Leor Sapir, City Journal, June 20, 2022
Patricia (a pseudonym) is the mother of a teenage girl who in recent years has come to identify as transgender. She lives in California, considers herself progressive, votes Democrat, and leads a group for parents of children with rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD)—that is, youth who suddenly experience distress with their bodies and believe that undergoing medical “transition” will make them whole again. When I spoke to her recently, she recounted how her daughter’s at-first-lesbian and then trans identity emerged in response to feelings of shame about being white.
I have since spoken to more than a dozen ROGD parents and parent-group leaders who tell a similar story. Their schools compulsively tell their children how awful it is to be white, how white people enjoy unearned “privilege,” how they benefit from “systems” put in place by and for white people for the sole purpose of oppressing “people of color.” Plagued by guilt, the children—almost all of them girls—rush to the sanctuary of “LGBTQ+” identity. Once there, they are catapulted into hero status. According to Patricia, some teachers at her daughter’s school are more forgiving toward “queer” and “trans” kids who hand in their homework late.
The students, especially the girls, absorb this messaging. They are acutely sensitive to how identity affects their social status and academic fortunes. They want the warmth that comes with queer/trans identity, but above all they don’t want to be thought of as vicious oppressors. Lacking maturity and self-confidence, they fail to put “anti-racist” indoctrination in its proper context. They do not appreciate its ahistorical, anti-intellectual, and anti-humanist foundations, nor are they aware of the incentives leading teachers and administrators to foist it on them. Being white is not something these teenagers can escape, but they can mitigate its social costs by declaring themselves part of an oppressed group.
To understand what is going on in California and in other states, however, it is necessary to appreciate how the grounds for eligibility in this “community” have shifted in recent years. While both homosexuality and—depending on how you define it—transgenderism are said to be organic and unchosen, being “queer” or “non-binary” (or, again, “trans,” depending on definition) takes nothing more than an act of will; one need only declare oneself so. As a college lecturer, I had students—virtually all of them white females—who had female names, female pronouns, and a female-typical look, but who self-identified as “queer.” For many of these young women, being queer can mean simply not seeing themselves reflected in the most two-dimensional stereotypes of femininity. And who can blame them?
A recent study by Eric Kaufmann confirms the new meaning of LGBT among young Americans. “Whereas in 2008 attitudes and behavior were similar,” he writes, “by 2021 LGBT identification was running at twice the rate of LGBT sexual behavior.” The recent explosion in LGBT identification among Generation Z seems to be driven mainly by young, white, very liberal women who self-identify as lesbian or bisexual but who do not necessarily have female partners. LGBT identity has become divorced from sexual behavior or erotic feeling, allowing anyone to belong on the basis of little more than a generalized dissatisfaction with contemporary sexual mores.
If Kaufman is right that LGBT identity is increasingly an expression of a more general left-wing politics, then it would be unsurprising to learn that progressive messaging about the prevalence of “white supremacy” is fueling trans identification within one of society’s most impressionable demographics. Josie and Devon (pseudonyms), two parents who lead the online support group Parents with Inconvenient Truths about Trans (PITT), told me how their sons’ exposure to gender-identity ideology in school was preceded by a prolonged “Marxist” analysis of American history.
Another option available to girls who wish to escape or at least mitigate their status as oppressors is to have a diagnosed mental-health problem—especially ADHD, multiple-personality disorder, gender dysphoria, depression, or anxiety. Patricia said that it is not uncommon for teenage girls in her daughter’s community to one-up one another constantly based on who has more (or more severe) diagnoses. Data compiled over the past decade show a huge upsurge in mental-health problems in youth of both sexes but especially among teenage girls and young women.
Much of the objectionable “anti-racist” curricula we see today in public schools has trickled down from schools of education, which have become centers for leftist indoctrination. Teachers hoping to immerse children as young as six in what Paulo Freire called “the pedagogy of the oppressed” is, of course, nothing new. Yet until 2020 or so, teachers who subscribed to this view of education might have been reluctant to implement its core principles in ways that would draw criticism from parents, school boards, and risk-averse administrators. Then George Floyd happened, and the “critical pedagogy” movement went into overdrive. The political environment made it dangerous for school administrators to seem neutral even toward radical forms of “anti-racist” curricula. The institutionalization of critical pedagogy was now a non-negotiable imperative, sanctified by the martyr of Minneapolis.
California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) seeks to integrate the principles of critical race theory into all aspects of school life, especially classroom instruction. ESMC is, to put it bluntly, an effort to codify Paulo Freire and pressure reluctant teachers and administrators into implementing his methods. It instructs teachers to “decolonize” their classrooms by bringing to the fore the perspectives, or “lived experiences,” of the oppressed. (“Lived experience” is a term that comes from existentialism and implies a revolt against scientific objectivity, but DEI trainers in schools tend to use it more as a form of epistemic affirmative action, implying—inconsistently—that there is no truth but also that the victim’s perspective is an objective and inarguable fact.) ESMC’s architects see themselves as disciples not of the liberal universalism of the Martin Luther King, Jr. but of the illiberal identitarianism of Malcolm X. As the preface to ESMC states, “the People of Color Power movements that emerged in the 1960s,” including the Black Power movement, “are the movements that Ethnic Studies rose from.”
Any effort to bring this mental and physical health crisis to an end will have to account for the soft infrastructure of the gender-identity movement. This means, among other things, acknowledging the deep but often unnoticed connection between “ethnic studies” (and various other iterations of “critical pedagogy”) and “LGBTQ+” identification. Instructed to view their humanity through the distortive lens of “white supremacy,” California’s teen girls are seeking refuge in puberty blockers, testosterone injections, and double mastectomies, while their parents are almost powerless to stop them. These girls are the sacrificial lambs offered up by the high priests of white guilt. The state’s ESMC was obviously not intended to visit disproportionate harm on girls and women, but perhaps the Left should heed the advice of its own prophet, Ibram X. Kendi, that we ought to judge a policy not by its intention but by its effects.