“Trans activists try to intimidate people”
The gay rights movement is one of the most successful civil rights movements of recent times. In the space of a few decades, homosexuals have gone from the status of contempt and marginalization to that of being adopted by the general public. This movement won equality by persuading people. In contrast, today’s LGBT activists view the debate as violence. “My existence is not up for debate” is a mantra common to trans rights. Meanwhile, critics of the excesses of the movement are regularly harassed, hunted down and labeled “transphobic”.
Andrew Sullivan – former editor of the New Republic, founding editor of Dish of the week and author of a new anthology of essays, Out on a limb – was a prominent figure in gay rights commentary and activism, but has since been concerned with the direction and tactics of the LGBT movement.
Andrew joined Brendan O’Neill for the latest episode of his podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. The following is an edited excerpt from their conversation. Listen to the full episode here.
Brendan O’Neill: If people raise criticisms or questions about the idea of transgender or the excesses of the trans movement, they are faced with a setback. You and I have been through this. You argued that by attacking the whole idea of biological sex, the trans movement has a very detrimental impact on people whose identities and rights are based on gender. How much do you see the trans movement as a regressive force that is undermining some of the great gains for gay and women’s rights of the past 50 years?
Andrew Sullivan: I am in no way hostile to the rights, dignity, equality and humanity of transgender people. But at the same time, I can’t believe trans people are indistinguishable from real women or real men. I’m sorry, but I can’t say it because I don’t believe it’s true. I think this is obviously wrong.
The arguments have changed. The activists started by saying that sex is different from gender. And they ended up saying that gender replaces sex. This is the second part that I do not recognize. That’s all. I remember George Orwell’s saying that the party’s final command is that you deny what is in front of your eyes.
We only have to talk about these issues because these activists insist that, for example, “people” have rules as opposed to “women”. “People with wombs”, “non-prostatic owners”… these are the new terms used to deconstruct people. This is all driven by the belief that we need to dismantle language as well as liberal society itself – to destroy any categories that are fixed, or that could in any way be used as a means to support “structures”. to be able to “. Why hasn’t society had the strength to say that these guys need mental health support?
O’Neill: There is another problem here as well, which is the impact that this type of campaign has had on some of the very positive developments of the last 50 or 60 years. Many young girls are now showing up for the transition. Many of them are lesbians. There is something about the social value of becoming a trans man that they find more attractive than being an old-fashioned lesbian. We can medicalize lesbians out of existence. And there is also a rehabilitation of homophobic attitudes underway. Some trans activists refer to same-sex attraction as “genital fetishism.” Is this new generation of activists undermining gay and lesbian rights?
Sullivan: In the past, the trans lobby had very sane and much braver leaders. The leading trans rights group in the United States has long been led by a rather brilliant person who was ousted in a coup by young activists. So it’s not just a minority of trans people we’re talking about – historically it’s also a minority within trans activism.
One of the things that homosexuals were often known for in the past was our defense of free speech. In the United States, we had virtually no protection other than the First Amendment. People couldn’t stop us from producing magazines and newspapers for each other. We have always been the rebels. And now we are the censors. It is not in the minds of homosexuals. This is foreign to us. We are not the Puritans – we are the resistance to Puritanism. It’s absolutely horrible to see our great culture of rebellion, revolt and free speech turn into a fucking church.
My biggest concern is that although gay people are safe in a handful of Western countries, they face real and horrific oppression across the world. Still, things like Drag Queen Story Hour are passed straight to dark right-wing channels that genuinely despise gay people. And it is used to make the lives of people on this planet much more precarious. I can’t forgive this. It makes me incredibly angry.
O’Neill: You mentioned freedom of expression there. The gay rights movement was known for its support for free speech, its counter-cultural tendencies, and its desire to publish things allegedly unpublishable or unfit for public consumption. Throughout the counter-cultural movement of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, especially in sections of the left, there was a belief that freedom of expression was the best tool oppressed minorities had to defend their own freedom. As you described, this has changed dramatically. Now, movements of minority groups are often better known for their censorship. The trans lobby is a very good example. How problematic do you think this cavalier attitude to free speech has become? And how could you convince some of these young people that freedom of speech is actually quite important?
Sullivan: I would tell the story of the most successful civil rights movement of modern times. The only reason homosexuals won our civil rights was because of our rights of expression. When I wrote a dossier in favor of same-sex marriage in 1989, it was considered a completely absurd notion. But because of a mischievous editor who wanted to stick with the Tories for their double standards on marriage, and because I was a young gay man trying to imagine the future, it got published. In the current climate, this coin might never have run.
When I produced my anthology on same-sex marriage, I included the pros and cons. I posted some of the most right-wing religious figures. It was in the liberal spirit. And this liberal spirit has accomplished an amazing thing in a generation: it has changed minds. I look at activists today and wonder who they are trying to persuade. In fact, they are not trying to persuade anyone. They try to intimidate people. It is an extraordinary paradox that the people who were most intimidated growing up are now inflicting it on others. It annoys me as much as it angers me. They lost their way.
I am part of the generation that did this civil rights work as we were dying. The current generation treats this work as if it is irrelevant, meaningless and insufficient. The contempt for us of this generation takes my breath away.
Andrew Sullivan was talking to Brendan O’Neill in the last episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. Listen to the full conversation here:
Photo by: YouTube / CBC News.