Now that same sex marriage has gotten the Supreme Court’s imprimatur, the transgender movement seems the next stop on the civil rights train. Some notables who support full gay equality (including gay rights activist who are center right, or at least for the gay community, i.e., those who challenge “gay left orthodoxy“) don’t think the T belongs in the LGBTQ alphabet soup. (The Q probably doesn’t belong either. I can’t tell if it stands for “questioning” or “queer.” If the former, I support it; if the latter I don’t.)
Likewise, some religious conservatives who, even if they won’t accept same sex marriages as metaphysically “real,” seem more able to make peace with gays living and functioning openly in society, but view the transgendered as something far less acceptable to their consciences. Religious conservatives lost the battle in the culture war for gay equality. The Ts are behind the gays; they have not yet won.
Here I write on a note of irony with the gay rights issue v. the trans. issue. It seems that non-Western cultures, comparatively speaking (in a Ricardian sense), are ahead on the curve of transgender rights than gay rights.
That is, western cultures may be, in absolute terms, ahead of non-Western cultures on both the gay and the trans issues. But non-Western cultures, which tend to be more socially conservative than Western ones, still either treat the transgendered as something if not as legitimate as homosexuals, but in some cases even more “normal” or preferable.
The most notorious case is how Iran deals with homosexuals. Homosexuality is punishable by death; but they seem open to the notion that people can be trapped in the wrong sex. So to avoid execution homosexuals can opt for a sex change. (Presumably to be able to enter into “heterosexual” relationships.)
Iran seems an outlier in its fanatically tyrannical way of constructing such policy; but they are not outliers among countries both more socially conservative than non-Western nations, but also that recognize the transgendered in society and put them on par with or ahead of homosexuals.
For instance, Pakistan, where the transgendered are officially recognized, publicly shamed, but “are worlds ahead of Pakistani gay men, who are outlawed, brutalized and even murdered with no recourse to protection.”
Or in India, where recently “their Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling legally recognizing a third gender, thereby becoming the world’s seventh country to do so.” Yet India is behind on same sex marriage.
While Thailand has some degree of protection for same sex couples, they don’t have full gay equality. Thailand consequently has a vibrant subculture of transgendered people who seem to be taking their rights on the same timeline as homosexuals. As the link to The Daily Beast notes, Thailand’s policy on the transgendered “would put the Southeast Asian nation ahead of 32 U.S. states and all but a few countries.”
In Vietnam, as a 2015 the ban was lifted on same-sex marriage, but “[a]lthough same-sex marriage is permitted in Vietnam, lawmakers have not granted full recognition to the unions, which do not provide legal protections for spouses.” The country has also passed a law which seemingly recognizes full transgender rights as of 2017.
Singapore is behind the curve on gay rights as compared to Western Nations. Likewise the transgendered don’t have full equality. And they too have a vibrant subculture, legal sex change surgeries that have taken place since the early 1970s, and a degree of recognized lobbying power. Though their transgendered don’t see themselves as part of the same united front with gays, they, in Singapore, seem similarly situated in terms of their progress and rights.
Anthropologists trace the acceptance of people of mixed gender to pre-Colombian Mexico, pointing to accounts of cross-dressing Aztec priests and Mayan gods who were male and female at the same time. Spanish colonizers wiped out most of those attitudes in the 1500s by forcing conversion to Catholicism. But mixed-gender identities managed to survive in the area around Juchitán, a place so traditional that many people speak ancient Zapotec instead of Spanish.
So with a little over 800 words I’ve explored samples of the transgendered in the non-Western world. An exhaustive exploration obviously would take more time and effort. Like with homosexuals, the transgendered exist indigenously, cross culturally.This is not some new crazy phenomenon coming out of the modern demented, decadent, relativistic West mind.
A point made in the above paragraph quoted from the New York Times helps transition to the next section of this piece: The transgendered are anathema to traditional Christianity, particularly Catholicism, which conquered South and Latin America and parts of Asia. The Muxes survive and exist in spite of, not because of the traditional forces of Roman Catholicism in Mexico.
In particular Thomism, with its incorporation of Aristotelian thinking, seem hostile to viewing the transgendered as part of the “natural order of things.” Of course the Roman Catholic Church notably posits Thomism in its doctrine and dogma. But Thomism’s influence on other traditional forms of Christianity cannot be understated.
Rather, I think it’s that Thomism seeks a holistic matter and spirit/body and soul understanding of reality, where biology informs “oughts.” Non-Western cultures have a view of reality that elevates the spiritual over the material. So even if they are atheistic or agnostic, Buddhist cultures, for instance, are still quite spiritual, metaphorically speaking and hence likelier to downplay the material as illusory.
So if such non-Western cultures encounter an XY, assigned “male” at birth, but seems to have the spirit of a female, they are likelier to accept the person’s womanhood (or gender non-conformity) on spiritual grounds and carve out some kind of 3rd gender or special place for them. This explains why the transgendered have been recognized as part of longstanding tradition in these cultures.
Indeed, in the 17th & 18th Centuries, French explorers encountered
berdaches, a French term for younger partners in male homosexual relationships. In fact, Plains Indian berdaches are best described as occupying an alternative or third gender role, in which traits of men and women are combined with those unique to berdache status. Male berdaches did women’s work, cross-dressed or combined male and female clothing, and formed relationships with non-berdache men.
They are “two-spirit” people having both male and female essences. But to the Thomist, this two spirit notion is “silliness” (as one of my Thomist friends recently put it me). Looking to biological reality, integrating it with the spiritual (body and soul), deriving oughts therefrom, consistent with Aristotle’s principles of non-contradiction, the Thomist says someone with an XY, a penis and testicles is a man, regardless of what the person may think they are.
If others think different, then it’s a delusion. Ben Shapiro, as a traditional Jewish believer, I don’t think is a self understood Thomist (he might be). But, as a Harvard trained attorney, he argues like one. In his notorious encounter with Zoey Tur, Shapiro didn’t quote verses and chapters from the Jewish canon but rather asked Tur the loaded question: “What are your genetics, Sir?”
That Tur might have a female spirit (even using the term metaphorically) is not dispositive. Rather, body and soul have to be reconciled according to Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction. Yes there are biological exceptions like AIS and Klinefelter’s Syndrome. They give biological evidence that disturbs the notion that gender breaks down only two ways: male and female. Rather it seems, “male and female he made them,” is a strong general rule, with exception. But most transgender people don’t have either of these conditions. Hence Shapiro’s notorious question to Tur, to counter Tur’s invocation of those extant biological exceptions.
The accusation of “delusion” to me seems a low blow. Many socially conservative religious folks, like Shapiro, are quick to term the transgendered as mentally ill, suffering from “delusion.” Well that term has also been levied against all religions by Richard Dawkins. On empirically falsifiable grounds, one cannot reason his way to God. Shapiro and the Thomists, seemingly, pull the same nuclear option trigger against the transgendered when they use that term.