Transgender wars: revisited

My 4/29 essay, “Transgender Wars”* basically said transgendering is right and good for many people, while caution is needed when pre-teen and teen kids suddenly decide they’re trans. I criticized trans activists who brook no discussion of that; and criticized the American Humanist Association’s revoking an award to Richard Dawkins for writing that trans and non-trans people differ. Dawkins retweeted my piece. A firestorm of comments venomously attacked my essay, and Dawkins for retweeting it.

I was assailed for calling out extremist trans activists as, well, extremist. The ferocity of many comments proved it. Demonizing anyone not in lockstep with every detail of their catechism, to cast themselves as more enlightened and morally superior. Intolerant “woke” cancel culture in all its censorious Savonarolan glory.

Start with my first sentence: “Changing gender wasn’t even a thing until the 20th Century.” Many commenters deemed this factually false, discrediting all that followed. When obviously the reference was to medical procedures, not gender fluidity. Only by ridiculously assuming it meant the latter could the line be faulted. Showing these commenters are just spoiling for a fight, keen to manufacture heresies to condemn.

Many savaged my effort to explain what’s going on with transgender people. Often fiercely nitpicking the words I used — which aimed for understandability by average readers. Such semantic onslaughts too are unfortunately characteristic of “woke” intolerance. With a canonical vocabulary, those failing to ape it placing themselves beyond the pale. Like insistence on “cis-” language, arch and baffling to ordinary folks. (See my essay about “people of color” versus “colored people.” Someone who almost uttered the latter excoriated by, among others, the National Association for the Advancement of — um — Colored People.**)

I was trying to enlighten those who think wanting to change sex is merely some kind of perverted whim. Males and females differ genetically and anatomically. I said male and female brains differ too, and that “gender dysphoria” entails a mismatch between brain and body. Perhaps an oversimplification — yet a useful conceptualization. Thus I said gender dysphoria is biological, not just psychological, so cannot be resolved by talk therapy.

Trans advocate commenters pounced, vehemently rejecting this. Denying brains differ vis-a-vis sexuality, and the idea of a mismatch. Indeed disagreeing that this is a matter of biology and not just psychology. Again it seems they just want to have a fight. But how does their stance here (nonsensical to me) serve their cause? If they’re right and I’m wrong, and it’s not biological, then those who are hostile to the whole transgender thing might have a point after all. That it’s all just some weird whim of transgender people.

I’m basically libertarian, holding that everyone should be free to live as they please (barring harm to others). If a man wants to live as a woman, fine by me. But not everyone is so broadminded. It needs explaining that there’s more to it than transgender people making some off-the-wall personal choice. That’s what I tried to do. Earning attacks from transgender zealots, arguing it is all about choice. Go figure.

My chief crime was, despite strongly supporting the reality of most trans people, criticizing the insistence that anyone declaring themselves trans must be supported in physical transitioning. My point was again confirmed by commenters’ expressed absolutism. Refusing to acknowledge there’s any sort of problem involving kids suddenly coming out as trans, who may be mixed up (often simply gay, it turns out). A cautious go-slow approach by adults is not tolerated. With denial that medical interventions in such cases are frequently irreversible and can entail serious health and psychological harm. One size does not fit all.

Dawkins’s “offense” was, again, pointing to the undeniable fact that trans- and non-trans-women (or men) differ. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated the same (for most purposes). But trans extremists act as though the latter proposition somehow demands denial of the former. As if we don’t treat men and women the same (for most purposes) even while recognizing the differences. Insistence on an obviously false absolutism of non-difference makes for an ideology flouting reason. Not a good way to persuade anyone.

* https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2021/04/29/transgender-wars-2/

** https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2020/01/11/people-of-color-versus-colored-people-call-in-the-language-police/

4 Responses to “Transgender wars: revisited”

  1. Don Bronkema Says:

    They hammered you for the sake of hammering: as Molotov said in the 1937 purges, “malot za malot”. Rebut & ignore. Get on w/hammering GOP Fascists, a condign target of rage.

  2. Krista Collins Says:

    Don’t feel bad Frank. I’m a part of the community, and I’m routinely attacked for voicing views that, at least on many points, are similar to yours. I don’t know where all the tribalism and intolerance came from, but unless we can transcend it and learn to listen to each other again, we’re in trouble as a society. I’m transgender. My father was also transgender and transitioned as a Bridgeport police officer back in 1980. His brother was also trans, but did not transition. I have a cousin who was born with Turner Syndrome and is 60/40 mosaic female/male. I have a young first cousin once removed who has recently come out as non-binary (if the pattern holds, I suspect that at some point she will become a he, though that’s an opinion I keep to myself–it’s her decision to make). Both of my own children are lesbian or bisexual. There are other family members who I suspect also had issues, but they died before I could ask. There is obviously a biological component at work here, and anyone who says there isn’t is either a fool, or they just haven’t looked hard enough.
    People I know we’re rejoicing at the progress made during the Obama years. At the time, I was happy to see some progress being made, but I had an uneasy feeling that we were moving too far too fast. I tried to explain to anyone in my community who would listen that you can’t legislate tolerance and that we were setting ourselves up for a backlash, for which I was also attacked. Sadly, I appear to have been right. 😦
    Anyway, I’ve never met you in person, but I’ve been a customer of yours for a very long time. From those dealings, and from what I’ve seen you write here, I think I’m safe in saying that you are a good and compassionate man. And I just wanted to say to you that my views, as a transgender woman, have much more common ground than differences with yours. Keep the faith–I’m an optimist too.

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    Krista, many thanks for your input. The family history you talk about is certainly very relevant and revealing.

  4. Robyn Blumner Says:

    Excellent and important column, Frank. You nailed it.

    Robyn E. Blumner *President and CEO*, Center for Inquiry *Executive Director,* Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science 1012 14th St. NW, Suite 205 Washington, D.C. 20005 RBlumner@centerforinquiry.org

    The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Our vision is a world where people value evidence and critical thinking, where superstition and prejudice subside, and where science and compassion guide public policy.

    On Thu, May 27, 2021 at 6:27 PM The Rational Optimist wrote:

    > rationaloptimist posted: ” My 4/29 essay, “Transgender Wars”* basically > said transgendering is right and good for many people, while caution is > needed when pre-teen and teen kids suddenly decide they’re trans. I > criticized trans activists who brook no discussion of that; and cri” >

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