The case for accepting and advancing the cause of transgenderism is, at root, a radical philosophical argument—one that goes to the heart of what it means to be human. Accepting the trans movement’s argument requires us to lend credence to an extreme form of mind-matter dualism, and involves severing the links between bodily sex, gender identity, and erotic desire.
But first: What do the activists claim? If there is one unshakeable tenet, it is that gender identity and expression—a person’s self-concept as a gendered being and how that person outwardly manifests it—are different from the sex organs that have distinguished male from female since the emergence of the species. They argue that while a physician might “assign” a sex to a newborn, that label may well be at odds with the baby’s true gender. As the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) puts it in a guide for journalists, a transgender person is one “whose sex assigned at birth is different from who they know they are on the inside.” The term applies to those who are assigned the male sex at birth but whose innate sense tells them they are women, and vice versa. It also includes those “who do not fit in the distinct and opposite binary of male and female.”
The possession of sex organs has thus been deemed factually irrelevant. Instead, gender identity is based in the innate sense of the person himself or herself. A transgender woman is a woman, and a transgender man is a man—period, the activists say. Here is the HRC: “Contrasting transgender people with ‘real’ or ‘biological’ men and women is a false comparison. They are real men and women, and doing so contributes to the inaccurate perception that transgender people are being deceptive when, in fact, they are being authentic and courageous.”1 Thus, according to the activists, transitioning—whether by medical or social means or both—isn’t a process of becoming but of living out who transgender people really are.
This view of subjective gender identity as the unimpeachable guide to whether someone is male or female (or both or neither) has gained currency among some clinicians. In his book When Harry Became Sally, the Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson quotes the Duke University pediatrician Deanna Adkins to the effect that “it is counter to medical science to use chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia, or secondary sex characteristics to override gender identity for the purposes of classifying someone as male or female.” I will return to these assertions shortly. For now, it suffices to note that the activists aren’t entirely wrong when they boast that their claims enjoy broad support among psychiatrists and psychologists.
At the same time, the activists hold—and this is their second major tenet—that gender itself is largely a social construct, since it is society that labels various traits or characteristics “masculine” or “feminine.”