The Great Consonant Shift 

I spent the first decade or so of my writing career as a literary critic—which is to say that I sat at home, read books, wrote about them, and kept a very low public profile. Then, in 1993, I published a book of my own entitled A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society. It sold extremely well and turned me into something of a public figure. During the next several years, in scores of articles and interviews and talks, as well as in a regular column for the gay news magazine The Advocate, I argued for equal rights for gay people. But that wasn’t all. I also criticized the far-Left gay activists—most of whom preferred “queer” to “gay”—who didn’t want a place at the table but, as one of them told me on the “Charlie Rose Show, wanted “to turn the table over.” 

Meaning what? Meaning that they weren’t in it for reform but for revolution. I called for gays to serve openly in the U.S. military; since the queer crowd hated the United States, they hated its military, and hence abhorred the idea of openly gay service members.

I was the first person ever to advocate same-sex marriage in the New York Times, and the queer Left rejected that goal, too. Why? Because in their view, gays who wanted to be married were displaying an unseemly attraction to “straight institutions”; and this was inappropriate because the proper role of gays, according to the queer playbook, was to stay put on the margins of society and, from there, serve as the cutting edge of radical change—which meant bringing down “straight institutions.” 

Well, my side won. We won because those of us who talked about equality and marriage instead of radical revolt helped bring what you might call the “silent majority” of gays out of the closet and into the movement; and the increasing visibility of those gays-next-door helped win the support of increasing numbers of straight people who came to recognize that, yes, we were the people next door, usually decent enough and sometimes even dull, and certainly not an existential threat to anybody or anything. 

But even as ordinary gay people gained visibility—and equal rights—the queer Left retained control of the activist groups; as “gay studies” and “queer studies” courses proliferated on American campuses, it was queer leftists who taught them. Not that “taught” is le mot juste. Take the tale of gay playwright Larry Kramer and his alma mater, Yale. When he offered in 1997 to donate $1 million to endow a chair in gay studies, Yale turned him down, saying the field was too narrow. A few years later, when identity studies had become red-hot, Yale took his money only to spend it on “queer theory” and leftist agitprop—a development mirrored at nearly every other major American university. Kramer, who’d wanted to see serious courses in history, literature, and so on, was livid. 

Those “queer studies” profs also rewrote history. After same-sex marriage became a popular cause, they smoothly flipped sides, pretending that they’d always supported it; and when same-sex marriage became the law of the land in 2015, they acted as if they were the heroes of the day. They did more than that: armies of queer leftists who’d sneered at me and others for seeking, as Tony Kushner put it, “officially sanctioned homosexual marriages” instead of “liberation” from “the depredations of capital,” were quick to plan their own nuptials. The first same-sex wedding to be announced in the New York Times, in fact, was Kushner’s.

I didn’t concern myself overmuch with who got credit for anything. As far as I was concerned, the battle for gay rights had been won. It was over. I went on to write about other subjects. I expected the professional queer activists to close up shop and find new lines of work. 

Silly me. Naturally, they did nothing of the kind. Professional activist organizations, whose employees can earn handsome salaries for doing very little, don’t often work that way. So it was that in the first years of this century, even as nationwide support for same-sex marriage was skyrocketing—making it likely that that struggle soon would be over—the honchos of the gay-activist movement were planning for the future. 

What kind of future? A transgender future.

Turning to the online “Wayback Machine,” I find that at some point between June 2001 and March 2002, the website of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City began identifying itself instead as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. Similarly, between July and September 2001, the website of the leading gay-rights organization, Human Rights Campaign, changed its tagline from “Working for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights” to “Working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights.” The Wikipedia pages “LGBT” and “LGBT community” both date back to 2002. 

For me, this was new. Very new. As it happened, I left New York for Europe in 1998, and at that point, it had never occurred to me to regard homosexuality and transgenderism as related phenomena—to see gay and transgender people as part of the same community or movement, or as sharing a cause. I’d spoken at churches and bookstores and community centers from coast to coast, and talked with hundreds of gay people about their lives and politics, but had never seen or heard the acronym LGBT. 

Universities Led the Way

I’ve now become aware that at some universities, linking “LGB” with “T” was already old hat by the turn of the century. Indeed, the idea of adding transgender persons to the LGB picture seems to have originated in the academy, although the date at which this development occurred varied widely from one institution to another. 

At UC San Diego, the group known in 1989 as the Student Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual Association (LGBA) had, by as early as 1992, changed its name to the LGBT Association. Four years later, as the result of “a visit from famous transgender activist Leslie Feinberg,” the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA), later LGBA, at my own alma mater, SUNY Stony Brook, became the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance. NYU’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Student Services opened the same year. At Duke, the Center for LGB Life changed its name to the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life in 1997. The first references to the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA) at Johns Hopkins, the successor group to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (1987), are dated 1998. 

What is now the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center at the University of Pennsylvania was established as early as 1982—it is the nation’s second-oldest such center—but the word transgender wasn’t added to its name until 1999. And at Chapel Hill, although the gay student group has changed its name more times than Elizabeth Taylor—the Gay Awareness Rap Group, 1974; the Carolina Gay Association, 1974; the Carolina Gay and Lesbian Association, 1985; Bisexuals, Gay Men, Lesbians, and Allies for Diversity, 1992; the Queer Network for Change, 1998—the “T” didn’t show up until 2002, with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender-Straight Alliance. (This morphed in 2010 into the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Alliance and, finally, in 2012, into the more manageable Sexuality and Gender Alliance.)

At some universities, gay student groups, instead of adding a “T,” have signaled their broader inclusiveness by opting for vaguer terminology. The world’s oldest gay student group, founded in 1966 at Columbia University as the Student Homophile League, later became the Columbia Queer Alliance. When LSU’s Gay and Lesbian Student Association (formed in 1977) changed its name as recently as 2005, it was to add a “B” and “S,” not “T” (to Gays, Bisexuals, Lesbians, and Supporters); three years later, the group and became, simply, Spectrum. At Berkeley, Students for Gay Power (1969) became the Gay Students Union in 1972, the Gay Peoples Union in 1976, the Gay and Lesbian Union in 1981, the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance in 1984, the Multicultural Bisexual Gay Lesbian Alliance in 1988, and the Queer Resource Center in 1992. 

In any event, just as most Americans were unaware until very recently of the entrenchment and power of “woke” radicalism on college campuses, none of this “T” stuff was on my radar when I left the United States. Nor, despite my voluminous reading in gay and lesbian periodicals from across North America and beyond, do I remember ever running across a single discussion of the question of linking “L,” “G,” and “B” with “T.” No, from my point of view it all just happened. Suddenly. Mysteriously. And without debate. 

And it took over worldwide with amazing rapidity. For many years now, human-rights groups haven’t spoken of “gay rights” but of “LGBT rights.” The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) hasn’t changed its name, but on its website, the term LGBT has long been ubiquitous. The other day I watched a report on the Deutsche Welle news network about Wanlov the Kubolor, a Ghanaian musician and activist who referred repeatedly to his country’s “LGBT community.” Everyone on the planet seems to have gotten the memo about the Great Consonant Shift. 

But how did that shift happen? Yes, I surmise that certain queer leaders realized that the campaign for gay rights was on the verge of being won, and that their own careers depended on finding a way to keep their jobs. But exactly who took the initiative? We’ve seen, in the last few years, how recent hires at various corporations, news media, and publishers have managed to impose on their employers the “woke” mentality they picked up in university victim-group courses; is it possible that, 20-odd years ago, the former members of student LGBT groups, now working at professional gay-activist groups, pushed the “T” onto their new bosses? 

Admittedly, since the queer activists who ran the original gay-rights movement had always seen it as fighting not so much for gay equal rights as for revolutionary social change for everybody, the movement had always been maddeningly unfocused. At New York’s gay pride parades, which I attended yearly when I lived in Manhattan in the 1980s and ’90s, marchers carried signs about every imaginable non-gay-related issue from abortion rights to nuclear power. Perhaps there were organized groups of transsexuals in the parades, but if so, I don’t remember them.

Spencer Grant/Getty Images

Rewriting History

I’ve mentioned the Orwellian way in which many queer activists not only jumped on the bandwagon for same-sex marriage but also sought to hide the truth about their earlier fierce opposition to it. Similarly, all too many accounts of the early decades of the gay and lesbian rights movement now rewrite its history, referring to it, anachronistically, as the LGBT (or LGBTQ+, with “Q” for queer or questioning) rights movement.

“In 1995,” reads one representative article, “the National Education Association indicated support of Gay/LGBT History Month.” Yet in 1995 no such thing as “Gay/LGBT History Month” existed; that yearly commemoration was founded in 1994 as “Gay and Lesbian History Month,” with the word “bisexual” added shortly thereafter. “LGBT History Month” came much later, around the time that the gay community center in New York changed its name. 

Any deliberate rewriting of history is unsettling. But some rewritings are more unsettling than others. A text at the website of the American Psychological Association states that “LGBT people were . . . officially sentenced to death camps in the Holocaust.” In fact, the Nazis systematically exterminated gay men, but, in keeping with the practice established during the Weimar Republic, they allowed transsexuals to receive psychiatric treatment, undergo surgery, and even hold parties. For an organization like the APA to conflate the thoroughly different situations of gays and transsexuals under the Nazis—rewriting history to make transsexuals the victims of evil policies of which they were, in fact, never victims—is exceedingly irresponsible.  

Then there’s the debacle over the 2015 film “Stonewall. Directed by Roland Emmerich (better known for disaster films like “Independence Dayand “The Day After Tomorrow) and centered on a fictional gay white male protagonist, it told the story of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City that are generally considered the start of the modern gay-rights movement.

After the film’s release, Emmerich was savaged by many politically correct critics for ignoring the purportedly significant role played in the riots by transsexuals. One reviewer after another cited two names in particular: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. The problem is that neither Johnson nor Rivera was a transsexual. Both were drag queens—which is a profession, not a gender or sexual orientation. Yet the rewriters of history have retroactively labeled both of them transgender—or, deceptively, “trans” people, which in their case means transvestite, not transgender or transsexual—in order to make Stonewall, a basically gay white male event—fully co-ed, multiracial, and (above all) LGBT. 

Which brings us to a new six-part TV series on the FX Network. It’s called “Pride, and it’s described on the FX website as “chronicling the struggle for LGBTQ civil rights in America from the 1950s until today.” Again, virtually none of the people who campaigned for gay rights during at least the first four of those six decades saw themselves as “LGBTQ,” or thought of their cause as something called “LGBTQ civil rights.” But you would never know that from this series or from the media coverage of it, which dutifully parrot the bogus references to “LGBTQ history.”

The Decider website actually does FX one better, referring to “Pride” as an account of “the story of LGBTQIA+ civil rights.” (“I” is for intersex and “A” is for asexual—part of an alphabet soup that didn’t begin to be served up widely until after the turn of the century.) And an article at Collider noted that among the “icons . . . highlighted” in the series are “[lesbian] Madeleine Tress, [cross-dressing] videographer Nelson Sullivan, [gay black civil-rights leader] Bayard Rustin, [black lesbian] writer Audre Lord, Senators Tammy Baldwin [a lesbian] and Lester Hunt [a straight white male who committed suicide in 1954 after his son was arrested for soliciting gay sex from an undercover cop], as well as trans pioneers Christine Jorgensen, Flawless Sabrina, Ceyenne Doroshow, Susan Stryker, Kate Bornstein, Dean Spade and Raquel Willis.” Note the extremely disproportionate emphasis on transsexuals, and the absence of a single non-cross-dressing gay white male. 

Each episode of “Prideis intended to cover a different decade, from the 1950s to the 2000s. Living in Norway, I wasn’t able to access the whole series. But I did manage to track down the first four episodes online. Far from giving a broad picture of gays during the decades in question, they’re extremely New York-centric—more specifically, Greenwich Village-, East Village-, and Chelsea-centric—and they return again and again to the same handful of activists, drag queens (RuPaul), and celebrities who don’t really belong here (Andy Warhol). Above all, the series seeks to introduce transsexuals into a story in which, at least as transsexuals, they have no place. 

Take the episode on the 1980s. During that decade, I spent plenty of evenings, nights, and weekends on the gay scene in Manhattan, and in all that time I never saw as many transsexuals as you can see in the “1980s” episode of “Pride.” Mischievously, the filmmakers (the series has six executive producers, four producers, and seven directors) slip into the episode obviously recent footage—for example, of a rally where a sign reads “Black Trans Women Lives Matter”—the apparent objective being to misrepresent history. Throughout the episodes I saw, indeed, the people who made them seem less interested in recounting the progress of the gay-rights movement than in inventing an “LGBTQ+ history” out of whole cloth. 

The motive for such audacious manipulations of the past is clear. Individuals suffering from gender dysphoria used to make up a vanishingly tiny minority of any population. In the last few years, however, the number of self-proclaimed transgender people has skyrocketed. For the first time ever, those identifying as transgender are more likely to be female than male, to experience what is called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” and to “discover” their transgenderism along with circles of friends. All these facts strongly suggest that this phenomenon cannot be explained as anything other than a largely Internet-driven trend.  

For LGBT activists, this huge growth in the size of the cohort they represent is good news, the causes of which they are disinclined to probe too deeply. One problem posed by the sudden appearance of a large population of self-identified members of that tribe, however, is that of providing it with a history. Hence the impulse to crowbar transsexuals into the history of gay people—to pretend, that is, that gay history is LGBT history. 

But LGBT activists don’t just gravely misrepresent the past. They play games with the present, combining two minorities—one relatively large and solidly established, the other tiny (if its true numbers were to be known) and scantily documented—in order to enhance the legitimacy, and strengthen the political hand, of the latter. Whereas gay men and lesbians have existed in abundance from the beginning of recorded time; the number of people who genuinely have gender dysphoria has always been minuscule. And not until modern times, of course, could such people undergo surgery to make them superficially resemble the opposite sex. 

Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Utter Opposites

Of the millions around the world who were quick to adopt the term LGBT, astonishingly few took the time to ponder the alleged relationship between gay and transgender. Had they done so, they might have recognized that the two phenomena aren’t really comparable in any way. Being gay or lesbian or bisexual is about which sex one is attracted to. To be transgender is to claim that you’re a member of the opposite sex—a kind of assertion, whether one considers it legitimate or ludicrous, that simply can’t be compared to the objective reality of sexual orientation. 

In fact, there is every reason to assume that the overwhelming majority of the suddenly massive numbers of young people who now claim to be transgender are actually gays who can’t accept their homosexuality, and who’ve been encouraged by friends, family, teachers, therapists, social workers, psychiatrists, and/or online “influencers” to think that they can become “normal” members of the opposite sex if only they submit to a little surgery.

To push young people who are almost certainly gay toward drastic and irreversible bodily mutilation, instead of giving them time to figure things out for themselves, is to do something that couldn’t be more antithetical to what the gay-rights movement was supposed to be about. And yet the sometime gay-rights groups that now call themselves LGBT-rights groups promote this reckless lunacy aggressively—and routinely smear those, gay or otherwise, who dare to advise caution.

I’d argue, indeed, that the gay-rights movement and the transgender movement are utter opposites: while the former is rooted in the objective reality of homosexual attraction, the latter asks the general public to acknowledge an objective impossibility—namely, the fanciful notion that subjective feelings alone can determine gender. The moment a person declares that he’s now a she, or that she’s now a he—no hormones or surgery required—one is supposed to respond with immediate and absolute affirmation. 

And Wikipedia, among many other websites, goes along with the script: if a newly announced transgender person has a Wikipedia page, it’s adjusted at once to reflect that individual’s revised gender identity. From that moment on, to refer to the person by his or her former name or pronouns is counted as a grave offense known as “deadnaming.” Dare I ask: what else in all of human society works this way, or ever has? When, moreover, in all the millennia of recorded history has such a radical alteration in civilization’s basic rules of the road taken effect so quickly, as a result of virtually no public debate, and with even the slightest dissent or hesitation from the new orthodoxy often punished severely?

Yes, it’s true that same-sex marriage became instituted, nation by nation and state by state, within a remarkably short amount of time. Still, gay rights had been a topic of discussion for decades; many of us who campaigned seriously for it spent untold thousands of hours formulating arguments, and patiently listening to counterarguments (and abuse) until we gradually won over more and more Americans.

The transgender movement has gone through no such phase. It has simply piggybacked onto the gay-rights movement and has told the American public—with the full backing of major corporations, the mainstream media, Silicon Valley, and the Democratic Party—that anyone who refuses to buy into this whole new order of things, or who even dares to ask questions about it, is a bigot. In a May 31 Daily Mail article, longtime British gay activist Simon Fanshawe wrote that after he expressed opposition to policies allowing M-to-F persons to “enter exclusively female spaces and use women-only services,” he was informed that he had “put [himself] outside Stonewall,” the UK’s leading gay-rights (now, of course, LGBT rights) group, which he had helped found.  

In recent years, across the Western world, the transgender lobby has pushed through legislation that impacts the lives of everybody. Boys identifying as girls can now play on girls’ sports teams and win medals and scholarships they would never have been able to earn as boys, thereby destroying the hopes of real female athletes. Male-to-female transsexuals can use women’s locker rooms, and male rapists who say they identify as women can be incarcerated in women’s prisons. Jordan Peterson began his rise to international fame by protesting a Canadian bill, now law, under which people can be punished for using the wrong pronoun to identify a transgender individual. Similar legislation has been passed in a number of other countries.

Add it all up and it’s hard not to see it as the beginning of a sweeping set of revolutionary, society-wide changes of precisely the kind that the queer Left wanted to achieve with the gay-rights movement, but never did. 

Plainly, this new dispensation is deeply unfair to gays, most of whom never asked to be a party to any of it. Consider this: many people who were persuaded during the last few years to let themselves be mutilated on an operating table have already de-transitioned. They’re doubtless only the tip of the iceberg. In the years to come, there will surely be much more de-transitioning—and a tsunami of malpractice lawsuits against therapists and doctors who encouraged those acts of mutilation. The whole big lie of transgender ideology will come crashing down, and with it the “LGBT movement.” What impact will this have on gays and lesbians, whose fate has been yoked against their will to transgenderism, and whose lives and rights and best interests have long since ceased to matter to groups like the HRC?

I’ll close with a modest proposal. If you’re going to bring gays and transgender individuals together under the “LGBT” (or “LGBTQ+”) moniker, then why not add, say, “P” for pedophile, “N” for necrophile, and “Z” for zoophile? As a gay man, I wouldn’t be thrilled to be associated with any of these groups. But at least when you say “pedophile” or “necrophile” or “zoophile” you are, as with “gay” or “lesbian” or “bisexual,” talking about sexual attraction—not gender identity.

About Bruce Bawer

Bruce Bawer is the author of While Europe Slept, Surrender, and The Victims' Revolution. His novel The Alhambra was published in 2017.

Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Support Free & Independent Journalism Your support helps protect our independence so that American Greatness can keep delivering top-quality, independent journalism that's free to everyone. Every contribution, however big or small, helps secure our future. If you can, please consider a recurring monthly donation.

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.