pirate wires #72 // from big tech to america's classroom, what are "gay rights" in a world without gay people?
There goes the gayborhood. In June of 2003, the year I graduated high school, homosexuality was still effectively illegal in 14 states, including Florida, Texas, and Massachusetts. Twenty years later, cities around the country have once again lowered their flags, raised the ubiquitous rainbow colors as if in submission to some conquering foreign army, and opened their arms to an ever-growing array of identities we term broadly, but incorrectly, “gay.” America has come a long way on the topics of sex and gender, and in many regards the country is improved. But for fear of once again landing on the “wrong side of history,” we’ve adopted a culture of accepting almost anything, no matter how illogical. This has produced a liberal discourse of spectacular incoherence, through which we’ve mainstreamed both regressive leftist gender ideology in the name of progress, and a celebration of moral excess in the name of tolerance. Conservative backlash was inevitable, and congrats, it now extends well beyond its original catalyst in early education, bringing us finally — and back — to a tidal shift in perception threatening everything from gay marriage, to gay relationships.
At first glance, a meaningful erosion of gay acceptance doesn’t seem serious. We see the colorful signs of progress everywhere. But today, what is really meant by the phrase “gay rights”?
This month, as has been the case for many summers now, tech shaped the Pride terrain. Google made it easier to connect with “LGBTQ+”-owned businesses, Airbnb threw a spotlight on “LGBTQ+” experiences, and Meta launched a series of “LGBTQ+” activations. “Gay people are okay,” the companies seemed to be saying. “Gay people are fine.” Millions were reached, and nobody cared. It was the kind of effort someone might have noticed a decade ago, in that simpler period of American history between the moments Britney shaved her head, and Donald Trump became our president. TechCrunch would have loved it. But now, in a culture saturated by the sentiment, it takes a little more to sizzle: a cartoon peach in a jockstrap, for example, and a national convo on butt stuff.
In honor of Pride, Postmates released a PSA on gay sex, and launched a special menu for bottoms (if you don’t know, please don’t make me explain it). The video was shared on the company’s flagship Instagram profile, where it was put on blast for the entire country. On Twitter, the Postmates social team argued the gesture was made on behalf of gay people, who truly — I promise — did not ask for their categorical reduction to anal sex and an anthropomorphized giant eggplant in leather daddy fetish gear. It was wild. It was embarrassing. It was “brave,” I guess, is the official verdict. But according to the tech industry’s small class of social activists, this sort of pandering is also not enough.
On the heels of Netflix’s great trans Chappelle drama of 2021, a handful of Amazon’s craziest employees hosted a “die-in” to protest a number of books critical of contemporary gender ideology, with explicitly a demand for control over Amazon’s offerings. Disagreement on the topic of gender is dangerous, activists argue, and Amazon’s refusal to deplatform the heretical authors poses a threat of actual trans genocide. It’s a familiar industry story, in which tiny groups of committed ideologues leverage hysterical language to exercise outsize influence over organizations that themselves exercise outsize influence over the country.
The “die-in” was covered favorably throughout the tech press, as all such excesses of industry activists are covered, and further litigated on Twitter, where Amazon’s hegemonic trans oppression joined such similarly exciting topics in discussion as “should post-pubescent male athletes compete with female athletes” (no), “should young children be given irreversible sex change procedures” (no), and “strippers in high school: a good thing, actually?” (please stop)
This is gay rights in 2022.
The activist gender ideology now beyond reproach, increasingly defacto law online, largely replaces the importance of biological sex with the sacred, if fundamentally abstract concept of gender. Ironically, this essentially erases the concept of gay people.
A few important terms before we break this down.
“Gay” is a word that concerns sex, and sexuality, and is defined by people with an exclusive same-sex attraction. Gay men and women make up something like 1 to 3% of the population, across all generations. Despite tremendous cultural change, the number of gay Americans has remained static for decades. Self-defined bisexuals, on the other hand, have exploded across the generational divide, ballooning from the Baby Boomer’s 1% to 13% of Generation Z.
How much of Gen Z’s 13% is comprised of quirky e-girls who consider themselves queer but exclusively date men? A mystery for another day.
“Transgender” is a word that concerns the presentation of sex, or how a person looks and feels about the way they look, and until recently denoted someone with a rare condition called “gender dysphoria.” This is to say, in a kind of colloquial sense, transgender people often experienced a crippling feeling of being ‘the wrong sex,’ or ‘being in the wrong body.’ Symptoms of gender dysphoria could be treated medically, by way of medical “transition” between sexes, which included some combination of cosmetic surgery, hormone therapy, and social transition. As recently as 2015, somewhere between .1 and .3% of the population identified as trans. But the age of TikTok has been a truly wild ride.
Today, around 1.4% of the population identifies in some way beyond their “assigned” gender, with close to half that population comprised of people under the age of 24, and a strong geographical correlation by state (3% of New York teenagers consider themselves trans, or possibly 30x the national average in 2015). Notably, a large and growing chunk of young people now consider themselves to have no gender at all, shrugging off entirely the notion of “transition” between sexes, along with any basis for transgenderism in clinical dysphoria.
This demographic shift punted the entire gay rights conversation from the topic of sex, an immutable biological reality, to the topic of gender, an abstract concept, leading naturally to the prominence of identities like “genderqueer,” or “non-binary,” in which a person feels neither like a man or a woman, and doesn’t necessarily require medical transition.
But what exactly does it “feel like” to be a man? Can any woman — “assigned female at birth” — describe the physical sensation of “being a woman”? Close your eyes for a second, and try to pin down a sense of your own gender. Do you have any notion whatsoever what these activists are talking about?
The critical flaw of contemporary gender ideology is no such “feeling” of gender exists. The question we actually appear to be grappling with is “do you like your gender?” Not your sex, or even the physical presentation of your sex, but the things associated with your sex. In other words, we’re talking about gender stereotypes, and generalities, the most common of which is men are attracted to women, and women are attracted to men.
Happy pride, the industry activists love you just the way you are (no homo).
Over the last five years or so, the trans conversation has rapidly evolved from treatment and compassion for a rare condition to radical new social guidelines that apply not only to trans individuals, but to everyone. In this way, counterintuitively, concepts like “genderqueer,” a stated rejection of the gender binary, rigidly codifies the binary into cultural law. By rejecting the labels of “man” and “woman” rather than the stereotypes associated with the sexes, activists have implicitly reversed feminist and queer positions held throughout the 20th Century, and endorsed the association of “masculine traits” with men, and “feminine traits” with women.
Inevitably, we arrive at the strange notion of “bigoted” sexual preference. Are you a man attracted exclusively to other men (homosexual)? Well, this category now includes biological women who may not be interested in medical transition. “Man” is just a state of mind, man. You don’t date men assigned female at birth? That’s gender-based discrimination. You want to talk about your preference on a dating profile? That’s hate speech. Fortunately, it’s possible to change. Your sexual preference is probably just a phase. Have you tried liking girls?
This is the kind of thing I used to hear in church, which brings me to our teachers.
As a kid, I was never clocked as “girly,” or “gay,” or bullied for it. But I did prefer spending time with girls, and had many “girlish” interests. This is something I noticed in myself at a young age, and worried about: I didn’t understand boys who talked about cars and basketball and, eventually, Pamela Anderson — an interest I found so confusing I genuinely thought it had to be a lie. I “felt different,” a fashionable feeling today with a very dangerous prescription for confused little kids, which I absolutely once was. At that time, had some well-meaning teacher asked if I felt different I would have said yes. Had she then explained a small number of very special boys are actually girls, and asked if maybe I was that, the truth is I’m not sure how I would have answered. But I do know any medical treatment to “correct” my early sense of difference would have ruined my entire life.
The correct words of encouragement for a young boy who doesn’t feel like other boys is not “maybe you’re a girl.” It’s just “there’s nothing wrong with being different,” and “there is no certain way to be a boy.” Kids will grow up and tell us, in their own time, who they are and what they want to be. But not a single person alive is qualified to make firm suggestions on how any other person should be living or acting. In this way, with calls from industry activists to ban an entire spectrum of “gay dissent” from the public square, the technology industry enters a precarious position.
No platform, from social media to entertainment to the world’s largest book store, is qualified to police language on any controversial topic, let alone a topic in so clear a state of flux as gender. Positions on such topics should especially not be taken in the name of purportedly “marginalized groups” themselves in vehement disagreement on terms and norms. So, a timeless piece of advice:
Leave people alone.
If an adult wants to change their body, or their name, or the way they dress, this is not your business. If an adult wants to change your body, or your name, or the way you dress or act or what you think or say, this is your business. Children are impressionable, protect them. This means, on the ground floor, they should not be challenged in early childhood with incoherent gender theory even most adults don’t understand, and they definitely shouldn’t be attending hyper-sexualized drag shows in gay clubs — because no child should be in any nightclub. But our rapid evolution from the position “little kids giving dollar bills to drunk strippers seems off” (no shit) to “drag brunch for adults is destroying America” (how are people this dumb) amounts to classic moral panic. Rupaul is literally just a guy in a dress having a good time, he is not your enemy.
The topics of gender and sex are confusing. No one has the answers, and there is a great danger in playing cop for things you don’t understand. The consequences of top-down social proscriptions for hundreds of millions of people are hard to predict. For example, we are now arguing, on behalf of gay people, at a time of increasingly anti-gay sentiment, that gay people actually don’t exist. And at the end of the day, that is just incredibly stupid.