Two taboo articles to read

October 10, 2021 • 11:30 am

If you’re following transgender issues, and aren’t afraid to question the view that transwomen are women in every sense and likewise for transmen, and also feel that there’s a rush to affirm transgender identity in children or teens without proper guidance, then you should read these two articles.

I was originally going to present just one long quote from Andrew Sullivan’s take on the issue, as his analysis this week is good, but he also relies on a new article by Abigail Shrier published on Bari Weiss’s site. You should read that one first by clicking on the screenshot below.  And do remember to subscribe to the Substack sites that you read often.

Shrier is the demonized author of the book Irreversible Damage, which warns of the dangers of premature transitioning as an early teen or child without proper medical and psychological guidance. She is not a transphobe, nor is she opposed to gender changing. She is just worried about the dangers of rapid “affirmation” without caveats as well as the possibility that social pressure forces young people to transition instead of, for instance, becoming gay or changing their minds. The medical consequences of transitioning are irreversible, and you have to have all possible information before you start —usually by taking “puberty blockers.”

Shrier is not a transphobe, though the trans activists call her one. I suggest you read her book and decide for yourself.

Her new piece, which I won’t dwell on, as you should read it, is about two doctors who help young people (mostly girls) transition. Both doctors are trans women. One, Marci Bowers, is a world expert in vaginoplasty: creating an artificial vagina from a penis. Such surgery is often, but not always, chosen by biological males transitioning to the female gender. The other, Erica Anderson, is a clinical psychologist at UCSF’s Child and Adolescent Gender clinic.

Neither of these women are transphobes, of course, but both express caution about changing gender from male to female without proper advice. The main issue is loss of one’s sexual side. Transitioning starts with taking puberty blockers, which stops puberty in its tracks and according to trans activists is allegedly completely reversible (we don’t really know that!), so that a candidate can ponder their decision while in sexual stasis.

The problem with the drugs is that most people taking the blockers go on to full transitioning, often involving later genital surgery. And this causes two problems. First, puberty blockers prevent not only development of full erotic sensation, but also leave the penis at such a small size that it’s very hard to convert it into a vagina facsimile. The alternatives, using tissue from elsewhere like the colon, are very unsatisfactory. Second, this surgery pretty much prevents transsexual women from ever having an orgasm. So unless they’ve experienced one before beginning puberty blockers, they’ll never have the full experience of sex with a partner. This isn’t often emphasized, leading to Anderson’s quote:

Anderson agreed that we’re likely to see more regret among this teenage-girl population. “It is my considered opinion that due to some of the — let’s see, how to say it? what word to choose? — due to some of the, I’ll call it just ‘sloppy,’ sloppy healthcare work, that we’re going to have more young adults who will regret having gone through this process. And that is going to earn me a lot of criticism from some colleagues, but given what I see — and I’m sorry, but it’s my actual experience as a psychologist treating gender variant youth — I’m worried that decisions will be made that will later be regretted by those making them.”

What, exactly, was sloppy about the healthcare work? “Rushing people through the medicalization, as you and others have cautioned, and failure — abject failure — to evaluate the mental health of someone historically in current time, and to prepare them for making such a life-changing decision,” Anderson said.

******************

Andrew Sullivan’s own Substack column this week is largely about transsexuality, and mostly about comedian Dave Chappelle’s new (and last) Netflix show, which I haven’t seen, called “The Closer”. Click on the screenshot to read (and subscribe if you’re so moved):

Sullivn calls Chappelle “the greatest living comedian”, and after having seen a couple of his pieces, I think he’s right up there. He also pulls no punches, saying, like Lenny Bruce and other controversial comics, exactly what he thinks, not worrying about saying what he sees as true will damn him forever. The “truth” in this case, comprises Chappelle’s views on transsexuality, drawn in particular from his friendship with a trans woman comedian, Daphne Dornan. (She killed herself not long ago.) Dornan turned her transsexuality into humor, sometimes laughing at herself, and Sullivan calls Chappelle’s remembrance of her “a moving account.”

But of course Chappelle being Chappelle, he makes shocking statement like one I’ll quote below—things that have gotten him called a transphobe (Sullivan gives links to several hostile reviews). Yet to me, Chapelle’s message, at least as filtered through Sullivan, is redolent of truth.  I just don’t have the guts to say it like he does. And so I’ll give a long quote from Andrew (emphasis is mine):

And, through the jokes, that’s what Chappelle is celebrating: the individual human, never defined entirely by any single “identity,” or any “intersectional” variant thereof. An individual with enough agency to be able to laugh at herself, at others, at the world, an individual acutely aware of the tension between body and soul, feelings and facts, in a trans life, as well as other kinds of life. Assuming that marginalized people cannot tolerate humor at their own expense is as dehumanizing as assuming they have no agency in their lives. It is a form of bigotry — of the left.

And the capacity for laughter — the target of every fundamentalism, left and right — is integral to being fully human. To remind us that a trans person can laugh at herself is to remind us that she too is brimming with the kind of complex self-awareness that every mature human has. We laugh, above all, at the absurdity of our reality. And yes, that’s the second point Chappelle makes: there is something called reality. We can deny it; or we can accept it. Comedy’s key role is that it helps us accept it.

Whatever else this is, it seems to me to be the opposite of transphobia. Like Rowling, Chappelle supports every law protecting trans people from discrimination; and believes in the dignity and equality of trans people, as he insisted in the show. But he also believes that it is absurd — absurd — to say that a trans woman is in every way indistinguishable from a woman. Because she isn’t.

The current debate, in other words, is not about being pro or anti-trans, in the lazy formula of woke media. In the US, trans people are already protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, thanks to Justice Neil Gorsuch. And I literally know of no one who insists on the reality of biological sex who would disapprove of or reverse this.

The debate, rather, is about whether a tiny group of fanatics, empowered by every major cultural institution, can compel or emotionally blackmail other people into saying things that are not true. This, in Chappelle’s words, is what they are trying to force people to deny:

Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. That is a fact. Now, I am not saying that to say trans women aren’t women, I am just saying that those pussies that they got … you know what I mean? I’m not saying it’s not pussy, but it’s Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy. It tastes like pussy, but that’s not quite what it is, is it? That’s not blood, that’s beet juice.

Yes this is shocking, funny, wild. But not wrong. And this seems to me to be exactly what a comic is supposed to do: point out that the current emperor has no clothes. A transwoman cannot give birth as a woman gives birth. She does not ovulate. Her vagina, if it exists, is a simulacrum of one, created by a multiple array of surgeries. Sex in humans is binary, with those few exceptions at the margins — mixtures of the two — proving rather than disproving the rule. Until five minutes ago, this was too obvious to be stated. Now, this objective fact is actually deemed a form of “hate.” Hate.

This means that the debate is no longer about 0.2 percent of humanity. It’s about imposing an anti-scientific falsehood on 99.8 percent of humanity. It means that we have to strip all women of their unique biological experience, to deny any physical differences between men and women in sports, to tell all boys and girls that they can choose their sex, to erase any places reserved exclusively for biological women, like shelters for those who have been abused by men, and to come up with terms like “pregnant people” to describe mothers. Yes — mothers. The misogyny buried in this is gob-smacking. Is Mothers’ Day next for the trans chopping block?

And the key thing is: absolutely none of this is needed to protect trans people from any and all discrimination.

The question of trans rights has been settled by the Supreme Court. I’m delighted it has. What we’re dealing with now is something very different. It’s an assault on science; it’s an assault on reality; it’s an attempt not to defend trans people but to cynically use them as pawns in a broader effort to dismantle the concept of binary sex altogether, to remove any distinctions between men and women, so that a gender-free utopia/dystopia can be forced into being.

There’s a lot more to the piece, including Sullivan’s contention that the woke Left uses gays in a way that ensures their “continued marginalization”, and most important, his contention below (my emphasis):

To be clear: I don’t favor crude bans on healthcare for kids with gender dysphoria. I favor much greater caution, care, and concern — for the sake of trans and gay kids, and their families. The most prominent LGBT groups have no interest in preventing gay kids from being swept up in this, and deny that is even possible — and are now in the forefront of erasing the very existence of same-sex, as opposed to same-gender, attraction. Any engagement with biology is deemed a form of “hate.” And the more potent the evidence of mis-steps in this revolutionary moment, the more furious and intense the urge to suppress it. The trans movement is now, tragically, the vanguard of the postmodern left’s goal of dismantling science itself because they believe that science is, in fact, merely an instrument of “white supremacy.”

I think he’s right here. When three scientific societies involving evolutionary biology issue a joint statement that biological sex is a “continuum” rather than binary, you know that ideology is trying to obscure scientific truth. And when a university simply fabricates an ideology supposedly held by Thomas Henry Huxley, turning him into a racist when he was not—all in the cause of taking his name off an academic unit—you know that scientists are no longer seeking truth but trying out of fear to adhere to an ideology they see as prevalent.

35 thoughts on “Two taboo articles to read

  1. I think you meant “reversible” in this snippet: “…and is supposed to be completely irreversible…”

  2. I listened to “Closer” to form my own opinion. He treated transgender people with courtesy and respect. However, before that section, he did a section about beating up a lesbian. (He started out by saying that he didn’t really do it, so we know that the whole thing was a joke.) Nonetheless, gays and lesbians have suffered centuries of violence, and I didn’t find that section to be funny at all.
    So here we are, in a culture where you can joke about a straight man beating up a lesbian and no one seems to object to that. Yet you can’t state obvious biological facts about transgender without an uproar. How crazy is this?

  3. I was once at a social gathering during which a woman declared that there were less genetic differences between men and women than between races, and that gender was a social construct. When the rest of us pushed back against this obviously false assertion, she became enraged and stormed off.

    I watched Chappelle’s latest show and there were a few cringy moments, but in the end it was quite moving. In a roundabout and at times crude manner he did come to a prescient conclusion with which I agree. We are all having a human experience.

    1. The person was essentially wrong on all counts. But as for genetic differences between men and women, I suppose what they were getting at was that a single gene on the Y chromosome pretty much starts the balls rolling on developing a male. With that gene, one usually becomes anatomically male. Without that one gene, one becomes a female instead.
      So that can be spun to say that genetic differences between males and females is vanishingly small.
      But its a bit complicated by there being other genes on the Y chromosome that females don’t have (albeit its not a big number). And there will be a range of genetic differences between any two individuals that are not monozygotic twins.

  4. My wife and I watch Chappelle’s The Closer the other night. I had already read Sullivan’s piece, which is how I learned of it. This was my first exposure to Chappelle’s comedy. I found him quite funny. He pushes all the buttons, and so he’s naturally a target for the trans activist community. But his comedy respects people as individuals. He takes heat, I think, because people confuse someone being trans with them being a woke-mode trans activist.

  5. Saw The Closer. It was okay. His other specials(with the exception of 8:46)are funnier.
    I’m gay and I have never been offended by his comedy.

  6. “The trans movement is now, tragically, the vanguard of the postmodern left’s goal of dismantling science itself because they believe that science is, in fact, merely an instrument of “white supremacy.” ”

    I have a theory: it was the collapse of Communism which, after a delay, elicited the weird distortions we see today on both Right and Left. During the Cold War, the animating, unifying principle on the Right side of the aisle was anti-Communism. As a result, Republicans were impelled to take the democratic process seriously. No national Republican would openly back the poll tax or other gimmicks to restrict the franchise, and they never proposed explicit voter suppression laws. That would have looked too much like the corresponding Communist gimmicks, the single “leading” political party and the single candidate electoral system. When the Republicans lost fair, democratic elections (as they often did in Congressional races, and in presidential contests in 1960, 64, and 76), the Republicans never invented phony claims against the legitimacy of these elections. The legitimacy of democratic elections, they asserted, was what distinguished the free world from its Communist opponents.

    On the other side, the object lesson of the purge trials, the GULAG, and the Berlin Wall kept the authoritarian tendencies of the Left in check. Even fellow-travelling Leftists generally refrained from trying to politicize science because of the disastrous example of Lysenkoism in the USSR. The same example prevented outright attacks on Biology, like our contemporary cock-and-bull stories about the social construction of sex. Lynch-mob campaigns by grad students against professors who departed from “Progressive” shibboleths—a commonplace today—were not even dreamed of, precisely because that would seem exactly like the way Soviet Union organized public campaigns demanding death for purge trial defendants, and public statements against Boris Pasternak when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

    After Communism and the USSR itself disintegrated, the reason behind these limitations on both the Right and Left was gone. A lag period intervened, during which the exploits of Communism in the USSR and east-central Europe disappeared down the memory hole, and a generation came of age for which this history had no more reality than stories of knights and dragons. After that, the Republican Party felt itself free to campaign against the very occurrence of democratic elections; and Leftists, especially the rising generation in academe, experienced no hesitation in re-enacting the attitudes of Robespierre, Ferdinand Lassalle, Lenin, Mussolini, and the signers of those Soviet petition campaigns denouncing Pasternak.

    1. Good points. That’s why it’s important to know history. It’s not possible to understand the present fully without knowledge of the past.

      1. I think it began earlier with the election of Nixon. Things paused for a moment in the mid-70’s because of Watergate, but then picked right up again with Ronnie. It was reaction to the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam conflict that drove this process.

  7. Shrier is not a transphobe, though the trans activists call her one.

    Stonewall, the major LGBTQ+ charity in the UK, is just one such organization which defines transphobia thus:

    “ The fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are trans, including the denial/refusal to accept their gender identity.”

    To “not accept” someone’s gender identity means not believing that transwomen ARE women, and transmen ARE men. A particular doctrine which purports to explain the cause of people identifying as the opposite sex is being included with the people themselves.

    The right being claimed here is not the right to fair housing, jobs, safety, etc. but a new right: the right to have your own self-assessment regarding your internal sense of whether you are a man, woman, neither, or both believed — and acknowledged in law.

    If that’s the definition being used — and most Trans Rights Advocates use that definition or one like it — then Shrier is a “transphobe.” So is Jerry, and me, and Chapelle and most of the people reading this website, I suspect.

    So we really can’t argue over who is, or isn’t, a transphobe because we’re stuck at the definition. The first part is fine. It’s that part about “denying” the existence or relevance of “gender identity” that’s the kicker.

    1. Normally, it would probably be the “experts in the field,” I think, but in this case those who fit the bill according to the usual standards seem to be so biased and driven towards a goal that they’re inserting propaganda into what qualifies as irrational fear or hatred.

      Apparently the only conceivable reason someone could either be skeptical that all humans are born with an innate Way of Knowing they’re a boy or a girl *— OR that this inner conviction is more reliable than sex for determining who’s a man or woman* — is disgust for people who are different, and a desire to punish them for it. Because many TRAs do seem to sincerely believe that the distinction between a man who beats a transwoman for being “unmanly” and a lesbian feminist concerned about the legal and social erosion of sex-based rights and same-sex attraction is negligible. They both agree that transwomen aren’t really women.

      Shrier’s special focus on detransitioners, social contagion, and the medical and surgical complications surrounding “trans kids” is considered dangerous because it interferes with two of the claims in Gender Identity doctrine:

      1) Being transgender is present from birth, though it might be forced below awareness through indoctrination and shame.
      2.) When people tell you who they know themselves to be, believe them.

      On this website, your definition rules. But the battle outside is over the definition.

      (*or neither, or both, or alternatively one then the other, in cycles.)

    2. It’s a clever tactic to shut down the debate. “Transphobic” started out with the same pejorative connotations as “homophobic” so Stonewall has decided to widen the definition to include anybody who disagrees with their view. Having done that, they can scream “transphobic” at anybody who points out the problems with their position and that’s the end of the argument.

  8. What is going to happen when the doctor suspects that a transwoman has prostate cancer but is afraid to raise the possibility? Or when the doctor rules out prostate cancer because a transwoman “can’t” have a prostate gland?

  9. “…it’s an attempt not to defend trans people but to cynically use them as pawns in a broader effort to dismantle the concept of binary sex altogether, to remove any distinctions between men and women, so that a gender-free utopia/dystopia can be forced into being.”

    While I think most of what Sullivan says is perfectly reasonable, he veers off here into assuming motivation, and I always think it’s dangerous to feel so certain that you know why people do the things they do. I believe that certainty is a big part of why the partisan divide is so bad today.

    1. I think Sullivan’s wrong. The people who really don’t want to erase the distinctions between men and women are those who think that being identified as the “right” gender instead of the “wrong” one is critical to their humanity and very existence. That’s not so much a psychological analysis as a logical entailment.

    1. A hit piece? Does that expression have any meaning any more? I read the article, and it reads like a criticism of Chappelle’s act. You can disagree with it, but that doesn’t make it a hit piece.

  10. I define transphobe as anyone who manifests “denial/refusal to accept” my trans-species identity as a
    Greater sage grouse, and my demand to receive all the special treatment due by law to a member of that critically endangered species.

  11. I don’t think that Sullivan is right when he says that this is about dismantling “the concept of binary sex altogether”, or ‘dismantling science itself because they believe that science is, in fact, merely an instrument of “white supremacy.”‘ No, it’s something more important than that: it’s about forcing reasonable people to submit and obey, in other words, it’s about power. The trans issue is perfect for that, because it allows the woke Left to constantly threat, an often get rid of the people that constitute the main obstacle in their pursuit of power: the reasonable Left.

    1. Binary sex is a pretty resilient concept. It was a universally shared concept among humans before we developed things like agriculture or even language. It defies dismantling, the way gravity does. You can talk yourself into denying the existence of gravity, and even pressure others to claim they don’t believe it, either.
      But as soon as you go out and step off of a ledge, it will reassert itself with vigor.

      But I don’t think you can lump all of the trans people and activists together. A lot of them hold their beliefs for entirely personal reasons, usually a belief that all their problems will be solved once they become a real boy (or girl), a belief reinforced by legions of folks set on “affirming”them.

      Some time back on this forum, we were discussing the difference in men’s and women’s physical abilities. One commenter, who I think was being sincere, expressed a belief that if boys and girls were fed the same diet and expected to do the same work, they would achieve the same levels of physical performance. I saw the comment as a demonstration that people are out there who believe such things. I have heard “faith” defined as the stubborn belief in something you know is not true. In that respect, faith in things like sex being on a spectrum is pretty common.

      I do think there is some truth to the idea that some people really do find a sort of perverse personal fulfillment in forcing others to constantly make gestures of submission. Getting someone to deny basic reality must be very thrilling for such people, and any movement like the one under discussion seems likely to attract such people.

      1. I don’t think that it’s just “some people”, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s the key element of the woke ideology: they really want to get rid of all the people that they despise (they used to call them “the old white men” a couple of years ago), specially in academia and the media. That is the *only* thing they really care about: it’s personal. They’re not stupid, they know, for example, that the participation of trans women in sports is debatable, or that the difference in achievements between groups might have cultural causes. But none of those things are the point.

  12. Yes! Along these lines, calling women, “bodies with vaginas,” as is the current title on the cover of a well-known medical journal, is setting women back one-hundred years! We’ve been trying to get society to NOT see us as just bodies with vaginas. And yet this is what the “progressive” left wants and sees as necessary to protect transgender people–the denial of women as more than just bodies with vaginas? There is an insanity there. Certainly behavior and feelings of masculinity and feminity are on a continuum, and the rigid social definitions of what is male and what is female need to go, but the continuum however defined is still within the biological binary of male/femaile. You either have the equipment to birth a baby or impregnate and no amount of social conditioning will change that.

  13. Transitioning starts with taking puberty blockers, which stops puberty in its tracks and is supposed to be completely irreversible (we don’t really know that!)

    Small but fairly important typo there.

  14. I think it is correct to emphasize how trans people are being used as pawns in this matter. Sometimes those who would assume power need to make an example to demonstrate their puissance. I remember a trivial example from the days when the nurses at my tiny hospital were first unionized; the union insisted on bringing in new rules about the place being scent free (not necessarily desirable when looking after the incontinent elderly). Posters, regulations, lectures, all claiming to save the health and lives of the perfume allergic. Except we had no one who was “allergic to perfume” (I doubt true allergy to a scent is possible, maybe over-sensitivity to a disliked scent? But that itself becomes another power game in which one seeks to exert control over another. This was, after all, when ‘total allergy syndrome’ was a fashionable way of declaring one’s inability to deal with the world.) It was all just a demonstration of the union’s ability to impose control. Perhaps justified when the workers desperately need saving from evil bosses, but hardly the case in this little hospital. Just a ploy, and precisely the same demonstration as when O’Brien made Winston Smith say ‘two plus two equals five’. Isn’t the insistence, against all common sense and simple biology that transwomen are women serving the same purpose? We all know it isn’t literally so, but we go along and mumble the words to show our submission. I’m perfectly happy to treat transwomen, socially, linguistically, and legally exactly as women, but I can’t deny biological fact. It does not escape me that power plays like this are all the more powerful the more nonsensical the new fact we are expected to espouse, and the point is not that we believe the new fact, but that we say we do even as we know it to be false. That is the true demonstration of power.

    1. I totally agree with your point.
      However, if I am around strong perfumes, I get a headache within five minutes. I don’t know if this is a true allergy, but I am not alone in having reactions. So there is a point in discouraging perfume use, but it sounds like the union overdid it.

  15. Sullivan sounds like a bit of a carpet chewer. Are there supposed to be secret meetings of “woke left” conspirators hatching these fiendish plans he is suggesting?

    It is a bit difficult when both sides of this debate are off in cloud cuckoo land.

    The part about a conspiracy theory to force a gender free utopia/dystopia seems particularly confused. In fact one of the main criticisms of the trans movement has been that they are *perpetuating* the idea of gender. Isn’t it the gender critical folks who want to abolish gender?

    Personally I haven’t the foggiest idea what either side of this debate even means by “gender”, so abolished or not it can’t make much difference to me.

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