Regardless of whether they identify as “cisgender” or “transgender,” the activists promote a highly subjective and incoherent worldview. On the one hand, they claim that the real self is something other than the physical body, in a new form of Gnostic dualism, yet at the same time they embrace a materialist philosophy in which only the material world exists. They say that gender is purely a social construct, while asserting that a person can be “trapped” in the wrong body. They say there are no meaningful differences between man and woman, yet they rely on rigid sex stereotypes to argue that “gender identity” is real while human embodiment is not. They claim that truth is whatever a person says it is, yet they believe there’s a real self to be discovered inside that person. They promote a radical expressive individualism in which people are free to do whatever they want and define the truth however they wish, yet they try to enforce acceptance of transgender ideology in a paternalistic way.

— Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment

The early twentieth-century French writer Charles Péguy wrote, “It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been committed for fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.” While reading Anderson’s book, I was reminded of that line along with a former reader who used to email me to confess his heretical thoughts on the transgender dogma then starting to take rigid shape on lefty social media. I would chuckle at the desperate way he would always hasten to preface his remarks by stressing that of course he wasn’t saying that trans people should be beaten up or discriminated against by law. There’s a satisfying poetic justice in seeing progressives haunted by their own strawmen.

Of course, he was right to be worried about the social consequences of being found harboring thought-criminals in the attic of his head, even if he was slow to connect the dots and realize that the progressive desire to always appear in the vanguard on “the right side of history,” to maintain a constant posture of indulgent, nonjudgmental acceptance toward “victims” of the conformist, middle-American booboisie, is precisely the Achilles heel being exploited by radical activists. Even Anderson goes out of his way to stress repeatedly that transgender individuals and activists are almost always two different groups with different aims, and the former deserve nothing but compassion and respect. That does nothing to prevent the NYT from soliciting an op-ed contributor to brazenly lie about the book, naturally. You can have the progressive oppression narrative when you pry it from their cold, dead hands.

If you set aside the citations of studies which make up the bulk of the book, you’re left with what should be a fairly mild assertion, that transgenderism is better understood and treated as a disorder akin to anorexia, not as the latest logical extension of the sexual revolution. Accepting that, though, would mean that progressives would have to stop portraying all critics of “progress” as mindless, reactionary denizens of Pleasantville, and honestly, they’ve been leaning on that crutch for so long, I imagine their muscles have atrophied. They would have to stop reenacting culture wars against the skeletal remnants of the Religious Right and acknowledge that the transgender political project is part of an insatiable, subjective assault on the very concept of a shared, objective reality which will inevitably target them as well as “deserving” enemies. They might even have to admit that there isn’t a clear, bright line between “campus radicalism” and “the real world.” I’m not optimistic about any of those scenarios, so I assume cowardice and dishonesty will continue to be the S.O.P.