Debunking bad science: Professor of sociology misinforms dangerously about sex and coronavirus.
As I've mentioned before, as trans people, we are always playing catch up with the nonsense laid at our door. Usually it's about demonising or dehumanising trans, non-binary or intersex people. This time we're talking about an article by professor Alice Sullivan, who is a professor of Sociology at University College London. Not a medical doctor. However, you would have thought that someone who is willing to go through the rigours of becoming a professor would know enough about research to know when she doesn't have enough evidence, or she's using flawed methodology.
The article in question is this one, in the Spectator, a weekly British magazine on politics, culture, and current affairs, with a politically conservative perspective. We have seen transphobia move from the ultra right wing to mainstream conservatism recently, with certain conservative MP's being particularly outspoken about their transphobia recently.
Here we see a conservative minister mocking and LGBT organisation after being called out with her trans exclusionary comments:
Such is the political scene in the United Kingdom at present. Back to the Spectator article. The author's premice, which isn't at all clearly laid out, is that collection of data should refer only to cisgender people, and refer only to biological sex at birth:
"Despite the fact that it is more obvious than ever that sex matters, both government and researchers are failing to collect proper data on sex."
However, as our studies show, some 97% of trans people take HRT and about another half of people have had some form of surgery. Sexing a human being / body is quite difficult. It not only involves an endocrine profile - as we all know that endocrine functions alter bodies and behaviour - that's why trans women, men and non-binary people take HRT. HRT alters breast formation, hair and fat distribution, as well as many other behavioural and psychological aspects which are well known to trans peple but poorly understood by others. Sexing is also not 100% accurate in all cases, as intersex people can attest. There are some areas in which sexing from chromosomes does indeed follow a pattern - the so-called y-linked inherited diseases, and the x linked - which affect both cis and trans men and women. And the Y linked disorders are mostly related to testis formation, and spermatogenesis - without external genitalia, physically transitioned women are, indeed, women. The only chromosomal area of any interest is the IL-3 receptor (interleukins are chemical messages, cytokines, involved in an immune response), however, there is also a copy of this on the X chromosome, therefore it isn't something specifically y-linked. The only other trait which is known to be y linked is baldness.
So this brings us back to the fundamental differences between people who have estrogen, and people who don't. With regard to coronavirus, here's what we understand: Studies on mice have shown that removing the ovaries of mice infected with coronavirus increased their susceptability to the disease. Further studies have shown the protective properties of estrogen to hepatitis-A. One need only scratch the surface in google scholar to understand what is going on here. Internationally, all coronavirus studies are free to anybody who wants to read them. What has happened here, is a transphobic sociology professor has chosen to wade in with transphobic narratives which are both dangerous (to trans men) and bigoted.
Quite clearly, it is not "a confusion about sex" which is causing problems, but a fundamental mis-understanding and mis-application of clinical science because of this incessant anti-trans dialogue - one which calls for forced recognition of people only by their biological sex at birth, rather than considering that complexities of people with minority characteristics. Such ill informed dialogue is harmful, not only by saying to trans people that their sex is not real, but also for confusing misinformation about the pathogenesis, and, indeed protective factors of hormone replacement therapy. Biology is complicated, sex is not as binary as we like to believe, and there are no in depth studies regarding how trans people - in all their different configurations, might be affected by coronavirus differently to their cis counterparts. It's important that trans people are all treated as individuals, as we are all unique and have fundamentally different biology to our birth assigned sex.