Everywhere you turn these days you are confronted by progressive activists militating for this cause or that. All fervently believe in their quest but too often seek to deny or change reality no matter how stubborn reality might be. Collateral damage along the way, frequently extensive, is to them necessary sacrifice in furtherance of their goals, even if their goals cannot stand up to scrutiny of achievability. Public sympathy and concurrence easily fade into lost support, resentment and backlash.
Climate ideology may be the most impactful example. It seeks elimination of fossil fuels, oblivious to the fact that they are essential for the foreseeable future to allow for economic prosperity and decent standards of living. It exalts “organic” agriculture, which has recently led to starvation, inflation, and complete societal collapse in Sri Lanka and Ghana from banning chemical fertilizers with resulting lower crop yields. And it turns a blind eye to the reality that we cannot control what much of the rest of the world does.
Another obvious example is the push for criminal justice “reform.” That movement has lost sight of the basic reason for the criminal justice system in the first place: to protect citizens and maintain order. To solve the asserted problem of “mass incarceration,” society is being stripped of the disincentives to crime that help to protect it. This is blind justice in the wrong sense.
Though far from the most consequential example of activism run amok, transsexual advocacy may be the most perplexing. Undeniably, the seed concern is compelling. True gender dysphoria is a horrible internal conflict tearing apart psyche, creating alienation, and making self-satisfaction seem impossible. Gender dysphoria is a significant cause of suicide. These individuals certainly deserve support for transition and should be treated by others in accordance with the identity they believe their bodies misrepresent.
But clinically diagnosed gender dysphoria is rare, estimated at one in 30,000 for males, 100,000 for females. Even if undiagnosed cases are 10 times more common, gender dysphoria affects a miniscule percentage of the population. Unsurprisingly, in keeping with the increasingly malleable concept of “gender,” self-designated “transsexuals” are growing rapidly in number. We leave it to psychologists to explain and characterize this, though few of these individuals likely have experienced the lifelong struggle characteristic of gender dysphoria. It seems almost contagious and thus confounds finding an accurate clinical definition. Consider this article by a parent who says 25% of a daughter’s class claim a transsexual identity when statistically there should be none.
But gender identity fluidity when it comes to transsexualism has led to some questionable practices, such as shaming parents into “affirmation” behavior regardless of the source of their child’s disaffection. Activists push for freely available drug treatments, often without medical or psychological screening, such as puberty blockers that can have long-lasting or irreversible impacts unlike a lifestyle change. They demonize as “transphobic” any sincere efforts to distinguish true dysphoria from other emotional issues.
Activists have also leveraged this trend in more audacious ways. The most obvious is attacking millennia of language associating biological and genetic sex with the word “man” or “woman” (in whatever tongue). We are told that the public must redefine those long-understood words in the service of “inclusiveness” for transsexuals. More extreme distortions such as pushing to replace “mother” with “birthing person” are gratuitous since a pregnant person (i.e. transsexual male) can simply become a father after birth. We do not need a new vocabulary. What matters is how an individual transsexual is treated in interpersonal interactions, not what they are labeled in general.
So, logic suggests that the real reason language is distorted is to erase the separation between the sexes that has been established over centuries for reasons deemed important to society. These customs and rules were not implemented whimsically, even if some are now outdated. When a transsexual takes on the opposite designation (man or woman) of their biology, that separation is magically removed. Laws and customs suddenly change in their meaning and impact. In effect, it creates a new and unique privilege for transsexuals to cross boundaries based on genetics and physiological differences that they cannot erase.
In some situations, that broken boundary matters greatly, such as when biological males are put in women’s prisons, leading to sexual abuse. To some it raises questions of severe discomfort and safety in intimate settings such as bathrooms and locker rooms. But more prominently today, it opens a backdoor to intersex competition in sports, focusing on the “needs” of transsexual women to the detriment of vastly more biological women – hundreds or thousands of times more, statistically.
Transsexual women, who by definition were born biological males, gain an advantage little different from using steroids, a practice considered unfair and typically banned. Taking hormones does not reverse the advantages of male anatomy or genetic traits; it only moderates them. The vast majority of the public probably does not want to see women’s medal stands become the exclusive province of transsexual women, undoing hard fought efforts for women’s rights to a level playing field, literally and figuratively.
Bottom line, transsexual activism is upending an understanding of sex that is as old as humankind. That is the kind of stubborn reality that exists for a reason. The public is being hustled into using its sympathy for gender dysphoria to blind it into accepting ill-considered changes of much broader significance. We need open debate on which sexual boundaries transsexuals should be permitted to cross. We need to step back and assess the long-term effects of allowing non-gender-dysphoric youths to treat transsexualism as a choice or lifestyle and thus take actions that will permanently affect their bodies. It is possible we are planting the seeds for a significant future cohort of adults that feel permanently out of place, unhappy, or live with a sexual identity that in retrospect they would prefer to be different.
But at least as far as language goes, given the small minority of people involved, it’s time to stop allowing the tail to wag the dog.
Andrew Fillat spent career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases.