Genderwang Enters Its Apocalyptic Phase
As biological reality re-asserts itself in the public debate about gender identity, progressive cultists are staging a public meltdown.
Matthew Stepanic is an Edmonton-based poet who co-founded a government-funded bookstore that specializes in “queer and racialized authors,” “fat activism,” and a genre described as “Free Palestine.” On July 6, Stepanic was dining at Edmonton’s Brown Butter Café when he overheard two women saying things that displeased him. We know this because he later wrote a Twitter thread about it, which he styled as a public-service announcement advising “queer friends” to avoid Brown Butter Café in the interests of protecting their personal “safety.”
By Stepanic’s account, the incident played out as follows:
Deeply Problematic is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Two women were complaining very loudly beside me about trans athletes in sports & sharing a lot of transphobic misinformation. After listening to their garbage for 10 minutes, I was fuming & couldn’t stay silent. I walked over to them & said, ‘Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation & although you don’t think so, what you’re saying is incredibly transphobic. I urge you to read one scientific study about how trans women have next to no advantage over cis women in sports … Instead of being mature enough to acknowledge me, these women stared at the wall beside them & said nothing. So I grabbed my stuff and stormed off saying something silly like, ‘Fine! Have fun being transphobes.’ While I was trying to calm down outside, a buff man came out & started yelling at me: ‘Go stay in your own fucking bubble!’ & in very impolite terms told me that people like me weren’t welcome there.
Stepanic reports that he then told the “buff man” to “fuck off,” at which point, it is (dubiously) claimed, the aforesaid buff man “threatened to beat the shit out of” Stepanic.
Lest his social-media fans become anxious for his well-being, Stepanic reassured them that, “I thankfully had therapy right after this incident, so I’m feeling mostly safe & calm. Straight allies, I hope you’re educating yourselves & are prepared to challenge transphobia when you hear it, because the world is becoming a more dangerous place for queer folks.”
In one sense, this story is completely banal: Women seeking to relax in public spaces get harassed by men all the time, including guys trying to hit on them, religious and political pamphleteers, and aggressive panhandlers looking for money. The difference is that it’s hard to imagine any of those other types subsequently bragging about their antisocial behaviour on Twitter. While men who harass women are, regrettably, a dime a dozen, the Genderwang movement has given rise to a unique sub-variety: the sanctimonious progressive douchebag who imagines such behaviour to be not only socially permissible, but even morally commendable.
One look at Stepanic’s online résumé helps explain these attitudes: He seems to have spent his entire career writing freelance articles for obscure, hyperprogressive arts magazines and authoring poetry chapbooks (such as Relying on that Body, which features—and I swear I am not making this up—“poems inspired by the queens of season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race”). Needless to say, this oeuvre has won Stepanic plenty of (Canadian) awards. In 2019, he even served as the “writer in residence” for Edmonton Public Library, a perch from which he publicly excoriated feminists—Meghan Murphy, in particular—who argue that women need protected spaces on the basis of biological sex.
Following this stunning and brave pronouncement, the Toronto Star duly rewarded Stepanic with a puffball interview, illustrated with the obligatory photo of the poet staring sternly into the camera. “We don’t need [Murphy] to come and speak at the library and continue a conversation that’s over,” he told the Star. “Trans rights are human rights.”
Given all this, it was perhaps natural that Stepanic predicted that he would win further public praise by boasting about his recent stunt at Brown Butter Café. And perhaps, not so long ago—say, in 2019, when the Star was lionizing Stepanic for telling women to shut up, because the conversation is “over”—this wish might have been fulfilled. (Indeed, the Star headline and sub-headline write themselves: In Canada, Transphobia Should Never Be on The Menu: Acclaimed Edmonton Poet Steps in to Correct ‘Harmful’ Discourse; Apologetic Café Owner Promises More Training for Staff. But, thankfully, the tide has begun to turn against Genderwang, as even many progressives, including a growing contingent within the LGB community, have become sick of Stepanic’s brand of self-righteous shtick.
To be clear, when I use the term “Genderwang,” I am absolutely not referring to (real) gender dysphoria, nor to the transgender people who are afflicted by it. I have collaborated professionally with trans people, had them on my Quillette podcast, edited their written work, and hung out with them at boardgame conventions and Quillette events. For the most part, trans peiople are like everyone else, except that they have gender dysphoria, and have decided that the best way to deal with it is to indulge the fiction that they are members of the opposite sex. It’s a choice I try to accommodate in a respectful and sympathetic way.
Genderwang is something completely different. It’s a quasi-religious ideological movement that demands public acceptance of the claim that all humans are infused with a soul-like ether known as gender identity—a spirit whose nature trumps the objective reality of biological sex when it comes to policymaking and even interpersonal relationships. Genderwang channels the magical thinking of Christian transubstantiation by demanding that acts of verbal attestation and other sanctified rites serve to literally transform men into women and vice versa. It also casts small children, even toddlers in diapers, as savants whose unfalsifiable pronouncements in regard to their “true” gender identity must be affirmed by doctors as holy writ.
Like all totalizing creeds, Genderwang demands implementation in every sphere of human activity, including sex and sports. An orthodox Genderwanger will claim with a straight face, for instance, that human sexual attraction, as we know it, is a misnomer, because the subject of one’s attraction is not really a person’s outwardly observable sex, but rather his or her inwardly experienced gender identity. By this logic, lesbians using Genderwang-informed dating apps are instructed to submit to the conceit that a man with a penis must be treated as a bona fide object of same-sex female erotic attraction if he uses female pronouns. As in all matters of puritanical religious observance, any conflict between doctrine and reality must always be reconciled in favour of the former.
I often refer to Genderwang as a cult, insofar as its precepts (a) encourage physical disfigurement as a means to rid one’s body or mind of some imagined contaminant; (b) offers the promise that conversion/transition will serve to solve one’s earthly woes; (c) divides society between believers who are “seen and loved,” and sinister heretics who must be condemned and attacked; and (d) demands the estrangement of acolytes from family members and peers who reject the cult’s teachings.
But the cult comparison is inexact in at least three important ways.
Firstly, for all its ideological excesses, Genderwang is (or, at least, was) extrapolated from a real medical truth, which is that some human beings truly do suffer from gender dysphoria. This has allowed Genderwang entré into mainstream medical culture, notwithstanding the fact that many of the (often untested) medical therapies encouraged under its “affirming” auspices have horrifying side effects.
Secondly, a typical cult does not arrogate to itself the power of regulating speech and thought among non-believers. Except in Islamic theocracies, in fact, even religious movements no longer demand that right. While I know many observant Christians here in Canada, not a single one of them would ever dream of calling out non-believers whose blasphemies they’d overheard in a public café.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, traditional cults, such as Scientology or NXIVM, exist outside mainstream political tribes—while Genderwang has been adopted at the very core of progressive social dogma.
Many educators, in particular, have become fervent Genderwang converts; especially here in Canada, where one often sees examples of elementary school teachers bragging openly on social media about indoctrinating young boys and girls in the most esoteric details of genderqueer typology. One even sees Genderwang being promoted by certain Judeo-Christian communities, including the Anglican Church of Canada, which has just announced “Pastoral Liturgies for Journeys of Gender Affirmation & Transition”—essentially a trans mitzvah complete with italicized they/them pronouns.
This third factor explains why Genderwang’s true believers and ideological enforcers, though few in number, have been able to succeed by leveraging the institutional power of pre-existing progressive political and activist networks—and even whole political parties, such as the Liberals in Canada and the SNP in Scotland. Many corporations have bought hard into Genderwang, as well, on the belief that it offers a cost-free way to signal progressive values to young consumers. Twitter once banned anyone who stated the perfectly obvious truth that trans women are, in fact, men. I know of no other example, in the post-Christian age, of any cult belief system exercising such enormous ideological control over mainstream political, commercial, and communications networks.
Social historians who seek to explain how progressives became ensnared by this cult during the late 2010s and early 2020s will no doubt debate the exact moment when the tide began to turn back toward sanity. My own sense is that, in the world of sports, at least, a watershed moment came in 2022, when Lia Thomas showed the world what fate awaited all female sports if men were allowed to make a mockery of protected female divisions. In the commercial sphere, the name of Dylan Mulvaney will likely figure prominently in this kind of historical analysis. Then there are the innumerable cases of men such as Isla Bryson and Stephanie Green—violent criminals who play on their claimed trans identification as a means to gain access to female spaces.
The upper middle-class hashtaggers who make up the bulk of Genderwang’s disciples have traditionally ignored this latter problem—because most members of this demographic have no historical experience with the criminal-justice system (let alone life inside prisons), either personally or within their privileged peer groups. And so the plight of women who are preyed upon by trans-branded men gets dismissed as a figment of conservative hysteria. But the spectacle of women being terrorized in this way has now become impossible to ignore, in part because certain trans activists themselves, having become agitated by the growing backlash against their formerly unassailable Genderwang diktats, have become increasingly forthright with their threats and misogynistic rhetoric.
At the July 8 Trans Pride parade in London, for instance, a convicted kidnapper and torturer who goes by the name “Sarah Jane Baker” delighted a cheering crowd by shouting, “If you see a TERF, punch them in the fucking face!” (“TERF” being a Genderwang term of abuse directed at women who assert the biological reality of sex). It was in 2017—not exactly ancient history—when the #MeToo movement became a popular vehicle for progressives to express solidarity with women victimized by violent male abuse. Future historians will be left to explain how, in the space of just six years, the same people who once declared their undying fealty to that movement now bleat their approval for a male criminal rhapsodizing publicly about beating up feminists.
One indicator that support for Genderwang is in free-fall is the apocalyptic tone of those denouncing the rise of apostasy—a late-stage feature of many dying sects. An especially unhinged piece written for The Guardian by an American professor named Johanna Mellis, for instance, informs us that opposition to the revealed truth of Genderwang symptomizes the moral stain of “whiteness,” “anti-Blackness,” and sexual abuse.
In the case of Lia Thomas, we are told, reporters’ obsession with Thomas’s physique “betrayed a horrific exoticization of trans people’s bodies” that constitutes “possible sexual harassment and trauma”—a somewhat odd way of describing the understandable public interest in the fact that Lia Thomas is, indeed, a man with a penis.
In the rousing climax to her piece, which Mellis styles as a sort of Gendwang version of Onward, Christian Soldiers, the author echoes another well-known trope of cult and religious literature: the eschatological prediction of some (literal) extinction event in which demonic forces will be marshalled against the righteous, who must redouble their faith and “lock arms” in defence of the holy realm:
It is essential that as the group with closer proximity to the cisgender white patriarchy in charge of sport—and thus with more power and protection—we [white, non-trans women] loudly use our agency to lock arms with transgender people to resist transphobia. Not doing so will harm us both to varying degrees, with transgender people standing alone to face dire genocidal policies.
It will not surprise most readers to learn that Mellis also views her ideological opponents as inherently fascistic. This is a theme taken up in greater detail by one of her vocal Canadian supporters, University of New Brunswick professor Nathan Kalman-Lamb, who quote-tweeted Mellis to the effect that
the TERFist anti-trans participation-in-sport argument is the vanguard claim of a fascist project to demonize and scapegoat trans people. Whether or not they are collaborators or dupes, TERFs are doing the spadework for the fascists. In fact, there is a way in which the sport participation argument is a kind of Trojan Horse for political transphobia: it appears more ‘reasonable,’ and ‘objective,’ and ‘fair’ than other anti-trans positions, so the right has gleefully seized upon it as a discursive entry point.
If being “reasonable” and “objective” and “fair” in one’s thinking comprises a sin against Genderwang, I very much plead guilty—even if those qualities are (as professor Kalman-Lamb ominously warns) gateway drugs to “other” (unspecified) “anti-trans positions.” What Kalman-Lamb is effectively doing here is tacitly acknowledging that, yes, pretending that men and women have similar athletic abilities is indeed quite preposterous; while also insisting that saying such truths should still be treated as verboten, since any acknowledgment of biological reality can only open up the door to more serious thoughtcrimes.
No system of beliefs built on this kind of tortured thinking and wilful rejection of reality can survive. And it was always inevitable that many progressives would start rebelling against it.
The only thing that can forestall this backlash (if only on a temporary basis) is the occasional outbreak of real transphobic violence that serves to validate (for propaganda purposes, at least) Mellis-style claims that our societies are headed toward some kind of Biblical anti-trans cataclysm.
Last month, an Ecuadoran lunatic with an apparent grudge against gender studies stabbed several people at his Canadian alma mater. The police have said they believe the attack was motivated by “hate,” and the story ended up in heavy rotation for a day or two in the Canadian media. In an article for something called NB Media Co-Op, Kalman-Lamb claimed the attack was not only a harbinger of “fascism,” but also a “logical consequence of a discursive attack on ‘cancel culture,’ ‘wokeness,’ and, most importantly, on trans, queer, and non-binary people.” Jordan Peterson, whose popularity is a morbid fixation among Canadian progressives, gets name-checked four times by Kalman-Lamb. He has become, in effect, the Canadian Genderwang Antichrist.
But the most persuasive—I would say, unanswerable—arguments against Genderwang aren’t coming from Jordan Peterson, or “fascists,” or even conservatives more generally. Rather, they’re coming from feminists and LGB activists who are tired of seeing their movements get hijacked by male narcissists demanding sexual access to lesbians, ghoulish clinicians eager to convince gay autistic girls that they’re actually “straight” trans boys, and cynical progressives who dumped their feminist convictions in favour of what is effectively a men’s rights movement in “intersectional” fishnet cosplay.
Late last month, Danish researchers reported results from a large-scale study that showed trans-identified individuals are at much higher risk of suicide than non-trans-identified individuals. What the researchers (along with the journalists who reported on the study) failed to highlight is that their own data showed that the trans-identified individuals, as compared to non-trans-identified individuals, were found to be six times more likely to have at least one comorbid psychiatric disorder (42.9% as compared to 7.1%).
Given that most suicides are related to psychiatric disease (especially depression), there is clearly more at play here than just, as the authors say, “systemic negativity regarding … trans identity in the form of bullying, discrimination, exclusion, and prejudice.” These are people in real pain—pain that can’t be effectively or ethically treated by those who insist the only real problem at play is being “born in the wrong body.”
The bodies are fine. It’s the cult that’s toxic.
Deeply Problematic is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a subscriber.