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Stop Conflating Gender Ideology With Gender Dysphoria
An explainer guide to the important distinctions between gender ideology and gender dysphoria and between gender activists and transgender or transsexual people.
When discussing and debating transgender issues, many people have a tendency to conflate terms that are related but have separate meanings. The two most common misconceptions involve attributing the actions of some gender activists to the entire population of transgender or transsexual people and conflating a set of radical beliefs about gender identity, commonly called “gender ideology,” with a psychiatric condition known as gender dysphoria.
These mistakes are most often due to ignorance regarding the differences and an overgeneralization about a group of people based on the actions of some individuals within that group. In gender-critical discourse, the worst and most extreme examples the transgender community has to offer frequently dominate our social media timelines, but this is not a representative sample of the millions of people who identify as transgender globally.
This is further perpetuated by an algorithm bias filling our timelines with outlier events presented to us as if they were the norm, and the media multiplier effect, which is the tendency of media coverage to amplify certain messages or ideas, often at the expense of others.
Accuracy is essential not only for effectively communicating your ideas, but also for avoiding the pitfall of identity politics, which involves assigning blame or attributing specific characteristics to entire populations of people. This is especially common in debates surrounding transgender issues due to the highly contentious and volatile nature of the discourse.
To avoid these errors, it is crucial to learn the distinctions between gender ideology and gender dysphoria, and between gender activists and transgender or transsexual people. But first, we have to define the terms and explore the nature of belief.
Gender Ideology and the nature of belief
An ideology is a set of beliefs that shape an individual's or group's worldview.
The difference between a belief and a fact is that a belief is a subjective interpretation or conviction about something that may or may not be supported by evidence or experience, while a fact is an objective aspect of reality that can be verified through direct observation or measurement.
Religions can also be considered ideologies or belief systems. For example, concepts such as God, the soul, and the afterlife are not directly observable or measurable in the way that the properties of matter or energy are, but people may believe in them anyway. Faith refers to a belief or trust in something or someone without empirical proof or evidence.
Gender ideology is a set of beliefs about sex and gender that in recent years have become widespread and mainstream, despite a lack of empirical evidence to support them.
This belief system is derived from a postmodern social theory that emerged in university Humanities departments in the 1990s called Queer Theory. Postmodern philosophy explicitly rejects the scientific pursuit of objective truth, and the scholarship produced by postmodernism has been widely criticized as frivolous and unscientific.
Here are some common examples of ideological beliefs about gender:
Both gender and biological sex are “fluid.”
Both gender and biological sex are a social construct.
Biological sex is not binary but best represented as a “spectrum.”
Biological sex and/or gender is “assigned at birth” rather than observed and recorded.
Everyone has a “gender identity” determined by male and female stereotypes.
One can literally be “born in the wrong body” or have a “gender identity” that is misaligned with the body.
Being “trans” is innate and biological, similar to being gay.
“Gender identity” is akin to “brain sex” or “neurological sex” which can and should override one’s biological sex.
One can literally become the opposite sex through self-designation or chemical and surgical interventions.
Children who do not conform to the stereotypes associated with their sex are transgender and should be socially and medically affirmed as such.
A vast variety of gender identities exist including nonbinary and genderfluid.
Any criticism of these beliefs is akin to “violence” or “genocide” of the trans community.
These claims are all verifiably false, but people choose to believe them anyway, likely because they have been given false information or perceive that these beliefs align with their values. These beliefs are also heavily promoted by large and influential Civil Rights and Gay Rights organizations, which pivoted to championing “trans rights” after gay marriage was legalized federally in 2015.
Beliefs and ideas can be infectious and can spread rapidly, especially in the age of the Internet, which become strengthened with widespread adoption. Gender ideology, when dressed up as a social justice and human rights movement, is particularly attractive to people.
When we talk about gender ideology, we are talking about beliefs that have to do with gender, “gender identity,” and biological sex that are untrue, but are nonetheless held fervently and have great significance to people. This is because people become emotionally invested in their beliefs, and find ways to rationalize them.
As Michael Shermer said in his classic book, Why People Believe Weird Things, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.”
Anybody can hold ideological beliefs about gender, including non-transgender people, who often call themselves “allies.” When speaking about someone who holds ideological beliefs about gender, we often refer to them as gender ideologues or proponents of gender ideology.
Another important reminder is that beliefs are not necessarily fixed. People change their minds all the time when they’re exposed to new information, usually when the source is perceived to be neutral and trustworthy. This is because people tend to be more receptive to ideas that do not cause them to feel defensive.
Gender dysphoria is a psychiatric condition marked by persistent distress with one’s biological sex and an intensely held desire to be perceived as the opposite sex. Historically, gender dysphoria was a rare condition that affected roughly 1 in 10,000 males and 1 in 30,000 females. As of 2022, the number of people aged 13 and up who identify as transgender in the United States is closer to 1 in 167.
This is because, in recent years, the significance of gender dysphoria as a meaningful diagnosis has been deemphasized in favor of a broader definition of what it means to be transgender, or “gender diverse,” which is now defined as an “umbrella term” that includes mere nonconformity to sex-based stereotypes, and is open for anybody to self-identify into.
Contrary to popular belief, being transgender is not innate or biological. There is no brain, blood, or other objective test that distinguishes a trans-identified person from someone who does not identify as trans.
Due to the prevalence of gender ideology in mainstream culture, there are many different reasons why someone might identify as transgender. Transgender identities can be influenced socially, induced by trauma or internalized homophobia, confused for autistic traits or psychiatric disorders, confounded by same-sex attraction, or some combination of all these. There is also evidence that some adult-onset transgender identities are adopted as part of a paraphilia, including autogynephilia and autoandrophilia.
For many, gender dysphoria is a condition that causes individuals great distress. We should show compassion towards these people because they often suffer from comorbidities such as depression and anxiety. Sometimes gender dysphoria resolves on its own or can be confused with other conditions. Like beliefs, feelings of gender dysphoria are also not necessarily fixed, as we know from detransitioners and research on desistance in children. But for some adults, their distress is alleviated by presenting as the opposite sex and they can lead happy lives. The bottom line is, the experience of having gender dysphoria or being transgender is very individualized and sometimes but not always ideologically influenced.
We also know that the experience of gender dysphoria existed long before the emergence of gender ideology. The first documented cases of individuals who underwent medical interventions to appear as the opposite sex were described in the mid-20th century.
As depicted in the Venn diagram, holding ideological beliefs about gender is not dependent on having gender dysphoria, and having gender dysphoria is not dependent on holding ideological beliefs about gender.
Being transgender or transsexual, as some prefer to be called, is not a monolithic experience and includes diverse points of view. While a majority of transgender people would probably identify as politically left-leaning, there are many transsexuals who hold right-leaning or libertarian views and are critical of transgender activism that promotes radical ideological beliefs.
A group formed by transsexuals at the Gender Dysphoria Alliance is working to reclaim the narrative on gender dysphoria as a meaningful diagnosis from transgender activists who wish to eradicate it and other so-called “barriers” to medical transition services.
There are many transsexuals who do not deny their biology but choose to present in a way that makes them feel most comfortable, and they do not make requirements of anyone to call them by their preferred pronouns. They also fully agree that children are too young to understand and consent to the irreversible, life-altering effects of medical transition. It seems likely that more transsexuals who share these beliefs would speak up if they weren’t treated so cruelly by people on all sides of the debate.
There are 1.64 million people who identify as transgender in the United States alone, and millions more globally. Most of them are not interested in disrupting society by erasing sex in law; they are just trying to integrate into society.
A vocal minority who operate heavily on social media and promote ideological beliefs about gender should be referred to as gender activists, as they may or may not be transgender themselves.
It is important to direct criticism where it belongs – to gender ideology and to the specific actions of individual gender activists, not to transgender people as a whole. By making these distinctions, you can ensure that your ideas are conveyed accurately and effectively without stereotyping an entire group.
As someone with Asperger’s, I have a preference for clarity and accuracy in communication and for writing in a way that is straightforward and easy to understand. If you like this style you might be interested in the short guidebook I'm writing, which will include similar “explainers” like this article. It will provide relevant history, all of the latest data, fact-checks, activist myths and tenets of gender ideology debunked, a “critical thinking toolkit” and more in 100 pages or less. Please consider donating or becoming a paid subscriber. Your support helps me dedicate my time and effort to writing this book. Thank you.
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