Consider the remarkable phenomenon of transgenderism. A disorder of gender identity that afflicts a minuscule number of Americans has become a polarizing cultural cause celebre. Its influence—in capturing public attention and demanding social change—has been extraordinary, out of all proportion to the numbers of the gender-dissatisfied.
While the political left has fully embraced the transgender agenda as a “civil right” opposed by only the bigoted and hateful, many people see the movement as a concerted attack on traditional social mores and customs, an “in your face” assault on conventional standards, practices, and morality.
Clearly, the transgender phenomenon is the tip of the spear of the LGBT movement, greatly energized by the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage that includes in the definition of liberty the right of people to “define and express their identity.” For the LGBT movement this literally includes the right to decide one’s gender, to claim the rights of an alternative gender (since gender is malleable, there are choices other than simply male or female), have the choice acknowledged by society as a civil right, and ultimately become accepted as a conventional lifestyle.
However, transgenderism as a normative lifestyle may be a hard sell. While fair-minded people can agree that gays or people with gender confusion should not be discriminated against, the general public doesn’t appear to be ready to accept gender as simply a social construct or that people can be whatever gender they choose. These contentions, the conceptual foundation of transgenderism, fly in the face of reality: the biological difference between the sexes.
The Contagion of Mass Delusion
Transgenderism would refute the natural laws of biology and transmute human nature. The movement’s philosophical foundation qualifies it as a popular delusion similar to the multiple-personality craze, and the widespread “satanic ritual abuse” and “recovered memory” hysterias of the 1980s and ‘90s. These last two involved bizarre accusations of child abuse and resulted in the prosecution and ruined lives of the falsely accused.
Such popular delusions are characterized by a false belief unsupported by any scientific or empirical evidence and have a contagious quality that overrides rational thinking and even common sense. This all-too-human tendency to suspend individual critical judgment and go along with the crowd is greatly facilitated by social media. Most important, however, the cause has received the imprimatur of “experts.” The very people who should know better have bought into the hysteria. Just as “mental health professionals” a generation ago supported the child abuse delusions, and even participated in prosecuting the unjustly accused, so too have they fueled the fire of the transgender delusion.
The transgender movement was greatly energized when The American Psychiatric Association (APA) in its 2013 revised edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders” (DSM-5) delisted “Gender Identity Disorder” as a psychiatric “disorder,” reclassifying it as “Gender Dysphoria.” However, rather than providing a scientific validation of the transgender agenda, the APA’s action was a remarkable abrogation of professional responsibility in the interest of political correctness.
Unlike medical diseases, psychiatric disorders have no diagnostic biologic markers—no physical findings, laboratory tests, or imaging studies. Psychiatric diagnoses consist of symptom checklists determined by committee consensus. It should come as no surprise that the process is exquisitely reactive to prevailing cultural and political winds. Absent biomarkers that define illnesses, there is no end to the mental and emotional conditions that can be called psychiatric disorders. It can be extremely profitable for an activist special-interest movement to succeed in getting its cause legitimized as a mental disorder, not least for a pharmaceutical industry poised to retarget psychotropic drugs to treat any new mental illness.
Activist Science Plus Relativism Equals Insanity
However, the process works both ways. Psychiatric “disorders” both come and go in response to contemporary cultural fads and determined special interests. For the sexual liberation movement the political advantage lay in having offending disorders removed. In 1973 it succeeded in getting the APA to remove homosexuality from its lexicon of disorders simply by vote of the membership.
Subsequently the movement conflated with postmodern relativism, in which there are no universal or transcendent values, only social and cultural conventions. The doctrine as applied to gender asserts that gender—male or female sex—is merely a social construct, not a biologic fact, and subject to change according to one’s desire. People can be of any gender they choose, an “alternate gender,” or even opt out of the entire gender construct.
Such was the agenda that the APA bought into when it dropped “Gender Identity Disorder” from the DSM-5. However, rather than simply eliminating the concept of gender identity since officially it was no longer a disorder, it created a “new diagnostic class” called “gender dysphoria.” This carried the assault on common sense even further, since now psychiatrists, the purported experts on distinguishing between fantasy and reality, put their stamp of approval on the transgender hysteria.
Only prelogical children and psychotic adults believe in magical thinking, that “wishing can make it so.” Yet “gender dysphoria” is characterized as “gender incongruence:” a feeling of dissatisfaction with one’s “assigned” (birth) gender, and a wish to be otherwise-gendered, makes one a different person. To reclaim one’s true (desired) gender identity may require sex-reassignment surgery, a treatment for the “new diagnostic class” of gender dysphoria sanctioned by the APA. The torturous vocabulary the DSM manufactured to label the possible gender spectrum variations would be laughable were it not so tragic.
Refusing to Diagnose Withholds Needed Treatment
The tragedy, of course, is that people suffering from identity issues do not receive the help they need. Anorexia nervosa is another disorder characterized by a distortion of body image. However, in contrast to the transgendered, who are aided in acting out a delusion with hormones and “sex-reassignment,” people with a morbid and unrealistic perception of themselves as being obese or too heavy are not put on weight-reducing diets. Rather, anorexia is diagnosed as a psychiatric disorder and treated appropriately with psychotherapy.
Anorexia and “gender dysphoria” are among the many manifestations of psychological conflict that may occur during the “identity crisis” of adolescence, an important developmental milestone in identity formation. It is a time of rapid physical changes and strong sexual urges. Gender confusion—the wish to be the opposite sex, or even to be no sex at all (non-gendered)—can simply be a young person’s temporary pause in resolving the conflict between the safety of secure parental attachments and the compelling but frightening urges of adult sexuality and autonomy.
Asceticism—a renunciation of sexuality and sensual pleasures generally, in effect becoming asexual and anhedonic—is another coping device young people sometimes use. It is remarkably similar to gender dysphoria in its purpose of achieving a temporary respite from confusion about one’s emerging sexuality and anxiety about the demands of adulthood.
The vast majority of such defense mechanisms are transient, useful when the storms of adolescence are most intense, but no longer necessary as a more stable sense of self emerges. (Most common perhaps is the adolescent idealization of celebrities. That many of these popular figures are androgynous illustrates the nature of these identifications as a respite from sexual and gender conflict.) Very few young people who diet severely become lifelong anorectics. Not many adolescent ascetics become cloistered monks. In contrast, some gender-dissatisfied youths are given hormones and even undergo sex- reassignment surgery. A transient developmental conflict is subjected to life-changing and sometimes irreversible treatment.
Reinforcing Delusions Hurts People
More lamentable still is the use of these “treatments” in prepubescent children whose prelogical thinking blurs the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Young parents with concerns about their children need to seek the counsel of people with knowledge about normal child development. Unfortunately, good advice is sometimes hard to come by. Afraid of being seen as “behind the times,” “ignorant,” or “bigoted,” people who should know better are unwilling to rely on their own common sense and the wisdom of generations.
If a four-year-old girl, who, afraid of being displaced in her parents’ affection by a new baby brother, announces that she is a boy, wise parents do not begin treating her as a boy. They do not assume she is transgendered. Instead, they embrace her and assure her that she is their precious little girl whom they love. Parents who allow prepubescent children to choose whether they want to be male or female have relinquished their role as rational adults, and are themselves in need of psychiatric consultation.
Clearly forming a stable personal identity is a complicated business. For some people it is prolonged, and some never achieve it. While adolescence and young adulthood can be a pivotal time in shaping one’s personal identity, identity is subject to inevitable challenges during the life cycle, as well as to unique individual stressors.
Midlife is a challenging time for many people. Middle-aged men and women who feel dissatisfied with their lives may act out unrealistic romantic fantasies in an attempt to remake themselves. Often this leads to the tragedy of divorce and the destruction of families. The transgender movement has fostered the most unrealistic fantasy imaginable—that one can solve what is always a multidimensional dissatisfaction with one’s self by changing one’s sex.
Why Some People Want to Believe They’re Transgender
The characteristics that define one’s personal identity are the nuclear elements of personality. People with a chronically unstable self-image, poor self-esteem, and an ill-defined sense of self are poorly equipped to deal with the stresses of ordinary life. This group constitutes the vast majority of the self-identified transgendered who undertake the full sex-change regimen of hormone treatment and “sex-reassignment” surgery.
However, most people suffering from such common personality disorders do not focus on gender dissatisfaction as the cause of their global dysfunction and do not regard sex change as the remedy. Why would a few people with a complex and multidimensional disorder of personal identity decide that their problem consists in having been “assigned” the wrong sex? The answer lies both in the nature of the personality disorder itself, and in powerful social, cultural, and political influences.
The LBGT movement has achieved enormous success in exploiting the psychological vulnerabilities of people who lack a coherent sense of self, providing both activist leaders and a “noble” cause with which to identify. Flush with success following the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, the movement has taken on an aura of invincibility.
The success of the transgender rights crusade, based as it is on the cultural delusion of denying biologic difference between the sexes, would suggest there are no limits to the movement’s goal of reshaping American culture and its institutions. Attaching oneself to such a powerful force can be a heady experience for someone whose self-identity is largely defined by the people and causes with which he or she identifies.
Transgenderism Is Identity Politics
The transgender movement has made clever use of the powerful force of identity politics. Clearly, personal identity, the totality of one’s sense of self, does not consist simply of gender any more than it does of one’s race, ethnicity, religion, or class. Such, however, are the categories upon which identity politics are built. To be politically effective, identity politics depend upon lumping people into groups that obliterate personal identities and characteristics. There are no individuals in identity politics, only amorphous masses of people with a common and defining property, one exploited for a political purpose.
This process exploits differences between people (cultural, social, ethnic, religious, etc.) to build constituencies of the aggrieved, the marginalized, and those led to believe they’re marginalized. They are assured redress of their grievances by a special interest group—commonly a political party that profits at the polls from activating them as a victimized group. The victimized must of course have victimizers, who are vilified as oppressors of the community of aggrieved.
This bitterly polarizing formula casts the “transgendered” as an amorphous lot of hatefully oppressed people. No distinction is made among highly disparate groups of the “gender dysphoric.” As has been described, these range from transient expressions of gender “incongruence” that occur in the normal developmental process, to those that are surface expressions of common life-stage conflicts, and to those more deeply rooted problems of personal identity that are symptomatic of personality disorders.
Ironically, individuals are robbed of their personal identity and become anonymous members of the gender identity community—the “transgendered.” Rather than the individual assessments and personalized psychotherapy that the sufficiently distressed should receive, the remedy is one-size-fits-all. A transgender person can become any gender he or she chooses, or be no gender at all. They can call themselves any names they choose, take hormones, and have their sex surgically “reassigned.” All this is with the credulous support of people and institutions who have succumbed to the contagion of a cultural delusion.
Individuals are further stripped of their personal identity as they become pawns in the broader LGBT agenda. As it has gained judicial and political power, the LGBT goal appears to be no less than full public acceptance of any variety of sexual expression it chooses, with no tolerance for dissent. Transgenderism is the vanguard of the current offensive. The bitter social strife it has fostered indicates the lengths to which the movement will go in destroying the opposition.
Demonizing the Opposition
Who are the opposition? True to identity politics, they are cast as a mob of bigoted haters who would deny the transgendered their basic human rights. There can be no other explanation for why someone might believe that transgenderism defies both reason and the laws of biology.
The demonized, of course, are those of religious faith. Much of the Western world has become secularized and anti-religious, but a strain of strong religious belief still remains in the United States. These adherents to a code of sexual morality that differs from the LGBT sexual liberation agenda, albeit foundational to the Judeo-Christian value system for millennia, are seen as the last bastion of opposition. Consequently, expressions of sincerely held religious belief are attacked as hateful and bigoted. Believers are mocked as unsophisticated rubes and rednecks, desperately clinging to their guns and religion while resisting the inevitable triumph of rational modernity.
The liberal mainstream media is chief among the institutions in lock-step with the divisive tactics of identity politics. Glowing anecdotal accounts and individual testimonies of people who have had sex-change surgery regularly appear in fawning media reports that support and encourage the transgender craze. Transgendered celebrities in particular are commended, and the person’s preferred gender pronoun always dutifully applied.
Any religious or moral opposition to the movement is reflexively characterized as hateful and discriminatory. Nowhere to be seen are the accounts of disillusionment and depression by those who regret having had surgery. In neglecting compelling clinical evidence and research in support of the common-sense notion that surgery is not a treatment for a psychological disorder, the psychiatric profession is certainly most culpable (although one wonders what has become of responsible reporting and the honored tradition of investigative journalism).
The Long March Through Institutions
Along with the media, the political left has warmly embraced the LGBT movement’s apparent goal to reshape the social fabric and cultural traditions of American life and to reconstruct society to suit its demands. There appears to be no limit to efforts to silence dissenters. Religious believers are being demonized, and many fear even freedom of the pulpit is in jeopardy. There is no hesitation in using courts to impose the will of a tiny minority on the general public, even to the extent of changing the bathroom practices of the entire nation.
Objections of the majority, even on grounds of privacy or to protect young children from premature exposure to sexual issues, are simply ignored. Many of our elite academic institutions willingly comply with efforts to alter our basic language, promoting use of the many neologisms invented to label the new varieties of gender.
The federal government’s decision to allow transgendered people to serve openly in the military, women to serve in combat roles, and eventually to have a fully sexually integrated military, illustrates the extent to which political correctness has triumphed. That men and women in the intense and intimate daily contact military service demands could become a highly effective fighting force, a band not of men and women but of generic soldiers, would prove that gender is simply a social construct. It would also refute the laws of human nature. The belief that men and women will not behave in accordance with their biology is precisely the delusion.
The effect the transgender delusion will have on our society and its institutions, including the military, remains to be seen. In contrast, the destructive influence of identity politics is immediate and very personal for the transgendered. As faceless members of a political special interest group, they are robbed not only of their distinctness as individuals but also of their chance for effective treatment.
The vicissitudes of life—developmental conflicts, life-cycle stressors, personality disorders—that express themselves in gender dissatisfaction or confusion are the same as those that can challenge a secure sense of self and cause emotional distress in anyone. Indeed, such distress is what most commonly causes people to consult psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. People labeled “transgendered” or “gender dysphoric” are no less entitled to individual psychological assessment and personalized counseling or psychotherapy.
Historically, contagious popular delusions that deny common sense and fly in the face of reality eventually run their course. This will likely be the fate of the transgender craze. But before it collapses under its own weight, many people will suffer irreparable harm.