In 2006, I visited New York City for the first time. A member of the city’s cultural cognoscenti flew me over, on the strength of a single blog comment I had left, to participate in a colloquium on the digital transformation of society. That experience left me with an indelible love of Gotham: the beating heart of intellectual life in America—and the world. It was a sleepless, restless, questioning place, where you could find yourself bantering about metaphysics with someone over pizza at 3 a.m., then never see him again.

But New York is no longer an open space, it seems. Two decades since that first visit, I have been deplatformed, canceled because of my convictions. On April 26, the US launch of my book Feminism Against Progress, an event cosponsored by Compact and First Things, was scheduled to take place at the Georgia Room, a cultural venue in Manhattan. Everything had gone smoothly: The contract was signed, the deposit was sent. But then something happened: The venue—which bills itself as “inclusive”—got critical comments on social media, and suddenly called it off.

“I stand by my words.”

My immediate offense was a tweet criticizing child gender-reassignment surgery, an irreversible act that can permanently sterilize the patient. My criticism was strongly worded, because some things deserve to be strenuously opposed. Children who undergo gender-reassignment surgery are legally unable to consent to sex. They aren’t allowed to purchase cigarettes or alcohol. And yet in gender reassignment, their sexual organs are removed, and they are prescribed powerful hormones. I described the people who engage in these operations as “butchers,” and I stand by my words.

But the venue’s objection went beyond any one tweet. It was about a broader discomfort with my insistence on the inescapable reality and political importance of the physical differences between men and women. The fact that I, a little-known British mum and writer, am considered out of bounds at a New York cultural venue is a sign that the city is losing its intellectual robustness—that New Yorkers are exchanging free debate for stifling orthodoxy.

This cancelation isn’t a one-off occurrence. I am far from the first woman to be targeted for saying these things. Many British women have been deplatformed, censored, unfriended, and fired because they spoke out against transgenderism. Americans aren’t yet fully acquainted with these tactics, but they soon will be. This month, the swimmer Riley Gaines was physically assaulted after giving a speech opposing men competing in women’s sports. What happened to her is only the beginning—unless we resist.

I can see why, in New York City of all places, many would be taken in by the false promises of emancipation offered up to justify commodifying our bodies. Manhattan feels, on first encounter, like a place made of pure ideas, with material architecture a mere afterthought. No wonder at least some of its denizens find compelling the delusion that even our flesh might be vanquished altogether, by dint of sheer will to self-creation.

But take off the magical-thinking goggles, and the city itself gives the lie to the delusion. Those soaring buildings only look like geometrical abstractions. Beneath that illusion is an extraordinary, effortful miracle of steel, stone, brick, and glass. The New York I love knows this. The street sweepers and subway workers know it. So do the Wall Street money men. Even the intellectuals and artists used to.

For there is a difference between a commitment to ideas and a commitment to ideology. Pursuing the truth isn’t the same as refusing to notice anything that doesn’t fit your vision. Sometimes ideas and ideology are hard to tell apart, however. I have tremendous sympathy for the young people duped by gender ideology into self-mutilation. I dare say those who now seek to silence the quiet reminder, from a middle-aged mother, that biology still exists, sincerely believe they are making the world a better place.

But just because you find a viewpoint sympathetic doesn’t mean it’s true. Humans still can’t change sex. Even in New York City, embodied sex still matters. Deep down, fast-talking, freewheeling, street-smart, and book-smart New York still knows this. The show will go on. Somehow, somewhere we will hold the book launch. In the face of powerful resistance, we will defend reality.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd, and the author of Feminism Against Progress.


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