A Crisis of Meaning
Updated: Apr 16
When I think back to what gender dysphoria (GD) felt like as a kid, I remember it mostly as confusing and isolating. It made no sense. I had no words to explain it to anyone. I felt deeply ashamed and flawed. I call this a crisis of meaning – an experience with no way of making sense of it. Trauma can be explained that way as well. We are very resilient to difficult experiences if we can make sense of them. A lack of meaning creates great distress. Our minds need narratives.
When a person is in a crisis of meaning, that person is highly vulnerable. Desperate for meaning, we will latch on to any narrative that we can dream up or that’s given to us. A gender expert – the evening news – a well curated testimonial on YouTube – a school teacher – these are highly influential sources of information. When they offer a narrative to a person who’s in the throes of a crisis of meaning, that person will grab a hold of it for dear life. They will defend that narrative by extreme means, because to lose that narrative feels like death.
Our current trans narrative comes from queer theory, originating in academia in the early 1990s. GD must have existed long before that but how we understand it has changed along the way. Who were these “trans people” 100 years ago, before hormone therapy and surgery were options? The modern narrative would have us believe they all killed themselves. Anthropological sources suggest otherwise.
Since “trans” is a modern concept, we can’t revise history to identify historical “trans” people, but we can find evidence of historical gender non-conformity. In Biblical times, “eunichs” were employed as royal servants. There were “eunichs by birth and eunichs by choice” and, while we don’t know exactly who they were, we do know they were a sex designation set apart from men and women. In pre-colonial North America, some indigenous peoples included the few gender non-conforming people into the daily life of the community, giving them responsibilities such as looking after orphaned children. The butch-femme lesbian subculture is where many women with GD were able to express their innate masculinities and adopt male social roles. In my hometown, a small farming community, there was a well-known pair of women who were so masculine everyone interacted with them as men. The 4H horse club I was in as a kid was held at their house. They were known as good people.
So, why am I so concerned about our current trans narrative? Because it's a conceptual departure from biological reality, for which there are harmful costs.
The psychological cost of these queer-trans ideologies may not be observed by young people high on the gender affirmation they receive and the promises in front of them. But reality will always find a way to confront us. It’s a game of whack-a-mole:
Knock knock! Wrong pronoun.
Knock knock! Period cramps.
Knock knock! Adam’s apple.
We take the hormones and wait…
I don’t feel better yet. Maybe I’ll feel better if I up my dose.
I don’t feel whole. Maybe I’ll feel whole once I get chest surgery.
I still don’t feel whole. I guess I need genital surgery.
Hurry hurry hurry! I need to feel better.
Knock knock! Years later. A less than perfect surgical outcome. Or worse.
Knock knock! If I get a heart attack, will I have male pattern warning signs or female warning signs?
IT NEVER ENDS.
It’s exhausting and requires constant management. It requires compartmentalization of self, dissociation from our bodies and imposter syndrome. It requires that everyone else plays along perfectly. It divides us from our families and communities. It makes socialization painful and awkward. It imposes perpetual victim mentality and suspiciousness. It has significant healthcare implications, if we can’t face our biology enough to get a pap smear or prostate exam. Hormones and surgeries are hard on our bodies. Some of the surgeries, such as phalloplasty, have high complication rates.
Medical transitioning does help some people. This option needs to be protected, as a last resort, not first-line treatment, for those who need it. But, whether someone transitions or not, they will need to confront and finally accept reality at some point if they want the suffering to end. Social realities. Physical realities. Financial realities. Functional realities. We will not become whole until we face those. For me, it happened when I finally reached the end of all that medicine can do for me, 12 years of medical treatment later. Though, not for the reasons I expected. It wasn’t because I finally reached my goal of complete maleness. It happened because there’s nothing more that can be done so I’ve chosen to accept my reality for what it is. I wish I’d accepted it 20 years ago. I wish kids today were guided by more sane adults to get here – ideally before changing their bodies, if possible - rather than colluding with the trans narrative that keeps people in dissociation. That’s a heavy burden for someone to carry for the rest of their lives.
While I’m highly invested in the civil rights of trans-identified and gender non-conforming people, and do not wish to slide backwards in that effort, it’s clear to me, and a growing number of people, that the current ideological framing of transgender identities is harming the very people it’s claiming to lift up. It feels like a new kind of oppression, as any overly dogmatic movement will do. These concerns aren’t new. People have just been silenced by the most extreme trans activists. People are afraid of losing friends, community, services and jobs.
There are also societal costs: the shrinking LGB community; Gender clinics that can’t keep up with the growing demand; Women who feel as though misogyny has come back full force. Children being taught that boyhood and girlhood don’t really exist, and persuaded that they’re “trans” if they’re different in some way; Intersex people feeling as though their unique biological conditions are being appropriated and distorted; People regretting transitions more and more…all because so many of us soothed our crisis of meaning with a Queer Theory-based understanding of ourselves.
Perhaps it would be useful to point out what scholars, both liberal and conservative, are now saying about Critical Theory, having lived with its trajectory for 30 years. Dr James Lindsay calls it a “Trojan horse” because, on the surface, it appears to hold promise for those who seek social justice. Once inside the city gates however, it slowly releases an army that begins to attack the civilians. Social justice movements which have adopted critical theory as its basis have several key things in common:
An emphasis on groups, rather than individuals. All relationships are based on perceptions of being either the oppressed group, or the oppressor group.
They have very rigid, detailed sets of rules which, if broken, even by a member of the oppressed group, they are considered bigots or traitors.
Unlike social justice movements of the past, the goal isn’t a reconciliation between the perceived oppressed and oppressor. The goal is a complete dismantling of social systems with an unclear end point in mind. If you don’t do what they want, you’re a bigot. If you do what they want, you have ulterior motives.
There’s a knowledge hierarchy. Oppressed people have superior knowledge and therefore isn’t up for debate.
It rejects science and other established systems, because they’re just tools of the oppressor. This makes any objectivity or rational problem solving subservient to storytelling and “lived experience”. In Queer Theory, even the physical body as an objective truth is suspect. The denial of science and objective reality has chilling implications for the healthcare system.
This trajectory eventually leads to greater extremes, divisiveness and paranoia
This kind of social justice is significantly different from movements of the past. Take for example the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. When he declared in 1963:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.
Note his emphasis on the individual. He imagined a world in which, rather than being judged as a group of people with skin of a certain colour, people are judged by their individual character. This is a social contract based on the equality and responsibility of each person for the mutual benefit of society.
Radical trans activism isn’t interested in negotiating social contracts in which people with GD have social responsibilities. They seem solely interested in forcing themselves into spaces they feel entitled into. Take for example the heterosexual biological men with autogynephilia who are using the trans card to join lesbian-only dating sites and intimidate women who don’t want to date them. Involving non-consenting people in a sexual fetish is a form of sexual harassment. It is abhorrent behavior that needs to stop. It hurts women, and it hurts trans-identified people who are trying to live respectfully in community. We join them in a loud “NO!”
Facing reality can be a painful process, but it’s a healing one. It’s not easy to have a condition – whether a medical or a mental health condition. But, the assertion of GD Alliance Canada is that it’s our responsibility to live in truth. We support each other in this mission of love and respect, and invite others to join us. This is the new way forward for those with GD.