I came to a realization the other day. I am doing social media all wrong.
And by wrong, I mean that I am not using it as a platform to fearmonger. I’m not using it as an opportunity to be dogmatic and create division. I’ve been using social media to have interesting conversations with people holding diverse perspectives, to exchange ideas and problem-solve—trying to build a future world that works for everyone.
I know, I was naive to ever think that’s what people do in 2023. But if breaking out of filter bubbles and being moderate is doing social media wrong, then I’m going to keep doing it that way because we don’t need more rage farming. We need more solutions.
I decided to make myself a public face of transgender politics because I’m genuinely concerned about where our discourse stands.
And those concerns almost invariably position me in the middle of two extremes: those who champion transgender rights and privileges at all cost, ignoring the risks and imbalances it may create, and those who have no interest in creating any space for transgender people at all in society and marginalize them in the most politically tenable manner possible.
But most people don’t sit at either extreme. Most of us are somewhere in the messy middle, residing in a myriad of compassion and concern on a topic where taking either position will be perceived as partisan, and where taking neither places one within firing range of both factions.
And as I see it, when you are targeted from both sides, you must be doing something right.
Two nights ago I was out with a friend who, for many years worked as a journalist at one of the prominent national newspapers. She told me that when she went through journalism school, it was drilled into her that good journalism often requires being disliked by, well, everybody. That’s what happens when you explore an issue with an eye to complexity and consideration of diverse perspectives—you more often than not don’t come out arguing unilaterally in favour of any one partisan position
That principle of paying due consideration across the gamut has always struck me as incredibly important, and it’s what I try to do when having conversations about gender.
Over the past two years, I’ve had thousands of conversations. I’ve met happy adult transitioners and happy childhood transitioners, concerned parents, detransitioners and desisters.
Doctors, Lawyers, teachers, authors and psychotherapists with incredibly diverse perspectives on gender-affirming care and childhood social transitions. Lawmakers from every major political party.
And in so many cases these individuals have become friends. Teachers who hang pride progress flags at the front of their classrooms and discuss it with their students daily, and wives whose husbands left them to become transgender porn stars. I’ve become close to parents and trustees who have been silenced from expressing concerns through the public engagement, and also made friends with some pushing for further restrictions on speech.
As I reflect on all of these divergent opinions, I can’t ignore the heartache I’ve seen on every front. Parents who have lost their children—sometimes through their child’s disavowment of them and other times when their dysphoric child doesn’t wish to live anymore at all. I think about the families holding together tumultuous relationships—like a particular mom who calls me only when her non-binary child isn’t home because she’s found a stable trusting relationship with her kid, she’s been able to hold off hormonal intervention, and she will not risk destabilizing it.
I recently had an intimate chat with an author friend who is working on her next book centred around ongoing gender matters. She reminded me how important it is that we consciously avoid veering into extremism in this emotionally driven conversation. It’s so easy for it to happen in a polarized climate—we flock to like-minded individuals where the narrative is comfortable and we stay there, increasingly diving deeper into a particular groupthink.
Caring about an issue and avoiding extremism isn’t just challenging, it’s often lonely, leaving one as an outsider not fully embraced in either faction. Extremism doesn’t like moderation. It breeds off of the opposite polarization. The peculiar thing I’ve realized is that—in a polarized climate where many see ‘sides’, as a moderate, everyone perceives you as being on the ‘other side’.
It’s comical, and it’s also pretty sad. Last week I published a column in the National Post defending the importance of open dialogue in school board meetings and in response I received another attempt by a progressive activist to challenge my position on a local charitable board and an inflammatory letter from a transgender adult who has suggested that if she kills herself it will be my fault. But then on the other end of the political extreme, we’ve got Amy Hamm—who very articulately laid out her grievances with me as she labelled me as being a member of the ‘contested side and opposition’.
Amy—and I say this as someone who appreciates the fight you’ve undertaken in your legal battle—just because I’m trans doesn’t mean I’m on the ‘contested side’ whatever that means… unless what you contest isn’t positions and beliefs, it’s being transgender. And that ‘contested side’ you perceive me as representing gets just as worked up by my positions as you do and they often consider me a gender-critical transphobe in their own grievances.
And I know, someone is going to point out that Amy didn’t explicitly mention me in that post and you’re 100% correct, but she did mention me at length in posts all week long with the same complaint about my National Post column.
But you know what? If I’ve managed to upset both the oppressive left and the free speech abolitionists, the radical feminists and the transgender rights activists all at the same time then I must be doing something right. As far as I can tell that means I’m on target representing the views of the silent majority who are not captured in the diatribe of ‘sides’. The silent majority—those who are scared to speak up at all because they comprehend reasons to be both compassionate and concerned.
That… whether we want to admit it or not, is the majority of the population. Somewhere in the messy middle. Those are the voices I want to platform because that’s where solutions lie.
To those upset with me for not taking hardline opinions—like my friend Billboard Chris—I’ll wear your dissent as a badge of honour.