Transgenderism is an important thing to talk about because it has everything to do with what we think about sex, biology, and reality. There is an interesting exchange about transgenderism and popular culture on the Homintern/Caitlyn Jenner thread. Reader DancerGirl writes:

I think Lowder is speaking to a deeper point about Jenner, namely, that she was always an odd symbol of the trans community. Most people who are trans are not wealthy, former Olympic athletes, who step-parent the most (appallingly) famous tv clan in Hollywood, and whose process of coming out was a media-managed tour-de-force. Jenner is certainly a symbol, but of the media’s desire to drive a narrative; she was never an organic symbol of the community she was meant to represent.

Why not? Well, what does it mean to be trans? A lot of things, of course. If you isolate one thing that is likely very important for many, it probably means having real and persistent concerns about your safety. If you look at the youth homeless population, for instance, 20-40% is LGBTQ; among those who are trans, 67% are on the street because of family rejection; and while all youths who are homeless are at risk of engaging in survival sex, homeless trans kids are 80% more likely to have done so than cisgender youths, and this puts them at greater risk of contracting diseases like HIV.

If you shift over to homicide, there has been a worrying increase in transphobic murders this year: 13 were reported in 2014, and at least 21 have been reported in 2015. That isn’t a lot in a nation of 300 million, but the rate of increase in one year’s time has generated concern.

Et cetera.

There is obviously joy among those who are trans; life is not all grim. Still, this community lives precariously, and while they are gaining legal protections, there are many places where they are vulnerable to rampant discrimination. Jenner, by contrast, is unusually privileged. Therefore, she was always a discordant choice of symbol. The mere fact that she was trans did not mean she could adequately represent the community as a whole, but the media loved the brilliant Olympian, the Kardashian link, the fabulous wealth, the mythos of it all, regardless of the sensibility of making her (temporarily) the face of a movement. And while Lowder is imposing some orthodoxy on her, he is also accepting the broader critique — which many think is fair. Jenner is trans, but she is incredibly unique. And her uniqueness allows her, simultaneously, to express her preference to integrate (which is fine), while implicitly criticizing those who don’t — a good number of whom would like to do so, but can’t afford the treatments. You can be a perfectly fine transwoman — a fine advocate, even — and not see that, but you can’t be the symbol of the movement and miss it.

Reader Annie replies:

DancerGirl,

Have you ever worked or met these homeless trans youth whose statistics and stories you use so freely? One thing I find deeply frustrating about the rhetoric of gender identity theorists is how removed it is from the actual lives of many people it purports to help. Sort of like how middle-class women sought “creative” careers in the second half of the 20th century, not really caring that some other women would have to do the (non-creative, I suppose?) work of raising the children left behind.

There’s some similarities with the trans-and-homeless rhetoric. Of the homeless trans teens I worked with, transgender was, quite clearly to me, a symptom telling how utterly broken their lives were. Just a few years later their stories are now fodder for people more interested in being transgressive and liberated, rather than approaching these people and seeking to help them heal. Complex stories and interwoven motivations are boiled down to “Ah, transgender! That’s what’s happening here! If Hollywood makes enough tv shows and we fire people who say a little boy who likes pink isn’t automatically a girl then we’ll have served the Cause!”

Let’s take one of the 67% homeless trans teens suffering from family rejection you mention. A young man I worked with was abandoned by his parents; though we’re already imposing a narrative. His father was never a part of the picture. Now, was he rejected by his mother? Yes. She rejected his sister as well; the rejection was largely due to incompetence, selfishness, the fact that she had been abused, and that she was an addict. But this young man was very, very sick, and the slightest suggestion made to him by someone with an agenda would have been taken to heart. He was lost at sea; tell him why it happened and he’d grab it. But it wouldn’t of been the whole truth, and he’d still be lost, despite being “validated in his identity.” A host of issues has now been boiled down to fit your very narrow “family rejection.”

This is a person who was sexually, emotionally, physically, and verbally abused from the time he was an infant. He received so little attention during his formative years that his growth was permanently stunted: his IQ was about 72, and no amount of care will ever change that. It happened too early.

He had extreme anger (who wouldn’t?) resulting from his circumstances, but a broken foster care system isn’t really adept at what to do with such a person. He drifted. The only ways he knew to find validation were through status items and sexual affirmation. He stole like crazy, from me and everyone else. Foster parents wouldn’t keep him in their homes because he did not respond to basic treatments. He dressed up as a woman and prostituted himself on the street; again, like many other kids in our program, he had been molested and abused since he was small. Seeking out sexual attention (and money) was virtually the only thing he knew how to do; it was the circle he was stuck in.

There was nothing quite so eerie to me as sitting in silence with him on our car rides, waiting quietly until his appointments were over, realizing he’d snuck out a side exit, and finding him several blocks away in a frayed skirt and too-quickly applied eyeshadow, quite literally searching for customers. A deep need to express himself and his desires? I can never, ever believe that. This was a person who had been treated as disposable by the world. A need to engage in “survival sex”? Maybe. He didn’t need money, but heck, even if it was just affirmation, I get it. He was seeking for something. But not all choices are good choices. Instead of using these dangerous choices to validate a broken soul, these teens should be receiving love and protection.

He was frightening to be around, as he was quite capable of violence, unpredictable, and unable to respond to rational appeals. He was our most violent client, and our most distant, in every sense of the term.

His sheet of diagnoses was half a page. To cherry-pick “trans” out of that and use him for a cause makes me nauseous. This is a person who was abused and neglected from day one, by everyone, and the traumas of his life are now fodder for our bored decadents. We could talk about going out there and healing, about opening our doors to those who have been abandoned and abused. We could talk about what is happening to the family in the inner cities, in rural areas. We could talk about the plight of the poor.

Instead those who suffer most get seized on to create a hostage-taking narrative. These children have been used all their lives, and once again their stories are being taken and used by others. They may go along with it because they are so bereft. I may be told I’m patronizing for making a judgment and believing this “identity” is a symptom, a sign, of how we have failed them. But I’ll go ahead and make that judgment after having seen what I’ve seen.

Not one person in our program did anything but seek to help this young man. Everyone bent over backwards for him (the harder the case, it often seemed, the more our hearts bled to give just one more chance; but to give chances without healing, love, or structure is simply not enough). It was too little, too late. Where he is now, God only knows.

To think these complex individuals, hurt and broken in so many areas, are reduced to the ideology of gender theorists drives me batty. I won’t side with radical feminists and say this man is a benefactor of male privilege and so can never “unlearn” his previous role. There were no roles, and certainly no privilege! There were simply abusers and victims, and when you read back far enough you found the abusers were also victims. I won’t side with the gender identity theorists who want to use people like him as proof that gender is fluid or there’s such a thing as a woman’s brain in a man’s body. And I couldn’t care less about being thought a bigot by people who haven’t stood in the falling sleet on that street corner, pleading with a broken person to let himself be taken home, to sit in silence in the car after every discussion, every joke failed, feeling the chasm that separated our worlds though we were sitting beside one another.

There is something which can heal and bridge any chasm, but it is certainly not distorted statistics, nor is it flattening people’s circumstances to serve an agenda. The abused and neglected deserve to be loved; to reduce and extract one aspect of their suffering for the sake of an ideology is criminal.

Thoughts?