By Batya Ungar-Sargon for RealClearPolitics
Judging by Twitter, cable news, or our politicians, LGBTQ identity is once again at the front of the culture wars in America, which is ironic given how little debate there is among everyday Americans. A closer look at how this issue is being weaponized reveals something interesting about our current moment.
When it comes to transgender debates, leftist journalists, politicians, and activists have positioned themselves as the defenders of LGBTQ rights against a bigoted anti-gay Republican Party. But in overlaying the transgender issue with gay rights writ large, progressive activists are conflating two issues, one of which is no longer controversial.
It’s a category error that allows them to posture as warriors in a war that has already been won, while what they are actually doing is waging a new war that has little purchase even on their own side.
The latest example of this is a much-discussed Washington Post article published Tuesday which doxxed the woman behind an anonymous Twitter account, @libsoftiktok. She reposts videos from TikTok of educators bragging about teaching toddlers to masturbate, or teaching 6-year-olds that doctors sometimes misgender babies, or arguing that 3-year-olds are old enough to learn about gender identity, or having a Q&A with students about coming out trans.
The videos amplified by the account have made their way onto conservative media and from there into conservative legislation, which was the impetus behind the Washington Post hit piece.
“Libs of TikTok has become a powerful force online, shaping right-wing media, impacting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and influencing millions by posting viral videos aimed at inciting outrage,” the article’s author, journalist Taylor Lorenz, tweeted.
Putting aside the shoddy ethics of doxxing a private citizen for curating already public content, the Washington Post story rather disingenuously whitewashed the actual content of the videos that @libsoftiktok posts. For example, instead of stating what was in a video featuring a woman explaining how she teaches toddlers to touch their private parts, the article only notes that @libsoftiktok called the woman in it a “predator” and that the video went on to be featured on Fox News.
There’s a tell in that obfuscation: The Washington Post probably doesn’t want to defend the “sexy summer camp” counselor teaching toddlers to masturbate, a view that few trans people would defend, so instead it resorts to calling anyone who opposes such education anti-gay. The article characterizes @libsoftiktok as “a steady stream of TikTok videos and social media posts, primarily from LGBTQ+ people, often including incendiary framing designed to generate outrage.”
Instead of telling you what’s in the videos, it tells you what @libsoftiktok says about them.
It’s a cunning move, one that allows progressives like Lorenz and her readers to portray opponents of strangers teaching 3-year-olds about sexual identity as moral perverts. This brilliant subterfuge leaves the reader with the feeling that she has gotten to know a dastardly person tweeting into the ether, without ever letting on that the captions are about actual content that is often disturbing even to people on the left (hence why they won’t defend the videos).
Lorenz accuses @libsoftiktok of participating in the “groomer” discourse without ever once describing any of the videos that led the account to do so – videos even the most ardent defender of LGBT rights would be hard pressed to defend.
Interestingly, none of the people defending the doxxing of a private citizen have argued that anything @libsoftiktok has posted hasn’t been real or true. They have instead acted like the content is true – and thus must be stopped. “Libs of TikTok is basically acting as a wire service for the broader right-wing media ecosystem,” Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, told Lorenz.
In other words, the problem isn’t that the information isn’t true, but that the truth is getting out there.
It should go without saying that it’s not anti-gay to oppose camp counselors teaching children to masturbate. I assume the majority of gay parents would oppose such a thing, as well as the majority of trans parents. It takes quite a bit of gaslighting to portray opposing the characters featured on @libsoftiktok as somehow representative of the fight against gay rights.
But this move has become commonplace. It was on full display in the hyper-coordinated effort to oppose Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education bill, which mandates that schools may not withhold information from parents and bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade.
The bill’s opponents across the Democratic Party and the media that caters to it branded the bill as the “Don’t Say Gay bill,” treating Americans to all manner of cringe-worthy performances from Hollywood to Democratic legislators prancing around shouting “Gay, gay, gay!” In so doing, the liberal establishment and its left wing were making the same move as the Washington Post, erasing the child-specific, gender transition focus of the bill and making it seem like it was just pure, generalized homophobia.
Meanwhile, a majority of Florida Democrats voted for the new law, which has the support of 61% of people and is opposed by just 26%. Thus, the political and chattering class, with their political posturing and stunts, were calling the majority of their own supporters bigots.
And while the Parental Rights in Education bill has large support on the left, support for gay rights has absolutely skyrocketed on the right. Support for marriage equality is at a record high of 70% nationally, with most Republicans now supporting it – 55%, compared to only 16% in 1995.
There’s a similar flattening when it comes to trans women competing in women’s sports, a difficult issue pitting two competing sets of needs – those of trans women and those of the women they are competing with – against each other in a morally thorny way. But instead of reckoning with this, progressives paint anyone even willing to admit that this conflict exists as homophobic – though most lesbian women competing in women’s sports are paying the price for it, too.
One can both find the “groomer” discourse overwrought and uncomfortably close to homophobic stereotypes about gay people and pedophilia and point out that there does seem to be a trend of elementary school teachers engaging in inappropriate conversations with kids. Surely, though, it’s equally homophobic to suggest that gay and trans people writ large support the teachers in these videos?
The question is why. Why is the left folding in the issues of an extreme minority of transgender activists and teachers into the larger fight for gay rights – one that’s already been won?
It’s a similar case to what’s happened with the conversation of race. After winning the battle against real racism, the left moved the goalpost, redefining what counts as racism to the thing they most like to fight: the exposure of their own privilege.
That’s what’s happening here. A tiny elite that benefits politically and economically from portraying its opponents as bigots is using every tool at its disposal – social media, liberal legacy media, and executive action – to obfuscate the vast distance between their views and the vast majority of middle- and working-class Americans with normal views. Like the view that strangers shouldn’t teach toddlers how to masturbate.
Liberals had many major wins in the past 50 years. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when average Americans in either political party had little appetite for interracial marriage, let alone gay rights. But those days are long behind us. So why is the left pretending we are still in the midst of these fights?
Because if you take away the issues that used to divide them from average Americans and no longer do, all you’re left with is what now divides them – the enormous economic, educational, and social capital that sustains the meritocratic liberal elite.
Like so many of our culture wars, this one is about class – and the class chasm separating politicians and pundits and journalists from average Americans. It’s that class chasm that’s really being obscured in the erasure of the videos on @libsoftiktok.
Syndicated with permission from Real Clear Wire.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is deputy opinion editor of Newsweek and author of “Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy.”
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