On Helen Joyce’s “Trans”

August 27, 2023 • 9:45 am

I’ve now finished Helen Joyce‘s 2021 book Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, and I recommend it to everyone as a perceptive analysis of the growing transactivism in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.  Of course Joyce has been deemed “transphobic” for defending reserving some spaces for biological women only (sports, rape crisis centers, prisons, etc.), but she doesn’t hate trans people at all: she’s sympathetic to the plight of those with gender dysphoria or who have suffered after transition, and wants to curtail trans “rights” only insofar as they impinge on women-only spaces (see above).

Wikipedia summarizes the book’s reviews, and the majority are positive (a surprising admissing by Wikipedia), although of course you can expect some criticism from the woke, from trans activists, and from those who, while positive, have found some issues with the book.  Here are some excerpts from Jesse Singal’s review in the NYT in 2021, just to give a flavor of the last category:

There is a difference between believing in “trans rights” and believing in “gender-identity ideology.” That’s the subtly important distinction that fuels Helen Joyce’s “Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality,” a book that offers an intelligent, thorough rejoinder to an idea that has swept across much of the liberal world seemingly overnight.

Singal then summarizes the book (see the video interview mentioned below that can also serve as a summary), and is favorable, but I’d be remiss not to mention his criticismsas well:

. . . So Joyce’s arguments are convincing. But here and there, I found myself wishing for a bit more nuance. For example, she leans heavily on the so-called desistance literature showing that childhood gender dysphoria often abates in time, but she doesn’t explain that some activists and academics have challenged its validity. These challenges happen to be overblown — my position is much closer to Joyce’s — but they warrant mention. It isn’t that some trans activists “forget that the majority of children will desist” if they don’t socially transition, as Joyce puts it — it’s that they deny that this is the case altogether. It’s important to render one’s opponents’ arguments as accurately as possible.

Similarly, in a section about the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s guidelines for treating gender dysphoria, Joyce writes: “New standards of care are being drawn up as I write. But I see no reason to expect any turn back from ideology and towards evidence.” My own reporting suggests things are more complicated than that, at least when it comes to the child and adolescent guidelines: The subcommittees responsible for writing those sections include a number of clinicians who openly share some of Joyce’s concerns and who think the climate surrounding youth transition is trending toward recklessness. Joyce’s narrative of radical activists having nearly routed sober-minded scientists is a bit too tidy, in this case.

“Trans” is also very thin on citations — this might seem like nit-picking, but in a book so focused on in-the-weeds political and scientific controversies of a morally supercharged nature, it isn’t. And it’s a small point, but Joyce repeatedly calls Martine Rothblatt, a famous transgender woman and entrepreneur, a “billionaire,” even though she doesn’t appear to be quite so wealthy.

Yes, references are thin (and there are no footnotes or citations), and there’s no index, which I found annoying. Nevertheless, I recommend the book highly as an introduction to the “unwoke but sympathetic” side of the debate, and Singal finishes his review this way:

In context, though, these are fairly minor shortcomings. “Trans” is a compelling, overdue argument for viewing self-ID more critically. Even those outraged by Joyce’s positions would benefit from understanding them, given that, as she notes, self-ID polls quite poorly when its actual tenets are fully described to Americans and to the British. The present situation, in which liberal institutions not only embrace these ideas unquestioningly but also, increasingly, punish dissidents, is unsustainable. Open conversation about such fraught issues is the only realistic path forward, and Joyce’s book offers a good, impassioned start.

As I always say, even if you’re opposed to an ideological position, you’re remiss if you don’t read the best arguments for that position. And though I agree with most of what Joyce says, those who don’t should still read her book.

I want to give one long quote from the book that struck me as I read it this weekend.  In the excerpt below, Joyce discusses why three other movements for minority rights—gay liberation and same-sex marriage, women’s rights, and civil rights for American blacks in the South—were slow in coming, and had to be built from the ground up, while the push for trans rights (Joyce argues that “transactivism is not a civil-rights movement at all”) is proceeding much more rapidly and becoming successful. Joyce claims that this is because well-meaning people simply don’t understand transactivism. Here’s a quote from page 224:

What same-sex marriage, women’s franchise and the end of segregation all have in common is that they extend the rights of a privileged group to everyone. And when people hear the phrase ‘trans rights’, they assume something similar is being demanded – that trans people be enabled to live without discrimination, harassment and violence, and to express themselves as they wish. Such goals are worthy ones, but they are not what mainstream transactivism is about. What campaigners mean by ‘trans rights’ is gender self-identification: that trans people be treated in every circumstance as members of the sex they identify with, rather than the sex they actually are.

This is not a human right at all. It is a demand that everyone else lose their rights to single-sex spaces, services and activities. And in its requirement that everyone else accept trans peoples’ subjective beliefs as objective reality, it is akin to a new state religion, complete with blasphemy laws. All this explains the speed. When you want new laws, you can focus on lobbying, rather than the painstaking business of building broad-based coalitions. And when those laws will take away other people’s rights, it is not only unnecessary to build public awareness – it is imperative to keep the public in the dark.

This stealthy approach has been central to transactivism for quite some time. In a speech in 2013, Masen Davis, then the executive director of the American Transgender Law Center, told supporters that “we have largely achieved our successes by flying under the radar. . . we do a lot really quietly. We have made some of our biggest gains that nobody has noticed. We are very quiet and thoughtful about what we do, because we want to make sure we have the win more than we want to have the publicity.”

The result is predictable. Even as one country after another introduces gender self-ID, very few voters know this is happening, let alone support it.

You can find more quotes from the book on GoodReads, or, if an entire book is too much for you, you can hear Joyce summarize many of her arguments in a video discussion with Richard Dawkins that I discussed a few days ago.

It is the demand for self-identification, which undergirds the insistence that trans people really do become complete members of the sex to which they transition (“trans women are women; trans men are men”), that has kept left-centrists like me from embracing the entire transactivist agenda. (Another stumbling block is the movement’s insistence that biological sex is arbitrary and not binary.)

Trans women, for instance, are not identical to biological women, who can get pregnant, have periods, and are usually fertile. (Trans women often become sterile when they transition medically.) Nor, if they’ve gone through male puberty before transitioning, are trans women equivalent to biological women in athletic ability, which is why in most sports they shouldn’t be allowed to compete with biological women.  And trans women tend to retain not only the strength of biological men, but also their aggressive and often their sexual proclivities, which make it dicey at best to put them into women’s prisons or rape-crisis shelters.

But I hasten to add that these curbs on “trans rights” are few and intended only to ensure the right of biological women to be safe and unthreatened. (This includes the right of women in changing rooms to not have to be confronted by transwomen with penises.) In all other ways trans rights should be guaranteed, and, in my view, trans people should be addressed in the manner they wish.

As far as “stealthy approaches” go, how many people know that the Biden administration has enacted policies that prohibit some bans on transgender athletes (including trans women) from competing against biological women in public school athletics, though the policy (which, I believe, defines “transgender” on the basis of pure self-identification) has a provision for bans to ensure fairness?

Under the Education Department’s proposed rule, no school or college that receives federal funding would be allowed to impose a “one-size-fits-all” policy that categorically bans trans students from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. Such policies would be considered a violation of Title IX.

Still, the proposal leaves room for schools to develop team eligibility rules that could ultimately result in restrictions around trans athletes’ participation.

That would be allowed only if it serves “important educational objectives,” such as fairness in competition and reduction of injury risks.

Any limits would have to consider the sport, the level of competition and the age of students. Elementary school students would generally be allowed to participate on any teams consistent with their gender identity, for example. More competitive teams at high schools and colleges could add limits, but those would be discouraged in teams that don’t have tryouts or cuts.

That’s better than nothing, but in my view the ban should, on the ground of fairness, be total for people who have gone through puberty. And it’s not clear whether schools, under strong pressure from transactivists and organizations like the ACLU, would really enact such bans. Given the sciencitifc data, these bans, especially for post-puberty transwomen competing against biological women, should be absolute. Even for trans people who go beyond pure self-identification and have had medical treatment, data show that they retain most of the athletic advantages accrued during male puberty, and thus shouldn’t compete against biological women.  The public largely agrees with this, but, as noted above, a lot of transactivism occurs below the radar, or in the face of public ignorance.

What about “self identification”? Should a trans woman who simply says they’re a woman without medical intervention immediately accrue all the rights of biological women, including the right to change clothes in a locker room?  Joyce discusses this issue and what kind of interventions, if any, might allow a trans person to be recognized as a “woman”. These are issues that we all need to be thinking about, especially given the recent explosion of youngsters and adolescents identifying as members of their non-natal sex (gender dysphoria is now far more common among females than males).

Finally, I have to call out the ACLU, once my favorite civil-rights organization, for consistently being on the side of self-identification of trans people in cases that involve spaces that should be reserved for biological women. This includes the ACLU’s attacks on laws in both Idaho and Connecticut that allow self-identified trans women—biological men who have had no medical treatment—to compete against biological women in secondary-school sports. What has gotten into the mind of the ACLU that makes them argue that a biological male can accrue the rights of women simply by declaring a change of gender? Surely they must recognize that by defending such males, they are impinging on the rights of biological women?

Click on the image to go to the Amazon site for the book, where it gets 4½ stars. Frankly, that high review surprised me, as I would have thought that trans activists would have damned the book:

42 thoughts on “On Helen Joyce’s “Trans”

  1. The woke are masters at manipulating language, and, I do hand it to them, they played a blinder when they got everyone to refer to trans-identifying males as “trans women”. That’s because a large number of people then presume that the phrase “trans women” refers to actual, biological women who identify as trans, rather than to men who identify as trans.

    For this reason I tend to use the phrase “trans-IDing males” rather than “trans women”, it’s just much clearer. The slogan “trans-IDing males are women” would be more honest, but sounds feeble compared to “trans women are women”. And if you ask people “should trans-IDing males play in women’s sports?” you get a much lower “yes” fraction than if you ask “should trans women play in women’s sports?”.

    Helen Joyce is entirely right, trans activism has got as far as it has by manipulating language to fool people into misunderstanding it.

      1. Exactly, Coel. There is no such thing as a “trans woman.” These individuals are trans-identified males – biological males (men) who claim that they are actually Women (biological females.)

    1. I like the way Herbert Marcuse expressed it in Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972), regarding art:

      “… alchemy of the word.”

    2. Peter Boghossian uses the mental substitution of “fake” in place of “trans” to avoid confusion about the actual sex of trans-identifying individuals.

  2. Going to check this out.
    For an excellent, well researched overview of trans issues and actual science, Sabine Hossenfelder’s take (“Is being trans a social fad among teenagers?”) is a must-view:

    It was of course followed by attempted take-downs by trans activists, but they are amazingly low quality, and intolerably snarky.

    1. Sabine is so adorable and quirky! The little jokes she puts in her videos are just great, and the deadpan delivery adds a lot to how funny I think it is. .

  3. Nice review.

    Say what we will about Joe Rogan, he made an observation that pertains to “gender ideology”, which I’ll paraphrase:

    “Trust the science” is a slogan used without inhibition for – we already know, if is nearly synonymous – climate of the Earth’s biosphere.

    Yet “trust the science” is not exactly the slogan that attends the incessant “debunking of sex” (Julia Serrano), meaning of course gametes, chromosomes, brow ridges, musculature.

    Foolish consistency might be the hobgoblin of small minds, but this discrepancy is strong IMHO.

    1. The folks who preach ‘Trust the science” would never accept the ‘science’ when it comes to sex (the existence of the sexual binary) or race (the reality that race can be predicted with considerable accuracy from genes). GMOs are a weird case in point. The ‘science’ says that they are safe. In Europe (but not the USA), GMO hysteria has been the norm. The left broadly accepts / embraces evolution, except for human evolution. Vaccine rejectionism was a left-wing trope (left-wing public health types were a notable exception). With Covid-19 it is more of a right-wing trope.

      Science broadly shows that many characteristics are inherited. The left in in deep denial about this. In 2003, Steven Pinker wrote ‘The Blank Slate’. One of the criticisms of his book amounted to ‘everyone knows this already’. In reality, his book was prophecy. Blank Slate thinking is considerable more prevalent now than when he wrote the book.

      Like it or not, Blank-Slatism is a mandatory dogma on the left. Consider the ferocious reaction to Larry Summer’s very tame remarks on the subject. Of course, that controversy is from 2005. More recently, we have the rather unhinged reaction to James Damore’s quite scientific review (2017) of male/female differences (in relative interest in things vs. people, no less). We also have the Ted Hill affair (2018) where a very abstract mathematical paper suggesting that the might be an evolutionary reason for GMV (Greater Male Variability) was repeatedly censored. I would be remiss in not mentioning the Strumia kerfuffle from 2018.

  4. In connection with this, I was thinking about the castrati singers of old, sanctioned by the Catholic Church. The boys were castrated right at the start of puberty, with the result that facial hair and other bodily hair would not grow and, most importantly, the voice box would not enlarge, thereby keeping the boys/men sopranos and altos in full voice not falsetto. Nonetheless, their bone structure, especially the rib cage, would continue to grow approximately to the extent of non-castrated men, thereby giving them more lung power than women. The combination of the natural high voice with greater volume was why the castrati were prized singers in Baroque opera. (The last such castrato died in 1922. See The Last Castrato https://g.co/kgs/LgYGqv) I recount this because I wonder, even if boys were given puberty blockers in their early teens as they begin their transitions, whether they would still have a physical advantage over women in sports after their transitions.

    1. “I wonder, even if boys were given puberty blockers in their early teens as they begin their transitions, whether they would still have a physical advantage over women in sports after their transitions.”

      A hypothesis, yes – to find a material answer… to which kind of question, exactly?

    2. I suspect you are probably right and I thank you for drawing attention to it. Hypogonadal men do typically get taller with longer bones because their epiphyseal growth plates in their bones don’t fuse as soon. Longer bones mean bigger muscles and more weight means bigger muscles and bigger, thicker bones still, even without testosterone. The adrenal glands contribute androgenic hormones in both sexes.

      The solution to that is simply to ban the medical (and surgical of course) castration of adolescents so that every boy does in fact go through puberty and disqualifies himself from women’s sport. The exemption for boys who transitioned at Tanner 2 puberty, the earliest that puberty blockers are prescribed, should be a non-starter since adolescents of neither sex should not be exposed to this treatment. (For information, the voice typically starts to crack at Tanner 3, two years later.)

      The claim that transition is necessary to prevent all-but-certain suicide in boys or in girls is being debunked progressively as more studies come out.

      1. “The solution to that is simply to ban the medical (and surgical of course) castration of adolescents so that every boy does in fact go through puberty and disqualifies himself from women’s sport.”

        Hang on now – wouldn’t that deny a human right to persons “born in the wrong body”, parental authority to children, or unpredictable effects of pollutants like BPA?

        I ask rhetorically, of course.

        1. Rhetorical yes, I’m on to you now. 🙂

          Just picking up on the “wrong body” business. A woman who happens to be a physician in training commented on another site (Colin Wright’s maybe) that as a trans person she recognizes that being born in the wrong body is nonsense. “This is the only body I have.” But what prompted her to have bilateral mastectomy as a young adult came after she grew a beard to express her lived male gender. While she and her romantic partner were perfectly happy with the way she looked naked with breasts and a beard (and body hair), people on the street gawked at her and she didn’t feel “safe”. Hence the mastectomy x 2.

          I think psychologists call this an external locus of control. I thought it was an interesting counterfoil to the “wrong body” argument, though.

          1. “… people on the street gawked at her …”

            An unexpected problem, sure.

            … [ smh ] I’ll step away from this now.

  5. The association of the self-Identification fad with the woke/pop Left reflects a 21st century
    transition of the latter from sentimental Leninism to what is implied in the first syllable of self-ID: narcissism. In the US in particular, narcissism was spreading (see Christopher Lasch long ago) well before Leninism lost its charms by imploding.

    I wonder whether the postures of the woke/pop Left will lose their charms as a result of the savageries being carried out by post-Leninist Russia. After all, they demonstrate that the world includes much worse injustices than being subjected to misgendering or micro-aggression or even (gasp!) the existence of dissent from the worship of DEI.

    1. Narcissism has always been a characteristic of Romanticism, which owns its share of Marxism. I don’t think we can expect the woke/pop left to benefit from any counter-examples, as they are firmly blinkered. They are looking to a world that doesn’t exist, so this world provides no useful or meaningful examples. (Except perhaps that the previous candidates didn’t murder enough people. You surely won’t hear them say that they murdered too many.)

  6. What has gotten into the mind of the ACLU that makes them argue that a biological male can accrue the rights of women simply by declaring a change of gender? Surely they must recognize that by defending such males, they are impinging on the rights of biological women?

    Not all, perhaps not most, but certainly many of those championing Trans rights have ceased to think equality is meaningful or valuable. Equity is now the great watchword, and women qua women aren’t on the top of the equity pyramid. In fact, they are below trans women.

    When I hear Trans rights, I continue to look for some explanation of what rights trans people are being denied. The only one that I can discover is the “right” to be treated like members of the sex they claim. Since it doesn’t seem like you can actually be the opposite sex, it doesn’t appear that this would really be a right.

    1. Yes, the question “what human rights do transgender people not have that everyone else does?” has been posed many times, but never satisfactorily answered.

      1. Usually a point is made not to answer, and often people are called transphobic simply for asking the question. Similarly, on social media recently I saw a person claim “What is a woman?” is a hateful question and should be called out as such or ignored, but never answered. They didn’t say why they thought it was hateful (which strikes me as bizarre). Regarding the Singal quote:

        ‘There is a difference between believing in “trans rights” and believing in “gender-identity ideology.” That’s the subtly important distinction that fuels Helen Joyce’s “Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality,” a book that offers an intelligent, thorough rejoinder to an idea that has swept across much of the liberal world seemingly overnight.’

        But of course, to ideologists, if you question or disagree with gender-identity ideology, you are automatically anti trans rights, a transphobe, and a hater. They pointedly ignore any statement of the rights, protections, and support you agree trans people deserve if you don’t accept their belief system in its entirety. There is no allowance for nuance.

    2. Yes, the problem is not so much bigotry against “trans” people (although this does exist), but self-ID and its insistence that other people adopt the metaphysics of the “trans” person.

      On twitter this guy


      has articulated the problem clearly over the last month. He’s a university philosopher and ethicist, mostly writes about animal suffering & exploitation, and promotes veganism. He tried to extend his analysis from the equality rights of animals to the equality rights of “trans” people here


      (originally posted on Medium, but taken down for transphobia).

      For the last month he has been swamped by “trans” people on twitter calling him a bigot. I’ve admired his response, which has been to stay focused on self-ID and its most significant problem: It requires other people to (pretend to) believe that the “trans” person really is a member of the other sex. Self-ID doesn’t just require fairness or equality. Instead it makes a claim on the beliefs of other people. Francione makes a good ethical argument against this based on pluralism, and he uses Christian religious belief as his example:

      “In a pluralistic society, we do not question the right of people to believe what they wish to believe and to live their lives in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. But, in a pluralistic society, we also do not question the right of others to choose to reject those beliefs and to not live their lives as though those beliefs are literally true.”

      Francione concludes, “We need to put our heads and hearts together to figure out how to ensure that trans people feel safe and comfortable. TRA ideology is an obstacle to that goal, just as the most extreme religious zealotry is an obstacle to the goal of religious tolerance and the harmonious coexistence we want it to foster.”

      His awakening seems like an interesting microcosm of the broader pushback against “trans” bullying that is happening in many places (sadly not so much in Canada).

      Apologies for the long comment. I hope the philosophical and religious connections will be of interest.

    3. I think my first reply to Dr.B went to moderation because too many links (and possibly too long – sorry!).

      This university philosopher and ethicist @garylfrancione has tried to extend his analysis of the ethics of animal exploitation & suffering to the ethics and understanding of bigotry against “trans” people. For his efforts, he’s been vilified on twitter as a bigot.

      Why? Because he notes that gender ideology requires other people to adopt the metaphysical beliefs of the trans person. And that this is the core problem with self-ID: it requires everyone else to (pretend to) believe that TWAW (not just to treat TW with fairness).

      Francione draws a fair and interesting parallel with traditional religious belief: we can treat a person of religious faith with equality and fairness without requiring that everyone else adopt that person’s beliefs (in the night flight, or the virgin birth, or the escape from Egypt).

      Interesting microcosm of the broad pushback against gender ideology unfolding in many places.

        1. Thanks for the link – I’d seen his tweets (and the inevitable backlash against his article), but not read the full piece.

      1. My reply to Mike went to moderation, I am not sure why. I had a link to the Francione piece that Mike mentioned, but in case there is an issue about the link, I am not including it here. The piece itself is an extremely clear and well -argued piece focusing on what is problematic in the demands of trans activists. Francione has been attacked in the same way others who have criticized trans ideology have been.

    4. Dialectical inversion takes the education of children – meaning, of course, genuine education – and posits that sexual indoctrination is implicit in that education – but done badly, as it is unconscious.

      The inversion of the dialectic says therefore, our group has a right to sexual indoctrination of children as superior to old indoctrination because the new way is conscious of the negative aspects of indoctrination.

      For more about negative thinking and dialectics see Hegel, to start. This is how drag queens made a case to be allowed access to minors – explicitly for indoctrination – in their own words: “induction to alternative modes of kinship”.

    5. I’m just reading this next bit too – hastily :

      Alchemy of Race and Rights by Patricia Williams – “rights” are construed as an invention by “whites” that were given to themselves. If non whites want rights, something serious has to happen. This is dialectical – see Hegel’s master-slave dialectic.

      So I figure an analogous dialectic must be what “trans rights” means.

      I only read a synopsis though, gotta get it now.

  7. As far as “stealthy approaches” go…

    This is a planned strategy on behalf of trans rights activists, although sometimes it feels conspiracy theory territory. Sadly, it isn’t: https://archive.ph/w9NyI

    The trouble that Helen Joyce had getting her completely reasonable book published in the US is also quite remarkable.

  8. In February of this year, Jamie Reed wrote in The Free Press about her experience at the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The NYT has just published this piece about Reed and the clinic:

    How a Small Gender Clinic Landed in a Political Storm

    And now Leo Sapir has written this on the City Journal website:

    A Slow Trek Back to Truth?
    The New York Times’s coverage of trans medicine is getting better, but problems remain.


    “If the reader comes away from the Times piece feeling ambivalent about the St. Louis clinic, that is because Ghorayshi contrasts Reed’s allegations of wrongdoing with stories of families who say they are satisfied with the treatment their children received there. “It’s clear the St. Louis clinic benefited many adolescents,” says Ghorayshi.

    But is it?

    As a matter of principle, it is wrong to use satisfaction and regret as the benchmark for judging whether pediatric sex trait modification (PSTM) is a medically necessary and ethical practice. If medicine is to retain its authoritative role in human affairs, patient satisfaction alone cannot determine when interventions are medically necessary. Self-reported satisfaction is how we judge cosmetic procedures, not medically necessary ones. The role of the doctor is to heal, not please. Pleasing, though not unimportant, is secondary and subordinate to healing. Bitter pills are coated with sugar to make pleasing to patients, but it doesn’t follow that sugar is good for you or that doctors should encourage patients to eat it to their heart’s desire. Failure to distinguish the pleasant from the good can result in serious iatrogenic harm. More broadly, it can corrupt medicine and reduce it to mere consumerism.

    Ghorayshi is right to take interest in the satisfaction of patients and families who attended the St. Louis clinic. But to leave it at that and to imply that patient satisfaction is a valid counterargument to Reed’s allegations is to miss the far deeper and more significant ethical issues involved. Worse, it’s to take a side in that ethical debate without presenting the competing arguments in a serious way.”

    1. Yes, yes, and yes again.
      When self-regulation is corrupted so that doctors cannot take the hard decisions because patient complaints of dissatisfaction will be judged as not meeting the standard of care, you have institutional capture. This is when the state has to step in and legislate, in effect writing its own standard of care.

      The legislatures have an advantage here. Trans people are a tiny minority. One aggrieved patient can make life miserable for a doctor who doesn’t give him/her what s/he wants, especially if warring estranged parents are involved. But the legislature doesn’t have to be swayed by a tiny minority. An engaged populace who can convince open-minded legislators with science that this treatment (in minors especially) is just bad medicine can motivate the lawmakers to make law.

  9. “. . . that has kept left-centrists like me from embracing the entire transactivist agenda.”

    Nor is there a need for the transactivists to win support from you or the many of us here who share your views—at least not in the United States. As long as we have political primaries and a two-party system—one side of which is advancing policies, regulations, and laws at behest of the activists—and as long as the center-left continues to vote in its entirely predictable manner, then the activists win. Trans. DEI. Calls for censorship. Other ways of “knowing.” Banning “hate.” Pick your topic. The political playbook is the same: intellectual opposition from the left is irrelevant because the activists already have their votes.

    We can wring our hands, pull our hair, stomp our feet, write until our fingers ache, and read until we are blind, and it will not matter while we remain stuck in our political trenches. The fight against the illiberal, postmodern left has moved far past the point of polite discussion and eye rolling. If it were not for Republican legislatures in the various State houses, then the political battles on several fronts would be almost over. This makes me wonder what further political opposition would look like in a world that bans “disinformation” and “hate.” Curious and dismaying how that remains a major emphasis for many on the left, isn’t it?

    I am not discounting the type of work that Jerry does. To the contrary. Speaking truth becomes even more important the less often it is heard. But until the self-silenced who abhor the direction the postmodern left is taking us find both courage and opportunity to voice their concerns, then the activists will continue to control the politicians, the policies, and the laws in every state that is even the slightest shade of blue. While Trump remains in the picture, the leftist activists will likely reign at the national level, too.

    And, yes, I am aware of the political dynamic that also pushes the other side to extremes. So, I either sit out the vote, or I am forced to gaze into my crystal ball and discern which side—disagree with them as I may on various issues—will be most likely to allow dissenting voices to be heard, no matter how wrong-headed, “misinformed,” or “hateful” those voices might be. In other words, I must ask whether there exists a party—with its array of aligned PACs; nonprofits; professional societies; journalists and other media outlets; think tanks, educational institutions, and other self-interested lobbyists—that will encourage conditions in which self-silencing, public groupthink, insincere posing, and furtive whispers in the near-empty corridor are no longer the default options for many in the professional class.

  10. “In all other ways trans rights should be guaranteed, and, in my view, trans people should be addressed in the manner they wish.”

    Jerry, if you don’t mind my Socratic probing, why ought trans people be addressed in the manner they wish? Do you endorse a similar position about linguistic demands demands members of a traditional, theistic faith, or is do you see a substantive difference between the two cases that makes it permissible to reject one while requiring the other?

    It just seems a bit counterintuitive from my perspective that there be a moral imperative to speak against one’s beliefs, which is rather unavoidable when, for instance, pronouns aren’t devoid of semantic content.

    1. You didn’t ask me, but the pronoun game is literally thought reform – a socially-applied mantra that reforms the thought of both/all parties.

      To emphasize that point, consider what would happen if one resists : a struggle session, to see from “the people’s standpoint”.

      Preferred pronouns are intended to get something out of others. It is impolite to expect it from others when they know what is true.

      See Robert Jay Lifton’s books on thought reform in China under Mao.

      1. Coincidentally, I’m in the middle of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism right now. And yes, I definitely see the parallels, especially with the Maoist technique of extracting seemingly trivial and innocuous concessions that later become irresistible levers of psychological pressure.

        It’s also hard not to see thought reform in action in social media dynamics, even ignoring the obvious example of cancelation.

    2. Yes this is why Helen Joyce herself has changed her mind and no longer uses wrong-sex pronouns. It’s never just about kindness, it’s always a claim on special status [edit: especially for enbies who otherwise present as a typical female or male person] and on access to women’s spaces. See her interview with Peter Boghossian.

    3. “why ought trans people be addressed in the manner they wish?”

      I use “they” for trans people who have been medically or surgically altered so they have some characteristics of the opposite sex.
      Using the pronouns for the opposite sex would be misrepresenting reality as what they want to believe it is.
      But using pronouns for their birth sex would also misrepresent reality, especially if they’ve changed their bodies a lot. Taking cross-sex hormones has powerful effects on someone’s body and mind. So can surgery. They’ve become a kind of medically or surgically generated intersex, and gone to a lot of trouble and pain to do it, and it would be appropriate to recognize their efforts.
      So it would be appropriate to use some kind of gender-neutral pronouns for them.
      If a trans person hasn’t been modified this way, and they still want people to use opposite-sex pronouns for them, it amounts to asking others to help them maintain a fiction.
      Suppose someone is a victim of severe Dunning-Kruger effect, and they feel they’re much wiser and more astute that they are, and having this self-concept is very important to them, and it would distress them to realize they aren’t actually wise.
      Would it be required by politeness to express admiration of their sagacity, without actually meaning it? That’s similar.

  11. Hi Jerry – thanks for the nice review (Helen Joyce here). A few follow-ups. One: there aren’t footnotes, and that may have been a mistake, but there are endnotes for each chapter with ‘further reading’, and I put a lot of thought into those – anyone who reads a chapter and thinks ‘I want to know more’ will find what they need there.
    Second, the example you give of a criticism from Jesse Singal is a really interesting one. I have a lot of time for Jesse, and he has been significantly more optimistic than I about the capacity of gender medics to self-regulate – as you say, he said in his review two years ago that his reporting suggested that WPATH was swinging back from the extremes, whereas I said I saw no sign of any such thing. Well, since my book come out we’ve had the 8th edition of WPATH’s standards of care, and it’s absolutely bonkers. An entire chapter on eunuchs! Post-publication fuss about putting any suggested age restrictions on any sort of surgeries was such that WPATH apologised and removed them! Honestly, I wasn’t gloomy enough in my predictions, and my reporting on this has definitively proved far more accurate than Jesse’s.
    But anyway, thanks for reading! Happy to talk further any time.

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