At its May 2013 meeting in San Francisco, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Among changes from the previous edition is the renaming of what was formerly termed “gender identity disorder.” (The American Medical Association uses the term “gender disorder,” classifying it as a “serious medical condition.”) The new APA label, “gender dysphoria,” removes the pejorative suggestion of “disorder,” and thus pleases the transsexual activists who campaigned for years to get the word expunged and believe, presumably, that the new term is “less pathologizing.” Incidentally, Dys– has the same etymology as dis– (“bad,” “abnormal”), but phoria, from Greek pherein, “bear,” suggests malaise. The altered terminology is a result of intense propaganda efforts by outspoken partisans, which are in turn expressions of changed attitudes toward bodies and sexuality—especially the sexualizing of behavior at an early age—and the drive to legitimize these changes and expand their scope. Among the campaigners was WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. As one observer noted, transgenderism has replaced homosexuality as the newest civil-rights frontier.
Among the worst phenomena is the promotion of “gender” changes in children, including very young ones. It will be noted that “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are routinely dissociated by many clinicians and other enthusiasts, with the result that what were formerly understood by all as basic categories become slippery, and discourse about them, difficult. These terms and other new phrasings obscure meaning and facilitate social androgyny. The trend is a late offshoot of radical feminism and its war against families and their authority—that is, what Simone de Beauvoir called “children’s liberation.” As Shulamith Firestone wrote in The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970), “Feminists have to question, not just all of Western culture, but the organization of culture itself, and, further, even the very organization of nature.” Beyond the elimination of what she called “male privilege,” she wished for the sex distinction itself to be eliminated: “genital difference between human beings would no longer matter culturally.”
A documented case is that of Jazz, a boy who “transitioned” as a small child and, with girl accouterments and dress, was interviewed by Barbara Walters on 20/20 at age 5 and again at age 12. The child appeared also on 60 Minutes and was the subject of a documentary that aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. A YouTube clip on “her” has been viewed, it is said, more than a million times. Adding an hilarious note to the appalling story, one site identifies the “tween” as “possibly the next Dalai Lama.”
The interventions for children are of four varieties. First, there is “social transitioning,” possible at an early age. Dress, toys, play, changed pronouns, and participation in activities for the other sex (often on a sports team—with ACLU assistance, of course) can mark the alteration. It remains reversible, in theory. Whether reversal can be carried out in practice, and at what cost to the person’s psyche, cannot be assessed yet. Early intervention has its fans. According to a video from a series Not Trans Enough, transgendered people frequently express regret that they did not transition socially as toddlers and went through puberty in the wrong sex.
Next is hormone therapy, called “puberty blockers.” It was first applied to children in Boston in 2009 and has become widespread. There is disagreement on the application, though WPATH has guidelines. Walter J. Meyer III, a psychiatrist and endocrinologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, observes that not all children who exhibit variances from normal gender behavior are candidates for intervention. They may not be “transgender”; they may be trying out roles, as one mother put it, roles that they will abandon. Other specialists have expressed concern about the unknown long-term effects of hormone therapy on very young people.
Third is upper-body intervention, externally by means of breast binders or, more radically, by surgery, of two sorts (one leaves no scars). Readers of Chronicles will not want to linger over the details, still less over the fourth means of intervention, lower-body redesign for both sexes. WPATH recommends that the latter not be performed on patients younger than 18, whereas upper-body sex-reassignment surgery may be done earlier. One plastic surgeon spoke of her persistent refusal to operate on minors despite parents’ pleas, but other “gender confirmation surgeons” have fewer qualms, and some activists are campaigning for a loosening of the WPATH guidelines. To these means of intervention is added voice therapy, as called for by the condition and age of the patient.
We pay, collectively, for these very costly procedures, financially as well as otherwise. Insurance reimburses many therapies. Among Fortune 500 corporations, 25 percent are insured by companies that pay for sex-change operations; children must be among the insurable on family plans. As of last count, with the addition of Yale University, 37 colleges have arranged to cover such surgery for their students as well as employees, thanks to the pressures of RAGE, the Radical Alliance for Gender Equity.
While the total number of such modifications for children is not reported, it is known that they are carried out widely. How can this be? Public-school counselors (who encourage “individualism” and are often antifamily), teachers, social workers, psychologists and other therapists, medical personnel, members of self-help groups and associations, and other meddlers may present “options” to suggestible youth (“Would you like to . . . ”) and thus be active abettors. The TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation was set up as a resource, and gatherings such as the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference doubtless exercise influence. Alternative schools exist, and others are promoted as “safe and caring,” in the words of one Canadian support organization. As the YouTube figure indicates, the internet and “social media,” to which children generally have unlimited access, are a rich source of encouragement and models. The prestige attached to rebellion leads to aping of other youthful rebels (ironically, a conformist behavior). Television programmers who feature and glamorize young “trans” children bear responsibility, as do viewers, with their complacency and appetite for the outrageous.
Most enabling and most abusive are parents, without whom gender-altering measures could not be taken, obviously; out of caution, even the most radical, lucre-mad, or publicity-seeking endocrinologists and surgeons would not treat children otherwise. Apparently, permissiveness comes easily in families that are disturbed and those where childrearing is conceived as “empowerment.” We are to “affirm” children, let them be what they want to be. (A man reported at a conference that at age two his son was “teaching us” “how he wanted to be in the world,” and added that he hoped he was not holding him back at age three.) Many parents, of liberal views or weak, apparently do not dare counter their children’s inclinations, however capricious or ill advised, when endorsed by specialists. (Your authority may not be any good, but that of sociologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and other purported experts is.) These adults, opposed to traditional parental status and roles, teach children to call adults by their given names, challenge what they are told, assert their “rights” (no duties), “think for themselves.” The Department of Health and Human Services did concede in a pertinent memo that it is difficult for adolescents to “think critically” and that they are often impulsive. While this official acknowledgment encourages society to tolerate dependency and long-postponed adulthood, and also favors jurisprudence that would treat as juveniles those well past adolescence, it may not do much against the trend toward measures of sex modification taken earlier and earlier.
This is Rousseau all over again. “Power to the children!” Parents have, in effect, abdicated responsibility. That they themselves were brought up in an age of permissiveness and have been subject to liberal brainwashing on a huge scale should not relieve them of the charges of child abuse. (One outspoken parent of a “trans” child studied literary theory in graduate school.) Afraid of countering trends, “offending” the “differently abled,” and interfering in children’s psychic development and freedom, they help them take extraordinary steps with long-term physical and social consequences. As the 19th-century literary critic Sainte-Beuve could attest if he returned, to live in an abnormally fashioned body is a burden.
In essence, the lunacy just sketched fulfills the vision of Soviet-style social engineers who wish for parents to hand over to social organisms the functions of childrearing; one currently preaching that children “belong to the community” is Melissa Harris-Perry, a host on MSNBC and, I regret to say, a faculty member in political science at my former institution. The abettors of sex changes in children constitute a new class of criminals, whose depredations, made possible by medical techniques, are underpinned by radical social attitudes that have been successfully imposed by strident, aggressive holders of power. To lead a child astray is a terrible deed. A millstone around one’s neck, we are told, would be better.