One of the issues that seems to come up frequently in regards to those whose gender does not match their assigned sex is participation in sport. Just to be clear before any discussion happens, I do not have the answers here, only questions. There was some controversy over Rachel McKinnon (who seems now to be called Veronica Ivy) winning a world championship track cycling event, because Rachel McKinnon was born a biological male and competes against biological females. She states that restricting entry on the basis of biological sex is a form of discrimination:
Speaking before the event, McKinnon told Sky News: “By preventing trans women from competing or requiring them to take medication, you’re denying their human rights.”
Dr Rachel McKinnon, who was born a biological male, says all her medical records say female, her doctor treats her as a female, and her racing licence says female, but that “people who oppose her existence still want to think of her as male.”
Does Rachel McKinnon have a right to use the women's bathroom because she says she is a woman? Does Rachel McKinnon have a right to compete in women's sport because she says she is a woman? Well, as I say, I've not got a straight answer to that question. The answer seems to have to take either one of the two lines I suggested in my previous post: either you're a woman because you say you are, which is the line taken by the judge in the Maya Forstater case, or you're a woman because you were born one, which is the line the JK Rowling took in the controversial tweet discussed.
So, what? There's a clear issue around how people's bodies can be manipulated to give them a competitive advantage, and the question is to what extent making a choice about how you compete is a manipulation of that kind. The usual form of manipulation is taking a performance-enhancing drug, which might allow harder, longer training, or give an advantage of blood oxygen, or whatever it is. Some of these manipulations are seen as fair, such as deliberately training at high altitude. Some are seen as unfair, such as flooding the body with anabolic steroids or whatever the drug of the day happens to be. This debate is a more subtle one, with a much greater potential for harm for individuals caught up in it. One need only read a few news stories about Caster Semenya to get a sense of how much bodies both matter and can't be simply and easily categorised. Her problem was an excess of testosterone that has now been legislated for - in effect, she can't compete without taking a further drug to reduce this level - in a way that some folk think is so targeted (it basically covers her events) it exists solely to 'manage' her.
What matters? It's not for me to say, but the question rests on the basic idea of whether there is something that has any kind of legitimacy that is part of a person's identity, that lines up with their biological sex. If not, then people seem to be free to self-define as whatever they want, and in which case, the old-school division of sport into men's and women's categories doesn't work, because it presupposes a simple binary choice or system of gender which has its basis, as far as I can tell, in the fact that biological sex is binary. If gender isn't the same thing as sex, why does it need to be straightforwardly bivalent? In any case, the world of sport has some thinking to do, because the answer will depend on this rather challenging philosophical question. The objection to the idea that someone who is a trans woman is in fact a woman is that you can't be(come) a woman simply by saying that you are one. The opposite line of thought, that you are those things you define yourself as being, says that it is your fundamental right to make those choices. And in this case, the world of sport hasn't really worked out what authority it looks to to answer that question.
But, again, I stress the fundamental, go-to question that I always try to hold in my mind when I'm doing moral thinking. Am I being kind? Is the competitor who objected to Rachel McKinnon taking part in women's cycling having her rights (to compete only against other people she would be happy to define as women) curtailed? Is Rachel McKinnon potentially having her rights (to compete as a woman, which she defines as) curtailed? Which right matters more? Sadly, this battleground - it really appears to be exactly that - is inhabited by a lot of people who aren't equipped to discuss the matter with the kind of subtlety and sympathy that it requires, and the forces lining up on either side of the divide are represented by the loudest, not necessarily the most thoughtful, of voices. But thoughtful, philosophically-minded folk are probably as far from the forefront of public discussion as they have ever been, which is a shame.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought