Bill C-16 is intended to add the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Bill also “amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression,” leading many to believe it will lead to a severe restriction of open public discourse on this topic once the bill is passed. Forty Conservative members of parliament (MPs) have voted against passing this bill on to the Senate after its second reading in the fall of 2016. At the time of writing, it was at its second reading in the Senate. It would become law if approved by the Senate at its third reading.
The bill has been criticized because it is said to be unnecessary (transsexuals are already protected against discrimination under the current Human Rights Act) and violates the conscience of many Canadians by imposing the government’s views by law. The following four key issues with this bill are submitted for due consideration by our lawgivers and all others.
Part of a poem cited by Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin in a parliamentary debate sets the tone of the current conversation around transgenderism:
So, to be transgender is to be free
To be one’s entire personality,
A chosen body, unfrozen from Fear,
Liberated from Custom, free to dare,
To wear what fits, not what suits restrictions,
And to be facts, not plausible fictions.
The subject is extremely touchy because people now claim that they can freely choose their gender (or claim they are a member of one sex caught in the body of the other), no matter what their biological sex is. They blame society for pressing them into gender roles corresponding to their sex and want to be able to be “fluid” with respect to their gender and who they are.
Facts, they mean, is who they claim to be (their identity) and fiction is who society wants them to be. And so they invert the traditional view that biological sex determines both our gender and our identity as a given. Biology is ignored as irrelevant and society is made the culprit when expectations are that someone conform to their biological make-up.
But affirming someone in their belief that their gender is fluid and independent of their biological sex does not help them. There is no evidence that the difficulties associated with transgenderism—including higher rates of suicide and attempted suicide, overall mortality, and the need for psychiatric care—are alleviated by affirming alternative gender identities in those with gender identity issues. Gender dysphoria (distress that may accompany the incongruence between one’s experienced or expressed gender and one’s assigned gender) is not a scientific but a political concept. Although well-meant, affirming someone in their belief their body does not reflect their gender identity does not address the root causes of dysphoria. Rather than helping people who struggle with this problem, it tries to patch it up by reinforcing the disconnect as if it were normal. Rejecting one’s body, however, is profoundly unhealthy, as we recognize with other psychological problems, such as anorexia or self-mutilation.
The vast majority of children with gender dysphoria overcome this problem by puberty.1 Reinforcing such tendencies, then, would be irresponsible. Currently only reserved for adults, such reinforcement may lead to a sex-change operation. Dr. McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, explains: “‘Sex change’ is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is a civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.” Johns Hopkins Hospital stopped providing sex-change surgeries, since producing a “satisfied” but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for amputating normal and functional organs.
The concept that there can be an objective disconnect between one’s sex and one’s gender is logically and philosophically very controversial. It is by no means generally accepted, and with Bill C-16, the federal government is taking sides in an on-going discussion (against the often-heard adage that “picking winners” is not a governmental virtue). But the narrative underlying the bill breaks down at several levels.
The first paradox exists with those who claim to have been “born with the wrong body”. If one believes that “gender” is socially constructed and not somehow tied to birth/biology/physiology, one must either reject the idea of “born in the wrong body” or posit the existence of what Roger Olson termed a gendered soul. This immaterial entity then exists independently of the body. That belief is at odds with a philosophy that denies the existence of a non-material “soul” often held by those making the claim. But even if one doesn’t reject such a belief, the paradox remains that on the one hand, a transgender person wants to escape the male or female sex “assigned at birth” only to then admit that the opposite sex has been assigned at birth (or at whatever point in time) to one’s “soul”. So we cannot escape determinism then, can we? Or maybe we can, denying all of the above and admitting that this is not about what we are determined to be but about what we determine ourselves to be.
If one is honest, then, the transgender discussion is not about biological sex assigned at birth and whether that corresponds to one’s immaterial/inner gender but simply, about complete sexual autonomy including the right to be whatever one wants to be: male, female or something in-between. The price to pay for this more logically sound position, however, is that one can no longer argue that there is any connection to a sexual reality behind this desire to choose. It is simply a choice I want to be able to make, not based on any objective sex/gender mismatch I need to correct. This more honest approach would also take into account that feelings related to gender can change over one’s life, whereas biological sex does not. To try and argue that such personal gender preferences should be protected by law is arguably a much more difficult task than if it wasn’t just a personal preference. Historically, changing one’s appearance to look as if one was someone else has been recognized as disguise. And disguise is an attempt to hide one’s (fixed) true identity, not display it. It is a rejection of one’s true identity, not its embrace.
Our identity is not something we can simply determine independently of our biological realities. The transgender philosophy appears to be a revival of old gnostic ideas, which posit a dualism between body and mind, where the mind exists independently of the body and is actually a prisoner of the body as the physical expression of an inner existence. This expression, it is said, may then be manipulated until it corresponds to who we really are inside.
But human beings are not spirits or minds but both body and soul (or spirit or mind). Our existence is not independent of our bodies, and so biological sex, race, genealogy, and cultural factors are all part of our identity. Only part of our identity is not fixed and can be shaped by ourselves throughout our lives. An excellent discussion of identity by McGill professor Douglas Farrow in this context has recently been published on First Things. If “gender identity” was a real phenomenon, how is it that people can change their gender preference over time? By definition, identity is something that is fixed. If gender expression changes over time, it should be categorized as experience or preference, not identity. Given one can choose to reject feelings about gender identity and sexual attraction and elect to live either a heterosexual or non-heterosexual lifestyle, the very concept of gender “identity” as an unchangeable fixture of the inner self is highly questionable.
Now compare transgenderism to anorexia: people who believe they are too fat although they are objectively undernourished are not encouraged to further alter their body image but discouraged in the interest of their own health and development. Denying objective realities about our bodies does not create a new reality.
It is unfortunate that reaffirming transgender people in their gender-sex disconnect will encourage many to seek sex-change surgery. But if it is wrong to attempt to question or change someone’s gender identity (because it is allegedly fixed and meddling with it is harmful), then why is it morally acceptable to alter something as fixed as reproductive anatomy? The moral inconsistency here is plain.
If we want to accept that people can choose their gender based on their subjective inner feelings, what reason is there that other realities cannot also be changed? People already have claimed to be of a different race than they are, of a different, and even of a different species. If all these identity claims were to be legitimized, our society would descend into chaos while pretending the rights of some individuals who really need help and not affirmation. Just imagine someone would self-identify as indigenous and want to live on First Nation land, and pay no taxes. It is unlikely the Canadian government would acknowledge such a claim and even less likely that an indigenous community would accommodate such an individual as one of their own. Yet, logically, there is no reason to legitimize transgenderism by law but not any of the other “trans” claims.
On a more humorous note, how about left-handed people? Are they not an identifiable minority that has been discriminated against for too long and should also be given special protection by direct inclusion of this group into Canada’s Human Rights Act? To counter the vicious intolerance of left-handedness, and to protect this group from discrimination, should the terms “in his right mind” or “right-hand man” or “righteous” be removed from our vocabulary as examples of micro-aggressions? Can we not classify the term “two left feet” as hate-speech? Should building codes and rezoning laws not be changed to reflect the reality of left-handers entering and exiting those buildings? Should not all tools and gadgets be redesigned to fully accommodate left-handers? A second toilet paper roll be installed in all bathroom stalls, on the opposite side?
This is not intended to make light of the often precarious situation transgender people may find themselves in. But it is meant to illustrate the absurdity of the government’s approach to helping this group.
Finally, from a legal perspective, if we acknowledge by law that people can change their identities, we seem to affirm that they can become a different person. How, then, are we to deal with a crime that a person has committed under their former identity? Since they are now a different person, can they still be held responsible for what they have done when they still were somebody else? Such questions not only call for caution but clearly show that terms like gender identity and expression should not become part of bills and human rights declarations—especially if we also believe that such “identities” can change over time. Our gender is not our legal identity. Removing male/female distinctions from official ID documentation, as has been enacted in Ontario, runs counter to common sense.
A huge problem with C-16 is how it will be implemented. Grave concerns exist even among the few Conservative MPs who voted against the bill being passed on to the Senate about how the bill will impact on free speech and parental rights. And how will it impact on the various spheres of Canada’s social life?
But none of the above occurred. As MP Cathay Wagantall (Yorkton-Melville, SK) formulated it, the “government has chosen to shortcut the democratic process; a different approach for sure but not what Canadians should expect or have to tolerate from their government. This is a total disrespect of due process.” The usual way of discussing such a bill is to seek external input and submit the witness statements to Parliament, rather than simply asking MPs to vote without such input. The House of Commons Committee reviewing the bill chose to forego public input on the bill (even though some witnesses have been heard over the years the bill has been discussed).
Ontario’s Bill 77 prohibits any counselling or treatment to align gender identity with biological sex. A such, Ontarians suffering from gender dysphoria cannot get any professional help if they want to overcome this problem (rather than reinforcing it), similar to people living in certain U.S. states with such prohibitions in place. They can only “transition” to the other sex but not the one they were “assigned at birth”. Medical and psychology practitioners are therefore severely restricted in their therapy options—an unprecedented intrusion of the state into the medical profession. Bill 77 has been called a “true atrocity” for failing to provide people with the compassionate help they really need.2
The scientific literature classifies transgenderism as a psychological problem—a disorder of the mind, not the body. Mutilating bodies by amputating their genitals is a horrible deviation of modern medicine that should be recognized for its barbarism. Sadly, it is now encouraged in Canada, with costs sometimes covered by provincial health ministries. The consequences are fatal; among those who had sex-change operations, suicide rates are even higher than among those who did not.3 The high rate of suicide among transgender people is not caused by societal disapproval of their gender preferences but is due to the lack of diagnosis and treatment of the coexisting disorders that cause suicide, such as depression or other diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorders. 45The government’s approach disregards the science on transgenderism, putting lives of Canadians into jeopardy.
Rather than protecting our children from abuse, the law encourages a system that results in abuse. Although sex-change operations are only legal for adults, children are subjected to hormone therapy and puberty-inhibiting injections, which stunts their development and increases their risk of mental problems and suicide later in life.
The bill is also irresponsible from a practical point of view. It will create serious conflict and legal uncertainty with respect to the truth of transgender claims. Given it is impossible to verify gender identity claims without a third-party diagnosis, anyone can claim to be transgender. This will create multiple opportunities for people who want to use transgenderism as an excuse for voyeurism or who otherwise may cause concern when mixing in with children or adults of the opposite biological sex in bathroom and other settings. Who will make the judgment call as to whether it is safe to grant access to opposite-sex washrooms to a transgender person? This uncertainty puts school personnel and many others at an unreasonable conflict, exposing them to huge risks in case they make a wrong decision.
Certainly, the government is not following its own declared principles: the Liberal platform for the last election was to make laws based on science (see Point 6 of the Liberals’ “27 Promises Kept”. For some reason, to support their new social experiment of supporting and reinforcing gender dysphoria, the Liberals have not come up with any scientific studies or evidence to support their proposed policy. Canadians should call on the government to provide a scientific basis for C-16 or otherwise abandon the project.
Bill C-16 would change Canada in a major way. In the words of Calgary Nose MP Michelle Rempel, “the bill will challenge deeply entrenched norms on how we need to behave.” Canadian university professors are experiencing this already, being forced to use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to students. That such an insidious bill even gets the attention of our Parliament is outrageous. Most of the arguments presented above have already been heard by Parliament, yet are being ignored by the majority of MPs.
Why is that? Are they intimidated by lobbyists or public opinion that might cost them votes if they actually stand up for reason in Canada’s legislative body? Or do they simply believe the false information being spread around these sensitive issues? The latter may be the most likely explanation, and has been observed among Washington State students as well (the video ends with the well-known statement, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.”)
If our MPs are unable to grasp the simple concepts explained above, rightly discerning what really are facts and fiction, then apart from the 40 Conservatives who voted against sending C-16 to the Senate, I find it hard to trust any of them with either this or any other important policy decisions. Oh, Canada (the implications for voters are obvious).
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