IN the West today, the debate over the abstract term ‘gender’ is about as toxic as it gets.
On one side there are women, keenly aware that many hard-won rights and entitlements are grounded in biological sex. Feminists who have campaigned for women’s equality have generally affirmed conventional definitions of the terms sex and gender.
On the other side are trans activists who subscribe to more fluid ideas about sex and gender. They hold that people have an innate ‘gender identity’ which can differ from the sex they were ‘assigned’ at birth. Trans activists believe that men who identify as women and women who identify as men should have access to the rights and entitlements of the ‘gender’ they affiliate with, even if their biological characteristics would forbid such access.
We naturally resist the idea of governments censoring what we may hear, read or say. This is something which happens only in totalitarian countries such as communist states, where what can be circulated is tightly controlled so that only the official standpoint is allowed public exposure. Totalitarian regimes find censorship essential. If people are exposed to contrary ideas they may start thinking for themselves and reject the officially approved line.
We can be thankful governments in the West do not exercise an official censorship which controls what we may read. Unfortunately we have something more dangerous: privatised censorship given over to Big Tech. The power of unaccountable social media companies was demonstrated recently when Australia tried to bring Facebook to heel, and was forced to back off.
It can be argued that companies such as YouTube, Amazon and Twitter are private companies and can pick and choose which videos, books or messages they allow on their platforms. However, late last year a 16-month US congressional investigation into Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook found that the tech giants hold ‘monopoly power’ in key business segments and have abused their dominance in the marketplace. The tech giants of Silicon Valley operate a oligopoly over the modern-day public square. Social media is not only the predominant forum for political and cultural discourse: these influential platforms enable politicians to gauge the public mood and respond accordingly. They have power to shape public mood and political policy.
Last year Walt Heyer made a video expressing regret for his own transgender years. Heyer described how his initial decision to change sex could be blamed on the general culture, pushing and enabling his mistaken desire to become a woman. YouTube deleted the video. Heyer said in a subsequent video responding to the censorship: ‘I said that children suffering from gender dysphoria should not be encouraged to try experimental hormones in surgery, and I stand by that statement.’
As recently as 2010, Amazon had an unambiguous free-speech policy: ‘Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.’ Today, Amazon decides which political and social views are acceptable and which are to be censored. Several months ago, Amazon began blocking the sale of books it deemed ‘dangerous’ to LGBTQ people.
These weren’t books containing incitement physically to attack LGBTQ supporters. They were books disagreeing with the dominant narrative about homosexuality, same-sex marriage or gender dysphoria. Ideas which have been held for centuries and which are embedded in the Bible are deemed ‘hateful’ because they refuse to affirm LGBTQ behaviour. In the eyes of Big Tech you don’t have to oppose such behaviour to be considered odious: mere failure to endorse LGBTQ behaviour is labelled hateful.
The most recent book banned by Amazon, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan Anderson, is a scholarly and thoroughly researched examination of transgender ideology. An Amazon search for Anderson’s book brings up instead Let Harry Become Sally: Responding to the Anti-Transgender Moment by Kelly R Novack. Potential purchasers are assured that $0.50 from each sale will be donated to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Anderson’s book is considered worthy of a ban because in it he convincingly describes how transgender ideology is advanced by mis-statements, contradictions and general avoidance of the available evidence when it does not go along with the received group-think.
This is abundantly clear in the UK. Parents are told that gender transition surgery is necessary because of high suicide rates. The evidence is just not there. Analysis of the national suicide figures reveals that suicide amongst young children in England and Wales is (thankfully) vanishingly rare, and there is no evidence that there is a high rate among trans-identified children. In teenagers there are other conditions that carry a much higher suicide risk, including anorexia, depression and autism. There is a dramatic disparity between what the transgender lobby tells us about those who identify as transgender and what the research actually shows. We’re told that children know if they are ‘born in the wrong bodies’ but anywhere from 80 to 95 per cent of children who question their gender identity eventually outgrow those feelings.
Supporters of transgender ideology have to rely on the coercive power of book banning and personal abuse to silence opposition to their cause. Enlisting corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter has been effective.
The process of learning the best way to care for those with gender dysphoria has been hijacked by ideology, not led by evidence. The most helpful therapies do not try chemically or surgically to remake the body to conform with thoughts and feelings, but rather attempt to help people find healthy ways to manage their tension and move toward accepting the reality of their bodily selves. We should be tolerant, indeed loving, toward those struggling with their gender identity, but also be aware of the harm done to many, particularly to children, when transgender identity is normalised. Big Tech’s banning of books, videos or messages does nothing to further healthy debate.