then a) they should really be able to figure that out for themselves if they have any interest in this topic and b) this could have been achieved without an ugly pile-on of thinly veiled invective and weasely accusations aimed at Stock, of this letter consists. If the idea is to make philosophy seem more attractive to potential entrants, this seems to me more likely to achieve the opposite.Report

Kaila Draper
Kaila Draper
3 months ago

Rollo Burgess, I am not sure how to interpret your first remark, and so maybe we agree, but let me note that I think progress can be made on a lot of issues on discussion threads. I have certainly learned a lot about certain issues from various discussion threads at Daily Nous, and I support and appreciate Justin’s efforts to provide a place for serious discussion related to the discipline and profession of Philosophy.

I am also no fan of open letters. generally speakng, and did not even sign the one in question, but I disagree with your criticisms of that letter. You say that it is “posturing” and that it is an “ugly pile-on of thinly veiled invective and weasely accusations”. This tells me that you don’t think Stock ‘s writings are transphobic or hateful or harmful, etc. A pile-on in response to hateful and harmful rhetoric is not generally a bad thing. thinly-veiled and even open invective in response to morally objectionable behavior is often acceptable, and true accusations are rarely weasely. You clearly reject the views of my first group of philosophers, and I suspect that you are in the second group.

As for your suggestion that the letter is pointless or counterproductive, let me just say that, for myself, those philosophers who have stood up for trans folks during what I regard as the recent wave of transphobia in Philosophy (many of them grad students, or persons early in their career) have made a huge difference for me, a senior professor who has struggled psychologically as a consequence of that wave. Yes, one can know that not every philosopher agrees with Stock without an open letter, but people willing to stand up for trans people do much more than merely point out that not everyone agrees.
Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 months ago

To Kaila Draper at 6:01pm (I still can’t get DN’s reply function to work):
“A pile-on in response to hateful and harmful rhetoric is not generally a bad thing.”
I don’t think I agree (and I don’t think the disagreement turns on the first-order issue of how to interpret Stock’s writings). I’m inclined to think that the norm ‘don’t have pile-on responses’ is better for academic communities than ‘only have pile-on responses when the recipient deserves it’. (I’m not arguing for that view here, just noting it as an option.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 months ago

That said (with apologies for double-posting) I think Liam Kofi Bright’s meta-point is reasonable. A UK OBE (or, say, a Congressional medal of freedom, if you want to bypass issues specific to the UK honours system) is a public statement of approval, by the government or a part thereof, of someone’s work. It’s much more prima facie legitimate to make an organized public objection to that statement than to make an organized public objection to, say, a paper being published. (That’s without prejudice either to the specific wording of this letter – which I think would have done better to acknowledge that some of what Stock and her allies have had to deal with has raised genuine academic-freedom and harassment issues – or to the first-order question of assessing her writings.)Report

Kaila Draper
Kaila Draper
3 months ago

agreed David WallaceReport

Colin Wight
Colin Wight
3 months ago

The letter-writers argue that some (meaning Kathleen among others) “have a tendency to mistake transphobic fearmongering for valuable scholarship, and attacks on already marginalized people for courageous exercises of free speech.”

Let me rephrase that for you; “some (the letter writers) have a tendency (well it’s more like a deliberate strategy to shut down debate to be honest) to mistake valuable scholarship for transphobia and feel no requirement to evidence their claims because the mere invocation of transphobia is intended to shut down debate.”

And the letter isn’t really about Kathleen Stock. Its aim is to send a message to anyone else who dares challenge the new religion. Academic freedom? If only. If the writers were the least bit interested in
Academic freedom they’d have spent their time writing academic rebuttals of Stock’s arguments. Instead we get this disingenuous bullying of a female colleague. Shameful.

Report

Leslie Glazer
Leslie Glazer
3 months ago

I do not know whether Dr Stock deserves the recognition, but then again most honors can be debated as to the merits from oscars to nobel prizes. What does strike me so often is the viciousness of the responses to Dr Stock. I have not always found her persuasive, but have never noticed anything phobic or hateful or intentionally harmful in what I have read [but i am not really a follower of her work so I may have missed it]. So much of the response appears knee jerk and defensive. She doesn’t accept certain assumptions and argues for positions based on other assumptions. However, I haven’t seen any clearly stated critique of her assumptions or arguments, but rather ad hominem arguments or rhetorical analogies of her ideas to cases of real harm in the world. I have to admit as a non partisan without an investment in this fight other than clarity I am just left scratching my head. Philosophers are supposed to be better than this. It’s almost like trump claiming he lost the election in spite of…….. and claim all sorts of harms, persecutions, conspiracies to prove it. Now, to be clear someone who is trans has every human right, civil, and legal right, that our law and conscience allots to anyone else. And, no one, including someone who is nonbinary or trans, or different in any way deserves to be assaulted or harmed. But, the argument as I see it has to do with the definition of harm and whose harm are we speaking about. Dr. Stock is claiming to be advocated and trying to bring to the fore the harms and potential harms to biological women, and the rights and threat to the rights of biological women. The political and philosophical question is how to balance the rights and harms of one identifiable group and another identifiable group. This is morality. This is politics. This is where phhilosophers are supposed to have clear heads and be able to clarify and sort out the dilemna. Report

Adam Patterson
Adam Patterson
3 months ago

“If the writers were the least bit interested in academic freedom they’d have spent their time writing academic rebuttals of Stock’s arguments.”

There are a few things to say by way of response. I’ll just mention one. Suppose by “academic rebuttals” you mean “published papers in academic journals”. Further suppose (as is plausible) that the submission/review process at an academic journal is longer/more rigorous than those at venues like Aeon. Given this, it seems like you’re saying that if people want to reply to Stock’s arguments *as they appear in non-academic venues* they need to go through the (sometimes year(s) long) process of submitting to a journal, having it sent to referees, reviewed by them, etc.

In general, I think there may be problems with insisting that those who endorse view p in a debate take a longer, more strenuous route to get their arguments published (and exposed to a smaller audience) than those who argue for not-p (who can more quickly put out work held to lower standards and reach a wider persons).Report

Paul Barry
Paul Barry
3 months ago

@ Adam Patterson

“Suppose by “academic rebuttals” you mean “published papers in academic journals”.”

Is this *really* what you took from Colin’s comment? You’re overthinking this. His point (I assume) is that those who think Stock’s views are wrong might want to offer a rational demonstration of this rather than seeking to exact costs on her and others for expressing those views. For crying out loud, nobody is saying that Stock’s blog posts should only be responded to through peer-reviewed articles. (i.e. the emphasis is on ‘rebuttal’, not on ‘academic’).Report

Miroslav Imbrisevic
3 months ago

Bravo Leslie Glazer! @
January 5, 2021 at 10:18 pmReport

Miroslav Imbrisevic
3 months ago

The letter now includes an erratum, admitting that they misrepresented Kathleen Stock’s position on the UK Gender Recognition Act. What does this tell us about those who wrote the letter and about those who signed the letter? Report

John Collins
John Collins
3 months ago

If viewed as a first-order philosophical topic, the trans issue is indeed curious in that, for many, normal standards of rational debate ought to be abandoned; those who think otherwise are literally phobic, violent, or whatever, and deserve to be hounded and discredited by any means possible, all in the name of higher virtue. If viewed sociologically, however, the fog clears. The real problem with KS and others is that, if they are right, then mainstream academic feminism is not serious, morally, politically, and intellectually. This is evidenced by the previous open letter, referred to in the present one, which inconsistently claims that all positions are debated and that no-one should question self-identity as a basis for categorisation. Worse, KS has mostly operated outside of the channels that can be policed; and when KS does publish in a forum that can be policed, one finds letters to editors, protests, etc. Whether KS et al. are right or wrong, what one is witnessing is simply centres of academic power and prestige defending themselves in the manner power always does, and since the academy selects for obedience (a herd of free thinkers), one finds a general coalescence in support of that power. The trans issue itself is mostly an abstraction, a mere signifier of virtue and would-be philosophical insight. It thus becomes explicable how supposedly morally serious people can blithely shove poor, abused, imprisoned women under the bus for the sake, essentially, of middle-class manners in academia. No-one bats an eyelid at hyper-privileged white straight males sticking it to an uppity lesbian. For a certain kind of progressive male, if trans people didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent them. Report

Adam Patterson
Adam Patterson
3 months ago

Barry
“His point (I assume) is that those who think Stock’s views are wrong might want to offer a rational demonstration of this rather than seeking to exact costs on her and others for expressing those views.”

I understood this. I just thought thought that it was clear those who signed (and probably will sign) *have spent*/*continue to spend* a great deal of time time on social media explaining where they thought arguments went wrong. This is why I thought that the author hoped for responses to Stock not on social media/digital platforms but in academic journals.

If the rejoinder is “signatories should *continue to* ‘rationally demonstrate’ where the argument’s went wrong on social media *instead of doing an open letter* if they care about academic freedom” then there are further things to say. One is that the signatories of the letter seem to make it pretty clear that the issue at hand is not one of academic freedom. Why is that? They signed an open letter that says “[W]e do not say Stock should not be permitted to say the things she does. We believe in the principles of academic freedom”. Report

Danny Wardle
Danny Wardle
3 months ago

I don’t see how the open letter is an ‘attack’ on free speech or academic freedom. People claiming this seem to invoke some pretty flimsy reasoning. From what I’ve seen, one of the arguments seems to be that calling Stock or her writing on trans rights ‘transphobic’ is an unjust way of discouraging her (or people who agree with her) from speaking on the topic. The thought being that such a condemnation is hard to combat and is tantamount to censorship. I personally don’t find this convincing. It’s not clear how calling someone or their work ‘transphobic’ is an unjust form of condemnation and it’s certainly not at all clear how condemnations (even if they make people feel less willing to speak) are an attack on freedom of speech. In fact, the right to criticise and condemn speech seems pretty important if you care about free speech.

The other reason was hinted at by Colin Wight in these comments when they claimed “the letter isn’t really about Kathleen Stock. Its aim is to send a message to anyone else who dares challenge the new religion”. I’m far less sympathetic to this view, which seems to be nothing more than bad faith theorising about the motives of the letter writers and signatories (e.g. insinuating that they really do want to censor and silence people, despite explicitly stating that they aren’t advocating for that in the letter).Report

Chris Bertram
Chris Bertram
3 months ago

I’ve set out my view in a post a Crooked Timber, which provides some political context that people outside the UK may be unaware of.
https://crookedtimber.org/2021/01/04/the-stock-obe/Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
3 months ago

I also can’t make the Reply function work, but this is an equally narrow response to David Wallace’s narrow point first comment. I didn’t take the open letter to be making the mistake you say that it makes. I take it that “ostensibly given for services to higher education’” expresses a suspicion that the award was given for political advocacy of a Conservative cause rather than for the advancement of any of the goals of higher education. My impression is that when people defend Stock’s contribution to such goals, they’ll mention her advocacy for free speech on campus and rational debate of all views. I read the comment about “valuable scholarship” in this context (that is, working to ensure that such views get more airtime in universities is not advancing the goal of rational debate). Report

Kaila Draper
Kaila Draper
3 months ago

[Note: this comment has been slightly revised at Dr. Draper’s request since it was first posted. – JW]

Some seem to assume that Stock’s arguments about the various issues that purportedly motivate her advocacy have not been rationally debated. Those arguments have been rationally debated a lot (and irrationally debated a lot), mostly in the kinds of venues in which they appear, but also in some academic papers. I would describe most of her writings on these issues as political propaganda and, as is usually the case with political propaganda, the argumentation is often weak or, even more commonly in Stock’s case, so underdeveloped as to fall far short of being rationally convincing. One does not need a moral philosopher to point it out when, for example, she misrepresents the results of a survey on sexual misconduct in UK changing rooms, or when she implausibly suggests that someone who retweeted a horribly transphobic song was not expressing hostility to trans folks by doing so. For a good example of a clearly weak argument by Stock, see her piece that talks about conversion therapy by omission. (This is not to say that all of her arguments are unworthy of serious consideration. She is obviously a capable philosopher and so quite capable of making good points.)

I think a lot of philosophers have the idea that gender critical folks have produced a lot of serious discussions of the various issues that purportedly motivate their advocacy (bathrooms, women’s prisons and shelters, unisex changing rooms, puberty blockers, gender conversion therapy, etc.) I honestly have been unable to find even one such discussion, although I admit that I stopped looking some time ago. Usually, it’s even worse than that. Gender critical writers typically don’t even begin to explore the issues that they claim are so important to them. For example, anyone who wanted to consider whether unisex changing rooms should be replaced by single-sex changing rooms would need to consider whether the problems with voyeurism that have occurred in the unisex facilities could be effectively addressed by changing booths designed to foil the would-be voyeur. I have never seen a discussion of the issue by a gender critical person even get that far.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 months ago

(replying inter alia to Adam Patterson, Paul Barry, Colin Wight)
Not everything is an academic-freedom issue.

The ongoing controversies over trans issues in philosophy *have* generated a number of academic-freedom issues. Public pressure on editors to retract an article threatens academic freedom (https://dailynous.com/2017/05/01/philosophers-article-transracialism-sparks-controversy/). Conference disinvitations because of the views of the speaker threaten academic freedom (https://dailynous.com/2020/12/11/conference-series-oppressive-speech-disinvites-trans-exclusionary-philosopher/). Exhortations to journal editors to refuse submissions advocating the ‘wrong’ view, if followed, would threaten academic freedom (https://dailynous.com/2019/06/05/trans-women-philosophy-learning-recent-events/). These things harm the furtherance of scholarship, and/or threaten harm to academics qua academics as a consequence of their speech.

But this particular debate concerns Kathleen Stock’s political activism, not her scholarship. A large chunk of Stock’s recent writing, interviews and lectures are explicitly political: aimed at persuasion, at outreach, at achieving political goals. Whether you approve of that political activism presumably depends on what you think of those goals, but she’s perfectly entitled to carry it out (I don’t think she’s tried to carry it out in an illicit way, the occasional piece of perhaps-overheated Twitter rhetoric notwithstanding). And the OBE she’s received is likewise politics: as I note above, it recognises Stock’s activism, not her scholarship. (Stock herself notes that the award is ‘thoroughly symbolic’: https://twitter.com/Docstockk/status/1344617869129166855). Its award is another political action, by the UK government (there’s a debate to be had about the UK honours system and its continued politicisation, but that’s another story).

But if Stock’s writing and speaking, and her OBE award, are procedurally legitimate politics, so are public statements of opposition to that writing and speaking, and to that award. ‘Look, here are X number of people you might take seriously who disagree with this activity’ is usually bad and dangerous in matters of scholarship. It’s normal in politics. It’s naive to think that politics is or can be conducted the way scholarship is conducted. (And I don’t think the letter, itself, can be seen as a tacit or explicit threat of professional harm to Stock, who is already a fairly public figure in the field with stable employment; I can see how that line might get blurred with a more junior or less-well-known person.)

This doesn’t imply any overall judgement about the Open Letter: that depends on an assessment of its contents and of Stock’s own views. If you thought Stock’s views were ill-informed, bigoted, and contributing to a culture of oppression against a vulnerable minority, and that the Open Letter is a reasonable and accurate objection to her actions, you should probably approve of it. If you thought Stock was defending women’s sex-based rights against arguments and policies built on scientific and metaphysical sand and that traffic in misogyny, and that the letter is misleading and defamatory, you should probably think it’s shameful. If you think something in the middle, you should probably have a more nuanced reaction. These are profoundly important issues, but they’re not academic-freedom issues.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 months ago

@Sergio Tenenbaum: point taken. There are two things going on here:
(1) The way the UK honours system denotes the broad area of a person’s activity that’s being honoured. (So ‘services to Law Enforcement’ / ‘services to industry’ / ‘services to higher education’ / ‘services to mathematics’.) In this case, ‘services to higher education’ is the signal that it’s recognizing KS’s HE activism, not her scholarship.
(2) The trend in the UK away from honours being given for fairly neutrally-recognized achievements (say, for being chair of Universities UK, in the higher education case) and towards actions supporting the government’s partisan political agenda. That’s always been something of an issue in the UK (and leftists might argue that even the traditional ‘non-partisan’ system is political in that it recognizes the Establishment) but it’s certainly seen an uptick of late, especially under the current government with its, let’s say, questionable attitude to the UK constitution.

I had (1) in mind, as the thing that some commentators (at least on Twitter – perhaps I’m doing the OL drafters a disservice) seemed to be missing. I agree that (2) is a reasonable concern (one that Chris Bertram discusses further in the post he links above). And perhaps the OL drafters had that in mind by ‘ostensibly’. But I take it it’s clear that the Open Letter can’t reasonably be read as a criticism of the politicization of the UK honors system by the UK governments; for one thing, it’s criticizing the government on the merits for supporting Stock’s views, not on the general principle that the honours system shouldn’t be used as a tool for partisan politics. For another, it’s pretty clearly intended transnationally, with half the initial signatories being based outside the UK.Report

Dennis Arjo
3 months ago

The way in which this letter is tension with the ‘principles of free speech’ is in its attempt to put a philosopher and her views beyond the pale on the basis of her politics by proclamation. Academic freedom protects far less speech than the principles of free speech does–it allows for rigorous gate keeping when it comes to what is taught and published. That gate keeping needs to be taken seriously, and done according to disciplinary standards, not political litmus tests.

This letter attacked Kathleen Stock’s integrity and decency and accuses her of grave wrongs. Predictably, it has proven to be highly divisive and controversial. Those who propagated it and the more prominent signatories, it seems to me, now have the burden of justifying such a public attack on a colleague. So far, I’ve heard the point was just to show that not everyone in philosophy agrees with Stock, which was already obvious, and that the problem was that Stock doesn’t have enough scholarly citations to warrant an obviously politically award handed out for political reasons, which is…well, never mind. Can anyone do better?

Maybe we should just take a break from letters like this for a good while. Report

John Collins
John Collins
3 months ago

Kaila Draper: To be sure, KS has been responded to, and no doubt she has made errors. Such is to be human. The responses I have seen barely manage to be more than sneering abuse. Her point about conversion by ommision seems banal, Ii.e. one treats a lesbien as trans because the concept of same-sex orientation has been eschewed. The Tavistock scandel in the UK bears the point out, with clinicians voicing concerns about homophobic parents. Similarly, the issues of prisons is borne out by cases in the UK, not thought experiments. The point, however, is not that no-one has attempted to refute her, but that she is continually assailed, threatened, smeared, and suffers from trom the kind of attempted ostracisation the letter seeks. You appear unable to resist yourself, calling her work propoganda. If she is wrong on matters of fact, fine. Let it be settled, she agrees, and we move on. I think it would help if people stopped the abuse and smear. Report

John Collins
John Collins
3 months ago

Justin: I agree that Twitter is not the best medium for anything, but she has written a lot beyond Twitter, and has a forthcoming book. As I said, the point isn’t about ‘errors’, some of which are not errors, but the hysterical group-think response her writing has occasioned, which is not due to, still less exculpated by, any dodgy sources. The fact is that there has been a flat refusal to give an account of self-id, as an intensional sate, that secures the fact of membership in the relevant categories, and delineation of the consequences such a desired account might have for a range of legal and social matters. Maybe some such account is there in the ‘literature’ or else formulatable, but no-one appears interested in spelling it out; indeed, the ‘experts’ admonish us not to raise the issue, and if an eyebrow is raised, one is subject to abuse, smear, and even physical threat. Nothing like this situation prevails in any other area of philosophy or other academic disciplines, to the best of my knowledge. Report

Mary Leng
Mary Leng
3 months ago

This is a response I originally posted on Facebook, but on reflection I’d like to share it more widely, so reposting here. I’m sorry that given current circumstances (working full time from home while trying to ‘homeschool’ four kids at the same time) I won’t really be able to come back and engage in extended discussion.

To my dismay (but not, alas, to my surprise) an open letter has been circulating denouncing my friend and colleague Kathleen Stock for contributing to an alleged atmosphere of ‘transphobia’ in philosophy. Kathleen’s sins, such as they are, are to raise the question of how proposed changes to UK law around the recognition of gender (specifically proposals to amend the 2004 Gender Recognition Act to allow people to change their legal sex on the basis of self identification alone) might interact with currently existing protections for female people (specifically, the 2010 Equality Act, which includes sex as a protected characteristic but allows for discrimination on grounds of sex (e.g. in single sex provisions) where this can be shown to be a proportionate means to a legitimate end). There is an unfortunate lack of clarity in the relation between the 2004 GRA and the 2010 Equality Act, in that the GRA says that a GRC holder’s acquired sex is their legal sex ‘for all purposes’ (though ‘all’ here turns out to be qualified: a trans man is not allowed to inherit titles that are passed down the male line even though the GRA says they are male for ‘all’ purposes). The 2010 Equality Act however seems to follow the ‘qualified’ sense of ‘all’, allowing single sex exemptions for female only services to exclude trans women with a GRC despite their status as legally female, where this meets the proportionate/legitimate requirement. Along with lobbying for self ID, prominent LGBT+ groups in the UK, including most notably Stonewall, have also been vocal about their desire to remove the single sex exemptions from the Equality Act (indeed in advising many institutions on how to interpret the Equality Act, it seems that Stonewall have contributed to a widespread impression that these exemptions already cannot be used to draw a distinction in service provision between natal females and females with a GRC). Many of us are concerned that this combination (self ID plus interpretation of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act to mean ‘legal sex’ in all contexts) removes important protections and provisions for female people that are needed both because of our female biology itself (eg in sports) and because of the history of discrimination against people perceived as female (eg all women shortlists). (It is perhaps worth noting here that one of the letter’s original signatories, Sally Haslanger, in her own published work on sex and gender, has argued that the history of patriarchal oppression means that people who are perceived as female are an important political category. The UK Equality Act protects this group by banning (except in the aforementioned exceptions) discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sex. The changes that Stonewall have been lobbying for would erode these protections if ‘sex’ is in effect interpreted to mean ‘gender identity’.)

Aside from this question about revisions to the GRA and their interaction with the Equality Act, there have also been moves in the UK to change how we record ‘sex’ in data gathering – most prominently via the UK census, where there has been a push to change the ‘sex’ question on future censuses so it tracks self identified sex, rather than birth sex. Kathleen (and others) have argued against this move, and in favour of asking two questions: one concerning sex and one concerning gender identity, so that meaningful data can be collected to allow for tracking both sex based and gender identity based inequalities.

I am in full support of Kathleen in raising these issues, and I am grateful for her for doing so and continuing to do so despite an atmosphere of extreme hostility in philosophy. I would like to share two things I’ve written on the topic that elaborate on my views and why I think it’s important to discuss them, even though it is doubtless upsetting to my trans friends and colleagues to dwell on the issues on which one’s natal sex might matter:
https://medium.com/@mary.leng/harry-potter-and-the-reverse-voltaire-4c7f3a07241
https://medium.com/@mary.leng/where-metaphysics-meets-politics-in-gender-critical-feminism-1fe565e2093a

I am saddened to see that so many fellow philosophers have signed this letter denouncing Kathleen (and, by implication, me, as I’m aware of nothing significant that Kathleen has said on the topic that isn’t in line with my own views as outlined in these two articles). I would encourage colleagues in philosophy to read the posts above if you would like to know more about why left wing women in the UK have suddenly turned into dreadful ‘transphobic bigots’.
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Leslie Glazer
Leslie Glazer
3 months ago

I think the heart of the matter philosophically touches on points where two philosophies and two progressive agendas come into conflict. And this is where I remain unclear whether the issues have been resolved. On the one hand we have a naturalistic ontology, where males and females are natural kinds, albeit where it remains unclear to what degree ‘essence precedes existence’ or ‘existence precedes essence’. The progressive agenda connected with that are feminisms seeking to liberate, respect and protect one of those kinds—women— from socio-political systems of oppression and establish norms and institutions to reflect the new reality of equal rights and opportunities. On the other hand we have a post Foucault social constructivist ontology that rejects natural kinds in favor of either systems of oppression or liberation of self-identification as the source of being. The progressive agenda connected with this is trans-activism asserting self-identification as the ONLY source of being, and liberation being the undermining or overturning of the notions of natural kinds—however progressive– and historically oppressive regimes. The conflict comes in ironically where they both accuse the other side as being instruments of the patriarchy and oppression. What I am calling here feminists end up accusing the social constructivist trans-activists as undermining the rights and protections they have fought long and hard for— female athletes having to compete with biologically male ones, safe spaces violated by persons with penises, diversity opportunities being coopted by biological men who self-identify as women, and so on. What I am calling here social constructivist trans-activists end up accusing feminists as being reactionary and transphobic even by bringing these things up because such thoughts question the idea of self-identification as being by implying that maybe trans persons while deserving respect and protection as human and as citizens, possibly do not transcend their biological natural kind. This is in some respects just another version of a debate going on for the past hundred years. Report

Laila Khan
Laila Khan
3 months ago

I am just an average woman who has been gender critical for many years. I have followed Dr Stocks diligent and worthy efforts regarding the challenges posed by honouring current EQ 2010 that state women’s sex based humans rights , so hard won, are a protected category and how the law is being interpreted to the evidenced detriment of those ( women/girls) it was founded to protect. There is no conflict with the 2004 GRA as far as EQ 2010 goes….Dr Stocks standpoint reflects a movement that concerns itself with the inclusion of gender self identity in the current GRA, that would by current definition, put at risk ( and is indeed already putting at risk) women and girls rights to same sex provisions.
Dr Stocks ‘gong’ is symbolic and one can only blink at the peevish open letter from philosophers who question this honour of a college. Perhaps the signatories would consider stepping out of their privileged academic bubble for a moment and ask themselves who in the ‘real’ world do they represent by snarking a champion of women/girls sex based human rights? Report

Greg Littmann
Greg Littmann
3 months ago

It’s worth noting that there are positions one might take other than “transexual women are women” or “transexual women are not women”. One might think, for instance, that there is no fact of the matter, or that the truth of the claims depends on what you mean by “woman”.Report

Teresa Marques
Teresa Marques
3 months ago

I’m puzzled. The latest update in this post [above, January 11] says:
“Academics have public responsibilities. If we think free academic debate is an essential good, we have to participate. Academic freedom doesn’t mean keeping quiet while members of our discipline mislead the public, use their status as experts to promote misinformation and prejudice, and represent as serious research things that flatly do not meet basic scholarly standards. Critical peer evaluation of academics publicly presenting themselves as experts is necessary to for academic freedom to function as more than a sanctuary for politically motivated misinformation.”

Indeed, ignoring peer-reviewed evidence, or on the contrary, ignoring that there is no peer-reviewed evidence supporting some treatment is extremely serious. For instance, it is very serious to ignore that there is no peer-reviewed evidence of the benefits of acupuncture, although it has been practiced for centuries following specific protocols. Given this, what puzzles me is that the same people who claim to be certain about the benefits of a particular medical treatment for children and teens ignore the testimony of world experts, as reported for instance here:
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/autistic-girls-seeking-answers-are-seizing-on-sex-change-3r82850gw

The recent case brought before the Royal Court asked doctors and the Tavistock clinic to present their evidence. This was lacking. As The Observer commented in a recent editorial:
“Any questioning of the gender-affirming model – and the role that trauma, internalised hostility to same-sex attraction or misleading online material may play in gender dysphoria in teenagers – is dismissed as transphobic. This is a chilling state of affairs that is detrimental to child safety. There are children who will find last week’s judgment distressing and it is imperative they receive the professional support they need. Children are not pawns to be deployed in adult debates about identity. Bell’s bravery has paved the way for a child-centred judgment that gives them the protection they deserve” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/dec/06/the-observer-view-on-the-high-courts-ruling-on-puberty-blocking-drugs-for-children

This post, and some of its updates, seem to assume that all this very relevant discussion was taking place in a inaccessible possible world. Indeed, academics, and philosophers, have public responsibilities, and strategically ignoring evidence reviewed by a high court is a failure of one’s responsibilities.Report

Molly Gardner
3 months ago

In the post linked to in the 1/11 update above, Christa Peterson writes this: “Stock promotes gender identity conversion therapy, especially for trans youth.” I followed the link that Peterson provided, and I read the article, but it did not convince me that Stock promotes gender identity conversion therapy. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but this is how I would reconstruct Stock’s argument in the article:
1. If failure to affirm a person’s identity qualifies as conversion therapy, then failure to affirm Margie’s identity as a female lesbian is anti-gay conversion therapy.
2. If failure to affirm a person’s identity qualifies as conversion therapy, then failure to affirm Margie’s identity as a trans man is anti-trans conversion therapy.
3. If Margie is a trans man, then she is not a female lesbian; and if she is a female lesbian, then she is not a trans man.
4. Therefore, if failure to affirm a person’s identity qualifies as conversion therapy, it is impossible to avoid engaging in either anti-gay conversion therapy or anti-trans conversion therapy.
5. Anti-gay conversion therapy is riskier than anti-trans conversion therapy.
6. Therefore, either anti-trans conversion therapy is the best of two bad options, or the failure to affirm does not count as conversion therapy.
In other words, I take Stock’s conclusion to be a disjunction, whereas Peterson seems to take the conclusion to be the first disjunct only. Report

Mary Leng
Mary Leng
3 months ago

I see that Kathleen has responded to some more of the the distortions in Christa Peterson’s blog here: https://kathleenstock.com/response-to-christa-petersons-blog/Report

Laura Grams
Laura Grams
2 months ago

In reply to Molly (a late reply – the US had a particularly eventful January on top of the usual start-of-semester activity!), I am not sure I understand why making the conclusion a disjunction (as in #6) shows that Stock is NOT favoring anti-trans conversion over anti-gay conversion therapy. Are the disjunctives exclusive, such that believing “failure to affirm does not count as conversion therapy” by default means rejecting that “anti-trans conversion therapy is the best of two bad options”? Because the last sentence of Stock’s article seems generally to affirm that if we must choose, there is some reason to favor the option that requires no long-term damage, and this claim doesn’t disappear even if we then decide that a choice isn’t needed (because it doesn’t count as conversion therapy).
I appreciate that Stock raises and considers the objection to her own view that we could simply ask the young person being treated to decide what their own gender identity is. Yes, of course – why not? However, this objection is rejected on the grounds that gender identification is less “real” than sexual orientation, an empirical claim that requires significant support. Consequences of accepting this claim are, obviously, that trans identity in general is taken to be less “real” than at least some other identities, so strong empirical support would be required before accepting it e.g. over the objections of people who insist that they know who they are. Yet the empirical support does not seem strong. As a result, we are left with the weak, ill-supported assumption that unlike distinctions in sexual orientation, which are real, established early, persistent, and a powerful reason to resist the harms of “conversion therapy”, distinctions in gender identity are not real, established early, persistent, or a powerful reason to resist the harms of “conversion therapy”.
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Laura Grams
Laura Grams
2 months ago

In reply to Leslie above, may I offer a third option between the “naturalistic ontology, where males and females are natural kinds’ and the “social constructivist ontology that rejects natural kinds”? Male/female is a natural kind distinction useful for some purposes, and social kinds are useful for other purposes, but other natural kind distinctions are relevant to the discussion about gender identity. For instance, in a comment on some other post here I mentioned osteoporosis as an example of a public health matter where decisions about sex and gender policy definitions can affect processes and funding for screening, identifying, and treating patients, with significant subsequent medical effects. Both trans and cis women are most appropriately treated as a unified category in this case (which is one among many such examples), not only because of the medical impact of decisions about hormone therapy and efforts to prevent bone density loss, also but because there is evidence these natural distinctions in susceptibility to osteoporosis precede the start of hormone therapy for most of these women, taken as a group.
This is but one example that indicates why we cannot move automatically to further claims about “one of those kinds—women” from identification of a male/female distinction in kinds. I’m somewhat familiar with arguments for the claim that ‘women’ is just a word naming this distinction, but I have yet to hear a convincing one.
In another of your examples, the relevant kind/category distinction with respect to women’s safety in restrooms is not the possession of certain genitals, but the behavior of people in the restroom which might threaten the security of all women in the restroom (cis or trans). The only time I have witnessed the genitals of a person in the women’s restroom was when a criminal was deliberately exposing himself to women there, and the act was just as much a crime against any and all women who were in the restroom, no matter what sort of bodies they might have had.
I know you were referring to this as an example people use in the political debate, and not intending to stir up a response just by mentioning it, but personally I find it offensive that people attempt to play on the upsetting fears and other physical and psychological effects caused by criminal behavior in order to make a misleading claim about the proper natural kinds presumed relevant to protecting people from such behavior. For example, one of Stock’s assertions I read while perusing the linked articles was that the “confidence” of women in calling out people in the wrong bathroom will be diminished. I doubt she intended this as insulting but I do in fact find it insulting to suggest that reduced “confidence” about matters of sex and gender identification is in any way related to the experience of confronting a criminal assailant menacingly exposing himself in a restroom. A broader rhetorical effect, which I do worry might be intentional, is to evoke distressing fears of assault as a motivation for questioning the reality or importance of the identity claims of other people. That’s not a nice thing to do, no matter what conclusion one ends up supporting, and it feels manipulative and minimizing of my own personal experience as a woman when the genuine fear of criminal acts in a bathroom (and its lingering psychological effects) are used, even in this generalized way, to promote harms against innocent people. Report

Kaila Draper
Kaila Draper
2 months ago

Molly Gardner,
Stock argues that under the new definitions of conversion therapy and sexual orientation, therapists can be put into the position of engaging in conversion therapy regardless of what they do. Her example is Marjorie, a 14-year-old who is attracted to girls and not boys and who tells their therapist that they are a boy. Stock claims that, under the new definitions of conversion therapy and sexual orientation, the therapist is damned-if-they-do-damned-if-they-don’t. If they question or challenge Marjorie’s claim to be a boy, then they are engaged in gender conversion therapy. If they don’t question or challenge it, then they are engaged in orientation conversion therapy.

This is a bad argument. The definitions of conversion therapy to which Stock refers define conversion therapy in terms of the aim of the therapy. The idea is that the therapist should not operate on the assumption that any gender or sexual orientation is superior to any other and so should not, as a therapeutic aim, try to bring it about that their client ends up with any particular orientation or gender identity rather than another. In particular, they should not try to change sexual orientation or suppress gender identity—that would be conversion therapy. In Stock’s example, the therapist who does not question or challenge Marjorie’s claim to be a boy need not have the therapeutic aim of changing Marjorie from a lesbian to a straight boy. So long as the therapist is not trying to push Marjorie in any direction in terms of sexual orientation or gender identity, the therapist is not engaged in conversion therapy. Affirmation therapy tries to create a safe space for clients to explore, without being pressured, their own gender, gender expression, and sexuality.

Stock’s argument is, therefore, unsound. But does the article in question show that she supports gender conversion therapy? Given the context, it seems likely that she opposes the 2017 memorandum that she references in the article because it adds gender conversion therapy to gay conversion therapy as practices that signatories commit themselves to abolishing. That is not proof that she supports gender conversion therapy, but it seems reasonable to suspect that she doesn’t want gender conversion therapy to be prohibited. I would give ten-to-one odds on a dollar that she wants therapists to be allowed to question and challenge their client’s beliefs about their own gender identity. Maybe someone could ask her, and then we wouldn’t need to speculate.
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Mary Leng
Mary Leng
2 months ago

I’m not going to go and ask Kathleen what she thinks on this, but here’s a bit of context which might explain why someone would think that preventing therapists from questioning clients’ beliefs about their own gender identity might not be in the interests of said clients. In the UK, a number of clinicians who have previously worked at the Tavistock clinic (the NHS gender identity clinic for children) have spoken of their unease at the Tavistock’s ‘affirmation’ model, whereby therapists are encouraged to accept the gender identity claims of children referred to them at face value. One concern that has been raised is that in several cases the therapists’ experiences of the families of these children has exposed unpleasant homophobic attitudes on the part of the parents. Some of these clinicians have expressed concerns that because of these homophobic attitudes prevalent in their family setting, children experiencing same sex attraction have been encouraged (implicitly or explicitly) to interpret these feelings as evidence of their having being born in the wrong body. The concern is that by pursuing the affirmation only model in relation to the gender identity claims of children presenting at their clinics, therapists are prevented of exploring with the children in their care their feelings about their same sex attraction, and whether their adopting a transgender identity might be a response to their parents’ negative attitude to homosexuality, rather than a true reflection of their gendered selves.

Now I don’t think that exploring in therapy whether a child’s adopting a transgender identity might in part a response to parental attitudes to homosexuality amounts to conversion therapy, as there’s no reason why the aim of such exploration should be to change the child’s gender identity or their sexuality, only to help them to understand their own feelings. But allowing such a practice would amount to allowing therapists “to question and challenge their client’s beliefs about their own gender identity”. And I think the concerns people have raised about “gender conversion therapy” come from people thinking that this kind of therapeutic exploration would be ruled out under bans on so-called gender conversion therapy. I don’t know the extent to which these concerns are real (perhaps no one is arguing that therapists shouldn’t be able to engage in this kind of exploration of issues surrounding sexuality and gender identity), but if this kind of exploration would be counted as ‘gender conversion therapy’ then I think there’s good reason to be suspicious of bans on ‘conversion therapy’, at least in the child and adolescent setting.Report

Mary Leng
Mary Leng
2 months ago

For info / sources, here is the Newsnight report on the concerns raised by Tavistock therapists: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51806962. In particular, the part I was referring to is as follows:

“The transcripts detail a range of worries about the service.
Homophobia in families attending GIDS is mentioned in all the transcripts Newsnight has seen.
As well as seeing young people struggling with their sexuality, staff say some parents appeared to prefer their children to be transgender and straight, rather than gay.
In one example, a GIDS clinician describes a young person who had come out as a lesbian and faced homophobic bullying, “within the family and quite openly in school”.
“Suddenly the young person changed their mind and they started identifying as trans.”
In some of these cases, clinicians thought that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the patient to be referred for puberty blockers, with one child apparently saying: “My mum wants the hormone more than I do.””Report

Kaila Draper
Kaila Draper
2 months ago

Thank you Mary for this very thoughtful response. There is a lot to discuss here, and several distinct issues need to be separated out. One is what gender affirming therapy actually is, another is whether it is the best approach, a third is the extent to which actual practitioners are following the established protocols. Obviously the full discussion is not possible on this thread. But I will make a few remarks. The standards that I have seen (although they may vary and I am far from being an expert) do not require a therapist to identify a client as trans merely because the client asserts that they are trans. They certainly don’t require the therapist to recommend puberty blockers or hormones on that basis. I would expect that some therapists would be too quick to recommend such things and some too slow. Therapists are only human, and one can expect that some of them will be incompetent. A therapist would have to be incompetent to not recognize that many children who assert a trans gender identity ultimately decide that they are cis after all.

Certainly there is no reason to assume that current standards and practices are the best ones. But non-experts, such as myself should be cautious about telling the experts who have done research on the issue and many of whom have worked with many children, that current standards are ill-advised. Again, as I understand current standards of care, the point is not to agree with the client about their gender identity, but rather to avoid pressuring the client to go in one direction or another. It is difficult to question and challenge children without pressuring them. But exploration is still possible. The sort of exploration you mention is not precluded under the current standards. The whole point is to provide a safe space for such exploration. But still, many experts believe that directly challenging a child’s assertions of gender identity is a bad approach. I lack the expertise to tell them they are wrong.Report

Mary Leng
Mary Leng
2 months ago

And thanks for yours Kaila! Yes indeed a lot to discuss. I could well believe that an affirmative approach of the sort you describe might well be the most appropriate way to support clients in understanding their trans identity in a therapeutic setting. I also think it’s very likely that what passes for ‘affirmative therapy’ in the overstretched NHS Tavistock clinic, where waiting lists are long, staff caseloads are high, and pressure to get people through the system is strong, alas falls far short of what is encouraged by current standards of affirmative care when properly applied. Report