I suppose one could have predicted this happening, what with the exponentially increasing numbers of gender-dysphoric girls asserting a transsexual identity. (The disproportionality between dysphoric girls and dysphoric boys may explain why the extinction of gay men isn’t imminent). In fact, given the social approbation and support that attaches to gender-dysphoric girls—discussed in the latest article on the Weekly Dish (click on screenshot)—compared to the “meh” reaction to girls who say that they’re lesbians, you might expect that the lesbian identity would fade compared to the transsexual-male identification. The point of this article is not only to note the morbidity of the category “lesbian” in favor of “non-binary” or “transsexual”, but also to suggest that this is due to social contagion, as it’s cooler to be in the latter two categories than to be a lesbian.
Although Sullivan is listed as a co-writer here, the voice is Herzog’s. She’s a lesbian journalist (it bothers me a bit to write that, as she’s both a journalist who writes about all kinds of stuff as well as a lesbian), but it’s easier to say that than “a journalist who is also a lesbian”); and she mourns the death of her gender’s culture.
When I came out in North Carolina in the early 2000s, the term “lesbian” was fading and “queer” was rapidly rising. Most of my peers saw lesbians as stodgy, old-fashioned, and uncool, whereas queers were hip, edgy, and inclusive. Yet “queer” is vague enough to mean nearly anything, so the label says less about your love life and more about your politics. (I propose we all start using the Kinsey Scale instead.)
The flight from “lesbian” has accelerated since. An academic in the Southeast, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that when she mentioned to a colleague that she’s a lesbian, the colleague “reacted like I’d confessed to being a Confederate Lost-Causer. She told me that the term is outdated and problematic, and I shouldn’t use it.” So the lesbian keeps quiet about her identity: “It’s like living in a second closet.”
Not long ago, it would have been the Christian right stigmatizing homosexual women. Today, it’s also from people who call themselves queer.
As “lesbian” has waned, countless variations have emerged: not just hetero, homo, or bi, but pansexual, omnisexual, sapiosexual, asexual, autosexual, and many more, each with their own little flag. The same is true of genders — now counted in the dozens — with “nonbinary” being the most popular. Asia Kate Dillon, the nonbinary TV star who goes by the pronouns “they/them,” described the term as including those “who feel that their gender identity falls outside the traditional boxes of man or woman.” (Dillon is one of many formerly gay-identified celebrities who have come out as nonbinary, including Sam Smith, Judith Butler, Masha Gessen, and Jonathan Van Ness — who prefers “he/him” but is okay with “she/her” or “they/them.” Why be confined to just one?)
Why is this? It’s not just that lesbians can now be folded into “nonbinary” or “transgender” categories. Lesbianism tacitly accepts a sexual binary, and lesbians happen to be women who are attracted to other women rather than men. (“Nonbinary” could be women or men who are attracted to both sexes.) And lesbians are not transgender people, for, so far as I know, they identify as women who seek other women instead of men, again tacitly accepting a male/female binary. What’s clear is that the tremendous increase in gender nonconformity among young people seems to be coming from the tide of girls who identify as men. (This is my impression as well as Herzog’s, though I know of no hard data save the huge increase in gender-reassignment surgeries shown here.) Transsexual men born as biological women may be sexually attracted to women, but they see themselves in the gender role of male, not female.
Why is this happening, and where have the lesbians gone? A clue comes from a student Herzog interviewed named Halle (my emphasis):
“Lesbians are pretty thin on the ground for Gen Z,” a student I’ll call Halle wrote me. “I have one other lesbian friend, and together we have collected reports of five other lesbians between the U.S. and Canada, of which three are in our generation…. I do not know how things were in olden times for the elder gays, so I admit that a paucity of lesbian friends may in fact be normal for twentysomething gay women in left coast liberal cities, but I like to imagine there was some Arcadian past where short-haired women in Carhartts could gather in groups greater than two.”
Halle doesn’t live in Tehran. She lives in Seattle. Another young lesbian I spoke to told me she used to identify as both nonbinary and trans. “There’s a really thriving, active online and in-person trans community and queer community,” she said, “but there’s hardly anything for lesbians, and if you try to create that, you get pushback. It’s not cool to be a lesbian in the same way that it’s cool to be queer or trans or nonbinary.”
“Queer” apparently encompasses all “gender minorities” that aren’t heterosexual or cisgender, and there are many of these categories: asexuals, pansexuals, incels and the like. And, reading the Zeitgeist, it’s apparent that young people who come out as transsexual, whether or not they seek medical transformation, are given more attention and approbation than are lesbians. In other words, if you’re gender dysphoric, you get more naches by coming out as transsexual than as lesbian.
Now clearly this doesn’t explain 100% of teenage (or younger) girls who feel that they are of a male gender. It would be churlish to deny that there are a substantial number of genuine transsexuals among young folk, and that much of it has a biological basis. But it would be equally foolish to deny that troubled, gender-dysphoric teens will go the route that offers them the most comfort: saying that they trans or nonbinary.
Herzog actually offers two explanations: the social-contagion one and this one, which she doesn’t favor (“enbies” are “nonbinaries” or “NBs”):
Some feminists argue that women are so oppressed in society that opting out of womanhood is a way of opting out of oppression. I’m skeptical. Why didn’t women do this decades ago, when oppression was objectively greater? Besides, enbies are more likely to be Smith undergrads than, say, immigrants getting assaulted at the border.
And then she suggests the social explanation, which of course will get her labeled as a “transphobe” for even suggesting a role for faddishness:
And there’s another not-so popular explanation: that it’s a fad, a form of social contagion.
I’m aware that this will be offensive to some people. The concept of a fixed, internal gender identity has become sacrosanct, and it’s viewed as something deeply personal and meaningful, like the soul. But humans are social creatures and we are easily influenced by our peers. This isn’t a moral judgment, just a fact, and I’ve seen how it plays out in my own peer circle. First one person comes out as nonbinary, then another, then another, and then one day half the dykes you know go by “they.” Add social media to the mix, and fawning profiles of nonbinary people in the press, and you’ve got yourself a mass cultural phenomenon.
But social contagion is surely worth considering rather than dismissing, for it does account for the extremely dramatic rise in the number of women in their teens, or younger, who declare themselves transsexxual (see some data here). Herzog ran this explanation by “a therapist who specializes in LGTBQ issues,” and the therapist, after hemming and hawing, went off the record and said “Yes. But I really can’t say that to anyone.” Such is the rigidity of ideology these days. Explanations that should be discussed—and in view of the seriousness of medical intervention, must be discussed—are taken off the table because they’re labeled “transphobic.” We have encountered one of the many taboos plaguing political and ideological discourse in the past few years.
In his “Dissents” section, in which Sullivan answers beefs from readers, he’s concerned with whether wokeness will remain with us under a Biden administration. One can argue that it won’t, saying that wokeness was a kneejerk reaction to Trump’s bigotry and fascism, but I think we’re in for more wokeness. Now that the extreme Left sees itself empowered, even arguing that the election vindicates “progressive Democrats”, seen wrongly as contributing to Biden’s election, wokeness is likely to grow. And so the camel is about to stick its nose even further into the Democratic tent. Given the readiness with which centrist or moderate Democrats cave in rather than be labeled bigots, both Sullivan and I remain worried, all the while realizing that things are still much improved now that Trump has been defeated. But we’ll still have to contend with the pollution of the Left by the extreme Left, which endangers further gains of Democrats. Remember, besides the Presidency, Democrats lost ground elsewhere in American politics.
Responding to a “dissent” that argues, correctly, that the dangers of the extreme Right are far greater than those of the extreme Left, and that the “progressive” Left is not a threat, Sullivan says this:
Point taken. But here’s my rejoinder: just because the extremists have more thoroughly captured the GOP than the Dems doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem. I’m not saying both sides have equal problems with extremism — the GOP is worse, in my view. I’m saying the far-left hurt the Dems down ballot. They didn’t get their preferred nominee, and if they had, I think it’s pretty clear by now that she or he would have lost to Trump. But have they successfully rebranded the Dems as the party of wokeness, open borders, cancel culture, LatinX and LGBTQIA+ and other impenetrable language, and mandatory struggle sessions in which white people have to read Robin DiAngelo? You bet they have.
As for Biden, we’ll see. I voted for him in the full knowledge that a woke phalanx is probably going to come into government with him and do their best. But maybe I’m wrong, and Biden will stick to Obama-style centrism. I sure hope so.