Between two sexes

I received an email last week from a father in southern Ontario who has a seven-year-old son enrolled in his town's day camp. On the camp's "gender-bender" day last week, when the boys were encouraged to wear dresses, he kept his child home because he suspected the camp was endorsing gender confusion. Gender-bending as a camp activity for kids has a long history, but I understand the father's unease, because unambiguous manliness is generally a threatened aspiration in our culture.

That dad may well be taking in by osmosis a certain fascination amongst our sociological and feminist elites with sex merging, the darling of gender-equality activism now that gay rights have all been achieved in law.

Sex merging is especially present in domains where pre-sexual children are ripe for indoctrination. In May, the story of a Toronto couple who declined to reveal the sex of their baby, and whose older child, a boy, was encouraged to dress like a girl, went viral. At the gender-neutral Egalia pre-school in Stockholm, staff avoid using words like "him" or "her" and address the 33 kids as "friends" rather than girls and boys. The gender-free family and Egalia are not neutral sites, though: All "masculine" toys, books and activities are proscribed.

Ideologues applaud these bizarre initiatives, but I don't know any ordinary person, including myself, who is not appalled by this absurd and dangerous impulse toward social engineering. The word "gender" is a red herring here. Every child is born with a biological sex that has nothing to do with what his or her later sexuality will be.

Gender identity disorder, or transgenderism, afflicts from 0.25 to 1.0% of the population. Cher and Sonny Bono's daughter Chastity - now a man, Chaz - is a well-known example of the condition. Reacting to pressures from ideologues, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the "psychiatrist's bible," now in draft for its fifth incarnation, is renaming the condition as "gender dysphoria," which relieves the condition of any pejorative association.

So, soon I won't be permitted to use the word "afflicts" or have the right to feel sorry for people suspended between a male and a female identity. The gay-rights movement has wrongly appropriated gender dysphoria as a variant of alternative sexuality. Transgenderism is now the new "civil rights" battle (in fact the July 14 cover of The New Republic magazine features a young person (looks male, is female) and suggests exactly that in the caption).

Gays are doing the transgendered no favours by taking them under their political wing. Biological homelessness - "gender identity disorder" in the jargon - is a very real, biologically rooted condition, but it is nothing to celebrate or encourage. A gay man or a lesbian woman may be perfectly comfortable with his or her sex, but a transgendered boy or girl - whether their sexuality tends to the heterosexual or the homosexual - is a tortured soul, at least before modern medicine can provide him or her with a body that fits their identity. True compassion would call for more medical research into how such misery can be avoided.

One is not allowed to say that nowadays, of course. One is not permitted to feel sorry for anyone with a "diverse" sexuality. Times have changed. The once-bright line between the sexes - while still there in reality for 99% of us - has, in the interest of compassion for and solidarity with a tiny minority, been banished in gender-correct discourse.

Yet the message we are getting from academics and pedagogues fixated on gender equality is that biological ambiguity should be valorized and even encouraged, at any rate certainly not discouraged.

In an era when "gender" referred only to Latin nouns, I remember "backwards" costume day at summer camp, when everyone had to dress up like the opposite sex. Kids and staff alike got into the act: The girl counsellors wore suspenders, beards and heavy boots, and the boy counsellors were tricked out in dresses with big "breasts," wigs, outlandish makeup and high heels.

The sartorial reversal didn't imply approval of sexual ambiguity, though. The opposite, in fact. The program implicitly reinforced our common understanding that any attempt by one sex to pass as the other is an impossibility, since males and females are different, and it was the difference that was worth celebrating.

Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end.