Jun 10

Jamie Kirchick On Gay Washington

We discuss - with a live audience! - a new history of the nation's power center.

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Unafraid conversations about anything

We took the podcast on the road this week — to Provincetown for a live chat with Jamie Kirchick, whose new book, Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, I reviewed last week. We were able to discuss much more than could be covered in pixels — with questions from the audience as well. Many thanks to Twenty Summers for hosting the event.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or click the dropdown menu to add the Dishcast to your podcast feed). For two clips of my convo with Jamie — on the similarities between anti-Semitism and homophobia, and on whether J. Edgar Hoover was gay — head over to our YouTube page.

Also: new week, new transcript — this time with Charles Murray. It was one of the most popular episodes last year, and if you never listened to it, now’s your chance to read it as well.

Looking back to our episode with Kathleen Stock (who has since moved to Substack!), we still have many unaired emails from listeners. The first writes:

I just wanted to email to say thank you for the work you’re doing on the (potential) threat of trans ideology to cis gays. I’m a 33-year-old cis gay in Australia, and I was a bit confused by trans stuff at first, because I felt I was supposed to implicitly understand trans issues, existing in that “LGBT” bloc. Back around 2013, any trans-related conversation amounted to laughing about the silliness of the “xe/xir” stuff, while still acknowledging that it’s simple human decency to use whatever pronouns someone asks me to use.

As Kathleen Stock said on your podcast, respecting trans people through their struggle always seemed “costless.” Clearly, that is no longer true. Something has changed for the worse; the most visible, loud and most obnoxious segment of the LGBT community are the “queer fascists.” I’m called a bigot for simply acknowledging that there exist people who detransition (without even mentioning whether transgenderism might be a form of gay conversion therapy, in some cases). I could go on and on, obviously, but again: thank you.

P.S. I adored your point on Brendan O’Neill’s show about how the queer community used to be the resistance, but has transitioned into being the censorious puritans.

Here’s a clip from the Stock pod:

From another listener who “LOVED the conversation with Kathleen Stock”:

I’m an intersex person and can say with authority that human bodies are weird. Mine doesn’t produce enough sex hormone. I tried testosterone and developed anxiety, depression, and depersonalization, so I’m now going in the other direction and I’m much happier.

My pronouns are “whatever you want,” and I’m fully aware that I’m atypical. I don’t care for the “trans” label because of how ridiculous it has become. That makes my heart hurt for those who have battled very hard to be recognized only to watch their identity subverted into something meaningless by a vicious and thoughtless mob. 

I hate what was done to Kathleen or anyone else who says, “Hey, wait a minute, we should talk about this.” I don’t know when talking about our differences became so damn dangerous. It’s intellectually dishonest. Weren’t universities supposed to be the places to halt this kind of thing, where ideas could be debated and reasoned through? But if the universities are all businesses now, and their incentives are about how to get more paying students, then where else can the debate be had? Where are the incentives more closely aligned with the public good rather than the almighty dollar? I don’t know. I worry that place doesn’t exist here in the US.

One thing that was truly horrifying was when you mentioned that gay kids are being told they’re trans because they’re gay. That’s evil. I don’t know what else to call it.

Human brains aren’t done forming until what, our 20s? There’s a reason peer pressure is so pernicious for teenagers, and it seems strange that many adults seem to have forgotten it and blithely go along with kids (rare exceptions aside) who want to block their own puberty or have a double mastectomy before they can legally vote.

Anyways, I enjoyed every minute of your conversation with Kathleen, even the part where you went on about how “I don’t even know what non-binary IS,” because that’s how I feel as a non-binary person! I’m not comfortable with either of given options, nor am I comfortable in any same-sex space (but I manage in airports). Again, I’m atypical on the chromosomal level, so while I can’t speak to everyone’s experience, I can say mine is a bit more existential than the random 16 year old who’s decided, along with their entire social circle, that they’re suddenly non-binary and have all dyed their hair blue. Sometimes it feels like I’m riding around in a clown car, to be honest.

From another fan of the episode, a medical doctor:

I admire both you and Kathleen Stock. The more I learn about what is being done to children who don’t conform to stereotypes, the more horrified I’ve become.  During my lifetime, much has been done to accept people, including children as they are. We’ve come to recognize that there’s a great deal of variance of normal around the mean. 

But when it comes to subjecting children to dangerous medical interventions, we no longer need to worry about causing real harm? To me it appears that some physicians have no qualms about experimenting on healthy children. Malicious intent is all that’s missing for this to be criminal misuse of medical science.

I have no platform to use to try to stop this. I appreciate that you and Dr. Stock are making an effort to put the brakes on this madness. 

Another medical doctor who sounded off on the trans debate was the great Dana Beyer:

Listen to the whole episode here. Another listener reflects on the trans debate more broadly:

Though I find the entire trans/gender battle beyond exhausting, the recent events surrounding the swimmer at Penn brought it front and center for me. Partly because I was a competitive swimmer in HS, but mostly because my girlfriend’s daughter is a championship-level swimmer with a scholarship to a top-tier program after HS. (By the way, the daughter is not okay with the Penn swimmer.)

I have a degree in English, and I’m fortunate to have a lifelong best friend whose father is a linguist. And there were two linguistic tools recently designed to serve one group’s agenda while doing a terrible disservice to the one that should matter.

The first was to change the term transsexual to “transgender,” shifting from a term defining the biology of gender dysphoria to one that is intentionally far more vague. The second was to create the shorthand term “trans,” which acts a vehicle for the first by turning something that affects .03% of the population into something broader and far more inclusive.

It’s these subtle yet effective shifts in language that facilitate the gender vs biological sex movements, and accepting that someone who still has a penis can be defined as a woman. Now, “trans” is a definition designed to cover any permutation of gender non-conformity instead of actual gender dysphoria, as defined in the DSM-5. And it has opened the door to well-meaning (I assume) adults making terrible decisions regarding child development.

Growing up as a boy, all my closest relatives — sister, cousins, an aunt three years older than me — were girls. I ended up playing with them often, regardless of the game or what items were involved (dolls, etc). I followed their lead and even thought I was supposed to pee sitting down. None of this was driven by a desire to be a girl, but rather just to be included. And like many boys, my first forays into my own genitalia involved other boys, as we learned about our bodies.

But by the time I neared puberty, it was clear that I was both male and heterosexual. Yet, I fear that children growing up today in similar circumstances will find themselves in a world of confusion, brought on by adults, not their playmates.

Speaking of confused kids, another listener:

I’ve heard you express frustration and/or disbelief at the rate of depression among gay youth today, despite how much easier things are for them compared to the ‘70s and ‘80s. I just wanted to point out that many young people seem to believe that gay means same-gender attraction, not same-sex. This seems to be part of the Queer umbrella where heterosexual people can identify as another gender and so claim a gay identity. This makes no sense to me (I also find it homophobic), and I wonder if the whole mess contributes to the rates of depression among Millennials and Gen Z.

One of those confused kids was Helena Kerschner, a young woman who transitioned and then detransitioned:

Listen to her whole story, along with the inimitable Buck Angel’s, here. Another good point comes from this listener:

I see the current kerfuffle about trans identities as reflecting the inability to experience complexity without anxiety and a desire to simplify things. That a person can have what are seen as conflicting senses of themselves — as a man, as a man/woman, woman/man, or somewhere in-between — is too complex for some people. Some I expect do find the idea anxiety-provoking — leading to questions about themselves, in a Freudian way — and they are trying to solve their problems by forcing others into boxes.

Circling back to the Stock episode, another listener:

I do want to push back on, and encourage you to revisit in depth, your point of disagreement with Kathleen over the use of puberty blockers and hormone treatments in transgender youth. While the issues are surely different in the case of adults who have reached the age of consent (though even here there is a strong reason for limiting what can be done in the name of medicine in the strict sense, with consequences for what insurance policies should have to cover), the idea that a child could be given permanently life-altering treatments on the basis of a diagnosis for which, as Kathleen observed, there are simply no rigorous criteria, and to treat a psychological condition that could very well turn out not to be lasting, seems utterly abhorrent.

What serious arguments are there in defense of this? What are the responses to the obvious objections? Finally, what should liberal people, who are opposed to these treatments but nevertheless prize individual autonomy and fear governmental overreach, think about the various legislative strategies that are on offer to forbid or restrict access to them? I hope that this is a conversation you’ll be able to keep on having.

Some kids are definitely trans, know it, and panic at the thought of puberty. In extreme cases, in which the child seems truly desperate, I don’t want to get in the way of an individual doctor, child and parents making this decision. But as routine care? It scares me. For more debate on this ongoing issue, check out the Dishcast episode with Mara Keisling, the founding executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. A clip of our constructive disagreement:

Lastly, a listener looks ahead:

I’m writing to suggest a guest (though I am not sure she accepts podcast invitations). There’s a point of view on trans issues I haven’t really heard adequately represented on your podcasts or in your blog posts. I think the person who best articulates it is Natalie Wynn, aka Contrapoints. I recently watched her YouTube episode on J.K. Rowling (and TERFs in general). It was brilliant, and opened my mind to many of the tropes and biases we hear all the time that I wasn’t fully hearing. Natalie is extremely smart, articulate, funny, and not afraid to say things that piss off her tribe. 

Thanks so much for the suggestion. Keep them coming — along with your dissents, assents and personal stories: dish@andrewsullivan.com. And you can browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy.