Many, many days ago I was a child. I don’t consider them the good old days, just old days. That said, life seemed simpler. Actually, life was simpler—four channels of television, less “culture” to share and therefore more commonly shared culture, more socially and legally enforced “normality,” less “diversity.”
Simpler... but not better. Oppressive, actually. Unless you fit in.
There were laws on the books criminalizing homosexuality, cohabitation—that is, couples living together without the “blessing” of marriage—miscegenation, and other forms of social integration, all designed to uphold the “moral” order of society. All designed to drive so-called deviant behaviour underground by threatening the liberty and livelihood of those brave enough to engage in it in the light of day or be accidentally or clandestinely discovered.
Those who were inclined towards behaviours termed deviant, yet willing to engage in them, were driven underground where they furtively sought out others of a like mind. Many more opted to live false lives, pretending to be something they weren’t, even going so far as to sleepwalk their way through socially accepted lifestyles, much to the detriment of their reputed partners and unfortunate children.
In the afterglow of the otherwise somnambulant 1950s, that started to change. The civil rights movement was the pointy end of the stick. Black people were fed up with being oppressed. They pressed their case for equality against brutal resistance. They found an ally in a most unlikely place—the Supreme Court of the U.S.
Unlikely because the Chief Justice, Earl Warren, turned out to be a wildcard. The former district attorney, governor of California, proponent of interning Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, and opponent of Dwight Eisenhower for president in the 1952 election, was appointed by Eisenhower to the court. I’m sure Ike assumed this staunch Republican would march lockstep with the times.
The Warren Court, as it came to be known, changed everything. A year into his tenure, Warren helped shape the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education decision, ruling school segregation was unconstitutional. Later decisions struck down Jim Crow laws and upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court went on to upend many of the heavy-handed laws that sought to keep people other than white males in their places.
During the 1960s, women came out of their kitchens and fought for equal rights, unrestricted access to contraceptives and therapeutic abortions. A heady brew of other disaffected groups pressed for the fundamental right to be, if not free, at least less oppressed. Homosexuals—rebranded gays—took to the streets demanding recognition and acceptance. Pacifists rioted for peace. Students occupied administrative buildings.
Battles were fought, rights were won, the social order expanded to include many of those who emerged from underground.
Ironically, one group remained relatively amorphous. Transgender people burst into the North American public eye in 1952, when George Jorgensen flew to Norway and returned Christine Jorgensen. The former GI was a media sensation. She went on to be a major celebrity but minor entertainer. She penned an autobiography, and a film based on her life was made.
Yet somehow, after that door opened, people convinced, often from a young age, that they’d been born into the wrong gender slipped back into obscurity.
The Transgender Wars began on the playing fields. Was it fair to allow women who were born male to compete against women who were born female? Sporting bodies were all over the place on this topic. But most came down in favour of disallowing trans women to compete in women’s’ competitions. Of course, these were the same organizations—frequently run by men—who had fought against the inclusion of women in many sports over the decades.
A recent study of the literature published on the subject from 2011 to 2021 was reported by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport in a paper titled, Transgender Women Athletes and Elite Sport: A Scientific Review. The findings, broken down into biomedical and sociocultural categories, were squishy, citing limited evidence one way or another in the former and cultural backlash in the latter. Duh.
If sport was the opening salvo, the conflict became fully engaged when it entered the Bathroom Battlefield and has reached a peak in the current Protect the Children skirmish.
Fears of trans women assaulting “real” women in ladies toilets became a flashpoint in conservative-versus-liberal cultural showdowns. As soon as some jurisdictions either passed laws or courts affirmed the “right” of trans women to use restrooms aligned with their sexual identity, culture warriors warned about letting male sexual predators into women’s bathrooms.
The lions and tigers and bears, oh my, argument was fear without foundation. But never ones to let facts stand in the way of a convenient way to oppress nonconformists, a wave of restrictive laws were proposed, and in many cases passed, to assure real women could pee without perversion popping up in the stall next to them.
Unsatisfied, the anti-trans forces turned their attention on children who believe they’re trans. More specifically, children who either want to be recognized as something other than male-female or seek medical intervention to support their gender dysphoria.
While it seems clear Canada, at the federal level, supports a broad interpretation of the rights and protections afforded to trans people, including school-age children, and most provinces fall into line with that, some cracks have appeared.
New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government announced changes to a 2020 policy in June of this year. While trans students were within their rights under the old policy to oblige educators to refer to them by their preferred pronouns, students under 16 now require either an acquiescent teacher or their parents’ consent to do so. Saskatchewan went down the same path in August.
And this weekend, in Quebec City, federal Conservatives at their three-day convention voted to adopt policies limiting transgender health-care for minors—whether supported by their parents or not—and creating more single-sex spaces, biological women-only bathrooms.
Whether these policies become part of the party’s platform rolling in to the next election will be up to its leader. Go big or play to the base, most of whom, if the votes in Quebec City are any indication, support expanding the Trans War.
I guess it poses, once again, the old question about evolution versus erosion. All too frequently these days, I’m unsure which path our culture is following.