Sex and gender
Here are my answers (with links) to questions posed by the Oxford Student newspaper in October 2018:
1. What is your stance on transphobia?
Transphobia proper is fear of or hostility towards people whose gender expression defies social norms. This sentiment motivates actions ranging from verbal abuse and sexual assault to—at the most horrific extreme—murder. I was living in America when Brandon Teena was cruelly killed with the connivance of the police, and this had a lasting impact on me.
Transphobia might also encompass the bullying of transsexuals by fanatical activists: getting Miranda Yardley permanently banned from Twitter or harassing Debbie Hayton at work.It is not transphobic to discuss the merits of legislation or to debate theories about sex and gender. Dictionary definitions such as ‘woman: adult human female’ and ‘lesbian: female homosexual’ are not transphobic. Nor is it transphobic to call the convicted rapist Karen White—who was placed in a women’s prison—a man.
2. Do you support the University’s policy on transphobia and harassment?
Laura Dillon, graduate of St Anne’s, became the first British transsexual in the 1940s; Laura’s new identity as Michael was made possible because Brasenose provided him with a degree certificate. Many aspects of the University’s policy continue this progressive tradition, such as ending the regulation of sub fusc according to sex. I treat students and colleagues with respect and so would never call a member of the University by a pronoun which he or she found objectionable.
I do not, however, believe that gender identity supersedes sex, any more than I believe that Jesus was the son of God. Therefore I oppose any attempt by the University to establish an official doctrine on gender, just as I would oppose the imposition of a single religion or one particular position on Israel-Palestine. The enforcement of orthodoxy—often disguised as ‘diversity’—would destroy the University’s very foundation: academic freedom.
‘Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful. Inevitably, this will mean that members of the University are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive.’ (University of Oxford’s policy on freedom of speech)
Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford