Anyone with even a glancing exposure to the media over the past several years knows that conservatives are waging a “culture war.” Republicans have been advocating and all too often implementing hurtful changes to settled social arrangements, proclaim the New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets on a near-daily basis. This culture war arises primarily out of “hate and fear,” according to President Joe Biden, but pecuniary motives play a role as well, as GOP operatives try to stir up the base and shake it down for donations.
Coverage of this alleged culture war demonstrates the Left’s most important power: the ability to set the default. The Left engineers disruption after disruption to longstanding social practices, each more sweeping than the last. And as soon as those changes are in place, they become the norm, treated as having existed from time immemorial. Questioning that new default is painted as churlish and radical. The Left never has to meet a burden of proof to implement its changes; the burden falls exclusively on conservatives seeking to restore a once-uncontroversial tradition. Though conservatives are portrayed as the aggressors, in reality they are always on the defensive, fighting a rearguard action.
Default-setting shows up across the cultural landscape, whether regarding the requirement that college faculty swear fealty to racial preferences (a.k.a. “diversity”) as a condition of employment, or regarding the introduction of politicized concepts such as “intersectionality” and white privilege into the K-12 curriculum. Its most stunning instantiation, however, is transgender ideology.
The trans revolution has unfolded in a micro percentage of a nanosecond in the context of millions of years of human development. It has introduced ideas that would have been incomprehensible to every previous generation of humanity, whether they found themselves on the African, Asian, American, or European continents. As recently as the 1980s, “trans issues” had not surfaced even among gender theorists themselves, according to the field’s progenitor, Judith Butler.
But now that academic gender theorists have managed to infiltrate their startling creed into virtually every mainstream American institution, contradicting millennia of human experience and centuries of scientific confirmation of that experience, any dissent from the new default is portrayed as a war against the natural order of things, branding the dissenters as hateful and even homicidal. In the 2000s, some feminists—at least those not cowed by the charge of Islamophobia—were expressing opposition to clitorectomies. Now, medical procedures that make genital cutting look therapeutic have been rebranded as “health care,” and opposition to the disembowelment of a youth’s reproductive apparatus is branded as barbaric.
When the LGBTQ program director for Media Matters claims that right-wing culture warriors are creating a “strange world” where bathrooms and locker rooms are segregated by sex “assigned” at birth and where boys may not compete against girls in female sports, the default is at work.
When a New Orleans history teacher accuses conservatives of “hyper-politicizing” the teaching profession by removing sanctions against teachers who do not accede to a child’s demand to be referred to as a member of the opposite sex, the default is at work.
When a top Democrat on the House military appropriations subcommittee denounces GOP-proposed bans on drag queen story hours on military bases and on the use of drag queens as military recruiters as the most “shocking and extreme policy riders” that she has ever seen, the default is in play.
When the Arizona Mirror lambastes Arizona Republicans for their “ongoing culture war”—i.e., for trying to require parental consent before teachers and principals can treat a child as a member of the opposite sex—the default is being leveraged.
When the New York Times blasts former president Donald Trump for “politiciz[ing] the armed forces” by withdrawing his predecessor Barack Obama’s order that females who declare themselves male can serve as male soldiers, it is mobilizing the default.
When a Missouri talk radio station laments that a “wave” of state legislation would allow schools to “deadname” transgender students or “out” them to their parents without the students’ consent, it is exploiting the default.
When the Chicago Tribune criticizes conservatives for trying to “censor discussion of LGBTQ topics at school,” it is utilizing the power of the default.
When a Baptist university cancels an appearance by a Christian men’s group for having “unnecessarily fan[ned] the flames of culture wars” by posting that God “created male and female with equal worth and dignity” and that gender ideology has “mutilated bodies,” you really know that the default is dominant.
In all these cases, it is the situation that the “right-wing culture war” tries to challenge that represents the militant revolution, not the pushback against that revolution.
The New York Times graphically illustrated left-wing default-setting in its June 7, 2023, print edition. Three pairs of maps of the U.S. tracked the “wave of [state] laws regulating life for young transgender people”—specifically, laws “restricting gender-affirming care for minors,” laws “banning restroom use by gender identity” (that is, preventing boys from using girls’ bathrooms), and laws “banning sports participation by gender identity” (namely, preventing boys from competing against girls in girls’ sports.)
The lefthand map of each pair showed which states were considering or had passed such state laws as of January 1, 2021; the righthand map showed the legislative situation as of June 5, 2023. In all three pairings, there were virtually no such “trans regulating” laws in place on January 1, 2021. By June 7, 2023, however, a red stain had started to spread across the maps, representing states with such “restrictive” laws. The graphic assumed that the January 1, 2021, landscape was the natural default, wherein pharmacological assaults on healthy sexual development and the destruction of female bathrooms went unchecked; it was the “restrictive” laws of 2023 that were aberrant and noteworthy.
For millennia, female sexual modesty dictated that males and females perform their bodily functions apart from each other. Only institutions that sought to break the human spirit, such as concentration and labor camps, deliberately stripped the sexes of their privacy. Many girls are embarrassed to be seen naked in a locker room, even with each other. Now, however, signs announcing that a bathroom does not discriminate on the basis of sex are the default; it is restrictions on such cross-sex use that face an impossible burden of proof.
A more informative set of maps and charts would have compared the number of states in 2005 and 2023 where pediatricians proudly offered to chemically castrate healthy children, or the number of medical associations in 2005 and 2023 that affirmatively deemed such castration consistent with the Hippocratic Oath.
A New York Times reporter showed particular creativity in her manipulation of the default. Republicans have now revealed themselves as “jackbooted thugs” for “allow[ing] school officials to demand inspections of [a] child’s genitals before soccer matches and swim meets,” Lydia Polgreen wrote in an op-ed. Polgreen did not disclose how many such inspections have occurred; the answer is undoubtedly close to zero, if not zero. But the only reason that a school official would even think of ascertaining a child’s sex is that the Left has pushed forward the unprecedented idea that males should be able to compete against girls in girls’ sports leagues.
The trans revolution, the most startling and unforeseeable in human history, is all the more remarkable for its scientific illiteracy and philosophical incoherence. The New York Times may cluck in disbelief that right-wing culture warriors seek to define “sex as binary” depending on whether a “person produces eggs or sperm.” But such a binary division between the sexes is written into every cell of a person’s body, absent a terrible genetic miscarriage. Changing someone’s sex would require switching the male XY chromosomes with the female XX chromosomes in trillions of cells, and vice versa.
Sex is not “assigned” at birth, as Associated Press news reporters are now instructed to say; it is determined at the moment a zygote is formed from its parents’ gametes. A newborn’s sexual organs, constitutive of being male or female whether or not an obstetrician observes them, mean that a male will never be able to gestate a baby, however much doctors may subsequently try to carve out and keep open a pseudo-vagina, and that a female will never be able to impregnate another female (much less a male), despite wearing a dildo or having a nonfunctioning simulacra of a penis grafted onto her vaginal area.
The rare genetic misfirings that result in hermaphroditism do not undermine the mutually exclusive and binary nature of sexual identity, just as the fact that a child may be born blind does not undermine the fact that vision is a human attribute.
The sexual binary shows up in the anatomy of fetal brains before any possible influence of societal “gender stereotypes” (though the physical impossibility of such influence does not mean that gender theorists might not posit it). Female fetal brains have more neurological connections than male fetal brains. Cognitive differences between males and females’ surface within the first year after birth and only accelerate thereafter, especially with regards to visuospatial and verbal skills. So deciding to become the opposite sex would entail a brain transplant as well as genetic engineering.
Perhaps it is asking too much of gender theorists to understand biology before they cast aside centuries of research into genetics and physiology. But their philosophical competence is equally weak. Gender theory is internally contradictory and politically regressive, despite the revolutionary posturing of its proponents.
Though one may catch in its pronouncement’s faint echoes of such hoary philosophical debates as the relationship between substances and properties, as well as an outcropping of the periodic human revulsion toward the flesh, the main source of gender ideology is the hermetic world of academic high theory, coupled with a hatred of everything traditional in family and sexual relations.
Ironically, gender ideology is, to borrow an academic phrase, massively “undertheorized,” the sources and implications of its concepts left unexplained. Notwithstanding that its core tenet is constructivism (which claims that all human realities such as race and sex are socially generated), it implicitly relies on a vestigial version of Platonic idealism.
According to the California Department of Education, “children as early as age two are expressing a different gender identity.” But a two-year-old, still primitive in his language skills, has had no experience of being the opposite sex (nor will he ever). If toddlers have innate intuitions about gender identity, then gender must be like a Platonic form—real, not socially constructed.
Turning to official definitions from the trans establishment does not solve this dilemma, since trans vocabulary is circular. In 2019, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) defined gender as a “person’s actual or perceived sex, and includes a person’s gender identity and gender expression.”
To learn that there is an “actual” sex is unexpected, though this passing concession to biological truth is immediately undercut by the addition of “perceived sex.” How “actual sex” relates to “perceived sex” is unexplained. Also unexplained is the relation between “actual or perceived sex” and “gender identity and gender expression.” Things only worsen when we learn that “gender identity” is, according to the LAUSD, a “person’s gender-related identity.” Not much help there. “Gender expression,” in turn, refers to “external cues that one uses to represent or communicate one’s gender to others.” But it is “gender” that we are trying to define by reference to “gender expression,” not vice versa.
Such circularity is the least of the LAUSD’s definitional problems. The “external cues” used to represent “gender” include “behavior, clothing, hairstyles, activities, voice, mannerisms, or body characteristics.” But if gender is as much an arbitrary construct as sex is, how did associations between particular “behavior, clothing, hairstyles, activities, voice, mannerisms, and body characteristics” and gender come about in the first place? Are there in fact typical male and female mannerisms and body characteristics? That, too, contradicts constructivist tenets.
The bible of the psychiatry profession, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual–5, is even more problematic from a constructivist standpoint. It defines gender dysphoria as marked by a “strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender.” So each “gender” has “typical feelings and reactions.” These must arise either in biology or in some Platonic ideal of what it means to be male or female.
And if the sex organs are arbitrarily related to sex (and to gender), why are so many mad scientist doctors mutilating healthy bodies in order to jerry-rig iatrogenic, infection-plagued dummy versions?
It turns out that it is okay to conform to what gender theorists still insist are oppressive gender stereotypes, if you are a member of the opposite sex. If a male has “typical feelings and reactions” of a female, that is not sexist. If a female has “typical feelings and reactions” of a female, she is living a false consciousness, complicit in conventions designed to subordinate her to men.
The drag queen embodies this double standard. Despite being trotted out before children at every opportunity lest they form rigid ideas of the “sexual binary” and of their role in future family formation, there is no more insistent a proponent of the sex binary. A drag queen’s understanding of what it means to be female activates what in any other context would be viewed as demeaning, patriarchal notions of female-ness—emotional, blowzy, loud, and pumped up to sex toy proportions by push-up bras, silicone implants, butt padding, fake eyelashes, glitter eye shadow, lip injections and gloss, rapier fingernails, low-cut dresses, high-reaching skirt slits, sequins, feather boas, and stiletto heels.
Cultural appropriation is taboo, but gender appropriation in the right hands is celebrated—even though, according to gender theorists, there should be nothing to appropriate.
The Left’s trans default holds that drag queen story hours, graphic representations of gay sex in children’s library collections, and the blasting of young people’s bodies with enough foreign hormones to halt healthy sexual maturation are all inherent features of human life. But gender theory created the reality it purports merely to explicate. Before its rise in the academy and its uptake by other elite institutions, the number of young people declaring themselves transgender was infinitesimal. That number remains infinitesimal outside the ambit of American academia. Only in the U.S. and its Anglophone satellites are teenagers and pre-teenagers, at an astronomical rate of escalation, claiming to be something other than their biological sex and demanding to be recognized as such.
This stampede has built up in barely a decade, making it patently a herd phenomenon, not a biologically driven phase of adolescence. Moreover, announcing a trans identity gives young people the thing that they most crave: the ability to subjugate others to their will, in this case, via their pronouns and all that those pronouns entail. It confers on teenagers instant celebrity and adulatory attention. As a member of the “trans community,” you will be lauded by the president of the United States as one of the “bravest and most inspiring people” he has known, who sets an “example for the nation and, quite frankly, for the world.”
The Left’s current dominance of the default is hard to disrupt since it grows out of a fundamental trait of Western civilization: critique. Questioning authority began as a philosophical enterprise in Classical Greece, but it became a political one with challenges to the divine right of kings and to the secular power of the church in premodern Europe. Conservatives proclaim themselves guardians of tradition, but they accept as valid and beneficial a whole string of earlier revolts against received political and social arrangements, including the American Revolution. They choose among the traditions they view as sacrosanct and those that they view as rightly overturned.
That legacy of critique gathered steam in the twentieth century with the progressive view that change was always for the better, and that no novel assertion of rights by previously unrecognized groups can be illegitimate or unjustified.
Nevertheless, the Left’s weaponization of the trans default must be fought with every available political and rhetorical tool. Many of these rearguard battles have already accepted the Left’s terms, conceding, for example, that gender dysphoria is something so important that it deserves a disproportionate share of our attention, leaving only the question of just how widespread gender dysphoria is. Leading conservative news organs such as the New York Post and Fox News now employ sex-contradictory pronouns on command. And reflecting the current top-dog status of trans claimants in the ruthlessly competitive struggle to be top-dog victim, it is now all but compulsory to preface even modestly skeptical assertions about trans ideology with a protestation of good will toward, or, better yet, love for, this latest and most unexpected of all victim groups. (Respect for our fellow human beings is, of course, an essential civic trait, but only certain groups enjoy the privilege of having their fellow human beings routinely announce their respect and good will for those groups as a prerequisite for joining the conversation.)
But conservatives must find the will to reject the queering of America. They need to reassert what was once obvious—that the biological, married family is the best environment for raising children and that to be heterosexual is not merely an inferior option in life for those who just can’t for some reason join up with the alphabet brigade. They have to reassert the legitimacy of bourgeois norms and insist that children deserve to have their innocence regarding sex preserved for as long as possible (though that latter battle is mostly lost, thanks to pop culture and the sexual revolution). Conservatives may even have to reject the longstanding safe harbor of declaring a breezy indifference to what people “do in the privacy of their bedrooms.” At some point, it may be necessary to re-moralize sex.
Ultimately, the trans revolution is part of the West’s will to suicide, seen in everything from its immigration policies to its fierce denunciations of its civilizational legacy. What, exactly, are we celebrating with gay pride marches and month-long holidays, if not the rejection of the traditional two-parent married family in favor of nonprocreative, sometimes grotesquely promiscuous, sex? Equality for homosexuals has long since been achieved. Now the trans revolution is trying to render as many young people as possible infertile, or at least averse to traditional marriage and procreation. The rejection of the trans default is a battle for cultural survival.
Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images