National Review Online capitalized on a historic event in the transgender community to attack transgender people as “delusional” with “subjective impressions” about gender identity.
This week actress Laverne Cox became the first transgender person to appear on the cover of TIME magazine, which in its June 9 edition offers a profile of Cox as well an inside look at the transgender movement and discrimination faced by transgender people.
To National Review's Kevin Williamson, the cover story was an opportunity to attack Laverne Cox and the transgender community. According to Williamson, she “is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman,” because transgender identity is a “delusional tendency” :
Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman. Sex is a biological reality, and it is not subordinate to subjective impressions, no matter how intense those impressions are, how sincerely they are held, or how painful they make facing the biological facts of life. No hormone injection or surgical mutilation is sufficient to change that.
The trans self-conception, if the autobiographical literature is any guide, is partly a feeling that one should be living one's life as a member of the opposite sex and partly a delusion that one is in fact a member of the opposite sex at some level of reality that transcends the biological facts in question. There are many possible therapeutic responses to that condition, but the offer to amputate healthy organs in the service of a delusional tendency is the moral equivalent of meeting a man who believes he is Jesus and inquiring as to whether his insurance plan covers crucifixion.
The mass delusion that we are inculcating on the question of transgendered people is a different sort of matter, to the extent that it would impose on society at large an obligation -- possibly a legal obligation under civil-rights law, one that already is emerging -- to treat delusion as fact, or at the very least to agree to make subjective impressions superordinate to biological fact in matters both public and private.
Williamson's attacks rely on the discredited trope that transgender people are inherently disturbed or delusional -- a notion rejected by medical experts. Being transgender, in the words of one expert, is "part of the human condition," as gender identity is an ingrained, intrinsic part of a person's identity. In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to drop the diagnosis of “gender identity disorder,” replacing it with gender dysphoria, the possible emotional distress that can come from “a marked incongruence” between one's assigned sex at birth and one's gender identity.
Gender identity is not a delusion, nor is it based on “subjective impressions.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, gender identity is generally established in children by age four, and transgender children typically express a consistent, stable gender identity over time. Parents of transgender youth report that their children display prolonged, vehement objections to being identified as their biological sex, with some very young children threatening to mutilate their own genitals in order to match their gender identity.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons: GLADD, 2013