While reassuring the world that “it has nothing to do with Islam,” whenever the Mullahs behead infidels, massacre Christians, stone immodestly dressed women, and castrate gays (in the Middle East, if you want a sex-change operation, your local shariah council will provide it free of charge), President Barack Obama has finally drawn a line in the sand against intolerance and bigotry … in the bathrooms of America. After Indiana, North Carolina, and several other states passed legislation requiring men and women to use the bathroom that matches their anatomy – a suddenly controversial idea – the Obama Justice Department vowed solemnly to overturn it all in court. There followed a thinly-veiled threat from the U.S. Department of Education to defund recalcitrant public schools; and finally, on May 11, a formal presidential directive to the effect that transgendered access to the bathrooms and locker-rooms of one’s choice was a “civil right.”
“This cannot stand,” I can hear the President intoning gravely to his cabinet. “In the dark days before Me, America had racially-segregated restrooms; and in the 21st century, men and women are still forced to use the bathroom of their biological gender. This regime of bathroom apartheid must end! This is not who we are!”
Recognizing who he is, we all knew that, as America’s Progressive-In-Chief, the Hope and Change president could not long resist the call to become its Hope and Sex-Change president.
A once-serious liberalism has thus descended yet again into self-parody. There is no conceivable “human right” for the transgendered, transgendering, or thinking-about-transgendering to expose their non-conforming members to the opposite sex in the bathrooms of the nation. On the contrary, civilized societies have, from the beginning, recognized and enforced a right to sexual privacy and modesty for their citizens, especially women and adolescent children.
But then, enrolling tinier and more arcane victim groups as clients, and manufacturing civil rights out of thin air, have become the expedients by which modern progressives have bestowed upon themselves the privilege of accusation: denouncing those who disagree with them as racists, sexists, fascists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes, biphobes, xenophobes, or Islamophobes – the list of phobias grows daily – thereby turning dissenters from liberal orthodoxy into moral untouchables (“basket of deplorables” as Hillary Clinton calls them), and effectively shutting down debate.
It is, of course, a defining trait of progressivism that its adherents refuse to argue about ideas, preferring instead to impugn the character and motivation of their opponents. The supplementation of the old ‘isms with the new phobias in the heresiological lexicon of the Left makes it clear that non-liberals are not merely viewed as pernicious, but in need of psychiatric counseling. In fact, whenever the Axis of Progress comes up with a new “phobia” by which to question the mental health of anyone with the effrontery to disagree with them, you can be sure that the real phobia is the paranoiac fear suffered by themselves and their victims groups that the white-European-male-Christian-capitalist “power structure” is once again plotting to get them.
The invocation of the legacy of American slavery and racism, no matter how trivial the context at hand, has similarly become a ubiquitous prop of progressive melodrama. Whether the affront is under-representation of women in the boardroom, moral disapproval of abortion or gay marriage, or little Joseph-wanting-to-be-Josephine having to line up at the urinals with the boys, it’s always the 1950s Deep South all over again, women and gays are still laboring in the brickyards of Goshen, and any opposition to the progressive social agenda is dismissed as the sputum of irrational prejudice.
The jackbooted decrees of the Obama administration, along with the boycotts threatened by multinational corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Paypal, and General Electric (Big Business and corporate influence in politics seem never to be a problem when they fall into line with leftist causes) might lead one to believe that there is an existential crisis facing America’s transgendered population. But no transgendered youths have been force-marched back to the operating tables for restorative surgery. And if the occasional transgendering male student has really set his heart on– or been indoctrinated into setting his heart on – urinating in the girls’ washroom or showering with them after gym class, whatever psychological trauma he might incur by being asked to perform his ablutions in the company of his biological brothers is inconsiderable. (He can hardly affect shock at the sight of the same membra virilia as have been his constant companions since birth.)
Quite another thing, one would have thought, is the embarrassment and confusion that will be suffered by entire cohorts of pre-teen females. But then, when faced with the antithetical desiderata of their various client groups, liberals merely suspend the logical principle of non-contradiction.
For the past three decades, the great anxiety of radical feminism has been sexual harassment, and many male workers, especially teachers, have been witch-hunted out of their jobs for the crime of glancing (for a few seconds longer than permissible) at young girls in swimming pools, or the décolletages of their female co-workers. But that was then. Liberalism has since added another victim group to its hierarchy of concern, and the prospect of habitually predatory males exposing their genitalia in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms is now insouciantly dismissed.
As the liberal Charlotte Observer editorialized: “Yes, the thought of male genitalia in girls’ locker rooms – and vice versa – might be distressing to some. But the battle for equality has always been in part about overcoming discomfort – with blacks sharing facilities, with gays sharing marriage – then realizing that it was not nearly so awful as some people imagined.”
The adjuration to fusty conservatives is to “get over it,” just as they have been forced by history to get over their endemic addictions to racism, sexism, homophobia, and other atavisms, along with their benighted opposition to such liberal benefactions as abortion, gay marriage, epidemic illegitimacy, and multi-generational welfare dependency. From the sunny uplands of liberal moral superiority, the Observer here perfectly sounds the progressive note of sneering condescension.
It is generous of liberals to concede that parents might fear that their little princesses will be traumatized when one of their transgendering but as yet surgically unreconstructed male classmates enters the girls’ washroom; yes, enterprising voyeurs might even take advantage of the situation and use the “Well, your honour, I was feeling like a woman at the time” defence. But what are the sensitivities of privileged straight persons (now, paradoxically, including girls) by comparison to the ongoing humiliations suffered for aeons by the LGBQT2 – the letters and digits proliferate as fast as the phobias – community?
Surely it must be disorienting for high school girls to learn that male culture is rape culture in social studies class, and then have to confront the instruments of their oppression in the locker room. It is in any case always entertaining to observe the intellectual contortions performed by progressives to balance the mutually irreconcilable demands of their various client minorities, whose position on the victimological wheel of fortune is constantly in flux, and subject to a calculus as arcane as that which determines the world rankings in tennis or golf. How, for instance, can one be in favour of women’s and homosexual equality, and at the same time regard “Islamophobia” as a mortal vice? It’s on the order of being in favour of sheep’s rights, while condemning shepherds for their irrational fear of wolves.
Part II will appear in November.
Harley Price has taught courses on religion, philosophy, literature, and history at the University of Toronto, U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, and Tyndale University College. He blogs at Priceton.org.