Silence Starts To Break as Prominent Liberals Begin To Push Back on Transgender Agenda

‘There’s absolute terror of being perceived as bigoted,’ a columnist says of speaking out.

John Amis/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign, file
Trans rights activists march past the state capitol in Tennessee. John Amis/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign, file

The silence is breaking on transgender rights issues as more big names — and not just from the right — are questioning the prevailing orthodoxies on inclusion in women’s only spaces and on gender affirming medical care for minors. The question is how large these cracks will become and whether mainstream feminists and leftist will defect in larger numbers.

The Kiss frontman, Paul Stanley, is the latest to question the wisdom of medical gender transitions for minors, calling it “a sad and dangerous fad.” In a message posted to Twitter, Mr. Stanley — hardly a conservative, but a Trump critic and glam rocker known for dressing in flamboyant outfits with full face makeup — wrote that some persons undergo “needed” transitions later in life.  He  railed, though, against pushing children into transitioning because they don’t conform to gender stereotypes.

“Some adults mistakenly confuse teaching acceptance with normalizing and encouraging a situation that has been a struggle for those truly affected,” he wrote.

Mr. Stanley faced a rash of criticism online, but Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider, another glam rocker also known for makeup and wild, gender-bending outfits, tweeted his support. “There was a time when I ‘felt pretty’ too,” Mr. Snider tweeted. “Glad my parents didn’t jump to any rash conclusions!”

Criticizing any policy under the umbrella of transgender rights that deviates from the inclusion narrative was once the exclusive purview of the right and so-called TERFs —  trans exclusive radical feminists. That’s changing now, though.

A podcast host and former Los Angeles Times columnist, Meghan Daum, whose work is critical of medical transitions for minors, tells the Sun that part of the reluctance on the left to speak out on these issues is rooted in America’s “legacy of religious fundamentalism.” She says if you speak out, you’re lumped in with the Jerry Falwells and Matt Walshes of the world.

“There’s absolute terror of being perceived as bigoted because of the legacy of homophobia,” Ms. Daum says. “The trans activists have put themselves under the LGB, now TQIA+ umbrella. But it’s a totally different thing.”

The risk of cancelation and attacks is great. Mr. Stanley issued a statement Thursday tempering his prior one, though not backtracking on the substance. “Above all else, I support those struggling with their sexual identity,” the musician tweeted.

The San Francisco pride parade booted Mr. Snider from his planned role as grand marshall next month. “I was not aware the Transgender community expects fealty and total agreement with all their beliefs and any variation or deviation is considered ‘transphobic,’” Mr. Snider wrote in a scathing response. 

“There’s a difference between granting people their rights and their humanity and respecting them, and respecting whatever they want to be called, and facilitating young children and teenagers into irreversible medical transitions based on very little evidence,” Ms. Daum says. Since the establishment has framed this as “Gay Rights 2.0,” she adds, all debate about the ethics and medical efficacy of this care is framed in terms of bigotry instead of science.  

In Europe, real debates are raging about whether the “Dutch protocol,” the so-called gold standard for treating children with gender dysphoria, is best practice in a time of astronomical rises — as much as 4,000 percent in the United Kingdom — of children identifying as transgender. The United Kingdom’s sole clinic for medically transitioning minors is closing. Sweden, Norway, Finland, and France have issued stricter guidelines and caution when prescribing puberty blockers and hormones for minors. The risks of infertility, inability to orgasm, and other long-term side effects of puberty blockers are being spoken about openly.

In America, by contrast, the politicization and polarization means that states are either banning this medical care outright or endorsing “gender affirming” care 100 percent. To date, 17 states have passed bans on medical treatments or hormones for transgender youth, according to Movement Advancement Project’s tracking. 

Republican politicians are likely taking up this issue because polling suggests it’s a winning cause with the American public. Nearly 70 percent of Americans oppose giving puberty blockers to trans-identified children ages 10 to 14, and 58 percent oppose hormone treatments for teenagers.

Red states are also passing laws to limit transgender participation in sports, while blue states are moving in the opposite direction. Self-identified transgender persons account for only 0.6 percent of the population, according to Pew, though that number jumps to two percent for younger adults. Despite the small numbers, the issue has gained outsized importance in the culture war.

On the left, then, speaking against establishment orthodoxy is scary. “You can only be canceled by your own side,” Ms. Daum says. “Progressives are afraid of talking because they don’t want to be shunned by other progressives.”

On the issue of transgender women competing in women’s sports, tennis legend Martina Navratilova is the latest big name to weigh in with her opposition. One of the greatest female tennis players of all time, Ms. Navratilova is not new to this debate, though she has recently ratcheted up her criticisms a notch.

“Transgender cyclist Austin Killips wins women’s race, causes outrage — this will happen more and more- women’s sports is NOT THE PLACE for trans identified male athletes,” Ms. Navratilova tweeted Wednesday, after a transgender cyclist won the women’s Tour of the Gila in New Mexico.

Ms. Navratilova is also going after transgender NCAA women’s championship swimmer Lia Thomas for saying her critics are “using the guise of feminism to push transphobic beliefs.” Ms. Thomas swam with middling success on the University of Pennsylvania men’s swim team for the first three years of her college career, but once she transitioned and joined the women’s team, she started breaking women’s records and winning championships.

“NEWSFLASH Lia — it’s not fair. We shouldn’t have to explain it to you over and over. Also- stop explaining feminism to feminists….” Ms. Navratilova tweeted. She responded to a critic of her post by writing, “It’s called biology. It matters.”

Ms. Navratilova is a lesbian, a self-described feminist, and vocal with her criticisms of Donald Trump — hardly a rightwing shill. Yet weighing in on this third rail issue is out of step with her party and mainstream American feminist organizations, which support transgender athletes competing in women’s sports. The National Organization for Women’s website equates transgender rights with women’s rights and says “the same patriarchal structures that have oppressed women” are behind bans on transgender athletes and on “gender affirming” care for minors.

Americans, too, largely agree with Ms. Navratilova. Nearly 60 percent say transgender female athletes should not compete on women’s teams, according to a May 2022 Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.

That isn’t swaying mainstream feminists, who view this as a civil rights issue. At an event at the 92nd Street Y last year, feminist icon Gloria Steinem expressed her support for transgender athletes and suggested that sports should be divided by size of competitor, like in boxing, rather than by sex. “I think the height-weight one is the most logical in tennis, in all kinds of sports,” Ms. Steinem said. “Nothing is perfect, but I think [sports] divided by or grouped by, you might say, height and weight rather than by gender or anything else.”  

Ms. Steinem’s proposal would effectively end women’s sports as we know it. It would mean Serena Williams would have to compete against male tennis players her height and weight. It would require a 6-foot-tall female swimmer have to compete against men that size.

“Mainstream, large legacy feminist organizations have completely sold out women and girls,” president of Women’s Declaration International USA, Kara Dansky, tells the Sun. “It’s an existential threat to women and girls as a sex class.”

The Sun reached out to several mainstream feminist organizations including NOW and the Feminist Majority Foundation but did not hear back.

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling is  among the mainstream feminists speaking out against the inclusion of transgender women in female-only spaces like prisons and about using terms like “birthing person” or “menstruating person” instead of “woman.” Many of her fans burned her books and removed their “Harry Potter” tattoos in protest of her remarks. 

Too rich and successful to be canceled, though, Ms. Rowling has only doubled down. In a sign that the tide may be turning, HBO last month defended its relationship with Ms. Rowling in making a “Harry Potter” TV series, with the head of content calling this “a very online conversation, very nuanced and complicated and not something we’re going to get into.”

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also this weekend joined the fray, coming out against transgender women competing in women’s sports. Comedian Bill Maher has as well.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans support laws prohibiting discrimination against transgender persons in things like housing and jobs. It’s the matters of women-only spaces, sports, and medical care for minors that opinions get more complex. Among those critical of transgender women in sports, for example, views on drag shows, medical care for minors, or other hot button transgender-related issues differ widely.

For now, the main groups on the left taking up the fight against transgender inclusion in these areas are still radical feminists — so-called TERFs. A Women’s Liberation Front co-founder, Lierre Keith, a self-described radical feminist, tells the Sun this is making for strange bedfellows with Republicans in her activism. Her organization recently partnered with the conservative Independent Women’s Forum on helping to pass the House’s “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act.”

“Yes, the dam is breaking, but the dam has been being worked on for so long by these radical feminists,” founder of Sovereign Women Speak, April Morrow, a radical feminist, tells the Sun. “The reason it’s breaking now is because more people are getting involved and that’s what the radical feminists needed. … It’s going to take the Christians and the Republicans and the homeless Democrats.”

And more big names.

The New York Sun

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