How did a biologist like Richard Dawkins end up dismissing real science, becoming an ally of transphobes?
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins ha published a podcast where he has a friendly chat with the transphobic TERF Helen Joyce regarding the identities of transgender women.
Dawkins find it “distinctly weird that people can simply declare that ‘I am a woman, though I have a penis’”. He sees this as “a strange distortion of language.”
He backs the anti-trans gospel of reducing gender to biological sex, while defining biological sex on the basis of X and Y chromosomes.
The more he speaks the clearer it becomes that he has not read up on studies of gender incongruence and gender dysphoria, he does not understand contemporary science on social and cultural processes and he has a pretty banal understanding of how science works. He does not even grasp what biology — his own discipline — says about gender identity variation. So how on Earth has he gotten the standing he has?
Being an expert in a narrow field does not make you an expert in another
In the article Why is it so hard for a scientist like Richard Dawkins to understand the difference between sex and gender? we make the following observation:
Science is about looking at specific observable phenomena, trying to explain why they are as they are and to understand their role in larger systems. Science is not limited to physical objects that can be weighed and measured. Science also look at behaviors, emotions and thinking.
Transgender identities are real. They are observable. There are people who persistently and strongly experience that their gender is not in harmony with the gender role they are forced to play. This is a scientific fact. And trans people have been around for millennia.
Gender incongruence is real. Gender dysphoria is real. This is clearly not about people just deciding, on a whim, that they are male or female.
So would it not make sense for a curious scientist to try to understand this phenomenon instead of dismissing it is a “distortion of reality”?
The reason is that scientists like Dawkins may succeed academically as long as they stay inside the narrow silo of their own sub-discipline. As soon as they step outside that community it becomes clear that they do not have the knowledge and experience needed to critically address phenomena that goes across disciplines, social systems or that are encompassing the whole complexity of the mind, the body and the environment that surrounds them
Scientists are as caught up in prejudices and self-interest as everybody else. If they do not use the scientific method to look at all their beliefs, they may also end up as bigots.
Science tells us that sex is not a binary, and nor is gender identity
In the article Richard Dawkins has abandoned science to justify his transphobia Hermant Mehta writes:
The podcast episode dropped days after Dawkins wrote an essay for the British magazine The New Statesman answering the question, “What is a woman?” Dawkins’ reductive response boiled down to “A woman is an adult human female, free of Y chromosomes,” as if the absence of a single chromosome answers the question. That flies in the face of what many scientists have said about the subject.
“There are cisgender women who have XY sex chromosomes, and many other exceptions to binary sex. Around 1 in 1,000 people are intersex,” said Jey McCreight, a science communicator with a Ph.D. in genomics who has consulted on trans inclusivity for biotech companies. McCreight added in an email: “That’s pretty common as far as biology goes. A study may treat sex as binary out of practicality, but scientists understand that reality is more nuanced.”
Despite acknowledging those exceptions exist, Dawkins casually dismisses them, just as he dismisses the genetic influences many experts believe contribute to the development of trans identities. Those exceptions and influences are reasons the American Medical Association and other major medical organizations have supported gender-affirming care.
Maybe trans people are an exception to a common binary. I do not think this is that simple, but let for the sake of argument say that it is so. That does not make the exceptions to the rule, which will be intersex and transgender people, less real. That does not make their identities and their experiences a figment of their imagination.
We cannot let the common use of both everyday and scientific language stop us from understanding what being trans is and means. Because the only reason for doing that would be to force intersex and transgender people into hiding, so that the dogma of fearful people can continue to rule us all. That is not science. That is toxic politics.