An ode

I’ve been working with a number of mothers whose boys believe they can become girls. (Spoiler alert: they can’t.) They’re pretty different women. Some of them have homes like mine, which estate agents would describe using adjectives like ‘rustic’ or ‘charming’; some of them have pristine studies with ten-foot-high Georgian bay windows. Some of them are Catholic; some are Jewish; some are irreligious, or even anti-religious. On one day, I’ll talk to a woman who’s snowed in by the latest blizzard to hit the Great Lakes, and then to another who’s sipping iced drinks to fend off the Texan heat-fug. They’re arts grads, or they’re science grads, or they’re high school grads who went straight into full-time parenting. They voted Trump; or they voted Biden; or they abstained in disgust.

Yet they seem able to set all that aside, in order to help one another navigate the rapids of their son’s new identities. It’s funny: this must be the only group in America which is actually putting Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity™️ into practice. A Democrat-voting mother wants to reach out to a left-leaning publication, so she can correct the latest nugget of misinformation on puberty blockers; and a Republican-voting mother will supply a reference, garnished with a friendly ‘Good Luck!’ Meanwhile, a conservative Catholic mum will hit a stumbling block as she tries to compose a letter to her congressman, and a true blue liberal will jump in with a helpful phrase or two, providing a leg-up over writer’s block. These political stances are rarely articulated, and they don’t need to be. The help comes regardless. It’s a sight to behold: in a culture where the withdrawal of cooperation from ideological opponents is as essential to political discourse as motor oil is to a car engine, philosophical disputes are tidily shelved away.

It’s a bit like being in the French Résistance: each comrade does what is within her abilities, in the knowledge that — under normal circumstances — she’d have little to do with the others in her unit. This is Biden’s “unity”. (Not to be partisan: in hindsight, it may also turn out to be Trump’s Making America Great Again, if anything lives up to that aspiration.) Task lists are drawn up and checked off. Has anyone written to so-and-so to share that article on such-and-such? Yes: check. Does anyone have a way of contacting what’s-his-name to get him to retweet whatever-it-is? Yes: check. In any other endeavour in 2021’s United States, such exchanges would seem impossible, violating otherwise impregnable ideological fortresses. Yet sleeves are rolled up, and elbow grease applied, and the work gets done.

What binds these women together is motherhood. As a child of the 1980s, I resist this statement: it might prove to be reductive. But there’s little doubt in my mind that few endeavours, if any, could bind them together in the way that this has. Almost all of their boys are prodigiously clever — clever in an oh-Jesus-what-the-hell-are-we-going-to-do kind of way. Cleverly, these lads have thought themselves into a corner whereby their pubescent discomfort can only resolve itself if they take oestrogen; equally cleverly, the only logical means of disproving this thesis is taking oestrogen and then finding that the feelings of discomfort stubbornly refuse to shift. This is the kind of idiocy you can only fall for if you’re smart, and I can sympathize. There’s no question that I would have done this myself. In the 90s, such disembodied utopian thinking only aired between 6pm and 6:45pm on a Wednesday, on BBC2 (Star Trek: The Next Generation). Now it’s the flagship value of the USS New York Times.

When these mothers suspect internet-enabled shenanigans, they snoop. Every single one of them. When the woke therapist simpers out the latest biology-denying relativism, these mothers straighten their necks and march their kids away from the gender woo-woo with military-grade determination. When a B-student teacher embarks on a patronizing lecture about gender identity, sprinkled with factoids about intersex conditions, these women have a quiverful of science ready to volley back, their eyes narrowed, target in sight. And woe betide the erstwhile friend who emails in a CNN-gleaned, reality-lite stance on the politics of masculinity: these mothers won’t hesitate to protect their boys — and, indeed, themselves — from the dangers of ‘a little knowledge.’

For those of us who are neither women nor parents, this can seem hard to understand. ‘Why can’t they just accept that their daughters are trans?’ Twitter burbles, mystified. It’s true to say that there are some mothers who, for whatever reason, do ‘affirm’ their children’s trans identities. But, for the most part, resistance to medicalization is strongest in mum-to-mum social networks; and many of the more recent converts to gender critical thought are also women who have recently given birth. While I would never want to suggest that only mothers feel this strongly — I’ve met fathers whose feeling are no less unequivocal — it’s true to say that the ferocity of the gender critical movement is, at its heart, maternal. Behind each glossy YouTube video and painstakingly referenced rejoinder which the gender critical movement has to offer, you can bet there’s a mother, strung out on coffee at 2am, triple-checking Shrier’s Irreversible Damage, cross-referencing the DSM, emailing back and forth with researchers and journalists and radical lesbians whose paths they’d never otherwise have crossed. The fight against the medicalization of gender-questioning youth is fuelled by mothers; serviced by mothers; tended and mollified and jump-started by mothers. Few recognize this. Fewer yet say it.

So, boys, here’s to mums. Yeah, they piss you off. They’re always whining about something or other which doesn’t make any sense. But, as the sun sets down, they’ll be perched in the hills, rifles trained on your enemy, while you amble stupidly through the grass, contemplating your inner self. You can ignore them; you can cut them out; but they’ll be there.


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