A relatively unknown cyclist

Hadley Freeman on Rachel McKinnon’s triumphant own goal:

Two weeks ago Martina Navratilova, one of the greatest athletes of all time, leaped into the notoriously feverish gender debate and wrote that self-identified trans women should not have an automatic right to compete in women’s sports because they have unfair advantages from having been born male. The media, terrified of being on the wrong side of history, responded predictably, and headlines said that Navratilova was “criticised over ‘cheating’ trans women comments”, although this criticism came largely from a relatively unknown cyclist, Rachel McKinnon, with a history of incendiary remarks (such as that lesbians such as Navratilova should “get over their genital hang-ups” when it comes to choosing sexual partners). When Navratilova published a further blog last weekend, firmly restating her position, the headlines again suggested wrongdoing on her part, such as the BBC’s “Navratilova sorry for transgender ‘cheat’ language as she re-enters debate”.

This is what I kept saying – the Guardian and the BBC kept using infuriatingly loaded language. Freeman points out that the support of other star athletes got less attention.

One can firmly defend a person’s right to live in the gender identity of their choosing yet also look at photos of trans women athletes such as Gabrielle LudwigNatalie van Gogh and McKinnon standing alongside their strikingly smaller female team-mates, and think Navratilova’s arguments are worth investigating instead of dismissing with cries of bigotry.

That’s because a person’s right to live in the gender identity of their choosing can’t be completely free of qualification without bumping up against other people’s rights. Rachel Dolezal can “live in” whatever racial identity she likes, but she can’t claim prizes or roles intended for African-Americans without bumping up against the rights of African-Americans.

Feminists and the LGBT movement are usually allies, and yet they have become antagonists on this issue – and if there’s one person in this country who has, at the very least, exacerbated this, it’s Maria Miller. In 2017, as chair of the women and equalities committee, Miller produced a report on transgender rights in which she recommended that changing gender should be through a process of “self-declaration” rather than after consultation with a doctor.

But changing gender isn’t changing sex, as feminists have been pointing out.

Miller set off a savage culture war in which the losers were women, trans and not, all of whom felt unfairly attacked; and they were all correct. Biological women felt like they were being told to engage in magical thinking, deny their lived experience and accept the irrelevancy of biology, while trans women felt like they were being asked to defend their identity.

There’s quite a large gap between those two sets, though. Being told to engage in magical thinking, deny one’s lived experience, and accept the irrelevancy of biology is a good deal more basic and all-pervading than being asked to defend one’s “identity”…especially when what is meant by “identity” is so squishy and variable and already-politicized. The identity woman is rather different from the identity man who feels like a woman. Women can’t identify their way out of forced pregnancy.

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