Trans, Sex and Gender Issues

I started writing this post around three years ago when J.K. Rowling wrote a long piece on sex and gender issues, specifically around trans issues. Most of my posts I complete in a few minutes, or maybe a couple of days. The fact I have not finished this until February 2023, indicates how challenging the area can be. I have wanted to get the facts and the tone just right, which means I needed a decent spell of unbroken concentration.

These issues are very complex, despite those who prefer one line slogans.

So here is my fairly lengthy post explaining my views on these issues.

My starting point is I want a society where we maximise happiness. If people can live happier lives by living and identifying as a gender different to their biological sex, then we should be fully supportive of that as a society.

I can only imagine how hugely challenging it must be to not identify with your biological sex, and the mental health challenges involved with that. I absolutely support people being able to change their gender to reflect their sense of identity, and we should support and accept that both as a community and as individuals.

A good read is this blog post by a man whose partner transitioned from female to male.

But, and of course there is a but, there are some situations where biological sex needs to still be regarded as a factor, not just gender identity. I’m going to outline some of those areas below. Returning to my theme of maximising happiness, we should be fully supportive of allowing people to live and participate in their gender identity, unless doing so might reduce happiness to others. By that I don’t mean reduce happiness in the sense of personal disapproval, but in terms of substantive harm.

This is not an issue such as same sex marriage (which I actively campaigned for) where there was no real balancing of competing interests. Allowing same sex couple to marry doesn’t negatively impact anyone else, but (for example) the issues of trans participation in sports does bring in competing or clashing interests of inclusiveness vs fairness.

Now where things get difficult is that some (not all) trans people feel any discussion of these issues invalidates their identity, and marginalises them further. And I accept this can be the case. But I don’t think the solution is not to ban discussion and label any women who disagrees as a TERF. It is to try and have the discussion in a respectful way.

As a society I believe we need to recognise people have a biological sex and a gender identity. In most cases they are the same, not not all. Generally the gender identity is what should be determinative, but there are a few areas where biological sex is also a factor.

In terms of the science, this June 2021 article in Endocrine Reviews makes some good points.

The terms sex and gender should not be used interchangeably. Sex is dichotomous, with sex determination in the fertilized zygote stemming from unequal expression of sex chromosomal genes. By contrast, gender includes perception of the individual as male, female, or other, both by the individual and by society; both humans and animals have sex, but only humans have gender.

Now it is also worth nothing that while biological sex is for most people a binary issue – you are male XY or female XX, there are some who fall outside those two. Sarah Bickerton wrote an excellent article in Stuff on how she is intersex. Also another article on Sarah here.

The fact some people are intersex doesn’t change the fact that there are still biological differences between men and women. Humans are described as a bipedal species, even though some humans are born with a disability where they are not bipedal.

Politicians get in trouble trying to answer the question “What is a woman”, and my answer would be

“It depends on whether you mean biological sex or gender. In terms of biological sex it is an adult with no Y chromosomes, in terms of gender it is an adult who’s identifies as female”.

So what are the issues in this area, where there is contention between people?

Identity Documents

I support people being able to change their gender on their passport and their birth certificate.

The issue is should there be criteria, and what should they be.

It used to be that you could only change your birth certificate (so it matches your passport) by way of application to the Family Court. This was far too burdensome, I agree. But I do worry the current law (to take effect this year) of simple application by way of statutory declaration is open for abuse by the who are not genuinely trans. As an example, Lauren Southern used a similar process in Canada to change her legal gender to male. I’d be more comfortable with a simple medical certificate from a GP affirming the person genuinely identifies as a gender different to their biological sex.

Names and pronouns

If someone changes their name, you should call them by their new name. It’s the polite and decent thing to do. I don’t think you should be banned from social media for failing to do so, but I think deliberately misnaming someone is an arsehole thing to do. Appalling to read this story about how someone transitioned and some of her colleagues would not call her by her new name, and would refer to her as it. What an nasty thing to do.

The use of preferred pronouns in signatures can be useful in a lot of situations – someone may be trans, or they may have a name commonly used by both genders, or a non-English name which many would not know as male or female. I have found it useful on a number of occasions to find out my assumptions are wrong, due to people using their preferred pronouns.

But for many people there is no benefit in listing your pronouns. My name is David. I am biologically male and identify as male and have done so all my life. I don’t feel the need to state I am he/him in my e-mail signature. And God save me from woke mobs who insist that every single adult must now include preferred pronouns, to prove they are allies. Use them if they would be useful to you, or you want to – but also understand that bullying people into using them is wrong.

Another language issue is the drive to remove the word women from the language. Instead of pregnant women, we now have pregnant people. This is silly. If you want to be a man, great – go for it and transition. But if you want to be pregnant and have a baby, that is hardly consistent with wanting to be a man. Now on an individual level, you should respect what choices someone has made, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw out the word women from all literature.


This is one of the highest profile and most difficult areas. Most scientists have concluded that biological males who go through puberty as males have significant advantages in terms of strength and speed that persist, even if testosterone levels are decreased. A review of the latest science found adult male athletes have on average a 10-12% performance advantage over female competitors in swimming and running, 20% advantage in jumping and 35% in strength-based sports.

One should have sympathy for transgender athletes. They work and train hard to get to the top tier, and banning them from competing because they are transgender is harsh on them. And no, I don’t think anyone would go through hormone and/or surgery just so they can better comparative sporting results.

But you also have to have sympathy for the female athletes who are biologically female. They can train just as hard and be the best in the world, but then have someone who is not biologically a female beat them, and feel that nothing they can do will allow them to win.

The trade-off is inclusiveness vs fairness.

The difference between the sexes can be immense. The national women’s football teams from Australia, USA and Brazil were beaten comprehensively (7-0, 5-2, 6-0 respectively) by club teams of 14- and 15-year-old boys in practice matches.

I would divide sports into three levels – school age, adult and elite.

At school age sports I would prioritise inclusiveness over fairness. I think it would be incredibly damaging to a trans student to not be allowed to participate in sports in line with their gender identity. The mental health risks at this age are huge.

I despair at Republican state legislatures passing laws to ban transgender students from competing in school athletics etc in line with their gender identity. A former Chief Judge of the US District Court of the Southern District of West Virginia issued an injunction against one such law.

At the other end of the spectrum, at elite or professional level, I think you have to prioritise fairness. Elite athletes can spend thousands of hours training to be the best in the world at an event, and it isn’t fair if they have to compete against someone they literally have no chance of beating.

I think each sports bodies should make their own rules. In archery it might not matter if a biological male competes with biological women, but in swimming it does. Decisions should follow the science.

At adult non-elite level, I tend to favour inclusiveness over fairness, so long as it is safe. So in contact sports you may not allow a trans-woman to compete with biological women, but in table tennis you might. Leave it to each sport again.


I just don’t get the hysteria about trans-women using women’s toilets. You have cubicles. If it were not for urinals, I’d have all toilets unisex anyway. The notion of toilets are a place where you are safe from people who may be sexually attracted to you is outdated. If someone behaves inappropriately, then deal with the behaviour. I absolutely support people using the toilet of the identified gender.

Changing Rooms

While concerns around toilets are, in my view, grossly overstated, changing rooms are a more challenging issue. In LA a transgender woman disrobed in a women’s changing room, displaying her penis. I can understand how women in a changing room don’t want to view a penis in there. But also trans people need to change somewhere, and having her change in the men’s changing room is also problematic. The solution is not a law, but good faith. On an individual basis, you just need to work out an acceptable solution. Maybe a third small changing room?

You need to allow any organisation with changing rooms to decide for themselves what the policy is.

The same goes for places like women’s refuge. The law should not dictate if a refuge or shelter for women goes off biological sex or gender identity. Each refuge should be able to decide for themselves what is appropriate.


In California’s largest female prison, they are now introducing pregnancy resources because of the possibility a transwoman could get a ciswoman pregnant.

Nicola Sturgeon has just resigned as Scotland’s First Minister because her Government put a convicted double rapist into a women’s prison because they changed their gender.

This is again one of those situations where decisions need to be made on a case by case basis. Someone who is a trans-women who is in a male prison will face real danger. But putting a rapist into a women’s prison can put women prisoners at risk.

The law needs to allow prison authorities decide the best course of action taking into account the crimes committed, whether the prisoner has had surgery or hormone treatment, the security levels of the prisons involved etc.


This article details how media are routinely referring to some rapists as female. The general rule is refer to someone using their gender identity. But if an offender has a penis and has raped someone, then I think it can revictimise the victim to have their offender described as a woman in court documents and reporting. In this rare case, the rights of the victim should have precedence over the identity of the rapist.

Treatment for Children

I have read a huge amount in this area. It is complex, but let’s start with a basic statement.

I do think people aged under 18 who are firm about wanting to change their gender identity should generally be able to start treatment before they are 18, but decisions on individual cases should reflect the individual circumstances, and not just be treated as an automatic yes.

The two major factors are the age of the young person, and the severity of the treatment. The younger someone is, the more caution you should apply to starting treatment. A 12 year old is not the same as a 17 year old.

Also taking hormone blockers is different to having sex change surgery.

The concern over whether children are receiving appropriate treatment is widespread. In this article two prominent providers in the field of transgender medicine detail their concerns, and incidentally both are themselves transgender women.

This more recent article is by a former staffer in a paediatric gender clinic and details very worrying cases. The former staffer is not some right wing conservative but a queer woman, politically to the left of Bernie Sanders, married to a trans-man.

A report into the controversial Tavistock Clinic in the UK made a very salient point:

At primary, secondary and specialist level, there is a lack of agreement, and in many instances a lack of open discussion, about the extent to which gender incongruence in childhood and adolescence can be an inherent and immutable phenomenon for which transition is the best option for the individual, or a more fluid and temporal response to a range of developmental, social, and psychological factors. 

The key point is that one should not start with an assumption that transition is the answer to every child who has gender incongruence. It may be the correct course for the majority, but there is a legitimate concern that in some clinics, you are not allowed to argue against transition. There are concerns that some (not all) of the children wanting to transition may just have same sex attraction.

Just in the US there has been a 300% increase in gender dysphoria diagnosis in five years. It is not anti-trans to want to know what is causing this increase – is it just increased social acceptability and awareness, or is it that it is being diagnosed wrongly for some?

Two long-time feminists raise issues in this op ed about why gender confusion and transgender is not the same thing and caution is needed.

Now again I support there being services that will help youth transition. This is not a binary issue where you think there should be no support at all or you think there should be no criteria. In many cases transitioning as a young person is absolutely the right thing to do, and puberty blockers or hormone are an appropriate treatment. But clinicians must be able to assess each patient on their individual circumstances, and not be pressured to just affirm transitioning regardless of the specifics of a case.

Anyway so that is my take on the issues around trans, gender and sex. It is worth noting that these are mainly issues around the margin. The vast majority of trans people are not competing in the Olympics, in prison etc. The most important thing, in my view, is to treat people who are trans with kindness and respect for their gender identity. If you are a parent of young children, there is a chance your child may turn out to be trans, and I am sure you would want them to have a great life where they are adored for the unique individual they are.

Comments (159)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment