Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

The “Growing Up Transgender" panel discussion hosted in Louisville earlier this month revealed something even more troubling about our culture and how we think than it does about the tortured souls who believe they are trapped in the bodies of the wrong sex.

One of the participants was college student Henry Brousseau who challenged Louisvillians at a ritzy local restaurant to entertain the thought "just for a moment, that you wake up one day in the body of the opposite sex. People will start to call you the wrong pronoun and expect you to dress and act a way that feels ‘horrible.’ After a while, as you can imagine, you start to hate looking at yourself in the mirror and in general you hate yourself because your body is all wrong to how you feel on the inside."

Ah, where to begin?

How about if you are born with male anatomy, that means you are a boy. If you are born with female anatomy, that means you are a girl. All corresponding realities then follow.

If only it were so easy.

What we’re learning from this discussion is that the political winds of moral relativism have blown us so far from the port of objectivity that biological reality and social convention are about to crash on the rocks of radical self-autonomy.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned in his homily prior to becoming Pope Benedict, “we are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” Prescient as his statement was, his voice—or any in the faith community, would have been held suspect at the panel discussion because the prevailing view is that “the only absolute today is there are no absolutes.”

While crossdressing and transvestism teeters on the verge of social acceptance (seventeen states protect gender identity and a bill to protect gender identity was filed in the Kentucky General Assembly earlier this year) its legitimacy begs every one of us to think critically about what this means to our expectations of human conduct. Is an individual so autonomous that they can determine their own gender? Should society acquiesce to a behavior that less than 24 months ago was considered a psychological abnormality by the American Psychological Association?

Federal Judge John Heyburn thinks so. Nearly unfettered expressions of sexuality, including a person’s right to change their gender, is somehow a constitutional right according to Heyburn, who struck down Kentucky’s marriage law on July 1. “For example, strictly speaking, a person can change her citizenship, religion, and even gender,” Heyburn said. “[These are] ‘an integral part of human freedom’ entitled to constitutional protection, as is sexual expression.” I’m not sure which Constitution he is referring to, but the U.S. version says nothing about sexual expression or gender identity as a right.

So, what happens to the society that blurs gender boundaries by law? Boys attending public schools who feel like they are girls must be allowed to use girl’s restrooms, lockers and showers. They must also be allowed to participate in girls’ sports. Chick fil-A could be penalized for not hiring a crossdresser as a cashier or waitress. And the 70-year old landlord with strong moral convictions would be forced to rent the other half of her duplex to a transvestite.

The discussion is as much about social standards and morality as it’s about freedom and rights. But should the freedom of a self-identified transvestite trump young girls’ freedom of privacy from the opposite sex in public restrooms? Should employers be free to set dress codes? And landlords be free to consider sexual proclivities and histories before renting?

Henry Brousseau’s mother, Karen Berg, told the panel that her son Henry feels “demoralized” because of those “who refuse to recognize my child’s gender identity.” Berg would overhaul laws and social mores to make her son Henry feel better. Here’s a suggestion: there must be an objective standard outside human experience and emotion that would be a better basis for personal behavior and public policy.

When people push freedom beyond its limits and use it for something that it is not meant to be used for, they ultimately hurt themselves and eventually true freedom is lost.  Os Guiness sums it up nicely in his important book, A free people’s suicide: Sustainable freedom and the American future. “[Freedom] rests on strong convictions about what is true and equally strong constraints against what is false. A culture with no claims on its members or—curbs on their desires—would be a culture with no future.”