The introduction to Parliament of the Scottish Government’s proposed GRA reforms has given new impetus to what is ironically or facetiously referred to as the ‘debate’ around this contentious topic. It shouldn’t be contentious, of course. If the ‘reforms’ were, as proponents claim, merely righting a long-standing wrong and rescuing a downtrodden minority from wanton discrimination and generally making Scotland a more equal society, there would be no debate at all. There would be no opposition to such reforms. Certainly not opposition on the scale we see. Certainly not opposition as passionate as that which continues despite the evident futility.
The one thing about which there is some measure of agreement is that this ‘debate’ produces more heat than light. With each side blaming the other, naturally. So polarised has this ‘debate’ become that it often seems that the two sides are not even talking about the same thing. As if there are at least two markedly different understandings of what the issue is. A situation inevitably aggravated by the tendency for such dramatically polarised debates to become less and less about the issue however it may be understood, and more and more about the fact of favouring or opposing the proposed reforms. Both sides come to be wrong not on account of the content of their arguments – which becomes increasingly obscure through ever more imaginative misrepresentation – but solely on account of them arguing at all. What proponents and opponents say is inconsequential. That they speak for one side or the other is sufficient to ‘prove’ that they must be wrong regardless of what they actually say. They can therefore safely be attacked without regard for what may have started out as a reasonable or even insightful point.
What I describe is, as readers will surely be aware, commonly called ‘tribalism’. There’s a lot of it about.
The SNP+SGP/Scottish Government has not helped matters. It has added to the confusion about the essential issue by a somewhat Orwellian effort to present the ‘reforms’ simultaneously as a bit of minor administrative tinkering and a momentous progressive advance. On the one hand, it doesn’t imply any change such as need concern anyone. On the other. it transforms the lives of significant numbers of people and, indeed, the whole of society. No wonder there’s confusion. It’s hardly surprising people seem to be talking about two (at least) totally different things. The SNP+SGP/Scottish Government has quite deftly and no doubt purposefully produced these starkly contrasting representations of the issue to be deployed as the expediency of the moment demands. Thus, those who oppose, question or merely express concerns about the ‘reforms’ can be portrayed as zoomers making a huge fuss about nothing at all or the worst kind of unenlightened reactionaries determinedly seeking to hold back the tide of social progress and/or maliciously striving to condemn a swathe of society to appalling discrimination. Who needs to argue the facts when they have such cudgels with which to assail any who presume to subject their great good works to scrutiny?
That the ‘debate’ around GRA ‘reform’ has become irredeemably polarised is hardly open to question. Of some interest, however, is the manner and form of this polarisation. The point made earlier about it appearing that those embroiled in the dispute were talking about two (at least) different things was brought home to me by a below-the-line comment on another recent article on this topic. I confess that I at first paid little heed to the comment being well acquainted with the trollishness of the individual who posted it. I think it’s safe to say that this person is generally regarded by other regular contributors to these discussions as a bit of a bloody nuisance. I am almost certainly not the only one accustomed to skipping by this individual’s ‘contributions’. However, reviewing comments as is my custom on a Monday, I came across the remarks in question and realised how well they exemplified this point about people having very confused notions regarding what is the fundamental issue.
I won’t reproduce the comment in full. There is no need to do so. It will be sufficient to say that our interlocutor purports to offer “a selection of actual science that counters these opinions masquerading as “science”. The first thing to note is the failure to identify the “opinions” referred to. We have no way of knowing whether these are actually opinions that have actually been expressed by actual people, or whether they are simply what our correspondent imagines those opinions to be. An interpretation of comments made by others based, not on what they say but on the response this individual wants to make. We must suppose it to be the latter as they go on to cite three academic papers on such things as Klinefelter syndrome – a rare chromosomal disorder that leads to males being born with an extra X chromosome.
It seems that this along with references to other broadly similar conditions is being offered to refute the “opinion” that there are only two sexes. Most of you will, I’m sure, have spotted the flaws right away. For a start, Klinefelter syndrome specifically affects males. It does not affect females. The diagnosis actually confirms the scientific fact of two sexes. Klinefelter syndrome doesn’t make the (male) person afflicted part man and part woman. They are male but with a variety of disorders and defects some of which may involve the development of certain characteristics peculiar to women. Klinefelter syndrome and the other conditions referred to are the exceptions that prove the rule. The rule remains that there are only two sexes. That there are infrequent genetic aberrations in the processes which determine sex does not imply that sex is indeterminate. Indeed, these ‘accidents’ testify to the fundamental evolved purpose of different sexes – genetic mixing. A process ‘designed’ to introduce randomness must inevitably be susceptible to errors. Those errors are the very stuff of evolution. Unfortunately, they can also lead to problematic medical conditions. Fortunately, only very rarely.
If the ‘reforms’ were only applicable to those suffering from Klinefelter syndrome or other such disorders then it would not be controversial. But this is not the case. This brings us to the most glaring error of all in the attempt to use medical science to argue in favour of these ‘reforms’. Not only are these arguments weak because they relate to exceptions rather than the overwhelmingly applicable rule, but they are also fatally flawed because they are totally irrelevant. The commenter appears to suppose that this is a medical issue. It is not. It is strictly a legal issue. A matter of law and not medical science. Indeed, one might well argue that the entire dispute stems from the SNP+SGP/Scottish Government’s proposal to take sex completely out of the realm of medical science and relocate it in the realm of law.
The individual offering this ‘medical evidence’ clearly hasn’t a clue what the issue really is. It is not that there are arguments from either side derived from medical science which can be disputed using other arguments derived from medical science. The effect of the ‘reforms’ is to make all medical science redundant in the matter of an individual’s sex. That is what self-identification means. It means the abolition of all gatekeeping based on medical science. It is not solely relevant to persons affected by some genetic disorder which may blur some aspects of sexual differentiation. It is applicable to everyone. It doesn’t merely allow those whose sex is rendered to some degree indeterminate by some error in gene copying to chose which of the two sexes they prefer to be. That would be quite harmless. Self-id is open to everybody. Anybody can choose what sex they want to be totally without regard to medical science.
Self-identification effectively abolishes sex as a meaningful category of human being. It removes arguably the single most important aspect of personal identity. The fact that medical science says you are indisputably male or female becomes irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what your chromosomal makeup is far less what sexual characteristics you develop. Nature may say you are either male or you are female. But the law says you can be either male or female as a matter of personal choice. Heretofore, nature/medical science has taken precedence. If/when these ‘reforms’ are rammed onto the state book that will cease to be the case. The whim of the self-obsessed individual shall prevail in the eyes of the law and none may dispute that choice no matter how grotesquely it conflicts with nature.
This is the nub of the matter. Is sex genetically determined, or is it a matter of personal choice? Arguments from medical science would be pointless even if they weren’t dealing with aberrations rather than the norm. Unless there is some scientific evidence to ‘prove’ that sex is not genetically determined and can therefore be selected in later life, then the scientific fact of sex remains. I intend to argue against denial of this scientific fact no matter what the law may say about doing so. I shall not abandon reason nor stand idly by while the flame of scientific enlightenment is extinguished.
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