It's Time to Speak Up
There's no time like the present to come out as a heretic.
Bette Midler! Macy Gray! The New York Freakin’ Times!
It’s been a big week for heresy. First, the Times printed Pamela Paul’s op-ed, “The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Count,” in which Paul bemoans the erasure of the word “woman” by once pro-women orgs like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro Choice America. Women are now reduced to body parts and functions: “birthing people,” “menstruators,” and “bodies with vaginas.”
“The noble intent behind omitting the word ‘women’ is to make room for the relatively tiny number of transgender men and people identifying as nonbinary who retain aspects of female biological function and can conceive, give birth or breastfeed,” Paul writes. But if women dare object, they’re labeled with the slur “TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). Many even have their jobs and physical safety threatened. (One individual on Twitter, for example, recently tweeted J.K. Rowling’s home address along with images of a pipe bomb and a bomb-making manual.) “We can respect transgender women without castigating females who point out that biological women still constitute a category of their own — with their own specific needs and prerogatives,” Paul concludes. “[W]hether Trumpist or traditionalist, fringe left activist or academic ideologue, misogynists from both extremes of the political spectrum relish equally the power to shut women up.”
Then there was Midler:
And Macy Gray:
You can imagine the firestorm that ensued. (One writer for Rolling Stone argued that Gray was contributing to the actual murder of trans people.) Midler finally responded to the backlash, writing that she was simply responding to Paul’s “fascinating” and “well written” op-ed, and that she has and always will support the LGBT community. Gray also tweeted her steadfast support of LGBT people. What these women don’t realize is that, today, in order to support the community, its most radical activists demand you also deny material reality, and if you fail to do so, you’re a transphobe.
This denial of material reality has swiftly become the radical trans movement’s Achilles heel. It has arguably done more to hinder acceptance of trans people than actual transphobes. A movement that requires people to turn off their brains will not succeed. That is, unless it resorts to intimidation and fear. (See above.)
Last week I visited Fire Island for the first time in my life. (I know, I’m a gay man living in New York City and I’d never been to this particular gay Mecca. Criminal!) I was nervous about the trip, only because I’ve felt so disconnected from the gay community over the past few years, especially since I’ve begun to openly question progressive orthodoxy, which many gay New Yorkers—and I don’t mean to be cruel here—parrot unthinkingly. Paranoia is an occasional side effect of being a heretic, and in the weeks leading up to the trip I was plagued by visions of a gang of Speedo-clad Adonises confronting me about my problematic Twitter feed. But my fears, per usual, proved irrational. People were there to party, hook up, and relax, not to talk culture wars or politics. (Although a popular drag queen, whose show I attended at the Pavilion, did make a quip about the “complicated” new Pride flag. For her Pride-inspired get-up, which she designed, she stuck with the original rainbow.)
A close friend and I did have a private chat on the beach about LGBT issues. We hadn’t talked in a while, and he wanted to get a clearer picture of my stance on things. He admitted that he sometimes flinched at my writing, and worried that I was coming across as less sympathetic to trans issues than I actually am. After a long conversation, I was able to convey to him one of my primary concerns: that gender-nonconforming kids who would otherwise grow up to be gay or lesbian are likely being ushered into medical transition. I also told him that I don’t believe in the concept of gender identity. And I took his words to heart; that perhaps I need to soften my delivery a little bit, if only to actually reach the people I want to convince the most: progressives, who, ironically, are the ones leading the charge on what I think is some really regressive bullshit.
I left the beach that day feeling grateful for my friend, but also frustrated. How, I wondered, can anyone appeal to progressives when the moment you challenge leftist dogma, you’re vilified as “right wing,” “fascist,” “transphobic,” etc?
And why should I have to temper my words? Isn’t that what part of the problem is? That we’re all so afraid of pissing off progressives that we tiptoe around like battered spouses?
We live during a time in which prominent Twitter leftists and left-run media dictate to the public what is the moral, accepted take on really complex and poorly understood issues, issues that are anything but settled. I want to advance social justice, but over the past five years I’ve seen countless efforts and ideas put forth by the left that I think go directly against that cause. Everything from the divisive racial essentialism masquerading as “anti-racism” to gender identity ideology, which reinforces gender stereotypes and narrows the categories of “man” and “woman” instead of expanding them. Most concerning—or among the most concerning things—has been the push to medicalize gender-nonconforming kids and teenagers.
As a gay man, I look back on my own childhood and remember being called a girl by my peers because of my effeminacy. If I had grown up today, I have no doubt that I may have considered myself trans, if only because I felt so different from the other boys and because I hated the fact that I was attracted to the same sex. I certainly know what would have been my response if a teacher or a guidance counselor asked me what gender I felt like on the inside. Who knows whether I would have seen transition as a panacea for my crippling anxiety, depression, OCD, and religious guilt over my homosexuality?
Studies show that the majority of gender dysphoric youth desist during or after puberty and simply grow up to be gay or lesbian, statistics that reflect my own experience. How many kids are we pushing into a lifetime of medicalization who don’t need to be medicalized? This isn’t an unreasonable question. It’s an ethical one that we should all be asking.
The words I choose to express my thoughts and opinions on Twitter and elsewhere might not always be the most gentle ones, although I do try. But it’s difficult to constantly police my own tone when I see gay and lesbian adults transitioning and then regretting it. Their experiences are painful ones and they could have been avoided. I want trans adults to have access to whatever healthcare they need and to be protected from discrimination. But I also want gays and lesbians to be protected from medicalizing a problem that doesn’t exist.
Today, to see the popular leftist position to be that actual children are mature enough to understand what suppressing their natural development, taking opposite-sex hormones, and having irreversible surgeries means for their future sex and reproductive lives is mind-boggling. Because the truth is, the doctors providing the services don’t even know!
Recently, Australia’s largest gender clinic admitted that puberty blockers “might conceivably delay brain development” and that, “we do not know whether using puberty blockers affects development of the brain.” And Sweden, Finland, the U.K., and France have all either walked back or discontinued the administration of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors. According to the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine, in its new policy Sweden’s Karolinska Hospital “cites the UK NICE evidence review, which found the risk/benefit ratio of hormonal interventions for minors highly uncertain; the 2020 UK judicial review, which highlighted the overarching ethical problems with the practice of medical ‘affirmation’ of minors; as well as Sweden's own Health and Technology Assessment (SBU) evidence review conducted in 2019, which found a lack of evidence for medical treatments, and a lack of explanation for the sharp increase in the numbers of adolescents presenting with gender dysphoria in recent years.”
And yet, in the U.S., it is full steam ahead. We can all speculate about the reasons, but institutional capture by radical activists and profit margins are doubtlessly two of them. In fact, in a study just published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, whose authors analyzed commercial insurance claim data, between 2013 and 2019 there was a 700% increase in medical diagnoses for gender dysphoria (from 8.1 to 64.4 per 100,000 enrollees). And in the same period, use of gender-affirming hormone therapy increased nearly 800%.
Clearly, there is a lot of money to be made in “gender-affirming” care.
I imagine that many if not most leftists feel similarly to me. If so, then many are being coerced to go along with something they don’t agree with, probably to thwart rejection, vilification, shame, and financial consequences. That’s how people living under authoritarian regimes behave. Factions of the left today absolutely have become authoritarian in their tactics to advance their causes. And it needs to stop. But it will only stop if more people speak up.
There are going to be things I’m wrong about and there are going to be things I’m right about. That’s just how it is when you speak your mind instead of staying silent out of fear. It’s perfectly OK to be wrong sometimes.
And sometimes, the most unpopular opinion, the one we’re terrified of saying out loud, turns out to be the right one.