Mr. Kevin D. Williamson’s article published May 30, 2014 in the National Review Online, Laverne Cox is Not a Woman (I’m not linking to it in order to deprive it of additional SEO weight) is a really a followup to his article of August 23, 2013, Bradley Manning is Not a Woman.
He’s correct only in the sense that Ms. Cox self-identifies as a trans woman but spectacularly wrong otherwise. His article is intellectually lazy, factually incorrect, misleading, and ironically, a perversion of conservative values.
At its core, the pillars of his argument are that people who experience gender dysphoria are mentally ill and delusional, that genital surgery as a course of treatment is physical mutilation, and that transgenderism is a modern construct. Presenting these pillars as fact, he further argues that to refer to Ms. Cox as anything other than Mr. is to create a false, subjective, irrational reality by using “delusional” beliefs to inform policy and law.
Point by point:
Gender dysphoria is a mental illness and people who suffer from it are delusional – The American Psychiatric Association in its recently released DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th version) separates gender dysphoria from Sexual Dysfunctions and Paraphilic Disorders and notes “that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder“. It has nothing to say about delusional behavior in the context of gender dysphoria.
Further, Cole, O’Boyle, Emory, and Meyer showed that “transsexualism[sic] is usually an isolated diagnosis and not part of any gender psychopathological disorder.”
The DSM is the gold standard in determining psychiatric diagnoses, so unless Mr. Williamson wishes to advance an argument that refutes the panel that determined the DSM-5 gender dysphoria criteria, he is promoting a personal belief and advancing it as fact.
Genital surgery as a course of treatment is physical mutilation – Treatment modalities and satisfaction with outcomes are still evolving.
The closest there is to consensus are the WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) Standards of Care, Version 7. While some dismiss the WPATH guidelines as patient-led and the National Institute of Health concedes that surgical and hormonal treatments may not resolve gender dysphoria, these treatments are currently the only available therapies due to the dearth of in-depth research into or on other treatment options.
(Completely missing from his argument is the acknowledgement that only a small percentage of gender dysphoric patients seek and can afford genital surgery, so to hold this up as the sine non qua of the transgender experience only amplifies his ignorance around the condition. He also neglects to mention or address transgender men, which raises a whole host of other issues outside the scope of this article.)
Absent other treatment options, to argue that surgery is mutilation is in the same vein of implying that we should not perform surgical intervention on cancer patients because radiation and chemotherapy are available.
Transgenderism is a modern construct – Sex-role nonconforming people have existed throughout history. Mercedes Allen provides a good overview of transgender expression through history in her 6-part series. Modulo recent surgical and pharmaceutical treatments, his is simply a false statement of fact.
Conservatism has no single text that it defines itself with, but former National Review columnist Russell Kirk advances Ten Conservative Principles that Mr. Williams would do well to review.
Applying Mr. Kirk’s tenants, Ms. Cox, and many others like her, seek a moral order where transgender people do not need to fear for their lives due to their simply existing, and seek custom, convention, and continuity as integrated members of broader society instead of outcasts, are prescriptive in bending to the biological and empirical realities of the transgender experience, have been prudent in their patience to join (re-join, in some contemporary cultures) society as fully participating members, support variety in the aims of creating a more diverse and resilient society, fully accept and even celebrate their imperfections, seek to enter into and become a productive part of economic society as unencumbered free agents, strongly support local community and local community self-determination, affirm that power should be limited to avoid the tyrannies disproportionately heaped upon them, and affirm and claim both Permanence and Progress as recognized members of society and commerce.
Mr. Williams’ arguments against Ms. Cox are rooted in the neo-Conservative reflex to promote faith as fact, and this hypocrisy in adjudication of others is rampant in contemporary conservative circles. It is also illustrative of how far the National Review has fallen in its ability to provoke thoughtful discourse because thought has been thrown out the window.
In closing, Mr. Williams asserts that “facts…are not subject to our feelings.” He would do well to heed his own advice based on the facts presented above and reflect on the fact that by refuting another’s self-determination, he is using his own subjective reality to do so, and that it exposes himself to the same denial from others.