The gay rights pioneer discusses how trans rights activism and political polarization threaten gay rights.
When I went to the March on Washington for Gay Rights in '93, I saw him speak on the importance of prioritizing gay marriage in the movement. He totally convinced me, and I went home and proposed to girlfriend, who accepted. We saw it as more political than romantic. We threw a big wedding just to push the cause. It worked fabulously! I was an electrician. She worked in a Republican law firm. At the wedding, there were dozens of very conservative folks there who were not for gay marriage rights all. But, we know we pushed them all closer to acceptance then- plus It was a fabulous party. Andrew was completely right! (And continues to be in most areas...) Later, of course, we got legally married - 18 years later.
I hear you on the muddled nature of the "trans child" framing. I think it's largely a matter of semantics, but I will think about it more. Meanwhile, this interview Andrew did in September with Leo Sapir really teases out this particular question and I think you'll find it useful. https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/p/leor-sapir-on-transing-gender-dysphoric
I was intrigued that both you and Sullivan believe children can be “born trans”. It seems a completely irrational concept to me. I have no difficulty accepting that humans can come into the world sexually orientated to be same sex, opposite or both sex attracted. We have observed that from the beginning of time. However what does it mean to be a person who feels compelled to mimic the appearance and behaviours of the sex opposite to that of your actual sexed physical body? “Trans” is not a sexual orientation, it is a belief that your sexed body and what you believe you are intellectually are in contradiction. That kind of dissonance between reality and subjective belief could suggest that body dysphoria is a mental illness. However, it is widely accepted that children aren’t born with dysphoria, mental illnesses or paraphilias, that those conditions are psychological aberrations acquired due to environmental factors. So what is the rationale that incongruity between the physical sexed reality of a body and how a person conceives their gender can be anything other than a delusion? The performance of gender arises from learning cultural mores that are observed as children grow up, so how could they possibly come into the world with a pre existing concept that they are masculine or feminine? When I hear people stating that they believe it is a real phenomenon for humans to be born as a people in the wrong body I feel it is a part of the dangerous misconception that is driving the growth of the pernicious transgender industry. I think the belief that transsexualism is inherent is completely wrong and misguided.
For some background on AIDS awareness as virtue signal in the 90s, I present you with 1 minute and 19 seconds of genius. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Prhi3_Nvt3U
Thank you for another great conversation. I wish though that both you and Andrew would have better defined what it is you mean by real trans. While there seems to be no doubt that there have long been children who feel in a persistent way that they are the sex which is opposite to their body, what remains unclear is why they feel that way. By true trans do you mean they were born trans or that their dysphoria is persistent and will not go away? I have heard various theories that seek to explain this phenomenon, but my sense is that we really don’t know what causes some children to insist they are the opposite sex. At the end of the day it may not really matter what the cause is, as the distress is real, but I think it’s important to admit that we don’t really know. I think when many people hear terms like ‘real trans kid’ they assume that means there is a biological cause. I don’t claim to know what causes gender dysphoria but I think it’s a subject that merits more discussion.
Andrew Sullivan - what a great guest! Loved it. Meghan, I do understand when going hard at those on the Left the need to slap the Right for the sake of balance. The word "grooming" is charged and meant to be attention-getting but you need to see the LGBTQIA+ marches where they actually chant "we are coming for your children!" over and over. And the many accounts of teachers asking students how they should speak in front of their parents vs. "the truth" of what's spoken behind closed doors. Also, giving students opposite gender clothing to change into during school hours without parental knowledge. An adult speaking about sexual things to a child who is not their own (without the parent's consent) is the definition of grooming. There are many other things to slap the Right over but on this one, they will have been on the right side of history. It shows the importance of balancing opposing views that this country benefitted from over the last centuries. When one side is effectively removed from the debate, things go haywire quick because humans need both progressivism AND conservatism - carefully debated from here to eternity. (pat myself on the back for ending a comment with "from here to eternity"... needs a rousing score underneath)
Great conversation. I love that he spoke about circumcision and that it is indeed genital mutilation or perhaps we can call it plastic surgery on an infant. Completely unnecessary and ridiculously unconscious of its assault on the baby boys sexual organs. Nature did not make a mistake with the foreskin. It is an unethical procedure to offer at a hospital. I am half Jewish so please do not accuse me of antisemitism. I also know that there are some Jews that are against this surgery. Perhaps someday we will realize how barbaric we have been.
Leave the children alone. In most cases their sexual organs are perfectly designed.
Having grown up in the 90s, the part about the “anyone can catch AIDS” messaging was very relatable. It didn’t help that at the after-party for prom in high school, one boy insisted on having us all watch the movie Kids (1995). Terrified me for *years.* Here is my anti-recommendation: If you are a virgin, do not watch that movie. This is an important PSA; probably lots of virgins in the Substack comments for The Unspeakable podcast. 😛
For the love of God, please think long and hard before you decide to go down the circumcision rabbit hole. A few months ago your buddies Katie Herzog and Jessie Singal made that mistake: their comment section turned into a toxic cesspool for a couple of weeks afterwards.
Apparently there is a strong contingent of obnoxious trolls, primarily on the anti-circumcision side, who prowl the internet searching for any mention of their pet cause. They sign up for the message board/chat room, then proceed to flood it with unhinged rants. (Not to say that none of them made valid points; some did but they were mostly lost in the deluge of attacks.)
The whole sordid saga reminded me of the Bey Hive and the Swifties - those ardent Beyonce and Taylor Swift fans who scour the interwebz for any negative mention of their goddess, then dogpile anyone with a slightly negative opinion. Freddie deBoer made a dark joke (I hope it was a joke) about Ariana Grande fans threatening to burn down his house because he had the audacity not to salivate over her latest offering.
Thanks for another chewy interview Meghan. I especially want to thank Andrew Sullivan for bringing forward the hush-hush issue of circumcision.
I've had a fair few lovers and, as a straight-ish woman, one thing I have noticed is that the lucky few who managed to hang on to their wrappers seemed to have a wider range of sensitivity and sexual response than the peeled. Which might even have helped them to be a wee bit more sensitive and responsive as human beings.
While my study is by no means scientific (much less peer-reviewed) I've always wanted to send a thank-you note to the parents of those fortunate few men who made it through intact. Especially the Jewish one. Way to go, leftie progressive Jewish mom :)
Thank you for having Andrew on your show, Meghan. It’s always rewarding to hear him speak on these subjects. There are only two people in my life I can talk to about these things: my best friend and my massage therapist. The rest I have to tread softly around and ask questions. I’m a Gen-X gay man and most friends are around my age. Many have strong opinions but know very little about the subject of transition or the homophobia of gender activists. Glad you could have this conversation and get it out there for people to hear.
I haven’t even listened yet and I’m so excited.
I’m going to echo what several others have said about the notion of the “trans child.” I agree that body dysphoria has likely always been part of the human experience. But children (and adults) with body dysphoria are not trans until they undergo hormonal and surgical interventions. Trans rights activists now argue that one needn’t experience dysphoria to be trans. But, that makes no sense. What else could it entail since it is impossible to change one’s sex? If a child has long-term body dysphoria, then that might make them a candidate to undergo physical interventions (with all the known physical and mental risks and tradeoffs including that they might be transing the gay away).
The trans movement as anti-orgasm and anti-gay, in the milieu of nihilism-- these are what I feel is the problem.
-It is anti-orgasm because transition is about removing/reshaping those organs of pleasure so that they no longer provide pleasure.
-Anti-gay because it confuses masculine/feminine (i.e. gender) traits with biologic sex so that young gays with cross sex traits are "transitioned."
--It is nihilism because it refuses to accept that sex (as opposed to gender) is a biologic reality, fixed for the vast majority of people (yes, there are XXY and X0, and those with enzyme deficiencies that are infertile but they are rare).
In the end, adults can do what they want for themselves, but adults need to be adults with children and help them deal with reality so that they can become full adults who are comfortable with themselves, their bodies and who can participate in deep emotional and intimate relationships. A boy who likes dolls or a girl who plays football is not a "proto" trans anything.
Good interview. I first remember seeing him in the 90s when I often watched C-SPAN's morning call in show ("Washington Journal")-- seemed like a frequent guest when Brian Lamb did the Friday morning show.
Great points and discussion. I did not have my boys circumcised. This was in 2000 and 2003 when even more people were dong it. I’m glad Andrew brought it up.