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Meet the Censored: Kara Dansky
The feminist author of The Abolition of Sex has become the ultimate example of a new propaganda phenomenon, which denounces leftists as right-wing when they say unpopular things
Two years ago, in February of 2020, the Washington Post published a piece called “Conservatives find unlikely ally in fighting transgender rights: Radical feminists.” The essence of the article was to describe groups like the Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF, full of people with decades-long track records as leftists or feminists, as not merely in temporary agreement with conservatives on trans issues, but actual converts to the entire conservative cause.
The piece described WoLF as “fringe activists” who “argue that advancements in transgender rights will come at the expense of women’s rights” and have been “shunned” by modern progressives, who call them “a discriminatory, right-wing group disguised as feminist.”
The piece was one of countless examples in which leftist or independent critics of mainstream fixations — from Russiagate to the campaign of Joe Biden to war in Ukraine — are reclassified as right-wingers and Trump supporters. The far left, libertarians, Greens, and other assorted malcontents used to be just ignored by popular media, but now they don’t even enjoy that privilege. The new instinct has a clear and effective purpose, to create the illusion that there is no intramural debate on one side of the aisle, that disagreers are actually enemies in disguise.
Kara Dansky, a former WoLF board member and the author of The Abolition of Sex, may be the most outspoken feminist in America when it comes to criticizing popular current beliefs about gender identity. A former ACLU public defender, she’s focused heavily on the presence of biological men in women’s jails, and for her troubles has been essentially booted out of mainstream progressive politics.
As I noted in a review of Matt Walsh’s What is a Woman?, I originally sat on this interview in an effort to avoid dealing with blowback from trans activists. I apologized to Dansky this week and also asked her thoughts about the film, which are included below.
Dansky is an intense, sharp interview, and also a fluid and purposeful author. Ages ago, as a dumb young jock, I picked up Andrea Dworkin’s 1974 Woman Hating as a joke, and found myself engrossed and reading to the end. Dansky’s book, The Abolition of Sex, isn’t written in the same kind of fulminating, entertainingly rageful prose, but it is a persuasive exercise in no-bullshit argumentation. I recommend it even to people who are inclined to disagree with her. In these passages she talks about the corruption of language:
The entire English language is being manipulated and twisted in order to obscure the reality of sex. In June 2021, the Biden administration replaced the word “mothers” with the words “birthing people” in a section of a budget proposal regarding infant mortality. In a guide on “Safer Sex for Trans Bodies,” the Human Rights Campaign urges readers to refer to a vagina as a “front hole” and to a penis as a “strapless…”
That our language has changed so dramatically as to make the natural, material reality of sex nearly invisible, with so little public debate, is astounding… If we cannot talk about sex, we cannot talk about sexism. If we cannot talk about sexism, we cannot fight back against it.
I asked Dansky about these and other questions in an interview earlier this year. At the time, she had just done an interview with Tucker Carlson, so I asked her about blowback:
Matt Taibbi: You wrote for The Federalist and you just went on Tucker, and it’s clear that you’re uncomfortable about this to a degree. If you had a choice, would you be using these outlets?
Kara Dansky: It’s really interesting, because my choice would be to go on more mainstream, left-leaning outlets. Absolutely. I would love to have a conversation with The New York Times, with The Washington Post, with MSNBC, CNN. I would love to do that. They are not, seemingly, willing to even have a conversation about this, so I go on conservative media because conservative media will have me.
It turns out that there is actually an advantage to doing that, which is that even though it’s my party, the Democratic Party, that is driving the rush to abolish sex in law and society, my view is that Republicans are not doing enough to stand up to it. By going on conservative media, even though that is not my preference, it’s actually an opportunity to inform conservatives about how important it is and how dire the consequences are for women and girls of abolishing sex in law, because I think a lot of conservatives think that this is just a crazy lefty issue, and they don’t really appreciate how important it is.
Matt Taibbi: Could you talk about the difference between sex and gender for people who don’t understand that?
Kara Dansky: Sex is grounded in material biology. It’s what we all learned in school. All human beings are sexually dimorphic mammals. We are part of the family of mammals, and so all of us are female or male. Females have a chromosomal makeup of XX. Males have a chromosomal makeup of XY. Females produce large gametes called ova. Males produce small gametes called sperm. This is all very basic biology. That’s what sex is.
Gender, on the other hand, although the terms are very frequently used interchangeably, is more about sex stereotypes. Women stereotypically like pink. Men stereotypically like blue. Women stereotypically are nurturing. Men stereotypically are aggressive. These are stereotypes that we all have in our minds about what boys and girls are supposed to like, what men and women are supposed to like, and how we’re all supposed to act, but they have nothing to do with our biology.
Matt Taibbi: I’ve known some people who identified as trans or as women in my life, who wanted to be called she. As somebody who’s grown up with a liberal sensibility, my first thought is, “Well, if that’s the way they feel, I respect that,” and so I go along with it. I always felt like that was the right moral thing to do. Is it not?
Kara Dansky: Yeah, a couple things. I really think the use of so-called preferred pronouns, I think it messes with our head. Just as you were saying that, I noticed you kind of struggling with it, because I know that you want to use she to describe your male friends who identify as women to be kind, but it’s not easy. There’s a conflict in your own mind about that. I think that’s very deliberate, not by your friend. I think it’s a deliberate move by this whole gender identity movement to get us to be confused and to question our own understanding of the truth.
The other thing on the topic of kindness and compassion, I honestly think the kindest and most compassionate thing we can do for anyone who is genuinely confused about their biological sex is encourage them to accept themselves as they are.
Matt Taibbi: Part of the reason that middle America became accepting of the idea of gay rights was that they were persuaded that there was some biology behind that, that people are born that way. Yet now there seems to be a different or almost opposite theory, that biology is not absolutely determinative. Do you connect transgenderism to something like sexual preference, or is it a different kind of idea to you?
Kara Dansky: It’s a whole different thing. Sexual orientation is grounded in the material reality of sex. Straight people are attracted to the opposite sex. Gay people are attracted to the same sex. Bisexual people are attracted to people of either sex. That’s all grounded in attraction to others.
This whole identity thing has to do with one’s own feeling about one’s self. It has nothing to do with sexuality. The inclusion of T in the acronym LGB was an ingenious political strategy, because it persuaded Americans across the political spectrum to think that there is a coherent category of people called transgender for whom sex is irrelevant.
I think you’re absolutely right that part of the reason the gay rights movement was so successful, was by persuading people, middle America, that it’s innate. That’s a very controversial topic. There are a lot of lesbians who will say that they felt compelled by society to be in relationships with men, and then they made a political decision to stop being in relationships with men and only be in relationships with women, that that’s a political choice. That’s a controversial stance. I don’t know if you want to get into that, but FYI, it’s very controversial.
But adding that T, I think it was an absolutely ingenious political strategy, because this whole thing is an effort to persuade ordinary Americans that biological sex doesn’t exist. If the proponents of this ideology had simply said, “Biological sex doesn’t exist,” ordinary Americans would say, “What are you talking about? Everybody knows how babies are made.” So they made up the T, they made up the word, and then they got it attached to what was a very legitimate and very successful civil rights movement.
Matt Taibbi: Can you remember the first time that you had a dispute with a colleague about this issue? When was the first time that you first noticed that you might have a conflict with people who, until that point, had been friends or allies?
Kara Dansky: I didn’t get involved in this issue until 2014. At that point in my life, I had been doing criminal justice reform work for about 15 years. Then I kept doing criminal justice reform work as an independent consultant, working on drug policy and immigration policy and mass incarceration. I was doing research and writing and all sorts of things like that, but I kept my radical feminist activism out of it, because they’re different topics.
Then one day I had a client who called me up. This would’ve been 2017 or ‘18, and this client called me up. I was involved in a project at that time, as an independent consultant, working on a project at the border. It involved encouraging immigrant rights activists and federal public defenders to be more in communication with each other, so that the criminal defense could be informed by the knowledge that immigration rights advocates had, and that immigrant rights advocates could be better informed about the criminal justice system.
Basically, she called me up and she said, “I have to have a very difficult conversation with you.” She said, “One of our partner organizations thinks that your involvement with this project is toxic because of things that you have said about sex and gender, so I have to take you off the project,” and she canceled the contract. She said, “I don’t want to have to do this, because even if I disagree with you on sex and gender, I really like working with you. I value your work. I think you’re really smart, and you’re a great writer. I don’t want to do this, but I have to, because other partner organizations are threatening to pull out if I keep you on the project.”
Matt Taibbi: Did you have any problems getting anything published at this time? I know you’ve written a book, and you’ve got a publisher. But did you have issues with that, or having things removed from the internet?
Kara Dansky: No. For several years, my life ran in two parallel, unrelated universes. Over here, I’m happily going along, doing my criminal justice stuff. I published in the Harvard Law Review. Of course, I was the primary author on the ACLU’s police militarization report. I had a lot of speaking engagements. I spoke before, it wasn’t a congressional panel, but it was a Hill event. I was speaking in one of the hearing rooms on the Hill. I think I mentioned before, I was talking with Amy Goodman about police militarization.
So I was over here doing my criminal justice stuff professionally, and at the same time, on this other track, I was doing this radical feminist stuff on a volunteer basis. But the people who I was working with on the criminal justice side didn’t necessarily know what I was doing on the radical feminist side. It didn’t cause a problem until I started speaking out more publicly, and then it became a problem.
By that point, I had stopped trying to publish on criminal justice stuff. I was sort of done with that part. Then the universes stopped being parallel. My involvement in criminal justice no longer exists because I can’t get work in the so-called progressive criminal justice reform movement.
Matt Taibbi: What happened with The Washington Post? There’s a little bit of an Omerta not only about the issue, but about who’s talking about the issue, correct?
Kara Dansky: Yeah. In February 2020, I went to Seattle to join a panel that was being hosted by the Women’s Liberation Front, and it was called Fighting the New Misogyny: A Feminist Critique of Gender Identity. Two of us on the panel were registered Democrats; two of us on the panel were not Americans, but leftists where they live.
Samantha Schmidt at The Washington Post covered it, to her credit, but she framed us as being right wing and advancing a right-wing agenda. That piece in the Post was out sometime in February 2020, and in it, she referenced a Heritage panel event from 2019. In that, she puts “feminist” in scare quotes. I don’t know why. She doesn’t suggest that there’s anything to undermine our feminist credentials.
Matt Taibbi: There’s an interesting passage in The Abolition of Sex where you talk about how feminists are used to getting this treatment from the right, not so used to getting it from the left. What’s happening there?
Kara Dansky: I think a lot of people are very confused, and I think that’s completely understandable because our media has confused them. I think people really don’t know what’s going on. There’s a bill I don’t think we’ve talked about, called the Equality Act… It was originally introduced in 2015 by Senator Merkley. If you read about it in mainstream papers, it’ll say that it’s meant to protect LGBTQ people, but what it does is it completely redefines the word sex to include so-called gender identity. It does that explicitly. It says “sex (including gender identity).”
Mainstream liberals have no idea what the consequences of that are. For example, in California today, there is a public accommodation state law that defines sex in the most ridiculous, garbled, meaningless way, but one thing it does is it includes gender identity. It was on that basis that a man was permitted to enter the women’s section of the nude spa and expose himself, basically. The Equality Act would do what California already does in public accommodations all over the country. Any man can enter any space that is supposed to be designated for women whenever he wants to, on the basis of his so-called gender identity.
Matt Taibbi: Critics will say, “So what?” What’s the real consequence? Why shouldn’t we just get over it and change our thinking, as was done with other movements?
Kara Dansky: We’re literally dealing with a situation today where female prisoners are being housed in prisons with male rapists and murderers. That is actually happening. That’s not theoretical. I really think that that needs to be a national scandal, and I don’t understand... When a local Seattle station picks up a story in March of 2021 about male prisoners and rapists being housed in the women’s prison, and not a single national outlet picks it up, I just think that’s astonishing. That’s very real. It’s literally happening today, right now.
Matt Taibbi: Here’s the disconnect for me. There’s so much attention and sensitivity to the issue of violence against women in all other arenas — except this one. Do you have an explanation for that?
Kara Dansky: It is astonishing. Well, I don’t really get to ask that question to people on the left or media. When I ask that question to conservatives, they’re blown away. They agree with the question, and they don’t understand it either. But you’re right. If a man exposes himself on a bus, he will be charged with a crime, rightfully so. The victim of that crime is going to say, “This is an example of Me Too.” But if a man exposes himself in the naked section of a women’s spa, under California law, he gets to be validated as stunning and brave.
The reason you’re having a disconnect is that it doesn’t make sense. Often, I forget. I reached the point a long time ago that I just had to accept that this doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense in terms of logic, and it doesn’t make sense in terms of politics. That’s just the situation we’re dealing with.
Matt Taibbi: Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire just came out with a movie called “What is a Woman?” I’ve talked to some critics on the left who liked the movie but were a little frustrated, essentially because they were there first but were ignored. Did you see it, and what’s your reaction?
Kara Dansky: Of course feminists are angry that Matt and others like him are being hailed as leaders in this fight. Feminists have been doing this work for decades and we hardly ever get a platform for sharing our leftist feminist critique of “gender identity.” But I have an even bigger problem with conservative men like them, which is that they are being politically naive. If our society is going to be able to shift this narrative, it cannot be a story about the big bad religious right against a poor marginalized community. The right is going to lose that particular battle.
I appreciate a lot that’s in the film, but approximately zero Democrats are going to be persuaded by a Daily Wire production featuring a Christian conservative traditionalist. They need us. But they ignore us because they either don’t realize this (or they do and they just don’t care), and because it would not advance their traditionalist conservative agenda to credit feminists with having accomplished anything positive.
Matt Taibbi: Lastly: I grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s. A liberal was the person who was willing to talk about anything, had a sense of humor, was willing to entertain far-out ideas, didn’t get offended easily, and would’ve had a theoretical discussion about anything. Then all of a sudden, it feels like in the last five years this dynamic has just been turned on its head, and this issue is probably Exhibit A as to that phenomenon. Do you have any thoughts about why?
Kara Dansky: No, I grew up in the same time frame. You mentioned that I say in the book that we expected this kind of misogyny from the right; we didn’t expect it from the left. That’s true. My friend at the Seattle event in 2020 that I mentioned, she made the additional point that we expected authoritarianism from the right; we did not expect authoritarianism from the left. But that’s where we are.
As to why, I don’t know. As to why on this particular issue, I don’t know. It’s mystifying to me. It’s just mystifying, why can’t we talk about things. There’s just no study or nuance.
Matt Taibbi: Thank you so much.
Kara Dansky: Thank you.