Is Gender Obsolete?

In recent years, gender has become increasingly divorced from biological sex, spawning an ever-increasing number of self-defined gender identities. At the same time, sex and gender tend to often be conflated in everyday discourse. What is actually revealed at a gender reveal party, for example, is not the baby’s gender but his or her birth sex. Rather than a useful category, gender has thus become an incoherent concept.

This raises the question whether we actually need gender to describe reality. While it makes sense to draw a conceptual distinction between biological sex and its sociocultural manifestations (the “hardware” and “software” of sexual dimorphism in humans), there is merit to the argument that, ultimately, there is no such thing as gender, only sex and stereotypes: if we remove biology from the equation, all we are left with are stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.

Transgenderism provides a case in point. While many transgender people undergo surgery and hormonal treatment in order to transition from male to female or vice versa (notwithstanding that sex is genetically determined), they almost invariably adopt the trappings stereotypically associated with their desired sex to outwardly reflect their gender identity, thus conforming to the norms and expectations of society.

This process does not require an elaborate theory of gender, especially not one steeped in ideology. In fact, the transgender phenomenon makes a great deal more sense without the esoteric claims and contested theories of those who portray the most basic categories within our species as mere sociocultural constructions. To quote the influential gender theorist Judith Butler, “perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender.”

In many progressive circles today, it is almost considered a moral duty to deny that the categories of “man” and “woman” refer to biological realities and map onto the different reproductive roles of males and females. This is reflected in newspeak such as “birthing parent” (instead of mother), “people with uteruses” (because not everyone who has a uterus identifies as a woman), or “female assigned at birth.” Such terminology serves to conceal rather than describe reality. Underlying it is an ideology which—based on a conception of gender that is itself ideological—insists on the primacy of gender identity over biological sex.

Today, there is immense pressure to comply with this ideology. We are, for example, expected to accept that “trans women are women” (based on the circular definition that a woman is a person who identifies as a woman). Gender critical feminists are routinely smeared as “TERFs” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), and lesbians who express a sexual preference for biological women over men who merely identify as women are frequently accused of transphobia. Women-only spaces are likewise expected to admit biological males who self-identify as women.

Another sign of the pervasiveness of this ideology is that the term “cisgender,” which describes people whose gender identity matches their biological sex, is widely used and accepted today, while the word “normal” is viewed as problematic. Underlying this trend is a conflation of two distinct concepts: normality and normativity. Being “cis” (and heterosexual) is normal; the vast majority of people are. This does not imply, however, that deviation from that norm is, or should be, suppressed.

Yet, gender scholars and activists routinely describe contemporary Western culture as “cis-heteronormative.” A 2021 article entitled “Preventing Violence toward Sexual and Cultural Diversity: The Role of a Queering Sex Education,” published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, offers the following definition:

Cis-heteronormativity refers to social norms and discourses on the construction of gender identity and sexual orientation that highlight the natural character of sexual binarism (man/woman) as being congruent with gender binarism (masculine/feminine, respectively) … and leading to gender identities that are binary, opposed, hierarchical and complementary and therefore necessarily heterosexual.

This hypothesis can, of course, easily be tested. All we need to do is observe other cultures and other sexually reproducing species. What we find is that both heterosexuality and sexual binarism are the norm and occur naturally.

Gender ideologues all but ignore this reality. For many, to assert that the differences between men and women have natural and biological foundations constitutes a form of bigotry known as “biologism.” There is a difference, however, between justifying social norms and hierarchies in terms of biological determinism and acknowledging that we are biological creatures, shaped by the same evolutionary processes as the rest of the natural world. Gender has been used as a means to obscure this important distinction, further complicating the relationship between the sexes, while demanding that ideological assumptions be accepted as fact.

Gender ideology is commonly associated with the political left, but there is a right-wing version too. Relying heavily on cultural norms and stereotypes, gender traditionalism is not the opposite but the mirror image of the view—held by many progressives for whom gender is a spectrum rather than a binary—that people who are not stereotypically male or female fall outside of these categories. Many of those concerned about the “femininization” of Western men reliably react with outrage whenever a male individual visibly challenges traditional norms of masculinity, for instance when singer Harry Styles posed in a dress for Vogue Magazine. But, if maleness is indeed innate and immutable, such outrage makes no sense.

This is not to dispute that social conditioning plays a role in the formation of male and female identities. To conclude, however, that these identities can be divorced from human biology is logically unsound. Yet, this is precisely the conclusion gender theorists and activists tend to draw. What varies is the extent to which they disassociate gender from biological sex: the greater the disassociation, the more nebulous their concept of gender. The fact that “sex” and “gender”are used almost interchangeably in everyday discourse, blurring the semantic distinction between the two terms, adds to the confusion.

So, is gender obsolete? While it makes sense to differentiate between biological sex and its sociocultural manifestations, gender, as a concept, has become so semantically elastic and at the same time so fraught with ideology as to be useless. It seems its main purpose today is as a means of spreading unsubstantiated social theories. The best way to resist this trend is by demanding evidence, pointing out flawed logic, and refusing to speak the language of gender ideology.

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The Family Sex Show: Grooming Comes to Britain

I knew Bristol was liberal; the city is famous for it. Me? I have traditional values, I am involved with the Conservative party, and I have been a Christian my whole life. But when I got an unconditional offer to study a course at the University of Bristol which ranked third in that subject, I accepted it without hesitation. Nine months into living here and I have seen advertisements for climate-crisis bake sales, intersectional feminist poetry slams, and students “occupying” the Wills Memorial Building (and subsequently whinging that their vegan Deliveroo wasn’t able to reach them) in solidarity with striking lecturers. However, having nonchalantly followed Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres on Twitter to see if any shows piqued my interest, I saw something that one couldn’t just dismiss as liberal lefty nonsense – this was something truly horrifying.

Tobacco Factory Theatres retweets ThisEgg (a theatre company) promoting their new show, The Family Sex Show (also promoted by The Guardian) The title is possibly alluding to incest, to Red Light District sex shows, and is definitely intended to shock. Already feeling slightly disturbed, I read on. The age recommendation is 5+ and the show description reveals it is intended as “an alternative to porn”. I read on to learn that “there is nakedness, yes. At one point in the show, everyone on stage takes their clothes off…” This is ringing every alarm bell possible.

Posing as “sex education”, the adults involved (who were hastily cast via Twitter only a month ago) don’t seem to know the first thing about safe, age-appropriate sex education. What five-year-old needs an alternative to pornography? Exposure to pornography is often used as a desensitising tactic when grooming children. In defence of this horror show, the website claims that “sexual development and behaviour in children starts from birth”. This is an argument which I have only previously heard from a documentary about PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) to justify removing the age of consent.

Speaking of consent, which this show claims to teach us all about, I have to question why the “actors” get to choose their level of comfort when stripping. A five-year-old child, however, cannot consent to seeing naked strangers. The only guidance for parents is that they can leave if they feel uncomfortable, yet the theatre manager has written extensively on how the actors will be supported if there was negative feedback. How, I ask, are the “actors” the victims in this situation? This show seems to be all about what the adults want to do in front of the children, convinced that they know best. Cyber-flashing has just become a crime, and yet the cast of The Family Sex Show feel it is their right to flash infant-school-aged children. Many Twitter commenters reminisced over days when “dirty flashers” would be chased off by police. Now, liberal parents pay them ten pounds a ticket to bare all on stage. These people do not deserve to be parents.

My sex education at school took place in Year Six. We were ten and eleven years old and were taught about sex and puberty in an age-appropriate, sensitive, non-embarrassing way. The teachers, surprisingly, didn’t find it necessary to strip naked and point to their genitals to get the message across. Most of my generation will have had a similar experience and don’t feel we have gaps in our knowledge. Of course, we have all witnessed the odd person getting changed at the beach rather indiscreetly – but this is contextual, and hopefully accidental. If children are taught that it is normal for strangers to want to show their genitals to them, then this completely undermines the preventative measures that parents, and trusted adults, take against grooming. And as for the argument that “children will encounter porn anyway, so why not teach them about it now?” I worked in Early Years education for four years and I didn’t meet a single five-year-old who could read, write or type well enough to access pornography. And if parents leave it accessible to children, someone needs to call CPS.

I am just thankful that the live show and tour was all suspended during the multiple lockdowns, or we could be two years into child-traumatising theatrical sex shows. The Twitter outrage has been huge, and the account, Libs of TikTok, made famous by Joe Rogan’s podcast, shared the story, at my request, to an audience of 591.3k angry followers. We also have riled up over 800 Bristolian mothers on Mumsnet who have taken this story to the Daily Mail, started a petition, and are boycotting the theatre. Grown adults are being paid to strip in front of little children, in UK theatres, funded by the National Lottery and Arts Council England. Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres want your money! In return, you and your five-year-old can watch simulated sex acts followed by a stage full of strange adults exposing their genitals. I have never been more horrified.

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