Dana is a retired surgeon, a mother, a trans rights advocate, and the former executive director (and current board member) of Gender Rights Maryland. She’s also been on the boards of two Jewish LGBT organizations, A Wider Bridge and Keshet, and has blogged extensively for HuffPo. We’ve been friends for a long time, and I thought it could only help the debate a little to have a spirited but also humane debate about trans issues — as they have been, and as they are now, in a “critical theory” world. We need to talk about this civilly. We need to air genuine questions. As this subject is close to under siege in the West, I’m going to try and air it out every now and again, with a variety of guests, trans and non-trans, gender-critical and woke.
(You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. To listen to three excerpts from my conversation with Dana — on the mysteries of gender and the science of sex; on the tensions within “LGBTQ”; and on the excesses of queer activism — head over to our YouTube page.)
Coincidentally, last week we got an email from a long-time reader who identifies as a “gender critical trans person”:
As you know from previous correspondence, I have been critical of “cancel culture” being much of a threat to society, since it seems to only be an issue in certain small corners of academia and the pundit class. Additionally, many of the canceled writers moved to a self-publishing model which left them at least as popular as they were before, so who cares?
But last week I had a “then they came for me” moment.
One of the latest journalists who has been canceled is a largely apolitical wargaming- and simulations-focused writer who made the mistake of asking a question about gender in an article about an in-game radio host being removed due to the performer’s alleged real-world transphobia. Apparently that was enough for him to also be declared transphobic, and for his column of 12 years to be suspended. No doubt he will find another place to write — or maybe he won’t — but as a long-time subscriber of the publication who canceled him, I am deeply frustrated at the summary dumping of an otherwise respected writer for not implicitly knowing that to breathe the words “gender critical” is now considered taboo.
Please keep writing about this. Personally I still think you focus too much on “wokeness” as the core problem. I don’t think that’s fair. Many of the views in that arena are perfectly reasonable and deserve to be aired. The real problem is silencing of any opposing views. That can only serve to radicalize ordinary people who inadvertently get caught in the crossfire.
That reader also contributed to a Dish thread in 2014 called “Engaging The T” (for transgender), dissenting against my initial view that it was perfectly legitimate to ask cover-girl Laverne Cox about whether she had had reassignment surgery:
I underwent sex reassignment surgery in my early 20s. For the subsequent 15 years, I have had to field questions about the most intricate details of my sex life and the function and appearance of my new plumbing. Complete strangers have offered me money to see or touch my vagina. Other men propose sex “so I can see what it’s like”. This is the harsh reality of being a MTF trannie — we get to experience all the lecherous advances that regular women do, plus the even more brazen and thoughtless objectification from those who see us as little more than fetish toys. I can completely understand high-profile trannies not wanting to go there.
The truth is, although getting surgery seems like the most important thing in the world during transition, after it’s over it becomes such an insignificant part of who we are. We are not defined by our junk. Post-transition we are just normal people with normal lives and everyday problems. I don’t want to talk to strangers about my genitalia any more than any other woman — or man — would. I’m no prude, but honestly, there are way more interesting things going on in my life.
As a general rule, I agree with you that the trans-whatever community has become overly neurotic and that it spends way too much energy policing language and trying to distance itself from “gay culture”, but wanting to take the public focus away from surgery is not a part of that. Sure, gay guys fuck other men, but they aren’t asked in high-brow interviews what it’s like to take it up the ass. Why should transsexual women be asked what it’s like to have a vagina? Leave that for the tabloids and the medical journals.
I replied to that email at the time:
I’m really grateful for my readers explaining this in more detail and I better see now why a trans identity is what matters, not how radically that identity has been implemented physically. And of course I can see how those questions can seem invasive and violating. I get it better now. Which is why a provocative but sincere debate as we’ve been having here can lead to greater understanding.