Published March 24, 2022
It’s official: Men are the best women.
This is not about the swimming. That is to say, the reason people suddenly care about collegiate swimming is that National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) women’s swimming is no longer women’s swimming. The triumph of male swimmer Lia Thomas (formerly Will Thomas) is national news because it shows there are no limits to the charade of trans ideology.
We are supposed to pretend that a hulking man is a woman, and that it is a sign of moral progress when he beats female athletes in the pool and exposes his penis and testicles to them in the locker room. As one of his teammates put it, “It’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women.”
Even for those who care little about NCAA swimming, the injustice of this situation matters. It demonstrates that trans activists and their allies do not care whom they hurt in pursuit of their ideology. The trans agenda was presented as a polite fiction — playing along with a small number of people who wanted to be the other sex — but what were supposed to be white lies have become very dark.
In the Thomas case, the harms are obvious, from the displacement of female athletes to women having to share a locker room with a man who apparently leers at them while flashing his junk. These blatant injustices offered an opportunity for the trans movement to show there are limits to its demands. But the movement and its allies have instead quickly pivoted from assuring us that such things would never happen to telling us that they are good and that we had better get used to them.
The left’s destruction of women’s athletics is only a small part of the campaign to subjugate women and girls by legally and culturally erasing their existence. The trans goal is a society and legal system in which the subjective claims of self-identification are what determine who is a woman.
But when being a woman is merely a matter of self-ID untethered from biology, it becomes impossible to establish safe havens for women and girls. This vulnerability is intentional; the trans agenda wants to have a man in every girl’s locker room, bathroom, prison cell, and even fifth-grade science camp cabin.
And everyone knows it. Thomas appears to have thrown some races in an effort to tamp down on criticism, but it is too late to hide what is going on. Nonetheless, a lot of people want to pretend otherwise in the hope it will all go away. They know Thomas is a man. They know, or at least intuit, that transgender ideology is justified by bad science and worse philosophy. But they are afraid to say so.
This fear is not baseless. Trans activists and ideologues have disproportionate power, and they are ruthless with it. Getting kicked off of social media may be the least of your concerns. Saying that Thomas is a man can result in an online mob trying to ruin your education or career. Thus, story after story on Thomas involved criticisms from anonymous teammates and their parents — the injustice was apparent to all, but no one involved wanted to be labeled “transphobic.”
Thus, although it was generally admitted that the trans movement has gone too far and that lines needed to be drawn, it often seemed that no one in authority wanted to draw those lines, including supposed conservatives. And this problem extends well beyond this particular case. A lot of Democrats are uncomfortable with transgender toddlers and amputating healthy body parts from adolescents, but they are rarely willing to speak up.
This liberal hesitance arises from more than just the intimidation wielded by the trans movement. Rather, discussing any limits on gender or sexuality opens an awkward can of worms for them. Acknowledging that human embodiment and sexual dimorphism require restraining desire and claims of subjective identity could roll back a lot more than Lia Thomas’s swim career.
For instance, if the differences between men and women are real and important, that might suggest that having two daddies is not interchangeable with having a mother and a father. If the differences between men and women matter, then an economic system that sees men and women as interchangeable units of labor is deeply flawed and anti-human. If the differences between men and women matter, then how they are united matters, which means that a sexual culture ordered toward the indulgence of desire may not be ordered toward human flourishing.
Thinking seriously about embodiment and the differences between men and women challenges the preconceptions of many on the modern left. It also reopens a multitude of questions that cultural liberalism thought it had settled on its terms. Thus, although many liberals are discomfited by the Lia Thomas saga, they are at a loss as to how to respond.
The thing about slippery slopes is that they’re slippery, and it’s hard to stop after picking up speed. But unless the left is comfortable with abolishing women, they’re going to need to find some brakes, and some balls.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.