Public Discourse 6 February 2015
By now we are all undoubtedly familiar with the tragic suicide of Joshua Alcorn, the transgender teenage boy who, in late December, walked onto a freeway with the intention of ending his life. In an apparent suicide note, Joshua cites a host of reasons for why he was led to end his life, most prominent of which were his parents’ attempts to discourage his identifying as a girl and his being sent to therapists in an attempt to relieve these feelings. All of the problems that ultimately culminated in his suicide, writes Joshua, stem from the fact that, from the time he was a small child, he felt like a “girl trapped in a boy’s body.”
No sooner had Joshua’s heart stopped beating than the story of his suicide was seized by LGBT activists and pruned to advance a familiar narrative of a sexual minority fighting cultural oppression. Joshua’s parents immediately began to be chided as “repressive” and “bigoted” and even began to receive various threats from LGBT internet crusader-activists.
Transgenderism and Gender Identity
I have not referred to Joshua by using female pronouns or by using his self-invented female name of “Leelah.” The reason I am not doing this is simple: Joshua was not a girl—he was a boy—and to address males with female pronouns or females with male pronouns is to contribute to our culture’s confusion about sexuality and the nature of the human person, which is literally leaving casualties in its wake. No amount of surgical mutilation of body parts, effeminate behaviors, or artificial female appearances can make a man a woman.
LGBT activists will respond in various ways to this. They might first respond by saying: “Okay, true enough: Joshua was biologically a male. But you have misunderstood our claim: we contend that his sex was male, yes, but his gender was female because he ‘identified’ as female.” The idea here is that people have a sex, which is either female or male and which one cannot choose. In addition to this, however, there is “gender,” or what sex one is more comfortable “identifying” as. The response to this is simple: Why think that what one “identifies as” is significant at all, especially to the extent that others should actively recognize or cater to such an identity, and especially when the identity one adopts is contrary to reality?
Consider the following analogies. Suppose that a Caucasian man from Finland—call him Gunther—suddenly decided that he identifies as being of Sub-Saharan African descent. Suppose further that, in light of this, Gunther undergoes unusual procedures to have his skin darkened and his skull’s bone structure re-shaped so as to resemble that of individuals of Sub-Saharan descent. Would we think that such a person has suddenly become of Sub-Saharan descent through such procedures? Of course not, and his identifying as such does nothing to change this. His appearance as someone of Sub-Saharan descent might be very convincing. But, again, this doesn’t change the fact that he is not of Sub-Saharan descent.
Similarly, suppose that a seventy-year-old man—call him Bob—comes to identify as a sixteen-year-old. Wouldn’t we think it absurd if people considered it “rude” or “bigoted” to tell the man: “You are not sixteen years old. Your identifying as such doesn’t change this fact, and we will not indulge you in your strange delusions by not calling attention to your old age and by pretending that you really are sixteen years old”?
The cases of Gunther and Bob and the situations of individuals who believe themselves to be transgender are perfectly analogous. In the case of the transgender individual, he identifies as something he is not—someone of the opposite sex—and seeks to undergo harmful surgeries and hormonal treatments in order to have his physical state match his identity of himself as someone of the opposite sex.
Our mental faculties, like our physical ones, are ordered toward various ends. Among these ends is the attainment of truth. To this extent, it is perfective of our mental faculties to recognize how we truly are (and thus apprehend a truth). It is for this reason that we can make sense of mental disorders such as anorexia nervosa as disorders: they involve persons’ having persistent, false beliefs about their identity or how they really are. In the case of the anorexic, someone who is dangerously underweight believes falsely (but tenaciously) that he is really overweight. It would be a proper procedure of medicine, then, for a therapist to help an anorexic individual to do away with his anorexia, restoring the individual’s mental faculties to their properly functioning state.
How a man’s identifying as a woman will personally affect me, you, or John Doe is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether we will make public policy and encourage social norms that reflect the truth about the human person and sexuality, or whether we will obfuscate the truth about such matters and sow the seeds of sexual confusion in future generations for years to come.