There’s been a lot of news lately on transgender individuals. The newest debate centers on whether or not trans* people should be allowed to use the public restroom of the gender they identify with. In response to this debate, there have been a slew of articles shared on both sides of the debate, ranging from well-written to total-crap rhetoric arguing for their side. What I’m writing about today isn’t for one side or the other, but more of a call for bipartisan, unifying action for addressing transgenderism across the board.
First, let’s address what transgenderism is (and what it isn’t). Put simply, transgenderism is the name for the situation in which a person is born one biological gender but does not identify with that gender. Example: a person is born physically and biologically male but does not identify as male; rather, the person identifies as female. This person is transgender.
Transgenderism does not mean cross-dressing. A man is not trans because he dresses in women’s clothes or wears makeup. A woman is not trans because she wears men’s clothes and wears men’s shoes. Transgenderism is more than any of these non-essential details. A trans man (meaning female to male) may enjoy wearing skirts, but this fact does not change that they identify as female. Clothes, like many other things, are extremely relative and contextual.
Transgenderism is not a fad. Just like sexual orientation (but not sexual orientation – see below), trans people don’t get to choose what they identify as. It isn’t people trying to be cool, funny, or get attention. Being transgender is not a walk in the park and I seriously question anyone who would suggest that someone wants to suffer the way that trans people do, with their higher rates of violence and prejudice.
Transgenderism is not sexual orientation. The best way to explain it is as follows: “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with, transgenderism is who you go to bed as.” A gay man who is not trans will still identify as a man. A trans man does not identify as female but might be attracted to men. Sexual orientation and transgenderism are not the same thing.
Transgenderism also does not mean merely wanting to be the other gender. I read a blog post recently, titled “I am Ryland – the story of a male-identifying little girl who didn’t transition” and was highly critical of it, because it is unlike the various accounts I’ve heard of transgender children. The author writes, “I wanted to be a boy. Desperately wanted to be a boy. I thought boys had more fun. I felt like a boy in the way that our society views genders.”
Here’s the problem with this point: she wanted to be a boy. This is extremely different from identifying as a boy. A true transgender child will not just say “I want to be a boy” but “I am a boy” as an identity, rather than a desire. Moreover, a transgender child’s interests are not the deciding factor for whether or not they are trans; it is more than interests, it is so much deeper than that.
Just to let you know, this article was in response to the story of an actual trans child, Ryland. You can read about Ryland’s story here. And if you’re looking for more examples of accounts of trans children, read or listen to their stories: a video, a trans teen named Jazz, a PBS special, a trans child named Jacob, and then a family with two transgender kids. These are but a small sampling of trans kids’ accounts. Set aside whatever ideologies you have, forget the sappy music, set judgments aside, and just listen. What I stress is to understand the rhetoric of transgender children so that we can better identify the difference between wanting and being the other gender.
Of course I acknowledge that children do not always understand what they say or what they mean when they say something like this. A conservative-blogger favorite, Matt Walsh, has written on this point exactly. His argument runs in the same vein as the author from “I am Ryland” – that a child should not be pigeonholed into the opposite gender because they do not conform to stereotypically male or female toys. I agree with this view, but that is also why I made it a point to include many links to understand trans kids’ rhetoric. It’s not just the stuff or the interests – it’s who they are. That goes much, much deeper than interests.
Here’s the big thing: I get that children will say things like “I’m a dog” or “I’m a dinosaur” or “I’m an alien” and then do things that conform to that statement. A child that says “I’m a dog” might walk on all fours for months and refuse to wear anything but a collar. Who knows. Kids have unbridled imagination. However, most children who say any of these things do not, at 5 years old, express a desire to commit suicide, mutilate themselves, or get full-blown depression.
That is the major difference between childish fantasies and wishes and trans children. It’s not just a phase, and it’s not very common.
The reason I want to define so aggressively what transgenderism is and isn’t is that a major problem I see conservatives grapple with is whether or not it is a legitimate issue. Another article I have come across demonstrates just this point: no matter what surgery or treatments a trans person receives, it does not change their biological DNA. Any “identification” with the other gender is pointless as well; the identification does not alter DNA. Furthermore, even if a trans person’s brain waves correspond to the opposite gender, so much can affect brain waves, such as pornography, that it isn’t an objectively legitimate tool to use as “proof” that trans people are actually trans. The heart of the article states that in truth, a person’s biological sex is their gender, and there isn’t any reason or proof to demonstrate otherwise. The author of the article mentioned above also highlights the fictional cases of a 70 year old man identifying as a 16 year old, or a Caucasian identifying as sub-Saharan. Both are absurd because they are not reality, and we should not cater to those absurd thoughts.
Here’s the problem with this line of thinking: the argument dismisses the issue. It offers no validation for trans individuals. If we treat transgenderism as if it were a bunch of people who are one age but identify as another or one race but identify as another, we’re not really doing a service to them at all. It completely invalidates their experiences.
That’s the big issue. For us to move forward together, we all need to at least agree that even if we don’t understand it, there’s something there and it needs to be addressed. No amount of philosophy, theology, and argument is stopping the fact that real people – real human beings – are suffering and many of us completely invalidate the suffering by saying it’s not real.
I get it – maybe you think trans people just don’t “get” it. They are “confused.” As someone with anxiety and depression, I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for someone to say “you’ll get over it” or “we all go through those phases” or “but look at the bright side.” Those someones don’t get it. There’s something going on, and whether or not we understand is not the issue, it’s that we acknowledge our brothers and sisters in pain.
As far as solutions, this is where I’m at an impasse. On the one hand, most liberals tend to the hormone therapy/gender reassignment route. On the other hand, conservatives tend to the pray-it-away, therapy-it-out, God-doesn’t-make-mistakes,** just-love-the-body-God-gave-you routes and those routes have some pretty disastrous results. It should be apparent by now that gay-reversal therapy is as useful as putting out a fire with oil, and trans-reversal therapy isn’t much better.
To the point of God-doesn’t-make mistakes, I agree. Nature makes mistakes though. Here’s an example: a person is born without legs and must use a wheelchair to get around. Did God make a mistake? No, but because sin entered the world, imperfections happen, but God loves that person very much all the same and will help that person by giving them grace and blessings in other ways. We human beings, in our societies, respond by developing wheelchairs, prosthetics, and other technologies in order to allow that person to live the most fulfilled life they can.
Why is it much different with transgender people? I’m not saying we have to (or even should) go the hormone/surgery route. But I am saying that we do need to do something we can all agree on. If we can use public funds to make roads, public buildings, and other places wheelchair-accessible, then perhaps let’s find a solution to make our world more trans-accessible. What that looks like is beyond my comprehension, and perhaps yours. Our science and understanding are not there yet.
What I want more than anything is to find solutions to address trans people’s struggles. I don’t think it’s okay to just say “God made you this way and take up your cross.” I imagine we wouldn’t get that pleasant of a reaction if we told that to people who use wheelchairs, so why tell it to people who struggle in less visible ways?
As a Catholic, I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know that hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries are the right answer. What I do know is that if we continue dismissing trans people’s experiences and refuse to come up with solutions, we are only hurting them more. If you can’t figure out a solution on your own then at the very least advocate for finding one that works. Again, I don’t know what that looks like. But I’ll tell you what – at the alarming rates of trans suicides, self-harm, and mental health issues – whatever solutions and responses now just aren’t cutting it.
*I will be using trans and transgender interchangeably in this post.