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The challenge of transgender issues for parents and families

Some observations on moral dilemmas and misunderstandings concerning how trans-identified people view themselves.

(Jennifer Regnier/Unsplash.com)

Transgender issues are often hard to think and talk about, not just for those with no personal experience but also, in a different way, for those personally affected. This short essay is offered as a “lightening tour” which I hope will be of interest both to the general reader and to those identifying as transgender themselves, their friends, and their families.

Briefly, I will look at moral dilemmas for adult individuals and parents of young and older children. Before that, however, I will flag some misunderstandings concerning how trans-identified people view themselves. These, however innocent, can contribute to an over-heated climate where too often the needs—not least the spiritual needs—of individuals and families go unmet. In public as in private, any comments of a more critical nature must be accurate as well as respectful, avoiding unwarranted assumptions.

To begin with, it should not be assumed that all who identify with the opposite gender necessarily deny their biological sex. Indeed, transmedicalists, a subgroup of trans-identified people, say frankly that they have an illness causing their unhappiness with their sex and identification with the opposite social gender. Cross-dressing, surgery, and/or hormones palliate their symptoms, they may say, and help them function better day to day, but their biological sex remains what it is.

Staying with personal as opposed to public policy issues, how should we think about these morally? This is an area where every aspect needs a separate focus. Even the physically less invasive steps of social transition via cross-dressing and changing names and pronouns raise challenging questions concerning the ethics of trying to “pass” as a member of the opposite sex and social gender. Is there a moral absolute this violates, or a moral onus (how strong?) against it? Such questions can arise both for individuals themselves and for those to whom they may confide feelings of dysphoria–unease at the mismatch between biological sex and “felt” gender–of a more or less intense and painful kind.

Does biological sex in every case require a corresponding male or female presentation? In thinking through this question, it is helpful to remember the case of intersex conditions, where reproductive biology is ambiguous. An intersex person raised in the opposite gender may find it very difficult to live instead in the gender associated with their true, fertility-oriented sex–something only their recent puberty may perhaps have made apparent. While intersex people, too, may have genuine moral dilemmas concerning, for example, presentation to potential romantic partners, to say that they are obliged to transition the moment they realise their true sex would be a claim too far. Presenting socially as the sex one is–which one should accept as an unchangeable fact, however privately–is not a moral absolute itself for all conceivable situations.

That said, there is a great value in presenting socially, even if only subtly, as the sex one is, for a range of reasons including transparency in social relations, and acting as a male or female role model, including for one’s own children. With transition to a gender discordant from one’s biological sex, vulnerable young people who see one as a role model may be adversely affected or even influenced to identify as transgender themselves. These and other factors should not be dismissed by those drawn to transition, perhaps of a radically invasive kind, which may be seen rightly or wrongly as the only way in which their dysphoria can be resolved.

In regard to dating and marriage, appreciation of biological sex and its implications is fundamental. Those who accept traditional sexual ethics will understand the need to avoid attracting partners not available from that perspective, and to avoid absolutely cross-dressing with any self-directed sexual/romantic motivation. The latter applies in particular to heterosexual males, and older, married men cross-dressing or considering transition will have wives and children to consider: something which will, or should, weigh very heavily in the choices they make.

Increasingly, we are hearing from young and older people who have “detransitioned,” as well as those who have “desisted” from pursuing transition and found other ways of dealing with any dysphoria that may remain. Reconciliation with one’s birth sex is particularly likely for young people following puberty (for those who did not take puberty-blockers), with some then experiencing homosexual or bisexual attractions and others heterosexual attractions. Despite the likelihood of such reconciliation, health professionals are increasingly, albeit controversially, inviting children to live “as” members of the opposite sex, followed by puberty blockers, followed by hormones and perhaps some form of surgery.

For parents anxious to avoid a lifetime of medical dependency for their child, one highly fraught question concerns the use of opposite-sex pronouns, to avoid the immediate risk of painful triggering and alienation from those who do not comply with this request. To be weighed against these risks is the real and serious risk that using opposite-sex pronouns will give the impression that the young person is seen as male or female from that time forward–not just in presentation, but in all important respects. Even if it is not wrong in literally every situation (as the case of intersex people shows) to use pronouns that do not belong to the biological sex of the one referred to, this will indeed be a mistake in very many situations involving a young person wanting to transition. Where necessary, avoiding—not replacing—birth-sex pronouns will normally be a better response.

The challenge for parents is to listen to their child’s views and feelings, but to be honest about their own position regarding transition and those things (biological sex and its sexual ethics implications) that transition cannot change. Many children will eventually desist, and parents should not focus on transgender issues to a counterproductive extent: gender-critical parent networks recommend spending “normal” time with one’s child, of a kind that has nothing to do with gender.

Detransitioned or desisted young adults repeat such advice, and remind those currently facing these intensely demanding family situations that there is no quick fix and that parents are shepherds, not engineers. The same applies, in different ways, to other guides, responding perhaps to an adult’s call for help. Picking their way with their intelligent charges through patches of greater as well as lesser moral certainty, good shepherds can only try to guide them in this formidable terrain with all the skill and empathy they can.


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About Dr. Helen Watt 1 Article
Dr Helen Watt is Senior Research Fellow at the Anscombe Bioethics Centre and Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, United Kingdom.  Her publications include The Ethics of Pregnancy, Abortion and Childbirth and Life and Death in Healthcare Ethics, together with several edited volumes including Fertility and Gender: Issues in Reproductive and Sexual Ethics.

13 Comments

  1. If you are pretending to be the sex that you are not, you are lying. That’s it. And the word is sex, not gender.

    As for the very small percentage of people with “intersex conditions,” that is a different matter, and I consider it wrong to jumble the two situations together.

    What a silly, useless article.

    • Are intersex people lying when they dress the way they’ve always dressed – though actually they belong to the opposite sex? Sure, intersex is fairly rare – but so until recently was identifying as trans. And yes, biological sex is important – but we need some kind of a word to describe the person’s feelings and/or the person’s social presentation (I agree ‘gender’ is not ideal but that’s the word out there).

      • You’ll notice that I said that people with “intersex conditions” are a different matter.

        “but we need some kind of a word to describe the person’s feelings and/or the person’s social presentation”

        No, we don’t.

  2. “Does biological sex in every case require a corresponding male or female presentation? In thinking through this question, it is helpful to remember the case of intersex conditions, where reproductive biology is ambiguous…”

    **************
    One of my in-laws works in the Urology Dept. of a large university teaching hospital. They said that while genital “intersex” anomalies are infrequent in newborns, when they do present a simple chromosomal test will reveal the child’s actual gender. Per our conversation, the hospital where they work has had exactly one case in the last 20 years where both the infant’s reproductive parts & chromosomes were too ambiguous to assign gender.

  3. Without disdaining any of the struggling young, do we find evidence in this article that “gender dysphoria” has asexually spawned a self-perpetuating cottage industry? A sort of “mutual admiration society” among specialists, as in the old 1950’s lyrics? And with its own credentialed jargon?

    Key factors to our MUCH BROADER dysphoria—our anxiety, dissatisfactions, lost-ness, etc.—-are a supposedly value-neutral(!) culture (manifested even here, as “acceptance” of anything and whatever), combined with small-group peer pressure (exactly as in “Lord of the Flies”), and this tribalism much amplified by opposable-thumb, social-media electronics.

    Gender dysphoria, then, is NOT an isolated thing in itself, however much our penchant for overpriced overspecialization might wish it, but more of a tragic and incarnate dialect within the BABEL of post-modern and post-Christian anti-society.

    To say this is probably to labor the obvious. But, the CORRECTIVE, then, is not limited to whether blindsided parents are either “shepherds” or, even less, “engineers.” In the broad scheme of things, the trendy STEM mentality is surely only another Babel dialect.

    Truth might have a role to play…but, with Pilate—“what is truth?”

    So, finally, and RELATIVE TO THE CHURCH—-nor is the corrective supplied by the evangelical infantilism—-balloons, banners, and kumbaya—-of the past 50 years, nor by the uncertain trumpet and worse of the past five years and counting… Next up? Amazonia! Germania! Genuflection before the code language (speaking of “credentialed jargon”) of “anthropological-cultural change!” Child predators and active homosexual “consenting adults” cross-dressed as clerics! Fluid and undefined “accompaniment” all across the board, without even a white cane or white smoke for clarity. . .

    • There are strong cultural forces at play, absolutely – but the article says explicitly that it’s looking at personal, not public policy issues. The article does however link to several sites describing peer pressure on young people, groupthink and political pressures for health care professionals etc. Also, let’s not forget there have always been some people affected by gender dysphoria, even before the current social climate and ‘explosion’ of trans-identification. We don’t want to drive people out of the Church by claiming that things which aren’t absolutely wrong (non-sexually-motivated crossdressing for example) are wrong in all circumstances, however desperate and perhaps suicidal the person (perhaps an older person, not a child/teenager) may currently be feeling.

      • Part of all this it seems to me is the elevating of feelings, particularly sexual feelings of one type or another, as if they were an objective reality in themselves, yet we all know from experience their frequent falseness or worse. This is why the Christian church from the earliest times has made the control and discipling and even suppression of passions a basic building block for personality. Further, part of normal human life is to override feelings which are inappropriate to the context. Consider the military recruit who hates the guts of his drill sergeant, or myself who would like to tear the head off of the driver who just dangerously cut in front of me. We all agree such feelings should be ignored, overridden or suppressed. Yet for some reason we make a carve out for sexual/gender feelings that are inappropriate and treat them as something which should be honored or treated delicately or endlessly explored from various standpoints. I would suggest that such approaches are only making the problems worse, for any human action, good or bad, which is welcomed, encouraged, and repeated, or merely coddled, becomes what we used to call “second nature”. I do not understand why the traditional approach of suggesting to young people that inappropriate passions should be ignored, refused and turned from is not the best approach to all this.

        • I don’t think feelings of dysphoria necessarily equate to sexual feelings even if some, normally non-homosexual, men take a sexual interest in crossdressing (and may see this very much themselves as something they want and need to stop). In contrast, another kind of crossdressing (there are several) is more like trying to deal with a phobia: the ‘passions’ may be aversion for, even horror at, one’s own body rather than anything sexual in the normal sense. Yes, very important for young and older people to learn resilience, and that’s very much the message you get from detransitioned people like the founders of the Pique Resilience Project and gender-critical parents and therapists. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, for dysphoria as for many other issues. How ‘delicately’ parents for example need to treat their gender-dysphoric child will depend on just how strong the child’s dysphoria, anxiety, depression etc are at the relevant time. Sometimes parents will just need to comfort the child, leave them in peace, or get them involved in unrelated absorbing activities, rather than confronting them head on.

          • Thanks for the feedback Helen!

            I’ve generally interpreted cross-dressing as a much more superficial action than much of this transgender stuff. The male of his nature seeks the female, and the female the male. I’ve interpreted cross-dressing as sort of an immature, selfish, risk-free attempt to in some way possess the opposite sex for one’s own still heterosexual self (inadequate though this attempt ultimately is). Bruce Jenner, in some of his comments, has said that he is not in fact homosexual, so maybe his case has its origins in something similar, though he seems to have gone beyond the superficial aspects.

        • Apologies for repetition – I think a comment got deleted by mistake. Would you agree that psychological health issues (managing dysphoria, anxiety, depression etc) or even everyday activities like keeping one’s temper may require removing oneself from the source of stress. I agree, children do need to be encouraged to be resilient, but with a very stressed, anxious child it may be best at times not to confront the child head-on but to offer space, comfort and enjoyable unrelated activities. Parents do need to play it by ear though, as do gender-dysphoric people themselves – which is not to say that all options are morally equal or that none are morally excluded.

  4. Mark 5:1-7; Lust, Confusion, Loneliness – Everyone has their demons and Jesus can exorcise if asked. I did not read ONE reference to prayer in this article.

    • I know parents who are praying their knees off . I found Helen’s article informative and hopeful especially in the concept of de-transitioning and desisting . Sadly the people who are caught up in this often do not share the faith or the moral values of their stressed-out families . The new Paganism is the Cult of the Self . Gentle shepherding is the way to go, I think.

  5. “CHASTE” –THE MISSING GENDER–the missing sexual orientation…
    by Samuel A. Nigro, MD, Copyright c 2016
    retired, Assistant Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry,
    Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
    ad hominem deplorable pamphleteer

    “Feelings” now determine “gender”–which means that “you are what you feel you are.” Gender is no longer biologically and reproductively defined as the Oxford English Dictionary did for 500 years: male–the producer of sperm…female–the producer of eggs. Instead, almost all gender is now the emotional psychosocial presentation of one’s identity as the preferred way of masturbating–any way, any place, any time, with any other or any thing. Your gender is “how you squirt and how you slime.” Resulting are now 53 “genders”, no doubt to increase as other genital based novelties become so emotionalized and legalized (see Addendum). However, “gender” must also include those identified as CHASTE : sexual privacy and naivety for developmental integrity of children/adolescents with traditionally married men and women committed to virginity before marriage and faithfulness thereafter. Chaste too is an absolute gender as currently understood, promoted, and needs legal protection from suppression, harassment and violence which occurs whenever other genders impose themselves. Instead of “chaste gender,” one could use “natural gender.”

    Against chaste, and nature, genders are now taught detrimentally influencing suggestible youths immature and insecure in their biological development and psychosocial identity (chaste-phobia). Thus, educationally and informationally, gender options whenever offered must include chaste–which still is the most common gender for most lives, is the gender all are born with, and it offers the best childhood leading to a “best” adulthood and overall better life. Chaste offers the healthiest childhood and thus the healthiest adulthood. This should be common knowledge for everyone. (Actually, the sexualization of childhood is not merely the destruction of the definition of childhood but is the creation of post-traumatic stress disorders in the children so abused–violating the rights of the chaste is discrimination.)

    The most common “gender”, as defined in Nature, cannot be overlooked or ignored: the chaste –those psychosocially committed to reproductive consistent sexual intercourse consistent with “Nature’s sexuality–which is between adult mature opposite-sexed members of the same species at a time consistent with reproduction.” In Nature, pheromones control sexuality as traditionally understood–granted that there are infrequent biochemical disorders and erratic exceptions consistent with the nuances of nature’s innumerable creatures. Regardless, the norms of Nature for sub-human animals are overwhelmingly limited to biochemically controlled sexual intercourse between adult and mature opposite-sexed members of the same species at a time consistent with reproduction (Got a cat?). It is obvious that animal species would not well survive without the species protecting limits of pheromone controlled sexuality. As Shakespeare noted: “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles”, something obvious in every example of human pollution, which now includes “gender”. In addition, it would be animal cruelty if current human gender metastases were also forced onto the animal kingdom by the current U.S. “established religion”, better known as the U.S. Supreme Court, as it continues to destroy the other learned professions: Medicine and Divinity.

    On the other hand, the lack of biochemical pheromones for humans allows humans to have love which does what biochemical pheromones do–limits sexuality to the unity and procreation of marriage, now finally recognized to be the “psychosocial pheromone” for humans. If biochemical pheromones controlled human sex, there would be no love. Indeed, every human culture with love has adopted marriage-like limitations on sexuality–except now wherein gender is determined by masturbation preferences rather than genuine nature-based identity with one’s innate biology. Thus, today’s gender/genital manias presented as legal categories must include all people and not just the emotional masturbators redefining themselves by political expertise and so-called “free press” advertising by gay cult controlled editors who are First Amendment frauds by printing only what they want you to think and do. Indeed, all categorizing or mentioning of gender must include the chaste–which encompasses most people for most of their lives, certainly during childhood, adolescence and traditional marriage. Chaste should always be listed first because it is most common, most developmentally sound and natural, and deserves equal rights and respect as all other genders (even in bathrooms). It just may be that to promote one “gender” is to discriminate against another “gender”–a contradictory outcome typical of all laws offered to regulate medical care, which is so changeable and complex that even medical textbooks are filled with exceptions and alternatives (It is irrational and impossible to regulate each brain’s trillion synapses, three billion neurons, thousands of interconnecting neuroregulatory systems, hundreds of neurochemicals, and millions of variable stimuli. Medical care is artful educated guessing and the law could better regulate the weather).

    The chaste protect childhoods from adult sex and adult violence, avoiding the “yuk and work” of adulthood until sexual hormones are maturely present (Genuine pro-social developmentally intact “childhood” is love filled without adulteration). The chaste commit themselves by love to marriage, to unified personhood and to family integrity consistent with unition and procreation. The chaste have real (loving developmentally sound) childhoods undestroyed by press and media suggestibility and advertising for adult sex and adult violence. The chaste develop adulthood with occasional hormonal “wet dreams” (day and night) for nature based physiologic relief (a neologism of “sexcretion” is proposed) but with preservation of innocence and virginity (and not manic/obsession with genitals). The chaste understand the loss of dignity when exploited by those promoting sex so money can be made by doing abortions (Planned Parenthood school chaste-abusing sex ed programs). The chaste understand the loss of unity when fragmented by lesser human functioning (“jaculasis–squirting and sliming obsessions” from the gay cult). The chaste understand the loss of integrity when immorally treated (“Eight is too late” and anti-chaste “The Homosexual Manifesto” read to Congress in 1987 by the gay cult). The chaste understand the loss of identity when deviant unnatural sexuality is promoted (the need of street drugs by age 12 to “escape” from adulterated unchaste childhoods). The chaste understand the loss of spirituality when only the material life is embraced (as in pornography–Sigmund Freud pronounced and taught that “perversion” was anything other than traditional intercourse! Today’s “genders” do comprise what Freud called the “polymorphous perverse.”). The chaste understand the Catholic Mantra of “Life, Sacrifice, Virtue, Love, Humanity, Peace, Freedom, and Death without Fear”, knowing that unnatural sexuality can make you crazy–better to understand “why you are you” by repeating the Mantra over and over–which is the chaste gender.

    The chaste embrace transcendence: Being–confluence with existence. Matter–confluence with corporeal body. Identity–confluence with humanbeingness. Truth–confluence with reality. Oneness–confluence with reality-self and integrating/unifying with desirability. Good–confluence with the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God as in the Declaration of Independence. Beauty–confluence with ascendancy. (See my article “Male/Female Differences in Natural Law, 1993–available from me at Sam@DocNigro.com.)

    CHASTE is the missing gender as “gender” is currently presented. All intellectually and emotionally honest people will promote and protect chaste because it is the healthiest gender for all. Chaste is not pollution. To describe genders without chaste is pollution and unnatural.

    Addendum: Soon to become a “gender” is “minor attraction”–what used to be known as “pedophilia.” Websites delicately induce and rationalize “sex with children” as a right for those needing such allegedly for their mental health and psychosocial identity, i.e., their gender. “Minor Attracted Persons (MAPs)” have already been genderized by university informally-affiliated groups such as B4UACT. Universities and physicians have not yet been compelled to do so by the contemptible U. S. Supreme Court pontificating another irrational contemptible law outside law’s area of professional expertise, i.e., denying the medical professions’ definition of disease as “chronic abnormal functioning of body organ or part” which can be applied to most genders today. Finally, the gay cult and ILLs (Incorrigible Liberal Loons) of our courts, press, and media are very effective Adolf Eichmanns (ala’ Nazi days) eager to convince the people that “evil is good” when politicized and legalized as “obedience to the law”. “Minor attracted gender” clearly falls into that category as can most other non-chaste “genders” imposed as the greatest pseudo-social delusion of all time. Meanwhile, chaste are the most ignored, suppressed, harassed, and discriminated against.

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