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When biology matters, sort of

Trans-rejecting gays and lesbians are on the horns of a dilemma

LGBTQ flags wave in Hyde Park, in London, England. Associated Press/Photo by Alberto Pezzali

When biology matters, sort of

The recent legal victory in the United Kingdom for the LGB Alliance is most interesting, both from a general political perspective and a more narrow Christian viewpoint. The case was instigated by Mermaids, a British organization committed to promoting transgender children’s rights. Mermaid’s objection to the group was that it rejects the ideology of gender that underlies the transgender movement, specifically as this is being used to promote transgender treatments for children. Mermaids was therefore challenging the action of the U.K. government in granting charitable status to the LGB Alliance, the British equivalent of being a tax-exempt not-for-profit in the USA.

Loss of such status would have been devastating for the group’s fundraising, and the legal move by Mermaids was an attempt to shut down the LGB Alliance. A victory for Mermaids would have been a significant triumph for transgender activists. Their defeat is a heavy blow, and one more sign that the heyday of transgender power in British culture may have peaked and may now be in decline. Only time will tell on that, but the ruling gives some ground for hope.

The case dramatizes what has been clear for some time to thoughtful observers of the LGBTQ scene: the T and the Q are at obvious odds with the LGB, at least as traditionally understood because the lesbian, gay male, and bisexual identity claims all assume as fundamental the importance of biological sex differences. Gay men are not sexually attracted to women pretending to be men, nor lesbians to men pretending to be women. This fault line was hidden for the longest time, given the need for a united front against a common enemy—a society perceived to be dominated by normative notions of white male heterosexuality. However, as so-called ‘heteronormativity’ declines as a cultural and political force, the fault line within the LGBTQ movement is now moving from being an almost invisible hairline fracture to a widening crack through which the public can now see clear daylight.

An alliance built on little more than the belief that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is beginning to show obvious signs of degenerative weakness.

This fracture parallels the debates within feminism between trans-affirming and gender critical feminists. As the trans issue is shattering that movement, it is now having a similar effect on the LGBTQ alliance. Pride Month this year was, in many places, a little more muted, and members of the gay community have not been slow to point their finger at the trans issue, with its implications for children and parental rights.

As gay journalist Andrew Sullivan explained in the UK’s Spectator, “The core reason for the backlash is pretty simple: The attempt to indoctrinate children in gender ideology and to trans them on the verge of puberty has changed the debate.” Sullivan’s concern is straightforward. “Start indoctrinating and transing children … and you will re-energize one of the oldest homophobic tropes there is,” and that is the claim that “gays are child molesters.” Yes, the ambitions of the transgender movement are deeply problematic for LGBTQ as a public relations issue. An alliance built on little more than the belief that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is beginning to show obvious signs of degenerative weakness.

And yet, while the ruling for the LGB Alliance is welcome as a possible sign of some sanity returning to the public debate over sex and gender, a case can be made that the trans-rejecting L, G, and the B are themselves caught on the horns of a very real dilemma. This is because they simultaneously assert and deny the importance of biological sex. After all, once one decides that the sexed nature of the body is critical to who one is and who one desires and yet has no relevance to what one wills to do sexually, then one is ironically opening the way for the transgender ideologues who grant no significance to biology. LGB thinking gives with one hand what it takes away with the other.

And therefore, it is not enough for the LGB community to distance itself from the T and the Q. It has to disband itself if it is to be consistent on this. Biological sex is either significant or it isn’t. It really is that simple. There is no third way. And so trans-rejecting gays and lesbians need to decide one way or the other.

Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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