Why the Left is Losing the Transgender Debate

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In 2021, 62% of Americans opposed men in dresses playing on female teams while 34% supported it. In 2023, a sizable 69% majority is opposed and only 26% are in favor.

Within two years, support for ‘transgender female athletes’ fell from a third to a quarter.
While those numbers are important, the real turnaround in the latest Gallup poll has come among Democrats. While majorities of Republicans and Independents were always opposed to men who claim to be ‘transgender’ usurping womens’ sports, Democrats supported them.

But now no more.

In 2021, 55% of Democrats supported men playing on female teams and in female competitions while 41% opposed it. Now 48% of Democrats are opposed and only 47% are in favor.

These are not isolated numbers. They’re part of a pattern that shows how the Democrats are losing the transgender debate not only nationally, but among members of their own party.

Transgender fanaticism led the Democrats to embrace positions too extreme for their party.

A Washington Post – KFF poll from last month found that while Democrats generally supported promoting transgender identity in high school and even for sixth graders, opposition rose sharply to 46% over proposals to groom fourth graders. A solid majority of Democrats opposed exposing kindergarteners and third graders to transgender topics.

This was bad timing since Biden’s campaign video attacked Republicans for ‘banning’ a book featuring a 10-year-old boy performing a sex act. At the Pride Month rollout, the Biden administration announced that the Department of Education would be targeting schools that pull sexual materials from libraries for creating a “hostile environment” for LGBTQ people.

Biden had claimed that banning the sexual mutilation of children is immoral. And the media, having decided that it already won the debate for most ages, is pushing toddler sex changes. An ABC News report profiled a little boy whose parents decided to treat him like a girl when he was only three years old. Nobody has even polled on that question, but the numbers won’t be good.

While Biden and the media may imagine they’re winning the debate, they’re actually losing.

In 2017, a Pew poll showed that only 54% believed that men and women were born as they are, while 44% thought that people could swap sexes. By 2022, 60% knew that men and women are born, only 38% believed they could be made over with a little makeup, an outfit and some drugs.

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Washington Post interviews with people who switched positions on transgender issues found that a consistent theme was their concern for children.

“My concern with transgender is mostly with the children,” one woman said.

“Is that going to help these young people get a good job or a good spouse? Why would you introduce that subject to children when it has no life skills?” an older black woman asked about pushing transgender issues in school.

“It’s hard enough to learn as is without other things thrown at you,” a black man suggested.

The Left had previously won sexual morality debates by claiming to advocate for the victims and conservative opponents lost because they could not show meaningfully whom it harmed in a simple and direct way that people could understand. That’s why opposition to abortion, despite all the social changes, has had such staying power among Americans. It’s clear ‘whom it hurts’.

It’s also where the Democrats have stumbled in the transgender debate. Opponents had largely lost the debate until, with the emergence of female athletes like Riley Gaines, feminist victims of cancel culture like J.K. Rowling, and talk of indoctrinating children, the real victims appeared.

The transgender debate now pits two conflicting victimhoods against each other, blunting the usual leftist tactics and making it difficult for them to steamroll the opposition. Are boys being maneuvered into pretending to be girls or teenage girls getting mastectomies suffering because they’re victims of conservatives restricting destructive behaviors or of an LGBTQ movement that has coerced minors into destructive life-altering decisions before they are mature enough?

Are men who want to compete against women the victims, or are the women they displace and injure the true victims?

The Left derives its power from simplistic and often false narratives of victimhood. But these stories are incredibly difficult to counter because they play on empathy with the oppressed.

That’s why any issue, from open borders to crime to terrorism to global warming, is retold in the familiar narratives of the oppressors and the oppressed. Conservatives all too often try to rationally counter these narratives and make their case based on the facts or the larger context. Where the Left always remembers to ground its ideological arguments in personal narratives and human interest, conservatives struggle with talking about people instead of issues.

And yet the shifting transgender debate shows how effective personal narratives are. And how important it is to convey to the public who is getting hurt by policies that conservatives oppose.

Most Americans were willing to go along with the transgender movement because even though they struggled to understand it and found its premises suspect, they wanted to be nice. And the polls still reflect that desire to empathize and protect a seemingly oppressed group. While most Americans oppose exposing children to transgender materials or forcing women to compete against men, they’re supportive of laws protecting transgenders or using their chosen pronouns.

The easy way to understand this is that most Americans don’t want to hurt anyone.

When asked to choose between hurting transgender feelings or using their pronouns, or passing special laws to protect them, they weigh the question of “whom does it hurt”. Likewise, when asked to choose between female athletes and 280 lb hulking men, or between children and sexual identity activists, they once again ask “whom does it hurt” and protect the vulnerable.

The transgender battle is far from over. Faced with setbacks, the Left goes looking for more victims, employing personal narratives to turn the tide. But there are larger lessons for conservatives looking to fight back. Most people are not ideological. With traditional morality crumbling, people use a combination of gut instincts and anecdotal stories to decide issues.

The Left excels at politicizing the personal and personalizing the political. Its mass media messaging ensures that when people think about the police, they think about George Floyd, when they think about open borders, they think about a little baby clutched in the arms of its mother and when they think about abortion, they think about a ‘headless baby’ in the womb.

These personal stories, false and misleading as they may be, work on the average person.

The transgender debate is being lost because when people think about the issue, they think about Lia Thomas and Riley Gaines, they think about children being asked what gender they are in kindergarten, and they’re able to answer clearly and compellingly, “whom does it hurt?”

Leftists embraced the furthest extreme of the sexual identity politics movement, splitting the Democrats and even dividing feminists and the gay rights movement, but most importantly they exposed themselves as not the advocates of victims, but the ones who are hurting them.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views the Virginia Christian Alliance

About the Author

Daniel Greenfield
Daniel Greenfield is a New York City writer and columnist. He is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and his articles appears at its Front Page Magazine site.