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Who Is Looking Out For Gay Kids?
The risks of imposing critical gender theory on young children
Getting a grip on reality is not so easy these days; and one area in which this is particularly tough right now is figuring out what is actually being taught in public schools. It’s important because a flurry of red states are now beginning to follow in the footsteps of Florida, and shut down instruction in critical queer and gender theory in the kindergarten through primary school years.
There’s the usual kabuki dance. The right says woke teaching is out of control; the left says either a) that all of this is made up, or b) it’s just being inclusive of vulnerable kids, and why do you care? Rather than chew even more on this bone, I thought it might be helpful just to look at some of the children’s books and curricula that are currently used in many schools, recommended by groups like the Human Rights Campaign; and supported by the Democrats and the president.
Take the book, “Introducing Teddy.” It crops up all over the place, and is taught in Seattle public schools in kindergarten. Here’s a video guiding teachers on using it:
If you can get past the Trey Parker-style narration above, much of it seems pretty innocuous to me. It stresses acceptance of difference in others, the importance of friendship, and compassion. The crux of the story is when Thomas the Teddy reveals that “in my heart, I’ve always been a girl teddy, not a boy teddy.” He wants to replace his bowtie with a bow, and wants to be called Tilly from now on.
Then here comes the CQT. The key concept to be conveyed is “gender,” the teaching plan says. What is “gender”? “How they know in their heart and minds if they are a boy or a girl, neither, both or something else altogether.” Notice the language here. The words “boy” and “girl” apply in general usage whether you’re talking about biological sex or gender. But this book uses them to refer exclusively to gender. And this is a pattern throughout all these materials. The words “boy” and “girl” are never used to refer to biological sex; and they are never used as a binary. You can be neither, both or something else. And this is taught to all kids.
Or take “Calvin,” another book for young children. The book begins when Calvin (who is biologically a girl) says: “For as long as I can remember, I knew I was a boy.” Again these words, “boy” and “girl,” used by most people to refer to someone’s sex, are re-made in a child’s mind to refer only to gender. “I’m not a girl. I’m a boy in my heart and brain.” When Calvin’s parents accept him, we get the mantra: “We love you if you are a boy or a girl or both or neither.” Sex is gone; gender is everything; gender can be anything, even non-human. In this HRC-recommended book, the baby “can’t decide what to be. Boy or girl? Bird or fish?” Yes: fish.
“Born Ready: The True Story Of A Boy Named Penelope” takes things a little further. When Penelope announces she’s a boy, we get the familiar: “However you feel is fine, baby. It’s what’s on the inside that matters most. If you feel like a boy, that’s okay." Then we get CQT: “No, Mama, I don’t feel like a boy. I am a boy.” Penelope’s mother later says: “Penelope is not a pretend boy or a tomboy. He is our five-year-old big boy.” The lesson here is that your body doesn’t matter. In another book, “When Aidan Became A Brother,” we get more insight, when Aidan’s mom gets pregnant:
“Are you having a boy or a girl?” asked a lady. Aidan didn’t like it when people asked if he was a boy or a girl, and he hoped the baby couldn’t hear yet. He was glad when Mom just smiled and said, “I’m having a baby.”
Before long, as you peruse the material, you see a consistent message being sent to children: that being a boy or a girl has nothing to do with your body; and that you can “become” either, both or “something else entirely.”
A children’s book on pronouns offers “ze” and “tree” as alternatives to him or her. Check out this narrative:
Am I nut-picking? Are these examples on the fringe? One indication that they are not is that “Born Ready” was written by a board chair of the Human Rights Campaign, Jodie Patterson. It doesn’t get more mainstream Gay Inc. than that.
And HRC’s own guide to educational materials for toddlers is pretty clear. Check out their recommendations for teachers of Grades 3 - 8, which, in one example, uses a snowman as a teaching tool. Except, of course, it isn’t a snowman; it’s a snow-“person.” “Make sure not to say ‘Snowman,’ and make sure your students don’t revert to calling it a ‘Snowman’ either,” the guide urges. The snowperson doesn’t have a sex. All they have is a “sex assigned at birth,” which doesn’t make anyone a boy or a girl. HRC even suggests you can get rid of the word “sex” altogether if you want:
For schools that do not want to use the word “sex,” we have provided alternative language, such as “pronoun assigned at birth” instead of “sex assigned at birth” and “who you love or are attracted to” instead of “sexual orientation.” This model provides age-appropriate language to discuss these topics with students in grades 3 – 8.
“Sex” therefore becomes a “pronoun assigned at birth.” Yes, you read that right. Biological sex is merely “what the doctors or midwives said when you were born.” It’s a word without meaning. And you will note that in the “snowperson” lesson, the human body has no part to play at all.
For the sake of argument, let’s posit that this kind of teaching, and these kinds of books, are not yet entrenched in K-8 in public schools. But they are definitely popping up in stories around the country — in Stamford, CT; in West Hartford, CT; in Oak Park, CA; in Chicago; in Seattle; in Charlotte-Mecklenberg, NC; in St. Paul, MN; in Jefferson County, KY. Parents are beginning to hear their kids talk about “women with penises,” as more teenage girls suddenly announce they’re transitioning, and the White House doubles down on affirming puberty blockers for children, even as European countries begin to realize they overstepped. (In the U.K., Sweden, Finland, and France, medical authorities are sounding the alarm. But the Biden administration regards these drugs as essential.)
What do we make of these scattered news stories across the US? It seems to me that any books that teach kids to be compassionate and accepting, and aware of different ways of being human, are a positive thing. I don’t doubt the good intentions behind them. Having some materials for a genuinely trans child is a good thing. But teaching all public school kids under the age of eight that their body has no reference to their sex is a huge development — and news to most American parents. And encouraging toddlers to pick pronouns like “ze” and “tree” is not exactly what parents send their kids to public school for.
These teaching materials aim to be inclusive of the tiny minority of trans children — but they do this by essentially universalizing the very rare experience of being transgender, and suggesting that everyone’s gender is completely independent of biological sex, and trumps it in any conflict. The only way to help trans kids feel better about themselves, this argument goes, is to tell the lie that their experience is everybody’s experience. We are all varieties of trans people now, choosing our sex and performing our gender.
But, of course, we’re not all varieties of trans; the overwhelming majority of humans, including gay humans, experience sex and gender as completely compatible — when they think about them at all. And our species is sexually dimorphic. When pushed to defend the idea that humans are not a binary sexual species, critical theorists lean on the “univariate fallacy.” That argues that any single exception to a rule completely demolishes the rule. If there are any exceptions to every human being male or female, even if they are a tiny percentage of the whole, then there is no sex binary.
But that’s bizarre. That a small percentage of people are attracted to the same sex, for example, does not invalidate the rule that humans are overwhelmingly heterosexual — and if this were not the case, humans wouldn’t exist at all. Gay people are the exception that proves the heterosexual rule. The much smaller number of trans people, likewise, does not disprove that the overwhelming majority of people are completely at ease with their biological sex. It actually proves it, by showing the terrible psychic cost of being otherwise. (Trans kids and adults deal with huge mental health challenges, and commit suicide at staggering rates.) Intersex and DSD people are not a separate species, or some kind of third sex, no more than people with Down Syndrome are anything but fully human. They are a variation in the sex binary.
For most kids, of course, this stuff will probably be taken in stride. They’ll play with pronouns, feel at home in their bodies, and go on to express their sex as humans always have. Life itself will disprove these weird theories. And if some of this new gender gobbledegook encourages them to be more accepting of others unlike them, of boys who wear dresses or girls who love football, it may well do a lot of good.
But for troubled kids with gender dysphoria — or at least some discomfort with being a boy or girl because they don’t seem to fit in very well with their straight peers — there’s a much greater risk. I’m worried about kids with autism, kids from very dysfunctional families, kids with every sort of mental health issue that needs to be unpacked before judgment is made. I’m worried that gay kids could absorb the idea that what is different about them is not that they are attracted to their same sex, but that they may, in fact, be the other sex “inside.” Most kids with gender dysphoria turn out to be gay in adulthood, as the discomfort disappears with puberty. (That’s certainly my own experience.) But these young gay kids are being subtly taught, at a deeply impressionable age, that they may be in the wrong body.
Among the most important things a gay boy needs to know is that he is no less a boy because he is attracted to his own sex. The proof of this is his own body. Removing the body from any conception of sex takes this away from him. And if he were ever to act out the idea of being a girl, the current treatment is immediate affirmation, puberty blockers, then female hormones and sterilization. Letting him be, or supporting him in his male body, or allowing him to fully experience puberty and grow up gay, is less and less where the emphasis lies.
We have accumulating evidence that lesbian girls in particular are susceptible to this suggestion — as we see transition rates soar beyond anything previously known in teen years, and as the number of detransitioning women grows in number. This unavoidable tension between messages that are good for trans kids and those that are good for gay kids is absent from the debate — in part because the woke conflate both experiences into the entirely ideological construct of being LGBTQIA++. But no one is LGBTQIA++. It’s literally impossible. And the difference between the gay and trans experience is vast, especially when it comes to biological sex.
Here’s where that difference counts. Gay people have had to struggle to own their own sex and their own bodies; while trans people have had to struggle to disown theirs. On this core question, our interests are, in fact, diametrically opposed.
Activist trans groups like HRC or the ACLU may thereby be unwittingly putting gay children at risk, misleading them about their sex and their bodies, putting ideas in their head that in the current heated atmosphere could easily lead to irreversible life-long decisions before puberty. And none of this is necessary. It is perfectly possible to look out for the very few genuinely trans children, without revolutionizing everything we know about the human body and biology. It’s possible to be welcoming to gay kids without insinuating that their real problem could be being “in the wrong body.”
And what truly amazes me is that we have had no discussion or debate about this in the gay world, except, of course, in private. The costs of public criticism are huge — massive, frenzied harassment campaigns against dissenters. Critical queer and gender theorists have, as they often do, captured a civil rights movement and turned it into a program for woke social revolution. All criticism is deemed “hate.” Healthy arguments are spurned in favor of tweets in all caps essentially demanding submission.
And one of the core elements of gay male culture — the celebration of the male body, its unique qualities, and its sexual power — is effectively diminished. It’s diminished because we are told that being a man is now a feeling inside your head rather than a fact about your body, from the first wave of testosterone in the womb onwards. All that gay male physical sensuality — the interaction of male bodies with one another, the passion for biological maleness — is reduced to an arid, gnostic, inside “feeling” unrelated to the body at all.
At some point, gay men need to face down those who deny the biological differences in the human body that make homosexuality possible. If there is no sex binary, there is no homosexuality. We are not some third sex; we are one of two sexes: men. Our sex is not just in our head; it was not merely assigned at birth. It is in our bodies and minds shaped by testosterone since the womb, bodies that seek sex and intimacy with other male bodies shaped by testosterone in the womb. That the former gay rights movement would now seek to deny this is just one sign of its collapse into woke degeneracy. That some gay rights leaders are now telling gay men they should force themselves to be attracted to vaginas, or that we have to have a pronoun sticker on our jacket to remind people we’re men, is an outrage.
I have a feeling that some in the forefront of this revolution know there is a large body of silent opinion among gay men and many lesbians that deeply believes in sex differences, cherishes and celebrates the male and female bodies, and does not see gayness as connected to transgender experience (which is not to say that transgender experience is any less valid). Gay happiness depends on our owning our own sex, not denying it. And biology is our friend. There’s no reason gay kids should not also understand this. And be spared the mandatory indoctrination into a postmodern homophobic lie.
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New On The Dishcast: Nicholas Christakis
He is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale, where he directs the Human Nature Lab and co-directs the Yale Institute for Network Science. His latest book is “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live,” and we also discuss “Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society.” Nicholas and I talk Covid, plagues, and friendship as a virtue.
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Dissents Of The Week: The Problem With Jon Stewart And Me
A reader writes:
Once again I have to write to you about your consistently narrow (and wrong) analysis of the black problem in America. Your statistics are fascinating! But my god, Andrew, you leave out two critical words from your discussion: mass incarceration. After Jim Crow came the Drug War, and with it came the drugs and continued (since Jim Crow and before) criminal prosecution of black men. Targeted at black men. Without black men, there can be no whole black families.
While the Drug War has been horrible, you can’t blame it for mass incarceration:
The story that [John] Pfaff carefully describes [in his book “Locked In”] is different from the standard narrative: It’s not drug offenses that are driving mass incarceration, but violent ones. It’s not the federal government that’s behind mass incarceration, but a whole host of prison systems down to the local and state level. It’s not solely police and lawmakers leading to more incarceration and lengthy prison sentences, but prosecutors who are by and large out of the political spotlight.
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In The ‘Stacks
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This trans cop has led an incredible life.
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