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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  February 2, 2022 12:30am-1:01am GMT

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this is bbc news. we'll have all the main headlines as newsday continues, straight after hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. of all the front lines in the so—called culture wars, none has stirred up more vitriol and had blood than the argument over sex, gender and identity. how should society regard people who transition away from the biological sexual category they're born into? and what represents the truth of who we are — biology, or self—identity?
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well, my guest is kathleen stock, a british academic, whose work has generated a storm of controversy and led to her resignation from her university post. why has this issue become a battleground? kathleen stock, welcome to hardtalk. hello. i want to begin, if i may, by asking you about what happened to you last year. after 18 years at the university of sussex, you walked away from your academic post. now, ijust wonder, having had
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a few months to reflect on it, whether you are still sure you did the right thing. yes, i'm still sure i did the right thing, because the situation was pretty intolerable for me. at the time, there was this big campaign against me, by who knows how many students, but, at one point, there was over 100 on campus demonstrating against me during a university open day. they were letting off flares, they were writing graffiti, there was posters everywhere with my name on them. some pretty vile abuse. it was intense and very unpleasant, and, you know, not an environment i could do the things i want to do when i teach and research and live a normal life, so it was impossible for me to carry on there. and the union that was supposed to represent lecturers came out basically in favour of the protesters, which meant that some of my colleagues agreed with what was happening to me and that's also pretty difficult to put up with. so i decided to leave.
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it was your decision. i mean, the university chancellor had declared his support for you. he said that this was a fundamental matter of academic freedom, and you didn't feel that you could bear to continue the fight, i suppose? i mean, this was the culmination of quite a long process, and it had been really unpleasant to work there for several years. so, yeah, i was pretty worn down by it. and ijust — you know, i'm not a martyr figure, i don't intend to be one, and i don't want to stay somewhere where i'm deeply unhappy, so i think it was time for me to leave. so, let's get to the nub of what all of this controversy was about. you were a trained philosopher... "trained philosopher"! philosophy is your thing, and many people watching and listening might wonder, why was a philosopher getting so deeply engaged in issues of sexual gender identity and the whole sort of nature of womanhood,
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if i can put it that way? well, because the questions about sex and gender and womanhood are deeply philosophical — they're about who we are, they're ethical as well, because it's about how we make policies and laws, and whose interests we listen to and who we don't listen to, perhaps, orwhose we should listen to, and so these are... you know, it's meat and drink to the average philosopher, or it should be, to be able to talk about this. of course, what we know in reality is people are very frightened to talk about it, including academics, because of the toxicity around it. but, you know, it's obvious to me, that these are philosophical issues, and a bunch of philosophers are being wheeled in, like people likejudith butler and michel foucault, like big figures from the academic world are being wheeled in to justify quite a lot of policy decisions, so that makes it clear that the territory... i take the point. it is directly relevant to issues facing philosophers, but if i am not wrong, your core beliefs in this area
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can be boiled down to something fairly simple, both drawn from your book, material girls, and also your blog posts. you believe that humans are born in male and female form. it's straightforward, it's binary, and that humans cannot change their sexual reality. is that a fair summation of the core of what your message is? they can't change their sex, yes. and the issue about whether sex is binary or not, yes. i think, in the sense in which biology is binary, then clearly human sex is binary, like 99.8% of us are completely, unambiguously, in one sex or the other, and there's a small amount of ambiguity, but that's consistent with there being a binary in nature. that's the only kind of binary we'd ever get, so... cos biology, basically, always includes variation. so, yes. now, you can't change sex, so, my views, although you presented it in the run—up
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to this as very controversial, actually, my views are very uncontroversial to most people. well, they're not uncontroversial to people who have transgendered, and there is a huge community of interest, notjust of transgendered people themselves, but also supporters and activists, who very much campaign with them, who believe that your message — and, again, i hope i'm not being too simplistic — but your message that no trans woman is really literally a woman and no trans man is literally a man, that message to many people, is deeply upsetting and, indeed, offensive. yes, it is. i'm sorry about that, but it is, but i also would like to push back a little bit there, that is certainly not the case, that all trans people disagree with me, because lots of trans people know... to be fair to me, i didn't say that. i know, ijust want to make it clear, because i think often this can get sort of presented as a fight between the feminists and the trans people and,
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actually, that's not the case at all, as far as i can see. most trans people know what sex they are, because they wouldn't be trans if they didn't, you know, so they know that they have transitioned... well, yes, it's about tenses then, isn't it? they know what sex they were, what their identity was, and they want to change it. well, sex and identity are not the same things, and i think, i honestly think... i mean, it's notjust to be rhetorical, i think most trans people know what sex they are, because sex is to do with the chromosomes in your cells and those sorts... and the genitalia that you were born with and the reproductive role that you have, and you can artificially change those things, but you haven't changed your basic state. i'm sorry if that's distressing to hear, but i mean, it'sjust... but then there's a question of what that actually means. you know, there's a phrase that some of your critics have used, like robin white, a leading barrister. she's a trans woman. she says that what you're talking about is a form
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of biological essentialism. that's the phrase she uses and says it doesn't even begin to meet the reality of what life is for those living as transgendered individuals. i mean, that's a grand—sounding phrase, but essentialism is, you know, can mean different things, philosophically. i'm certainly not saying that the most important thing about, say me, is that i am a woman. i'm simply insisting that there are categories that the world gives us and that we need concepts for, and it's not up to us what those categories are. and i don't think it's in the interests of women and children to pretend, across all domains, that males can become women, because that has knock—on consequences in terms of the spaces, women's spaces, women's sports teams, women's resources. so, this isn'tjust an abstract argument. it's definitely not abstract. you are, in essence, saying that women's rights do not, or some women's
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rights, do not extend to transgendered women. i am saying that, that's not me being mean, it's just that not all, you know, interests have to be separate out of different groups. i'm certainly for trans people's rights, i'm just saying that they're not the same as women's rights. yeah, i'm not fora minute trying to suggest you're being mean, i'm trying to get to the heart of what you believe, cos, again, problematic for a lot of trans people, is your notion that, while they fully believe in the identity that they project to the world, you're saying, as i understand it, that it is a form of fiction. you've used this phrase immersive fiction, which, to my ear, makes it seem like you're saying that transgendered people are living some sort of a lie. no, absolutely not, and my former work in philosophy was mostly in fiction, so i feel pretty confident in saying there's a difference between immersing yourself imaginatively, in a story, which you know is a fiction. is not true.
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and you know it is not true, but not true is not the same as lie. i mean, we need to be a bit more subtle about our distinctions than that. if you go to the cinema and immerse yourself in a fantastically gripping film, you're not under any illusion, you know, that it's real. or at least you may be under an illusion for that moment, but you're certainly not committed to that forever, that thought, you don't believe it. you imagine it or you get involved in the fiction. so, i think that's... i mean, it may be offensive to people to hear it, but i think... just, if i may — put yourself, if you would, into the shoes of a transgendered individual. how do you think what you've just said would sound to them? the notion that they're living in an immersive fiction. first, i have put it to many trans people, i discuss it with them, and trans people aren't a monolith, so i think we need to move away from the idea that just because i took one person's view on this, it would represent all of them. of course, some people find it very offensive. some people say, "absolutely,
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this is exactly how i understand myself," so, you know, there are a range of responses here, but i think it is worth saying that this is... we're not having this discussion for its own sake, we're having it because the alternative position that you're pressing on me, that we absolutely take these statements at face value, causes a lot of problems, practically speaking for women, for children, and for trans people themselves. so, we've got to remember that context, because when you put it like you're putting it, it makes it sound like it's just about words, but it's not just about words. what are these problems, these practical problems that you allude to? so, the main target of the book i wrote was about the idea that your gender identity, which is supposed to be a feeling, it's not necessarily connected to surgery or hormones or presentation, even, it's your inner feeling of whether you're male, female or neither, and it may not correspond to your outward sex. the idea that's coming through policy makers in the uk
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at the moment and internationally is that feeling that entitles you to go to a particular space, so a women's changing room, if you feel like a woman or a women's sports team, if you feel like a woman. and to interjectjust for a moment, cos this is really important. the uk has been considering changing the law to make much easier "self—identification" and also to open up some spaces which have not been opened up thus far to transgendered people. particularly, we're talking about transgendered women, to open the spaces up, whether it be havens, refuges from domestic abuse, whether it be women's prisons and other areas. it's an active debate in the uk, some countries have already gone much further. you know, many south american countries, denmark, new zealand, have gone much further than the uk has. but the thing you also need to emphasise there is when you say transgendered individuals, we're not talking about the sort of classic traditional idea of a transsexual who's had surgery, who's maybe taking hormones, who's altered
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their appearance, we're talking about fully intact male people, who have had no medical intervention. is there a significant difference in your view, legally speaking, between somebody who perhaps has had genital, major genital surgery, reconstructive surgery and somebody whojust identifies as a woman, having been born biologically male, but has not had any hormonal or surgical intervention? you're saying there's a fundamental difference between the two? yeah, there's no legal difference between the two, because you don't need surgery to get... to self—identify in a particular way, or even to get a gender recognition certificate in this country. but i'm saying that there's a practical difference, because... so, you asked me what the problems were, and there are a range of problems — but if we focus on spaces where women get undressed, are vulnerable to sexual assault, and sexual assault by males is a problem for women in those spaces, somebody who has had absolutely no
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physical alteration, who looks male, you know, and we are hard—wired, pretty much, to be able to sex people by sight, that's the only means we have. a male in those spaces — when the policies say "yes, you may be there," then any male can be in those spaces, because they could all say, "i have an identity that is of a woman" — so we have, at the moment, in britain, we have males in women's prison, purely on the basis of self—id, not because they legally changed their sex, not because they had hormones or surgery, so any male effectively can say they have this identity, and that causes a massive problem in terms of reducing safeguarding for women, who are vulnerable to sexual assault. i understand the point in theory, but in practice, is it really that much of a problem? look at countries that have gone much further down the track than we have. look at studies from the united states, for example, where, for example, in massachusetts, there are public accommodation laws that have embraced gender identity protection, and,
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there, the studies from 2018 on suggest that fears of increased safety and privacy violation as a result of non—discrimination laws are not empirically grounded. there is not the evidence. well, in this, i mean, for a start, you have to look at the studies and quite often when people say very blithely about other countries, "0h, they've had self—id for ages and there's been no problems", it turns out people haven't been looking or they haven't been asking women. but in this country, for instance, if you take males in the female prison estate, between 2016—2019, there's been seven sexual assaults on women. if you take the percentage of sex offenders amongst the trans population in prisons, it's 58% — and that's a recent figure — as opposed to 16% for the general population in prisons. so, that suggests that, of course, if you're not a predator and then you transition, you won't probably be a predator after —
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i mean, people, characters don't change — but if you are a predator and you say you are a woman, you'll still be a predator afterwards, so the idea that the trans population or trans — we're talking about trans women, and we're talking about self—id — somehow, miraculously, male patterns of sexual offending disappear, even given increased opportunity, is a fantasy. hmm. can i ask you about another element of this, you know, very complex set of issues, and that's about young people and body dysphoria. now, we know that a number of children get this feeling that they can't identify with the body that they've been born with and they — increasingly, it seems — some of them, over time, want to change. and now in the uk, the law says that they can't have hormonal treatment till 16, they can't have surgery until they're at least 18, but there is a very active debate
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about whether it is wise to go down this track with children. you seem absolutely sure that it is not wise — why? because children and adolescents are working out a number of things. sexual orientation is one of them. now, there's strong evidence that, in gender identity clinics, a large percentage of the inpatients or the outpatients are same—sex attracted, but they're interpreting their same—sex attraction as meaning they're in the wrong body. there are also high percentages of autistic children in gender identity clinics, children with histories of trauma. so, there's complex issues around gender dysphoria in children and we've got to remember that, if they take a medical route, the effects are irreversible in many cases, including
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effects on fertility, on bone density, on growth spurts, so they can't be taken back, and if they go on to cross—sex hormones, then there's bodily hair — well, it depends which way you go, but for girls, and there's been a 5,000% increase in the presentation of female children in these clinics, so it's mainly a problem for girls — although it is a problem for boys — girls will get facial hair, they may have double mastectomies, they may remove their ovaries and their womb. they can't go back. and there is regret amongst at least some significant proportion of people who are young adults now that they did this. and yet, ijust wonder if you are looking at all of the evidence — and there's quite powerful evidence for a number of studies in the uk and particularly in the united states — which suggest that those young people — children who are offered treatment, hormonal therapies, in the first place,
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are significantly better off in terms of their mental health than those other young people who say they would have liked treatment but were not able to access it. the latest study from stanford university suggests that in early adolescent cases, there's a 222% difference, i.e., a more positive result in terms of mental health for those who get treatment. well, all i can say is that there are a number of studies — i mean, scientists would never take one study — and also the empirical evidence is highly disputed in many cases, so i know that in the uk, there has been studies that suggest that there might be a slight deterioration in mental health, so a lot more research needs to be done, but even if — we also need long—term studies because you ask a child a year after they've started their journey whether they're happier, they may well be happier, but, you know, will they be happy at 25?
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will they be happy at 35? their prefrontal cortex hasn't fully grown in, you know, so there's a lot of things still to happen that they may not be aware of. they may not fully understand their own situation, so... so, sorry to interrupt, but i'm just thinking as i listen to you, is this very personal to you, because you've been quite frank about your own journey? i mean, you came out as gay, as lesbian, quite late in life, having been in a marriage and having, actually, i think, had two children. and you've since reflected on the fact that actually, as a young person, you did feel quite uncomfortable with the norms of femininity and... i think a lot of women do feel uncomfortable with the norms of femininity because they're so rigid and binary. probably men feel uncomfortable with the norms of masculinity. i suppose what i'm wondering is do — are you somebody who feels that if, as a young person, you'd been offered the opportunity, access to hormonal treatment and other therapies, you might have taken them? well, i might have done, and particularly if those around — i mean, i'm sure i would have probably called
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myself non binary, you know, if that had been available to me, i'm sure that i would have — that would have resonated with me completely. in a way, do you see your own life as a sort of message that, actually, it would have been wrong for you to receive treatment as an adolescent or a young adult, would it? of course it would! can you be sure about that? yes! i mean, look, you've got to be clear about what these drugs mean. like, you know, you're permanently rendered different. you may be infertile. i wouldn't have been able to have my children, you know? ask me, age 12, do i want children? i'm sure i would have said "no". i hadn't got a clue what i was talking about. children regret tattoos. why wouldn't they regret removing their breasts? why wouldn't they... ? this isjust a ridiculous kind of conversation because in every other domain, it would be absolutely obvious that we wouldn't give these life—changing medical alterations to children, even if they said they wanted them, because they don't fully understand the situation, but in this particular area,
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adults are cheering it on, and that's the failure of adults. it's not the failure of the children, it's the failure of adults and the institutions that should be protecting these children. is there a middle ground in all of this? because as we've discussed it, and we've discussed what has happened to you, it is clear this is the most contentious of subjects right now, notjust in uk society, but in societies across the world. you began by telling me, "you know, in many ways, i'm a moderate in this debate." can you see any middle ground here? well, i think i am the middle ground, i'm afraid. now, that may be unacceptable to the extremes, and, you know, i do get criticism from some feminists who think i'm far too moderate and i should be much more hardline. but i think if the claim is, you have to accept all the claims of trans activism, you know, trans women are literally women in every context, and trans children are literally trans, you know,
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no matter what age that emerges, then i'm afraid we just can't accept that. it'sjust not practical for the children, for women and for trans people, as i keep saying, because it's not in their interests to obscure facts about their biological sex — for a start, when they go to hospital, they will have to say, "i am male," or, "i am female," in order to get the right drugs and the right treatment, so there's a range of cases, where sex is really important and we're going to need to discuss it. however, i personally am happy to go along with a kind of fiction, as i say. in interpersonal context, i observe preferred pronouns, i will try — i won't dead—name someone... but it's not really about pronouns, it's about equality and about rights. well, people think it is about pronouns. people are very keen on you observing pronouns. institutions are obsessed with that. but ultimately, they care more about fundamental rights and fundamental equality and you — for all of your respectful use of pronouns, you are not according transgender people full rights, full equality.
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that's absolutely false, right? so, i'm a philosopher, so, immediately, i'll say, "well, what do you mean by rights?," right? so fundamental human rights not to be discriminated against — i'm 100% in favour of that. the uk has the equality act. gender reassignment is a protected characteristic. i fundamentally agree with that. you shouldn't ever be discriminated against because you're trans at work, at home, in the street. that's all fine. none of that depends on saying trans women are literally women, or trans men are literally men. those two things have been pushed together by trans activism, but they can be detached. kathleen stock, we have to end there. i thank you very much indeed for being on hardtalk. thank you.
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hello there. it was another windy day for many on tuesday, but the winds will be a notch down for the day ahead, as will the amounts of sunshine — actually, it's been the sunniestjanuary on record for england. and we did have a fair deal of sunshine during tuesday. but through the overnight period, we've introduced a weather front, and that weather front will mean a cloudier day for many and, in fact, it's giving us some patchy rain and drizzle as well. now, it's this weather front that i'm talking about — the rain most significant in the north, but i think it's just because it's introduced that milder air, we'll notice that difference. still a cold start in the far northeast of scotland and the northern isles. but, as i say, it's the change in wind direction — we've lost the north westerly, we're picking up this south—westerly air coming off the atlantic, it will be with us for a couple of days now — and so therefore, there will be more cloud around, and some patchy rain and drizzle. the cloud sitting on the hills and the coasts in northern and western areas, giving some hill fog. but inland, there's a good chance of some brightness
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developing for parts of wales, the midlands, southern england, perhaps east of the pennines. it won't be as windy, but there'll still be a fair breeze blowing through the day, as you can see, a steady brisk breeze, but it's milder — temperatures of 11—12 celsius above where they should be for this time of year — except in the north of scotland, where we stay in the chilly air. and we continue to feed in that rain and that drizzle, and then, as we go through the night, something perhaps a little bit more significant across scotland, as you can see. and temperatures also held up because of all that cloud, and still that breeze at 7s and 8s. now, as we go through thursday, we do have that more significant weather front moving in. so, again, ahead of it still quite unsettled, showery outbreaks of rain, some brightness — but this is looking more significant, isn't it? and behind it, it could turn to snow, some cold airdigging back in. but for many, the day bringing stronger winds in the north, but a lot of drier weather, cloudierweather, milder weather further south, there's that mild air. but it's transient because they say it's with us through today and tomorrow,
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and then, behind it on friday, we sweep in with that northwesterly wind once again coming up from the arctic. so, perhaps some snow on the trailing edge of this weather front, particularly over the hills, and then, plenty of wintry showers, rain, hail, sleet, yes, snow mostly over the hills following, but a much colder—feeling day by the time we get to friday. as ever, there's more on the website.
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welcome to newsday, reporting live from singapore. i'm karishma vaswani. myanmar in civil war, according to the united nations. a year after the military takeover, the un says the situation is becoming as serious as it is in syria. as russian forces show no sign of pulling back from ukraine's border, president putin accuses the us of trying to drag russia into war. translation: their most important goal is to contain rush hour. in this sense, ukraine isjust a contain rush hour. in this sense, ukraine is just a tool to achieve this goal. the year of the tiger begins, but covid restrictions mean hundreds of millions
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of people can't go home to celebrate the lunar new year.


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