The addresses given at this year’s Family Education Trust conference focused on a topic much in the public consciousness, and one which has been largely confined to academic debate.
In his paper on the transgender agenda, the chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, Dr Peter Saunders, traced the rapid growth of the number of people claiming transgender status, before subjecting the origins, ideology, methods and goals of transgenderism to rigorous critique.
Celebrity culture and social media have been major drivers for this phenomenon, combined with the fact that transgenderism has become much more socially respectable, especially among millennials. Dr Saunders suggested that an increase in the number of broken and dysfunctional families may also be a factor.
Since the 2013 revision of the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM–5), the medical profession has preferred to speak in terms of ‘gender dysphoria’ rather than ‘gender identity disorder’.
The change in medical perception away from the idea of a ‘disorder’ in favour of an emphasis on the subjective feeling of distress (‘dysphoria’) has been ideologically driven rather than based on evidence.
Scientific objectivity is almost impossible because of the powerful vested interests involved, and GPs are now worried about losing their licence to practise if they refuse to prescribe hormones for gender reassignment.
Dr Saunders showed how the movement was rooted in the thought of the radical feminist Simone de Beauvoir and further advanced by Judith Butler, a gender theorist who rejects the idea of any distinctions between male and female.
In her view, biological sex has no role to play in determining sexual identity. Believing changing the language is key to changing thought and perception, advocates of ‘gender mainstreaming’ employ the word ‘gender’ in preference to ‘sex’ to refer to what people identify as.
According to Butler, gender identity is not fixed, but free-flowing and flexible. Her objective is to shake the foundations of ‘heterosexual normativity’ through ‘subversive confusion’ and the multiplication of gender identities.
Dr Saunders stressed the latest wave of sexual revolutionaries are not content with tolerance or acceptance, but are set on redefining normality. He stated: ‘For the first time in history, powerful elites are claiming the authority to change men’s and women’s sexual identity through political strategy and legal measures’.
Reference was made to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which allows transgender people to be legally recognised in their new gender if they are over the age of 18 and have lived in their chosen gender for a minimum of two years; and to the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against transgender people. Last year the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee recommended further reforms to advance the transgender agenda.
Dr Saunders spoke of ‘huge cultural, media, medical, legal and educational forces that are being used to popularise these concepts and to indoctrinate children with gender ideology’. Contrary to the claims of ‘queer theorists’ and advocates of ‘gender mainstreaming’, transgenderism is not common, male and female distinctions are not social constructs, and gender reassignment is medically harmful.
Dr Saunders argued that giving children puberty-suppressing hormones is one of the most widespread, untested trials taking place in modern medicine. He observed: ‘If a person has incongruence between their body and identity, you can go one of two ways with it. You can say that the body is the problem or that the belief is the problem. Should we alter the body to conform to the gender identity? Or should we alter the identity to conform to the body?’
At the same conference, Professor Julian Rivers from the University of Bristol law school addressed the question, ‘Does English law need marriage?’ In other words, should the law get out of marriage altogether and not recognise the institution at all?
Prof. Rivers conceded the question might appear a strange one to ask, since the government had no plans to remove marriage from the law. Nevertheless, it was becoming a live debate within academia. He referred to arguments being mounted by libertarians, by egalitarian-feminists and by some Christians.
Libertarians argue the law should not impose a single view of marriage as a lifelong monogamous union upon the entire population, but that people should be free to design their own relationships as they choose.
Contracts could be tailor-made to suit the individuals concerned, with contracts specifying the duration of the ‘marriage’ and the number of people involved, and including an arbitration clause for the resolution of conflict.
Believing that marriage is an oppressive patriarchal institution, egalitarian-feminists favour the removal of the legal framework to end what they view as state reinforcement of patriarchy and ‘heteronormativity’.
Christians who favour the state getting out of marriage altogether do so on the basis that it would disentangle an inappropriate church-state relationship.
Prof. Rivers observed that elements of all three arguments could be found in historic trends in English marriage law. It had become more contractual; certain patriarchal elements had been removed; and, in some respects, marriage has been separated away from state interests.
In opposing the de-legalisation of marriage, Prof. Rivers highlighted some of the major problems that arise among British Muslims, where a large proportion of the population enters on an Islamic form of marriage not recognised in British law.
He pointed to some of the injustices which arise where there is no legal remedy. While there may be an argument for changing some of the methods of civil registration, Prof. Rivers insisted we should not follow these libertarian, feminist and Christian arguments and effectively assimilate the law to the current Islamic position.