Available Now!

Available Now!
What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Thursday, August 04, 2022

How Times Have Changed

It was once regarded as condescending to humor other people by pretending to accept their fictions about themselves. Today it’s regarded as a mandatory form of respect that is breached only by bigots.


Anonymous said...

Sheldon, I've followed your blog for a long time and agree with almost everything you've said. I've sent your books to friends. And on the trans issue, I think I agree with your basic premise--trans people, by and large, strike me as having a mental illness of some sort rather than being "born in the wrong body".

I have trans friends who I've expressed this to. None of them have tried to jail me, or assault me, or take my money, or force me to do anything. If I expressed my views on twitter and were at all popular, maybe people would be angry with me, but I can't really compare this with actual violence.

Meanwhile, it seems like the state and its agents are very actively committing violence against lots of people all the time and always trying to expand their powers. Some things that have been proposed recently--such as wanting to prevent people from travelling across state lines to get an abortion--strike me as utterly terrifying. Besides this individual proposal being very bad, it's easy to see how having such a law in place could be abused to, say, prevent people from travelling across state lines for all sorts of arbitrary reasons.

I guess I'm wondering why you feel the need to devote so much time to--as it seems to me--"crazy people on the internet", rather than real things in the real world that are much more of a threat.

As someone who has deeply admired your writings on Palestine and the costs of our foreign wars, it's just so odd to me that you're writing now about such a trivial issue that affects so few people. Not that everything you write about has to be on the same level of importance, I suppose...

Is there something I'm missing?

Sheldon Richman said...


I appreciate your comment, but I'm not sure what you mean by "devote so much time to ...'crazy people on the internet'." In recent times, like always, I've written about public issues involving individual liberty, some concrete, some more abstract. I am aware of no change.

I never said anyone is mentally ill. As someone who has long admired the work of Thomas Szasz, I would not use such a term.

I have to disagree that the subject you have in mind is just internet trivia of no danger to anyone. When men are admitted to women's bathrooms, locker rooms, shelters, and prisons, the danger to women predictably increases; that's just the nature of things. Terrible incidents have already taken place in the UK, Ireland, and the US. That is hardly trivial, so why be bullied into doing it?

There is also the matter of truth and objectivity. When a strident ideological lobby (in contrast to individuals who just want to live and let live) insists that we all chant that two plus two equals five and that only hateful bigots would refuse, then people ought to resist. Truth still counts for something, and ignoring it has serious consequences.

I hope this clears up any mystery. Again, thanks!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for responding!

I used the term "mentally ill" myself, and didn't mean to imply you felt that way. I haven't yet read the work of Szasz, and perhaps I'll recant the term when I do. I'll clarify, too, that I didn't mean any disrespect when I used the term--my friends, who I was describing, are good people.

I think I'm also responding to not just your blog, but an increasing trend to talk about trans people (and talk about them a specific way). It's obviously not fair to hold you accountable for what others have said, so I apologize for focusing on you. I think you're just someone whose work I've admired quite a bit, so it was more jarring for me. At any rate, the following comments aren't aimed at you specifically.

The data for some of these things--like whether transwomen sharing bathrooms, dressing rooms, prisons, etc, increase harm done to women--don't seem to be conclusive yet, but the anecdotes are certainly suggestive (as you mention) and should give people pause before changing rules too quickly. It seems to me that sharing bathrooms isn't much of an issue, while sharing prisons is, but I could be wrong. And it would be important if I were wrong, because, as you say, truth and objectivity matter. So far so good!

I think I can best explain my discomfort with an analogy; and I know analogies are odious, but I'll try not to be tedious.

Many religious people in the world believe things that I think are not merely outright falsehoods, but dangerous falsehoods. The go-to example here is Radical Islam, but of course they don't have a monopoly. To be clear, I think their beliefs are untrue, that it's important to call out things that aren't true, and, especially if the beliefs are harmful, people should resist. That all being said, if someone spent 80% of their time talking about fringe religious fanatics, and only 20% talking about, say, American military intervention overseas, I'd think their priorities were off. It seems to me that there's far more discussion of the trans issue now than is at all warranted given the scale of whatever problems there might be.

Continuing the analogy, even though I would describe religious fundamentalism as across the board untrue and harmful, I feel compelled to add that many--most!--religious people are wonderful and wouldn't harm anyone and just want to live their own lives. After all, I have family and friends who are deeply religious, and while I think they're wrong, they're not actively doing harm, and I think it's important not to lump the two groups together. If I saw a critique of, for instance, Hamas, that didn't also point out that most Muslims and most Palestinians aren't terrorists, I'd be a bit suspicious of the writer's biases. However, I rarely see this consideration extended to transpeople. I was glad to see your asside that you don't mean "individuals who just want to live and let live". I can't remember the last time I saw a piece against the transagenda that didn't have that caveat, and that bothers me. Maybe they're there and I just don't see them--I can't claim to be keeping a tally. But there doesn't seem to be much sympathy for the actual transpeople, or a recognition that you could be both trans and an overall decent person.

To put it succinctly, it seems to me that the amount of time devoted to transpeople and the tone of how they're talked about makes it seem like they are a huge danger and that they are inherently and without exception bad. I'll reiterate that I don't accuse you yourself of stating this anywhere, and I certainly don't accuse you of believing it. But it's the overall impression I get from non-liberal news and media sources. Maybe I should be consuming better media, or maybe I'm simply wrong, as does happen.

Anonymous said...

part 2...

This is side-issue to my original complaint/question, but just to respond to you saying that "the danger to women predictably increases". While this might be true, and is certainly a consideration, it's not the only consideration; after all, women would be much safer and would experience far fewer cases of assault and rape if men simply weren't allowed to be with women in any public or private spaces without their consent. Even were this possible to enforce, there are other questions at hand than simply women's safety. As with everything, there are trade-offs. There have been, for example, instances of ciswomen being harrassed and assaulted in bathrooms and changing rooms because they *LOOKED* trans. Some sections of this book https://www.dukeupress.edu/female-masculinity-twentieth-anniversary-edition talk about butch lesbians or just insufficiently feminine presenting women experiencing this, and you can find recent anecdotes in the British and American news. So even trying to keep transwomen out of women's bathrooms predictably increases the danger to women. It might be less overall harm, for all I know, but I just wanted to point out that increased danger is only one of many things to consider.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my comment; I'm trying to work through how I feel about this issue when I don't seem to have a home in either camp, and I appreciate your thoughts (or the thoughts of other commenters on this blog!). And again, I realize now that my initial response wasn't aimed at you specifically, so apologies for framing it that way.


Sheldon Richman said...

I appreciate your clarification about how you see my work. I can account only for my own time. I'll just say a couple of things. That women already face risk from some men cannot mean that adding to that risk in places where they are most vulnerable is of little consequence. There simply is no good reason to increase that risk by admitting men to what have traditionally been private female spaces, spaces where they partially or fully undress or sleep. Even if men claiming to be women were regularly at risk, I see no grounds for redistributing the risk to women. They, after all, are not the ones threatening those men, are they?

The critics of trans ideology whom I have learned from do not hate individuals who simply want to live and let live in ways that they or others believe do not conform to stereotypes regarding their sex. The criticism is always aimed at self-proclaimed ideological leaders, whom are rejected by many nonmovement "trans" people. That's an important distinction. For me and the sex realists I have confidence in, this has nothing to do with bigotry or "phobia." It is not right-wing or religious. It's just that we cannot have justice or benevolence if we lie to ourselves, accept under duress new definitions of words, and muddle our thinking.

There are no trans rights or, for that matter, gay rights, black rights, Latino rights, and so on. There are only individual rights.

People have a right to see themselves in any way they like. But they do not right to demand and require that you and I see them that way. They have no property right in my or your eyes. I can't believe this is a controversial statement.

Finally, we should not ignore the bad consequences for medicine and medical research, and thus for all of us, if the distinction between male and female were to be blurred in statistics and surveys.

Anonymous said...

Ok, thanks for the clarification. Regarding the last four points you make, i.e. being forced to use new terms, there being only individual rights, having no right to what others believe about you, and medicinal consequences, we're in complete agreement. I would argue that it's polite to comply with using people's preferred pronouns and such in most cases, but naturally one has a right to be impolite, and i would vehemently object to being forced to do comply, and the idea that i must not only verbally comply but believe in my heart of hearts is of course ridiculous.

That addresses my initial comment, i think, and thank you again for your time responding. Just some further thoughts.

I'm still not convinced regarding bathrooms and changing rooms. I think part of my trouble is enforcement. Practically speaking, in terms of how the rules were enforced, these spaces haven't been divided by sex, but by appearance of sex. Blair White has been using the women's bathroom and Buck Angel the men's bathroom, and i suspect women would be more disturbed to have Buck Angel walk into their changing area than Blair White, regardless of biological sex. This has some problems for women who don't look sufficiently feminine, as i mentioned. I think there was a joke back in the day about Janet Reno being banned from the women's changing room because people thought she was a man, but there are real examples of this happening to real women as well, which i imagine is quite humiliating. Nevertheless, this approach has the benefit of being quick and easy and non-invasive; no need to do a search or id check, just look at someone. When people propose keeping transwomen out of bathrooms and changing rooms, i just wonder how it will be enforced--there are cases I'm sure where you can tell by looking, but all the trans people i know personally "pass", and what recourse will real women have who happen to look trans?

I worry this might be creating more harm than it prevents, especially given a lack of data on the harm done to women by letting the Blair Whites of the world use the women's restroom. The data from prisons is a bit clearer, and i would worry about putting transwomen in prison with ciswomen willy nilly. Of course, our prisons should be doing their best to prevent rape in all circumstances and that's part of the issue, but besides the point. It's also easier to enforce a strict transwomen ban in a prison than in a public restroom, so my concerns about enforcement don't apply.

Anyway, thanks again for the time you've spent responding to me. This is the first time I've commented on your blog, but I've been a reader for nearly a decade now... Which should show how much i agree with you most of the time!

Sheldon Richman said...

Anon, I've appreciated the exchange. I'll close by saying that men and women who readily pass as the opposite sex are the easy cases. By definition, there's no problem because no one else knows. (No one calls for physical exams before people can enter public bathrooms.) It's the majority of cases that present the problem and the intrusion. Studies show that men and women are very good (thanks to evolutionary sexual selection) at distinguishing the sex of people just from their faces (without hair showing). We all know this personally. The studies say we are right most of the time, though we are not infallible.

On this matter and in so many others, we ought to leave it to the private owners of facilities to set the rules. If Target wants to permit men who claim to be women into the ladies' room, that is their call. If women object and shop elsewhere, then the owners can decide how to deal with that market feedback. (I predict that stores won't do it.) As for government restrooms, pending the privatization of all government facilities, I think the reasonable thing to do is to maintain separate facilities, knowing that people who readily pass as the other sex will continue to do so undetected. That's life. It's a far better solution than having no restrictions.

Thanks again.

Sheldon Richman said...

Sorry, but I need to say one more thing. No one should harass or inflict distress on other people over this or other issues. That admonition, by the way, applies to "trans" activists too, who have been especially cruel to women (not so much to men) who criticize the ideology.

Anonymous said...

I can happily agree to all of this, especially your last point. I'm concerned over what often seems to me to be the harassment and distress of transpeople, but that clearly doesn't justify any cruelty in response (or in any case). Comments mocking "white women's tears" and such are incredibly odious, especially when made to rape victims who feel particularly wary over the trans debate for reasonable reasons; i can't and don't defend anything like that. Anyway, i think we've reached a point of agreement. Thanks again for the conversation!