It had been seven years since Last Week Tonight first devoted its main story to transgender rights. On Sunday, John Oliver celebrated the fact that more people now appear to feel comfortable coming out as trans, but he also acknowledged that “in the past few years some on the right have truly lost their minds about trans rights.”
And so the show focused on trans rights again. After showing some clips of smug Republican politicians and political operatives sarcastically telling audiences that their pronouns are things like “patriot,” “USA,” and “ass kicker,” Oliver argued that liberals are not without blame for creating or allowing the bigotry and hate with which trans people often must deal.
“Frustratingly, there are many on the Left who seem at best reluctant to engage on this issue and at worst outright hostile to it,” Oliver said. “Either complaining about ‘pronoun police’ or arguing that this issue will cost Democrats elections.”
Then Oliver tried to pull a fast one by illustrating his point with a clip of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying that defending trans rights is a losing issue for Democrats. It would have been an ideal clip to use — Bloomberg came off as somewhat cruel and out of touch — except Bloomberg, who is one of the 25 richest people in the world, is most definitely not representative of “the Left.” Although he unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, he ran as a Republican in all three of his mayoral races and is very much a moderate.
While trans rights are of course very real and important, Oliver did a nice job of explaining that the current issue-fication of trans rights is in many ways a cynical political ploy by conservatives to rile up their base, not unlike the furor whipped up over so-called critical race theory. The fantastical images of male predators wearing dresses so they can lurk in women’s public bathrooms, or of high school jocks growing their hair out in order to destroy female competition, are created to scare parents into voting for the politicians who invent these scenarios.
“Kids aren’t plotting big, deceitful school sports–related cheating schemes just to get what they want,” Oliver pointed out. “You’re thinking of Lori Loughlin. That’s who you’re thinking of here. You’re confused.”
For instance, conservative pundit and noted chud Christopher Rufo, who was one of the loudest voices encouraging the critical race theory panic, has now latched onto trans rights. He’s almost refreshingly straightforward about his desire to manipulate people into doing and saying what he wants; Oliver showed one tweet of Rufo’s that read, “Conservatives should start using the phrase ‘trans stripper’ instead of ‘drag queen.’ It has a more lurid set of connotations and shifts the debate to sexualization.”
Oliver delighted in mocking Rufo’s little messaging exercise.
“Anything can have a more lurid and sexual set of connotations if you just rename it,” Oliver said. “I’ll show ya. Rain? Sky jizz. There, much worse. Immersion blender? Soup vibrator. Spaghetti sauce? Noodle lube. See, this works on anything.”
All of that said, linking gender identity to sexual predation has proven to be an effective strategy for Republicans. As has portraying gender-affirming care as a bunch of doctors tripping over each other in their eagerness to slice sex organs off of grade schoolers. Oliver gave viewers a quick rundown of what gender-affirming care is and is not, and it is most certainly not chopping off wee-wees. Kids aren’t eligible for any action whatsoever until they hit puberty, and then any hormone treatment undertaken is reversible.
More than half of all people who desire hormone therapy but don’t receive it report suicidal thoughts. Medical associations made up of pediatric doctors not only endorse gender-affirming care, they say denying it is harmful.
Oliver quite rightly chose to end the show by focusing on hope and happiness, and how simply being called “sir” or being allowed to compete in sports against opponents of one’s chosen gender could have enormous, life-affirming meaning to trans kids who shouldn’t have to lobby and fight politicians in order to be who they want to be.
“When supported, trans kids can experience full, vibrant lives,” Oliver said. “Trans people are not by default unhappier or more prone to suffering than everyone else. That is something that we are putting on them.”