For decades, the University of Chicago has prided itself as a unified community of scholars whose members were encouraged to (and were free to) debate the big questions. Now, apparently, the big questions have been settled by the uncritical adoption of Critical Theory, as evidenced by what our school is doing to its alumni (see below):
I am now in the sad position of watching my own school slowly go woke, fracturing along lines identified by Critical Theory as separating “homogenous” groups of people residing on a hierarchy of privilege. With the exception of “military alumni”, I hate to see our alumni tribalized in this way, and, truly, don’t see the sense in it..
An alum sent me links to this page, where events for alumni are divided up by race, sex, sexual orientation, and even military service. I’m not sure exactly why they are doing this (click on each screenshot to go to the page and read more). I suppose you could confect a reason, but in truth I think it reflects recent subservience to Wokeness, Critical Theory, and a tribalism once seen as exclusionary but now extolled as a sign of “inclusivity.”
I note with special sadness that one of the Association of Black Alumni events deals with the extremely controversial notion of “implicit bias”. Implicit bias is an important buttress of Critical Theory, asserting that that all white people are racist, whether or not they know it. (See Robin DiAngelo for a popular exposition.) This also holds for all men, who are said to be implicitly sexist.
As far as I know, most scholars without an agenda have abandoned it as a useful notion, along with “implicit bias training”, deep-sixed as a serious and useful endeavor to rid institutions of bias and bigotry (see, for example, here, here, here, here and here). But of course there will be no debate about this at the University of Chicago, where all were once free to question ideas like that. It’s simply presented as a given:
This is not to say, of course, that racism is gone, or that there aren’t bigots peppered through society. Of course there are! But the notion that all people are bigots, whether they know it or not, is an unfalsifiable assumption of Critical Theory, and used solely to gain power over others and advance one’s own power. If you’re racist and don’t know it, there’s nothing you can say, do, or evince to defend yourself—much less change the mind of your interlocutor.
A while back, the University suggested that members of our community might be required to undergo training to eliminate racism and other forms of “bias and exclusion”. If the University of Chicago does this, it’s finished as the gold standard school for freedom of inquiry.
I may live to see the day that I simply have to accept my school as the midwestern version of The Evergreen State College. We’ll all have to get in the canoe! But for now I’ll continue objecting to such a change. After all, the U of C has encouraged its community to be critical.
The article below, from the Deutsche Welle, knocked me for a loop. Remember when J. K. Rowling was vilified as “transphobic” for putting up this tweet last December?
Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya#ThisIsNotADrill
She then published an essay on her website in June explaining her stand on transexual women, discussing her own domestic abuse and sexual assault, decrying the “trans activists” who tried to destroy her career (impossible, of course) and, most tellingly, expressing sympathy for trans women in statements like this:
If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on earth, because I too have known moments of blind fear when I realised that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker.
I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.
It’s a poignant essay, explaining in what ways she sees differences between trans women and biological women. Nevertheless, she was also attacked by two stars of her Harry Potter movies: Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, who showed thereby that they were ignoramuses. As the DW article below (click on the screenshot) adds:
The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet — two of the biggest fan sites of the Harry Potter series — have also rejected Rowling’s beliefs.
“Our stance is firm: Transgender women are women. Transgender men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. Intersex people exist and should not be forced to live in the binary. We stand with Harry Potter fans in these communities, and while we don’t condone the mistreatment JKR has received, we must reject her beliefs,” the sites said.
The sites also found “the use of Rowling’s influence and privilege to target marginalized people” to be out of step with “the message of acceptance and empowerment” in the Harry Potter books.
Read the essay: she is not “targeting marginalized people”—far from it. She shows empathy for them. She is making an argument for making some distinctions between trans women and biological women. That is an argument worth having, no matter what you believe.
Rowling’s essay also says this:
On Saturday morning, I read that the Scottish government is proceeding with its controversial gender recognition plans, which will in effect mean that all a man needs to ‘become a woman’ is to say he’s one.
I don’t know how those plans are faring, but this is a very bad idea. If a reader knows about this initiative, please post below.
At any rate, the article below notes that Rowling’s essay was one of five nominated for the BBC’s Russell Prize, named for Bertrand Russell and awarded by the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan for the best (nonfiction) prose of the year—prose that embodies Russell’s qualities of engaging language, erudition, and moral force.
To use the British term, I was gobsmacked. J. K. Rowling? The woman whom much of the world rejected as a “transphobe”? The nomination didn’t comport with what I knew about the Beeb and its wokeness.
To be sure, the prize doesn’t seem to be an “official” BBC award—simply one editor’s take—but even so. . .
I was going to put this post up two days ago, and then forgot about it. In the interim, the Russell Prize was awarded—and Rowling didn’t win. You can see all the nominees at Rajan’s article below, and I’ve put up links to their pieces.
Here’s what Rajan had to say about Rowling’s piece in the nomination, and it’s very good:
JK Rowling is almost certainly the greatest writer of English children’s fiction of her generation, and a remarkable humanitarian. It turns out she writes exhilaratingly powerful prose too.
In a blog about the transgender debate, she offended many people. Offence is the price of free speech. Those offended felt she was questioning their identity and even attacking their human rights, which they argue is a form of discrimination or hate speech.
I take absolutely no view whatsoever on the issues that she raises.
I do take an issue on abuse and trolling, and Rowling has achieved the inglorious honour of topping many a league table for those. The deluge of hatred that she faced before writing this blog made it brave, and it was nothing compared to what came after. Talking about bravery, so too, by the way, was Suzanne Moore’s engrossing, long, personal essay for Unherd on why she left the Guardian.
We should all applaud bravery in writers – even those with whom we disagree. And Rowling’s essay contained moments of both real beauty and piercing honesty, as when she revealed that she is a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
What the judges – that is, the voices in my head – most admired about the writing was the plain English. It is an interesting fact about rhetoric that if you want people to understand something, plain, mono-syllabic words are usually your best bet: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.
Or think of the final line from Enoch Powell’s most notorious speech: “All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.”
I’m not endorsing the argument; but the rhetorical power of that line comes from the fact that there are 16 words, the first 15 of which have one syllable, and the last of which has three.
Compare it with this line in Rowling’s essay: “So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe.”
The rhetorical power from those two sentences derives partly from the plainness of the English. Only “women” (twice) and “natal” contain more than one syllable.
If you’re ever editing copy that seems verbose, go through it and think about cutting syllables while conveying the same meaning. Plain English has power. JK Rowling gets that.
The four other nominees and their pieces (with links) were:
Aitkenhead won, but I’m unable to access her piece because The Times is behind a paywall. Congrats to her, despite the horror and pain she experienced that her story describes.
But if nothing else, I hope the nomination gets people to go back and read Rowling’s essay. As happens so often these days, people, running in a social-media herd of sheep, attack something that they don’t even read. I would hope that Radcliffe and Watson read her essay, and, if so, why they see Rowling as somehow harming trans women.
The piece below, which just appeared in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, has three co-authors (two medical doctors and a lawyer) calling for removing sex designations from birth certificates—or at least putting them “below the line of demarcation,” which I guess means putting them where they are not publicly accessible. Click on the screenshot below to read the 2.5-page piece, or download the pdf here.
There are, I suppose, reasons to hide one’s “birth sex” from the public, but there are also reasons to keep it “above the line”. But the authors’ thesis is this:
We believe that it is now time to update the practice of designating sex on birth certificates, given the particularly harmful effects of such designations on intersex and transgender people.
I’ll summarize what the authors think those “harmful effects” are, but first will briefly discuss their claim that it’s even fatuous to designate sex on a birth certificate:
Designating sex as male or female on birth certificates suggests that sex is simple and binary when, biologically, it is not. Sex is a function of multiple biologic processes with many resultant combinations. About 1 in 5000 people have intersex variations. As many as 1 in 100 people exhibit chimerism, mosaicism, or micromosaicism, conditions in which a person’s cells may contain varying sex chromosomes, often unbeknownst to them. The biologic processes responsible for sex are incompletely defined, and there is no universally accepted test for determining sex.
In fact, as I’ve said many times before, sex in humans is about as close to a binary as you can get. Although “sex” in newborns is usually recognized by genitalia (“primary” sex characteristics), it’s defined biologically as the condition of producing either small, mobile gametes (sperm, i.e. in males) or large nonmobile gametes (eggs, i.e., in females). Eggs and sperm aren’t recognizable at birth, though a newborn female has a complement of eggs, and so genitalia is used as a surrogate trait. The fact that only 1 in 5,000 people have ambiguous or intersex genitalia does not materially diminish the claim that birth sex is a binary. That’s still about a close to a binary as you can get! After all, if sex isn’t a binary, what on earth does “transsexual” mean? It means you transition from one sex to the other, and that implies a binary in itself. (Perhaps this is why “transsexual” is being abandoned in favor of “transgender”, but if that’s to imply that sex isn’t binary, its duplicitous.)
As for chimerism, mosaicism, and micromosaicism, which are a bit more common, this just means that some of the cells in the body may not have chromosomes corresponding to the cells that determine gametes and genitalia. But these rarely affect the designation of “birth sex” (or whether one can function reproductively as a male or female), so it’s not an important point. This claim that sex isn’t binary made by people who should know better reminds me of a statement two years ago by The Society for the Study of Evolution that also asserted that sex wasn’t a binary (also gender, for which you can make a better case). That was ludicrous, especially coming from evolutionary biologists who have theorized about why there are only two sexes, and who also know that sex is binary in virtually all mammals, often diagnosed quite easily. I spent my life sexing fruit flies, and maybe once every couple of years I’d find an intermediate fly or gynandromorph (half male, half female).
The authors give another reason why perhaps one shouldn’t assign sex at birth, at least in a way viewable in public records:
Assigning sex at birth also doesn’t capture the diversity of people’s experiences. About 6 in 1000 people identify as transgender, meaning that their gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. Others are nonbinary, meaning they don’t exclusively identify as a man or a woman, or gender nonconforming, meaning their behavior or appearance doesn’t align with social expectations for their assigned sex.
But this has nothing to do with biological sex at birth; it is about gender. And (as the authors note) there are ways to change your gender on driver’s licenses and even on birth certificates, if you’re one of those who suffer from gender dysphoria, which of course isn’t present at birth. Biological sex on birth certificates is not intended to “capture the diversity of people’s experiences.” That diversity comes later, and if you experience it, you can go back and make changes on the records.
Now, what are the advantages and disadvantages of publicly making biological sex visible? I’ll give what the authors say (indented) and my own take, where I have one (flush left):
Advantages of putting sex “above the line”:
Sex designations on birth certificates offer no clinical utility; they serve only legal — not medical — goals. Certainly, knowing a patient’s sex is useful in many contexts, when it is appropriately interpreted. Sex modifies the clinical suspicion of a heart attack in the absence of classic symptoms and is a proxy for many undefined social, environmental, and biologic factors in research, for example. But, in each of these applications, sex is merely a stand-in for other variables and is not generally ascertained from a birth certificate.
Indeed, the authors are right here: this isn’t much of an advantage.
Keeping statistical data on newborn sex may further public health interests. Moving information on sex below the line of demarcation wouldn’t compromise the birth certificate’s public health function. But keeping sex designations above the line causes harm.
More about that harm later.
Passports and state identification cards relying on sex assigned at birth for identification pose another challenge. These documents are usually issued or renewed when the holder is an adolescent or an adult, however, so moving sex designations below the line of demarcation on birth certificates would permit applicants to identify their gender without medical verification. Governments could also remove gender designations from identification cards altogether and focus more on identifiable physical features and updated photographs. This change would accommodate nonbinary people and reduce the burdens associated with amending documents.
To me there is value in putting sex on identifying documents, as it gives an instant check (as do photographs) of someone’s identity. Since the vast majority of people keep their biological sex throughout life, the advantage here would seem to outweigh the disadvantage of not using assigned birth sex. But, as I noted, there are provisions for altering your ID cards so that if you are, say, a trans person, you can use your gender identification on ID cards. As the article notes, there are “burdens associated with amending documents”, but those who assume the burdens are very few.
But to me, the biggest advantage of specifying biological sex is because it is important in several ways: for determining which category people participate in when doing sports, when assigning someone to prison or homeless shelters, or when choosing people to do sex-preferred tasks like rape counseling. I don’t care about bathroom assignments, which the authors bang on about, as there are lots of non-gender bathrooms (we have some) that aren’t problematic. But sports is a different matter that I’ve discussed before, and there are also known issues with putting, say, trans women in women’s prisons. Also, a woman who is raped might (and this is often the case) preferred to be counseled by a biological woman rather than a trans woman, on the grounds that a trans woman doesn’t have the kind of experiences that a biological woman has. Finally, if you’re keeping track for Title IX of men’s versus women’s access to equal educational resources, you’d presumably want to use birth-certificate statistics, which are easy to get and would barely differ, given the rarity of gender nonconforming individuals, from asking everyone what sex they think they conform to. Everything above also becomes more problematic if, as is happening increasingly, you can identify as one sex when you were born the other, and yet have no medical interentions to alter your physiology or phenotype.
All in all, given that you can change your sex on all documents save the birth certificate, these advantages of keeping biological sex publicly available aren’t that striking. But remember that for the vast majority of people there’s no reason not to identify with your birth sex. The case against keeping biological birth sex “above the line”, then, must rest on the degree of “harm” that this does to individual who don’t conform to the sex given on their birth certificates. Let’s examine the purported harms.
Disadvantages of putting sex “above the line”.
Here are the harms described upfront:
For people with intersex variations, the birth certificate’s public sex designation invites scrutiny, shame, and pressure to undergo unnecessary and unwanted surgical and medical interventions. Sex assignments at birth may be used to exclude transgender people from serving in appropriate military units, serving sentences in appropriate prisons, enrolling in health insurance, and, in states with strict identification laws, voting. Less visibly, assigning sex at birth perpetuates a view that sex as defined by a binary variable is natural, essential, and immutable. Participation by the medical profession and the government in assigning sex is often used as evidence supporting this view. Imposing such a categorization system risks stifling self-expression and self-identification.
People with intersex variations may undergo surgeries before they are old enough to consent, often losing reproductive capacity and sexual sensation as a result. Transgender people receive worse health care and have worse outcomes than cisgender people. Health care professionals have a particular duty to support vulnerable populations who have historically been harmed by clinicians and by the medical system in general.
I’m not sure how much “harm” this causes due to scrunity, shame, and pressure, this may be, largely hypothetical, and you can make the case that sometimes it’s useful to know sex for things like prison assignments and insurance (which is based on actuarial statistics. (I reject the view that it’s “harmful” to perpetuate the view that sex is binary.) But this is all moot given that people don’t look up other people’s birth certificates.
As for transgender people getting worse health care or unconsenting surgeries, I’m not sure what that has to do with putting sex above or below the line. It’s the parents who decide whether to surgically intervene in a sexually ambiguous child (something that, I think, should be rethought, for perhaps a child, when older, wouldn’t have wanted that surgery). But at any rate, the issue of whether kids get unnecessary surgeries does not rest on whether the sex is above or below the public line, for the parents know the situation regardless.
As for transgender people being mistreated, yes, this should be considered, yet one also has to consider that a). most people don’t look up the birth certificates of other people, which does take some trouble, and b). many transgender people proclaim their status and aren’t embarrassed about it at all. These days, saying that you’re transgender or transsexual garners you a degree of approbation, as we’ve discussed recently. Further, people don’t look up birth certificates when they’re abusing transsexual people; they either go by appearance or by someone’s own proclamation which you wouldn’t proclaim if you opposed public designation of birth sex.
But the medical outcomes claim is a canard, since medical personnel will know whether a patient is transsexual by either inspection or by being told; medical personnel do not look up birth certificates. Insofar as transsexual people are mistreated, either in public or in the medical system, the solution must come from education and moral suasion, not from changing birth certificates!
When it comes to sports and related organizations that require biological sex before making decisions, the article becomes quite weird:
Finally, governments can protect against sex discrimination in the absence of birth-certificate sex designations. Moving sex designations below the line of demarcation wouldn’t imperil programs that support women or gender minorities, it would simply require that programs define sex in ways that are tailored to their goals. For example, the Wing, a women-focused workspace club, admits people who are committed to building a community to support women’s advancement, regardless of their sex or gender identity. The International Association of Athletics Federations has defined “female” as a person with a testosterone level of 5 nmol per liter or lower, rather than relying on birth certificates. Although this definition is controversial, it has the benefit of making the goals and assumptions of the policy transparent, thereby allowing for more effective public debate.
Yes, but the problem comes—and it is coming soon—when people of one biological sex simply state that they are members of the other sex, and never undergo any surgery or hormone treatment for this “transition”. Already two runners in Connecticut are cleaning up in track and field competitions—runners who are fully biological males without any surgery or hormone treatment. Connecticut—and I think this trend will spread—allows you to simply declare what sex you are; no medical intervention required. The ACLU in fact supports this practice. And the more widespread this practice becomes, the more urgent it is to have a record—yes, a public record —of what sex you were at birth. Imagine putting a bearded, muscular man into a women’s prison because he declares that his gender dysphoria makes him equivalent to a woman.
This is not just hypothetical: something similar happened when a biological man in Canada declared he was a woman and demanded that female beauticians, expert in waxing women, wax his balls. They refused, and he sued them. In a rare example of Canadian non-wokeness, the guy lost in court (he lost, of course, because he could be identified as a biological male!), but this kind of thing is becoming more and more common. To forestall this trend, I think that, for the nonce, birth sex should be kept public. The supposed “harms” that attend to that practice don’t seem to me to be harmful enough to outweigh adhering to tradition. The age is coming when a simple declaration will be sufficient to identify your sex to the public, regardless of your biology.
But perhaps you disagree, and I’m willing to hear counterarguments. We haven’t yet regained our ability to have polls here, so weigh in below. Do you agree with the NEJM authors that biological sex at birth should not be a matter of public record that is in fact visible to the public? Or do you disagree? I’m listening.
The mantra “All Lives Matter” is rightfully criticized as an effort to marginalize black people, for it’s an attempt to practice “whataboutery” on the slogan “Black Lives Matter”, words meant to emphasize that black people count just as much as white ones. It’s an anti-racist slogan, and a good one, even though the movement has been coopted for some goals with which I disagree.
But title of Andrew Sullivan’s new Weekly Dish piece (click below if you have a subscription) might sound just as offensive to people of color, even though it’s not meant to do down racial justice. Rather, Sullivan is pointing out that the number of black people killed by other black people dwarfs the number of unarmed African-Americans killed by cops (and not all of those cops are white). And yet, he argues, if black lives do matter, why is this problem given so much less attention?
Now you may say that the statement that “Only some black lives seem to matter” (Andrew means “the ones killed by cops”) also tries to diminish the problem of police racism, but that’s not what Sullivan is about here, for he notes that “there remains a real problem with police interaction with African-Americans.” As he says,
. . . . killing by a representative of the state is a much, much graver offense than that by a fellow civilian. We should take it much more seriously than regular crime. That’s why I favor every measure to increase accountability from the police — tackling their unions, de-militarizing their equipment, ending qualified immunity, putting more resources into de-escalation training, and so on.
But then he goes on to quote the data, and after that highlights the folly, in view of that data, of calling for reducing policing, whether it be by eliminating cops or “defunding” them to the point that crime prevention and protection is seriously diminished. I’ll give a few quotes from the article, as the data should be seen by anyone who deals with these issues:
Nationally the toll on black lives from violence is shockingly disproportionate. The data from 2019 show 7,484 homicides of African-Americans, compared with 5,787 homicides of whites. That we have become used to this discrepancy doesn’t make it any less awful: African-Americans form only 13 percent of the population and yet comprise 54 percent of homicide victims. If you look at black men alone, it’s even worse. They comprise less than 7 percent of the population and a whopping 46 percent of the murder victims. Black men, in other words, are over six times more likely to be killed than the general population — and young black men face even worse odds.
Increasingly black children and minors are victims as well. . .
. . . It is not therefore an exaggeration to say that African-Americans are being gunned down in America vastly out of proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole. We’ve heard this truth before, of course, but usually when talking of police shootings. And it’s true that police disproportionately kill black men — 26 percent of fatal police shootings are of black men, compared with their 7 percent of the population as a whole. This is a vital, troubling issue that deserves attention. But the disproportion for African-Americans killed by civilian shootings is almost twice as skewed as that for those killed by cops.
And the scale of it is on an entirely different level. In 2019, 243 black men (including only 13 unarmed black men) were shot dead by cops. In comparison, a whopping 7,484 were killed by civilians. If you believe that black lives matter, where is the outrage about that 7,484? If Travis Nagdy, a young man of color, had been killed by a cop, you would know his name by now. Because he was killed by a civilian, you probably don’t.
I live in a city where these statistics are often in our face on the evening news. Time after time we hear about black teenagers or kids shot, often accidentally, and the toll can be brutal. So far this year in Chicago, 715 people have been victims of homicide—227 more than in all of 2019. Most of these killings are on the South and West sides, areas where black and Hispanic people live. In 2016, a year for which I could find data, 75% of the 762 murder victims in Chicago were black, and 71% of murderers were black; yet in the city as a whole, 30.1% of the residents are black. It is a valid question—one apart from that of police brutality—why blacks disproportionately kill each other so often. And if you do think that black lives matter, as most good people do, then surely this is a problem that must be addressed. (Gun control, in my view, is one of several solutions.)
There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that one of the solutions is NOT less policing. Those who call for that are, in my view, lunatics: so woke that nobody’s life means much to them. Yes, by all means reform the police, involve social workers when police alone won’t do, and get ride of hyper-militarization. But in view of statistics like those above, cutting way back on policing is not the answer. In fact, American blacks are in general against reducing policing, as Sullivan notes (and the bolded bit, which is my emphasis, will get him into that hot water):
Yes, I know many now insist that abolishing or defunding the police is not their real agenda. And for some, that may be true. But the record is quite clear: abolition of the police and of incarceration was exactly what many BLM activists and critical race theorists demanded, and still demand. It’s what the Minneapolis City Council voted for last June. It’s what Ilhan Omar explicitly demanded. It’s what the autonomous zone in Seattle enforced. It’s what BLM’s DC branch explicitly endorsed. It’s what the newly elected congresswoman Cori Bush supports. It’s what was painted on the streets of DC in letters large enough they could be read from an airplane. Abolition, in fact, is integral to critical race theory, and its view of the police as mere extensions of “white supremacy”, even when police departments are often very racially diverse or majority black, and run by black police chiefs.
It is no accident that the killing of George Floyd prompted a massive outpouring of protest while no such national movement emerged in response to, say, the killing of a one-year-old child in Brooklyn. Black lives matter, it seems. But some black lives matter more than others — depending entirely on who took them.
This left-progressive view is not one shared by most African-Americans. Or, for that matter, by leading and successful black pols like Barack Obama and James Clyburn and the late John Lewis. Polling in 2018 showed that only a small minority — 18 percent in one survey — opposed hiring more police officers, while 60 percent want more cops and more funding. A Gallup poll this summer found that “61 percent of Black Americans said they’d like police to spend the same amount of time in their community, while 20 percent answered they’d like to see more police, totaling 81 percent. Just 19 percent of those polled said they wanted police to spend less time in their area.” So mostly white leftists last summer campaigned for something a hefty majority of actual African-Americans oppose. And, of course, it is the African-American community that endures the murderous consequences.
The notion that the cops are universally reviled in the African-American population is just as false. In a Vox/Civis analysis poll, 58 percent of black Americans said they have a favorable opinion of their local police. In the Gallup survey, 61 percent are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” about “receiving positive treatment” by police.
It seems to me, and here Sullivan agrees, that the “defund the cops” movement is a drive led mostly by well-off white people that is against the wishes of most black people.
Reformation of police departments is much to be desired, and will go a long way towards easing the feelings of many blacks that the cops put targets on their backs. But even if we bring down the number of unarmed blacks shot by cops to zero, the huge problem of homicide in the black community will remain. Who in their right mind would say that the solution is to get rid of the cops?
Lately we’ve been talking about several issues related to transsexual people, in particular the senses in which they can or should be distinguished from people of their biological sex, including their participation in sports; possible effects (or lack thereof) of hormone treatment; and recent books that call for caution in supporting and medically treating gender-dysphoric teenagers who may later regret actions taken when they weren’t capable of informed consent. While I think the discussion has been rational and certainly not “transphobic”, I’ve nevertheless been the recipient of a spate of emails, often nasty ones, excoriating me for promoting an “anti-trans” agenda. I’ve resisted the temptation to respond with recommendations for self-copulation.
The last issue, treatment of young children (mostly girls), is the subject of today’s post. It turns out that yesterday Britain’s High Court ruled that children under 16—and perhaps those between 16 and 18—might have to have a court ruling before they’re allowed to take “puberty blockers”, a somewhat reversible treatment that stops puberty in its tracks. Taking these blockers is usually the first step in further transitioning involving irreversible treatments like cross-sex hormone treatment or surgery. The court ruled that under-16s are largely incapable of giving “informed consent.” You can read about this case in the three article below from the BBC, The Guardian, and The Times of London (click on screenshots to access articles).
From the BBC:
From The Guardian:
From the Times (paywalled):
The High Court decision came in a case brought by two people against the Tavistock and Portman National Heath Service Trust, the clinic in England that counsels and treats those who consider themselves transsexual. One of the cases was brought by Keira Bell, 23, shown in the pictures above. She was treated with puberty blockers at Tavistock after she was referred there at 16, and regrets it. (I’m not implying that most teenagers later regret such treatment, as I have no data on that, but I suspect most of them have no regrets. Nevertheless, if an appreciable number do, that’s a reason for caution.)
The other person bringing the case was “Mrs. A”, the mother of a 15-year-old autistic girl who is awaiting treatment at Tavistock “Mrs. A.” is worried that her daughter will “get it wrong” before she can make a mature decision.
There are a fair number of young girls who have sought and received treatment at Tavistock: the paper reports that, in the last year, 161 children were referred to the Gender Identity Development Services (GIDS), and of these three were 10 or 11 years old and 95—nearly 60%—were under 16. The Times notes that those seeking treatment involve “a disproportionate amount of girls and young women.” These numbers have been growing rapidly, from 97 children and young people referred to the clinic compared to 2,591 in 2018. Here’s a plot I showed recently:
Here’s a plot from a paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showing the number of people referred each year to the UK’s Gender Identity Development Service. It shows the strong rise in referrals of adolescent females compared to males, and some rise in children as well. In the last 7 years it seems to have gone from fewer then 40 to over 1700 in adolescent females—a roughly 43-fold increase!
We don’t know the reason for this rapid increase: among suggested causes are a freer climate that allows children to express their gender identities, or a faddishness that turns troubled or confused children to a form of treatment that is heavily supported and often makes them into a type of hero.
Regardless, here’s the papers’ summary of the High Court ruling (you can read the full ruling here); this is from The Guardian:
In their decision, Dame Victoria Sharp, president of the Queen’s bench division, Lord Justice Lewis and Mrs Justice Lieven, said a child under the age of 16 may only consent to the use of medication intended to suppress puberty “where he or she is competent to understand the nature of the treatment”.
Such an understanding must include “the immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment, the limited evidence available as to its efficacy or purpose, the fact that the vast majority of patients proceed to the use of cross-sex hormones, and its potential life-changing consequences for a child”.
The judges said there would be enormous difficulties for young children weighing up this information and deciding whether to consent to the use of puberty blocking medication.
“It is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers,” the judges added. “It is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.”
For treatment of those over 16 it is normally presumed that they have the ability to give consent. But in gender reassignment cases where puberty blockers may lead to subsequent surgical operations, the judges said: “Given the long-term consequences of the clinical interventions at issue in this case, and given that the treatment is as yet innovative and experimental, we recognise that clinicians may well regard these as cases where the authorisation of the court should be sought prior to commencing the clinical treatment.”
The NHS, which is appealing the judgement, has immediately stopped the inception of puberty-blocking as well as cross-sex hormone treatment, and issued some statements. From the BBC:
An NHS spokesperson said: “We welcome the clarity which the court’s decision brings. The Tavistock have immediately suspended new referrals for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for the under-16s, which in future will only be permitted where a court specifically authorises it.”
In September, the NHS announced an independent review into gender identity services for children and young people.
The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust said it was “disappointed by today’s judgment and we understand that the outcome is likely to cause anxiety for patients and their families”.
It added: “Our first duty is to our patients, particularly those currently receiving hormone blocking treatment, and we are working with our partners, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, to provide support for patients concerned about the impact on their care.”
In contrast, groups like the “trans children’s charity Mermaids” decried the decision:
Lui Asquith, from trans children’s charity Mermaids, said the ruling was a “devastating blow” and “a potential catastrophe for trans young people across the country”.
The charity said: “We believe very strongly that every young person has the right to make their own decisions about their body and that should not differ because somebody is trans.”
You can see more about Mermaids’ reaction here. But their last statement skirts the question that the Court was asked to decide: How old must you be before you are capable of making a medical decision that may be irreversible? And it’s not just trans people to whom this applies: what if a 13-year-old boy wanted his penis removed because he didn’t like it? Should he be able to make “his own decision about his body”?
I think that reasonable people should agree that there is an age below which a child isn’t deemed capable of making a medical decision like this one, even if they feel strongly that they are transsexual. Surely 6 is too young and 20 sufficiently old to make a “mature” judgement. But it’s also clear that children differ in the level of “maturity”, so there might be some flexibility (though there isn’t in things like drinking ages). The court, in ruling that 16 is a cut-off point, was surely being subjective, and they realized it, for they affirmed that even older teenagers might require a court judgment to begin puberty blockers. For those younger than 16, it seems reasonable to me to wait until they turn 16 until they can give “informed consent,” or be able to bring their case to legal judgement.
Those who think that 10-year-olds should be able to make their own decisions, and take puberty blockers or cross-sex hormone treatment at will (counseling is surely required), seem to me unreasonable. After all, courts have set age limits for other decisions that require “informed consent”, like age limits for statutory rape (in Illinois, 17 is the legal age of consent for sexual acts. If you’re 16, are you too young to consent to sex but old enough to have your sex transformed to another?) It’s a sign of the valorization of all desires to be transsexual that a charity like Mermaids wants anyone, no matter how old, to have their own decisions not just respected, but acted upon.
Reader Steve called my attention to an article I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, as it appeared at The Daily Maverick, a South African news website. It’s about the recurrent and polarizing problem of what to do about transgender women, born as biological men, who want to compete in women’s sports. The piece seems quite fair to me, certainly not demonizing transsexuals, but also calling attention to the conflicting issues of fairness in sports towards transsexual women on one hand and towards biological women who haven’t undergone medical transition on the other.
Click on the screenshot to read.
I’ve written a lot about this issue before. I’ve arrived at only one firm conclusion, and that’s that biological men who declare that they’re women, but haven’t undergone any hormonal or medical treatment, should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports. Given the average sex differences in bone and muscle mass, and in strength and speed, this simply wouldn’t be fair to the competing women. But several places, including the state of Connecticut, do allow that, so that unaltered biological men who identify as women are allowed to compete in women’s sports. The results are predictable—the women-identifying men clean up the prizes. I doubt that there are many people who think this is fair, though the ACLU has defended those men when women’s athletes brought a lawsuit.
For intersex people, or for those who have undergone surgery and/or hormone treatment, the issue is much stickier. For one thing, even with those treatments you don’t lose all of the differential muscle mass that a male gains at puberty. Further, the testosterone titers of a transsexual woman below which she is allowed to compete, as in the Olympics, are purely guesswork, with no research behind them affirming that such titers completely remove the physiological differences that result in different sports performances of men and women.
What is new about this article, which is largely about rugby, is its claim that there is research on the effects of hormones and surgery, but that it doesn’t show what the advocates want. Rather, it shows that the male/female differences are not effaced by hormones. (World Rugby has banned all transsexual women from competing in women’s rugby, with their rationale being safety, since, as they claim, one can hurt someone quite badly with a more robust physique.)
The article first highlights the differences that justify keeping men’s and women’s sports as separate categories:
Simply, [World Rugby’s policy’ argues that a women’s category “protects” the integrity of the result for biological females and in some instances, the safety of its participants. Biological females do not possess the same physical attributes as males and many of these male-bodied attributes have profound implications for sports performance.
So, while the women who win Olympic medals and world titles would outperform most men in most sports, they are vastly outperformed by the males who win the equivalent Olympic medals and world titles.
In the comparison group that matters, there is literally no contest. Take for instance the fact that the best women runners in history are outperformed every year by hundreds of boys younger than 18, and by many thousands of adult men.
The gap between the respective champions in most track and field disciplines is 10% to 12%, and thousands of biological males fit into that space. As a result, if women’s sport did not exist as a category, women would vanish entirely from elite track and field.
Consider next that a 10% to 12% difference is actually relatively small. In weightlifting, the difference is 30% to 40%. For tasks like serving in tennis, it is 20% and for punching power, the male advantage has been measured at 160%.
These differences are enormous and within a relevant comparison group (like Olympic athletes, or high school athletes competing for scholarships), they are insurmountable.
This is not to say that female athletes do not possess extraordinary abilities, as well as technical and mental skills that are necessary in champions. But male-bodied physiological advantages are so large that all attributes unrelated to biological sex, the ones that should actually matter, are drowned out by things like muscle mass, strength, power, body shape and speed.
This creates the moral dilemma of conflicting fairness:
Now, with all those principles and concepts in mind, consider the dilemma for sport. There are individuals whose biological sex does not match their gender identity. Biological males undergo puberty driven by testosterone, but identify as female. What is their place in sport?
A decent and progressive society accepts them. But can sport accept them into the protected, closed category for women? Given the biological realities, if self-identification or gender identity were the sole criteria, women’s sport would become “open”, and its purpose negated.
This then sets up what is basically a “colliding rights” issue, where the rights of females to have a sporting space of their own collides with the rights of other individuals to identify as they wish. Sport finds itself in the middle of that collision. It becomes, effectively, a question of how various priorities are balanced. Those priorities are inclusion, fairness and, in some sports, safety.
Historically, the approach to this issue has been relatively simple – it tried to “fix” the problem by relying on medication or surgical intervention to lower the testosterone levels in trans women.
Given what we described above regarding testosterone’s crucial role in creating the male-female sporting divide, the premise is that if testosterone is lowered or removed, so is the sporting advantage.
The lowering of testosterone can be achieved either through surgical removal of the testes that produce it, or, as per the most recent Olympic transgender policy, medication that lowers the testosterone below a target level for a period of 12 months.
But this approach is controversial for obvious reasons. Compelling an otherwise healthy individual to use drugs as a requirement to participate, which may have serious side effects, is straddling an uncomfortable ethical line.
Even if the athlete accepts this approach, the acid test, then, is whether the outcome is true. Does the suppression of testosterone take away those differences that women’s sport excludes?
It then summarizes the scientific data, of which I was unaware. It appears that these data apply to body differences related to rugby success, but they must also relate to many sports:
The sport then has to make a choice and prioritise them. It can choose inclusion at the expense of fairness and safety, or it can choose safety and fairness, with a resultant compromise on inclusion.
That is the situation World Rugby found itself in during an expert consultation process early in 2020. The scientific evidence, while limited, is consistent and relatively clear. There are no studies that have shown that suppressing testosterone for 12 months makes a meaningful dent in male physiological advantages relevant to rugby.
All the studies that do exist strongly suggest a retained advantage that makes the testosterone suppression policy ineffective at achieving its objective of fairness.
A dozen such studies have found that strength, muscle mass, and muscle volume decrease by between 5% and 10% when testosterone is lowered. Given that the original male vs female difference is between 30% and 50%, the implication is that a significant part of the original advantage remains when trans women are compared to a matched group of biological females.
There is one study suggesting that male endurance advantages in distance runners are removed entirely, which might allow some sports to balance inclusion and fairness, but for sports where mass, size, strength, power and speed matter, the evidence all points one way, in the direction of retained advantage and the necessity of a prioritisation of those imperatives.
Now I wish I had a list of such studies, as it’s usually claimed that we know very little about the effects of hormone treatment on sports performance. (To be sure, this is based on physiological effects supposedly related to success, not what we really want to know—the effects of treatment on sports performance itself.) Apparently, though, we do know some things. The lack of endurance in distance running is interesting, but again, I’d like to see the data. If there’s no effect of testosterone treatment on performance, one might, say, combine men’s and women’s marathons, though the world’s record times for that distance are still about 15 minutes lower for men than for women.
The only solution, if you wish transsexual women to compete in women’s sports, is first to only consider people who have been treated to reduce testosterone, and THEN you must find out what reduction of testosterone can equalize the average performance of transsexual women and of biological women. Doing that experiment seems nearly impossible since it involves measuring not physiology, but actual performance, and correlating that with testosterone level. It may be that no reduction after puberty can equalize performance, and in that case we must do what World Rugby did.
Finally, there’s the option of creating a third category of competition for transsexual men and sex-intermediate people. I can see many people would object to that, too.
I suppose one could have predicted this happening, what with the exponentially increasing numbers of gender-dysphoric girls asserting a transsexual identity. (The disproportionality between dysphoric girls and dysphoric boys may explain why the extinction of gay men isn’t imminent). In fact, given the social approbation and support that attaches to gender-dysphoric girls—discussed in the latest article on the Weekly Dish (click on screenshot)—compared to the “meh” reaction to girls who say that they’re lesbians, you might expect that the lesbian identity would fade compared to the transsexual-male identification. The point of this article is not only to note the morbidity of the category “lesbian” in favor of “non-binary” or “transsexual”, but also to suggest that this is due to social contagion, as it’s cooler to be in the latter two categories than to be a lesbian.
Although Sullivan is listed as a co-writer here, the voice is Herzog’s. She’s a lesbian journalist (it bothers me a bit to write that, as she’s both a journalist who writes about all kinds of stuff as well as a lesbian), but it’s easier to say that than “a journalist who is also a lesbian”); and she mourns the death of her gender’s culture.
A bit about the death of the genre (Herzog, whom I’ll credit with the piece) begins by noting the declining numbers of lesbian bars and dating apps):
When I came out in North Carolina in the early 2000s, the term “lesbian” was fading and “queer” was rapidly rising. Most of my peers saw lesbians as stodgy, old-fashioned, and uncool, whereas queers were hip, edgy, and inclusive. Yet “queer” is vague enough to mean nearly anything, so the label says less about your love life and more about your politics. (I propose we all start using the Kinsey Scale instead.)
The flight from “lesbian” has accelerated since. An academic in the Southeast, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that when she mentioned to a colleague that she’s a lesbian, the colleague “reacted like I’d confessed to being a Confederate Lost-Causer. She told me that the term is outdated and problematic, and I shouldn’t use it.” So the lesbian keeps quiet about her identity: “It’s like living in a second closet.”
Not long ago, it would have been the Christian right stigmatizing homosexual women. Today, it’s also from people who call themselves queer.
As “lesbian” has waned, countless variations have emerged: not just hetero, homo, or bi, but pansexual, omnisexual, sapiosexual, asexual, autosexual, and many more, each with their own little flag. The same is true of genders — now counted in the dozens — with “nonbinary” being the most popular. Asia Kate Dillon, the nonbinary TV star who goes by the pronouns “they/them,” described the term as including those “who feel that their gender identity falls outside the traditional boxes of man or woman.” (Dillon is one of many formerly gay-identified celebrities who have come out as nonbinary, including Sam Smith, Judith Butler, Masha Gessen, and Jonathan Van Ness — who prefers “he/him” but is okay with “she/her” or “they/them.” Why be confined to just one?)
Why is this? It’s not just that lesbians can now be folded into “nonbinary” or “transgender” categories. Lesbianism tacitly accepts a sexual binary, and lesbians happen to be women who are attracted to other women rather than men. (“Nonbinary” could be women or men who are attracted to both sexes.) And lesbians are not transgender people, for, so far as I know, they identify as women who seek other women instead of men, again tacitly accepting a male/female binary. What’s clear is that the tremendous increase in gender nonconformity among young people seems to be coming from the tide of girls who identify as men. (This is my impression as well as Herzog’s, though I know of no hard data save the huge increase in gender-reassignment surgeries shown here.) Transsexual men born as biological women may be sexually attracted to women, but they see themselves in the gender role of male, not female.
Why is this happening, and where have the lesbians gone? A clue comes from a student Herzog interviewed named Halle (my emphasis):
“Lesbians are pretty thin on the ground for Gen Z,” a student I’ll call Halle wrote me. “I have one other lesbian friend, and together we have collected reports of five other lesbians between the U.S. and Canada, of which three are in our generation…. I do not know how things were in olden times for the elder gays, so I admit that a paucity of lesbian friends may in fact be normal for twentysomething gay women in left coast liberal cities, but I like to imagine there was some Arcadian past where short-haired women in Carhartts could gather in groups greater than two.”
Halle doesn’t live in Tehran. She lives in Seattle. Another young lesbian I spoke to told me she used to identify as both nonbinary and trans. “There’s a really thriving, active online and in-person trans community and queer community,” she said, “but there’s hardly anything for lesbians, and if you try to create that, you get pushback. It’s not cool to be a lesbian in the same way that it’s cool to be queer or trans or nonbinary.”
“Queer” apparently encompasses all “gender minorities” that aren’t heterosexual or cisgender, and there are many of these categories: asexuals, pansexuals, incels and the like. And, reading the Zeitgeist, it’s apparent that young people who come out as transsexual, whether or not they seek medical transformation, are given more attention and approbation than are lesbians. In other words, if you’re gender dysphoric, you get more naches by coming out as transsexual than as lesbian.
Now clearly this doesn’t explain 100% of teenage (or younger) girls who feel that they are of a male gender. It would be churlish to deny that there are a substantial number of genuine transsexuals among young folk, and that much of it has a biological basis. But it would be equally foolish to deny that troubled, gender-dysphoric teens will go the route that offers them the most comfort: saying that they trans or nonbinary.
Herzog actually offers two explanations: the social-contagion one and this one, which she doesn’t favor (“enbies” are “nonbinaries” or “NBs”):
Some feminists argue that women are so oppressed in society that opting out of womanhood is a way of opting out of oppression. I’m skeptical. Why didn’t women do this decades ago, when oppression was objectively greater? Besides, enbies are more likely to be Smith undergrads than, say, immigrants getting assaulted at the border.
And then she suggests the social explanation, which of course will get her labeled as a “transphobe” for even suggesting a role for faddishness:
And there’s another not-so popular explanation: that it’s a fad, a form of social contagion.
I’m aware that this will be offensive to some people. The concept of a fixed, internal gender identity has become sacrosanct, and it’s viewed as something deeply personal and meaningful, like the soul. But humans are social creatures and we are easily influenced by our peers. This isn’t a moral judgment, just a fact, and I’ve seen how it plays out in my own peer circle. First one person comes out as nonbinary, then another, then another, and then one day half the dykes you know go by “they.” Add social media to the mix, and fawning profiles of nonbinary people in the press, and you’ve got yourself a mass cultural phenomenon.
But social contagion is surely worth considering rather than dismissing, for it does account for the extremely dramatic rise in the number of women in their teens, or younger, who declare themselves transsexxual (see some data here). Herzog ran this explanation by “a therapist who specializes in LGTBQ issues,” and the therapist, after hemming and hawing, went off the record and said “Yes. But I really can’t say that to anyone.” Such is the rigidity of ideology these days. Explanations that should be discussed—and in view of the seriousness of medical intervention, must be discussed—are taken off the table because they’re labeled “transphobic.” We have encountered one of the many taboos plaguing political and ideological discourse in the past few years.
In his “Dissents” section, in which Sullivan answers beefs from readers, he’s concerned with whether wokeness will remain with us under a Biden administration. One can argue that it won’t, saying that wokeness was a kneejerk reaction to Trump’s bigotry and fascism, but I think we’re in for more wokeness. Now that the extreme Left sees itself empowered, even arguing that the election vindicates “progressive Democrats”, seen wrongly as contributing to Biden’s election, wokeness is likely to grow. And so the camel is about to stick its nose even further into the Democratic tent. Given the readiness with which centrist or moderate Democrats cave in rather than be labeled bigots, both Sullivan and I remain worried, all the while realizing that things are still much improved now that Trump has been defeated. But we’ll still have to contend with the pollution of the Left by the extreme Left, which endangers further gains of Democrats. Remember, besides the Presidency, Democrats lost ground elsewhere in American politics.
Responding to a “dissent” that argues, correctly, that the dangers of the extreme Right are far greater than those of the extreme Left, and that the “progressive” Left is not a threat, Sullivan says this:
Point taken. But here’s my rejoinder: just because the extremists have more thoroughly captured the GOP than the Dems doesn’t mean they aren’t a problem. I’m not saying both sides have equal problems with extremism — the GOP is worse, in my view. I’m saying the far-left hurt the Dems down ballot. They didn’t get their preferred nominee, and if they had, I think it’s pretty clear by now that she or he would have lost to Trump. But have they successfully rebranded the Dems as the party of wokeness, open borders, cancel culture, LatinX and LGBTQIA+ and other impenetrable language, and mandatory struggle sessions in which white people have to read Robin DiAngelo? You bet they have.
As for Biden, we’ll see. I voted for him in the full knowledge that a woke phalanx is probably going to come into government with him and do their best. But maybe I’m wrong, and Biden will stick to Obama-style centrism. I sure hope so.
The Guardian is the British equivalent of HuffPost, and Suzanne Moore, one of its premier op-ed writers, has become the British equivalent of Bari Weiss. For Moore, who had a distinguished career—winning among other awards the Orwell Prize and the British Press’s “Columnist of the Year”—has now been hounded out of her job. Of course it’s because she wrote a piece that offended the Woke, which enraged over three hundred of her colleagues, who wrote a group letter denouncing her. After her editors refused to defend Moore’s right to publish her views, she quit.
She describes this incident, and also her entire career, in a new piece at UnHerd (click on screenshot below). It’s long and rather discursive, and, truth be told, I didn’t find the details of her career all that interesting (the cutesy prose didn’t help), though I felt sorry for her travails in trying—successfully–to break into an all-male domain. The piece gets interesting when she describes how her colleagues hounded her out of the paper after she wrote a column about sex, gender, and transsexuals. (No surprise about the reaction: there is no deviation permitted from Accepted Thought about transsexuals.
The skinny: in March of this year, Moore published the column below, which isn’t all that inflammatory—unless you take the extreme hard line on sex and gender: i.e., that both are social constructs, and that transsexual women are in all relevant respects identical to biological women. I’ve put a few quotes from the column below, but read it for yourself and judge how “harmful” it really is:
Moore’s big sin was to say that in some respects transsexual women are not the same as biological women—not with respect to their presence in prison or other spaces (I’m thinking of halfway houses, sports, or as rape counselors). She also affirmed the indubitable fact that biological sex is binary and not a social construct. (Moore does see gender as a social construct):
The radical insight of feminism is that gender is a social construct – that girls and women are not fated to be feminine, that boys and men don’t have to be masculine. But we have gone through the looking-glass and are being told that sex is a construct. It is said that sex is merely assigned at birth, rather than being a material fact – actually, though, sex is recognisable in the womb (which is what enables foetal sex selection). Sex is not a feeling. Female is a biological classification that applies to all living species. If you produce large immobile gametes, you are female. Even if you are a frog. This is not complicated, nor is there a spectrum, although there are small numbers of intersex people who should absolutely be supported.
. . . Male violence is an issue for women, which is why we want single-sex spaces. Vulnerable women in refuges and prisons must be allowed to live in safe environments – the common enemy here is the patriarchy, remember? How did we arrive at a situation where there are shocking and rising numbers of teenage girls presenting at specialist clinics with gender dysphoria, while some who have transitioned are now regretful and infertile?
Even if you disagree with her take, you can’t doubt that the issue, given the way many women feel, is certainly discussable, and surely material for an op-ed column. But the Authoritarian Left have rendered it non-discussable, and that’s why, after her column was published, Moore was the (unnamed) subject of a letter sent to the paper by 338 of her colleagues, many of whom were her friends—but not one of them bothered to call her. Here’s the letter:
She was of course hurt, and even more so when her editors declined to defend her piece. What the hell is going on at the Guardian when its editors can’t even say, “We allow our op-ed writers the liberty of their own opinions and have no further comment”?
And so a couple of excepts from her UnHerd piece:
I was discussed at “conference”, the newspaper morning meeting open to all: editorial, digital, advertising, everyone. (It looks like equality, but some people sit on the floor and others get seats, let’s put it that way.) I never go in to the office, or attend conference, but it was reported that a trans woman developer, who had already resigned some weeks earlier, resigned again that morning, because my words, my column, had made her feel unsafe. According to the news story: “the column was ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back,’ the trans employee said, following a series of pieces that pitted trans people against women and against women’s rights.”
The “unsafe” bit is simply a canard, and I don’t buy it for a minute. In fact, we’d all be better off if we started questioning these ubiquitous claims of feeling “unsafe,” which rarely make sense.
The letter made it clear to me that it wasn’t just social media activists who wanted me out of the paper. My fellow staff were gunning for me: time to hand over my job to the young Corbyn crew who spend their lives slagging off the mainstream media but cannot wait to be part of it. Could they write a good sentence? Say something from the heart? Does that matter? Apparently not, they simply think the right things.
The letter was then leaked to Buzzfeed and then the names were made public. I was devastated to find people who I like and had worked with had done this. In 30 years of journalism I have often disagreed with people and had stand-up rows with them but no one has ever done something so underhand as to try and get someone fired because of one column.
. . . Mistakenly, I thought my editors would stand up for me because that was my experience at other papers; or they might issue a public statement. They didn’t. There was some internal email, and I hear it was discussed at the Scott Trust, which governs the paper. What this means I genuinely have no idea. Nor do I understand what editorial independence means any more. Do they? Not in my book.
This to me was utter cowardice. Shouldn’t you stand by your writers? But on this issue the Guardian has run scared. I suspect this is partly because of GuardianUS sensitivities and, partly because the paper receives sponsorship from the Open Society foundation, which promotes trans rights.
To be sure, there were people who supported Moore, and one even did so publicly, but most did so sotto voce: after all, they didn’t want to be fired or demonized.
So Moore quit the Guardian, just as Bari Weiss quite the New York Times after hounding from her fellow writers. And shame on the Guardian for their refusal to defend their writers. Nor can we hope that Moore’s column will make things easier. As she says:
The censorship continues and I cannot abide it. Every day another woman loses her job and a witch-burning occurs on Twitter. My fear is not about trans people but an ideology that means the erasure of women — not just the word, but of our ability to name and describe our experience. We are now cervix-havers, birthing parents, people who menstruate. On Amnesty’s latest posters to support the women’s strike in Poland, the literal translation from Polish for the thousands of women who were protesting the awful tightening of abortion laws was: “I stand with people in Poland”. Which people? Women forced to give birth on a plastic sheet to a dead baby with foetal defects? Say it.
We must not be afraid of being called “transphobes”, which we are not if we merely point out socially relevant differences between transsexual women and biological women. For most purposes there aren’t relevant differences, but sometimes there are, and we need to talk about them. Pity that the Authoritarian Left has made “transphobe” a slur to be feared, just as they’ve done with “Islamophobe” or “racist”. Those labels are just easy ways to shut people up. We can’t stifle ourselves (as Archie Bunker often importuned Edith) for fear of a label.
As you may remember, Abigail Shrier’s new book, Irreversible Damage, about the dangers of uncritical support for young girls who want to transition to boys, has met with a lot of criticism as “transphobic”. For a while its sale was banned at Target stores (it’s now reinstated.) Nevertheless, there’s a change.org petition afoot to ban the book everywhere. Click on the screenshot to read it:
Shrier makes a number of egregious leaps of logic in order to invalidate transgender boys to suit her conservative values. A frequent false-association she creates is in regards to the attempted suicide rate of trans people coinciding with regretting transitioning or even expressing the urge to detransition. She blatantly ignores the fact these statistics much more coincide with transgender individuals feeling ostracized and attacked in a modern society that insists something is wrong with them.
. . . I am calling for the book’s immediate removal from everywhere it is sold. The blatant misinformation and hate speech that endangers the lives of thousands of growing transgender boys. The removal of the text will protect those men from abusive parents who may use the text to justify emotional abuse.
The main point of contention here is that the petitioner says that the suicide of transgender males is not connected with the urge to de-transition, or with regrets, but is due to their ostracism by society. One could argue that the regret/de-transitioning claim is not Shrier’s main point: that she’s dealing with those who have gender dysphoria, not necessarily those who have already transitioned (I don’t know as I haven’t yet received the book.) Also, gender dysphoria could be a symptom or part of a complex of other mental problems, like a general failure to fit into society, and suicide could result from that—not from either regret or ostracism.
At any rate, you can’t ban a book from “everywhere it is sold” because you take issue with one of the book’s contentions. Nevertheless, 1760 people have signed the petition out of a goal of 2500. In my years of writing on this site, I don’t remember seeing a request for a book to be banned from “everywhere it is sold,” though there are plenty of instances of books being banned from schools or school districts. This is an attempt to erase the book completely.
In a dueling petition, also at change.org, there’s a call to not ban the book, which I’ve signed. Reassuringly, it’s gathered more signatures: 4340 out of a goal of 5000. I have signed it, because though I haven’t yet read the book, I’m opposed to any banning of books. Click on the screenshot if you want to read the petition and/or sign it.
I am calling for you to refuse to give in to pressure from ill-informed random people on the internet to remove the book from your listings when the best they can do to bolster their cause is attempt to tie Shrier and her book to the harassment and abuse of transgender people and to their emotional issues, when it is unlikely that anyone who carries out such abuses has even heard of the book. Vanillian has not provided any proof of the alleged misinformation or hate speech and no amount of signatures on a petition based on lies and appeals to emotion is going to change that.
Please don’t pay attention to people who use emotionally manipulative language and horrible scenarios to try to stop people from learning about the harm being done in the name of a worthy cause. Don’t ban books, discuss them. And don’t give in to pressure from astroturfed mobs. Abigail Shrier’s book deserves scrutiny, not a blanket ban in case some people get upset. If you give in to this, sooner or later every book will have to be banned.
Although the counter-petition doesn’t answer the claim that the suicide of transgender males has nothing to do with the urge to reverse course and destransition, the way to resolve these conflicting claims is not to ban the other side, but read both sides of the argument, look at the data (if they exist), and judge for yourself. It’s an unfortunate characteristic of woke activists, many of whom uncritically valorize the urge to change gender, even in children, that they demonize the other side as “transphobes” rather than dealing with their arguments. And the only way to judge arguments is to hear both sides and look at the evidence.
Shrier’s book is likely seen as “hate speech” by many, since it’s viewed, erroneously, as “transphobic” (Shrier is not at all opposed to transsexual changes in older people.) And this is one of the reasons why we must fight against the possible resurgence of “hate speech” laws should they be suggested during a Biden presidency or crop up in universities.
In the meantime, all the kerfuffle about Shrier’s book (click on screenshot for Amazon link) has created a Streisand effect, propelling it to #45 among all among books, with an expected bimodality of ratings but an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Amazon is surely not going to ban it, so the opponents of the book have simply increased its sales.
The book-banning petition will have no effect (has a change.org petition ever accomplished anything?), save help sell more books. But it is a sign of the Zeitgeist that so many Americans favor this kind of censorship.
What’s happened to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a crying shame. And I say this even though I volunteered for them, have been a member on and off, and was the recipient of their largesse when, for no fee, they represented me and four other defendants in a class-action suit about illegal drafting in New York. I went to the ACLU, and their lawyers took the case, arguing successfully in Federal court that we were drafted illegally as conscientious objectors. This freed a couple of thousand men from forced civilian service. I’ve always been deeply grateful for the ACLU’s help.
Although the ACLU is still doing a lot of good legal work defending genuine civil liberties, they’re also getting woke in a way that, to me, deeply compromises their integrity. I’ve done a fair number of posts calling out their dubious stands over the last few years; these include posts bearing these titles (click to see them):
What’s especially worrying is the ACLU’s backing off on free speech (the subject of today’s short post); its pushback against one good thing that the Trump administration did: making the Title IX proceedings adjudicating sexual misconduct fairer; and the organization’s big push to defend the “right” of medically untreated biological males to participate in women’s sports. Now of course the ACLU should be defending transgender rights, for every person, regardless of gender status, should enjoy equal rights under the law, and discrimination on the basis of gender is largely illegal. And they’ve done a good job of that (see below).
But the ACLU has also gone a bit off the rails on the transgender issue, arguing that even biological men who haven’t undergone hormone therapy should be allowed to compete in sports against biological women. As I reported a while back, the ACLU defended two Connecticut people who were born male, identify as female, and, without any hormone therapy or surgery, decided to compete against biological women in track and field. In fact they did compete, and did very well, for Connecticut law mandates that self-identification as a woman is all you need to compete in women’s sports. The ACLU buys into the argument that you’re a woman simply if you claim to be a woman.
But the organization shouldn’t be defending something so manifestly unfair. They’re also making a big push to defend transgender athletes without reservation, despite the notoriously slippery issues involved in defining “men” and “women” for transgender athletes. The standards for competing, as in the Olympics, are subject to much dispute. The ACLU’s view is apparently that a claim itself is all that’s needed to deem you a man or a woman.
And now, to my great sorrow, an ACLU staff lawyer and champion of transgender rights, Chase Strangio, has come out full bore in favor of censorship. I’m referring to his demanding, as shown in the tweets below, censorship of a book we discussed yesterday: Abigail Shrier’s treatise on gender dysphoria in adolescent and teenage girls, Irreversible Damage.
Although Strangio’s tweets are “protected”, I assume that the two below, reproduced by “Wokal Distance”, are accurate. In the second, he blatantly advocates censorship of Irreversible Damage, “stopping the circulation of the book and these ideas.” How else can that be interpreted as censorship? And “stopping ideas” should not be the business of the ACLU, which has always defended the First Amendment. They should be defending the right of Shrier to publish her book and circulate her ideas, not fight against them. This shows how low the ACLU, at least in the person of Strangio, has fallen. An organization dedicated to defending civil liberties is calling for their suspension when they offend people.
Here is an ACLU lawyer saying their goal is to stop the circulation of books and ideas…
Strangio and his team won that case, with the conservative Supreme Court ruling 6-3 that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected transgender people from employment discrimination. (The plaintiff was a transgender woman fired from a funeral home.)
Strangio was also on the team that won a similar landmark case.
In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court decided 6–3 in favor of Gerald Bostock, a gay man terminated from his job due to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, in Bostock v. Clayton County. Strangio was one of the lawyers on the case. The case ruled that it is illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of transgender identity or sexual orientation.
But Stangio’s tweet above isn’t even a case of his deciding between two conflicting rights. There is a right to promulgate your ideas; there is no “right” for the transgender community to be protected from criticism about gender dysphoria and medical intervention in adolescent girls.
Strangio is favoring censorship, pure and simple, and a watering down of First Amendment rights: “stopping circulation of this book.” Is Shrier’s argument so injurious to transgender people, and to society in general, that it cannot be read or heard? I don’t think so.
Remember that the ACLU defended the rights of the American Nazi Party to march through Skokie, Illinois: a Jewish community. Surely that’s more hurtful than Shrier’s book, for the Nazis call for the deportation and death of Jews, while Shrier is merely telling society to examine the cause of an epidemic of gender dyphoria in young girls. The “unwavering commitment to principle” that the ACLU itself touts in the Skokie case is apparently not shared by Strangio.
Like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU is damaging its mission by buying into wokeness, and nobody is reining in either of these once-great organizations. It’s a huge shame.