On the January issue:

Misogyny and the Trans Movement

To the Editor:
Christine Rosen’s excellent article contains one problematic comment: that the difference between biological sex and gender identity is not the central issue (“The New Misogyny,” January).

As a psychiatrist, I disagree with the concept of “gender identity” and prefer the term “gender preference.” The latter term makes it clear that those who were born and grew up as one biological sex, and who have the chromosomes corresponding to this sex, may change their clothes, take hormones, or have radical surgery, but they will still be a man or a woman from birth who has undertaken such steps.

Why might they have undertaken those steps? Perhaps they were unhappy with being the sex they were born into—again, “preference,” not “identity.” Or they genuinely believe that they were born into the wrong body, which indicates a mental disturbance.
Joseph Berger, M.D.
Netanya, Israel

To the Editor:
Kudos to Christine Rosen for outlining in detail the essential nature of  transgender activism.

One thing she doesn’t mention is the fantastic element in contemporary claims that biology is not destiny. For if I can say that I am actually a man or a woman despite my biology, why can’t I say I am the King of England?
Marta Varela
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

To the Editor:
I just finished reading Christine Rosen’s “The New Misogyny.” As I read the last paragraph, I let out a loud “yes!”

The article contains all of the points that some of my closest friends and I have been discussing in private. It’s wonderful to see all the pieces of the puzzle put together in one place to demonstrate why this new trend is so terribly dangerous.

It’s too risky for me to speak out on this topic publicly at the moment, and the same goes for my friends. So thank you very much for saying these things out loud. And I cannot thank Commentary enough for publishing this piece and for taking the risk to put viewpoints like this out there. Essays such as this pave the way for more of us to feel supported in speaking out about why this trend just cannot be allowed to continue without frank discussion and debate.
Lisa Weiter
Columbus, Ohio

To the Editor:
Christine Rosen’s article on transgenderism and misogyny is well-written, comprehensive, and
 excellent. Rosen calls out trans activism for what it is: misogyny. This insanity—biological men on women’s sports teams, to take one egregious example—will not stop until everyday people lose their fear and say “enough.”  There may be some casualties along the way, but there will be no détente reached through discussion or reasoned dialogue. The opposing side is not looking for accommodation. It seeks cultural victory by destroying anyone who does not embrace its dogma.
John Murphy
Manila, Philippines

To the Editor:
The absurdities that Christine Rosen writes about are becoming more common, extreme, and compulsory. We live in a social world that recognizes no transcendent authority above it, no history behind it (except the history of its own coming into being), and no nature of things beneath it that cannot be transformed technologically into whatever we choose.

Sexuality isn’t simply biology. If male and female differ only by a few body parts plus or minus, then transitioning seems as innocuous as a kidney transplant or an amputation. Sexuality is much more fundamental. God didn’t make generic human stuff poured out into two kinds of bodies; he made two kinds of persons, two kind of humans. Our maleness and femaleness are integral to the creatures we are made to be. As soon as theorists started suggesting that sexual identity was socially constructed, the transgender movement was inevitable.
Isaac Pollak
New York City

Christine Rosen writes:
I appreciate Joseph Berger raising the issue of distinctions between the use of “gender identity” and “gender preference.” It is challenging to clarify such terms, and there is little consistency in how they are used in everyday discussion (I have also seen “gender expression”; “AFAB” or “AMAB,” Assigned Female at Birth and Assigned Male at Birth, respectively; Female- or Male-presenting, etc.). But the key point, as Dr. Berger notes, is that any term should recognize biological realities, as those biological realities have significant impact on individuals’ lives regardless of whether they are trans or not. At the very least, the biological realities should be part of any discussion of trans rights vs. women’s rights. Perhaps this is why the more radical elements of the trans movement have made a concerted effort to hijack the language one is “allowed” to use to discuss such realities; they do not wish to have an open debate about biology.

Lisa Weiter is correct to note a distinguishing feature of the current trans-rights movement: its willingness to shut down debate and label as transphobic anyone who raises objections to their project. This is not accidental. It is an effort to deny the vast majority of the public—and women in particular—the opportunity to raise legitimate concerns about personal privacy and safety. It also prohibits respectful dialogue about the potential risks to women including, for example, allowing born-male prisoners in women’s prisons, or born-male individuals to oversee women’s shelters.

This points to something several readers correctly observed, particularly Marta Varela: If one is able to “identify” as another biological sex, what is the limiting principle? Could not one also identify as a different race or species? And what are the possible negative effects of embracing such excessive individualism—an individualism that not only denies biological reality but insists everyone else deny it as well.

Both John Murphy and Isaac Pollak remind us of what this has already yielded, practically and culturally. Practically, the trans movement has succeeded in taking rights and opportunities away from women (in women’s sports but also in the workplace) while claiming they are advancing tolerance. At the cultural level, the trans movement’s efforts to coerce major institutions to accept their definition of reality and ignore the limits of biology have stifled our ability to hold the kind of open discussion of these issues that we so urgently need.


To the Editor:
John Podhoretz’s analysis of Stephen Sondheim’s career was excellent (“Stephen Sondheim’s America,” January). I quite agree that Assassins is a “full-frontal assault on the United States.” This point of view is prominent in much of the cultural establishment.

Sondheim’s work was frequently an emblem of otherness worn with pride by many sophisticates.
Alexander Goldstein
Brooklyn, New York

To the Editor:
John Podhoretz’s essay on Stephen Sondheim was filled with wonderful, informative analysis of a truly gifted artist. It was also an insightful view of the 1950s—as a time when popular cultural works were entertaining and well-written.

Sondheim’s insights into man’s ambivalent nature is worthy of close study. Think of Into the Woods. It is rich with psychological themes.  In a fairy-tale world of make-believe, we have suffering and moral ambiguity.  We have heroes who resort to deceit. From the show’s prologue: “We have to live / I don’t care how.”  We have villains with sympathetic motives.

Sondheim wrote of the tension between experience and reflection. And those lyrics, at their best, rival the work of Albert Camus as economical expressions of existentialism:

Oh, if life were made of moments
Even now and then a bad one, But if life were only moments,
Then you’d never know you had one.

In Camus’s The Stranger, Meursault is able to respond emotionally to life only once he is condemned to die and recognizes the transitory nature of existence. For Sondheim—and Camus—life lived in the here and now is not the same thing as life upon reflection. 
Jenene Stookesberry
Denver, Colorado

Pseudoscientific Babble

To the Editor:
Thank you to Kevin William-son for taking a pickax to the cavalier and fashionable use of the names of neurotransmitters in writing about political and philosophical issues (“The Denial of Agency,” January). One also encounters many overused catchphrases from neurobiology, including, for example, “lizard brain.” Naturally, the people who are casually discussing these things never feel entrapped by their own limited understanding.  As a physician, I can only say that even experts have a very rudimentary understanding of the physical substrate of thought.  People who are depressed may benefit from some juggling of neurotransmitters, but it is not obvious exactly how this works.  What is bipolar illness?  How does lithium help? The leap from basic science to the clinical level is never obvious or easy. Things that should work may not, and things that should not work, may.  As everyone knows, at the level of complex behaviors, self-control is hard won, control of others often impossible.

No one should cite neurobiology as a proof of why people do what they do.
Alan Goldman, M.D.
Lawrence, New York

Russiagate Redux 

To the Editor:
Regarding Eli Lake’s article on Russiagate enthusiasts (“Bitterly Clinging to Russiagate,” January): In 2016 and 2017, they claimed that Donald Trump was so clueless and gullible that he was going to give the KGB a foothold in the West Wing and the Pentagon. It’s not that he hated and despised the country necessarily, it was just that he had no clue he was being used by Vladimir Putin. But now the same enthusiasts have transformed Trump into a Doctor Evil who duped the Russians, the media, the DOJ, the FBI, and the CIA. He not only outsmarted the KGB and the FBI, you see, but his evident scheme with Russia was itself some kind of hoax, the purpose of which was to sidetrack the media and investigators while he actually did turn control of the country over to the Russians—a triple cross. In other words, according to these folks, Trump was the most brilliant man to ever set foot in the Oval Office.
Ray Lowry
Worthington, Minnesota

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