Radical feminists and conservative intellectuals make odd bedfellows, and you wouldn't expect to find them in bed at The Heritage Foundation. But these are odd times. They're united in support of the untrendy idea that biology, not "cultural identity," defines sex.
"When Sally Became Harry" is a witty title for a book, and it sounds more like a comic novel than serious nonfiction. But it's written in scholarly prose that's thought-provoking and controversial, and finds a surprising group of defenders. An old commonplace becomes new again.
Ryan T. Anderson, the author, a Princeton graduate with a Ph.D. from Notre Dame, hosted a symposium the other day at Heritage, providing a rare audience for the feminist activists who joined him there. They were eager to discuss what they oppose in "gender identity" as well as the way the very definition creates inequality in the proposed Equality Act. The latest legislative attempt to expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes "gender identity."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says this legislation is one of her priorities in the new Democratic-majority House of Representatives. The Equality Act had 201 co-sponsors in the last Congress, but it requires careful reading to reveal problems not always obvious -- and perhaps not as feminist, not as gay and not as fair as first perceived.
It's condescendingly trendy to ascribe bigotry to anyone who questions the authenticity of "gender identity" as a guide to human behavior. That's unfortunate, because "gender identity" is a glib, simplistic, superficial delineation of the human sexual nature. Before "gender identity" becomes public policy (if it does), it's necessary to inquire into the physical and psychological wellbeing of men and women who have undergone sex reassignment surgery. What the term actually means is crucial.
Considering its impact in the broader world is a good idea, too. How, for example, will "gender identity" in high school sports affect wrestling, track and swimming competitions, which give an obvious advantage to a trans girl? The restructured body, though in some respects feminized, is still largely a male body.
The origin of the Heritage discussion came about when a "progressive" mother could find no liberal organization willing to provide a forum for discussing her concerns over a daughter who identified as a boy and wanted to transition to the opposite sex. At Heritage she found not only the discussion she sought but also an expanded one on the "inequality" of making "gender identity" a civil right.
"The Equality Act, which sounds all well and good, is an unmitigated disaster for women and girls," says Kara Dansky, according to The Daily Signal. Dansky is a lawyer and board member of the Women's Liberation Front, a self-described radical feminist activist organization.
"We need to respect the dignity of people who identify as transgender," Anderson writes in his book, "but without encouraging children to undergo experimental transition treatments, and without trampling on the needs and interests of others." Skeptics of the "gender identity" approach to sex have objections that must be required listening for those considering hormone therapy to be followed by surgery, which is irreversible.
Science, despite LGBTQ advocacy, is not as clear on the subject as the sympathetic media suggests. What is clear is that attitudes toward gender tilt not only toward adults who want to change their sex but also toward children and adolescents who are easily intimidated by what they read and watch.
Feelings can be a dangerous and misleading guide, especially when reinforced by powerful cultural attitudes. Statistics vary, but many girls outgrow their tomboy ways, and boys their feminine leanings. Suicide rates are high among those who have made the transition.
Outspoken radical feminists who oppose the Equality Act are an anathema to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ lobby campaigning for the Act. Andrew Sullivan, a leading gay intellectual writing in New York magazine, says the point of view of dissenting feminists requires a broader audience beyond the gay community because their dissent contains a "seed of truth" that deserves attention from both homosexual and heterosexual audiences. From such seeds important questions grow.
Questions that must be asked include those about "gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms and characteristics, regardless of the designations of sex at birth," according to the act. What the radical feminists are arguing against, according to Sullivan, is that the Equality Act not only erases the biological distinction between men and women but also replaces it with stereotypes to which the trans must conform. "It's no accident," he says, "that some of the most homophobic societies, like Iran, for example, are big proponents of sex-reassignment surgery for gender-nonconforming kids and adults (the government even pays for it) while being homosexual warrants the death penalty."
Common sense warns against legislating a definition of "gender identity" and punishing those who question it. Both Harry and Sally deserve that much.
Write to Suzanne Fields at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's "Paradise Lost."