I’ve written before about the glaringly obvious similarities between QAnon, the deranged conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is fighting a secret cabal of paedophiles, and UK anti-trans faux-feminism, which is basically the same thing with Prosecco. But I haven’t seen it illustrated quite so dramatically as I have today.
In a Twitter thread, a number of apparently intelligent adults openly discussed their belief that puberty blockers are part of a plan by a secret cabal of paedophiles to get round the laws on the age of consent. They will achieve this by making sure their targets don’t go through puberty, and will wait until they are sixteen before shagging them, presumably for the rest of their adult lives.
Because if there’s one thing kiddie-fiddlers are attracted to, it’s adults.
Puberty blockers don’t stop you ageing, and they only pause puberty for a short time. They are a fork in the road, not a stop sign. Their purpose is not to ensure that someone doesn’t go through puberty; it’s to ensure that they don’t have to go through it twice.
It’s batshit insane, I know, but it’s hardly unrepresentative: many anti-trans people are hilariously ignorant about the “basic human biology” they shout about. Some refuse to accept that estrogen causes breast growth; others claim that trans women don’t have pelvises.
And it’s not just the fringe. The UK’s various anti-trans groups all support an organisation that submitted written evidence to a government committee claiming that trans people are created because they are hypnotised by sissy pornography on YouTube.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening about moral panics, and we’re firmly in Killer Clowns, Ritual Abuse, Satanic Backwards Messages in Music territory.
In Folk Devils and Moral Panics by Stan Cohen (1973), he described moral panics as occurring when “a condition, episode, person or group of persons comes to be defined as a threat to societal values and interests”. Examples of moral panics can be found throughout history, and many are laughable in hindsight: remember the 1980s panic over Dungeons & Dragons players, or the panic over murderers stuffing razorblades in Hallowe’en treats?
R Drislane and G Parkinson wrote in the online dictionary of the social sciences that “moral panics are usually framed by the media and led by community leaders or groups intent on changing laws or practices… moral panics gather converts because they touch on people’s fears, and because they also use specific events or problems as symbols of what may feel to represent ‘all that is wrong with the nation.’
A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible. Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight.
Cohen argued that there are three stages to a moral panic: one, making exaggerated and distorted claims; two, predicting terrible consequence if action is not taken against the targeted group; and three, characterising all members of the targeted group as a threat.
That sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
The other widely used model has five steps, not three. In that model, by Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda, the first stage is heightened concerns being expressed about certain groups or categories; the second is hostility towards supposed “deviants”; the third is the development of a popular consensus about the existence and seriousness of the threat; and fourth, disproportionality: where public concern is far in excess of what is proportionate or justifiable. Stage five is the actual panic, where reason is left behind and things get ugly.
And that’s where we are right now. As with QAnon, the more embroiled people become in these paranoid fantasies, the harder it is to get them back out again. I feel sorry for them: they’re victims of the most powerful disinformation machines ever created. But I’m much more sorry for the people whose lives they want to ruin, and for the family members watching loved ones lose their grip on reality.