Last week, a pastor friend told me about a new problem he is facing in his congregation. I hesitate to call it a “first world pastoral problem” because that runs the risk of trivializing it, of making it seem akin to those issues only deemed catastrophic by chattering-class Westerners—a sudden shortage of quinoa at Whole Foods, for example, or a blight on zinfandel grapes. This is a first world problem in the sense that it is created by the chattering classes; but it is in no sense trivial.
The problem my pastor friend faces is how to counsel parents of teenage girls who will not drink anything before going to school lest they have to use the bathrooms that, thanks to the stroke of the President’s pen, are now open to teenage boys who think—or claim—to have been born in the wrong bodies. It seems that anxiety and physical discomfort caused by the new bathroom policy will now be the new normal for young high school girls. Trans activists like to use the language of “safety” as a way of playing to the aesthetics of our therapeutic culture and delegitimizing their critics. Well, these biological women no longer feel safe. Their spaces, like their gender, have been stolen from them by men and for men. They now feel themselves to be in such danger that they cannot even hydrate before school lest they have to use the restroom during the day. America has had a number of presidents whose appetites meant that they arguably posed a danger to many women who crossed their physical paths; but the current president has out-performed them all. His policies have made him a danger to all women everywhere, even in high school restrooms.
The sorry state of debate on transgenderism and public policy was illustrated last week during the confirmation hearings for Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden’s pick for assistant secretary of health and human services. Sen. Rand Paul bluntly asked whether Levine, a transgendered person, supports hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery for minors, and Levine refused to answer. This made it clear that the Biden administration’s commitment to “follow the science” holds only when the “science” follows the ideology of the favored lobby group. In an exercise of wishful thinking, the press dismissed Paul’s pointed questions as desperation. Yet this dismissal was also oddly emblematic of trans ideology itself, which holds that simply saying something is true is enough to make it so. It would surely have been easy for the press to expose Paul’s questions and data as nonsense had they actually been nonsense. In the same way, if there were solid arguments against Ryan Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally, Amazon could safely have sold it. Amazon’s banning of the book is a paradoxical display of corporate power and intellectual bankruptcy.
The left does not have a monopoly on confused thinking about this issue, however. One prominent Southern Baptist pastor has defended Levine’s appointment on the grounds that being transgender does not speak to one’s competence as a doctor. The attempt to appear unbigoted in these tense and divisive times is laudable, but the misunderstanding of transgenderism and of the critical theoretical framework behind it is more than unfortunate. Trans ideology involves a fundamental philosophical commitment to the idea that people can be born in the wrong bodies. Whether one agrees or disagrees with that, it is not a scientific statement but a metaphysical claim about reality and identity that is acutely relevant to the medical profession. In medicine, the significance and status of the body have formative importance for the central assumptions of the discipline. Therefore, a person’s beliefs on this point are directly related to his or her competence in the field. A doctor who is gay or lesbian is not necessarily committed to such a metaphysical principle. But a trans doctor is by definition. That is one reason why Levine was unable to answer Paul’s questions and one reason why pastors who really do not understand the issue should hesitate to opine upon it.
Because of the administration’s transgender policies, some girls will be subject to voyeurism and assault in the very place where they should be guaranteed privacy and safety. Some female prisoners will be raped by men pretending to be women in a place where the state has confined them. Tragedies will flow from this. Of that there can be no doubt. And I truly hope that the victims do not simply seek justice in the criminal courts against the immediate perpetrators. I hope they will also sue the people who pushed these policies: the ideologues who knew exactly what they were doing; the doctors and insurance companies who implemented and financed this cultural Ponzi scheme; and maybe even the tomfools who, like the liberals of Verkhovensky’s revolutionary strategy in Dostoevsky’s Demons, enabled the whole shambles through their fear of seeming insufficiently liberal to their friends, neighbors, and Twitter followers.
It is quite clear that the safety and well-being of children and women means nothing to these people. And so only when it starts costing them their money, their reputations, and their sense of security, will we see any major change of direction in the culture as a whole. Only then will teenage girls be able to go back to school without fear of being violated. Or, indeed, of being dehydrated.
Carl R. Trueman