Saturday, February 7, 2015
The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern But Necessary Critique of The Witherspoon Article
The arguments that Flores presents are flawed on a number of levels, but there is one example that he discusses at some length that I would particularly like to engage with because it might provide a more helpful way for conservative Christians to think about and understand how we ought to respond to folks with trans conditions.
The argument is based on analogy between a trans person and an elderly person who believes him or herself to be 16. The article is written as though the latter were a bizarre, possibly entirely theoretical condition: almost a thought experiment. This is a little strange, given that this is in fact something that happens quite often. Many people have had relatives go through a period, late in life, where they believe themselves to be young again.
Now, I'm not going to claim that the analogy between a trans person and an Alzheimer's patient is a good one. I think it's profoundly problematic in many respects. But let's, for the sake of argument, assume that Flores has drawn an apt analogy. In that case, his conclusions about how trans people ought to be treated are largely refuted by the very analogy that he's chosen to draw.
1. We don't argue with Alzheimer's patients. Folks who work with patients that actually have the condition that Flores postulates know that there is no point in trying to tell such a person that they are actually 80 years old. It's fruitless, it's confusing for the patient, and it's purposeless.
2. Nobody feels threatened by a 90 year old who believes that she's 15. Let's make this extreme. Let's say that a theologigan were to argue that perhaps in some sense a person with dementia is actually spiritually 15 again. Say they argued that this condition is best understood as a participation in eternity, where time may no longer function in the strictly linear way that it does in this world, and that the patient is being given a special grace that allows her to access and reconcile with her past in a unique way. People wouldn't rail about God's plan for creation being undermined, or the collapse of American civilization, or a Satanic deception. It would be treated as an odd theological curiosity – perhaps wrong, but relatively harmless.
3. Surgery. Okay, so let's imagine (purely hypothetically) that suddenly there were old people demanding hormone treatments, hair removal, and even surgery in order to deny their natural, God-given age so they could look and feel decades younger. Obviously, no sane society could possibly allow such a – Oh. Wait. Nevermind.
4. There's a difference between neurology and psychology. If a person with Alzheimer's believes himself to be young, we don't send him to see psychologists in order to cure him of his condition. We recognize the that are psychological conditions (which are treatable through therapy) and neurological conditions (which are not.) There is, however, a long history of mistakenly treating neurological conditions as though they were psychological disorders, and it's largely a history of cruelty, blame, and stigma. A person with a neurological condition cannot be made “normal” through therapy because they can't change the way that their brain functions. There is serious evidence to suggest that trans conditions are often neurological. Flores is dismissive about this possibility. He asks “Where's the evidence?” and then pre-emptively dismisses any evidence that could be presented. This suggests that he isn't familiar with the relevant research and is also not open to giving it serious consideration. There are also serious reasons for protecting people with neurological conditions from being forced to endure potentially harmful and demonstrably ineffective psychological treatments.
5. Christians conscientiously uphold the rights of the elderly – including those with dementia or Alzheimer's. Imagine a son telling his mother that if she didn't stop manifesting symptoms of dementia, she would go to Hell. Imagine him blaming her for her condition. Imagine him punishing her, depriving her of contact with friends, isolating her, and telling her that she was choosing to deny God by imagining that she was an adolescent. Would we laud this as good Christian behaviour? Standing up for truth?
6. This is a classic example of a case where the desire to “tell the truth” is likely to be self serving. Let's say that my dad had Alzheimer's, and every time I visited him he mistook me for my Grandma Robinson, his mother. I might have a strong vested interest in having him recognize that I am really his daughter. But the fact is that repeatedly hammering an Alzheimer's patient with the truth about their age is probably not in the best interests of the patient – particularly if it leads to confusion, depression, and feelings of rejection.
As I mentioned before, I believe there are very significant differences between a person with dementia or Alzheimer's and someone who is trans. I offer the comparison only in order to demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the way that conservative discourse addresses trans people: charging them with mental illness in order to harness the stigma associated with the mentally ill – but without providing the compassion and understanding that we extend to people who genuinely suffer from serious cognitive conditions. This kind of analysis excises the humanity of the trans person from the equation, and produces an approach that is both inconsistent and inhumane.