So, I recently encountered a video of right-wing speaker Ben Shapiro in a Q&A session on some college campus, which has repeatedly been titled “Ben Shapiro Debunks Transgenderism and Pro-Abortion Arguments”. I gave the video a look over, skeptical of his claimed “debunking” of “transgenderism” (I don’t think that’s actually a word, pretty sure he means transsexualism, especially since he seems to refer to the mental illness, so that’s the word I’m going to use), and, well, I can’t say I was surprised to find that what he said on the subject wasn’t quality material.
What Ben Shapiro said on the subject was, well, mostly of his opinion, his interpretation; one could say that he “debunked” some things, if you count straw mans. He made a number of factual inaccuracies, and, overall, it kind of made him look like he knew little on the topic. I’m not really expressing general disagreement with his opinions, I’m quite fine with most of them, honestly, it’s just that I don’t find them to be debunking something, so much as enlightening people as to his views on something– and I do feel like the inaccuracies should be pointed out.
I feel like I should explain this by going quote-by-quote in reaction to what Shapiro said on stage, so I can explain where he sort of went off-track.
Here’s the link to the Daily Wire article containing the text and video versions of the event. Feel free to watch the video first, then come back and see what I have to say in response to him.
“Shapiro: Gender is not disconnected from sex.”
This is a claim he’s making which, I could say, is subjective. Shapiro, at least, as far as I can tell (I don’t want to straw man him) defines sex as chromosomes, gonads, genitals, etc. that someone was born with, and defines gender as the same thing. I’m not saying it would be incorrect to supplement gender for sex, as by dictionary definition gender is something like “the members of one or the other sex.” In the context of transsexualism, though, I’d say that’s not the same way the terms are used by psychologists; they define it as “the state of being male or female,” typically with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. I don’t believe Shapiro is a psychologist, so I don’t put the blame on him for doing this. Just know that when scientists use these terms, sex refers primarily to gonads and chromosomes, and gender usually refers to the state of one’s neurology. For 99.7% of people, there is a consistent match of neurology and brain structure and the chromosomes/gonads/genitalia they were born with; but, for about 0.3% of people, this isn’t the case, which is why the distinction between gender and sex is made. From this perspective, gender isn’t inherently linked to sex, it just usually is. It just depends on how you define your terms, I guess.
“Shapiro: No, it is not in the mind, okay.”
I see this as more of a matter of opinion, rather than one of fact. When you define gender as biological sex, then it’s technically not in the mind; even for the case of transsexuals, by this perspective, the kind of brain that they have is irrelevant to their gender. I do, though, once again want to remind that scientists do consider neurology and norms as definitions of gender. Shapiro isn’t wrong, I guess, he’s just not going by the same terms that most scientists would agree on, and until he says something like “this is what scientists agree with,” then he’s not misinforming anyone or anything, no, he’s just giving his opinion.
“Shapiro: I usually say, “a boy who thinks he’s a girl” or “a girl who thinks she’s a boy,” which is technically what we’re talking about here.”
Here, it seems that Shapiro confuses gender dysphoria with body dysmorphia. They are, actually, not the same thing. What Shapiro describes would be someone with dysmorphia; someone who perceives their body as different from what it actually is. Something comparable would be anorexics, who view themselves as fat even if they are hugely underweight. It’s a type of delusion, and I would recommend not feeding into such delusions, as they can have disastrous effects on the body.
However, dysmorphia is not what transsexuals experience; they experience dysphoria. This is, simply put, a feeling of distress that trans people feel because of their sex characteristics. Most of the trans people I know, including myself, are under no delusion about what we were born as or what biological sex we are, we just feel uncomfortable with the features of our biological sex and seek treatment, usually, to alter those features and minimize our dysphoria. The difference between dysmorphia and dysphoria is like an anorexic who views herself as fat when she’s skinny versus an actually overweight person who doesn’t like the fact that she’s so fat, so she takes action to make herself less fat (perhaps through exercise, or sometimes even surgery).
In terms of “thinking that you’re a boy/girl,” if this refers to gender, I again reiterate the fact of how scientists define gender. By the definition given by scientists, psychology and neurology (and sometimes sociology) are gender. Seeing as transsexuals have the neurological structure of the other gender and can usually live easily as the other gender, by those standards, that person is that gender. So it’s less that transsexuals have a subjective or delusional interpretation of their own gender, but more that they’re going by the definition of gender as used by the scientific community. I wouldn’t call that wrong.
“Shapiro: The idea that sex or gender is malleable is not true.”
This right here is a straw man. No transsexual I know of believes that gender or sex are influenced or changed, the common belief I see is that both gender and sex are biological, and set at birth. For the majority– about 99.7%– of people, their gender and sex match, but for the other 0.3% of the time, they don’t– and that’s how you get transsexuals. Sex is also commonly defined by gonads and chromosomes, and this is a well-known fact among the trans community, I believe, so the genitalia reconstruction wouldn’t be “malleable biological sex.” So, yeah, it’s really just something that’s not a common belief in the trans community, and he seems to be bringing it up just to say that it’s false. And he’s agreeing with most of the trans community.
“Shapiro: I’m not denying your humanity if you are a transgender person; I am saying that you are not the sex which you claim to be. You’re still a human being, and you’re a human being with an issue then I wish you Godspeed in dealing with it in any whatever way you see fit, but if you’re going to dictate to me that I’m supposed to pretend, I’m supposed to pretend that men are women and women are men, no. My answer is no. I’m not going to- I’m not going to modify basic biology because it threatens your subjective sense of what you are.”
First of all, thank you, actually. It’s kind of a common thing that people (not as commonly in Western countries) view transsexuals as “less than human,” in some sort of hierarchical sense, to justify cruel and inhumane actions against them. I seem to remember a semi-recent story of Hande Kader, a trans rights activist, being raped and burned to death in Turkey. Dehumanization and devaluation is what causes these unnecessary atrocities, and it’s nice to see that there is none of that here. And thanks for saying you don’t want to get in the way of how people deal with their dysphoria; it becomes a problem for transsexuals when treatment for them is restricted in some way, as often it is necessary to minimize dysphoria. Dysphoria can be a real bitch, too, don’t even get me started.
Second of all, there’s another straw man. Transsexuals don’t claim to be a different biological sex, as I explained earlier. They go by the definition of gender held by the scientific community, are aware of their biological sex, experience distress from the features/characteristics of their biological sex, and seek to minimize that distress through treatment such as hormones, or surgery.
Third of all, I believe it is actually somewhat common in other parts of the trans community (likely those who are around Tumblr, usually those who are economically left-wing or just socially authoritarian in terms of the political spectrum) to have a sort of peremptory attitude about trans acceptance. For reference, by the way, I’m like, center-left, fairly libertarian but not to the extreme. Now, I don’t agree that affirming the gender of transsexuals would be the same thing as “pretending” or “accepting delusion,” because, AGAIN, by the scientific community’s definition, it’s just the truth. In someone suggesting that you call transsexuals women (or men), it’s not “pretending that a man is a woman/woman is a man,” it’s just calling someone by what the scientific description of their gender is. However, I, personally, and I believe this opinion is shared with quite a few of my trans friends, don’t really care whether you do this or not. You have your free speech, your free will, this is a free country. You can call anyone whatever you want (unless it’s direct threat of violence or defamation, that’s where I, and the law, draw the line), and it’s none of our, or anybody’s, business to restrict your free speech in any way. I don’t like it, nobody does, but there are lots of things I don’t particularly like that I wouldn’t actively try to get rid of. And, as Prohibition and the Berkeley Riots show us, when you try to get rid of something, it only exacerbates things, so it’s honestly wiser for us to just respectfully say we don’t like it and allow people to make their own choice, hoping they’ll just be respectful of our wishes. And, anyway, we don’t really need external gender affirmation from everybody. If you have a close group of friends/family, as well as internally having confidence in yourself, then it’s highly likely that you’ll be just fine; you don’t need loads of external validation to be who you are.
So, yeah. You don’t have to do anything, I won’t try to force you to do anything, it’s all your choice. I know I’d like you to do things, but that is not my choice, it’s yours, and I have no room to influence you in this. (See how we respectfully agree to disagree on things, because we’re both somewhat socially libertarians? That’s cool.)
“Shapiro: In the name, “Boy Scouts.” Because for all of human history, “boy” meant boy and “girl” meant girl. Boy did not mean girl.”
Fun fact: Until the 1400s, the word ‘girl’ just meant a child of either sex. Boys were called ‘knave girls’ & females were ‘gay girls’.
… I know, this is semantics, it really means nothing and refutes no point he’s making, I was just reminded of this because I heard about it recently. It’s kind of funny.
But, anyway, studies show that gender affirmation at a young age, a social transition, is helpful to trans kids in realizing and being comfortable with their identity. The predominant method of determining if a child is trans, or trying to treat dysphoria at a young age, is the social transition/gender affirmation. I think it’s a good thing when this happens; for children who aren’t trans, it allows them to see this at an early age and address whatever real problem they might be having, and for children who are trans, it allows them to see at an earlier age exactly what their problem is, and prepare to deal with it at a younger age. I mean, I personally wish that I’d known about this earlier, so that I’d been able to have my condition addressed now, so, yeah, it seems like a good idea. So I kind of like the Boy Scouts’ decision. But, that’s just my opinion, so as is yours.
“Young Woman: It’s 2017, though.”
… did she do this on accident? This is a somewhat-popular meme, she, she’s not sincere about saying this, is she?
“Shapiro: If I call you a moose, are you suddenly a moose?”
Wow, this… this is hugely misrepresentative of what it’s like to be trans.
Well, if the scientific community decided that the term “moose” could apply to a certain group of humans, then, scientifically speaking, someone would be a “moose,” though likely the meaning of it would not be the same as the animal in question. A human being physically cannot be a moose (though, they can be male or female).
However, it is physically impossible for a human being to have moose DNA or typical moose characteristics, as far as I’m aware. One cannot have a moose hand, or moose legs, or a moose face, or a moose brain, or any of the other distinguishing characteristics of a moose, no matter how many moose hormones you try putting into the body. Not that scientists would try to do such a thing… however, a male can have feminine hands, a feminine face, even a female brain– and it is believed that these features are due to hormones in the womb. The fetus differentiates between male and female characteristics. Enough testosterone, and your ring finger is longer than your index finger; enough estrogen, and your ring finger is the same size as your index finger. This is seen in the average finger sizes of humans by sex, and I believe it is fair to consider this a trait of biological sex, or at least a norm. If it’s possible for a male to have a “female hand” due to how they develop in the womb, it, honestly, only makes sense that it’s possible for a male to have a “female brain.” And, of course, that’s kind of the trait of transsexuals.
Of course, saying that a certain thing is something doesn’t make it true. But we have scientific evidence, observations, and information that tell us what objective facts are. We can test and observe these things time and time again, and, if we’re doing it even somewhat right, we’ll come back with something around the same results our predecessors found. So, when the science community calls a transsexual a “transsexual” and says that this transsexual is “a woman,” it’s what it is, at least in scientific terms.
“Shapiro: No. Why aren’t you 60? Why aren’t you 60? Why can’t you identify as 60? What is the problem with you identifying as 60?”
The human body doesn’t differentiate age, it just grows and decays. We don’t have a literal biological clock, identical to the one we use to gauge time on earth in our lives, marking and distinguishing exactly what age we are and what that age means. If you ask every cell of the human body, none of them are going to be able to tell you what age is.
However, those cells will be able to tell you what sex is, and what sex the person is, usually. Our bodies do contain differentiating characteristics of sex, it’s an objective, existing thing that our bodies keep track of, there are distinct features of it. Sex is different from age in this respect, and, if our bodies can differentiate aspects of sex, then it means something.
“Shapiro: You can’t magically change your gender, You can’t magically change your sex. You can’t magically change your age.”
I can’t magically change my age? Really? Watch me get one second older. See, wasn’t that magical? Jokes aside, though.
This, again, is a straw man. The common transsexual belief is that gender and sex are biological and set at birth, and that they usually match up, but that, for just about 0.3% of people, they don’t, and that this is what it means to be transsexual. I honestly don’t know anyone who genuinely believes, or has expressed to me their genuine belief, that gender or sex can be physically changed.
“Young woman: Obviously. You can change your name; you can change your sex; you can change your identity.”
“Shapiro: Just because you can do things legally doesn’t mean that they are correct biologically. You could do lots of things in the past that were incorrect biologically but correct legally. For a long period of time in the United States, sterilization of the mentally ill took place; that didn’t make it okay; Skinner vs. Oklahoma, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision.”
Did he just… was this honestly a comparison of changing legal documentation or receiving transsexual medical treatment with discriminatory eugenics? Yikes… this feels like the kind of people who compare consensual gay sex with pedophilia and bestiality. It’s obvious that one thing isn’t bad at all and another thing is extremely horrible, so it’s a false equivalence of huge proportions.
I’ll explain. The sterilization of the mentally ill was an ill-thought-out practice and incredibly inhumane, it took away reproductive rights of the mentally ill and removed their ability to even choose. Transsexual medical treatment is something that effectively minimizes dysphoria, allowing for transsexuals to live happier, more normal lives. So, it is hugely a false equivalence to compare the two.
“Shapiro: It’s not a matter of open-minded and accepting; I want them to get the treatment that they see fit. The idea behind the transgender movement as a civil rights movement is the idea that all of their problems would just go away if I would pretend that they were the sex to which they claim membership. That’s nonsense.”
Really? I don’t claim that, and I don’t think any of my friends claim that. We would very much like for people to be more supporting and to understand our condition– as I believe people with autism, schizophrenia, etc. would like to be understood instead of ostracized– but I also know that gender affirmation is /definitely not/ the only thing a trans person may need. Remember, transsexuals experience dysphoria due to their sex characteristics, which is what hormone and surgical treatment is for. Quite often, just a support system is not enough to minimize dysphoria.
“Shapiro: The transgender suicide rate is 40 percent. It is 40 percent.”
I’m not exactly sure about this one. I’ve seen statistics that suggest 41% of trans people attempt suicide at least once in their lives, while other studies suggest it’s around 33%. Studies indicate that trans people who have an additional MH disability have a suicide rate of around 67%. As many studies, as well as statements from the individuals who worked on said studies, indicate, transsexual medical treatment does decrease the suicide rate.
Also, I’m not sure if the suicide rate refers to the rate of those who attempt suicide or the rate of those who succeed in suicide.
“Shapiro: According to the Anderson School at UCLA, it makes no difference – there’s a study that came out last year – it makes no difference, virtually no difference statistically speaking, as to whether people recognize you as a transgender person or not, which suggests there’s a very high comorbidity between transgenderism, whatever that mental state may be, and suicidality, that has nothing to do with how society treats you.”
Shapiro is half right. Yes, it is true that transsexualism (not “transgenderism,” I’m still not convinced that’s really a word) is a mental issue and that it does require treatment to decrease dysphoria and subsequently increase quality of life, and that dysphoria and its effects are a major contributor to the suicide rate of transsexuals, but they are not the only factor. The negative view and treatment from others does act to also increase the suicide rate. A 2011 Swedish study, contributed to by someone named Dhejne, talks about how the issues surrounding transsexualism don’t go away with just hormone or surgical treatment, they usually just are decreased, showing that the suicide rate isn’t just because of the mental illness, but also because of how society treats transsexuals.
From the study I believe you cited, it says a lot about the hell transsexuals may have to face. 57% have their families chose not to speak/spend time with them, 50-54% are harassed or bullied at school, 50-59% experience discrimination or harassment at work, 60% had a doctor or healthcare provider refuse to treatment, 64-65% suffer physical or sexual violence at work and 63-78% at school, 57-61% are disrespected or harassed by law enforcement, 60-70% suffer physical or sexual violence by law enforcement officers, 69% experience homelessness, it goes on for a while and just gets worse. It makes perfect sense that factors like these would make a person increasingly suicidal, and if you’d argue that nothing like this could contribute to suicidality, well, I think you’re dumb.
I know that most people just hear well-off YouTube/Tumblr trannies complaining about being misgendered or something, but the problems that most transsexuals suffer go far, far deeper than that.
“Shapiro: The idea that 36 percent more transgender people are committing suicide because people are mean to them is ridiculous. It’s not true, and it’s not backed by any science that anyone can cite. It is pure conjecture.”
I’m going to cite my sources about the article by Dhejne, who says that both societal acceptance and hormone/surgical treatment are necessary to decrease suicidality. Cite this.
“Shapiro: You can’t sacrifice truth because some people are going to actually suffer because of the truth.”
Didn’t you once say you were opposed to what Chelsea Manning did? ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Aheh, alright, I’m joking a little bit; I understand these are entirely different contexts, and although I do support Manning, it is a false equivalence to compare what Shapiro is talking about (serious political commentary) to what Manning’s situation was (whistle-blower).
“Shapiro: Plus, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the suicide rate would go down in the transgender community in any marked way, if people just started pretending that men are women and women are men. We’re trying that experiment now; we’ll find out whether it works. So far, no evidence.”
Well, there’s kind of no correlation between pretending that men are women and women are men, because, by scientific definitions, that’s not transsexualism. Kind of misinterpretations here.
Gender affirmation has been shown to help, we already know that to be true. It doesn’t fix things entirely, but it does, obviously, help.
Ben Shapiro and The Daily Wire branded this event as Shapiro “debunking transgenderism,” when, really, most of what he said just consisted of his opinions, straw mans, and inaccurate information. Even if his information had been more accurate, I don’t think his talk could have been considered “debunking,” as, again, most of this was just giving his opinion. I think it would’ve been fine on its own, as the content doesn’t quite need criticism for existing and not being accurate, but I kind of find it to be a bit silly that “debunked” was added on to it.
I want to point out and make clear that this isn’t a smear or attack on his character; it’s clear (at least to me) that he meant no harm and that the information he gave, while not accurate, it didn’t seem like any sort of blatant falsehood, it just seemed like he didn’t quite know all that can be on the subject. Ben Shapiro isn’t a psychologist/psychiatric doctor, so nobody should expect him to be an expert on the topic. Rather, I just know that Shapiro keeps to a code of being as accurate and truthful as possible, and I feel that he and his content would benefit with more accurate information. I don’t want this to be misinterpreted as hating on him or anything, I honestly kind of respect him, even with our differing opinions, and I hope that this can be helpful.
Also, since people misinterpet Dhejne’s study too damn much, here’s her clarifying what she said: http://transadvocate.com/fact-check-study-shows-transition-makes-trans-people-suicidal_n_15483.htm