The Gender Emperor’s New Clothes

7 December 2021

5.9 MINS

A modern twist on an old fable: The Emperor’s advisors assure him that his new idea about gender is brilliant and all the people will love it. But what happens when the children spot the Emperor’s folly?

Many years ago, there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of tolerance that he spent all his time and energy making sure he was accepting of everyone and everything.

He cared nothing about consequences or even about reality. He cared only for showing everyone how open-minded he was.

He used social media every hour of the day to signal his virtue. And instead of saying, as one might remark about any other ruler, “He’s doing actual things,” of him, the people always said, “The Emperor is very inclusive and many people like his tweets”.

In the great city where he lived, life was always gay. Every day many strange ideas came to town. One day the idea arose that gender was not a biological reality but a social construct.

Those who promoted the idea – academics, celebrities and the mainstream media – made sure everyone knew that this idea was the most magnificent idea imaginable.

The idea that people could change genders was not only uncommonly fine; it had a remarkable way of becoming invisible to anyone who was a bigot or just unusually stupid.

“This would be just the idea for me to promote,” thought the progressive Emperor.

“If I promote this idea I will be able to discover which men in my empire are bigots. And I could tell the moral men from the Nazis. Yes, I certainly must promote this idea right away.”

He paid activist organisations large sums of public money to start work on the idea at once.

They created gender studies courses and pretended to speak sense, though there was, in reality, nothing at all to what they were promoting.

“I’d like to know how those activists are getting on with the idea,” thought the Emperor. But he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were bigots would not see the logic of the magnificent idea.

It couldn’t have been that he doubted himself. Yet, he thought he would instead send someone else to see how things were going.

The whole town knew about the idea’s peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how narrow-minded and bigoted their neighbours were.

“I’ll send my local church minister to the activists,” the Emperor decided. “He’ll be the best one to tell me how the idea looks, for he’s a seeker-sensitive man and his church is very contemporary.”

So the local minister went and met with the activists who were working on their empty ideas.

“Heaven help me!” he thought as his eyes flew wide open. “Transgender theory makes no sense at all. It’s total madness. It could even be harmful.”

But while he thought this, he dared not say so.

The activists insisted that to be a compassionate person meant embracing their beautiful idea.

They explained that people could be born in the wrong bodies, but by changing their minds, they could become a different gender – or even no gender at all, and so become their true selves.

The poor minister concentrated as hard as he dared. He couldn’t see any sense to it because there was no sense to it.

“Heaven have mercy,” he thought. “Can it be that I’m a bigot? Am I a hater rather than a loving Christian? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. It would never do to let on that I think these people are actually quite insane.”

“Don’t hesitate to tell us what you think of all this,” smiled one of the activists.

The minister peered through his spectacles. “Oh, it’s wonderful,” he said. “I’ll be sure to tell the Emperor how important it is to recognise transgender issues. And I will urge him to create gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the realm.”

“We’re pleased to hear that,” the activists said. They put away the petition they had created to have the minister’s church declared a hate group in case he had not seen the logic of their idea.

They proceeded to name 72 genders and to explain their intricate differences. The minister paid very close attention so that he could tell it all to the Emperor. And so he did.

Next, the Emperor sent a trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the minister. He looked, and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the idea, he couldn’t see anything that made even a bit of sense.

“Isn’t it a beautiful idea?” the activists asked him after introducing themselves by their preferred pronouns.

“I know I’m not stupid,” the man thought, “so it must be that I’m stuck in the last century. I mustn’t let anyone find out, though.”

He praised the idea he did not comprehend. He declared he was delighted that there would be transgender and pangender and bigender and two-spirit, even though none of it made any sense to him.

To the Emperor, he said, “It held me spellbound. And my pronouns are they/them.”

By now, all the town was singing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, and the Emperor wanted to see this splendid idea for himself.

Attended by a band of chosen men, including the minister and the trusted official, he set out to see the activists. He found them sprouting transgender ideology with might and main, but without a thread of sense.

“Magnificent!” said the two officials already duped. “Just look, Your Majesty, men can have periods. They can also be pregnant.”

They insisted these things were obvious, each supposing that the others could see it.

The activists each used many confusing terms like cisgender and heteronormative and non-binary and gender fluid, as if they were saying something that actually meant something.

“What’s this?” thought the Emperor. “I can’t see anything. None of this makes any sense at all. This is terrible!

“Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be Emperor? What a thing to happen to me of all people!”

But he nodded with seriousness at the empty ideas and told the activists, “Oh! It’s very interesting. And raising gender neutral children is very responsible.”

Nothing could make him say that he couldn’t see any sense in it.

All his advisors stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Emperor in exclaiming, “Oh! It’s very inclusive,” and they advised him to make it a criminal offence to misgender someone.

“Tolerance! Inclusivity! Diversity!” was the cry heard from every mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased.

The Emperor gave each of the activists a rainbow to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of “Trans Ally”.

The Emperor’s men advised him to tweet that “trans women are women” and to march at the front of the upcoming parade.

The activists sat up all night and burned more than six candles to show how busy they were finishing the Emperor’s transgender policy.

They pretended ancient societies had always believed that gender was fluid. They pretended that ‘male and female’ were categories imposed on the world by white colonists. They pretended that men identifying as women could compete as women at the Olympic Games without disadvantaging women.

And, at last, they said: “Now the emperor’s new policy platform is ready for him.”

“Remember this whole idea is as fine as a spider web. One would almost think there was nothing in it at all, but that’s what makes it so fine.”

“Exactly,” all the noblemen agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.

“If Your Imperial Majesty will condescend to embrace this new idea,” said the activists, “we will add your preferred pronouns – he/him – to your Instagram bio.”

“You represent a new, more tolerant, kinder leader,” he heard on all sides. “It’s appropriate for the 21st Century. So Diverse. So Inclusive. So Tolerant.”

Then the minister of public processions announced: “Your Majesty, the parade awaits.”

So off went the Emperor in procession holding a sign that read “Hey, Ho! The Gender Binary’s Got to Go!” which made no sense but, since it rhymed, it sounded sensible enough.

Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how inclusive is the Emperor’s new policy!”

Nobody would confess that they couldn’t see the logic of it, for that would prove them either unfit for their position or a fool.

No policy the Emperor had ever announced before was such a complete success.

“But boys have a penis and girls have a vagina,” a little child said as the parade went by.

“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said the child’s father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. A child says there are only two genders.”

“Gender is a fixed biological reality,” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This policy has got to go on, for to admit there’s nothing to it now would be the finish of me.”

So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the sign that none of them believed at all.

Image by Rosemary Ketchum on Pexels.

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