When Allies Become Heretics

Call-out culture has become a circular firing squad.

Granting that conversations on social media may not be representative, I’ve noticed an increasing intolerance for even minor differences in opinion of late. The latest round is a dogpile on Matt Yglesias that has somehow also caught up Kevin Drum and, less surprisingly, Jesse Singal. This strikes me as weird in that, from my perspective at least, those three are clearly of the left and longtime Democrats in good standing who are objectively allies of their critics.

The vitriol against Yglesias has been ongoing for quite some time but the most recent round seems to have been sparked by his Slow Boring post “The two kinds of progressives: Moralists vs. pragmatists.” It’s long and discursive but I think it’s interesting enough to dissect. The key bit of the setup:

[V]oting behavior is increasingly driven by alignment on social and cultural questions. I think that’s true not only of the mass public but of elite actors, writer types, and intellectuals, too. For a good sense of what I think is actually the most important divide in the broad center-left camp, it’s instructive to listen to the April 23 episode of Georgetown University historian Thomas Zimmer’s podcast with Johns Hopkins political scientist Liliana Mason as a guest. The thesis of the episode is that it’s wrong to frame “polarization” as a problem because the real problem is that Republicans are bad. On climate change, for example, Zimmer says the parties clearly have moved further apart. But, according to him, “Democrats aren’t moving toward an extreme position,” they’re moving toward an expert consensus, while Republicans are “driving into fantasyland.”

Then Mason follows up by talking about the impossibility of compromise on what she sees as fundamental questions of rights.

“You can compromise on what level of taxation we should have,” she says. “You can compromise on things like, you know, how much aid we should give to foreign nations.” By contrast, “the problem is when we’re talking about whether an entire group of human beings in the country who are American citizens should be eradicated. There is no compromise position there. We can’t compromise on whether Black Americans should be treated equally as white Americans.”

And to be clear, Mason isn’t talking about a hypothetical situation where an extremist party gains critical mass and it’s impossible to compromise with them.

That’s her characterization of the present-day Republican Party’s stance on transgender rights and racial equality. Zimmer has occasionally tweeted unkind things about me in ways that I’ve found somewhat puzzling, and this episode helped me understand where he’s coming from. Because this idea they are articulating — that there is a set of identity-linked issues that are beyond the scope of normal political give and take — strikes me as truly the most fundamental divide in progressive politics today. A divide so important that it transcends disagreements about everything else, precisely because the claim being made on the Zimmer/Mason side of the line is that the imperative for a principled stand on these topics trumps all other considerations.

While I’m unfamiliar with Zimmer and Mason, this is precisely what I’ve observed about many of our contemporary debates: too many are framed as moral litmus tests rather than genuine public policy disputes. You’re either 100 percent on board with the bleeding edge of an agenda or you’re a bigot and monster who wants to kill people.

There’s very little light between Yglesias and me on how we see this position:

To put my cards on the table, I think Mason has this wrong.

But more than debating the merits of her view, what I’d really like to emphasize is how novel the position she’s outlining is. 

He then spends several paragraphs showing past instances of Democratic leaders from Barack Obama to Howard Dean to Bill Clinton adopting pragmatic positions on gay rights that advanced the ball within the parameters what was politically possible and still by and large embraced by gay rights groups. Similarly, Democrats FDR and Truman advanced civil rights for Blacks that were well short of the maximalist positions enacted into law by LBJ without similar backlash.

He concludes:

Throughout it all, the civil rights movement was pressing for more, and there were always people urging them to be more moderate and more compromising, saying “you’re going too fast.” And they rejected that. But they also clearly weren’t totally uncompromising, either. They treated all kinds of half-measures as meaningful and lots of deeply flawed politicians as worthy of support. There was no categorical distinction between civil rights and economic issues; it was all politics.

Ygesias seems to think the attitudinal change is a related to the fact that “Over the past 20–30 years, the voting base of the Democratic Party has become a lot more educated and upscale.” Regardless, he contends, they have come to prioritize what they see as moral issues (which includes climate change, abortion, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights) over economic issues, to the actual detriment of the party’s constituency.

While I’m not sure that’s completely right, he worries that this prioritization will hurt Democrats at the ballot box.

In particular, I think it’s worth considering the impact of this way of thinking on cross-pressured voters. Imagine a Texan who favors Medicaid expansion but thinks student athletes should play on chromosomally-appropriate sports teams. Well, you could tell that person that Medicaid has enormous concrete stakes for 1.4 million uninsured Texans while the sports issue impacts a tiny number of people.

But if progressives take the view that identity issues are fundamental moral principles and are too important to brook any compromise, that encourages people with the non-progressive view to see it the same way. And when you’re on the unpopular side of the fundamental issue of conscience, that just means you lose elections and lose on both policy issues.


Or to take an even sharper example, John Bel Edwards has signed some very draconian anti-abortion bills in Louisiana. I think he’s dead wrong on the merits of this topic. And in most of the country that would be terrible politics, too — abortion rights are generally more popular than the Democratic Party, and Democrats do well post-Dobbs to talk a lot about their support of a woman’s right to choose. But there is state-to-state variation, and in lots of Southern states, abortion is less popular than the Democratic Party due to the presence of significant numbers of anti-abortion African Americans. So in Edwards’ case, by giving ground on abortion, he’s been able to expand Medicaid and accomplish other things. Unlike with Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, I have absolutely no problem with abortion rights advocates slagging Edwards, because he is genuinely right-wing on this issue. But my old-fashioned view is that nothing is beyond compromise.

It’s a minor miracle for a Democrat to have won a statewide election in Louisiana. Edwards has accomplished important things as governor, and if he could somehow manage to win a Senate race, his value-over-replacement senator would be incredibly high.

Meanwhile, Drum got caught up in a Twitter fight (that also included Yglesias), leading to him being accused of being “an anti-trans activist.” He responded with a blog post titled “How far should activists go?

I feel like I should hardly need to say this, but I’m entirely pro-trans and favor them being treated without bigotry or unfairness in nearly every possible way.

But no matter how much you believe in a principle, there are always difficult edge cases. This is just life in an imperfect world. Free speech is not absolute. Neither is gun ownership. Or even abortion, about which I have about the most extreme pro-choice position imaginable.

But if you express even modest doubts about trans rights edge cases you’re likely to be accused by trans activists of “erasing” them. Or “literally” doing violence against them. Or being complicit in their murder. For examples of this, you need go no further than the hundreds of replies to my tweet.

Again, this behavior is typical and seems—including in the generally very highbrow comments section discussions here—to be on the rise. What are the “edge cases” to which Drum refers?

Sports. If you’ve grown up as a man, it means you’ve grown up with testosterone coursing through your body. This gives you more strength and stamina than most women, which is why men’s and women’s sports were segregated in the first place. There would be no women’s sports if we did otherwise. The same is true for someone who transitions to female after puberty: no matter what drugs they take, they’re almost certainly more muscular than most women. It’s difficult to say just where the line should be drawn, but the basic argument about unfairness is pretty obvious.

Minors. Minors are always an edge case, and once again the reasons are pretty obvious: They don’t have fully developed brains or fully grown yardsticks of what’s urgent and what’s transitory. This makes treatment of trans minors a tricky subject, especially in view of the questions that have recently caused many liberal European countries to retreat on gender affirming care for minors. America’s red-state cranks have, as usual, gone way overboard in creating new laws forbidding trans medical treatment for minors, but that doesn’t mean more moderate questions about the right way to treat minors don’t have some reasonable arguments behind them.

Free association. This is tricky, but there are women who want to socialize in certain circumstances with others who grew up as girls. This is because their backgrounds and experiences will be different from those who grew up as boys, and they will sympathize with their reminiscences and complaints differently. This is truly a difficult issue, however, since free association has so often been a mask for simple bigotry.

Now, I understand why folks think each of these ought to be part of the mainstream position. While sports strike me as a bridge too far, I get that it’s hurtful for transwomen* to be told they’re not fully women and must be excluded from certain activities open to biological women. Similarly, one person’s “free association” is another’s hurtful bigotry. And, surely, eighteen years is a long time to be denied medical treatment that allows living in one’s self-identified gender.

Still, they’re clearly all edge cases in that they’re well beyond the current social consensus. The history of other civil rights movements is one of incremental change and the general public seems to be mostly willing to let trans people go about living their lives as they wish outside these edge cases. So, it’s not unreasonable to start there and push to expand the envelope as the social consensus adapts.

Chris Geidner, who was the one who called Drum “an anti-trans activist,” weighs in with a post at his Law Dork blog titled “Confronting a pair of dangerous arguments as trans people remain under attack.”

Responding to the above-excerpted Yglesias posting, he writes,

The proper analysis here is not the Civil Rights Era. This isn’t a matter of righteous questions about a too-slow forward movement. This is an issue of rapid backwards movement. 


This is about a decision to use the arm of the state (of several states) to pull back existing rights — in some cases criminalizing people for doing things that have been legal for decades and in others putting people’s professional licenses in jeopardy if they continue to exercise those rights.

This is about bans on transgender medical care as I’ve described — which are already reaching into adult care in Florida. This is about barring even discussion of LGBTQ lives in schools and public libraries. This is about forced outing of students exploring their gender identity to parents who might respond horribly. This is about people being banned from using restrooms in schools and in broader public spaces that correspond not only with their gender identity but also with their outward appearance.

Yglesias doesn’t address any of that because it’s much easier to see why this isn’t about not compromising on some idealistic policy desire. It’s about letting trans people live their lives. And, because he ignores it, he doesn’t need to explain how he would compromise on those issues.

While I think that’s a fair response, it’s also fair to point out that Yglesias opposes all of these efforts. It’s weird to make him the villain of the piece. Ditto Drum and Singal.

At least with Singal, I kind of get the pushback:

Jesse Singal, who has established himself as one of the leading “just asking questions” journalists to push anti-transgender narratives from a claimed “unbiased” perspective; Michael Powell, who apparently was hired by The Atlantic this summer; and Kevin Drum, whose name I hadn’t heard for some time before Thursday, went on an irrational, uninformed, ignorant, and ultimately dangerous tirade about the advocacy organization.

Some of the arguments advanced by people like this — and by Singal and articles from the New York Times specifically — have been used by anti-trans lawmakers and others to justify their anti-trans legislation. Much has been written about that already. This is just addressing this week’s side-argument against pro-trans advocacy. It is, in its way, a potentially dangerous escalation of their efforts and I want to highlight it now.

In Geidner’s case, and I suspect many other the others, what seems to be happening is someone who is hyper-focused on an issue (in his case, LGBTQ issues, which he’s covered for more than a decade) getting angry at allies who don’t understand the nuances of the debates in the same way he does. In particular, he’s angry at Drum and Yglesias for inauspicious timing in criticizing GLAAD for an overly-aggressive response to the NYT that coincided with some disturbing (by likely not final) judicial rulings about which Drum and Yglesias were likely only peripherally aware.

Singal has been under fire for quite some time for his skepticism of allowing adolescents to transition, highlighting cases (which are likely in the distinct minority) of teens who came to regret their choices. While I find his work thorough and fair, his pugnaciousness in the face of attacks have made him an enemy of a movement with which he’s probably 90 percent aligned.

There’s some of this with Yglesias, whose brand has long been “contrarian liberal,” as well. Indeed, in the old days, Andrew Sullivan had an “Yglesias Award” for bloggers willing to call out their own side when they were wrong.

Drum, meanwhile, has always struck me as a straight-shooter and relatively non-controversial. I’ve been reading him for two decades and, while he’s generally to my left on the issues, he’s fair-minded and reasonable. Even in the Tweet (or whatever the hell they’re calling them nowadays) in question, he was nonconfrontational.

The late President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “My eighty-percent friend is not my twenty-percent enemy.” Nowadays, it seems like ninety-nine percent friends are one-hundred percent enemies. It’s just not healthy.


*It’s always transwomen. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone complain about the unfairness of biological women playing in men’s sports.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    The reason people like Yglesias are getting piled on is because he’s the “thoughts and prayers” of allyship. He can talk all he wants about how “sympathetic” he is toward trans people, but on every issue that has any sort of actual impact on the lives of trans people, his solution is to do nothing at all. But trans people are still supposed to kiss his butt like his empty sympathy is some valuable prize.

    To steal a line, centrists don’t want justice, they want quiet. And a lot of people are increasingly all done with being quiet.

  2. just nutha says:

    This is going to be an interesting conversation that I don’t think I’ll be coming back to.

  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, that post by Drum, where he talks about ‘difficult edge cases” irritated me a lot.

    The difficult edge cases are mostly not difficult, nor are they edge cases. Treatment of trans children? It is facially discriminatory. Every single treatment given to trans children is also given to cis children, in far greater numbers. Is anybody trying to protect those cis children? Are they passing laws? So if you have to know if the child is trans or not to tell if the treatment is legal, it’s discriminatory.

    Free association is not something anybody is passing laws about. We’re pointing out how dumb it is, and how hurtful it is.

    Sports are mostly recreational. I have a good friend who is a trans woman, she transitioned before my own daughter. She does roller derby (all women). Nobody has a problem with this. She wasn’t an athlete at all before transition. She’s tall, but probably not as fast as some, as agile as others, or as powerful as a few of her colleagues.

    Renee Richards, a trans woman, played professional women’s tennis. I don’t recall her thumping Chis Evert or Martina Navratilova or even Billy Jean King. Most sport is recreational. Most women don’t have a problem with the actual trans women who do those sports with them. Most of the value of testosterone goes away when you are on blockers and taking E. So the objections seem to come from the same place as bathroom hysteria: Somebody is trying to get away with someone.

    The thing that’s really irritating about Kevin’s post is the “your language is too extreme” crowd. To be sure, I was part of the “your language is too extreme” caucus. I gave it up a few years back.

    Why? Because I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t giving aid and comfort to the enemy. If I’m going to disagree with an ally, I want them to know everything we agree on first. Because on the internet, you are constantly starting at zero. Nobody knows anything about you.

    So, I deliberately used “genocide” (h/t to Beth!) with regard to the trans situation on that thread. It’s a bit metaphorical, but only a bit. Trans people really are being killed (38 last year according to Human Rights Campaign), and there is a full-court effort by the right to remove them from society, to drive them into hiding as shameful and less than. What else should we call such an effort.

    And yeah, it bugs the everloving shit out of me that the big point people want to make – people with no skin in the game, mind you – is that the language is extreme. I think the behavior of the right is a lot more extreme than my language, thanks. It also goes against every principle of law and justice we have in America. But apparently that’s not nearly as big a deal – or that’s the impression one gets, as whether I use the phrase “trans genocide”.

  4. DK says:

    You’re either 100 percent on board with the bleeding edge of an agenda or you’re a bigot and monster who wants to kill people.

    This type of statement strikes me as so much whining by ruling class elites who cannot handle criticism.

    The notion white supremacy and queerphobia are getting people killed is not imaginary. There’s been a sharp rise lately in anti-LGBTQ hate crime — especially murder of trans black women.

    Last week, Lake Arrowhead businessesowner Lauri Carleton was shot dead by a guy upset with her display of Pride flags.

    Just yesterday in Florida, a bigot shot and killed innocent people in a hate crime targeting blacks.

    These are they who deserve focus and sympathy, less so guys crying, “Waaaaa my side is treating me like a heretic and enemy on social media waaaaa.” Okay that’s unfortunate, but cry me a river. The bullet-ridden and battered bodies of queer people, blacks, and their allies aren’t available for comment.

    So I wouldn’t dismiss the moral concerns of activists upset at supposed allies like Yglesias — who, for example, helped normalize anti-black racist Richard Hanania, then kept trying to rationalize doing so even after the full exposure of Hanania’s Nazi-like views. The victims here are not dudes who — safe in the comforts offered them by their relatively privileged race, gender, wealth, and orientation — have gotten even richer on Substack whitewashing far right extremism, platforming ‘race science’ quackery, and “just asking questions.”

    Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias will be fine. Laurie Carleton and those black folk down in Florida are dead. Boo effing hoo Matt Yglesias got called names on Twitter. He can buy a second home or new car or take a luxury vacation to feel better.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    It’s the age-old plus royaliste que le roi syndrome, amped up to 11. Usually idealists who try to harangue their policies into action end up pissing off the very people who should be their supporters, then get slapped in the face with the backlash. The more intelligent ones realise that they need to work with what is politically possible, and sadder but wiser, start laying the groundwork for bringing everyone along. The more Robespierre-types continue to insist on the righteousness of their cause and end up ranting on street corners.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    You’re either 100 percent on board with the bleeding edge of an agenda or you’re a bigot and monster who wants to kill people.

    Just to be clear here — are you really characterizing the position that blacks and LGBTQ+ should not be discriminated against as “bleeding edge”, or something that is a reasonable area for compromise?

  7. DK says:

    @DrDaveT: I don’t think that’s what Dr. Joyner means. But what I find odd about this self-pitying “either 100 percent / or you’re a monster” whining is it shows the supposed champions of centrist nuance falling prey to the bad faith black-or-white thinking they claim to eschew.

    Are most critics of Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias etc really saying they’re “monsters” if they’re not “100 percent” in agreement with all the other liberals who are supposedly 100 percent in agreement? Meh. This is reductio ad absurdum deflection to avoid the real critiques and play victim. Who claims all liberals must (or can) agree 100% of the time? That’s absurd.

    We should try to adjudicate what’s actually happening and being said.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    To be clear, Lefty intolerance did not begin with Trump. As I think I’ve demonstrated here many times, even to question strategy and tactics while supporting the actual goal is now intolerable to many progressives. All you need to do to be cast into darkness is suggest, maybe there’s a better way to skin this cat. And woe to he who suggests our side – the good guys, ya know – have made mistakes. We are right, they are wrong, and it doesn’t apparently matter that we’re losing so long as we can congratulate ourselves on our purity.


    Just to be clear here — are you really characterizing the position that blacks and LGBTQ+ should not be discriminated against as “bleeding edge”, or something that is a reasonable area for compromise?

    And here we have a fine demonstration. It doesn’t matter that Joyner has been clear and consistent in his support for civil rights or the rights of trans folk, no, something might be interpreted as doubting the holy sacrament.

    Everyone on the Right gallops ever harder to the right, and so does the Left and to raise questions is to reveal yourself a secret plotter, a pinko, a fellow traveler. I’m sorry, am I mixing my historical metaphors? Can I toss in Savonarola too?

    Fanaticism is easy. Solutions are hard. Simple minds on both ends of the spectrum do the easy thing, become political copy editors: Oh, I spotted an out of place comma! Cue Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

  9. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Can I toss in Savonarola too?

    Ha! Why not, since we’re pretending Internet comments are the equivalent of hanging, burning, and imprisonment?

    Rare will you encounter a bigger self-pitying, martyred victim than an American man who has been disagreed with online. Woe indeed, somebody get the fainting couch and smelling salts lol

  10. Modulo Myself says:

    What’s far more damaging to Biden’s reelection is going to be the mixed-bag of the Biden economy. And yet I 100% guarantee you that every rich pundit who finds them bullied by a truck outside the Times HQ will be demonizing leftists who talk down the economy. After all, it’s just money. It’s not activists calling you a basic dork in your replies due to what you wrote for your extremely well-compensated position. Priorities!

  11. DrDaveT says:


    I don’t think that’s what Dr. Joyner means.

    You may be right about that, but it is what he said. The quoted bit about “bleeding edge” cases seemed to be referring to this immediately preceding quote:

    “You can compromise on what level of taxation we should have,” she says. “You can compromise on things like, you know, how much aid we should give to foreign nations.” By contrast, “the problem is when we’re talking about whether an entire group of human beings in the country who are American citizens should be eradicated. There is no compromise position there. We can’t compromise on whether Black Americans should be treated equally as white Americans.”

    Does Dr. Joyner disagree with that position? Or was he (somewhat confusingly) anticipating the “edge cases” that come later in the article? It wasn’t clear to me.

  12. gVOR10 says:

    First, Yglesias has over the last few years has engendered fears he’s going Sullivan. It seems to happen to writers who got out from under editors and now worry more about their marketing. I read Drum religiously, but he does have a tendency to privilege his reasonable reputation over effectiveness.

    Second, unlike Republicans, Democrats are a coalition of interest groups. Big tent, broad umbrella. Interest groups are, well, interest groups. Is it reasonable to demand they not advocate for their interests? As long as they vote with leadership, which they reliably do.

    Third, Republicans have absented themselves from governance and any meaningful policy discussion. Remember, in 2020 they had no platform except whatever Trump says, officially. All political disputes are adjudicated within the democratic party or not at all.

    Fourth, and most importantly, let’s not go off on a massive version of Murc’s Law. The people who control the GOP Party, the funders, don’t give a damn about LGBTQ rights. Hell, Peter Thiel, bankroller of Vivek Ramaswhatshisname, is one. But to keep the rubes lined up they need a constant stream of new enemies. They’ve had to mostly give up on gays, but are still working on CRT in K-12 and added gender change surgery for adolescents. Both of which barely exist. For which, ironically, see Kevin Drum.

    I agree that a lot of online criticism goes way past the bounds of good taste, or effective argument. But what online doesn’t? One can make an argument that the left fringe harms Ds electorally. But one can also make an argument that they hurt themselves by staying vanilla and not exciting anyone.

  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    For the record, I am quite clear that James (and Steven) supports trans people and don’t support the effort to roll back rights and gender-affirming care.

    Many years ago, we went to the Santa Clara County Fair, held at a large fairgrounds in San Jose. We had a great time. At one point, I got in a line that went up to a window in the side of a big wall in order to get funnel cakes for us. I’m standing there, and a lady walks up and gets in line in front of me. I said, in my most polite voice, “Excuse me, I’m in line.” She turns and glares at me and says, “How rude!” and then she left.

    Let that sink in. She cut in line in front of me and then called me rude. I think that there are many people who resent being made uncomfortable. And trans issues (along with race issues) make people uncomfortable. There’s no way to say things that won’t land on some people as rude. You can’t regulate yourself by “someone might think that’s rude, or over the top”. That’s just how that works. Shutting up means accepting the status quo. Speaking up means you’re being rude. I’ll speak up. I think it’s important for me to consider what limits I’m willing to place on myself, and I’ve definitely seen some things that I think go too far.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:


    Rare will you encounter a bigger self-pitying, martyred victim than an American man who has been disagreed with online. Woe indeed, somebody get the fainting couch and smelling salts lol

    So, you’re determined to prove the OP correct? Don’t engage on the actual topic just toss off some snark. Much easier. Requires no introspection. White male, ho hum, must be wrong because skin color and gender. And of course at no time do you pause to consider the parallels between your intolerance and the intolerance you claim to oppose. Do you not grasp that there might be principles involved and not just identity?

    When you lose and lose and lose and lose and insist that you’re doing everything just right, what do you call that, DK?

  15. Matt Bernius says:

    My response to this has grown to the length where it’s going to become a full essay/article. So be on the look out.

    For the moment I’ll say that given Yglasias’ habit of helping platform people who turned out to be out-and-out-racists, anti-trans, anti-vax, or illiberal thinkers (who end up wielding power over actual institutions and ruining people’s lives), then in the aftermath never actually have any introspective accounting for that in his writings, perhaps he’s not the best person to be turning to for moral guidance on the right and wrong way to advocate for policies.

  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    DeSaster focused his whole campaign around his anti-woke agenda and built his bonafides by getting his tame legislature to pass lots of cruel legislation. Guess what, rank and file R voters don’t care about any of it their interests and concerns are around other issues. So too will it be for rank and file Dems, who will show little concern for issues bedded in identity.

    The way to combat the R war on trans individuals is too win or at least be competitive in the states where the radical right are pushing the anti-trans agenda, not scream at your fellow travelers that they aren’t pure enough.

  17. MarkedMan says:

    I don’t have the energy for this comment section but I’ll state my position for the record and will make an attempt to reply to anyone who references it: I think this presumption of allies in the way Stormy uses it is wrong headed and needlessly confrontational. We all have many things we are sympathetic to but few things we are willing to actually fight for. The assumption that anything less than being willing to march into battle with me, on terms I and only I dictate, marks you as my enemy is, well, ridiculous. Especially when the “battle” is rarely taking action against the bigots, but rather joining together to find the next impure sympathizer to attack.

    From my observation, there are two main motivations in attacking people who are sympathetic but don’t agree in facts or tactics. The first is fear, and in the trans case, well justified fear. I’m sympathetic to that, but that sympathy doesn’t mean I will turn off my brain and stop thinking. The second is the all too common trait of wanting to be the purity police. Of finding a moral high ground on which to heap scorn on those around you. And who are those around you? Not the ones who are actually against you, but those who are closest to you, because that is who you associate with.

  18. Matt Bernius says:

    Its interesting to see how elsewhere on OTB, many firmly pronounce that Republicans are mindless cultists, simultaneously agreeing with MY’s general argument that extreme positions make it harder to build consensus and turn people away from their side.

    I mean, it’s not like folks here have ever made extreme assumptions about the positions/biases that folks like Andy or Hal when they post something that doesn’t fit into the other commenter’s view of what a correct opinion is.

    Then again, we all contain multitudes, don’t we?

  19. Jay L Gischer says:

    @DK: I am absolutely, 100 percent certain that we are of very similar minds on these topics. And thanks for your support. I think the connection you make between violence against black Americans and violence against trans Americans is spot on. I didn’t make that in my original comment, but I endorse it.

    AND, you use certain rhetorical devices I would never use. As I ponder why, one reason that comes to me is that I try to always take a stance that I am recruiting. I am recruiting people to a world where trans people, and black people, and Chinese people, and Mexican people etc. exist. It’s a really great world. It enriches me, it’s interesting. It adds value.

    If’ I’m unhappy with someone, I try to focus only on the specific thing I’m unhappy with. This allow a pathway forward. If the message is “You are terrible”, there is no pathway forward. If it’s simply “that idea is terrible”, there is. I am probably more optimistic than you, DK, and there’s probably a good reason for that. Still, I hope you consider this.

    Anyway, to the rest of you – come over to our world. It’s wonderful.

  20. Gustopher says:

    Yglesias has made a career out of hippie punching and trolling, so it’s really not surprising (or even likely unwelcome) that he periodically gets this criticism. It’s his bread and butter. He then does a round of “I’m the reasonable moderate,” and continues on a life of punditry with his profile raised.

    It’s a schtick.

    But, let’s get back to where this started: the New York Times has been running poorly researched, anti trans articles for months (years?) which are being used as justification for anti trans proposals, and which also serve to target people and clinics for death threats.

    This trend was the spark for a lovely Onion article, ”It Is Journalism’s Sacred Duty To Endanger The Lives Of As Many Trans People As Possible”.

    Recently, there was an expose that basically boiled down to a receptionist at a gender affirming care clinic that works with children keeping a spreadsheet of which children she thought were really trans and who got what treatment. No other sources. Not talking to patient families. Just claims that a kid came in, said that they identify as an attack helicopter and was put on hormones immediately (that is literally one of the claims).

    So, someone gets a billboard truck and parks it outside the New York Times, and that’s a step to far for Yglesias — criticizing the great institutions when the great institutions are doing harm.

    Yeah, fuck that.

  21. Cheryl Rofer says:

    But what if, I say “what if” as in a hypothetical,

    What if the Republican Party has become a Nazi party that wants to kill people it defines as deviant?

    Then where is the center?

    This is only a hypothetical.

  22. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    White male, ho hum, must be wrong because skin color and gender.

    Lol. Since I didn’t write that, you’re determined to prove my point. Don’t engage with the actual critique, just get defensive, play victim, and deflect with a dishonest, extreme, self-pitying strawman argument. Embarrassing.

    Your insistence liberals are always losing and conservatives are always winning was a sophomoric, oversimplistic falsehood the first time you wrote it, and it’s still inaccurate.

    Your characterization of me as “intolerant” here for a) saying that Matt Yglesias is less of victim than the actual dead victims of racist hate crime in my first comment and b) defending Dr. Joyner in my second is wild. Dishonest, desperate, and just plain dumb.

    So when you lie and lie and lie and lie and lie as you are wont to do because you are incapable of complex, nuanced thinking and are just as narrow, intransigent, and mendacious as the political extremists you claim to oppose, what do you call that?

    Answer: hypocritical and immature. You should stick to writing for children.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: Like Yglesias, I don’t think there’s a mainstream position today that Blacks shouldn’t be treated as equal citizens. The debates are about things like “white fragility” training and the like. With LGBTQ—and especially T—the debate is much more wide-ranging. Like Yglesias and Drum, I think there are bleeding edge cases (sports, etc) where compromise is reasonable and basic positions (recognizing existence, allowing adults to live their own lives) where compromise is unreasonable.

    @DK: I think “either 100 percent / or you’re a monster” is a perfectly apt characterization of Drum and Yglesias as “anti-trans activists” for their mild pushback.

    @Cheryl Rofer: @gVOR10: As I noted on both Bluesky and a post here the other day, “It’s hard for there to be a meaningful ‘center’ without a respectable ‘right.’” So, I fully agree that to the extent this debate is happening seriously, it’s almost exclusively among Democrats and anti-MAGA types. While I think Yglesias overstates things given how much sorting has occurred, I do think taking maximalist positions on controversial social issues—including villainizing those who mostly agree with you—makes it harder to build a coalition.

  24. Cheryl Rofer says:

    @James Joyner: The thing is, I don’t think anyone on the left is villainizing anyone who doesn’t deserve it. Do we have some extreme outliers? Of course, but unlike the right’s extreme outliers, they’re not arguing for anyone’s death or imprisonment and are generally careful of civil rights for all, even those they disagree with.

    But MY is arguing for compromise with those who would deny medical care to anyone who is not a cis white male or under the explicit protection of such. At some point, you’ve gotta say nope, no compromise with that.

  25. DK says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think “either 100 percent / or you’re a monster” is a perfectly apt characterization of Drum and Yglesias as “anti-trans activists” for their mild pushback.

    Yes, in the case of one person referring to them about one issue. But this post made no such distinction, framing “either 100 percent / or your a monster” as coloring all our “contemporary debates.” Our contemporary debates contain a range of critique in between “everyone should agree with me 100%” and “you’re a monster.” To insist otherwise is less than honest and pretty whiny.

    Those contemporary debates include, for example, critiques of Matt Yglesias for normalizing Richard Hanania, who espoused Jew-exclusionary white supremacy at one point, and whose current views are barely a step down. Given Yglesias’s reach, his whiteeashing of Hanania as a respectable conservative was not a mild just-asking-questions pushback to anti-racism. It is dangerous and wrongheaded.

    Compared to the often-deadly real world consequences of red pill white supremacy on impressionable minds — seen again in yesterday’s anti-black Florida mass shooting — I’d be more likely to characterize as mild the eye-rolling Twitter exasperation Yglesias got for falling for Hanania.

  26. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    Like Yglesias and Drum, I think there are bleeding edge cases (sports, etc) where compromise is reasonable and basic positions (recognizing existence, allowing adults to live their own lives) where compromise is unreasonable.

    As part of the “etc” is clearly care for minors (definitely for Drum, possibly for you although I will note you don’t specify it here), I’m going to leave you with a simple statement: going through puberty as the wrong gender is apparently traumatic, and often leads to a lifetime of issues.

    Stack onto that trans kids being used as punching bags by about half of the political class, which is probably not awesome for them. And used as literal punching bags by classmates.

    This “bleeding edge case” is harder to compromise on when it results in very significant, measurable harm.

    In fact the “compromise” is letting the parents decide with the doctors and the kid, rather than saying that denying the kid access to gender affirming care is child abuse and that kids should be taken from the homes of bigots.

    That sounds absurd, but consider if parents were not treating their kids’ broken legs — everyone would identify that as child abuse.

  27. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    To be clear, Lefty intolerance did not begin with Trump.

    One word for you: RINO.

    You’re slicing intolerance into segments, and only looking at the one that lets you do your (intolerant) lefty bashing.

  28. DK says:

    @James Joyner:

    Like Yglesias, I don’t think there’s a mainstream position today that Blacks shouldn’t be treated as equal citizens.

    And there’s no mainstream liberal position that all liberals must agree 100% percent of the time, and that anyone at 99% and below is a heretical monster.

    If we’re going to give the arguments of Yglesias, Drum et al the benefit of the doubt, great. But then let’s be consistent in affording that same good faith nuance and grace to the arguments of his critics.

  29. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “Like Yglesias, I don’t think there’s a mainstream position today that Blacks shouldn’t be treated as equal citizens.”

    Unless we’re going to go out on a ledge and accept the US Supreme Court as mainstream.

  30. FWIW, I feel the need to note the following.

    I have read two of Mason’s books and have heard her interviewed a few times. While I cannot speak to what she said in this podcast, I will say that her work is grounded in empirical social science and public opinion research. Meanwhile, Yglesias is a smart pundit, whose brand is (as James notes) often to be contrarian. And I would argue not just because he sometimes calls out his own side, but I am of the view that his brand, especially now that his source of income is Substack, needs to generate a constant low-level controversy field to help generate traffic.

    All of this is to say that while I am not directly commenting on this post, as I read it fairly quickly, my starting position would be to take Mason more seriously than Yglesias.

  31. I will also say that while I would like it to be the case that policy-centric debates wherein compromises can be reached is my preferred way of doing politics, I am not convinced that Washington ever worked that way as much as we think it did, and it seems to be less inclined to behave that way now.

    The part about Mason’s work (again, not necessarily in the references podcast) is the degree to which identity, broadly defined, is, in fact, driving out politics. This does make compromise difficult.

    See my post today–which I wrote well before I saw this post.

  32. @Matt Bernius: Indeed.

  33. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Like Yglesias, I don’t think there’s a mainstream position today that Blacks shouldn’t be treated as equal citizens.

    Thank you, that’s informative. On the other hand,
    1. I think you’re clearly wrong. A large fraction of America is all in on claiming that racial injustice is a thing of the past and therefore nothing should be done to fix it, much less compensate for it. Given the glaring evidence of ongoing racial inequity and differential treatment, it’s hard to see how that doesn’t count as “Blacks shouldn’t be treated as equal citizens”.
    2. You have also (mostly) dodged the question. Even if there were no explicitly racist platforms at the moment, do you think that equal treatment of Blacks or gays is something that should be on the trading block in political negotiations?

    I ask because it seems to me that there really are fundamental principles — on both sides — that should not be tradeable. If you are a Conservative, you should not be willing to put the existence of private property or free enterprise on the trading block. If you are a Liberal, you should not be willing to put representative democracy or equal rights on the trading block. You might be willing to settle for incremental progress toward those goals, but not backsliding. This makes them (IMHO) fundamentally different than tax policy, foreign policy, defense spending, regulatory structures, education, and all the other things we used to argue about before people started trying to tear down the fundamental pillars.

  34. Beth says:


    As part of the “etc” is clearly care for minors (definitely for Drum, possibly for you although I will note you don’t specify it here), I’m going to leave you with a simple statement: going through puberty as the wrong gender is apparently traumatic, and often leads to a lifetime of issues.

    I suffer from pretty severe PTSD. Fairly severe depression. Now, I was fairly doomed from the start since not all of the abuse I suffered at the hands of my parents was Trans related, but I’m confident a lot of it is. Let me share with everyone some of the joys of having to go through the wrong puberty:

    – I don’t remember a whole lot of what happened to me between 1996 and 2004. It’s mostly gone and what remains is horrifically jumbled.

    – I have spent over 200 hours and several thousand dollars on facial electrolysis. For the uninitiated that means I had someone stick a needle into each and every hair follicle on face, electrocute and boil the follicle. Sometimes you get lucky and the follicle survives. Either because of where it was in its cycle or just bad luck. You have to do it again over and over. I still have a little bit of facial hair, but way less than cis women do.

    – Masculinizing puberty causes your brow ridge and jaw to change. To fix this, I had to have my scalp peeled back and the doctor go to town on my skull with a grinder. To fix my chin he made an incision in my mouth, cracked my jaw off and then plated it back together. I still have a lot of numbness in my lower teeth and lip. Full disclosure though, I do like that side effect for some reason. While my scalp was peeled back, my hairline was pulled up. The was accomplished by stretching my scalp skin as far forward as it would go. It eliminated my widow’s peak and brought my 7 head down to a 5 head. I have a scar that runs from one ear, across my new hairline and past the other ear. I wouldn’t have needed any of these surgeries.

    – One fun horrifying experience for me was having to play shirtless in gym class. That forced me to confront, every single time, that I didn’t have breasts like other girls. I KNEW they were there, but I couldn’t see them. When they finally did come it they sit farther to the side than they should and are smaller than they should be. Did you know that every single person has a genetically determined cup size? I was lucky that mine grew into a size that I’m roughly happy with. They would have been better if they would have come in when I was 12-14.

    – everyday I wake up now and thank the goddess I don’t have a penis anymore. A lifetime of abject misery because of that.

    – I transitioned when I was about 40. I lost the vast majority of my life. I can never get back. My grief is immense and crushing.

    What you see as an “edge case” I see as the pointless torture of children and adults because cis people don’t understand being trans. Fuck, I don’t know why I’m trans. I don’t really care though, all I know is I’m no longer entirely miserable. That’s what this whole edge case nonsense is about. The mistaken, bigoted, belief that trans kids aren’t born, but made. Where the hell do you think we come from and why do you want to torture us? We don’t test kids to make them prove their straight. Why do you want to torture a bunch of kids who happen to be trans.

  35. Beth says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    If you want to chat about trans issues with a trans person i’m happy to help and could probably find a couple of people to join.

  36. Beth says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will also say that while I would like it to be the case that policy-centric debates wherein compromises can be reached is my preferred way of doing politics,

    What compromises should be made when people’s civil rights are involved? This isn’t like should we spend money on tanks or what proper tax policy should be. Most of these “compromises” boil down to “You people are yucky and shouldn’t be here”.

    Follow up question, how can you compromise on civil rights when one side is pushing arguments based on lies or fantasies. How can I compromise with someone when they think that trans people are grooming kids to be trans?

  37. @Beth:

    What compromises should be made when people’s civil rights are involved?

    To be clear: I was consciously not getting into the debate ongoing in the comment section because I had not read all the comments carefully enough to do so. I was reacting to a broader point that I perceived from the OP.

    Also to be clear: I don’t think you can compromise on fundamental rights.

    And also to be clear: I am sorry about your struggles and I do believe that we need to do what we can, as a society, to help people live their lives as the see fit, and as they need.

    So, please let me state that I was not talking about trans rights (or rights as a general matter) in the sentence you quoted, but was referring to things like tax policy, as an example.

  38. Beth says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    To be clear: I was consciously not getting into the debate ongoing in the comment section because I had not read all the comments carefully enough to do so. I was reacting to a broader point that I perceived from the OP.

    Lol, I know, I was consciously dragging you in hoping that you’d make this set of points. I think that for a lot of male pundits all of this is just abstraction or esoteric like tax policy. People like Yglesias (and Daddy Reynolds) are arguing that this is all abstraction, like give a little here, take a little there, no problem. Meanwhile, I’ll get arrested if I go pee in FL. Or, like Dr. Joyner, and I acknowledge I’m being bombastic here, maybe a little light torture for these kids to make super super sure 100% they are actually trans.

  39. SenyorDave says:

    @Beth: How can I compromise with someone when they think that trans people are grooming kids to be trans?
    I know its rhetorical, but you can’t. Especially when that has become an accepted narrative among Republicans, except that many would also call anyone supportive of trans people groomers.
    We should never forget that the Republicans are expert at moving the goalposts. For decades the Republicans said overturn Roe v Wade and send abortion back to the states. Well, they overturned Roe v Wade and now its full steam ahead on national limits on abortion.
    The “trans” issue supposedly became a big deal because of women’s sports (because we all know how supportive the Republican party has been of women’s sports), but it almost immediately branched out into bans on gender-affirming care and nonsense about drag shows.
    Because they lie. All of the time.

  40. Matt Bernius says:

    First, TY for the offer.

    I am lucky enough to work closely with a number of trans folks. And I have at least one trans person in my extended family.

    I don’t think I need to talk to folks for this article as it’s more on a meta level. That said, if something comes up in the future where I need that lived experience perspective, I will totally take you up on that offer.

  41. Beth says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Give them all high fives and finger guns from me.

    Seriously though, it is wild to me that with as many trans people as there are, I’m likely the only one many people interact with during any given day.

  42. Andy says:

    Since time is short, I’m only doing a single post on this thread, so this may be longer than usual – and since my usual is longish, this could be pretty long. Apoligies in advance for errors, I’m not going to be able to really QA this comment.

    To start, I think @MarkedMan gets to the heart of the matter. Not to pick on Stormy, but MM is right about what “ally” has become in trans and other progressive spaces. In actual alliances between actual allies, disagreement is not only allowed, but normal and expected. In US politics, we frequently see organizations often at odds on most issues that will ally on an issue of common interest. Same thing in international politics – we did, after all, ally with Stalin’s USSR in WW2.

    That’s not, unfortunately, how many in progressive spaces view “allyship” and Stormy’s comment is a common example. A situation where one side sets the agenda, and the other party is expected and required to conform to that agenda completely is correctly called vassalage. The zero-sum crowd does not want allies, they want vassals.

    Tagging on Michael Reynolds’ comments, I agree with him that this is simply counterproductive. Demanding that others agree with you on everything around any issue is a demonstrably poor method to get actual allies. And especially, alienating people who agree with you 90% is just stupid. And those are really the only people you might successfully bully into vassalage anyway.

    The second problem with the more extreme trans activists – that is a characteristic of extremists generally – is the presumption that the activists alone get to define and dictate the terms for how society ought to organize around sex and gender (or any other subject).

    So I would ask, to what extent do female women, as one example, get to have input into how society ultimately defines “woman” as a social construct or argue for potential exceptions to the maximalist “trans women are women” argument?

    What would you say to my wife, who was a victim of sexual assault before we were married, about her continuing anxiety and fears of penises other than mine and her fear of being in close proximity to penises in traditional female-only spaces like locker rooms, communal showers, etc.?

    More generally, in what contexts do the more strident trans activists here believe there can or should be spaces or contexts segregated by biological sex? In what cases does it matter whether a trans person has fully transitioned or not?

    If you’re not willing to seriously discuss these and other things in a serious way without name-calling, and if you’re unwilling to address concerns people have in some of these so-called “edge cases” then you will continue to meet resistance and negative reactions and hurt the cause you claim to support.

    And the reality is that most people are not online to the extent that we all are here and are largely ignorant about trans people and trans rights, much less the various complexities of sex and gender today. If they can’t “ask questions” without being told they have to be an ally/vassal first, then how do you really expect to educate and convince them?

    On “gender-affirming care” for children, this is not a binary question, no matter how much one wishes it to be. The extremists always try to make everything binary. But it’s important to define exactly what you mean by “gender-affirming care.” Platitudes say nothing. The details matter a great deal. If you want the rest of society to accept what you think are appropriate standards for gender-affirming care, then you need to make your case for what the standards should be defend them on the merits, and provide transparency to ensure those standards are actually being met.

    I strongly support gender-affirming care for children, but the extent of that support depends on the details and the actual standards of care, which aren’t clear in large part because asking about this inevitably brings the name-calling and dumb claims that I want trans kids to commit suicide. Frankly, that kind of response -which is very common – doesn’t give me much confidence that you actually have the best interests of these children in mind.

    In closing, I want to make clear that I’m probably in about 90-95% agreement with the strident trans activists. I am way to the left of the median American on this issue. The problem is they won’t let me be their “ally” because I refuse to be an intellectual vassal. The fact that so many of you see me as an enemy based on some blog comments really says much more about you than it does me. And, I could tell you about some of the real-world efforts I’ve made and make to support the trans community generally and my trans family member specifically, which is probably a lot more in terms of substance than the keyboard tone-policers have done, but this post is already too long. Change happens in the real world, and that’s where I try to make my impact.

    As promised, this will be my only comment on this post. It’s already past my bedtime here on Sunday evening. I may find time to read replies, but I have a busy week and very limited time to spend on blogs so no promises.

  43. Lounsbury says:

    The agendas of the highly educated Bohemian urban boureoisie, the Bobo intellos or Brahim Left.

    What is remarkable is how close this ends up being to the self-harming approach of the activist intello dominated Left of the late 20s through the 30s in Europe. The resemblances – not perfect of course – of the errors of both Left and Right currently to the errors particularly of the 1930s is really remarkable (for the Right one would put the finger on conservative right tolerating the populist radicalism on the extreme right as more preferable to anything to their left, and thinking they can ride the tiger of such extemism, the parallel in the opposition certainly be more clear to the majority here than looking in their own mirror.).

    @Andy: indeed yes.
    In any case, the push to the activist maximalist generating backlash would be data of downwards change in public support seem to be negatively impacting overall interest.

  44. DrDaveT says:


    The problem is they won’t let me be their “ally”

    I genuinely have no idea what you mean by this. Where are you being prevented from taking the stands you would wish to take, or supporting the causes you would wish to support?

  45. anjin-san says:

    @James Joyner:

    “Like Yglesias, I don’t think there’s a mainstream position today that Blacks shouldn’t be treated as equal citizens.”

    Hmm. There is widespread, systemic racism directed at black folks in inescapable, fundamental areas of our society such as the justice system and real estate. That’s pretty “mainstream”, and it’s not just a few bad apples gumming up the works.

  46. Grumpy realist says:

    @DrDaveT: I think what he’s saying is that he gets screeching harpy response from the self-proclaimed trans supporters if he doesn’t agree with their views 100%.

    As said, plus royaliste que le Roi.