Trans activism is post-truth politics
Ideas and claims that can't withstand scrutiny create a dead zone. The dead zone surrounding gender ideology is so large that it covers women's rights and experiences entirely.
I’ve never seen a movement of supposedly oppressed people so at war with the truth.
For people without power, the truth and liberal science as a process to seek the truth are a lifeline, a way to challenge the powerful and insist on new understandings.
People with power prefer arguments from authority ("Because I said so").
So it's curious to see the World's Most OppressedⒸ people only making arguments from unquestionable personal authority, while warping processes and institutions that are designed to seek the truth and silencing the people who speak it.
It's surreal to see the American Civil Liberties Union campaign against basic liberties like freedom of speech and belief (not to mention sex-based rights). Like many orgs, they're totally in thrall to gender ideology and have forgotten their mission.
Universities collude with activists to silence women's speech, cancel women's events, de-platform female academics, and curb research agendas. Professor Alice Sullivan observed that "silencing tactics create unspeakable truths. Views held by the vast majority of academic colleagues cannot be spoken out loud. This chilling atmosphere does not foster good research or good policy making." Professor Kathleen Stock asked, "Are academics freely able to criticise the idea of ‘gender identity’ in UK universities?" The short answer is no. The long answer is here.
In The Kindly Inquisitors, Jonathan Rauch warns that universities are forgetting why they exist: to teach and practice public criticism in the pursuit of knowledge. If activists "short-circuit the process by using intimidation and inquisition, the general public will soon see that universities are enforcing knowledge rather than searching for it."
The open-ended search for knowledge that is liberal science has been a recourse for people without power and a way to question and challenge unjust authority.
Now more than ever, it should be obvious to left-leaning people that we need freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom of assembly, freedom to criticize and dissent, and recourse to objective reality to challenge the misinformation and disinformation flooding our societies. As Jane Clare Jones observed: "Under these conditions, you still cling to the idea that its edgy and radical and oh-so-sophisticated to assert that reality is only what power says it is, and deny that there might be any other 'reality' we could refer to in order to dispute that."
Even if you embrace gender ideology, surely you can see that enforcing 𝑎𝑛𝑦 ideology at the expense of truth-seeking processes and institutions leads us nowhere we want to go. Many of us see dogmas like sex = gender id and “transwomen are women” as dangerous in a 2+2=5 kind of way. The repetition of slogans like transwomen are women” remind us of nothing so much as a new chapter of Orwell, 1984 or Animal Farm, take your pick.
That is, we see at work something that Hannah Arendt knew all too well: that enforcing lies and coercing your subordinates to repeat those lies is a startling display of power.
Powerful people can thrive without clear definitions. They can create the "realities" in which less powerful people must live. That doesn't make what they say true. It becomes "true" only to the extent that others must live by it.
The only sense in which gender identity can be “true” (as in equal to sex) is the extent to which gender identity is recognized by others and the law. Hence the desire to coerce people to "play along" or participate. Unsurprisingly, many people don’t want to live under this theocracy.
Anyone should be able to imagine some belief systems you would not care to live under and would fight to overturn because they required you to subscribe—or pretend to subscribe—to things that you know to be untrue as though those things were indisputable.
I see gender ideology as part of a broader trend toward truth decay and post-truth politics. It's not just the far right that trafficks in this, saying there’s my truth and your truth and never the two shall meet
People have a right to hold untestable beliefs (freedom of religion) and that right should be protected. But another thing Jonathan Rauch's book is good at is 𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘴. You are free to believe but not to call those beliefs knowledge. Not to enforce your beliefs on others.
Not to exempt yourself from the liberal science game where there's no personal authority and no final say. Where everybody gets to check everybody else's claims and nobody gets to plead out by equating words and criticism with violence.
We need to get back to words are words, violence is violence. Words do not excuse violence. Hurt feelings and offense-taking* must not shut down speech and inquiry. *Which risks turning into what Rauch terms "professional offendedness."
Ideas and claims that can't withstand scrutiny create what Paul Graham refers to as a "dead zone”: "Every cherished mistaken assumption has a dead zone of unexplored ideas around it. And the more preposterous the assumption, the bigger the dead zone it creates."
Gender identity is so preposterous that the dead zone surrounding it covers women's rights and experiences entirely. There's no way for women to speak of our sex and our experiences without causing offense.
Demands that women police their own speech so as not to hurt trans people's feelings 𝐬𝐢𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐧. There is no way to talk about why and how sex matters to women's lives without running afoul of the (not so) Kindly Inquisitors here.
By trying to equate sex and gender identity, rather than advocate for protections for trans people as trans people, trans activists have made it impossible for women to speak about sex-based oppression without casting scrutiny on the wildly dubious claims of gender ideology.
You see it again and again: You weren't speaking about female genital mutilation "inclusively." It's problematic to focus on period stigma, menstrual huts, child marriage — all of which send up the claim gender identity equals sex.
Women need to be able to talk about these things! But too many on the Left are more committed to policing women's speech than protecting our rights.
One of the reasons I feel so alarmed by gender ideology—and why I really question its origins and purposes—is how much division it has sown even in my own life and commitments.
Rewind five or six years. Did I ever imagine that an ideology would come between some of my closest friends and me, and that rather than sorting through it, those friends would refuse to hear a word I said?
Could I have thought of anything that would cause me to stop giving money to Planned Parenthood, where I got an abortion and to which I expected I would feel lifelong loyalty, and the ACLU?
Did I ever think I would be rejected or repelled by the activist circles where I spent so much time? That issues as diverse and urgent as climate change and racial justice would expect me to submit to a set of ideological beliefs about gender?
What does parroting gender ideology have to do with fighting climate change? What does this requirement do but divide the left?
Just a few years ago, I couldn't have foreseen any of this. Yet it's plowed through the left like a runaway freight train. Where is this really coming from? Where is this headed? Who benefits?
In order to stand up for women's rights, we need to be able to define women as a sex class, organize in our own interests, speak freely, and protect institutions that seek the truth.
That will mean taking back institutions that have forgotten their missions, organizations that have dropped their mandates, and political parties that have neglected their constituencies along the way.
[This was originally posted on Twitter in July 2020. Artwork here.]