Adding Empiricism To The Trans Conversation
How a few empirical facts can end the pointless, distracting arguments
Today, I want to talk about the idea of ‘trans empiricism’, which I first raised earlier this year. Back then, I outlined how a ‘trans empiricist’ approach could put the focus of the trans conversation back on the experiences and needs of people who suffer from gender dysphoria, and end the dominance of academic debates of gender philosophy that have nothing to do with the everyday lives of trans people. Today, I will clearly explain what a trans empiricist approach looks like, and how it can help us put the conversation around trans issues back on track.
So what is trans empiricism? Basically, it’s taking an empirical approach to the phenomenon of trans. To be empirical is simply to be committed to the objective truth, and base our claims on observable evidence. In the empirical approach, observable evidence is taken to be the best representation of the truth. Empiricism is useful because it grounds our thinking in objective reality, and arguably protects us from sophistry.
Using an empiricist lens, we can observe the following facts, regarding the trans phenomenon:
Firstly, trans people exist, and they comprise less than 1% of the population.
Secondly, the vast majority of trans people suffer from gender dysphoria, and transition because they want to alleviate their gender dysphoria.
Finally, gender is correlated with genetic sex in more than 99% of cases in the general population.
An extension to this point is that, there is a clear difference between trans people, and non-trans people, therefore the experiences of one group cannot be generalized to the other. This is a very important point I will come back to.
The aforementioned empirical observations form the foundation of the trans empiricist argument. This is a strong foundation for effectively untangling some of the most heated debates around gender and trans people today. This will help us move on from such arguments, so we can focus on more constructive discussions.
In the past three episodes, I discussed how certain radical feminists and postmodern activists have been pushing the idea that ‘gender is a social construct’, and tying this idea to their support or rejection of trans people. As a result, the trans discourse has been needlessly tied into this pointless philosophical question. A trans empiricist approach would overcome this in multiple ways.
Firstly, the validity of trans people can be established simply by their continued existence in a similar pattern across time (at least several generations) and culture (trans people are present in every part of the world). Therefore, trans people are valid regardless of whether gender is a social construct.
Secondly, the empirical fact that gender is correlated with genetic sex in more than 99% of the general population provides strong evidence against gender being a social construct.
Perhaps most importantly, the fact that gender is correlated with genetic sex in the vast majority of people, but not in trans individuals, mean that there is a very significant difference between the two groups. This, in turn, means that the experiences of trans people cannot be generalized to the general population; that trans people must be understood as a minority group with special accommodation needs. Recognition of this fact is good in two ways: firstly, it stops the postmodernist agenda of using trans people to demonstrate that gender is a social construct, or to deconstruct gender in general society. Secondly, by preventing trans people from being used like this, we can reassure the general public that trans rights do not amount to a radical change for the rest of the population, rather it is aimed at making life easier for a small minority of the population. This move would be analogous to when the gay marriage movement pointed out that legalizing gay marriage would only allow gay couples to get married, and not ‘destroy marriage as we know it’. This realization, I believe, led to high levels of support for gay marriage in the general public.
Another thing is, postmodernists have been preventing a focus on gender dysphoria by participating in the long-standing ‘transmed vs tucute’ debate, and marginalizing voices in favor of centering dysphoria. (NOTE: The use of the terms ‘transmed’ and ‘tucute’ here are meant to be neutral descriptors, referring to the commonly used terms for the two sides of a long-standing debate.)
Basically, transmedicalists believe that being trans is rooted in gender dysphoria, and that you need gender dysphoria to be trans. Tucutes believe that this view is judgemental, and amounts to gatekeeping. Postmodernists have made centering gender dysphoria impossible, by encouraging this divide, taking the side of the tucutes, and sometimes even resorting to baseless accusations of the transmed camp, e.g. that they are discriminating towards non-binary people, which most of them clearly aren’t.
Trans empiricism overcomes this situation, by eliminating the need for this argument in the first place. An empiricist approach is agnostic about whether one ‘needs gender dysphoria’ to be ‘validly trans’, because it always accepts people as they are. However, the empirical evidence does clearly point to gender dysphoria being the main driver of trans identity and gender transition. Therefore, even without establishing whether gender dysphoria is a necessary feature of being trans, we can still establish that gender dysphoria is the most important feature of trans lives in general. This way, a trans empiricist can justifiably argue for much more attention to be placed on gender dysphoria, and the needs of people struggling with gender dysphoria, without being entangled in other philosophical questions.
In conclusion, a trans empiricist approach, one rooted in the observed objective reality, can help end the entanglement of trans issues with pointless philosophical debates that have little to do with trans people. It can help prevent trans issues from being taken advantage by those with an agenda, and restore the struggles of gender dysphoria back to the center of the conversation. I believe this would greatly help to advance the understanding and acceptance of trans people among the general public.