Transgenderism: Semantic contagion or biological fact?

From education specialists to publicly funded medical clinics to a growing body of academic work and activism, the transgender industry has exploded.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

While there has been a dearth of reliable data on the surge in numbers of transgender children and adults in the United States, data from Sweden, Australia, and the United Kingdom indicates an explosion in demand for gender-identity treatment. According to the Guardian, the UK’s 14 gender identity clinics have seen referral increases of up to 100 percent in the past year. At London’s Charing Cross—the oldest and largest adult clinic—the number of referrals has more than tripled in 10 years, from 498 in 2006 to 1,892 in 2016, while a clinic in Nottingham reported a 28-fold increase in referrals in eight years, and a clinic in Exeter saw a 20-fold increase in a decade.

The increases are even more alarming for the UK’s clinic for children and adolescents, where there have been increases of 50 percent a year since 2011. In 2016, it had an unexpected and unprecedented increase of 100 percent, going from 697 to 1,398 referrals of children and adults. Similar increases were seen at the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow, which doubled its referrals in a year—from 90 to 178—in 2015; in Australia, there were 200 referrals to the gender clinic run by Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital—up from 18 referrals in 2012. In Sweden, the Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital witnessed a 100 percent increase in numbers each year for the past several years, with a total of 197 children seeking treatment for transitioning in 2016.

We are experiencing a similar surge in the United States. UCLA’s Williams Institute, a think tank dedicated to conducting research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, has revealed that the best estimate of the percentage of adults who identify as transgender in the United States is double that of the estimate produced in 2011, with 1.4 million adults identifying as transgender. Study authors suggest that “a perceived increase in visibility and social acceptance of transgender people may increase the number of individuals willing to identify as transgender.”

Perhaps, but it is also possible that there may be a different cause—a cultural cause. Nearly two decades ago, an Atlantic Monthly article titled “A New Way to be Mad,” by bioethicist Carl Elliott, predicted all of this when he wrote: “once transsexual and gender-identity disorder and sex reassignment surgery became common linguistic currency, more people began conceptualizing and interpreting their experience in these terms. They began to make sense of their lives in a way that hadn’t been available to them before, and to some degree they actually became the kinds of people described by these terms.”

Elliott was suggesting that it is possible that our culture is not just revealing transgender individuals, it is creating them. If so, we can expect tremendous growth, as an entire industry is emerging to meet the growing need. From education specialists designing “safe schools” for transgender children, to transgender practitioners, publicly funded medical clinics, reimbursement schedules, and a growing body of academic work and activism, the transgender industry has exploded. Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking uses the term “semantic contagion” in his book Rewriting the Soul to describe the way in which publicly identifying and describing a condition like transgenderism creates the means by which that condition spreads.

One clue that social scientists interested in determining whether the cause is cultural is to look closely at whether the condition is evenly spread throughout the United States. If it were truly a biological fact, it would be equally distributed throughout the population. But it isn’t. Williams Institute data reveals that the highest percentage of transgender-identified adults live in Washington, DC, Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Georgia, and Texas. Washington, DC has nearly double the number of transgender individuals as the next highest state (Hawaii). The Williams study’s authors dismissed this finding for Washington, DC as an “outlier due to its unique geographic and demographic profile.” But why? The percentage of individuals living in the District of Columbia who identify as transgender is 2.8 percent—more than triple the percentage of those living in the next highest states of Hawaii or California (.78 percent and .76 percent respectively). And, the percentage of transgender individuals in the District of Columbia is more than nine times greater than the .3 percent living in North Dakota or .31 percent in Iowa. Hardly an equal distribution.

The data on the District of Columbia are revealing—but we are not quite sure how DC has come to lead the country in the number of individuals who identify as transgender. Previous research has indicated that transgender individuals have been more likely to emerge from racial and ethnic minority populations—with black and Latino individuals overrepresented among the transgender. But, there are several states with large percentages of minority populations, yet comparatively lower percentages of individuals who identify as transgender. It is much more likely to be cultural. As far back as 2013, the New York Times pronounced Washington, DC the “gayest place in America,” with a thriving transgender population. There is an annual “DC High Heel Drag Race” in held DuPont Circle.

The biological “born transgender” opinion may be ascendant now, but it contradicts one of the main findings of a meta-analysis of other studies published in The New Atlantis by Dr. Lawrence Mayer and Dr. Paul McHugh, who found that “the hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex—that a person might be a ‘man trapped in a woman’s body’ or a ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’ is not supported by scientific evidence.”

Catholic teachings have long rejected the postmodern conceptualization of gender as a moveable point along a spectrum that is fluid and changeable. In a speech to the Pontifical Academy for Life last October, Pope Francis denounced the ways in which new technologies are making it easier for people to “change” their genders, saying this “utopia of the neutral” jeopardizes the creation of new life. This more recent statement continues the Holy Father’s earlier condemnations of gender theory as “denying the order of creation,” published in Pope Francis: This Economy Kills by Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi.

Likewise, in a speech at the Vatican on December 23, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI directly addressed the destructive influence of gender theory, saying:

What is often expressed and understood by the term “gender” ultimately ends up being man’s attempt at self-emancipation from creation and the Creator. Man wants to be his own master, and alone – always and exclusively – to determine everything that concerns him. Yet in this way he lives in opposition to the truth, in opposition to the Creator Spirit.

And four years later, In December, 2012, Pope Benedict reiterated this message when he decried attempts to ignore or destroy the natural “duality” of male-female created by God. Man, he said, now “calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”

For Pope Benedict, attempting to manipulate the nature of the human being leads to a “self-emancipation of man from creation and the Creator,” and likewise, for Pope Francis, gender theory does not recognize the order of creation: “With this attitude man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator. The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate…. The design of the Creator is written in nature.”

There is simply no scientific evidence for biological causes for the tremendous growth in transgender identity. The social construction of “transgender identity” is counter to science and to Catholic teachings. And although there is some evidence that severe gender confusion can be acquired from traumatic experiences in childhood or beyond, it is more likely that as individuals look for a reason for their intractable unhappiness, they seek a cure in what is becoming a cult of transgenderism.

(Editor’s note: Links to and quotes from addresses by Benedict XVI have been updated for clarity and accuracy.)

About Anne Hendershott 79 Articles
Anne Hendershott is professor of sociology and director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is the co-author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Church (Encounter Books).


  1. We know hormonal contraceptive contaminated water alters the biology of certain fish and frogs. I find it believable the same may have an effect on the in utero child. Coupled with fragile, factured, insecure families, I find it very believable there is a biological basis for this–perhaps similar to attachment disorders?

  2. Please clarify that this quote: “destroying the very essence of the human creature through manipulating their God-given gender to suit their sexual choices” was not spoken by Pope Benedict XVI, but instead was pulled from a Time magazine article. No Pope has ever referred to a “God-given gender” and, in fact, Pope Benedict goes to pains to in his 2012 Christmas address to critique gender for what it is: a false theory.

  3. Semantic contagion is surface data. Underlying the moral disorder of transgender is a profound spiritual disorder. Researchers for the Infant and Child Development Journal just issued their findings that indicates sexual predilection is biological begins early in boys preferences v girls. The Researchers should have long past read Sigmund Freud who in 1937 said regarding male female sexual behavior that “For the psychical field, the biological field is the underlying bedrock” (Analysis Terminable and Interminable Vol 23 1937). Also Catholic Psychiatrist past Pres of the Canadian Psychiatric Assoc Dr Karl Stern affirmed Freud on sexual predilection as biological in The Flight from Woman 1965. Our difficulty in this area has been the prejudicial liberal leaning of most psychologists and many psychiatrists. Although psychologists Erik Erikson and Karen Horney long ago confirmed in their clinical studies behavior patterns specific to male female in children. The underlying data is old and established the rapid pronounced reinterpretation of biological predilection by children is new. When atheist Sigmund Freud particularly Catholic Karl Stern in his The Flight from Woman identify “biology” [distinguishing inherent sexual behavior patterns from acquired psychological behavior] they are in reality addressing the inherent spiritual inclinations that distinguish male and female. Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis is right on this one [he can’t always be wrong]. When we die our person remains male or female. What then is behind the disorder if not the spiritual malaise affecting everyone including tiny tots who are confronted with a barrage of deviate media images, behavior, language, and neutral amoral parental modals. And of course the Evil One.

  4. Generally true but the author ( and Popes too) if she and they are going to write about this
    should at least be aware of the one scientific exception..the biological chimera…otherwise we are going to look anti-science and unread. In the fraternal twin process, if the fertilized eggs lie too proximate to each other, they can merge in the early period and eventually produce one person instead of producing a boy and girl set of twins in this case. It’s easily proven.
    It was falsely found at first in a British case that a woman was not the mother of her children until a more exhaustive dna test showed that she had two sets of dna…she was the result of fraternal twin eggs merging within her mom through too proximate contact.
    If a Catholic pastor has a family with a child with gender identity problems, he should first urge the parents to have the child tested to see if he has one or two sets of dna. If two sets are discovered, the person may in fact have the dna of a male and the dna of a female…twins whose eggs merged into one person right after fertilization. This phenomenon could be extensive or few but dna testing could settle itin the indivdal case in a parish.
    When I was 19 and heading a city day camp, one day an ? 8 year old boy entered the room to join. He stayed and all day long other children nicely asked him if he were a boy or a girl. Boy dominated his look from a distance but up close, he had the eyes and lips that were more like a girl and legs and feet in his summer shorts, that clearly were feminine. Only decades later did it make sense to me when I read about the biological chimera. Bingo. That explained the mixture of boy and girl attributes.

    • Bannon there are observable exceptions and scientific as you note. Aquinas also acknowledges that “there are rare cases when nature fails” (ST 1a2ae 94, 4). Although studies haven’t been completed these appear rare exceptions to nature. There is more indication that homosexual behavior is overall acquired corresponding to cultural perspective as in ancient Greece and cultural change of perspective as in the US and Europe.

      • Fr….I agee that there are millions of objectively sinning gays…because Romans chapter one causally connects it to ignoring God which our catechism did not mention…but should have. But in a non religious period like modernity, they will appear…as Romans reveals.
        I wouldn’t be too quick to guess though that chimeras are rare…because they need not present as graphically as the one I met years ago. I say that because what if some modern factor in our diet or having to do with modern smog or modern water treatment affects greatly egg proximity in fraternal twin events. We don’t know yet but it is possible that modernity increases their number chemically and if so…there could be many such people in precisely the modern period. The British woman who was first accused of not being mother to her children may have had no pronounced male features in the way that my camper had pronounced female features…so there may be many who appear quite normal but who might be fighting the less dominant inclinations within themselves without ever knowing that they themselves are chimeras. Just one more reason to judge slowly not generally but in the concrete case if one has parental jurisdiction or in your case…care of souls. If parents come to a rectory compaining that their teen is veering gay, it might be prudent to first have them do a dna test. Chimerism is a cross and moral test that they might be failing but under much greater impetus than the immoral characters of Romans chapter one…and it would be helpful to know whence comes the temptation.

  5. I don’t relish being the first to respond yet to another church rejection of the apparent human order. Since transgender people are surgically extricated from their body’s gender, few would accept that traumatic move as “normal”. However, until the transgendered person has made the sex change they are being tortured by their dogma.

    • Morgan,
      It’s a Catholic site and Catholicism accepts the scriptures…including Deut.22:5.
      ” A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, your God.”
      It goes deeper than clothing of course. What scripture is saying is that being who we are is work and we are often tempted to be a false self and that false self could sometimes have false gender aspects for us. That’s why the New Testament in one place says…” Act like men.” Obey your biology.
      A girl might watch so many Steven Seagal films that she starts getting into fights with other girls as she imitates Seagal. She is traveling far from what her female body symbolizes…softness…love…child nurturing. Black girls deep in the ghetto have become quite hardened into masculine traits from fighting and that exacerbates the breakdown of marriage rampant in the ghetto. The scripture I began with would heal their culture but only if they obey it. ” He who contemns the word shall pay for it” is another scripture. Throw a scripture aside….and decades later….you’ll admit that you paid a price for doing so if you arrive at God’s way at all.

    • The sex doesn’t actually “change”. Every cell in the body would have to be altered as they are oriented to either of the two genders – male or female.

  6. Look, if they announced on the media that eating excrement was the next craze, and they had people advocating for it, lots of school kids would do it, and say that this was part of their “fundamental being”. A fad is a fad, and transgenderism is the latest “look at me, I am part of the latest movement” fad.

  7. To repost my remark on M. William’s excellent referencing of this article on Breitbart: a newly arrived sexual disorder has already shown up to replace the political/cultural ascendancy of transgenderism – no contact/non-acting pedophilia.

    Look for this within the next six months as Trump, the *Disclosure President*, drags the pedophila culture of D.C., and Hollywood, from the closet. The instances of pedophilia in those two “industries” is unquestionably high, compared to other demographic groups. President Trump vowed to rid the grip pedophilia has over those sectors of the population. (There are reasons why they are so infected.) Trump’s Executive Order of Dec. 21/17 – which includes sweeping martial law powers – is his trumpeting signal he has begun.

    The point being, for the pedophilic cultures of D.C. & HOllywood to protect their members from Trump’s assault they will be pushing for the normalization of non/contact pedophilia (the “non=contact” prefix being the bait); awarding it with a spot on the unending sexual alphabet string of LGBTQ. The seemingly quick acceptance of transgenderism will be seen (pushed) as the latter day sign of the arrival of the Great Day of No Age Limit Sex.

    Hesitant to accept that? Just consider the timeline of transgender acceptance. We are now at the stage where the public’s attention, by design, is sharply focused on “transgender” children – their “rights”, their need for outside “allies” to counter any parental objection or inadequacies to “understand/accept” their so-called transgender children.

    Transgenderism is the P.R. beartrap to snare the public’s acceptance of the next sexual perversion to round the corner.

    The plan has been cleverly designed – and it is, unfortunately, working. We can only pray that Trump, the Disclosure President, will pull the ugliness into the bright light before the public is fooled/lulled by our Sexual Betters/Elites that they know what’s better for us – and our children.

    What they have planned for us is truly a Seamless Garment of Evil.

    • Finally, a comment from someone not dazed and confused. People who make these polite pseudo-analysies of an ideology based on breathakingly vague psuedo-scientific (more like anti-science) claims are just playing into the hands of the enemy. Gender ideology is the primary weapon in the assault on the family, ergo the assault on the Church (and civil society as well.) Of course they don’t have a concrete scientific definition for this explosion of identity politics gone awry. Moreover, while they may indeed fantasize about doing away with the entire notion of an age of consent ( we’re already awash in child-transgender gibberish) the real, lasting damage they’re inflicting is the destruction of natural (well-ordered) gestalt in our children and the semantics of our language. The young victims of this quintessentially evil ideology may recover in a decade or two, but the linguistic artifacts can live indefinitely. The blurring of the distinction between personal choice and objective scientific fact to establish a new protected minority, besides being logically incoherent, is a semantic weapon that can be used to justify ANY abomination (even Samton909’s mostly satirical “excrement eaters.” )

    • Well said. This is pure evil and perverse which parents should be allowed to tell their children it is wrong and evil and will lead you to eternal dam nation.

  8. Sex Education and the Transgender Assault on the Innocent
    “These programs go way beyond regular sex education and are designed to change all of the sexual and gender norms of society.”
    UK: Teaching transgender issues will be compulsory.
    Children will be taught about transgender issues as part of compulsory sex and relationship education classes, the Department for Education has confirmed as it launches a call for evidence today. The classes, which will be made statutory for all primary and secondary schools from September 2019, must be “sensitive” to the needs of young people “whatever their developing sexuality or identity”, The Daily Telegraph has learned.
    Canada: Radical Sex Education Program Normalizes Gender Fluidity for Canadian Children
    US: “Healthier Youth and Safer Schools”
    Their arguments:
    1. It will make healthier youth and schools safer!
    2. Youth need and deserve to learn in settings that are inclusive of their experiences and that give them the education necessary to stay …
    3. It’s a human right! The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality.
    4. Follow the money. Transgender surgery is now big business! It costs over $100,000. (Will Medicaid cover it?)
    5. Lesson Plans to Indoctrinate Youth
    6. Indirectly and sometimes directly “you are homophobic”
    “How the Homophobic Climate in the United States Affects GLBTQ Youth “
    7. Clinton’s 1993 quote: “Let us be willing,” she urged in conclusion, “to remold society by redefining what it means to be a human being in the 20th century, moving into a new millennium.”
    ‘Gay rights are human rights’
    “ It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives.”..And then Clinton announced what the United States is doing to help protect the lives and respect the dignity of LGBT people around the world. A first-ever U.S. strategy to combat human rights abuses against LGBT around the world.

    • Thanks for concise list of facts, quotes and links. We haven’t even got to some of even darker stuff like her praise for her eugenicist idol, Margaret Sanger. It still dismays me how many of my fellow (western Oregon) Catholics, blithely voted for Clinton, totally ignoring how evil she and her criminal cronies are, either because of some misguided Pollyanna liberalism. They just can’t seem to wrap their brains around the fact the true evil wears political parties like neckties…

  9. When you give incentives for “anything” you find lots of it.

    Transgenderism is the perfect example.

    Classifying and “advertising” sexual dysphoria as a human right worthy of special treatment has created a social monstrosity.

    What was once a passing issue in a small number of children, has now become a cause celeb for the progressiv class.

    We live in a tortured time, where political fantasy overrules reality.

    • Yep. Remember how angst ridden we all were we just talking about a military members (and easy thing for the moderates to support – nose under the tent) and “Don’t ask don’t tell?” 20 years later we’ve got people calling for the “rights” of minor children (below the age of consent) to engage in what amounts to genital mutilation, and adult transvestite males (complete with 5’oclock shadow) skulking around in the little girls room, watching our daughters pee. St. Michael defend us.

  10. It isn’t news that behaviors are catching. Sociologists have long known that suicide, for example, prompts imitators, especially among the young.

  11. I do not doubt that the “transgender industry” will become large and prosperous, for a time, but its economic impact will be dwarfed in thirty years when the victims of this evil ideology sue their parents, the doctors who engaged in this medical malpractice, and the hospitals in which the surgeries and “treatments” took place. The lawyers will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

  12. “If it were truly a biological fact, it would be equally distributed throughout the population. But it isn’t.” Biological traits don’t work like that. Ever hear of genetic drift.

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  9. {bits & pieces} ~ Like Mother Like Daughter
  10. Hendershott: “Transgenderism: Semantic Contagion or Biological Fact?” | Faculty Blog
  11. Sex change is physically impossible | Designs on the Truth

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