“I just couldn’t deal with the fact that I’d be potentially teaching my work on collective behavior in social spiders or wasp personalities when half my class might not even know what a male and female is or might not even be convinced that those are even real biological categories.”
I sit down with Colin Wright, an evolutionary biologist and founding editor of Reality’s Last Stand. His cartoon about his sense of alienation from the left went viral after it was retweeted by Elon Musk.
He explains why gender ideology is so damaging to society, and how he sees universities using compliance with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) ideology to determine hiring, promotions, and tenure.
“[At] increasingly more universities, they’re using these DEI statements as a first filter … I view them as political litmus tests because there is only one way to write these things.”
Below is a rush transcript of this American Thought Leaders episode from May 10, 2022. This transcript may not be in its final form and may be updated.
Jan Jekielek: Colin Wright, such a pleasure to have you on American thought leaders.
Colin Wright: Thank you for having me. This is fantastic.
Mr. Jekielek: I agree. I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while and we have this perfect opportunity with Elon Musk having tweeted this graphic, very, very interesting graphic. And so how did this graphic come about?
Mr. Wright: It’s been such a bizarre week after that happened. Yeah. This is a cartoon that I just created one night in my pajamas, and it just was meant to have me just sort out my own feelings of being alienated from, I guess, the political left on a lot of issues that I felt were very core for me, issues like freedom of speech that normally on the left were viewed as these sacrosanct value in order to speak truth to power, is being increasingly viewed as being… No, with suspicion, you see it published in articles with scare quotes like ‘free speech.’ And it’s even being accused of being dangerous to democracy and minorities, other issues such as the old value of treating people and judging people by the content of their character instead of by the color of their skin.
I’ve seen recently these new ideas ushered in this identity politics, these equity initiatives that are basing rights on group interest instead of individual rights. And then on a topic that’s closest to me is the whole women’s rights issue where we’ve now seen this shift on the left of what a woman even is. Is it even definable? Is it related to biology? And so I had come from a background in evolutionary biology where I saw people making these weird claims about sex and about gender. And are they the same? Are they different? And when I started pushing back against this stuff using scientific arguments, I was just called all these crazy names.
And so on all these topics where I previously identified with them, these are core, I just no longer really see them best represented on the political left. And it’s made me and I think a lot of others, and if you identify with that cartoon, maybe feeling politically homeless in a certain way, or at least you don’t see those values on the left anymore. I’m a lifelong Democrat and this cartoon represents those core values, but not necessarily every axis, but at least on these core values that I felt that caused me to vote Democrat. That’s what this cartoon really represents for me.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned, you noticed some of these subtle changes, but I think it was really in your work that you first started just asking yourself, what am I doing? And so tell me about that.
Mr. Wright: That was a very slow burn. And I didn’t even really notice the change until I had changed so much. I started out going… I was an undergrad, wanted to become a professor studying evolutionary biology. I went and got into graduate school, started a lab, you start meeting other faculty and things like that. If you had some pictures from undergrad, a view at a party or something, maybe you’ll take those off your timeline or something. And then it was other things like, “Oh, what pages was I liking on those things?” Maybe, “Oh, this is maybe a controversial thing. And I just want to make sure because it’s public and I’ve had some advisors who are following me on Facebook.”
And it was just really incremental over time until I got to the point where I’m at Penn State and I’m doing my post-doctoral fellowship there. And I’m just closing down every single bit of my social media, what pages am I liking? Anything I don’t like, any pages because I’m not sure which ones are going to be okay to talk about. I started seeing these articles being published saying that there’s five sexes and things like that and I would just make an initial question like, “What do they mean by this?” And I was just immediately attacked.
And I just slowly realized looking back, my initial reasons for going into academia or so I could ask these types of questions, I could ask any questions. I thought academia was the place where you ask questions and you receive feedback from people who aren’t going to attack you, the person, but they’re going to attack the idea. And everyone realizes that we’re all playing the truth game and trying to just find out what’s truth. But I wasn’t getting that. I wasn’t getting people just asking me questions back, “And why do you think that way? Here’s this evidence, here’s that.”
It was just, “You’re being transphobic, you’re a bigot. This is rooted in white supremacy,” all this type of stuff. And I’m just trying to understand why they’re saying there’s five sexes in humans when there’s clearly two. I say that as someone who’s studied biology for a long time, so yeah. So it was just this slow shift, because each day you’re not changing very much, you’re not self censoring a whole lot each day. It’s little by little until I got to the point where I realized how completely muzzled I made myself.
Mr. Jekielek: So is there some specific moment where you made a decision to shift gears or…
Mr. Wright: There was. There a series of events. So there was the Sokal-Squared Hoax, the James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian where they put these, I guess, hoax papers, although they were legitimate papers they put in, a lot of them were just using the same arguments they would and they weren’t some weren’t based on data. So they got these into some journals that dealt with gender. And I had already been questioning this whole gender ideology. What do people mean when they say they identify as a man or a woman as opposed to just being a man or a woman? And then we had the Scientific American, they published an article that was called the Sex Spectrum. And it was this beautiful diagram that just showed male and female on each side. Then they had this big spectrum in between. And it was saying there’s no such thing as male or female, we’re all just clouds of maleness and femaleness and you can reside anywhere on this spectrum.
And then there was an article in nature, I think it was called Sex Redefined and the subtitle was the idea of two sexes is now viewed as overly simplistic. And then there were just these terrible arguments looking at chromosomes and talking about hormones and these things don’t make male or female, they’re associated with that. These were so easily debunked. And to see them in these prestigious platforms, Scientific American is not a journal, but it’s a popular, trusted scientific outlet anyway. But then nature, this is the most prestigious journal in the entire world.
And when I saw that it was in nature, yeah, I couldn’t really stay quiet anymore. I literally asked myself what would Christopher Hitchens do? Because I knew this would potentially be career suicide. One of my advisor and my mentor both told me not to publish my initial article and cool it on this. But I just realized I studied animal personality, social behavior, and I just couldn’t deal with the fact that I’d be potentially teaching my work on collective behavior and social spiders or wasp personalities when half my class might not even know what a male and female is or not, might not even be convinced that those are even real biological categories. I couldn’t care about the minutia when the big picture was seeming to be distorted behind me.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. Yeah, so you did publish in Quillette, that was the moment where you really went public with your views, I guess. Is that right?
Mr. Wright: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: And so what happened with this Quillette article subsequent to that?
Mr. Wright: Yeah. It went super viral and I was reading every comment on Twitter and most people because the article basically said there’s… It was called The New Evolution Deniers. And it talked about how in the past it had been the attacks to evolution had been from the right, from evangelicals, doing creationism or intelligent design. But now we have this new strain of people who are denying evolution of sex differences and stuff. But unlike the previous attacks that were coming from outside the academy from evangelicals, because they don’t really have a big presence in the evolutionary biology community, if you can imagine.
But now being in the academy, these attacks are coming from within. And so they’re much more difficult to root out and it’s elicited this immune response to me when I was trying to push back against these things. So I tried to address that major problem and the nuances of inside the academy versus outside and why this is causing a lot of people to self censor. A lot of the responses to it were this saying that I was conflating sex and gender because in the past people were asked at least if you were on the left to say that your sex, male or female, that’s the biology, but your gender then they use the words man and woman. That was more an identity.
And this is something that a lot of people were okay with or like, “Okay, as long as…” And I was okay with it too at the time. I was like, “Okay, well, as long as there’s a wall between identity and biology, then okay, I can meet you halfway.” And then these articles, these were just completely obliterating that wall between them. People were identifying as sexes saying that it’s a social construct, all this stuff. That’s what the article pointed out.
And people were just really… They didn’t believe me when I said people were denying that sex is real. And I actually occasionally go back to read those comments because it’s just interesting to see what people thought then, because now people get it, now the cat’s out of the bag and they know that people really are saying that male and female aren’t even these real natural categories anymore. But my piece was one of the first to really spell that out, I think in great detail.
Mr. Jekielek: In what year was this? I’m just trying to-
Mr. Wright: It was 2018.
Mr. Jekielek: 2018.
Mr. Wright: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. It’s incredible four years, how things have shifted.
Mr. Wright: There’s people who were talking about it before me, but I think my article at least went the most viral on it.
Mr. Jekielek: Now what about your mentor, your supervisor, your coworkers, people presumably on scientific papers with you, what happened there?
Mr. Wright: So I have some mentors that agree with me. And a lot of them too that were closest to me, they told me… I sent them the essay first for them to look at just like, “Is this correct?” And their response was everything and this is perfectly fine and true, but you can’t publish it because it would distinct your career completely. And that really took me back because again, as I mentioned, well, this is why am I in science if I can’t publish something that’s true? And that’s when I did the whole, what would Christopher Hitchens do? Well, he would just say screw you and he’d publish it and deal with the consequences. So that’s eventually what I ended up doing.
So I still have some mentors that support me behind the scenes. They won’t publish or they won’t acknowledge it publicly. I used to give talks to their university. I’m no longer invited to give those talks, even though they don’t have a problem with me, but they just think that it would get protested and if they were the ones who invited me, it would cause a lot of trouble for them. And I have some colleagues that have just outright denounced me on social media. They think I’ve just turned into, I don’t know, close to the devil himself it seems by looking at how they talk about me on social media. But again, I’ve always just maintained that sex is real and it’s important in some context. And I’m open to discussing the issues with anyone who wants to have the conversation, so that doesn’t seem too devilish to me.
Mr. Jekielek: For the record, right? It does seem amazing that we have to spell this out, but why is it not a spectrum? Why is it polar?
Mr. Wright: Yeah. Because when you look at what a male and female are, they’re defined by the reproductive anatomy that is developed for the production of either small or large gamete sex cells, either sperm or egg. Those reproductive systems, they don’t really come in and halves, most people at birth are identifiably male or female 99.98% of the time. Some could be intersex. I leave it open to have some individuals be sexually ambiguous, but that doesn’t mean they’re a third sex because there’s not a third type of sex cell that their anatomies organized around to produce. There’s only males and females and then intersex people, which most of those conditions are actually distinctly male or female intersex conditions. But just because you might be sexually ambiguous, this doesn’t mean there’s more than two sexes.
People usually conflate my claim that sex is binary with the claim that everyone who exists is either male or female. But what I’m really saying is there’s only two sexes and maybe some people are sexually ambiguous but they’re still not a third sex if that makes any sense. When I say the word binary, I’m usually talking about composed of two parts, a binary star system or a binary compound for instance, not computer code where all you have are ones and zeros, but sex is primarily composed of just two parts. And most everyone is either 100% male or 100% female much like you flip a coin. Just because there’s an edge on the coin doesn’t mean that heads and tails come in percentages or that they’re social constructs.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah. And that doesn’t have anything to do with whether they’re more masculine or feminine in their behavior or they’re thinking or so forth, right? That’s exactly the Corollary, I guess to what you’re saying.
Mr. Wright: Yeah. Yeah. Well, so there’s a couple ways people attack biological sex. One is the whole sex is a spectrum and they’ll use intersex people as this middle ground. And if there’s a middle category, that means the other two categories don’t exist, it’s a spectrum. So I just described to you why that’s not the case. And then there’s this other attack where they use what are called secondary sex characteristics. So these are the characteristics that your body undergoes during puberty. Women will get breasts, men will get a lot taller, their jawline, they’ll get facial hair. The sex differences that we commonly associate with males and females on everyday basis but they don’t really define what you are as a male or female. They’re influenced by if you are male or female and the types of hormones that your glands are producing.
And people will use these secondary sex characteristics to say that sex is the spectrum because on any one of these characteristics, some males have a breast development, some women have square jaws and they’re tall. Some women have facial hair. Some do, there’s a lot of variation out there. And so you can see that there’s these overlap in the types of traits that males and females have. And they use that to argue that this is a spectrum of body shapes. And while it might be a spectrum of body shapes with respect to any of these little traits here, again, these are secondary sex characteristics. They don’t define what it means to be your sex. They’re just associated with it.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay. And while we’re on it, why is this important? Why is it important? I think I saw you once say this is the hill I’m going to die on. And that’s why should it be a hill to die on?
Mr. Wright: Well, I just think it’s such a fundamental part of our biology. This is why in the early 2010s I was arguing with a lot of people about whether or not it was evolution versus intelligent design and creationism. Because if you’re denying, I think evolution, I think you’re going to get a lot of things wrong about human behavior in certain contexts. And there’s just a lot that follows from denying really fundamental aspects of our biology. And I think the same thing accounts for biological sex. There’s so many different… It’s such a fundamental aspect of our biology and of our species and the evolved differences there are between males and females, not just in their bodies, but in their behaviors on average.
And if you’re going to deny that exists, then all the studies that we’re going to do on meeting interactions, evolutionary psychology, this stuff goes out the window. You just can’t make sense of so many human interactions if you’re denying these fundamental biological aspects. And then on another level, just because we are a sexually dimorphic species in some context, paying attention to the sex of an individual matters. For instance, in sports males go through puberty where we have this growth spurt, testosterone surges, our bodies get much stronger. This doesn’t happen to females.
And so it makes sense to segregate sports by sex because they don’t have the benefits of going through this puberty that makes males bigger faster and stronger in every single athletic measure. I don’t think sex should matter in all cases. It’s really only a very small number of contexts, such as sports, what prison you might go to given the different rates of violence between males and females and sexual violence and things like that. It’s really only in this very small number of contexts where it matters. I don’t think sex should matter for getting hired, if you’re going to get a promotion, there’s so many things that it doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter for, but on some it really does. And this is where I’ve just been trying to maintain this distinction.
Mr. Jekielek: What has your reaction been to basically sports and how they have changed over the acceleration, I guess, and the change over the last few years?
Mr. Wright: Now, I was actually at the event at Georgia Tech where Lia Thomas who’s biological male who identifies as a female, won the women’s 500 yard freestyle. I see it as a proof that an ideology is just completely insane. If you’re an engineer and you’re making bridges and you’re a really bad engineer, your bridge is going to shatter in front of you, you’ll see your bridges, they’re not going to withstand heavy trucks going over them. It’s more difficult to see an immediate consequence of your bad ideas that you might have about human nature, sometimes they’re not so apparent as a collapsing bridge.
But if you’re denying that biological sex is real, I see the fact that we have a male competing in a female sport who’s now the women’s national division one champion, to me that’s the ideological equivalent of a bridge collapsing, and it shows the absurdity of an ideology. It really is just the ultimate representation of why this ideology is completely wrong, the notion that we even need to segregate sports by an identity instead of sex. And this is what these people are claiming that sports are segregated by your gender identity instead of your biological sex.
But there’s nothing about a gender identity that makes you better or worse at sports. It would be like segregating sports by political party or something like that. So it’s just completely arbitrary, but people are pretending that this is what it’s always been, it’s always referred to. I call my website Reality’s Last Stand just because to me, this is the low hanging fruit of getting something right. It’s really easy, even a child knows that male and females are different and this matters in certain contexts. And we have a lot of people saying to follow the science who are saying that males and females don’t exist. And this is as you mentioned, the hill that I’ve chosen to die on.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m sure many people have made this comparison to you but it’s the emperor has no clothes, the story, right? So you’re the kid here, right? Basically saying, “Hey, why is it so few people, how many people in your school, how many people in your profession are talking about this?”
Mr. Wright: Almost no one really. I can’t think of anyone who was a colleague with me who would at least publicly say the stuff that I say on Twitter and in my essays about male and female not being a social constructs about the need to segregate certain areas by sex where it makes sense. And I know some of my colleagues who just don’t say it because well, that they don’t agree with it but they’re not saying it because they think it would be career suicide for them. And then there’s a healthy bunch that I think actually somehow believe it. But I’ve also seen the trajectory of them going from a place where they would’ve agreed with me. And I have seen them tweet about these things or we’ve had conversations before.
And then I’ve seen them slide over the last few years into just a full embrace of this whole sex denialism that I’m seeing. There’s almost no one talking about this. And I’ve had some journal editors reach out to me who wanted me to write the scientific paper about why sex is in the spectrum. And I’m not even the world expert on this. I studied bugs, I studied insect behavior, but it’s really interesting that they can’t find anyone who’s in academia who would actually be an expert on sex development and all these things.
They can’t find them to write the articles that they want to be written to debunk a lot of this stuff, so they have to find the exiled spider biologist to write these things, because there’s nothing they can take away from me. I’m not going up for tenure. I’m not going to be in the field trying to collaborate with people so I have nothing to lose. So that’s the weird situation we find ourselves in now with scientific publishing.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, there’s Bret Weinstein of course, that is, I think probably would agree with you.
Mr. Wright: Yeah. Him and his wife, Heather Heying, they talk about this fairly frequently. Yeah. They would definitely agree. This is something everyone agrees with. This isn’t a controversial statement. I’m always in this weird space where people think it’s a controversial thing but me and Bret and Heather we’re not saying things that the vast majority of scientists weren’t saying five years ago. And the only reason they’re not saying it now is because of this cultural social shift. So we’re just middle of the road biologist from 2015. Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Because there’s a certain level of cognitive dissonance you have to deal with presumably.
Mr. Wright: Yeah. I think it was said well by Peter Boghossian recently, he said, “In the past you would have a lot of intellectuals and scientists. And we’re always making caveats and making sure that we’re not saying things that we don’t know are true, but now we’re in this position where a lot of academics are pretending not to know things they know, rather than pretending to know things that they don’t know.” It’s just the opposite. People know what males and females are, but they have to just portray ignorance on some of these topics in order to, I guess, still get invited to the cocktail parties or something.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it actually reminds me of something you told me about also offline, which was just this, there was this point at which critical race theory was entering the academy and you were actually studying how to write your diversity, equity and inclusion statements for applications and things like this. Can you tell me a little bit about this? There’s shift in what was required to get the next position or apply and so forth.
Mr. Wright: Yeah. Previously, if you’re applying to a professor job, your CV that you attach, we’d send them of course, has all your publications and everywhere you’ve worked before, all the talks you’ve given, you’d send them a research statement that talks about all the research you’ve done before and what you plan to do in the first five years at this university when you’re going for tenure, it needs to be this extraordinarily detailed document. I’m going to have this many students doing this. I’m going to get a postdoc that’s going to work on these projects, ABC, A1, A2, all that stuff.
Then sometimes they’d have another, maybe a teaching statement. What’s your teaching philosophy? These were usually what you’d have to submit. They recently then started adding something called a DEI or diversity, equity and inclusion statement. And I think initially a lot of these things were just pledging that you’re not going to discriminate based on certain traits. But then they started really taking a real ideological slant where they had to be written in a certain way. And they would have workshops that they had to go to where they told you exactly what you need to write, you need to concentrate on the disparity, you don’t see as many minorities in these, in academia and stem because of all the systemic barriers.
But it was only looked at through one very clear left wing lens of why these disparities might exist. I would probably agree with some of them, but not all of them, but I just remember not agreeing with a lot of these things. And I was being asked to even list all the racial and sexual minorities that I had ever mentored. And I had mentored people who were gay and people who were racial minorities, but it was never because they were black or because they were gay or anything. I just picked the person who I thought was the most enthusiastic and who would do the best job.
And so it just felt like actually listing these people on this document of just like, “Oh, there was this person, they were gay. There was this person, they were black. This person was from Vietnam.” It just felt like this total dehumanizing experience. I’m taking the complexity of all these individuals that I knew well, because I would work with a whole summer for these people. They became good friends and I’m just flattening them all into this one label and pretending, and then using them to stand on top of and say, “Hire me.” That’s how what it felt like I was doing.
I just felt really uncomfortable. And then I didn’t understand why I had to fill this out along with theoretical physicists. They have to do these things too to get a job as a physicist or a microbiologist, or in my case, an evolutionary biologist, an ecologist, it seemed to have nothing to do with the job itself. And then some of the DEI statements would even go further and they would ask, how does your research further DEI? And I studied again, the social behavior of insects and arachnids, there was nothing that I’m doing that’s… My research is not about human and increasing diversity, it’s about the behavior of bugs. And so some of these were just impossible to write. And then I would ask, “Why am I being asked to write these in the first place to get a job as a professor?”
Mr. Jekielek: So did you write any, can I ask you?
Mr. Wright: I did. Yeah. So I wrote one and it was focused on community colleges because I went to community college myself. I thought it was a great experience. And partially because of the diversity that was at a community college, I had classes where someone sitting next to a 75 years old, they were just going back there because they enjoyed learning stuff. I think they were taking an Italian class when I was taken my foreign language class. There were people who are from the military. There’s a lot of single moms. There’s so much actual diversity that you don’t get in most universities. But one thing about a stem major like myself is if you start out going to a community college, you don’t have the opportunity to do the hands on research because they don’t have the funding, the scientists there, they’re just teachers, they don’t run their own labs or anything.
And so my DEI statement was about how I want to… I was at Penn State at the time, how I want to bring people from the community colleges, these stem majors in there, because there are a lot of underrepresented minorities in these groups, and to bring them into Penn State, have them participate alongside Penn State students just so they can have that experience. They can help build their CVS. And I thought that was a really good diversity statement.
And one that I would agree with, one that I thought was pretty noble, I’d sent it out to some people who were on these diversity committees just to check it out, how was it going to do? And they just straight up told me that this is not going to fly. At least the person I sent it to was at a Canadian university and they told me that this wouldn’t fly at any Canadian. “You need to talk about equity, you need to talk about the disparities in certain groups in a very structured way.” You can even look at the rubric that UC Berkeley has when they evaluate their candidates.
And at Berkeley and increasingly at more universities, they’re using these DEI statements as a first filter. So before you’d send your CV, it’d go straight to the department and the department head would look at it, so these are actual scientists looking at it. Now your application has to pass through the HR department when they’re looking first at the DEI statement. And if you score below four out of six or something, they don’t even pass your CV on to the department. And so this is what you’re dealing with at places at least like Berkeley, and I’m sure that’s been adopted at many other places.
Mr. Jekielek: So these are what some people have called the diversity commissars, I guess, that are saying that these statements are passing through.
Mr. Wright: Yeah. They’re extremely common now. Maybe about a third of the universities I applied to before had them. And I think probably I left academia right when the whole George Floyd stuff was going on, right before actually. And there was a massive push to have these. I still get the emails from University of California, Santa Barbara, where I finished my PhD. And immediately after that the students wrote this one big email signed by just about everyone they could find saying that they wanted to adopt Berkeley’s DEI statements as the first filter, and also use these DEI statements and DEI track record for going on to get tenure and additional promotions after that.
So at every step of the pipeline, and I even know kids applying to… Just to an undergrad, they have to write these too, and to apply to grad school, they need to do it and to apply to postdocs they do it and then postdocs applying to professorships need to do it. And then as you try to rise the ranks and as a professor, it’s all DEI all the way through. So the pipeline is just peppered with these hurdles basically. I view them as political litmus test because there is only one way to write these things, and it’s you have to just slide into that way of speaking about these things that you commonly hear. It’s all boiler plate and if you’ve read it once, you’ve read it a million times.
Mr. Jekielek: So basically you’re calling it a political litmus test, i.e. you give me the correct answer you can pass, go so to speak.
Mr. Wright: Yeah. Because it’s usually illegal to ask directly what your race is or things like that. In California they use these DEI statements because they explicitly can’t hire students or hire anyone based on race. So they encourage people to do these DEI statements and they encourage them to talk about their experience with oppression and things like that. And so from these statements you can glean racial information off these things in order to hire whoever you want to hire. So this is a way to just, a work around, one for their equity race based hiring that they want to do. And then on top of that there’s the political litmus test where you have to speak in terms of equity and group disparity and systemic racism and all that stuff.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned to me that you felt like some of your coworkers or peers or co-authors were basically told they have to denounce you. So tell me about this.
Mr. Wright: I had one colleague, in the past we had agreed on lots of stuff. And this is someone that I knew would’ve disagreed with this statement, trans women are biological women because they publicly said it was as ridiculous as believing in a flat earth for instance. And then they got a job at university and then very soon after they had pronouns go up on their bio and in their email signature. And then I’m getting a phone call from this person or text anyway. And this is someone that I had collaborated with, I had co-authored papers on spiders and ants and things with. And this person said that their colleagues are seeing that we’ve co-authored papers. At that point it was out that I was I guess, some major horrible person, some bigot or something, because I’m saying sex is real.
He felt at least that it was enough of a problem where being associated with me he might be giving him splash damage and potentially would harm his career. And so he said that he had to publicly denounce me. And I’m fine with publicly challenging my views or things like that. But this public announcement wasn’t, “Here’s why Colin is wrong.” It was just trying to take me out of the feet, trying to say this person has all these bad ideas. He’s not an expert in X, Y. Here’s some sources that I haven’t read myself, but who I have on good authority from people I trust that it’s really good, and that type of thing.
It’s not so much that they wanted to denounce me, but it was that ideological policing that’s going on that made him feel the need that he had to do this. I think that’s the real story there. Because it seems like anyone could have just said, “Oh, I don’t agree with Colin on this stuff,” but we co-authored some spider papers together and that’s it, that seems like anybody should be receptive to a response like that. But it was no, there had to be this public distancing in order to gain, I guess, points or something with his group.
Mr. Jekielek: It makes me think of these struggle sessions that some of my colleagues at the Chinese Epoch Times have told me about witnessed in China. I don’t know if anyone’s ever made that comparison to you.
Mr. Wright: Yeah. I don’t know a whole lot about the history of communism, but I do know the ideological policing that goes on and the pressures that individuals have to denounce their neighbor. And I do think this is, definitely it was not… This was a lot less bloody, I wasn’t being brought to a camp or something, but it’s a similar dynamic, it’s a similar, I guess, human tendency and urge to conform through group pressure. So I think there’s some parallels, though I would hesitate to make all the parallels.
Mr. Jekielek: Sure. I just remembered something from the graphic, the conservative in the third part of the graphic is saying, LOL, why? Or is there any particular reason for that?
Mr. Wright: So when I first published my article, The New Evolution Deniers in 2018, I had a lot of people who were conservative come into my DMs and say, “They’re going to run you out of the university.” They were joking about it. And I was like, “No, what are you talking about? I’m just saying what’s true and we’re all going to sort this out like adults.” And then over time it was just been almost this running joke where I’m being called a far right, whatever in all these publications, there’s hit piece coming out calling me this. Recently I was called a right wing commentator, even I just talk about biology.
And they just think it’s hilarious because they see what’s happening to me and I’ve just remained true to my principles. But from their point of view, some of them have gone through that before, they’ve been called the bigot their whole life or something just for having their conservative views. And now they’re seeing me being called that even though I used to be on that side. And so a lot of them find it pretty entertaining. So that was, I guess, where that little bit entered in.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you think they’ll have to rush further than to the left according to your graphic or is that even possible?
Mr. Wright: Yeah. I’m not even sure. There’s a problem with the left right axis in the first place, because I don’t even view, I don’t even know what you want to call it, critical social justice wokeness, basically the ideology is grounded in critical theory. I don’t even really see it as a conservative liberal thing. I don’t see it as being liberal at all. I see it as its own axis almost. It’s like the Z axis if you just want to go. My graph would need just something going straight up. So I don’t even know if I’d consider them left, it’s this other world view. They’re just more extreme on this, if you keep going to the left, this is what you get. It’s an adoption of an entire lens through which they’re viewing the world.
I think there’s going to be more of that for sure. I think there’s a lot of pushback on that right now. And eventually, because I think all the critical theory stuff is so divorced from reality, that whole falling bridge thing we’ll see. We’ll see more of these absurdities pop up. And eventually, reality has a way of sticking around and it’s not going to go anywhere. And that further you get away from reality, it snaps back at some point. It’ll call for its debts at some point, I guess I would say. And I think it’s got to happen soon because it’s getting a little crazy out there.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I’m reminded, I was talking with Peter Boghossian when he was on this show about this spectrum being different. I think his take was the spectrum is more of a cognitive liberty spectrum. So he was saying, “I have much more in common with conservative evangelical who believes that I have the right to believe what I want to believe than I do with people ostensibly on the left to believe that there’s one way to think, i.e. according to the DEI statement, for example.” This is the correct answer.
Mr. Wright: Exactly. I’ve been in a lot of conversations with people on the right before when I used to talk about evolution versus intelligent design and creationism. But I could talk with them because we’re both playing the truth game. We just have different ideas of what’s true and what evidence we’re picking from. I think they’re completely wrong and everything they believe, but a lot of them, there are some that would just say, it’s just what I believe and whatever, and it’s only faith, but there were a lot who would come with arguments and I don’t think they were very good but at least they’re playing the argument game in trying to find out what’s true.
But a lot of the woke critical theory type people, they don’t even think in terms of this is true or false. They think truth is a socially constructed thing and it’s your truth and her truth and it’s that it’s a collective type of thing. They would say that truth is a social construct and all these things are social constructs. So they’re not even playing the same game. And that’s why I find it increasingly impossible to talk to some of these people, because I’m trying to put up circle things that are real and they’re just trying to apply queer theory to everything and blur the lines on everything.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you mean try to apply queer theory to everything? What do you mean when you say that exactly?
Mr. Wright: Yeah. Queer theory is a certain type of critical theory that will look at the world and it especially likes to break apart binaries, for instance, male and female. They would say that these are social constructs and these are asserted to exist because people in power want this binary to exist in order to uphold the oppression of people we call women or something, for instance, people we call females, and that these binaries don’t exist in nature, this is all just power structures at work here.
And so they want to undermine all these binaries because they see that is also tearing apart the power relations of the people who are keeping these constructs going, that’s literally what they believe. They will look at any sort of binary and try to blur the lines. So whenever you see people saying that sex is a spectrum, this is just applying queer theory to biological sex.
Mr. Jekielek: This is the perfect time to just talk about this other op-ed that you wrote a while back, which I noted, which was essentially about pronouns and why you’re arguing when people ask you about them, you should just simply ignore them, I guess, or say you’re not going to do it. We’ve talked about, I think quite a bit why, but it might not be obvious. So tell me that, tell me your rationale here.
Mr. Wright: I see the whole talk of pronouns, and it is a very common thing now. And in some places… Where I’m from, Tennessee is probably not a big deal, but if you’re in San Francisco or something, a lot of corporations there, a lot of the schools there, they’ll start off these ice breakers with these introductions where they’re asking, “Hi, my name is whatever, my pronouns are, he/him. What are yours?” And it seems really innocuous to someone looking out at this idea. We all have pronouns. People refer to me as him, people refer to you as him.
But there’s a bit of ideology that’s underneath this entire thing because what this new ideology that I is being increasing called gender ideology, what it really asserts is that being a man or a woman or a boy or a girl has nothing to do with whether you’re male or female and everything to do with gender identity, how you identify, which really just boils down to identifying with these social roles and expectations that society I guess, asserts on people based on their sex. These ideas if you’re a woman, you have to be nurturing. If you’re male, you have to be dominating and aggressive.
And so it’s whether or not you identify with these roles, if I say, you can refer to me with he/him pronouns. I might be just saying to use those pronouns because I’m biologically male. That’s what I refer to, that’s when I use someone’s pronouns because they’re male or female. But when you say that to someone who believes in this new gender ideology, what they’re hearing is you identify what the social roles and expectations of femininity or masculinity. So if you’re a woman and you say I use she/her pronouns, you’re saying you identify with femininity especially, which maybe you’re a masculine female and you don’t identify with femininity and now you’ve all of a sudden can’t call yourself she or her.
I view these insistence on having these pronoun rituals and exchanges as a way to normalize gender ideology. And just by our everyday introductory ice breaking things here and there, and the people who are participating in it, again, they probably don’t even know what they’re doing. The people leading these pronoun events, they probably don’t even realize what they’re doing. They’ve just been told it’s inclusive, good way to go about doing things and to learn people’s pronouns, but it does have a really big ideological component. And so I just tell people, either tell people to call you by your name or just don’t participate in these whatsoever.
Now, I’m usually okay using other people’s pronouns. But when they ask me, it’s like, “Oh, I’m Colin. You can use whatever pronouns are most comfortable with you.” There’s something like that but I don’t think we should be participating ourselves in these types of exchanges, unless you actually agree with gender ideology. In a way I pointed this out in the op-ed was imagine the I think the American Astrological Society was this big organization that has a lot of control over institutions. But say you don’t believe in astrology, you think it’s pseudoscience, which I happen to believe. But they want you to begin all your conversations with, “Hi, I’m Colin, I’m a Sagittarius, what’s your sign? If you don’t believe in astrology, if you’re just going to respond, I’m young, I’m a… What are you?
Mr. Jekielek: Taurus I believe.
Mr. Wright: You’re Taurus?
Mr. Jekielek: No, wait. No, I’m Scorpio. Pardon me it’s Scorpio.
Mr. Wright: So if you’re responding that, but if you don’t believe in astrology, you’re being asked to work within this worldview that you might not believe at all and perpetuating astrology in this case. So I see this is a parallel to the whole gender pronoun.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah. And except that people might say, where does it hurt in both cases actually? Right? Where does it hurt? If they want to know that I’m a Scorpio. Where does it hurt? Right? This is presumably what a lot of people think and they’ll just go along with it. What is the cost, real cost?
Mr. Wright: Well, it depends on how much power in this astrological society would have over society. There’s probably a lot of things they could mess up. But at least in the terms of the gender ideology, it’s not necessarily a harmful at your workplace when you’re doing it, what’s the measurable harm right there? But I see the harm is the normalization of this dissociation of being a man or woman with being male or female. Because this puts this idea, especially in children’s minds, especially if they’re identifying with stereotypes, that if you’re a little girl who’s more masculine and you’re being asked what your pronouns are and to really think hard about your gender identity and you’re basing it on stereotypes, you might think, “Oh, maybe my pronouns are he/him.” That makes me trans.
And then we have this whole system of medicalization going in there saying, “Well, if you’re transgender, that means that this is a medical condition and that maybe we can give this person puberty blockers, which is a gateway to cross sex hormones and surgeries and things like that. It really just makes kids who aren’t trans think that they are and puts them on a potentially precarious pathway to interventions. I think it really medicalizes gender nonconformity in a very real way. So if this was just kids having a new way to talk about whether they’re masculine or feminine, that’d be one thing, but it’s got the whole gender ideology, trans conversation that comes in on it, which is a medicalized conversation in and of itself. So that’s why I think that is potentially dangerous for kids to be taught.
Mr. Jekielek: Well. And to your point, I saw some statistics recently. I don’t remember exactly, but just astronomical rise in people identifying this way. So the question was how much of that is influenced by the social norm, so to speak? Right?
Mr. Wright: Yeah. There’s a lot of conversation about why there is this astronomical rise in people claiming to be trans or at least people going to gender clinics presenting as trans. You tend to get from the trans activist side, them saying that, “Well, there’s greater societal acceptance now of being trans.” They’ve always been this number of trans people, they just feel comfortable to say it right now. And sure, maybe that explains some of this. Then there’s the other argument there’s some social contagion going on. You had the Brown University researcher, Lisa Littman showed how some of these trans identities run in circles and the biggest predictor of whether someone’s going to come out and say they’re trans is whether they’re how many of their friends are claiming to be trans as well.
I think this probably explains probably more than just societal acceptance, but I think there’s actually just a really clear thing that people aren’t talking about as much that it’s just sitting right there. There’s just been this expanding definition of what it means to be trans. I’m writing a piece right now that’s going to spell this out in greater detail. But if you look at the organizations, these big human rights organizations, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, if you look at Planned Parenthood, if you look at this company called Egale, this is in Canada, and they’re responsible for all the LGBTQ+ materials in the public schools up there. In especially one video that Egale put out, they literally define what it means to be trans as… I think this is a verbatim quote. You can check the video.
Speaker 3: You’ve probably heard the term transgender or even gender diverse.
Speaker 4: That’s when your gender doesn’t entirely match the one you are assigned at birth.
Speaker 5: A lot of people use trans for short.
Speaker 6: That can mean the gender you are assigned felt meaningless, restrictive, or altogether just didn’t quite fit.
Speaker 7: That might seem like a pretty broad definition. And that’s because it is.
Mr. Wright: If you don’t behave the way society expects you to act based on what’s between your legs. So based on your genitals, your sex, then you’re transgender. And then they even say later in that same video and the video’s called Trans 101: The Basics. They even say later in the video that you don’t even need gender dysphoria to be trans.
Speaker 5: Like transitioning, having dysphoria doesn’t make someone more or less trans.
Speaker 8: And it’s not something all trans people experience.
Mr. Wright: So they’re quite literally saying that just gender nonconformity is all it needs to be transgender. And this is paralleled in planned parenthood and the human rights campaign as well. So it’s not that kids are even confused about whether they’re trans, they’ll literally be told if you’re gender nonconforming, then you’re trans. And so of course, you’re going to have this astronomical rise in people claiming to be trans, because you’ve just transed the average individual. There’s many ways that I am not just a perfect stereotype of masculinity. My favorite thing to be doing every day, I would love nothing more than to bottle feed kittens all day. That’s something that sounds really amazing to me. I have this nurturing side that is arguably not a very masculine thing to want to do.
So in many ways, we’re all ‘non-binary,’ which is another type of trans identity out there. And I think that just explains why we have this astronomical rise. The shame is that we haven’t had the medical associations really catch up to the fact that the definition has been just expanded beyond border. It used to just refer to a very small subset of people who expressed gender nonconformity, very young. It was insistent persistent and consistent. When they started going through puberty, it wouldn’t assist, they would remain extremely gender dysphoric. And those people would almost always grow up to be trans, they would persist in the dysphoria. They would benefit from transitioning. That’s not what we classify as trans, now it’s anyone who’s gender nonconforming. That’s literally what they say.
Mr. Jekielek: So Elon Musk posted this graphic of yours basically in the context of course, of him buying Twitter or ostensibly that’s going to go through now. And this whole huge debate that’s been happening around free speech and the value of it, you told me about the fact that free speech is something that you saw significant encroachment on in the academy, and of course in your Twitter existence. What are your thoughts here?
Mr. Wright: I think it’s one of the most important values that we can have. If you can’t speak freely, you can’t really think freely because no one comes to the most accurate picture of reality just by sitting in a room by themselves and thinking to themselves alone. You need to voice your ideas and you need to get feedback. That’s actually why I happen to love Twitter. Some of the feedback that I get is really angry and over the top and hyperbolic, but there are a lot of people who will give you really good feedback, and there’s no better way than to tweet a thought, even if it’s not completely baked, because it’ll help you really get so many diverse perspectives on what you’re thinking.
And ultimately it’s that back and forth, it’s that play with others in from their perspective, their expertise, their backgrounds, that can really help you just piece together your tapestry of reality as you know it. And on Twitter this has become the public square. It really has. This is where people put out their ideas and are getting feedback. I’m very excited that Elon Musk is taking over because he has a very strong commitment to free speech. And especially on this issue of sex and gender, I don’t think anything’s been more censored maybe with the exception of COVID stuff.
I don’t think any other subject’s been more censored than people talking about sex and gender. We had Meghan Murphy who was one of the first people to be banned on Twitter for this, or at least the first notable people for just saying the statement, men aren’t women, which even according to gender ideology is a true statement because they think a man is someone who identifies as a man and a woman is someone who identifies as a woman. And so clearly a person who identifies as this is not a person who identifies as that. But of course they read into it that a male isn’t a woman or thing like that.
People have gotten banned on Twitter for referring to a trans woman as a natal male. These are just biologically accurate things to put on social media. So I’ve been just increasingly worried that anything I say is going immediately have me banned. I have to word my tweets in ways where I’m not calling Lia Thomas a male. I might use a Lia Thomas event or an article to just make a general statement like male shouldn’t compete in female sports without saying Lia Thomas is a male or things like that, because that could get me banned on Twitter. And then they also have a tendency of changing their terms of service and then retroactively applying their new rules to old tweets in order to ban people. So I was just never knew day to day, is my Twitter even going to be there? It might all of a sudden going to be made obsolete. So I’m more optimistic that’s not going to happen with a more free speech oriented Twitter. So I’m excited about that and hopeful.
Mr. Jekielek: The other thing that I wanted to talk to you about is you took, I guess, a big step and you said, I’m going to stay independent, Reality’s Last Stand. That’s going to be my stand. That’s going to be my hill. So tell me a little bit about that. Yeah.
Mr. Wright: Yeah. So it’s my Substack. It’s my publication that I’ve recently decided to go all in on. I’ll be doing original investigative journalism on gender ideology in schools talking about the biology of sex, debunking a lot of myths and pseudoscience around sex, a lot of the stuff we talked about here, why intersex is into third sex, that type of stuff. There’s already some content on my blog about that or my website, my Substack. And I also want to have it be a publication for other people too. If there’s parents that are dealing with gender ideology in their schools, there’s stories about being a mom and having kids who are being indoctrinated into this ideology, what are their stories? How is this playing out for real world people?
So I want to publish these types of stories and then my own journalism and my own scientific writing about these things just so I can contribute to the conversation about what’s going on here and give people these resources that they need, because a lot of these parents that have kids in these public schools that are being taught this gender ideology stuff, there’s no place they can go. If their kid has went on the bandwagon and comes home and saying, “Call me they/them because I’m non-binary.” Well, then the next step is to say, “We’ll find a gender therapist.” Well, they’re all just taken over by gender ideology too and they’re just going to affirm every step of the way.
So I’m trying just to give the other side of this argument basically and give people the tools that they need where they can really understand what’s going on, what sex is, why it’s okay to be gender nonconforming and that doesn’t mean that you’re not a male or female just because you happen to have gender nonconforming behaviors. Yeah. This is the next step for my career.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Colin Wright, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Wright: Thank you so much.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Colin Wright and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders, I’m your host Jan Jekielek. Hey everyone, I’ve got some exciting news to share for American Thought Leaders in Kash’s Corner. We’re actually going to be expanding our production team and hiring an associate producer. You can actually see the job description at ept.ms/associateproducer. That’s all one word. If you know anyone who might be interested in this job who has the qualifications or you yourself might be interested, we’d love to hear from you. Again that’s ept.ms/associateproducer, all one word.
If you haven’t subscribed already, you can now try a 14 day free trial and get access to all of our deep dive interviews, documentaries and exclusive content on Epoch TV from American Thought Leaders to the Larry Elder Show, just go to ept.ms/freetrialjan.
Subscribe to the American Thought Leaders newsletter so you never miss an episode.
* Click the “Save” button below the video to access it later on “My List“.
Follow EpochTV on social media: