McGowan: The Sexes — Follow the Science

May 19, 2023

By Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

”It is illegal to tattoo anyone under the age of 18 unless they are accompanied by, or have written consent from, a minor’s parent or legal guardian. This written permission from a minor’s parent legal guardian must be obtained on-site before any body piercings or tattooing is completed.” — Indiana Tattoo License Regulations

The law on minors getting a tattoo has two important implications for procedures that would allegedly transform a boy into a girl or a girl into a boy.

The first, and most important, implication is that Indiana’s government has authority over the physical well-being of a minor. The second implication of the law on tattooing a minor is to require consent by the parent or parents.

The first implication is often lost in discussion of what is ostensibly called “transitioning.” The second implication is not only lost by many educational institutions, but openly ignored when a teacher is told by a child that his or her preferred pronoun is other than the child’s biological sex and the parents cannot be informed. Children are not a tabula rosa to be identified by whatever sex suits their desire. Children have a biological, i.e., chromosomal, identity upon birth. A child is not exclusively a biological entity, but a child certainly is at least a biological entity.

The biological aspect of children is often ignored or discarded in discussions of “transitioning.” Here is how the National Institute of Health speaks of the “assignment of sex at birth”:

“Sex of a newborn is typically assigned at birth on the basis of genital appearance. Therefore, children with ambiguous genitalia frequently require reassignment of sex either because of incorrect original labeling or because of subjective dissatisfaction with the sex of rearing (gender dysphoria).”

Curious people might ask “who does the assigning?” The doctor, who observes a biological entity hitherto identified as male or female? God? Nature? Some malevolent force?

Classifying a person’s sex is a scientific assessment, not an arbitrary or subjective decision. Plus, as the media so often reminds people, we should follow the data and follow the science to form a conclusion.. For the cases of ambiguous genitalia, investigation of the major biological identifiers of sex, i.e., chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, and morphological sex, are considered. Cases of biologically ambiguous genitalia are rare, however. A National Institute of Health article states that “Ambiguous genitalia affect approximately 1 in 5,000 live births.”

Thus, discussion of transitioning is more about biology and less about a person’s sexual identity, an amorphous and ill-defined term. Psychologist Lisa Marchiano put it this way: “Though the concept of gender identity is currently being enshrined into law, the truth is that we have no meaningful definition of the term.”

To repeat myself: medical transitions are not about “gender-identity” as much as they are about changing or attempting to change a person’s biological constitution. Of course, changing a gender identity does not remove the chromosomal nature of an XX or XY body, i.e., the sex of a person. Those chromosomes and their impact on body structure and physical performance do not disappear with transitioning, as Lia Thomas, a collegiate swimmer, has proven many times over. The transitioned male won an NCAA swimming championship by beating Olympic medalists on competing women’s teams.

Media outlets often call the medical intrusion into a body’s functioning ‘gender-affirming,’ as though transitioning is affirmation, a positive action. PBS called the procedure “gender-affirming” on its website, when it reported that “Indiana Gov. Holcomb signs ban on gender-affirming health care.” However, data suggest that the procedures are something other than gender-affirming and data suggest that it has little to do with good health.

Marchiano says “There is a wealth of replicated research that tells us that 80–95 percent of children who experience a cross-sex identification in childhood will eventually desist and come to identify with their natal sex as adults.”

For instance, one researcher observed, “many children who show gender dysphoria before puberty do not continue to do so during and after pubertal changes occur. However, if gender dysphoria does persist into adolescence, its intensity tends to increase at this time.” In other words, most gender-affirming procedures are not needed or are irrelevant to affirmation.

Another researcher noted, “In terms of gender differences, transgender girls revealed more ‘worry’ than transgender boys. Further, older youth experienced poorer self-competence, higher levels of anxiety, and decreased happiness and satisfaction than the younger patients.” That finding is consistent with Oransky, Burke and Steever’s observation that “Transgender and gender nonconforming” adolescents and young adults face significant mental health disparities, including increased rates of suicidality, depression and self-harm.” Transitioning’s negative consequences can hardly be called healthy, and the process appears to lack the positive result that affirmation implies.

The last two observations together underlie a trend in transitioning. Marchiano observes that “In addition to a huge spike in numbers of children and adolescents presenting with gender dysphoria, there has also been a dramatic, unexplained increase of females presenting to gender clinics, with significantly more female teenagers requesting services than males, a ratio historically unheard of. This is true in Canada, the United States, Finland, England and The Netherlands.”

It is no wonder that PBS reported that Gov. Eric Holcomb said, “Permanent gender-changing surgeries with lifelong impacts and medically prescribed preparation for such a transition should occur as an adult, not as a minor.” If a child said, “I can’t stand my left hand’s pinky; I want it cut off,” would any parent agree to the child’s request for bodily mutilation? And should the government allow the child’s request, even with the parent’s consent? Governor Holcomb has the correct position on transitioning.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University. 


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