Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The other day, for the first time since the pandemic began, I was in a properly jam-packed watering hole. The establishment in question was my old Oslo hangout, a largish and rather legendary gay bar called London Pub. I was alone – in fact I seemed to be the only person who was alone in the whole place – and so I just sat there with my $12 glass of wine (welcome to Norway!) and, after a year and a half of living mostly like a hermit, took in the glorious sight of fellow human beings, maskless, enjoying one another’s company.
The patrons could hardly have been more varied, ranging from twenty-somethings to octogenarians, from tiny Asians to doorway-tall Norwegians, from rail-thin to massively obese. The attire was all over the place, from black tie to Lederhosen (Oktoberfest was underway), and there were more blacks than there would have been ten years ago, when I last lived in Oslo. And there was, as always, a sprinkling of women – even, for the first time in my experience, among the staff.
And what struck me was how mellow it all was. There was no tension in the air. Everybody was having a good time together.
My friend Frank, a straight American who used to tend bar at London Pub, wrote on Facebook just the other day that it’s better to work in a gay bar than a straight bar, because you never have to break up fights. A bit of an exaggeration, maybe – but just a bit.
I’ve always opposed the term “gay community,” because it rarely feels like a community. Some gay bars of my acquaintance have guys working the door who turn away the old and the unlovely. Not very long ago, some of them even turned away members of certain races. (I can’t imagine that still happens.) And there are snooty gay bars in New York and L.A. where you’ll get snubbed if you give insufficiently impressive answers when asked, say, where you live, what you drive, and what you do for a living.
But at its best, at a place like London Pub, there can indeed be a palpable, if fleeting and perhaps illusory, sense of being a part of something benign, cheerful, and civilized.
Taking in the crowd at London Pub, I recalled the video I’d watched a day or two earlier on YouTube. Trans employees at Netflix had walked off the job to protest its latest Dave Chappelle special. The atmosphere at that rally was the total opposite of the friendliness at London Pub. The more vocal of the participants looked unhinged. They shouted obscenities, their faces contorted in rage.
Now, I know better than to compare a bar on a Friday night to a protest. I’ve seen my share of gay anger – such as the frenzied ACT UP demonstrations a few decades back. But that was different. Those guys were frantic because they were dying of AIDS. These trans Netflix protesters were livid about a comic. Besides, the obnoxious activists (all of them left-wing) were always a small percentage of the gay population. Today the obnoxious activists who claim to be trans vastly outnumber the real trans people who just want to be left alone.
And that Netflix protest wasn’t a one-off. Far from it.
Who can forget the hatred that rained down last year on Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, otherwise a reliable progressive, when she reacted on Twitter to the term “people who menstruate” – used to distinguish biological females from biological males who say they’re women. “‘People who menstruate,” commented Rowling. “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Unsurprisingly, the transgender tweet mob responded with a torrent of death threats: “bitch I’ll kill you.” “I am going to kill jk rowling.” “die.” All this over a perfectly reasonable take on trans activists’ radical redefinition of women.
The other day, the mob came after another author. It began when Gad Saad, the Canadian professor and podcaster whose excellent book The Parasitic Mind is just out in paperback, posted an anecdote on Twitter about his wife. At a local café, a new server was having difficulties with the cash register. Gad’s wife wanted to tell the person’s colleague, “he’ll get the hang of it” – in short, she wanted to say something nice – but because the newbie, a biological male, looked as if he just might identify as a trans woman, Gad’s wife didn’t know whether to say “he” or “she.” Thus, noted Gad, do the new pronoun rules bollux up ordinary, friendly, quotidian interactions.
Gad has been a high-profile figure for quite a while now, and has outraged the woke battalions before. But the public response to his story about the café was on a scale he’d never experienced before. Strangers from the four corners of the earth took to Twitter to call him and his wife idiots and bigots. “A TRANS PERSON INCONVENIENCED ME BY EXISTING,” wrote one, “AND THEN WHEN I WHINED ABOUT IT I GOT RATIOED.”
Ratioed? I had to look it up. It’s “when replies to a tweet vastly outnumber likes or retweets,” indicating mass disapproval. In any event, that line about being “inconvenienced … by existing” is a favorite conceit of trans activists: if you voice any misgivings about their attempt to rewrite the fundamental rules and vocabulary of everyday life, then – bam! – you’re expressing opposition to their very existence. Then there were these responses to Gad:
“How is your wife’s social anxiety the trans person’s problem?”
“Has your wife considered working through her social anxiety with a therapist before projecting her fears on trans people minding their own business?”
That’s another familiar ploy: any “cis” (i.e., non-trans) person’s amply justified fear of provoking a transperson’s ire with an innocent verbal misstep is mocked as a symptom of a psychiatric disorder. Ironic, to say the least.
In reply to the tsunami of hate directed against him, Gad posted a YouTube video in which he tried – delicately, meticulously, and respectfully – to address the mob’s coarse, irresponsible, and ill-mannered comments. But responding to these people in a serious and thoughtful way is, I fear, a waste of time. Because they’re not really about what they say they’re about.
First of all, virtually none of them are really gender dysphoric. For them, being trans is not an orientation. It’s performative. They present their labels du jour as defining, but reserve the right to revise them tomorrow. Their screaming about pronouns or gender is motivated not by a desire to see their identities affirmed so that they can assume their rightful places as equal members of society and be left alone to live their lives, but by a determination to impose an alternate reality on everyone else. It’s not about rights and respect, then, but about power. It’s about a potent, historically unprecedented drive to impose rigid new rituals on everyday situations even when there’s no trans person present – for example, the new requirement that participants in court procedures in British Columbia announce their pronouns when introducing themselves.
The other day, a guy wearing lipstick and big earrings (and an open shirt revealing chest hair) posted a TikTok video in which, staring intensely into the camera, he commanded the viewer: “You will respect us. You can be upset. You can think it’s unfair. You can feel like we’re stealing something from you, but it’s still only going in one direction. You will respect us.” For a moment I couldn’t put my finger on whom he reminded me of. Then it hit me: Norma Desmond at the end of Sunset Boulevard, when, having lost touch with reality, she’s swallowed up in a delusion of grandeur.
In the last few weeks I’ve watched a wide range of videos by or about trans activists. One point emerged loud and clear: these people are never mellow. Never. I’m not talking about the tiny minority of self-identified trans people who actually have gender dysphoria and, like their counterparts in previous generations, work hard to come off as members of the opposite sex and don’t want to turn the world upside down.
No, I’m talking about the suspiciously gigantic new cohort of self-proclaimed trans people who, for whatever psychological reason (an extreme susceptibility to trends? a desperate need for attention? an acute discomfort with being gay?), have grasped onto the trans label – and who routinely talk as if they’re at war with every “cis” person who doesn’t instantly fall into line with their reality-challenging truth claims. They hysterically overdramatize absolutely everything. Presumably because they know deep down that their identities are built on air, they require nonstop affirmation. If you “misgender” or “deadname” them, or are disinclined to memorize their increasingly byzantine pronouns, or don’t listen carefully enough to everything they want to tell you about themselves, they’ll accuse you of committing an act of violence.
Meanwhile, they themselves are quick to threaten – or even commit – actual violence. A few days after the Netflix protest, it wasn’t surprising to learn that perhaps the most noisily self-righteous of the participants, an M-to-F named Ashlee Marie Preston (who apparently doesn’t even work for Netflix), had written tweets a few years back that weren’t just anti-gay and anti-Asian but dementedly so – awash in sick, over-the-top insults and, yes, promises to smash heads “IRL” (in real life).
This, mind you, from a person who, at the rally, demanded that Netflix create a fund “specifically for trans and non-binary talent” and “create executive roles and positions of leadership within the company…that would give trans employees equal decision making power.” For a tiny minority to press for such massive concessions is the height of both audacity and irrationality – and is plainly rooted in a profound compulsion to remake the world in one’s own unstable, anarchic self-image.
If major corporations have been so quick to accede to such demands, it’s not because they’re lovers of justice (this has nothing to do with justice) but because they’re terrified. And they’re terrified precisely because the people issuing the demands are – to an unsettling extent – unhinged, venomous, vindictive. Brazenly, they’ve appropriated the moral mantle of the women’s-rights and gay-rights movements – even as they’ve sought to redefine sex and kick to the curb the very concept of sexual orientation, thereby undermining women’s and gays’ hard-won civil-rights advances.
The other day I watched a video by Noah Finnce, a cheeky young F-to-M “influencer” whose YouTube posts typically get tens of thousands of views. In the video, Finnce outlined the rules for “cis” people. On the one hand, you can’t be indifferent to a trans person’s identity: you’re supposed to display a lively interest in it, and submit to being “educated” about it. But God forbid you ask the wrong question.
For example, never ask a trans person if he or she is “fully transitioned.” Don’t ever say, in an attempt to forge a chummy bond, that you know another trans person named so-and-so who was previously named so-and-so. Why? Because mentioning any transperson’s former name reminds the trans person you’re talking to about what life was like pre-transition, when he or she constantly contemplated suicide.
Suicide. With trans activists, that’s what everything always comes down to: if you say or do X, or don’t say or do Y, or try to dissuade me from saying or doing Z, I’ll kill myself. It’s a child’s threat, of course. It brings to mind the hilarious scene in Blazing Saddles in which the racist townspeople draw their guns on the new black sheriff, Bart (Cleavon Little), who, to save his neck, pulls his own gun, points it at himself, and says: “Next man makes a move, the n—– gets it.”
Which brings us back to the topic of comedy. Even in the worst of circumstances, most gay people tend to have a robust sense of humor about themselves and their circumstances. It’s a sign of mental health, of a secure identity, and of a sense of proportion about one’s own small place in society. By contrast, the trans world (like the Islamic world, incidentally) is utterly allergic to humor. Everything’s deadly serious. No wonder that a stand-up comic can make them mad enough to flood into the streets in outrage!