Guest post: The happy story

Originally a comment by Arty Morty on Those drugs can’t possibly be legal.

I’ve been thinking more and more about this issue as though it’s a battle of stories. To some people, the Story of Trans absolutely must be a happy story, as uplifting and life-affirming as a lost-dog-reunited viral video. They genuinely think that being a good LGBT ally means simply making sure you fix in your mind a happy story about LGBT people whenever the topic arises.

Isn’t it incredible that there are two kinds of trans “allies”, two groups who actually hold completely opposing views about trans issues, but who remain united in their shared opposition to criticism of gender ideology, because they see anything with a critical tone as an unhappy story. It’s another reason why it feels so unreal being gender critical right now — we’re stuck in between these two contradictory groups all the time: you’ve got the friendly-but-unaware progressives who totally agree with you in principle about things like self-ID and mixed-sex sports and prisons, and children’s school indoctrination programs and draconian speech laws… but they absolutely disagree with you that any of it is happening in any significant way right now — because they have to disagree about that part, because otherwise they’d have to accept an unhappy story about trans into their hearts.

And then you’ve got the indoctrinated true believers, who are the polar opposite, who totally agree with you that all of it’s happening all over the place right now — they love it; for example all these kids getting “gender affirmed” by today’s medical “heroes”, it’s all so squee, like those lost little Labradors on YouTube, reunited with their people at last — but the true believers absolutely disagree with you that there’s anything about it that could possibly be bad or should raise any concerns, because otherwise it’s not a happy story but a potential tragedy.

These two groups’ positions are irreconcilable. There are lots of beliefs shared between each group individually and us — the friendly unawares share with us the belief that this stuff is bad; the zealous allies share with us the belief that this stuff is happening — but between each other their beliefs have exactly no common ground.

And yet, despite their total disagreement on the facts, they’re allied against us, high-fiving each other for simply holding their respective but incompatible happy stories in their hearts about trans in contrast to the supposed transphobia that we’re perpetuating by presenting facts and arguments which to them don’t sound very nice. It’s so stupid. I mean, if they themselves simply combined their beliefs they’d end up exactly in line with ours — those two happy stories when combined turn into a nightmare.

It reminds me of what Graham Linehan calls Festen moments, in reference to the Danish art film The Celebration, where a family patriarch’s 60th birthday gala is interrupted by his son who reveals that he was sexually abused by the tycoon, and all the guests turn against the son because they can’t allow the happy story of their family dynasty to be darkened. A truth that punctures a beloved story is like a heckler who threatens to spoil a good party.

I’m not so much interested in persuading the true believers anymore. They’ll have their reckoning later. But I hold out hope today for the friendly unawares. I want badly to get through to them, and maybe one way to do that is to show them that the real world is fundamentally not made up of stories. The real world is material; it’s made of a jumble of stuff. So I’d say an accurate way to think of social progress is something like, we’re looking at a bunch of people and things that interact in a big mess of contradictory motives and circumstances and variables and chaos, and our job is to look at facts and balance needs and principles and find ways to reduce harm and increase human rights and justice and wellbeing as best we can wherever possible. It’s messy and it sometimes involves looking and thinking hard at all that messy stuff.

It’s far less accurate to interpret social progress the storybook way: as looking at a bunch of comparatively simple conflicts between forces of good and forces of bad in the world where your job is just to make sure you always find your way to the side of the good guys at the end of each chapter.

I guess what I’m saying is, stop trying to see reality as a story where you can edit out the bad parts and polish up the good parts until, to you at least, it looks the way you like it and it just tells you exactly what you already wanted to hear anyway. We can’t ignore the messy stuff of reality, because it’s the material world, not the stories we tell ourselves and each other about it, that we all have to live in. And we have to find a way to live in it together.

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