I have a very friendly relationship with Austin Ruse irrespective of his religious views regarding LGBTQ people. While he will not compromise on Church teachings he is actually inquisitive and fair minded. I know; it is difficult to process. Mr. Ruse has authored a diatribe regarding pronouns titled: The Case of Trump v. Rainbow Mafia. I am a mere caporegime.

Ruse’s piece begins with attention to Katherine Nicole Jett (FKA Norman Varner) a prisoner in federal custody and not a very good person. Others have written eloquently about Jett’s request to have her conviction records updated to match her changed name. Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, a Trump appointee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, was out of line for mocking Jett. Tim Fitzsimons at NBC News explains the matter.

What caught my attention are these verses from Mr. Ruse:

The decision goes on to a point that applies not just to the courts but to you and me and all the children in ideologically-driven schools who insist on phony pronouns. “In cases like these, a court may have the most benign motives in honoring a party’s request to be addressed with pronouns matching his deeply felt inherent sense of gender. Yet, in doing so, the court may unintentionally convey its tacit approval of the litigant’s underlying legal position.”

This puts me in mind of the fix kids are put in when they are sometimes forced to use phony pronouns for some sparkly boy who now says he’s a girl. It’s forcing not only children but everyone around them to live a lie. It’s the government compelling speech—speech that we don’t agree with. This is most especially dangerous for children, who then internalize the lie.

The Catholic Church attempts to understand this issue better than one might think:

In this cultural context, it is clear that sex and gender are no longer synonyms or interchangeable concepts, since they are used to describe two
different realities. Sex is seen as defining which of the two biological
categories (deriving from the original feminine-masculine dyad) one belonged to. Gender, on the other hand, would be the way in which the
differences between the sexes are lived in each culture.

The realization that gender and sex are not synonymous is a very good start. The reality, however, is that gender has little to do with how the sexes are lived in varying cultures. Gender — or gender identity — is defined by a person’s perception of their sex. For 99.5% of us, gender is congruent with our natal sex. The remaining 0.5% of people have incongruent gender and natal sex (chromosomal sex). The medical literature on this phenomenon goes back well over 100 years.

In fact the first recipient of gender-affirming surgery was a prominent physician, Dr. Alan L. Hart (no relation). That was over 100 years ago.

Two things have occurred that have inflamed conservative Christian passions over transgender persons. The first of those is that people are transitioning at a much younger age than they were only a decade ago. Dr. Jack Turban, now with Harvard Medical School and an expert on juvenile gender dysphoria, offers a very succinct explanation:

[Ten years ago] The hope was that early treatment would “diminish the risk of a continuation of gender identity disorder into adulthood” — in other words, make children stop being transgender. Transgender youth during this time suffered high rates of depression and anxiety. By young adulthood, nearly half had attempted suicide.

Persistence of the condition correlates to its severity. Left free to explore their sexuality, most kids will grow out of gender dysphoria. Those whose condition is acute will find ways to transition, eventually demanding a full transition. Those children do not outgrow the condition. Their desistance rates are minuscule.

Earlier transitioning has not caused an increase in transgender people in total but an increase in trans youth. Transgender persons remain at about 0.5% of the population.

The second thing that happened is that, on May 13, 2016 the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued a joint press release: Guidance to Help Schools Ensure the Civil Rights of Transgender Students. It includes:

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status. The guidance makes clear that both federal agencies treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.

The religious right had a shitfit. Their tantrum has gone on now for nearly four years and there is no end in sight because the talking points are now part of the argument locution. Gender dysphoria will forever be labeled “gender confusion.” The American Academy of Pediatrics’ gender-affirming care model will forever be referred to as “gender ideology.” The  science will be called “gender theory.”

Circumstances created the lexicon. The lexicon creates further circumstances and so on.

I have spoken with parents of transgender children. Rarely do I get to talk to one of the kids. I can assure religious conservatives that trans youth are most certainly not confused. Nor are they pretending. Transgender children as young as 5 years old respond to psychological gender-association tests just as consistently as children who do not identify as trans.

Recent research confirms
that, among transgender children, their sense of gender identity is as strong as cisgender children.

Dr. Deanna Adkins, with Duke University School of Medicine, explains the differences in brain structure of people with gender dysphoria. (The Endocrine Society has also stated that there is, at least in part, a biological basis for gender dysphoria.) More importantly, Dr. Adkins explains the peril:

With the exception of some serious childhood cancers, gender dysphoria is the most fatal condition that I treat because of the harms that flow from not properly recognizing gender identity. Attempted suicide rates in the transgender community are over 40%, which is a risk of death that far exceeds most other medical conditions. The only treatment to avoid this serious harm is to recognize the gender identity of patients with gender dysphoria and differences of sex development.
Over the last few decades, understanding of gender identity has rapidly expanded. Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.

Therefore, these children cannot be “un-confused.” Efforts to do so, according to recent research, create a lifetime of adverse mental health consequences.

Being transgender is not an ideology. It is neither a philosophy nor doctrine. It is the only way known to medical science to mitigate the distress caused by gender dysphoria. I know the scripture:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

But I also know the science.

On to pronouns

While transgender children are certain of their gender they remain especially vulnerable and fragile. Gender affirmation significantly reduces the potential for self-harm but these kids are targets for ridicule and derision for which I blame ignorant parents. Four years ago, the research demonstrated:

Socially transitioned transgender children who are supported in their gender identity have developmentally normative levels of depression and only minimal elevations in anxiety, suggesting that psychopathology is not inevitable within this group. Especially striking is the comparison with reports of children with GID; socially transitioned transgender children have notably lower rates of internalizing psychopathology than previously reported among children with GID living as their natal sex.

“Supported in their gender” is not limited to parents. It includes the atmosphere in public schools. Call me hyperbolic if you wish but I believe that people do violence to trans kids by misgendering them. I get particularly agitated over adults like teachers who claim that addressing a transgender child by their gender appropriate pronouns is against their religion.

If one of those teachers has a child with acute gender dysphoria then those teachers can try to prohibit their kid from transitioning. Their religious beliefs do not license what amounts to cruelty. What? Do they think that they are doing God’s work? By rejecting a child’s gender it will cause them to detransition? Or do they confuse appropriate pronouns with approval?

I will remind those people that no kid ever volunteered to be transgender. No parent would prefer a transgender child over a cisgender child. No adult should act in a way that could possibly cause a child to harm themselves. Misgendering a child does just that. It is a deliberate action which says to the kid that their gender is a lie, pretense or confusion.

There is not some grand conspiracy among pinko, liberal, left-wing, atheist scientists intent on making Christians miserable. I haven’t seen my therapist in awhile but he is a conservative Republican and observant Catholic of Cuban descent. His religious beliefs stop when he enters the door of UHealth’s behavioral health building and he is the consummate professional whose judgment I trust and who has earned my respect.

Can we not reasonably expect public school personnel to separate religious duties from professional responsibilities? If they cannot do so then maybe they should work at a religious school. The law says that these people are obliged to follow policy.

Teachers set the example

Children are obliged to treat their peers with kindness. We do not tolerate bullying of any kind. We teach kids to obey the rules even if we, or they, disagree. That is part of good citizenship. Parents need to understand the damage that they do to others when they teach their children to disrespect other students.

My sample size is far too small to generalize but I have been told that the kids “get it.” But what about the plight of a child with strong religious convictions. I do not know about, say, Baptists or Orthodox Jews. However, the Catholic Church has compiled a 28 page, 9,000 word document reconciling gender with Catholic education. “Pronoun” is nowhere to be found.

A religious child deserves two things: Respect for their religious beliefs and an understanding of why pronouns are important. An edict that children are expected to use preferred pronouns does more harm than good.

If children understand the why, then the Golden Rule should prevail. Religious beliefs might affect how parents deal with their own children. It should not determine how the children of other people are treated.

From my perspective religion applies to the beliefs of the individual. Were I keeping kosher I would not eat a ham sandwich but I would never criticize anyone else who did so. I do not keep kosher. I am a heathen.

The bottom line to all of this is that misgendering a transgender kid benefits no one. It harms gender diverse children more seriously than one might imagine. Not accepting someone’s gender identity will not affect their sexuality but it will negatively affect their psyche. Using correct pronouns harms neither the speaker nor the listener. When religious belief conflicts with kindness I would think that kindness is the correct choice.

Austin Ruse understands this. He believes that I am “objectively disordered” but he treats we with the utmost respect and kindness. At the core of his being, Austin is a kind and caring person. The attitude and behavior towards trans youth should be comparable.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.