Published January 26, 2023
The New York Times — that arbiter of upscale left-liberal opinion — is giving its readers permission to oppose transgender orthodoxy. The paper recently published a story about schools that hide children’s gender transitions from their parents. Despite scrupulously observing the pronoun pieties of gender ideology, the piece was surprisingly evenhanded and even sympathetic toward the parents it featured.
The feature illustrated how ideologues in the education system, along with their political enablers, are operating in bad faith. Educators know that parental skepticism toward transgender identities is not the same as actually endangering or abusing children, which school staff would be required to report. Nonetheless, activist teachers and other school staff use “safety” as an excuse to cut parents out. Even many liberals are uncomfortable with that.
This report is the latest in a series of NYT pieces that have questioned transgender dogmas. Even though the paper is just now waking up to issues that conservatives have sounded the alarm on for years, this is still important because it shows that the coalition of the concerned now can include the left. The Times is establishing a permission structure through which its readers can dissent from gender ideology while still thinking of themselves as good liberals.
Just look at the parents that the paper profiled. While some of the parents interviewed for the story have changed political loyalties from left to right over this issue, others, such as those interviewed at a support group for skeptical parents of children who identify as transgender, are more conflicted:
“Most said they identified as liberal, and that the living room was a rare safe space for them to voice their fears … Here they could ask: What if their children had been unduly influenced by their classmates to ask for hormone treatments and surgery? What if teachers were encouraging students to see their families as unsafe? And were right-wing partisans their only sympathetic audience? ‘It’s just been such a hard thing to navigate, because on the one hand, I’m dealing with my very extreme liberal values of individuality, freedom, expression, sexuality, wanting to support all of this stuff,’ said a tearful mother. ‘At the same time, I’m afraid of medicalization. I’m afraid of long term health. I’m afraid of the fact that my child might change their mind.’ As other parents nodded in agreement, the lone father in the room said: ‘It’s politically weird to be a very liberal Democrat and find yourself shoved in bed with, like, the governor of Texas. Am I supposed to listen to Tucker Carlson?’”
By presenting these parents sympathetically, the Times confers, in the eyes of its readers, legitimacy on their concerns, even if it means agreeing with the likes of Tucker Carlson about something. This is good. The fastest way to defeat transgender ideology and its poisonous fruits will be having the sort of people who think of themselves as good liberals turn against it.
This broadening of the coalition creates opportunities for those of us who have long opposed both transgender ideology and the sexual liberalism that it grew from. Our society needs the truths of Christian sexual teaching, and as the victims of the sexual revolution increase, there are many who are willing to listen. Of course, proclaiming those truths may sometimes create difficulties because there is tension between the immediate goal of resisting gender ideology and the broader goal of advancing Christian sexual morality. It is not just that there is rarely a nice way to say “I told you so” but also that the easiest way to secure an alliance against transgender ideology is to minimize the obligations and demands beyond this particular issue. As the New York Times story shows, many of the people troubled by the gender revolution are still trying to hold on to the rest of the sexual revolution.
We need to work with these people to beat back the transgender tide. But we also know that they are fighting on unstable, slanted terrain — the same slippery slope that brought us here. These liberals recognize that we are embodied as male and female, but, aside from gender transitions for children, they often reject the implications of this truth for marriage and family, and consequently for sexual morality more broadly.
But accepting the reality and importance of our embodiment as male and female doesn’t end with rejecting transgender ideology. If our maleness and femaleness matter, then we need to know how to live well as male and female, especially as regards to sex, which unites the two halves of the human race and provides for its continuance. Thus, reckoning with our embodiment directs us toward Christian sexual ethics, which provide a solid foundation for our flourishing as male and female.
A broader rejection of the sexual revolution is not inevitable, of course. The human capacity for half-truths, inconsistency, and hypocrisy is vast, and the demands of Christianity are difficult. But people are noticing that the sexual revolution has not delivered on its promises. The freedom to hop in and out of beds, marriages, and even genders has not made us happy or even provided much sexual satisfaction. Lonely young men taking estrogen and watching animated porn was not what sexual liberation was supposed to end up as. Adolescent girls demanding to have their breasts amputated was not how women’s liberation was supposed to turn out.
The transgender moment might be the breaking point at which the absurdities and cruelties of the sexual revolution become so evident that people begin to look for something better. It is incumbent on Christians to explain — and more importantly, model — this better way of life to those who have been hurt by our sexual culture. Standing with parents whose children are being pushed into transgender identities by activist educators is a good start.
Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash