Comments Are Off For One Month
I am turning off comments on this newsletter until Monday, June 13th. I’m doing so because my very explicit and simple request that comments stay on-topic and at least somewhat germane to the issue at hand has been ignored by too many people. Specifically, I am done with the comments on every post on this newsletter becoming a forum on trans issues. I have made my stance very clear: I respect trans people and their gender identities, I use their preferred pronouns, I believe trans people should be protected by anti-discrimination and hate crimes law, and I want them to enjoy the same full legal, political, and social equality under the law as anyone else. I have also said repeatedly that I do not have the understanding or perspective necessary to have an opinion on when and how children should begin transitioning. Yes, there are elements of identity madness that are present in our national conversation on trans people, but that is a literally universal feature of our political discourse today and in no way reflects poorly on trans people themselves, only our times. And I would remind everyone that for any identifiable minority group there is an activist class that is often quite distinct from the larger population.
I do, however, recognize that trans issues are political issues and that whether I like it or not, there is a political debate in this country about the status of trans people. Those who, for example, would exclude the existence of trans lives from K-12 education hold power and influence in our society. For this reason, and due to my general commitment to free speech, I have hosted comments on this newsletter that express legitimate political opinions on trans issues that I disagree with. One of the worst elements of the current state of free exchange in this country is that the suppression of certain viewpoints has badly deluded liberals and leftists about the popularity of their own opinions, and this topic is an example of where that’s the case. I don’t think it behooves anyone to silence opinions that may very well win the day in the political arena. Accordingly, some opinions that would be excluded from many progressive spaces that I have not censored here include
The idea that trans men or women are not “really” men or women
The argument that transwomen should not be permitted to participate in women’s sports
The belief that minors should have to wait until X years old before they start the process of transitioning, particularly medically
That trans advocates (whether trans or cisgender) have been unusually censorious or aggressive in their role in the culture war.
Those are ideas that you can express here, as are others. But you can express them when it is appropriate to the topic at hand. And there is a small number of people here who have created a situation where “the trans debate” starts up whether I write about the earned income tax credit or Star Trek or anything else. And, yes, this is a special case I’m making, and I’m doing it because I’ve been forced to. Why do I have to make this specific regulation, when I don’t with other issues? Again, because a numerically small but loud percentage of the commenters have been so relentlessly fixated in this regard. If you’re mad that I have to constrain conversation in that way, get mad at them. I have had enough of that, and since I gave a warning to all of you recently and it was ignored by a committed few, I am shutting down comments as a means to demonstrate how serious I am.
When we return, you will still be free to voice legitimate political perspectives on trans issues as you were before. But I will be assertive in ensuring that the topic does not constantly reappear in a way that makes my trans readers and commenters feel unwelcomed. (None of whom, for the record, have put me up to this.) I will also draw a line between what I see as ideas and arguments and what I see as personal attacks or insults, as I already do for any other community. That includes intentionally or repeatedly misgendering someone after you’ve been corrected, which will result in a ban. For those who say that respecting someone’s gender identity violates your views on trans issues, first, I don’t give a fuck, and second, you have the eminently easy option of simply not gendering someone at all. It’s not at all hard to discuss someone (or, better yet, their ideas) without referencing their gender. I don’t think the average person feels compelled to say, “Tom Cruise, who I must remind you is a cisgender man….”
Also, I am frustrated by the fact that this problem is often a meta-problem where someone will mention my ban on off-topic stuff and then someone else will say “you know, trans issues wouldn’t be off-topic here because!” and then someone else rides in on their steed and says, “bastard, respect trans lives! Freddie said no off-topic comments, and now here’s eight paragraphs about the off-topic issue you brought up.” People who get into back and forth arguments with the subset of commenters who do this are part of the problem, and when I get things restarted again they’ll risk bans too. Just report the comments and don’t engage.
I will have a reminder of these basic rules - which are literally just “voice whatever political opinions you wish, but don’t set out to insult individuals, and keep it on topic” - when comments recommence. I will also be looking into hiring someone to moderate, as loathe as I am to do that. If I do, I will insist that that person be as lighthanded and committed to freedom of expression as I have been. And I have been. I defy anyone to say that the comments here have not been a very open space. However, this is my house. I feel like my position is pretty simple and consistent. I believe very strongly in the necessity of a robust and free exchange of ideas for a lot of reasons, including because democracy requires it. But as I said very clearly the last time I tried to rein the comments section in, my newsletter is not a platform for you, but for me. Comments are for discussion about the topics I choose. I told you: I am the god around here, and if you don’t like it, leave. I’m truly sorry for the large majority of commenters who don’t have this problem, and I’ll miss the discussion, especially on subscriber-only posts. We will be back in a month, and at that time I’ll be starting another Book Club. But I am breaking out the big stick to demonstrate my seriousness here.
The good news is that, since this is a paid newsletter and only subscribers can comment, you have a way to vote with your feet. If you find my decision to turn off comments offends you in and of itself, or if you are mad because you disagree with my commitment to making this space more inclusive for trans people, you can take your money elsewhere, which is of course your right. However, please don’t bother to write to me to tell me that you’re canceling your subscription. I will see if the number changes meaningfully in the coming month, and it’s much easier for you to cancel your subscription than it is for me to do it. Performatively saying “how do I cancel my subscription” is not the burn you think it is.
That’s it. I’ll see you on June 13th. This is my house, and I am cleaning it.