So now there are only Men and NonMen?


Johns Hopkins University’s redefinition of a lesbian as a ‘non-man attracted to a non-man’ may have been short lived, but it lends more support to the growing body of evidence that that J K Rowling is correct to be concerned about the erasure of ‘the lived reality of women’. Joseph Meaney, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia has accurately described the short lived redefinition as a ‘semantic failure’, pointing out 

It seems they were trying to include transgender people in the lesbian definition, but they ended up just creating a negation: non-men,” What’s a little bit unclear is who has the actual authority here, Different influential groups and individuals gang together and decide, ‘This is good, this is bad.’ … It’s a weird situation in the sense that there is no recognized single authority … (only) the characteristics of peer pressure and mobbing  (‘Non-man’? Johns Hopkins’ redefinition of ‘lesbian’ a .. Viewed 14/6/23)


Meaney makes a very important point, but unfortunately his comment itself includes what can only be termed a ‘semantic failure’, as it appears that the Johns Hopkins  definition was actually intended to include not transgender but ‘some non-binary people’. (Johns Hopkins pulls ‘lesbian’ definition after uproar over …   Viewed 14/6/23). The problem here is the lack of clarity in respect of the meaning of ‘transgender’, which is often and unhelpfully abbreviated to ‘trans’.  If we are to accept the definition of ‘trans’ as provided for example by Stonewall, the discourse becomes something of a free vortex. 

Trans   An umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser.

Transgender man   A term used to describe someone who is assigned female at birth but identifies and lives as a man. This may be shortened to trans man, or FTM, an abbreviation for female-to-male.

Transgender woman   A term used to describe someone who is assigned male at birth but identifies and lives as a woman. This may be shortened to trans woman, or MTF, an abbreviation for male-to-female.  (   viewed 28 May 2023)

If ‘trans’ may mean anything from an individual who (within the UK) has complied with the provisions of the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 to someone who cross dresses, then slogans such as ‘trans women are women’ themselves become meaningless because a ‘trans woman’ may be ‘any (or more) of the above’. The concept of ‘woman’, whether ‘trans’ or not, has thus been robbed of all possible meaning. Don’t take my word for it, Grayson Perry, who frequently presents in his persona Claire, put it this way, ‘I have no special insight into being a woman. I am just a bloke in a dress’. (There is not just one ‘trans’ narrative    viewed 11 June 2023).

Focus: the Identity Trust has consistently argued against both the use of the term ‘trans’ and the suggestion that ‘transgender’ is an ‘umbrella term’. Lack of clarity over this is contributing to the erasure of the lived reality of everyone who might reasonably expect to find shelter under such an umbrella. The semantic failure is having seismic results which are contributing to the concerns expressed by J K Rowling about the lived reality of women. As Joseph Meaney puts it, ‘whether you’re a lesbian or a ‘non-man’ is not the question. The question is, what is a human being? What is our God-given nature, and how are we created? That’s what we need to investigate.’ (‘Non-man’? Johns Hopkins’ redefinition of ‘lesbian’ a .. Viewed 14/6/23). 

Maybe in our investigations we might manage to remember that that God-given nature is extended to all humanity, no matter whether we are men, women or intersex, and no matter whether or not we have transitioned in gender.

Rev Dr Linda-May Ballard

Chaplain, Focus: the Identity Trust