Much of modern experience suggests we’ve stumbled into the dream sequences of “Inception.” So many areas of government and social policy seem to be based on non sequiturs rather than rationality. The cascade of disconnects is disorienting.
The “Inception” effect is particularly apparent in the raging transgender phenomenon. It’s a demonstrable fact that sex isn’t “assigned at birth”; that, despite rare natural malfunctions, sex is a binary; and that a human being cannot change from one sex to the other. But proponents of trans ideology seem oblivious to the obvious.
To understand their thought process, such as it is, we must understand its philosophical underpinnings. Trans ideology stems from queer theory, which is one branch of a general academic philosophy called social justice theory. True believers in these theories reject biological reality as either controlling or even particularly relevant because the concept of objective reality itself is simply denied.
Authors Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay (neither of whom identifies as conservative) offer a helpful introduction to these theories in their book, “Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity.” They explain that social justice theory and its offshoots are built around two interrelated principles: the knowledge principle, which posits that it isn’t possible to identify objective reality; and the political principle, which maintains that “society is structured in unjust systems of power that reinforce and perpetuate themselves.”
Queer theory expressly exists to shatter the concept of “normal.” Oppression follows from placing people in categories: sex (male and female), gender (masculine and feminine), and sexuality (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.). “These seemingly straightforward concepts are seen [by queer theorists] as oppressive, if not violent, and so the main objective of Queer Theory is to examine, question, and subvert them, in order to break them down,” the two write.
“In general,” they say, “a Queer Theorist’s political agenda is to challenge what is called normativity – that some things are more common or regular to the human condition, thus more normative from a social (thus moral) perspective, than others.” In fact, queer theory offers “queer” as a verb: to erase any concept of normality, in whatever aspect of existence, so marginalized people can create their own reality. So the idea of “queering” schools isn’t limited to more LGBT-friendly content in the curriculum, which is bad enough, but extends to obliterating the concept of normality altogether.
So when a biologist writes that humans inhabit an observable binary sex structure in more than 99.98 percent of cases, queer theorists would respond that this is simply an unjustified categorization that oppresses marginalized people who don’t identify according to the observable phenomena. Sex is a spectrum rather than a biological reality, they insist, because they want it to be—and any disagreement constitutes oppression and violence against the marginalized.
The trans movement’s obsession with language (pronouns, anyone?) illustrates one aspect of its queer theory roots. “Language creates the categories, enforces them, and scripts people into them,” Pluckrose and Lindsay write, and therefore acts as a mechanism for perpetuating the oppressive power structure inherent in every Western society. The boundaries embedded in that structure “are arbitrary, oppressive, and can be erased by blurring them into apparent absurdity.”
Absurdity indeed. “To be Queer allows someone to be simultaneously male, female, or neither, to present as masculine, feminine, neuter, or any mixture of the three, and to adopt any sexuality – and to change any of these identities at any time or to deny that they mean anything in the first place.”
People grappling with queer theory from a rational perspective find this maddening. “Together with its goal of subverting or rejecting anything considered normal or innate in favor of the ‘queer,’ this can make Queer Theory frustratingly difficult to understand, since it values incoherence, illogic, and [un]intelligibility,” say Pluckrose and Lindsay. In other words, conflict with observable reality doesn’t disprove the theory: it’s the very point of the theory.
But queer theory maintains that marginalized people are entitled to be understood on their own incoherent terms. They “can be oppressed to the point of psychic death by not being understood, but their right to be completely incomprehensible should also be respected.”
How, then, to deal with biology and with science more broadly? To be sure, some theorists try to mollify the less enlightened by adopting a scientific patina. Trans-radical physicians such as Johanna Olson-Kennedy produce “research” carefully designed to add scientific support to the shaky foundation of transgenderism. Their conclusions may be bogus, but they at least enable ideologues to flesh out footnotes for their papers.
On a deeper level, social justice theorists express their “profound skepticism of science” by countering that scientific knowledge is merely a social construct—one way, but not the only way, of knowing. As Pluckrose and Lindsay write, “Social Justice scholarship takes umbrage with anything that foregrounds reason and evidence as the only way to know what is true and demands ‘epistemic justice’ and ‘research justice’ in their place.”
Yes, this is as bogus as it sounds. Social justice theorists argue that “we should include the lived experiences, emotions, and cultural traditions of minority groups, consider them ‘knowledges,’ and privilege them over reason and evidence-based knowledge, which is unfairly dominant.” Under this theory, storytelling should be considered as valuable as, if not more valuable than, legitimate scientific research.
But an emphasis on such “knowledge” as “lived experience” threatens to produce a jumble of contradictory experiences. A person from a “marginalized” group (say, Clarence Thomas) may interpret his lived experience differently from similarly marginalized Ta-Nehisi Coates. Which version qualifies as knowledge?
Social justice theorists solve the problem by simply decreeing that only those versions consistent with social justice theory are “authentic.” “All others,” write Pluckrose and Lindsay, “are explained away as an unfortunate internalization of dominant ideologies or cynical self-interest.”
So social justice theory, including queer theory, is utterly unfalsifiable. And “any criticism of Social Justice work is [deemed] immoral and harmful.” This is child-like, and childish, analysis, not the product of adult minds.
Transgender mania thus is explained on a theoretical level by understanding this academic context. It simply doesn’t matter that there’s no science to support it and that rational people are baffled by it. There is no normal, no objective truth.
And the experiences of the growing number of primarily young people who now regret the medical interventions imposed upon them are simply not “authentic.” To these theorists, detransitioners either were never trans in the first place or have yielded to oppression. In fact, any questioning of any aspect of the contagion is immoral and harmful to trans-identifying people.
So public policy regarding sex and gender identity is now guided by principles not only of the faculty lounge, but of the nursery school. How long will it take policy-makers to emerge from dreams and reassert reality?