Transgender laws, parental authority, and the foundations of our republic
The clash of ideas between historic American liberties and LGBT ideology has caught some classical liberals on the right flat-footed. Healthcare “professionals” from Boston to Nashville are are altering the bodies of “transgender” children irreversibly, and progressives are accelerating the effort to cut parents out of the decision.
The foundations of our republic now face the universal solvent of gender ideology as identity politics mutates into medicalized violence and self-harm.
The baby is being thrown out with the bathwater, but some conservatives won’t quit whining about conserving the water.
We can’t walk away. Or back down.
Parents are poised to lose custody over gender ideology. Author and activist Abigail Shrier has already documented parents who have lost their children to the system or left home practically overnight to escape it.
Is the fundamental issue and solution really civility and … pluralism?
Against David Frenchism?
The impetus for my ire comes from columnist David French’s recent Sunday newsletter in The Dispatch, in which he rightfully condemned California’s new transgender “sanctuary” law (signed September 29).
Threatening to separate families, Senate Bill 107 allows California to take “temporary emergency jurisdiction” in custody matters regarding children who seek so-called “gender-affirming” medical interventions. Get a child to California, and the law could bar dissenting parents from even receiving information about the child’s treatment.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott have in some ways taken the opposite approach, citing existing child abuse laws to “investigate the parents of children subjected to gender-transitioning procedures.” And at least nine families have faced state investigation so far.
But French calls this an “illiberal extreme”—that California and Texas are mirror images of the same evil, namely, questioning parent’s rights. Texas’ actions, he says, are “unjust” and “destabilizing.”
But what exactly is the argument that this is not child abuse? French did not raise the question of how to treat parents manipulated to believe their children must choose transition or suicide. He all but called it legitimate medicine over which reasonable people can disagree.
So-called “puberty blockers” and cross-sex hormones stunt, disfigure, and sterilize children. Girls as young as 15 are receiving “top surgery” to cut off their breasts. Chemically castrated boys are being groomed for “bottom surgery” when they reach 18, which can cause permanent urination problems. Vaginoplasty creates a permanent wound between his legs for the sole purpose of allowing another man to sexually violate him in said wound.
For French, the moral and Christian thing is to eschew extremes. The tolerant “center” of American pluralism must include the freedom of “loving” parents to disfigure and sterilize their children if such services are available. After all, it’s a contentious issue and the medical field is divided.
“It’s not enough to disagree over important matters,” French says. “Now the culture war requires a direct attack on the most fundamental American liberty interests.”
Merely disagree? Parents mutilating kids is a fundamental liberty interest?
In the name of pluralism, of de-escalation, French tacitly regurgitates pro-choice propaganda. I couldn’t help but hear that “the government has no place between a woman and her doctor.”
What Texas is doing is not extreme. What would be extreme is to have done to doctors and activists what they’re doing to children. But with the way he equated Texas and California, French might as well have stretched his view of pluralism to allow us to define for ourselves the meaning of the colors of stoplights.
This conservatism is toothless, bankrupt, and self-defeating. “Foundational American rights,” French says? But what about the foundation undergirding those rights?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of American Needs
To discover why this is so foolish—and destructive—we can turn to a social and motivational theory commonly called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from twentieth-century psychologist Abraham Maslow.
To put it simply, a starving person does not read Shakespeare.
A person has basic, foundational needs (like food and safety) that must be met before he’s able to meaningfully engage in higher forms of personal growth. A person builds on these needs toward relational, emotional, and intellectual rigor and happiness.
A functioning society, though, has its own hierarchy of needs on which the complex matrices of its institutions rest. Society is a structure—with foundations and supports. Societal tenets high atop this proverbial structure are supported (or held up) by what lies beneath.
French wants to conserve the American experiment—and that includes a level of pluralism. But pluralism resides high on this societal “needs” structure and support system. Pluralism isn’t the foundation, as French argues. It’s not a basic need. If anything is foundational, it’s the definition of male and female. If we cannot agree on basic truths like that, no amount of procedural pluralism will hold the nation together.
You cannot allow the “natural” in natural law to be redefined and expect institutions higher up the structure not to totter.
To mix this metaphor: Our postmodern society is playing Jenga, snatching truths out from under our institutions. If you want to conserve a tottering classical liberalism, you have to target the real vulnerability.
As a Reformed Presbyterian, I’m more broadly skeptical of a system built upon a frankly vague head-nod to rights “endowed by our Creator.” Even so, postmodernism has turned the Creator into Ourselves.
Do you want to conserve the system we’ve got? Greg Abbott’s investigation of parents isn’t the problem.
We must shore up the foundations. You can’t conserve pluralism without conserving male and female. You can’t conserve inalienable rights if those rights are endowed by ourselves. Combating this abuse—including investigating parents as Texas is doing—meets a more basic need on which a non-toxic pluralism might be able to exist.
This is zero sum.
Do my feelings tell me who I am? Or does who I am tell me how to interpret my feelings?
Is my body in conflict with who I am? Or is my mind in conflict with who I am?
There is no appeasement, because the two views cannot co-exist. Ontology—who and what we are irrespective of what we feel—determines what counts as “equal protection” under the law. The state must act in accord with what is true. And if California is right, every state has the legal compelling interest and moral duty to enshrine gender ideology and ignore religious liberty, parents’ rights, or anything else.
Mentally unstable postpartum mothers have drowned their children thinking that they’re loving them. We may not replace what is true (natural law) with feelings, even if we call those feelings “love.” A pluralism built on lies about “the loving thing to do” will irreparably sacrifice children while gaining little more than a temporary pause in our cultural rupture.
People identify as transgender, but that does not turn a man into a woman.
People identify as gay, but no amount of same-sex attraction creates a different type of human.
The emperor has no clothes. And nothing is endowed with virtue simply because it is democratically chosen.
A Call to Action
California Senate Bill 107 goes into effect January 1. If you live in Florida, it may feel like half a continent away. But for your daughter who’s been groomed by TikTok—or a school counselor—it’s a midnight Uber ride to the Amtrak station.
This is not a drill. Churches in California and elsewhere should be actively organizing an Underground Railroad of sorts—and quick response plans to show up en masse to any congregant’s home at imminent risk of state intervention.
The time is now to create plans to get the next father and his son away from a mother who wants the boy to transition.
Even more importantly, governors and lesser magistrates (all the way down to county sheriffs) must be willing to say no—including to courts in their own states. Governors must be clear that they will welcome and protect those fleeing this kind of evil in states like California.
We will argue our cases before the courts of this land, but we are not asking for their permission. Court decisions cannot change what we must do. “An unjust law is no law at all,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. exhorted, quoting Augustine.
The clashes with our society’s leading idol are accelerating. Washington and Oregon removed parental consent years ago, including blocking parental access to health records. But a far more sweeping Canadian law on “conversion therapy” this year made parents or pastors liable to jail-time if they so much as seek to “reduce” a child’s sexual behavior or gender expression. West Lafayette, Indiana has already tried and failed to use Canada as a model. A mere commitment to “pluralism” won’t stop them forever.
Earlier this month, the Michigan legislature introduced a law to criminalize gender transition procedures as first degree child abuse. Yet “child abuse” is the very term a Virginia delegate—that same week—said she wants to use to criminalize parents who do not affirm their child’s chosen sexual identity.
Conservatism? Conserve the definitions of male and female. Conserve the foundation of our rights. Otherwise, anything we (or our forefathers) build on that foundation will collapse under the weight of our own foolishness.
As G.K. Chesterton warned: “Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.” Here we must stand. God helping us, we can do no other.
*Image Credit: Pexels