When Does A Person Determine That He/She Is Transgender?

Sep 29th, 2018 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Jill Kay Melchior of the Wall Street Journal poignantly ask these questions:  “If your teenage daughter suddenly declares herself transgender, should you assume she’s mature enough to make decisions that will affect her health, fertility and future?  Or could she be influenced by societal and peer pressure?”  As The Economist reports:  “Typically, adolescents first show symptoms of gender dysphoria, the clinical term for the distress caused by the feeling that one’s body does not match one‘s gender, in childhood.  But in the past decade clinics in Western countries have reported that a growing number of teenagers have started experiencing gender dysphoria during or after puberty.  And whereas these young adults used to be predominantly male, now they are more likely to be female.  In 2009, 41% of the adolescents referred to Britain’s Gender Identity Development Service were female; in 2017, 69% were.”  Physician and assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University, Dr. Lisa Littman, has pursued a qualitative (not quantitative) study on the transgender phenomenon that relied on interviews with parents, a methodology frequently used in social research, especially involving children.  [The parents she surveyed were generally liberal in attitude.  For example, more than 85% said they support gay marriage, and only 3% disagreed with the proposition that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as others.]  Since little is known about such “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” the first step for researchers is to describe it and introduce topics for future inquiry.  This is what Dr. Littman did:  She surveyed 256 parents, whom “she found online, collecting information about the teens’ mental health, friend-group dynamics and social-media use.”  Here is a summary of her findings:

  • Littman found that often these young people may have been driven in part by “social and peer contagion.” Nearly 70% of the teenagers belonged to a peer group in which at least one friend had also come out as transgender.  In some groups, even the majority had done so.  Nearly 65% of teens had spent an increased amount of time online and on social media, and parents reported that pro-transgender YouTube videos and blogs may have been influential.  Further, according to the parents surveyed, 87% of children came out as transgender after spending more time online, after “cluster outbreaks” of gender dysphoria in friend groups, or both.
  • Littman also thinks that some adolescents may embrace the idea that they are transgender as a way of coping with symptoms of a different, underlying issue. Almost two-thirds of the children had one or more diagnoses of a psychiatric or developmental disorder preceding the onset of gender dysphoria; nearly half had self-harmed or experienced some trauma.  The Economist reports that this is consistent with other studies of gender dysphoria when it sets in during puberty.  Some people distance themselves from emotional pain by drinking, taking drugs, cutting or starving themselves.  Littman suggest that, for some, gender dysphoria may also be in this category.
  • Littman also found that declaring oneself to be transgender had social benefits, parents reported. “Among parents who knew their children’s social status, nearly 60% said the announcement brought a popularity boost.  ‘Being trans is a gold star in the eyes of other teens,’ one parent wrote.”  But not all social pressure was positive: One parent wrote that “To be heterosexual, comfortable with the gender you were assigned at birth and non-minority places you in the ‘most evil’ of categories within the group of friends.”  Another reported that “[My child] couldn’t face the stigma of going back to school and being branded as fake or phony . . . or worse, a traitor or some kind of betrayer.”
  • Littman argues for more research and counsels caution. Both parents and physicians are not infallible but neither are teens, “particularly in the almost universally tumultuous period of adolescence.”  Therefore, she maintains, it is incumbent upon all professionals to fully respect the young person’s insider perspective but also, “in the interests of safe diagnosis and avoidance of clinical harm, to have the awareness and humility themselves to engage with parental perspectives and triangulate evidence in the interest of validity and reliability.”

The reaction to Littman’s research has been astonishing.  For her critics, they equate caution with bias, even hatred, and they encourage teens to go through hormone therapy or surgery—“drastic interventions whose effects are irreversible.”  Her critics have accused her of bigotry and have been successful in two major areas:

  1. PLOS ONE, the journal that published Dr. Littman’s study, announced that the journal would subject the study to “further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses.”
  2. Littman’s employer, Brown University, where Littman is an untenured professor, took down the news release and attendant social-media posts about the study and posted a statement from Beth Marcus, dean of the School of Public Health, acknowledging “concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidates the perspectives of members of the transgender community.” Brown declared that this “is not about academic freedom… it is about academic standards.”

In effect, Dr. Littman’s work has been discredited and successfully suppressed because it posits conclusions not conducive to the transgender ideology so rampant in our culture.

Therefore, permit me to focus on one other issue relating to the transgender phenomenon in our culture:  Language.  Because of gender dysphoria, the contention is that all students in our high schools will fall anywhere along a gender spectrum.  “Gender” is neither biological nor binary.  It is a “mental state: a question of how girlike or boylike you feel.”  Thus the language that the culture uses regarding gender has become an all-important issue for the state.  Consider these two examples:

  1. California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation last year that threatens jail time for health-care professionals who “willfully and repeatedly” refuse to use a patient’s preferred pronouns.
  2. Under guidelines issued in 2015 by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, employers, landlords and business owners who intentionally use the wrong pronoun with transgender workers and tenants face potential fines of as much as $250,000.

No matter how one analyses this, such laws are examples of “compelled speech,” which is frankly unconstitutional.  Our culture is beginning to force reference to someone else as “ze,” “sie,” “hir,” “co,” “eve,” “xe,” “thon,” or “they.”  Abigail Shrier correctly observes that “When the state employs coercive power to compel an utterance, what might otherwise be a courtesy quickly becomes a plank walk.”  She continues, “Ideas are merely the concatenations of words; if you can compel the use of certain words, you control thought and force those who differ into silence.  Often, that seems to be the actual goal of gender-identity enthusiasts.”

When it comes to gender issues in Western Civilization, confusion reigns supreme.  Dr. Littman’s study deals with the parents of vulnerable teens who are in a period of life that is by nature disorienting, confusing and difficult.  She posits a concern that social media, YouTube sites and peer group pressure may be an important variable in teenage decision-making when it comes to gender.  This is a reasonable and worthwhile study that should not be shut down for ideological reasons but explored as a subject for further study.  And when the state seeks to compel certain speech, we are no longer a democratic-republic; the state is now the agent of despotic authorities pursuing an ideological agenda.  That is not what the Founders of this republic envisioned.  May God help us!

See Jillian Kay Melchior in the Wall Street Journal (10 September 2018); The Economist (1 September 2018), p. 27; and Abigail Shrier in the Wall Street Journal (30 August 2018).

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