Can boys play with Barbie dolls? Can girls play with Tonka trucks? I think so. But if they do, are they still boys? Are they still girls? Of course. What if they identify as the opposite gender? How do we deal with these issues?

As millennials begin their ascent into parenthood, this question may face many of us. The question is this: how do we deal with a person who identifies as a gender other than the gender nature assigned to them? Like most major societal issues, the answer is dictated largely by how we frame the issue.

In the case of abortion, one camp maintains that abortion is about a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body.

The other camp maintains that the issue of abortion is about the right of a woman to kill a baby. Physician-assisted suicide is much the same. Is it the right to die? Or is it the right to kill yourself? Once the question is framed, the answer manifests accordingly.

The answer depends on the question

There are two potential questions and it is up to us to figure out which question to ask. One potential option is: should we allow Society to force a person who does not feel at home in their own body to be unhappy living a lie?

The other option is: Should society be forced to engage in a person’s delusion that they are a member of the opposite sex or no sex at all? As with abortion, physician assisted suicide, and most other major issues, the issue is not what answer at which to arrive, but what question to ask.

These two questions provide two alternatives for how society should treat a person who identifies as a sex other than the one they were born into. We will label these options as: 1) fix society or 2) fix the person.

The first option: Fix society

This option has largely been adopted by society. It calls for society to alter how we understand gender norms.

Examples of this include: doctors performing double mastectomies on perfectly healthy women, society increasingly shying away from normal gender roles and labeling gender as non-binary, and gender neutral bathrooms. Of course, the list goes on and on.

This approach could be categorized as a compassionate society approach wherein society accepts all people as they are, if you feel you are a woman, then you are a woman.

Who are we to tell you what you are? Even if you wish to not have a gender at all, society should recognize your personal decision and respect it. This approach has its benefits, after all, why should we be able to tell a person who they are? However, this approach is not without its drawbacks.

Fixing society may be overly accepting. While it is true that adults should be able to live their lives as they see fit, what if this theory of Gender Identity results in certifiably mentally ill people to go without treatment? In the past, fixing society has had its successes and failures. In the case of civil rights, society needed to be fixed (and still does, although huge strides have been made). However, in the case of prohibition, there was an attempt to fix society when society did not need to be fixed.

The second option: Fix the person

This school of thought stands for reality. You were born with a penis, therefore, you are a man. Under this theory, when a child identifies as the opposite gender, the proper course is psychological treatment.

Often times, gender dysphoria can be the result of a misconception of gender roles, cries for attention, mental disorders, or other factors involving the household in which the person was raised. There are other times when this theory has been applied: for instance, when a person has a mental illness, such as thinking they are a werewolf. In this case, we do not force all other members of society to pretend that the person is, in fact, a werewolf.

A person believing they are a werewolf is subjected to psychological treatment, regardless of your school of thought.

However, this theory also has its shortcomings. It is not sensitive to the fact that people really can freely choose to live as the opposite sex -- or whatever sex they may identify as -- as long as they are mentally sound. This theory takes a hardline in the name of science and leaves little room for empathy in regards to accepting people who identify as other genders and wish to lead their lives in such a manner.

The solution

The ultimate solution to this question is much more simple than many would have you believe. Too often in society do we allow politics to enter into serious questions and cloud our vision. If we can just take a step back and see that these two schools of thought are doing the same thing, just in a different manner, then we can come to a solution that will be best for everyone.

Essentially, each school of thought designates how we should show compassion. The “fix society” theory mandates that we show compassion by completely staying out of one’s personal decisions and allowing them to pursue happiness the way they see fit. Alternatively, the “fix the person” approach calls for showing compassion by providing a confused, misguided, or mentally ill person with the treatment they need to find happiness. Given that both schools of thought rely on showing compassion to allow a person to pursue happiness, we need to understand that happiness differs from person to person.

Thus, when a person identifies as another gender, we should not make bold sweeping claims, such as these schools of thoughts too often do.

One theory says “leave them alone, they are what they say they are” while the other says “they clearly need treatment, we need to get them help and straighten them out.” Instead, when a person begins to identify as the other gender, we should make sure that they are mentally stable, only then can they achieve true happiness.

Once found mentally competent, then by all means, we should allow them to identify as the opposite sex. This is America and being able to identify as the opposite sex seems to be more accurately defined as personal autonomy, that is at the heart of Supreme Court decisions regarding individual rights. Thus, the solution is a two-step process: 1) Make sure the person doesn’t need to be fixed, if not 2) fix society.

As a final consideration, I think the answer to the question first posed in this article answers itself when applying this framework. When a male child identifies as a girl or vice versa, we should rule out the possibility of mental illness or incapacity. Considering 18 is the age at which people are considered adults, only after their 18th birthday should we attempt to fix society.

The answer does not lie in forcing young children into treatment and alternatively, the answer does not lie in encouraging a boy to identify as a girl by using hormone blockers and insisting that everyone refer to him as a girl. The answer is to wait until maturity in order to ensure that it is not just a phase, a ploy for attention, or a mental disorder, then, if they still feel as though they are living in the wrong body, then society should recognize them as the opposite sex.

This approach cultivates happiness. A person that is mentally unstable will not find happiness by everyone indulging in their delusions, likewise, a person who is mentally stable will not find happiness if we do not acknowledge how they feel and how they wish to live their lives. Whether we should fix the person or fix society hinges on what the best way is to allow all people in society to pursue true happiness. This hybrid approach seems like common sense largely because it is just that, however, common sense rarely wins.