The conservative National Review on Wednesday published a piece by J.J. McCullough, suggesting it was “time for a compromise on transgenderism.” What followed was a desperate attempt by other National Review columnists to out-do one another in rejecting transgender people instead.
The premise of McCullough’s so-called “compromise” is not compelling, of course. He argues that conservatives should admit “the reality that transgender men and women exist, and are entitled to basic human dignity, just like everyone else.” He even suggests that maybe conservatives should abandon the practice of “ostentatiously calling people by pronouns they don’t want.” It’s not a matter of “want,” however; misgendering transgender people in such a way is so stigmatizing it can measurably impact their health.
That’s about all McCullough offers. He adds that progressives would have to accept that many will still condemn transgender people for religious reasons, that trans kids’ genders will still be policed, and that laws won’t be used to “impose accommodation of transgenderism in a fashion far more totalitarian than is rationally justified.” He reinforces “the broad two-gender social order our civilization is based around,” so the compromise offers no room for respecting gender non-binary people either.
Given how conservatives don’t even think laws should require bakers to sell same-sex couples the same cakes they sell to other couples, that doesn’t suggest much promise for nondiscrimination protections on behalf of gender identity.
Nevertheless, by acknowledging that trans people exist, McCullough might as well have suggested that Jesus wasn’t God’s son, given how swiftly all of the other white, Christian men working in the world of conservative media launched their counterattacks. The National Review itself published two additional articles responding to McCullough’s “compromise.”
First up was Michael Brendan Dougherty, who answered McCullough’s suggestion that conservatives must compromise with a blunt, “No we don’t.” Acknowledging trans people’s existence, he warns, is a “slippery bit of a double-talk” that will inhibit conservatives’ ability “to tell the truth.”
David French then picked up Dougherty’s argument about “truth” and intentionally doubled down. “I won’t call Chelsea Manning ‘she’ for a very simple reason. He’s [sic] a man [sic],” French insisted. “If a person legally changes his [sic] name, I’ll use his [sic] legal name. But I will not use my words to endorse a falsehood. I simply won’t.”
French followed up with warnings about bathrooms and the usual baseless fear-mongering.
Over at the American Conservative, Rod Dreher — who believes that Christians should shut themselves off from society to avoid having to respect LGBTQ people — tossed his hat in the ring, calling McCullough’s compromise “badly wrong.” To his credit, he correctly pointed out that there is no form of discrimination against trans people that “the Left” will accept, but he did so while defending the premise of practicing such discrimination.
Dreher also promoted a group of trans-exclusive radical feminists dedicated to rejecting transgender kids, warning that “transgenders” [sic] have been “viciously attacking” them. “This is madness, true madness, and you cannot compromise with it,” he wrote, a not so subtle dogwhistle referring to conservatives’ belief that transgender people are inherently mentally ill. (They’re not.)
Not to be left out of the transphobic pissing contest, the Federalist’s David Marcus joined the fray Thursday, claiming that what McCullough had actually suggested was not a compromise, but “a surrender that is not justified.” It’s a “fantasy,” he insisted, that transgenderism is “a persistent aspect of humanity.” He then worried, unnecessarily, about how trans women “will absolutely dominate women’s sports,” awkwardly offering, “They can even be sexier.”
Marcus likewise suggested that trans women can’t relate to cis women, who are “subject to rape and impregnation and catcalling,” apparently oblivious to the sexual and physical violence many trans women face on a regular basis.
Other prominent conservatives lifted up these responses and added some of their own commentary over on Twitter. Andrew T. Walker of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission — who published a book last year attempting to justify the religious rejection of trans people — warned that respecting trans people’s pronouns constituted “kowtowing to speech codes”:
One major no-no promoted in this article: Kowtowing to speech codes that make liars of people. Remind me again how this passes muster for a conservative outlet. https://t.co/gLihimeiMM
— Andrew T. Walker (@andrewtwalk) May 9, 2018
Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center promoted French’s response to his followers. Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation reiterated his mantra, “Biology isn’t bigotry,” and seized yet another opportunity to shill for his own transphobic book.
Not to be outdone, Austin Ruse of the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) accused McCullough of being gay for offering such a compromise. And Erick Erickson skipped the dog whistle entirely:
Ummmm, no. I think conservatives should avoid normalizing mental health issues. But never accuse @NRO of being hostile to a broad spectrum of voices. They're probably more open than @TheAtlantic these days. https://t.co/ND58NkbG9F
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) May 9, 2018
McCullough’s unimpressive cry for compromise not only fell on deaf ears, but also appears to have provoked some into becoming even more entrenched in their bigotry. In doing so, McCullough revealed the depths of that bigotry: Rather than simply agreeing to view transgender people as human, right wing media members responded with a resounding “No.”