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Trans Activism and the Road Not Taken
The current conflict over trans rights was entirely avoidable.
Halfway through Dave Chappelle’s controversial Netflix special, The Closer, his tone changes as he relates the story of a transgender-identifying friend and fellow comedian:
“Well, Daphne,” I said “Well, that was fun.” I go, “I love you to death, but I have no fuckin’ idea what you’re talking about.” The whole crowd laughed except for Daphne. Man, she looks at me like I’m not her friend anymore. Like I’m something bigger than me, like I’m the whole world in a guy. Then she said, “I don’t need you to understand me.” I said, “What?” She said, “I just need you to believe…” Just like that she goes, “… that I’m having a human experience.” And when she said it the whole crowd kind of gasped. And I gave the Fight Club look. I said, “I believe you, bitch.”
Because she didn’t say anything about pronouns. She didn’t say anything about me being in trouble. She said, “Just believe I’m a person and I’m going through it.” I know I believe you, because it takes one to know one.
One thing that strikes me every time I talk to friends, colleagues, and near-perfect strangers about gender is just how far something like Daphne’s plea—“I just need you to believe that I’m having a human experience… Just believe I’m a person and I’m going through it”—would have gone in winning people’s empathy.
All this is to say that the current conflict over trans rights wasn’t inevitable. In fact, it was entirely avoidable. It is not difficult to imagine a trans movement focused on providing accommodations for people who struggle with gender dysphoria, or even those who hold extraordinary beliefs about the nature of “gender identity.” Let’s call this the reasonable accommodations route.
Now we can argue about which accommodations are reasonable and which requests conflict with or undermine the rights of other groups like women who need legal recognition as a sex class and spaces free from males, and children who need special protections from indoctrination and medical experimentation. A conversation about reasonable accommodations is a nuanced conversation. Instead, we got a radical trans movement that wants to erase sex in law and society, put men in women's prisons and boys in girls' sports, and run an unregulated medical experiment on gender-nonconforming children. This has given rise to an absurd and dystopian reality where men are granted access to women’s prisons, sports, and other protected spaces, and where gender-nonconforming children have become the target of unregulated medical experiments that involve puberty blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, and extreme surgeries.
It wasn’t necessary to put the trans movement on a collision course with reality, fairness, common sense, medical ethics, toleration for difference, freedom of speech and conscience, and the basic recognition that sex matters to achieve the movement’s stated goals. Rather, it’s the trans lobby’s unstated goals that put us on this dark path. We can make a case for certain reasonable accommodations for people who are uncomfortable with their sex. Reasonable claims and demands can withstand scrutiny. Unreasonable claims and demands require a different approach. It’s impossible to make the case for putting male rapists in women’s prisons if you have to use plain language. It’s impossible to justify indoctrinating and then sterilizing confused children. You can only advance such goals if you’re willing to break the language, keep the public in the dark, and punish anyone who tries to drag your antics into the light. (In other words, you have to follow the Denton’s playbook.)
That trans activism took this form tells us something about what’s driving the movement and what’s not.
People with gender dysphoria benefit from rigorous research and quality healthcare and suffer when these issues become political and bitterly polarized. People who seek acceptance as they are don’t need to erase sex in law and society. Erasing sex erases not only an important part of who we are as individuals, but also who we are as a species. It’s not possible to understand the trans experience without understanding the reality of sex, and erasing sex therefore removes the possibility of understanding and empathy. When medical records lie about sex, patients suffer.
When many older trans-identified adults look back, they wish they hadn’t felt that it was necessary to transition. They often wish they’d found acceptance as who they were—both in relation to the wider world and within themselves. They don’t want or need to justify transitioning young children in order to prop up their sense of self and validate their identities. Ordinary people like this are not driving the trans movement, but they, along with children, are the ones paying most dearly for its excesses.
When we look at the trans movement’s demands and consider the alternatives that the movement scorns, it’s clear who’s in the driver’s seat: paraphiliacs who get off on trampling women’s boundaries, individuals who cannot accept themselves and must therefore embark on a futile attempt to bend reality, and powerful players who view the transgender craze opportunistically as a vast and profitable new frontier in “medical enhancement” that is shielded from criticism by highly effective “human rights” sloganeering. When your goal is to reorganize society from top to bottom and fundamentally transform our ideas about human identity and embodiment, “just believe I’m a person and I’m going through it” doesn’t cut it.
Over the past five years, I’ve talked to people all over the political map. They have expressed their immense concern and confusion over the forms trans activism has taken. But I’ve never heard any hate for people who don’t conform to or feel comfortable with their sex. Quite the contrary. Regardless of political persuasion or religious creed, people express empathy for those struggling with gender dysphoria and seeking ways to make their lives more livable. In other words, there’s a strong constituency out there who are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the “reasonable accommodations” route.
But empathy isn't submission. Empathy doesn't always follow the activist script. Empathy doesn’t write blank checks. Sometimes empathy sounds like “If I were a kid today, I would have transitioned, too. I’m glad I didn’t.” Or: “I understand why you want that but the answer is still no.”