When I met my wife, she was a high school health teacher; a good high school health teacher. One educated in public health and child development. One who ran grants for tobacco cessation and the SADD club for her school. One who got involved in the “whole person” health of her students. People like her have largely been replaced these days by the football coach or the PE teacher, at least here in southern California they have. There’s no bitterness on our part. She left a long time ago to start a family and moved on to helping other people in other ways. I offer that bit of information instead as framing for a different discussion. It’s this. At some point, my wife spent most of her time involved in the well being of high school aged kids. As a result, she observed a few things. And now, those observations are material to a national debate we’re about to have.
About 15 years ago, before we had our own kids, I came home from work to find my wife reading an article about a man named David Reimer. Some of you may recognized the name. David Reimer was born in 1967 and as a result of a botched circumcision, he lost his penis as a newborn. Taking their doctor’s advice, they decided to raise their son as a girl. The results were not good.
David, suffered chronic depression as a child. He tried to commit suicide multiple times until finally his parents told him about his medical background and his real gender at 14. . He decided, then, to live as a man. In 2004, at the age of 38, David eventually succeeded in taking his own life with a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head in a grocery store parking lot.
I remember my wife telling me about the article. And then looking at me and saying, “This is a bigger deal than people think.” After years of watching kids in her school and studying child development, and talking to them about their health she had come to her own conclusions about gender identity. And it not really being a choice.
It’s pretty intuitive. No major break through. I didn’t choose my gender. You didn’t choose yours. But what the David Reimer story was also telling her, and this is what she was trying to tell me but I missed it, was that, if you try to force the wrong gender on someone, the consequences are disastrous for that person. Additionally, this may go beyond just the extreme edge case of David Reimer, a man who lost his physical gender at birth. This was more common. And she was right. I dismissed it as over sensitive nonsense. Like I dismissed the autism epidemic.
Until my son was diagnosed of course.
Reimer eventually was the subject of a book, written in 2006 by John Colapinto called As Nature Made Him. The book provided us with a unique case study that served as a basis for the first half of a modern, mature, compassionate view of gender identity. The first half being that trying to convince someone who is one sex, that they are another, will have horrific psychological outcomes. That’s the first part of the thought. The second part is a little more complex. And it involves science.
In 2015, the Medical University of Vienna released a press release detailing the findings from a study they were conducting on the mechanics of brain activity as it related to gender identity. For those of you wary of half baked medical studies conducted by fly by night organizations, rest easy. The University of Vienna has been around for a while-1365 to be exact. It had four Nobel Prize winners in the 20th century and is the oldest German speaking medical institution in the world. When they say things, it’s usually a fair bet that there’s some science involved. Here’s a piece of it.
“In a current study, brain researcher Georg S. Kranz of the University Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the MedUni Vienna was able to demonstrate that the very personal gender identity of every human being is reflected and verifiable in the cross-links between brain regions”
In English now: They used a technology called Magnetic Resonance Topography (MRT) to study brain activity in men, women and people who identified as transgender. What they found was pretty straight forward. They identified that the way a person’s brain communicates with itself is different for a man then it is for a woman. No shocker there. But this second part is more interesting. For people who identified as transgender, their brain worked like neither. It was somewhere in between.Which tells us something very important. Our physical gender tends to usually dictate how we identify our gender as a function of how we form our thoughts about it, mechanically in our brains. But not always. Sometimes, our brain is “wired” in between. And if you add this last bit of outside evidence in here, that we don’t choose how our brain is wired, you can get to a complete thought on gender identity. It looks like this.
Forcing someone to identify as a gender that they do not, is extremely unhealthy. And since we now know, because of science, that identifying with a gender is neither completely dependent on physical sex nor a choice, forcing someone who doesn’t “feel” like they are a particular sex, to be that sex, is an extremely damaging thing to do. Especially for a child. Which agrees with two things. The first was the observation my wife was making for me 15 years ago after watching thousands of adolescent high school kids come through her class and talking about sex and sexuality. The second is the horrifying story that the data tells us. Which is this.
According to a 2015 study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 41% of people who identify as transgender, attempt suicide. For the rest of the population, that number is 4%. That’s four out of every ten. Ten times worse than the rest of us.
In March of 2015, the North Carolina state legislature passed HB2, a state law declaring that people may only use the public restrooms designated for a specific gender for that gender identified on their birth certificate. Governor Pat McCrory signed it into law. These people, many that are kids, are living miserable lives. And we’re making it worse with politics by passing laws to pump up the base.
Now, I wouldn’t have expected my conservatives friends to pass a law protecting these folks. But it wasn’t too much to ask them not to expand government to make life on them harder. But I guess that’s the state of conservative politics in America today.
Here’s where I net out on this. I don’t know what my life would be like if someone forced me, tomorrow, to live as a woman. I had a temper tantrum this morning when Starbucks ran out of the blonde roast before I came in. Chances are, wearing women’s clothes or having mostly women friends and even dating only men, would bother me. And maybe I too would be one of the 41% who just couldn’t go on. I don’t know. But I learned a long time ago not to dismiss things I don’t understand because it doesn’t make sense to me. And this falls in one of those buckets. And when in that bucket, I try to think of who gets hurt the most, assuming all involved are well intentionted. And for this one, it’s not close.
I’ve seen enough memes in the last week about “perverts” using women’s bathrooms and scare tactics around predator men sitting in the stall next to your daughter. And I get that this is new and for some it may feel like the world has gone mad with acceptance and tolerance. But what’s going on here is a compassionate movement to help people that science and data have told us are in a heap of trouble unless we make it easier for them to assimilate into our society. I’m not entirely sure that our state legislatures have bigger problems on their plates than ones that require bathroom legislation, but it feels like they do. Only one in five of them are funding their pensions. We’ve got urban neglect and infrastructure collapse. Let’s put our consensus energy there instead. I’m not entirely sure who a bill like H2B helps. I know who it hurts though. And they’ve had it bad enough already.