Trans activist Corinna Cohn and the lost art of good faith arguments

Aug 12, 2022

Some people thought I was about to commit career suicide. To them I ask, “What career?”

I was scheduled to interview Corinna Cohn on Blackballed, a transwoman who has opinions about trans issues that does not fall in line with the status quo, and the reaction in the run-up was wild. First, almost none of the reaction was posted directly onto social media. Almost every detractor and supporter had one thing in common – they were not going to broadcast their opinions publicly. Detractors sent messages telling me I was about to dehumanize people in trans communities, and supporters sent DMs saying they were too afraid to agree with me publicly.

Was I about to make a huge mistake? The answer is no, and here’s why.

Cohn is unlike most trans activists who have a public platform. Typically, the messages we hear from outspoken trans activists and their non-trans allies centre around the idea that talking about genitalia is insignificant, and a bigoted talking point. “What’s a penis” they might ask, “when the person wielding it is a woman?”

There is no efficient, productive way of answering that question. And maybe that’s the point.

Too many discussions these days revolve around an unwritten set of rules designed to paint us into corners where we are told what to think, how to speak, and when to shut up. These rules are designed to limit discussions and label outliers as bigots. Fear of retribution conditions us to stay quiet about our beliefs. For some, the certainty that we are on the right side of the issue can prompt us to shame those who do not share our beliefs.

But what happens when a person whose identity implies that they must subscribe to a certain set of beliefs decides to go against orthodoxy? Cohn believes that placing people with male genitalia inside spaces intended for vulnerable women is a mistake. But rather than single out transwomen, her answer is far more nuanced and thoughtful. Why only talk about transwomen when the correct answer is as follows; inmates, whether male or female, should not be getting raped inside a facility controlled by government. Further, if it can potentially harm women, placing people with male genitalia inside a women’s prison is counterintuitive.

Imagine that – a robust, thoughtful answer that doesn’t fall in line with gender activism. Cohn also believes that women’s sports should be for those who were born female. But most of all, Cohn believes that her opinions should not cause others in trans communities to revile her. And, at the risk of siding with a heretic, she’s right. Plus, by stating that we should be protecting all individuals from rape and assault while they are housed inside prisons, she takes the debate away from one group and applies a certain type of humanity to everyone.

Say it with me: people should not be getting raped in prisons. Apropos of that, let’s not throw more penises inside facilities meant for women, just in case. Seems reasonable, no?

It is also worth noting, to me anyway, that Cohn shares my confusion over the treatment of JK Rowling, and my position on how the acronym TERF is abhorrent and dehumanizing.

I understand the difference between Cohn and I sharing the same opinions. For me, those opinions are about thoughts and ideas about issues where I do not have any skin in the game. For others, those exact opinions can be life or death. But for an hour on that podcast I felt like I was in the company of someone who embodied a refreshing and therefore important position on issues many of us thought were either open and shut, or inherently inclusive.

At one point Cohn made an assumption about me, and I am thankful she did. She said that it sounded like I wanted people to engage in these types of conversations where both sides assumed the other person was arguing in good faith.

Yes, I replied. Fuck yes.



Contributing Writers

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