Daily Archives: May 15, 2023

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DWR (11): Trans Hysteria

Recently, I had a public Facebook dialogue with my friend, Ryan Neugebauer, on the growing hysteria surrounding Trans issues, especially among people in Randian and right-libertarian circles who dismiss any discussion of “gender identity” as yet another example of left-wing “woke” politics. It is so prolific in Facebook discussions that even a single post on the issue will generate hundreds of vitriolic responses that go on for weeks. As Ryan put it:

These people have lost their minds! Unfortunately, so many of these people, who like shouting about “liberty”, are more about “liberty for me, but not for thee”. They have a “get off my lawn” attitude on everything. “Don’t tax and regulate ME!” “Don’t tell ME what pronouns to call you by!” “Don’t tell ME to wear a mask!” “Don’t tell ME to respect gay marriages!” Nothing healthy about it. It’s like the state of being 2 years old became a political ideology!

Indeed, in all my 37 posts during the COVID pandemic, I observed how politicized the discussion was. I never wrote a single post endorsing draconian measures to deal with the pandemic, and yet, for having acknowledged that I’d taken the Moderna vaccine and its various boosters, I was excoriated as a “Total COVID Warrior”. We can debate for eons the effectiveness of “lockdowns” or the use of masks or the pros and cons of the vaccines. But everything became so politicized that you couldn’t have a decent conversation that didn’t devolve into an exercise in confirmation biases.

Just as people continue to debate the science and politics of COVID, so too, the Trans issue has been highly politicized. Ryan observed that it’s gotten to the point where “any defense of the legitimacy and dignity of people who identify as Trans or Nonbinary gets one labelled as ‘woke’”—a word that has become one of the most blatant “anti-concepts” in modern discourse. It’s an expansive, elastic, all-inclusive pejorative used to bludgeon anyone who has even a semblance of concern for social justice.

In my reply to Ryan, I wrote:

The issue cannot even be addressed with any sense of balance or proportion—or any remote sense of concern for those whose lives are affected by the toxicity of the discussions. What astounds me more than anything is that so much hysteria is being raised over 0.05% of the [U.S. adult] population [and 1.4% of youths between the ages of 13 and 17] that identifies as such. I had hoped that people who are concerned with the fragility of individual rights would pause, for just a single moment, to consider what it’s like for such a small minority to be targeted by a plethora of rhetorical, political, and legislative bullying. And it’s now taking on a life of its own as political forces are being mobilized in favor of censorship in libraries, classrooms, parades, and in theme parks.

For the record, I have long renounced illiberal authoritarian tendencies on both the right and the left. But ultimately, when a society recoils at the prospect of even attempting to understand those who are “different”, the battle for human dignity and personal autonomy is already being lost.

One of the bedrocks of a cosmopolitan society is toleration. Toleration of difference. You don’t have to “accept” anything you don’t value. But your lack of acceptance doesn’t give you the right to weaponize legislation that undermines the very basis upon which any society, aspiring to protect and defend individual liberties, depends.

And this is what makes the hysteria surrounding this issue even more infuriating. We are talking about individual human lives. Each person facing gender identity issues has their own highly specific and unique context, which requires some form of care. The rising tide of hysteria around this issue is impacting the lives of so many individuals who are grappling, ever so delicately, with crippling self-doubt and their own fears—of being cast out, bullied, demeaned, and destroyed. As one study puts it, “Data indicate that 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide, with suicidality highest among transgender youth.”

Ryan agrees that Trans Hysteria is not clarifying; it’s obfuscating the fact that people are being put at risk. And under such conditions, it makes it ever more difficult for anybody struggling with gender identity, or for their loved ones, to seek a way through.

Worse, the fears that are being tapped into by those seeking to make America a place where “woke goes to die”, are now being spread in such a way that they’re also seeking to push back against difference, per se. Don’t say Trans. Don’t say Gay. Don’t say Black. Heck, Don’t Say Anything that even hints at extending a modicum of sensitivity toward—or tolerance of—those who have fought and died for their very right to exist.

The science and sociology of gender identity is a developing area of study, which is still assessing the various “nature vs. nurture” factors—those genetic, biological, developmental, and environmental causal forces at work in gender incongruence. That this area is not fully understood lends even more support to the battle for protecting those who are struggling with gender identity issues. Instead, we are faced with the hysterical assertions of authoritarian Florida Governor Ron DeSantis—who claims that “they are literally chopping off the private parts of young kids” as the medical community bows to “woke” activism. That is simply not happening. Reasonable concerns have been raised about some of the practices surrounding gender-affirming care. But “decades of data support the use and safety of puberty-pausing medications, which give transgender adolescents and their families time to weigh important medical decisions.” Such decisions are not made without teams of medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, endocrinologists, and other professionals working closely in concert, weighing the pros and cons of various treatment options. As one concerned mother of a Trans youth said to me, a hyper-focus on the uncertainties and risks of any kind of medical intervention muddies our understanding of the uncertainties and risks involved with not intervening at all. One would think that Randians and libertarians who have a genuine distrust of state planning of any sort would be just as “laissez-faire” in their attitudes toward government dictating the difficult choices faced by such individuals and their families under these circumstances.

Alas, state interference is not restricted to curbing gender-affirming care. It is shaping up into a grotesque all-out assault on a tiny minority of people. Even some self-identified “radical feminist” groups have aligned themselves with reactionary GOP politicians—who have typically shown no respect for any woman’s right to make basic choices about her own body—in an attempt to bar Trans athletes from competition in women’s sports. While I certainly don’t have all the answers to these challenging problems, the statistics don’t line-up with the hysteria. Because the answers are not clear, because our knowledge is limited, reliance on the state to chart a course through such politically charged cultural issues is no solution at all. It’s probably going to take a lot of trial-and-error policies proposed by alphabet-soup sports associations to figure out fairer, more equitable and more inclusive policies over time. Let’s keep the state out of it!

But the culture warriors don’t stop there. They view Trans women especially as villainous perverts. They spin nightmarish scenarios in which Trans women are exposing themselves en masse in women’s bathrooms and committing sexual assaults against “real” women and “real” young girls. Well, in NYC, we’ve had liberal bathroom policies in place for over a decade and the statistics don’t even hint at an uptick in “Trans” assaults. If anything, violence against transgender people has increased dramatically, as they are being targeted and assaulted—the “collateral damage” of a growingly toxic culture war.

As Ryan has pointed out again and again, too many Randians and culturally conservative right-libertarians have turned a blind eye toward state regulation of social mores. (It should be noted that among Randians, there are exceptions.) Indeed, in the case of the “Free State of Florida”, lower taxes and a rollback on regulation has led even the Cato Institute to proclaim it the second “freest” state in the U.S. (the more socially liberal New Hampshire ranks #1). But that just illustrates how low cultural and social freedoms are regarded in the grand scheme of things. Florida’s interventionists are using government power to forge a new, reactionary ‘politically correct’ curriculum that is hellbent on sanitizing any mention of the civil rights struggles of blacks, LGBTQ people, and others. They have also enacted into law, “Protections of Medical Conscience”, which grants healthcare providers and insurance companies the right to deny care to anyone on the basis of “religious, moral, or ethical belief”. That law, apparently, was designed to pushback against vaccine mandates, but since it allows for discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, it can be used broadly to deny care to LGBTQ people. Any doctor or healthcare provider who morally objects to medical treatments for transgender people or even the use of antiretroviral drugs in the treatment of HIV/AIDS can deny care—and no medical board has the right to discipline anyone who denies such care. And this is precisely why Ryan has warned about the dangers inherent in healthcare nationalization, since “the politicization of Trans issues” could very well “destroy the ability of people to obtain transitioning care services and the like. Do you really want more of your life’s important decisions and necessities being up to partisan political meddling?”

Defenders of “capitalism” though they claim to be, the Florida Anti-Woke Crusaders are even attacking capitalist companies like Disney because it refuses to fall in line with their political agenda. Disney World has had “Gay Days” since the early 1990s! But now, even Drag Shows have become the target of Florida’s legislative initiatives because they too are apparently harmful to minors.

I’m tempted to conclude with a none-too-subtle variation on Martin Niemöller’s adage: First they came for the Drag Queens, and I did not speak out because I was not a Drag Queen. Then they came for Trans people, and I did not speak out because I was not Trans. Well, in truth, I’m neither Drag Queen nor Trans. But I am speaking out. I am a gay man of Greek and Sicilian descent, and it wasn’t too long ago in this country that even my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were being marginalized. It is not unusual that as privileged groups of people sense that they are beginning to lose a grip on their “traditions”, they fight like hell—passing laws and regulations—to keep them in place. But the very dynamics of the market society they claim to value are such that traditions are among the practices that are often brought into question. That’s one of the reasons that Friedrich Hayek himself proclaimed he wasn’t a conservative.

Trans Hysteria must stop or the tragedies in its wake will continue down a nightmare path on which no “libertarian” should ever feel comfortable treading.

Postscript (2 July-11 December 2023). I’ve had various discussions in the wake of this post, touching upon everything from sex ed in schools to adolescent “surgeries”.

  1. In New York State, Sex Ed isn’t taught in the schools until middle and high school; nobody in kindergarten or thru grade 5 is learning about transitioning or anything of the sort. See here. Health topics are addressed; all the 9-12 grades (100%) are taught about the benefits of abstinence from sex and about STDs; about 65% address sexual orientation in grades 6-8, 90% in grades 9-12, and around the same stats cover gender identity. None of this is going on in kindergarten or anytime prior to grade 6.
  2. This Reuters Investigates report provides actual “numbers on the rise in children seeking gender care”. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of young people being diagnosed with gender dysphoria (ages 6-17) in the United States. In 2021, around 42,000 were diagnosed. That figure is 121,000+ in the years between 2017-2021. Of those given such a diagnosis over that 5-year period, only 4,780 were given puberty blockers (around 3%), while only 14,726 were given hormone therapy (around 12%). Mastectomies are extremely uncommon; only 776 were recorded (ages 13-17) from 2019-2021. This extremely difficult issue is typically managed with a focus on the person needing treatment, in league with the family and hordes of medical and mental health professionals. That team weighs the pros and cons of intervening versus not intervening, and what kind of intervention is merited, if any, be it mental health services, puberty blockers, hormone therapy, etc.
  3. What also must be emphasized is that this is not some kind of “Trans Epidemic“, as right-wing demagogues put it. One recent report “estimates that 1.4 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds and 1.3 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were transgender, compared with about 0.5 percent of all adults.” That so much hatred, bigotry, anger, and fear has been generated over such a small and vulnerable population in this country is a disgrace.
  4. As for those who believe that children are so impressionable that they can easily be “groomed” into being L-G-B-T or Q+, all I can say is: Studies show that while there is “situation-dependent fluidity” in sexual responses over time, the overwhelming majority of people are “hard-wired” (perhaps thru a combination of genetics, biology, and environment) from a very young age in terms of their responses. No matter how “impressionable” children might be or how “experimental” adolescents might be, nobody is “forced” to be gay, anymore than they are “forced” to be straight. Or “forced” to be bi, trans, or otherwise. People just are. I often wonder just how fragile some people’s self-conception of their sexual identity is that they see every “alternative” response as a threat. I grew up watching TV shows and films that featured people of the opposite sex being intimate with one another. I saw heterosexual people on the street holding hands and kissing. All the impressions in the world around me didn’t “force” me to become straight or alter my gay trajectory. This is all BS, and it’s exhausting to have to keep responding to it.
  5. As for those who believe that there’s been some kind of “explosion” in “acquired” LGBT identity or that social pressure is leading to “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria“, I’d say that in the current environment, especially in communities that are targeting people for their sexual orientation or gender identity, people are far more likely to be bullied and marginalized precisely for their differences, rather than for having been subject to some kind of social “contagion“. All of this is out-and-out fearmongering (now on full display especially in the Republican Presidential Debates).
  6. And now, some states are moving toward “forced outing“, yet another sign of the erosion of civil liberties from this right-wing assault.
  7. With regard to those on the right who point to the European continent as having rolled back gender-affirming care, the facts are that no country has banned such care. The United Kingdom, France, Sweden and Norway have adopted a more nuanced approach than those who are opposed to the practices here in the United States. See this Politico report. (And on the issue of “detransitioning”, which affects a small minority of a small minority of people, see here.) The only model that the right-wingers in this country would embrace is that offered by Putin’s Russia. What a surprise!
  8. It is certainly true that there are people who have “detransitioned“—and both the right-wing and “progressive” left wing have made a lot of noise about this. Turning this issue into a political football, in which each side scores points on the backs of people struggling with gender identity, is among the biggest tragedies we face in the current climate. All the more reason why doctrinal rigidity needs to be repudiated in favor of a more measured approach.