Bawer is the author of While Europe Slept, Surrender,
and The Victims' Revolution. His novel The Alhambra
was published in 2017.
quickly the world has changed.
I was a young man in the 1980s and ’90s, being gay was
a serious social stigma—and worse. It could land you
in prison. Coming out was an act of courage. It involved risks
but it yielded wholeness.
counted myself lucky when, in the late 1990s, I fell in love
with a Norwegian. Although, under American law, he couldn’t
move to the United States to be with me, his country had enacted
a partnership law in 1993 that made it possible for me to
move to Norway to be with him.
spent several years of my writing career trying to persuade
Americans to support gay rights—and, in particular,
to encourage parents to support their gay kids. (Back then,
it was not uncommon for parents to throw their gay kids out
into the street.) At times, this could be an unpleasant job.
Appearing in the 1990s on call-in radio shows, I was regularly
targeted with verbal abuse by listeners who were outraged
at the thought of, say, openly gay soldiers serving in the
was a plus side, too. Parents of gay kids wrote to thank me
for bringing their families back together. Gay people said
I’d saved their lives. I’m not saying this to
brag, but to give a brief sense of what life was like for
gay Americans a generation or so ago.
though stressful, my endeavors ultimately proved worthwhile.
Steadily, attitudes toward gay people improved. It was good
to feel that I’d played a small part in that change.
the United States finally did get same-sex marriage, I closed
up shop. We’d won. Yes, hostility toward gay people
still existed, but it was greatly diminished and plainly on
its way out. I went on to write about other topics. So did
other writers who’d fought the good fight.
the smooth operators—the self-seeking activist hustlers—stayed
put. Having already rebranded the gay-rights movement with
the letters “LGBT,” they repurposed it—with
the help of clueless donors—as a megaphone for radical
being gay had never had anything to do with being trans. Nothing.
Nada. Being gay is a relatively common sexual orientation;
it’s about whom you’re attracted to and fall in
love with. To be trans—to think you were born into the
wrong sex—is to suffer from gender dysmorphia, which,
until the current craze, was very rare.
no connection between the two things. Zero. But soon (as I
discussed in an article last month) they were being yoked
together everywhere. And it wasn’t just transsexuality.
Other letters were added into the mix: Q for queer or questioning,
I for intersex, A for asexual, and so on. Two-Spirit. Demisexual.
Graysexual. Poke around online and you’ll find long
lists of these terms.
some of these things really exist, but they are extremely
rare. For example, there are a tiny number of asexuals—people
who don’t experience sexual attraction at all—but
why would they even need a label? Why mark them as not experiencing
something—let alone dedicate a movement to it? Who gets
beat up or denied a job for being asexual? Similarly, one
in 2,000 or so people is born intersex—with a combination
of male and female body parts. Real transsexualism also occurs,
but very infrequently.
of the other currently popular labels, however, are just newfangled
nonsense. Most were invented the day before yesterday. So
was the cockamamie notion that an individual can be called
“they” or “them.” Yet the young people
who slap these labels and pronouns onto themselves expect
us to play along without the slightest discussion or debate.
They scream bloody murder if someone else “dead-names”
them or refuses to use their pronoun of choice. They’re
so spoiled they think they should be able to alter our society’s
understanding of basic facts of life by fiat, without a moment’s
challenge from anybody. This is the very height of vanity
me to note, by the way, that in every few thousand people
there are one or two who aren’t chromosomally either
XX or XY. They have Turner’s syndrome (XO) or Klinefelter
syndrome (XXY). There are even rarer chromosomal combinations,
such as XYY and XXXY. But oddly, in all the contemporary talk
of multiple genders, few people ever seem to mention these
authentic biological variants.
defend the kids who pounce onto these gender labels like a
dog attacking a bone, a lot of them don’t even realize
that all this stuff is brand-new. They hear about these labels
from their friends and teachers; they see them used online.
They read over and over that “gender identity is on
a continuum,” with a potentially infinite number of
variants. (From a website called “Teen Talk”:
“There are many different gender identities, including
male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender,
pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all,
none or a combination of these.”)
so they climb on board. They’re too young and naïve
to grasp that they’ve signed up for a bizarre, half-baked
ideology that didn’t exist before they were born.
suspect you don’t hear people in the Dharavi slum in
Mumbai, or Ezbet el Haggana in Cairo, or the favelas
of Rio, talking very much about the continuum of gender. No,
this is the domain of privileged First World youth—Americans
in particular. When Americans go to the supermarket, we expect
to be able to choose among a couple of hundred brands of soft
drinks, cookies, breakfast cereal, toothpaste, you name it.
Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that millions of young Americans
would jump on the gender bandwagon, with its countless identity-label
options. Why settle for less?
why are they so quick to jump onboard? Because things have
changed. Being gay, as I’ve mentioned, was once a stigma.
Coming out took courage. Nowadays, being part of this relatively
new alphabet community—which began its history with
L for lesbian, G for gay, and B for bisexual, but has long
since left gay men and women in the dust—is considered
Being gay was never cool. It was about growing up feeling
different, feeling strange, feeling alone. It was about going
through a difficult process of self-discovery that ended with
the recognition and acceptance that, yes, you were gay. And
after that it was about going through another difficult process—that
of coming out, one by one, to your family and friends, some
of whom, back in those days, inevitably would reject you,
breaking your heart. This coming-out process usually didn’t
end until you were in your 20s, or later. Often it took much,
by contrast, grabbing onto one of the letters in LGBTQIA+
is a style choice for teenagers and even for younger children.
It’s a way for people who are, in reality, nothing more
than ordinary heterosexuals to feel exotic and interesting,
to get attention and approval from everybody around them,
and to instantly gain membership in the coolest of communities.
did heterosexuals start calling themselves queer? One of the
pioneers on this wagon train to hell was Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
(1950-2009), who came up with what is called queer theory.
Like critical race theory, it’s not so much a theory
as a set of inane propositions with no connection to reality.
Sedgwick was a heterosexual woman married to a heterosexual
man, and by all accounts they had a very conventional personal
life. But she called herself queer. For her, the word had
nothing to do with sexual orientation or sexual conduct. It
was about being part of a supposedly subversive intellectual
movement—this, even though she was, in succession, a
famous professor at two very elite universities, Duke and
New York University.
was what is today called “genderqueer.” In an
article last October, Cosmopolitan explained that
“Genderqueer refers to someone who enjoys playing with
[the] political and activist sense of the experience of expressed
gender.” Key word: playing. Being gay—coming out
as gay—was never about “playing.” It was
about opening up the most vulnerable part of yourself.
genderqueer person,” continues Cosmo, “may
identify as neither gender, both, or a combination. They do
not subscribe to the traditional gender binary.” So
it’s not about who you really are, in your heart of
hearts, but about what you “subscribe to.” Meaning
what? A sex therapist explained to Cosmo that “I identify
as genderqueer, because a lot of times I feel like a woman,
and a lot of times I feel like a dude who feels like wearing
women’s clothes. Sometimes I feel like a dude who doesn’t
wear women’s clothes. I think that it’s a complicated
it’s not complicated. By your own testimony, it’s
about stuff like clothes. Interesting? Not remotely. If you’re
driven to seek attention by yammering on about whether you
dress like a woman or a man on any given day, you really have
incredibly little to offer. Or so, at least, it should be
in a sane world.
major influence on today’s gender narcissism is Judith
Butler, a Berkeley professor who uses the pronoun “they”
and whose 1990 book Gender Trouble encourages readers
to view gender as a performance. Well, Butler has won. Years
ago, seeking gay rights was, quite simply, about wanting to
eliminate discrimination on the basis of a fundamental and
profound aspect of one’s personal identity. Today’s
alphabet soup of gender labels is, more often than not, nothing
more than a very shallow way for otherwise uninteresting straight
people to be noticed. In short, it’s all performance.
ago, when you came out as gay, you committed to something.
Often, when kids today announce that they belong in this or
that gender category, they also make a point of emphasizing
the fluidity of these categories: as they put it, they’re
“gender-fluid.” The idea is that they can put
these labels on and take them off with ease, on a whim, like
someone exchanging Nikes for Adidas. They think this fluidity
makes them fascinating. In fact it just shows that deep down,
none of this stuff really means anything to them. It’s
frivolous attention-getting—and it’s piggy-backing
onto something that was, and is, serious and meaningful.
ago, when gay people of my generation came out, we didn’t
want to be cool. Or be loved by the world. Or to get attention.
(The whole problem was that being gay got us too much attention—and
of the wrong kind.) All we wanted, most of us—and I’m
not talking about the relatively small number of radical activist
types, but about the millions of ordinary gay men and women—was
to be able to live our lives fully, freely, and in peace.
it’s the opposite. There are no limits to what the alphabet-soup
crowd demands. In 2021, when a man who claims to be a woman
walks around buck naked in a spa for women and girls, anybody
who dares to protest is accused of being a transphobe, a bigot,
an enemy of “LGBT rights.” This sort of outrage
is the very antithesis of what we once campaigned for. It
could not have less to do with two men or two women loving
current madness has other dire consequences. A large percentage
of kids who, a couple of decades ago, would have recognized
themselves as gay are today likely instead to be persuaded
by all the trans PR, and by parents and teachers and psychologists
who are in thrall to the current fads, that they’re
members of the opposite sex. The results: 1) a partial erasure
of homosexuality and 2) needlessly confused young gay people—some
of whom, thinking falsely that they’ll be happier with
a different, if fake, set of genitals and gonads and secondary
sex characteristics, will submit themselves to surgical mutilation.
will all this gender narcissism lead? Nothing remains cool
forever: that’s the nature of cool. The pendulum never
stops swinging. Eventually it will swing back. There will
be a blowback against all this. And it’ll hit gay people
like me, too. And any gay people who have encouraged this
mischief will deserve what they get.