2017-07-22

How is Charlie Gard an excuse to criticize transgender issues?

An opinion piece by Christine Flowers in a recent edition of the local paper takes a perplexing detour. While the piece mainly deals with the Charlie Gard controversy, which I don't feel that I understand well enough to comment on, it suddenly swerves midway through into arguments about abortion, a matter not truly related to the initial one and a far more nuanced issue than she gives it credit for. That's not what we're here for, though. I'm focusing on when she ultimately shifts, quite abruptly, into bashing care for young transgender people, devoting around a quarter of the piece to this, despite how obviously little she understands the subject and despite it having no discernible connection to the original topic.

The writer, I belatedly realized while putting together this response, is one whose name I recognize. It turns out I've felt the need to refute her before, after she implied she had a right to know about the genitalia of everyone who might use a public toilet, then proceeded to launch into a tirade of fallacious objections to the concept of transgender (refer to the "Paying Too Much Mind to Other People's Business" section of my previous Toilets Still a Battleground Somehow post). Now, here, she goes out of her way to attack the same concept all over again, with similarly shallow complaints, shoehorning it into an unrelated piece. Perhaps it proves an idea I recall from Fred Clark's commentary, made in reference to the Left Behind series and Tim LaHaye's evident fixation on the United Nations, that "obsession need not produce curiosity" and that some people may spend decades "obsessing over and dreading and opposing" what they "never bother to learn even the most basic facts about".

She kicks off this farce by referring to the entire concept as a "gender game" (and, on that note, if it is just a game, why does she even care?). I can't agree. I've witnessed the inordinate amount of vitriol often directed at anyone who dares to even mention the word "transgender"—some of it coming from Christine Flowers herself, as it happens. I've seen the news about the distressingly widespread legal efforts to not only sanction but to enforce treating transgender people, from students to senior citizens, as "less thans". I'm all too aware of people who ought to be spreading God's love but instead choose to parrot ignorance and propagate hatred. I know about many, more than I want to believe could possibly be real, who have been murdered for who they are, including an eight-year-old child who three years ago in Brazil was "Beaten to death by father for refusing to cut hair, liking women's clothes, and dancing". I've read a personal account of someone who recalls, at the age of five, pleading with any higher power that might be listening to "fix my body or allow me to die in my sleep". I've personally experienced some of the turmoil and disorientation that can result from trying to ignore a part of yourself, and I'm not even particularly dysphoric. For many, this is no "game".

She also comes across as contradicting herself about whether children should be allowed to be their own people. On the one hand, she seems critical of people who treat their children like property, or, when it comes to abortion, like "non-viable appendages of unwilling women". On the other, she insists that children are too young to "really understand the consequences" of exploring their gender, and that allowing them the freedom to try is giving them "an autonomy they neither want, nor can safely handle" (never mind that this is an autonomy that many children desperately want and that isn't particularly dangerous to handle). So, are kids able to think for themselves, or not? Should their feelings, preferences, and human dignity be respected, or not? There are kids who express cross-gender tendencies at one point and later grow out of them, it's true. But the ones who will, will, whether they're allowed to experiment or denied at every turn, and allowing it does no harm. Why make things more difficult for everyone by turning it into something to fight over?

Meanwhile, she demonstrates an appalling ignorance1 of the standards of care for transgender people, youth in particular. No legitimate doctor wants to take children and "pump them up with hormones". Before puberty, there's little point to it anyway, and, accordingly, the most a young person who expresses transgender inclinations can expect medically is hormone blockers, with ongoing supervision, once it starts becoming an issue and they've satisfied the gatekeeping requirements. Of course, that's only if they have any idea that such a thing is possible, can find someone with the authority to issue the prescription, and aren't prevented from doing so by feared or actual familial rejection or financial concerns. Far from rushing anyone into anything, hormone blockers delay puberty, specifically to make doubly certain that everyone understands what they're getting into and truly wants to go down this path. Actual hormone treatments demand more stringent requirements and additional oversight, and generally aren't even an option until later into the teenage years, well after anyone not on blockers would normally be awash in the hormones their own bodies "pump them up with", ready or not, like it or not. "We want to steal their future", she complains of those who would allow the possibility of transition, but how can temporarily holding back some of the most drastic changes a person will ever experience possibly be worse than forcing a child to go through an unwanted puberty just because that's what their body defaults to? It's not a coincidence that gender dysphoria often manifests at the onset of puberty. This is a turbulent enough time for most young people, but consider how much more difficult it must be for someone to go through a puberty that's all wrong for them, only to be left struggling to try to undo its effects later on. If she's honestly worried that these young people are making rash decisions that they'll regret later, I'd expect her to support taking measures to put the decision off.

What galls me the most, though, is her claim to champion "science and empirical evidence" over "our personal view of what is good, what is efficient, what is compassionate, and what is ethical" while making these arguments. Science has plenty to say on the issue, though, with more empirical evidence every year, and the bulk of it is simply not on her side. There's good reason so many "respectable doctors and psychologists" agree that people, children included, should be allowed to live their gender. Being transgender is an objectively real phenomenon. Brain scans have even demonstrated a biological basis for it, for those who like to appeal to biology. And, moving from theory into practice, letting people transition works. Trying to "de-trans" (or "de-gay", for that matter) people not only doesn't work, but tends to traumatize them instead, even if the attempt doesn't use literal torture as a tactic. For children in particular, empirical evidence tells us that transgender children who receive love, support, and affirmation turn out as mentally healthy and well-adjusted as anyone else. Those whose identity is denied and rejected, on the other hand, tend to grow up with resentment, depression, and an alarming tendency toward suicide instead. Yet she mocks the idea of acceptance, "reality and science be damned", to borrow her words.

Even ignoring the facts, though, it takes a strange sort of perversity to think that there's something more abusive about letting children play and explore—what she calls "putting little boys in tutus and turning tomboys into actual boys", as though parents were doing this over the protests of their children—than trying to force them to stop. No. What's abusive is refusing to let children be, or even try to discover, who they are, and refusing to give them access to the support they may need, because you're so certain you know better that you won't listen.


1 (note added 2017-08-12): I'd like to clarify that I don't mean that such ignorance is necessarily appalling in itself. No one can possibly know all there is to know about everything, and there are plenty of things that the average person has no need to know. For example, I am completely ignorant of the principles of museum curation. And that's fine—provided that I don't discuss museum curation as though I were a knowledgeable authority, or attempt to criticize museum curators despite my ignorance. What appalls me is that she continues to come back to this topic over and over again, presenting her word as absolute fact, yet shows no signs of having done even the most basic research on it.

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