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Angela Tilby: Forstater case is not such a victory over gender ideology

18 June 2021

YouTube/Woman's Place UK

Maya Forstater speaks at the Women’s Liberation 2020 conference at University College, London, in February 2020

Maya Forstater speaks at the Women’s Liberation 2020 conference at University College, London, in February 2020

IN 2019, Maya Forstater was dismissed from her job with the Centre for Global Development after she questioned government plans to allow people to change gender by simply declaring it. She had insisted that biological sex was real and immutable, and this belief led to her being sacked. Earlier this month, Ms Forstater won an appeal against her dismissal.

The appeal judgment has been criticised by her former employers, who stick to the earlier judgment, which stated that “gender-critical beliefs have no part in a modern democracy.”

The idea that biological sex is no more than a social construct is alive and well in British institutions and universities, even if we haven’t yet reached the more progressive American examples of editing medical textbooks to remove references to “male” and “female”. The dismissal of biological sex is important for those progressives who claim that it harms trans people, because it undermines the more “liberated” view that gender is a matter of personal choice.

Ms Forstater’s victory has been proclaimed as a victory for common sense. But it is less of a victory than it might appear. The judgment does not imply that biological sex is real. It simply means that her belief is protected by law along with, presumably, other eccentric beliefs, which are tolerated as long as no one comes to harm.

I am not convinced that the kind of gender ideology that is now rampant in our institutions actually protects anybody. It certainly harms medicine and patient care. It has been shown many times that men and women manifest disease in different ways, respond differently to drugs, and display different symptoms. Nor does it necessarily protect trans people from manipulation by others. As we are learning from some who have detransitioned, individuals are sometimes urged on the trans path against their best interests.

Surely, personal identity is more a matter of negotiation than choice. The theologian John Milbank has suggested on Twitter that serious conversation, justice, and politics are all under threat “if we arrive at a situation where we are only allowed to address or consider other people in terms of their own self-estimation and self-definition”.

A Christian view of persons suggests that we are never sufficient unto ourselves. Our presence in the world is a constant dialogue between our subjective sense of who we are and the sometimes unwelcome reality of other people.

If I wish to change gender, I need to bear witness to others and to engage with their views of me. Only so can I be assured of their acceptance of me, beyond my self-perception. The alternative is an ideological bid both to deny the way nature works, and to eradicate life-giving aspects of human culture. There is no liberation for anyone in a world that cannot speak of mothers.

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