October 2021 Pulse
In an article published on the website ‘Common Sense with Bari Weiss’, Katie Herzog tells the story of a medical school professor who had to apologise to his class for using the term ‘pregnant women.’ He said to his students: ‘I said “when a woman is pregnant”, which implies that only women can get pregnant and I most sincerely apologise to all of you.’
This, however, was not the most serious transgression of the professor. His ultimate crime was to acknowledge the reality of biological sex, which is considered to be transphobic by most trans activists.
The pervasiveness of the ideology which asserts that sex is a social construct that has no biological basis is extremely troubling because it has influenced the way in which medicine is taught in the U.S. Herzog reports that ‘some of the country’s top medical students are being taught that humans are not, like other mammals, a species comprising two sexes. The notion of sex, they are learning, is just a man-made creation.’
Medical school professors are also under tremendous pressure from their students to conform to this ideology and to avoid ‘wrongspeak’ in the lectures. The latter includes using binary categories such as ‘male’ and ‘female’ and terms such as ‘breastfeed’ instead of ‘chestfeed.’
For example, one professor was chastised by his students for being ‘cisnormative’ for using pronouns such as ‘she’ and ‘her’ as well as the terms ‘father’ and ‘son’. Students in medical schools in the U.S. can lodge complains in real time against their professors, who will be pressured by the school board to issue an apology.
Going against this ideology can prove ruinous for the careers of medical school professors, as the case of Lisa Littman, who was a physician and former associate professor at Brown University, illustrates.
In 2014, Littman noticed a sudden increase in the number of female adolescents in her social network coming out as transgender boys. She decided to conduct a survey involving 250 parents whose adolescent children – mainly girls – said they were transgender even before exhibiting signs of gender dysphoria. In 2018, Littman published the findings of her study in a paper entitled ‘Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Study of Parental Reports’ in the journal PLOS One.
Trans activists hit hard at Littman and the institution she was associated with. Herzog reports that
Littman, the journal and Brown University were pummelled with accusations of transphobia in the press and on social media. In response, the journal announced an investigation into Littman’s work. Several hours later, Brown University issued a press release denouncing the professor’s paper.
In March 2019, after the dust had settled, Littman’s paper was republished with a different title. But her career was ruined. ‘She no longer teaches at Brown’, Herzog reports. ‘And her contract at Rhode Island State Health Department wasn’t renewed.’
CONTOURS OF AN IDEOLOGY
How did this radical view of sex and gender come about?
Although beliefs about sex have evolved over time, the inspiration behind this new orthodoxy can arguably be traced to the late eighteenth century, when prevailing views about men and women were being called into question.
For example, Mary Wollstonecraft, in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1790, challenged the view, held by many in her time, that women are inferior to men. Following her lead, other writers questioned whether men and women are intellectually, emotionally and even physically different from each other.
But it was with the publication of Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) in the first half of the twentieth century that the constructivist understanding of sex first emerged. For in that book, De Beauvoir famously argued that ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.’
It is important to note that De Beauvoir was not denying the reality of biological sex. She was simply making the point that what it means to be female is dependent just as much on society and culture, not just on biology. But her statement paved the way for biological sex to be distinguished from what would later be described as ‘gender’ – the concept of sexual identity and behaviour that is not determined solely by biology.
The term ‘gender’ first made its appearance 1955, in the writings of psychologist John Money, which tried to show the distinction between biological sex – male and female – and behaviour. Money, whose work was focused on intersex people, came to the conclusion that biological sex has very little bearing on gender. It was Money’s theories and experiments that arguably led to the birth of the concept ‘transgender identity’.
The distinction between gender and biological sex was further radicalised by the American philosopher and gender theorist, Judith Butler. In her influential book Gender Trouble (1988), Butler argues that ‘gender is performance’, and that this performance is not undergirded by a pre-existing essence or biological reality.
Butler rejects as patently false the assumption that
there is a natural or biological female who is subsequently transformed into a socially subordinate ‘woman’, with the consequence that ‘sex’ is to ‘nature’ or ‘the raw’ as gender is to ‘culture’ or ‘the cooked’.
There is no man or woman behind the performance of gender. Instead, it is the performance itself that ‘creates’ the gender of the performer. Thus, ‘what we take to be an internal essence’, she writes, is in fact ‘manufactured through a sustained set of acts.’ ‘Gender’, she asserts, ‘is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to pre-exist the deed.’
These influences have shaped the modern transgender movement in many and varied ways. But before we proceed any further, I must underscore the distinction between transgenderism and transgender individuals.
Transgenderism is an ideology that promotes the view that a person’s gender identity has nothing with do with their biological sex or anatomy. As an ideology, transgenderism has been widely accepted in many public institutions in the West such as education, health care, social work, and even the police and prison services. Its political agenda is also being promoted through these institutions.
A transgender person, however, is someone whose perceived gender identity and expressions differ from their biological sex. In other words, a transgender person is someone who experiences gender dysphoria or dissonance. It is important to note that there are transgender people who do not subscribe to the ideology of transgenderism. As Joanna Williams has pointed out, ‘not all transgender individuals support this broader ideological movement and some may even refer to themselves as transsexuals in a bid to emphasise the reality of immutable sex.’
As an ideology, transgenderism thrives in the postmodern ethos that we now inhabit. To simplify to the extreme, postmodernism may be characterised as a worldview which rejects objective reality and absolute truths or norms. Reality is not something ‘out there’ which exists independently of us, waiting to be discovered. Rather it is something that we create or construct out of our subjective experiences.
Based on postmodern ontology and epistemology, gender is not grounded in objective biological categories, but a social construct that is fluid. This is clearly seen in the rejection of biological categories by trans activists and the push for a subtle but significant shift in language. This is exemplified by the Trans Education Resources, which insists that:
Biological sex is an ambiguous word that has no scale and no meaning besides that it is related to some sex characteristics. It is also harmful to trans people. Instead, we prefer ‘sex assigned at birth’ which provides a more accurate description of what biological sex may be trying to communicate.
So, there is no such thing as biological sex, only sex assigned at birth.
This new dogma has led some people, like Labour MP for Brent, Dawn Butler, to state on UK national television (Good Morning Britain) that babies are born without a sex. This assertion prompted Brendan O’Neill of The Spectator to write: ‘That is easily as loopy and anti-scientific as saying the Earth isn’t a sphere.’ Loopy or not, trans activists are adamant in their rejection of biological sex, and they are ready take anyone who challenges this dogma to task.
For example, in 2014, Time magazine received considerable flak for using the concept of biological sex in an article on Laverne Cox, the first trans person to be featured on its cover.
In her article entitled ‘It’s Time for People to Stop Using the Social Construct of “Biological Sex” to Defend Their Transmisogyny’, Mey Rude took Time to task for this unforgiveable crime. She accuses the magazine of using ‘a simplistic and outdated understanding of biology to perpetuate some very dangerous ideas about trans women.’ And she chastises Time for failing to acknowledge that biological sex ‘isn’t something we’re actually born with, it’s something that doctors or our parents assign us at birth.’
Trans activists have therefore turned the traditional understanding of the relationship between sex and gender on its head. It is no longer the case that sex determines gender. Now, it is gender that determines sex!
Dr Deanne Adkins, professor at Duke University School of Medicine and the Director of the Duke Centre for Child and Adolescent Gender Care, even claims that this view is solidly based on medical science. ‘From a medical perspective,’ Adkins writes, ‘the appropriate determinant of sex is gender identity.’ ‘It is counter to medical science’, she insists, ‘to use chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia, or secondary sex characteristic to override gender identity for purposes of classifying someone as male or female.’
According to this new orthodoxy, then, gender identity is self-created. Or as Ryan Anderson puts it, ‘People are the gender they claim to be.’
Gender identity is an individual’s inner sense of belonging to a particular gender. This means, as Anderson has rightly pointed out, that ‘gender identity must trump everything else: biological sex, physiology, birth certificate, and so on.’
Trans activists assert that one’s gender identity is one’s true identity and destiny. And if gender identity is destiny, it is therefore one’s basic and inalienable right to live according to one’s perceived gender.
Trans activists also reject the binary understanding of sex and gender. So, if gender is not limited to male and female, how many genders are there? No one knows the exact number. ABC News recently reported that there are 58 Gender Options for Facebook users.
These include: Agender, Androgyne, Androgynous, Bigender, Cis, Cisgender, Cis Female, Cis Male, Cis Man, Cis Woman, Cisgender Female, Cisgender Male, Cisgender Man, Cisgender Woman, Female to Male, FTM, Gender Fluid, Gender Nonconforming, Gender Questioning, Gender Variant, Genderqueer, Intersex, Male to Female, MTF, Neither, Neutrois, Non-binary, Other, Pangender, Trans, Trans*, Trans Female, Trans* Female, Trans Male, Trans* Male, Trans Man, Trans* Man, Trans Person, Trans* Person, Trans Woman, Trans* Woman, Transfemine, Transgender, Transgender Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Man, Transgender Person, Transgender Woman, Transmasculine, Transsexual, Transsexual Female, Transsexual Male, Transsexual Man, Transsexual Person, Transsexual Woman and Two Spirit.
And accompanying this proliferation of genders is the multiplication of gender-neutral pronouns. Here is a list provided by KW Counselling Services based in Ontario, Canada.
INCONGRUITIES AND DISSONANCES
Scholars such as Ryan Anderson have argued that transgender ideology is riddled with incongruent and contradictory propositions and ideas. These inconsistencies are often obfuscated by the impassioned rhetoric of trans activists or simply papered over by the generalities which often pervade public discourse on this issue.
What are the discordances in transgender ideology? Let me delineate some of them briefly.
An important question raised by critics of transgender ideology is why should the idea that sex is a social construct with no biological basis or reality be applied exclusively to humans? If this is true of human beings, should it not also be the case for all mammals, at least? Some trans activists have asserted that human beings are different from other mammals, but they have not explained where exactly that difference lie.
Trans ideology states that it is how a person feels that determines their ‘gender identity’ regardless of their birth sex or anatomy. For example, if a person with male genitalia ‘feels’ that he is a woman, then his gender identity is female. Feeling or the sense of inner gender identity is what determines the person’s real sex.
But if this is indeed the case, if one’s feeling or inner sense of self determines who one really is, why should this constructivist approach to reality be applied only to sex and gender? Why should it not be applied also to height or race, for instance?
If we accept transgender ‘reality’, why should we not also accept trans-racial or trans-abled ‘reality’? What about able-bodied people who identify as disabled? And what about people who are trans-species, like Ted Richards from Bristol, who identifies as a parrot, and has undergone numerous surgeries in order to look like one?
The problem may be stated thus: If subjective gender identities determine reality, what about other forms of self-professed identities? Do they also determine reality? If not, why not?
The notion promoted by trans activists that a person may be ‘trapped in the wrong body’ is also riddled with incongruities and contradictions, if we were to take the transgender dogma seriously.
To say that a person is trapped in the wrong body is in some sense to acknowledge the significance of the physical body. But, the main thrust of transgender metaphysics maintains that the real self is a construct, quite independent from the genes and physical anatomy. So, how can a person be said to be ‘trapped in the wrong body’ when the body does not matter and biology does not determine gender and sex?
Many trans activists also argue that transgender identity is innate and immutable. However, this claim is clearly at odds with the theory which insists that gender identity is purely a social construct. Ryan Anderson brings out the contradiction this way:
If gender is a social construct, how can gender identity be innate and immutable? How can one’s identity with respect to a social construct be determined by biology in the womb? How can one’s identity be unchangeable (immutable) with respect to an ever-changing social construct? And if gender identity is innate, how can it be ‘fluid’?
In the quest to garner authoritative support for their dubious metaphysical claims, trans activists often turn to science, especially neuroscience. They maintain that brain science indicates that gender is hardwired in the human brain, even though studies have hitherto been inconclusive, at best. And yet, in the same breath activists also deny that biology is destiny, and indefatigably insist that people are free to determine their own genders.
Anderson has once again penetrated into the heart of the irresolvable contradictions in trans ideology when he asks:
Which is it? Is our gender identity biologically determined and immutable, or self-created and changeable? If the former, how do we account for people whose gender identity changes over time? Do these people have the wrong sense of gender at some time or other?
In 2016, The Washington Post published an article with the title: ‘You can be fined for not calling people “ze” or “hir”; if that’s the pronoun they demand that you use.’ The article reports that in New York, ‘refusal to use a transgender employee’s preferred name, pronoun, or title may constitute unlawful-gender-based harassment.’
This brings us to another incongruity in the trans account. It is well and good for people to claim that the gender they identify with is real to them. But, if gender identity is merely a construct, if it is self-created without any objective biological basis, why must other people accept it as reality?
If activists argue that people must be free to choose their gender identities, why can’t others be free to choose not to recognise those identities? Or, as Anderson puts it: ‘If we should be free to choose our own gender identity, why can some people impose their idea of reality on others just because they identify as transgender?’ Trans activists, he adds, ‘promote a radical expressive individualism in which people are free to do whatever they want and define truth however they wish, yet they try ruthlessly to enforce acceptance of transgender ideology.’
Needless to say, the Bible does not support the constructivist view of gender advanced by the trans activists. The first chapter of Genesis presents a sexually dimorphic view of humanity when it states that ‘God created humankind in his image … male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27). This basic nature of human sexuality remains even after the Fall, for Genesis 5 continues to describe human beings in binary terms, as male and female (Genesis 5:1b-2).
In addition, the Bible emphasises the bodily aspect of human maleness and femaleness. This is made clear in the divine command to procreate, a command which would be quite nonsensical if there’s no such thing as biological sex. As the Assemblies of God statement on transgenderism puts it:
To be female and male makes possible the ability to reproduce sexually. Even after the fall of humanity, reproductive ability remains credited to God who created humans as male and female (Genesis 4:1), as does humanity’s ongoing status as creation in God’s image (Genesis 5:1-3; 9:6).
The Christian faith therefore sees a profound relationship between physiology and sexual identity. To quote the AOG statement again: ‘A biblical theology of the body … argues for the essentiality of the body in determining our identity.’
Transgender ideology is not only antithetical to the biblical understanding of human sexuality. It is also at odds with the way in which it has been understood throughout the history of human civilisation.
The impact and influence of transgenderism on society and culture must not be taken lightly. However bizarre (and loopy!) this new dogma on gender may seem, we must take the challenge it poses very seriously. As Anderson puts it:
A transgender future is not the ‘right side of history,’ yet activists have convinced the most powerful sectors of our society to acquiesce to their demands. While the claims they make are manifestly false, it will take real work to prevent the spread of these harmful ideas.
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor at Trinity Theological College (Singapore) and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.