Here’s a worrisome glitch in the ongoing debate over privacy rights, science and how best to help people suffering from gender dysphoria. J.J. McCullough published an article at National Review this week where he suggests that maybe it’s time to just throw up our hands and accept that the “transgender moment” is here to stay so you all might as well get ready to go along just to get along. The ultimate goal, he says, is to preserve social order in the long run. Unfortunately, his argument is premised on the idea that there’s some sort of parallel between the debate over gay marriage and these newer transgender issues.
McCullough sets up the piece by describing what he seems to see as a brief history of the debate over homosexuality and gay marriage.
Today, there exists broad understanding that homosexual people are unavoidable and common, present in all corners and demographics of American life. Through education, and especially exposure, homosexuality is no longer regarded as bizarre, threatening, or mysterious. Even if we remain unsure about what makes a minority of men and women gay, only the tiniest fringe still consider the orientation something worth trying to “fix.” When states attempt to ban homosexual “conversion therapy,” as California is trying to do at the moment, it feels like anachronistic performance. Disinterest in judging homosexuality is not an attitude government has coerced Americans into, it is the product of a free people’s informed knowledge.
This sort of attitude harkens back to what I’ve long considered one of the weakest links in the American conservative chain. The idea that you would have sought to “avoid” gay people and only reluctantly came to the conclusion that they are “unavoidable” is not any sort of badge of courage. For full disclosure, I was one of those annoying people here who probably have “too many gay friends” and always felt that it was far beyond the scope of the government to be in the business of taxing two consenting adults in exchange for a permission slip from Uncle Sam to get married. I’ve long considered myself a friend of the gay community, both in personal matters and policy debates. (Particularly the frequently ostracized gay conservative community.) As to the “science” behind being gay, we can return to that in a moment.
Later in the essay, McCullough gets down to the meat of why transgenderism is simply part of the new normal.
Though transgenderism is a far rarer phenomenon than homosexuality, I think most adults could admit it does seem like a rather persistent aspect of humanity. Most can probably recall a transgender person making at least some minor appearance in their life. If we concede that transgenderism is not going away, and is not something anyone intends to exert effort toward ending, then Americans, especially conservative ones, should reflect on our culture’s honest and fair attitude toward homosexuality and acknowledge that the most sensible path out of the present acrimony will probably require similar compromise. Some degree of cultural ceasefire and consensus seems the only path for both sides to maintain a degree of pride while avoiding a more radical, disruptive societal transformation.
Before I even had a crack at answering this essay, McCullough’s colleague at NR, David French, weighed in on one of the more important arguments against this concept. It all comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of science as well as the need to preserve not only privacy but individual liberty.
I can acknowledge that gender dysphoria is a “persistent aspect of humanity,” but I will not concede that gender dysphoria trumps biology, and I don’t think our culture should cease efforts towards “ending” the dangerous notion that men or women should amputate healthy organs in the quest to sculpt their bodies to become something they’re not. Gender dysphoria may not “go away,” but transgenderism is something else entirely. Our culture is in the midst of a live and important dispute over the very nature of biological reality — and over the psychological and spiritual health of hundreds of thousands of precious souls — and now is not the time to abandon the field.
French goes on to hit most of the major points which needed to be made, but allow me to just add a few thoughts and observations here.
First of all, I’m not here to trash the author of the original piece. J. J. McCullough is a sensible person and skilled wordsmith, but sometimes a warrior grows tired in the battle to preserve sanity. Everyone gets frustrated at times. But comparing gay rights to questions of “gender identity” is intellectually dishonest because the two have almost nothing in common. The primary reason comes down to science and reality. The fact is that a certain percentage of the population is gay, just as a certain percentage are born with blue eyes. There is no question that some percentage of men prefer the sexual and emotional company of other men. The same applies to lesbians. (Either that or you guys have been doing one hell of a job faking it for all of recorded history just to prove a point.) This isn’t a question that’s up for debate.
The state of being transgender – or more accurately suffering from gender dysphoria – takes us in a different direction. There is zero evidence that men with the normal complement of X and Y chromosomes are women or that the XX cardholders are men. (There is, of course, a very small percentage of the population with aberrant chromosomal structures in the 23rd pair who both require and deserve special considerations and treatment.) Simply believing that you are something which you are not and which medical science has absolutely no method of supporting is either a mental disorder or, at a minimum, an example of extremely confused thinking.
That brings us to the other point brought up by David French. There is a very big difference between the medical or psychiatric realities of gender dysphoria or “being transgender” and the political movement which has grown into what’s now being referred to as transgenderism. I doubt we are doing all we can to help people who find themselves in such a condition, but at least in the case of adults, you can’t really force any help on them either if they don’t wish it. And what you choose to do with your own body, the clothes you decide to wear or the way you choose to talk about yourself is strictly up to you. Society can not and should not attempt to force you to acknowledge your own biological reality any more than it can make you believe that the Earth is round.
But that’s not where the debate ends, particularly in liberal circles. We still live in the era of You Will Be Made To Care. It’s not enough for activists on the left if you simply shrug your shoulders and say that transgender individuals can dress or speak however they wish. It must be forced on everyone else. You must accept “women with penises” into female restrooms, locker rooms and showers. You must address them by or refer to them with the pronouns of their choice or face legal consequences. Live and let live is not a viable strategy in social justice warrior circles.
This is where we come to the one area where there actually is a narrow parallel between the gay marriage debate and transgenderism. Even though I didn’t want the government outlawing gay marriage, I also didn’t want anyone else’s religious liberties to be infringed by forcing them to participate in marriage ceremonies over their own moral and religious objections. And as far as the transgender question goes, nobody else is required to accept the unscientific and frankly bizarre beliefs of someone suffering from gender dysphoria to the point where the rest of society must give up their normal rights to privacy or have their speech forcibly modified.
So in closing, I have to take the side of David French over McCullough on this one. Science trumps fantasy here and the rights of the many are not subject to the unhinged demands of the few.