Cognitive Political Dissonance
For two years I could not look away from the governor of Florida’s response to the global pandemic. It felt like I was watching a train wreck in slow motion. I knew I shouldn’t read his tweets about how we didn’t need to wear masks, but I couldn’t look away, rubbernecking from several states up north. When the vaccine finally came out, I was so relieved, and I immediately signed on to get vaccinated, and later boosted. My family members in Florida did not; while some fell ill, some did not. They merely went about their lives, unmasked, ignoring this global health crisis, arguing that they knew what was best. I continued to listen to their governor with alarm, disagreeing with almost all he said.
And now here I am, in a state of cognitive political dissonance. This same governor, who angers me in so many ways, is now one of the few voices standing up against gender ideology. The new Florida law will prevent teachers from discussing gender and sexuality with children between kindergarten and third grade. That’s kids between roughly 5 and 8 years old. Should gender and sex be a focus while children are learning to read, to add, and to finger paint? I think not. Was it a topic of discussion before? Not in my memory, and not in my parents’ memory, and we are all teachers. And yet, this law has become so controversial, quickly denounced by naïve liberals and teenagers concerned about protecting their trans peers. Nicknaming the law “Don’t say gay” was a brilliant way to simplify people’s thinking. Most of the folks I’ve talked to think the law extends to 12th graders.
A new law such as this one clearly almost always stems from currents in the socio-political sphere. Our country is in the throes of a new state of panic about our children, whose mental health has been plummeting since the beginning of the pandemic. We are looking everywhere to place the blame. Since it cannot be our own fault, it must be the public schools. This kind of argument used to drive me crazy. Nancy Reagan’s overly simplistic and alarmist “just say no to drugs” campaign led to the founding of over 5000 Just Say No clubs in schools; the campaign targeted racially and economically oppressed groups and resulted in a war on drugs that continues to disproportionately incarcerate BIPOC individuals. Newt Gingrich’s idea of rewarding girls who graduate high school as virgins put the burden of sexuality on girls, as do most abstinence-based education programs whose hidden curriculum is based on gender stereotypes about chaste girls who serve as gatekeepers for frenzied male sexuality. These programs, like many others, receive massive funding from the government; the US has spent over a billion dollars on abstinence-only programs.
Today’s concerns are slightly different, but the undercurrents are similar. Critical race theory (CRT) has conservatives again in a tizzy, worried their children will feel ashamed for their whiteness and guilty for the sins of their forebears. Concerns have often been blown out of proportion, with Loudon County parents at the forefront of these culture wars, protesting the teaching of CRT in their schools. The Heritage Foundation blames CRT for the Black Lives Matter protests, diversity training, woke college campuses, and yes, the rise of LGBTQ+ clubs in schools.
This is where things get interesting for me.
As you might have guessed by now, my social views have always placed me left of center. I chose to live in a college town. I sent my kids to public schools. I supported the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and gay marriage. I have happy adult friends who are trans, and gay friends who are amazing parents. I believe that our country was built on the backs of people of color, and that it’s time we recognize that many of our country’s laws reflect a white supremacist culture.
Despite these “liberal” beliefs, I now find myself aligned with the Republicans when it comes to parenting.
When my daughter was 12, and she told me she wanted a binder, I asked her to tell me more. She said she hated her new breasts and had “dysphoria” – her words. This was not the vocabulary of my 12-year-old. Internet searches revealed the usual suspects (Reddit searches, Discord groomers, trans YouTubers). She joined the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at school. She persisted in her beliefs, cutting her hair short, wearing “boy clothes”, progressing from having a boyfriend to being non-binary to having a trans identity. Like so many parents, I got an advanced degree in trans ideology, and now spend most of my free time reading, writing letters, and talking with others to explain what is actually going on here.
To most liberals, “supporting trans kids” is just another way to stand up for oppressed minority groups. It is a reflexive act for many people. This is why “Don’t say gay” works so well on us liberals. We don’t want to oppress anyone, especially not children. But supporting children is not akin to brainwashing children with gender unicorns and confusing them with choices their young brains are unable to comprehend. Kids under the age of 8 live out fantasies as if they are real; they believe fairies visit their gardens, and think they will become a superhero if they put on a spiderman costume. We have crossed a line by introducing this kind of magical thinking about gender to our children, and teachers, therapists, healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and surgeons are now all entwined in collective, excruciating chaos.
Ironically for me, this activism of the left has come to resemble that of the conservative groups I once shunned. Using extreme rhetoric and fear-mongering, they, too, have managed to infiltrate the federal government and public schools. When the government put out an executive order last year preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, I did not applaud as I might have before. And when I learned that the ACLU outlines how you can start a GSA in your school, I stopped sending them a check. I also learned that there are now more than 4000 GSA clubs in public middle and high schools, a strategy reminiscent of the days of Just Say No. And finally, when I learned that my beloved Planned Parenthood – whom I have supported in a myriad of ways for over 30 years – was doling out cross-sex hormones to teens after a single visit, I spoke to my feminist friends about withdrawing their support as well. We now fight for abortion rights through NARAL.
I write this piece in an attempt to muddy the political waters. This cannot be another “us versus them” ideological political fight. We have already done this to public health and to our planet’s health. For our children’s health, we need to come together, regardless of where our politics lie. Children are not political tools. They should be protected from ideologies that fly in the face of biology, especially ones that manipulate their developing brains and fragile mental health. Especially ones that set them on an irreversible path to permanently changing their bodies, bodies they should be taught to love and to accept and to respect.