Yes, There Can Be a Middle Way
The Left and Right Are Both Seeing their Predictions, and Worst Fears, Realized
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If you have not yet read Christina Buttons’ excellent piece on why she’s leaving The Daily Wire, please do. I’ve been hammering out this piece for the past few days, but much of what I’m trying to figure out how to say—conservatives: you’ve gone too far!—is well articulated in her piece.
The other day I had a conversation that has returned to me since Daily Wire contributor Michael Knowles announced that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.”
The man I was speaking with was incredibly sympathetic and empathetic to those on all sides of the gender culture wars. He appreciated what he saw as the fuzzy adumbrations of sex and gender, and loved the philosophical debates put forth by factions of the Left who see the merit in replacing sex with gender identity.
He could also understand a conservative point of view which I hadn’t considered before. Conservatives were assured, he said, that gay marriage wouldn’t affect them—legalizing it would simply allow gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, without creating an impact on those who view marriage as a sacred bond between men and women. But then church members worried they’d lose tax-exempt status if their institution didn’t host gay weddings (as far I can tell, that isn’t true). A Colorado baker was fined for violating an anti-discrimination law when he didn’t want to make a cake for a gay couple. (It went all the way to the Supreme Court and he did end up winning.) A Colorado graphic designer sued so she didn’t have to make websites for gay couples. In the end, they were in some cases pushed to partake of a belief system they didn’t share, and that’s not what they agreed to.
And thus, he said, it’s understandable that they’re wary of what’s happening with gender identity issues. When those pushing “gender identity ideology”—including notions that everyone has a gender identity, and that one can choose his or her sex—say, “What’s it to you how I identify? It won’t affect you,” some conservatives may suffer a bit of deja vu.
Of course, these two issues—gay marriage and gender identity ideology—are very different. In fact, how an individual identifies has in some cases had profound effects on many others. Respecting someone’s self-determined identity, or their using preferred pronouns, or sending kids to schools where they learn that they can choose their own sex category—to ask someone to do that when they don’t agree with those ideas is affecting them. It’s asking them to bow to a god they don’t believe in, to change the meanings of words in ways they disagree with. And, well, that feels bad—as any trans person whose chosen pronouns aren’t respected knows. It feels bad to have beliefs imposed on you that you don’t share, to be forced to avow things you don’t believe. And pushback against that makes sense.
Bellicose rhetoric makes peace talks impossible.
Because I was raised an atheist and a lefty in America, I’m very used to not sharing many of the beliefs that govern me. My mom had to send me to school with a note to my Georgia kindergarten teacher to excuse me from saying “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance. She didn’t try to stop the Pledge from being uttered, or stop other kids from pledging allegiance to God and country. She just didn’t want me to be forced to comply.
And that’s the tack I’ve taken: it’s okay to have differing belief systems. But when the chasm between the belief-in-sex crowd versus the belief-in-gender-identity crowd is so huge, how do we come up with reasonable accommodations for both? That’s the most American question I can think of to ask, but I don’t see many people asking it. Michael Knowles sure isn’t. When he says, “There can be no middle way in terms of dealing with transgenderism,” he is ready to impose his way of viewing the world onto the rest of us. I’d never heard of this guy until a few days ago, and I don’t know what his other views are, but I doubt we have much overlap. I sure as hell don’t need to see transgenderism—whatever the heck that is—eradicated.
I’m fairly sure that by “transgenderism” he means “gender identity ideology.” And while I object to many tenets of it, I never argued for the ideology to be eradicated. I sure as hell want it to be scrutinized, though, and for criticism of it to be taken seriously.
For instance, I do not think it is appropriate to read books like I Am Jazz to young people—unless you are honest that Jazz did not change sex; Jazz became a lifelong medical patient who seems to have no sexual function. Jazz’s experience represents the deep and buried complications with putting a child through an approximation of the other sex’s puberty—the lack of enough penile tissue to work with to construct a neo-vagina, the high complication rates. I have argued that we need to talk about what’s factual, what’s appropriate, and what the implications are of the ideas we share or impose. How can we make room for multiple and conflicting ideas in a way that creates more thoughtful and nuanced people?
The alternative to that is Knowles versus Strangio, a relentless boxing match in which the actual needs of gender dysphoric kids and their families are routinely ignored.
If by eradicating “transgenderism” Knowles means trans people (which personally I don’t think he does) then…no. Just no. The many transsexuals I’ve come to know and care about in this work deserve the same opportunities to live happy, full lives as everyone else.
You wanna stop teaching about gender identity in preschool? Reasonable. You wanna stop letting people transition? Unreasonable.
Meanwhile, Knowles’ rhetoric confirms the most paranoid fears of trans activists who’ve been liberally and improperly using the word genocide for years. It proves them right, even though they are wrong about the science of transitioning children, wrong about what’s appropriate to report on, wrong about the suicide stats, wrong about genocide, wrong about the hate. Or they were wrong about the hate. Knowles took their once-dimissible claims and made them plausible.
Maybe he did it to gain political power, but most people don’t care enough about this issue for it to propel the Republicans to power—we saw that when the “red wave” failed to crest in the last election. It’s a bad strategy. For those of us looking for reform and resolution, to protect gay and gender nonconforming kids, and to create more understanding of people who happily transition, it’s bad because it fortifies the loud and anti-scientific extreme Left wing of the Democratic party—the part that supports the ideology and imposition of gender identity. They’re more geared up to fight—Republicans, science, the reality of those who got hurt—than ever. So it’s bad for Republicans, too. Knowles’ speech is about as terrifying to trans people and their allies as it can get, buts it’s also strengthening. If anyone on the liberal side was on the fence, and thinking maybe the Republicans had a point, maybe there is something wrong, maybe I should object, well, they won’t now.
This kind of bellicose rhetoric makes peace talks impossible. They have to want more than to win. They have to want to make things better.
Of course, Republicans worst fears came true, too. I saw this cartoon going around Twitter the other day:
I scoffed when I heard this argument years ago—that gay marriage would open the door to normalizing all kinds of societal deviations (by that I mean the ideological teachings and out-of-control pediatric and adolescent sex change industry). And, yeah, this is a fear-mongering cartoon trading on straight people fears and prejudices. Except some of it sort of came true.
I dismissed the ideas above as hateful hogwash, but in some ways this is the trajectory that unfolded, even if it was not at all the intention of those who fought for and supported gay rights and gay marriage, including me. We did start with gay rights and end up with schools secretly transitioning kids, even if it was a long and winding road that many of us weren’t walking down.
Little did many of us know that advocacy groups supporting gay rights would evolve to push ideas that in some cases actually endanger gay people, push for young gay kids to access the same medical protocol—puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones—once used to treat or punish homosexual adults. This is what many of us are reacting to—not someone changing their body and living happily, but schools performing psychological interventions on kids without telling parents, and doctors performing medical interventions without giving kids and families the full story.
And here we are now. Both sides have gotten so extreme that they’ve caused each other’s worst fears to come true. I hate to get all parental about this, but as I am often telling my kids: Both of you are behaving badly right now.
We can all tone down the rhetoric. If trans people have always been with us, as activists claim, then how could anyone eradicate them? How could even removing treatments that are only a few decades old eradicate them if trans people existed long before those treatments? There will be no genocide. But hinting at one, threatening one—what a terrible and cruel strategy.
There can be a middle way. For months, maybe years, I have called for a bipartisan committee to gather all the data. Demand follow-up from clinics, Planned Parenthood, pediatricians who’ve facilitated adolescent medical gender transition. Listen to whistleblowers—Jamie Reed, Erica Anderson, Laura Edwards-Leeper, detransitioners like Grace Lidinsky-Smith and disaffected transsexuals like Corinna Cohn. Listen to heterodox trans people. Listen to those who feel they’ve been helped by transitioning, but also engage in rigorous follow-up to track their physical and psychological health.
For the past nine months or so, those of us trying to help people understand this issue deeply enough to make up their own minds were making actual progress. Knowles’ speech is many steps in the wrong direction, just as the radical left’s push in schools and clinics is. Let’s get back on track.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Complaints? Tips? Money? Love? Hit me up on Twitter.
When my (minor) child was in the thick of being harmed by the mental healthcare system’s capture which resulted in her not getting the appropriate mental healthcare she so desperately needed because all they could focus on was her “gender identity,” my husband and I stayed calm and reasonable. We talked with all the professionals in the psychiatric hospitals that were working with her with respect. We told them we were trying to work with them as a team, to support them supporting her. Her private therapist tried to reach out in writing and in calls to help them understand and support her properly. We were clear that we were not asking them to change how they treated other patients. All we were asking was for them to look at her individual case, her individual medical and mental health history, to see how her belief in being trans wasn’t even stable or consistent, and that affirming and encouraging transition during mental health crises was making things worse and creating obstacles to care and recovery. We have it documented in her records that they refused, they lied to us, that they continued after we told them to stop, that they hid things from us. No amount of kindness, rationality, or middle way worked.
We are (were?) liberals, always voting blue. During all this, I did not support laws banning medical transition of minors. I didn’t like the way republicans and conservatives were talking about or acting on this issue.
Now we are on the other side of this. My daughter desisted and is highly critical of the ideology. We are all dealing with various levels of mental, physical, and financial fallout. I have things carefully documented. I’ve filed complaints with our (red) state. Nothing happens.
Now, I don’t know how I feel about the legal bans. Maybe that is the route to take since nothing else seems to be working. I cringed listening to Matt Walsh’s rant. It really seemed excessive and cruel. But I was also furious watching Dylan Mulvaney simpering and posing at the White House with Pres. Biden, talking about transitioning kids while Biden nodded along to everything DM said. I was furious listening to Biden telling parents how they should affirm and raise their confused child. He doesn’t know anything about my child’s case. I get furious when I hear people insist that nothing like what we experienced is actually happening. I’ve got it documented in her records. I’m furious but I don’t show it or express it because no one wants to hear it. I need to be reasonable and rational, speaking carefully, and staying true to what I believe about being kind and compassionate to others. But sometimes I feel like an angry rant from someone like Matt Walsh is the vicarious venting of anger I need (kind of like those comedy
sketches with Pres. Obama’s “anger translator”). Or maybe we do need some angry people in all this. I don’t know. I really don’t. Most days, my husband, daughter, and I just want to ignore all of this, move on, and pretend it’s not an issue. But it’s everywhere and impossible to not have to deal with it one way or another.
One of the strands in Lisa's piece relates to the trajectory from gay marriage to the present. It's important to tease that one out. Lisa writes, eg, "Little did many of us know that advocacy groups supporting gay rights would evolve to push ideas that in some cases actually endanger gay people, push for young gay kids to access the same medical protocol . . .". As a gay woman myself, I certainly wouldn't have predicted this to happen, and many theories have been advanced about why.
One person I have found to be trustworthy on this set of issues, particularly, is Bev Jackson, who is co-founder of the LGBAllianceUK. I just ran across the following, which she put out today, and I thought it might be of interest:
"Everyone who cares about LGB rights please note: all former gay rights organizations are now run by the gender identity cabal. Any group that upholds the original, only, definition of gay & lesbian - same-sex sexual orientation - is barred from consultations on LGB issues. This cannot go on. We will not accept this ideological stranglehold on LGB issues exerted by groups that have grossly betrayed the legacy of the gay rights movement. It will take time, but make no mistake, we will recover what has been lost. We must - and will - repair the damage done to the reputation of the gay rights movement by TQ+ groups’ incessant clamor for attention, their unreasonable demands, and aggressive targeting of women - especially lesbians. To quote a phrase: 'We know who we are.' Stand with us."
Out of my own efforts to research this issue, I believe this assessment to be accurate.
It is going to be tough to find common ground, even on the left side of the aisle, but I take heart that one-on-one conversations, when I am able to have them with friends and neighbors, do help. So, I will keep trying that in my little corner of the world.