Bias Watch

Margaret Atwood snapped at interviewer who wanted to debate existence of trans people

Margaret Atwood, gender inclusive language, transgender
Margaret AtwoodPhoto: YouTube screenshot

Writer Margaret Atwood snapped at a transphobic interviewer who wouldn’t stop badgering the Handmaid’s Tale author about her support for transgender equality.

Atwood has a new collection of essays coming out soon called Burning Questions. The book is not about trans people, but Atwood once tweeted in support of gender diversity and that was enough for U.K. journalist Hadley Freeman to bring up the topic.

Related: Neil Gaiman & Stephen King come out swinging with forceful pushback to J.K. Rowling’s transphobia

In 2020, Atwood tweeted that “biology doesn’t deal in sealed either/or compartments” and told her followers to “Respect that! Rejoice in Nature’s infinite variety!”

“If biological sex is not binary, how do people know who to make a handmaiden or who is given [female genital mutilation]?” Freeman asked in The Guardian interview.

“OK, let me say this again,” Atwood replied. “This is going to take a while to settle down, but XY and XX are not the only chromosomal combinations possible. Look it up, OK? This has been in flux for a very long time and in the Bible, a male wearing female clothes would be…” and Atwood made “a slicing gesture across her neck,” Freeman wrote.

“You want to do that? No.”

Freeman responded that “gender-critical people” would disagree with her. “Gender critical” is a euphemism for anti-transgender or trans-exclusionary radical feminism (TERF), the ideas that only biological sex determines a person’s identity and experiences, that equality for trans people takes away rights from cis people, and that trans women are actually men and trans men are actually women.

But when Atwood – who apparently wasn’t familiar with the term – asked “What is a gender-critical person?” Freeman responded that they’re someone “who believes that all living creatures are either male or female and that rare chromosomal variations don’t disprove that.” Which is a strange definition considering all the species of “living creatures” that do not have gender at all.

Not that Atwood wanted to get into that discussion. At this point, she had had enough of the entire topic in an interview that was supposed to be about her new book.

“I’m not going to argue about this,” she said. “That’s not what my book is about and that’s not what we’re here to discuss!”

Freeman said that she was “surprised” that Atwood didn’t want to debate the identities of people who weren’t even in the room but sullenly agreed to continue discussing Atwood’s book.

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