Features Australia

Magical thinking

Science, first casualty of the gender wars

13 June 2020

9:00 AM

13 June 2020

9:00 AM

The third horseman of the American Apocalypse is expected to arrive this month. Pandemics and race wars will pass, but this third plague will persist and subvert the American mind.

The US Supreme Court is due to issue its ruling in Harris Funeral Homes, a momentous case that will decide whether a man’s belief that he is a woman truly makes him a woman under law.

If the Court says yes, certain things will follow. Violent transwomen like Karen White, sent to a female jail where he then sexually assaulted women prisoners, and powerful transwomen like Fallon Fox, who broke the skull of his female opponent in a mixed martial arts fight, will be confirmed as women under law. So much for the rights of women in prison, in sport, let alone in women’s shelters or women’s toilets. And so much for the rights of parents, whose children will be subjected to disturbing notions of gender fluidity by authority of the Court.

The Funeral Homes case may be another nail in America’s cultural coffin. US conservatives will want to move to Hungary, where Victor Orban has legislated that male and female are defined by biology alone. No point moving to Australia, where the trend is to subject biology to ideology.

Here, in the month of maying, one looked in vain for merry lads playing each with his bonny lass upon the greeny grass. First, because such outdoor frivolity would get a visit from the Covid cops. Second, because such binary notions were dealt two heavy blows. On the first day of May, the Victorian Labor government – all of whom, surely, must be on the greeny grass – activated laws that allow a lad to become a bonny lass simply by filling a form online. No surgery, no hormones, no medical diagnosis; just magical thinking made law.

Then late in May, we learnt that the Australian Academy of Science has declared that a woman is ‘anyone who identifies as a woman’.


‘This stuff wears me down’, said Peta Credlin on her excellent Sky News Australia show. Her guest, Madeleine Beekman, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Sydney, said she was shocked by the Academy’s move: ‘If you’re going to change the definition of a woman to something that’s no longer based on a biological fact, then what are you doing?’

The Academy is doing what the spirit of the age tells it to do.

Professor Beekman’s field of biology says a woman is an adult human female, defined by a reproductive system ordered towards gestation. The field of transgenderism says anyone who thinks they are a woman is a woman, even if their genes and genitalia are male. Our peak scientific body, sniffing the winds of progressive opinion, meekly agrees.

The threat is not only to scientific integrity but to cultural sanity. ‘Female’ is a truth of nature, not a social invention to be cut to shape by ideologues. The primal drama of male and female is the foundation of our cultural life, of our literature and songs, our customs and manners; obviously, the drama of male and female is the foundation of life itself. Beautiful words like daughter, wife and mother are not to be stripped of their reality out of false compassion for some troubled males; there are other ways to help these men.

And so, against the Academy’s assertion that a transwoman (a man presenting as a woman) really is a woman, it is necessary to make the counter-assertion, politely but firmly: a transwoman is not a woman.

That distinction was made by Australia’s best-known transwoman and Speccie contributor, Catherine McGregor, appearing on ABC’s The Drum (23/2/18). McGregor told the panel, ‘I call myself a transwoman. I don’t claim to be a woman’.

It was affirmed again in a recent article in these pages (‘Gender identity is bollocks’, 4/4/20), where transwoman Debbie Hayton reflected, ‘I now know that the prize I thought I had won – becoming a woman – was always magical thinking. I could never be a woman; merely look a bit like one.’

It was affirmed with clinical authority by one of America’s most influential psychiatrists in the field of gender dysphoria, Professor Paul McHugh: ‘People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminised men or masculinised women.’

Both McHugh and Hayton identify two psychological drivers for men presenting as women. First, autogynaephilia: the compulsion to cross-dress, or cross-live, to gain sexual pleasure from seeing oneself in female form. Second, in McHugh’s words, ‘guilt-ridden homosexual men who saw a sex-change as a way to resolve their conflicts over homosexuality by allowing them to behave sexually as females with men’. Then we have cases like former transwoman Walt Heyer, driven into gender dysphoria after childhood sexual abuse.

Where amongst these tragic scenarios is the case of a woman who was truly born in a male body? Let me join with Professor McHugh in proposing, contrary to apparent medical consensus, that there is no such case, only varieties of psychological disturbance that demand our deep understanding, compassion and care. McHugh’s detailed argument can be read at his amicus brief to the Supreme Court. Elsewhere he writes:

Gender dysphoria – the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex – belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it.

There’s a novel proposal for health professionals! Find the conflicts underlying a disordered assumption and help resolve them. Don’t treat a false assumption as if it were true. Because, as the Academy of Science should have said, ‘a transwoman is not a woman; no girl can be born in a boy’s body; and we at the Academy will always be committed to science, not magical thinking’.

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