Take it from me – I’m gay. It is of paramount importance to safeguard the rights and welfare of all individuals. This is why I think a radical strand of transgender ideology is ironically dangerous. Not only are its arguments paradoxical, but its adherents are also intolerant of robust and frank dialogue. Disagreements are cavalierly dismissed as “transphobic”, “hateful” and “bigoted”. But to preserve healthy public discourse, we need to peruse the philosophical foundations of transgender radicalism and protect the voices of the dissenting, which includes those of moderate transgender activists who seek to raise awareness of the condition of gender dysphoria.
Is Gender Performative or Biological?
Radical transgender ideologues have a postmodern idea of truth, but one dictum they hold religiously to is the idea that gender is performative. They follow the gender theories of fourth-wave feminists like Judith Butler, who claim that gender is not only a social construct but also a “performative accomplishment”, moulded by social norms and cultural mores. That is to say, femininity or masculinity is merely a social construct and the meaning of sex differences is subjective and context-dependent. Conflictingly, transgender activists also believe that a person can be ‘ensnared’ in a wrongly-gendered body and that gender identity is innate. This is a paradox. To the radical transgender activist, gender is simultaneously subjective and objective, being both socially constructed and biologically hardwired. As binaries go, this argument is both flummoxing and untenable.
Next, the issue of sexual malleability. For decades, the global gay rights movement has argued that sexuality is fixed, not fluid and that attempts to modify one’s sexuality are futile. Transgender activists on the other hand argue that like gender, sexuality is also fluid. But if sexuality is mutable — like these transgender activists claim — then conversion therapy or any action that is taken to change same-sex attraction is justified. So is gender identity a social construct, or is it biologically determined?
As someone who identifies largely with the postmodern questioning of meta-narratives, I believe no argument should be allowed to elude rigorous intellectual scrutiny. Thus, glaring contradictions posited by the radical transgender activists likewise should be addressed in an intellectually honest manner.
Differences Between the Gay and Transgender Movements
People often assume that LGBT activists share similar grounds and goals. But, this is not always true. Being gay is about embracing one’s sexuality, for example, while radical transgender ideology advocates for changing one’s body to align with one’s psychological perception.
While the gay community has fought hard against conversion therapy, radical transgender ideology champions “gender-affirming surgery”, which is conversion therapy of the most extreme, irreversible nature.
The gay rights movement seeks to debunk stereotypes about relationships, asserting that people of the same gender can be romantically involved with each other. However, the transgender community entrenches stereotypes by re-inscribing heteronormative standards of relational dynamics.
The gay community’s mantra was ‘Leave us alone to live our own lives in privacy’ whereas some transgender activists demand that the public alters its norms around access to bathrooms, sports leagues, and “gender hospitality” in the form of a slew of new social and linguistic rules.
Philosophically, radical transgender ideology contradicts the essence of the gay rights movement. Many of the above differences are worth tackling because they expose the ideological inconsistency within the LGBT community.
A genuine coalition demands consistency. Indeed, I would argue that the gay community in Singapore will lose credibility if it allies itself with radicals because it would no longer be able to articulate its claims in a cogent way.
The Impact of Transgender Extremism
There are very concerning trends that suggest radical transgender ideology does not help people with gender dysphoria heal.
First, the real risk of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” which is the nascent phenomenon of gender-bending contagion especially pronounced in teenage girl peer circles.
Secondly, those who experience regret over sex-reassignment surgery and their supporters have had their voices regularly silenced by outrage mobs interested in portraying gender transition surgery as life-saving and indisputably good. Radical lesbian feminist Janice Raymond said,
“We need to hear more from those men and women who, at one time, though they might be transsexuals but decided differently—persons who successfully overcame their gender identity crises without resorting to the medical- technical solution.”THE TRANSSEXUAL EMPIRE, 1979.
Even though this is a reasonable argument, Raymond was labelled transphobic.
Thirdly, psychiatrists recognise that some people suffer from autogynephilia, a “male propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female”. Gender dysphoria and autogynephilia should be treated as separate issues, and there is a risk of misdiagnosis if medical professionals are too quick to prescribe surgery.
Finally, the global sex-reassignment and hormonal therapy industry is benefitting immensely from transgender activism. As a result of this transgender moment, the sex-reassignment industry is burgeoning and will be worth an estimated $1.3 billion by 2026. In America, the sex reassignment surgery market is forecast to increase by 24.5% from 2021 to 2026 due to the increasing number of gender-reassignment surgeries in the country. While this in and of itself is not an issue, it is important to recognise the immense economic incentives that exist for doctors to prescribe surgery.
To help those with gender dysphoria, all these issues need to be dealt with robustly. We need to take steps to prevent “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”, support individuals with “sex change regret”, avoid misdiagnosing autogynephilia as gender dysphoria, and regulate the sex-reassignment and hormonal therapy industry more tightly.
Decoupling and Continual Debate
I am worried about three things.
First, I fear for the many who suffer from gender dysphoria who are not activists, and who in fact, reject the claims of transgender ideologues. These are folk who don’t think their feelings of gender dysphoria define reality and who know that they aren’t the opposite sex. Many of these wish to receive help in coming to identify with and accept their bodily selves but risk gender-affirmation being forced on them instead. I also fear for them because an outsized push by radical activists tars them with the same brush of unreasonableness in the eyes of a public that isn’t able to distinguish between the disparate factions of the transgender community.
I am also concerned, as pointed out by Dr Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, that “psychiatrists [will be] distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and a life in the other sex” due to aggressive activism. And further, that the medical establishment will “waste scientific and technical resources and damage its professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.”
Singapore shouldn’t allow the outsized voice of this radical minority to detract from the responsible help offered to those with gender dysphoria. Their needs for sex-affirming research and treatment should not be hijacked by a particularly loud voice seeking to entrench a new narrative around being transgender.
Finally, I am worried that conflict between the majority of Singaporeans and our LGBT community will intensify. Akin to any form of extremism ( religious or secular), transgender extremism is a liability to the gay community insofar as the two are conflated by the average person. Such conflation is only natural because the gay community has not decoupled itself from transgender extremists. Many gay people accept radical transgender ideology out of well-meaning solidarity despite its paradoxical positions, which are at odds with the gay rights movement.
Fair-minded LGBT activists must be willing to engage in reasoned debate over the issues mentioned above, to have a logically coherent movement, forge understanding and build empathy with society at large.