Gender Dysphoria: Facts & Liberty (A Rebuttal)

Micah J. Fleck

[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hen my fellow writer at The Libertarian Republic, R. Brownell, typed up his recent article scathing the parent of a transgender teen, the response from our readers was much more heterogeneous than I anticipated. In the past, our most vocal audience has primarily been comprised of right-of-center readers complaining about an opinion they deem too “liberal” (certain articles by left-leaning writers like myself and Avens O’Brien are prime conductors of such criticism). But this time around, I was heartened to see just how many TLR frequenters share my views on this issue – that being transgender is not a passing childhood phase, nor is it a subject that anyone should handle with anything but the utmost care, understanding, and nuance.

To be clear: gender dysphoria is a real, documented condition. It affects people regardless of their age group. Transgender children are just as in-tune with their gender identity as their cisgendered counterparts. Gender confirmation therapy is not child abuse, and any accompanying surgery any transgender individual, young or old, might wish to undertake is not mutilation. To suggest otherwise is not only invasive and crudely presumptuous; it is also scientifically, objectively incorrect.

In his original article, Brownell presumes to know something he truthfully could not: the reality of this condition as present in children. He insists that it is irresponsible for a parent to proceed with gender confirmation therapy on behalf of a transgender child, and implies that this is because children are somehow not capable of finding their gender identity on their own:

“This video shows a gender confused boy named Corey, a boy being manipulated by his mother by being convinced that one day soon, Corey can become a girl. Now if Corey, an adult, wants to mutilate himself like Bruce Jenner, that’s his right; the right to self ownership. Yet, as a parent, to force your own sociopathic fantasies onto your child, is sick; if not straight-up abuse. Corey’s mom decided that special day was his birthday, where instead of getting him a video game, an action figure, or whatever young boys these days like, she bought him damn estrogen patches.”
-(R. Brownell’s original article from The Libertarian Republic)

Well, damn! She bought him the damn estrogen patches! Damn it! (Emphasis on incorrect pronouns mine.)

This view is not uncommon, but popularity is not indicative of correctness. My colleague R. Brownell is simply wrong. Let’s look at the actual video itself rather than simply take his word on its content first, shall we?

Brownell presents a lot of unbacked claims about this video as if they are axioms. I’ll just focus on a few really important ones:

1) The child in the video is a boy, and can “one day become” a girl.
This is not correct. Trans individuals (i.e. people suffering from gender dysphoria) do not “become” anything other than what they already are as far as gender is concerned. Corey is not a boy who is becoming a girl; she is a girl who will finally undergo treatment (gender confirmation) to outwardly reflect what has always been true within.

Many of you reading this might still be confused – after all, how can someone with male genitalia be anything other than “male” from birth? To better understand why this can be, one needs to take into account the distinction between the sociological concept of gender and the biological definition of sex. Colloquially, we use these terms interchangeably, but they are not, in fact, true synonyms.

Sex is merely the biological form one is assigned during the process of conception, while gender is a socially constructed concept – historically speaking, “gender” has been a role society has evolved and built up around individuals of (typically) a certain sex and expected them to conform to. On the individual level, however, “gender” is also a matter of personal identity – if someone truly thinks, feels, and lives inside his or her own head in such a way that he or she identifies with the opposite gender role than what his or her biological sex is typically aligned with, then that person is, by definition, transgender.

Objectively speaking, there are some children who simply have flights of fancy that could appear to be transgender on first appearance, but in fact are not, in any way, actually transgender. The scientific community fully acknowledges this, and as succinctly put by TransgenderNI, a gender dysphoria resource for families:

“… in many cases, behaviour such as this is just a part of childhood and does not necessarily mean that a child has gender dysphoria.”

So, Brownell is actually correct to point this out, as moving toward gender confirmation therapy in such children would indeed be abusive and forceful on the part of the parents. But here is the detail Brownell completely glosses over: the fact that some gender role-defying behavior in kids is not indicative of gender dysphoria does not mean that we are somehow unable to tell the difference under closer investigation. I keep using terminologies like “scientific” and “objective” to make these distinctions in my own language, but I’m not just pulling such criteria out of a hat – the study of gender dysphoria, in children as well as adults, is absolutely a scientific thing. The field of psychology has been examining it for years, and we already have a list of criteria for what constitutes a child as truly transgender and not just, you know, imaginative.

To be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a child should:

  • repeatedly insist that they want to be the opposite sex, or that they are the opposite sex, and behave as the opposite sex
  • dislike or refuse to wear clothes typically worn by their sex and insist on wearing clothes typically worn by the opposite sex, or show dislike or unhappiness with their genitalia and insist that it will change into that of the opposite sex (for example, refusing to pass urine as members of their sex usually do)
  • not yet have reached puberty (when a child progresses into a sexually developed adult)
  • behave this way for at least six months”

This is not a list reached haphazardly or with a strong political bias; it’s as objective as humanly possible and based on data collection that entire careers have been spent on perfecting in a full-blown scientific field. And even beyond the qualifications above, children still must be evaluated by psychological specialists on an individual level before gender confirmation therapy can be determined as the actual remedy and gender dysphoria the actual diagnosis. Brownell writes in his article as if these decisions are made in an arbitrary, caution-to-the-wind type of manner with little to no consideration to the child’s true thoughts and feelings – as if it’s somehow legal or medically admissible for parents to just throw hormones and surgery at their children whenever they like for no good reason other than vanity or whimsy. This is patently absurd, not only for the reasons already listed above in regards to the methodology of the diagnosis and treatment, but also because we know that children have minds of their own and their parents are not those that ultimately determine medical matters for them (and yes, being transgender is a medical manner that only a professional can qualify).

Which brings us to Brownell’s next point:

2) The child is “confused,” and the parent of the child is a manipulative sociopath.
A simple viewing of the video alone (which Brownell did not include in his article making these broad claims about it) should be enough to, aesthetically, at least, debunk much of this claim – this girl is no more confused about her gender identity than any other girl – including those already born into the sex that matches their gender identity. Would it be imposing a “sociopathic fantasy” on your child if she were born a girl and wanted to play with Barbie dolls? Of course not – and the same principle applies in this scenario, even though the girl in question happens to be trans.

The intellectual dishonesty and sloppiness of merely reducing a child’s entire identity down to her genitals is unparalleled, and a misstep no honest person could or should do upon proper understanding of the evidence – kids with gender dysphoria aren’t being manipulated by their parents; they know the truth about themselves. So the mother, then, is doing the best thing she could do under these circumstances: she’s actually listening to her daughter. She’s respecting her daughter’s wishes. Her daughter is genuinely happy in this video, precisely because her mother truly understands her. I submit that this video is a beautiful image, and it can be seen in all its glory at the top of the page. Judge for yourself.

But we fortunately need not rely only on interpretation of just this one video to figure this out: once again, we have actual data on our side to prove that trans kids are perfectly capable of figuring out their gender identities for themselves – no boogyman of the “sociopathic” parent needed.

In a study published this year in Psychological Science, Kristina Olsen of the University of Washington took 32 transgender children in the age range of 5-12 and matched them to an identically numbered group of identically aged cisgendered kids to determine the following: whether or not trans children are victims of confusion regarding their gender identities when compared to their cisgendered counterparts. The findings? That “the gender identity of these children is deeply held and is not the result of confusion about gender identity or pretense.”

According to Olsen:

“Seeing how little scientific information there was, basically nothing for parents, was hard to watch,” Olson said. “Doctors were saying, ‘We just don’t know,’ so the parents have to make these really big decisions: Should I let my kid go to school as a girl, or should I make my kid go to school as a boy? Should my child be in therapy to try to change what she says she is, or should she be supported?”

In a separate report on this study’s results, the usefulness and context of this study was thus delineated:

“The idea that young children, who haven’t gone through puberty, can truly be transgender has met with public skepticism and some experts believe the best approach is to encourage “gender-variant” children to be comfortable with their biological gender. In recent years, however, more doctors, parents, and mental health professionals have begun to advocate for allowing children to live as their identified gender.”

In other words, the argument that trans children might be “confused” used to fly a lot easier than it does today, with the research pointing more and more to the contrary. This does not entirely invalidate initial concerns one might have on a case-by-case basis, but it does mean that it’s frankly irresponsible these days to operate on the outdated assumption that transgender youth are somehow less secure in their identities than “normal” children. Both groups know who and what they are, and parental influence has nothing to do with it.

The last assumption of Brownell’s article I wanted to contest is the following:

3) Gender confirmation therapy always involves surgery; such surgery is “mutilation.”
As you may recall, in his article Brownell states:

Now if Corey, an adult, wants to mutilate himself like Bruce Jenner, that’s his right; the right to self ownership. Yet, as a parent, to force your own sociopathic fantasies onto your child, is sick; if not straight-up abuse.”

First and foremost, let’s once again acknowledge that the whole abuse claim has been addressed – it’s neither abusive nor sociopathic for this woman to support her daughter in her now-proven validity as a trans girl. Secondly, let’s clear up the pronoun issue – while it’s understandable for those personally involved to sometimes not remember to use “she” when addressing a transgender female they have known for years outwardly as a male, Brownell is an outsider to this situation with no rhetorical habits to break. This decision to constantly refer to this girl as “he” is intentional, as is his misnaming of Caitlyn Jenner as “Bruce.” I will not presume intent of this usage here in this article, but I do want to address and correct it. Caitlyn Jenner is a woman. Whether Brownell wants to acknowledge that or not is immaterial – as we have already established earlier in this article, gender and sex are not the same thing on the sociological level. Unless any of us going out of our way to fight this fact in our vernacular are equally as bold so as to single-handidly provide evidence that could overturn an entire established field of academia, the safe bet would be to trust the experts in these matters.

Now on to the main point – the assumption that gender confirmation therapy somehow must involve the genitals. I find it interesting that any time a voice of condemnation against any facet of the LGBT community attempts to frame itself within a more intellectual, argument-based appearance, the sex organs and/or sex acts of those involved seem more often than not to become a focus. Let me be as clear as I can be: genitalia has nothing to do with this. While reassignment surgery is of course one of the potential avenues a trans person can take as part of the overall therapy process, it is by no means a requirement or even a desire for every one of them.

Therefore, such extreme measures are not guaranteed to even be undertaken on behalf of a trans child’s parent during the formative years, but even when and if it does happen, once again, it’s a surgery; not a literal mutilation. It’s seen as a medical procedure, and is only approved by the right experts under the right circumstances. A much better example of actual genital mutilation on behalf of a forceful parent would be male infant circumcision, which serves no medical purpose and actually is done against the child’s will. How many people complaining about supportive trans parents are just as upset about circumcision, I wonder? Probably not a lot.

And therein lies the hypocrisy and selective thinking about this whole position – in order to successfully defend the notion that it is abusive for a mother to actively support her transgender daughter (which is already a leap), you would then have to lower your outrage standards on a plethora of other issues that are objectively more contestable in order to remain consistent. But most of those positions are just fine with libertarians, so why shouldn’t this be? The science is sound, and the sociological implications are defined. What else are we waiting for? To respect a child on her own terms is the very embodiment of individual empowerment – the most libertarian position one can hold. And since we now know it in fact doesn’t damage the child to support her trans identity, we really have no business butting into these matters that don’t directly concern us. It’s not the libertarian way.

Perhaps some of us still see the trans topic as “icky” – fine, we should be okay with owning that. But allowing that to dictate our opinions rather than evidence is a black mark on our already spangled record. We are not always the objective critical thinkers we claim to be, and any time we are able to catch ourselves in this contradiction, we should hold ourselves and each other accountable. I submit that this fundamental misunderstanding/misrepresentation of the trans condition is one such area. Let’s be honest and have opinions, yes, but let us also arrive at said opinions through solid scholarship and with as little personal prejudice as possible. After all, that’s the image of ourselves the rest of the political sphere deserves to see.

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