Like it or not, disconnecting gender from sex has real consequences – Triptych Foundation

From the clothes we wear to sports we play and even the words we use, gender continues to play a massive role in American society. At present, our legal and policy approach is on a clear collision course with our cultural views on gender. We’re debating “bathroom bills” and barring certain medical procedures for gender non-conforming minors. No doubt gender issues are a flashpoint, but we need to pause the outrage long enough to consider the consequences of our choices. 

Start with empathy. Some people really don’t feel comfortable in their own skin. Transgendered individuals experience biology and gender as powerfully at odds. Most of us haven’t shared that reality, but we should show compassion for those who do. 

The reason for that empathy is painfully clear. A 2018 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that female-to-male adolescents had an attempted suicide rate of 50.8 percent. That’s more than five times the attempted sucide rate the study found for male adolescents. 

Addressing such a devastating reality drives the rationale behind expanding our conception of gender to help people feel more comfortable and reduce discrimination. But redefining gender has serious consequences we ought to consider as well. 

The implications of the Supreme Court’s 2020 holding in Bostock v. Clayton County haven’t been fully fleshed out in American society, but the trajectory is clear. “It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch, “without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

The Court has seemingly taken the position that gender discrimination is sex discrimination. The challenge going forward is determining whether gender is more than an individual proclamation. 

For example, I’m a biological male. I’ve never had to prove my testosterone levels or anatomical features when I mark my gender on applications or official documents. From a legal standpoint, my declaration of gender has always been sufficient. 

How could it not be discrimination to expect a transgendered person to “prove” they’re a certain gender? Every attempt at demonstration would demand them to point to a biological feature or an existing social norm. If that were permitted, we’d have two classes of men, biologically born and those who were somehow “certified.” 

But if we’re simply accepting a personal proclamation as evidence of gender, good-faith efforts to accommodate the gender non-conforming population do indeed create unintended consequences. And it’s usually not the LGBTQ community actually causing the issues that make many of us uncomfortable.

Take, for example, a women’s public high school locker room. A straight biological male who has done his legal homework, declares himself to be female. He begins using the women’s locker room much to the displeasure of the other occupants. He’s immediately suspended by the school and sues the school for gender discrimination.  

The male student isn’t and shouldn’t draw sympathy from anyone. He’s a teenager looking to sneak a peek into an environment where he does not belong. 

What is the argument that it’s permissible for a male-to-female transgendered student to use the women’s locker room and not the male who is clearly seeking a legal loophole to check out the women coming out of the shower? Even those quite sympathetic to the first category should certainly see the need to clearly address the latter. 

The same policy challenge applies to government programs for women, gender-specific sports teams, and even well-intentioned diversity efforts by both public and private entities. 

Here’s another example that isn’t as extreme. What if a male student discovers his dream law school has an affirmative action policy for women, so he checks the “female” box on his application? What recourse would the school have after he’s admitted, and it realizes his dishonesty. 

Some folks might suggest that a few bad-faith actors are simply the price of ending certain kinds of discrimination, but that’s where the cultural clash is most pronounced.  

According to an analysis from Eastern Illinois University’s Ryan Burge, “67.8% of Americans agree that there are only two genders, with 50% strongly agreeing with that sentiment.” In short, a strong majority of Americans still believe that gender is closely tied to biological sex. Combine that perspective with a desire to address the bad-actor in the women’s locker room scenario, and it’s easy to see where “bathroom bills” find their public support. 

The viewpoint doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of empathy or even an unwillingness to provide reasonable accommodations. It does point to a large number of Americans who aren’t willing to strip gender of any biological reference point.  

The tough challenge is striking the balance between adequate support for gender non-conforming individuals and mitigating problematic consequences that result. My hope is that we’ll be the kind of people who think through such challenges with a little more humanity even if consensus is difficult to achieve. 

Cameron Smith is CEO of the Triptych Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The Triptych Foundation promotes a virtuous society through investments in socially impactful media and business. He was recently executive director of the Republican Policy Committee in the United States House of Representatives. You can reach him at

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