Feature 05.23.2023 6 minutes

A More than Material Matter

Close-Up Of Man Applying Make-Up

The struggle against transgenderism is a spiritual struggle.

In a video that achieved its five minutes of viral fame last week, Webster Barnaby, a pastor and a Republican Florida State Representative, denounced the transgender movement at a legislative hearing. He held nothing back.

 “The Lord Rebuke you Satan and all of your demons and all of your imps,” intoned Barnaby, referring to the transgender people present. “We have people who live among us today on planet Earth who are happy to display themselves as mutants from another planet.”

This is, needless to say, strong language for the public discourse in 2023. And since it is in fact 2023, Barnaby later walked back part of his statement.

But it was language that resonated with many—because Representative Barnaby had recognized and given voice to the fact, which is now becoming inescapably clear, that transgenderism is not simply the latest culture war social issue. It is a fundamental transgression against God and nature. Barnaby’s word choice—“Demons and Imps”—suggests a transgression of the divine order. His subsequent reference to “mutants from another planet” spoke to a transgression of the natural order.

To a certain type of blackpilled right-winger, the transgenderism debate seems like so many other debates over social issues—debates that we have overwhelmingly lost. Cthulhu always seems to swim left, devouring social traditionalists in its wake.

But this fails to recognize the unique nature of the debate over transgenderism, which makes it sui generis—not just a continuation of previous culture war skirmishes on issues like traditional marriage, pornography, or homosexuality. In fact, the debate over homosexuality serves as an interesting contrast to the current skirmish on transgenderism.

Even today, Christians have a variety of attitudes toward homosexuality. Pope Francis famously said “Who am I to judge?” even while declining to alter traditional Catholic teachings on sexuality. And, of course, mainline Protestant organizations, which have largely abandoned the traditional Christian sexual ethic, have long-since embraced homosexuality, even among the clergy. Even some independent evangelical churches have made their peace with homosexuality, though the overwhelming majority of evangelical churches stick to traditional teachings in this area. But even within conservative Christianity, gay celibate Catholic and evangelical individuals have achieved prominence and been welcomed in communion.

The different reactions to homosexuality and transgenderism reflect the fact that, spiritually, these are very different phenomena. Even in very conservative denominations such as mine, the overwhelming majority of pastors would not deny that a person who says that he or she experiences same sex attraction actually experiences same sex attraction. The difference will be in what the pastor or priest counsels as to the proper discernment regarding this attraction: liberal pastors might embrace it, whereas conservative pastors might say that this attraction is a burden from God, something to be overcome, or part of God’s plan in a way that we don’t understand. Very, very few would deny that the attraction itself is a reality.

How different are these claims from the claims of transgenderism? Transgenderism is not an assertion that a person feels a desire to be the opposite sex, which could be recognized as a spiritual struggle for which we could (and indeed should) offer compassion. Instead, transgenderism is the assertion that one has become or can become the opposite sex (or “gender,” a poisonous term slipped into the lexicon by sexual radicals that has caused endless trouble). It follows that if we do not allow people to mutilate their bodies, stuff themselves with cross-sex hormones, and pretend they have become something that they cannot be, we have somehow engaged in bigotry.

This is an outright denial of basic and readily observable facts about humanity. As Chris “Billboard Chris” Elston, a prominent Canadian activist who fights against pediatric sex change surgeries and cross-sex hormone treatment, puts it: “There are two sexes, zero genders, and infinite personalities.”

A man cannot be a woman. From the womb, every cell of a man’s body is encoded with his maleness. This is true from a religious perspective, and it is true from a scientific perspective. In essentializing femaleness into a puerile performance, the “transgender woman” playacts an elaborate and insulting stereotype—but he does not change his sex. Can anyone picture a more pathetic caricature of womanhood, or girlhood, than Dylan Mulvaney?

Whether the recent explosion of transgender identification is the result of a pornography fetish, social contagion, generalized gender dysphoria, or something else entirely, transgender performance is recognized by all those not in the grip of gender ideology as somewhere between demonic and laughable.

God (or nature, if you prefer) made people male and female. There are, we are endlessly reminded by trans activists, rare exceptions such as the intersex. But these medical conditions do not correlate at all with transgenderism. Transgenderism is the fundamental denial of our created order, a negation of the richly varied ways that men can express their masculinity and women their femininity.

Naming Our Demons

Some traditionalists might reply, well, the same could be said of homosexuality—that it flies in the face of obvious tendencies in the created order, uncoupling manhood from its procreative fulfillment in relationship with womanhood, and vice versa. And as a married father of five, I find much to agree with in this viewpoint! But homosexual sex, as we traditionalists frequently point out ourselves, is an action, capable at least in principle of being separated from the philosophy that underwrites it. Transgenderism, by contrast, is itself a philosophy: it makes anti-human claims about what we are and demands acquiescence to those claims even from the vast majority of people who do not themselves experience discomfort in their own bodies.

This is why transgenderism cannot be effectively refuted in merely secular terms: it cannot even be described in merely secular terms. It is a set of spiritual claims about human purpose and identity—our relationship to one another, to nature, and to the good. And both in theory and in practice, the beliefs which transgenderism demands can only be described as demonic.

We do not saw off the healthy limbs of adults who are uncomfortable with them; much less do we even consider doing this to children. It is not psychologically healthy to engage in delusions, especially when those delusions have absolutely devastating effect on those around us—wives, husbands, parents, children, friends.

Transgenderism is not simply the latest battle in the culture war, and the differences we have with pro-transgender activists cannot simply be reduced to political differences—they are spiritual differences about the purposes for which we have been created, what we are allowed to do to ourselves, and what must always remain taboo.

Denying our most basic human nature is an essential premise of what Mary Harrington and others have called the “cyborg theocracy.” As Harrington writes, this all-encompassing political theology “seeks to replace embodied men and women with the tech-enabled, self-fashioning, post-human ‘person.’”

However we are formed, we each have an ineffable beauty and integrity as we are—an integrity that cannot be enhanced in any way by the Dr. Menglxes of modern transgender “medicine.” Transgenderism is not just horrifically damaging for kids (though it is certainly that)—it is destructive for everyone. It is not simply an intellectual error but a moral and spiritual one. And to properly combat it, we cannot simply use the dry language of policy. We must use a language that is richer, deeper and speaks to fundamental truths that will remain unchanged long after the latest social and political ideologies have been cast to the winds.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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