Culture

In Defense of Ben Carson 

HUD Secretary Ben Carson on Capitol Hill in 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
It’s activists who are harmful, not the Housing and Urban Development Secretary.

Personnel Needlessly Offended at Internal Meeting is apparently now national news. From the Washington Post:

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson expressed concern about “big, hairy men” trying to infiltrate women’s homeless shelters during an internal meeting, according to three people present who interpreted the remarks as an attack on transgender women.

Since men are, on average, bigger and hairier than women, and since some men do indeed try to infiltrate all women’s spaces with malicious intent — see here, here, here, and here — and since there is nothing wrong with being a man (provided you’re the sort of man who doesn’t forcibly infiltrate women’s spaces), nor with being a “big” or “hairy” man (though of course not all men are big and hairy) — what exactly is the problem here?

The Post informs us that it is not something that Secretary Carson said. Rather — per the article’s lede — it is how what he said was interpreted by a handful of people present. “It’s a mythical notion that policies that are inclusive of transgender people somehow pose a threat,” Gillian Branstetter, a spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality later told the Post after they’d decided this was newsworthy. (Democracy dies in darkness, after all.)

But wait. Who said anything about transgender people? Certainly not Secretary Carson.

After his reported remarks were picked up by the press, he issued the following statement through a senior HUD spokesperson: “The Secretary does not use derogatory language to refer to transgendered individuals. Any reporting to the contrary is false.” Based on his reported comments, there is no reason to think otherwise.

Overtly, in Branstetter’s statement to the Post, it is Branstetter who seems to be suggesting that — from the mere mention of “big, hairy men” — Secretary Carson was referring specifically to transgender women. What does that say about Branstetter’s view of transgender women?

The trans women I’ve spoken to over the past year only ask for common courtesy and reasonable accommodations — which, rightly, they do not believe includes instant access to battered-women’s shelters and spaces – and they’d like to be left alone to get on with their lives. But on and on the activist nonsense goes.

“It’s frankly despicable that such a harmful notion would be used by someone charged with facilitating programs meant to help people in need, many of whom are transgender.” Again, what is Branstetter on about? Carson’s comments were about protecting vulnerable women, from potentially threatening men. What’s objectionable about that?

The remainder of the Post’s report includes a defensive screed about why transgender women are not a danger to women — as if Carson had singled them out when he did no such thing. He spoke about a much bigger and broader category, men. When it comes to these activists, then — methinks the lady doth protest too much!

Time and time again, activists will insist on making a big fuss about transgender women wanting access to women’s shelters. The moment we play this silly game, by making an additional point to the innocuous one Carson made, they descend in outrage. That point is this: that no man, including men who present as women for reasons ranging from a deep-rooted gender dysphoria (deserving of our sympathy) to predatorial intent (deserving of our contempt), ought to be given an automatic legal “right” to enter all-women’s spaces. And that is because vulnerable women (like a woman who has just been raped or battered, for instance) is likely to find any man to be threatening — and, besides, some men really are dangerous, and it’s very difficult for overstretched and undertrained staff to tell which are which (not that they should have to).

I’m reminded of a conversation I had back in April with Debbie Hayton (a British trans woman and science teacher), who told me that, before extremist gender activism took off, there existed in liberal societies, a relationship of trust and mutual respect between trans women (i.e. men presenting as women) and women. Before women were told we had no choice in the matter, my guess is that many of us would have smiled politely if a mild-mannered trans woman stood beside us at the bathroom sink. We’d have washed our hands, put on our lipstick, and thought no more of it.

But no longer. Hayton’s fear is that this hard-won relationship of trust is being jeopardized by gender extremists. And given the recent criticism of Carson for defending the rights of the most vulnerable women imaginable, I can’t say I blame her.

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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