A Case Study in Rebuttal, Part 3
Now we come to the heavy lifting part of this series. In order to do justice to the process, without getting annoyingly verbose, I’m going to have to at times presume you have a previous knowledge of the biological and medical evidence supporting the physiological nature of being transsexual. If not, I’ve written on the subject before. Moreover, the only way to really address his claims is to take it in the order in which it is presented, which may take more than one post to accomplish. The article which I’m addressing this time can be found here.
I’m somewhat limited in that he seems to be responding to a print article he hasn’t linked directly to. Thus, I’m constrained to trusting his assertion about that author’s initial claim which is not necessarily a safe assumption. Let’s begin with this quote:
First (and most problematic): Henig offers no substantive argument for why one’s internal, self-perception of his or her “gender identity” ought to determine one’s gender or have authority greater than one’s biological sex.
Burk, and others like him, have a deceptive way of pre-loading assumptions into their words which go beyond their technical meaning. The example here is “biological sex” – using this term in this context is loaded with the implication that the only “biology” that matters is that of the genitals or, failing that, chromosomes. Anyone who understands the scientific argument for the physicality of being trans will recognize how this fails immediately. Science argues that gender identity derives from the brain, and the brain is a biological organ every bit as much as the genitals or a Y chromosome. Likewise, he builds in the a priori assumption that there’s no biological component to being trans from his opening sentence. This serves his argument by attempting to co-opt the credibility that derives from biology from the beginning of the debate.
Whether or not the author to which he responds offered an argument from biology in detail or not, the reality is that the “biological sex” argument is the beginning, simplistic, entry level biology. One which describes as much as 95% plus of the population (which is why it’s what they teach you in middle school) and, as is his custom (along with his fellow travelers) he wants the reader to assume that that which is ALMOST always true is in fact a strict law of nature that has no exceptions. Their arguments depends on you assuming the binary is very strict and unwavering, but it is easy demonstrable that biological exceptions exist, therefore his attempt to co-opt biology fails for the knowledgeable reader. Once the existence of exceptions is on the table, then Burk is forced to defend the implication that the brain is immune to the conditions which produce known biological exceptions (in the form of intersex people).
Indeed, this is the crux of the matter that plagues the transgender movement. It is based not on evidence, but on the ideology of expressive individualism—the idea that one’s identity is self-determined, that one should live out that identity, and that everyone else must respect and affirm that identity, no matter what it is.
To begin with, he’s ignoring the continuing accumulation of physical evidence, which alone isn’t conclusive but which is analogous to the scientific findings related to many many other conditions. The implication that until science finds a particular organ marked with a label that says “this does X” that science doesn’t actually KNOW the answer is facile and deceptive. Many medical conditions are not completely understood, in terms of origin or process, but scientists nonetheless know they are legitimate conditions that have biological origins, even without definitive evidence.
Following on from that he specifically ignores the validity of essentially all sociological sciences. Consider that there’s an entire field of scientific endeavor dedicated to studying human behavior, normal and “abnormal” (in the statistical and scientific sense) and all of it is built upon observation of human behavior. It is a SCIENTIFIC undertaking to examine, study, record, correlate and theorize about human behavior as people relate to the realities in their life, whether or not the reality in question is visible or not. Often, in this field of study, the research involves what a person testifies to about themselves. To dismiss one’s assertion about one’s self as not constituting evidence is disingenuous. Now, of course, that claim alone in the absence of any correlating data may be questionable, and such a claim when it proves dangerous to one’s self or others should be considered an illness in need of treatment (say, one who is convinced they are able to fly and acts on this belief). But to dismiss self-perception as entirely unreliable is illogical and hypocritical, particularly when one is a practitioner of a religion which by definition asserts the existance of a God which cannot be factually proven, but only exists insofar as people profess to have an internal, unverifiable, perception of him.
Moreover, as I noted last time, he pushes the idea that a trans person self-determines their gender identity, rather than reacting to one which independently exists. This plays into the Traditionalist notion that choice is involved (the whole “lifestyle” concept) which gives them license to be abusive in reaction to that of which they disapprove. To construct a sloppy analogy, it’s the difference in sweating because it’s August in Mississippi, or sweating because you chose to do three miles on the treadmill. This is the implicit bigotry in his entire position. The one thing he refuses to consider is that his traditional theology is wrong. Absent that possibility, he’s faced with an obvious choice – either his religion demands he condemn people for a physical condition they cannot control, or the thing he looks down on must be something chosen. Having painted himself into this corner, now he has to rationalize it.
More to come next time…
Photo by Irina