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Culture War Roundup for the week of April 17, 2023

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It has happened. The transgender trend has hit close to home, with a close relative now insisting that we call his five-year-old, penis-having child a "girl." I have had a couple of conversations with the dad, and he repeated of the common transgender talking points. He was at least open to conversation. He did not seem to have been exposed to counter-arguments or to have thought through what he was doing. So I am writing the dad a very long email. Much of the email is quotes from desisters, excerpts from news stories, and reviews of the studies. But I thought I'd share with this forum some of the theory portions that I wrote. Maybe you will find it informative, or maybe you can help strengthen my writing. This is written under a throwaway, names and details are changed to protect the guilty and innocent.

Why biological sex and not 'gender identity' matters for norms, culture and language

When we last talked, I said it was important at this age to correct Skylar about his gender even as a five-year-old, because even at this point it is the role of a parent to guiding him to be a man. You replied that you don't want to raise kids to conform to stereotypes.

Now I don't feel any need to raise a boy to like whiskey and pickup trucks, or to raise a girl to like Barbie dolls. In fact, when first buying clothes for my daughter Jessica I was moderately peeved there were so few unisex options. I wanted to buy neutral clothes to save money for reuse with any future boy.

But there are essential sex differences, rooted in the basic biology of sex, that impact norms and culture around sex.

The most important is that women have the potential to make men immortal. For tens of millions of years of mammalian evolution, the pregnancy and nursing process has been the expensive part of reproduction. Women are the reproduction bottleneck. Much flows from this basic difference.

For a woman, simply acting pretty, helpful, and caring is a viable strategy for having a great life. She can find a man who will become attached to her and provide her all she needs. Note: this is not necessarily the optimal strategy, but it is a viable one. I don't want Jessica to be a princess. Some training in hard work, getting her fingernails dirty, and callouses on her fingers is good ... But she should also know how to be charming and cute and pretty because that will in fact get a girl far in life.)

For men, this is not a viable strategy. Men must develop strength and competencies.

I'm going to paraphrase a passage I found a while ago that really resonated with me:

The biggest difference between men and women is that when you're a man, the absolute indifference of the universe towards you is the norm, it will only care when you make it care, and only for brief moments. To women this is almost Lovecraftian horror they can't conceive of. Men don't realize that most women can never comprehend this because it's just too horrifying to the female psychology. Women live their entire lives knowing people care about them, they take it for granted, it's the universal constant norm for 95 percent of women. We care about them as children because humans generally care about the happiness and suffering of all children. Most women are pleasing to look at, so we look at them. When women are ugly or annoying, we pay attention to them even if it's negative attention.Even when women are shitty we pay some form of attention to them, people care about annoying women because they are hard to ignore. People care about women in distress or sadness because we just do. We want to save women in danger. This has nothing to do with their achievements, their character, just that they are women. When this constant electromagnetic field of empathy around them weakens a bit, particularly middle aged single women with no children, they talk about how cruel it is to be "invisible"

If you're a man, it's the inverse. The universe and the people in it are a yawning void of indifference, you are responsible for yourself. If you're sad you are expected to buck up, if you are having problems you are expected to fix them. If you are too annoying you will be dismissed, told off, or get your ass kicked. If people care about you it's because you built relationships with them that made you a person they care about. If people admire you it's because you built a reputation, a physique, or an empire. Cries for help from women are almost always answered, cries for help from men rarely are, be they metaphorical or literal. If you're a man, you need to understand that most women cannot understand or grok this. If you're a woman, you should try to comprehend that burden men have.

I'm not even knocking this state of affairs. I don't support the whole "Men should cry more and be more sensitive and raise a fuss" effeminate bullshit. The yawning void of indifference is our burden to bear by virtue of being men, you aren't a man without it. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't have confidants to help you. Other men who can relate to this yawning chasm, to the struggles men face. Women can provide comfort and empathy, but most of them won't really and truly intellectually grasp and understand this difference. You should always have fraternal bonds with other men to commiserate over, to share knowledge of similar experiences to help each other overcome obstacles and achieve things. Brotherhood is important, you aren't complete without it.

Thus, raising a boy to be a man means gradually building their power level and gradually teaching them that the world will only care for you if you build something and make something of yourself. Childhood is going to end some day and no one will listen to your whining.

Whereas for a girl, they will hit 18 or 19 and suddenly have massive amounts of power purely on account of who they are. A pretty 20-year-old intern can make the CEO of a billion dollar company stutter and blush merely on account of how she looks. She will get stares and attention from men of all sorts. Thus the job of father in raising a daughter is both protecting her from the men who would prey on her, and also teaching her not to abuse or misuse this sexual power she will have. The father must teach her to leverage the power in goods ways to build a great situation while she is young, because she will lose the power as she gets older.

And in this, Skylar is irrevocably a boy, not a girl. You can already see it in Skylar's face. Men have evolved over a long time a fine sense of distinction between men and women, and almost no person born as biological male, with body parts and facial structure and brain developing under the influence of male hormones, can ever pass a girl. A woman who is by chance infertile still triggers men and woman, to treat her as a woman. A male on cross-sex hormones might fool someone at a surface level, but after any meaningful interaction an uncanny valley effect will be triggered. Other people might go along with it out of "nice", but they won't treat a male-to-female transgender as an actual woman in many of the ways that actually matter.

For a biological male, like Skylar, the test in life will come against other biological males. It will also be biological males who will be his future allies in competing against other groups of men -- whether in fighting, business ventures or being wing-man. Since childhood is the preparation for growing up, it is important from childhood to be socialized as a male, competing and cooperating with other males. Otherwise he will arrive at young adulthood, and the girls he was friends will forget him, as they will be interested in actual masculine guys, and he will not have the experience in relating to other guys as guys.

The second basic difference in male and female is the level of hormesis they can withstand. Growth and improvement in many matters from athletics to chess is getting enough struggle to trigger growth, but not so much that you become just damaged and discouraged. Simply put, boys and men can withstand a much greater deal of physical and psychological trial than girls and women can. The optimal level of training is far different. Physical training that will truly test a young man will destroy a woman's pelvic bone. Criticism that a man needs to be able to handle, will make a woman break down in tears (almost every woman I know has cried at work, very few men I know have).

Now a common refrain is "some girls can handle it, we shouldn't make assumptions." This is anti-knowledge -- we should start with assumption of averages and then be flexible about outliers. Furthermore, nothing I have seen in our kids indicates that we are outliers from the biological sex in terms of stereotypical traits. Nothing I have seen from any of the parents or grandparents either. I think that people commonly underestimate just how big the differences are, possibly because of so many strong female characters that have been added to entirely fictional movies, or because of headlines about some women breaking a sex barrier in some traditionally male line of work.

In reality, The bell curves of physical abilities barely overlap. For instance, in studies of grip strength the average man had a greater grip strength than every single female in the general study population. A 75th percentile male had a greater grip strength than every single elite female athlete in the study.

If you consider both upper body strength, weight, body size, skull structure a typical man punching a woman does not do 25% more damage than vice versa, but something like 1,000% more damage.

(continued in a reply)

(part ii of ii)

This massive disparity in strength and ability to do violence is why men are inherently scary to women, and a key reason why we create dedicated female spaces whether it be sports teams or locker rooms or sleepovers. The need to make distinctions between girls areas and boys areas are rooted in basic biology, not some amorphous sense of 'gender' in the brain.

And it's not just acute strength -- injury rate is a huge issue. When the Marine Corp was studying women in entry-level infantry training, the women had an injury rate 600% higher than the men. Women troops carrying combat loads were one hundred times more likely to develop pelvic stress fractures. Women soccer players are 400% to 600% more likely to tear an ACL.

When Los Angeles made a push to hire female fire fighters back in the 2000s they could hardly find any women who made it through their training:

What these two women saw — and experienced — is not what you might think.

Nobody tried to make either of them fail. No “old boys” got in their way. Mary was admired by her male boss and encouraged at each step to be a firefighter. “I was just too slow,” she says. Firefighting equipment, like the one-man ladders, started “getting heavier,” and she began to realize she wasn't strong enough to repeatedly lift it — a necessary skill. Eight weeks into the training — which causes plenty of men to wash out — Mary was stunned to realize that her body had begun “breaking down.”

Vesey's story is much the same. She was contacted by the department after applying online and joined the training academy in August. She was unprepared for how tough it was. “I would fail on the hose-lay and only have a couple of hours on the ladder,” she recalls. “Then I would fail the ladder.”

But of the captains who trained her along with 45 men, Vesey says, “I respected them. I wanted to be on their crew. The people at the tower were phenomenal. They really wanted you to learn.”

It's not easy for anyone. According to a fire-department official who refused to be named, 35 percent of the men since the summer of 2006 have failed to finish their training. During the same time period, however, all of the women have failed to do so. Along with many men, two women are retrying.

Today, Los Angeles boasts a dozen newly built locker rooms for women citywide. Most days, they sit eerily empty, and men sometimes use the space to study. The abandoned lockers are a testament to a social-engineering experiment gone bad, a failed dream unfolding from New York to San Francisco to Oakland — to Los Angeles.

They eventually had to drop the standards for women. When Army Rangers made a push to add women there as a big headline when a few finally passed -- and then it came out a few years later they had to cheat. Perennial gold medal contending Canada's women hockey team trains by playing in a regional boys high school league -- and ended up in the middle of the pack -- even though checking is banned when they play the boys because they don't want the women getting hurt by the boys. The best adult women's soccer team in the world has gotten soundly beat by a 14 year old boy academy team from Dallas.

The physical differences are such that men will always be the ones who carry the physical default load in physical matters from construction to combat to packing up the car.

Thus, raising a boy to be a man means preparing him for this world. It means that women will expect the men in the life be the physical protectors, it means women will always have someone more discomfort around strange men because of the potential for them to use overwhelming physical force.

The third thing of importance in sex distinction is the potential for sexual intercourse.

From time-to-time, I sometimes do an overnight getaway and spend a night out on the town with an old friend, maybe I crash on his couch, etc. As a married man, I feel like this would be very inappropriate to do with a woman. Even if I had certainty that it would be entirely chaste, it would cause my wife anxiety. But I also don't even want to lead myself into temptation. Writer Te Ne Hasi Coates put it well:

I've been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I've never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that's not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don't believe in getting "in the moment" and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding "the moment." I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a "good man." But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

Even forming a deep friendship where you are spending a lot of 1-on-1 time and spilling your guts is a dangerous proposition between any man and any woman. The potential for sex is there. Back home, a husband and wife are caught up in the grind and conflict of running a household and doing hard things together. Time away spent purely in fun with a woman friend might seem magical...temptation would arise... From everything I've heard, deep one-on-one time with someone of the opposite sex is the fast road to ruining a marriage.

The potential for sex also leads to the potential for crossed-signals and uncomfortable situations. A friendly gesture to a man could be seen as a come-on to a woman.

Thus from the very moment I meet someone it is very important to know what biological sex they are, because it will define everything about our future relationship. A male saying to me after I have met him a party, "Hey you like the Sharks too? I happen to have tickets next week, wanna come?" is very different than a woman saying the same thing. This is why every successful culture has language and norms of dress that make distinctions based on biological sex. (This is also why it has been normative for gay men and lesbians to dress in ways that would readily identify themselves).

The temptation issue is also why I would never allow my daughter when she is 14-years old to go on a sleepover alone with any guy. It's not so much about the guy being a potential "rapist" -- it's about the very real possibility they both could be succumb to temptation.

Thus there will be possible situations in the future when I must treat Skylar as a boy. Maybe we are doing a trip with friends and Jessica and her girlfriend are in another room and we have another room that is a boys room. Skylar cannot be in the girls room, sexually he is a boy.

And these issues become more acute when we have nudity involved, which is why we have norms around modesty and why we separate locker rooms. Men don't want to have to fight off getting a boner because some biological woman is in their locker room. Women don't want to feel vulnerable from seeing a much stronger person with his cock hanging out seeing her naked. Even if most men and most male-to-female trans people would never rape, by making "femaleness" a matter of self-identification and by normalizing allowing people with dicks hanging out in a women's locker room, there is no way to keep out actual creeps and rapists who will cynically abuse the policy.

Sex also matters for group dynamics. For instance, I was in a gaming group. We had a young woman join who was very much into the stereotypical nerdy games that guys were in. All went well...until one the core guys of the group offered to walk her home one night. This guy was not at all a sleaze. He likely did want to date her as she was a catch. But she got uncomfortable, and then in other events didn't want to invite him. The entire group dynamic was ruined. When Harry Met Sally proven right again: "The sex thing always gets in the way."

For all these reasons, biological sex matters from the moment we meet a person. The potential for long-term relationship, the nature of that relationship, the meanings of requests, changes based on sex. That is why our society (and almost every successful society) makes basic distinctions between the sexes in names, language, and apparel. These norms are linked at core to biological sex not to some nebulous notion of 'gender identity' inside the brain.

I believe that men and women have a deep need for spending at least some time in sex segregated clubs. And this is rooted in biology in all the biology I noted above, that men and women have different strengths to develop and challenges to overcome. When you add just one opposite person to a group the dynamic changes -- immediately you get status posturing, sexual drama, and white knighting.

When I say with regards to a person 'he is a boy' the words 'he' and 'boy' refer to biological sex, as the words always have meant in the English language up until a few years ago.

This is an important matter of personal integrity. Boy, girl, man, woman, male, female are immutable aspects of human biology. Many schools and doctors are now teaching a false and poisonous doctrine, that a person can be born in the 'wrong' body and that medical intervention can fix this. It is important for me to be a rock for truth in kids lives -- the schools are wrong, you cannot change your sex, your healthiest life will always be by adjusting your mindset to find a good way to live with your sex.


My two cents:

This is all very well-written, but you're arguing at a more philosophical level, trying to convince your friend that sex is real and gender differences matter. That's all well and good for meta arguments about transness, but you're trying to persuade him not to transition his son. If he's already prepared to do this, he will probably see in your catalog of differences a lot of evolutionary psychology and socially-prescribed roles which he may consider irrelevant for a boy who "feels" that his innermost self is a girl. I don't know, maybe these arguments will sway him, but I suspect he's too close and just worried about his son's mental health, and telling him "No, really, you gotta teach this kid to be a man!" is probably the wrong approach.

I would suggest you focus on the very real dangers of transition, and the very high probability that his son is not really "trans." How does a five-year-old even decide that? Ask a five-year-old boy if he'd like to be a girl, and probably a lot of boys, after being told it's an option, would say "Yes." At age five, being a pretty girl and playing with Barbies might seem like an awesome thing to do.

You could get a similar response by asking if he'd like to be a tiger.

He has no concept of sexuality and barely any concept of gender roles. Who even put the idea in his head that he might be a girl?

Refuse to indulge him and almost certainly he will forget about being a girl in a week.

This is all very well-written, but you're arguing at a more philosophical level, trying to convince your friend that sex is real and gender differences matter. ... I would suggest you focus on the very real dangers of transition

Responding to you and a few other comments...

My full email is going to come out to 70 pages. The meat of the email is stories of the horrors of transition, testimonials of teens or parents who dealt with this but then ended up desisters, and take-downs of the 'science' and 'studies' that justify transitioning as being good for mental health. But he is asking that we call his boy a girl, and basing this a theory that sex is different than gender. So I do feel a need to explain why I reject these distinctions, and to explain what I believe and what I am teaching my family. And I want him to know these are deeply considered beliefs -- I'm not just rejecting his request because I'm being a dick or am not up to date on the latest "science" of gender. Based on my relationship with my relative, I do expect him to take time to read the whole thing. I do expect him to at least start off by taking my views seriously, because in real life I am relatively high status.

He has no concept of sexuality and barely any concept of gender roles. Who even put the idea in his head that he might be a girl? Refuse to indulge him and almost certainly he will forget about being a girl in a week.

The dad is kind of a hippie and has long hair, and raised Skylar with long hair. Around age 3 the kid watched Frozen at daycare and wanted to dress as Elsa for Halloween, and started to want to wear dresses. IMO, he did not wear these dresses in a feminine way (for instance, he once told my daughter to stay back it was too dangerous while he went "monster hunting" in his dress). Then his mom started asking him every day before daycare, "Are you going to be a girl today or a boy." The mom is no woke radfem, she is mostly normie liberal, but she was involved with the LBTQ crowed in college, was a lesbian for a bit, and has friends who have transitioned, so I think the mom thought that asking the kid was a best practice. Eventually Skylar started consistently saying girl. The parents decided to socially transition him and they enrolled him in kindergarten last fall as a girl and are telling family to call him "she."

When I asked the dad one-on-one, "What do you think Skylar is?" The dad said, "I think she is who she says she is." And I said, "Um, Skylar has a penis" And the dad said, "That is sex, not gender identity." I said something like, "Don't you think it is important as a parent for help in building his identity, and not just let the kid lead, and to teaching him how to grow up to be a man." He said something about not wanting to raise a kid to conform to stereotypes. He then told me it was important to be accepting and let the child lead because otherwise later in life the kid would be at very high risk of suicide. I asked him if he was thinking of puberty blockers at some point, and he said he hadn't thought about it and hadn't looked into them. I asked him if he knew the history of the development of the concept of "gender identity" and made the point that "gender" was invented as a word by a pervert academic back in the 1950s. He was not aware of this.

The situation of my relatives seem very similar to the story described by the mom in this article: There is now a parenting ideology where it is a best practice to let kids develop their own 'gender identity.' The mom in this article eventually came to her senses, hopefully my relatives can do the same:

At an early age, we noticed that our first son was a bit different. He was highly sensitive, and was extremely gifted. By about three years old, he started to orient more toward the females in his life than the males. Since he did not have the language, he would say, "I like the mamas." Some of this difference we started to attribute to possibly being transgender. Instead of orienting him to the reality of his biological sex by telling him he was a boy, we wanted him to tell us if he felt he was a boy or a girl. As true believers, we thought that he could be transgender, and that we were to "follow his lead" to determine his true identity.

At around four years old, my son began to ask me if he was a boy or a girl. Instead of telling him he was a boy, I told him he could choose. I didn't use those words—I thought I could be more sophisticated than that. I told him, "When babies are born with a penis, they are called boys, and when babies are born with a vagina, they are called girls. But some babies who are born with a penis can be girls, and some babies born with a vagina can be boys. It all depends on what you feel deep inside." He continued to ask me what he was, and I continued to repeat these lines. I resolved my inner conflict by "leading" my son with this framework—you can be born with a penis, but still be a girl inside. I thought I was doing the right thing, for him, and for the world.

His question, and my response to it, would come back to haunt me for years, and continues to haunt me now. What I know now is that I was "leading"—I was leading my innocent, sensitive child down a path of lies that were a direct on-ramp to psychological damage and life-long irreversible medical intervention. All in the name of love, acceptance, and liberation.

I do expect him to at least start off by taking my views seriously, because in real life I am relatively high status.

...When I asked the dad one-on-one, "What do you think Skylar is?" The dad said, "I think she is who she says she is." And I said, "Um, Skylar has a penis" And the dad said, "That is sex, not gender identity." I said something like, "Don't you think it is important as a parent for help in building his identity, and not just let the kid lead, and to teaching him how to grow up to be a man." He said something about not wanting to raise a kid to conform to stereotypes.

I know that, in this space, people are less shy of talking openly about social status. That's a norm here. You certainly know your relative better than we do, and I'm not unsympathetic to the ideas you were trying to express to him. Nevertheless, these lines strike me as tone deaf enough to question your perception of how welcome he will find a 70 page email. This is a very socially inappropriate thing to do, and you should have extraordinarily solid evidence that it will be well-received before you do it. If my own brilliant and thoughtful brother, whom I adore and whose opinions I value deeply, sent me 70 pages criticizing my extremely personal parenting decision, I would find it too overwhelming to read in full. My reaction would not be, "Wow, look at all this evidence and analysis. I guess I was mistaken." It would be much more along the lines of, "Whoa, buddy. This issue is obviously a hobbyhorse for you. I'm not going to let some ideologue impose his worldview on my kid."

The situation of my relatives seem very similar to the story described by the mom in this article:

I was actually going to suggest that he might profit from exactly this story. The mom has also been interviewed about it on a podcast somewhere, if he prefers that format. You can do him a valuable service by providing him with information and perspectives he has likely missed! But a 70 page anti-gender ideology manifesto is, for most people, not the most helpful approach.

If this were my relative, I would want him to know something like this:

Your family is important to me, and I will always treat Skylar with kindness and respect. I have serious reservations about supporting a social transition for a child so young, because I believe it is much more likely to confuse and distress him than to help him. Here are a few links to personal accounts and discussions of the underlying science that explain why I believe this. Please understand I'm not just rejecting your request out of bigotry or ignorance. I've put serious thought and research into these issues. I'm also trying to protect my own kids from possible confusion and distress. I hope you'll consider my point of view.

If my own brilliant and thoughtful brother, whom I adore and whose opinions I value deeply, sent me 70 pages criticizing my extremely personal parenting decision, I would find it too overwhelming to read in full.

Would you rather have him drop one 70 page manifesto and have him say, "I've given you my way of thinking, I've given you the evidence and information I have. I won't continue to pester you about it but I do hope you continue think about what I have written as you navigate this issue."

Or would you rather him send you emails every week with articles and arguments as he comes across them and as he thinks about them?

I would rather have him drop a relatively brief email similar to the one I drafted, which included a very manageable number of links, along with an invitation to discuss the issue further if I needed a sounding board. Or, if he wanted to give me a one stop shop, he could include a link to a separate Google doc that is perhaps a heavily-linked manifesto of maybe 20 - 25 pages, saying, "I've written up my thoughts at much more length here, because I've thought seriously about what to teach my own kids about gender. If it can be any use to you as you navigate this issue, you're welcome to read."

That would feel much more like a resource than a rant. It would reassure me that he considered our relationship one between equals, in which he was not correcting my ignorance but offering up the legwork he had done so far.