Fallible Heroes – Alice Roberts

This is the first of a series on Fallible Heroes – where people I follow, support, and respect, get it wrong sometimes. This may seem like a trivial case, but the last tweet in the final image expresses the importance of it – “I too want everyone to feel protected but discussion gets shut down with cries of ‘bigot’. “

[Feel free to tweet this … since I’m blocked for opposing extremists.]

I’ve followed Alice Roberts (not in a creepy way, honest) since her days on the UK TV programme Coast. Seen some of her other TV documentaries … and now she’s president of Humanists UK.

So, it was a bit of a disappointment to see the following exchange, since Alice’s response, in blocking rather than engaging – at least providing a link to some ready presentation of her views on the matter of transgender issues – leaves a vacuum that actual bigots could fill.

My interest here is not to support any positions that her interlocutor, Michael, might take, but to wish for a better response from the president of Humanists UK in trying to reach those that disagree with her. And, it is clear from other responses that Alice’s decision to block has not helped any case she might wish to make, but has simply affirmed, in the minds of those that disagree, that she has no position worth making. Bit of an own goal.

Yes, I know, she’s busy and can’t engage with every actual transphobe on the planet. But, the current understanding of trans issues is not a done deal, and there are many people with mixed views on the issue, and I expect quite a few in Humantsts UK.

So, what was the exchange? Here is part of it (link to the thread), which began with a question regarding trans issues … and in particular the conflict of interests that exist between cis women and trans women in some specific scenarios.

Alice responded to an assertion in another tweet (from someone else) about the binary nature of sex …

This is the point where it might have been helpful, in spreading the Humanist scientific, rational and kind message, had Alice pointed to some useful information that she thinks lays out her position on this complex subject. After all, Twitter is hardly the place, and surely this isn’t a new topic for Alice.

Actually, he did. It was pretty clear from the start that what was being discussed was the human issue of gender identity with regard to the issues that are currently hotly debated. And, if anything, Alice could be quizzed here about whether she was attempting to slip in the appeal to nature fallacy.

And then …

And, why is this block a problem? Because it leaves other’s with their echo chamber and promotes the idea that Alice isn’t really as committed to trans issues as she might have tried to imply.

Alice Roberts cannot be expected to engage in debates that will probably go nowhere, so that she chose not to carry on, seeing the lie of the land in the thread, her disengagement might have been the best option … but, it could have been done with more dignity and less of what appears to be petulance (whether it was or not in Alice’s mind). For example …

This is too complicated for Twitter, so I’ll leave you with Humanists UK on trans issues … LGBT Humanists responds to Gender Recognition Act consultation

However, Alice does continue to subject, when it suits …

Sense indeed. But it still doesn’t address the actual issue, about humans, that eventually incited Alice to block. Those questioning Alice on this issue would really like to know how you square the circle here – which is, socially, how do we deal with the two conflicting (not always, but not never, either):

  • Allowing trans people to live the lives they choose.
  • Allowing women to live the lives they choose.

Do you remember when safe spaces for cis women to protect them from men – even though not all men are a threat to cis women?

Why can’t cis women have safe spaces from trans women – even though not all trans women are a threat to cis women?

Are there any trans women who fear other trans women? After all, some trans women are very much like traditional cis women, and those trans women need safe spaces from men too, … and by extension, from some trans women.

These are complex issues, and Alice Roberts cannot be expected to have all the answers (indeed, answers that would satisfy everyone are mythical beasts). But the block was disappointing, if only for the reason that the blocked person will not see a more reasonable debate going on.

Alice doesn’t say how she thinks this circle might be squared. Which I think is precisely the point Michael was trying to make, and which Alice avoided.


Nevertheless, Alice is a great president of Humanists UK, and this criticism on this particular matter of this block will not change my opinion on that.