Who Decides What It Means to Be a Man?

By Joseph Dunsay

Scientists and health professionals are once again sticking their noses into other people’s business, and the business at hand is one that most people prefer to keep private. Those familiar with the research know that the gender role a person follows results from a combination of nurture and nature. The dynamic is complicated. Genetic variety translates to a range of influences on nature side even though some underlying biological parts of being male are nearly universal. On the nurture side, a person’s physical and social environment can influence how a person expresses gender identity.

The debate over transgender men has gone on in the scientific community for a long time. When reviewing scientific reports, keep in mind that definitions in the mental health field tend to be imprecise and change as culture changes. An update on the current consensus tackles three controversial questions. (https://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2018/10/08/navigating_the_controversial_science_on_transgender.html )

Can social factors influence gender dysphoria? Someone with gender dysphoria suffers from a disconnect between his gender identity and the gender he was assigned by society at birth. A preliminary study suggests that peer pressure could make gender dysphoria more likely. However, there is no need to panic over gender dysphoria, because it affects fewer than 2% of the population.

Is a transgender person mentally ill? A transgender person, on the other hand, is at peace identifying with a gender that does not match the reproductive anatomy he was born with. Both the American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization no longer classify being transgender as a mental illness. Current treatments for a transgender person experiencing distress include affirmations of his transgender identity, because this helps him become a happier, healthier person.

Research on the brains suggests that there is a biological basis for being transgender. Male and female brains differ structurally, and a transgender person’s brain tends to resemble the gender he identifies with more than it resembles the gender of the reproductive anatomy he was born with. A testosterone surge during gestation normally makes the brain of a fetus masculine if he has a Y chromosome. Every milestone in fetal development depends on a biochemical cascade, and an individual might have a rare, undiscovered allele that interrupts any point in that cascade.

In my opinion, freedom and tolerance are the best way to accommodate people who are transgender or have gender dysphoria, because it is infeasible to develop physiological tests for either condition. The brain is hidden behind the skull, making it difficult for even a profession to deduce what happens inside a brain, but a person can explore his own mind through introspection with or without guidance. Our society already makes room for both men and women in social interactions. There’s no need to challenge a person’s self-declared gender identity even if that person is still exploring the issue.

As the growing consensus brings mental health professionals past the debate over transgender identity, they are gearing up to cure a new group of Americans, men with male reproductive systems and male brains, most of whom are at peace possessing these qualities. ( https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-who-stray/201901/psychologists-issue-controversial-report-masculinity) Talk about your mission creep. At least a family that hires a mohel can rely on tradition to keep the degree of intervention consistent from generation to generation. At the rate secular experts are going, every American man can expect the rules of manhood to get rewritten by the time his beard is gray. Critics of this year’s guidelines for treating men and boys pointed out its inaccurate statements about the history of psychology, vague criteria for diagnosing masculinity as unhealthy, and reference to micro-aggressions.

An opponent of the new guidelines saw them as part of a larger movement against masculinity. ( https://www.spiked-online.com/2019/01/21/the-crusade-against-masculinity/ ) Frank Furedi at Spiked wrote that male identity has become a “spoiled identity”, meaning there is a stigma associated with being male and that the new guidelines medicalized this stigma to give it the authority that comes with a stamp of scientific approval. The phenomenon is similar to the way the field of mental health treated homosexuality until the 1970’s. The new emotional hierarchy puts feminine women on top, followed in order by feminine men, masculine women, and masculine men. This view makes it particularly difficult for boys to transition into adulthood, because it teaches them that their natural tendencies are wrong.

The way I see it, the problem is not anatomy or neurons or gender identities. The problem is the intolerance of technocrats who want to engineer society one mind at a time. There is a time and place for masculine character traits. We should allow people the freedom to express those character traits regardless of anatomy. If someone wants to act feminine or masculine in a situation that is an individual choice. Let’s put the proclamations of experts in a file labeled “passing trends” and trust each person to find his own path to happiness.