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  • Colton Hinson

Debunking Transgender Ideology

Philosophers have a noble history of questioning the dogmas that society views as blasphemous to doubt. People are uncomfortable when beliefs at the center of their identity are argued over in the form of syllogisms and conceptual arguments. One only has to look back at philosophy’s patron saint Socrates himself to see how the masses react to doubters of orthodoxy. In today’s hyper partisan culture, one of these fundamental dogmas of the left side of the aisle is the truth of the Transgender worldview. Those that speak out against it are labelled ignorant bigots for daring to question the logic. Luckily, philosophers historically have rarely cared for public opinion- or at least have cared for it less than their ultimate goal when examining a question which always has to primarily be, “Is it true?” If it is true, then it should be accepted whether the ignorant bigots want to accept it or not. But if it is false and the logic behind the arguments cannot withstand scrutiny or the burden of proof, then it should be rejected whether that makes the rejectors bigots in the eyes of society or not. Truth is the only standard that matters as we endeavor to live our lives, not in accordance with the socially constructed images on the cave wall, but by the realities that lie outside of our comfortable narratives.

One of the difficulties when trying to engage the central tenets of the Transgender worldview is that the argumentation tends to shift depending on the claims being made at that particular moment. For instance, many times transgender advocates will bring up the gray areas of human biology that are due to genetic issues, such as chromosomal or hormonal abnormalities as well as people who are considered intersex. While these issues are relatively rare and do relate to the issue, they are not essential to the core tenets of the transgender worldview. If a transgender person does not have any genetic issues or was not born with intersex genitalia then the argument shifts to an inner sense of gender identity that shows that biology was never really an important part of their arguments to begin with. For these reasons I will be focusing this paper not on individuals who are considered intersex, but on the claim that someone who is clearly biologically male or female can have a gender identity that is not in accordance with their biological sex, and that that identity should take precedence over biological reality. The following sections will address the initial problems related to clear and precise terminology and then address whether the claims made by transgender advocates are compatible with the main philosophical models of what makes up the human person.

Two major themes that unfortunately bring more obscurity than clarity are the terms gender and gender identity. Starting with the former, transgender activists will often proudly proclaim that gender is a social construct, and it seems hard to argue with that. After all, you cannot go to the store without being surrounded with various types of clothes, shampoos, and body washes based upon what our culture arbitrarily decided a man or woman should smell or dress like. However, saying that gender is a social construct without more precision leads to people believing it is only a social construct. It is one thing to say that parts of gender and behavior are tied into social norms, but it is quite another claim to say that culture is the end of the matter and biology plays no part. It has long been established that biological factors such as testosterone lead to certain behavioral patterns like increased aggression across the animal kingdom. Also recent scientific research is making it even more clear that gender heavily correlates to biological factors. For instance, a study published in 2017 showed that toy preferences among boys and girls were most heavily influenced by biology. If gender was only a social construct, then the most determinative factors would be societal heavily ingrained norms from early childhood; however the study, which was done across multiple geographical regions, showed different results. “The size of sex differences in children’s preferences for male-type and female-type toys did not appear to be smaller in studies conducted in more egalitarian countries.”[1] Therefore it is crucial when engaging the tenets of this debate that we are precise with the claims and terms being utilized and accepted. While gender has elements that are socially constructed, it is still heavily correlated to biology according to recent studies, and this should be kept in mind when engaging the issue.

The most crucial term related to transgender ideology is the concept of “Gender Identity,” and what is detrimental to the debate as a whole is that this core concept might be the most vaguely defined and obscure term in the transgender lexicon. The centrality of the term has been shown by people such as Victor Rosenthal, who has tried to distill the transgender arguments to its core tenets. For the third central proposition he has defined it as such, “One’s own gender identity is directly perceptible by introspection. A person’s gender identity is epistemically private; it is not directly observable by others, and therefore a person’s declaration of gender cannot be refuted.”[2] One should already be able to see the problems with something that is epistemically private and therefore unverifiable and unfalsifiable being popularly talked about in terms of medicine and science. American political philosopher and author of When Harry Became Sally Ryan T. Anderson put the purposeful obfuscation of gender identity this way, “The rhetoric of the transgender movement drips with ontological assertions; people are the gender they prefer to be. That is the claim. Transgender activists do not want to admit that this is a metaphysical claim. They don’t want to have the debate on the level of philosophy, so they dress it up as a scientific and medical claim.” For these reasons, gender identity is always defined in vague terms that can be shifted depending on the arguments being made. Some have defined gender identity as being related to the person’s “innermost feelings” while the Human Rights Campaign defines it as follows, “One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither…”[3] The imprecise nature of this central term presents at least two possible routes of critique, the first of which is gender identity is ultimately the person’s innermost feelings. This is the weaker position for the transgender advocate to defend because they will have to show what makes this particular feeling different than other ones that are at odds with biological reality. If a person feels in their heart that they are six foot seven we do not accept this over biological reality. Or to keep it related to the area of social constructs, how does gender identity differ ultimately from racial identity? The current transgender orthodoxy maintains that transracialism cannot be accepted, however if inner feelings take precedence over social constructs such as race and gender, then they have no consistent basis for accepting one and rejecting the other. Since this route is riddled with such logistical issues this paper will focus on the “steelman” version of gender identity which, instead of feelings, bases gender identity in the “true self.”

If the transgender advocate maintains that one’s gender identity is part of the true inner self of that person which is separate from biological sex and biological processes, then they will quickly run into metaphysical problems related to contemporary philosophy of mind and most conceptions of what makes up a human person. While there is not a consensus in philosophy of mind or neuroscience, the majority position would be a form of physicalism, meaning that a person is wholly constituted of the material and there is no soul or immaterial spirit involved. Therefore, the very claim that one’s true inner self could be different from biological processes in this view is self-refuting as the entire self is just the culmination of biological processes. In physicalist accounts, consciousness is simply brain activity. To say that this biological process know as brain activity and neurons firing is inconsistent with the biological processes that produced the activity would be similar to claiming that the emissions from your car are inconsistent with the mechanical functions of the car. If the car produced the emissions, then the emissions must be in accordance with the car itself. One way a physicalist could avoid this problem is by showing that if certain genes are active or dormant then the body can produce hormones that are not consistent with biological sex, therefore the feelings or brain activity of the person can be disconnected from the assigned sex of the person. However this is another example where biology matters to the transgender activist until it does not. If we were to examine a transgender person’s genes and find out that their genes and hormones were not contrary to their biological sex, would the transgender activist then concede that this person is not truly transgender? If the answer is yes, then we can agree that genetic defects, while rare, are a separate issue. But if the answer is no, then what is the point of appealing to biological processes if the processes do not ultimately matter or contribute to gender identity anyway? Therefore for most physicalist accounts of the human person, transgender ideology and the true inner self are not consistent with current models. However, since physicalism is not the only game in town, I must address two of the most popular forms of dualism.

The two main forms of dualism are hylomorphism and substance dualism. Substance dualism or Cartesian dualism is the more common of the two positions and will be examined first. In this form of dualism, the human person is composed of two separate substances of mind and matter. At first glance, it would seem that this position is much more conducive to a concept of gender identity that is separate from biology, however, it is not that simple. In the process of separating the body from the true self, Descartes delegated everything except pure rational thought to the category of bodily processes. This would include most of what we call personality or even imagination. Therefore, all that is left of the true self is an impersonal ego that consists purely of rational thought separated from everything that makes up the person’s personality or “gender identity.” Therefore Cartesian dualism is not an option for someone who maintains the transgender concept of the innermost self. Cartesian dualism is riddled with several other problems such as the interaction problem, or famous “mind-body” problem as well as issues to how physical traumas impact the immaterial mind. This conclusion leads to an imminently more defensible type of dualism which is hylomorphism.

Hylomorphism, which is also referred to as Aristotelian or Thomistic dualism, differs in that the human person is not composed of two separate substances but one substance that is composed of matter and form (the soul). This form of dualism better accounts for the close connection between brain states and mental states as seen in contemporary neuroscience and has a superior solution to the interaction problem. I address both topics in my paper “Getting Back to a Better Dualism.” While it maintains that the human person is one substance, it does posit that there are both material and immaterial elements of the person. But can this type of dualism accommodate the claims of transgender ideology? Since hylomorphism is a heavily teleological account of the human person, the form of the person directs the matter toward its final cause or “goal.” In a teleological account, the purpose of the human, in addition to being a contemplative rational animal, is similar to other living beings: maturation and reproduction. Therefore, the form directs the matter to that end. It is impossible to escape design within a teleological system as the reproductive organs of male and female are designed to achieve their final cause of reproduction. Design is used even on an ethical level where “good” is analyzable in terms of what something is for. For example, a good chair is sturdy and can fulfill its purpose whereas a bad chair cannot. Therefore, to hinder a thing’s ability to achieve its final cause is both morally and teleologically “bad.” This type of moral language is antithetical to transgender moral ideology and especially the idea of sex reassignment surgery where the final cause of the reproductive organs and the human person is damaged. In addition to this, hylomorphism does not have the same level of disconnect between soul and body that substance dualism does. Since the soul is the form of the body, to say that the soul has an identity that is not in line with the body it animates, informs, and directs is a nonstarter in this account of the human person.

These arguments cover the most common concepts of the human person but not every model. For instance, idealism is a more fringe theory that should be addressed, but in addition to being rare, most transgender activists are probably not going to accept the starting premise that bodies and the physical things in our universe do not exist. However, key points of this topic have been addressed including the obfuscation and imprecise use of the terms central to this debate. In fact, due to the vague definitions of gender identity itself, one would be rationally justified to not accept the ideology as a whole unless its central tenets are framed in clearer terms. But even granting the imprecise use of gender identity, one can conclude it is clearly not compatible with our current understandings of philosophy of mind and models of the human person.

[1] Brenda Todd, co-founder of study. Goldhill, Olivia. 2018. “Scientific Research Shows Gender Is Not Just a Social Construct.” Quartz. January 28, 2018.

[1] Rosenthal, Victor. “Why Transgenderism is illogical and Dangerous.” Accessed February 6, 2021.

[1] “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definition.” Hrc.Org. Accessed February 6, 2021.

[1] Brenda Todd, co-founder of study. Goldhill, Olivia. 2018. “Scientific Research Shows Gender Is Not Just a Social Construct.” Quartz. January 28, 2018. [2] Rosenthal, Victor. “Why Transgenderism is illogical and Dangerous.” Accessed February 6, 2021. [3] “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definition.” Hrc.Org. Accessed February 6, 2021.

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