Ryan T. Anderson is the Heritage Foundation’s William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow and one of my favorite writers in Washington. His new book on the transgender political project is titled When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment and it’s the most important book yet written on the subject. I talked with him about it over email recently. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.
By Jonathan V. Last – weeklystandard.com – Feb 06, 2018
Ryan T. Anderson is the Heritage Foundation’s William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow and one of my favorite writers in Washington. He’s got an uncanny ability to combine razor-sharp arguments with kindness and good faith. He’s the best kind of public intellectual: One who tries to clarify ideas that are clouded with illogic without ever trying to score points, or grab any weapon at hand.
His new book on the transgender political project is titled When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment and it’s the most important book yet written on the subject. I talked with him about it over email recently. Here’s a transcript of our conversation.
How do you do it? And I don’t mean “why do you do it”—everyone who does what we do for a living understands how valuable it is to reflect good-faith in the face of bad-faith. But it’s really hard. What’s your secret?
Ryan T. Anderson: What’s my secret? Alcohol. As the great philosopher Homer J. Simpson once observed, alcohol is the cause of, and the solution to, all of life’s problems. More seriously, while I do drink, that’s not the secret here. The real secret is that I have four very opinionated brothers, we grew up arguing, I attended a progressive-liberal-lefty Quaker school from 1st through 12th grade, and then went to Princeton for college. My entire life has been spent having people disagree with me, and, as you note, sometimes in less-than-charitable ways. Oh, the stories I could tell you about the nonsense I put up with in high school. . . . When you don’t grow up in a bubble, it makes talking to people outside of various bubbles that much easier, and more natural. I know from first-hand experience that most people are just badly misinformed; they’re not evil, they just don’t know what they don’t know. And so you can’t take any of their vitriol all that personally, or that seriously. All you can do is try to speak the truth in tones and terms that they can understand.
JVL: Early in When Harry Became Sally you make a really, reallyimportant point—and it’s something I’ve always worried conservatives might miss: Many of the people who say they are transgender are suffering in very real, almost unimaginable ways. The suicide rates for people who are transgender, or suffer from gender dysphoria, are terrifying. If you’re an adult who’s so uncomfortable with your body that you’re willing to give up big chunks of your existing life and submit to painful and expensive surgeries, then what you’re feeling has to be real—it’s not some faddish lifestyle choice.
It’s incredibly easy to have compassion for people whose road is so difficult. And to want to do, as a society, what we can to make it easier.
But at the same time, the transgender political project—as something distinct from the needs of transgender people—is entirely different. It seems to be one of the most Jacobin, least compassionate political agendas of our time, happy to break whatever needs to be broken, with no regard for compromise, in order to assure perfect comfort for a very small number of people. Or at least that’s how it looks to me. What’s your appraisal of the transgender movement as an ideological force?
RTA: That’s exactly right. There is a huge difference between people who struggle with their gender identity and people who are LGBT activists. Most people who suffer from gender dysphoria are not activists, and many of them reject the activists’ claims. Many of them may be regarded as victims of the activists, as I document in the book. Many of those who feel distress over their bodily sex know that they aren’t really the opposite sex, and do not wish to “transition.” They wish to receive help in coming to identify with and accept their bodily self. They don’t think their feelings of gender dysphoria define reality.
But trans activists do. And they tolerate no dissent. They’ve gone after “trans-friendly” doctors—who regularly support transition therapies for adults—for not being trans-friendly enough in encouraging children to transition. I tell the story of one clinic in Canada in particular where this took place. They are suing Catholic hospitals for declining to perform sex-reassignment surgeries. They go after anyone who expresses any reservation at social transition for 5-year-olds, and puberty blockers for 9-year-olds. They accuse feminists—even lesbians!—of being “transphobic” for not wanting people with penises in their locker rooms. And the activists are entirely out of step with ordinary people, including ordinary people with gender dysphoria and who identify as trans. I’ve met with people who identify as trans who hate the professional activists, who say that they don’t speak for them.
JVL: In WHBS you talk about the contradictions inherent in the philosophy of the transgender movement. Can I put a quarter in the machine and have you dilate on them a bit here?
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