The world is changing. Some haven't recognized this yet.
'Conversion therapy' advocates, 'trans* exclusive radical feminists'... they are separate camps, both making loud, dissonant, antitransgender braying... alive still, but not comprehending that history is against them. Their shrieks are (hopefully) the final, desperate cries of nearly extinct creatures, vitriolic attacks on the transgender community thinly disguised as rational arguments.
But dying beasts are not harmless. The shrill, distracting hollers they make have received attention in the press. They have sometimes been invited to speak at conferences, legitimizing their bigotry. And many people, not knowing the context, give their work serious consideration.
'Conversion' or 'reparative' therapy has been much in the news: a technique designed to coerce people lesbian, gay, or bisexual into heterosexual lives, or transgender people into remaining their assigned birth genders. But there is little disagreement... conversion therapy has been opposed by most mental health licensing boards.
We even see global leaders taking stances. President Obama called for an end to reparative therapy while also appointing numerous trans* and gender nonconforming people to his administration, several US states have already prohibited it, federal legislation called "Leelah's Law" to ban such inhumane treatment is making its way through the U.S. Congress (after trans* youth suicide victim Leelah Alcorn), and the Canadian province of Ontario just outlawed such practices as well. Again, there is no controversy.
Within the arguments by conversion's proponents are two assumptions, rarely articulated openly: that trans* lives are undesirable, and that trans* lives are preventable.
The notion that inhibiting trans* lives is beneficial suggests that transgender or gender nonconforming individuals are somehow inferior, that living their identities in full puts an undue burden on them and everyone else, and that having trans* individuals in our culture is detrimental to society. My community finds all three distasteful.
Studies and anecdotal stories show that attempting to impose change upon someone's gender identity, much like trying to compel a change in someone's sexual orientation, is damaging and futile. While we do not know which of the children presenting with gender variance might persist with age, it is well documented that being told your identity is invalid leads to shame, low self esteem, poor performance at school, depression, and suicide. We've seen more than enough of that.
Allowing children the freedom to express themselves harms no one and is a familiar component of childhood development, and there is ample evidence to suggest that children, given space, will 'find their level'. It is society that struggles with children's nonconformity, not the children themselves. Again these arguments imply that there is a 'correct' way to be gendered, and that 'trans-ness' is an unacceptable deviation.
Ken Zucker is a psychologist in Toronto. His transgender program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has long been criticized for enforcing outdated protocols that severely restrict access to transition-related care. Recently Zucker has again been condemned for counseling parents of gender variant children to pressure those children into their external genders assigned at birth and to reject their internal identities. CAMH's transgender youth program has been suspended pending an investigation. (Toronto resides within Ontario, the province to recently ban conversion therapy.)
In response to the 'controversy', J. Michael Bailey, author of the unscientific diatribe The Man Who Would Be Queen in which he referred to gender variant people as "evolutionary mistakes", penned an Op-Ed in the LA Times defending Zucker's philosophy. My colleagues (Diane Ehrensaft and Dan Karasic, and many others) have done a wonderful job at demonstrating how Zucker and Bailey's writings are inaccurate, misleading, and paranoid.
Perpetuating this paranoia, Alice Dreger, in wired.com, suggested that some people would be better served by conversion therapy, and that providers, parents, and others might instead be mandated by legislation to change the gender of these children. This is a fundamental mischaracterization. No one is attempting to force anyone. It is about respect and autonomy.
Mammoth, sluggish creatures terrified of losing their dominance... unable, or unwilling, to keep pace with change.
Feminist writers like Elinor Burkett and Germaine Greer assert that individuals who have undergone great suffering to live fully as women are instead infiltrators from the patriarchy intent on sabotaging women's solidarities. Actively refuting that "women are made, not born" they reject trans* women as inauthentic, and by extension the entire trans* and gender nonconforming community. Unsurprisingly, they often say little about trans* men.
Taken together, the cries all hark back to attacks made in the 1970s and since in books like The Transsexual Empire by Janice Raymond, and to the arguments against the normalizing of same-sex desire throughout earlier decades. These people refer to the transgender community as a radical movement with the aim of dismantling social norms, and that those of us who do not adhere to binary expressions of gender as predetermined by our genes are living a masquerade. Or perhaps that we are pressuring people to adopt trans* identities not genuine to the individual. They also suggest that those who oppose transgender rights (like themselves) are victims of the extremist 'transgender fringe' (like me?) intent on attacking all contrary voices. But bigotry is still bigotry.
Maybe recent events will expose their prejudice, and critique from trans* activists, the mainstream media, and the culture at large will demonstrate how outdated and narrow-minded these ideas are.
Their day is over. There has been an explosion of gender possibilities causing seismic shifts before our eyes. We are witnessing the breakdown of gender norms, to the benefit of all humankind. Gender is a facet of our humanity to be explored in its full richness, and gender diversity is the future. Our community is tens of thousands strong... diverse... empowered... and (reasonably) happy. Younger people and younger providers are overwhelmingly trans* positive.
Ultimately the age of dinosaurs will pass; their fossils will be discovered by future anthropologist-archeologists to be scrutinized, dissected, and viewed as oddities whose ideas will seem curious for their naiveté.
Evolve, or be mired in the tar pits. History has already decided.