One Andrew Sullivan wrote a piece called "Truce Proposals in the Trans War."
On the surface, the piece was arguing for an unobjectionable proposition: that if people who think that trans women are women and trans men are men and people who are far from sure that gender works like that could both be a little bit less shrill, we might all get along better.
I think this is true. I think that it is true about nearly all subjects. "What do we actually disagree about?" and "Is there anything we agree on?" is almost always a better starting point than calling each other nasty names. Instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us we should cordially unite in those things wherein we agree, as the fellow said.
But I have the same problem with calling for truces that I do with writing "Discuss" after incredibly provocative statements. If I propose a "truce" between people who think that covid vaccinations will turn them into mind-controlled Bill Gates' drones, and people who don't then I am conceding that the anti-vaxxers are not completely mental, a point I am very far from conceding. If I say that flat earthers and roundists ought to look for common ground (even if they can't agree what shape it is) then I am tacitly admitting that the round earth theory ain't necessarily so.
People with fringe positions understand this very well. It is young earth creationists, not people who think your man Darwin was probably onto something, who are perpetually demanding that we "teach the controversy".
The whole notion of "the trans question" is pretty unpleasant. There are obviously questions. As we as a society gradually came around to the idea that some people happened to be gay, we had to answer questions -- about civil partnership and marriage and adoption and who took whose surname and whether we were going to allow the Church of England to opt out and whether you had two sets of bridesmaids and no best man and did we make exceptions if a very old fashioned bakery didn't want to ice the cake? But The Gay Question (are some people gay, and should we just get over it?) is very much not open to negotiation. As we come around to the idea that gender and sex are not always aligned, questions about modesty and Gillick competency and tennis and who should play Desire in Sandman will come into play. I don't know if Sullivan is correct that there are disproportionate number of people who are "psychologically unstable, emotionally volatile and personally vicious" on both sides. I do think it would be better if you put down your sword and I put down my rock and we tried to kill each other like civilised people.
The Trans Question sounds all too much like The Jewish Question. It sounds like we are looking for a solution; final or otherwise.
What interests me, once again, is how the question is framed. The supposed purpose of the essay is to tread a moderate path between two entrenched and extreme positions. Yet throughout the essay, Sullivan paints a picture of a powerful block of "trans activists", committed to something called "trans ideology", streamrollering the very moderate and tentative objections of what he pointedly does not call the "anti-trans-activists". He doesn't really see himself as brokering peace in a war between two equally matched sides. He sees himself as siding with brave rebels who are striking back against the evil trans-activist empire.
Once or twice, he does seem to say that the dissenters -- he describes them as reactionaries, "Christianists" and Fox News -- go too far. He says that the fear of women being assaulted by men in public lavatories is largely illusory; he describes laws that would ban teenagers from transitioning and ban trans girls from participating in school sports as "extreme". But he while the reactionaries and the "trans activists" may be equally extreme and equally mad, the former appear to be a tiny, easily silenced sect, where the latter appear to be a mighty, all controlling elite.
He talks about these "trans activists" in the most melodramatic language. Puberty blockers are "an experiment on children"; there are "countless stories" of their being handed out "like candy". Trans ideology "seeks to abolish the idea of biological sex altogether...It's nuts". He is afraid that teenaged boys who prefer theatre to sport will be told that they are "really" girls and pressured into transitioning. He thinks that the increased numbers of young trans people suggests that the whole thing is a "fad" or a "craze", probably propagated by the internet.
Sullivan performs very much the same manoeuvre we watched Tony Blair execute a couple of weeks back. Tony Blair said that Radicals were not sensible and that the Sensible people were not radical. A moderate might well have proposed various sensible things the Radicals could do, and various way in which the Sensible people could be more radical. But as we saw, he told the Left to be more moderate and he told the Moderates to be less like the Left. Similarly, Sullivan purports to be calling for moderation from both sides but in fact paints a lurid picture of the extremism of one side only.
"(Trans rights) have become a litmus test for social justice campaigners, who regard anyone proposing even the slightest qualifications on the question as indistinguishable from a Klan member".
For the sake of argument, I will accept that point. But where is the next sentence? Why does he not go on to say that it has also become a litmus test for the far right, who regard anyone proposing a change to pronoun usage or inclusive signage on lavatory doors as indistinguishable from the Gestapo?
Literally no-one says that small differences of opinion about trans-gender issues are analogous to the Klu Klux Klan. It may very well be that some people have used such emotive language about big differences of opinion: for example, differences of opinion about whether transgendered people exist in the first place.
The anti-trans lobby certainly do use this kind of rhetoric. Graham Linehan literally said that the use of puberty blockers was the equivalent of experimenting on children; that this is closely parallel with Nazi concentration camps; that gender non-conforming children are having their genders changed by these sinister clinicians, and that this amounts, more or less deliberately, to gay genocide. J.K Rowling was less extreme and more thoughtful, of course. But remarks about "throwing open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels that he's a woman" (which means "opening the door to any and all men who wish to come inside") doesn't strike me as a "slight qualification" either.
We don't call them bathrooms in Britain, incidentally.
My experience of lady's loos is quite limited, but don't they have doors on the cubicles? What catastrophic thing might happen if the person behind one of the doors was a bloke? Men's loos are somewhat less private, admittedly.
But what primarily bothers me about the essay is the creeping Jeffcotianism. People, especially young people, are coming out as non-binary because a powerful interest group is telling them to. If the Trans Activists had not exerted pressure on them, they would probably still be adding Worcester sauce to their spaghetti.
Sullivan says that "tom-boys" or "effeminate boys" may be gay or straight, trans or cis. I agree with him. A straight male might perfectly well like Barbie Dolls and a straight girl might perfectly well like Action Men. Whatever gender means, it isn't reducible to a preference for blue over pink. But who is telling these poor boys who just want to be left alone with their antique shops and their Village People records that they are really girls on the inside and should arrange for an operation as soon as possible?
"And yet they are now pressured both ways: to conform to rigid gender stereotypes by reactionaris or to see their atypical behavior as a sign they were born in the wrong body by woke progressives. Why not just leave them alone?"
Is it really true that any girl caught with a rugger ball or a copy of Call of the Wild is whipped straight off to the gender reassignment clinic and given a bag of puberty blockers and jelly babies and assigned a newly minted set of pronouns? I think it more likely that trans activists are a convenient fiction. Some people think they are trans. We are not quite prepared to say "Well you aren't". So instead we say "You only think that because the Woke Progressives told you you were."
"The Woke Progressives."
Jeffcotists and Bulverists are never far apart.
And then again:
"For some trans activists, especially the younger more thoroughly woke ones, I am simply evil, beset by phobias, and determined to persecute and kill trans people, or seek their genocide."
Well: no. If Sullivan's views are as moderate as he pretends (adults can make up their own choices; some people really are trans; children may not be competent to make life-changing medical decisions; cis women should have a right to willy-free zones if they want them) then I very much doubt that he has been called evil. It may very well be that he has heard the word applied to the extreme, visceral anti-trans ranters like the aforementioned Graham Lineham.
But again: let's take his word for it that he has been accused to wanting to plan a final solution to the trans question. Who is it who has made this baseless allegation? The Thoroughly Woke, that's who.
Are these Thoroughly Woke young people and Woke Progressives, who go around accusing journalists of genocide and surgically altering everyone who auditions for West Side Story a rare, extreme, esoteric sect?
On the contrary:
"The woke establishment — all major corporations, the federal government, the universities, all cultural institutions, the mainstream media and now the medical authorities — are unequivocally on the side of anything the trans activists want."
The Woke Establishment. All big businesses; the whole of higher education; TV, theatre, newspapers, art; doctors and hospitals; and even the U.S government -- are all under the control of this thing called Woke. It's power reaches further than any telepathic alien lizard or elderly zionist ever dreamt of.
It could be a figure of speech. It could be that "the Woke Establishment" just means "the kinds of people who believe in the kinds of things I'm talking about."
It could be a tactic, the kind of tactic that we saw Paul Graham advocating last month -- stick a label on something and hope it goes away.
He might, like Paul Graham, simply be talking about prevailing opinions. The fashion used to be for fixed gender, but now it's for fluidity, in the same way the fashion used to be for baggy jeans, but has now turned to tight ones."
But it could be pure, extreme, Jeffcotianism.
The Woke Establishment literally exist.
They control literally everything.
And they are coming for your children's genitals.