The New York Times Declares War on LGBTQ People With Hire of Anti-Trans Columnist
Back in November, I wrote a piece explaining my key takeaway from the midterms: the press is out of touch with the public. After 2016, pretty much every mainstream media outlet took a few big steps to the right in hopes of not being called “fake news” by the new president, and then kept moving to the right in response to Democrats winning the House in 2018, and Democrats winning the House, Senate, and presidency in 2020 (the justification for the post-2020 move, as CBS News President Neeraj Khemlani said in March 2022, was that “we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms. A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”).
Before I get started, I just wanted to note that The Present Age is a 100% reader-supported publication. The best way to support my work is to become a subscriber (free or paid) and to share these posts on social media.
I wrapped up that piece with a simple plea:
If the press wants to avoid losing what’s left of its credibility (which only remains because people on the center-left and left haven’t entirely abandoned it yet), it’ll need to make efforts to undo this absurd rightward bias it’s embraced in the aftermath of 2016.
Well, we’re four days into the new year and I feel like I can say with some confidence that my plea has gone unheard or ignored by the people who call the shots at major news organizations. This is not a surprise to me. But enough about my old pleas and predictions. Let’s jump right into my reason for writing today’s edition of the newsletter.
The New York Times hired yet another conservative columnist who has written some absolutely vile things about trans people.
His name is David French, and you may know him from The National Review, The Dispatch, The Atlantic, or even from his past writing at The New York Times.
In announcing his hire, Kathleen Kingsbury and Patrick Healy of the Times wrote this:
Writing about politics and current affairs in the era of Donald Trump ideally requires a variety of traits that do not always, or even often, go together: factual and intellectual clarity, moral seriousness, and a spirit of generosity toward others and humility toward oneself.
Happily for Times Opinion, those traits are embodied to an exceptional degree by David French, who is joining us as our newest columnist, beginning January 30. We are delighted to welcome him.
It was Kingsbury and Healy’s line that “a spirit of generosity toward others” is one of the traits that “are embodied to an exceptional degree by David French,” that caught my attention.
Before I jump into this, I want to make a few things crystal clear.
I am not calling for French to be banned from NYT. French has, for years, contributed guest essays to the paper, taking the Erick Erickson route of trying to brand himself as the guy who just wants to find common ground, and trying to spin that into a more permanent position. Honestly, if NYT wanted to publish French on occasion from now until the end of time, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I’ve read his pieces over there (just as I’ve read his pieces elsewhere), and as you’ll notice, this is the first time I’m bringing him up.
And while I think NYT’s decision to hire French as a full-time columnist (for reasons I’ll get to momentarily) was a colossal mistake by the paper, this newsletter is not in any way, shape, or form, an attempt to get the paper to roll back his hiring or to fire him. My position on his hiring is the same as my position on Joe Rogan’s Spotify deal: it was a bad hire/bad deal that says a lot about the organization, but if the time for doing something about that (barring future actions) was before he was hired, not after and not in response to pushback.
My point in this piece is that NYT’s columnist roster is absolutely loaded with anti-trans voices with absolutely zero balance. For all the focus the paper keeps putting on “the trans debate,” it doesn’t seem particularly interested in actually involving trans people in said “debate” outside of the stray “Look! Here’s a trans person writing a ‘guest essay’ for us!” token piece they like to throw out there a couple of times a year. Meanwhile, their columnists will fire out half-informed pieces criticizing trans people and unnamed “trans activists” on the regular. (See: Pamela Paul’s tendency to hyperfocus on trans people, often going to extreme lengths trying — and often failing — to make a coherent point).
My point here is that I want NYT to hire multiple trans people to be full-time columnists for the paper. And that doesn’t mean they should be hired to write exclusively about trans issues. As much as editors at big papers like to pigeonhole trans writers as somehow only qualified to offer opinions on trans topics (when we’re given space to offer opinions at all), trans people deserve a true seat at the table if there’s going to be a continuing push to discuss “the trans debate.”
tl;dr if your takeaway from this is that I’m trying to “cancel” anyone or “silence” anyone, then you very clearly did not read this. I am calling for additional speech and additional voices. The “silencing” is happening by the giant media companies like NYT who do a whole lot of talking about trans people without trans people, save for the small handful of “guest essays” they commission throughout the year.
With that said, let’s talk about how David French feels about trans people and how that fits with NYT’s claim that he embodies a “spirit of generosity toward others.”
I disagree with French on a very, very wide range of issues. That is fine. He can have his views. He can write his views down and newspapers can publish them if they want. But since NYT decided to sing his praises as someone who embodies a “spirit of generosity toward others,” I want to highlight how he’s written about transgender people and transgender issues over the years. As he’s never walked any of these positions back (and, in fact, doubled down on them as recently as three months ago as he braggingly declared, "I don’t agree that trans men are ‘men’ or that trans women are ‘women,’ and while I strive to treat every person I encounter with dignity and respect, I don’t use preferred pronouns because their use is a form of assent to a system of belief to which I don’t subscribe.), there’s no reason to believe that he’s changed his views.
To address that point, I feel the need to say that you cannot treat a person with “dignity and respect” while also insulting them by deliberately referring to them by the wrong name or pronoun. I genuinely do not care whether or not you or David French or anyone else believes that “trans women are women” or “trans men are men.” I really, truly don’t. No one is asking him to believe that. I’m asking him to leave trans people alone, or at very least, to take the tiniest steps to avoid mentioning pronouns at all if there’s some reason he absolutely must refer to a trans person. This is not how he has approached this topic, as his writing has shown over and over again.
Examples of David French’s cruel, demeaning, and outright dehumanizing anti-trans writing.
“With blinding speed, the sexual revolutionaries are moving on from the cause of gay marriage to recasting and rethinking law, culture, religion, and biology for the sake of indulging the troubled fantasies of a tiny, disturbed population of transgendered, or ‘genderqueer,’ Americans.” [“Transgender Entitlement: The New Orthodoxy on Campus,” The National Review, 9/3/15]
Hopefully, it doesn’t need to be explained that saying trans people suffer from “troubled fantasies” and calling them a “tiny, disturbed population” is, if nothing else, an extraordinarily mean-spirited way of speaking about a group of people.
While French, I’m sure, is more than happy that the law protects him from being fired on the basis of his Christian beliefs (even though a great many people surely find those beliefs absurd), he calls it “entitlement” for trans people to not want to be discriminated against on the basis of being trans. This piece goes on to mock trans people who feel unsafe using the wrong restroom (for example: a trans woman being forced to use a men’s restroom). There is zero compassion in this piece, just heartless sneering.
“The video below is one of the sadder short clips I’ve seen. In it, a teenage boy who calls himself Claire dons a bikini top, adopts exaggerated feminine mannerism, and hits the beach with friends to show the challenges of transgender dating. He apparently fools two straight guys into believing he’s a girl and he gets their phone number. Later, he laments that they lose interest when they find out he’s male. Claire says that ‘straight guys just can’t get over you having the male parts’ and expresses hope that when he ‘gets the surgery,’ his life will be better. Until then, he can’t ‘get physical’ with straight guys.” [“A Sad Video Highlights the Contradictions and Tragedy of the Transgender Moment,” The National Review, 5/12/16]
Here, French decided to write an entire piece about a BBC documentary about trans people and the challenges they face in dating. The woman in the video opened up about these challenges (and yes, these are really valid challenges because I can tell you that most gay men aren’t interested in trans women because, well, they aren’t attracted to women; and a lot of straight men aren’t attracted to trans women because they either see trans women as “men”/there’s a social stigma about dating a trans woman/whatever other reason — the whole point is that dating can be challenging when the pool of possible partners is pretty small, which isn’t at all to say that anyone should or shouldn’t be attracted to anyone else).
French decides to repeatedly and aggressively refers to the trans woman in the video as “he” and “him” (11 references to her as “he,” three references to her as “him” or “himself,” four references to her as a “boy,” and two to “male”). French seems to actively go out of his way in this piece to use masculine pronouns when he could have just as easily referred to her as “Claire. Instead, just look at the aggressive and gratuitous barrage of masculine pronouns, the use of “boy” and “male,” etc. Even if this is what French believes (which, again, there’s no doubt in my mind that it is), this is not someone showing a “spirit of generosity toward others,” that’s for sure.
This fixation on this as an example of Claire trying to “fool” people plays into another tired, dangerous trope about trans women. Additionally, French makes a number of assertions that simply aren’t backed up by the video. “Exaggerated feminine mannerism”? Not really. And later, accuses her of wanting “other boys to change, to reject the ‘born this way’ of their own sexuality for the open-mindedness of ‘getting physical’ with a girl with a penis.” That’s not something she said or even hinted at. That’s just French projecting his own weird views onto this young woman. It’s gross.
At another point, French refers to vaginoplasty in the following way: “A deeply confused teenager is on the verge of mutilating himself — of literally opening a wound that his body will consistently attempt to close — for the sake of hoping to find love with straight men.” “For the sake of hoping to find love with straight men” is a baseless claim. She does not say that in the video referenced and it’s really gross to suggest that trans people transition because they think dating will somehow be easier (lol, no! No one’s like, “I’m a gay man who has trouble meeting other gay men, maybe I’ll transition so dating straight men will be easier!” That’s not reality. Again, transitioning reduces the size of your dating pool, not the opposite.) And no, sigh, a vaginoplasty does not create “a wound that [her] body will consistently attempt to close.” That’s a weird right-wing falsehood that even some trans women (specifically, trans women NYT will commission for a guest essays on the topic when they want to go “See? We have trans people write for us sometimes!”) end up believing. But it is false, just simply a misrepresentation of how that works.
“I can acknowledge that gender dysphoria is a “persistent aspect of humanity,” but I will not concede that gender dysphoria trumps biology, and I don’t think our culture should cease efforts towards “ending” the dangerous notion that men or women should amputate healthy organs in the quest to sculpt their bodies to become something they’re not. Gender dysphoria may not “go away,” but transgenderism is something else entirely. Our culture is in the midst of a live and important dispute over the very nature of biological reality — and over the psychological and spiritual health of hundreds of thousands of precious souls — and now is not the time to abandon the field.” ["In the Transgender Debate, Conservatives Can’t Compromise the Truth,” The National Review, 5/9/18]
This is the most telling clip of all. It was a response to a post from conservative writer J.J. McCullough called “Time for a Compromise on Transgenderism” (which wasn’t much of a “compromise” as it was McCullough floating the idea that maybe if trans people agree that there shouldn’t be any legal protections against discrimination on the basis of being transgender — something that is absolutely a non-starter as protections against discrimination are crucial to being able to fully participate in society — that maybe conservatives could dial back the targeted attacks on trans identity, acknowledge that trans people are “entitled to basic human dignity” and “acknowledging that arbitrary discrimination against transgender people is a cruel bigotry like any other”). Again, this was a non-starter because it was an argument for legalized discrimination. Still, even this entirely one-sided argument sparked a furious response from French, who insisted that it’s important that he keep trying to make it socially unacceptable for trans people to be allowed to live their lives in peace.
This is the line that really gets me: “Gender dysphoria may not ‘go away,’ but transgenderism is something else entirely.” You cannot happily muse about the possibility of eradicating “transgenderism” (a word used almost exclusively by the right in place of the much more normal-sounding “trans people,” “trans identity,” “trans existence”) without recognizing the horrific implications of what that would mean for trans people. This is just a genocidal point of view.
Later in that essay, he explains, “While I’m utterly opposed to boorish behavior, the use of a pronoun isn’t a matter of mere manners. It’s a declaration of a fact. I won’t call Chelsea Manning ‘she’ for a very simple reason. He’s a man. If a person legally changes his name, I’ll use his legal name. But I will not use my words to endorse a falsehood. I simply won’t. We’re on a dangerous road if we imply that treating a person with ‘basic human dignity’ requires acquiescing to claims we know to be false.” As I’ve pointed out, he won’t even do small, polite things like refer to Chelsea Manning by simply her last name (or not mention her at all, as this essay had nothing to do with her). Additionally, French is lying about his willingness to call trans people by their legal names when they’ve been updated, as he made frequent references to Caitlyn Jenner as “Bruce” long after her name change went through, and, even just when it comes to Manning doesn’t do this. Three years after Chelsea Manning legally changed her name, French published a National Review piece headlined, “Disgrace: Obama Commutes Bradley Manning’s Sentence,” where he put the name “Chelsea” in quotes while using her former first name without quotes.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. There are a bunch of other examples that I could point to on this topic and others, but the fact is that French is a man who loudly, aggressively, and repeatedly antagonizes trans people simply for existing and wanting to participate in society. He’s refused to leave trans people alone, he won’t even do the bare minimum and not using any pronouns when referring to trans people (I fully expect that NYT will edit his pieces to do exactly this, for what it’s worth), and instead seems to see it as his mission to try to eradicate “transgenderism” from society.
I don’t want French fired. I don’t even want NYT to ask him not to write about trans issues. If he has something he wants to say, whatever, go ahead and say it. That’s fine.
What I want is balance. And that means immediately hiring trans people as columnists. “Submit a guest essay” is not an adequate response. Trans people need representation, and NYT has refused to do so over the years (Jenny Boylan used to write semi-regularly for NYT, and while I’m not some huge fan of her writing, it was at least something that she was there; she is not there anymore, and even so, she was never a full columnist, which comes with its own privileges and leeway. That is what I’m asking for.)
I’m happy to provide a list of some really great trans writers I think would be a good fit over there. So while criticism of French will no doubt be decried as “cancel culture” and “silencing,” the reality is that it’s trans people who have been “canceled” and “silenced” by mainstream media outlets that refuse to give us seats at the table.
Hire Katelyn Burns. Hire Julia Serano. Hire Jude Doyle. Hell, hire me (Edit: Okay, not me. There are at least a half dozen or so trans writers who would be way better than me.) Like I said, I can provide a list of really talented, insightful people who do absolutely great work writing about trans issues and beyond.
I emailed The New York Times to ask if French’s past writing on trans issues fits the paper’s description of him as embodying “a spirit of generosity toward others,” but received no response.
I emailed LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD for a statement, and received this back from GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis:
It is appalling that The New York Times hired and is now boasting about bringing on David French, a writer and attorney with a deep history of anti-LGBTQ activism. After more than a year of inaccurate, misleading LGBTQ coverage in the Times opinion and news pages, the Times started 2023 by announcing a second anti-transgender opinion columnist, without a single known trans voice represented on staff. A cursory search for French turns up numerous anti-LGBTQ articles and his record as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group that actively spreads misinformation about LGBTQ people and pushes baseless legislation and lawsuits to legalize discrimination, including just last month at the Supreme Court. The Times left out these facts in its glowing announcement of French’s hiring, and also forgot to mention his work as a co-signer on the 2017 Nashville Statement, which erased LGBTQ voices of faith and falsely stated ‘that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism.’ The Times had the gall to claim French as a ‘faith’ expert despite this known history.
The Times’ opinion section continues to platform non-LGBTQ voices speaking up inaccurately and harmfully about LGBTQ people and issues. This is damaging to the paper’s credibility. The Times opinion section editors’ love letter to French yesterday shows a willful disregard of LGBTQ community voices and the concerns so many have shared about their inaccurate, exclusionary, often ridiculous pieces. Last year, the Times ended popular trans writer Jenny Boylan’s column, leaving the opinion section with no trans columnists and a known lack of transgender representation on its overall staff. Who was brought on after Boylan? Pamela Paul, who has devoted columns to anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ disinformation, and David French. This reflects a growing trend on the news and opinion pages of misguided, inaccurate, and disingenuous ‘both sides’ fearmongering and bad faith ‘just asking questions’ coverage. The Times started 2023 by bragging about hiring another anti-trans writer, so LGBTQ leaders, organizations, and allies should make a 2023 resolution not to stay silent as the Times platforms lies, bias, fringe theories, and dangerous inaccuracies.”
Additionally, GLAAD put together a pretty decent summary of the wildly one-sided way the Times covers trans issues. You can find that here.
That’s it for today! This newsletter has taken a lot out of me to write, so I’m going to skip tomorrow’s weekly recap. If you’re here, still reading this, and appreciate the work I do, please consider becoming a paid subscriber to The Present Age, as this is my primary source of income (and, let’s be real, it’s not like NYT is going to rush out and offer me a columnist gig). Your support helps me keep this newsletter mostly free for all subscribers.