The sadness of Sceptical Man (Victoria Smith, 28 March, 2024, The Critic)

As a topic, sex and gender causes particular problems for the man who views himself as a lofty, rational observer of other people’s madnesses. This is because in order to pass as occupying “the middle ground”, you still have to give a free pass to lots of insane things, as opposed to lots and lots of them. Instead of going full-on Long Chu — which would of course be too far! — you have to ignore plenty of stuff which, deep down, you know to be total bollocks. This probably makes you quite cross, only not with yourself. It’s the people who keep pointing it out who are the problem.

If it wasn’t for all those bigots who keep reminding you that human can’t change sex, no one’s born in the wrong body, and a twelve-year-old autistic girl who’s terrified of puberty is in no way comparable to a middle-aged man who gets off on wearing his wife’s tights, you’d be fine. Sure, these people are saying things that you, too, would have said six or seven years ago, but they’re the ones who have gone insane. It’s definitely not you who’s been radicalised. It’s the people who lack the nuance, curiosity and intellectual ingenuity to have started saying a few mad things and ignoring a few medical scandals on the basis that most people in their social circle are saying and ignoring them, too.

For those whose brand values — rationality! curiosity! scepticism! — are quite incompatible with any serious engagement with what has been happening, it has been necessary to portray it as a “culture war” between two equally extremist sides. There are the people who think sex isn’t binary, male people should be welcome in female-only spaces and sports, it’s fine to experiment on the bodies of children, JK Rowling is a terrorist, and then there are the people who think that sex is immutable, women are definable as a class of human beings and that biological sex is socially and politically salient. Both sides have to be treated as though they are equally irrational, in order to make it possible for self-styled voices of reason to shake their heads and performatively muse on what drives perfectly ordinary people to adopt such ludicrously polarised positions. Can’t they find some middle ground? Like, experiment on half the number of kids? Let uterus havers and bleeders call themselves adult human females every other Tuesday?

An alternative reading of the current situation —- one which acknowledges those who can still be bothered to speak the truth as whistleblowers, rather participants in an ever-increasing exchange of crazy ideas and violent threats — is not permissible.