I should speak candidly before I got into this review. I’m probably not approaching this from the same direction as most conservatives. Despite being a relatively traditionalist Christian and a Republican, my social views tend to slightly skew libertarian, in the sense that I tend to be quite sympathetic to people who suffer with gender dysphoria. My heart hurts for people who were born with afflictions that are clearly painful. I want nothing but the best for them.
I have deep reservations about the ideologies of leftism, the innately entropic nature of leftist ideologies and the tendency for society to slide into moral anarchy as it’s foundations are dissolved, but those reservations don’t extend to individual gay and transgender people, with whom I try to be extremely cordial and welcoming. I’ve hosted four transwomen on the AntiSocial Network, and even had relatively candid religious conversations or prayer sessions with all of them, with the realistic hopes that they will further pursue that path.
Thus I approached Matt Walsh’s new documentary What is a Women? with trepidation, not because I necessarily think it’ll be wrong but because I fully expected it to be tactless. Conservatives tend to enjoy being forthcoming and direct in their statements of truth, but this is generally to their detriment on issues of emotional trauma and mental distress. A person struggling with gender dysphoria needs mental or emotional support, even if they don’t transition and just choose therapy, not a lumberjack just calling them a dude over and over again.
Walsh is part of the school of conservatism that says that being direct, being rude, and being an a-hole, is a path to truth. Staring into the eyes of a trans person and calling them a man is what God tells you to do, and not doing it is disobeying God. This is a trait he shares with many of the more sociopathic elements of the right, who believe performative cruelty is “being honest”. Alas, it’s not persuasive, and I can’t imagine any trans women or trans men will watch this documentary and feel anything but condescended to, if the film’s interviews are anything to go by. This a sermon for the choir.
There is a deeply rooted element of inauthenticity in the film. It presents a kind of self-parody for Walsh, who introduces himself in the film as a happy father who is growing confused about the state of the world, confused about definitions and identity, and seeking an answer to a seemingly simple question, “What is a woman?”. To learn the truth, he goes galavanting across the world to interview accredited psychologists and academics for an answer to his question, before flying back home and asking his wife who answers the question by saying “adult human female”.
The path immediately starts treading water. Early on, one of the subjects he interviews accuses him of being condescending in his use of the word “truth”, before accusing him of biological essentialism and transphobia. Another gay man realizes what’s happening and says talking to Matt was a “genuine mistake”. Both sense that he’s trolling and wants to get specific answers out of them. Several of his interviewees walk away during interviews.
This is the film’s central joke, that no matter how deeply he pushes his guests he can’t get an epistemologically sound definition of the word “women” that isn’t a circular definition because that’s the point. The academics and specialists are more interested in identity from the perspective of individual perception. They view gender as an aspect of how you see the world and that the natural, materialist, reality of biological identity is mostly or totally irrelevant, at least as far as social science is concerned. Pinning a definition to “woman” means you are stuck with it, and they want these words to mean whatever makes the people who choose to identify with them happily. To them, a woman is somebody who identifies as a woman. It doesn’t matter what woman means beyond that.
In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem. By all rights, the definition of “what is a woman” should be simple even from a pro-trans perspective, because the nature of transgender identity requires it to. A person suffering dysphoria instinctively understands that they’re in a body that doesn’t match their internal identity, and they’re pursuing that identity that represents them. Womanhood must mean something potent and definable, otherwise, a trans person wouldn’t seek it out and attempt to live it out.
There’s nothing stopping the trans movement from acknowledging that there’s a level of performativity for the benefit of those who need it. Pointing to this discrepancy between sex and gender though creates awkward questions that undermine the commit that “trans women are women”, which is the point of their ideology. It cuts to the philosophical core of the movement, that saying someone “is a woman” is a powerful act of affirmation. They see lacking affirmation as a path of oppression and suicide. Anything less than affirmation is cruelty, near genocide, in their worldview.
The documentary goes where you’d expect. Walsh interviews female athletes who lost to trans-women in sports comparisons. He runs around buzzing women’s March protestors and pissing off Democratic congressmen. It drags out crank psychologists like Alfred Kinsey and John Money, whose theories form the intellectual backdrop of modern gender ideology. It marches out detransitioners to share their traumatic stories and statistics about high complications and suicide rates. Even Dr. Jordan Peterson makes an appearance.
The point it’s making is very clear, trans ideologies have externalities that affect cis-women, sometimes negatively, sometimes egregiously. Additionally, the externalities of gender hurt trans people themselves. These discrepancies affect children, affect parents and even affect trans people themselves. If the film excelled at anything, it’s in expressing the humanity of people who came out of the trans-movement worse for wear. Walsh interviews one man, a father of several children, who transitioned in his 40s only to become saddled with extreme life-threatening complications. He claims he only has a few years left to live. The rest of the anecdotes are similarly horrifying, including stories of teenage girls who developed osteoporosis after going on puberty blockers or doctors warning that hormone injections will cause cancer.
The danger tho of our current circumstance is that the ideology is uncompromising. Trans activists have very real and practical reasons to fear that they aren’t going to be respected for following their path, but the movie makes it clear that doing so creates externalities. In our attempt to weed out the cruelty that drives trans people in despair, it seems the possibility of unforeseen side effects wasn’t given its day in court.
We’re already starting to see the first signs of trans-regret, with hundreds of people popping out of the woodwork to talk about how they were suffering from gender confusion or homosexual inclinations, found themselves in a trans community, and started altering their bodies as a teenager. Young people are making permanent life-altering decisions at the behest of doctors and politicians who punish anyone who doesn’t respect them.
Our political system has created an all-or-nothing approach to the issue of gender dysphoria, where on one end the extremes of teachers grooming students behind their parent’s back to embrace gender ideals they don’t understand are normal and where kink and nudity are encouraged around children. On the other end, all dysphoria is dismissed as degeneracy that will result in God turning our cities into salt pillars. In neither path is it clear that trans people, some of the most sensitive and emotionally struggling people in our society, are getting the support they need. Not every person suffering from adolescent gender confusion needs to be rushed into a double mastectomy at the age of 8, but many of them still need help they won’t get from religious communities. We’re marching people down two narrow paths that don’t necessarily lead to where every person needs to go.
It doesn’t surprise me that What is a Woman? is being bombarded online as transphobic bigotry. It is, by any regard, intolerant. Walsh is trying to mail the definition of “woman” to a wall, to force everyone under a clear sense of their sex’s obligations in the hope that it will bring some clarity to the chaos of our modern status quo. Trans activists rightly fear for the lives of trans people, who suffer deeply in their search for identity and affirmation.
If the movie accomplishes anything tho, it’s the fact that such realities must be rooted in consideration for those who won’t benefit from transitioning. Gender dysphoria is a real diagnosis, and it reflects a very painful reality in the hearts and minds of trans people. In a proper libertarian society, there’s no argument against adults pursuing these ends and people ought to respect that. That reality tho extends beyond us. The more affirmation becomes a sacrament, the more detransitioners with heartbreaking stories will appear, the more ammunition the conservative critics of the movement will have, and the more aggressive attempts to stamp it down will become. So long as Matt Walsh can point that the question of his movie without an answer, the more externalities are allowed to proliferate, the more people will turn against the LGBTQ+ movement.
I want people to be able to live their lives as they see fit, to find love and seek truth and beauty as much as anyone else. It doesn’t matter to me if they transition or not. What matters is that they can find themselves in the hands of the best healthcare possible so they can thrive. While some people need and welcome the support they get from the LGBT community, it’s clearly not working for everyone. I would hate to see my friends suffer more than they have already.
To paraphrase the conservative trans-activist Blaire White, one almost misses the old days of transvestism and sex reassignment surgeries, when nobody gave a crap about trans people or cared where they peed.