Were Gay Rights a Slippery Slope to Gender?
What is the fundamental difference between gay rights and trans rights? Why does it matter?
This is the second post based on reader responses to my draft Unbeliever’s Manifesto, in which I requested your thoughts, objections, criticisms before I release to the public.
The first of these response essays related to gay marriage and to what extent it may have “destroyed” traditional notions of marriage. In this one, I’ll clarify why I believe the gender movement “denies reality” while the gay rights movement does not, in response to some reader objections, and also share some thoughts about how one could have led to the other.
Unlike the first post, this one relates too much to the arguments in the Manifesto that I am not yet prepared to release to the public, so it will be mostly paywalled. After the release, however, I’ll unlock this as well.
An increasingly common idea I encounter among liberals who are alarmed by the gender identity movement is a kind of hindsight regret—a feeling that the “slippery slope” argument wielded by those opposed to gay rights a decade ago has turned out to be more true than they would like.
Slippery slope is not my favorite argument generally—all new stances have further implications, so nearly every claim creates a slope of some kind. Not to mention, as society has contradicting commitments there is no reason that we must slide down any particular slope forever—it can collide with another, more compelling slope.
I think the argument is often more wrong than bad. Slippery slopes exist, but it is very hard to predict how the logic of a movement will proceed. To do so with any kind of accuracy, you must understand its underlying nature, which is too easy to mistake.
For example: if someone had argued that gay marriage would inevitably lead to, say, marriage between animals and humans, I would reply that they are wrong not because gay marriage does not move us down some slope, but because it does not go down that one. In other words, the logic isn’t wrong, but the norm that gay marriage did in fact “loosen” has been misidentified.
In that respect, I think that those who identify the gender movement as downhill from the “slippery slope” created by the gay rights movement are misidentifying the fundamental natures of both.
Before we dive in, let’s grant some concessions.
Movements are complex and multi-dimensional…there can be many slopes created at once, and I don’t deny that the campaign for gay rights has contributed to the success of the gender identity movement in some respects.
For example, it is undeniable that the gay rights movement helped mainstream the poisonous conflation of politics with morality by labeling all ideological disagreement as “hate” or a “phobia”. It is now commonplace to find any disagreement with a leftist social project cast as evidence of some form of bigotry, and this tactic is liberally applied by the gender identity movement to great effect.
More broadly, queer activism helped forward the radical notion that social norms are inherently discriminatory, in that they privilege some over others. “Heteronormativity” for example, privileges heterosexuality by understanding it as the “normal orientation”, therefore creating a “sex hierarchy” in which other orientations are deemed “abnormal”. It does not matter that heterosexuality is the most common sexuality among humans, and that it is vital for the continuation of the human race. The usefulness and rationality of the norm are not important. What matters is that the norm excludes, and in the value hierarchy of the modern left, nothing can be worse. This too eased the path for gender activists. One might argue, for example, that it does not make sense to alter our existing bathroom norms to accommodate what is a very small percentage of the population. Perhaps trans people can use dedicated single-use rooms, or simply bear the inconvenience of being “invalidated” so that females do not bear a greater risk to their safety. In the modern left, however, this common-sense norm is an egregious violation because it excludes—makes some people feel as if they are less equal. Even language that “excludes” is intolerable, no matter how accurate and useful it might be for the vast majority of the population. “Breastfeeding” might exclude trans men who do not feel that their breasts should be breasts—therefore, the logic goes, it is better to replace it with the inclusive term “chestfeeding”.
It is also true that the lavishly-funded and politically powerful NGO apparatus that gays and lesbians built up today exists largely to serve the needs of the gender identity movement. Without this institutional muscle, it is unlikely that they would have progressed so far in lawmaking bodies.
Finally, the acronym alone is a huge advantage to genderists. Confused but well-meaning people who do not want to find themselves on the “wrong side of history” conflate the two movements and “support” the T without much further thought.
Having conceded all that, let’s move on to the main course. What is the most relevant distinction between the two movements?
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