Many of Joyce’s arguments boil down to the idea that trans people aren’t the only ones with skin in the game here. Where self-ID reigns, she writes, other vulnerable groups potentially suffer. Cisgender women, for instance, lose full access to truly sex-segregated realms that offer protection and other benefits, such as locker rooms, sports teams and prisons, because the primacy of gender identity within this ideology renders the concept of biological sex fundamentally irrelevant.
Gender-nonconforming children, meanwhile, are told from a young age that if their sex or its associated gender roles make them uncomfortable, that’s because, despite their body, they have a “boy brain” or a “girl brain” and that’s who they really are on the inside — and so their only real choice is to transition or to suffer forever. This despite evidence suggesting that gender dysphoria, especially in childhood, can have multiple causes, and often (though by no means always) dissipates over time without transition being necessary.
Joyce offers many troubling examples of what happens when a fundamentalist strain of gender-identity ideology takes hold. In Ireland, England and Canada, natal males convicted of violent sex crimes, but who identify as women, have been housed in women’s prisons. In England, a previously convicted pedophile, in jail on suspicion of having stabbed a neighbor, sexually assaulted multiple female inmates she was housed with. In British Columbia, more than a dozen female beauticians were forced to spend significant time and energy fending off a human rights complaint filed by a trans woman because they refused to wax her penis and testicles. In Spain and Australia, female politicians faced official investigations for expressing public opposition to self-ID.
Recently, England and Wales considered making it much easier for trans people to obtain a so-called gender-recognition certificate, bringing the process in line with the precepts of self-ID. The process included a period of “public consultation,” and during it, Joyce writes, feminist activists attempting to organize public events opposing self-ID were met with constant threats of venue cancellations, intimidation from protesters, at least one assault (of a 61-year-old woman) and other obstacles to simply expressing public opposition to a proposed policy change. (The Conservative government pulled the proposal last year, announcing, as a compromise, a reduction in the cost of obtaining a G.R.C.) In light of the evidence she marshals, it is difficult to disagree with Joyce’s assessment that “intimidation and harassment are carried out openly and proudly” against many of those who question the tenets of gender-identity ideology out loud.
So Joyce’s arguments are convincing. But here and there, I found myself wishing for a bit more nuance. For example, she leans heavily on the so-called desistance literature showing that childhood gender dysphoria often abates in time, but she doesn’t explain that some activists and academics have challenged its validity. These challenges happen to be overblown — my position is much closer to Joyce’s — but they warrant mention. It isn’t that some trans activists “forget that the majority of children will desist” if they don’t socially transition, as Joyce puts it — it’s that they deny that this is the case altogether. It’s important to render one’s opponents’ arguments as accurately as possible.
Similarly, in a section about the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s guidelines for treating gender dysphoria, Joyce writes: “New standards of care are being drawn up as I write. But I see no reason to expect any turn back from ideology and towards evidence.” My own reporting suggests things are more complicated than that, at least when it comes to the child and adolescent guidelines: The subcommittees responsible for writing those sections include a number of clinicians who openly share some of Joyce’s concerns and who think the climate surrounding youth transition is trending toward recklessness. Joyce’s narrative of radical activists having nearly routed sober-minded scientists is a bit too tidy, in this case.
“Trans” is also very thin on citations — this might seem like nit-picking, but in a book so focused on in-the-weeds political and scientific controversies of a morally supercharged nature, it isn’t. And it’s a small point, but Joyce repeatedly calls Martine Rothblatt, a famous transgender woman and entrepreneur, a “billionaire,” even though she doesn’t appear to be quite so wealthy.
In context, though, these are fairly minor shortcomings. “Trans” is a compelling, overdue argument for viewing self-ID more critically. Even those outraged by Joyce’s positions would benefit from understanding them, given that, as she notes, self-ID polls quite poorly when its actual tenets are fully described to Americans and to the British. The present situation, in which liberal institutions not only embrace these ideas unquestioningly but also, increasingly, punish dissidents, is unsustainable. Open conversation about such fraught issues is the only realistic path forward, and Joyce’s book offers a good, impassioned start.