The politics of Genspect

Here comes the boilerplate text you’re probably expecting: Genspect has no party-political affiliation. We welcome liberals and conservatives, libertarians and social democrats. Whether it’s the parents we represent or our core team itself, we vote this way and that way: left and right; blue, red, and other colors besides. It’s true that there are certain constraints: for example, we’re not open to people who harbor homophobic prejudice; nor do we accept the idea that trans people who have undergone medical transition should be outlaws in their own society. But, by and large, we are apolitical. So far, so predictable.

But apolitical organizations still have members who are political. And the issue to which we are dedicated — being a voice for parents of gender-questioning kids — is at least somewhat political, as it’s affected by legislation and institutional policy. So, while it’s true to say that we have no political allegiance as a collective, the parts of that collective most certainly can, and do, have firm political convictions, often at odds with one another. These differences of opinion are sometimes relevant, and occasionally central. The purpose of this article is to lay out how we deal with that issue, and to do so honestly and transparently.

Here’s a good example. Some American voters argued that a vote for the Democrats would defuse the tensions about the multitude of issues which shelter under the umbrella term of “transgender rights”; a Democratic victory, they hoped, would allow young people to see that America is far from a bigoted society, thus creating space for a new dialogue to emerge. Others, however, saw things entirely differently. For them, it was as simple as this: the Democrats are pushing gender ideology onto children, where the Republicans are not. Each camp had the same goal, yet distinct — and mutually exclusive — ways to get there.

Or, across the water, the somewhat tortured position of the British Labour Party. Many of our British members and supporters are of the political left — which, in a largely two-party system, usually means that they are Labour voters. Labour has found itself deeply divided on the emerging conflict between parental rights and the policy of self-identification of gender (as it has on the erosion of the category of women). Some left-of-center voters have given up on the Labour party, taking their vote elsewhere — or taking it out of play entirely, and abstaining. Others refuse to cede such valuable terrain, and are staying put. Again: same goal, different means.

In each of these cases, the two sides know the countervailing logic; in each of these cases, they may well find it wanting. Yet these thoughts are typically articulated privately, and (I suspect) often not articulated at all. When political matters surface within group meetings, the discussion certainly shifts gear: it’s clear who is of the left, who is of the right, who is of the center, and who is of nowhere at all. But — at the risk of sounding smug — we do rather well at holding together such a broad coalition of views. Each viewpoint is heard out, as is each of its counterarguments. 

The matters of contention are typically rather practical. Should we use this term or that term? Shall we contact this outlet or that one? Navigating the political and linguistic landscapes is hard enough in a single jurisdiction, much more so in many countries at once. A given argument may be easier to make in Australia than it is in, say, Canada. Only by a negotiated process in which all voices are heard can such questions be resolved. On terminological matters — the closest to my heart — it’s as simple as “some you win, some you lose.” We even have a channel in our private working group called #votes.

This, then, is diversity in action. Not the mobile, corporate-friendly version of diversity which can flutter from one boardroom setting to the next without adaptation: a personal (often hotly personal) variety of diversity, where each individual’s beliefs are understood and respected, whether defended or challenged. “You should run this by Angus,” Mary will type: “he might not phrase it like that.” “Ask Mary,” I’ll say. “She’d probably want to put that a little differently.” Our diversity is the diversity of the mindful.

Taking a multitude of political stances into account is critically important to the smooth functioning of our group. Without this ethos, we would fragment. Those on the right might lose patience with a “softly, softly” approach, allowing the political left to define the terms of debate and the moral boundaries of acceptability, making it all but impossible to defend the rights of parents and children without transgressing the narrow limits provided. Equally, those on the left might balk at the hard-line stances adopted by some in this debate, believing them to be ultimately counterproductive — if taken too far, even ugly. In other words, we keep one another in check. The center can hold.

Yet, as I wrote in the opening to this article, the politics of Genspect is not quite a free-for-all. There are some positions, on both left and right, which are too extreme, and warrant exclusion. Many of our team are gay (as I am), or bisexual: hardly a surprise, given how deeply sexuality is often implicated in gender identity. We’re proud to have a working environment where gay and bi people are well-represented, and have no time for anyone with reservations about this. It also matters hugely to us that our team and advisors include transsexuals and detransitioners, whose unique perspectives continue to guide our thinking. Transphobia — an aversion to, or disgust with, people who have medically transitioned — is real, and it’s nasty. We’ll have no part in it.

Equally, there are certain positions associated with the new, hard left (for want of a better phrase, “the woke”) which are incompatible with our values. The policy stances adopted by such Jacobins make realistic discussion of the issues at stake all but impossible, especially when it comes to nomenclature. While we’d like to consider ourselves open to conversation with as many people as possible, there are some whose linguistic gatekeeping goes beyond a staunch defence of identity and strays into thought-policing. Here as above, dialogue becomes a fruitless endeavor.

A helpful visualization comes from Bret Weinstein’s Unity2020 project (itself adapted from Hidden Tribes), which profiles the American political landscape as follows:

This conceptualization of US politics is a fresh one, attempting to present the country’s new political tribes dispassionately, if with certain simplifications. For my part, the most critical words, running along the bottom of the array of columns, are “willing to engage in dialogue.” I can say with certainty that our members hail only from these groups, with a particular distributional slant towards the center: the passive moderates; the liberals; the politically disengaged. (Whether or not this graph is transferrable to other nations is an open question: personally, I suspect it is, albeit with tweaks to numbers and maybe names.)

The conversation about gender often generates more heat than light. Embroiled in social media wars, its political actors often make things worse and worse, digging in their heels — and causing their opponents, in turn, to dig their own heels in with equal vigor. Accusations of bigotry and extremism abound. Often, organizations seeking to edge towards compromise between deeply held convictions (such as Thoughtful Therapists, for example) are accused of wrongdoing from each of the extremes of the spectrum at the same time. Perhaps this is a sign that they’re doing the right thing; perhaps it is nothing more than a marker of an age of irreconcilability.

For our part, we intend to remain glued to the center ground. That doesn’t mean that voices from the left and right are unwelcome. Far from it: we relish the opportunity to prod our own conceptions, and perhaps even biases, ensuring that our message is accessible to rational actors from across the political spectrum. What it does mean is that we exclude the true extremes, and will continue to do so without apology. If the research above is accurate, that makes us a potential voice for some 86% of the United States — assuming they concur with our stated mission to provide better healthcare options and educational information for gender-questioning kids, while respecting the distress that the development of their identities may be causing them. 

While figures in other countries may differ, 86% is a fairly solid base. It is in that 86% that complex and often painful matters are thrashed out, accounting for the nuances of different negotiated stances without the totalizing logic of purist positions. Within that 86%, true dialogue can occur, and real and meaningful relationships and alliances can be formed. And, speaking for myself, that 86% is a pretty great place to be.

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap