Meghan Murphy on gender identity and women’s rights at the Vancouver Public Library

Meghan Murphy speaking at the Vancouver Public Library on gender identity and women’s rights, January 10, 2019.

The following is an edited transcript of a speech given by Meghan Murphy on January 10, 2019, at the Vancouver Public Library. The event was called, “Gender Identity and Women’s Rights,” and can be watched in full on YouTube.

First of all, I think that it’s important to acknowledge how brave you all have been just in showing up tonight. Considering what those who dare to even ask questions about — never mind put forward criticisms of — gender identity ideology and legislation are subjected to, and considering the level of bullying aimed at this event specifically, I think that the fact that you are all here sends a powerful message, which is that people still believe in free speech, democracy, critical thought, and debate.

Despite bullying from trans activists and despite the fact that the Vancouver Public Library — a government-run public institution that is subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including an obligation to protect and uphold section 2(b), freedom of expression — worked very hard to have this event cancelled, we sold out. And we’re all here, at 9:30PM on a Thursday night. Thank you.

I do want to remind everyone also that a primary purpose and core value of public libraries is access. So, the universal mission of libraries is to provide equitable access to information and to facilitate and protect the right to freely pursue knowledge. Yet, our public library made intentional choices to attempt to limit access to this event; by forcing us to change the time to a rather ridiculous hour on a weeknight; by imposing excess security fees; and by smearing myself, my website, and this event.

In November, after calls from trans activists for the VPL to cancel this event (because god forbid we discuss legislation that has enormous implications for us all but most particularly for women and girls), Chief Librarian Christina de Castell issued a statement on Twitter saying that the VPL has zero tolerance for discrimination and does not agree with the views of Feminist Current. She did not explain what she believed the views of Feminist Current were, nor did she specify which of those supposed views she disagreed with. But, considering the bulk of what’s been produced and published on Feminist Current over the years is aimed at addressing male violence against women and challenging practices, laws, and behaviours that perpetuate dehumanization and naturalize exploitation of women and girls, I wonder if we should just go ahead and assume that Christina de Castell and the library are ideologically opposed to the feminist movement.

In her statement, she also said, “We recognize that Meghan Murphy’s opinions are concerning.” And perhaps I do have some concerning opinions… I think that cats make bad pets… (The most controversial issue tonight, I’m sure! We can talk about it in the Q&A…) I am in favour of a full ban on cilantro… I believe in ghosts… But, we were offered no explanation in terms of which of my opinions are concerning, so it could be any of those things.

Nonetheless, the library did make clear that they are not in a position to censor free speech that doesn’t violate the criminal code. And, despite what trans activists claim, it is not illegal to understand and state that biological sex is real, and that it matters. Which is essentially what me and other women have been smeared, threatened, and no-platformed for saying.

It’s also not illegal to understand that a woman is an adult human female.

It is not illegal to defend women’s transition houses and to argue that when women are escaping male violence they should have access to spaces that make them feel safe, where they can speak to women who understand what it’s like to grow up female in this world, and where they can be assured they won’t be made more vulnerable by having to share a room with a man.

It is not illegal to understand that male bodies and female bodies are different, and that women and girls have the right to compete in sports under fair terms, against other women and girls and not against men, who would in most cases have an unfair advantage due to things like differences in bone mass, bone structure, bone density, the size of their organs like the heart and lungs, and so on and so forth.

It’s not illegal in Canada for lesbians to limit their choices in intimate partners to women only and to refuse sexual partners with penises.

It’s not illegal to demand that our government consider the implications of policies that allow anyone at all to self-identify as women, and to consult the public on these pieces of legislation and policies.

It’s not illegal for women to want access to changerooms free from men. It is not illegal to think critically, to ask questions, and to explore ideas.

It should not be “difficult” for the library to “accept a rental” from those they disagree with, because a library of all places should be the first to support the freedom of expression, and the last to take a public position against our free speech — the free speech of women, of feminists, and of the general public. Despite the fact that the library did keep our booking, I do want to be clear that what they have done and said publicly with regard to this event was wrong, and it was dangerous, and it’s not something that any one of us should accept. This is not just about the issue of gender identity, it is about all of us, it is about to democracy, and ,at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it is about preventing fascism.

Before we get any further into the meat of this particular issue and debate, I want to define my terms. One of the most frustrating things about this conversation is that we’re often all speaking very different languages, and those who promote gender identity ideology and legislation often refuse to define their terms in a coherent way, which makes genuine conversation quite difficult.

So, when I say “sex” I am referring to biology — whether an individual is male or female. I define a man as an adult male human, and a woman as an adult female human. This is how most of the world for most of history has understood the terms “man” and “woman.”

When I say “gender,” what I mean is the stereotypes and social roles imposed on males and females based on their sex. This is what I mean when I talk about femininity and masculinity. So, ideas we’re told or that we hold in our society about what men and women should be, the social norms we are expected to adhere to, how we should dress, the kinds of jobs we should have, how we should act, what we should look like, what our personality traits should consist of, etc.

When I say “trans activist,” I’m not specifically or necessarily talking about trans-identified people. I’m talking about any person who promotes and supports gender identity ideology and legislation.

When I say “gender identity ideology” or “transgender ideology,” I mean the idea that it’s possible for a person to be born in the wrong body, or that it’s possible for a person to change sex.

When I talk about “gender identity legislation,” I’m referring to legislation that allows people to self-identify as any sex that they want, and to access facilities, spaces, political positions, jobs, grants, universities, and sports competitions on that basis.

I do not use the term “cis,” which is a word created by trans activists to refer to people whose “gender identity matches their sex.” This is because I do not have a gender identity. In fact, no one does. We have bodies and we have personalities, and my personality is not a set of stereotypes. And I refuse to define myself as a set of stereotypes that have been used to defend sexist practices and beliefs throughout history.

I am not, as so many trans activists claim, a biological essentialist. I believe boys should be able to play with dolls and wear dresses if they like. I think they can be just as sensitive and emotional as girls. I think that girls should be able to play with trucks, and roughhouse, and cut their hair short, and refuse to wear dresses. I think that girls can be rational, assertive, and adventurous.

I don’t believe that any person should be discriminated against or harassed because they step outside the gender stereotypes laid out for us and enforced on us in so many ways. And, in fact, as a feminist, I think they should be encouraged to step outside those stereotypes.

What is incredibly ironic about this debate and the way that feminists who challenge transgender ideology are positioned is that feminists have always taken an incredibly liberal, liberatory position on gender. We want people to be free to be themselves, and not feel pressure to adopt masculine or feminine stereotypes.

Yet, we are the ones in this debate who are accused of being conservative or regressive. This, coming from people who say that any boy who loves frilly pink dresses cannot possibly be just a boy who likes frilly pink dresses, but must really be a girl, which of course plays into a long history of bullying boys who step out of gender norms by accusing them of being girls.

I don’t know for certain why our arguments and ideas are misrepresented so drastically by our opponents, but I would guess that it’s because our opponents are not able to make counter-arguments in good faith, so have no other option, in terms of winning, except to lie, bully, and smear.

Today, we’re all told that if we don’t accept the notion that biological sex is determined by an individual’s feelings, preferences, or desires, that we’re bigoted, or that we’re fascist, or that we deserve to be arrested or killed.

Indeed, countless people — mostly men — have sent violent threats to me online for saying what I’m saying today. Organizers of this event received a number of violent, sexualized, misogynist threats through Eventbrite. An individual named Jonathan/Jessica Yaniv recently took credit publicly for personally having me banned from Twitter, and also publicly stated that I have “committed hate crimes” and that I “organized a hate rally” (referring to this event specifically).

This is all because I believe males and females are real, because I believe women’s rights and spaces should be protected, because I believe women have the right to boundaries, and because I ask questions about terms like “transgender” and about the implications of legislation rooted in nonsensical, regressive ideology.

We still don’t know what defines a trans person. We don’t know what makes a male “actually a woman.” Is it surgery? Hormones? Clothing? Makeup? A preference for long hair? There is, to date, no coherent definition of transgender. It can be literally anything or anyone. It is nothing more than a statement, and it is unverifiable. To create legislation around something so vague and undefinable seems odd to me, if not dangerous.

According to Justice Canada and the Ontario Human Rights Code, gender identity is defined as “a person’s internal or individual experience of their gender.” But how a person experiences or feels about or analyzes gender or gender roles does not literally change their sex.

I am told that saying these kinds of things “hurts people’s feelings,” and that therefore I may not say them. But, if we’re going to talk about feelings, why is it that women’s feelings are being ignored in all of this? Why is it that women’s feelings about whether or not they have to share a change room with a man don’t matter? What about the feelings of girls who don’t want to see a dick when they’re changing for gym class? What about the feelings of women who’ve been victimized by men and don’t want to share a room in a transition house with a man? And what about the feelings of women who are being made to compete against men in sports?

Just last month, a male who identifies as a woman named Christina Ginther sued a Minnesota women’s football league after a team barred him from playing. The news media reported that Ginther was not allowed to play because he was trans, but that’s not true. It’s because he’s male. He has a male body, and it’s not fair to the women playing in the league to have to play against a man. The league told Ginther they don’t allow players who are born biologically male because of safety issues. This is the kind of rule that should make sense to anyone who actually cares about and respects women’s right to play sports safely and fairly, who isn’t interested in trampling the rights of others because of their own personal preferences and desires. But gender identity ideology and legislation say that these women don’t matter, that this one man’s feelings matter more.

In Toronto, a woman named Kristi Hanna filed a human rights complaint against the Jean Tweed Center, which runs Palmertson House, a shelter for female recovering addicts, after she was told she had to share a room with a man claiming to be a woman. She said that this man looked like a man, talked like a man, had a beard, was “wearing big combat boots,” and that he hadn’t had any sex-change surgeries. But he was admitted to the Palmerston House anyway. When she and some other women complained about his presence to the staff, the response was, “We’re inclusive.” This, to a woman who’s been sexually assaulted multiple times by men, who suffers from PTSD and insomnia, on top of struggling with substance abuse issues, and who felt so triggered and unsafe upon this man’s arrival and placement in her room that she had to leave her room at the shelter to go stay elsewhere, because she was so stressed she couldn’t sleep. What about this woman’s feelings?

What about the feelings of the 14 female estheticians who were asked to give a male a Brazilian bikini wax, then dragged to court when they declined?

None of this is about “transphobia.” It is about men, and it is about women having the right to say no to men, to not be gaslit and bullied for daring to put their own safety, rights, and feelings first.

We are now at a place where we are not only allowing men to dictate what a woman is, but to destroy hard-fought-for rights won by feminists, very quickly, without any public debate. We are putting women and girls in danger in order to avoid offending the feelings of a tiny minority of people, without a public debate. We are allowing women to be fired, threatened, harassed, smeared, silenced, intimidated, ostracized, and even beaten in order to accommodate the feelings of men. This is what’s actually happening, and I don’t care if this is shocking for some of you here, because it’s true, and I refuse to accept or repeat lies under threat, especially lies that are clearly hurtful.

We can support people’s rights and dignity, and provide them with the services they need without lying and without throwing women under the bus.

There is no need for women’s rights if women don’t exist, and if the source of their oppression is not their sex, but their feelings about femininity. No matter how a woman feels about gender, she will still experience this world as female.

Those who are speaking out about and asking questions about gender identity are not doing so to be cruel. They are not doing so because they’re hateful. They are doing so because they have real, genuine concerns that deserve to be taken seriously and addressed. And if you’re going to do everything in your power to bully and silence people who have those concerns, to tell women that advocating for their own rights makes them hateful, that your beliefs are the only beliefs that matter, and that those who don’t share your beliefs should be arrested or killed, then what is clear is that you are the fascist, you are the hateful, close-minded, oppressive one.

So, you are all free to disagree with anything I say here. You are free to share your opinions, you are free to believe whatever you like, whether it’s that the earth is flat, or that cats are great pets, but you don’t have the right to impose those beliefs on others under threat of violence or a jail sentence. You don’t have the right to threaten me, silence me, or criminalize me for telling the truth.