Sometimes The Atlantic runs thoughtfully-researched articles from varying points of view, so I was curious to see what “Why the Far Right is Fixated on Drag Queens” had to say.
What I was hoping to find was a thesis along the lines of, “Those sexually-obsessed conservatives are backwards and wrong, but here are some of the reasons that transgender issues are particularly important to them . . . ” and an exploration (from a left-leaning point of view) of conservative priorities.
Dialog and statesmanship can’t happen unless you make a sincere effort to understand your opponent.
Alas it was not to be.
Feel free to use one of your free clicks through the paywall reading for yourself, but the gist of the interview’s claim is that conservatives have always been hateful towards transgender people, but they’re especially hateful now because they are losing ground.
As a top-level lead-in, fair enough. But why do conservatives hate what they hate, and what exactly do we mean by hate? Is there anything going on that might explain why transgender issues in particular are such a lightning rod at the moment? And does the curious fact that religious conservatives are finding common ground with the Women’s Liberation Front have any bearing, at all, on this question?
Since The Atlantic interview punted on that question, I’m going to give you the answer key.
Not All Conservatives Fixate Equally
Setting aside (for now) the fact that unabashedly leftist radical feminists (who generally disagree with religious conservatives on topics like abortion and homosexuality) have been the engine of the gender-critical train, in answering our question we do need to lay down some baseline reality about “the far right.”
When I, who consider myself pretty darn conservative, use the term far right, what I think of are openly-racist (I mean: really racist, like n-word, and jokes revolving around ethnic slurs, and bans on interracial dating) conspiracy theorists whose fantasy life involves either a theological narrows tight enough to make a reformer blush, or else an ultra-libertarian regulatory environment, but in either case there are guns and compounds involved.
Pretty sure this interview in The Atlantic would, in contrast, count in the Far Right Venn Diagram the likes of David French. Yoicks.
So. My understanding of ‘far right’ is already a fairly complex and varied group of individuals. Once you bring on board everyone who has grave reservations about certain aspects of transgender politics . . . it’s a big tent. There is massive variation in how individual members of that aggregate feel about sexual morality, elective surgical procedures, the treatment of gender dysphoria, and so on.
It would be exhausting to attempt to even categorize all the subgroups and their varying motivations. And yet, interestingly, there are topics on which otherwise very disparate groups of people do in fact have concerns that relate back to that “fixation on drag queens.”
What are our common concerns?
Men Competing in Women’s Sports
This is a very big-tent concern, and one which crosses the left-right divide. Women want the opportunity to compete safely against other women. Many people who have no moral reservations about transgender issues generally still don’t appreciate men being able to declare themselves female and come take women’s places on the podium. In some sports there are significant safety issues as well.
On the far religious-right you don’t hear it much, but among everyone else along the spectrum from far-right to center to far-left, there is typically agreement that we should have fair places for transgender athletes to compete. It’s just that we also need to continue to protect female-only competitive athletics.
Men in Women’s Private Spaces
This is another cross-spectrum cause. Many women don’t want men in their bathrooms, changing rooms, or other female-only spaces (including lesbian bars, not exactly a concern of the religious right). Rape survivors in particular mention this as a major concern.
Men in Women’s Prisons
Incarcerated women are overwhelmingly victims of abuse and trauma prior to their conviction. Prisoners are inherently vulnerable. Housing men in women’s prisons compromises the well-being of female prisoners.
While many of us agree that female-identifying men do deserve to be safely housed, same as every other prisoner, a women’s prison is not the place to do that. The cases of convicted rapists being housed with women are particularly egregious.
Denial of Homosexual Attraction
This is one I hear from primarily on the left, as well as from gay and lesbian conservatives, but it belongs on the list because it is a genuine concern about the present transgender movement. We object to people who are experiencing same-sex attraction being told:
- If you are attracted to the same sex, it’s because you’re really transgender, not gay. You’re actually of the opposite sex and just won’t admit it.
- If you aren’t attracted to a transgender person who claims to be the same sex as you (but is not) then you’re a bigot.
My far-right religious compound-dwellers might squirm on this one, but the libertarians are all in: People want to be left alone. No one wants to be harassed and ostracized for stating simple facts about their own actual-biology (most gay people do not experience any genetic or physical ambiguity about which sex they are) and who they happen to find sexually attractive.
Within the big tent there is tremendous disagreement on how to proceed from there, but statements of fact are statements of fact.
Gender Stereotyping and Mockery of Femininity
This is a direct ‘drag queen’ issue, but it’s not only a drag queen issue. If we were only speaking of burlesque in its historic context of entertainment venues, the issue of drag would be a nothing-burger for nearly everyone.
What we are seeing now is:
- Transgenderism that fixates on external, sexist stereotypes;
- Tomboyish girls and women, and effeminate boys and men, being told that their tastes indicate they must be ‘transgender’;
- Gushing over men in drag as if they were actual women;
- Denial of the real experiences of womanhood that are unique to actual women.
The gender politics that tells women that being a woman has nothing to do with living in a female body and everything to do with lipstick and high heels and large breasts is insulting, belittling, and oppressive.
Only women and girls can have a cervix or a uterus. Only women and adolescent girls menstruate. Only women and adolescent girls can conceive, gestate, and give birth. We are a sexually dimorphic species.
Thus, yes indeed, intelligent people across the spectrum are understandably aggravated that medical professionals are spouting utter nonsense about human biology.
It’s not hate. It’s just science.
Children Being Taught Absurdities About Sex and Gender
People want their children to be taught reality. It is normal, when you send your child to the school that you are paying for with either your taxes or your tuition, that you don’t want your kids being taught utter nonsense.
If you are required by law to send your child to that school, which is the case for everyone who isn’t privileged enough to be able to pay private school tuition or comply with state homeschooling regulations, the feeling is all the more intense.
The ‘far right’ in this context is a broad swathe of normal people across the religious and political spectrum, many of whom don’t give a rip what teachers and administrators do on their free time, but really don’t want their little kids being told that ‘gender’ is how you feel, and whether you are a boy or girl might change from day to day, and maybe you aren’t even a boy or a girl, you’re something else.
People just want their kids to be able to play how they play, and like the things they like, and just leave them alone.
It’s not really a mystery.
Public Institutions Playing Political Favorites
I mean, gosh, yeah, it gets people mad if you are paying taxes to fund a school or a library or a government agency, and only one very polarizing point of view is permitted.
Lots of us actually still buy in on pluralism and freedom of speech — although the more the present transgender politics get rammed down everyone’s throats, the more censorship seems to become a disturbingly bipartisan infatuation.
[Side note: The various recent school board debates over books in middle school and high school libraries have centered primarily not on the transgender question but on works so sexually explicit and graphic that they can’t be broadcast.
This is a different but related question. Ask my kid’s atheist high school biology teacher tasked with teaching a fully secular, public school sex ed unit, including contraception and all that: When you know the real numbers on high school STDs, you begin to think maybe there are public health reasons to try to slow the epidemic by encouraging pathogen-avoiding behaviors.]
Children Being Exposed to Adult Sexual Play
Now let’s get into the drag queen issue for serious: Lots of parents don’t think children should be exposed to adults acting out their sexual fantasies.
That is a reason that conservatives fixate on drag queens: Drag queens seem to be fixating on children.
Many of us across the political spectrum really, truly believe that sex is only for adults.
The many transgender adults out there just living normal life are not the topic. Adults who present as the opposite sex and happen to encounter children in normal everyday life, and it’s a non-issue because it’s just people not discussing their private sexual decisions is not the topic.
The topic is when adults foist their own sexual proclivities on children.
It is the decision to barrage kids, whose brains and bodies and emotions are not yet mature enough to handle these topics, with in-your-face presentations about adult sexual decisions that is the lightning rod issue.
Again: On this topic the ‘big tent’ opposition includes many people who don’t care, at all, what adults do on their own time, among adults. Religious conservatives have unique moral concerns that are sometimes shared by the non-religious on the left and the right, sometimes not.
However, historically even religious conservatives just didn’t have transgender issues on the radar in any meaningful way until the word “transgender” became au courant in very recent memory.
Teens and Tweens Being Drawn into Genital Mutilation
This final one, the big one, is yet another far-right ‘fixation’ that is a source of concern among centrists and left-wingers as well, including many people who have no problem whatsoever with gender-transition among adults: We think that children’s and teens’ bodies should not be experimented on with drugs that interfere with normal physical development, and that teens’ breasts and genitals should not be removed.
This is definitely not some ancient hatred or religious proscription. The idea that a teenage girl should have an elective mastectomy is just not part of our cultural history (is it part of anyone’s cultural history?), and you can’t have been opposing what wasn’t a thing.
Male castration and female clitorectomy, of course, are historic practices that nearly everyone has actively opposed in living memory, other than those few cultures still mutilating people this way.
It is barbaric.
Do tweens and teens with gender dysphoria deserve to be treated with compassion and respect? Absolutely.
Should we encourage them to remove their healthy body parts, or take medications that harm their physical development?
That is not the way to healing and wholeness.
Image: Venn diagram by me, from the time I lost my patience at some fawning article about avant-garde parents foisting gender stereotypes on their kids. For my real-life good friends who fall in the conservative Christian “skirts-only” camp, I have nothing but respect, because I understand and appreciate the reasons for the discipline they’ve taken up. Having grown up with Free to Be You and Me as the (literal) soundtrack of my early childhood, however, I was astonished to learn there were parents on the left who took deviation from prevailing gender-norms to be a sign one wasn’t being true to one’s sex.
Full disclosure: I used to financially support the ACLU, back in the 1990’s when it was bringing freedom-of-speech and freedom-of-religion cases. But that’s apparently not a thing with them these days.
Updated with some related links:
- Ohio Teacher Files Challenge to Mandatory Pronoun Policy
- Norwegian Filmmaker Under Criminal Investigation for Challenging Transgender Identity