"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against the house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall."
In these famous words of Jesus he is, of course, making profound claims about his teaching and its centrality to one's life but notice also the view of truth implied in these words. (1) Truth exists and can be known and (2) Truth has consequences. To live in accord with truth brings human flourishing and to live against the grain of reality is ultimately destructive. These are important points to remember as we think about the issues surrounding Transgenderism today.
Our culture is awash with controversy in regards to transgender issues and everyday seems to bring another fault-line of division in the realms of education, law, medicine, sports, and entertainment. These flashpoints of controversy are like the tip of an iceberg. Underneath these visible markers of cultural foment are deep worldview presuppositions. Differences of understanding about sexuality involve differing conceptions of the human person. It is these underlying philosophical beliefs that must be understood and examined.
It should be noted, as a crucial aside, that what is under discussion here is transgender ideology and not, necessarily transgender individuals. Those individuals who experience gender dysphoria should be treated with compassion and understanding even as we speak the truth in love. Transgender ideology, on the other hand, is a set of ideas and philosophical assumptions that must be challenged and refuted. At the heart of ideologies are ideas and it is helpful to think of ideas operating in two ways:
- Ideas never stand alone—Ideas are always based on fundamental worldview commitments and have a philosophical substructure.
- Ideas never stand still—Ideas always have implications and applications that naturally flow from them into the social and cultural arena.
These two points provide a template to analyze transgender ideology. Examining the underlying the worldview and philosophy as well as watching for the logical entailments and applications allow one to see exactly what is at stake in the debates about Transgenderism.
Ideas Never Stand Alone
One of the core ideas of transgender ideologues is that the mind can be at war with one's body. In many other cases this dynamic is considered a disorder to be treated with psychological counseling and therapy. For example, there are those who experiences Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) in which a person identifies as a disabled person and feels trapped in a fully functional body. In such cases therapy is seen as the solution and the pathway to health. The idea here is to correct a misalignment between one's perception and reality.
But in the case of gender dysphoria transgender ideologues do not seek to change a person's feelings of gender identity to match the body. Instead, they engage in a process of changing the body through hormones and surgery to match the feelings. It is important to recognize that this form of thought rests upon two convictions. First, there is a de-coupling of sexual identity from the body. Second, it is by an act of the will that one seemingly creates gender identity. These two convictions are indicative of what Nancy Pearcey has called a "postmodern view of psychosexual identity."
A number of scholars have noted that transgender ideology rests up postmodern, anti-realist assumptions. The idea that "gender is fluid" is itself a postmodern idea. Transgender activist Judith Butler states as much when she writes in her work Gender Trouble:
When "gender is theorized as radically independent of sex, gender itself becomes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine, might just as easily signify a female body as a male one and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one."
Ryan Anderson in his recent book When Harry Become Sally perceptively notes this connection between transgender ideology and philosophical commitments.
"At the heart of the transgender movement are radical ideas about the human person—in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence. A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy. It is understandable why activists make these claims. An argument about transgender identities will be much more persuasive if it concerns who someone is, not merely how someone identifies. And so the rhetoric of the transgender movement drips with ontological assertions: people are the gender they prefer to be. That's the claim."
More simply, Anderson later concludes: "At the core of the ideology is the radical claim that feelings determine reality."
Philosopher Elliot Crozat in an important essay entitled "Reasoning About Gender" speaks of the claims by transgender ideologues in the following manner: "These claims appear to rest on the postmodern antirealist assumption that what one takes as reality is a mere subjective or sociocultural construct." He goes on to give the implications for such a view:
"Hence, there are no objective natures, no human nature, no male nature, no female nature, and no such thing as human flourishing that results from the proper functioning of the essential properties and capacities of a human nature."
It is this radical notion of postmodern philosophy that underlies much of transgender ideology. This commitment to postmodernism will have consequences for how the ideas of Transgenderism play themselves out in the marketplace of ideas.
Ideas Never Stand Still
Ideas have trajectory—they go somewhere. The philosophical notion of postmodernism underlying transgender ideology leads to specific patterns of thought that are actualized in the realms of education, law, medicine, and culture. As Ryan Anderson notes, "[T]ransgender policies follow from transgender ontology." These patterns of thought and action have negative implications and harmful effects. Consider three such problems.
First, transgender ideology hurts and undercuts women's rights. Nancy Pearcey has effectively captured this reality with her reasoning in her excellent book Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality:
"To protect women's rights, we must be able to say what a woman is. If postmodernism is correct—that the body itself is a social construct—then it becomes impossible to argue for rights based on the sheer fact of being female. We cannot legally protect a category of people if we cannot identify that category."
This is not a mere philosophical abstraction. Ashley McGuire in her book Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female speaks of "the unintended consequences for women" that result from transgender ideology. She gives an example of a court case (Kimberly v. Vancouver Rape Relief Society) in which a rape crisis center had to fight to keep a biological man out of the crisis center. The mere claim to be "female" by a biological male was used in an attempt to allow his admittance. Prominent liberal feminist and pro-choice activist Kathleen Sloan argues:
"The threat that the gender identity movement poses to women is that 'gender' is detached from the biological differences between males and females (present in all mammalian species) and consequently male supremacy and the oppression of women is obscured and ultimately erased... Without being able to name humans male or female, women have no hope of being able to protect ourselves from the violence men commit against us, much less overturn the patriarchal misogyny that has oppressed and terrorized us for millennia."
One need not agree with all of Sloan's historical characterizations to grant the fundamental point she is making—namely, that Transgenderism's philosophically motivated presupposition of postmodernism will undercut and harm women and women's rights.
Second, transgender ideology undercuts the notion of human rights in general. Recall professor Crozat's words from above about how within a postmodern, antirealist conception "there are no objective natures, no human nature, no male nature, no female nature..." But, as Crozat argues, this conception of reality is in logical tension with the notion of objective rights. He convincingly argues this in the following manner:
"If the concept of natural human rights is sensible, then reality is not a mere construct; there must be something objectively real and valuable to serve as the basis of these rights.
"Objective rights do not exist on the postmodernists worldview, regardless of how vigorously one believes in them. For a postmodernist to believe in objective rights is like believing in centaurs (the character of Greek myth that are half-man and half-horse). One can believe in them, but doing so makes no significant difference in the world. Consequently, the supporter of transgenderism cannot deny human natures and rights but at the same time assert the right to define himself or to use a preferred restroom. Nor can he legitimately claim that his rights are violated by gender dichotomist policies. To do this is intellectually inconsistent, and perhaps an example of a performative contradiction."
There is, thus, a deep internal contradiction between transgender philosophical presuppositions and the quest for rationally grounded human rights.
Third, transgender ideology harms children by legitimizing unhealthy medical procedures and penalizes alternatives that recognize the reality of gender desistance. The standard plan of action set forth by transgender activists for children who feel that their gender does not align with their biological sex is fourfold:
- Social transition: the buying of new clothes, the use of a new name and pronouns.
- Puberty blockers: with the onset of puberty hormones are administered that will arrest the natural development of the body.
- Cross-sex hormones: around the age of 16 these begin to be administered and will have to be taken for the rest of one's life.
- Sex reassignment surgery: age 18 or above these major surgeries are performed.
It needs to be realized that this process can begin as early as five years old as a 2012 Washington Post with the title "Transgendered at Five" proclaims. Two other caveats should be noted as well. The age for each phase is getting lower. In July 2016 the Guardian reported that "a doctor in Wales is prescribing cross-sex hormones to children as young as 12." Ryan Anderson notes the second caveat: "There are no laws in the United States prohibiting the use of puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones for children, or regulating the age at which they may be administered."
It is important to stress the fact that these medical practices are not driven by science but by a postmodernist ideology. Dr. Michelle Cretella is a board certified pediatrician and president of the American College of Pediatricians and she writes in the 2016 Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons :
"To be clear, this 'alternate perspective' of an innate gender fluidity arising from prenatally 'feminized' or 'masculinized' brains trapped in the wrong body is an ideological belief that has no basis in rigorous science."
So what are the facts that can be known? What does the evidence indicate and how should this be applied to the current situation? At least three facts warrant attention.
First, there is the fact of gender desistance—a growing out of their gender dysphoria—in the vast majority of children who experience feelings of misalignment between their gender identity and their biological sex. As Dr. Cretella notes:
"Experts on both sides of the pubertal suppression debate agree that within this context, 80 percent to 95 percent of children with GD [Gender Dysphoria] accepted their biological sex and achieved emotional well-being by late adolescence."
If children are not encouraged to "transition" then the vast majority of them will naturally grow out of their gender dysphoria. In light of this fact, puberty should not be seen as a disease to be halted but, rather, a time when children perhaps need greater care and counseling as they navigate this part of their journey to maturation.
The second fact to reckon with are the side effects of puberty-blocking hormone therapies. Ryan Anderson summarizes the research on this issue in this way:
"No one really knows all the potential consequences of puberty blocking as a treatment for gender dysphoria, but there are some known effects of puberty suppression on children who are physiologically normal, and these carry long-term health risks. Children placed on puberty blockers have slower rates of growth in height, and an elevated risk of low bone-mineral density. Some other possible effects are 'disfiguring acne, high blood pressure, weight gain, abnormal glucose tolerance, breast cancer, liver disease, thrombosis and cardiovascular disease.' And, of course, all of the children who persist in their transgender identity and take puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones will be infertile."
The third fact to consider is the "self-fulfilling nature" of transgender activists' protocols for puberty suppression. By this is meant, that once the four-fold procedure outlined above is initiated then the child almost always goes forward with the gender transition. Dr. Cretella draws attention to this dynamic and its problems:
"In a follow-up study of their first 70 eligible candidates to receive puberty suppression, de Vries and colleagues documented that all subjects went on to embrace a transgender identity and request cross-sex hormones. This is cause for concern. There is an obvious self-fulfilling nature to encouraging a young man with GD [Gender Dysphoria] to socially impersonate a girl and then institute pubertal suppression. Given the well-established phenomenon of neuroplasticity, the repeated behavior of impersonating a girl alters the structure and function of the boy's brain in some way—potentially in a way that will make identity alignment with his biologic sex less likely. This, together with the suppression of puberty that further endogenous masculinization of his brain, causes him to remain a gender non-conforming prepubertal body disguised as a prepubertal girl. Since his peers develop into young men and young women, he is left psychosocially isolated. He will be less able to identify with being male and more likely to identify as 'non-male.' A protocol of impersonation and pubertal suppression that sets into motion a single inevitable outcome (transgender identification) that requires a life-long use of synthetic hormones, resulting in infertility, is neither fully reversible nor harmless."
These facts about the health concerns related to children and transgender ideology ought to concern all people. The use of transgender procedures that treat gender dysphoria in children with hormones "effectively amounts to mass experimentation on, and sterilization of, youth who are cognitively incapable of providing informed consent." Surely, even among those who differ about adult transgender issues there could be some common cause and consensus about the dangers of transgender ideology for children.
Truth and Human Flourishing
The daily reverberations of our "transgender moment" are fueled by deep philosophical undercurrents that flesh themselves out in practical ways in the arenas of law, education, medicine, and culture. As Nancy Pearcey poignantly states: "Every practice comes with a worldview attached to it—one that many of us might not find true or attractive if we were aware of it." Underlying Transgenderism is a radical postmodern notion that the human will determines reality. Rather than discovering the natural functions and purposes of the human body and its relationship to our core identity the human will imposes itself in a god-like quest to define the world. This will ultimately fail. As Francis Schaeffer taught us a generation ago: "Non-Christian presuppositions simply do not fit into what God has made, including what man is... Man cannot make his own universe and then live in it." The attempt to live by these faulty presuppositions has serious and negative implications in the realms of human rights, women's rights and the health of children. Jesus is still reminding us that the failure to live in accord with his reality—his word—will ultimately lead to destruction. May we heed his warning.
This piece is a development of a presentation at Glendale Community College (AZ) and their annual "Critical Dialogues" series entitled "Gender & Sexuality: Current Controversies and the Common Good"