The growing rift between increasingly radicalized transgender-rights activists and the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) communities has finally come out into the open. This week, Europe’s biggest LGBT-rights organization, the London-based Stonewall charity, was publicly accused of subordinating LGB rights to the group’s increasingly single-minded goal of replacing sex with gender as a marker of identity. As Helen Joyce recently wrote in Standpoint, “Stonewall went all in for gender self-ID. Its online glossary now describes biological sex as ‘assigned at birth’ (presumably by a midwife with a Hogwarts-style Sorting Hat). ‘Gay’ and ‘lesbian’ now mean same-gender, not same-sex, attraction. ‘Transphobia’ is the ‘fear or dislike of someone based on the fact that they are trans, including the denial/refusal to accept their gender identity.’ At a stroke, anyone who declares themselves exclusively attracted to people of the same sex has become a bigot.”
As a gay man who lives in the United States, I have no direct stake in Britain’s intra-LGBT politics. (“LGB/T” might now be a more apt term.) But I am surprised that it has taken this long for such a formal breach to occur. The same pressures have been building everywhere, and it was only a matter of time before someone acted on them.
After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in the landmark 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges, many believed the fight for gay rights would begin to wind down. Yet that didn’t happen. Instead, the LGBT-advocacy sector simply redirected its available staff, fundraising and rhetoric to other projects. I know this because I saw this happen, both as a university student, gay man and equal-rights advocate.
In a relatively short period of time, the gay-rights movement fused with more radical campus-based gender and identity-politics movements, to become the compound movement now known as “LGBTQ+”—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, “queer” and more. Even many people within the movement now have trouble keeping up with all the new subcategories contained within that plus sign. One version of the rainbow flag unveiled last year has 11 different colors on it. The creator, Daniel Quasar, identifies as a “queer non-binary demiguy” whose pronouns are “xe/xem/xyr.” None of these bizarre neologisms have any resonance to those of us who joined the gay-rights movement simply to affirm and protect the basic rights of people to be who they are and love who they choose without stigma or legal sanction. We’ve been forced to watch the simple moral logic of non-discrimination be transformed into a self-parodic alphabet soup of invented identities.
Over the last few months, a Democratic presidential debate focused on LGBT issues was highjacked by a rogue transgender woman who shouted slogans about trans rights while the candidates and moderators nodded along robotically. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has called for unisex prisons, a policy that, if implemented, would lead to the rape of female prisoners. Senator Kamala Harris, another Democrat running for president, even came under fire for daring to suggest that pregnancy is a “women’s” issue—since it is now fashionable to highlight the fact that trans men and the “non-binary” also can bear children.
In his recent Netflix special Sticks and Stones, comedian Dave Chappelle nearly got himself canceled for pointing out the growing estrangement between the LGB and trans communities (whom he collectively referred to as “alphabet people”). This being a forbidden topic, it goes without saying that the ultra-woke outlet Vice ran a scathing review of the special, later echoed by other progressive outlets, such as Salon. LGBT activists chided Chappelle for his alleged transphobia on Twitter, despite the fact that viewers themselves gave the show a 99% rating. This is now a typical pattern: Whenever someone runs afoul of gender orthodoxy, the official pundit class has to pretend it’s appalled, a difficult conceit to sustain when sites such as Rotten Tomatoes make popular assessments a matter of public record.
Chappelle used the analogy of a car trip shared by passengers G, L, T and B. The Gs are driving, with the Ls in the passenger seat. The Ts are in the back. “Everyone in the car resents the Ts,” Chappelle says. “The Ts are making the trip take longer.” Trans comedians and activists, who’ve become accustomed to pride of place in the intersectionalist hierarchy, were up in arms. But Chappelle made it abundantly clear that he had no animus toward anyone in the LGBT community: The target of his satire was not any one group, but the increasingly ridiculous conceit that all of these “alphabet people” are happy fellow travelers. LGB rights and T activism have been revealed to be unnatural bedfellows, and it’s inevitable that, as is happening in Britain, they will go their separate ways.
Gays, lesbians and bisexuals all have something obvious in common: same-sex attraction. This is an alternative sexual orientation that, to some extent at least, shapes our experiences and alters our life outcomes. We typically identify with our biological sex—and in fact, sometimes have spent many years feeling trapped by it. To be gay is to understand that sex is set at birth. My sexual attraction, likewise, is based on hard-wired factors beyond my control.
Transgenderism is a separate concept. While homosexuality leads to obvious differences in real-life behavior, transgenderism offers a categorial redefinition of what it means to be a man or a woman. As Joyce describes it, a “gender identity” is a quasi-spiritual concept—almost like a soul—that is “something between an internal essence, knowable only to its possessor, and stereotypically masculine or feminine appearance and behavior.”
Gay rights activists simply want society to accept their different ways of living and loving—since gay men and lesbians pursue romantic interests and build families in ways that are at odds with conventional heterosexual expectations. Followers of radical gender theory, on the other hand, demand that we all reject our basic understanding of biological sex in favor of a recently conceptualized abstract notion of human identity.
Of course, the idea of transgenderism per se isn’t new—nor is the (perfectly valid and just) demand that people with gender dysphoria be treated with decency and respect. But the original form of this demand was based on the far more reasonable idea that gender is a social construct distinct from biological sex. It was not disputed that a transgender woman is a biologically male human who identifies with the social norms traditionally associated with woman. But in recent years, transgender activists have demanded that sex and gender be conflated, and that the very idea of innate biological differences be pushed into the background. At the most absurd extreme, there are now athletes and scholars who seriously suggest that being male offers no competitive physical advantages over being female, a proposition that even small children know to be unhinged.
One of the unsettling elements embedded within this advocacy is the demand that women—lesbians, more specifically—make themselves sexually available to trans women, on the far-fetched theory that gender identity, not sex, is the real source of human attraction. As Jonathan Best notes, Stonewall now has defined “homosexuality” as referring to “someone who has an emotional romantic and/or sexual orientation towards someone of the same gender.”
“Did you see what happened there?” Best writes. “Same-sex attraction has become same-gender attraction. This might seem academic. But take a moment to reflect on what it means in the context of Stonewall’s affirmation of gender identity. Stonewall is asserting that lesbians are attracted to anyone with a female gender identity, whether that person is biologically male or female. This turns gay and lesbian desire into transphobia. I’m a gay man—I’m attracted to male bodies—not people performing male gender roles. And, yes, that means I like male genitalia. (I really like it). Trans activists argue that my sex-focused homosexuality is transphobic. I’ve seen trans activists compare non-trans inclusive gay desire to racism and describe gay sexuality as ‘genital hang-ups.’”
In the United States, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has passed the Equality Act, a so-called LGBT rights bill that outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That is a noble goal that would seem to be in keeping with America’s larger civil-rights legacy. But the Act explicitly redefines biological sex under federal law according to self-defined gender identity—so it easily could allow for a whole host of adverse consequences. And as we have seen in Canada, where a trans woman tried to leverage human-rights law to force immigrant aestheticians to wax her “female” scrotum and penis, the victims of this movement tend to be women.
Even under current U.S. law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act serves to outlaw discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Activists are arguing that transgender identity is protected under the law’s reference to “sex,” even though “gender identity” is mentioned nowhere in the law. Trans activists also are demanding government support for policies that subject gender-confused children to potentially sterilizing hormones and other aggressive therapies. Their rights are being sacrificed on the altar of gender self-identification as well.
The redefinition of sex as gender is a step that most people—even the most well-meaning and humane members of society—simply will never accept, no matter what laws activists manage to get passed. And the effort to ram this doctrine down the throats of ordinary people will tarnish any movement that insists on such mantras. So long as self-described “LGBT” activists demand that a male with gender dysphoria is “really” a female, many otherwise accepting people will remain opposed to, or at least skeptical of, the wider movement.
As a right-of-center journalist, I know dozens of young conservatives, particularly women, who are completely open and accepting of their gay and lesbian friends, and supportive of gay rights; but simply won’t accept that a man can be a woman, even if they are forced to give lip service to this mantra as a condition of passing sensitivity-training courses or using social media. Many progressive news outlets were aghast when new polling showed that “young people are growing less tolerant of LGBTQ individuals.” But a closer look into the survey’s methodology revealed that on most questions, they were asked about “LGBTQ people,” not gay people. Support for “equal rights” remained steady, but comfort around “LGBTQ” people has declined. Notably, the survey found that comfort levels around “a same-sex couple holding hands” remain virtually unchanged. Although it’s fashionable to pretend otherwise, it’s the T that’s the issue.
To repeat what I wrote above, transgender people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. And I have spoken out strongly against anti-trans policies (such as a ban on trans soldiers in the U.S. military). To say that these two causes—LGB and T—should separate isn’t to say that one has value and the other does not. I am simply noting that their goals are at odds. As gay writer Andrew Sullivan recently wrote in New York magazine:
The truth is that many lesbians and gay men are quite attached to the concept of sex as a natural, biological, material thing. And gay men are defined by our attraction to our own biological sex. We are men and attracted to other men. If the concept of a man is deconstructed, so that someone without a penis is a man, then homosexuality itself is deconstructed. Transgender people pose no threat to us, and the vast majority of gay men and lesbians wholeheartedly support protections for transgender people. But transgenderist ideology — including postmodern conceptions of sex and gender — is indeed a threat to homosexuality, because it is a threat to biological sex as a concept.
Canadian writer Sky Gilbert, a gay writer, made a similar point in Quillette, noting that transgender activists increasingly are telling young children who may grow up to be gay or lesbian that their effeminate or butch expression is actually a sign of a transgender soul trapped in the wrong body: “Until the latter decades of the twentieth century, if parents caught their son playing with dolls, they might suspect he was gay. And if he grew up to be an adult with same-sex desire, he would go to a psychiatrist to seek help. Now that we have (spuriously) separated sexuality from gender, a parent who catches his boy playing with dolls will take a trip to a psychiatrist—but this time for different reasons: Little he might be a little she.”
The idea of biological sex is at the core to the gay identity—of my gay identity—and the stereotypical definitions of gender expression that the transgender movement peddles ignores the existence of men and women who happen to express their gender in unorthodox ways without actually being transgender. Most of these people simply grow up to be gay. To demand that these children be instead labeled gender dysphoric is essentially a form of woke conversion therapy. We gays experienced quite enough of that phobic behavior from the socially conservative right. We have no interest in getting force-fed another serving from the progressive left.