Should gender identity be debatable?

In the vilification-laden anonymous comment sites of social media, it has long been a staple belief that the very existence of gender identity is an affront to common sense, and therefore its elimination a reasonable subject for public debate. In that venue it is mere low-level intellectual noise, but not when it becomes a prominent element of state and national politics.

Just over a year ago, Daily Wire radio host (and YouTube personality) Michael Knowles opined at the Conservative Political Action Conference that “For the good of society… transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely…” Several members of the Michigan state legislature have now taken up this refrain, calling for prohibition of all gender-identity-related healthcare, and at least ten other states are attempting to follow the leaders in prohibiting gender-correct driver’s licenses and updated birth certificates. Even access to a public restroom will be legally restricted to the “gender assigned at birth”.

As with some other highly polarized issues, these laws are segregating the country into regions where rights are secure in law, and regions where they have been erased or are under severe attack. But the laws are not the only issue. Debates about them inflame passions, and give the impression to poorly informed people that there are valid issues to debate. And that brings me to the title of this blog entry: Is there a valid topic to debate?

I don’t intend to rehash the well-known results of neurophysiology and psychology research and therapeutic practice, which tell us that gender identity discordance is real, innate, and unchangeable. Consequently, any system of law that guarantees equal civil rights to all citizens has to include transgender citizens, and legitimate debate on that ended some time ago.

But I am concerned here with a rather more subtle and therefore more pernicious issue, which is public attitude. As in: Maybe they have the legal right to exist and go to the bathroom, but can’t we still express our disapproval of this “lifestyle”? And even if we (sort of) approve of it or grudgingly tolerate it, can’t we have an unpolarized, respectful debate about it with our families and friends? Why should this be a line not to be crossed?

Turning up the rhetorical heat is indeed not a good way to encourage mutual understanding. On the other hand, waffling over the spread of hate is not a good way to encourage a thriving society. Hate speech per se is not illegal in the U.S. But even here, it may not call for imminent violence upon a person or group. The question is not a legal one, but a moral one: how close to that illegal regime can one come without being guilty of encouraging others to enter it?

The transphobia of an author of children’s books once widely revered, J.K. Rowling, is fairly well known, beginning with that infamous tweet five years ago: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?”

Though a rude mashup of misunderstanding, it was perhaps not malicious. Over time, however, the stridency has risen steadily. Recently we have this: “There isn’t a lady in this, just a man reveling in his misogynistic performance of what he thinks a ‘woman’ means. …India didn’t become a woman. India is cosplaying a misogynistic male fantasy of what a woman is.” (Ms. India Willoughby is an English journalist and TV personality who co-hosts an all-woman talk show, among other roles.)

Rudeness is just a fond memory now. Whether or not this is hate speech, it is hateful speech. With the accusations of misogyny, violence is not far away. How should a decent person respond? Is there something here to be debated, in a calm, unpolarized tone?

So far I haven’t found it.

When transgender actress Nicole Maines says: “Reminder that, at this point, continuing to support, employ, and collaborate with Rowling is directly harming transgender people globally and that I’m sick of it getting minimized. It’s a really big deal.” – she speaks from meaningful experience. A writer of popular children’s fantasy stories does not, but her callous disregard for some previously idolizing readers speaks volumes about her attitude toward her audience. You can call it cancel culture if you wish, but there is plenty of superb literary art in the world without the contributions of people who cause more harm than whatever good their art might have done.

So I will answer my question: No, there is nothing debatable about the existence, human dignity and equal standing in society of transgender people. And anyone who denies that forfeits their right to have their other accomplishments be judged apart from that blight, no matter their literary, scientific, or any other merit. A glass of fine wine with a spoonful of sewage in it is no longer a fine wine.


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