There is no wrong side of history
Not all progressive causes are the same
The name of this substack comes from my book, which in turns derives from a line used by Barack Obama about al-Qaeda. The US president’s argument was that all these antediluvian bearded men who wanted to turn back the clock were going to lose because the future was all about personal freedom, gender equality and all that stuff. You don’t hear much about al-Qaeda these days, it’s true, although their friends the Taliban are doing all right.
The ‘right side of history’ thesis holds that conservatives are fighting against progressive causes which are inevitably going to win over the public, so that anyone who stands in their way risks being judged badly by posterity.
In this narrative the campaign for trans rights is a continuation of the struggle for gay equality, part of the same march towards righteousness and justice. Indeed, the current argument over gender will eventually be viewed in the same way as the gay rights campaigns of the 70s and 80s are now. And while few politicians seem to care about the state of the country in 50 years, they do care what people will think of them.
If those fusty old Tories don’t embrace every progressive cause going, they will be judged like those white southerners screaming at civil rights marchers in black and white CBS reports, or the people responsible for Section 28. That, I think, explains a certain amount of Right-wing political cowardice over the gender issue, even when presented with troubling reports about shared spaces, or the even more worrying issue of children taking drugs to delay puberty. Indeed, not only did the Tory Government initially go along with gender self-identification, so desperate were they not to be on the wrong side of history, but the argument was largely left to Left-wing and centrist feminists — ‘Terfs’ — to fight alone.
Yet they seem to have won it.
While the British public continues to become more liberal on most issues, support for gender self-ID has dropped noticeably, and the percentage of people stating that ‘Transgender people should be able to change the sex on their birth certificate’ has fallen from 58% in 2016 to just 32% today.