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.