Weekly Standard contributor Adam White posed this question on Twitter yesterday, and maybe it seems a little out there at first blush, but it's worth pondering:
This should be a fairly easy empircal question to verify. Suppose one is not inclined to take at face value such a dramatic prouncement that one has changed sexes -- and it's safe to say a great many Americans fall into this camp -- how would, say, a media fact checking organization go about answering the question?
This is not a bizarre hypothetical for media fact checkers, either. The White House has installed a gender neutral bathroom to accomodate people who claim different gender identities. The Justice Department has intervened on behalf of an inmate demanding taxpayers pay for hormone therapy. The military is looking at revising its policy toward transgender troops. The basis for determining the validity of claims that one is a different sex is going to have major implications.
There are some logical questions that follow from this. Is there some biological basis for Jenner's claim? Was Jenner always female and was mistakenly thought of as a man? Did Jenner stop being male at some point and become female? If so, when? As a woman, did Jenner win Olympic medals under false pretenses by competing as a man? Jenner has fathered children -- for what that's worth -- so, outwardly, Jenner appears to have been functionally male.
If there's no biological basis for Jenner being a woman or if it can't be proven, what's the rationale for believing he should be acknowledged as and treated as a woman? The American Psychological Association says that in addition to the possibility of biological factors, "experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities." If Jenner's gender-identity is in any way something he chose as a result of his experiences, isn't it fair to ask whether or not he was psychologically damaged by any of these experiences that may have contributed to him having a gender identity otherwise at odds with biological reality? What about the possibility that, for whatever reason, Jenner is willfully choosing to identify as female? Many of Jenner's supporters seem certain about this new identity being an "authentic self," but even Jenner has wondered to Vanity Fair, "What did I just do? What did I just do to myself?”
It seems to me that if there's no biological proof Jenner is female, there's a possibility that Jenner is psychologically unwell and/or Jenner is actively choosing to identify as a woman, and none of these rationales is a strong argument for upending millenia of consensus around biology as a basis for two distinct sexes. Further, those biological distinctions are the fundamental legal rationale that justifies any needed political accomodation of the sexes. As far as Jenner's gender identity is concerned, this isn't just about live and let live. It's the 21st century, and there's not much the American people won't at least tacitly come to terms with: millions of Americans have seen Jenner's stepdaughter have sex on camera -- an act that would have been enormously scandalous even a decade earlier -- to cite a notable example. Jenner announcing he's woman on national TV isn't all that transgressive or shocking in 2015. (Or at least not as shocking as the revelation he might have voted for Romney.) If Jenner wants acceptance and understanding, in that he feels differently about his gender, I don't think he'll have trouble eliciting sympathy from Americans.