Armchair Philosophy – Injustice at the University of Sussex, Kathleen Stock & the Cultural Revolutionaries

Kathleen Stock has even greater notoriety following her cancellation than her academic stature won her before. It just goes to show what students gathered in masks and balaclavas, wielding smoke flares on the University of Sussex campus, can achieve.

If I’m perfectly honest, prior to actually sitting down and watching Stock’s interview on the popular YouTube channel Triggernometry, I was absorbed and compelled by the social justice call to protect trans people. I stand by this aim. My understanding of the complexities of these incredibly contentious and emotive issues was, however, forever changed by listening to what Stock had to say.

That’s what the mob were so afraid of. I’ve yet to don a MAGA hat and glorify or deny genocide. This article demonstrates how my views have changed, and it’s as much a rant at myself as it is the students who bullied Kathleen Stock out of her job.

Trans politics is generally focused on trans-women and women’s rights, and so for expediency so will I. Trans-women are not the same as women, not in the traditional sense – the way the majority of people are used to perceiving women – i.e. as female. Trans-women are trans-women.

This isn’t to say trans-women shouldn’t be regarded as women socially, or referred to as women/she/her. I believe accepting trans people for who they are, and referring to them using their chosen names is not only the right thing to do, but the human thing to do, the respectful, considerate, compassionate, and just thing to do. 

Rather, to distinguish between trans-women and women in certain situations is clearly both necessary (e.g. medically and in almost all professional sports) and a moral obligation (e.g. spaces segregated by sex). In many other situations it’s entirely irrelevant, such as at work, on the bus, in politics, and in mixed social spaces.

During my final year at university, a Professor of Philosophy at a leading educational institution in the United Kingdom – a so-called bastion of democracy, free speech, and thought – was effectively hounded out of her job by what can only be described as bullying and harassment (although, I should say she did quit – but this is the reason why).

What’s commonly been reported is a coordinated campaign, making doing her job from her place of work unbearable and completely untenable. There was no real justification for this, other than Stock not toeing the line and swallowing the official dogma. Other members of staff at the University of Sussex apparently facilitated the student mobilisation through defamatory remarks in lectures and on Twitter.

I’ve since watched Kathleen Stock being interviewed, and read about her and what she has to say in various publications. If anything her platform has increased as a result. Did you take part in these protests, and the movement to purge the counter-revolutionaries? Would you say you spent your valuable time at university/work usefully? Not only was it hypocritical and undignified to descend to the level of online trolls and communist denouncers on a university campus, but also a very personal injustice and a stifling of free speech.

Nothing Kathleen Stock has said strikes me as particularly outrageous or at all transphobic. If anything she’s a moderate. We should respect her right to free and independent thought and expression. Stop conflating transphobia with any critical approach to gender recognition. Everything Kathleen Stock said has been both accurate and considered, as one would expect of a philosophy professor!

The experiences of women should not be sidelined in the pursuit to appear liberal and politically correct. We can make it a level playing field, but we cannot place trans rights and experiences above women’s rights and experiences. Kathleen Stock is not suggesting trans people don’t deserve to feel and be safe, she’s saying in our pursuit to keep them safe we shouldn’t take away from the minimum level of safety women spent over a century fighting for, including designated social spaces segregated by sex. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to expect.

She’s right in saying that it would be an injustice to allow any male who self-identifies as a woman or as non-binary to be allowed access, solely on that basis, to segregated female spaces – such as changing rooms, crisis shelters, prisons, and so on.

As Kathleen regularly points out herself, the only real solution to these questions is to create a third space. This makes sense, even with regards to the history and linguistics related to non-binary and transgender people. Non-binary and transgender people have always existed in society throughout history – in different forms, with different names, and with varying levels of freedom and safety.

In some instances, transgender people have been revered as mystical or spiritual, but always without a doubt different to the majority, and occupying their own space in human history. What I can’t quite get my head around is the desperate desire to be accepted as ‘the same’ by people who define themselves based on difference.

To be treated equally with dignity and respect alongside every other member of society should undoubtedly be the case universally, but saying trans-women are the same as women – no exceptions – I believe is doing both a massive disservice. And the thing is, I think most trans people agree with me. When I’ve spoken to trans-women about identity, for example, they have been adamant that they aren’t women, but trans-women.

Trans-women and women, whilst having many experiences in common, for the most part have had divergent and meaningfully different experiences setting them apart in a multitude of ways. This doesn’t mean they cannot empathise with each other, or find solidarity with one another.

Women’s spaces as we know them are not segregated necessarily as a matter of gender (the social construct), they are segregated based on sex. Sex, as I’m sure you’re aware, is biologically determined from conception, and it exists in every cell of our bodies – our chromosomes, our hormones, our genitals, etc.

Kathleen Stock is not advocating for the repression of transgender people. What she is arguing is trans-women shouldn’t be accepted into female-only spaces, because in the eyes of some (emphasis on the some) women they still present the same threat every other human male presents. It isn’t because they’re trans, it’s because they’re male, and because other males will and have used trans-inclusive policies to gain access to spaces with vulnerable women.

Their experiences and fears are just as valid as those of trans peoples’, regardless of the statistics – which are minimal when it comes to instances of genuine trans-women perpetrating abuse (trans-women are in fact far more likely to the be subjects of abuse, even in women’s spaces). As Stock argues, it’s about minimising any potential for these spaces to be abused by males. That’s the primary focus of feminists and many other women here.

She also quite rightly says it’s impossible to change sex, what effectively is taking place is a fulfilment of the social role of woman – cosmetic surgery, and hormone therapy to adhere to the cultural standard of the feminine gender, and to outwardly appear as female. And in doing so fulfil and express a deep-rooted sense of gender identity which has been denied due to social attitudes and biology. Since sex is biological determinism, it remains impossible to change your DNA in this way. 

In the case of Kathleen Stock, I believe there’s no better place to be having these conversations about transgender rights and gender recognition than in the university setting – where truth, accuracy, and reality hold court over dogma, pseudoscience, and superstition. Or so we thought.

There are real and important questions which still remain unresolved, and to engage only in polarised echo-chambers clearly yields no tangible results politically or socially. As it so happens, these conversations are incredibly difficult to have because of the passionate emotive reaction evoked in anyone who disagrees. Again, on all sides. Myself included.

Not to mention the social consequences, propagandised as accountability, of speaking out against the status-quo on the matter. Of course, there are people with transphobic views and they should be censored where appropriate. As with anti-semitism and criticism of Israel, however, we cannot change the definition of transphobia to incorporate any critical judgement of policy on trans rights. Make no mistake, just because something is controversial or difficult to discuss does not mean it should be eliminated from discourse altogether.

There’s a reason our society has come so far in comparison to others with regards to civil and human rights – rational, free, open conversations and debates. And yes, protest – but protest with the aim of engaging people, appealing to people, and getting a progressive reaction, not with shutting down free speech, demonising opposition, and completely ignoring anything we disagree with.

Whilst students are now customers, universities do not exist solely to service them – they are hubs of knowledge, research, expertise, and as such already substantially contribute to and provide for society. Whilst it may have been an expression of free speech on the part of the students, equally Kathleen Stock’s views on trans rights are an expression of free speech. Students should be as free to engage in these conversations as they have been to protest them from happening in the first place.

Whilst I can understand certain aspects of the debate may be distressing to some people, they still represent a reality, however uncomfortable. Learning about slavery, colonialism, and imperialism as a previously unquestioningly proud British citizen is distressing, and difficult. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have learnt about it, or considered the world from the perspective of enslaved or colonised people, and their descendants.

The case for academic freedom appears obvious. The people who dedicate their lives to educating the next generations of professionals, and who conduct research into the big questions puzzling our time, should be free to explore the unknown and the unresolved without fear of persecution or censorship. Whether the persecution comes from above (i.e., the Government, big business, the Courts, the military, the media, management, etc.) or below (i.e., from students and peers). In our attempt to be compassionate, inclusive and fair we should not abandon the truth. And we certainly should not abandon women.

Create a website or blog at