Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Wheaties was a staple breakfast food in my childhood and between spoonfuls of the stuff that was supposed to make me strong I remember staring at the box donned with Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner ready to spring the javelin. It was the breakfast of champions and of course what eight-year boy old didn't aspire to be a world champion athlete?

Jenner now goes by Caitlyn Jenner and revealed in his memoir scheduled to be released Wednesday that his sex reassignment surgery was a “success.”

How times of changed.

The message to young boys in the 21st century is quite different than the message I remember growing up back in the 1970's. Today's children can be champion athletes. But they can also be the opposite gender if they so desire. Featured on the cover of last December's National Geographic was nine-year-old Avery Jackson who said "the best thing about being a girl is that now I don't have to pretend to be a boy."

The former Olympian could just as well say he no longer has to pretend to be a man whose athletic prowess put him on a box of Wheaties, if not on top of the world. The 67-year-old Jenner writes "the surgery was a success, and I feel not only wonderful but liberated.” To which one must ask, liberated from what?

Jenner was born fully male. He was thrice married which made him a husband, and he is still the biological father of six children.  These are irreversible truths. Yet we're supposed to believe that strong feelings accompanied by surgery can free one from biological and sociological realities.

Such self-defined liberation is only possible in a post-truth context. In November, the Oxford Dictionary announced the 2016 international word of the year is "post-truth." It is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Strong emotion is the new arbiter of truth. This is why public opinion appears to be softening on transgender rights. A Rasmussen Reports Survey released in February found that 38 percent of American's believe transgender students should be allowed to use the bathrooms of the opposite biological sex. This is an increase of five percentage points from last year.

Words with once widely accepted meanings that get in the way of desires in this post-truth world are soon discarded or their use radically modified. But can a world where words no longer matter ever make sense? Subjectivity can be objectivity, disfigurement can be wholeness, and boys can be girls. When we fail to agree on the clear meaning of words we end up in an Orwellian world of "alternative facts,” and potentially a state of confusion.

The children who are confused are easier to empathize with, which brings me back to nine year old Avery Jackson. Shouldn't someone tell Avery that 80 percent of kids who identify with the opposite gender change their minds later? Should minor children be allowed to make such life-altering decisions in the first place?

In another age, it was unthinkable to permit minors to make such decisions. In a post-truth age it is unthinkable to stop them. Until we find the courage to push back against post-truth absurdity more kids will face irreversible consequences, and inevitably so will we.

This column appeared in the April 28, 2017 edition of the Northern Kentucky Tribune.