Alex Massie Alex Massie

Is it a ‘transphobic lie’ to say ‘only females get cervical cancer’?

A gender neutral toilet (Getty images)

A long, long time ago – by which I mean last month – I was firmly under the impression that no-one had any interest in conflating gender with biological sex. This, at any rate, was what some trans-people and many trans-activists told me and everyone else who cared to involve themselves in the boiling argument over trans rights and women’s rights.

And yet, according to Pink News it is now a ‘disgusting transphobic lie’ to assert that ‘only females get cervical cancer’. The newspaper saluted the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust for ‘shutting down’ this mistruth. The charity tweeted that ‘We’re aware a hashtag is trending that raises the issue of gender identity and cervical health. At Jo’s we want to ensure everyone with a cervix has access to the information and support they need to attend #CervicalScreening, regardless of their gender identity’.

Well, indeed. But this is surely the point. People with cervixes are biologically female, no matter their gender identification. On their own website, the charity states that ‘women are usually born with a cervix’ but you may also have a cervix if you are ‘a trans man and/or non-binary person who was assigned female at birth’. (This is also true, sometimes, of the tiny number of people classed as ‘intersex’.)

Trans women are inherently incapable of experiencing the full biological expression of femaleness

No wonder so much of this argument is so confused and so frequently consists of people talking past one another. No-one is ‘assigned’ female at birth, as though biological sex were some kind of random sorting hat, any more than anyone looks at a new baby born with a penis and says ‘Could be a boy, could be a girl, let’s assign him boy-status for now’; sex is recorded, it is not (generally), some kind of multiple-choice or pick’n’mix exercise.

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