Has a sentence ever felt like a knife at your throat?
Have you ever read a piece of news and dropped into freefall, the world blurring around you and your phone while your stomach sinks because what you’re seeing can’t be real?
Has someone written something so wrong that it makes your bile rise and your hands shake? That you didn’t know a person could contain enough malice and ignorance to even think those words, let alone type them out and hit “Send”?
If you’re on Twitter, you’ve felt this countless times. There’s a reason we call it the hell site!
But it’s human nature: When someone espouses beliefs we don’t just disagree with but cannot abide, it feels like a transgression. When cold, hard reality pierces our warm, cozy information bubble, it feels like a violation. We want nothing more than to push them away, shut them up—and that tends to be true no matter what kind of bubble you’re in.
I didn’t feel that dread, that information-induced fight-or-flight when University of Virginia student Emma Camp’s op-Ed about campus groupthink dropped in The New York Times. After an aggrieved sigh and eyeroll that the Times had done it again, I mostly just felt the journalist’s disappointment of knowing the story broke too soon in the week for me to come up with a fresh take on it for This Very Essay.
But as real war rages on the other side of the world, tensions are escalating in our culture war—and there are already real casualties.
Texas’s Department of Family Protective Services is investigating nine families for child abuse, based on the Attorney General’s non-binding declaration that parents who provide gender-affirming care to their children are definitionally abusing them. It’s a vile, risible lie based on a stack of vile, risible lies.
At the bottom of that stack is a man named Jeffrey Younger.
As J. David Goodman wrote this morning in the very same Times, Younger’s anger at his ex-wife (a doctor) supporting one of their twins in a gender transition (that had been recommended by her doctors) led Younger down a cultural warpath—and his custody fight became a cause célèbre for those who believe childrens’ bodies are their parents’ private property.
Eight years after TIME Magazine declared we’d passed “the transgender tipping point,” and two years after archconservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion affirming trans Amercians’ Constitutional right to live and work free from discrimination, somehow we’ve got officers of the state hunting down loving parents for following the science-backed advice of their kids’ health professionals.
How did we get here? Well, anti-trans activists have been learning from their British counterparts. They’re leveraging lies about gender-affirming medical care (no, kids are not getting genital surgeries), lies about sports (no, trans girls are not ‘putting on dresses and winning gold medals’), and just plain lies to get their way.
Younger even told Goodman in his own words:
Conservative politicians used to make loud appeals to the “silent majority,” millions of theoretical Real Americans who surely would not agree with things like civil rights for Black people, reproductive rights, or gay marriage—no matter how many actual, real Amercians did agree with those things.
“Family values!” they would cry. How could anyone take a stand against good old family values? Well, anyone who could hear the oppression and hatred through the folksy euphemisms, which was most people.
Somewhere around the time we crossed the transgender tipping point, it became clear: There is no silent majority. Most Americans are just fine with LGBTQ everything, and say so when you ask them. Queer people have families, and families have queer kids.
Love, acceptance, and support are the real family values.
It’s useless to appeal to a presumptive shared truth when it is evidently not true, and it’s useless to appeal to a notional majority when everyone knows your viewpoint is in the minority. So right-wingers stopped pretending their worldview is true and started asserting their values are more important than truth.
That’s how we get a father who’d rather his ex-wife receive waves of threats and harassment than responsibly co-parent with her. Who’d rather cover the Internet with his daughter’s old photos and birth name—making her a global target for life—rather than use the new ones. Who’d rather make his family’s life a living hell for his own personal gain than admit his child can decide for themselves who they are.
If you wonder what kind of a person would do that?
Well, it’s the same kind of person who would go to college, intern for a conservative free-speech activist group, and pull some strings to get an op-Ed in The New York Times complaining about how oppressive it is that she and her friends feel like they have to lower their voices when they want to say something racist.
Or the kind of person who J.K. Rowling would claim was fired “just for stating that sex is real,” when actually her think-tank consultant contract was not renewed because she refused to stop doing stuff like harassing trans people through her real-name Twitter account with her employer in the bio, or distributing radical anti-trans literature at work.
It’s true that ‘both sides’ of the culture war have info-bubbles and bad actors, disinformation and extremists. No matter your stated values or alignment, surrounding yourself only with opinions you agree with is a great way to completely lose touch with reality.
But here we can easily separate fact from fiction: One side admitting the accurate reporting of facts contradicts their preferred fiction.
These people think their opinion of how the world should work are more important than how the world actually works. They’re so unused to experiencing any kind of discomfort about their identity they’re willing inflict pain, suffering, violence and even death on countless others to avoid ever having to feel it—and then glibly deny the people they’ve harmed felt anything at all.
They can’t tell the moral difference between feeling like a knife is at their throat and putting a knife to others’.
Longtime readers (seven months can be a “long time,” right?) know that I’m a massive fan of VICE Media’s video-game vertical, Waypoint. In fact, Gimme Schalter’s second-ever issue was about the process of landing a feature pitch there!
But I actually came to Waypoint through their podcast, Waypoint Radio—and Price, having recently come on board as a kick-ass co-host and co-producer, has been a welcome new voice in my ears.
Her voice, in fact, is the subject of this spectacular personal essay from 2020, which I discovered because it’s her pinned tweet. If you have any doubts about whether a trans person’s gender identity is ‘real’, or that access to gender-affirming care and support make real people’s lives materially better? Read, and erase them.
I was thrilled when my favorite bookish podcast, Print Run, returned from hiatus—and its first episode back was a deep dive into the way Millenial and Zoomer editors are leaving publishing houses in droves.
There are many reasons why working for a traditional book publisher is not for everyone—not even for many of the people who think it is for them. But even for those who’ve proven they can do the work at a very high level (despite big hours and small pay), the burden of carrying clueless rich guys around on billion-dollar litters is getting harder and harder to bear.
McGhee, an editor at prominent SFF publisher Tor Books, quit with an absolutely incredible flounce post that pins the tail on the donkeys:
“It’s a thousand indie video and tabletop games bundled together to raise funds for on-the-ground medical and children’s mental-health support for Ukrainians under siege, Michael. How much could it cost, ten dollars?”
I’ve been following Detroit native Terrell Starr for years—and he’s lived in Ukraine, working as an independent reporter, for much of the time.
Throughout the Russian invasion he’s been a fixture on TV networks, especially MSNBC, and all over Twitter and Instagram Live. While doing the work of reporting the facts on the ground, he’s also been doing the work of helping Ukrainian civilians make their way out of the country:
I really appreciated Rahal’s profile, highlighting both Starr’s achievements and his roots by talking to the sources and letting them tell the story, rather than leaning on narratives or shorthand.
The last few weeks of crescendoing dayjob stress built to a climax on Thursday, and this weekend I have a few busy weekends’ worth of neglected housework to do.
However, next week’s issue will mark the start of the hard offseason for me—and my serious return to fiction writing. Stay tuned.