Distinctions Are Necessary to a Useful Transgender Discussion
One of the issues most resistant to civil discourse is transgenderism. There are many reasons for this, including the demand that certain assumptions cannot be questioned. One such assumption is that sex and gender are matters of individual experience and assessment rather than the observable result of an unchangeable combination of sex chromosomes. Another is that the exuberant extremes of transgender activists demand a lexicon of novel terms, e.g., “menstruating men,” that serve only to signal the adoption of transgender sympathies, rather than provide a basis for reasoned discussion. At the other end of the spectrum are those that believe that transgenderism is a mental illness and nothing else. It is possible, however, that what appear to be extremes of views are not in fact incompatible, and are simply the distortions that result from flawed premises.
There is an obvious inconsistency in the assumptions that underlie much transgender advocacy and that is that the phenomenon of transgenderism has a homogeneous mechanism. Prudent skepticism would caution against believing that the existence of multiple genders has a single cause. The claim that there are many different types of gender identities would naturally suggest many different reasons for such claims, as well as many different consequences and methods of addressing them. The most vociferous transgender advocates treat all transgender claims as being unquestionable and that any examination of such claims is motivated by bigotry, hatred, or "transphobia." This argument does not withstand scrutiny.
To take the most sympathetic view of transgenderism, it is not unreasonable to acknowledge that there are people who have the genotype and phenotype of one sex; that is their physical sexual characteristics are reliable indications of their genetic make-up; but whose sensibilities and psyches identify with the other sex. If this condition causes them persistent distress, it is by definition a disorder. The presence of this distress legitimizes efforts to reduce it, even if doing so produces unease in others. It is not absurd to have compassion for people suffering this type of distress, nor to make reasonable accommodations that may minimize it. Even if one adopts this view, however, there are still distinctions to be made with the variety of transgender claims.
Some people's psychological make-up is not congruent with their physical sex, but others actually believe that their physical sex is the opposite of what it is. The former condition is a dysphoria but the latter is a delusion. It is sometimes the case that a psychotic individual will identify as one sex when in the midst of a psychotic break but not while stable on appropriate therapy. In this group of people, compassion and understanding lead to treatment that eliminates the source of their transgender identity. The monolithic view of transgenderism would deny these people appropriate treatment for their conditions and is therefore immoral.
The phenomenon of some transgender people transitioning back to their original sex at least suggests that their "original" transgender identity was motivated by circumstances other than persistent incongruity between their identity and their physical characteristics. They may adopt a transgender identity to deal with other stresses and anxieties, and when transitioning provides an unsatisfactory result, they transition back. In these cases, transgenderism is a surrogate for other conditions, and proceeding as though these conditions will resolve with a change of identity does a disservice. A variation of this circumstance occurs when a child is treated as transgendered in order to vindicate some psychological needs of the parents. As shown by the fact of some people transitioning back to their birth sex, even if a child is capable of appreciating and expressing a discord between sexual identity and physical sex, the precise condition underlying this discord, as well as its permanence, should not be presumed.
The present sympathy for the distresses associated with transgenderism creates an incentive for opportunists. There are some people who exploit the accommodations afforded to transgendered people for illegitimate ends. The most obvious, as can be seen in the individual accused of sexual assault in Loudoun County public schools, involves assuming a transgender identity as a cover to access sexual gratification in the restrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex. Another may be spurious transgenderism to enhance the likelihood of athletic success. These are likely rare circumstances, but as with parents transitioning their children, the key characteristic is not the prevalence of the behavior but the existence of it.
A particularly destructive effect of refusing to recognize the heterogeneity within the transgendered community involves the issue of suicide. It is quite common to attribute the suicide of a transgendered person to "bullying," much as it is common to reflexively attribute the suicide of an alcoholic to his drinking habit, or an ex-NFL player to CTE. There may be cases where people who identify as transgendered commit suicide as a result of bullying. However, the reflexive attribution of such ignores the commonsense idea that transgendered people might also commit suicide for the same reasons that non-transgendered people do -- depression, untreated anxiety, financial stress, relationship issues, etc. To treat people who identify as transgendered as though they are not subject to these factors for ultimately political reasons does as much to dehumanize and stereotype transgendered people as do uncharitable cultural caricatures.
This brief discussion is not meant as an exhaustive analysis of the diversity within the population that identifies as transgendered. It is to point out that such diversity exists, and that ignoring the fact by treating all transgendered people as a monolithic victim-class on one hand or as eccentric weirdos on the other does little to address an obvious conflict in our societal discourse. The result is that the discourse is ineffective. It consists of such odd phenomena as "personal pronouns," and the consequent silliness and confusion of using plural pronouns when speaking about a single person. The idea that word selection should be based on clarity of expression and not the personal sensibilities of persons not in the conversation (the second person singular pronoun is the already gender-neutral "you/your") has not been discredited.
The current discussion of transgender issues is dysfunctional and destructive. Emotion-laden language is substituted for reasoned debate. The result is that the debate consists mostly of name-calling, doxxing, Twitter-rage, and deplatforming. This is not healthy for society regarding any issue of social importance.
Image: Loz Pycock
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