An article in a literary magazine that took issue with some of the transgender movement's tactics has come under fire for promoting "hate speech" and violence against trans people. Now the anti-speech left has launched a petition asking the magazine's editors to disavow it.
The article, "The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate" appeared in the recent edition of The Antioch Review, the well-respected literary magazine of Antioch College. Its author, historian Daniel Harris, begins by expressing complete support for trans people's right to undergo sex-reassignment surgery:
Those who choose to alter or even mask their gender merit full protection under the law merely because their decisions, while they may divest them of breasts and birth names, do not strip them of their humanity.
The subsequent several-thousand-words detail all the ways the movement focuses on the wrong issues—like enforcing correct pronoun usage—and promotes a culture of celebrity body modification.
Right or wrong, Harris's essay is interesting. It's certainly within the realm of acceptable opinions about the trans movement, even if I don't agree with it. Given that the public is still sorting out how it feels about trans people in bathrooms, what age children should be allowed to transition, etc., thoughtful critiques of these subjects should be welcomed by everyone who values an exchange of ideas.
The problem, of course, is that a great many people at university campuses don't value an exchange of ideas if said ideas clash with their own in any way. A contrary notion isn't a valued contribution—it's an expression of hate and violence.
"The layers of not only complicity but endorsement that this dehumanizing article passed through is astounding," claimed more than 3,000 writers and editors in a joint statement. "As members of the literary community, we refuse to be silent in the face of transphobia in our midst, which we understand to be related to the many individual and structural incidents of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and other violences large and small experienced by members of our community."
A change.org petition went full Godwin's Law and accused the magazine of publishing a Nazi.
"Today, the Antioch Review editors have chosen to hide behind the all-too common refrain of 'free speech'," claimed the petition's author. "Hate speech is not protected speech."
But of course hate speech is protected speech. Hate speech, in fact, is the exact kind of speech that most fervently requires protection. If the First Amendment did not safeguard the right to say controversial, even despicable things, it would be pointless. Further, there is no universally agreed upon definition of hate speech.
A literary magazine, published by an institution of higher education, is exactly the right place to grapple with tricky subjects like gender norms, biology, and language. If the magazine only published ideas that offended no one and were agreed upon by all, it would serve little purpose.
It should go without saying that trans people deserve the same rights as everyone else. But there is no right to be immunized from criticism. Nor should there be. It might be the case that altering some of its tactics would serve the trans community well and lead toward more rapid societal acceptance. If everyone who questions the movement's current philosophy is derided as a Nazi, the cause of trans acceptance might actually be harmed.