I’ll do two book reviews here. But first a general statement. I do think a lot of the focus on some young people wanting to claim they are transgender or nonbinary comes from their perception that they are not “competitive” or attractive in their accepted birth sex. They want the idea of the “merit” of being attractive according to the norms for your own sex to become less important to others. So they have a reason to rationalize an ideology encouraging some kind of transition — in many instances.
Recently, there were demonstrations at Amazon’s HQ in Seattle maintain that the sale of two particular books on their platform could lead to attacks on non-binary people. Lauren Rosenblatt provides a story for the Seattle Times. A Twitter thread from Katherine Long shows illustrations of the “die-in”.
One of the books is the cardboard stock children’s book by Matt Walsh (illustrations by K. Reece), “Johnny the Walrus“. The publication data is DW Books (Daily Wire, admittedly a conservative channel), ISBN 978-1-956007-05-3.
A little boy thinks he is a walrus and becomes one. That attracts anger of others and he goes back to being human, “as he really is”, according to the (“conservative”) author. “Accept yourself as you really are” (a slogan for my first novel attempt, “The Proles“). As an aside: When I was stationed at Fort Eustis Va (all of 1969) when I was in the Army, one of the other guys in the barracks called himself “The Walrus”. We gave animal names to people (“lizard”, “ostrich”, “ocelot” [it was desirable to be a cat], and I was “chickenman”, based on a Saturday morning cartoon at the time. “He’s everywhere”. Well, on the Internet, maybe I am. And I have traveled a lot. Quantum superposition, maybe?
The other book is “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters”, by Abigail Shrier. The publication data is: paper, Regnery Publishing (a conservative publisher connected to the Washington Times), 2020, ISBN,, 978-1-68451-228-7, 274 pages, index and endnotes, text ends on p. 227; Foreword (which discusses protests against the book) and Introduction take 30 Roman numeral pages. [By the way, I think books should start on p. 1 and use only regular numerals.), 11 chapters and an Epilogue.
The author’s premise is what the subtitle says. She posits that since around 2013 or so, the increasing use of algorithms in social media has particularly affected what pre-teen girls see online, before puberty, making them very self-conscious of their standing socially (Likeonomics). This surprisingly destructive result from social media business models, developing since about 2013, has been pointed out by Johnathan Haidt (yesterday’s post). A disproportionate percentage of these girls develop the idea that they want to become men, or at least nonbinary. Maybe what they really want is a world in which looks don’t count. That might have applied to me in the 50s, but I doubled down, turning to internal upward affiliation, along with a separation into my own sovereign world functioning as an “alien observer” reporting on everything without skin in the game.
She does cover many aspects of the problem. In blue states or cities, some school boards go woke and reinforce these ideas with social transitioning, even allowing students to name their pronouns and new names without parents’ knowledge in some cases. (This gets into SEL, discussed below; it’s unclear how widespread this is, whatever you make of the @LibsofTikTok Twitter account.) Some physicians go overboard with puberty blockers or other treatments; she will later claim that about 70% of the time the persons want to detransition back later, but physical damage can be severe (in a few cases, life threatening infections result). She makes the point that puberty for most people is a necessary step, which actually improves brain performance in school (for both sexes). She gives numerous case histories (with an afterword covering them today). In a couple cases, young women went away to college and tried to transition, unbeknownst to their parents, who felt betrayed. This runs parallel to my own expulsion as a freshman from William and Mary in 1961 for being gay.
Numerous times she mentions that “transitioning” girls are startled to see male body hair. She doesn’t mention that this is much more significant with Caucasian (generally, “white”) people, and with people of color never has much chance to become noticed or significant.
Her book, by and large, does not discuss teenage boys, and does not mention the Intersex issue, which needs to be put in proper perspective. Well, she has a chapter “The Dissidents” where she discusses Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey. There is an allusion to the issue of whether some “sissy” boys are really non-binary or trans, but they typically grow up to be cisgendered gay men, because masculinity itself fascinate them. (I remember resisting the idea of a first shave at the age of 14 or so.)
First, teenage boys particularly really benefit from puberty; some problems like ADD go away with puberty. But bringing up boys takes us back to a larger view of the various facets of transgenderism or non-binary-ism, and Intersex.
Intersex is generally a different issue from transgenderism or non-binary as commonly encountered. A video by Sci-Show linked here on a June 1, 2022 comment for the May 9. 2022 posting explains the myriad of chromosomal or known genetic configurations that cause genuine Intersexiam. (It is the “I” in GLBTQIA; “A” is asexual, or at least disinclination to have intercourse at all – it might move over into “incel” but that is another discussion). About 1.7% of the general population is born with a biological configuration that could be called Intersex. Often there are few or no indications; but the other side is that sometimes doctors have done unnecessary treatments (sometimes surgeries).
A number of red states have proposed laws prohibiting medical treatment to change gender before 18, regardless of permission of the parents, but generally there states have made exceptions for known Intersex patients. But one or two states have proposed laws mandating treatment for Intersex if medically possible to original sex, and most civil libertarians would say such laws are inappropriate (maybe unconstitutional).
It seems, instead, that most of the “transgenderism” attracting controversy in practice is generated by fad behavior exacerbated by certain social media practices. Shrier wants to keep smart phones from kids completely until they are perhaps 16. (Problem, we see teens on YT who are incredibly mature at 14 or 15, the exceptions.) About 1 in maybe 400 children (thru early grades) may truly be “trans” without an identifiable biological cause. School systems do need policies (not abusive state laws) to handle theses situations, as well as to handle Intersex. The aims of SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) programs may sound laudable, but they need very careful planning, with consideration of enlarging science. It would be helpful if well-informed and news-familiar parents would run for school boards and get elected.
Shrier does have a simple solution for bullying: Ban it, regardless of the victim. I got called into the nurse’s office in ninth grade for spreading rumors about a boy who had epilepsy in class (in 1958). I mention this in my first book. If that happened today I should have wound up in an alternative high school for a year. The 2010 case of teen violinist Tyler Clementi at Rutgers is truly tragic, however, and needs better explanations, and would make for a good documentary film investigation.
We’re also left to ponder the “drag queen story hour” events at some pride festivals this month. I sat in on one in Alexandria, VA last Saturday and it seemed to stay in bounds. The parents brought the kids, and it was outside the school systems. There was no tipping, but a little fist clenching (leftist) and a few kids hugged the drag queen.
Not so in Dallas (“Drag the Kids to Pride”), apparently. That’s two weeks after I had visited the Cedar Springs strip myself.
I’ll add, I see there is at least a parallelism to the arguments I used against “don’t ask don’t tell” two-plus decades ago, and the issue of what kids should be taught about gender and sexuality in schools or what parents may wisely expose them to. Hints have been dropped to me, why didn’t enter the childrens and gay rights books business, to prove I could sell books? Well, partly because I have no kids. Abd partly because the issues are really much harder to settle. Although gays in the military didn’t look easy at first, and it took 17 years. I have gotten rebuffs for using the phrase “gay conservative” in a book title (like that is hate speech) or the idea of a chapter titled “The Virtue of Maleness” in book 3, as if to attack those who were less cis than others. Yes, a lot of people go around looking for ways to say their tribe is victimized, and that somehow that gives them a new identity.
There is a shift in LQBTQ activism, from the issue of sexual attraction (the former issues of sodomy laws, DADT, and then gay marriage) to a kind of “critical gender theory” today which I find much more problematic. The latter is more what drives the idea of anti-LQBTQ zones in eastern Europe and is partly what also generates the anti-LGBTQ ideas in Russia, which Putin himself has tried to exploit in the Ukraine wars — grave stuff. There is, also, though, the issue of declining birth rates, and less family formation.
All of this is winding back to the problems of personal agency, which I will continue to explore.
(Posted on Wednesday, June 8, 2022 at 10:30 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)