In the modern-day struggle for expanded civil rights and better minority representation, the traditional race, class, and gender narratives have evolved into something different. As modern inequalities persist despite past progress, and as social taboos create obstacles for certain identities and lifestyles to be accepted, the campaign for anti-discrimination laws, political correctness, and acceptance of differences has become more progressive in its thought.

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From shifting focus from equality to equity, to advocating for reformations in voting policies, the American left has based its platform on convincing voters that they are the ones who will bring about necessary change.

A difficult fight ahead

This agenda has found limited success, however, when it comes to promoting acceptance of transgender individuals. Even though people who identify as transgender are more likely to be victims of violent crime, suicide, and mental illness, the political environment has not favored more recognition, let alone action to deal with these struggles.

Protest Trans Military Ban, White House, Washington, DC USA - Ted Eytan via Wikimedia
Protest Trans Military Ban, White House, Washington, DC USA - Ted Eytan via Wikimedia

The American left has fought hard, but it seems this is a losing issue for them. Oddly enough, however, it does not have to be.

The focus on forcing acceptance of the transgender narrative and the associated position of there being more than two genders have dominated the discussion and defined the movement. This has made it difficult to convince those who don’t agree with the lifestyle to support certain liberties and exercises thereof. To make true progress on the transgender issue, society requires a liberal agenda that is able to understand and respond to conservative concerns.

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In other words, the justification for expanded Transgender Rights and protections cannot be found in identity politics, but rather, in the 1st amendment.

Logical and philosophical concerns with the transgender narrative

Before going further, it is important to nail down what exactly this “transgender narrative” is. While people are bound to have their own ideas about such a broad and subjectively defined topic, for the purposes of this article it will refer to the idea that gender is (or at least can be under some circumstances), different from sex.

It covers the notions that a person can change genders, that there can be more genders than there are sexes, and that sex and gender can be different. This definition may or may not fit everyone’s perception about what transgender is, but it gives a rough and objective idea of what we are talking about and how it is different from the norm.

The left has relied on the idea that a “transgender” identity, or identities fitting genders other than male and female, are themselves identities in much the same way that sexual orientation, race, color, ethnicity, or other things may be.

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Hence LGBTQIA+. Discussions over People Of Color are often linked with those over transgender rights. Indeed, transgender people of color are in fact the most at risk of hate crimes and other injustices than transgender whites.

But an important distinction needs to be made between transgender identities, and the things they are often compared to. That is, that they are much more poorly defined. Even the most die-hard advocate for these beliefs should acknowledge that there are counterarguments to, and logical problems with, the perceptions of transgender identities that do not exist for other identities.

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Things like race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation have long been concrete and easily observable measures of identity. Though there is a strong case to be made that race is a social construct, the fact of the matter is we still look different. Those differences are clearly linked to our genetic makeup.

The same goes for sexual orientation. A gay man is attracted to men, a straight man is attracted to women, and these things depend on internal genetic factors over which a person has no control. People are born gay, straight, or bisexual, just like they are born black or white, brown or blue eyes, blonde or dark hair. Obviously, these are all different things, but they share the common characteristic of being determined by genetics. Genetic factors create unalterable changes to the human person that plays a part in constructing their identity.

With transgender identities, however, this isn’t the case. While many believe it is and there are arguments backing up that perspective, it isn’t quite as undisputed when breaking down the logic used to form those conclusions. There are still valid philosophical questions over whether transgender identity really is more than a personality characteristic, popular trend, or even a mental disorder as was once suggested.

Contradictions and negative externalities, debating the logic of transgender

For one, the acceptance of transgender identity depends heavily on gender stereotypes to justify its existence. While the left often despises gender stereotypes, this is not the case when it comes to talking about transgender identity. If a man dresses up as and acts like a woman, but nonetheless is obviously male, then the only logical basis upon which the female identity could be constructed for him is that a man cannot have certain characteristics, and that people must conform to certain social norms and stereotypes to be male or female.

This is further complicated by the fact that different cultures and subcultures may have different perceptions about what “male” or “female” characteristics really are, let alone the definition of things like “two spirit”, “bigender”, “MTF”, “Neutrois”, and other positions on the gender “spectrum”

Transgender advocates will counter criticisms by reminding us that there is a distinction between gender and sex. But this presents its own problems. Mainly that there is not a compelling definition of gender that is distinct from personality type and sex simultaneously. If gender is a matter of how one feels, what one likes, how one talks, dresses, and behaves, then it becomes indistinguishable from things normally accepted as personality characteristics such as liking chocolate cake, thinking red cars look cool, or enjoying bowling. If, on the other hand, gender is distinct from those and itself an identity, then the fact that it is determined based on roles of biological sexes makes it inseparable from them.

In layman’s terms, one of the logical problems facing the idea of transgender as an identity is, where does one draw the line between identifying as something and being something?

Thomas Nagel once presented an analogy in his paper “What it is Like to Be a Bat,” that even if a person imagined what it would be like to be a bat, that a person would still not have the subjective experience of a bat. This is because a bat’s perspective and consciousness are different than that of a human due to its biology. Similarly, when applying such an analogy to this circumstance, one may dress up as a bat and identify as a bat, and even find a way to use echolocation, but nonetheless be a person in a bat costume. Batman is not a movie about a bat, he is a superhero dressed as one. This is arguably the case with a man dressing up as a woman or vice versa because they “identify” as one.

Of course, as technology changes, we may reach the point where a sex change becomes indistinguishable from being born that way. If that is the case, then one could change identities. But such a threshold would suggest sex and gender as being intertwined.

The other problem is that LGBTQIA+ being linked together is a sort of contradiction because gay and lesbian identity is based on opposing logical premises to transgender. Both are supported by medical evidence suggesting the brain can be of a different gender than the body due to hormone surges, but the former is based on the perception that identity is concrete and dependent on birth, while the other is based on the opposing premise that identity is fluid, easily changed, and not dependent of physiological or cultural characteristics.

Overall, the transgender issue is one that has caused a lot of people to become alienated. Some feel that the narrative is forced upon them and that a new arguably made up phenomena is being given equivalency with things like race, groups who faced struggles that make being transgender in America today seem trivial (i.e. slavery)

Transgender advocates might be on shaky philosophical ground, but this is not so politically

Given, there are two sides to every story. Transgender is a controversial issue for a reason, and this isn’t to say that we should never listen to pro-transgender ideas. Rather, it means that the idea is not defined to a sufficient extent as to create a universal understanding of fact. But this is not unheard of, in fact, we deal with it all of the time in politics, particularly with theories of international relations, religion, and spirituality, as well as systems of government. In these areas, there may not be an objective and universal understanding of fact vs falsehood due to the ambiguity surrounding such issues and associated concepts as well as limitations of current human knowledge. Nonetheless, we are able to protect people in these areas from discrimination.

Transgender people might not have an identity that all consider valid, but they do have the same rights as the rest of is in the sense there is a right to be safe, treated equally by the law, not be denied certain rights like freedom of religion, speech, voting etc.

Essentially, it is freedom of expression, when another person chooses the identity as transgender. They live a lifestyle based on held beliefs about truth and identity and convey those ideas through how they live their life and what they consider themselves. We have to accept the free exercise of this liberty

The hard part will be adopting this mindset

The challenge that the left must overcome to strike this balance, however, is one of understanding. Developing narratives and policies that are effective in advancing goals associated with the transgender debate require an ability to accept distinctions between the philosophical and the political. It must be understood that the philosophical ambiguity is what makes the need for freedom and tolerance so urgent.

But this won’t be easy because it runs against prevailing assumptions, particularly common on the far left, notably the notion that transgender status as an identity is infallible and that a right to censor or stigmatize those who criticize it is granted. It is an idea, plain and simple, and protections on ideas work both ways. Similar to how a Christian may not believe in the teachings of Islam, but nonetheless cannot physically attack a Muslim for their beliefs, a person may criticize the idea of transgender or accuse transgender people of being delusional but would be committing an act of hate if they caused tangible harm through their actions.

The main challenge of which this is a significant part, is the ability to tolerate all forms of Diversity, including diversity of opinion. Ultimately, this may result in allowing some politically inconvenient policies, like sex-specific dress codes or a less strict interpretation of what discrimination against transgender people means. For transgender people to have the full right to dissent, they must accept that for other members of society that don’t share their views.

Transgender rights need to be protected, but the basis for such protections is found in the 1st amendment, not in their own narratives. Unless/until the philosophical aspect of this debate is settled in their favor, its inclusion as part of identity politics is only one side of the story. You may strongly agree with it, but progress is going to require arguments that are able to convince the other side.

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