Is Richard Dawkins transphobic?

Is Richard Dawkins a transphobe? He compared trans women to Rachel Dolezal, then tweeted “discuss”. Responses to his tweet showed the failure of twitter. Some tweets said that transition is not a choice. Some said that being a woman is not a feeling. No-one learned anything.

He claimed “you will be vilified” if you deny trans women are women. Well, yes, and also you will get loud enthusiastic affirmation from a whole load of twitter accounts and be echoed by powerful media organisations and institutions. “I do not intend to disparage trans people,” he tweeted later, but it’s hard to interpret his tweets as anything else.

In 1991 he gave this children’s lecture, explaining evolution. I was not a child, but I was inspired and have felt warmly towards the man ever since. His metaphor “Climbing Mount Improbable” explains that an eye does not spring into existence fully formed, but each step of evolution is an advance on what came before. So, light-sensitive skin is an advantage, then if that sensitive area is concave it gives some information of the direction from where the light comes. Each step is an advantage, and many such advances still exist in creatures today.

I have not followed his anti-theism, but have sympathy with the man. Young Earth Creationists were calling him deluded by the Devil or a deliberate liar. Such Creationism is pernicious, and I am pleased with his attacks on it, even though I consider religion and spirituality has value he has not acknowledged and perhaps has not understood. He says of holy books that “they don’t contain any of the knowledge that science has patiently worked out”, which is bizarre- they contain a great deal of wisdom on what it means to be human, which psychology is only just catching up with. He says, “It is important to recognise when we reach the limits of what we understand”, but it is clear he doesn’t, always.

I got The Magic of Reality from Amazon because it was 99p. It’s aimed at people over 12, and it was explaining a lot of stuff I already knew. I gave up when I read that “protons and neutrons are very very tiny indeed”. But I feel working on “the public understanding of science” is worthwhile.

His ability to research and create new understanding, and to explain complex concepts to lay people, make it surprising that he does not understand about trans people. Despite transphobia, we transition. Apart from the sense of congruence, which is overwhelming, trans women gain little from transition. If we do not transition we do not thrive as our gifts might suggest we would. All this seems well enough established, and simple enough to understand, so that for a trained intellect like Dawkins’ to compare us to Dolezal, six years after everyone else has moved on, needs explanation. The simplest explanation is some aversion to, disgust fear anger or hatred for, trans people- that is, transphobia. Saying he did not intend to disparage us seems disingenuous. I believe Dawkins is generally truthful. So he did not see how disparaging he was being, which indicates a high level of aversion or contempt for us.

I would like to have heroes, but the greatest people are flawed. I can believe that Churchill played a great part in defeating Hitler at the same time as knowing he was a disastrous leader at Gallipoli and a racist. I remain grateful for Dawkins’ explanation of the evolution of eyes, which I will always remember, but he is a transphobe. That’s just as bad as being a racist.

The American Humanist Association has withdrawn the Humanist of the Year Award it bestowed on Prof. Dawkins in 1996.

30 November: as the professor was a clear transphobe before, his pleas to others to sign some transphobic screed tell us nothing new. Any quick google will show that screed is worthless and ridiculous.

13 thoughts on “Is Richard Dawkins transphobic?

  1. The evolution of the eye is more advanced than the evolution of seeing reality. What you see is what you get, but if you don’t want to get it, then you will never really see it.

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    • Possibly Dawkins is just averse to modernity. In the nineties, he might have seen a few “Man becomes woman shock!” articles– you know, my struggle, I’m so much happier now, etc. But now it’s trans people as a demographic, and he can’t keep up, and he resents all this change. He’s only just eighty, so he’s a bit young for that.

      Added: I want to take the tweet apart. First he mentions a fraudster, and the result in the mind of the reader is to make a comparison. Then he says things which are not true. “Some men choose to identify as women”. No. Just as a gay man can live celibate or marry a woman, we can suppress our need to transition, but transition is an expression of who we are- our extended phenotype, if you will- not a choice.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I know who Richard Dawkins is and I’ve seen videos of him talking about evolution. Can you expect someone who has spend their life with biology and evolution, which is mostly about biological males and females having procreating, to understand a psychological issue such as transgender identity? I would not expect someone like him to understand us. Unless he was transgender he would not understand. It’s not about science and facts, it’s about the mind and experience. In fact it might be said that the claims of transgender people are like a religion that someone like Dawkins cannot accept.

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    • He was professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford from 1995 to 2008. So I would expect him to have a lay interest in all science. In The Magic of Reality he addresses evolution, but also chemistry, quantum physics, geology, and “What is a miracle?” So I would expect him to know some psychology, and be able to accept that trans people exist, transition to express ourselves as we are rather than to get one over on women, or on old white emeritus Professors, and are mostly harmless. Possibly he just can’t understand why a man would want to be a woman. Well, neither can I. I just “let the mystery be”.

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      • I have a friend who is a good friend but has misunderstood my trans-ness many times. If someone is not trans then they are extremely unlikely to get it. And I’ve given up hope on people understanding in general. But still I never cease to try to explain it to people. Not because I care about their opinion but just so that enough people know us more and don’t discriminate.

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  3. Now that seems a shame. When it comes to explaining evolution and biology, Dawkins is the master and some of his writings verge on the sublime (eg “The Extended Phenotype”). But when it comes to tackling subjects that are not his field of expertise, he is lazy. In “The God Delusion” you mention, for instance, he could so easily have contacted fellow academics in other subjects, e.g. psychology, for a clarification of certain topics, but it’s clear he couldn’t be bothered. At present, the reasons for being trans are uncertain and it’s a bit of a mystery to all, but you would have thought that an investigative biologist like him might have been interested in the prospect of discovering any biological reasons for being trans, if nothing else. Sue x

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  4. I am part of the population that has green eyes (2%). My blood type is B-, so I’m included in the 1.5% that has the same. I was born a natural blonde (2%) who experienced premature male-pattern baldness (25%) and simultaneous premature graying of what hair remained (17%). My IQ is in the top 2%. That I am a trans woman puts me among the estimated 0.6% of those claiming to have the same gender identity variant. I am, statistically, a rare human being, but 100% human, nonetheless. I shouldn’t have to explain any of my rarities, whether they’ve already been explained by science or not. Each of them is but a part of who I am, and their significance should be measured by how I, alone, perceive them. My eyes work like the majority’s do, my rare blood functions as any others’, my hair (or lack thereof) is considered within norms, and my IQ merely a measurement – not subject to judgement, Why, then, should my gender identity be stigmatized, judged, or politicized? A scientist should surely agree; a fellow human being should, at least, accept my existence.

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  5. Sadly, l agree; both with Clare’s conclusion that despite his high IQ he is transphobic and thus probably fearful of the gender identity phenomena which he probably can’t comprehend and also with Sue and Connie’s assertions that as he is able to accept the existence of other phenomena that humanity are still working towards full understanding of, surely he should be able accept the existence of trans persons and that the individual details of one’s humanity should not be subject to judgement

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    • There was a sad git on facebook just now denying that trans children exist. When I said trans people exist, we all have been children, some of us are still, he said, what if they change their minds when they grow up? For the git, it is just verbiage expressing denial and aversion. Dawkins is better able to make the verbiage sound sensible.

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    • Welcome, Ant. Thank you for commenting.

      Back in the nineties, Prof. Dawkins’ books indicated some awareness of feminist concerns, though like a well-meaning tutor seeking to understand his female undergraduates rather than someone who had absorbed the theory. Maybe he has just been reading the wrong things, or talking to the wrong people.

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