Sometimes you get the sense that a particular claim is reaching its limits. That the mainstream won’t let it go any further. It feels that, in recent years, almost everything to do with the ‘trans’ issue has teetered around this point.
As I lay out in The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, there may be plausible claims made within the trans debate. And of course, most liberal-minded people (in the true sense of the term) generally agree that other adults should be free to do what they want and live as they like. But this can only be the case if the choice of behaviour does not severely and negatively affect the lives of others.
In this regard, however, trans campaigners have at least four highly vulnerable points.
The first is their demand to change the language. The great pronoun wars of recent years have few upsides (other than a reversal in the decline of young people who know what a pronoun is). But they have highlighted an interesting limitation, the extent to which people are willing, or otherwise, to fit around somebody else’s sense of themselves.
The second vulnerability is the extent to which trans demands may insult, offend or harm the rights of women. As these claims have become more and more assertive, so there has been an increasing worry about the extent to which trans rights may run counter to women’s rights as they were understood for least the last half century or so.
A third is the fact that — as with the case of women — elements of the trans argument run considerably against assertions about gay rights. These are hard-fought rights which have come to be accepted by wider society for the last several decades.
But it is the final vulnerability which is probably the most serious — the extent to which the trans issue stumbles when it comes to the welfare of children. Once again, in a liberal society, consenting adults may be allowed to do almost anything they like in private (and to some extent in public); but this does not assume that the general population will nod through irreversible medical experimentation on minors. While trans rights are important, they do not trump the welfare of children.
In recent weeks each of these vulnerabilities have come to the fore.
The issue of language was once again a matter of public debate with the decision of YouTube to remove an interview with the activist Posie Parker for the podcast Triggernometry. Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster, the two comedians who present the show, did not allow Parker to speak without any pushback; on the contrary, when she restated her view that men who transition to female are still men, they questioned her and held her views up to scrutiny. Nevertheless YouTube removed the content.
Their action is striking not because it shows the strength of the trans case on language — but its weakness. Parker is not a very prominent public figure, nor is she somebody who is in any way calling for violence against anyone. She is simply a private citizen holding to a refusal to use opposite-sex pronouns. That this can be portrayed as hate speech is not a demonstration of argumentative strength. Given that what Parker is suggesting (that we should call people by the pronouns of their sex at birth) was commonplace until very recently this clamping down on her own right to speech looks like an absence of real argument.
Parker herself appears to be motivated by a belief that the trans argument is, among other things, disappearing natural born women. Her argument, though very interesting, is one which trans activists strenuously deny. But it is striking how many women are becoming aware – and increasingly vocal – about the extent to which trans demands appear to be treading all over the feminist advances of recent decades.
Take the example of Andrea Long Chu. Last November, this male to female transsexual wrote a piece in the New York Times with the memorable title “My new vagina won’t make me happy. And it shouldn’t have to“. Earlier this month – to coincide with the publication of her new book Females – Chu was interviewed by what remains of The New Republic. The interview, headlined, ‘We are all female now’, contained some remarkable assertions, many of which will raise eyebrows.
One is her claim that “femaleness” is the urge to be “a vessel for another’s desire”, and that gender is “a mechanism for getting the right people to desire you“. These claims – among others – run so completely counter to the advances of first and second wave feminism that it is surprising how little public push-back there has been (although perhaps it has been censored online, as YouTube and Facebook removes even moderate content in this area). However, Chu’s arguments have not gone unnoticed by campaigners for women’s rights.
In the realm of the LG and B without the T, there has recently been a number of striking developments, all caused by the rise of T demands. In the UK, a number of prominent gay rights campaigners, including founders of the group Stonewall, have publicly split from that group in its current incarnation. There has also been the formation of the “LGB Alliance” which is “asserting the right of lesbians, bisexuals and gay men to define themselves as same-sex attracted“.
This is a demand that would not have been remotely controversial in the gay rights movements of the last half century. Indeed, it is only now, as an increasing number of gay men and women find themselves accused of “transphobia” for being attracted to members of their own sex, that such a reassertion of basic facts would have to be made.
And finally, the children. Such as the seven-year-old child in Texas whose parents are in court fighting over what sex the child is. The child’s mother claims she has a girl. The father says they have a son. The mother is intent on “transitioning” the child, something the father is trying to prevent.
Whatever else, the Texas case serves as a stark warning that such arguments — both in and out of the courthouse — are going to become increasingly common, and that wherever they happen they will throw up the same basic concerns. As polling carried out by UnHerd this week shows, the British public is by no means certain that an adolescent child should be allowed to make their own decisions about their gender identity.
But if the question asked was whether children who identify as the opposite sex from the one they were born as should be able to medically transition (or take life-altering drugs) during childhood, then I would expect the answer to be clearer — and not in favour of the answer trans campaigners are pushing for.
Of course YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms will continue to try to censor this discussion and stop parents, women, gay men and many others from discussing the issues. But they are attempting to close an un-closeable door. An overdue and properly nuanced discussion is surely now impossible to stop.