Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.
Last week saw the alarming news of homework set for 13-year-olds at the Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull, in which they were asked to define terms like ‘hardcore pornography’.
We at Radical were inspired, and set ourselves some homework over the Bank Holiday.
Technical-sounding language – in need of defining and explaining to nervous teachers, public officials, and HR departments – has been a key tool in the toolkit of transgender activists.
So, we’ve set out below our definitions of commonly-used terms in the gender debate.
Some are quite specific or bespoke neologisms; others are standard words whose meanings have become contested.
Woman is a noun with a vast heritage; it’s hard to conceive of any verbal human civilisation that wouldn’t have had such a term.
Woman relates both to biological realities, and to non-biological norms and assumptions related to those realities.
Most of us have a pretty clear idea of what it is that makes someone a woman.
It’s easier, however, to think of sufficient conditions for this – e.g. all human beings who have ever had a period are women; all human beings who give birth are women – than its full set of necessary conditions.
Not all women have had, or will have, periods; not all women are petite; not all women like pink.
Debate rages as to whether all sufficient and necessary conditions of being a woman are biological in nature.
At Radical, we strongly believe they are: that sex is determined biologically, and that gender is a theoretical construct.
Alongside woman, man is a member of the two-member set best described as ‘sexes of human beings’.
Terms like ‘man’ and ‘woman’ aren’t value judgements, and don’t determine individual behaviour.
Rather, they relate to certain biological truths of sex dimorphism – i.e. the binary division, grounded in reproductive anatomy, observed in human beings.
As biologist Emma Hilton has emphasised, ‘humans, like almost every other thing that isn’t a mushroom or bug, are sexually dimorphic’.
That some living things aren’t sexually dimorphic doesn’t mean that human beings aren’t.
And that some particular human beings don’t fit perfectly into either of the two sex categories doesn’t mean that human beings aren’t sexually dimorphic.
There is no other human sex category aside from male and female.
A trans- (or transgender-) person is a human being, and is, therefore, either a man or a woman.
To some, that may sound offensive, but it is both true and important.
One reason it’s important is that human beings all share certain rights.
There are disagreements about the grounding of these human rights – whether they don’t exist unless they’re set out in law, for instance, or whether they’re simply a natural fact about the world, that’d remain true even if nobody ever knew about it.
However, what’s crucial is that they’re rights that all human beings hold, equally.
Now, transwomen are often contrasted with ‘natal’ women (ditto transmen and natal men), in that transwomen are human beings who don’t naturally meet sufficient biological conditions of womanness, but who believe themselves to be women.
Sometimes they ‘transition’ (see below), but transgender activists consider anyone whose gender (see above) does not ‘sit comfortably’ with the sex they were born as, to be trans.
Moreover, as some people don’t accept there are biological conditions of being a woman or man, it can be hard to agree upon a definition of ‘trans’.
This not least because, if being trans is simply to believe you are trans, then surely, a natal woman could be a transwoman.
To be gender critical (or GC) is, broadly, to be concerned by the increasingly popular idea that adherence to social norms commonly associated with one of the sexes determines whether one is, in fact and law, a member of that sex – or that these matters depend entirely on internal feelings of one’s personal ‘gender identity’.
Some GCs are philosophically conservative, some deeply value scientific truth, but the position is most commonly associated with feminists who object to the idea that being a woman is determined by stereotypes.
To transition means to change from presenting oneself as a member of one’s birth sex to presenting in accordance with the physical characteristics and gender norms commonly associated with the sex with which one identifies.
People who are not GC would describe this as transitioning from the gender one is ‘assigned at birth’, in order to reflect one’s ‘true gender identity’.
Transitioning can include undergoing medical treatment to change one’s physical appearance to resemble the opposite sex, but more frequently involves changing one’s name, pronouns, and ways of dressing – known as ‘socially transitioning’.
In law, under the Equality Act, ‘gender reassignment’ is defined as occurring when a person is ‘proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’.
This gives the person concerned legal protection from discrimination, ‘on the grounds of gender reassignment’; no formal or legal process is required to gain this protection.
Gender reassignment is not to be confused with legally changing one’s sex by obtaining a gender recognition certificate under the Gender Recognition Act – for which a formal process and a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is required.
De-transitioning is the process of reversing a transition, thereby returning to accepting and identifying as the sex that one was born as.
In cases involving no medical treatment, detransitioning is straightforward although no doubt emotionally painful, but where the de-transitioner has had medical treatment, such as surgery or puberty blockers, complete reversal is often impossible, causing great distress.
A woman who had thought she was a transgender man, and medically transitioned at a young age, is currently taking legal action against the NHS clinic that carried out her treatment.
TERF is an acronym, that, like radar, has become a word in its own right.
Originally, it stood for ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist’ – meaning someone with radical feminist politics, who doesn’t accept that transwomen are women, and therefore believes they don’t fall within feminism’s sphere of concern.
Now, TERF is mainly just a term of abuse, used against GCs, to imply they are bigoted, transphobic, and even (the horror) allied with conservatives.
Transphobia is an ill-defined term, which is often used to criticise anyone with GC views.
For example, LGBT activist organisation Stonewall defines transphobia as ‘[t]he fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are trans, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it’.
On that understanding, anyone with reservations about the concept of gender identity, and all its implications, can be described as transphobic.
Because being transphobic is considered a serious transgression, associated with discriminating against and distressing trans people, allegations of transphobia can cause people to refrain from expressing views on matters of sex and gender.
Hopefully this definitional exercise has been more educational than the homework set by Archbishop Sentamu Academy, which incited children to research pornography.