how to make really complicated science into a political live wire
Transgenderism and gender fluidity are complicated topics which may be why the media and political partisans are treating them with the subtlety and nuance of a runaway bulldozer.
National Geographic recently covered what it called a gender revolution, a mass education campaign about people who don’t identify as the biological sex assigned to them at birth and reject their gender identity. This is a real thing that happens and we’re still figuring out how to medically deal with it, as well as what causes it. What we do know is that it’s very real and that the brains of transsexuals as well as those with a non-binary gender identity are biologically distinct. We also know we can’t say that a trans-woman is just a woman trapped in a man’s body because what’s happening biologically is nowhere near as simple as this, so the idea that for some people there is no gender binary is scientifically well founded. However, and this is the catch, transgenderism is very rare. Just 0.6% of adults even identify as such and the most recent research throws us some interesting curveballs which have taken us into controversial territory, medically and socially speaking. You see, gender is where we often mix the biological and cultural in ways that aren’t easy to navigate and have taken decades to even vaguely define.
We know that younger members of ethnic minorities are the most likely to identify as transgender, and we lack any consistent method for figuring out how many kids are transgender because their sexuality and gender identity are still forming. Roughly 3.5% of adults will identify as gay or bisexual and the decades old diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the medical catch-all for what causes transgender people to reject their birth anatomy, has been an intense source of controversy until the standards were really tightened in the latest edition of the DSM. Some doctors were worried that a really young patient may just be gender non-conforming, not actually trans, and had the theory that only intense gender dysphoria led to wanting to be transitioned into the opposite gender, while its more minor versions were a precursor to homosexuality and bisexuality instead. But the problem with this theory was that the diagnostic criteria muddled non-conformity and dysphoria, leading to very little differentiation between the very different conditions.
Even more confusing was that whole idea of gender conformity, which is in many ways a social construct. Girls playing with dolls and boys playing with race cars aren’t exactly scientific measures of how comfortably they feel as a particular gender. But that said, there are some unique preferences even the most tomboyish girl and the most androgynous boy will have that seem to be driven by hormones and brain chemistry rather than culture, and many of them will change with puberty. There’s a better than 96% chance that a boy will be attracted to women after puberty, even if his favorite thing in the world is wearing lingerie and makeup. As executive transvestite Eddie Izzard so brilliantly put it, men like this aren’t attracted to other men and trying to charm them with frilly underthings, they’re more like male lesbians. And in certain Eastern and ancient cultures, there are genders created for what are essentially religious reasons that can’t be analogous to what we’re trying to study biologically. Where does culture end and nature begins? There really doesn’t seem to be any proper, definitive answer to this question, especially because this is a biological rarity, hence the special religious treatment of it in cultures with an open mind towards someone being gender-fluid.
Of course all this said, we obviously need to treat transgendered people with respect and defer to them on the pronouns they want to use. They’re dealing with a lot and they have plenty of social enemies far too eager to cast them as deranged predators or use them as a punchline. People whose appearance corresponds to their gender identity, or cisgendered, make up over 99% of the population, and quite a few don’t respond well to things that challenge a concrete, binary perception of gender because they never had to deal with it or know anyone who did, and have been conditioned to see things as black and white. At the same time, let’s be clear that unlike we’re told by so many well-meaning Tumblr activists, scientists didn’t discover that “gender is just a bullshit construct” and that there’s a huge spectrum of genders. Humans are still male or female with a narrow spectrum of fluid gender identity in some cases, and this catchy editorial title of a gender revolution really exaggerates what is really an awareness that fewer than 1% of people don‘t have typical gender identities and that we’re trying to understand why this happens, but the research is ongoing since the questions are so complex.
When the right cherry-picks science on a controversial topic, it usually just discards what it doesn’t like to substitute it with a long held dogma. When the left does it, is seizes on any nuance scientists discover and runs with it to develop a new theory that “shakes up the system,” which is exactly what it’s doing with transgenderism. It’s not merely enough to acknowledge that we have transgender people in our midst and their struggle is real. No, we need to declare biological trends that will accurately describe more than 99% of people on the planet as outdated, debunked tools of the patriarchy. And not only that, transgender people who are transitioning are supposed to be non-conformists to their preferred gender, and even then, trans-women may not be counted as women thanks to radical feminists who believe that a trans woman is just a male rapist trying to get them to drop their guard. It’s just one of the ways extremists on different sides of the political spectrum are often more alike than they want to admit.
So now, on the one side, trans people have to deal with the right and a part of the far left tell convinced what they’re going through isn’t real, despite a lot of research showing that it very much is, and the left which wants them to be non-conformists for the sake of being non-conformists because they’re supposed to fall in line with their theory that gender is an extremely wide spectrum of identities from a biological standpoint, even though it’s not true at all, even with rather generous estimates added to current studies. While for so many skeptics and researchers politicizing science for self-serving and dangerous agendas is usually synonymous with the right, there are definitely a host of issues plagued by interference and disagreement from the left. And when it comes to gender, sexuality, and the biological origins of identity and behavior, the left is decidedly not helping by putting scientific claims under a microscope and scrutinizing them for adherence to their worldview.