There are two waves of culture war bills cascading through state legislatures lately. One is the flotsam of bills to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project in public schools. The other is the jetsam of bills to ban transitioning health care for transgender youth and participation of transgender girls in girls’ sports.
In both cases, the proponents of the bills are seeking to enforce what they see as the truth: that America is a land of opportunity based on merit, not on white supremacy; and that one cannot change one’s biological sex, regardless of how one feels about their gender.
The problem for Democrats is that for the majority of voters who live in the parts of America with disproportionate electoral power, those two statements are obvious truths (and one actually is).
But here they are, with an historic opportunity to cleave some of those voters away from the Republicans, a chance to paint the GOP as fringe, radical, out-of-touch, fascistic, anti-American, and instead, the Democrats are going to once again miss the forest of all of us for the trees of aggrieved minority groups.
Defunding the Police (Even if You Don’t) Elects Republicans
There is no doubt in my mind that policing as it exists today is not to protect and serve but to search and seize. A decade and a half of reporting on the War on (Those People Using Non-Pharmaceutical, Non-Alcoholic, Tobacco-Free) Drugs has shown me that cops plant evidence, racially profile, assault, rape, and lie far more than most people understand.
That, however, is not the impression the majority of voters in the cow-populated states have of the police. Have you counted how many crime procedural shows there are on TV? How do they all stay on the air, in some cases for two decades? Do you think people who hate cops watch them much? Of course not. To them, cops are often people they know—rural areas employ a lot of cops and prison guards—and nearly unanimously hold in high regard.
Yet, with the proliferation of cell phone video, there’s even an opportunity to reach these people on the issue of policing. Sure, they see some of the videos of cops murdering unarmed Black men and respond with a “he shoulda complied,” but there are some of the videos (Walter Scott shot in the back fifteen yards away, George Floyd being kneeled on for over nine minutes) where even they can’t Back the Blue.
But then comes “Defund the Police.” I understand the sentiment but it is impossible to convey in that frame to the people I now live among. To them, it just sounds like the solution to some cops feloniously mistreating Black people is to get rid of cops and let the criminals have a field day. They literally envision The Purge movies.
If Democratic leaders had shaped this around a frame of “Fund First Responders,” though, it could have gained traction. What “Defund the Police” is really proposing is a reallocation of police budgets to other types of first responders, like counselors, mental health pros, mediation specialists, social workers, and to programs that lift people from the poverty and despair that leads to criminal activity. So lead with that! Tell the people what you’re going to add to address the problem instead of what you’re going to subtract. Make the lack of more diverse first responders the problem, not the presence of first responders that most people support.
Erections in Women’s Prisons Elect Republicans
It’s understandable why the people in flyover country cling to mythology about our country that denies or justifies our genocidal colonial genesis and continued structural racism. There is every incentive to keep believing it when you’re white and there aren’t enough people of color around to force you to confront your views.
But the people raising animals on the farm have a fundamental understanding that almost all animals, including humans, are sexually dimorphic species where one is designed to produce one big gamete and birth offspring, and the other one is designed to produce millions of little gametes.
So, when the Wall Street Journal prints an op-ed describing how the Democrats are fighting for something called The Equality Act that will allow self-identified, non-medically-or-surgically-transitioned transgender women to transfer to women’s prisons, and USA Today prints one on how Democrats are fighting to let transgender girls compete in high school girls sports without even setting testosterone limits, I can just forget about talking to my neighbors about voting Democratic.
The left is so reflexively in support of any minority that’s getting an unfair shake that sometimes it fails to address whether the unfairness is actually justified.
We didn’t create spaces segregated by sex for no good reason. We did so for three very good reasons: males are sexually predatory toward females; males are physically violent toward females; and males are athletically superior to females. Yes, sure, not all of us, but statistically certain enough to justify unfairness.
There are, no doubt, transgender women who should not be housed in a men’s prison, for their own safety. But there are also bound to be men claiming to be transgender women so as not to be housed in a men’s prison, for their own safety. You can bet if I were facing serious prison time and there’s nothing but my word to prove it, I’d be “Radical” Rachel before we even got to sentencing. If there’s the requirement that I take estrogen and lose my penis, though, that’s not going to happen.
The problem isn’t the transgender women, it’s the men who’d fake it. And men will fake it. History and statistics have shown us that men will go to outrageous lengths to rape and kill women. That’s not fair to a transgender woman who hasn’t taken hormones or had gender reassignment surgery, but sometimes an unfairness is justified. If we are to choose unfairness for nearly half our species or unfairness for a subset of a tiny minority of our species, shouldn’t we choose the latter unfairness?
Every Transgender Girl’s Victory Elects Republicans
Why I most identify with what’s called “The Left” in this country is because I do see the issues of white supremacy and patriarchy as fundamentally opposed to the democracy in which I want to live. I see the Republicans increasingly detached from reality and beholden to a toxic mix of conspiracy theory and cult of personality that will end this democracy. I cannot ally with people who cannot or will not see glaringly obvious realities like climate change, structural racism, and dangerous wealth inequality with their own damn eyes and instead buy the outrageous myths and justifications peddled by those with an ulterior motive.
Which makes transgender issues, and the issue of transgender girls in girls sports in particular, the issue that cleaves me from “The Left.”
I’m not ignorant of transgender people in real life. I’ve lived with, worked with, and slept with transgender women. In every respect in which there’s no valid reason for sex segregation, I am in full support of respecting their rights. How a person wishes to dress, be addressed, or attain education, employment, enlistment, and health care is none of my business or the state’s.
But in those areas where sex segregation was created for good reason—to protect women from men or give women athletic opportunity—I cannot abide creating a greater unfairness to alleviate a lesser unfairness.
It’s just an obvious fact that male bodies are athletically superior to female bodies, full stop. There is nothing that can be done to make a body born male perform as if it had been born female. Not only do 14-and-15-year-old boys beat the all-time records of the most elite adult women athletes, but even pre-pubescent boys in grade school show greater athletic performance than same-age pre-pubescent girls (who did excel in flexibility and balance over boys, however).
Many sports allow transgender women athletes (and let’s be clear, nobody’s really concerned about transgender men in this discussion) based on their reduced levels of testosterone. That male hormone certainly does contribute to the strength advantages males have over females, but it’s not the only advantage. Male bodies have denser longer bones attached at smaller angles, larger lungs and hearts that distribute more oxygenated blood to stronger muscles, less body fat distributed in less obstructive places, and other advantages.
But even with the testosterone, Olympic regulations state that transgender women athletes need only reduce their T-levels below a limit (10 nmol/L, or 288ng/dL) that is far above the range (8-60 ng/dL) of the median woman. In a sense, their hormone therapies are a performance decreasing drug and they needn’t take enough of it to decrease their level to anywhere near a woman’s level.
That wouldn’t even matter under the Equality Act the Democrats are proposing. It, like 19 states currently, wouldn’t even mandate the performance decreasing drug, allowing transgender girls to compete against girls with no mandate on testosterone levels.
Democrats Have No Idea How American Sports Are
Again, we have America right now reeling from a devastating pandemic, its economic fallout, a literal violent insurrection, and the continued Big Lie from Mar-A-Lago. A chance for Democrats to land some serious body blows against the GQP. And to be fair, the rollout of vaccination and reduction in COVID has been a solid body blow.
But there is so much self-inflicted damage Biden is going to take by championing issues like opening up high school girls’ sports to transgender athletes. How many votes will he lose to get votes that would never vote Republican anyway?
In my travels across America, from red state to blue and the purples in-between, one common touchstone on which I could always base some small talk was sports. And yet I find it is “The Left” that’s most likely to scoff at “teh sportsball gamez” and dismiss sports as anything that Serious People™ pay attention to.
Sports is one of the few national pieces of American culture. It exemplifies what we believe about ourselves, that if we combine hard work and talent in a structure of rules and fairness, we’ll succeed . Especially high school sports. That’s people’s kids living that American Dream™, striving to be better, whether it’s just running a personal best, winning the school meet, winning state championships, winning scholarships, maybe even winning the lottery of being a pro athlete. That’s the same in Fairbanks as it is in Fresno, Fort Worth, Fargo, Framingham, or Fort Lauderdale.
So, when their athletic little girl, whom they’ve spent plenty of time and money helping to train, begins winning and charting that path toward excellence, they are not going to be swayed by any appeals to fairness when they see her lose a scholarship to someone who was racing as a boy the year before.
Democrats are never going to mount any argument for this that defies what most people will see with their own damn eyes: their girls unfairly forced to compete against superior athletes. They’ll accept it no more than a 250lb man who identifies as a featherweight becoming the undisputed featherweight boxing champ or a stock car winning gold in the men’s 100 meter dash.
Is it unfair that a transgender girl athlete would feel uncomfortable competing with or, after hormones, be unable to compete on boys’ teams? Sure. But again, Democrats want to focus on the unfairness to the trees and ignore the unfairness to the forest. Not only do the parents of all the girls feel slighted, but even childless people with no personal angle will see an obvious unfairness. The visual of thin-hipped, bulging transgender girls winning track championships, or bulky middle-aged transgender women shattering weightlifting records, or tall, muscular middle-aged transgender women towering over college basketball or Olympic handball games is politically inexplicable and Democrats are dooming themselves in the middle of America for trying to explain it.
Otherwise Progressive People Are Not “Transphobes!”
There’s an old joke about two guys walking across a bridge. The first guy says he’s Christian. The second guy says he is, too. Then it progresses from them finding they’re both Protestants, then both Presbyterians, then both Reformed Presbyterians. But when the first mentions he’s an Old Light Synod Reformed Presbyterian, the other guy glares at him, exclaims “New Light Synod! Heretic!” and pushes him off the bridge.
That’s how I feel any time I bring up the issue of transgender women in prison or sports.
My progressive bona fides are extensively documented on this site. From gay marriage to mass incarceration, immigration reform to Black Lives Matter, abortion rights to victimless crimes, universal healthcare to free state college education, and every other plank you could pull from Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, I side with Democrats on what they believe (or at least what they say they believe).
But if I express my belief that transgender women deserve respect, equal rights, and belong everywhere except those spaces that we sex segregated for good reason, I’m labeled by some a “transphobe!” or “TERF!” It’s quite disconcerting, having been a man who has fought for women’s rights and gay & lesbian rights on a number of fronts, to be dismissed with the same epithets used equally on truly hateful people with an array of bigotry.
It’s an issue where I find myself on the side of conservative religious groups I despise and opposed to liberal civil rights groups I strongly support. More than one commenter has suggested that if I find myself on their side, I must be wrong, which is the logical fallacy of appeal to authority, but nonetheless psychically wounding.
Democrats, all you accomplish with these issues is driving away winnable moderate votes, people who could be made Democrats for life if you delivered on issues that applied to all Americans of every race and gender, like raising the minimum wage to a living wage, forgiving student debt, providing universal health care, legalizing marijuana, providing free state college education, ending our forever wars, repairing our crumbling infrastructure, strengthening unions and worker protections, taxing the rich and corporations, and prosecuting those who attacked our democracy. Instead, you’re going to pass on all those issues and focus on tarring moderates and progressives as “transphobes!” for acknowledging simple biological reality and “racists!” for suggesting that there is a need for policing in a civil society. How will it feel knowing you did right for less than 1 percent of America as the next Trump Administration and Republican Congress and conservative SCOTUS undo all the good you’ve done for 100 percent of America?