Image by Martin Janecek

CNN’s optical delusion

How American progressives get “TERF Island” wrong

Artillery Row

While other US liberal news outlets have tentatively started to publish mildly gender-critical articles, CNN remains firmly stuck in the discourse of 2018. Its London-based correspondent Tara John explains in her Twitter profile that her remit is “identity and misinformation in Europe”. Make of that what you will.

Some see a vase while others see two faces

TJ’s offering of 17 July (“Britain’s Conservative party leadership race is turning into a transphobic spectacle”) tells readers the Tory leadership campaign is marked by the promotion of “anti-trans positions”.

Those unfamiliar with this language may assume that the current well-enshrined rights of transgender people in the UK are under attack from people who fear and hate them. This is nonsense. The words “anti-trans” and “transphobic” mean rejecting the view that everyone has a gender identity — and that this identity matters more than natal sex. 

Sex-based rights can be seen like the Rubin vase. Developed by the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin, this is a kind of brain-tickling optical illusion. Some see a vase while others see two faces. 

Let us call Tara John a vase person. She thinks that efforts to protect safeness and fairness in women’s and girls’ sport are about the right to assert your gender identity in all situations — the vase — and she cannot see the women and girls whose rights are at stake. 

She calls criticism of “clumsy, gender-neutral language” an attack on the vase, rather than seeing those who assert women’s reality and the rights of lesbians, gays and bisexuals to our own words.

TJ assumes that calls for schools to be more careful in their in teaching of issues around sex and gender are a cruel denial of the vase’s existence. No. 

The point is that children should not be taught that they may have been “born in the wrong body” — something which may sound plausible in the highly religious society of the US, but which is gradually being rejected in the more secular Britain. It is a dogma that has a profound impact on children who are “gender non-conforming” — many of whom would grow up LGB. They are or would be quite satisfied with themselves, with no need for drugs or surgery, if not encouraged along a path to lifelong medicalisation. 

They are leading thousands of girls to seek mastectomies

It is not kind to suggest that an “effeminate” teenage boy who fancies other boys might “really be a girl”, or that a teenage girl who likes rugby and fancies other girls might “really be a boy” — but that is what children are hearing at school (even in the UK) and online. These suggestions are homophobic. They are leading thousands of girls to seek mastectomies.

The Democratic Party in the United States has embraced the view that rights depend on identity rather than reality — indeed, there is a movement to deny that objective “reality” exists at all. This way madness lies. It is a relinquishment of the precious heritage of the Enlightenment and it will not prevail in the UK, which American gender identity enthusiasts sneeringly call “TERF Island”.

As far as the Conservative party leadership is concerned, the main point relating to “trans issues” was that the candidate Penny Mordaunt has lied about her position. That is very well documented by both sides of the sex and gender debate. Lies are a major issue in this leadership campaign, which, indeed, was prompted by an excess of lying.

TJ’s article focuses exclusively on the vase perspective — so much that we see quotation marks around “biological women”. This fixation blots out the alternative perspective: that making it easy for trans people (and by implication anyone else) to change their “gender marker” without medical requirements is not about “an estimated 0.6 per cent of the population”, as Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley disingenuously maintains. It is about the whole of society. 

It is time CNN dares to look at the faces. 

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