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Lessons in disagreement


The gender realist story goes like this: everyone has an infallible sense of themselves as a male, female, or non-binary person. This is your gender identity. To be clear, it isn’t your sex, your chromosomes or body. Its basis might be biological, mental or even spiritual. In any case, your gender identity alone tells us when to treat you as a man, woman, or non-binary person. You could keep your male body, intend to keep it forever, and be no less of a woman for it.

Gender critics tell a different story: your sex characteristics make you a man or woman, and decide whether we should treat you as such. There are no special gender identities, no male, female, or non-binary spirits. Instead, a person has attitudes toward the expectations society pins to their sex characteristics. The woman is the person who carried the child, say, not the person who cares for them. No one is non-binary; there are only people who reject traditional social expectations. 

Let Women Speak held a series of gender critical events in Australia and New Zealand last month. The media focussed on a group of neo-Nazis who gatecrashed the Melbourne event and performed a Nazi salute on the steps of Parliament. This is tragic. All the speakers at the Melbourne event were women, as were most of the attendees; some were Indigenous, lesbian, or Jewish. The other events were similar.

Some responded with violence. Protesters hospitalised a woman in Melbourne. They assaulted attendees and speakers in Auckland; one punched a seventy-two-year-old woman in the face. Others, including many journalists, responded with intense condemnation. Daniel Andrews called Let Women Speak ‘hateful’ and ‘harmful’. John Pesutto and Adam Bandt used similar language.

These reactions are shocking and strange, given many Australians hold a gender critical view. Many experts on sex and gender do as well; it may even be the main expert view. More importantly, no one has an unassailable basis from which to deny the validity of this view. 

The conflict over these Let Women Speak events demonstrates the need for a more deliberate approach in which opposing views might coexist peacefully. Religious disagreement can help us see this better.

Imagine an atheist saying we should harm Christians because they’re wrong about God and the soul. Suppose another atheist says laws should not be based on Christianity because its system of beliefs is wrong. Arguably, the view of the second atheist is also incompatible with Christianity, and Christians may even find it offensive. They’d likely struggle, though, to classify an atheist who demonstrated an unwillingness to base laws on Christianity as hateful or harmful.


'Religious disagreement also helps us see how we could manage disagreement about gender identity. As with religious disagreements, we should aim for our disagreements about gender to be accurate and civil.'


The gender critical view is like the second atheist view. It says there are no such things as gender identities. It says those attitudes some people believe are gender identities shouldn’t shape our laws or social norms. Nothing here implies hating or harming anyone.

Do gender critics deny transpeople exist? If they do, then it’s in a limited sense. Atheists believe Christians are mistaken about souls (and so mistaken about what constitutes each of us) and they believe baptism changes nothing whatsoever about our being. That being the case, should Christians call them ‘hateful’ or ‘harmful’?

We’d still have no reason to blame the atheist even if there were no good reasons to doubt Christianity. There are, of course reasons to doubt, as many Christians know, and fundamental disagreements between atheists and Christians are intractable. You could gather the best arguments and evidence, in good faith, and conclude God and souls exist, or not. There’s no single proof or decisive experiment. Similarly, you could gather the best arguments and evidence and conclude gender identities exist, or not. Our inner lives, our senses of self, are private. If we were to discover gendered brains, say, we’d fail to show whether these were born or made.

Religious disagreement also helps us see how we could manage disagreement about gender identity. As with religious disagreements, we should aim for our disagreements about gender to be accurate and civil.

The law is more complex. A free society would have few issues; it would allow sports teams to affirm or deny gender identities, it would allow women to run domestic violence shelters that exclude transwomen. Australia isn’t a free society, at least to this degree. Its laws sometimes force people to come together, or to act against their conscience. There is, though, a patchwork of religious accommodations. Similarly, we could have gender critical schools. Alternatively, parents could withdraw their children from classes on gender identity. Gender critical clinicians could declare conscientious objections to gender affirmation.

Accommodation and toleration have their limits. No state could use both gender identity and sexual characteristics for the same purposes. People who identify as men or women are not the same group as people with the relevant sex characteristics. Conflicts would also arise if a state were to use them for different purposes. Some would seek access to spaces others meant to exclude them from, even given third spaces. People who identify as women want us to treat them like people with female sex characteristics, not a separate class.

Whatever our solutions, as with religious disagreement, we should practice humility and generosity. These virtues are more than moral — they make peaceful, free cooperation possible.




Sam Kiss is a writer and researcher based in Melbourne, Australia. He has a DPhil in Politics (political philosophy) from the University of Oxford, where he also taught.

Main image: Let Women Speak rally in Auckland. (Dean Purcell)

Topic tags: Sam Kiss, Women, Transwomen, Gender, Religion, Disagreement



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Existing comments

We are told that trans people are vulnerable. Christians, wanting to "be kind", agree that churches must be "inclusive" of marginalised people. The churches seem unaware that this "be kind" message presents the soft face of a totalitarian movement funded by US billionaires with military backgrounds, and providing huge profits for big medico/pharma. When the gloves are off we see the kind of violence that erupted when Kellie-Jay Keen visited Melbourne, Hobart and Auckland. We will never have co-operative dialogue because the trans movement will not allow it.

If you deny that humans can change sex, you are labelled "transphobic". Well, I am "totanphobic", "totalitarian-phobic". I know that we are losing our rights to freedom of assembly and speech. National institutions are "captured" by the gender religion that brooks no opposition: schools, universities, businesses and mass media, including the ABC. Laws are changed to protect gender rather than sex, which means that in Tasmania women are not allowed to advertise single-sex meetings.

In her video "Who is Behind the Trans Agenda?", Jennifer Bilek names the ultimate aim of this trans movement as disembodiment in order to arrive at "the technological takeover of human reproduction".

Is it "kind" to succumb to such a venture?

Janet | 13 April 2023  

I think it was Gerard Henderson who commented that Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull was a rather controversial figure to import to speak on the subject of transgender. Gender dysphoria is a highly contentious issue. The Tavistock Clinic in London has been successfully sued for some of its reassignment surgery and I believe no longer operates in this area. In Scandinavia I believe you have to be 18 before you can receive any gender reassignment treatment. In Australia this is not the case and parental consent to underage reassignment is unnecessary in some, if not all, states. None of the normal neo-Nazis was actually identified at the Melbourne rally. These people were all masked and no one was arrested, as far as I am aware. The action of these disruptors was deplorable and illegal, but who were they really? I am concerned that the right of the women to protest as they did will become more legally restricted. This, and the cancelling and no platforming of certain civil and restrained anti-transgender speakers such as J K Rowling is utterly deplorable. The late Blessed Seraphim Rose in the USA would have considered the militant and well-funded LBGTIQ+ movement as it exists today in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere to be a manifestation of the Nihilism which he wrote about so effectively before his premature death in 1982. The women rallying in Melbourne and NZ were quite legal and civil. It was their opponents who were not.

Edward Fido | 14 April 2023  

Unfortunately, not everyone wants "peaceful, free cooperation" especially where powerful vested interests are involved--Big Pharma, Big Tech, and those wanting to poke a thumb in the eye of traditional Christian culture, the latter being the most public face of pro-transgender ideology.
But transgenderism is a new medical and lifestyle market. It is a big, and rapidly expanding, business. In 2007, the USA had one gender clinic. By 2017, 15,172 children aged 6-17 were diagnosed with gender dysphoria; by 2021 it was 42,167. Transgenderism is now part of the medical-industrial complex which is much bigger than the military-industrial complex. Female-to-male surgery can cost US$200,000, while a male-to-female operation can be US$100,000. But that is just for the initial operation. Transitioning individuals are patients for life, requiring hormones. Pharmaceuticals and technology are essential for such operations. No wonder Big Pharma and Big Tech are all in for transgenderism, and no wonder they frame it as a civil rights issue which covers up the profit and social engineering issues.
Pope Francis recently called gender ideology "one of the most dangerous colonizations" and he emphasized the danger of blurring the differences between men and women. But he is up against powerful interests.

Ross Howard | 14 April 2023  

We shouldn't have allowed Whitlam's mob to close down the mental/psychiatric hospitals!

john frawley | 15 April 2023  

Sam Kiss, you hope for civil discourse. There are few examples of this in Australia, at least in public. It is difficult when you are faced with a gender-religion that has a policy of No Debate. I wonder if you have read Jon Faine's account of what happened when he chaired a forum at Melbourne University on approaches to diversity programs. https://www.watoday.com.au/national/victoria/i-was-a-protester-now-a-protest-has-been-directed-at-me-20221007-p5bo0x.html?ref=rss

ACON was invited to be represented on the panel but declined; the very idea of discussing the issue was condemned as "transphobic" and "unsafe". On the night a group of trans activists stood outside handing out a pamphlet about "fascists" and "feminazis" and shouting at those attending the forum. You can listen to the entire discussion on Radio National's Big Idea of 1st December 2022 "The AustralianWorkplace Equality Index and Trans inclusion".

Janet | 16 April 2023  
Show Responses

Hi Janet,
Thanks for the link. Interesting stuff.
Thanks to everyone else too.

Sam Kiss | 20 April 2023  

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck . If a duck thinks it is a racehorse it will never run in and win the Melbourne Cup regardless of how many others support its belief.

Simple Simon | 20 April 2023  

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