Opening Words from Sun. June 11 by Anya Overmann: Why “gender critical” sounds like a good thing, but isn’t

Hello and a very happy Pride Month to all!

Today I want to talk to you about the term “gender critical” and why it sounds like a good thing, but isn’t. Have you ever heard this term before? I didn’t start hearing it until the last few years. “Gender critical” sounds like something good – like something progressive and worthwhile engaging. We should be critical of gender… right?

Well, it turns out that when you dig deeper into what gender critical really means, it turns out it’s a lot like the term “right to work.” If you were a Missouri voter last November, you may remember that there was a failed effort to get a right-to-work law on the ballot. Right to work sounds like it’s good – like it’s granting some sort of enhanced freedom to work, right? But really, these right-to-work laws are actually terrible for workers and leave them with fewer rights.

Turns out it’s just a spectacular branding effort to get workers to vote against their own interests (just not quite spectacular enough to pass in Missouri). So right-to-work sounds good on the surface, but it turns out it’s actually pretty dehumanizing and regressive.

This is also the case with the term “gender critical.” It’s a great branding spin on a dehumanizing and regressive idea. If you do a quick Google search, this is what comes up for gender critical:

“Feminists who describe themselves as ‘gender-critical’ say that biological sex is ‘real, important, and immutable’ and is ‘not to be conflated with gender identity,’ and that feminism should organize with emphasis on the basis of sex rather than gender.”

This is where the dehumanization begins to show. The word “immutable” and the phrase “should organize with emphasis on the basis of sex rather than gender” swiftly erase the transgender experience. There is no space for being transgender in the “gender critical” worldview.

And look, I do understand the reasoning behind why a lot of feminists align themselves in this way – as wanting to protect what it means to be a “woman.” As a feminist who has been raped and sexually assaulted multiple times, I certainly understand the importance of safe spaces.

But reducing a transwoman to her genitals as a reason not to include her in these spaces is plainly bigoted. It’s what is called a “trauma-driven decision.” It’s hurt people hurting people. If I, as a feminist, were so threatened by a woman’s genitalia that I could not accept her as a woman, how would that make me any better than the misogynists I’m fighting against? It doesn’t. And no amount of dehumanization I experience as a cisgender woman – a woman who just happened to be assigned a sex at birth that I identify with – gives me license to dehumanize transgender women.

If you were not previously familiar with the term “gender critical,” you may be unaware that it is often invoked not only by fringe feminists like J.K. Rowling but also by non-religious, secular, atheist/skeptic people like Paul Boghossian, Michael Shermer, and David Silverman.

One would think we could count on these folks for high-quality skepticism and rationality, but this cohort instead turns to misrepresented science and shoddy philosophy to make their arguments. Instead, these famous skeptics are throwing away their rationality for bigotry.

So let’s start identifying gender critical for what it really is: transphobia. Gender critical is a transphobic wolf dressed in feminist sheep clothing. Science has advanced, we’ve learned more, and the evidence is out there that biology is far more nuanced than the now-antiquated, simplistic biological categorizations of XX chromosomes = female and XY = male. Gender is not a binary, and neither is sex.

Let’s put a stop to this “hurt people hurt people” pattern and invoke the Ethical Core Value that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and kindly.

We won’t let the clever branding of “gender critical” fool us. This community is loving and brave enough to stand strong in solidarity with our transgender community members and challenge the term “gender critical” wherever it is raised – even amongst our own. I leave you with the thought that shooting down this masked bigotry is an act of love; not an act of “being rude.” Just like an airport, if you see something, say something. Thank you.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.