Two weeks ago the Obama administration issued a federal edict decreeing that every public school in America allow students to use whichever bathroom they choose, under pain of lawsuit and/or loss of federal funding.

Less than a week after that, New York City’s Commission on Human Rights issued its own edict, declaring that anyone under the city’s rule who refused to use the preferred gender pronouns in dealing with transgender individuals—he, she, “xe,” or “hir”—would be guilty of harassment and subject to penalties up to $125,000 for the first infraction and $250,000 “for violations that are the result of willful, wanton, or malicious conduct.” As law professor Eugene Volokh noted, the use of the term “harassment” is important, because it means that employers and businesses are responsible not just for their own behavior but for the behavior of their employees and customers.

And New York is, if you can imagine it, behind the times. Out in Oregon, Leo Soell, a fifth-grade teacher in the Gresham-Barlow school district, decided she was transgender. (Soell made this decision public only after receiving tenure.) Soell’s transition took the form of insisting that she was neither male nor female and demanding that her colleagues refer to her as “they.” When other teachers continued to call Soell “she” and “her” and “Miss Soell,” Soell filed a harassment complaint. The school district settled with they for $60,000 and promised to initiate a sweeping set of transgender reforms. To hammer home the power dynamic, the school district claimed, in the statement accompanying the payout, that it was quite “pleased” with the outcome. 

If you think that’s depressing, it could always be worse. In Canada, the minister of justice recently introduced legislation banning discrimination based on “gender identity” and “gender expression,” which could join previous legislation criminalizing anti-trans “hate propaganda.” Should the bill pass, you could do up to two years, hard time, if you think the wrong thoughts or say the wrong words.

If this all seems like an inordinate amount of heavy artillery for an infinitesimally tiny issue, that’s actually the point. Much as fights in academia are so bitter because the stakes are so small, transgender activists are crushingly authoritarian because the justice of their cause is so uncertain. What the trans project lacks in moral and logical clarity, it hopes to overcome with vehemence and intimidation.

The confusion is abundant. If you tell a transgender activist that gender is determined biologically, through chromosomal composition, they reply, Well, what about people with Klinefelter (XXY) syndrome? But even with Klinefelter’s chromosomal anomalies, only a very small proportion of persons will fall into a category of “intersex.” As National Review‘s Celina Durgin points out, arguments about the tiny, tiny sliver of the population who are biologically considered “intersex” actually run counter to transgender ideology, which places “gender identity”—a self-discovered concept—on a separate plane above mere biology. In other words, if being biologically XX is irrelevant to whether or not you are a girl, then why should it matter if you’re XXY? Resorting to arguments about the intersexed is actually an admission of the primacy of biology.

Or consider “gender fluidity,” another pillar of the transgender project. According to this precept, some people may be one gender on Monday and another on Tuesday. Who can say which is which, or who is when? Not you. The individual is what he/she/they/xe/hir says at any given moment.

And once you’ve divorced gender from biology and agreed that someone who is chromosomally XY can be a woman, you have no valid reason to object if, the next day, she says she is a man again. If you sign on for transgenderism, you’re signing on for gender fluidity, too.

It doesn’t stop there, of course. Once you shoot past gender fluidity and the nongendered “theys” like Leo Soell and “pangenders” (who claim to be everything rolled into one), there’s a whole other universe of gender identities out there. For instance, “otherkin.”

What are “otherkin”? Otherkin is the gender identity of people who believe that they are nonhuman. Last summer profiled a fellow who identifies as a fox. Some identify as dogs. Some as lions. Some as dragons. Some otherkin even go through body-modifications to make their physical selves look more like their otherkin identity.

The otherkin aren’t officially part of the LGBTTQQIAAP alliance yet. But just wait. They’re coming. Because to deny them their place at the table—to deny that a human person can be not just an animal, but a creature that does not even exist in the real world—is to put the entire transgender project in jeopardy. Because transgender theory, which posits that the self is infinitely plastic, cannot survive a single limiting precept.

Fortunately, we are not yet fighting over the rights of otherkin unicorns. In the here-and-now, we merely have wars over public bathroom and school locker room accommodations. This may seem like a small-scale concern. The Census Bureau and the New York Times tried to estimate the number of transgendered persons in the United States last year and came up with a figure somewhere between 21,000 and 90,000. Or, to put it another way, transgenders probably make up between 0.007 percent and 0.029 percent of the American population. When you’re dealing with fractions this small, it’s hard to be precise.

But because virtue-signaling is the highest form of morality in modern America, the full force of the federal government is being brought to bear on transgender bathroom rights, not only through Obama’s federal edict, but through the Obama Justice Department’s fight against the state of North Carolina.

In March, the elected officials of North Carolina voted on and passed a piece of legislation, HB-2, which was designed to stop the forced march toward mandating that people must be free to use whatever bathroom they desire. (It is instructive to note that the initiatives pushing the transgender agenda are almost never enacted legislatively; they are often rammed through bureaucracies and commissions or accomplished by executive fiat.)

HB-2 was not a perfect piece of legislation. But the reaction to it was illuminating. The Charlotte Observer‘s editorial board proclaimed, “Yes, the thought of male genitalia in girls’ locker rooms—and vice versa—might be distressing to some. But the battle for equality has always been in part about overcoming discomfort .  .  . ”

Which brings us to the final bit of confusion in the transgender project. At the heart of the bathroom issue is a simple question: Is there a valid reason for separate facilities for men and women? Is there any rational justification for having separate bathrooms, or locker rooms, or changing rooms, for men and boys on the one hand, and women and girls on the other?

The trans argument, per the Charlotte Observer, is essentially “no.” By their logic, if women just need to get over their discomfort at seeing naked men next to them, then there’s no reasonable explanation for why women could want their own facilities.

Except that this would mean there is no reasonable explanation for why someone who is transgender should prefer one set of facilities over another. If biologically born women need to “overcome discomfort” about having naked men around them, why shouldn’t a biological man who identifies as a woman not similarly have to overcome his discomfort at being around other naked men?

The logical paradox of the transgender bathroom war is that it insists that the type of gender and genitalia in a public facility is completely irrelevant—except to the transgendered, for whom it is of supreme importance.

At the end of the day, if you’re not in favor of unisex facilities for all—one bathroom for everyone to use—then the transgender case falls apart. Because the transgender project tacitly admits that there are reasons of privacy, modesty, and prudence for segregating the sexes. It merely wishes to trump these concerns from the vast majority for the special pleading of a small, powerful, and illiberal group.

It is the very definition of the tyranny of the minority.