Kathleen Stock, OBE
We are delighted that you have received recognition for your outstanding contribution to academia and the media, in defence of free speech. Since 2018 you have been committed to publicly writing about the lack of academic freedom and the philosophical ideology that goes along with it. You have been a selfless role model and passionate advocate for freedom of speech, gaining the respect and support of many of your peers and students.
It is striking for someone to receive such a prestigious award for something that can only be referred to euphemistically. Stock has solely devoted herself, in this period, to the "gender critical" movement—a movement, in her words, identified with the position that "that trans women shouldn’t be counted as women." She accepted the award on Twitter with a speech about the need to get the LGBT organization Stonewall out of the university.
It has been surreal, the past few years, to watch the things Stock actually says, and the ways she actually treats people, and then hear how she is described.
"If you really think I'm an 'anti-trans' activist you really had better spell out why, and with evidence," she said on Twitter yesterday. I will do that here.
The ground floor of mainstreaming hate is making stigmatizing claims and exclusionary positions acceptable to say and hold. Part of this, of course, is convincing people that these things aren't hateful at all. The "gender critical" movement has been wildly successful at this, in the UK and in philosophy.
Stock often claims to respect trans people, to support their rights, and to merely be concerned to advocate for cis women's supposedly competing rights and interests. This sounds reasonable. In some pieces, she does a decent job of maintaining this guise, especially if you're unfamiliar with these issues. But attention to her activism and the actual things she says paints a very different picture. As I will document, she misrepresents and mocks trans identities. She is at best dismissive of trans people's needs and interests. She belittles and vilifies them. The "threats to females" that supposedly justify her opposition to trans inclusion are not real; she has been unable to point to any serious, coherent risk to cis women from the specific, concrete material advances for trans people she has opposed. While claiming to be centrally concerned with defending academic freedom and free speech, she has actively—and, unfortunately, successfully—tried to silence people who disagree with her. Specific claims she has made about political suppression have been untrue.
For reasons that might become clear, Stock has set her tweets to automatically delete after a short time. I have tried to provide screenshots or archive links wherever possible.
Little of Stock's activity on these issues has been scholarly. She has produced one academic paper, from her invited Aristotelian Society talk; I would encourage philosophers under the impression that she has been doing serious philosophy here to read it.
Her public philosophy, as public philosophy, has been shallow. For example, in a witness statement to the court, she argued that transphobic hate incidents should not be defined analogously to racist hate incidents, in terms of how they are perceived, because of key disanalogies: in particular, that things perceived as transphobic like saying "trans women are men" and not using trans people's pronouns actually "in the mouths of many people ... are intended to convey, and be heard as, simple descriptions of observable facts." This is not a disanalogy. The bread and butter of racist ideology is purported "observable facts" about differences between races. This is just not an argument that can survive a moment's critical thought. It is not serious. It is representative of the quality of her consideration of these issues.
I am sure Stock is a perfectly competent philosopher on other topics. But her thinking on these issues is motivated and uncritical, and it is extremely sloppy.
She appears to have almost no familiarity with relevant scholarly research. She has dismissed and mocked suggestions that she should read existing philosophical work on these issues. She is unfamiliar with basic trans history, and portrays things that have been in the public eye for half a century as new and therefore unscrutinized and undiscussed. She once claimed, for example, that trans lesbians "only had the chutzpah to self-define into existence in the last 10 years." If she had looked at even the paradigmatic texts of the trans-exclusionary radical feminist tradition she claimed to admire and represent, even if she had just skimmed the chapter titles, or read the most famous passages, she would have seen that they were already focused on trans lesbians in the 70s.
What is most serious, though, is not her theoretical or historical ignorance, but her detachment from empirical facts, and empirical research, about trans people's lives. I am not talking about philosophical disagreements, I am talking about demonstrable realities. Stock's representations of facts and events are not reliable.
The "gender critical" movement is thick with conspiracy theories, and Stock is deeply embedded in it. Like with every conspiracy theory, all the evidence to the contrary becomes only evidence of how deep the conspiracy goes.
The movement in many ways parallels the anti-gay movement of a decade or so ago. In the same way the anti-gay movement opposed every advance for gay people with claims it would somehow endanger the rest of us, the "gender critical" movement posits catastrophic effects, an undermining of the very fabric of society, from every advance for trans people. The supposed risks generally have very little connection to what is actually on the table.
Stock, without exception, misrepresents how trans people think and talk about their identities to make them seem ridiculous.
Trans people's dignity and legitimacy does not depend on the success of any one attempt to conceptualize their experience. But the most common way, in terms of "gender identity," is perfectly functional. The commitments of the popular notion are minimal: people have an internal sense of their own gender that can come apart from their knowledge of their assigned sex, and is generally fixed, and certainly not revisable in the way ordinary beliefs are.
This is an empirical claim. It is empirical. It is close to a bare description of trans people's existence and experiences.
Stock (and the rest of the "gender critical" movement) tries to make the fact that something like this appears to be part of our cognition disappear through conceptual analysis. They set up the issue as though the reality of gender identity is a matter of whether it can be reduced into colloquial psychological concepts: beliefs, desires, preferences, personality traits. Is it an ordinary, conceptual belief about your gender? No? Is it just feeling very distressed by your assigned sex? No? Then is it just liking stereotypically feminine things? No? Then is it just having stereotypically feminine traits? No? Is it a sexual fetish? Now you're mad? Then there's nothing it can be!
This is methodologically absurd. Colloquial mental concepts only touch the surface of our actual mental lives. Whether something "makes sense" in pre-theoretic terms does not tell us whether it is real.
Like literally everything in the mind, how exactly gender identity is cognitively realized is theoretically complicated. Trans people do not need a theory of gender cognition to validate that their experiences are real and trustworthy. But because it has been actively mystified, we should return to earth: the idea that people have a cognitively deep representation of their own gender that is not reflectively revisable fits very naturally with modern cognitive science. We aren't behaviorists anymore. We know that what we and other animals learn from our infinitely complex environment depends on what we're cognitively set up to take from it, and we take to gender like fish to water. A representation of our own gender being among the deep reference points that orient us in the world would not mean any particular gender norms are innate. It need not contain any substantive content about gender role at all; it could, for example, instead be a means of picking out people as who we are co-gendered with, orienting us to particularly learn social behaviors from them. Or it could be an innate framework that is then environmentally filled in during early childhood, like other innate conceptual structures. (See, for example, Susan Carey's The Origin of Concepts.)
To hear Stock tell it, the very idea of gender identity is somehow magical, like a Cartesian gender soul: "Calling all academic philosophers. You know that discredited Cartesianism ghost-in-machine stuff, that you've been telling first years is a load of hokum for the past several decades?" she once said, "You'll never guess what's happening now. You might even want to say something out loud about it."
Other times she simply dissolves gender identity into something else. In an Economist piece entitled "There are fundamental differences between gay and trans identities," Stock claims that gender identity is not "relatively stable and persistent" on the grounds that "one  study from 2013 suggests that around two-thirds" of the "the burgeoning numbers of adolescent girls [sic] that now self-declare as trans ... will detransition." The study she is talking about, a popular reference in the "gender critical" movement, found, in their sample, that about 63% of children with gender dysphoria according to looser 1994 standards either did not return to the clinic or reported their dysphoria had resolved by the time they were adolescents. How to interpret it is controversial. But despite Stock's claims, it simply says nothing about the stability of trans adolescents' identities. The 63% number is not even about the stability of children's identities: it is about the persistence of dysphoria. The paper found that the strongest predictor of persistence was childhood gender identity. "Explicitly asking children with gender dysphoria with which sex they identify seems to be of great value in predicting a future outcome," they conclude. This is Stock's "evidence" that trans identities aren't stable. It is representative of her treatment of the very small amount of empirical research she cites.
Stock often pretends gender identity is a matter of thinking you fit gender stereotypes. She has claimed that the most "promising explanation" for the existence of trans women is that it is some kind of epidemic of people developing a "self-narrative as liking ‘girl’ things—i.e. conforming to feminine social stereotypes—so concluding must have ‘girl brain’." In one of her first Medium posts, she argues against the "view" that trans women "are women because they like and/or are good at doing ‘feminine’ things (e.g. long shiny hair, ‘girly’ fashion, make up, the colour pink, a ‘femme’ aesthetic, cooking, cleaning, crying, dancing, being sexually passive etc. etc.).” This is not a serious view people have. But Stock tells her readers that it "is reasonable to think that this misconceived association of femininity with womanhood and masculinity with manhood is partly — I said partly — behind the spectacular recent rise in numbers of ‘transitioning’ children in the UK."
This makes it easy to portray trans existence as foolish, and as at odds with feminism: "I reject regressive gender stereotypes for women," Stock has said, "which is partly why I won’t submit to an ideology that insists womanhood is a feeling, then cashes that out in sexist terms straight from 50s."
But it is not true. The picture would not survive a perfunctory but good faith attempt to listen to trans people's experiences. Gender identity and normative gender expression are obviously connected, and so it is easy to find things that mention them in relation to each other, that, if you want, you can misconstrue. But gender identity isn't defined by normative gender expression, it seems to motivate it.
"I’m not sure that viewing non-conformity to sex stereotypes as synonymous with a different gender identity is a mainstream view in trans advocacy," Matilda Carter, a political theory PhD student, once told Stock. "It’s not something I think—and I don’t recall any mainstream org saying it."
"It's blindingly obvious mainstream TRA orgs have used perception of sex-non-conformity as a—if not the—main explanation of gender identity self-attribution," Stock informed her, attaching two popular images that clearly separate the two, as is the absolute standard. The point of the images, literally, is to distinguish these things.
This has serious practical consequences. The misportrayal of gender identity as simply how well you align with gender stereotypes turns being trans into a mere anti-feminist confusion that should be easy to "cure"—as though the source of trans people's identities is a false belief that you have to be a woman to wear makeup and dresses and trans people simply need to be informed that men can in fact be feminine and women masculine. "There are many other public narratives that could be supplied for parents and children, which would prevent children taking life-altering drugs," Stock has said.
Stock does not treat trans people with respect. She habitually uses vocabulary to talk about trans people that she knows most find inappropriate and offensive. She has called gender-affirming surgery "self-mutilation." She has called trans lesbians "incels' dress wearing equivalents." When Rachel McKinnon (now Veronica Ivy), a fellow philosopher, won an important bike race, Stock accused her of having a "desire to dominate females."
She has repeatedly baselessly implied that individual trans women are sexually predatory. The law professor Alex Sharpe once noted, in conversation with someone else, that sexual desire is not just about genitalia: "Desire cannot be impoverished in this way. When you see a hot woman across the room, the heat is heat. We know nothing about what lies beneath her clothes."
Stock arrived: "So basically Prof Sharpe is saying: 'if a lesbian flirts with me, on the basis of superficial appearance, it means they must want what's 'underneath,' there's no other explanation—and now they have to follow through, or be branded a close-minded uptight bigot by me.' Got it."
"You were attracted to me when you DIDN'T know about the rash! What's changed?!" someone joked.
"Loosen up baby, it's just a Nazi tattoo," said Stock.
"I'm simply saying that at the moment of desire, the desiring subject might not be thinking of genitals at all. And obviously, I'm not saying anyone should be coerced into sex. I've never said that, despite constantly being accused of it," Sharpe said.
(What Sharpe is expressing here is the obvious counterpoint to Stock's theory of sexual orientation in her one academic paper on these issues; you might expect her to think about it rather than accuse any trans woman that mentions it of being personally sexually coercive.)
The "gender critical" movement particularly targets trans adolescents' access to care. Like anywhere else in medicine, the clinical guidelines and standards of care for trans youth reflect expert consensus based on the best available evidence. For young people distressed by the onset of puberty, this includes puberty suppression. Puberty blockers have been part of care guidelines for two decades.
Stock has repeatedly accused trans women defending trans adolescents' access to puberty suppression of having "autogynephilia," a supposed sexual fetish for being a woman—a fancy name for the old, venomous trope that trans women's real motivation for transitioning is secretly that they get off on it. When one woman pointed out that she had been able to develop breasts at 40 with HRT in response to claims that puberty suppression might make young people miss a key window, Stock called her a "a male who gets aroused at the thought of having breasts." “Poorly understood, life-changing medical interventions, on mostly female children, are being shielded from public scrutiny in order to serve the political interests of autogynephilic adult males,” she announced. "The autogynephilia tail is wagging the puberty-blocking dog." When someone challenged her on this, she said "I stand by my diagnosis," adding that “many of the loudest (partly because male) voices policing critical discussion of the treatment of ‘trans’ kids barely disguise their autogynephilia.”
Another time, she linked to a thread cataloguing a number of trans women criticizing Jesse Singal's misleading Atlantic article about treatment for trans youth and said "Disquieting aspect of trans activism #475: late-transitioning trans women, at least some of whom transition for autogynephilic reasons, maintain highly-constrained narrative leading gender-dysphoric young girls towards hormones & self-mutilation." The women's criticisms were that Singal was biased, was promoting pseudoscience, and used cases as examples that did not actually match his thesis. They were just people advocating for accurate public information about the treatment of vulnerable young people. When Grace Lavery wrote this December about the seriousness of the British High Court effectively banning puberty blockers for children under 16 without a court order, Stock said "The spectacle of adult males urging puberty blockers for what are mostly young females with complex conditions is revolting."
I wish I knew how to put into words how cruel this is, to cast people's attempts to advocate for young people like they once were as seedy and suspect, as sexually motivated, predatory or at minimum indifferently shepherding children towards "self-mutilation" in order to legitimize their fetish. It is demonizing. It is vicious. It is so deeply personal.
Stock promotes gender identity conversion therapy, especially for trans youth. "Homosexuality isn’t harmful, either to the individual or wider society... In the new paradigm, the gap between a ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ person and a ‘trans’ person is paper-thin, and it is entirely plausible that therapeutic intervention might easily convert one to the other" she's claimed. "Only one of those routes is connected with body-altering, life-changing drugs and surgeries, whose long-term consequences are unknown."
There is evidence of an association between gender identity conversion therapy and adverse mental health outcomes and lifetime suicide attempts. There is not evidence that it works. The consensus of experts, based on the best available evidence—which does not include Professor Stock's intuitions—is that gender identity conversion therapy is ineffective and harmful.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: "Interventions aimed at a fixed outcome ... including those aimed at changing gender identity ... are coercive, can be harmful, and should not be part of behavioral health treatment. ... It is clinically inappropriate for behavioral health professionals to have a prescriptive goal related to gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation."
World Professional Organization for Transgender Health: "Treatment aimed at trying to change a person’s gender identity and expression to become more congruent with sex assigned at birth has been attempted in the past without success, particularly in the long term. Such treatment is no longer considered ethical."
The American Academy of Pediatrics: "'conversion' or 'reparative' treatment models used to prevent children and adolescents from identifying as transgender ... have been proven to be not only unsuccessful but also deleterious and are considered outside the mainstream of traditional medical practice."
But Stock has other sources. She quoted the president of the American College of Pediatricians: “transgender physician activists—some of them trans-identified—[have] achieved positions of authority allowing them to craft the current standards of care.”
"That’s Dr. Michelle Cretella, the president of the American College of Pediatricians talking," Stock said. "Still, what does she know? Probably has a hate agenda." Someone informed her that the "American College of Pediatricians" is in fact a SPLC designated hate group designed to trick people into thinking it is the pediatric professional body while it fights against LGBT rights and promotes sexual orientation conversion therapy. "Still seems they might have some relevant expertise," Stock said.
The idea that people simply need an "alternative narrative" to not be trans fits poorly with the fact that being trans is not easy. Stock's claims about "gay children being transed," that "many young lesbians are tempted to trans," are impossible to reconcile with the reality that being gay is just currently much more socially accepted. Current social conditions for trans people are very bad.
Stock's solution to this problem is denialism. She is a denialist about anti-trans discrimination. She has claimed that "being trans isn't reliably associated with inequality." This is baldly false. But Stock appears committed to disputing all statistics suggesting trans people's lives are difficult, one study at a time. She has repeatedly dismissed and attempted to debunk statistics about the prevalence of suicide among trans people. In her hands, evidence of a harm trans people suffer becomes evidence they do something wrong.
Especially disturbingly, Stock is a denialist about anti-trans violence. She approvingly linked to a thread that claimed that trans people do not "have it harder than most" on the grounds that anti-trans hate crime constitutes only two percent of all hate crime in the UK. This is just a reflection of the fact that there are not very many trans people. But to Stock, it reveals a conspiracy: "This thread nicely exposes way in which limited data is presented in the media, with the help of lobbying groups, to build a politically motivated narrative about the extreme vulnerability of trans people as opposed to other groups," she said. "At same time, contrary research is discouraged."
When Stonewall tweeted about the harassment and abuse trans people face in their daily lives, Stock described it as "Just robotic mantras about threats to trans. (Evidence for this? Stonewall-commissioned surveys about how people feel. Stats say different.)" When someone asked her what "stats say different," she directed them to a Fair Play for Women page that compares official law enforcement murder rates by gender to numbers from a grassroots effort to record the murders of trans people and concludes that trans people are the safest demographic of all.
She marked Trans Day of Remembrance by sharing the page once more. Her tone towards the vigil to commemorate people who have died by anti-trans violence and the people that take it seriously is consistently mocking. Her description of it in one article: "in late November on British campuses, senior managers can be spotted shivering in the freezing dark, huddled around a candle flame with colleagues and students, listening to someone laboriously reading out the names of South and Central American sex workers killed in some of the most violent countries on earth—people whose tragic deaths seem, at the very least, somewhat causally overdetermined."
(She has repeatedly accused trans people and activists of hiding the fact that many murdered trans people are sex workers and implied that they therefore don't really care about stopping the murders. It is literally the third thing on the Trans Day of Remembrance website.)
When a woman pointed to the fact that trans women are every bit as as susceptible to domestic violence and sexual violence as cis women, Stock quoted her and said "Trans women are just as susceptible to domestic & sexual violence as females, if not more so? Point to peer-reviewed study in academic journal which establishes this—not some 'fact sheet' from Stonewall, or 'research' based on online survey—or retract. Facts matter." Here is a meta-analysis of 85 articles.
Any police reports involved? Does 'violence' include shouting?
Does this look like feminism to you?
It is good to be careful about statistics. But when you accept without second thought that trans people—a demographic with high rates of homelessness, sex work, and poverty, all of which make you more vulnerable to violence—are simply the least likely to be murdered of us all, but think statistics saying they are in fact at high risk of sexual assault and domestic violence "sound really odd," it seems like something is up. When you dismiss the actual, peer reviewed research on the matter in favor of obviously statistically incompetent Twitter threads and start saying anti-gay hate groups "have some relevant expertise" about how trans kids should be treated, you do look like you have an agenda.
Stock has claimed the trans rights movement is a "well-funded, influential conservative political agenda which comes straight from elite." She enthusiastically shared a feverish Medium piece attributing the trans movement to a conspiracy funded by George Soros and his organizations' "many astroturf tentacles" and Jennifer Pritzker, a billionaire trans woman. (Soros conspiracy theories are widely considered anti-Semitic; Pritzker is also Jewish. The piece also particularly focuses on two Jewish doctors, Stephen Rosenthal and Diane Ehrensaft. Ehrensaft, we are warned, "admits to supporting castrating children … A brand new caste of eunuchs. Are you concerned yet?”) "Some brilliant pseudonymous investigative reporting on Medium, while progressive mainstream media looks the other way," Stock said. "Follow the money. Pots and pots and pots of money. This is not a grassroots movement."
She shared another Medium piece from the same author that claimed that treating young trans people is a conspiracy to sterilize gay people, or as the piece put it: "Today, in the United States of America, we prefer to sexually lobotomize the homosexual in childhood."
"Any investigative journalists following me? Cough," Stock asked.
When you try to pin down the interests of cis women that supposedly justify curbing trans rights, they turn to dust.
Some of the "conflicts of rights" seem to be simply made up. "Once 'sex' was replaced with 'gender identity' in US discrimination law, one of the 1st cases of application sought to use funds allocated for breast cancer mastectomies, for top surgery instead. There are obvious conflicts here, all over place." Stock once said. This is not real. It is not a thing that happened. 'Sex' was not replaced with 'gender identity' in US discrimination law. There are not funds allocated for breast cancer mastectomies.
The rallying issue for the UK movement was a proposed revision to the Gender Recognition Act to update the procedure for changing the gender on your birth certificate, which currently requires a medical diagnosis, proof of having lived in your gender for at least two years, and approval by committee. You can already change your gender on your drivers license via just a witnessed form, but what is on your birth certificate remains your official legal gender.
Stock adamantly opposed easing and demedicalizing this process, especially opposing replacing it with just an administrative procedure analogous to the process for drivers licenses, supposedly on the basis that it would harm cis women. When she finally attempted to specify how it would do that, it was fantastical: an attempt to attach fears about trans women using women's bathrooms and changing rooms—as they have been for, literally, decades—to the gender on their birth certificate, which simply does not bear on what toilet people use—outside of reactionary bathroom bill laws, it is simply not a legal matter. (Going in the wrong bathroom is a social norm violation, not a crime. Committing a crime in the wrong bathroom is a crime.)
Stock claimed that trans women being able to update their birth certificates without a lengthy, medicalized process would undermine cis women's confidence in challenging people they think look too "male." "There will no longer be any physiognomy [?], behaviour, dress, surgery, or hormone taking associated with being a legal female," she said. If by 'associated' she means 'associated,' there obviously still will be; if by 'associated' she means 'required,' there already is not. "Imagine that a female is now in a nominally single-sex space where females undress or sleep: dormitory, bathroom, sleeper carriage etc. A male enters. On what grounds can she confidently challenge the presence of this male? None, I suggest. For she knows that self-ID is in law. She knows that this person might legally have ‘female’ on his [sic] birth certificate."
This is falling on reality like snow. It is a bathroom, not a court case. You do not need legal grounds to say "this is the ladies," though when you have absolutely no reason to think someone is doing something wrong other than their appearance, you can just let them be. Trans women, as women, already use women's facilities. Their access does not make cis women unsafe. The accessibility of GRCs does not affect their access. You don't show your birth certificate to get into the changing room.
"Do you really want a law which, when enacted socially, will further undermine [cis women's] ability to protect themselves?" Stock asked. This is not connected to reality. It is fearmongering. It is obfuscation and disinformation to oppose trans inclusion at every turn.
For Stock, the mere possibility of a cis woman feeling less confident in challenging someone's gender is reason enough not to ease a significant burden on trans people. According to Stock, it just so happens that cis women's interests outweigh trans women's when it comes to their access to, as far as I can tell, every womens' space. The reasons vary.
In bathrooms, changing rooms, and dormitories, Stock claims, trans inclusion harms cis women because trans women might hurt them. (Trans women's use of these facilities, again, is not hypothetical; we know what that world is like because we live in it. Stock often simply pretends otherwise.) She does not claim every trans woman is predatory: “If we legally allow trans women into female-only spaces, SOME females will be hurt by SOME trans women,” she's said. "Do you get the difference between ‘some’ and ‘all’? And do you get that if there are some xs that do harm in S-spaces, that might be reason to exclude all x from S-spaces, assuming you can do it practicably?," she's asked. And again: "people, are you ever going to get the difference between universal and existential quantification?"
Taking the draconian practical conclusion from the mere existential claim—no trans women should be allowed to use women's bathrooms or other facilities, as they need to live normal, integrated lives, if any trans women at all might do something wrong there—is baldly discriminatory. This criterion would exclude any group it's applied to.
This is not what it looks like to try to navigate a "conflict of rights." It is what it looks like to take one group's rights as completely trumping another's. Extreme restrictions on trans people's public lives are justified on the flimsiest grounds. There is no attempt whatsoever to identify any way of meeting cis women's supposed needs other than curbing trans people's rights, the obvious first step if you were concerned about actual conflicting interests. There is no interest in whether proposed restrictions are remotely proportionate. Stock once announced, for example, that GRCs “should not be issued to anyone with a criminal record after age of 18." To Stock, even a hypothetical risk, to even one cis woman, is enough for trans people's needs to be simply dismissed.
"Your friends are trying to stop me using public toilets," a trans woman told someone on Twitter. "You do understand that giving up isn't an option, right? ... This is my life. What else am I supposed to do?"
Stock dove in: "Campaign for third spaces and stop trying to legislate for your personal needs at the expense of others?" she said. "You can't possibly guarantee safety of all females in mixed sex spaces. Yet you proceed regardless and make it all about you. That looks like narcissism." Narcissism, to need to use the toilet when you cannot personally guarantee the bathroom safety of all cis women.
As the fact of her OBE suggests, Stock's narrative of political suppression is not based in reality.
She has made specific, very public claims about political suppression that are untrue. For example, she organized a letter in the Sunday Times calling for Stonewall, which she often portrays as a manevolent force, to be thrown out of universities:
As academics we are writing to register our disquiet over the inappropriately close relationship between the LGBT charity Stonewall and UK universities, via the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme.
The membership requirements of this programme are in tension with academic freedom. For instance, university members must instigate specialist trans policies, in addition to general equality policies, which outlaw “transphobic” teaching and research material but offer no clear definition of what would count as such.
Alongside Stonewall’s definition of transphobia as including any “denial/refusal to accept . . . gender identity”, this leaves academics unable to question the contested notion of “gender identity” without fear of sanction.
This does not appear to be true. Most of the signatories' universities are participants in the program; I tried to find all of their policies. None of them had the supposedly required policy. Many had trans equality statements, but most did not mention course materials, and none mentioned research. Few of the guidelines were in terms of "transphobia."
Stonewall does not appear to have had a central role in designing the policies universities do have—which, again, are not as claimed. The language in many, including Sussex's, instead traces back to a 2005 joint agreement on trans equality between the Association of Colleges and a number of trade unions that was then the basis of a recommended trans equality policy prepared by Equality Challenge Unit, a completely different organization. This isn't a secret; many of the policies, including Sussex's, cite one of these sources.
What the letter's ellipsis in Stonewall's definition of 'transphobia' elides:
The fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are trans, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it.
This is not, as claimed, about abstract scrutiny of "contested notion of 'gender identity'," it is about misgendering individual trans people.
Stock made a Twitter thread of Stonewall's supposedly suppressive influence that neither substantiated the letter's central claim nor provided compelling evidence of other "stifling." Bizarrely, she accused the organization of having "by stealth, without announcement or consultation ... changed the definition of 'sexual orientation'."
Repeatedly, the things Stock has portrayed as infringing on her academic freedom have in fact been other academics' substantive but decidedly negative responses to her writing. As academic Medium posts go, Stock's have received a truly extraordinary amount of engagement and substantive replies. But replies are not really welcome, at least not if they're negative. "Right from the start, this is the sort of thing my eyes have been regularly assaulted with," she's said, linking to a graduate student's critical reply.
In her early Medium pieces, Stock claimed philosophers had not talked about issues surrounding trans people's identities, describing herself as beginning a "proper adult discussion" on the matter. Talia Bettcher, who has herself spent her career on these issues, wrote a reply. Bettcher emphasized that Stock appeared completely unfamiliar with the literature she purported to describe, and that there was, in fact, a lot of relevant extant work. This, Stock said, was an attempt to silence her, to make her "shut up and go away." It was a "mean, insinuating hit piece." (My impression is that the intent was more to correct the public record about the literature, and remind people of the weight of trans people's interests, and perhaps to get Stock to read anything serious.)
When Asia Ferrin's reply to Stock's early pieces was published in the APA blog, Stock emailed the editor that platforming Ferrin was "a breach of professionalism on the part of those running the blog," as her reply was "clearly insulting" and "personally attacking, and casts serious aspersions on my motivation and character" by "represent[ing] [her] personally" as malicious and divisive. (Ferrin described the claim that trans women aren't women "at worst, malicious," and Stock's way of setting up the debate as "unnecessarily divisive." It is!)
A pseudonymous philosopher, ergo_praxis, posted a thread offering a decidedly negative evaluation and reductio of Stock's argument that trans women should be excluded from women's bathrooms if even some of them might assault other women: some cis women will assault other women, so by that standard cis women will have to be excluded as well. Stock evaluated this as "sheer vitrol towards [her]" and "smug stupidity," called ergo_praxis a "moron" and told them to "get back to your thesis." (The philosopher and linguist Elin McCready asked Stock to practice what she preached with regard to avoiding "sheer vitriol"; Stock told her to "fuck off you dickhead moron.") Leiter quoted Stock's complaints, called ergo_praxis a "real vile and stupid piece of garbage," and said "If anyone knows who he is, message or e-mail me."
This is silencing. Philosophers go to great lengths to avoid becoming a target for Leiter. It is professionally threatening. It gets worse.
"What would make a philosophy department unsafe is if its academics weren’t allowed to challenge currently popular beliefs or ideologies for fear of offending," Stock once said.
"You know what makes a philosophy department unsafe?" Nathan Oseroff, a philosophy graduate student, commented on Twitter, "Publicly advocating bigotry and intolerance. Campaigning to deny others their legal rights. Hate directed at your students or other members of faculty demonstrably makes philosophy departments unsafe. If you're advocating one of the most widely-accepted and entrenched forms of bigotry still permitted in public discourse today, you're not speaking truth to power. ... Who actually has the power here?"
"Fuck off, you complete and utter dickhead," Stock replied. When he made his account private because of dogpiling from her followers, she accused him of having defamed her. He worked for the APA blog at the time. Stock emailed his boss and claimed that he had "publicly harassed" and been "abusive" to her. "I note also that on July 9th he appeared in the comments of a piece on the APA blog ... to further criticise me trenchantly," she said. In response to Dan Kaufman pointing to objections to Stock's Medium posts as an example of "ideological rigidity and purity purges," Nathan had said:
Daniel, I don’t believe we should treat trans people on par with how gay people were treated decades previously; the way they have been treated in public discourse is not deserved. If you refuse to acknowledge this and instead direct your focus to how a person has been criticized due to publishing poorly-argued articles that call for treating trans people in this way, and disregard the fact that she has risen in public prominence in the United Kingdom in a fashion that mirrors the rise of Jordan Peterson in Canada and the United States, and how she has been treated with kid gloves by much of the profession, then I see no reason to engage with you any further. Regards, Nathan Oseroff
His boss apologized and deleted the comment. Nathan publicly apologized, seemingly as a condition on his continued employment, and did not speak about Stock for the rest of his time with the APA. Leiter launched a campaign to have him fired. He repeatedly accused Nathan of "misconduct." Eventually he switched to claiming Nathan had not only committed misconduct, but been suspended for it. When Nathan's work with the blog visibly continued uninterrupted, Leiter announced his suspension had only been temporary and told people to "contact their APA representatives" to demand he be fired. When Nathan left for another job, Leiter claimed he had been "ousted" after engaging in "remarkable misconduct." He continues to periodicially boost these accusations. If you Google Nathan's name today, one of the first results brings you to these completely fabricated, retaliatory accusations of workplace misconduct. This is probably actually defamatory.
Philosophers responded to this entirely public campaign to smear a graduate student and have him fired for expressing a view actually marginalized in the discipline—the view that positions like Stock's are transphobic—with a resounding silence. The APA was not willing to publicly defend its graduate employee.
As Nathan said: who actually has the power here?
The dark and conspiratorial parts of Stock's ideology and activity aren't unfortunate but detachable. They're the glue that holds it together. You can't get the exclusionary conclusions without misrepresenting the realities of trans people's lives, because trans people's actual needs are serious and the supposed negative impacts on cis women are minor or, more often, fictional. You can't misrepresent trans people's lives and interests without dismissing their testimony and mainstream academic research. You can't dismiss what they say about their own lives and experiences while treating them with respect. You can't dismiss so much mainstream academic research and expert consensus without the pseudo persecution, without a conspiracy theory about how the real evidence is being suppressed.
As a discipline, philosophy has gotten away with not talking about academic ethics because it is in general rare that our work has serious practical implications. Here, the possible consequences are chilling. Creating a public perception of trans people as fundamentally unreasonable and unreliable is a very serious harm. Convincing institutional bodies that the actual research, the actual evidence, cannot be trusted is a very serious harm. Convincing parents to pursue conversion therapy for their trans kid, against the advice of every serious professional body, is a very serious harm. Doing a priori psychology about what treatment vulnerable teenagers should receive and then reporting it to the public as though it is based on anything other than your imagination is a real violation of basic academic ethics. We have to take this seriously.
Stock's claims of persecution and suppression were cited in multiple U.S. Supreme Court briefs arguing that anti-trans workplace discrimination should be legal, in one specifically as evidence that the medical consensus about trans people's needs should not be trusted. More seriously, the UK High Court's Justice Julian Knowles cited her in a judgment: "In order to understand the contours of that debate I have been assisted by the first witness statement of Professor Kathleen Stock, Professor of Philosophy at Sussex University. She researches and teaches the philosophy of fiction and feminist philosophy. Her intellectual pedigree is impeccable. ... She says any research which threatens to produce conclusions or outcomes that influential trans-advocacy organizations would judge to be politically inexpedient, faces significant obstacles. These, broadly, are impediments to the generation of research and to its publication."
This is a conspiracy theory and a foundation for dismissing actual expert consensus and scholarly research, in a court decision via the testimony of Kathleen Stock.
"Professor Stock's evidence shows that some involved in the debate are readily willing to label those with different viewpoints as 'transphobic' or as displaying 'hatred' when they are not. It is clear that there are those on one side of the debate who simply will not tolerate different views, even when they are expressed by legitimate scholars... and form part of mainstream academic research," said Justice Knowles.
All of philosophy is implicated in pseudo-scholarship being able to publicly represent itself, for years, with so little push-back, as serious, legitimate research when it so flagrantly does not meet basic academic, or philosophical, standards. Academics have public responsibilities. If we think free academic debate is an essential good, we have to participate. Academic freedom doesn't mean keeping quiet while members of our discipline mislead the public, use their status as experts to promote misinformation and prejudice, and represent as serious research things that flatly do not meet basic scholarly standards. Critical peer evaluation of academics publicly presenting themselves as experts is necessary to for academic freedom to function as more than a sanctuary for politically motivated misinformation. We have been negligent.
So much of the furious negative narrativising about me is basically "mummy, why are you so mean?". They seem so unused to women expressing colourful views unapologetically.