The Transgender Umbrella Casts Its Shadow Over Gender Nonconformity
Why are we pretending we don’t know why kids think they’re trans?
Last June, the New York Times published an article summarizing a report on new CDC survey data demonstrating a “sharp rise in transgender young people in the U.S.” Indeed, data indicate between a 20- to 40-fold rise in the last decade. As to its cause, the report’s lead author Dr. Jody Herman calls it a “bewildering question.” Commenting on the report, leading clinical psychologist and gender specialist Dr. Erica Anderson tweeted that this surge “defies explanation,” adding that “something is going on that we don’t yet understand.”
Even more puzzling is that over this time the sex ratio of these children has flipped from being mostly males to mostly females. The figure below illustrates both of these “bewildering” phenomena.
This sudden spike and sex ratio flip is viewed as the riddle of our time that many are desperate to solve. And, like most things these days, those purporting to have solved this riddle generally fall into two camps—those who believe it is due to greater social acceptance, and those who believe it is a result of peer social contagion.
The social acceptance hypothesis is favored by those on the political Left. New York Times reporter Azeen Ghorayshi refers to this hypothesis in her above article by saying that the Williams Institute data highlights an “emerging societal embrace of a diversity of gender identities.” This attitude shift, fueled in part by positive media portrayals of transgender people, has supposedly allowed for the formerly silent majority of trans kids to safely come out of hiding and express their true inner selves. Proponents of the social acceptance hypothesis, however, remain largely silent on the cause of the sex ratio flip.
On the other hand, the social contagion hypothesis is generally favored among political centrists and conservatives and holds that transgender identities have become trendy in a culture where intersectionality oppression scores act as a form of social currency. Even more, the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok has made it much easier for these social trends to proliferate. The sex ratio flip is thought to be explained by girls’ plummeting mental health relative to boys combined with girls’ increased susceptibility to social contagion related to body image and self-harm.
But as the culture war rages on about whether these trends are best explained by greater societal acceptance of transgender people or are driven primarily by social contagion, I contend that while these may certainly be contributing factors, neither of these hypotheses can sufficiently explain the magnitude of the problem. Rather, I believe that these trends can be mostly explained by one simple fact:
The definition of “transgender” currently used and embraced by our largest and most prestigious scientific, medical, and human rights organizations is literally synonymous with common gender nonconformity.
We can call this the definitional expansion hypothesis or the widening umbrella hypothesis.
I will now demonstrate this fact to you.
Planned Parenthood is a US-based nonprofit that provides services to transgender patients at all their locations, and in 2020 were “second largest provider of gender affirming hormone care” nationally. On their website, “gender” is defined as “a social and legal status, and set of expectations from society, about behaviors, characteristics, and thoughts,” and that “it’s more about how you’re expected to act, because of your sex.” The “gender binary” is defined as “the idea that gender is strictly an either/or option of male/men/masculine or female/woman/feminine based on sex assigned at birth,” and they define “nonbinary,” which is a type of transgender identity, as referring to a “rejection of the gender binary’s assumption that gender is strictly an either/or option of male/man/masculine or female/ woman/feminine based on sex assigned at birth.”
The literal and straightforward reading of this is that people who are gender nonconforming—i.e. people who do not behave according to traditional notions of masculinity or femininity that society expects of them because of their sex—are transgender.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in their Glossary of Terms, defines “transgender” as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.” The “gender binary” is the system in which one’s “gender identity is expected to align with the sex assigned at birth and gender expressions and roles fit traditional expectations.”
Again, the most straightforward reading of this is that a transgender person is someone who simply does not conform to traditional stereotypes of masculinity or femininity associated with being male or female.
But what about scientific institutions?
The American Psychological Association (APA), which is in charge of establishing the norms for clinical practice in the United States, defines “transgender” as “an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”
The Endocrine Society, which is the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to research on hormones and the practice of endocrinology, defines “transgender” in their Clinical Practice Guideline as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with their sex designated at birth.” This is also the same definition used by the Pediatric Endocrine Society.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA), which is the main professional psychiatric in the United States and the largest psychiatric organization in the world, defines “transgender” as “an umbrella term describing individuals whose gender identity (inner sense of gender) or gender expression (outward performance of gender) differs from the sex or gender to which they were assigned at birth.” And their definition of “gender expression” is “the outward manifestation of a person’s gender, which may or may not reflect their inner gender identity based on traditional expectations.”
Lastly, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which purports to be “the nation’s leading science-based, data-driven, service organization that protects the public’s health,” defines “transgender” on the LGBT health section of their website as “an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity or expression (masculine, feminine, other) is different from their sex (male, female) at birth.”
All these institutions are saying the same thing: if your expression or behavior is different from what is “typically associated” with your sex based on “traditional expectations,” you are transgender. This is literally equating common gender nonconformity (i.e. masculine females, feminine males, and androgynous people of either sex) with transgenderism.
I could go on endlessly citing more examples, but for the sake of brevity I will leave it there.
The above section demonstrates that our scientific, medical, and human rights institutions have been captured by a radical ideology that has completely decoupled the terms man, woman, boy, and girl from one’s biological sex. Instead, men/boys and women/girls are now viewed as individuals who embrace the expected roles and stereotypes typically associated with males (i.e. masculinity) and females (i.e. femininity), respectively. These two expected roles based on the two sexes is the so-called “gender binary,” and our institutions literally believe that doctors are “assigning” these roles to babies at birth based on their sex.
Our institutions also believe that transgender people are either “binary” or “nonbinary.” For instance, a male who feels most comfortable taking on the roles and behaviors typically associated with females is viewed as a binary transgender person because they still conform to one of the two social roles within the gender binary (i.e. masculinity or femininity). Males and females who do not feel an affinity to either of the social roles and expectations associated with being male or female are therefore considered nonbinary transgender people.
It is urgent that we all fully understand that the definition of transgenderism used by our most highly regarded scientific, medical, and human rights institutions now literally encompasses common gender nonconformity, and this is the main reason so many children are now claiming to be transgender.
This medicalization of gender nonconformity can be gleaned from reading the definitions produced by these institutions at face value. This interpretation is not a product of my bias or spin—this is what they’re saying in plain English.
But what about the second major question—the sex ratio flip? Does equating gender nonconformity with transgenderism explain why the sex ratio of children referred to gender clinics has flipped from being mostly males to mostly females?
Yes, it does, and the reasons can be derived from my figure below.
This figure highlights three important truths.
The first truth contained in this figure is that the female and male sexes differ—on average—in their adherence to social norms and expectations in behaviors and preferences that informs our crude perceptions of masculine and feminine stereotypes or so-called “gender roles.” For simplicity, we will talk about this in terms of the degree to which someone exhibits feminine and/or masculine traits.
The second truth is that, despite these average differences in feminine and masculine traits exhibited between females and males, respectively, there is still considerable overlap in these traits, as there are with any other personality trait, so that some females exhibit extreme masculinity, and some males extreme femininity.
The third truth is that, at least for children and adolescents, females exhibit higher “gender variance” than males (represented by the pink and blue shaded regions in the above figure), which sex researcher Kenneth Zucker has summarized by saying:
[I]t has been long observed that the sexes differ in the extent to which they display sex-typical behaviors; when there is significant between-sex variation, it is almost always the case that girls are more likely to engage in masculine behaviors than boys are likely to engage in feminine behaviors.
This is an odd fact given that for most traits males tend to exhibit higher variation than females, a phenomenon known as the “greater male variability hypothesis.” Nevertheless, numerous studies going as far back as the 1950s have demonstrated that gender nonconformity, or “gender-variant” behavior, is higher in girls than in boys.
For instance, in a 2008 study by Richard A. Lippa, childhood gender nonconformity was over 40 percent higher for girls than boys who grew up to be heterosexual, and approximately 25 percent higher for girls than boys who grew up to be homosexual.
In 2012, a randomly sampled prospective study by Thomas Steensma and colleagues found that girls were more than twice as likely to exhibit gender variance than boys, and girls’ gender variance was rated as considerably more intense. Girls were also nearly twice as likely to be described by their parents as behaving “like the opposite sex,” and in this study only girls were reported as having expressed a wish “to be of opposite sex.”
Data from the 80s and 90s also corroborate these findings. In one large data set from a 1981 Child Behavior Checklist using a 0- to 2-point scale (0 = never true; 1 = somewhat or sometimes true; 2 = very true or often true), mothers reported their daughters as being more than twice as likely to exhibit cross-sex behavior than their sons (Table I below). And, similar to the Steensma study, girls were more likely than boys to express a desire “to be of opposite sex.” These results replicated a decade later in 1991 using a similar ACQ Behavior Checklist that’s based on a 0- to 3-point scale (Table II below).
In one of the first studies to ever quantify gender variance in children, a 1956 study titled “Sex-Role Preference in Young Children,” psychologist Daniel G. Brown concluded that “one of the most striking findings in the present study is the comparatively greater preference that boys show for the masculine role than girls show for the feminine role, a difference that is large and significant.”
The causes underlying this phenomenon are not entirely clear and may result from innate differences, socialization, or a combination of both. But evidence suggests is that girls are generally given more social leeway by both parents and peers to cross gendered boundaries than males, which results in more perceived “gender variance” in girls than boys.
Gender variance in children is also predictive of adult sexual orientation, with reports of adulthood homosexuality being 8 to 15 times higher for individuals with a history of gender variance (10.2% to 12.2%), compared to those without a history of gender variance (1.2% to 1.7%). Other studies found similar results. Another interesting fact is that people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are “7.59 times more likely to express gender variance.” Other studies have demonstrated links between ASD and gender variance as well. This likely explains the overrepresentation of ASD and same-sex attracted girls being referred to gender clinics.
Because girls are more likely to exhibit gender nonconformity than boys (i.e. girls are more likely to exhibit stereotypically masculine traits than boys are to exhibit feminine traits), and because the definition of transgenderism is now synonymous with common gender nonconformity, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the rates of children claiming to be transgender is exploding, and that the majority of these children are girls.
Hospitals aren’t even hiding the fact that they are medicalizing gender nonconformity and gender variance. The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University explicitly states on their Pediatric Transgender Clinic website that their Division of Endocrinology “provides care to gender variant and transgender children and adolescents,” and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia similarly states that they offer “medical support for gender variant, gender expansive, and transgender children and youth…” The Gender Affirming Health Program at UCSF describes the “hormonal and surgical transition” considerations for “people who do not live within the binary gender narrative,” which they say includes people who identify as “genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and gender nonbinary.” And the Children’s Hospital of Chicago’s “Gender Development Program” says their patients include “gender expansive or gender non-conforming children,” which they define as “children and adolescents who exhibit behavior that is not typical of their assigned birth sex.”
This is insane.
If being transgender were merely a statement about one’s gender nonconformity, none of this would be particularly worrying. But that is far from the case. In reality, when a child becomes convinced they’re transgender, this usually prompts a visit to a gender clinic where they will see a “gender-affirming” therapist who will not question their cross-sex identity. Depending on the child’s age, the therapist may then prescribe puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or surgeries to “fix” this perceived misalignment between the child’s “gender identity” (i.e. the social roles and stereotypes they identify with) and their sex-related physical features.
From a purely ideological perspective, this redefinition of the terms boy, girl, man, and woman according to sex-related stereotypes and social roles by our institutions is regressive in the extreme, as it repudiates decades of work by women’s rights activists who fought assiduously to decouple notions of womanhood and manhood from rigid stereotypes and social roles.
But from the perspective of material impact, this overt medicalization of gender nonconformity is nothing short of a medical scandal of truly epic proportions.
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