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The Crux Project Archives: Academia

Gender Benders

Look, Mom, I'm a girl!

by Regis Nicoll

In his book The Right Questions, Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson tells the story of a college professor whose son announced one day that he was "transgendered." After noticing his parents' bewilderment, the son went on to explain that "it means I'm a girl. I want to wear dresses and makeup and challenge the whole patriarchal, bourgeois idea of gender." The son later revealed that he had gotten the idea from reading the literary works of Michael Foucault and Judith Butler. 

Both Foucault and Butler were leading architects of "queer theory," a political and intellectual movement that rejects the notion that sexual identity is a genetic and biological fact of life. Rather, the theorists argue, one's sexual identity is a product of social and cultural influences. The binary view of gender, they maintain, is nothing but an artificial division imposed by the dominant patriarchy.

As counterintuitive as this might seem to most of us, "queer theory" is really the predictable outworking of postmodernism. The relativistic solvent used by the postmodern deconstructionists—like Foucault and Butler—to dissolve the distinction between good and evil is now blurring the physiological nature of gender. If these ideas were merely isolated reflections of elite academics, we could politely ignore them. However, these notions are being mainstreamed into our culture.

Targeting the Innocents
For example, one of my colleagues said that her undergraduate English teacher once told the class that children are not born male or female but as a gendered blend somewhere along the masculine/feminine spectrum. The teacher's point was that the expression of gender is not determined by our chromosomes but by our social context and psychological needs.

Even more alarming is the curricula of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a leading distributor of sex-education material in public schools. In their "Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: K-12," SIECUS states that gender identity "refers to a person's internal sense of being male, female, or a combination of these" and "may change over the course of their lifetimes" (emphasis mine).

Notice, however, how the tables are turned when addressing the issue of sexual orientation, whether heterosexual, gay, or lesbian: "People do not choose their sexual orientation," and "sexual orientation cannot be changed by therapy or medicine."

Amazing! Only in the Alice in Wonderland world of the cultural elite could something as patently innate as gender be considered a malleable product of personal feelings, while sexual preference is considered an unalterable fact of life. All of this despite the growing evidence (not to mention common sense!) that we are not unisex beings whose gender is left up to the vagaries of environment; we are persons who are either male or female based on our X and Y chromosomes.

Even evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker notes that the popular belief among academics that gender is environmentally determined "is becoming less credible." Making reference to the studies of boys born with defective genitalia who were surgically transformed into females and raised as girls, Pinker states that "the idea that some sex differences have biological roots cannot be dismissed."

Testing the Theories
If gender is a product of one's environment rather than of one's genes, as "queer theorists" allege, then those who are conflicted because their bodies and sexual identities are at odds should experience greater psycho-emotional stability from a sex-change operation. To test that theory, Johns Hopkins professor of psychiatry Paul McHugh chronicled follow-up studies of patients who underwent sexual reassignment procedures.

For transgendered adults who were sexually reassigned, the studies indicated that most were generally content with their surgery. However, in terms of psychological health, very little had changed. The reconstructed adults continued to experience problems with relationships, work, and emotions that were much the same as before, leaving unrealized their hopes of psychological tranquility.

As a consequence, McHugh concluded that by prescribing surgical reassignment for transgendered adults, "Hopkins was fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness." And with that the Hopkins staff decided that it would be better to "fix their [patients'] minds and not their genitalia."

Even more damaging to the claims of "queer theorists" are the studies on boys born with defective genitalia who underwent sex-change operations.  Distraught parents were assured by trusted clinicians that if they nurtured their reconstructed child as a female, his gender would likewise conform. Yet, even with female genitalia and regular hormone injections, most of these males reported being trapped in the wrong body and exhibited male-like attitudes and interests, despite being socialized as girls.

One case involved a male twin raised as a girl, who subsequently restored himself back as a male after learning of his genetic gender. Sadly, as McHugh reports, this young man experienced major depression and ultimately committed suicide.

Nailed by Their Own Logic
Looking back to the transgendered son of the professor, we may be tempted to think that he was rebelling against his parents. In reality, writes Phillip Johnson, the son "was not rebelling against the family philosophy but trying to live by it." As self-described "feminists against homophobia," the boy's parents had bought completely into gay and feminist scholarship.

The philosophies they had absorbed are that gender is a social label and sexual orientation a hardwired fact, as well as that societal values and traditional lifestyles are coercive constructs of the ruling class. Further, they had bought into the notion that the solution to social inequality is the elimination of the traditional moral values that keep all forms of sexual expression from being normalized. Such normalization begins with inculcating our children with the message that "all people have a right to express their gender identity," courtesy of the SIECUS sex-ed guidelines.

Thus, had their son announced he was homosexual, these progressive parents would have accepted it and likely applauded him. But nothing in the gender-bender literature prepared them for the anger they felt. Incensed at the prospect of having his son seen in a dress, the boy's father said that he "suddenly felt rage toward those ivory-towered theoreticians who glibly spout gender theories." Yet, pinned to the mat by their own logic, the professor and his wife could do little more than rationalize that they weren't “losing a son but gaining a daughter." •

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