A Compromise On Transgender Rights?

A writer at National Review is proposing a compromise on the issue of transgender rights. Needless to say, many conservatives aren't very happy about it.

Writing at National Review, J.J, McCullough argues that it’s time for conservatives to reach some kind of compromise when it comes to transgenderism in general and the issue of the rights of transgender Americans specifically. McCullough begins by recounting the extent to which public attitudes about homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage particularly changed in the relatively short period of time between the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act during the Clinton Administration and the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges striking down laws against same-sex marriage across the country. Over that same period, polling has also shown a rising acceptance of homosexuality and gay and lesbian relationships at a rate that has been far faster than public acceptance of interracial relationships, which didn’t reach majority status until nearly thirty years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia.

Based on this societal change, McCullough argues that we seem to be seeing the same thing with respect to transgenderism and that conservatives once again risk having to play catch up with society as a whole:

At present, it feels we’re still in the immature, demagogic phase. In some quarters, it remains fashionable to act theatrically repulsed by transgender people, emphasize their weirdness, and make populist appeals to the preposterousness of women asking to be called “him” or surgeons amputating penises and so forth. Yet this seems more cathartic than anything, in the same way that showy judgment of gays did a generation earlier. As with homosexuality in the 1980s and ’90s, the loud revulsion of critics conceals a fading interest in actually attempting to “solve” transgenderism, as even those most offended by it seem to quietly regard purported cures as quackish and authoritarian.

Though transgenderism is a far rarer phenomenon than homosexuality, I think most adults could admit it does seem like a rather persistent aspect of humanity. Most can probably recall a transgender person making at least some minor appearance in their life. If we concede that transgenderism is not going away, and is not something anyone intends to exert effort toward ending, then Americans, especially conservative ones, should reflect on our culture’s honest and fair attitude toward homosexuality and acknowledge that the most sensible path out of the present acrimony will probably require similar compromise. Some degree of cultural ceasefire and consensus seems the only path for both sides to maintain a degree of pride while avoiding a more radical, disruptive societal transformation.

Part one of the compromise will be borne by cultural conservatives and traditionalists. It asks for broad tolerance for the reality that transgender men and women exist, and are entitled to basic human dignity, just like everyone else. This does not mean having to morally endorse behavior many may believe runs contrary to God’s plan for a just and healthy society, but it does imply that acts like ostentatiously calling people by pronouns they don’t want, or belittling their personal struggle, are boorish and petty. It means acknowledging that arbitrary discrimination against transgender people is a cruel bigotry like any other.

But part two of the compromise requires sacrifice on the part of progressives, who are currently overplaying their hand in an effort to strong-arm sweeping social change as a flex of their power. There must be a halt in the use of state authority to impose accommodation of transgenderism in a fashion far more totalitarian than is rationally  justified. Transgender people constitute a tiny minority of Americans who, in the vast majority of cases, are explicitly eager to opt into the broad two-gender social order our civilization is based around. Tolerance does not necessitate a purge of any and all public manifestations of the gender binary in the name of extreme exceptions to the rule

To a large degree, McCullough’s call for compromise is based on a recognition of the fact that, as has been the case with issues such as same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, public attitudes regarding rights for transgender Americans have changed rapidly in the past several years. In the not too distant past, most polling showed that a majority of Americans did not accept the idea of transgenderism as a reality, and was generally opposed to the issues that have come to define the movement for rights protections for people who identify with a gender that is different from their biological sex. Those attitudes have been changing, albeit at a somewhat slower rate than we saw for either same-sex marriage or marijuana legalization. Because of that, McCullough argues, conservatives ought to consider making peace rather than continuing to futilely ‘stand athwart history.’

One of the most heavily contested areas dealing with these protections has been on the issue of allowing transgender Americans access to the public bathroom of the gender they identify with. This area has been the subject of litigation and legislative action, particularly as it applies to public schools and the accommodation for the rights of students who identify as transgender. After an era in which schools were under directions by the Obama Administration and by Federal Courts to accommodate students by allowing them to use the bathroom of their choice, that position was reversed by the Trump Administration. Notwithstanding that change in policy, Federal Courts continue to rule in favor of students in these situations and it seems clear that this issue will eventually have to be resolved by either legislative action or by the Supreme Court.

In addition to the public bathroom issue, there has also been significant controversy over the issue of how to deal with transgender Americans who are either serving or wish to serve in the military. In 2016, the Obama Administration issued orders reversing the military’s long-standing ban on transgender troops serving in the military, but that policy was also reversed by the Trump Administration. This decision came notwithstanding the fact that a comprehensive study of the issue, as well as the experience of many American allies that allow transgender troops to openly serve in the military, found that a policy similar to the one that the Obama White House advocated would have no impact on military readiness or unit cohesion. The Courts have also stepped in on this issue as well, with several Federal Courts, including courts in Washington, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, ruling that the attempt to reverse the Obama era policy violated both provisions of the U.S. Code and the Constitution. As a result, the Obama era policy remains largely in effect for the time being. Again, this is an issue that will have to be resolved either by legislative action or by a decision from the Supreme Court.

In both of these policy areas, it seems as though McCullough’s proposed compromise would go a long way toward advancing and protecting the rights of transgender Americans. While one can argue that a private property owner should not be required to comply with something such as the bathroom policy, there seems to me to be no question that public buildings and spaces should not discriminate against transgender people by forcing them to utilize facilities different from those that they identify with. One solution to that which we have seen become more common in recent years, of course, has been the advent of unisex facilities that are open to either gender, although this was originally generally intended to accommodate parents with children so that either a mother or a father could bring a child of either gender into a restroom with them when necessary. The issue of schools is more complicated due to the fact that it’s not always clear just how genuine a “diagnosis” of being transgendered is accurate in a young child, but it seems clear that these students should also be accommodated. As far as the military is concerned, the issue would seem to be even easier, especially since there does not seem to be any rational basis for the Trump Administration’s decision to repeal the Obama era policy.

Not surprisingly, McCullough’s piece has been met with some significant blowback from the right.

Rod Dreher, for example, cites it as yet another example of the kind of surrender on social issues and the alleged collapse of mainstream Christianity that is at the heart of his book The Benedict Option:

One, the Left is in no mood to compromise or be tolerant. They constantly say that their “humanity” is not up for debate. By “humanity,” they mean that everyone must accept everything they demand, or stand guilty of dehumanizing LGBT people. The idea that there is a compromise to be had is something that can only be held by someone too naive or too young to remember how the debates over homosexuality played out.

Second, what does it mean to say that “arbitrary discrimination against transgender people is a cruel bigotry like any other”? Define arbitrary. Do you really think that the Left will accept the distinction between arbitrary and non-arbitrary discrimination?

Third, does McCullough have more than a superficial understanding of what’s at stake in the trans phenomenon? Has he read the 4th Wave Now website, which is for parents and others skeptical of the trans phenomenon? Spend some time on it, reading the accounts of parents, of desisters, of feminists and others who have to deal with this phenomenon. It’s like going into another dimension. In the UK, trans activists — typically male to female transgenders — are viciously attacking feminists who say that women are being erased. This is madness, true madness, and you cannot compromise with it. Read Ryan Anderson’s new book for an in-depth examination of the issues and stakes in this fight.

Fourth, and related, transgenderism is categorically unlike homosexuality, which still works on the gender binary. It is certainly the case that there are males and females who do not easily fit within the gender binary. It is possible to treat them and their disordered condition humanely without surrendering the gender binary, which is encoded into our biology, and upon which the survival of society depends. Give up the gender binary, and you’ve surrendered far more than you can afford to surrender.

McCullough’s colleague David French, meanwhile, pushes back against his argument by arguing that conservatives can’t compromise “the truth”:

While I’m utterly opposed to boorish behavior, the use of a pronoun isn’t a matter of mere manners. It’s a declaration of a fact. I won’t call Chelsea Manning “she” for a very simple reason. He’s a man. If a person legally changes his name, I’ll use his legal name. But I will not use my words to endorse a falsehood. I simply won’t. We’re on a dangerous road if we imply that treating a person with “basic human dignity” requires acquiescing to claims we know to be false.

I don’t know any serious social conservative who doesn’t believe that a transgender man or woman is entitled to “basic human dignity.” No one is claiming that they should be excluded from the blessings of American liberty or deprived of a single privilege or immunity of citizenship. Any effort to strip a transgender person of their constitutional liberty should be met with the utmost resistance. But that’s not the contemporary legal controversy. Current legal battles revolve around the state’s effort to force private and public entities to recognize and accommodate transgender identities. The justification for this coercive effort is often the state’s alleged interest in preventing so-called “dignitary” harm. Thus, men are granted rights to enter a woman’s restroom, even when gender-neutral options are available. Thus, private citizens are forced to use false pronouns. Girls are forced to allow a boy to stay in their room on an overnight school trip, or they’re forced to compete against boys in athletic competition.


I understand the desire for social peace. Truly I do. The culture wars are exhausting and divisive. But treating every single human being with dignity and respect means not just defending their constitutional liberties and showing them basic human kindness, it also means telling the truth — even when the truth is hard. Any compromise that requires conservatives to grant the other side’s false and harmful premise is no compromise at all.

Finally, Hot Air’s Jazz Shaw argues that accepting transgenderism as normal would essentially be a denial of science:

[C]omparing gay rights to questions of “gender identity” is intellectually dishonest because the two have almost nothing in common. The primary reason comes down to science and reality. The fact is that a certain percentage of the population is gay, just as a certain percentage are born with blue eyes. There is no question that some percentage of men prefer the sexual and emotional company of other men. The same applies to lesbians. (Either that or you guys have been doing one hell of a job faking it for all of recorded history just to prove a point.) This isn’t a question that’s up for debate.

The state of being transgender – or more accurately suffering from gender dysphoria – takes us in a different direction. There is zero evidence that men with the normal complement of X and Y chromosomes are women or that the XX cardholders are men. (There is, of course, a very small percentage of the population with aberrant chromosomal structures in the 23rd pair who both require and deserve special considerations and treatment.) Simply believing that you are something which you are not and which medical science has absolutely no method of supporting is either a mental disorder or, at a minimum, an example of extremely confused thinking.

That brings us to the other point brought up by David French. There is a very big difference between the medical or psychiatric realities of gender dysphoria or “being transgender” and the political movement which has grown into what’s now being referred to as transgenderism. I doubt we are doing all we can to help people who find themselves in such a condition, but at least in the case of adults, you can’t really force any help on them either if they don’t wish it. And what you choose to do with your own body, the clothes you decide to wear or the way you choose to talk about yourself is strictly up to you. Society can not and should not attempt to force you to acknowledge your own biological reality any more than it can make you believe that the Earth is round.

But that’s not where the debate ends, particularly in liberal circles. We still live in the era of You Will Be Made To Care. It’s not enough for activists on the left if you simply shrug your shoulders and say that transgender individuals can dress or speak however they wish. It must be forced on everyone else. You must accept “women with penises” into female restrooms, locker rooms and showers. You must address them by or refer to them with the pronouns of their choice or face legal consequences. Live and let live is not a viable strategy in social justice warrior circles.

What all of these criticisms of McCullough’s have in common, of course, is the idea that there can be no distinction between biological sex and gender identity, something that has been at the core of conservative criticism of any movement forward on transgender rights for quite a long time now. This position, of course, is not far different from the arguments that were long made against condoning or giving legal protection and recognition to homosexuality relationships. In that case, the argument was that the relationship between men and women was biologically mandated and that homosexuality was therefore unnatural and unworthy of recognition by society or by the courts. In some cases, most especially when it comes to people such as Dreher, the opposition to transgender rights in any form is based in the writer’s interpretation of religion and the religious tradition in which they were raised or which they have adopted. Whichever interpretation one adopts, though, it seems fairly clear that it is mistaken, and that at the very least it is not a proper basis on which to base public policy.

On the scientific side of the ledger, the argument that biological sex and gender identity is one that is largely no longer accepted in the medical community. While it is as of yet not completely understood, it is clear that there is some segment of humanity that is wired to develop in such a way that they identify with a gender different from their biological sex. Past efforts to treat this as some form of mental illness have proven to be both unsuccessful and damaging, and psychiatry no longer considers what the American Psychiatric Association calls “gender dysphoria” to be a mental illness that can be treated or cured. Instead, the general approach has become to counsel such persons through the psychological stress they are feeling and to accommodate and accept the decisions that they make regarding their gender identity. On the whole, this, along with treating such persons with the dignity and respect they’re entitled to, seems to be the ideal manner in which to deal with what is no doubt a stressful situation for them.

Rather than proceeding in this fashion, though, many conservatives seem to believe that the best way to “treat” this condition is to force people to live their lives in accordance with their biological sex no matter how deep-seated their gender identity may actually be. This position is one that is not based in reality, but that it is in fact based in paranoia, misunderstanding, and a refusal to accept the idea that transgendered people may simply be different from the rest of us somehow and that they deserve the same amount of dignity and respect as any other member of society. This includes allowing them to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender they identify with and around which they have built their lives and to allow them to fully participate in society based on that gender, including enrolling in the military if they choose to and are otherwise qualified to do so, regardless of what it might say on their birth certificate.

The alternative strategy is one that seems to be entirely unworkable. This is particularly true with respect to public restroom use. How, exactly, are authorities going to determine that everyone who enters the ladies room in a public building is, in fact, someone with a double-x chromosome? Will everyone be required to carry their birth certificate around in case the Bathroom Police need to verify their gender? Or, will their be mandatory genital inspections? The answer, of course, is that there really won’t be any enforcement laws that attempt to ban transgendered persons from using the restroom of their choice because such a law is inherently unenforceable. Instead, the major impact is likely to be to cause embarrassment to someone that people suspect might be transgendered and to put transgendered people at risk of assault even if they try to comply with the law. Someone who was born male, for example, but is now a transgendered woman would have to use the men’s room even though they look for all the world like a woman, and this could potentially put them at risk of physical assault. The same risk applies to someone who was born female but is now a transgendered male. How putting people at risk solves any problems at all is beyond me, but then it’s clear that people on the right who consider this an issue worth fighting over don’t necessarily care about those types of victims of their supposedly well-intentioned laws.

In reality, much of the resistance to the idea of transgender rights comes down to the fact that it’s not exactly common for the average American to come into contact with someone who is transgender never mind have a close relationship with them. This means that understanding people who consider themselves transgender is not easy, and it becomes even more complicated when we are talking about children, many of whom are still a long way off from puberty and the point at which children generally become more aware of and interested in issues involving sexuality and gender. Additionally, the question of how to handle a very young child who insists on behaving as a member of a gender other than the one that they born with is a complicated one. There remains much confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to issues involving transgender issues, and that uncertainty is amplified when it comes to children. Many would argue, for example, that children who claim to be a different gender are lacking in understanding of what’s really going on with their bodies and their lives and that, rather than encouraging them by letting them make life-altering decisions at such a young age, parents and authorities should be counseling them to determine if they are possibly just going through a phase that will change over time. I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions whether they are applied to adults or children, that is a question best left to professionals in mental health and child development. As I’ve said before, while I don’t completely understand the issues surrounding being transgender I do know one thing. These people are fellow human beings and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect not ostracized and treated as deviants as social conservatives would do. In the end, if they truly believe that this is how they were meant to live their lives then it really does me no harm, nor does it do any harm to anyone else. If we lived our lives by this ideal, then perhaps we wouldn’t have as many problems as we do.

All of this goes a long way toward saying that conservatives would be well-served by considering McCullough’s proposed compromise rather than rejecting it. Already, polling is showing that most Americans believe that gender identity is something determined at birth rather than some kind of mental illness, although there are predictably sharp divides between Republicans and Democrats on the issue and between various age groups. Additional polling shows that the public supports allowing transgender Americans to serve openly in the military and oppose laws requiring transgender Americans to use public restrooms corresponding to their biological sex rather than their gender identity. In other words, much as it was the case with same-sex marriage and the general acceptance of homosexuality, the times and public opinion are changing and they are changing quickly. Conservatives would be best advised to adapt to those changes lest they get left behind much as they were during the same-sex marriage debate.

FILED UNDER: LGBT Rights, Religion, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Kathy says:

    It’s time for right wing Christians to understand that freedom of religion means they cannot argue “YOU can’t do that, it’s against MY religion.”

  2. Gustopher says:

    The Millennials and the post-Millennials are the first groups that really have concepts such as nonbinary and genderqueer as plausible gender identities — it just wasn’t seriously considered a thing outside of freak shows before that. Now it’s uncommon and odd, but plausible.

    I do wonder if a lot of transgender folks have a psychological need to adjust their bodies to match their gender identity because they have been conditioned to see gender as binary. We may see the next few generations approach this very differently.

    But, on the topic of the post, I think the conservative positions on gay and transgender folks shows that they have a very different notion of freedom than liberals. The freedom to use your economic and political power to impose your views on others.

    Gay wedding cakes distill this perfectly. There is a tension between the baker’s rights to run their business as they see fit, and the individual’s rights to services offered to the public. “Conservatives” are more concerned with the rights of the people with money and power — the business.

    They were on this side with segregation in the South, redlining in the north, avoiding accommodating the disabled, gay rights and now transgender rights.

  3. KM says:

    Much like the resistance of conservatives to accept that LBGT is not a “choice”, refusal to accept transgender-ism is based on religious premises and a limited understand of biology. Most will cite genetics (XX and XY) as definitive proof that biological sex is static without recognizing that there’s more then those two combos in nature. They will also say that being “born that way” isn’t valid logic while invoking it themselves ie the sex as determined by the genitals you were born with is your true one naturally. Their six-grade understanding of genetics, hormones and biology in general gets twisted to fit their black and white moral schema.

    I saw a great rebuttal somewhere that pointed out that since God used Adam’s rib to make Eve, she would have automatically male DNA that God would have need to change. It’s an unquestioned aspect of Abrahamric religions that the first female started out male. The Bible has the first sex change and it’s of divine origin. Tell this to a fundie and watch them go nuts. After all, they simply CANNOT accept the premise that transgender has scientific and biological standing. If you are religious, then God’s intent for you as His creation is vital. If His will was for you to be gay or trans from birth or virtue of DNA, then interfering with that is a violation of God’s plan. Not only are you violating the free will of the person in question, you’re defying God and therefore sinning. Thus, they will fight back and insist it’s a choice or disease to avoid contemplating that they could be going against the divine plan. Anyone who offers compromise like McCullough will not be tolerated because he threatens the foundations of their moral judgement.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Excellent analysis, Doug.

    What poor J.J, McCullough doesn’t understand is that modern -conservatism’ – really just the Trump personality cult – requires hate objects. Without someone to hate there is no Trumpism. They’re already furious that thanks to ‘political correctness’ they can no longer openly hate Africa-Americans, Latinos and gays, but are required to conceal their nastiness under a veneer of basic human decency. And I have to wonder if Trump’s orb-stroking with the Saudis crimps even their Muslim hatred. If we deprive them of trans people as open hate-objects what aspects of their seething rage will they be able to share openly?

    This isn’t just snark. Trumpism is built on a foundation of straight, white grievance. There are no policies in Trumpsim, just emotion. Take away the emotion and what’s left?

  5. Lynn says:

    “it’s not exactly common for the average American to come into contact with someone who is transgender”

    Or, more accurately, to notice/be aware of coming into contact with someone who is transgender.

  6. MattBernius says:

    It’s worth noting that French is also a deeply conservative Christian like Derher, so while he might not couch his opinion in his faith, I think it’s clear that his appeal to truth is as motivated by faith as anything else.

    Also given that J.J, McCullough is a gay man, it’s going to be pretty easy for many to dismiss his argument based on that alone.

  7. teve tory says:

    What poor J.J, McCullough doesn’t understand is that modern -conservatism’ – really just the Trump personality cult – requires hate objects. Without someone to hate there is no Trumpism.

    Modern conservative policies boil down to “Hey see those people you don’t like? I don’t like ’em either, and we’re gonna hurt em.”

  8. teve tory says:

    We’re gonna throw away the Iran deal to hurt obama, we’re gonna separate kids from their families to hurt mexicans, we’re gonna pollute all we want to hurt the hippy environmentalists….

    Politics of Vengeance.

  9. teve tory says:

    @Lynn: This is based on the old canard that “regular” americans are some dude in a trailer in West Turtlestump, Iowa.

  10. teve tory says:

    As a STEM guy I’ve been following the biology of gender for decades now. Rather than a simple gene it looks like things such as homosexuality have to do with interactions between the developing fetus and the mother’s body, with the mother’s body bathing the fetus–during, of course, brain development–with, sometimes, hormone baths that don’t reflect a ‘typical’ pregnancy. I’m oversimplifying when I say this because I don’t feel like writing a dissertation but it’s entirely possibly that under some circumstances a fetus with XY chromosomes winds up with a developmentally ‘feminized’ brain, or vice-versa. It’s fantastically complicated and we understand a tiny fraction so far, and I’m oversimplifying for brevity. But there’s a helluva lot more going on than the simplistic answers of XX=female, XY=male.

  11. wr says:

    @teve tory: “But there’s a helluva lot more going on than the simplistic answers of XX=female, XY=male.”

    Dude, God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Why do you libtards keep trying to complicate that?

  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    That’s a pretty solid analysis, Doug. I pretty much endorse it. I have no real operational understanding, though, of what McCullough is asking for when he says,

    There must be a halt in the use of state authority to impose accommodation of transgenderism in a fashion far more totalitarian than is rationally justified. Transgender people constitute a tiny minority of Americans who, in the vast majority of cases, are explicitly eager to opt into the broad two-gender social order our civilization is based around.

    How much of a thing is this? Is he mad that people like me start using “they” as the third-person pronoun referring to a person (or persons) of unknown/indefinite gender? It falls a bit oddly on my ear, but I think it’s better than any of the other things I’ve heard used. Is there a government push somewhere to use this that I’m not aware of?

    One final note. Referring to trans people collectively as “transgenders” seems like one of the classic linguistic tricks the right always seems up to. You know, like “Democrat party”, or “illegals”. No trans people refer to themselves as “transgenders”. I’m not your mother, or the language police, but I do wonder why people would use terminology other than that which people use to refer to themselves.

    Well, ok. I have strayed from strict terminological orthodoxy in writing about my daughter, who is a trans woman. But that was because I sought other words the way writers do, in order to make the writing about her, whom I love, more vivid and beautiful. Is this the purpose behind use of “transgenders”? Given the context in which the word appears, it seems not.

  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    What if, @wr, the traditions in the Bible were not meant to be literal truth, but a generalized story about how human beings might understand their relationship to God, and then, in that context, their relationships with each other?

    I mean, the Bible says, “if your right hand offend you, cut it off”. I’m not seeing a lot of people carrying out that program in a literal way.

  14. Kiy says:

    The transgendered seem like a political football kicked around by both teams. The Left seems big on signalling their virtue, and I can only half-heartedly go along. The Right seems bent on its usual nasty ways. When I enter a public restroom, I’m principly hoping for a quick, low-interaction experience in clean facilities, not the chance to piss amongst my people. Are people storming into bathrooms trying to make a public statement? If so, shame on them. And just who are these pearl clutchers pretending to be shocked by this? No, I just cannot believe any of these narratives.

    Society will need a generation to digest the matter. The majority will need recognise and accommodate the transgendered, but both sides will need to recognise that sensitivity runs both ways.

  15. James Pearce says:

    These people are fellow human beings and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect not ostracized and treated as deviants as social conservatives would do.

    <—- Word.

    They are also, it should be said, not political pawns. My brother told me a story about how he spent weeks raging about transgendered bathrooms, influenced by conservative media, of course, until someone asked him, "Why do you care about this so much?" That's when he realized that he was being played.

    And the truth is, if you don't care about it that much, your default position should be "These people are fellow human beings…"

  16. george says:


    But, on the topic of the post, I think the conservative positions on gay and transgender folks shows that they have a very different notion of freedom than liberals. The freedom to use your economic and political power to impose your views on others.

    Slightly fairer would be to say that conservatives think of freedom as being economic freedom but not social freedom, while liberals think of freedom as being social freedom but not economic freedom.

    In reality of course any real state will limit both social and economic freedom to some extent. The argument is about to what extent in which dimension (and despite people putting politics onto a spectrum, there are really many independent dimensions, everything from gay rights to self-defense rights to tax rights and so on). In fact its actually quite normal for someone to be for greater freedom in some dimension than in others – something liberals tend to be more honest about than conservatives, who often speak as if they believe the only dimensions of freedom that exist are the ones they like, the rest for them is ‘license’ rather than ‘freedom’.

    Why they care about bathrooms is harder to understand; as Mataconis said, do they really want people to carry around ID to show to the bathroom police?

  17. PJ says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I mean, the Bible says, “if your right hand offend you, cut it off”. I’m not seeing a lot of people carrying out that program in a literal way.

    Personally, I would become a Christian if I were allowed to stone my kids when they refused to do what I told them. I might even get kids too.

  18. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    This debate over what constitutes acceptable freedoms was around along before Trump’s political rise, and in countries where Trump plays almost no role at all. For instance, Canadian social conservatives (not nearly as powerful as in America) have been arguing about bathroom issues as well, and as a group tend to dislike Trump quite intensely (for obvious reasons – which emphasizes just how much American conservatives sold out their principles in backing Trump). The same I’m told of the UK. Trump is a very American problem, but the whole question of social freedoms is international.

    For instance, a colleague from Pakistan talks about the same social conservative vs social liberal issues taking place there (and Trump is almost universally despised in Pakistan).

  19. Lynn says:

    @wr: “Dude, God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Why do you libtards keep trying to complicate that?”

    Great parody — you got the tone just right.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    That’s when he realized that he was being played.

    If only most of the people who voted Trump would realize that…

  21. george says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Don’t think it would make much difference; most voted for the team, not the person or what he promised or said or what he stands for (in Trump’s case he stands for only one thing: himself).

    Which is why the best way to win the next election is to try to get some of the untapped 40% who don’t bother voting rather than convincing people who’ve already chosen their team to change; once people choose a team to support, they rarely change (its something like 90% who vote for the same party all their lives).

    I keep thinking about that number; “can’t be bothered” always has more ‘votes’ than any body running, often by a long shot. Trump got 26% of eligible voters, Clinton 27%, can’t be bothered got 44%. Get even 5% of those 44% and you win by a huge landslide, electorally as well as by percentage. Trump and Clinton both got the same people who usually vote for their party (same numbers as Romney and Obama basically), neither tapped into all the eligible non-voters.

    I’ve read this is the new strategy; get out your vote, try to discourage the oppositions fans from voting, but don’t bother trying to get people not interested in the game to participate. I suppose there are practical reasons for this, but it just seems odd to ignore 40% of the potential voters.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Rod Dreher, forever standing athwart the 13th century and yelling “STOP!!!!”
    David French who’s concern for the truth is so far reaching that he condemns everything donald trump says and does daily.
    Jazz Shaw who hasn’t read any of the recent (past 10 yrs at least) scientific studies on gender identity demonstrates that for conservatives, just as there are “alternative facts” there is also “alternative science”.

    Got it.

  23. SKI says:

    Kudos, Doug. You nailed the crux of the issues quite clearly. Regardless of the flavor of the arguments, they all start from a factually flawed, inaccurate premise. Unfortunately, today’s conservative writers all believe they are entitled to their own facts.

  24. wr says:

    @Lynn: Thanks. Apologies to those here who don’t know me well enough to realize…

  25. de stijl says:


    if I were allowed to stone my kids when they refused to do what I told them

    Dude, you are not allowed to hot-box people against their will! Especially, wee-uns! If you feel the need to blaze up, be respectful.

  26. de stijl says:

    The one thing to keep forefront in our thoughts is that it is a real thing and there are trans people; there always have been and there will always be.

    Those who want to wish it away are utterly foolish.

    Those who want to stigmatize it are at least boorish, if not full-on cruel. (I vote for cruel.)

    I had an unusual youth. I was a punk rock kid and so I hung out with punk rock kids. Many of them had troubled lives and a shocking amount of that revolved around sexuality and gender and how their families responded to that. This is no-fooling around – the vast majority of the kids you see on the street begging or busking were kicked out of the homes they were born into because of orientation or gender issues, or they left because Daddy, or step-Daddy, or Mommy, or Mom’s or Dad’s current BF / GF is a pedophile and is sexually abusing them and will continue to do so unless they leave.

    I’m straight, but I got over the notion that boy + girl is “normal” right damn quick; born-as boy + born-as girl is more prevalent – but it’s not more normal.

    People do not squat in abandoned buildings and busk for money and pee into a bucket because so when it’s full you can use it to force-flush a poo-filled toilet bowl when there’s no running water because it’s fun and glamorous. They do so because they have to. My life was comparably much easier than many of my friends.

    A lot of people did not just busk for money. I was “presentable” and “sociable” and “intelligent” and “diligent” and I had a day job; I even went to school. I was very lucky.

    Dealing with transgenderism is not hard. Just listen. Don’t empathize, don’t sympathize – just shut your damn mouth and let them speak.

    And just let them be who they are. And if you screw up the name or the pronoun just apologize and move on. They are desperately just trying to be who they are and to not be verbally, physically, or sexually abused because of who they are. (Okay, that last bit was both melodramatic and also arguably straight/cis-splaining. I cannot speak for them, but I can easily tell people who are not like them how not to be a jackass.)

    Here’s a great song from a real good guy I used to know – Bob Mould (in his Sugar incarnation) doing If I Can’t Change Your Mind

  27. MarkedMan says:

    A little tangential, but there’s been a number of comments about what Conservatives think, so I’ll take the chance to beat my drum again. Policies can be conservative, i.e. preserving a real or imagined status quo, or progressive, modifying or removing that status quo. People are almost always a heavy mixture of both. On the other hand people who self identify as Conservative, of course, more often favor the status quo but they also seem to have a healthy dose of two other tendencies: the belief that there is an inherent and easily discernible right and correct view on almost any subject, and the desirability of “the good guys” imposing these views on the populace as a whole and sanctioning dissenters.

    What’s really interesting about these last two characteristics is that they are not inherently conservative at all and in fact are quite prevalent among the young of all political stripes. It also seems that if someone emerges from their mid twenties and still has an over abundance of both of those characteristics the correct term to describe them isn’t “Liberal”, “Conservative”, etc. but rather “Assh*le”.

  28. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    Very well-said.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    This offer of compromise seems sadly typical. McCullough proposes that his side accept the inevitable and behave like decent human beings while demanding that “progressives” do something impossible by not seeking to “impose accommodation of transgenderism in a fashion far more totalitarian than is rationally justified.” As this totalitarianism is essentially a figment of their fervid imaginations, how are we to stop it?

    As with most other “social” issues, the right seized on a nothing burger, necessary and not terribly invasive rules about bathrooms, and blew it up into an issue so they could run on it. How are liberals to stop them from doing that?

  30. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Pearce:

    Kudos. The concept of transgender is one of those things that is beyond my comprehension. It’s just alien to me in a way that means I will likely never truly understand it.

    But the salient point is that truthfully it’s not for me to understand. It’s not my reality. That having been said, these people are fellow human beings. As such, the only understanding I truly owe them is the understanding that they’re equally entitled to dignity and respect. Whether or not I understand their difference is immaterial.

  31. Kit says:

    @de stijl:

    Dealing with transgenderism is not hard. Just listen. Don’t empathize, don’t sympathize – just shut your damn mouth and let them speak.

    This was a great post, but I think you get a bit carried away here. Dealing with transgenderism is going to be hard, and simply telling people to listen up will not win many allies. On the other hand, entreating people to listen to these stories seems like good advice, because their empathy and sympathy will be needed to affect political change.

  32. michael reynolds says:

    To quote myself, straight kid talking to trans kid in the early stages of announcing herself in the world, and doubting herself:

    “Look, Cruz, what if your trans thing is just some mental problem? Dysphoria, or whatever. What does it matter what the diagnosis is if there’s a cure, and the cure doesn’t hurt anyone? How has anyone got a single damn reason to care how you look or what you call yourself? If you’re crazy, the people hating on you are a hell of a lot crazier.”

    Or, Letterman:

    “This transgender issue that just happened, I just think, Are you kidding me? Look, you’re a human, I’m a human. We’re breathing the same air. We have the same problems. We’re trying to get through our day. Who the fuck are you to throw a log in the road of somebody who has a different set of difficulties in life?”

    Now, I have a dog in this fight, and I’ll admit that prejudices me. And frankly I find the online expression of the movement obnoxious and unloveable. But the point is not, ‘what right do they have,’ but rather, ‘what right do I have to push an agenda in opposition? What’s my standing, in the legal sense?

    Or to quote Oscar Wilde:

    “I have no objection to anyone’s sex life as long as they don’t practice it in the street and frighten the horses.”

    Don’t rape, don’t bully and don’t go after children, other than that who you fck, how you dress, what you call yourself, your preference in pronouns, which bathroom you pee in, is entirely not my damn business. Who the fck are any of us to throw a log in someone else’s path? How about this: we treat people with respect and politeness and if we think they’re a little nuts we indulge them because that’s what minimal courtesy demands, and who among us is without some degree of crazy?

  33. michael reynolds says:

    I’m not blaming Trump for all the world’s woes, as I’ve said ever since election day, Trump is a symptom, the disease is in voters, particularly white evangelical ‘Christians’ in this country. But in different places, different iterations of the same sickness. Trump is Berlusconi is Erdogan is Duterte is Putin. Each represents a failure of democracy, but they didn’t cause the sickness, they’re just the swollen buboes.

    People are stupid and weak and need someone to look down on in order to make themselves feel special. Black people, Latinos, women, LGBTQ, Yazidis, Tutsis, Rohingya, and of course the old stand-by, Jews. It’s not even as simple as whites behaving badly or western colonialists behaving badly. People are asshles. They’ve always been asshles. The purpose of civilization is to impose a structure of some sort that will cause people to be slightly less assholish. What we are seeing broadly in many places in the world is the fraying of civilization and people who feel themselves exempt for one reason or another from the limits imposed by civilization behaving like asshles.

  34. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    My life is very pleasant now. I have private client finance guy. I have a pair of shoes that were made – they weren’t even started – until after I paid for them. I have one bespoke suit (and some other ones too.)

    My life bent well.

    I’m going to buy a second house most likely tomorrow today – well I’ll make a contingent offer anyway. Holy crap, that’s actually today like an hour from now. My agent is going to do a video walk-through.

    Like I said – I was very lucky. I never had to sell my body for money. I never had to kneel for money to survive. I knew people who did because they had to – and they had to because they were on the street because Mom or Dad forced them to by expelling them or abusing them

    It was just a few weeks where I had no roof and thankfully that was late summer / early fall and I found a good spot. When I did squat, I was sort of resentful because I was the “responsible” guy who had to arrange and manage things and be the enforcer. We overwintered in a good building that had some heat gain on sunny days, but it was so very cold, but we didn’t starve and we didn’t freeze to death (that was a close thing a few times) and we didn’t die of thirst and we had the pee bucket for force-flushing the toilet which only froze up entirely twice.

    It was a revolving cast, but 5 people lived there all winter. I’m the only one alive. 2 were suicides. The other three were suicide by other, slower means. 1 was my GF who was raped by an on-duty cop who did because he could and he wanted to.

  35. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    I do that same litany just about every day with different details. One thing no one will ever be able to accuse me of is not knowing how lucky I am. That wasn’t some other guy in jail or sleeping rough or bathing in a Trailways bus station sink or scraping sht out of people’s toilets for less than minimum wage, that was me.

    It never ceases to amaze me how often people will insist to me – about my own life – that what I have is all the result of hard work, not luck. But most everyone works hard. I spent a lot of time working alongside people who worked as hard as I did, who were in most cases morally superior to me in that they ‘played by the rules,’ and yet they got very little out of the game. I think when someone like either of us takes an honest look back and accounts for all the many times it could have ended in disaster, it’s not possible except by an act of hypocrisy and denial to pretend that we deserve what we ended up with. I don’t know about you, but there are times in my life when it was a flip of the coin, and to this day those memories give me the shakes. The distance between driving a Mercedes and pushing a shopping cart down the street is so much less than people think.

  36. de stijl says:


    Dealing with transgenderism is going to be hard, and simply telling people to listen up will not win many allies

    Good distinction. I was talking about personal interaction, not policy.

    And people who don’t want to hear, will not listen, nor will they put themselves in a position where they are expected to listen, I was coming more than perspective if *you* personally were talking a person who’d transitioned, was transitioning, or thinking of doing so.

    I was thinking personal, and I may have unintentionally conflated that with we how should approach policy going forward. But, even then, listening to stories outside of our own perspective is the best way to move minds. We pretend we’re rational, but we’re really not. We’re emotional.

    I’m probably the wrong person to talk to about policy because I saw this 35+ years ago and I learned then to mind my pronouns, to pay attention to the correct name, and to mind my business unless it was asked for.

  37. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Every day when I wake up, the first thing I notice is that the mattress isn’t on the floor. Some brain first-jump things never go away.

    Flushing a toilet, turning on a light switch. I can’t tell you it matters every time, but I notice it probably once a day.

    Our brains get wired really hard when we’re desperate. I know why The Greatest Generation is known for saving and frugality – it’s obvious.

    What always gets me is when I use my key to open my front door. Bittersweet does not cover that feeling. I’m proud I own this house. I’m confused and astounded that I own this house. Only a few of my best friends I’ve ever had have seen this house, the others cannot see anything anymore. How, exactly, did all this happen?

    I just made a contingent offer on a new house today. I kinda want to keep the old one just in case everything falls apart and I need to have it as a fall-back. Old habits die hard.

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t know about you, but there are times in my life when it was a flip of the coin, and to this day those memories give me the shakes.

    Those thoughts actually buoy me.

    I’m alive.

    My life somehow bent in a good direction.

    And I am going out on my own terms if I can. When (there is no if) I get the inevitable diagnosis. Fuck your “He should fight this harder” crap. I’m going on my time and by my own will if I can.

    (I do have a small speech planned for when I do receive the inevitable diagnosis stolen from Blade Runner‘s Roy Batty “I want more life, fucker.” I won’t actually pluck the kind doctor’s – his or her – eyes out cuz that would be an over-reaction and I’m not a Nexus-6 replicant created by the Tyrell Corporation as a combat specialist.)

    (Screw Dylan Thomas – I will rage at the dying of the light, but I will also accede because I want to die with my pants on and not in some backless robe with drool on my face and my pecker in a drain tube.)

  38. de stijl says:

    One time I remember was when Sugar was playing First Ave. main stage. I had cheap-ass dime-store earplugs that did sort of help.

    Like 2 or 3 songs in I scooched down in front of the stage and it was so loud my guts were vibrating. And this was a big deal for Bob. This was way after Husker Du and two years after Black Sheets of Rain. This was a new band, with new material, in a kinda new poppier style back in the home-town. It was a really big deal for him.

    My liver was vibrating resonantly to the bass line. I’ve never experienced anything as loud as that. Hoover Dam hurt – well hurt is not the right word. It was uncomfortable and ecstatic and SO FUCKING LOUD and so cathartic.

    Here is the Hoover Dam song:


    Now buy 18 new speakers and a nuclear powered amp and create a sphere with you as the middle and hit play.

  39. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    People are asshles. They’ve always been asshles. The purpose of civilization is to impose a structure of some sort that will cause people to be slightly less assholish. What we are seeing broadly in many places in the world is the fraying of civilization and people who feel themselves exempt for one reason or another from the limits imposed by civilization behaving like asshles.

    That is very well put. Though I’m trying to think of a time and place where civilization actually existed – drawing a blank, there’s always been racism, sexism, poverty, and war. I’d put it slightly differently: the slow painful progress humanity has made towards civilization over the last ten thousand years is being pulled apart by asshles.

  40. Tyrell says:

    The transgender people should certainly be accepted and treated nice. More studies need to be done. Most of the time few people are even aware. The term itself can include a variance of behaviors and groupings: transgender, transvestite, binary, bi-sexual, non-gender, cross dresser
    One size does not always fit all.
    But there have to be some designations and lines somewhere. There are accounts of many who end up
    reverting. Others have adopted more than one designation. And there may well be other mental and physical factors at work.
    What I have seen is that anytime someone questions or offers differing opinions on this issue, they are labeled “transphobe”, “hatemonger”, and “bigot”. Many people on both sides do not want to hear or discuss differing views and opinions. You also have various opinions of the medical and science specialists in this.
    The “identificationing” is questioned by many experts*. I can identify as a jet pilot but the airline is not going to turn a 737 over to me. And there is the restroom flap that has been discussed at length here.
    Now you have a whole push to move to “gender nuetral” : language, signs, birth certificates,drivers licenses and other legal documents. Schools are being pushed to have gender neutral language. Can you imagine a doctor not being allowed to tell the parents if their child is a male or female? Or parents raising their child to be “gender nuetral”? This gender neutral nonsense is being implemented in some school systems, with parents complaining and in some cases removing their children from the schools. That is just some of what is going on*.
    Next some misguided group will push for rights for robots.
    Societal norms and customs are under attack, no doubt. These changes will cause confusion, disorientation, and instability in our culture. The idea that there is no male or female is being pushed onto our society.
    See:”This couple is raising their child as gender neutral” (The Independent, 4-3-18). Shocking!
    “Canadian gender-neutral pronoun bill is a warning for Americans” (The Hill, 10-18-16) Thoughtful, timely
    *“Psychiatry expert: scientifically there is no such thing as transgender” (Life Site, Thaddeus Baklinski)
    *”Gender-less Mothers Day Happy You Day cards in UK” (Daily Signal) Are you serious?

  41. Modulo Myself says:

    @de stijl:

    This is my favorite Bob Mould non-Husker Du song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llOksyhZ8Qg

    Loudest show I’ve ever seen was Swans in their last incarnation. Michael Gira’s drone lived inside me for about a week.

  42. de stijl says:


    You present as a decent fella, so I’m going be fairly delicate with you.

    Whether you like it or not there are transgender people in America and they want to be treated decently and fairly.

    If you meet someone and you think they have an eye color that doesn’t match their complexion, do you immediately tell them them, or do you keep that opinion to yourself? What is polite and proper in how you deal with others? Are you brutally frank in all social interactions no matter the consequences?

    Even if you don’t like it, or are off-put by pushy advocates, it really doesn’t matter because these folks exist and will exist in the future, and they are Americans and are deserving of equal treatment under the law and courteous regard from their neighbors. Indifference is fine. Unspoken ill thoughts are fine – uncool in my book, but fine nevertheless from a societal perspective.

    If you’re an active social asshole who verbally calls out everyone with an an odd eye color, then go ahead and tell your innermost thoughts about trangenderism to the next trans person you meet. Do not expect them to be happy. Do not expect them to be submissive. They will likely kick you in the nads, as would the person whose eye color you just insulted.

    Is it too much too ask to just be a decent neighbor and know when to just shut up about your qualms?

    transgender, transvestite, binary, bi-sexual, non-gender, cross dresser

    You have no idea of what any of these words mean, do you? Especially in relation to one another.

    I could be very cruel to you because of what you just said right here. Pushy activist types will mock you and deride you for this statement. I’m going to assume it comes from ignorance (which is curable) and not malice. Transgender and transvestitism are two different things, although you also mentioned cross-dressing which does apply one of these words. Binary is actually the concept you indicate by contextual clues that you prefer and not that which you seem to be agin’. Bi-sexual really does’t pertain here at all, and it makes you look foolish and uninformed by bringing to the table.

    You need to do some homework. What you think is happening isn’t, and what is happening isn’t even on your radar enough for you to describe it properly.

    Look at the first sentence I wrote – I said: “You present as…” Isn’t an odd construct? It might be novel to you. Perhaps you should investigate that.

  43. de stijl says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Thanks! That was good to hear. Grant is gone. Greg is a chef in Red Wing. Life is very interesting and cruel.

    @Modulo Myself:

    I totally spaced on Superchunk.

    I don’t even recall who they were opening for. I was down on that little side bar drinking beers and gabbing and then there was this massive righteous savage din from up front. I was pacing myself in a little nook off the main floor so I could get properly up for the headliner (who I really cannot recall who that actually was) and discovered Superchunk by total accident.

    I didn’t know Superchunk, I didn’t know Archers Of Loaf. I’d ~maybe~ read about the Chapel Hill scene in some local page but I never paid attention and then there was this great resounding din (stole that line from Andrew Jackson Jihad) and I heard it and felt it and loved it.

    I just searched First Ave’s archives and no joy. They were opening and not headlining but they did Slack Motherfucker so it had to be ~summer 1990 because it had to be before No Pocky For Kitty.

    They were the openers and played maybe a half hour. I remember them (and adore them to this day) and I have no idea who the headliner was that night.

    They were frenetic and massive and intense. Really tight. They seem like a noise band, but they’re actually precise. And it was so random, because – rando openers. I probably asked “Who the fuck are these guys?” at least twelve times

  44. de stijl says:

    Here is Superchunk Slack Motherfucker


    Here is Archers Of Loaf – shockingly bad video for a really great song called Web In Front

    Just don’t watch the crap video, and just listen – I do enjoy dude’s FFA jacket though, that’s cool – Okay watch just enough of the video a little but just for the FFA jacket and then back off, it really doesn’t get better than that .


    Better video, another great song from these Archers Of Loaf dudes. Wrong


  45. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    (My previous comment is pending , so I’ll split it.)

    Here is Superchunk Slack Motherfucker


  46. de stijl says:

    Here is Archers Of Loaf – shockingly bad video for a really great song called Web In Front

    Just don’t watch the crap video, and just listen – I do enjoy dude’s FFA jacket though, that’s cool – Okay watch just enough of the video a little but just for the FFA jacket and then back off, it really doesn’t get better than that .


  47. de stijl says:

    Better video, another great song from these Archers Of Loaf dudes. Wrong


    I resisted AoL for a bit because they look like frat punks, but they’re straight up legit. They look like douchey frat boys but they have the flava. They rock hard-core.

    Which circles back to what this thread is really about which is uncomfortableness with how some people present themselves and how we react to that. Just be calm and listen is my pretty-much-for-everything advice when you’re discombobulated. Shut your damn mouth and just listen for a bit.

  48. de stijl says:

    One thing I forgot was that feeling of false salvation or redemption or righteousness the day after receiving a massive musical noise blast.

    Really loud makes people think that they’re the god-damned Batman for ~ 18 -24 hours, We get jacked on endorphins and can go briefly go nutso with mostly romantic relationship crap unless pulled back to reality by friends. Really loud makes us think we are way bad-assier (totally a real word, shut up) than we really actually are.

    Really loud is best understood as a dose of endorphins / jack-ass juice.

  49. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    I’m way more impulsive after really loud music I like; I think that this a real dis-inhibiting factor in our decision making process. Obviously it needs to be proved, but it does feel true to me both personally and also anecdotally / observationally.

    Total crap as evidence, but just now I was listening to something really loud then squelched it to zero and my energy and certainty level changed dramatically. Really loud makes me want to kick ass; squelching Really loud makes me want to equivocate and to not offend or be too boastful. I’m a better writer with Really loud and I’m a better at editing in the absence of Really loud.

    I know it’s n=1, but prove me wrong fucker (me on Rl+)