The following speech was delivered by Michael Knowles at the University of Buffalo on March 9, 2023.
Thank you so much for having me! It is a pleasure to be here at the University of Buffalo! Thank you to YAF for hosting. Thank you to the Logan Family as always for sponsoring this lecture series. And thank you to all of you for having the bravery to share an auditorium with an alleged genocidal maniac.
I didn’t know I was a genocidal maniac. I thought I was just a relatively normal guy. But I have been reliably informed this past week that I am, in fact, genocidal. I learned this by reading the Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, the Independent over in the U.K., and several other outlets.
I was caught off guard. Having never considered committing genocide before, I wondered if I should perhaps take on some sort of new dictatorial name: “Benito Michaelini,” “Slobodan Michaelosovic,” or “Maochael.” No, no, none of those really seemed to fit — the reason being that I’m just not really a “genocide” kind of guy. (Far be it from me to judge. I’m just saying, for me, I’m not particularly inclined toward genocide.)
So where had these liberal news outlets gotten the idea that I relished an appetite for mass murder? It seems they came to that conclusion because I criticized the ideology of transgenderism. I gave a speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference — CPAC — and this is what I said. I will quote verbatim. I said:
The problem with transgenderism is not that it is inappropriate for children under the age of nine; the problem with transgenderism is that it is not true. The problem with transgenderism is that it puts forward a delusional vision of human nature that denies the reality and importance of sexual difference and complementarity. The problem with transgenderism is that its acceptance at any level necessarily entails the complete destruction of women’s bathrooms, women’s sports, all of the specific rights and spaces that women currently have for themselves.
There can be no “middle way” in dealing with transgenderism. It’s all or nothing. If transgenderism is true — if men really can become women and women really can become men — then it’s true for everybody of all ages. If transgenderism is false, as it is — if men and women really are different, as we are — then it’s false for everybody too. And if it is false, then we should not indulge it, especially since that indulgence requires taking away the rights and customs of so many people. If it is false, then for the good of society and especially for the good of the poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion, “transgenderism” must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.
Now I’m not quite sure how one could hear those words and conclude I was calling to murder all the transvestites. I expressed a special concern for the good of these sexually confused people, so presumably, I would not be interested in murdering them. I referred to transgender-ism — “ism,” that is, referring to a doctrine, a system, a set of beliefs. And lest there be any confusion, in the very same sentence I defined the “ism” as an ideology — and a preposterous one at that. There could have been no way for a reasonable person to interpret what I said as anything other than an attack on an idea. When one calls to eradicate communism or capitalism, one is not talking about murdering all the communists or capitalists. When one calls to eradicate poverty, one is not talking about murdering the poor. When one calls to eradicate cancer, one is not suggesting we murder all cancer patients.
So how did these liberal news editors come up with their headline that I wanted to commit genocide against “transgender people”? The only answer I can come up with is that they were lying. They knew what I said. They understood the basic meaning of words. They knew what I said was entirely reasonable to all normal people. But they had a story they wanted to write. So, they just made up other words, pretended that I said them, and accused me of genocide.
Now, the good news is that these news editors quickly realized they had gone too far, that the headlines were libelous. I suspect their legal departments called them and told them to change the headlines before they got sued into oblivion. Because even though libel law in the United States has a very high standard, these outlets crossed that line. So, they caved and changed the headlines. Great.
But then, no sooner had the fake news outlets admitted their lies than a sitting member of Congress, Jamaal Bowman, accused me of genocide too! And he went even further than the fake news outlets. He called me “a Nazi hellbent on keeping only white men alive and in power.” I don’t think I mentioned race once in my speech. I certainly did not refer to any Germans from the 1930s. And as a descendent of the Italian people, I’m only even marginally white! (The southern Italians have always been a bit ethnically ambiguous.) Nevertheless, according to Congressman Jamaal, I’m a Nazi hellbent on keeping white men in power — all because I said boys can’t be girls and girls can’t be boys.
And I mention all of this to say: I think I struck a nerve. Sometimes squishy conservatives throw up their hands in the face of gender ideology. They say, “Who cares? Who cares about the pronouns and the bathrooms and the sports teams?” Well, I think this past week of historic defamation from some of the most powerful interests in the country shows: the Left cares. A lot. Because this gender ideology is about a lot more than strange pronouns and eccentric men with a fetish for putting on miniskirts.
The present fight over transgenderism is the culmination of half a century of gender ideologues’ winning victory after victory as hapless conservatives do little more than huff and puff and ultimately embrace the views of our opponents. That’s why my CPAC speech caused such a stir: the liberals believed they had already won the battle over transgenderism. Sure, conservatives might still be arguing over the appropriate age to trans the kids — the liberals want to trans the kids at age 5, while the conservatives now argue that we should “wait till eight” to trans the kids. But even many self-styled conservatives today argue that anyone over the age of eighteen has some sort of “right” to identify as the opposite sex.
It is easy to forget now (politics changes so quickly) but until about 2015, virtually nobody believed this. Virtually nobody believed in transgenderism. Transgenderism — the belief that men can secretly be women and vice versa — was a punch line. It did not exist as a matter of public life until about eight years ago, when Barack Obama injected the ideology into military policy and liberals in North Carolina passed their first bathroom ordinance inviting men into the women’s bathroom. Before that time, pretty much no one — Right, Left, or Center — believed that men had the right to waltz into the ladies’ room, or into the women’s locker room, or to compete against women in women’s sports. Virtually no one — Left, Right, or Center — seriously argued that men had some “right” to change their birth certificates to pretend to be the opposite sex. Now, not only do the liberals believe that such a “right” exists, but even many conservatives believe it as well.
And they have to believe it if they accept the Left’s previous victory in the culture war: the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions. The logic — or rather illogic — of so-called “gay marriage” is that men and women are basically the same, that the union of two men and the union of two women is the same as the union of a man and a woman. A little over a decade ago, virtually no one — Left, Right, or Center — believed that. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama ran for president arguing that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Now, even many conservatives accept “gay marriage.”
And they have to accept “gay marriage” if they accept the illogic of the sexual revolution, which held that all sexual relations are fine and dandy so long as they are consensual. After the sexual revolution, the only test of sexual ethics became “if it feels good, do it.” For most of American history, nobody believed that. For most of American history, there were all sorts of laws against certain sexual behaviors. There were, famously, laws against sodomy, but there were other laws as well: against fornication, against adultery, against plenty of other destructive sexual behaviors. Those laws were on the books as recently as 2003, when liberals on the Supreme Court discovered in the Constitution some sort of “right” to all those things. I’m not sure exactly where the “right” to fornication is located in the Constitution. I think it must have been written in invisible ink. A little practical joke played by James Madison, perhaps. In any event, the Supreme Court says it’s all in there. And now, even many conservatives defend the alleged “right” to these sorts of behaviors.
And they have to believe in such “rights” if they accept the illogic of feminism, which is the topic we are here to discuss. Feminism, which sits at the origin of the gender debate. Because it was the feminists who first insisted that men and women are exactly the same. It wasn’t the transvestites. It wasn’t the homosexuals. It was the feminists. The feminists who said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” The feminists who burned their bras, who loosened divorce laws, who weakened the family as the fundamental political institution. Sure, conservatives opposed them for a time, but now, many if not most conservatives consider themselves, to some degree, feminists.
But they should not because feminism has made everybody miserable — especially women.
The sometime presidential candidate Pat Robertson once described feminism as “a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” A little harsh, perhaps, though it is difficult to say exactly what Mr. Robertson got wrong . . .
In any case, it is notoriously difficult to measure happiness, but survey after survey has suggested that feminism has not made women any happier but, in fact, has made them much more miserable. The most prominent among these surveys came out of Wharton in 2009 and was published in the American Economic Journal. The study is called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” The researchers found that, despite alleged objective improvements to the lives of women as a result of feminism since the‘70s, women’s subjective well-being had declined absolutely and relative to men.
I generally consider social science and statistics to be bunk, but I am perfectly willing to cite those statistics when they support my argument. And in the case of feminism, the “science” is clear: feminism has made women miserable.
The misery-inducing effects of feminism are not a new discovery. In fact, they have always been a feature of the feminist movement. As radical feminist Carol Hanisch explained in her influential 1970 essay “The Personal Is Political,” the very point of feminism in the mid-twentieth century was to make happy women less happy.
Feminist groups such as the New York Radical Women organized regular gabfests for ladies to meet and complain about their bourgeois lives over apple pie and ice cream, a framework that gave the feminists’ opponents the impression that this ritual constituted something closer to group therapy than to politics. Hanisch did not dispute the therapeutic aspect of these “whine and cheese” soirées. Rather, she observed — quite rightly — that “these analytical sessions are a form of political action.” Hanisch saw that “one of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems.” Individuals, she believed, could not fix systemic injustice, so women, therefore, needed to organize politically to solve their personal problems.
Gender ideologues have maintained that tradition of weaponizing therapy for political ends. They prattle on and on about the importance of “mental health,” even as they valorize and encourage mental illness. They rant about the evils of “conversion therapy,” by which they mean various talk-therapy techniques that seek to dispel confused people of their delusions — even as they undertake their own far more aggressive form of “conversion therapy” that endeavors to convert boys to girls and girls to boys.
These gender ideologues understand that all therapy is conversion therapy — all therapy endeavors to transform minds and behavior. So, they stigmatize and outlaw therapeutic practices that seek to turn patients’ minds away from delusion and toward the truth, and at the same time, they mandate therapy that encourages and entrenches delusion. Modern gender ideologues do this because they recognize that the feminists, though wrong on human nature, were right on strategy and tactics: therapy is an effective form of political organizing. Because the personal is in fact political.
The feminist Kathie Sarachild recalled the moment she first experienced this political phenomenon. A woman in her group brought up the notion of “raising consciousness” and said, “I’ve only begun thinking about women as an oppressed group, and each day, I’m learning more about it — my consciousness gets higher.” The woman in the group had never considered herself oppressed. Feminists put that notion in her head, and the more meetings she attended, the more miserable she discovered she was — an intensifying misery that she celebrated as an awakening from the slumber of her oppressive serenity.
The term “consciousness-raising” refers to the Marxist concept of “false consciousness,” which Friederich Engels coined in 1893. The neo-Marxists of the twentieth century — Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse, and countless other leftist intellectuals — relied on the concept to explain why the allegedly oppressed masses seemed so much happier than the theorists thought they ought to be. The radicals, they contended, understood the little guy better than he understood himself, and they intended to convince him, or her in this case, of his own misery.
Because they understood the personal is political, the feminists also understood the power and importance of manipulating language, as nothing can be more personal than the words that form one’s thought and speech. This is the origin of political correctness, which we now call “wokeness”: a phenomenon that has for decades been embraced by pretty much all of the political Left but which originated with the feminists, who took their cues from the communists, as Hanisch herself admitted. This is also why today’s gender ideologues focus so much time and energy on enforcing their new jargon — making us all use preposterous terms such as “transwoman,” “cisgender,” and all those incorrect pronouns. As the feminist Deborah Cameron has observed, “Meaning works by contrast: the words you choose acquire force from an implicit comparison with the ones you could have chosen but did not.” That is to say, “By coining alternatives to traditional usage . . . the radicals have effectively politicized all the terms.”
The political success of this manipulation of language is not merely that we now feel cultural pressure — sometimes outright coercion — to refer to some men as “she.” The success of the gender ideologues’ strategy is that we even have to think about it at all. The fact that our society even pauses to take seriously this ridiculous ideology represents a political victory for the radicals, who at the very least have unsettled our traditional culture, even if they have not yet firmly established their own program to replace it.
Unfortunately, many conservatives have responded to this semantic engineering by dismissing it or by retreating to stale platitudes about a neutral or de-politicized world. Instead, we ought to admit that the feminists and now the transgenderists have a point. They have recognized that traditional language and behavior propped up a traditional moral standard — one that the radicals have largely succeeded at overthrowing. The conservatives have adopted a live-and-let-live, anything-goes attitude to even these fundamental questions.
But such an attitude can only ever result in defeat because there can be no neutral position or conciliatory middle ground on a binary question such as, “Do women exist as a distinct, real, natural category of people or not?” Either they do, or they don’t. If they do — if women are real and men cannot become them — then transgenderism cannot be indulged in public life. If transgenderism must be indulged in public life, then women cannot be treated as a distinct, real, natural category with the specific rights and spaces they currently enjoy.
Societies can make allowances for dissent and eccentricity, but even the most tolerant, pluralistic society in the world must insist upon agreement on some basic things — agreement, at the very least, on the basic meaning of words — or else its citizens will be unable to communicate, let alone govern themselves. Even the most tolerant, pluralistic society in the world cannot violate the law of non-contradiction. Every society must hold certain things to be true, and in so doing, must necessarily hold the opposite to be false.
The gender ideologues have been particularly militant about exploiting the courts and unaccountable executive agencies to enshrine their delusions into law. They have done this because their beliefs are particularly absurd and, therefore, rejected by normal people when those people are given a choice. Most people understand that men and women are different. Most people consider those differences to be among the joys of life. So, in order for the gender ideologues to establish their view in public life, they recognize that the people cannot be given a choice.
Simone de Beauvoir, one of the most influential feminists of the twentieth century, attempted to explain this fact to Betty Friedan, another feminist whose book, The Feminine Mystique, kicked off “second-wave feminism” in America. Beauvoir declared, “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” Lest Friedan not grasp her point, Beauvoir drove it home: “It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.”
Friedan objected, saying that Americans valued their freedom and tradition too much to tell “every woman [that she] must put her child in a child-care center.” Beauvoir didn’t care. “As long as the family and the myth of the family and the myth of maternity and the maternal instinct are not destroyed,” she said, “women will still be oppressed.”
Women, in other words, had to be forced to be free. This was the same point made by Herbert Marcuse, considered the father of the New Left in the 1960s, who observed that a tolerant society cannot tolerate intolerance. Conservatives have reflexively refuted these kinds of arguments, but both Beauvoir and Marcuse had a point. In every society, for every human being, freedom itself cannot exist without limits or else they will undo themselves.
The question before us is not how free our society ought to be, but rather, what will delineate the limits of freedom. To use just one illustrative example, will women be free to have their own rights and spaces? Or will sexually confused men be free to use the bathroom of their choice? You cannot simultaneously have both.
Leftist radicals have concentrated their focus on sex because sex is the fundamental distinction within man. Other differences — race, height, weight — all pale in comparison to sex, which rests at the basis of human self-understanding from Gilgamesh to the Greek myths to the Book of Genesis.
The dismantling of our sexual self-understanding promises to liberate us indeed, as the ideologues insist. But it will not liberate us from any unjust oppression. The denial of sexual reality can only liberate us from our own human nature. Such a liberation would, at least in our self-understanding, eradicate humanity itself. A sensationalist newspaper editor might even, with some justice, call such a plan “genocidal.”
Thank you very much.