Dispatch from the Front Line: You're all insane now
On trans issues, we're pretty sure we're last sane people in Canada. We also know a surprising amount about U.S. air-defence weapons.
Meaty dispatch for you all today, Line readers. Lots to talk about, lots to cover. So let’s jump in.
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And now, God help us, on with the dispatch.
Look, Gerson and Gurney hate culture war issues.
It’s s nearly impossible to have a decent, thoughtful, nuanced conversation about sensitive topics without the whole thing devolving into a screaming match in which nobody is actually listening to one another.
Trans issues are a culture war issue. They're a peak culture war issue, in fact. These topics are now so hyperpolarized and insane that it's impossible to bring the topic up without one side accusing you of wanting to mutilate 12-year-olds, or the other accusing you of perpetuating a trans child genocide. It's nuts. We’ve collectively gone absolutely bonkers on this.
To that note, we reluctantly turn to Alberta's host of proposals on trans issues, which were announced by Premier Danielle Smith this week. In short, these include restrictions on "gender affirming" surgery and hormone treatments; disclosure of changes of pronouns and names to parents; as well as some still unarticulated policies around sports leagues and sex education.
Your Line editors discussed some of this on their podcast this week, and to read our comments section, you'd think we'd come out as rapidly opposed to everything Smith said she wants to do. Which made us both go: "Huh? What? How in the hell did you infer that from what we said?"
Which reminded us both of why we hate culture war issues so very, very much. People don't want an actual discussion on this stuff. They don’t care what we think and why we think it. They want us to say what they already think. They want to hear talking points; either the oft-repeated catchphrases from their own side, or, for that matter, they want to hear the whack-a-doodle positions of Team Other. At this point, it's all an emotionally driven call-and-response game, with both sides feeding off and radicalizing each other, and everyone must be wedged into a side, no matter how poor the fit.
Thanks, we hate it.
So to be clear, we really don't have any problem with Alberta restricting elective gender-related surgeries on minors under the age of 17. While we are rather concerned about the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones among minors, we also suspect that trying to ban these drugs for absolutely everyone under a certain age represents an overreach by the state.
Also, bluntly, we don't think that in an ideal world, the state should be involving itself in most of this stuff at all. We want to exist in a country in which sports leagues, doctors, schools and teachers can be trusted to make sensible, evidence-based decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Take sports, for example: does a rec-league pickleball tournament need to have the same rules around trans participation as a competitive women’s rugby league? And do we really want any state regulation bulldozering over the people who are actually on the ground, and best understand the physical and cultural realities of that sport?
Or take puberty blockers.
Should we really be treating a 12-year-old who has displayed severe and crippling gender dysphoria since the age of three with the same treatment protocol as a depressed 14-year-old boy who comes into the gender clinic for the first time attached to a Munchausen-by-Proxy mom documenting every moment of her child’s transition for TikTok? Do we want politicians in Edmonton writing the precise rules that will be faithfully applied in both those situations?
We understand how we got here. Any discussion around trans issues is now highly insane; in a hyper-polarized, borderline hysterical moment, we actually can't trust our institutions to possess the requisite reserve and dispassion needed to make credible and defensible decisions. These institutions are, or are perceived to be, too ideologically captured to be trustworthy.
For an example that just happened to cross our path today, take this quote from Dr. Simone Lebeuf, a pediatrician in Edmonton who specializes in gender-diverse youth. In it, she notes that restricting puberty blockers to children over the age of 15 effectively makes the treatment useless, as they would be administered at an age well past the onset of puberty.
“It’s done. The window has passed,” the doctor told City News. “And we really look at puberty blockers as an option for kids to have some space and time to make decisions about their future selves and who they might want to be as adults. Their puberty is not benign, it is not a nothing process to go through. The physical changes with puberty are permanent."
Right off the bat, a statement like this ought to raise eyebrows, and not only because it’s a talking point we’ve already heard dozens of times on TikTok. This doctor — a physician who is actually treating children — is conflating the harms caused by artificially delaying a natural process with the apparent harms caused by the biological process itself. That logic is not sound. There is a clear difference between, say, permanent loss of sexual function and bone density caused by interfering in the natural course of puberty, and the harm of allowing a child’s body to grow an Adam’s apple despite that individual feeling like a woman.
Secondly, Dr. Lebeuf isn’t addressing the core concern with puberty blockers, above and beyond their physical side effects. The majority of children who present with gender dysphoria are not trans. Most of them turn out to be simply gay — a fact they discover via the process of growing up and sexually maturing. By delaying or denying a gender dysphoric child the opportunity to experience normal puberty, critics of these treatment protocols fear that a doctor may be preventing the very process by which gender dysphoria would resolve itself without medical intervention. Most — certainly not all, but most — gender dysphoric children would otherwise grow up to be at ease with their natal sex. But once kids start with the puberty blockers and then cross-sex hormones, this process of medical transitioning may be psychologically self reinforcing, pushing physically healthy minors into pursuing more and more unnecessary and invasive interventions with serious lifelong consequences.
In short, puberty blockers are not magic cures for gender dysphoria. They might be appropriate for some kids with lots of supports and monitoring. But they could be disastrous for others, and we have no foolproof way to know in advance which kids will fall into what camp.
This stuff is complicated, and it’s made more so because it’s difficult to study objectively in ideologically captured environments dominated by activists on all sides who muddy the waters with emotionally charged rhetoric, and confuse good science with bad. If you want to understand why people are turning to Danielle Smith instead of the Alberta Medical Association to address their fears, quotes like the one above are a prime example.
And, by the way, we include “The Media” writ large as having failed on this file. The lack of skepticism and neutrality that the media has demonstrated on even the most maximalist and unpopular positions on gender and sexuality has — to our mind — significantly contributed to the radical decline in its collective credibility.
In short, we don't live in our ideal world. The fact that conservative politicians can and will capitalize and benefit off of a restriction of minority rights is the result of a years-long society-wide failure to address competing rights claims in a sane and rational way. Many of us were labelled as transphobic and bigoted for warning about this very kind of social and political backlash. Well, it’s here now. Welcome.
We’re in The Bad Place now. The place in which reactionary politicians are going to overrule an ideologically captured civil society with the blunt instruments of the state.
No doubt, this approach will have many cheerleaders. We will remind readers that laws and regulations are rarely nuanced or flexible. “Hard cases make bad law," as they say, and given what a vanishing minority intersex, trans people and gender-dysphoric children represent in any given population, each individual is going to represent a hard case for which a broad law is going to apply very imperfectly.
We also have no doubt, however, that Smith's proposals are going to be popular. We don't like the stealth punch at sex education and we don't think the province should concern itself with sports. But if progressives at the provincial and federal level want to argue that 13-year-old girls should be able to have their breasts surgically removed and that schools ought to keep pronoun changes a secret from parents, fill your boots. Put it on the record. We don't think those are going to be winning positions in 2024 or any time, ever. Progressives may even find themselves — dare we say? — on the wrong side of history.
The response to Smith's proposals has been predictably emotionally undisciplined — and of course it has; overwrought and hysterical rhetoric has absolutely ruled the day for years now. Why stop now?
Our top marks in this regard definitely go to Randy Boissonnault, the sole Alberta MP in federal cabinet, who said:
"We are going to look at every option that we have, and this is our NATO moment as an LGBTQ2S+ community. An attack on one of our communities is an attack on us all, and I need allies and champions to stand up."
We will remind our readers that Boissonnault is the same man who lost his goddamn mind literally last week because Smith used a "crosshairs" metaphor at a Tucker Carlson speech. He said this language represented some kind of imminent MAGA-fuelled threat of violence.
Now he's, what, invoking Article fucking 5? Threatening to send the skeletons of a few C-18s to fly by the Alberta legislature in a show of force over Smith’s trans policies? Are the Libs going to assemble the army at Lloydminster? (Someone has let them know about the absolute state of our military, right?)
Oh, he's fine with military metaphors this week, you say? Cool, cool, got it.
Danielle Smith is the one coming off as reasonable and disciplined by comparison, here. You all see that, right?
Please, picture us, bald, sweating, the very figure of madness in a Francis Ford Coppola film when we stare into the abyss and mutter to ourselves about the horror of it all.