One of the standard techniques in political propaganda, left and right, is to present ideas or events as discrete units, to be taken in isolation and detached from any larger historical or philosophical narrative. This technique is useful for relativizing the significance of scandals. Thus, to the faithful left, Clinton’s emails are a minor aberration—as are Trump’s comments about women, to the faithful right. On a more sinister level, this technique is also a means of bringing about huge social change by making every hill seem so small that none can be worth dying on. Thus, for example, transgender bathroom policy is about nothing more than, well, who uses which bathroom (and people like Rod Dreher are therefore just reactionary cranks).
But transgenderism is not about who uses which loo. That question is the trivial point of a very long and sharp spear, useful for belittling the concerns of those who believe that there is a profound connection between biology and gender. Transgenderism is set to change everything—our understanding of sex, of identity, of relationships, of the significance of the body. And it does this because it demands a revised metaphysics of personhood, a project with profound and comprehensive social and political implications. School bathroom policy is a good example: It has already prioritized government rights over those of parents. There’s the rub.
Another example is provided by a document buried deep on The Department of Defense’s website, Transgender Service in the U.S. Military: An Implementation Handbook. Psychological Man (and Woman, and Gender Non-Conforming), Uncle Sam needs you!
The handbook opens with the axiomatic distinction between biological sex and gender (page 9). I say “axiomatic” because the handbook presents the distinction as inarguable, reflecting the current political climate in which to have a dissenting opinion on this point, or even to ask for some form of justification of the axiom, is outlawed, on both intellectual and moral grounds.
In fact, the distinction rests upon a highly questionable concatenation of social theories, political postures, logical fallacies, and psychological assumptions, and a comprehensive rejection of historical social practices. For example, that male and female roles do look different in different societies does not logically entail that there is no connection between biology and the range of socially constructed gender roles different societies represent. Indeed, the preponderance of historical evidence points to precisely the opposite conclusion.
The document makes interesting reading. It indicates just how contorted the military’s rules and regulations have become in order to deny the reality that men and women are biologically different in a way that determines their suitability for certain tasks.
For example, take the hypothetical case of Lieutenant Marty (pp. 50-51):
Lieutenant Marty changed his gender marker in the Service personnel data system from female to male after completing an approved transition plan. Lieutenant Marty has not had sex reassignment surgery as part of the transition plan and is working with his MMP on a plan to start a family. Lieutenant Marty approached his commanding officer a few weeks ago and mentioned he was pregnant.
The document gives advice to Marty and to the Commanding Officer. The strangest instruction is surely this:
Even though Lieutenant Marty has maintained female anatomy, he must be screened for pregnancy prior to deployment. If Lieutenant Marty became pregnant on deployment he will be transferred in accordance with Service policy.
Notice that: Even though Lieutenant Marty has maintained female anatomy, he should be screened for pregnancy before being deployed. Perhaps it is a typo, but as it stands—in an official government document—it is simply bizarre: “O.K., (s)he is still really a woman, but (s)he might actually be pregnant as (s)he claims.” Setting that aside, here’s the thing: If we are ultimately to make no distinction between genders, then the Kantian imperatives of our contemporary political culture mean that we must ultimately start screening all soldiers (male and female) for pregnancy, for to require only those with female anatomy to undergo such would seem to me to be a sign of cissexism, transphobia, etc., etc., etc.
You say it will never happen? But this logic has already prevailed in other areas. My son had to be screened for sickle cell anemia when he ran track at college, even though it was patently obvious that he was not in any remote danger of having it. Why then did he have to have the test? Because, as his coach told him, it would be racist to require the test only from those who might actually have the disease. I still remember the comment the doctor appended to the results: “The requirement for this test is a ridiculous waste of finite medical resources for which his college should take full moral responsibility.” When it comes to the politics of identity, biology already takes a back seat to the aesthetics of the day.
I have written on transgenderism before and received the response that, as it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg, it should not be a concern to me. But I am concerned. Transgenderism rests upon a metaphysics of personhood that will attempt to rewrite all of social reality as we know it (case in point: the Department of Defense’s Handbook). It represents the apotheosis of Philip Rieff's Psychological Man. We have now become whoever and whatever we happen to think we are, and the world needs to be remade in a manner that plays to our fantasies.
Oh, and while we're at it, it does actually pick my pocket, in that the convoluted government policies and their implementation are funded by my tax dollars. And while it may not directly break my leg, the bizarre culture of counterintuitive rules and convoluted, asinine procedures it has inspired looks likely to hinder the efficient performance of those who are paid to protect my leg from being broken by others.
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.