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Opinion | Three Opinion Writers on Why the G.O.P. Can’t Stop Saying ‘Gay’

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jane coaston

Hey, it’s Jane. A quick note before today’s episode — over the next few months, you’re going to hear some exciting changes to the show. I’ll be bringing on some new and some familiar voices to take you inside the hive mind of the Times Opinion section. You’ll hear from opinion writers each week who are going to cover the big debates and polarizing divisions that people are screaming at each other about, whether in statehouses or on the internet, or around the dinner table.

We’ll dig into the columns and the guest essays that we disagree on, and we’ll finally get to understand how on earth people think the way they do. I’d also love to hear your feedback, so email me at argument@nytimes.com. And with that it’s, The Argument. Let’s do this. Hello.

michelle goldberg

Hi.

ross douthat

Hi, Jane, how are you?

jane coaston

How’s it going?

michelle goldberg

Good, how about you?

jane coaston

I’m good. I am here, I’m also going to turn off my video, since apparently that’s what we’re doing now. All the cool kids are turning off their video. Well, of course, longtime listeners of The Argument will recognize your voices, but for new listeners you, are Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg, New York Times Opinion columnists on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Thank you for being here.

michelle goldberg

Thank you, Jane.

ross douthat

Thank you, Jane.

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jane coaston

What I want to talk about today is what’s shaping up to be some Republicans’ midterm gambit in the 2022 culture wars, even though I kind of hate that term, because that makes it seem like this is like, at some point, someone is enjoying this, or that there will be a victory that someone enjoys. But what we’re talking about is how we think about — and I’m going to use the term queer, and I’m fine with you guys using it, too.

I do because saying L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ is a really long thing. We don’t have all day. But I want to talk a little bit about Republicans and how our society treats queer children, parents, and teachers. This year has seen dozens of Republican led state legislatures attempt to impose laws around what can be taught in classrooms, who can play sports with whom, medical treatments, and more.

I think that for me, watching this as a bisexual married American who spent several years of my life working on making marriage equality a right for everyone in this country to have or ignore as they see fit, when I was working as Jim Obergefell’s speechwriter at the Human Rights Campaign, I firmly believe that the ethos behind these bills is extremely dangerous. And I will stand against them — which, I thought it was useful to have an actual conversation about them and what they mean.

So Russ, you wrote a big column entitled “How to Make Sense of the New L.G.B.T.Q. Culture War.” In as easily as one can sum up a very long piece, could you briefly break down how you are making a sense of these ideas and the strategy?

ross douthat

So the frame for the piece was basically that really, roughly in the period since Obergefell vs. Hodges was decided, since same sex marriage was declared a constitutional right, there has been a pretty large scale transformation in sexual identification among young people in this country. Where the share of Generation Z, meaning basically 18 to 25-year-old Americans at this point,

I think there’s some data suggesting this is true even of people who aren’t being polled, who are in high school right now, are much, much more likely to identify as — I mean, well, it’s actually probably worth using the acronym here, because there are differences. They’re more likely to identify as every letter in the L.G.B.T.Q. list. They’re particularly more likely to identify as bisexual. That is by far the largest category in this shift —

jane coaston

We did it!

ross douthat

—so when we say. [GOLDBERG LAUGHS] You did — you did it!

jane coaston

Whoo!

ross douthat

The increase in gay identification, lesbian identification, and especially transgender identification has gone way, way, way up in a very short amount of time. And my column basically tried to sort of organize or categorize different ways of thinking about this, with one way of thinking of it being, basically, this is great. This is sort of a long suppressed, repressed, persecuted aspect of human identity and human nature sort of just coming to the fore in a freer society.

And this kind of identification should be encouraged from whatever age it manifests itself. And this perspective is the basis for a range of pretty novel curricula for younger kids, which you could distill as like the “gender unicorn.” If listeners want to Google that to see sort of what kind of curricula are being developed all the way up through — in high school, especially — this is a pretty big change.

And there’s a perspective that is basically leaning into it and is all for it. There is a conflicted perspective that says a lot of this is the equivalent of the sort of “lesbian for college” self-identification that I think certainly was familiar when at least Michelle and I were in college. Right, that it’s a younger generation experimenting, identifying in ways that are different from older generations, but it probably isn’t or certainly isn’t necessarily some permanent revelation about human nature.

And it’s not clear that you want to sort of graft ideological assumptions onto it, that you want to treat it sort of uncritically as something to always be taken literally, let alone intervene medically in every case. That’s sort of the uncertain middle ground.

And then there’s the third category, which is the conservative position, but one that encompasses, interestingly, a certain kind of feminist argument, and a certain kind of conservative, pro same sex marriage argument, that basically there’s something kind of dangerous here, that there’s a kind of social contagion effect here where kids who in other circumstances, let’s say, would just identify as a lesbian, more being encouraged to identify as transgender.

Kids who would otherwise identify as straight are being encouraged to sort of treat the uncertainties of adolescence as a reason to feel alienated from their own bodies, and that therefore you need some kind of resistance against this. You need some kind of reassertion of normativity. And for the conservatives, that would mean heteronormativity.

For the sort of gay and feminist critics, that would mean biological normativity — the idea that it’s essential to make the largest number of kids possible reconciled to their own biological realities, and not have a situation where the relatively small number of kids who really do have gender dysphoric feelings are treated as an identity that a larger number of people should effectively identify into, right?

So that debate has sort of been going on, but not really foregrounded in places — like, honestly our own newspaper to some extent — but it’s sort of been percolating behind the scenes for a while, and has now sort of exploded with these various forms of legislation which are in red states, in conservative states, attempts to basically put the force of law behind the third perspective in various different ways.

jane coaston

Michelle, how did these efforts come to the fore, because you’ve been chronicling some of these attacks state by state. Does Ross’s interpretation of where these bills are coming from seem correct to you?

michelle goldberg

I think that he’s correct, that is the sort of background. Although in some ways, both the trajectory of these laws and the kind of public controversy around them, and also just how difficult it is to sometimes nail down exactly what we’re talking about reminds me of the critical race theory debate, in that there’s a high brow defense of some of the bans on critical race theory that will point to the most egregious examples of kind of bullshit D.E.I. speak, and say, do you really want this in your schools?

And the people who are opposed to these bans, as I am, will say — you know, no, I don’t like this stuff, but that’s not really what we’re talking about. In practice his is about the teaching of history under the guise of banning critical race theory. It’s not just that they’re teaching watered down Robin DiAngelo. They’re purging the library of books about Ruby Bridges. And I think there’s something similar here, where there’s things about the way that some people on the left talk about gender now that I don’t love.

I don’t like the language of assigned gender at birth, assigned sex at birth, which makes it seem as if it was sort of arbitrary. It’s not really how it works. It’s not that the doctor looks at you and makes a guess. They make a sort of determination. So there’s parts of this that I’ve always been uncomfortable with, and I’ve been writing about these issues for many years. But I don’t think that in general that is what’s happening in schools.

And I also don’t think that schools have really that much to do — certainly not as much as the internet — to do, with changes and understanding of gender and sexuality, or queerness, or the huge rise that we’ve seen in adolescent girls who want to transition. In practice, what you see with these bills is that they are not just banning the most sort of, like, recondite aspects of queer theory, but they end up being used to persecute gay teachers, to make the existence of trans identity unspeakable in public schools.

And I think that’s what they’re meant to do, right? The things that might make the kind of people in the middle of Ross’s taxonomy uncomfortable, they’re not just addressed to that. It’s a much more thorough purging, and it’s a very similar playbook to what we saw with critical race theory.

jane coaston

Right, it seems to me that there is an argument among some that you can separate out — like, that there’s, like, no. Like, trans people, that’s different, but we can be OK with lesbian, gays, and bisexual people. But as we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, it’s never happened that way. That’s never been what it is. We are locked in this room with you.

ross douthat

So Jane, do you think that gay skeptics of, again, let’s say the sort of “gender unicorn” approach to teaching kids, that those people are just deluded? That they are essentially handing the pitchforks to the anti-gay mob?

jane coaston

I think so.

ross douthat

So like, people who are concerned about kids who are gay and lesbian being encouraged — it’s just a complete category error that they’re making?

jane coaston

I think that it’s a category error for a couple of reasons. I think a lot about the experiences of being a queer kid, which I was. And first and foremost, I think that the idea that many people have where it’s, like — well, you could just be a gender nonconforming kid. You could just be a masculine girl or a feminine boy. And that would be fine. But if you have ever been to school or lived life, you’re aware that isn’t fine for many people.

The types of prejudice that trans kids face is in many ways very similar to the types of prejudice that gender nonconforming kids face, that gay and lesbian kids face. That’s something here that really bothers me about the parlance around these bills. Just giving you the example of the Florida bill, it is discussed as if it is a sex ed bill. It isn’t. It simply says classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3, or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.

Now, besides the fact that there are no state standards for talking about L.G.B.T. people in Florida, and no one knows what developmentally appropriate means, and we’ll all have to find out in court, the idea of social contagion, that there would be fewer trans kids, or trans people, or fewer L.G.B.T. people writ large if they just didn’t hear about it in school, or in movies, or somewhere else — which seems to assume that there would be a correct level of L.G.B.T. people, and now we have too many.

michelle goldberg

But Jane, can I ask you a question?

jane coaston

Of course.

michelle goldberg

Do you make, if you totally dismiss the idea of social contagion, what do you make of the fact that it used to be mostly trans girls who presented at these gender identity clinics, and now it’s, like, trans boys, so people who are born female and now want to identify as male.

My understanding is that it’s kind of a different presentation than these clinics used to see like in that there’s a kind of co-presentation with a lot of other mental health conditions that can be hard for families and clinicians to disentangle, because — are the mental health conditions like a result of sort of not having access to gender affirming care? Or are they things that are kind of going on simultaneously, and maybe creating the impression that transitioning will cure all of these other maladies?

How I see it is that there’s sort of a ratchet going on, which is that, clearly, some kids need this kind of care and benefit from it. And they’re being oppressed in these red states, where it’s not just that they can’t mention it in school — right? In Texas, it’s being redefined as child abuse. And in some states, they’re trying to make this punishable — giving kids puberty blockers or whatever — punishable by long prison terms. I think that is happening.

And at the same time, you have in certain parts of the country, people like Erica Anderson, the trans psychologist, who used to be kind of a leader in one of the main trans medical organizations, who’s now saying that standards are getting really sloppy. And some people are getting these treatments who go on to regret them. Again, it seems to me as like a ratchet. Because those cases of regret, which we don’t really publicize, but are hugely publicized on the right, then become a sort of cudgel or an excuse to ban this care altogether.

And the fact that these bans are happening, and that trans kids and their families are so beleaguered, makes people on the left extremely reluctant to sort of support any kind of new guardrails even where they might be called for.

jane coaston

That was a lot of questions, but I’ll go through all of those. And then I want to talk a little bit about these larger ideas about how sexual orientation and gender identity work or don’t work. I would say first and foremost that whenever we’re talking about numbers of people, and like a rise in numbers of people, I’m like, well, what has changed? What has changed in the context? And so yes, I think that there are more trans boys and trans men transitioning.

And I think that there’s a fascinating thing that we do in our culture, which is if we are talking about trans women, we are always talking about adults — the way that trans women are cast in our parlance, especially on the right, as just kind of like evil, ugly adults. We saw that with the bathroom bills. But trans men are cast as children. There seems to be this belief that trans men will grow out of a “tomboy” phase. Like, they don’t fully understand their decision, even when they’re, like, 25.

I just think that it matters to talk about the people for whom it works. Mental health outcomes are really challenging to decontextualize, because you talked about people who receive gender affirming care, but who are also living with other mental health difficulties. Which like, yeah! It turns out that when I came out as just a young non-heterosexual, that was great. But it didn’t fix everything. Like, I was still dealing with anxiety and depression.

And I would just like to note here that at no time in the history of human civilization has it been a better time to be me than it is right now. At no time. Whenever people on the internet are like, oh, what year would you want to go back to? I say none, absolutely none. I would go back to 2019, and that’s as far as I’m going back, because I think that — Ross, you brought up the idea of social contagions.

And I want to ask, like, what if it’s social affirmation? Because I’ve talked to enough trans people, or people who are now out, or came out late in life. And a lot of it was, I wasn’t able to do this, or I tried to come out earlier and was rejected. All of these experiences are very complex. But the shifting in our society can be a reason as to why people are doing things that they know they wouldn’t have done 10 years ago.

So I think that how society —

ross douthat

OK, but think about it — but then, first, I totally agree with you that it’s totally reasonable to make the argument that this is just primarily affirmation. I think the view that this is primarily social affirmation is an incredibly widespread and powerful view. I also know, as someone who is a social conservative, if I had written a column in 2012, and I had, said, look, here’s what’s going to happen.

We’re going to have same sex marriage as the law of the land, and within five or 10 years, like a quarter of young people are going to identify as L.G.B.T.Q. And we’re going to have the President of the United States saying that the appropriate response to gender dysphoria is puberty blockers, hormone treatments, and eventually, potentially surgery. That is going to be the position of the Democratic Party.

If I had written that column — not you, but I think maybe Michelle would have responded that I was being crazy. That this was, like, the crazy alarmist perspective of social conservatives who think everything will get fluid and weird and crazy the second we allow same sex marriage. That that’s just nonsense. And everyone understands that sexuality is ingrained. It’s genetic. It’s biological. It’s not something that can change rapidly in a short period of time.

And this is what has happened. And I think there probably should be some room in the debate for conservatives to be able to say, well —

michelle goldberg

I told you so.

ross douthat

Maybe, without questioning —

jane coaston

You told me what then?

ross douthat

Well, then the question, is —

jane coaston

Is this bad?

ross douthat

Is all of this good? Is this just uncomplicatedly good?

jane coaston

Oh, nothing is uncomplicatedly good. I think that it’s all very complicated, but I would say that especially because these are moves being made by individuals who are in all sorts of contexts. And for some kids this is going to be the start of a truly wonderful life for them. And for some kids it will be an error, but it is an error that they are able to take — and I’d like to note here that you’ve brought up the idea of medical transition a couple of times.

But in Florida, D.O.H. policy discourages the support of even social gender transition. We’re not even talking about puberty blockers or surgery, or any of that. The idea here is that if you are a kid and you appear to be gender nonconforming, we can’t call you by a name that makes you feel like yourself. We can’t let you wear the clothes that make you feel like yourself. And I think that that’s what bothers me a lot about this debate.

And I’m curious, because I don’t have kids — not yet, anyway. Both of you are parents. But it feels as if a lot of this conversation is actually aimed at adults. They’re adults, talking to adults, or screaming at adults, or calling adults groomers. It is very easy to put things in the parlance of, oh, we’re just protecting kids. I think about how many of the moral panics we’ve ever endured as a country have been about the kids, or the children.

And we see that in the way that some on the far right have talked about these ideas, where you hear someone like Charlie Kirk, who is — we’re not talking, like, intellectual model, but someone who gets heard by a lot of people saying, that well, we let them have marriage, and now they’re coming after our kids. The idea here is not, I am deeply concerned about trans young people. The idea here is those evil homosexuals are recruiting our kids.

How do you fit this into this overall political context, where we’re talking about the parental rights of some parents, and talking about the rights of some kids. And I’m just curious how you think about this.

ross douthat

There are a few different things here going on. One, I completely agree with you that whatever the primary cultural driver of any of these trends are, it is not K through 3, or K through six, or high school education. It’s a sort of adolescent culture, internet-mediated phenomenon, and the alternative theory that this is just people’s actual nature coming to the fore, then obviously the schools aren’t the ones driving that either.

However, the schools are inevitably the sort of politically governed place, as you said at the start, where we hash out how we talk about these things, what concepts we introduce to children at what age, and also how you navigate the question of where do parents’ powers end, and teenage sort of self-determination begin. So the Florida law rather famously uses the word instruction, and says there’s not going to be any instruction on these subjects, both sexual orientation and gender identity, right?

And so the question then is, what is instruction? What is instruction? And is instruction —

jane coaston

And no one seems to be quite clear.

ross douthat

Right well, and that’s because in part, the coalition that is anxious about these new trends includes both people who are very socially conservative and either think same sex marriage was a mistake, or are generally uncomfortable with homosexuality, and also people who are very comfortable with same sex marriage and homosexuality, and are uncomfortable with the way gender issues are being taught in schools.

And therefore, the balance that you would actually want is the teacher who has to talk about why a kid in their class was dressed as a girl one week and now is dressed as a boy or the teacher in that class who needs to talk sort of casually about how Billy or Jane has two daddies, and some families have two daddies. All of that doesn’t seem like instruction.

jane coaston

Right.

ross douthat

To me, instruction means curriculum. And I think the curricula that I’ve seen are not good, but if you take a law and say instruction means any conversation, then that is both unworkable and something that I totally agree, that— you’re totally reasonable to be concerned about it. But I think there’s an ambiguity here.

michelle goldberg

Well, and this is what I think gives lie to the kind of parents’ rights framing.

jane coaston

Right.

michelle goldberg

Right, because it’s not really about parents’ rights in many places. I mean, certainly Texas is not about parents’ rights, when it’s threatening child protective services investigations of parents who make the decision to let their children begin transitions, which — I think there are cases where this is done cavalierly, or more cavalierly than I think is appropriate. But in most cases, these parents are doing a lot of research and agonizing over this, and making the decision after like a lot of thought about their kids, who they know really well.

And Texas is basically saying, no, we know better. So I think the parents’ rights thing is a bit of a red herring. I do understand — I mean, I wish I had the right quote in front of me, but Margaret Mead wrote that every known human society has been organized around the kind of dichotomy of male and female, even if different societies attribute different qualities to one or the other, right? so gender is socially constructed, but there hasn’t been societies that don’t have this sexual dimorphism as a central organizing principle.

And modernity changes that. It means that men and women have much more similar roles, and that has always created fundamentalist backlashes and attempts to recreate a sort of lost social order, that often in the recreation of it ends up being even more punitive than the sort of original, traditional order. And so —

ross douthat

I just wanted to interject that I just went to see “The Northman,” [LAUGHTER] and I would dispute the claim that any evangelical or fundamentalist community anywhere in the United States has come close to recreating Viking patriarchy. Just putting that in there for the record.

michelle goldberg

OK, I’m going to give you that one, Ross.

ross douthat

OK, thank you.

michelle goldberg

OK, but I think then you get into trans issues, and you get into new forms of social organization that even further subvert the gender binary. I mean, I think there are people who are really cynically exploiting this. I also think there are people who really do see this as hugely destabilizing, as part of a sort of broader social breakdown. I think all of us would probably agree that the broader social breakdown is happening? We disagree on the causes of it.

There’s people who look around, they see a country that’s like extremely chaotic, where all sorts of bonds are fraying. And to them, this is part of it. And so the right has been able to exploit that anxiety and give people who are anxious about this scapegoats for it. And I don’t think so far that progressives have had a great response to this anxiety, because in some sense they kind of just don’t want to talk about it.

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jane coaston

I want to back up a little bit, because we’re talking about these individual debates, and we’re talking a lot about Florida. But I think that a lot of these bills seem to spring from what I would say is a willful misunderstanding of how people like me became ourselves. That for L.G.B.T. adults, something happened. You get bopped on the head, or you saw the movie “Mannequin.” Something happened to you at some point, and if it just wouldn’t have happened. You would not be L.G.B.T.

We saw in 2016 that Republicans had a — an armistice on L.G.B.T. issues, sort of. And I want to be very clear on the sort of, because I think some of it was performative. You had Peter Thiel at the 2016 Republican National Convention. You had Trump holding that pride flag that was scrawled on.

And there was a sense from Trump that he just simply did not care about these issues, which that is one thing about him that I totally believe. I simply believe that he just does not really care that much.

That does not mean that social conservatives stopped caring about it. And I talked to social conservatives after the Bostock Supreme Court decision, and they were very upset. But what do you think is going on since 2016?

ross douthat

Well, I mean, part of it is that there has been, again, just to go back to where I began, a dramatic statistical, at least, transformation in the self-identification of American youth that very few people, liberal or conservative, would have predicted 10 years ago. And second, that the arguments being made by the liberal or progressive side about what is in play here, and the nature of sexual identity and sexual orientation, have changed a lot.

And have, in some cases, made a kind of 180 degree change, where it really was the case that the core argument around same sex marriage and acceptance of homosexuality and gay people, the argument that triumphed over Anita Bryant, that triumphed over all of the social conservative arguments against it — and very easily, in the end, relative to people’s expectations — was that homosexuality was not a choice. Whether it’s fully genetic or biological, whatever it is, it is deeply ingrained.

You know — and that you can imagine a society that has a lot of straight people, a smaller number of gay people who behave in vaguely the same ways. And look, obviously, what I’m describing sounds simplistic and naive. I thought it was simplistic and naive at the time. But this was the argument, right? And now, in a relatively short amount of time, we have switched to an argument of, well, of course, we always knew that gender identity was totally fluid and that people would sort of move in and out of identities.

And all of that has happened in combination with a change in how medical authorities and systems handle trans-identifying youth, that has happened in a way that leads to at least some cases of serious regret for — not social transitioning, but you know, treatments that sterilize people, that lead to mastectomies, that — and again, all of this happened in a relatively short amount of time without substantial debate.

And I guess one of my issues with how this conversation works is that some of these laws are really bad. Some of them I think are more debatable. But people are very concerned about hypothetical cases drawn from these laws. But we have either a total comfort, or in many cases just a sort of silence in liberalism about the possibility that we were running serious medical interventions without a lot of evidence on kids, on 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds.

And that has actually happened. It has happened in large, not massive numbers, but substantial numbers.

michelle goldberg

Oh, I don’t think it’s happened in substantial numbers. I mean, the numbers of 13 and 14-year-olds who are getting cross sex hormones — there’s, like, a horrible dearth of research on this — but they are pretty small.

ross douthat

You can see the number of clinics going way, way up, which tells you something. But yeah, we’re operating in part on the basis of anecdote rather than data.

jane coaston

When we’re talking about trans people, the way numbers can be used can be incredibly harmful. When you talk to trans people who are, like, why didn’t you transition earlier? A lot of people tried. Yeah, get people rigorous help. Give people the best medical support they can possibly have. That seems pretty obvious to me. What we are talking about when we’re talking about trans kids is that, in general, we’re talking about kids who socially transitioned.

They might start using a different name. They might start wearing different clothes. But it seems to me that if you are a parent and you’ve worked with doctors, and you’ve worked with your kid, and you are all making decisions together, to have the state of Texas come in and say, look, you’re abusing your kid, that seems like bullshit to me.

We can’t get into all of this, or we will be here literally all day. But I do want to ask both of you before we end, this issue is incredibly contentious. And I feel like contentious even makes it sound like we’re talking about policy, but we are also talking about people. But is this a strategy — like, is this a brilliant debate to rope-a-dope me into having these conversations 87 million times, and is that going to help the Republicans in the midterms? Like, is this a political strategy? What’s going on here?

And Michelle, where are Democrats on this, and where should they be?

michelle goldberg

Well, look, I think it’s a difficult conversation for Democrats, because it’s sort of a classic wedge issue, where I’m guessing that you have a large number of Democratic voters who are uneasy, but probably even more fervent group of Democratic voters who expect the party to be stalwart in supporting a maximally gender affirming policy.

Right, I mean the reason that the right makes such use of detransitioners is because they represent something very difficult for the Democratic Party and people who care about L.G.B.T.Q. rights, people who just care about defeating the right more generally. You know, it becomes a wedge issue. I tend to think that the best approach is to just talk about them forthrightly. You know, somebody that I made a comparison to abortion regret.

And they said in the same way that the right loves to dwell on women who regret abortions, even though studies show that most women don’t regret their abortions, and actually, women who get abortions fare much better on all sorts of social and psychological measures than women who are denied abortions at a similar time in pregnancy. But I also think that if abortion regret became a big issue. It would just make more sense to be, like, OK, fine.

Let’s look at it instead of saying —

jane coaston

Right.

michelle goldberg

No, this discussion just helps the right, and women don’t regret their abortions, and that’s all there is to it. I think it is better to remove some of the taboos about having these discussions, even though I do think that the reason it’s so hard to have these discussions is because there’s such intense fear of playing into the right, because even people who are concerned about this stuff among liberals still believe that there are trans kids and trans people, and that their rights are under attack.

And so at a time when people are in a defensive crouch, it’s very difficult to then have a sort of dispassionate discussion about treatments that some people regard as a matter of life and death.

jane coaston

Ross, I remember mere months ago when this started with Florida’s legislation, and it was a conversation about instruction regarding gender identity in the classroom. And then it has spun wildly into the Republican Party killing Disney’s special district. So I’m curious to hear from you as to — from the Republican perspective, what is going on here? And what is the endgame in your view?

ross douthat

I mean, I don’t know what the end game is. There’s totally potential for Republicans to dramatically overreach. I think the DeSantis and Disney thing, in a way, would require an entirely different episode. But I think it’s part of a larger pattern of Republicans and their relationship to big business, at a time when a lot of corporations are under internal pressure to be publicly progressive.

And I think that to the extent that the DeSantis gambit is popular among Republicans, it’s in that larger context. Just like, OK, we need some kind of political strategy where we use politics to balance against the progressive employees of Silicon Valley. We can’t get Elon Musk to buy every company. So if the Florida law leads to high profile firings of gay teachers, it will be very unpopular. I could be wrong, but that would be my expectation.

But I think we are only a few years removed from social conservatives consistently losing debates not just about gay rights, but about trans rights. And I wouldn’t assume that underlying dynamic has been transformed, which is why I think, to agree with Michelle, I think it’s helpful for liberals to sort of figure out, well, what is — not what is driving the backlash against the most religious of religious conservatives, but what is making this seem like a good political move for Republican governors in purplish states? And for that, you do have to look —

michelle goldberg

I’m sorry to interrupt, but I just want to say, I think that what liberals should be trying to figure out is just what do we think is the right policy, not in reaction to what the right is doing.

ross douthat

Yeah, I agree with — I endorse that take.

jane coaston

I still have a great deal more to say on the subject, and I’m sure you both do too. But for now, let’s leave it here. Michelle, Ross, thank you so much for talking about this with me.

ross douthat

Thank you, Jane. Thank you for—

michelle goldberg

Thank you so much.

ross douthat

Thank you for enabling heated discussion.

jane coaston

Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg are Times Opinion columnists. And we’ll link to Ross’s column. It’s called, “How to Make Sense of The New L.G.B.T.Q. Culture War.” I also want to leave you with one statistic, because we talked a lot in this episode about how many trans people have second thoughts about their transitions. Generally, we’re discussing medical transitions, to be clear there. There are lots of trans people who do not pursue medical transition.

Now, it’s a tricky question, but there have been some studies that have tried to answer it. And one survey of those studies found that of the people who have undergone gender-affirming surgeries, the number of them who regret it is only about 1 percent. Finally, we’re opening comments on today’s episode. So now that you’ve listened, feel free to leave your thoughts, and I will look forward to your very civil debates and respectful disagreement.

The Argument is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez, and Vishakha Darbha. Edited by Alison Bruzek and Anabel Bacon, with original music by Isaac Jones and Pat McCusker. Mixing by Pat McCusker. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris and Mary Marge Locker. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta, with editorial support from Kristina Samulewski. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Dr. Stephanie Roberts at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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