According to a recent report, the number of children in the United Kingdom, aged 3-18, referred for gender identity disorders, has risen six times over the last five years, to over 2000.
Why are so many children so unhappy with their birth sex, that they are being considered for gender re-assignment?
Although many will not proceed to full-scale ‘sex change’ procedures, it is alarming that society has produced such large numbers of distressed young people.
Has something gone so wrong, that they feel such disconnection from the basic physiological biology, and want to change it?
Explanations vary. Some posit that stress and dislocation in modern society causes confusion. Others suggest the presence of hormones and toxins in our natural environment.
Critics cite the influence of the trans lobby itself in creating a political climate conducive to such desires.
Alternative theories propose that rigid gender differentiations in western society make it hard for the non-conforming to fit in.
One representative from the Tavistock Clinic thought such feelings had always existed, but that developments of new technologies simply presented reassignment as an actual possibility.
What is clear is the degree of unhappiness felt by these children about their assigned sex and gender. Any interventions must take account of this primary felt experience.
Beyond the personal distress, however, there are also philosophical implications to consider. These concern the nature of the self, and even of reality.
The shift in our sense of self, is highlighted by experiences of non-binary and gender fluid identities, especially among young adults.
The situation becomes even more complex, when considering those who de-transition from their new identity, concluding the whole thing was a mistake.
These developments suggest a self which is protean, changing; instead of the traditional western idea of a stable self, persisting over time.
Underlying this, however, is a metaphysical question about ‘Being’: ‘what is real?’ How do we define reality? In this case, is someone who undergoes gender reassignment actually a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’?
The use of neologisms, like ‘trans-man’ and ‘trans-woman’, contrasting with ‘cis-man’ and ‘cis-woman’, may provide some conceptual clarification.
But, in practice, it seems that the desire is to be accepted, by everyone, as the new gender or sexual identity, which they have transitioned to.
So the dilemma of ‘what is real?’ remains. The consequent conceptual quandary marks a cultural transition, to a new understanding of the ‘real’.
Instead of being defined by a supposedly objective, external, physical order, reality is now construed according to an internal sense of what is real, or true, for each person.
Instead of a materialist understanding of existence, we are approaching an idealist model, whereby we can declare what is the case, according to our own preferences.
A new philosophical movement, ‘Speculative Realism’, stressing objective material reality, may provide ammunition against such postmodern solipsism.
But, whether or not we shall run into a wall of obdurate hard facts remains to be seen. How far can we go in asserting our personal truths against an unyielding universe?