According to Helen Joyce, her bestseller Trans is about gender self-identification: the idea that “people should count as men or women according to how they feel and what they declare, instead of their biology”. But she doesn’t say what gender is. When people have these feelings or make these declarations, what are they feeling and declaring? And what does it mean to identify as something? She points out that national laws, company policies, school curricula, medical protocols, academic research and media style guides are all being “rewritten to privilege self-declared gender identity over biological sex”, but she doesn’t say what a gender identity is, or, come to that, what an identity is.
Let us look at these questions to see if we can gain some clarity. In a previous article I argued that the basic term of transgender ideology, namely “gender”, is only an obfuscating euphemism for sex. If it doesn’t mean sex itself but is taken to refer to clusters of features that tend to go with one sex or the other, these are simply clusters of features that tend to go with one sex or the other. To think of them as amounting to separate things called genders that we “have” in the way that we have a sex is mistaken.
A better way of looking at this is in terms of Carl Jung’s archetypes of the animus and anima, each of which, as I understand it, he thought were present in different degrees in both sexes. Moreover, they might co-exist in different degrees in two members of the same sex. So I imagine that he would have said that in a woman like Margaret Thatcher, who was a leader and a firm one, the animus was stronger than in most women while the anima was weaker, whereas someone like Theresa May, a subsequent British prime minister, was more womanish. What he would not have said is anything so trite as that Mrs. Thatcher had the “gender” of a man.
In my own case, as a boy I was never very interested in soccer or military history; I preferred art and cooking. I drew incessantly on the blackboard my father had fitted over an unused fireplace and baked my first loaf of bread at the age of about nine. No one suggested that I had the “gender” of a girl or saw my art or cooking as a problem. As it happened, I also enjoyed going on adventures with a home-made spear and coming back looking as if I had been dragged through a hedge backwards. The idea that people have a gender, unless by this is meant their sex, is a silly oversimplification of a reality that, although variegated, anyone can grasp, nor does the fact that one boy likes one thing while another likes another raise any question about their sex.
When we ask what it means to say that someone identifies as something, we confront a difference between American and British English, for in British English, properly spoken, one cannot say that someone identifies as something but must say that they identify themselves as something. In other words, in British English the verb “identify” is transitive. Since it is a little easier to explain the answer to our question in British English, I will use this to start with and switch to American English later.
What it means to say that someone identifies themselves as something is that they call themselves that thing or describe themselves that way. Thus a man approaching the scene of an accident might identify himself as a doctor. But it is not only oneself that one might identify as something; it could be anything. One might identify that woman over there as French, a bird as belonging to a certain species or a precious stone as an emerald. So we can say that in the sex context, a man who identifies himself as a woman calls himself one. Now, clearly identifications are not necessarily correct. The man who identifies himself as a doctor might not be one; the woman might not be French, and so on. A man who identifies himself as a woman mis-identifies himself.
Whereas what one identifies oneself as is what one calls oneself, one’s identity is what one is. It is an attribute one has. Everyone has many attributes, therefore everyone has many identities, three in the case of an actress with two children, for example, being those of actress, woman and mother. But in today’s political usage the word “identity” has a narrower meaning. Only a few political identities are available, which are defined by reference to a person’s politically salient features, such as their race or sex. Thus one might have the political identity of being Black or White or of being a man or a woman.
Any political identity contrasts with one or more other political identities, and in certain pairs people with one political identity are conventionally described as being oppressed by people with the other. Thus Black people are conventionally described as being oppressed by Whites, and women are conventionally described as being oppressed by men. This comes straight from cultural Marxism and has nothing to do with whether anyone is actually oppressed. It is just theory. But the theory is applied so that “oppressed” groups are favoured over their “oppressors”, making them feel entitled to social goods such as pity, power and preferential treatment. The struggle of favoured “identify groups” to obtain such goods at the expense of their opposite groups is known as identity politics.
Switching to American English now, the sort of people who say that they identify as something also tend to talk about their “identities”, and they generally conflate the two. Thus a man who says that he identifies as a woman will say that being a woman is his identity. It is “who he is”. But in saying this he adds one mistake to another. Not only does he call himself a woman when he is not one; he insists that he really is one. It is as though someone who calls himself Napoleon were to insist that he actually is Napoleon. Both mistakes must be undone before we can see that he is really just Fred Bloggs.
After gender, transgender ideology’s most important concept is that of gender identity, which it defines as a person’s deep, inner sense of their gender, meaning their deep, inner sense of their sex. A transgender person’s “gender identity” is not, however, their identity but a contradiction of it. A man who calls himself a woman still has the identity of a man because he is still a man. Thus the term “gender identity” refers neither to a gender nor to an identity; it refers to a person’s idea of what sex they are. Thus when we hear that someone is “questioning their gender identity”, this is only someone who is wondering whether they are male or female.
As Helen Joyce points out, transgender ideology asserts that we all have a “gender identity”, which in most cases lines up with our sex but in the case of transgenders happens not to. But is it true to say that we all have a deep, inner sense of our sex? I suspect that most people no more have such a thing than they have a deep, inner sense of how many arms they have. For most people, their sex is such an obvious and familiar part of them that they never think about it, still less do they see it as the sort of thing about which they might have opinions. If this is correct, the only people who have “gender identities” are transgenders, whose deep, inner sense of their sex deceives them.
These people’s “gender identities” may be deep and inner, but if they identify as members of the opposite sex, this is something outer, for to call oneself something is an act that requires an audience. If they go so far as to present themselves as members of the opposite sex, in what transgender ideology calls their gender expression, this is a decidedly public act.
People who present themselves as members of the opposite sex run into trouble if they expect others to identify them as they identify themselves. Just as Fred Bloggs, presenting himself as Napoleon, is more likely to be seen as the deluded Fred Bloggs than as Napoleon, so a man presenting himself as a woman is more likely to be seen as a man presenting himself as a woman than as a woman, nor is he much more likely to be treated as a woman than is Fred Bloggs to be treated as an emperor. But whereas Fred Bloggs knows that he must put up with other people failing to endorse his idea of himself, this is more than transgenders can do. At least, it is more than they can do if they follow the example of their activists, who cannot tolerate anyone failing to endorse their self-descriptions.
Years ago, when transgender activists asked themselves what could be done about these unco-operative people, an idea came to them. Why not force them to endorse their self-descriptions? So they set about gaining influence over policy-makers and getting them to bring in rules banning references to anything they didn’t want mentioned. This would mean that when people saw a man presenting himself as a woman, they would have to call him a woman, or at least a “trans woman”. Note that they could not call him a “trans man”. As a term for a transgender man, the term would have been too descriptive. The idea was to conceal the fact that these were men, not disclose it. “Trans men” were therefore women, namely ones who presented themselves as men.
People would also have to refer to transgender men as “she”. If they wanted to refer specifically to such people’s sex, as when talking about their participation in women’s sports, they could not call them men but would have to come up with locutions such as Piers Morgan’s “people born to male biological bodies”. Why not require people to make fools of themselves and waste everyone’s time by using twelve syllables instead of one?
Come to that, why not get policy makers to stop people using the words “mum” and “dad” and “husband” and “wife” as well, as Qantas told its cabin crew to stop doing in 2018? Why not ban the term “expectant mother”, as the British Medical Association did the year before, requiring such women to be called pregnant people? Why not ban the term “breast feeding” into the bargain? Why not get all references to sex, sex roles and family relationships expunged from the language on the grounds that they might “make groups of people invisible” (Qantas), or “offend transgender people” (BMA)? With no reference to basic natural facts permitted, people might eventually forget that they were basic natural facts.
Policy-makers thought that this was such an excellent idea that they couldn’t understand why they hadn’t thought of it themselves, and so it came about that in 2015 two Texan day-care workers could be fired for refusing to call a six-year-old girl “John” after her “two male parents” complained. The fact that the women, as one of them explained, had been “concerned about confusing the little girl” was neither here nor there. In 2016 a British man was convicted of a hate crime for greeting a man he knew by sight with the words “All right, geezer?” after the latter, a veteran of Afghanistan, turned out to identify as a woman. During the appeal hearing the following year the complainant reportedly sobbed as he told the court that he had found the greeting “very upsetting”. It had “denied his humanity”.
In 2018 an American teacher lost his job when he called out to his class of seven-year-olds: “Don’t let her walk into the wall!”, forgetting that the girl in question now called herself a boy. A woman representing the school district illustrated the mental calibre of those applying the rules when she stated: “That was in fact discriminatory because all the other students were being used pronouns and this student was not being used pronouns”.
We have all heard the stories. In 2018 a teacher in Indiana was forced to resign after refusing to go along with his school’s policy of addressing transgender children by their self-chosen first names. At first the school let him use their surnames, then changed its mind without explanation. At the meeting where the new decision was conveyed to him, he found the school administration “very threatening and bullying”. The character of transgender activists seems to have a way of transmitting itself to their proxies. In 2021 a Canadian man was sent to prison for calling his fourteen-year-old daughter his daughter and referring to her as “her”. He was in contempt of court, having already been told to stop doing this.
Just the other day, in Britain a teacher was banned from the profession for “misgendering” a pupil by saying “Well done girls!” His class contained a girl who identified as a boy. He was also alleged to have shown the class a video that referred to men taking responsibility. He denied that he had done this, but the allegation was enough.
Showing that it is now unacceptable to refer to the sexes themselves and not merely to the qualities generally associated with them, on the same day it was reported that an American student was given zero marks for an assignment in which she had used the term “biological women”. Her professor described her work as “solid” but deemed the “exclusionary” expression so offensive that her assignment could not be recognised as having any merit.
And so we see the logical continuation of bans on words like “chairman” and “fireman”, brought in at the behest of feminists decades ago. These were followed by such things as Cardiff Metropolitan University’s 2017 ban on expressions like “man-made”, “right-hand man” and “gentleman’s agreement”. The words “forefathers” and “sportsmanship” were also ruled out. “Manpower” was not to be used, suggested alternatives being “staff” or “human resources”, meaning that students writing about the battle of Agincourt would have to say that the English won when the French ran out of staff or human resources. Many other universities have introduced similar rules.
All this applies the theory behind George Orwell’s Newspeak, that if we lack the word we will lack the concept, and without the concept we will act as if the thing does not exist. The concept mainly slated for deletion is that of men, as in all the examples in the previous paragraph, but as we have seen, our linguistic engineers have it in for the concept of women too. What is really under attack is any awareness of the fact that there are two sexes. As in Newspeak, our vocabulary is constantly reduced so as to “diminish the range of thought”, and it is this most basic fact of life that we must not think about or, ideally, be able to think about.
This takes us some way from the questions we started with, of what genders are, what identities are and what it means to identify as something, but to repeat the answers: gender as a property of a human being does not exist unless by this is just meant their sex; a person’s identity is something about them; and when someone identifies as something, they call themselves that thing, which they might very well not be.
We got from this to the unhappy situation of today by way of the megalomaniac urge of transgender activists, given in to we know not why by policy makers, to control the speech of others so that their delusions would be supported and never questioned. But it turned out that their agenda extended far beyond stopping anyone upsetting them to include reshaping the language so as to rule out any reference to the sexes or their roles in society or reproduction. Thus what Shulamith Firestone specified in 1970 as the end goal of feminist revolution, namely the elimination of the sex distinction itself, approaches fulfilment.
 Helen Joyce, 2022 (2021), Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, London: Oneworld, p. 1.
 Ibid., p. 2.
 The present article uses the terms “transgender person” and “transgender” (as a noun) to denote someone who calls themselves a member of the opposite sex. To keep things simple, it does not consider people with other “gender identities”, such as those who call themselves members of both sexes or of neither.
 New Daily, March 5th 2018, “Qantas bans staff from using ‘gender-inappropriate’ words”, https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/travel/2018/03/05/qantas-ban-gender-inappropriate-words/.
 Telegraph, Jan. 29th 2017, “Don’t call pregnant women ‘expectant mothers’ as it might offend transgender people, BMA says”, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/29/dont-call-pregnant-women-expectant-mothers-might-offend-transgender/.
 WND, Nov. 6th 2015, “Daycare workers fired for refusing transgender demands”, http://www.wnd.com/2015/11/daycare-workers-fired-for-refusing-transgender-demands/.
 MailOnline, Feb. 4th 2017, “Entrepreneur hauled into court for hate crimes after saying ‘all right geezer’ to a transgender war veteran”, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4190064/Entrepreneur-hauled-court-hate-crimes.html.
 The conviction was overturned.
 Conservative Daily Post, unknown date in 2018, “Teacher forced to resign after transgender demands ordered by school”, https://conservativedailypost.com/teacher-forced-to-resign-after-transgender-demands-ordered-by-school/ (page no longer there).
 Breitbart, March 18th 2021, “Canadian Man Jailed After ‘Misgendering’ His Daughter”, https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2021/03/18/canadian-man-jailed-after-misgendering-his-daughter/.
 Christian Concern, May 23rd 2023, “Heartbroken teacher banned from profession for ‘misgendering’ pupil”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tm3dKtjN6SQ. The teacher was Joshua Sutcliffe, who said: “Well done girls!” in 2017. A bible study club he had started had already been closed down. The Teaching Regulation Agency backed the punishment (Christian Concern, May 26th 2023, “Teacher banned for ‘misgendering’ | Round The Table”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-53JYC1Pgg&t=130s). See also Telegraph, May 23rd 2023, “Joshua Sutcliffe interview: I was told ‘call her a him’. I couldn’t go along with it”, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/05/23/teacher-sacked-misgendering-pupil/?utmsource=email.
 Independent, March 3rd 2017, “University bans phrases such as ‘mankind’ and ‘gentleman’s agreement’ in favour of gender-neutral terms”, https://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/university-cardiff-metropolitan-bans-phrases-mankind-gentleman-s-agreement-genderneutral-terms-free-speech-a7609521.html.
 For other examples see BirminghamLive, July 7th 2022, “University bans terms ‘mankind’ and ‘manpower’ over fears of offending”, https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/university-bans-terms-mankind-manpower-24421851.
 George Orwell, 1989 (1949), Nineteen Eighty-Four, London: Penguin, p. 313 (from the Appendix: “The principles of Newspeak).
 Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution is quoted by Ryan T. Anderson, 2019 (2018), When Harry Became Sally, New York: Encounter Books, p. 151.