Abigail Shrier speaks truth to Princeton

December 9, 2021 • 1:00 pm

I’d forgotten that Abigail Shrier had a Substack column called “The Truth Fairy“, and so I would have missed this wonderful talk (in transcript) had several readers not sent me the link. It is a talk that Shrier gave to a group of students at Princeton, hosted by the Princeton Tory, the Witherspoon Institute, and the Tikvah Fund. It is well worth your time to read this, and will stiffen your resolve against wokeness.

For surely you remember Ms. Shrier, a former writer with the Wall Street Journal and then author of the book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, which I’ve read. It’s an account of the exponential rise in the number of young women and girls who want to transition to becoming transmales; an attempt to explain it partly (but not by any means wholly) as a result of social pressure and mental illness; and a critique of the “affirmation therapy” in which therapists and doctors facilitate these transitions without adequate medical and psychological assessment and supervision.

It’s not a transphobic book, nor is Shrier a transphobe. She is thoughtful and deeply sympathetic to people with gender dysphoria who have given their transitions mature and rational consideration. It is a call for caution towards younger people—women in particular—who might not be getting proper guidance.

For writing this reasonable book, Shrier was demonized, widely called a transphobe (including by the ACLU, one of whose lawyers called for her book to be banned), she’s been disinvited to speak, and major chains wouldn’t carry her book. Science-Based Medicine removed a positive review written about Shrier’s book by Dr. Harriet Hall. I’ve documented much of this on posts on this website.

Here we have Shrier giving the Princeton students the equivalent of a graduation speech: imparting lessons she learned the hard way to try to emphasize the importance of independent thought in a time of liberal conformity. I wish I could reproduce the whole talk, but you can read it by clicking on the screenshot below.

There’s a bit of biography to show how Shrier went down the route to being demonized. First, though, the question she’s answering (all bolding is mine).

The question I get most often—the thing that most interviewers want to know, even when they’re pretending to care about more high-minded things—is:  What’s it like to be so hated?  I can only assume that’s what some of you rubberneckers want to know as well:  What’s it like to be on a GLAAD black list? What’s it like to have top ACLU lawyers come out in favor of banning your book? What’s it like to have prestigious institutions disavow you as an alum? What’s it like to lose the favor of the fancy people who once claimed you as their own?

And then she began writing op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, and the die was cast:

. . . One of those op-eds inspired a reader to contact me and tell me the story of her teen daughter who was rushing into a sudden gender transition. After trying and failing to find an investigative journalist who wanted the assignment, I took it on myself. My investigations turned into a book called Irreversible Damage.

All of which is to say: I’m not a provocateur. I don’t get a rush from making people angry. You don’t have to be a troll to find yourself in the center of controversy. You need only be two things: effective, and unwilling to back down.

Why am I unwilling to back down? Why wouldn’t I prostrate myself before the petulant mobs who insist that my standard journalistic investigation into a medical mystery—specifically, why so many teen girls were suddenly identifying as transgender and clamoring to alter their bodies—makes me a hater? Why on earth would I have chosen to write this book in the first place and am I glad that I wrote it?

And she says she found it freeing to express her opinion even though it went against the grain of most trans activists. There’s a bit of a confusing discussion of “freedom,” as Shrier appears to be a determinist, and her half-page discussion might have been omitted, for, after discussing how our views are manipulated by outside sources like social media sites and Wikipedia articles, which constitutes neuronal wiring completely compatible with determinism, she says this:

If you form views based on those Wikipedia articles or reports by corrupt fact-checkers, if you act based on them, are you exercising freedom of will? Given that you’ve been spun and prodded along to a pre-determined conclusion by hidden persuaders, perhaps you aren’t. Perhaps you’re left in the same sorry state as the Moor of Venice: toyed with, subverted, manipulated. Acting out someone else’s plan, pointed in the direction that he wants you to walk.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years debating whether this kind of manipulation is at the root of our political divisions, but I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to an even more basic question: how it has interfered with freedom of conscience and ultimately free will.

But she’s strongly questioned whether we even have free will! What she objects to is not unwarranted interference with some dualistic “will,” but unwarranted interference with your brain.

But that doesn’t matter; it’s a small digression in a magnificent talk—but a digression that takes her into territory I inhabit. At any rate, the following words are what’s going to get her into trouble, and the kind of writing that makes me so admire Shrier:

When polled, nearly two out of three Americans (62%) say they are afraid to express an unpopular opinion. That doesn’t sound like a free people in a free country. We are, each day, force-fed falsehoods we are all expected to take seriously, on pain of forfeiting esteem and professional opportunity:

Some men have periods and get pregnant.” “Hard work and objectivity are hallmarks of whiteness.” “Only a child knows her own true gender.”  “Transwomen don’t have an unfair advantage when playing girls’ sports.”

On that final example of a lie, the one about transwomen in girls’ sports, I want you to think for a moment about a young woman here at Princeton. She’s a magnificent athlete named Ellie Marquardt, an all-American swimmer who set an Ivy League record in the 500-meter freestyle event as a freshman. Just before Thanksgiving, Ellie was defeated in the 500-meter, the event she held the record in, by almost 14 seconds [Shrier’s bolding] by a 22 year old biological male at Penn who was competing on the men’s team as recently as November of 2019. That male athlete now holds multiple U.S. records in women’s swimming, erasing the hard work of so many of our best female athletes, and making a mockery of the rights women fought for generations to achieve.

Ellie Marquart swam her heart out for Princeton. When will Princeton fight for her? Where are the student protests to say—enough is enough. When a biological male who has enjoyed the full benefits of male puberty—larger cardiovascular system, 40% more upper body muscle mass, more fast-twitch muscle fiber, more oxygenated blood—decides after three seasons on the men’s team to compete as a woman and smashes the records of the top female swimmers in this country, that is not valor—that’s vandalism.

Where is the outrage? Imagine, for a second, what it must be like to be a female swimmer at Princeton, knowing you must pretend that this is fair—that the NCAA competition is anything other than a joke. Imagine being told to bite your tongue as men lecture you that you just need to swim harder. “Be grateful for your silver medals, ladies, and maybe work harder next time,” is the message. Imagine what that level of repression does to warp the soul.

Now, imagine, instead, the women’s swimmers had all walked out. Imagine they had stood together and said: We will meet any competitor head on. But we will not grant this travesty the honor of our participation. We did not spend our childhoods setting our alarm clocks for 4am every morning, training for hours before and after school, to lend our good names to this fixed fight.

Many of us agree with Shrier (I know I do), but how many of us would say this words, or write these words, publicly? Not many, I warrant.

She goes on to extol and explain the freedom she found in resisting the influences of authoritarians and trans activists (granted, she had no choice about resisting, but resisting did bring her a jolt of endorphin that one wants to experience again). And so a few more excerpts:

I didn’t write Irreversible Damage to be provocative.  In a freer world, nothing in my book would have created controversy. I wrote the book because I knew it was truthful and I believed recording what I found—that there was a social contagion leading many teenage girls to irreversible damage—was the right thing to do. I also believe if I hadn’t written it, thousands more girls would be caught up in an identity movement that was not organic to them but would nonetheless lead them to profound self-harm. But I didn’t write it specifically to stop them. I wrote it simply because it was true.

When I testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in March, I started by stating that I am proud to live in an America where gay and transgender Americans live with less stigma and fear than at any point in American history. That is the glory of freedom as well—the chance for adults to live authentic lives and guide their own destinies. And allowing mature adults to make those sorts of choices for themselves is absolutely a requirement of a free society. Yes, you can reject the false, dogmatic insistences of Gender Ideology and still wish to see transgender Americans prosper and flourish and fulfill their dreams in America. I do.

I wrote the book because the story of one mom and her teen daughter compelled me, and so did that of the dozens of other parents who then spoke to me—mothers and fathers who sobbed as they described how their daughters had become caught up in a craze that seemed completely inauthentic to the child, but which they were powerless to arrest.

And a conclusion:

I’m 43, which I realize makes me very old to many of you. But not so long from now, you’ll wake up and be 43 yourselves. And when I look back on my life thus far, it occurs to me that the decisions of which I am most proud—the ones that strike like an unexpected kiss—are not the times when I obeyed the algorithm. They’re the times when I defied it and felt, for a moment, the magic and power of being alive. When I felt, even for an instant, the exquisite joy of not being anyone’s subject. When I had the unmistakable sense that I’ve existed for a purpose, that I stood the chance of leaving the world better than I found it. You don’t get any of that through lock-step career achievement and you certainly don’t get that by being the Left’s star pupil.

You feel that frisson when you choose a person to commit yourself to knowing full well that any marriage may fail; when you bring children into a world where there are no guarantees of their safety or success. When you summon the courage to fashion a life, something that will remain after you are gone. When you speak the truth publicly—with care and lucidity.  And when you say to the world: you cannot buy me with flattery. Purchase my colleagues or classmates at bulk rate. I am not for sale.

Yes, that frisson isn’t in everyone, but some like Shrier are wired to experience it through rebellion, and to sell that experience to others. And perhaps that itself will rewire the brains of the others. But forget the determinism. The fact is that Shrier spoke the truth as she saw it, not realizing what would happen. But when the shitstorm began, she just put up an umbrella and weathered it. And she continues to fight. Moreover, she has a lot to lose here, though it turns out that the damnation she experienced as a supposed “transphobe” actually brought her more attention and a louder microphone. I can echo her words because I have very little to lose by doing so, but I want to echo her words because they bear repeating, and may echo in other people’s brains.

In short, my message to Shrier is, “You go, girl!

39 thoughts on “Abigail Shrier speaks truth to Princeton

    1. I managed to Google Shrier’s Substack and read the full article. It is powerfully written and I hope that the Princeton students act accordingly.

      I have to take issue with Shrier’s passage about Wikipedia, however:

      But did you know that, for contested entries, Wikipedia assigns editors, some of whom are ideologically committed activists, many of whom have very particular views they want you to walk away with.

      Editing contested Wikipedia articles can be an exhausting process, in part made more difficult by the encyclopedia’s (understandable) insistence on only using “reliable sources” for citations. The failure of many so-called such sources (like the NYT and Grauniad etc.) to present a balanced view of those issues is a major stumbling block in some cases. But take a look at the articles’ talk pages (there’s a tab on each article allowing you to toggle between the article itself and the background discussions of individual editors) and you will see intense (and often intensely annoying) arguments about the precise wording of the article. Where arguments go to Wikipedia’s arbitration process to settle intractable disputes (editors on both of an argument are capable of pushing a particular point of view) the resolution is overseen by an independent administrator with no previous involvement in the specific article.

      Finally, it’s perhaps beyond Shrier’s control, but some of the comments below the line of her Substack piece are a little alarming (e.g. one from an unvaccinated educator interpreting the stance against orthodoxy as offering support to their choice).

      1. Wikipedia does not “assign editors”. Articles are edited by whoever shows up – and has a lot of time on their hands, as well as often a passion for arguing with other people who have a lot of time on their hands.

  1. Facts are facts, and truth is truth. I find nothing false in her reporting. Transgenders in female sports will become more and more of an unavoidable controversy, and the unfairness to female athletes will certainly become too obvious to ignore.

    1. This is what I’ve been thinking.
      In a maybe not too distant future, transfemale athletes will become sufficiently common that it becomes a frequent conflict in women’s sports — enough so that mainstream media will take it up. Imagine countries like Russia and China, who pretty much grow their athletes on state sponsored farms, getting into the act with whole teams well populated with heavily muscled transfemale athletes. You don’t need illegal steroids to earn gold medals, you need former men!
      Then the sh*t will definitely hit the fan.
      I don’t think the transactivists realize that this sort of turning of the tide, with the resentment that it will engender, can only result in more unfortunate hostility toward trans persons.

      1. Once the sponsors realize that no one is going to be willing to pay to watch men compete against women, or buy the merch they endorse, the whole travesty will be struck out, disqualified, red-lanterned, ejected, fouled out, and DNF’d. The enraged trans folks can go pound sand.

        1. They won’t be real trans people. They will be men not good enough to medal against men who will be assigned to dissemble as women, just like Lia Thomas decided to do.

  2. I worry about the survivorship bias effect in inspirational speeches like this. Nobody ever gives a talk saying “I stood up for what I believed in, was staunch on principle, tried to do what’s right. I lost my job, my marriage, my children won’t talk to me, my former friends all abandoned me. Now I’m in poverty and will never find work in my profession again. Wow, did I mess up!”

  3. I like Shrier’s article though she could have done without the free will stuff. Just reminding readers that they need to worry about manipulation by editors and social media algorithms would have been enough.

  4. Powerful stuff. There’s more about the new University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming champion Lia (née Will) Thomas here).

    And, as for

    Many of us agree with Shrier (I know I do), but how many of us would say this words, or write these words, publicly?

    I would! Thank you for writing this.

    1. Shrier’s original worry was that the apparent rise in numbers of trans men could signal some social pressure on women to ‘fit in’. I think the case of Lia shows that we should be concerned about the same problem contributing to the potential or apparent rise of trans women. I do not think we need to attribute malice or “a calculated decision” to such athletes. The pressure to excel, to win, may cause a psychological change in them in exactly the same way we hypothesize or posit that (other) social pressures are causing a psychological change in some young women.

  5. Shrier’s article is great. The comments are awful, mostly anti-vaccination rants supporting the article’s attitude of standing up to the mobs — namely, the “get vaccinated for Covid” mobs. A very depressing side of political polarization …

  6. Shrier’s discussion of the biological male “transgender” swimmer who took to competing in women’s sports and thereby win medals is compelling. At first thought, one is puzzled why blatant cheating of this kind is so sanctified by theologians of the Church of Woke. At second thought, one recalls that the Church of Woke’s ceremonies are riddled with racketeering, from the widespread academic degrees in fake subjects to the Diversity Consultant racket and the bureaucracy it has engendered. Undermining women’s sports might comport with the general Woke campaign to abolish standards of all kinds, and thereby facilitate ever more “diverse” varieties of bunco.

      1. Yes, I don’t know why, but many of the comments on the Princeton post are from religionists and anti-vaxxers. The post doesn’t mention vaccines.

      2. Yeah, it’s a fever swamp over there. Considering how many antivax comments there are, that might be more literal than I intended.

      3. Yup, as I noted at #1 above. I’ve no idea how moderation at Substack works, but it sucks compared to the below-the-line environment here at WEIT.

      4. Who says whack? Is this the ’90s or something?

        And seriously, why is it that it takes people like you so long to realize that hey, you might in fact be the problem?

        It’s an extremely comparable situation but of course you can’t see that. That would require objectivity and self-awareness.

  7. Out of the four supposed falsehoods that Shrier lists, I more or less agree that the latter three are falsehoods, but I disagree about the first claim: “Some men have periods and get pregnant.” When people make that claim, they are explicitly not using “man” to mean “biological male”, they are referring to a social notion of gender according to which trans men are men, and trans men do in fact have periods and get pregnant. Thomas Beatie is an example of a man who got pregnant.

    Presumably what Shrier means is that we shouldn’t have a psycho-social definition of “man”, that it should be considered a biological category. But I don’t see how someone who disagrees with her on this is guilty of falsehood. Disagreement about how we should use language are not disagreements about what the world is like. Someone who thinks we should use the concept “man” to include trans men is not, in any obvious sense, harboring false beliefs about the world.

    In fact, I think Shrier’s claim that this is a falsehood somewhat belies the notion that she is deeply sympathetic to people who have transitioned after mature and careful thought. People don’t transition just to look different, they transition because they would like to live a life more in line with their gender identity rather than their biological sex (and this does not have to be the “ineffable” notion of gender identity that Shrier criticizes in her talk. Respecting someone’s transition from female to male involves recognizing them for all social purposes as a man, except perhaps for certain cases where that recognition could create unfair barriers for others (as in, say, gender-segregated sports). I don’t think acknowledging Thomas Beatie as a man who got pregnant creates any unfair barriers for anyone, so I would think someone who was genuinely sympathetic of his decision to transition wouldn’t have a problem referring to him in that way.

    1. I would disagree here: “men” isn’t taken as a social construct alone, but as a biological equivalent. Otherwise they’d say “transmen can have periods and get pregnant”. If they don’t mean “just the same as a biological male,” why are they fighting to get transwomen (“a woman that might have a penis”, as you might say) to compete with biological women in sports. It is to the biology we look to divide sports, not a social construct. The slogan is “transmen are men” not “transmen are in most cases morally and legally equivalen to men.” It is not a semantic disagreement, as you’ve clearly stated in your last paragraph. One false belief about the world (held by the ACLU among others) is that in athletic competitions transwomen have no advantage over biological women.”

      Have you read Shrier’s book.

      1. Sure, there are people who conflate the social and biological concepts of gender, claiming that trans women are essentially identical to cis women in every way, that the biological differences are either non-existent or irrelevant. Those people are wrong.

        But there are also people who recognize the biological difference, and don’t dismiss the idea that in certain contexts (such as sport) dismissing the difference leads to unfairness, but who also think that in most social contexts, it is perfectly valid to refer to trans women as women and trans men as men. I know such people exist because I am one of them. If I was pointing out a trans male colleague to someone, I wouldn’t say “He’s that trans man over there”. I’d say “He’s that man over there.” And if that statement isn’t a falsehood, I don’t see how “Some men have periods” is a falsehood.

        The statement “Some men have periods and get pregnant” carries with it no implication that the biological differences between men and trans men are non-existent or irrelevant. So that sentence is not a falsehood. Some people who utter it may believe other falsehoods about gender, but it seems weird to decry a sentence as false not because of the sentence itself, but because of surrounding beliefs that the utterer may or may not have. The sentence “Jerry decided to make a post about Shrier” is not rendered false by the fact that many people who utter it may have false beliefs about what decision-making is (they might believe in libertarian free will, for instance).

        And, no, I haven’t read Shrier’s book. Does she discuss this issue in it?

        1. I think if you read her book you’d be less likely to imply that she’s a transphobe, as I believe you did. But in some sense you’re right–it’s a semantic issue SO LONG AS it doesn’t get people confused and everyone knows exactly what someone means. That’s not always the case with the new lingo. As for the sentence being true or false, it depends on definitions. Most people construe “men” as “biological men”, so saying “men get periods” would be false under that construal–just as false as saying “that man over there is a duck.” For me, the term “transman” is useful under some circumstances, for example if you point out someone whose gender is not apparent from their appearance and you don’t want to use the wrong pronoun.

          1. Jerry, I agree with you and Carvake that we are dealing with a “semantic issue.” If we admit that trans women are women, then it is entirely fair that trans women compete in the “female” category. Now, if we redefined the female category as a category for “people born without male gonads”, then trans women would not have any right to access it.

        2. Or you could simply not label people.

          Men do not have periods. If a person still has a period and can get pregnant, they have not become a man.

          This is exactly why the term transgender exists, for people who identify as a sex they were not biologically born as and haven’t taken the physical steps to fully become that sex.

          As a man, I find it honestly kind of disgusting that people claim men have periods or can get pregnant. That is in fact not our struggle. It is something only biological females deal with, and it cheapens their unique experience to claim otherwise.

    2. “Respecting someone’s transition from female to male involves recognizing them for all social purposes as a man”

      I agree with you. Unfortunately, Shrier doesn’t feel that kind of “respect.” In her book, she takes it for granted that trans men are not men and trans women are not women.

  8. An excellent speech. A pity it was not heard by the whole student body; it might have made some of them think.

    A lot of confusion is caused by discussants using words to mean different things. If you use “woman” to mean anyone who thinks they are one, then “transwomen are women” is an evident truth. If you retain the traditional usage: “women are adult human females” using female in the biological sense then TWAW is nonsense.

    I think a problem with the “woke” usage is where to reasonably draw the line. Gender-dysphoric males are varied. At one extreme a feminine male with delicate features, and all possible hormonal and surgical changes, who is readily taken as a woman. It would seem extreme to follow some hard-line feminists and deny such a person’s womanhood as a matter of principle. At the other extreme a burly male who looks nothing like a woman but gets some sort of weird satisfaction from invading “womanspace”,

    1. But the trans activists say exactly that, that trans women are women. In every jurisdiction that has recognized trans rights, self-identification is all you need to do, and “TWAW” is the law, no longer a source of “confusion”. “Women are adult human females” becomes speech as violence. If you say it too loudly it could be hate speech.

      You refer at one extreme to the feminine male who has taken “all possible . . . surgical changes”. I realize why you might posit this as an extreme, to find an anchoring point that all might accept as “woman”, even skeptics. But you may have created a straw man to argue that only bigots like “hard-line feminists” would reject these people. Very few trans people do undergo surgical mutilation today (other than mastectomy for female to male transition). Why not? They don’t need to. No one in ordinary public life need ever know what they are packing. In private life there is apparently enough variety in sexual attraction today that a woman with a penis will still find a date. Great. Avoiding unnecessary surgery is a Good Thing. The whole trans controversy revolves around what society must or need do to detect false signalling. Why can’t the burly male who couldn’t “pass” in a lesbian nightclub demand admittance to a violence shelter if he says he’s a woman? How does the guard looking through the peephole decide? Besides, trans women get beaten up, too.

      Even if we agree there is a continuum of bona fide gender dysphoria, we still need a test to detect those who are “not really” dysphoric at all. See the Jessica Yaniv cases in Vancouver. (You have to look hard because the MSM declined to report a lot of ugly facts about him. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom defended the immigrant Bengali women he victimized at the BC Human Rights Commission. Sure, most trans people aren’t like that. But he was.) Their own say-so can’t be good enough when there are externalities. We accept in all cases someone’s own say-so that she is disabled…until she applies for disability benefits. Then we require, in all cases, independent medical evidence before we pay out.

      The Yaniv case underlines the problems here. He didn’t want to compete in women’s sports or go to a women’s prison or any of those special situations. His was one of those ordinary everyday situations where a commercial service was denied him just because he was trans. Discrimination cut and dried. /s. (For those unfamiliar, he was making a decent living filing complaints with BCHRC against female aestheticians. Working alone out of their own homes they had refused to wax her scrotum. One of them found a good lawyer unafraid of losing the trans-rights litigation business.)

  9. While I touch either of these publications with the instinctive distaste of picking up a fragrant and unidentifiable piece of roadkill, I have to pass these on.
    I had blocked on Lia’s last name and a quick Google reminder turned up these stories.
    The U Penn swim team has been told not to talk to media so neither story identifies its sources.

    –the story says the Penn swim coach likes winners.


Leave a Reply