Thankfully, there is an alternative to gender ideology’s discordant dualism. When gendered embodiment is treasured, maleness and femaleness are understood not as acts we perform, but as our very bodily essence. Being a man or a woman is not simply what one does, it is who one is. This releases men and women from unhealthy and unrealistic gender stereotypes, past or present.
Much of the recent noise surrounding transgenderism comes from debates over who gets to use which bathroom or don the ladies’ uniform. In a certain sense, this focus on sports and restrooms is important and understandable, since biology matters in both instances, and both are actionable on the policy level. But defending fairness on the field or privacy in the bathroom makes easy target practice for progressives, who shoot down such arguments as the last stand of backward bigots. Are there really hundreds of males lining up to transition just to get a competitive edge in sports? Is casting transpeople as Peeping Toms accurate or conducive to fruitful dialogue?
Saving bathrooms and athletics won’t accomplish much in the long run if what it means to be embodied beings as male and female has already been forgotten. Unfortunately, gaining a hearing on these more fundamental questions of embodiment and purpose is nearly impossible in the contemporary political and media realms. That makes it even more important for individuals, families, and communities of faith to embrace, treasure, and live in the messy, yet wonderful, reality of being male and female.
It’s also essential to know the why behind such beliefs and practices. We should be ready to counter the frequent claim that traditional ideas can only be attributed to irrational bias against those who identify as LGBT. If the opportunity for meaningful dialogue beyond bathrooms and sports policy actually materializes, we should make sure that we can offer compelling answers as to what our bodies are actually for.
Transgender controversies usually end in a stalemate, with progressives and conservatives stuck in a war of wills over individual rights. Progressives prioritize the therapeutic rights of personal self-expression in their attempt to avoid dignitary harm and implement “gender-affirming” care. Conservatives, on the other hand, prioritize the legal rights of biologically male and female majorities in sex-specific spaces and the religious rights of those who conscientiously object to gender ideology. This conservative position can easily seem unloving toward transgender individuals, portraying transgender people as others. Furthermore, the focus on “my rights” over “their rights” lends credence to the animus concept central to the Supreme Court’s rulings on LGBT issues since at least Romer v. Evans in 1996.
Consider Senator Dick Durbin’s closing remarks in the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act. Downplaying concerns about bathrooms and women’s sports, Durbin stated, “We are waiting for this avalanche of problems . . . but they haven’t really surfaced.” Presenting claims of “religious liberty” as a cover for discrimination, Durbin concluded,
I do believe that people who want to blatantly discriminate and use religion as their weapon have gone too far. We have to have limits on what they can do. I might remind us in history that the Ku Klux Klan was not burning question marks. They were burning a cross. They were making some distorted connection with religion. And God forbid that anybody would buy that. We don’t need that in America, regardless of the time, regardless of the organization, wherever they come down on the political spectrum.
Durbin’s commentary demonstrates that focusing on bathrooms, sports, and religious liberty cedes too much ground. It simply reinforces the irrational animus claim that conservatives are trying to retain the right to be bigots. In this process, the crucial questions of what really constitutes human identity and design are sidestepped. Maybe the irrational animus claims stick because we haven’t clearly articulated the core issues with transgenderism, nor have we offered a convincing alternative.