Once upon a time, the emperor believed the clever salesman who promised that the new suit would provide happiness. “Wear these clothes, and not only will Your Highness be the most dashing man about town, but you’ll know which citizens are loyal and which secretly support your enemies.”
The day arrived to parade the new and very expensive suit through the heart of town. Although the emperor couldn’t see his own clothes, he refused to say so on the possibility that maybe, just maybe, he was not loyal enough to his own cause. He exited the palace to much fanfare, the flash of camera lights, and the general acclaim of the masses (the palace propaganda wing had done an excellent job preparing the people to respond).
Suddenly, Matt Walsh stood and bellowed, “NEKKID! THE EMPEROR IS NEKKID!”
Such is the effect of reading Matt Walsh’s latest book, What is a Woman?: One Man’s Journey to Answer the Question of a Generation. This book is a caustic truth bomb attempting to rip the blinders off a society dedicated to pursuing a three-part lie: Transgender ideology is 1) philosophically sophisticated, 2) a potential road to happiness, and 3) supported by both medical and scientific research.
What is a Woman? is not a perfect book, and Walsh’s tone will not win friends on the far-left. It is, however, a helpful book for anyone trying to make sense of where the West is today, and what hope we have for recovering a strong view of reality. (The book is also a documentary, which can be viewed here).
Refusing to Play the Game
Although provocative, the title is a misnomer. Walsh spends the bulk of the book establishing a trans ideology counternarrative, provoked by the inability of people to answer his titular question. He opens with a history of gender theory, tracing it through the rise of Alfred Kinsey and John Money’s sexology research, and contends that gender theory has infiltrated primary, secondary, and higher educational institutions.
He then presents the affirmative-care model of therapy that insists people with gender dysphoria need to become transgender, and the medical claims affirmative-care doctors make. Walsh then shifts to showing how the pro-trans argument rests upon selective evidence, and without that evidence the entire narrative collapses.
He analyzes the way trans ideology has become a staple of mainstream media, and shows how the movement has mobilized the administrative state to remove children from parents who question their child’s Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (accompanied by threats of suicide if parents do not help facilitate chest or genital amputation).
Walsh closes with a powerful chapter recalling Ronald Reagan’s assertion of a “silent majority.” He insists that most Americans do not believe the lies, but are afraid to speak up because of the negative pressure trans-ideologues will apply.
The epilogue, featuring Walsh attempting to explains transgender ideology to traditional Maasai men and women who cannot fathom men and women who think genitalia is irrelevant, closes the book on a perfect note. Walsh believes the West has pursued a lie, and it is traditional peoples who lack modern technology, conveniences, and education who retain a grasp on reality lost to the Western world.
The Most Valuable Part
The most valuable part of What is a Woman? lies in Walsh’s refusal to play the euphemism game. He explains in the opening that he will refer to people by their pronouns of birth, for the sake of grammar: “I will refer to everyone in this book by their biologically correct pronouns because it is more important to be grammatically correct than politically correct, especially when you’re writing a book.”
While he sometimes uses the term “bottom surgery,” Walsh also uses the precise terms phalloplasty and vaginoplasty, highlighting the actual goal of these surgeries: “In a vaginoplasty, the testicles are often castrated in a surgery called orchiectomy. Then the penis is cut open, turned inside out, pushed inside a hole made in the body, and used to form something like a vagina.”
He tells a story where he loses an interview guest over referring to puberty blockers causing “chemical castration.” Walsh is technically correct — puberty blockers for boys are a form of chemical castration, and he explains that same drug, Lupron, dispensed by gender-affirming physicians is also used to castrate sex offenders in many states.
For those well read in critical theory, Walsh’s analysis and dismissal of Judith Butler as spouting academic, contradictory non-sense will come across as either anti-intellectual or accurate: “I would quote Butler more thoroughly in order to have her make her points herself, but the truth is I may have exhausted everything intelligible that she’s said on the subject of gender. Ninety-nine percent of what Butler wrote is impossible to understand.” Walsh contends that the trans ideology is itself hollow, and that hollowness is hidden behind a veneer made up of equal parts strange vocabulary and poorly thought out good intentions.
Interesting Interviews with Clueless People
Some of the most interesting selections from the book involve Walsh asking politicians, physicians, and activists to define their terms and justify their policy aims. Universally, the pro-trans-ideology side is unable to do so. When asked about women feeling threatened by men-with-penises-identifying-as-women being in the women’s bathroom, California Rep. Mark Tankano replies, “Um, I think a person who wants to use the women’s bathroom who identifies as transgender really does think of themselves [sic] as a female. And, you know, part of how we can deal with the situation in the future is accommodating transgender people in public bathrooms.”
Walsh’s excerpts from these interviews leave the reader convinced that politicians pushing for trans access to bathrooms, sports, and expensive surgery are using the trans cause to garner votes. Such leaders cannot articulate why their policies should be enacted, or what the policies would actually do.
At one point, Walsh highlights the contradiction inherent in allowing biological males to compete in female sports and the way Lia Thomas (and others) ruined competitive female swimming for multiple teams; his guest refuses to entertain the thought that feminist goals (like female athletic achievement) are annihilated by the trans ideology.
Like a good journalist, Walsh follows the money trail. The kind of surgeries required for gender transition are not cheap; Scott Newgent’s story includes horrible complications in going from female to male. “Altogether, her medical expenses to both her and her insurance exceeded $900,000,” Walsh reports. There is an economic incentive for children declaring themselves trans: Newgent explains that “[For] every child they convince is transgender and in need of medical transition, it generates $1.3 million dollars to Pharma.”
Recent changes to the psychiatric handbook Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the Obamacare medical system places the burden of transition surgery costs on taxpayers and private policy holders: “[The] DSM changed ‘gender identity disorder’ to ‘gender dysphoria’ in 2013. In seeming lockstep with that change, Medicare and Medicaid – the largest insurance providers in America – began coverage for sex change surgery in 2014. Private insurance followed suit, with coverage for sex change surgery spiking from around 25 percent in 2011 to 45 percent in 2014. All this opened a floodgate of taxpayer-fueled funding for medical transitioning. By 2025, the sex reassignment industry is set to reach a market value of more than $1.5 billion.”
The money reveals another side to the story; the cost for denying reality is passed on to taxpayers and insurance policy holders, rather than being borne by those undergoing the surgery.
Truth to Power
What is a Woman? is not perfect. Walsh simplifies a complex intellectual history of gender theory to a straightforward narrative. He does not engage in substantive analysis of radical feminism’s contributions to loosening convictions about human nature (for this analysis, see Scott Yenor’s The Recovery of Family Life).
He does not trace the wider philosophical movements from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Darwin, and Sigmund Freud that show why people who have never taken a gender studies course buy the line “I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body” (as Carl Trueman does in Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self).
He does not analyze the development of the “expressive individual” who sees in his sexuality an expression of selfhood in light of Charles Taylor’s seminal work A Secular Age.
Walsh’s work exists on a more popular level; it is a good sequel to Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage, and sits comfortably alongside Quillette’s series on transgenderism and parenting written by the pseudonymous Angus Fox. What is a Woman? reads like a string of interesting “Man-on the Street” interviews where those interviewed hold positions within the trans-affirming hierarchy, or have deep experience within the movement; their interviews then become launching points for Walsh to explore related questions.
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” works as a fairy tale because it trades on our innate desire for inclusion (we want to be with the in-crowd that gets it), a desire which functions as a kind of pride. The twist still works – it is a rare person with the insight and courage to really “speak truth to power.” Walsh is doing that work. The most powerful culture makers in the contemporary west have aligned themselves behind the trans movement, and condoned preaching the gospel of gender change to children.
Just like the little boy who originally spoke the truth, Walsh is proclaiming that the trans ideology is a lie. It cannot deliver happiness, and inasmuch as humans oppose reality, they oppose their own flourishing. Maybe it’s not a perfect book, but What is a Woman? still makes an excellent argument.