Some of you will have noticed that my observations on the subject of transgenderism/transsexualism have not been met with universal approval, especially among transsexuals. No surprise there.
The responses came in predictable forms, mostly juvenile profanity. But there was a bit more. The Telegraph’s Tom Chivers (a guy called Tom?) offered a response under the question-begging headline: “Whether or not Laverne Cox is a woman is not a question of biology; it’s a question of language.” (I assume that Mr. Chivers, like most columnists, does not compose his own headlines, but it is an accurate summation of his argument.) That is, of course, precisely the magical belief that I was arguing against; the question of whether somebody is a woman is a biological question, one that demands a biological answer.
Amanda Marcotte, a world-champion misser of points, demanded to know: “How are you harmed by other people being allowed to self-determine gender?” Framing the question in Millsian harm-principle terms would present a perfectly reasonable challenge to a libertarian such as myself if, for example, I were calling for the government to ban sex-reassignment surgery or related hormone therapies. A reader at all familiar with my work would know that waiting on me to call on the government to ban much of anything short of violence or theft is a rather long-term assignment. I have not called for so-called sex-reassignment procedures to be banned, neither in this most recent article or in my earlier and more detailed argument about the matter of Bradley Manning. Perhaps it has not occurred to Miss Marcotte that my concern about a program of genital amputation in the service of a metaphysical theory stems not from any harm I expect to suffer myself but from harm that I do not wish to see visited upon other people. In this I am hardly alone.
The content of the responses on Twitter and elsewhere was a useful reminder that the Left, including its sexual-liberationist faction, is inarguably totalitarian. Critics suggested not only that I be fired for my views but that I should be prosecuted for them, and that the government should ensure that such views are not published. Live-and-let-live is not the Left’s way, never has been, and never will be. It is not sufficient that transsexuals should be free to act on their delusions — the rest of us are expected to participate in them with unreserved enthusiasm, and the Left is willing to use the state to compel us to do so. To simply believe otherwise and to share those views in print is in the minds of many on the Left not only a social transgression but something that should be a crime. The belief that members of minority political tendencies should be jailed for their views is very much in vogue for the Left at the moment. Democrats in the Senate are seeking to repeal the First Amendment. All of us — conservatives and whatever traditional liberals there still may be on the left side of the spectrum — should fully appreciate the sobering fact that there is a nascent, popular, authoritarian movement among members of the Left that supports everything from censorship to literal, non-metaphorical gulags in which to imprison people for their political beliefs.
A second, considerably less important, question here involves the limitations of my own preferences for a radically expanded kind of liberty. As I noted above, I am not calling for the government to abolish sex-reassignment procedures, but I do believe that such procedures should be discouraged, especially by medical associations. My preferred model for professional licensure, including that of physicians, is through competing professional associations rather than through government monopolies, and I believe that this would, on balance, produce much better results than does the current model. I would be perfectly happy with a medical association’s deciding that those who perform such procedures cannot operate under its aegis, forcing such physicians to seek credentialing elsewhere.
While I believe that this model would be superior, I do not suffer from utopian delusions, and I suspect that most medical associations would continue to sanction such procedures — not out of crass economic self-interest, but because the cultural pressure to do so would be, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, very strong. On the other hand, the significant minority of physicians who believe such procedures to be mutilation rather than therapy would at least have the option of disassociating themselves from it professionally. In that, this is rather like my argument that in a private-contract model, what we call traditional marriage would at least have something of a fighting chance, which it does not under a government-monopoly model of marriage. If we conservatives are right that our models of family and community life actually are better in meaningful ways, then competition should make that clear over time.
Perhaps the most thoughtful line of argument that was offered was that in other circumstances we are happy to allow social arrangements to supersede biology, as in the case of adopted children. This view seemed especially persuasive to Glenn Greenwald, which surprised me — goodness knows I have my disagreements with Mr. Greenwald, for whom I have a grudging admiration, but I had never suspected sentimentality to be among his defects. Julian Sanchez demanded to know whether I would criticize an adoptive parent for referring to an adopted child as “son” or “daughter.” But this is only taking a linguistic imprecision — English uses the same word for adoptive and biological relationships — and making a creed out of it. I am myself adopted, and of course adoptive relationships and biological relationships are fundamentally different things. We may use the words “mother” and “father” for both kinds of relationships, but that plainly does not make them interchangeable. (The non-interchangeability seems to me to be the whole point of adoption, in fact.) It is easy to see the flaw in that line of thinking as it relates to sex-reassignment therapy: We probably would look askance if adoptive parents had their children surgically altered to more closely resemble them and thus to enhance their self-conception as parents.
A final note: In Jay’s response to the Telegraph’s Tom Chivers, he noted a distasteful habit that some writers have of referring to a subject as “somebody called Bob,” as a way to belittle the person in question. I must with shame acknowledge that I have been guilty of that very thing. Given my esteem for Jay, without whom I would not know how to pronounce “long-lived,” I am resolved to go forth and indulge that particular sin no more.