Trans Ideologues Would Rather Revolt Against Reality Than Admit They Were Wrong

Published March 14, 2024

The Federalist

Gender ideology has a reality problem. Just look at the latest cover story for New York Magazine, in which the trans-identified writer Andrea Long Chu denounced reality itself, writing that “the belief that we have a moral duty to accept reality just because it is real is, I think, a fine definition of nihilism.”

Well, that is a … novel philosophical assertion.

It is tempting to dismiss Chu’s denunciation of reality as an insane gambit by a flailing ideology, but declaring war against reality might just be crazy enough to work. This approach provides the collapsing gender ideology movement a way out of myriad difficulties — instead of relying on shoddy science to support medical “transition,” including for children, gender ideologues can instead appeal to a supposed right to physical self-determination and modification, even for children. Liberals like the idea of liberating mankind from the limits of our humanity, and so even as Chu retreats from the usual arguments of gender ideology, he invites the left to join in this more radical vision.

This effort to find a better justification for gender ideology pushes Chu to argue that it was a mistake for the left to hang “trans rights on the thin peg of gender identity.” This approach won some victories, but it “failed to form a coherent moral account of why someone’s gender identity should justify the actual biological interventions that make up gender-affirming care.” 

The radical bodily alterations of “gender-affirming care” have been justified by elevating “gender identity” to the status of a person’s essence, deeper and more real than the body itself. But people are realizing that a “gender identity” is metaphysical conjecture, not medicine or biology. Thus, Chu sees reliance on gender identity as a trap for transgender advocates. It is superstitious to imagine that there is something like gendered souls that sometimes, somehow, get stuck in the wrong bodies. 

He also sees that searching for reasons and explanations for transgenderism may prove deadly to the cause of gender ideology. By making the case for “transition” (again, especially for children) contingent on generating favorable evidence (medical, sociological, psychological) for it, the transgender movement has become more vulnerable as that evidence has failed to materialize. Furthermore, requiring reasons for transition tends to establish some form of gatekeeping, in which transition is doled out only to those determined to be truly transgender. 

Chu fears that subjecting the transgender movement, and especially its medical wing, to rational, evidence-based scrutiny will restrict and ultimately destroy it. Instead, he wants transgender activists and their allies to:

[S]top relying on the increasingly metaphysical concept of gender identity to justify sex-changing care, as if such care were only permissible when one’s biological sex does not match the serial number engraved on one’s soul. … [W]e must rid ourselves of the idea that any necessary relationship exists between sex and gender; this prepares us to claim that the freedom to bring sex and gender into whatever relation one chooses is a basic human right.

He thereby makes explicit what has always been the position of gender ideologues, which is that there should be medical transition on demand for everyone. He writes, “We must be prepared to defend the idea that, in principle, everyone should have access to sex-changing medical care, regardless of age, gender identity, social environment, or psychiatric history.” This is not about medical need, but about a subjective desire to flee from the reality of one’s embodied self.

As the recent release of the WPATH files demonstrates, so-called “gender-affirming care” is not rigorous and evidence-based, but being made up on the fly and administered to children who cannot give informed consent to it. The medical case for transition is crumbling (and other nations are pulling back from it), but for those who are in too deep to back out, Chu’s articulation of a more radical alternative may be appealing. It is, after all, what the activists already believe.

Thus, they may now be drawn to Chu’s assertion that “We will never be able to defend the rights of transgender kids until we understand them purely on their own terms: as full members of society who would like to change their sex. It does not matter where this desire comes from.” Chu’s own so-called transition was sparked by the fetishes he developed from a porn addiction, so he has a personal reason to deny that there is any significance to why someone wants to transition.

Instead of justifying transition as medically necessary based on the supposed psychological distress of not transitioning, Chu insists upon a right to bodily modification for whatever reason and without regard for the results. He acknowledges that the biology of sex is real, but he just regards it as an enemy to be subdued and made subject to our whims. He writes that “any comprehensive movement for trans rights must be able to make political demands at the level of biology itself.” 

Chu admits that this approach “does not promise happiness. Nor should it. It is good and right for advocates to fight back against the liberal fixation on the health risks of sex-changing care or the looming possibility of detransition. But it is also true that where there is freedom, there will always be regret.” He continues, insisting, “If we are to recognize the rights of trans kids, we will also have to accept that, like us, they have a right to the hazards of their own free will.” 

That proclamation might sound reasonable to Chu and his editors, but it is madness to anyone who actually cares about children and their well-being. Good parenting requires a great deal of limiting children’s free will and the hazards it exposes them to.

Ominously, Chu is not the first to prominently insist that children should be transitioned without regard for the risks. Lydia Polgreen made a similar argument in The New York Times last December, arguing that children should be transitioned regardless of whether they might regret it later. This argument absolves gender ideologues of all responsibility, even toward children who are incapable of understanding the consequences of their decisions. According to Chu and Polgreen’s doctrine, there is no need to prove that transition helps mental health or to worry about the side effects, complications, and regrets it may produce. All there is to do is cheer while enabling troubled children to make war against their natural, healthy bodies.

In this, Chu is simply extending to children an argument he has made for years about adults. In a 2018 Times piece shortly before he got genital surgery, he wrote, “This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. That shouldn’t disqualify me from getting it.” Chu claimed that the “surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want” and that “no amount of pain, anticipated or continuing, justifies its withholding.” 

As Ryan T. Anderson observed at the time, Chu regards doctors as mere technicians, paid to deliver the services the customer demands, regardless of whether the procedures help the patient. This idea of medicine is unconcerned with health, happiness, or any idea of human well-being — it doesn’t even care if transition increases the risk of suicide. All that matters, in this view, is that someone wants to transition. This argument is toxic even if applied only to adults, but Chu is now explicitly arguing that it should extend to children, whose health, well-being, and lives he is willing to sacrifice to justify his choices and ideology.

He concludes that “trans kids … do not owe us an explanation. They are busy taking charge of their own creation. They may not change the world, but they will certainly change themselves.” This proclamation reveals the real heart of gender ideology, which is not medicine, but revolt. Gender ideology is rooted in a hatred for the givenness of our existence. It longs for the god-like but unattainable power of self-creation. Thus, it readily abdicates all responsibility toward children, for it sees guidance, instruction, and discipline as oppression. 

This is an inhuman ideology. The sudden prominence of Chu’s radicalism may signal the imminent collapse of the gender ideology house of cards, especially regarding children. But this is not certain. Some people will embrace even the most radical and repulsive ideas if the alternative is admitting they were wrong. That Chu’s ideas are being published in influential places shows that elite liberals are at least considering them. 

It is difficult to reason with a revolt against reality itself. What can be done is to demonstrate that it is immiserating. A way of life that rejects happiness, health, and well-being in pursuit of an impossible rebellion against existence itself is self-refuting. We might even call it nihilistic.

Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.

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