David A. French
David A. French

David A. French writes: In the Transgender Debate, Conservatives Can’t Compromise the Truth. French is responding to a piece written by J.J. McCullough, also at The National Review. McCullough is best known as a cartoonist. His piece is best summarize by its subtitle which reads: “Cautious conservatives should work to preserve a peaceful and free social order.” McCullough’s piece starts with his understanding of how gay people are treated by society. This serves as his template for how society should evolve regarding transgender men and women:

Through education, and especially exposure, homosexuality is no longer regarded as bizarre, threatening, or mysterious. Even if we remain unsure about what makes a minority of men and women gay, only the tiniest fringe still consider the orientation something worth trying to “fix.” When states attempt to ban homosexual “conversion therapy,” as California is trying to do at the moment, it feels like anachronistic performance. Disinterest in judging homosexuality is not an attitude government has coerced Americans into, it is the product of a free people’s informed knowledge.

David French is part of that tiny fringe McCullough refers to and McCullough uses an important word: “Threatening.” Why is French threatened by transgender people?

By most accounts David French is an intelligent individual. After all, he has a J.D. from Harvard. Nevertheless he has some stunningly stupid notions about transgender people.

Mr. French has an intellectual defense system. It “protects” French from absorbing certain concepts by circumventing secular critical thinking. French’s defenses might have been developed when he attended Lipscomb University, a conservative Christian institution. However, how he got to this point is less relevant than how he attempts to influence others.

For starters, there is no intellectually honest debate about transgender people. Religious conservatives have created a divide that should not exist. Religious conservatives are not exchanging ideas with others. Read French’s title again. It includes the word truth. Truth for French is not based on empirical evidence. Rather his truth is derived from religious dogma and that is not truth at all. Where is the debate? Faith versus science? It is futile and French is frustrated that we all don’t agree with him:

I can acknowledge that gender dysphoria is a “persistent aspect of humanity,” but I will not concede that gender dysphoria trumps biology, and I don’t think our culture should cease efforts towards “ending” the dangerous notion that men or women should amputate healthy organs in the quest to sculpt their bodies to become something they’re not. Gender dysphoria may not “go away,” but transgenderism is something else entirely. Our culture is in the midst of a live and important dispute over the very nature of biological reality — and over the psychological and spiritual health of hundreds of thousands of precious souls — and now is not the time to abandon the field.

The above is religious gibberish with an apparent assist from Ryan T. Anderson. Rather than believing that he has a vested interest in the “spiritual health” of others, why is French unable to simply mind his own business? In point of fact (established by medical science) gender dysphoria does trump biology. When gender competes with natal sex, gender usually prevails. Were that not the case gender dysphoria might not cause such distress.

Arguing with French is probably pointless. He will never, he cannot ever, accept the simple fact that there is no form of talk therapy to address gender dysphoria. French will never accept the fact that gender affirmation relieves the suffering caused by gender dysphoria. French is threatened by transgender people.

French asserts that he opposes boorish behavior and then promotes boorish behavior:

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.

No one can ever convince Mr. French that his view of transgender people is idiotic. He cannot grasp — or refuses to grasp — the concept and very nature of gender. He cannot accept that Chelsea Manning’s gender makes her female. His intellectual defense system is too vigilant and too powerful to ever allow that to happen. French is also arrogant. Note how he concludes the last sentence with “we know to be false.” Who is the we that he is referring to? A group of conservative Christians?

If ask about simply minding his own business, French will reply in this fashion:

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.

First, let’s stop the bullshit and call it what it is. Social conservative is a euphemism for religious conservative. Also, basic human dignity includes treating people according to their gender which includes the correct pronouns French refuses to use. If Mr. French cannot accept a trans person according to their gender then he is depriving them of liberty. French goes on to offer the usual excuse; and that is all that it is — an excuse for bigotry.

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.

The state’s interest has been exclusively related to children. In that regard the state is protecting kids from religious extremists who seek to marginalize and ostracize transgender kids. Doing so prevents them from enjoying the full benefit of a quality education. Religious conservatives are obsessed with where transgender kids can pee.

In that regard I have a theory. French refuses to use correct forms of address because, as he states, doing so “requires acquiescing to claims we know to be false.” False in this case is not the opposite of empirical truth. Rather the term false is actually a dogmatic truth. Accommodating a transgender child requires people to accept the concept of gender which is something that French and religious conservatives refuse to do.

Punishing children due to religious belief that is divergent from scientific fact means “acquiescing” to superstition. It is not an extension of faith when a belief system negatively affects others. The very nature of a belief system should be part of the awareness of adherents. That is not the case. This is confirmed by the following:

But once you grant the premise that a man is, in fact, a woman, don’t all these consequences flow directly from that concession? After all, existing nondiscrimination statutes are quite clear in their scope. And judicial precedents are increasingly aligning with this new fiction. To “compromise” on identity (including on pronouns) is to end the dispute.

In his own response to J.J.’s piece, Michael Brendan Dougherty asks a key question, “[A]re we allowed to tell the truth?” Increasingly, the answer is no.

Mr. French is unable to distinguish between truth supported by evidence and dogmatic truth based on religious faith which is not truth at all. Then of course there is the obligatory persecution of Christians:

There has been no “compromise” over homosexuality. Instead, we’re locked in brutal legal fights over whether Christian bakers and florists can be compelled to use their artistic talents to celebrate gay weddings. Christian colleges have had to fend off challenges to their accreditation and funding (and the Obama administration raised the possibility of challenging their tax exemptions) for simply upholding basic standards of Christian sexual morality. And in California, the new sexual orthodoxy now threatens even the sale of books that deliver a disfavored message not just on sexual orientation but also on sexual conduct.

The brutality, Mr. French, is in denying service based on sexual orientation in defiance of the law. We live in a diverse society and as much as French wants Christian privilege we are all expected to obey the law equally. No one is forced to be the proprietor of a public accommodation. Furthermore, calling the baking of a cake a celebration of gay weddings is just one more bit of intellectually dishonest prattle. Calling smearing buttercream on sponge cake a celebration doesn’t make it so no matter how exquisitely it is done. Moreover, French should really stop his idiotic nonsense about California AB-2943. It has no effect whatsoever on books. French’s interpretation is another dogmatic “truth” serving a religious purpose.

French concludes:

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.

I think that I have explored French’s notion of truth sufficiently. David A. French is entitled to believe anything he wants. Attempting to influence others by illegitimately assigning truth to dogma is arrogant and misleading. French seems to be asking the question: Why doesn’t everyone see the truth as I see the truth?

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.