The Trans Movement Is Not About Rights Anymore
It's about a cultural revolution and the abolition of biological sex.
An unusual thing happened in the conversation about transgender identity in America this week. The New York Times conceded that there is, indeed, a debate among medical professionals, transgender people, gays and lesbians and others about medical intervention for pre-pubescent minors who have gender dysphoria. The story pulled some factual punches, but any mildly-fair airing of this debate in the US MSM is a breakthrough of a kind.
Here’s the truth that the NYT was finally forced to acknowledge: “Clinicians are divided” over the role of mental health counseling before making irreversible changes to a child’s body. Among those who are urging more counseling and caution for kids are ground-breaking transgender surgeons. This very public divide was first aired by Abigail Shrier a few months ago on Bari’s Substack, of course, where a trans pioneer in sex-change surgery opined: “It is my considered opinion that due to some of the … I’ll call it just ‘sloppy,’ sloppy healthcare work, that we’re going to have more young adults who will regret having gone through this process.” Oof.
The NYT piece also concedes another key fact: that puberty blockers are neither harmless nor totally reversible. Money quote:
Some of the drug regimens bring long-term risks, such as irreversible fertility loss. And in some cases, thought to be quite rare, transgender people later “detransition” to the gender they were assigned at birth. Given these risks, as well as the increasing number of adolescents seeking these treatments, some clinicians say that teens need more psychological assessment than adults do.
I would think that, just as a general rule, minors making permanent, life-changing decisions should receive more psychological treatment than adults. How on earth is this not the default? In what other field of medicine do patients diagnose themselves, and that alone is justification for dramatic, irreversible medication?
The NYT doesn’t give you the data for the “increasing number” of transitions because it’s hard to find in the US. In the UK, however, the data show a 3,200 percent rise in adolescents seeking transition over a decade — 70 percent of whom are girls seeking to become boys, a break from historical norms where boys/men were much more likely to seek transition. Nor does the NYT give any data for “detransitioners.” But any brief look online suggests they are not exactly “quite rare.” They are, in fact, becoming a small but recognizable and tenacious part of the trans landscape. And among the risks of puberty blockers that the NYT does not mention are neurological damage, bone-density loss, and a permanent inability to experience sexual pleasure. And in almost every case (98 percent in one report), puberty blockers are never reversed.
Other news has also forced a debate about trans women competing in female sports. A Penn swimmer, Lia Thomas, competed for three seasons as a male, transitioned to female, competed against biological women, and destroyed several records in one swoop — demonstrating the lingering benefits of a testosteroned adolescence, even after her T suppression therapy (the minimum requirement under NCAA rules is one year). As the WaPo pointed out, “she posted the fastest times of any female college swimmer in two events this season.” (There is still no mention of Lia Thomas in the NYT.) I defy anyone to watch these performances and still believe that biological sex makes no difference in many sports. Of course it does.
A recent internal report by the Transgender Law Center confirms the bleeding obvious: “Right now, our opposition wins the debate on trans youth in sports against any and all arguments we have tried for our side … Our base and persuadables want to support transgender student-athletes, but are extremely susceptible to our opposition’s argument that excluding trans youth is necessary to protect the fairness of women’s sports.” Well, yes. This is the problem. And why won’t you admit it — instead of insisting that there is no issue of fairness for biological women here at all?
To counter their opposition, the TLC report suggests emphasizing the collective nature of sports, and the benefits of trans inclusion for everyone. They suggest use of the term “genders” rather than gender. And they also lament how previous public education efforts “have reinforced the association between transgender people and whiteness in communities of color.” But none of it works. People know we have sex-segregated sports for a legitimate reason. And they’re not “transphobic” for supporting fairness.
There may be a pragmatic compromise here. There’s no reason, for example, to prevent trans men from playing in men’s sports. They will compete with an actual disadvantage, by and large. You could include trans women in sports where there is no serious male advantage, where skill is much more important than strength and speed. And one way to include trans women in women’s events without penalizing women would be simply to exclude trans women from medals, or records, in the most elite events. In most schools, most of the time, no problem. It’s not a perfect solution, because there is none. But if we were all honest about the science, it’s an option.
The trouble is: too many on the fairness side refuse to see the genuine toll of exclusion, and too many on the trans side refuse to acknowledge biology or common sense. And so one side misgenders and denigrates trans athletes, while the other side insists that opposition is always a function of bigotry, or of controlling power. In fact, the TLC report recommends creating “villains” as one of the more effective strategies. Here’s a good example published in the NYT: “It’s not even, really, about women’s rights or biology. It’s about how terrifying some Americans find any shift toward inclusivity and tolerance.” That may be effective propaganda, but it simply isn’t true. And it’s sickening to claim that people are full of fear and hate simply because they have a different view on a complex subject.
Among those seeking a compromise is the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, led in part by Martina Navratilova, who once had a pioneering trans coach, Renée Richards, who acknowledged she had an unfair advantage over cis women, and is now a member of the working group. “Options [for trans athletes] could include separate heats, additional events or divisions and/or the handicapping of results,” according to a report on the group’s work. Another of its leaders, Donna Lopiano, just penned a piece on how to update the NCAA’s rules to both maintain fairness in competition and protect trans participation. “Sport’s transgender debate needs compromise not conflict,” begins an op-ed by another member of the group, Joanna Harper, a trans athlete herself. Are all of these women “villains”?
Perspective is also needed. This week, the writer Colin Wright posed on Twitter the following question: “What rights do trans people currently not have but want that don’t involve replacing biological sex with one’s subjective ‘gender identity’?” And the response was, of course, crickets. The truth is: the 6-3 Bostock decision places trans people in every state under the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It’s done. It’s built on the sturdy prohibition on sex discrimination. A Trump nominee wrote the ruling.
What the trans movement is now doing, after this comprehensive victory, is not about rights at all. It is about cultural revolution. It’s a much broader movement to dismantle the sex binary, to see biology as a function of power and not science, and thereby to deconstruct the family and even a fixed category such as homosexuality. You can support trans rights and oppose all of this. But they want you to believe you can’t. That’s the bait-and-switch. Don’t take it.
The radicalism of this assault on nature, science and bodily integrity is not hidden. Just before Christmas, for example, New York Magazine ran a first-person cover-story that celebrated “an asexual gay man with a penis and a vagina.” His hatred of his natal femaleness stemmed in part, he says, from being groomed to “live as a sexually available cute-lady vessel capable of carrying white babies” as part of “patriarchal, heterosexist, racist, capitalist acculturation.” He insists that he has always had a “native penis, which some people call a clitoris.” Now, surgeons have carved out flesh from his thigh to create a simulacrum of a non-native dick:
Weeks before my procedure, I got a block of clay and sat meditating and molding by feel, letting my body answer. The resulting phallus was the exact size I’d been requesting. For days, I lay on the floor on and off in the sunlight coming into my living room, asking my ancestors and transcestors for guidance. Some people might kill for this kind of access and choice. Certainly many, many, many, many people have died in the fight for it. One night, I woke up from a dead sleep, and all I heard was: Take the big dick.
What’s interesting here is not the person’s evident mental instability. (The author had previously organized his own rape as therapy for meeting rape victims in Haiti, and published a piece about it.) It’s the decision by the editors of the magazine to elevate and exploit this assault on bodily sex, to épater les bourgeois one more time, to insist on the normalcy of this, as if it were a matter of civil rights rather than a foray into the nihilist and grotesque. They end the piece thus:
Days before my penis’s first birthday, the warmth and weight of it lay against my vulva, each supporting the other, holding me.
This is what the editors seem to promote: a view of the body as beyond sex or gender, to be created and recreated at will and indefinitely, and an abandonment of any stable notion of sex at all. Whatever else this is, it is not a matter of civil rights.
The maximal inclusion of trans people in society is, to my mind, a moral duty. People with crippling gender dysphoria often suffer terribly and need relief. Protection from discrimination is essential — and is already the law. But that does not mean that biology has ceased to exist; that “trans” is always a stable identity; or that children need no more than affirmation and medical treatment to change sex when they violate gender roles. It does not mean allowing unfair sporting contests; or inviting children to make decisions they simply do not have the capacity to make. To argue this is not hate. It’s just sanity.
We need to slow and calm down. We need to reintroduce caution, skepticism and medical science, alongside compassion, to counter ideological fervor and adolescent delusion. And we need to debate all of this without anyone being threatened, demonized or banished from the public square. It’s doable, and it will be to the great benefit of trans and gay kids and adults now and in the future if we do this carefully and we do this right.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my view that President Biden and PM Johnson have both suddenly unraveled; my in-depth discussion and debate with Christopher Rufo over the impact of critical race theory in public schools; reader dissents over my latest outlook on the pandemic; other reader insights into the pandemic and its online dystopia; more dissents over my take on the intent of Black Lives Matter as a group; four notable quotes for the week, mostly from African-American luminaries; nine links to other Substacks we liked this week; a Mental Health Break in honor of Bob Saget; a window view from San Francisco Bay and another one from small-town New Zealand; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge that’s pretty bare but beautiful. Sign up for the full Dish experience!)
From a reader who will hopefully resubscribe:
I unsubscribed from the Weekly Dish a few months ago because of the consistent focus on wokeness. I agree with many, though not all, of your criticisms of wokeness, but I didn’t find the repetition informative.
But I LOVED your latest column on the pandemic and the web, which is a powerful and beautiful articulation of what’s at the root of so many of our current issues (including the champions of the woke who are more interested in taking some sort of “stand” on Twitter than they are in actually solving problems). Please continue to share your thinking and reflections on topics like today. Happy New Year!
From a regular dissenter, especially on trans issues:
I’m sure your columns like last week’s get far less engagement because you didn’t throw any rhetorical bombs, but I have to say it made me happy that your first post back after the holiday break was one that didn’t infuriate me or make me roll my eyes. Warm, fuzzy, spiritual Sully is an important Sully to have around. It’s one of the reasons I (and probably many others) continue to stick with you through the years, even when sometimes your big concern of the day doesn’t match my own. Best wishes in 2022 — let’s hope it’s an improvement on the past couple of years.
The Unraveling Of Boris And Biden
The sudden unraveling of authority has always interested me as a student of politics. A leader seems invincible and then suddenly reaches a tipping point that doesn’t just harm him but threatens to remove him from office. And it sometimes happens very, very quickly.
(Read the rest of that 600-word item in this week’s paid version of the Dish)
New On The Dishcast: Christopher Rufo
Rufo is a key architect of the anti-CRT legislation being passed in state legislatures around the country. He is also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and his Twitter account is tirelessly flagging examples of CRT in the public school system, corporate America, and elsewhere. I’ve no doubt that some of this convo is going to stir up a fuss — but the truth is I’ve become more conflicted about this legislation as time has gone by. I once thought it was a terrible idea. I’m now not so sure, given the scale of the attempt to indoctrinate children in neo-Marxist understandings of race.
For two clips of my conversation with Rufo — on whether anti-CRT state laws go too far, and on whether anti-CRT critics like us are overhyping the threat — head over to our YouTube page. Listen to the whole episode here. That link also takes you to several real-world examples of CRT flagged by readers, along with a robust back-and-forth between the woke position and the liberal position. There’s also a strong dissent over my latest take on BLM. Check them out, along with my responses.
If you’re new to the Dishcast, you might want to check out our transgender episodes. The most popular one featured trans pioneer Buck Angel, a man whose life was saved by his transition, and Helena Kerschner, a young woman who lived as a man on hormone therapy for several years before detransitioning. They had very different experiences, but they share a resistance to the dogma of the trans activist community and speak forcefully and elegantly against it. Here’s Buck’s story:
Other episodes include two happily transitioned and brilliant women, Dana Beyer and Mara Keisling, both of whom pushed back against my views, with followup debate led by readers here and here. More to come in this series. I have tried to get today’s more typical and prominent trans activists on the podcast, but they won’t respond to my emails. If you know a trans person both committed to the full-on trans position and willing to enter dialogue with a critic, please get in touch: email@example.com
Dissents Of The Week: When Do We Start Living Again?
We can all agree that getting out and reconnecting face-to-face is a good thing. But maybe, as the Omicron wave washes over the country, this is not the moment to advise people to get out more?
Go here to read the rest of that dissent, my response, and a few others. And don’t forget the dissents over CRT and BLM on the pod page. As always, keep ‘em coming, and we’ll air the strongest ones, picked as always by my colleague Chris Bodenner: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Denial-Of-Service Attack On Our Minds, Ctd
A reader flagged the video: “In just a few minutes, Bo Burnham summarizes the dilemma you wrote about … and it’s available on the internet, of course!” The whole special is a tour de force I’d say. For a few lengthy reader comments on the state of the pandemic and the web, go here.
In The ‘Stacks
In case you’re new to the Dish, this is a feature in the paid version of our newsletter spotlighting about a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers each week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as the voting rights bills, the post-Covid economy, and Christianity’s decline. An example:
You can also browse all the substacks that Bodenner and I follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a three-month sub if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
See you next Friday.