The Ontario PC Party is wrong, there’s nothing unscientific about gender identity

Florence Ashley
Nov 19, 2018 · 3 min read

It may be time for the Ontario PC Party to do its homework. On Saturday morning, it was reported that the party slated for debate, for the next convention, a resolution according to which “gender identity theory” is “[a] highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology’; and, as such, that an Ontario PC Government will remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum.”

In proposing this debate, the party invigorates proponents of the dangerous belief that trans people are delusional and shouldn’t have their gender identities recognised. Moreover, they play into the myth that the growing inclusion of trans people is being pushed by ideologically-motivated activists with no regard for science, even though scientists are very much in favour of trans inclusion.

Over 2,600 scientists including 9 Nobel laureates have recently signed a letter condemning the Trump administration’s decision to redefined gender as biological and assigned at birth, and foregrounding the need for policies that recognised the lived experiences of trans people. According to the group of scientists, such a proposal is “fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights, and basic dignity.”

Many prestigious institutions have also also opposed the proposed redefinition. According to the extremely prestigious journal Nature: “Political attempts to pigeonhole people have nothing to do with science and everything to do with stripping away rights and recognition from those whose identity does not correspond with outdated ideas of sex and gender.” Far from recognising science and defending it against “liberal ideology”, the Ontario PC Party proposal mimics the Trump administration’s populist and anti-scientific hostility towards transgender people, a transparent backlash against the slow-but-growing recognition of trans communities by governments.

For something that’s supposed to be highly controversial and unscientific, it turns out that so-called gender identity theory has a lot of support from the scientific community and traces its roots back to the work of scientists. Before making absurd statements of the sort, the Ontario PC Party might want to do its homework.

A short foray into the history of the idea of gender identity further exposes the absurdity of the Ontario PC Party’s position. Indeed, gender identity didn’t emerge out of activist communities, but was coined in 1963 by psychiatrists Robert Stoller and Ralph Greenson, according to University of Ottawa law professor Kyle Kirkup. The term allowed them to put into words the psychological experiences of trans people. As explained in the Yogyakarta Principles, a leading international human rights document, gender identity refers “to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body (which may involve, if freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or function by medical, surgical or other means) and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms.”

It was also psychological literature and experts who led to the recognition of trans people under anti-discrimination law in the late 1990s. The expert testimony of Dr. Richard Robinow, a psychiatrist for the Centre for Sexuality, Gender Identity and Reproductive Health, was integral to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision establishing the right to access to bathrooms according to gender identity in 1999.

As the Tribunal explained, “[s]ociety in general, and the law in particular, assumes that sex is a bipolar characteristic and that an individual is either a male or a female.” By contrast, “[t]he medical profession is more able to address the complexity of the male-female continuum, perhaps because it is a profession which deals with human beings as they actually are, with all their ambiguities and contradictions.”

Although science and our understanding of trans people has evolved considerably since the decision, in no small part because of trans voices in scientific research, the words of the Tribunal continue to ring true today. It is society, not science, which fails to recognise gender identity. The Ontario PC Party should take its own advice and heed science, recognising the reality of gender identity as science has for decades. Debating trans lives is ridiculous and has no place in a society which values human rights.

Florence Ashley

Written by

Transfeminine activist based in Tio’tia:ke (also known as Montreal) and LL.M. candidate at McGill University.

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