Margaret Atwood schools transphobes on the ‘flowing bell curve’ of gender using slug sex, gay penguins and transgender fish

Margaret Atwood

Canadian author Margaret Atwood schooled transphobes on sex and gender using science to shut down their terrible takes.

Slug sex, gay penguins and a transgender fish were among the examples Atwood used to show that “biology doesn’t deal in sealed Either/Or compartments”.

The Handmaid’s Tale author took to Twitter on July 6 to share her thoughts on sex, gender and how our understanding of them is evolving.

Sharing a link to a Scientific American article called “The New Science of Sex and Gender” – sharply telling her followers “some science here” – Atwood wrote that “we’re all part of a flowing bell curve”.

“Respect that!” she added. “Rejoice in nature’s infinite variety!”

Almost immediately, people told Atwood that an understanding of sex and gender which recognises transgender and intersex communities and acknowledges that non-binary people exist is “erasing women”.

She answered this by reminding the tweeter that humans can learn and that science progresses.

“It’s obviously an evolving ‘conversation’,” she said.

To one response, Atwood was blunt.

“Um, there are gay penguins. There are hermaphrodites. What the piece is talking about however is that sex and gender don’t always go together and are not experienced by all people in the same way. That appears to be undeniable.”

Her comments come in the wake of yet another tirade against trans people by Harry Potter author JK Rowling – who, this time, has branded life-saving healthcare for trans kids “a new kind of conversion therapy”.

Margaret Atwood: Sex and gender an ‘evolving conversation’.

The author then threw down a challenge to those telling her that cisgender women have been “physically assaulted” and are “losing their jobs” for having “grave concerns” regarding transgender people.

“If all of this is true, someone needs to do a deep-dive investigative report on it,” Margaret Atwood wrote. “Respecting people’s individuality and identity would include respecting (for instance) yours.”

She later added: “Nobody has said there aren’t ‘men’+ ‘women.’ But gender and sex are two different things,” posting a link to a YouTube channel with explainers on Rowling’s views made by “two very clearly-explaining young people”.

TERFs try and fail to convince Margaret Atwood of their views on transgender people.

When a predictable line of questioning emerged, full of faux concern and the conflation of facts with rhetoric that will be wearily familiar to anyone who’s encountered TERFs  – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – online, Atwood was patient.

“I’m really old,” she wrote in response to someone who said that sex is determined before birth and is not changeable.

“I’ve seen what boys and girls are ‘supposed’ to behave like change a lot. This is from 1955,” Atwood commented, posting a cartoon.


When one person repeated the anti-feminist line that “sex is entirely about getting pregnant”, Atwood responded: “But that is not what gender describes.”

“Then there is the barramundi,” she added, referring to a fish that changes sex from male to female once it reaches a certain age, and is prized in Australia for its strength and “fighting spirit”.

“An interesting fish.”

Later, she also made the point that she is “old, therefore deeply infertile”.

“Does that mean old women aren’t women,” she continued, adding: “Maybe don’t answer that, Twitter jokers.” An icon.

Margaret Atwood: ‘So much of this seems to be about bathrooms.’

As Atwood’s commentary on the issues drew to a close, one person commiserated with her for the “harassment you’re probably going to get from transphobes now”.

“Don’t worry, I am a tough old boot,” she replied. “Knowledge is different from opinion. The facts are the facts. Those stuck on nature being immutably divided into M+F should delve into slug sex.”

Whilst slug sex is not something that this publication has previously covered, another slippery example from nature is ‘The Blob’ – a slime mold that has 720 different sexes. Not quite the binary sex ideology that transphobes adhere to.

After these knockouts, Atwood was crystal clear when the comments on her Twitter descended into people claiming that trans people are a danger to cis women in bathrooms.

“One must try to understand other people’s fears,” she said, adding: “So much of this seems to be about bathrooms. There are many inventive ways of solving the bathroom fears. People are creative, yes?”