A thoughtful and important, although wildly wrongheaded, article appeared in National Review Online this week, urging conservatives to compromise on the transgender issue. Author J.J. McCullough and National Review are to be commended for running the article. Not only is it a testament to ideological diversity, it’s an important conversation that we need to have.
That said, the conservative shift on the definition of gender the author suggests is not a compromise, it’s surrender. Moreover, it’s a surrender that is not justified.
Two arguments stand out and require serious scrutiny. The author refers to transgenderism first as “a persistent aspect of humanity,” then again as “an inescapable human phenomenon.” These phrases are used to draw a comparison between transgenderism and homosexuality, the central analogy of the article. The idea is that, just as conservatives lost the battle over gay marriage, they are destined to lose the battle over transgenderism. The suggestion is that we should somehow get in front of this inevitable defeat.
There is no doubt that homosexuality is a persistent aspect of humanity and an inescapable human phenomenon. But the evidence that this is also true of transgenderism is a fantasy. There are thousands of years of cultural reference to homosexuality — some in favor, more against. But we see it everywhere in our history. This is simply not true of the notion that a man can choose to actually be a woman, or the reverse. In fact, that notion is a recent development.
Cross-dressing does have a storied literary history and is an old practice. But transgenderism is essentially different from cross-dressing in that the latter does not pretend to change the basic biological reality underlying gender. McCullough offers no evidence that a thousand, a hundred, or even 30 years ago a significant number of people born as men actually asserted that they were literally women. This is new, and we are under no obligation to treat it as scientific truth, especially because biological science does not bear it out.
2 Plus 2 isn’t 5
The compromise McCullough imagines goes a good deal farther than using preferred pronouns. McCullough is demanding we stipulate that men can actually become women. We are meant to accept this absurd and fantastical claim because if we don’t there will be social strife.
Well, some things are worth a little social strife. The biological differences between men and women are scientifically well-established. What’s great about science is that it doesn’t draw judgments based on cultural stereotypes, which is exactly what the trans movement does.
On what basis does a man decide he is actually a woman? He prefers women’s clothes? He feels more feminine than masculine? What does any of this mean? Why can’t a man wear women’s clothes, be feminine, engage in traditionally feminine behavior, and still be a man?
More importantly, if a man decides this is not enough, that he must upend thousands of years of what it means to be a woman, why should we accept that? To be nice? Can’t we be nice without abandoning reality? McCullough argues that conservatives should stop being reactionary about social acceptance of trans individuals, and in doing so he misses entirely that the problem is with trans ideology, not individuals.
The Other Side Of The Compromise
Assuming we do abandon the notion that gender has no biological basis, and is instead a question of who likes Barbie dolls, what do we get in return? McCullough suggests we will receive a reprieve in laws that compel us to express agreement with the transgender agenda. Hey, thanks, but actually the First Amendment already covers that. Compelled speech is not allowable.
He further suggests that this capitulation will lead to an open conversation on protecting children from puberty blockers and sterility in the name of switching genders. But it won’t. That will simply be the next precipice off which conservative ideals are dropped.
In fact, the moment it is stipulated that gender is not a biological reality but a state of mind, there is no rational justification for denying a nine-year-old hormone treatments. In fact, such denial becomes cruel. If gender is simply the way we feel, not the body parts we posses, then on what possible basis could we deny a child a right to occupy the body he knows he should have? This is where the compromise not only falls apart, but leads to something very close to child abuse.
Women, Only Better
The acceptance of trans ideology opens us to a world in which men become women to perfect womanhood. No female to male trans person will ever be the heavyweight champion of the world, but Bruce Jenners who become Caitlyns will absolutely dominate women’s sports. They can even be sexier. They can win college scholarships and government contracts set aside for women.
This is a future that not only conservatives, but everyone, should reject. Being a woman, being subject to rape and impregnation and catcalling, are real things. They are not things a man can simply appropriate and lay claim to. And there is no long-documented history of men doing so that we must accept or to which we must pay homage. I’m all for compromise, but some things are just true and we must hold fast to their truth. Gender is one of these things.
Perhaps in 20 years my views on gender will seem as outdated and bigoted as opposition to gay marriage seemed 20 years ago. But I doubt it. There is a difference. No person’s sexual proclivities threaten my basic understanding of biological reality. This is not true of transgenderism. It requires me to suspend disbelief and accept as real something I know is a fantasy. This I cannot do.
To the extent there can be a compromise, here are the terms. People can call themselves whatever they want to call themselves. I may even use their terms out of politeness. But I will never believe that a man can become a woman. And if that is what McCullough is asking of me, the answer will forever be no.