The Obama administration has recently attempted to coerce schools into allowing biological boys and girls to use restrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex if they believe themselves to be transgender. The coercion is so sudden and taken without public comment or study that one imagines there must be overwhelming evidence that transgenderism is the next frontier in the civil rights struggle and that people believing themselves to be transgendered must be a group comparable to African Americans in the era of Jim Crow, unable to use bathrooms with everybody else. But there is not such evidence. Indeed, the lack of evidence has led Johns Hopkins to stop offering gender reassignment surgery (1). For their are a host of questions raised by the claim that some people are transgender.
At heart, a person who believes they are transgender believes that they are a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body. The body and the mind appear to be in conflict; the biological fact is that a person’s body (to take an example) is male, but the person’s mind believes that he is really female. If the body and the mind are at cross purposes in this way, then one of the two is in error, but how to decide which? Transgender advocates, and the present administration, seem to have assumed that the mind must be correct and the body wrong, but why? Why should we assume that the mind is sound and the body wrong? Why should it not be the other way around. Why should we not come to the opposite conclusion: that in a biological male who believes he is female, it is actually is mind that has gone wrong. If a man believed that he was a wolf trapped in a man’s body, presumably, the assumption would be that his mind is disordered, not that he should be fed particularly raw steaks. If a man believes that he is a woman, why should the assumption be that the body must be changed; why not consider it a mental disorder in need of correction?
More still, it is unclear what it means to be a man trapped in a woman’s body. It seems to imply that the body is not part of the person. The real me is not my body and is actually entirely independent of my body; the body is just something that I, the real I happen to have, an accessory. Hence, if the real me is a female who just happens to have a male body, then I can dismiss it and get a new accessory. But then who is this real me? What is this real me inside my body that is totally independent of my body? My soul? No Christian could believe that since Christianity requires the belief that man is a unified whole, I am neither my body nor my soul, but both. The soul is the form of my body and the two form a united whole. But then transgender advocates do not base their claims on Christianity anyway, so the real me must be mean something else. Could it mean the soul in some other sense? Maybe, but transgender advocates never say this; given their tendency to be secular, this is probably an argument that many would shy away from. And even if this were the position of some, ie, a biological male believes that he is a female soul trapped in a man’s body, this raised a host of questions and problems: how did the female soul get there? What is the relation between the female soul and the body? This also turns the body into the accessory or property of the soul, which is the real me. Hence, rape would become a mere property crime (an offence against my property, the body I happen to inhabit) and the government could extra a kidney in taxation (because it can tax my property and my body is my property).
Neither of these options are likely palatable to the transgender advocate anyway, so what else might such a person claim? That the real him is his brain? Ie, that he is a female brain trapped in a male’s body? None have said so explicitly, for this is no better than the other options. First, the brain is part of the body, so this appears plainly contradictory to say that one has a male body but a female brain. Second, given the role of the brain is shaping the body by directing the body’s growth, release of hormones, it is not scientifically plausible that a female brain could be trapped in a male body. Third, this view has the same drawbacks (as Alexander Pruss has pointed out on another subject), as the view that I am my soul. If I am my brain and just possess the rest of my body, rape is still a property crime, the government could confiscate a kidney via its power to tax, and my wife has never kissed me (only my body, which is not me, only the property of me).
There is no account of how one can be a man trapped in a woman’s body that makes sense either scientifically or rationally. There is, however, a very simple account of how a mental disorder could cause a person to believe he is a woman if he is really a man. And to this disorder, we should respond, not by changing the body, but by treating the mind.
(2). A fair question is that in spite of no plausible account of transgendering and no evidence in support of the claim that one can really be a woman trapped in a man’s body, why is it so strongly defended? The answer is probably an implied connection to homosexuality. If it can be a mental disorder for a man to believe that he is a woman, then this is not very far from the claim that it is a disorder for a man to be sexually attracted to other men. But this is a subject for another post.