When you commission an English teacher to opine on the implications of a legal case from a different jurisdiction, it can backfire spectacularly. This is what the publication Foreign Policy learned, this week, as the dispute between Grace Lavery and Jesse Singal rumbled on.
You would expect teachers of English at prestigious universities to be good at close analysis of texts. This is not always the case, at least when that teacher is in "social justice" activist mode, with a narrative to sell to the public. When the tolerance, and demand, for their public sexual lifestyle depends on that narrative, close reading flies out the window.
The spectacle of two liberal-left commentators, Jesse Singal and Grace Lavery, a trans person, parrying furiously over what is, at base, a straightforward child safeguarding issue—pausing only to opine about UK "gender critical" feminism—seems to have generated more heat than light. I will attempt to get at what neither yet has. The kind of point made below the line by women with anonymous accounts afraid of losing their jobs for stating the obvious.
Lavery, a teacher of English at University of California, Berkeley, published a polemic piece in Foreign Policy arguing that the Keira Bell judgment—which called a halt to pediatric transitioning on the NHS—vitiates "trans rights." The "right" which Lavery claims is for children to not experience natural puberty.
"To some children experiencing gender dysphoria, puberty—a difficult experience at the best of times—can be especially painful because it enacts changes to the body that may be irreversible without painful and costly surgeries," Lavery said.
It is a remarkable claim. Is it my right, as a woman, not to experience natural menopause if I don't feel ready for it? If there were a magic drug capable of holding back the hands of time, would I be on firm ground to insist the NHS sustain my fertility into old age? Bodies develop in certain ways over a lifetime. Science can't progress towards 'curing' birth, puberty, aging and death without rejecting the human condition itself as a mistake to be corrected.
Puberty is a biological process, not a human rights violation. Protecting children from irreversible damage to their bodies does not prevent adults who understand what it means to be sterilized from deciding to have their sexual organs removed. Notably, Lavery wrings hands over a fact most would consider sensible: in this country, at least, children cannot be rushed down that extreme pathway anymore.
In support of his argument, Lavery claims that the panel of high court judges were not protecting vulnerable children from iatrogenic harm, but depriving them. Lavery advances that suggestion without absorbing the substance of the judgment, preferring to set up a straw judgment, and straw judges, to knock down with devastating rhetorical chops.
Lavery said the "decision is an unprecedented juridical attack on the LGBT community in the U.K., in which the British state has asserted a right to enforce unwanted puberty—and to arrest transitions that are already in progress—on the slimmest of pretexts."
The dispute began when journalist Jesse Singal tweeted that Lavery's piece contained multiple factual errors, misrepresentations of the substance of the judgment, and made "trollishly ridiculous" arguments, stating that the issue needs "careful research and reporting because kids are involved."
Singal said that the case raised issues of bioethics, developmental psychology and healthcare standards which should be considered beyond the "culture wars." Singal queried whether Lavery had read the judgment before opining on it, and referred to the judgment—and to Lavery's piece—in support of that critique.
Instead of making corrections, deputy editor of Foreign Policy James Palmer waded in to claim that Singal, not Lavery, was in error.
On this point, Singal was not in error. The deputy editor of a misleading piece doubled down on an untruth, to back up a writer with a (for now) fashionable sexual identity, advocating the well-funded and promoted cause of erasing sex as a socially salient characteristic in favour of nebulous "gender identity"—starting, of course, with children too young to comprehend what they are being drawn into.
Singal didn't pick up on the court's finding in its' conclusions—at paragraph 138 of the judgment—that a child on puberty blockers is "on a pathway to greater medical intervention," i.e. wrong sex hormones and surgery. However, several of his other points regarding the errors in Lavery's piece still stand. The Foreign Policy piece is badly written an edited.
The best journalists have an unwavering commitment to getting the facts in front of the public. The best commentators can communicate a point of view persuasively. Singal, seemingly perturbed and amazed by the "obfuscation and oversimplification and demagoguery" on display, published an analysis of Lavery's piece, with commentary, looking at the publication's response and the broader "post-facts" context.
Singal attempted to vindicate his personal views. Like Abigail Shrier, he believes in the "tru trans" fallacy that some children's gender dysphoria is so bad that it merits the use of the experimental medical procedures outlawed in England by the Keira Bell ruling. He is entitled to that opinion, saying he finds himself in agreement with Grace Lavery on that point. However, with trans activists only complete capitulation is acceptable.
Lavery responded with a statement mocking Singal—presumably because Lavery had no rebuttals to the substantive arguments—itemizing peripheral issues which do not go to the heart of the matter. The overall thrust was that Lavery finds it unacceptable that children in England—overwhelmingly girls—can no longer be deprived of natural puberty on ideological grounds.
In responding flippantly to Singal's "honest outrage," Lavery made the hyperbolic claim that he sought to prevent the journalist from "eliminiat[ing] an entire generation of trans people." Does he believe that males who go on to transition are born that way, somehow untouched by the cultural influences of misogyny, homophobia, pornography and medicalization of the human condition? And that denying pediatric transitioning of girls will somehow prevent persons who undertake to transition in adulthood from existing? If so, that is not a belief most would subscribe to.
However, if Lavery is wrong that trans-identifying adults are "born in the wrong body," and their transgenderism is the result of a complex confluence of personal and cultural factors—a disorder of mental health—what does it mean for him if the pipeline of "trans children" is switched off? Will observers begin to notice that the Emperor is naked, and run out of "stunning and brave" plaudits, perhaps?
The whole concept of the "transgender child" is a confection with roots in the quackery of Harry Benjamin back in the early twentieth century. A tomboy, or a boy in a dress, are not trapped in the wrong body: they're just being children. One would never refer to a pre-pubertal child as "transsexual," but the term "transgender" is merely a twenty-first century rebranding of that term which once referred, exclusively, to gay adult men who adopted a feminine appearance to fit into homophobic society.
So why would anyone in their right mind want to label a child transexual? Could it be that adult men whose lives revolve around their autogynephilic fetish use those children as alibis? After all, if a child can be "born in the wrong body," it's less of a reach to persuade mainstream society that men's fetishism is a naturally-occurring phenomenon over which they cannot be expected to exercise restraint, let alone respect other people's boundaries and unwillingness to participate.
The dispute raises a wider issue of how queer theorists with tenure in humanities departments enjoy influence in areas well outside of their area of expertise. Lavery is neither a lawyer nor a medic nor a parent. Lavery has no insight into child safeguarding to bring to a discussion which is about just that: protecting children from the predatory, instrumentalizing activities of adults who don't respect them as beings in their own right.
The main error Singal made was to expect queer theorists, gender identity activists, and the liberal institutions captured by that paradigm to respect facts, careful analysis and close reference to material reality. On the contrary, adherents to those beliefs reject facts and rational methods of enquiry as immoral means of maintaining the status quo. Their aim is to undermine the people and institutions which cleave to those values.
Otherwise, Singal made a valiant attempt—despite his own blind spots—to apply the norms of facts-based journalism to the reception of the Bell judgment by a liberal publication. When the genderists have lost credibility and institutional power—as they inevitably must—his journalistic career will persist as critical readers know that they can trust him to stay with the facts.
Trans activists, in contrast, trade in propaganda, distortions, hyperbole, smears and lies, and are content to sacrifice children to their ideology. The time is approaching when they will no longer be taken seriously.
To be fair to both Singal and Lavery, most people seem to have little understanding of what child safeguarding is, and why we have laws around it. Of course, their ignorance could be remedied by listening to and reading what feminist women have to say, but that's probably a big ask: there are always more important men talking about more important matters than the latest from Motherland.
As for Lavery, he should stick to applying critical theory to literary texts, and leave the world of the immanent and consequential—like child development—well alone. We should be grateful to him for revealing the gender identity movement's inglorious, boundary-smashing excess. He may not be a serious person, but his attempts to queer reality at least make people take notice of what is real, and what does matter.
In the immortal words of Maya Angelou, when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.