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New York Times

Should I Go to a Gender-Reveal Party?, by Kwame Anthony Appiah

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday, Oct 10, 2018

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It's Wednesday, October 10, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Contagion of gender confusion fueled by new study on teens and gender identity

It's interesting when a major scientific report is issued to consider the report itself and then the media coverage concerning it. On Monday of this week, the academic journal Pediatrics issued an article entitled Health and Care Utilization of Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth: A Population-Based Study. But then you see the report in CNN with the headline More U.S. Teens are Rejecting Boy or Girl Gender Identities, a Study Finds.

Now, is there a connection between these two articles? The answer is yes. The article at CNN, the coverage by the network, is indeed about the scientific article that was released on Monday. But is there a one-to-one correlation between the report and the news coverage? Of course not, and there's a story there. The story becomes a part of the bigger story. As we look at the academic report, what we are seeing is what is claimed to be the largest study of the adolescent transgender population under such terms ever yet conducted.

The headline at CNN tells us that more U.S. adolescents are now rejecting the words boy or girl as gender identities, and a surprisingly large percentage of adolescents in America are identifying in some way as gender nonconforming. The CNN report begins with these words, "More teenagers are identifying themselves with non-traditional gender labels such as transgender or gender-fluid, according to a new study. The research, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, found that almost 3% of Minnesota teens did not identify with traditional gender labels such as boy or girl. That number," we are told, "is higher than researchers expected. A UCLA study from a year ago estimated that only 0.7% of teens identified as transgender."

Now, this does appear to be big news. We're talking about a multiplication factor of the percentage of adolescents and teenagers in the United States understood to be in some way in a gender nonconforming situation. But let's look a little closer at what is actually reported in the research. CNN later in the article reports it this way, and I quote, "Nearly 2,200 of these teens," that's out of 81,000 Minnesota students in the 9th and 11th grades, "About 2200 of the teens, about 2.7%, answered yes to the question ..." Now, I'm going to pause for a moment and say when you see this kind of a report, you need to look really carefully at the question.

The question is this, "Do you consider yourself transgender, gender-queer, gender-fluid, or unsure of your gender identification?" CNN goes on to explain, "The term gender-queer describes a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions and may ..." The big issue here is the word may, "identity with neither, both, or a combination of male and female identities." What's the point I'm trying to make here? The point is we really don't know what percentage of Minnesota 9th and 11th graders in this study are in some genuine way struggling with the category of boy or girl.

What we do know is that there has now been a contagion of mass confusion escalating from what one report indicated was 0.7% to what in this report is 2.7%. We are now looking at a contagion of gender confusion. The question itself, the words of the question are far less specific than the headline in CNN would support. The words of the report have to do with the question, "Do you consider yourself transgender," here are the words, "transgender, gender-queer, gender-fluid, or unsure of your gender identification?"

The article at CNN and much of the other major media coverage indicates that perhaps, and here's a big perhaps, America has miscalculated, even pediatricians and researchers have miscalculated, and have reduced or minimized the number of transgender or other gender nonconforming adolescents in America. That's a big if. It's a big if that isn't at all conclusively answered by this study.

But there's another very interesting clue in the CNN coverage. I read this, "But more surprising may have been the rising percentage of teens who say they don't fit traditional gender norms. The study," we are told, and again, I'm quoting, "supports prior research suggesting that previous estimates of the size of the transgender nonconforming population have been underestimated by orders of magnitude," that according to Michael Shumer, a specialist in transgender medicine at the University of Michigan in an accompanying opinion article in Pediatrics, the journal.

What's important about those words? Well, just consider that single-sentence paragraph. "More surprising may have been the rising percentage of teens who say they don't fit traditional gender norms." Notice carefully, it's who say they don't fit. Fit what? Traditional gender norms. Well, let's just think about the messaging that has been sent to American adolescents over the course of the last decade or so. The messaging has been consistent. It has come from the academics. It has come from the cultural elites. It has come from Hollywood. It has come from television. It has come from peer culture. It has come from sex education and gender identity education in the schools. That messaging has been one of gender confusion.

Why are we surprised at escalating numbers of teenagers who indicate they are, to some degree, unwilling to state ... Here's what so important. They are unwilling to state that they are completely comfortable with being a boy or a girl and are willing to say that they are not at all confused about the issues of gender and gender identity. We can hardly be surprised that young Americans or, for that matter, Americans of any age are increasingly confused about the issues of gender.

We are a society that deliberately seeks to sow the seeds of that confusion. We are a society that deliberately seeks to fan the flame of that confusion. We are a society that then appears to be shocked when we report to ourselves that the gender confusion that we have spawned continues to grow into even deeper and more widespread confusion.

Earlier in the CNN report, I read, "The study found that transgender and gender nonconforming youth reported," and there the study is quoted, "reported significantly poorer health, including mental health, than cisgender," that is, non-gender confused, "teenagers." Well, that's very problematic. It's troubling. It's deeply troubling that any adolescent would struggle with mental health. But here, what is not addressed is what can only be questioned as the circularity of the argument.

Is it that more mentally troubled teenagers are more likely to be confused, or is it that more confused ... That is, in gender confusion ... teenagers are more likely to suffer from poor mental health? That question isn't even addressed, but we simply, as honest Christians, have to ask the question. How could we expect that persons, individuals of any age, but especially adolescents, struggling with something as basic as gender identity, how can we expect that they would be untroubled when you think about the general picture of mental health? You're talking about the most basic identity questions that are central to what it means to be human, what it means to be male or female.

The same academic, Daniel Shumer, again, he's identified as a specialist in transgender medicine at the University of Michigan, he is quoted later in the article where the article says that he believes that the growing percentage of gender nonconforming youth should serve as a lesson to schools and physicians to abandon limited views of gender. Now, here we note something else that's very significant. This is not an academic without an interest in the subject matter. This is not an academic who doesn't have a political point to make.

You will notice that he here makes the point, saying that we should as a society, especially as schools and physicians "abandon limited views of gender." Directly quoted in the article, he says this, "Of particular interest is how the researchers in this study were able to provide a window into how high-school-aged youth understand and redefined gender." I will simply ask the basic question as to whether or not the study indicates any such thing.

What we are told here is that the study provides this window into how high-school-aged youth understand and redefine gender. Let's ask the question. Is it rather an indication of how high school youth, especially teenagers in the 9th and 11th grades, are becoming confused because of the society's confusion and the ongoing ideological effort to redefine gender?

But finally on this issue, we have to understand that this is exactly how this kind of report begins to fuel those flames, begins to expand the argument, begins to add political capital for this kind of moral revolution. This is where a society that causes the confusion then comes back to be concerned when this kind of confusion begins to expand, and then argues that the confusion becomes a political rationale for changing how the entire society thinks. That becomes a fuel for an entire area of medicine that is now devoted to transgender youth as they are identified.

Everyone here has an interest, and behind this interest is the supposed authority of science. After all, this article was published in one of the most respected pediatric journals imaginable. But this is where we also have to understand that the cultural elites are, by the very nature of being a cultural elite, largely in control of all of the arms of elite culture, and that includes academic journals and, sad to say, it also increasingly includes medical journals.

You begin with an academic article that already has very implicit ideas that we need to question and comes to conclusions that we also need to question that is then reported in the mass media with an expansion of the argument without even addressing the most basic questions. Instead, it all comes supposedly with the mandate of science to tell us we're all going to have to get new right thinking on questions of both what it means to be a teenager and then, more fundamentally, what it means to be a human being.

Part

Why much of the moral confusion we see today is a socially-constructed confusion

But next, while we're talking about this kind of confusion, we also have to meet the recognition that much of this confusion is artificial. Much of it is socially constructed. Much of it is orchestrated. Evidence of that comes in the fact that most people, even those who say they have joined the moral and sexual revolution, continue to use those old-fashioned terms that indicate they really haven't joined the revolution at all. old-fashioned words like husband and wife, man and woman, brother and sister, boy and girl.

As I mentioned in my book, We Cannot Be Silent on These Issues, published just a couple of years ago, the reality is that many of those who are trying to drive the transgender revolution recognize that one of the great obstacles is that when a baby is born, there is still the general and celebrated recognition, it's a boy or it's a girl. One transgender activist ... That was the language that was used then ... speaking of the obstacles to the transgender revolution said that the revolution cannot possibly succeed until those who are delivering the baby and those who are in the delivery room stop saying it's a boy or it's a girl.

The reality is boy and girl are still words being spoken with excitement in delivery rooms. I'll go on to predict that it's going to continue to be so. Boy and girl make sense in a delivery room. Why? Because when a baby is born, when you want to know who this baby is, there is still the recognition that fundamental to knowing who this baby is is saying, and even seeing, boy or girl.

But this takes us to a recent piece in the New York Times. This appeared in the New York Times Magazine. It's in The Ethicist column, which is always rather interesting and usually pretty concerning. The Ethicist in this case is Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah. The headline in the article, Should I Go to a Gender-Reveal Party? The question posed to The Ethicist is this, "A close relation is pregnant with her first child and is having a gender-reveal party. She is overjoyed with the addition to our family, as am I. However, I am adamantly opposed to attending the gender-reveal party because it violates my moral code."

The questioner goes on to say, "I have worked in activism for my entire professional life and, though I am cisgender, I have strong feelings about gender politics and equality. Gender-reveal parties, where parents and guests learn a baby's gender together, violate," said the writer, "my values because they reaffirm society's gender binarism and inadvertently perpetuate the stigma against non-binary genders." Well, the questioner is not finished.

She or he continues, "I know I will never experience firsthand the challenges of being gender-nonconforming, but when I think about how I might feel, I would be very hurt knowing my parents had a gender-reveal party for me before I was born with my incorrect gender." The writer concludes, "I know the non-binary community faces much deeper, more urgent problems than this hypothetical situation, but even so, I have a moral aversion to helping affirm society's gender binarism. Should I attend the party?"

Well, I guess it all had to end here, but of course, it doesn't actually end. This is just one more stage into cultural insanity. Here we have the writer to the New York Times' Ethicist column asking the question as to whether or not he or she would be violating his or her own moral code and the writer's own moral values to attend a party in which it is to be revealed that an unborn child is ... Here are those dreaded, politically incorrect words ... a boy or a girl.

The moral unction behind this question is itself rather breathtaking. You don't get to this question in the early, say, leading edge of a moral revolution. The moral revolution has to be pretty far progressed before an opinion column in the New York Times begins to get letters with this kind of moral outrage at a gender-reveal party. You are talking about an individual here who identifies as cisgender.

Now, again, using that term actually plays into the entire gender revolution, because using the term indicates that you have to use a term to talk about someone who was born male and is quite comfortable with being male, or was born female and is quite comfortable being female. Cisgender, then, by the very vocabulary, becomes a great problem because you accept the ideology of the transgender revolutionaries, and you also buy into the idea that all of humanity has to be identified in some kind of spectrum, with cisgender at one end and this gender-nonconforming transgender at the other polarity. But keep in mind, that polarity will not remain in place. This is a revolution still very much in movement.

But also note the kind of moral outrage that's indicated here. It's a moral outrage from one who says that the parents who are going to be holding this party are actually doing nothing more than perpetuating binary stereotypes at the expense of the human community. Furthermore, there is this ultimate outrage where the person writing the letter, who identifies as non-gender-nonconforming, then goes on to say that if the writer were, indeed, gender-nonconforming or non-binary, and if the individual were later to discover that the individual's parents had held a gender-reveal party, in the words of the writer, "with my incorrect gender," well, the individual said, "I would be very hurt."

Now, I'm just asking you to measure with me the incredible leaps of logic and imagination it takes to get to this kind of question. It's, frankly, pretty breathtaking. But it's also not only concerning, it tells us directly about how the kind of people who write and edit the New York Times, the kind of people who write to The Ethicist column of the New York Times, and the kind of people who publish the New York Times and the New York Times Magazine think we are supposed to think, and think what kind of questions we're supposed to be concerned about.

But thus far, all we've looked at is the question being asked. As you might imagine, the answer is going to be pretty spectacularly interesting. Professor Appiah currently teaches at New York University. Previously, he was the Lawrence S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. He responds to the writer asking this question by saying, "First, let's distinguish between two different issues. One is what you're calling gender binarism, the idea that everyone is naturally either male or female. The other is the fact that trans people will identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned on the basis of their bodily appearance at birth. You could be trans in that sense," writes Appiah, "and still believe in binarism. To say that you were assigned the wrong gender isn't necessarily to reject the idea that there are two." Now, there's a certain logic to what the professor is writing, but that's a very interesting point, something like a head of a pin on which to dance.

But Professor Appiah's answer takes a really interesting turn when he writes that, "Celebrating the discovery that a baby is a boy or a girl need not in itself stigmatize trans or intersex or non-binary people." Appiah went on to say, "A parent celebrating the coming birth of a girl could be someone who'd be perfectly happy if the child turned out later to be a boy or neither a boy nor a girl. Indeed," he says, "as it becomes easier to identify intersex people prenatally, you could one day imagine having a party that revealed that the child was neither male or female. And people," he wrote, "who do have a hard time dealing with gender-nonconforming people aren't likely to have their minds changed by the disappearance of gender-reveal parties."

Now, at times it appears that a society inches its way right up the edge of a cliff. At other times, you see a society apparently jump off the ledge and simply jump off the cliff. That appears to be where we're headed here, because Appiah appears to be, if anything, even more politically correct than the writer of the question. Appiah goes on to answer, "If there's a problem with these parties, it's mainly that they encourage the idea that gender is fixed in the womb and by your body. Let's call that," he says, "biological determinism about gender. The science in this area is very much," he says, "a work in progress. But," he says, "we already know that gender identification isn't fixed by your sexual organs and that the social meaning of gender is informed by culture." I'm going to stop there for a moment.

Always be careful when you see an argument like this when someone says, "We already know." Well, who's we? What is it we already know? How do we know it? On what authority do we know it? Who says we know it? Well, as you look at this, you come to understand what's happening. This, again, is how a society creates by moral coercion a change in the entire mentality, if you can say to people on the authority of the modern gender revolution we know this, we now know that, it's beyond question, this is now what we know, all right-minded people know it, anyone who doesn't know it is probably so backward that they'll never know anything.

We should be very careful when we see an argument like this to be told we now know A, or we now know B. We might know neither such thing. But Professor Appiah says there are other problems with these gender-reveal parties whether or not it even comes to someone who's gender-nonconforming. This is where the stereotypes come up again. He writes, "The actual practice of gender-reveal parties seems to involve the sort of stereotyping, pink for girls, blue for boys, that reinforces habits of mind you're justly inclined to challenge."

Again, effectively upping the ante of the political correctness here, Professor Appiah responds to this question writer by saying, "The entire problem of the gender-reveal parties isn't just that we don't know what gender is as it's revealed, and we now know ..." Remember those words, we now know, "that biological sex has nothing to do with eventual gender identity." He goes on to say, "There's an even bigger moral problem with these parties, and that is color." Color pink, color blue. Pink for girls, blue for boys. Why is that a problem? Because even the colors are just evidence, he's arguing here, of a repressive, patriarchal color stereotyping that is also injurious to human flourishing and the happiness of humanity.

But here is where Christians operating from a Biblical worldview not only understand this to be manifest nonsense, not that we would argue there's not any form of gender or sexual stereotyping that's not injurious, but rather the distinction, the clear distinction, the culturally acknowledged distinction, the morally important distinction between male and female is essential, we understand by the Biblical worldview, to human flourishing and the human happiness and to a balanced, mentally healthful human life. That's a Biblical presupposition. That's a fundamental Christian conviction.

But here you also have to note that there's something else that both the letter writer and this professor are going to have to confront. It's bigger than the colors pink and blue. It comes down to the fact that over and over and over again children, and especially young children, seem to have a wisdom and a knowledge that so many older people in society do not have. I mentioned before the evolutionists are frustrated that so many young children don't believe in evolution but appear, rather, to believe that everything they see must have been created. I have referred to the fact that children, over against the political correctness of the modern age, tend to believe that authority is a good thing and that a lack of authority is a bad thing.

Now, here we also come to understand something of equal fundamental value. It turns out that young children know, discover, and are absolutely convinced that there is a distinction between girls and boys and that it matters. The gender feminists and the gender revolutionaries try to argue that it's nothing more than a socially constructed oppressive culture that comes up with the reality that boys generally like to play with certain toys and girls like to play with other toys, so they've even convinced some retailers to abolish a boys' toy aisle and a girls' toy aisle and instead just to have toys all mixed together so that there is no discrimination between girls and boys.

Yet you also come to understand that regardless of what is considered to be the non-binary situation of the marketers and the merchandisers, the children, left alone, tend to gravitate towards toys that are rather gender stereotypical. All this to say when you put these two big stories together is that gender is very much in the news these days, as is an incredibly toxic level of nonsense. It should alarm us, but it should certainly frame our awareness to understand just how determined the moral and sexual revolutionaries, the gender revolutionaries, are to make their point driven through the entire culture, leading to a complete inversion of civilization itself.

But it's also clear as we look at this that they're not actually able to keep their stories straight. But we also have to understand as we try to keep these issues straight that those who are driving the revolution are trying to keep the arguments very much, well, let's just put it this way, non-straight. They're trying to sow confusion, and they don't want to ask the fundamental questions even about the research that they are now advertising to the public. To put the observation as bluntly as possible, we're living in a society that sets off a massive chain reaction bomb of confusion and then appears to be both troubled and shocked when the bomb has fallout.

Part

As we see images of another hurricane approaching, we should be thankful that we live in an age when there are images to see

But finally, once again, we find ourselves looking at those troubling images, satellite images, of another hurricane, this time Hurricane Michael churning in the Gulf of Mexico, soon, we are told, to make landfall somewhere in the Florida Panhandle. But let's be thankful, as we see those images, that we do see them. Let's be thankful that we are not, as in some previous eras of human civilization, unknowledgeable about such a storm coming. Let's be thankful even for the advances that have come over the course of the last several years in tracking and monitoring and predicting these storms.

But let's also be humble. The reality is there is very little human beings can do other than watch this kind of storm and get out of the way and help those who cannot. As even now we are praying for those who will be in the danger path of this storm, we also have to remember we're looking at one of the most humbling experiences of humanity. Looking at a storm this size, you recognize we didn't do this, and we can't undo this. It's bigger than humanity, something deeply healthy for human beings every once in a while to recognize.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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