[Note: this article is being published in 2021 but was written in 2019. Some sections caused a several year delay, but I’ve concluded that I won’t finish them anytime soon and so have just removed them. They may constitute the contents of a future article.]
The last decade has seen a radical increase in the cultural visibility of transgenderism. At the same time, the rate at which people identify as transgender or non-gender conforming has risen to something like 3% of adolescents (Tanner, 2018).
For the most part, Americans have responded to this shift by adopting more liberal attitudes towards trans-gendered individuals. Today, most Americans say they would be comfortable having a transgender friend or learning that a local teacher is transgender. Americans also favor letting trans people into the military and nearly half of the population says they would be comfortable with having a transgender child.
The public is pretty divided concerning bathrooms with a slim majority saying that people should use bathrooms according to their biological sex rather than their gender identity.
Among adults under the age of 35, the vast majority say they would be comfortable having a gay or trans child, though there has been a moderate increase in the last year or so in those expressing discomfort with this.
The public hasn’t shifted such that the super majority of people take a perfectly left wing view on transgenderism, but the state of public opinion is obviously a great deal more left leaning than it was ten years ago when trans-acceptance wasn’t even a mainstream political issue.
The last decade has also seen the popularization of certain theories, explanations, and narratives surrounding transgenderism. While not monolithic, many on the left have often said something like the following:
Transgenderism occurs when people want to be a gender that is discordant with their prescribed sex. This is caused by a mismatch between people’s neurological and psychological sex on the one hand, and their genetic sex on the other. Many people are not accepting of trans-people, and their discriminatory behaviors and ideas cause trans people to exhibit a multitude of behavioral and psychological problems. These problems should be solved by lessening anti-trans discrimination, and maximizing the ease with which trans people can transition into their preferred gender. Cis people have no good reason to resist changing norms in this way, because accepting the validity of trans-genderism implies no significant imposition on them and is really just a matter of letting other people live as they wish to.
The rest of this post will be aimed at showing that each part of this story is false.
Explaining Trans Suffering
Let’s start with the idea that trans people’s mental and behavioral problems are the result of discrimination. James et al. (2015) reported on a massive survey of 27,715 trans-gendered people living in the US which found the following:
- 47% have been sexually assaulted
- 40% have attempted suicide (compared to 4.6% of the general population)
- 39% are currently experiencing serious psychological distress
- 30% have been homeless
- 29% are poor (compared to 14% of the general population)
- 12% had engaged in “sex work” and 11% had sold drugs
- Of those out at work, 14% had been verbally harassed and 1% had been physically assaulted at work within the past year.
- Of those out at school, 54% had been verbally harassed and 24% had been physically assaulted at school.
- Of those out to their family, 26% had a family member stop talking to them, 10% were assaulted by a family member, and 8% were kicked out of their home.
- In the past year, 24% had been physically assaulted at school and 1% had at work
One of the most alarming trends here is the extremely elevated rate of suicide. This is the outcome I will be focusing on when measuring the mental well being of trans people.
A first reason to doubt that discrimination is a complete explanation for the mental health problems of trans people stems from the fact that trans people who report not having experienced discrimination still exhibit elevated suicide risk. I was able to find 7 studies that reported the suicide rates of trans people who reported having not suffered from discrimination. The average suicide rate among such trans people was 24%. This is far greater than the rate of attempted suicide among the general population (4.6%).
|Goldblum et al. (2012)||School based GBV||0.14|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Harrasment / Violence||0.18|
|Clements-Nolle et al. (2006)||Gender Discrimination||0.16|
|Testa et al. (2012)||Physical Violence||0.14|
|Testa et al. (2012)||Sexual Violence||0.19|
|Seelman (2016)||Victimized by Students||0.43|
|Seelman (2016)||Victimized by Teachers||0.45|
Now, we might take this figure, 24% to be what the trans suicide rate would be absent any discrimination. Such an analysis would assume that the relationship between discrimination and suicide is totally causal. I doubt that it is. It seems unlikely that the association is totally causal because there are various features which will predispose someone both to be suicidal and to experience real or imagined discrimination. For instance, a neurotic personality will probably increase the probability that someone will perceive any given incident as discrimination and will also increase your risk for suicide. Being suicidal can also cause people to act in socially problematic ways, and to have trouble keeping their life together, all of which could increase how much people are victimized by others, especially in a school environment. Because of this, the causal role of discrimination in the trans-suicide gap is probably smaller than what the above analysis would indicate.
A critic of this approach might argue that trans people experience many sorts of discrimination, while the studies cited above zero in on only one form of discrimination. To answer this critique, I analyzed the contribution of three different categories of discrimination to the trans-cis suicide gap, beginning with non-violent discrimination.
Reviewing all the literature I could find on the association between suicide and non-violent discrimination among trans people (22 effects), I found, in the first place, that the effect sizes reported were generally small, especially in larger studies. Among studies with at least 1,000 participants, experiencing non-violent discrimination predicted a roughly 10% increase in suicidal behavior. Obviously, this can’t contribute much to any explanation of why it is that trans people are roughly 900% more likely than cis people to attempt suicide.
Moreover, a majority of these effects (64%) were not statistically significant, so that most of the research did not find that non-violent discrimination significantly elevated suicide risk among trans people.
|Goldblum et al. (2012)||School Based Gender Victimization||Attempt||OR = 3.8||290|
|Marshall et al. (2016)||Internalized Stigma||Attempt||OR = 2.06||482|
|Marshall et al. (2016)||Discrimination in Healthcare||Attempt||OR = 1.25 (NS)||482|
|Perez-Brumer et al. (2015)||Structural Stigma||Attempt||OR = 1.01 (NS)||1060|
|Perez-Brumer et al. (2015)||Structural Stigma||Attempt||OR = .96||1060|
|Perez-Brumer et al. (2015)||Internalized Transphobia||Attempt||OR = 1.18||1060|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Housing Discrimination||Attempt||OR = 1.02 (NS)||212|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Employment Discrimination||Attempt||OR = 2.13 (NS)||212|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Heterosexism||Attempt||OR = .78 (NS)||212|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Military Stigma||Attempt||OR = .67 (NS)||212|
|Clements-Nolle et al. (2006)||Verbal Discrimination||Attempt||OR = .84 (NS)||491|
|Kuper et al. (2018)||Gender Discrimination||Attempt||OR = 1.08||1896|
|Trujillo et al. (2017)||Harassment/rejection Discrimination||Attempt||b = .17 (NS)||78|
|Maguen et al. (2010)||Verbal Threat||Attempt||b = .04 (NS)||141|
|Rood et al (2015)||Gender Discrimination (1 type)||Ideation||OR = 2.09||350|
|Rood et al (2015)||Gender Discrimination (2 types)||Ideation||OR = 2.86||350|
|Rood et al (2015)||Gender Discrimination (3+ types)||Ideation||OR = 1.83 (NS)||350|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Housing Discrimination||Ideation||OR = 3.88 (NS)||212|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Employment Discrimination||Ideation||OR = .76 (NS)||212|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Heterosexism||Ideation||OR = .91 (NS)||212|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Military Stigma||Ideation||OR = .80 (NS)||212|
|Kuper et al. (2018)||Gender Discrimination||Ideation||OR = 1.12||1896|
I found something similar when looking at 22 reported associations between a lack of social support and suicide, with the effect sizes being very weak, meaning that can’t possibly explain more than a tiny fraction of the association between transgenderism and suicide, and once against the effects were statistically insignificant most (78%) of the time.
|Yadegarfard et al. (2014)||Family Rejection||Suicide Risk||NS|
|Yadegarfard et al. (2014)||Social Support||Suicide Risk||NS|
|Tebbe et al. (2016)||Friend Support||Suicide Risk||b = -.14|
|Tebbe et al. (2016)||Family Support||Suicide Risk||b = -.04 (NS)|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Parental Support||Ideation||0.43|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Family Support||Ideation||0.66 (NS)|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Leader Support||Ideation||1.02 (NS)|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Peer Support||Ideation||0.67 (NS)|
|Zhu et al. (2019)||Family Support||Ideation||0.99 (NS)|
|Zhu et al. (2019)||Friend Support||Ideation||0.97 (NS)|
|Zeluf et al. (2018)||Social Support||Ideation||1.47|
|Zhu et al. (2019)||Family Conflict||Attempt||1.59|
|Zhu et al. (2019)||Family Support||Attempt||0.96|
|Zhu et al. (2019)||Friend Support||Attempt||0.99 (NS)|
|Trujillo et al. (2017)||Family Support||Attempt||b = -.03 (NS)|
|Trujillo et al. (2017)||Friend Support||Attempt||b = -.04 (NS)|
|Trujillo et al. (2017)||SO Support||Attempt||b = -.08 (NS)|
|Lytle et al. (2017)||Family Support||Attempt||0.96 (NS)|
|Lytle et al. (2017)||Friend Support||Attempt||1.02 (NS)|
|Klein et al. (2016)||Moderate Family Rejection||Attempt||1.96|
|Klein et al. (2016)||High Family Rejection||Attempt||3.34|
|Zeluf et al. (2018)||Social Support||Attempt||1.17 (NS)|
The data concerning physical violence is less clear. Across ten effects, the link between physical violence and suicide was more consistently statistically significant. However, the size of the effect reported varied a great deal between studies. The degree to which experiencing violent discrimination elevated suicide risk ranged from 1.43 to 4.72. Moreover, there was an tendency for larger studies to find smaller effects. The largest study I found reported odds ratios of less than 2.
|Rood et al (2015)||Physical or sexual violence||Ideation||OR = 4.18||350|
|Rood et al (2015)||Physical and sexual violence||Ideation||OR = 5.44||350|
|Marshall et al. (2016)||Police Violence||Attempt||OR = 1.43 (NS)||482|
|Clements-Nolle et al. (2006)||Physical Discrimination||Attempt||OR = 1.77||491|
|Testa et al. (2012)||Physical Violence (M)||Attempt||OR = 4.36||92|
|Testa et al. (2012)||Physical Violence (F)||Attempt||OR = 5.3||179|
|Testa et al. (2012)||Sexual Violence (M)||Attempt||OR = 4.72||92|
|Testa et al. (2012)||Sexual Violent (F)||Attempt||OR = 4.21||179|
|Maguen et al. (2010)||Transgender Violence||Attempt||b = .24||141|
To estimate the contribution that these forms of discrimination make to the trans-cis suicide gap, we need to know not only the effect that a given sort of discrimination has on suicide, but also the difference in the frequency with which trans and cis people experience the relevant sort of discrimination.
For instance, if the effect of physical discrimination was such that it increases a person’s risk of suicide by a factor of 3, and 60% of trans people have been assaulted compared to just 10% of cis people, then, because of assault, the trans suicide rate would be 1.5 times that of the cis rate.
Given the extremely weak effects of other sorts of discrimination on suicide, it is clear that the addition of physical discrimination, non-physical discrimination, and lack of social support, cannot account for anywhere near half of the trans-cis suicide gap. If we take seriously the idea that the relationship between discrimination and suicide isn’t entirely causal, then our estimate of the contribution of discrimination to trans suicide rates will be even smaller.
Actually, international data seems to imply that discrimination has very little at all to do with trans suicide rates. I say this because there is no obvious association between the suicide rate of trans people and the liberalness of the place they live in. Sweden has a lower rate of trans suicide than the US, but the US has a lower rate than Canada, and no region I found data on has as low of a rate as china. Thus, lower national rates of trans-acceptance don’t seem to lead to lower levels of trans suicide, a finding hard to square with the notion that the link between discrimination and suicide is causal.
|Clements-Nolle et al. (2006)||San Francisco||0.32|
|Zeluf et al. (2018)||Sweden||0.32|
|Kaplan et al. (2016)||Lebanon||0.46|
|Zhu et al. (2019)||China||0.16|
|Marshall et al. (2016)||Argentina||0.33|
|James et al. (2015)||USA||0.4|
|Scalon et al. (2010)||Ontario||0.43|
Obviously, we can’t run randomized experiments to see how much discrimination influences suicide. Instead, we have to rely on observational data. That data, such as it is, makes it fairly implausible that discrimination explains the majority of the trans-suicide gap. Moreover, the data is surprisingly consistent with the notion that discrimination plays only a very small role in trans suicide rates.
Treating Gender Dysphoria
Yet another relevant line of evidence has to do with research on transitioning. The research on medical transitioning suggests that it is associated with moderately increased rates of suicide among trans people, with larger studies and studies looking at suicidal behavior rather than thought tending to find larger effects.
|Maguen et al. (2010)||Gender Identity Therapy||Attempt||b = .02 (NS)||153|
|Wilson et al. (2014)||Breast Surgery||Ideation||75% vs 52%||314|
|Wilson et al. (2014)||Genital Surgery||Ideation||75% vs 74% (NS)||314|
|Zhu et al. (2019)||Seeking SRS||Ideation||OR = 2.04||622|
|Rood et al. (2015)||Transition (Complete)||Attempt||OR = 2.68||350|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Transition (Complete) vs Planning||Attempt||OR = .51 (NS)||100|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Transition (In progress) v Planning||Attempt||OR = 2.91 (NS)||100|
|Rood et al. (2015)||Transition (Planning)||Attempt||OR = 2.85||350|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Transition (Part Time)||Attempt||OR = 2.53 (NS)||380|
The research on “socially transitioning” or living your life such that others can see you are trans, even more consistently finds that this it is associated with a moderate increase in suicide rates.
|Zeluf et al. (2018)||Trans Identity Shows||OR = 1.39||769|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Transition (Full Time)||OR = 5.30 (NS)||109|
|Zeluf et al. (2018)||Visible Always vs Never||OR = 2.50||769|
|Zeluf et al. (2018)||Visible Always vs Rarely||OR = 1.35||769|
|Zeluf et al. (2018)||Visible Always vs Sometimes||OR = 1.33||769|
|Haas et al. (2014)||Visibly Trans||42% vs 36%||5885|
Now we might suspect that suicide rates are higher among those who transition because this leads to increased discrimination due to the increased visibility of their transgenderism. The best evidence against this explanation comes from a survey of 5,885 American trans people reported on in Haas et al. (2014). This large survey compared suicide rates among trans people who had received medical treatment, those who had not, and those who had not but wanted too. If treatment causes more distress by increasing people’s visibility and thus their vulnerability to discrimination, then those who have actually had these treatment should have far higher rates of suicide than those who merely want them. However, the relevant data suggests that people who wanted treatment but had not yet received it had roughly as elevated of suicide rates as those who had actually had the relevant treatment.
Similarly, Chen et al. (2019) found that seeking gender reassignment survey was associated with a 1.76 times increased odds of suicidal thoughts in a sample of 1,309 transgender Chinese and Brauer et al. (2015) found that those who had completed a medical transition had suicide rates which did not significantly differ from those who were merely planning to undergo such a transition in a sample of 100 Trans-gendered Canadians.
Thus, it seems that the mental state that produces the desire for a transition is what is causing elevated suicide rates. The fact that suicide rates are not elevated by the actual act of transition is further evidence against the view that the poor mental health of trans people is significantly caused by discrimination. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how it could be possible that transitioning wouldn’t lead to higher suicide rates if anti-trans discrimination had a significant effect on suicide.
In totality then, the evidence favors the view that discrimination explains very little about why it is that trans people have such high suicide rates.
Of course, this data on transitioning is also evidence against the view that the commonly prescribed medical treatments of transgenderism actually improve the mental well being of trans people. This, in turn, is evidence against the view that satisfying the defining desire of transgenderism, to be more like their opposite sex, will alleviate trans people’s mental suffering.
The research on hormone replacement therapy and suicide does little to challenge this conclusion. Said research is inconsistent and often finds statistically insignificant results.
|Kaplan et al. (2016)||Attempt||64% vs 31%||54|
|Bauer et al. (2015)||Attempt||OR = .76 (NS)||98|
|Colton et al. (2011)||Depression, Anxiety, Stress||42% vs 46% (NS)||369|
|Wilson et al. (2014)||Ideation||75% vs 51%||314|
|Lehavot et al. (2016)||Ideation + Attempt||OR = 1.37 (NS)||212|
Proponents of the standard treatment for transgenderism will respond by noting that people say they feel better after undergoing medical transitions (Murad et al. 2010). Throughout this post so far, I’ve followed a methodological choice to use suicide as the outcome of interest rather than self reported satisfaction with treatment. This is because people don’t like to admit it when they make mistakes. Everyone is naturally biased in favor of decisions that they have already made. Thus, looking at subjective ratings by people who have undergone various procedures is not very informative. Data on suicide attempt rates are preferable because a suicide attempt is a more objective criterion.
As we’ve seen, the data on suicide suggests that transitioning does not help trans people, but the data from self-reported emotion and satisfaction suggests the opposite. I feel the best explanation for this divergence of results is exactly the sort of bias that caused me to only look at suicide data in the first place. Someone offering an alternative to this analysis will need to come up with a better explanation than this for why the outcomes diverge, as well as an explanation for how it can be that these treatments improve trans people’s mental health but not their suicide rates.
The Mismatched Biology Hypothesis
Now let’s turn to the idea that trans people neurologically match with their self identified gender and not with their sex.
Guillamon et al. (2016) provides a useful review of the research on transgenderism as of three years ago. Most research has been carried out on MtF people, and the first thing to note here is that they exhibit some male-typical brain features and some female-typical brain features.
There’s no measure of whether, on net, they are more masculine or feminine neurologically.
Importantly, all of this research is massively confounded by the prevalence of homosexuality among trans people. This is a problem because homosexuals have atypical brains in ways that are linked with sex differences regardless of their gender identity. So, it could be that MtF people have somewhat feminized brains simply because they tend to be gay, while their transgenderism may be unrelated to these neurological trends.
Guillamon et al. could only find one study on heterosexual MtF people, and, unlike homosexual MtFs, their brains were not feminized in any significant respect. That being said, their brains were unusual in ways that are not typical of any sex.
To my knowledge, only one study has come out since Guillamon et al’s review addressing this issue. Specifically, Burke et al. (2017) provide more evidence that sexuality is an important confound in the neuroscience of transgenderism. In the majority of cases, the a-typical neurological features they found in their transgender sample went away once sexual orientation was controlled for.
Transgenderism was still a significant predictor for three brain areas (L + R IFOF and L ILF), but in all these cases the differences between trans-men and cis women were practically trivial, while the brains of trans women were more differentiated, but were not typical of any sex.
(Note: The error bars here represent standard deviations, not confidence intervals).
So, the relevant brain research does not seem to support the notion that transgenderism is caused by having a brain typical of one’s desired sex.
The brain story is also complicated by the fact that sex differences in the brain, while real, are not that large. For most brain differences, there is a good deal of overlap between men and women, so that there are presumably lots of people with sex atypical brains and the vast majority of them are not trans.
Sometimes, digit ratios are appealed to when building the mismatch narrative. The ratio of the length of people’s 2nd and 4th finger is a correlate of pre-natal testosterone, and so trans people having digit ratios typical of the other sex would be evidence for them having an atypical pre-natal environment for their sex.
Voracek et al. (2018) meta-analyzed the research on this topic and found the following:
“MtF cases have feminized right-hand (R2D:4D) digit ratio, g= 0.190 (based on 9 samples, totaling 690 cases and 699 controls; P= .001, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.076 to 0.304), whereas the directionally identical effect for left-hand (L2D:4D) digit ratio was not significant, g= 0.132 (6 samples, 308 cases, 544 controls; P= .07, CI: –0.012 to 0.277). FtM cases have neither masculinized R2D:4D, g= –0.088 (9 samples, 449 cases, 648 controls; P= .22, CI: –0.227 to 0.051) nor masculinized L2D:4D, g= –0.059 (6 samples, 203 cases, 505 controls; P= .51, CI: –0.235 to 0.117).”
So, this story doesn’t work for FtM trans people and only works for MtF trans people when we are talking about the right hand. Moreover, the effect size here is 0.19. This is a quite small effect size. Assuming digit ratios are normally distributed, this would imply that the average MtF trans person has a digit ratio more masculine than 42% of males. This variable may have some role in a full explanation of transgenderism, but the vast majority of males with hands that feminized are not trans, and so this is at best a weak explanatory factor.
Twin studies should be informative both with respect to genes and the prenatal environment, but researchers have only been able to find a handful of twin pairs in which at least one twin is transgender. Heylens et al. (2012) aggregated data from previous studies and found a concordance rate for transgenderism of 0% among 21 DZ twin pairs and 39% among MZ twin pairs. A later study from Japan produced similar results in terms of low concordance rates among twins for Gender Identity Disorder (Sasaki et al., 2016). The fact that concordance rates are higher among MZ twins than among DZ twins implies that genetics does play a role in transgenderism, as it does in all human behavior, but the fact that concordance rates even among MZ twins are well below half suggests that genetics and the pre-natal environment are far from a sufficient explanation of transgenderism. Moreover, to the degree that pre-natal environments and genetics do play a role, that role does not primarily seem to be one of creating people whose biology matches the other sex, as evidenced by neurological data and data on digit ratios.
Aside from being empirically unsupported, the idea that transgenderism is caused by trans people having brains typical of their preferred sexual identity implies some very strange things about the relationship between brains and sexual identity.
If my brain were to become feminized, I would probably acquire a more female-typical personality, for instance I might become more agreeable and less emotionally stable, and perhaps I would develop different pre-dispositions about who to have sex with, how many people to have sex with, and the role I’d want to play in raising children. This all seems plausible.
However, there is no obvious connection between having a female typical brain and wanting to wear female typical clothing, or wanting to posses a female body, or wanting to be called a woman, etc. Plausibly, people identify with their own body because the brain is wired to identify with whatever body it finds itself in. This would explain why I feel a sense of identity not only with my sex, but also specifically with the body that is mine. It would be very non-parsimonious, and entirely speculative, to suggest that brains are built to identify with certain sorts of bodies and that if a part of my brain where changed in shape or size to be more typical of a woman then I would desire to have a female body.
It is equally speculative to suggest that women would want to wear feminine clothing even if they didn’t have the feminine bodies that such clothing is made for.
Of course, it would be entirely unreasonable to suggest that women want to be referred to using feminine pronouns because they have female typical brains. Generally speaking, women want to be called women because they are women, in the most essentialist since of the term, and this is true even of women who are psychologically abnormal for their sex.
Thus, the very notion that a mismatched brain causes transgenderism implies speculative seeming assumptions about the nature of gender identity in general. Of course, sometimes surprising things turn out to be true, but we should only accept such claims as true in response to rigorous evidence and never in response to political bullying.
Transgenderism, Tolerance, and the Meaning of Gender
Finally, let’s consider the idea that acceptance of trans genderism amounts to little more than letting other people live and identify as they wish to. Framed this way, acceptance of transgenderism seems like little more than an act of basic tolerance.
I regard this framing as misleading because transgenderism is often as much about how trans people want other people to treat them as it is about anything internal to themselves. Specifically, trans people often want others to treat them as if they are typical members of their preferred sex.
Consider their insistence that people use their “preferred pronouns”. If I call a trans-man a woman, the two of us both know that I mean they have no Y chromosome, and we both agree on this fact. We both also obviously know that the person in question calls themselves a man. So what is the disagreement that causes trans people to be upset in such instances? Presumably, it is because using a non-preferred pronoun amounts to a more general refusal to treat trans people as if they are a typical member of the sex they identify with.
Pronoun use, on its own, isn’t that big of a deal. It is therefore unfortunate that so much time as been spent focusing on pro-noun use, one of the most shallow aspects of what it means to be treated like a man or a woman. This focus has led to the impression that trans people may be asking something of cis people, but that it doesn’t amount to much more than a simple change in language.
But treating someone like a typical member of their self identified sex is about more than mere words.
This is most obvious with respect to sex. For a heterosexual male to treat a trans woman as if they were a normal female would mean that they would consider them to be people they’d potentially like to have sex with. While I’ve not seen a survey on the matter, I feel fairly confident that most heterosexual men feel as I do and find the notion of having sex with a trans-female to be rather unpleasant. This would be true even if the trans-female looked indistinguishable from a cis-female.
Something similar occurs with respect to instincts surrounding protection. Males instinctively feel protective of females in a way that we do not for fellow males. For instance, if a female is physically assaulted by a male most males feel that they should intervene and this does not occur when males are seen fighting each other even if there is a significant physical disparity between the males in question. Relatedly, we place a higher value on sustaining the innocence of young girls than we do young boys. The idea of treating a biological male as a female in these ways seems obviously absurd.
This takes us naturally into the debate surrounding trans people in sports. Trans people argue that they should be able to participate in sports leagues intended for the gender they identify with. To make things fair, trans-females have proposed various medical routes by which they might eliminate the physical advantages that males naturally have over females. The efficacy of such attempts is controversial, but I don’t think it really matters because this whole argument rests on a misunderstanding of why sports are segregated to begin with.
If the argument of trans-advocates made sense, we should generally allow males into female sports so long as their ability was within the plausible range of ability for female athletes. This could occur for any number of reasons. Some males are naturally weaker and slower than average. Some males simply put very little effort into athletic ability. Or it could be because a male injected themselves with hormones or a drug that lessened their physical capabilities.
If the point of sex-segregated sports was just to stop people of unequal ability from competing then we wouldn’t even have sex segregated sports. We would have ability-segregated sports and women would just disproportionately end up in the low-ability leagues for many sports. But we dont, we have sex segregated sports and this reflects the fact that people generally think the sexes should be treated differently independent of any feature other than sex itself.
At its most fundamental level sex is about mating and reproduction. In large part, the reason for which men treat women like we do is because we see them as potential sexual partners, mothers, daughters, and grand mothers. I assume a similar thing is true of why women treat men the way they do. Truly treating trans people as a member of their preferred sex would therefore clearly involve more than a mere shift in language. It would require us to do things which naturally cause reactions of disgust and discomfort for many cis gendered people. In some cases, such as the domain of sexual attraction, treating trans people as their preferred sex would even violate many cis people’s sense of their own identity.
This gives us good reason to refuse to treat trans people as they want to be treated. Of course, you might say that this is just a mental hang up of cis people and that they should learn to get over it rather than imposing things on others. But then cis people might say the exact same thing to trans people. This may make it seem as if both groups want something which may cause the other group suffering, and so they have fundamentally divergent interests such that any compromise is impossible. By necessity, one group will win and the other will lose. Unfortunately, this seems to me like it is probably true so long as trans gender people are convinced that pursuing their desire to be a member of the opposite sex is in their interest.
In this article I’ve tried to show that trans-genderism is not primarily the result of “mis matched” biology, that the desires of trans people require a good deal more than mere tolerance from cis people, and that the mental suffering of trans people is not primarily the result of discrimination nor can it be cured by trans people attempting to look and act like their preferred sex. I have not tried to explain why it is that trans people want to be a member of the opposite sex, or why they experience so much mental suffering. I don’t think we have good answers to either of these questions, and in any case removing existing explanations about trans genderism is useful to do prior to offering any alternative explanation.