There’s a red-diaper baby named David Horowitz, who, after many years as a prominent activist, flipped from the far left all the way to the conservative far right. He’s the editor of a right-wing journal, and the tagline on his site is
I used to scoff at the utter absurdity of that notion. Everyone knows that to be on the left is to value free speech, human liberty, social justice, and equality—the complete opposite of authoritarian thinking.
But I now understand what he means, despite stringently disagreeing with nearly everything he stands for politically.
I’ve been a knee-jerk leftist my entire adult life. Like many of my ilk, until recently, I had pretty much endorsed every tenet of progressive-liberal dogma as received wisdom, not bothering to give any of it much thought when it came to the voting booth, or whose side I was on in any debate about politics or social issues.
The wakeup call resulting from my kid’s temporary identification as a trans man, and, in particular, her vociferous demands for the two Ts—testosterone and top surgery—roused me from my comfortable slumber. And the awakening was an entirely rude one.
My critical thinking thus stirred, I don’t think I could shut it down again, despite now perpetually sleeping on an intellectual bed of nails. Not that I’d want to be re-anesthetized at this point, as much as I might envy the still-smug certainty of most of my friends.
I see myself now as a classical liberal, no longer a progressive. Among other things, classical liberals historically believed in and defended the freedom of speech. “Progressives”—and that includes many journalists—now seem to see their role as uber-scolds: refusing to cover alternative viewpoints, muzzling skeptical voices, sinking so low as to delete even respectful, dissenting comments submitted to the many news articles which promote the medical transition of children. This self-censorship is the case even in the United States, where we are lucky enough to have a 1st Amendment to the Constitution which enshrines our right to freely speak our minds.
The press, which ought to be the champion of open debate, has mostly abdicated that solemn role. This is all the more insidious in Western societies, where we are under the delusion that we actually still have a free press. In societies with overt censorship, such as China, citizens are only too aware that their access to actual facts is curtailed. In Western democracies, tacit editorial refusal to provide a platform to dissenters, thereby eschewing true investigative journalism, amounts to de facto censorship, which is all the more dangerous because the general public is not aware of it.
As a lifetime liberal, it pains me to have to turn to right-wing, conservative news sources to locate a modicum of the treasured right to free speech liberals so take for granted, while they are complicit in eroding it. But it is more and more the case that only the right-wing press—despite its massive failings (most notably, the homophobic labeling of transgender issues as part of the mythical “gay agenda”)–dares to raise thorny issues around transgenderism.
Yesterday, writer Brendan O’Neill at the National Review wrote about the latest successful quashing of free speech—this time, forcing a retraction from the British writer Ian McEwan, who had the temerity to confess, “Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to think of people with penises as men.”
Can you guess what happened next? Yes, McEwan was subjected to a Twitch hunt, to that 21st-century bloodsport in which anyone who expresses an unpopular view or makes a less than PC utterance or simply misspeaks a little will be “called out” (shamed) by the bedroom-bound, Twitter-living, self-styled guardians of correct thinking. Twits went berserk over his apparently perverse linking of penises with maleness. They branded him a bigot, weird, a transphobe. Trans-rights activists put the boot in, too. Stonewall, the LGBT activist group, slammed McEwan for being “uninformed” and said his weird worldview doesn’t only “denigrate the trans experience, it denies its very existence.” Paris Lees, a trans woman and journalist, scolded McEwan, telling him his “ideas about penises are outdated.” He should apologize, the mob said.
O’Neill goes on to cite George Orwell’s 1984, which eerily predicted a future society utterly cowed by a thought-policing Big Brother. In the novel, Big Brother eventually manages to break the will of 1984’s protagonist, Winston Smith, who finally acknowledges that 2 + 2 does equal 5:
And now there’s punishment of people for saying there’s such a thing as reality, such a thing as tangible, measurable facts. This, too, is straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four. In that novel, O’Brien, Big Brother’s torturer, ridicules our hero Winston Smith for believing in objective reality. He takes Winston to task for believing “reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right,” and that “the nature of reality is self-evident,” when in fact “whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth.”
It’s one thing, of course, for adult trans activists and their media enablers to advocate on their own behalf. But as we know, they also want to shut down any whisper of dissent about their current program of identifying gender-defiant children as young as 2 or 3 years old as “transgender,” thus helping them down a medicalized path that will almost certainly consign them to a lifetime of hormones and surgeries.
A recent example of a whisper of dissent the activist-clinician lobby wants to hush up pertains to a post on this web site. Sexologist James Cantor committed the thought crime of tweeting a link to a recent interview with a therapist who has launched an organization of professionals concerned about the pediatric transition trend, published on 4thWaveNow.
For this transgression, the WPATH horde wants to ban Cantor (who is hardly a staunch ally to the 4thWaveNow community or gender-critical feminists) from their Facebook group and force a retraction.
What, specifically, was Cantor’s sin in tweeting this link? This: the interviewed therapist opined that it might be best to postpone medical transition until an age when the brain is more fully developed in its decision-making capabilities, generally recognized to be around 25. Mind you, that opinion was one sentence in a rather moderate interview, wherein the same therapist conceded there might be some kids for whom medical transition was the right answer.
Buried in a 5000-word interview are a few sentences that have earned this site the monikers “inflammatory,” “shameful,” “transphobic,” deserving to be listed as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As for Cantor, he was told that by tweeting a link he was [capital letters and all] KILLING CHILDREN.
The fact that Cantor disavowed any agreement with the 25+ suggestion, in another tweet the very next day makes no difference, because when it comes to trans activist thought policing, absolutely no critical thinking or dissent from the received wisdom around “transgender children” can be tolerated. None.
4thWaveNow is devoted in the main to intelligent discussion by parents of gender nonconforming and/or trans-identified kids about issues pertaining to pediatric transition. We have a stake in this discussion. We are hardly bystanders. These are our kids we are talking about. Yet the adult trans activists claim our kids as their own. They claim themselves as the experts on our kids, and argue for abridging our right to speak our minds about the physical and psychological well being of gender-defiant youth.
Let’s look a little closer at the particular heretical opinion that has earned such opprobrium. I’ll call it the Executive Function Heresy. Simply put, we Executive Function Heretics wonder whether, given the fact that kids and teens typically try on and discard multiple iterations of “identity;” and given the fact that judgment, impulse control, and awareness of future consequences aren’t fully developed until the mid-20s, maybe it might make sense to wait until early adulthood to decide about making permanent body changes.
It’s not difficult to find real-life examples of why that might not be such a bad idea. A very recent case is a woman named Sasha, recently interviewed on the BBC Woman’s Hour (which actually allowed a whisper of dissent to be voiced on the show—highly unusual). Sasha had a double mastectomy at 19. Now 26, Sasha no longer identifies as a trans man, but considers herself “non binary” and, in retrospect, wonders whether it might have made sense to look at less drastic options. As Transgender Trend points out in their post on the matter, Sasha is right around the age when the frontal lobes of the human brain are more or less fully developed. A key part of that development is the ability to reflect on decisions and experiences in a thoughtful way. A teenager, who by definition has very little prior experience to reflect upon, is highly unlikely to stop and think about how they’re going to feel ten years later.
The existence of even one young adult like Sasha ought to be enough to give pause to the pediatric transition industry (and it is an industry, supporting the careers of many thousands of activists, psychologists, doctors, and researchers around the world). But Sasha is far from alone, as we know from the detransitioned men and women who are starting to speak up about their experiences—for example, the bloggers Maria Catt and Third Way Trans.
So where does all this leave a dyed-in-the-wool lefty like me? Well, I’m still a liberal, in the classical sense. I still believe in universal health care. I support lesbian and gay people, as well as the right of transgender people to access jobs and housing without discrimination. I am a supporter of organized labor. I think corporations require strong government regulation. I recognize the reality of climate change and the disaster we’re courting, as we continue our global laissez faire capitalism, fueled by the unfettered burning of fossil fuels. And I still believe that being liberal means—or ought to mean—defending and using the right to free speech.
Actually, conservative climate change denial is good analogy for the attitude of trans activists. Meddling and tinkering with nature has got us into quite a pickle, as the Arctic melts, extreme weather events multiply, species go extinct, and the seas around us rise. Most liberals have at least a modicum of respect for the natural world, frequently decrying the damaging effects of a human technology and industrial civilization gone rogue. Yet these same liberals never seem to reflect on their support for high-tech interventions perpetrated on the bodies of kids who are uncomfortable with their stereotyped gender roles, or who become alienated from their physical selves at the onset of puberty. They never seem to question the fact that so many formerly lesbian-identified young women suddenly decide they are straight men. Rather than treading softly and looking for more natural solutions, the liberal establishment—well funded by “progressive” think tanks, foundations, and billionaires like George Soros—is empowering the juggernaut which promotes invasive surgeries and science fiction procedures like uterus transplants for trans women.
Do progressives ever ponder what might happen when climate change eventually forces human societies to downscale? What will happen to all those people who were convinced as teenagers they were born in the “wrong” body, when high-tech surgeries and lifelong testosterone injections are no longer widely available? Do they think these people will all commit suicide? Or might they learn to live, love, and make peace with themselves, as generations of gender nonconforming people have always done in the pre-industrial age? Hey, environmentalists: How can nature get it so right when it comes to biological diversity and the exquisite balance that supports life on earth, but get it so wrong for these gender-defiant young people encouraged to despise their evolution-crafted bodies?
It occurs to me that the liberal-progressive-left is also like a teenager, with still underdeveloped frontal lobes, a passion for instant gratification, and a deficit in thinking through consequences of its actions when it comes to our gender-defiant youth.
I expect this sort of childish, primitive thinking from the conservative right. Recognizing it in my own liberal tribe has been a major disappointment, and that’s putting it mildly.