For all the buzz and controversy that come out of the increasingly aggressive transgender movement, it’s surprisingly difficult to actually define transgenderism. Is it an ideology? Is it a fad? Is it a tribe? Is it a political movement? Is it a cultural rebellion? Is it a hobby for bored Westerners? Is it all these things? How does it work, and why now?
As one watches What Is a Woman?, the new documentary from conservative provocateur Matt Walsh, these are the questions that are really being asked. As for what a woman is, Walsh’s array of interlocutors inevitably come up short. Whether it is a psychiatrist who treats sexually confused people, a medical doctor who offers “gender affirming care,” a social scientist who specializes in gender, or the typical Women’s March activist, the answers were either hopelessly circular (“a woman is a person who identifies as a woman”), hopelessly vague (“a woman is everything and nothing”), or simply nonexistent (“I don’t know”).
Although Walsh never arrives at a satisfactory answer on what a woman is, he does shed light on transgenderism, which is effectively a modern-day cult. Its adherents preach a false gospel of salvation to vulnerable people who lack the reasoning or emotional capacity to resist. As part of their conversion, these converts are drawn away from their communities and brainwashed to hate their former selves—making them even more vulnerable to manipulation. By the end, they are so thoroughly deluded that they distrust everything and everyone and ultimately give up their lives to the cult.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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As most people recognize, transgenderism is fiercely defended. Followers depend on it for their riches, their livelihoods, their community, and their very sense of reality. At no point can they allow alternative viewpoints to threaten their fragile belief system. They have invested too much, and turning back after a certain point would be traumatic.
This makes talking to those who are in the transgender cult a difficult and often dangerous enterprise. It is to Walsh’s great credit that he braves this storm and takes on the open hostility and death threats. He has the audacity to point out the logical inconsistencies, the embarrassing lack of evidence, and the obvious exploitation taking place on a mass scale. Although he is constantly asked by the people he interviews why he cares so much, the real question is why so many other people in society don’t seem to care at all.
It is also to Walsh’s great credit that he does all this while keeping a cool head. Much like Socrates, Walsh makes his point through questions. And just like in the Socratic dialogues, the ostensible experts making their case on simple issues immediately become flustered, contradict themselves, and blame the questioner for their discomfort. It is evident that they have never had to account for their deeply held beliefs, and even the slightest skepticism of their superstitions disturbs them.
However, as fun as it is to watch college professors like Patrick Grzanka being triggered by the word “truth” or Rep. Mark Takano making an idiot of himself before walking out on an interview, it’s not altogether clear what Walsh intends to do about it or what he wants from his audience. For most of the film, the viewer periodically alternates between feelings of outrage at the perpetrators of abuse and pity for the victims of that abuse. On some level, all of these people have had their minds warped by transgenderism and can’t understand what Walsh is arguing.
That’s why Walsh’s approach—calling out its lack of logic and mocking its adherents—seems doomed to fail. Sure, it’s satisfying for those already convinced that transgenderism is utterly absurd, but it does little to help those trapped in the community.
Moreover, how should one guard against the cult’s influence? Perhaps the biggest omission from the film was how social media has fueled the rise of transgenderism. While the role of technology is hinted at here and there, it’s never given much attention, except perhaps when Walsh talks to the Massai tribesmen in Africa. Unlike the man in clown makeup who identifies as a wolf, these people are untouched by the propaganda of the internet and thus have no inkling of transgenderism.
Such was the case for everyone only a few decades ago, before parents thought it was a good idea to have their children spend so many hours on TikTok every day. In those days, gender dysphoria was a rare mental illness that few people even knew about. Now, in a matter of a few years, 1 in 20 young adults identify as transgender or nonbinary. It’s not hard to see where they got that idea, but this rarely comes up in the film.
Then again, it’s possible that making this point would’ve turned off Walsh’s target audience of young conservatives who themselves are greatly influenced by online content. It’s also likely that most parents concerned about this issue or who listen to Walsh’s podcast will know better than to foster a screen addiction with their underage children. Just as one would never put their children in the care of perverts in the real world, so, too, should they guard against their influence in the virtual world.
Whatever reason Walsh had to avoid exploring this avenue further, this weakness is more than made up for with the rest of the film, which boldly exposes the hollowness of transgenderism and teaches people how to reject its lies. Walsh demonstrates the power of common sense and the need to confront this kind of corruption. This is a battle anyone can win should they choose to do so, and it’s something they need to win. For the sake of the children, the truth, and civilization itself, everyone should be ready to answer what a woman is and stop the spread of the transgender cult.