Is “Sex is Determined by Biology” a Philosophical Belief?

In light of the targeted headlines asking me to boycott the new Harry Potter game over JK Rowling’s alleged transphobia, I decided to go down the rabbit hole of how it got to this.

It all began in 2018, when UK tax professional Maya Forstater tweeted her concern that the decision to amend the Gender Recognition Act to expand the definition of “woman” to include those with male bodies would undermine women’s rights. It was a thoughtful thread inviting discussion; exactly the kind of surface-scratching discourse of controversial topics that does not go down well on Twitter. She was slapped with the transphobe label and lost her job.

The thread.

So she took it to the employment court, asking the judge not to rule on whether sex is determined by biology, but whether the philosophical belief that it is is protected by law. 

“The Claimant believes that “sex” is a material reality which should not be conflated with “gender” or “gender identity”. Being female is an immutable biological fact, not a feeling or an identity. Moreover, sex matters. It is important to be able to talk about and take action against the discrimination, violence and oppression that still affect women and girls because they were born female” 
Para [5], section [5.1] of the judgment.

The judge ruled that this “did not have the protected characteristic of philosophical belief” and she lost the case.

This is where JK Rowling came out in support, starting by tweeting that no one should lose their job for saying that biological sex is real. The focus then shifted to Rowling as public transphobe #1 (more specifically a TERF: trans-exclusionary radical feminist) and all hope for discussion of what the original ruling meant was lost in the ensuing storm.

So let’s think about it. The ruling had nothing to do with biology’s role in what makes a woman, or whether self-identifying without HRT or surgery is sufficient to be a woman, or whether the company was right not to renew her contract over those tweets. It was all to do with whether her opinion that biological sex is real (ok) and therefore trans women aren’t women (yikes) counts as a protected belief, akin to religious belief, and thus one that cannot be discriminated against by employers. 

There are five criteria that determine if a belief has the right to be protected by law: 

(i) the belief must be genuinely held; 

(ii) it must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available; 

(iii) it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour 

(iv) it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and 

(v) it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. 

Summary from para [50] of the Forstater judgment

It was the fifth point where the judge ruled against Maya and says that her belief that a trans woman is still a man is a violation of human dignity in this democratic society, and therefore cannot be protected.

If I’m being honest, and I really haven’t felt free to be on this topic with my own friends, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around why the likes of Forester or Rowling, who are adamant that anyone should feel free to identify as whatever gender they feel and will use preferred pronouns out of politeness, should be labeled transphobes.  That biological sex is real and not to be conflated with gender seems as self-evident as it gets. It seems more like a battle over the definition of words than a desire to deny one’s identity (If only we could all just define our terms and agree on those definitions before using them going forward, but not everyone is lucky enough take Philosophy 110….)

But when it comes to understanding this ruling under the law, I think the “democratic society” part is the operative term here. Trans people exist. That’s undeniable. Whether or not they are “valid” in their transness is totally irrelevant when deciding whether to acknowledge their existence. It is the responsibility of a democratic society to protect the rights of their most vulnerable members, which trans people certainly are, and so the purpose of this ruling is to makes that statement. 

I could also see how someone as influential as Rowling to bother tweeting anything about trans people that isn’t supportive is irresponsible given the sensitive time we are in where anything can be used to stoke the fires of hate, even if those things are technically true.

But it’s also very apparent that the democratic values we lean on to uphold vulnerable people’s rights are suffering from a double-standard that is preventing well-meaning people from saying anything “wrong” lest they suffer the consequences. So swings the pendulum.

Dear Bob,

I hope this finds you well. I am contacting you on behalf of the East European Film Bulletin (www.eefb.org). (Go to the web site to find links for contact.)


As part of our Romanian focus of 2020, we are planning a special issue on architecture/urbanism/memory in Romanian cinema (see call for papers attached). 


We would be very grateful if you could share it through your network and/or on your social media platforms.


Best wishes from a sunny Paris,
Yann Kaci––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Yann KaciEast European Film Bulletin

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Populism and Racial Injustice

A Gothic-Without-Borders Conference in March 2021, fully online, hosted by the Department of World Languages and Literatures (WLL) at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Vancouver, Canada, coordinated by the SFU Center for Educational Excellence (CEE), and co-sponsored by the International Gothic Association (IGA) and others

Plenary Speakers

Linnie Blake, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Mark Deggan, Simon Fraser University, Canada

Andrew Hock Soon Ng, Monash University, Malaysia

Maisha Wester, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA

 “In the first place, a blazing star or comet appeared for several months before the plague, as there did the year after another, a little before the fire. The old women …. remarked…that those two comets passed directly over the city, and that so very near the houses that it was plain they imported something peculiar to the city alone; that the comet before the pestilence was of a faint, dull, languid colour, and its motion very heavy, Solemn, and slow…and that, accordingly, one foretold a heavy judgement, slow but severe, terrible and frightful, as was the plague’.

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year 1665 (1722)

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  CALL FOR PAPERS for a topical issue of Open Philosophy “Ethics and Politics of TV Series”


Open Philosophy (https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/opphil/opphil-overview.xml) invites submissions for the topical issue “Ethics and Politics of TV Series,” edited by Sandra Laugier (Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, ERC DEMOSERIES), prepared in collaboration with the European Research Council project DEMOSERIES (https://www.demoseries.eu).

TV series are increasingly recognised in current research. However, their aesthetic potential for visualising ethical issues and developing a collective inquiry into democratic values has not yet been fully appreciated. Because of their format (weekly/seasonal regularity, home viewing) and the participatory qualities of the Internet (tweeting, chat forums), series allow for a new form of education by expressing complex issues through narrative and characters.

In France, the UK, Germany, the US, Israel, and many other countries, the number of films and television series revealing what happens ‘behind the scenes’ of democratic regimes faced with terrorist threats or other threats (environmental, technological, sanitary) is growing. These works reveal a moral state of the world. They may be analysed as ‘mirrors’ of society, or as ideological tools. But they can also be understood as new resources for the education of their audiences; as the emergence of a form of ‘soft power’ that can serve as a resource for public policies and democratic conversation.

This topical issue invites scholars in philosophy, film and media studies, sociology, political science, cultural studies etc. to explore popular TV series’ capacity to raise ethical and political issues, to build forms of awareness necessary for the safety of individuals and societies, and ultimately, to create shared and shareable values.

Authors publishing their articles in the special issue will benefit from:
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·         no publishing fees.



HOW TO SUBMIT

Submissions will be collected from October 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021. There are no specific length limitations.

To submit an article for the special issue of Open Philosophy, authors are asked to access the online submission system at: http://www.editorialmanager.com/opphil/

Please choose as article type: Ethics and Politics of TV Series

Before submission the authors should carefully read over the Instruction for Authors, available at: https://www.degruyter.com/view/supplement/s25438875_Instruction_for_Authors.pdf

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Further questions about this thematic issue can be addressed to Sandra Laugier <sandra.laugier@univ-paris1.fr> and to

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In case of technical questions, please contact journal Managing Editor Katarzyna Tempczyk <katarzyna.tempczyk@degruyter.com>