A Case Study in Rebuttal, Part 4
In case you are just joining us, you really should read the previous three installments under this title. What is ongoing here is an examination of one of the prominent arguments offered against the legitimacy of transgender people by a theologian attempting to justify his doctrinal argument with objective reasoning, and how to counter it by pulling away the facade to expose the religious bigotry lurking underneath.
Continuing on with an examination of the article here, written by Denny Burk and Andrew Walker, which attempts to refute the claims made in the National Geographic January issue entitled “Gender Revolution”, we come to this section:
“Secondly, Henig commits a fallacy of composition by linking intersex conditions with transgenderism. These are very different categories. “Intersex” is a term that describes a range of conditions affecting the development of the human reproductive system. These “disorders of sex development” result in atypical reproductive anatomy. Some intersex persons are born with “ambiguous genitalia,” which make sex determination at birth very difficult.”
While this is a fine technical definition of “intersex” the slippery part of this claim is that it derives from his prior assumption that there’s no biological component to being trans. This fails both as a logical argument (in that he assumes no evidence exists and then argues from ignorance) and because, in fact, evidence does exist and he simply refuses to acknowledge it. IF one assumes, as he does, that the biological source does not exist then it is fair to say one should not associate transsexuals with intersex conditions. If, however, the biological basis does exist, then considering a relationship between two similar conditions is entirely warranted.
As I noted before Burk has very little case if he does not make an a priori assumption which ignores the research.
Given that the best current science does, in fact, hold that there is at least one biological component, and likely more than one, the logic becomes obvious. The science behind the disorders of sexual development which Burk acknowledges exist holds that fetal development is affected by irregularities in hormone exposure in the womb. This abnormal interaction produces conflicting or ambiguous outcomes of genital/reproductive structures. In the same manner, current science understands that pre-natal hormones interact with the brain, as well as with the gonads, and in so doing affects the structures of the brain. It defies reason to suppose that the former interaction can be disordered but the latter could never be.
For the rest of this exercise, I’m attacking a case that’s already failed on the front end so in a sense, it’s necessary to allow for the sake of argument that Burk is even still on the debate stage, as it were.
“They feel that if it can be shown that biological sex is a spectrum rather than a binary, then they can undermine gender essentialism. But intersex conditions do not disprove the sexual binary. They are deviations from the binary norm, not the establishment of a new norm”
It is entirely true that the existence of intersex conditions do not disprove the predominant binary arrangement. It does however demonstrate that there are physical deviations from – exceptions to – said binary. It is also likewise true that he denies the existence of a physiological spectrum of outcomes and in this he errs. All intersex outcomes are not identical, some are only slightly variant from the binary norm and some are radically so.
Similarly, it is entirely true that there is a predominant binary in terms of gender identity, with the overwhelming majority crowding one pole or the other. Trans people exist as an exception to – a deviation from – those binary poles. But also similarly, while activists make considerable hay out of describing gender as a spectrum, this refers to the spectrum of sociological outcomes within the binary categories every bit as much as a reference to non-binary gender identification (to wit, there’s a difference in being “butch” and “girlie” within the category “female”). In point of fact, the typical transsexual person does not challenge the binary but actually affirms it. A person assumed male at birth who persistently identifies as, lives as, conforms as a female is not saying by that “binary classifications do not matter” – exactly the opposite. Obviously there are a few individuals who identify in some way outside the binary classifications, but such people no more threaten the existence or legitimacy of the binary than intersex people threaten the existence or legitimacy of the genital binary.
And that brings me to something else that must be noted about the rhetorical strategy of men like Burk: the inherent need to frame that which he disagrees with as a threat. For example, if Burk were to write at length about how much he disagrees with young men sagging their pants, all he would have communicated to you is that he personally found it distasteful. He would have struggled to explain to you why you should care that he does. It is only to the extent that he can assert the thing he does not like is a threat that his case has any persuasive power. So he cannot simply say “I find it distasteful that people do not conform to the expectations associated with their genitals (as ridiculous as that line of reasoning is) but he most constantly forward the notion that because some do not conform, the entire binary structure of society is in danger. He does not, of course, offering any supporting evidence that this is true. Again, he treats it as an a priori assumption that “everyone knows” which makes this segment of his argument as facile as the previous section.
Which is usually what happens when you try to impose a theological assumption on the facts.
I’ll continue with this next week…
Image: “Socrates and Aspesia”