Sometimes, it feels like American society consists of a bunch of lemmings rushing to see who can fall off the cliff fastest. Elites seem to treat outright false narratives as shiny objects to chase, rushing to endorse the most insane position before someone else beats them to the punch. Predictions of climate disaster have failed to come true for decades, yet everyone endorses the climate change narrative. America has increasingly fought against outright racism for decades, yet now everyone says our institutions are “systemically racist.” Then, there’s transgenderism.
If an extremely thin teenage girl were to tell you that she is fat and were to ask you to shame her into going on a diet, you wouldn’t encourage her to starve herself. But thousands of people now suffer from gender dysphoria, the painful and persistent identification with a gender opposite their biological sex. In the past few years, medical associations have gone from encouraging such people to find peace with their bodies to now encouraging them to embrace the false identity, taking pains to transform their bodies in the image of the opposite sex.
At the same time, an extremely strong political movement has demanded that society at large not only accept but embrace the idea that biological men who “identify” as women are really women — and vice versa — and to open women’s spaces to these men, even if the men do not take feminizing hormones or undergo surgery to remove their male genitalia.
This means forcing schools, government buildings, and companies of all sorts to allow biological males to enter women’s restrooms and changing rooms at will. This means forcing women’s homeless shelters to admit biological males into shelters where victimized women seek refuge. This means opening women’s sports to biological males who enjoy a distinct physical advantage.
Nothing about the basic biological truth about sex has changed. Human beings are either male or female, down to the DNA in every cell in their bodies (except eggs and sperm). Some people tragically suffer from disorders of sexual development, but that does not make them a separate biological sex. Transgenderism is not about these “intersex” people — it focuses on normal males and normal females who try to switch to the opposite sex.
Even so, those who disagree with the transgender ideology are demonized as “transphobic” and often blamed for any violence gender dysphoric people experience. Transgender people are, by definition, oppressed, and therefore if anyone disagrees with remaking society in the image of transgenderism, he or she is a bigot, a hater, a “transphobe.” Such a person must be shunned, canceled, or worse.
Various public figures have staked out different positions on a spectrum of how to deal with these issues. Transgender activists have singled out Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling for special condemnation because many of them see her as a liberal ally — she has supported same-sex marriage and vociferously opposed Donald Trump. I have repeatedly described Rowling as a “moderate” on the issue, and I would like to explain why.
In doing so, I will lay out five different general positions on transgender issues as I see them, and explain why I think Rowling’s position is reasonable but ultimately incorrect. All the same, I think liberals and Democrats should embrace Rowling’s position, rather than the extreme position of Joe Biden and his supporters.
1. Aggressive opponents
Many people are too quick to condemn and dismiss gender disphoric people. People with gender dysphoria do exist, and people have wrongly dismissed their struggles as simple insanity or worse. While the best biology cuts against transgender identity, it is fair for transgender people to complain that society has been too hostile.
Most opponents of transgenderism do not endorse violence against transgender people and do not mean to demonize those who genuinely suffer from gender dysphoria, but the aggressive and angry opponents do exist. Those who oppose transgenderism would do well to express sympathy with gender dysphoric people, while the angry attackers do not help the cause of championing biology over identity.
2. Winsome proponents of biological sex
Winsome proponents of biological sex oppose transgender identity for individuals and a transgender revolution in society, but they do so in a winsome manner that acknowledges the struggles of gender dysphoric people while nevertheless encouraging them to identify with their biological sex.
Focusing on the science of biological sex and the dangers of transgender “medicine” and policies can unite a broad coalition of feminists — even lesbian feminists — along with moderates and conservatives. Endocrinologists have warned that experimental cross-sex hormones actually create a disease, one that would be especially dangerous for children who cannot understand what it means to permanently mutilate their bodies.
Transgenderism created heartwrenching tragedies, like the 19-year-old man who temporarily identified as a woman and underwent irreversible surgery that turned his healthy genitals into a “Frankenstein hack job” weakly mimicking the female version. In another case, a pregnant woman who identified as a man went to the hospital in labor. Because of her transgender identity, doctors did not give her the care she needed and the baby died.
Feminists, moderates, and conservatives need to tell these stories with compassion, warning about the dangers that radical transgender ideology pose to individuals and to society.
3. Moderates like J.K. Rowling
Under pressure from transgender activists, many consider even winsome support for biological sex to be a bridge too far. Yet they cannot stomach the radical social transformation that transgenderism threatens.
Rowling is quite sensitive to the pain of people who suffer from gender dysphoria — in fact, she may be too sensitive. The author accepts that some people who suffer from gender dysphoria are well served by adopting a transgender identity and even undergoing hormonal and surgical interventions. She has, however, warned that such experimental treatments may be dangerous for minors, and she has also warned that opening up women’s private spaces to biological men can have extremely negative consequences.
By opposing transgenderism in society while supporting it for gender dysphoric adults, Rowling moderates between the extreme transgender activists and those who firmly reject transgenderism.
4. The transgender bandwagon
Many activists, politicians, CEOs, actors, and even health experts have embraced transgender identity for individuals and a transgender overhaul of society perhaps without realizing quite how radical and dangerous these proposals are. They may not be true believers but they adopt the ideology and parrot the jargon.
When Julián Castro, then a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said that “reproductive justice” means a “trans female” should be able to get an abortion, he was revealing that he hadn’t thought his words through. “Trans females” are really males so they don’t have wombs — unless they get them implanted — and therefore have no need for abortions. “Transgender males” may get abortions, however. Castro was pandering on the issue.
When Joe Biden said that an 8-year-old child’s transgender identity should be encouraged, he may not have realized just how absurd that claim was. Then again, Biden has expressed extreme hostility toward religious freedom protections from LGBT mandates.
5. ‘Transphobia’ witch-hunters
Some transgender activists don’t just believe that gender dysphoric people should be encouraged to adopt a transgender identity or that society should be remade to foster transgenderism. These activists also demonize anyone who disagrees with these radical positions, branding people in groups 1, 2, and 3 as “bigots” and “transphobes.”
To many transgender activists, it does not matter that J.K. Rowling has transgender friends and encourages transgender “medicine” for adults who are set in their gender dysphoria. They see her as a “transphobe” because she publicly — and rightly — warns against the excesses of transgender activism. Rowling repeatedly faces death threats.
“If you can’t control your own emotions, you’re forced to control other people’s behaviour,” Monty Python actor John Cleese noted. “That’s why the touchiest, most oversensitive and easily upset must not set the standard for the rest of us.”
If you can't control your own emotions, you're forced to control other people's behaviour
That's why the touchiest, most oversensitive and easily upset must not set the standard for the rest of us https://t.co/bAX5zT0ja7
— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) November 22, 2020
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.