If we were going to construct a test-case for how dysfunctional our politics have become, it would be hard to beat the transgender issue. It profoundly affects a relatively minuscule number of people in the grand scheme of things, and yet galvanizes countless more for culture war purposes. It has 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. It has seized the attention of some of the most extreme elements among radical feminists, who in turn regard any smidgen of a compromise on the rights of women as a grotesque enforcement of patriarchy.
Worse, it has now excited the Christianist right, who see the recognition of trans rights as an effort to destroy the sexual binary that is at the core of almost all orthodox faith. And it has become a Twitter phenomenon, where all reasonable arguments go to die. If you are an opinion writer, you really do have to be a masochist to even want to dabble in the debate. And the mainstream media is, at this point, completely unreliable as a source of balance or information. They openly advocate the most extreme critical theory arguments about sex and gender as if they were uncontested facts and as if the debate can be explained entirely as a function of bigotry vs love. (A recent exception to this, though tilted clearly from the start in one direction, is this explainer from the NYT [recently].)
I have no illusions that this situation will improve. Sides are dug in. But if we were to find a truce, that gave both sides part of what they want, what could it look like? Here are some principles to go by.
- Distinguish between adults and children
- Defend the rights of both women and trans women
- Treatment of minors should be safe, limited and rare