A professor who recently resigned from the University of Sussex after protests erupted over her “transphobic” views has said that there’s a “real pressure” to accept that transgender women can be lesbians.
Kathleen Stock, who has an OBE for her contribution to higher education, had faced calls to be fired over her stance on gender identity.
The controversy revolves around the philosophy professor’s belief that a person’s self-declared gender identity does not outweigh their biological sex, “particularly when it comes to law and policy”.
As a result, protests erupted on the university’s campus, with students accusing Stock of transphobia.
The academic stepped down from her role at the university on Thursday 28 October, tweeting that she was “sad” to leave.
Stock's resignation came as she has received support from academics and senior government ministers, with Kemi Badenoch MP, the equalities minister, stating that Stock's views were probably “in step with the majority of the population”.
“Nobody should face bullying or harassment in the workplace,“ Badenoch told Sky News. ”I don’t think she should lose her job. I think that she has every right to hold the beliefs.”
Now, speaking to Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour for the first time since her resignation, Stock was asked to comment on how her sexuality may have influenced her views on trans people.
“It is definitely true that lesbians are at the sharp end, as it were, of gender identity ideology,” she said before going on to reference some of her experiences in the dating world.
“I was going onto lesbian dating sites and seeing males and I thought that was quite strange.”
When asked by Barnett if she was talking about trans women, Stock replied: “I don’t know whether they were trans or not but some of them had women's names so some of them looked like they might be trans. Some of them didn’t look trans at all.”
Stock continued: “It is the case that trans women who are attracted to females are lesbians, so the categories are changing in radical ways and lesbian is one of them.
“There’s real pressure on lesbians to accept that trans women can be lesbians and that has made us lesbians aware of this in a way I think straight people aren’t necessarily as aware because there isn’t the same pressure on straight women or straight men.”
The academic went on to reference friends of hers “who have been really pressured into dating trans women and they say, ‘well, I’m sorry, I’m lesbian. I’m same-sex attracted’ and sometimes that’s been a hard point to get through.”
Stock explained her views on transgender people, which are outlined in her book Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, earlier in the interview after Barnett said: “You don’t view trans women as women or trans men as men” to which the academic replied: “that’s correct”.
“Those categories are set up in ways that are not altered by inner feelings of identity and those categories are there for really good reasons in order to enable humans to pick out really important facts about the human species, which is sexually dimorphic,” Stock continued.
“We need those words and those concepts in order to talk about all the different medical interests or sporting interests or educational interests. You name it, we need those words so that’s what I think but that’s completely compatible with protecting trans people in law.
“It’s also compatible with going along with what I would call a kind of fiction, that a trans woman is a woman or a trans man is a man for certain social purposes.”
Speaking about transphobia more generally, Stock said there’s a “wider societal context” at play.
“There’s a narrative that’s emerged partly through some academics and also through lobbying groups like Stonewall that trans students and trans people generally are the most vulnerable group in the UK and that moreover, the only way to protect them is to affirm any claim they make about their own identity and that any dissent from that must be transphobia.”
She went on to describe her views as “pretty moderate”, adding that they “always insist on affirming legal protections for trans people and that they should absolutely be free of any discriminational violence”.
Elsewhere in the interview, Stock spoke about some of the backlash she faced at the University of Sussex that led to her decision to resign from her role as a professor.
“I don’t know that the student activity would be there if the colleague activity hadn’t already been there,” she said.
“There’s a small group of people who are absolutely opposed to the sorts of things I say and instead of getting involved in arguing with me using reason and evidence, the traditional university methods, they tell their students in lectures that I pose a threat to trans students.”
Stock added that she believes colleagues had “radically misrepresented” her views.
Describing the way she was treated on campus, Stock recalled seeing a wall near the university’s main entrance where every poster had her name on it, with many calling her a transphobe while others campaigned for her to be fired.
Stock described the impact as “some sort of surreal terrible anxiety dream” and also referenced a protest that took place at one of the university’s open days when hundreds of students held placards calling for her to be fired.
As for why she chose to resign, Stock, who said she had felt supported by the university before leaving, explained “I just decided I want to be happy”.
Asked what she plans to do next, Stock explained that she would like to “do something meaningful” and mentioned writing another book.
As for the subject, the academic did not specify that it would look at trans rights but said it would probably be on feminism and “annoy quite a lot of feminists”.
“I’m a bit of a contrarian, so whatever I come up with will end up annoying somebody, no doubt,” she added.
Regarding Stock’s resignation, the University of Sussex issued a statement saying it hoped Stock “would feel able to return to work”.
“We will miss her many contributions, from which the University has benefited during her time here,” the statement, written by the vice-chancellor Adam Tickell, added. You can read the full response online here.
Stock’s comments regarding dating as a gay woman follow the publication of a BBC article that interviewed lesbians who said they felt pressured into sex by some trans women.
The article was widely discussed on social media and prompted more than 20,000 people to sign an open letter to the BBC criticising its publication.
In response, the BBC said: “We have received a wide range of feedback from those who find the article challenging as well as those who welcome its publication.
“The article was carefully considered before publication, went through a rigorous editorial review process and fully complies with the BBC’s editorial guidelines and standards.”
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