Unfree Speech in the Age of Decay
The other day, a friend wrote to tell me he’d been suspended from Twitter. Two of his tweets had triggered the ban on “promoting violence against, threatening, or harassing other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” In one of them, he had criticized Pride month and pointed out the statistical fact that people in the LGBTQ community suffer a high rate of mental illness. In the other, he had responded to someone noting the disproportionate incidence of monkeypox in gay men with the simple observation, “In my generation of gay men, it was HIV.” My friend should know, because he is HIV+ himself—a consequence of many hellish wasted years in the 90s Castro scene. Today, he lives a quiet life of chastity, taking every opportunity to tell others like himself that Jesus loves them.
To get the word out, he asked if I could tweet his screenshots for him. Unfortunately, I had to tell him that wasn’t possible. Because that very morning, I had woken up to discover that I was suspended for the same thing.
Let’s rewind the tape. About a week ago, First Things published a piece of mine on the grim reality of sex-change regret among men and women who are now swimming against the stream of transgender propaganda. These include people who made their choices as adults, but were fast-tracked into the process without protocols that might have saved them while they were in a mentally vulnerable state. While they wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to demand a blanket government ban on such surgeries, they are vocally angry about the damage done to them and others like them. One of them, Scott (Kellie) Newgent, is especially driven to make her message known while she still can, because her own post-operative health complications could prove lethal at any time. Her tearful, yet fierce testimony is a highlight of the recent Matt Walsh documentary What Is a Woman?
An increasingly broad coalition of writers, activists, and public intellectuals have found commonality in favoring a ban on hormone therapy and surgery for children. But far fewer people are willing to extend this argument to the deeply troubled adults who demand such “treatments” for their dysphoria. “Adults should be free to do what they like with their bodies, but we should draw the line at children” — so the moderate liberal line goes, echoed even by some conservatives with a libertarian streak like Ben Shapiro. My article made the case that social conservatives should have the boldness to contradict that line in the public square. This applies a fortiori to conservatives who are also Christians, commanded by God to love our neighbors. To the best of our ability, we should advocate for legal policies that advance the common good. We should persist in this even when, like children, our fellow citizens rebel against prohibitions meant to protect them—from themselves.
Here, some might note that there needs to be legal space for bodily autonomy, including the autonomy to make health decisions that might be unhealthy—for instance, smoking, or abusing alcohol, or opting out of a vaccine. The latter has become a particular focal point in the wake of COVID (particularly as the COVID mRNA vaccines’ actual efficacy and safety have come into serious question). This is not the space to wade into the particulars of that debate. Suffice it to say, there is a compelling argument for allowing people their freedom of choice, to a point.
What precisely is that point? Answers may vary. But if sex-change surgery is not that point, it is difficult to see what is.
Immediate reactions to my article were mostly positive, with the most notable negative reaction coming from the notorious Fr. James Martin. Martin, a Jesuit priest long known for his conciliatory posture towards the LGBT community, commented, “The demonization of transgender people moves to a new level: proposing criminal penalties for physicians who perform surgeries on transgender adults who request it.” He wished I had been able to attend a recent Catholic conference called Outreach, where LGBT people were platformed and affirmed in their identities. Presumably, if I weren’t so hateful and unloving, this would have been an enlightening experience. (Never mind the testimony of men like the friend I mentioned earlier, who has written eloquently about the damage done to him by this kind of “love.”)
At publishing time, I tagged the Twitter handles of several people whose regret stories I had highlighted in the piece. These included a man and a woman from the UK—Ritchie, who is suing the NHS for damages over a horrifically botched “bottom surgery,” and Sinéad, a Scottish woman who was handed testosterone with no questions asked, despite a history of mental health crises. Initially, none of them replied to the tag one way or the other. With sizable Twitter followings of their own, they likely missed it in the flow.
On July 5, all of that changed, as first one, then another transgender activist suddenly picked up the piece. One UK-based writer, a trans-“woman” named Katy Montgomerie, began hounding the people I had tagged for a disavowal of my “extremist” views. I watched with interest to see what would happen, as I had been curious myself to know what they would think of the piece. My hunch was that they probably wouldn’t mind seeing their stories circulated, even if their conclusions weren’t perfectly aligned with mine.
That hunch proved correct. From the fireworks that ensued in my mentions, it was clear that “Katy” was a known quantity, and the people I’d tagged would not be bullied by him. Ritchie calmly noted that my piece never claimed his views were identical to mine. Sinéad said that she had always been “very clear” about her own position, dryly adding, “Perhaps if more liberals weren’t so afraid to report on detrans regret stories, we wouldn’t have to rely on conservatives to get them out there.” She was grateful for the light my article shone on the “almost unbearable pain” of the detrans community, hoping yet more voices would come forward to join her. This was the same gratitude I’d received a few days earlier from an anonymous man who suffered the same pain. As my replies became swiftly clogged with ugly insults, accusations of “fascism,” etc., I cherished these quiet expressions of thanks. They were a powerful reminder: I did something right.
But Twitter HQ apparently thought I needed one more reminder. And so it was that I woke up on the morning of July 6 to find that I had been suspended—like my friend, for not one, but two tweets. One tweet said that it wasn’t especially “radical” to make the case against allowing surgeons to hack up mentally ill people. The other noted the irony that I was being branded as a Nazi for saying perhaps we should not conduct medical experiments on the mentally ill. Based on my friend’s suspension, as well as the suspension of another account who chimed in, it appears that the phrase “mentally ill” was the likely trigger. By royal decree of the Twitter gods, a dispassionate medical diagnosis now constitutes “harassment.” (And in my friend’s case, he hadn’t even explicitly labeled the experience of same-sex attraction as mental illness, only pointed out that mental illness afflicts gay men and women at a statistically high rate—a pure statement of undisputed fact.)
I regret nothing, of course. In spite of this, I chose to delete the offending tweets, reasoning that I had in fact “violated” the Twitter Rules in spirit, if not in letter. Still, I hated to do it. I hated the fact that a significant piece of my livelihood has become partly dependent on the maintenance of a platform where my speech is not free.
That may change, or it may not. What will definitely not change is our God-given task to speak with truthful boldness to victims of the age of decay, even as they revile us. I saw many such victims as I scrolled through my mentions—people like the woman who declared she was “just going to keep living my life and get more surgeries” until she had made her body “match the internal self.” Or the man who said he was suicidally miserable before his sex change and is now “happier than ever.” He posted a picture to prove it. I found myself revisiting that picture, studying the baggy eyes, the mouth frozen in a strained smile with flickers of pain about the edges. I didn’t engage with him, because in his mind he was convinced that surgery had saved his life from the torments of my “religion.” I knew that in that state, though I could speak, he could not hear. So, not without sadness, I scrolled on.
In this world, we are warned, we will have trouble. As “trouble” goes, a seven-day Twitter suspension is a truly light and momentary affliction. Still, it is one more small reminder that as long as we are truthful, we will not be welcome. All the more imperative, in these times, to know who one’s friends truly are—and who one’s God truly is.
*Image Credit: Unsplash