In case you’re just tuning in, Bruce Springsteen, Target, and bathrooms are at the center of controversy these days, as Americans learn more about the T in the LGBT acronym – Transgender.
Broadly speaking, transgender refers to people who believe their gender identity does not correspond to their biological sex. The psychological description, which applies to a narrower slice of those who identify as transgender (and some who do not so identify), is “gender dysphoria,” defined by Mark Yarhouse as “a deep and abiding discomfort over the incongruence between one’s biological sex and one’s psychological and emotional experience of gender.”
With Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair last year, and books and shows likeTransparent finding an audience, there is a societal push to celebrate transgender experience as an expression of human diversity or as the next stage in extending human rights.
But this push has run into pushback. Access to bathrooms and locker rooms may be the battleground, but the bigger debate concerns the nature of humanity and, by extension, the best way to approach (or treat) gender dysphoria.
These newfound controversies are complicated, at least in part because of transgender theory itself. The unmooring of “gender identity” from “biological sex” leads to a number of unresolved questions, as well as troubling inconsistencies among advocates of transgender rights. (I realize that not every transgender person or LGBTQ activist agrees on every point or holds to the same ideology. Still, there is broad agreement on a number of important issues.)
In my reading of articles and books about gender identity in the past year, I’ve come across seven issues that challenge the coherence of transgender theories.
1. Do transgender theories undercut or contradict the idea that sexual orientation is unchangeable?
The LGBT’s success in pushing for civil rights legislation on the basis of sexual orientation has relied heavily on the assumption that sexual orientation is “fixed,” or genetically determined. But more and more scholars today argue that sexual orientation is “fluid,” not fixed (especially in females). And these two perspectives are colliding in real life situations involving transgender persons.
Last year, New York magazine’s article “My Husband is Now My Wife” by Alex Morris featured the stories of several spouses of transgender persons who transitioned later in life. Morris describes the women who witnessed their husbands’ transition as feeling pressured to not voice any disapproval, to avoid the accusation of being “transphobic.” They were expected to be “celebratory” and helpful,” no matter how their spouse’s transition would affect the rest of the family.
LGBT theory rests on the assumption that sexual orientation is determined by biology and that it is misguided, even hateful, to seek to change one’s orientation. But, as Morris points out, the spouse of a transgender person is expected to remain and support a partner during and after their transition. And for a wife to celebrate her husband’s transition means she must face questions about her own sexual orientation.
The article quotes from a woman perplexed about what it means for her, a heterosexual woman, to suddenly be the spouse of a woman. She says, “I don’t know how comfortable I would feel in a group of lesbians…Because here I am doing the very thing that they’re trying to prove is not possible” — change the gender to which she is attracted. Such an expectation destabilizes some of the foundational elements of LGBT theory on homosexuality.
2. If gender identity is fixed and unchangeable, why do many children who experience gender dysphoria lose these feelings after puberty?