Power and Politics and Pedagogy

During an early January interview with Maxime Bernier, CBC Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos pressed the leader of the new People’s Party of Canada (PPC) on the views of “controversial anti-SOGI activist” Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, the PPC’s candidate in the coming Burnaby South byelection. For those needing translation, “SOGI” stands for “sexual orientation and gender identity”. The British Columbia government’s “SOGI 123” curriculum, officially aimed at “reducing discrimination and fostering inclusiveness”, teaches children the relatively novel idea that gender is “fluid” or changeable. This has indeed stoked controversy among parents and some school board trustees, and Tyler Thompson has been in the thick of it.

In the Bernier interview, the CBC’s Kapelos quoted Tyler Thompson as saying that “gender fluidity is the greatest and most insidious assault against our children this nation has ever seen.” “Do you agree with that?” she demanded of Bernier. He replied that education is an area of provincial jurisdiction and, since the PPC is a federal party, it takes no official position on B.C.’s sex-ed curriculum. Unlike most of Canada’s political parties, PPC candidates are apparently allowed to have personal opinions on matters unrelated to the party’s platform.

Kapelos wouldn’t let it rest there: “You’re OK with your candidates holding those views, even if some would call them ‘homophobic’ or ‘discriminatory’?” When Bernier responded that there is nothing “homophobic” or “discriminatory” about Tyler Thompson’s opinion on child education, Kapelos pounced, “You sound like you agree with [her] point of view.” To me, it sounded like Bernier was merely standing up for the right of his candidate, and anyone, to have an opinion on a debatable subject. The only recently invented concept of “gender fluidity” goes far beyond acceptance of LGBT people into a grey zone that is, to say the least, unsettled science in the field of psychiatry.

Following Bernier’s exit, Kapelos asked the show’s “Power Panel” what they made of his comments. They collectively shook their heads and wondered what on earth could be going on in Bernier’s tiny brain that he failed to immediately condemn his misguided candidate. Most of the panel were representatives of other political parties and so had transparent political motives for trashing Bernier. But lost in their rush to judgement was any actual discussion or understanding of what gender fluidity is, or purports to be. Kapelos ventured that it means “some kids don’t know how to identify”, and “some kids might not be sure.”

But being uncertain about one’s sexual orientation is not even close to being gender-fluid. According to its theorists and advocates, a gender-fluid person is certain about his or her gender identity at any given time; it’s their gender identity itself that changes from time to time, naturally or by choice – anytime, and as many times as the person wants. The issue, then, is whether young children should be taught – without their parents’ explicit consent and potentially in contravention of their most deeply held beliefs and their understanding of biological science – that it’s perfectly normal to feel male one day and female the next, heterosexual one day and homosexual the next.

Here I should confess my ignorance and allegiances. I’m not an expert on human sexuality, although I have read widely. I know that sexual practices and preferences run a very broad gamut. Gender fluidity, if it is a real thing, would not be the strangest thing out there. But on matters political and sexual, I’ve been libertarian for a very long time. Where adults are concerned, whatever floats your boat is fine by me – as long as you’re not harming others. And children, being particularly vulnerable, are a special case. It is perfectly reasonable, then, to ask how and when gender fluidity became settled science, for B.C. educrats among many others, and what authoritative body so pronounced. 

As it turns out, the notion has only been around for 10 years or so, and since very few people throughout history have ever identified as gender-fluid, the gold standard for psychological research – the large-population, longitudinal study – does not and cannot exist. There isn’t even a body of clinical case studies for experts to chew over properly. I checked the references in Wikipedia’s entry on “sexual fluidity”. Although by no means an authoritative source, it indicates the newness of the research on the subject. None of the 49 sources predates 2000; three-quarters were published within the past 10 years; the median reference is from 2011. There’s no telling how many of the references were peer-reviewed, nor their quality if so done. To these eyes, many of the citations looked dubious and agenda-driven.

In short, gender fluidity is a new and conjectural sub-specialty within the extraordinarily complex field of human sexuality. It’s simply impossible that science has disentangled the biological, biochemical, cultural and experiential factors influencing people who identify as gender-fluid. To think we’re in a position today to educate children with definitive findings about gender fluidity is plainly delusional. I suggest that any grade-school curriculum that mentions gender fluidity must be based on advocacy and ideology, not science. It’s at best irresponsible – and potentially abusive and dangerous, as PPC candidate Tyler Thompson and other alleged “homophobes” contend – to teach kids potentially life-altering things about sexuality that are as yet unsettled in the scientific literature. 

Having a stable gender identity – whether heterosexual or LGBT – gives you a fighting chance to find a life partner with a compatible gender identity. Such a partnership provides the stability within which children flourish. Presumably that’s what most people still want for their family. But if your gender identity changes from time to time, your prospects of finding a life partner must drop to infinitesimal, since you would have to find another person who not only buys into gender fluidity but whose changes match your timing and are complementary. Such a degree of pre-established sexual harmony seems impossible.

Gender fluidity, therefore, seems nearly certain to condemn one to a life of long dry spells, punctuated by short-term aventures amoureuse, at best. The sheer impracticality of gender fluidity, and the misery it could cause individuals, is one reason someone might think that teaching gender fluidity in grade school is the greatest and most insidious assault against our children. And that is quite aside from parental rights, moral or religious concerns, or what we actually know about biological science and human sexuality.

Of course it’s wrong for politicians to claim more than the science indicates when opposing the introduction of gender fluidity into the classroom. But it’s equally misguided for politicians and political commentators to pretend it’s beyond the pale to raise concerns about teaching kids things we don’t actually know about sexuality. In education as in medicine, the principle should be: First, do no harm!

Grant A. Brown Grant A. Brown has a DPhil from Oxford University and an LL.B. from the University of Alberta. He taught applied ethics and political philosophy at the University of Lethbridge in the 1990s, and practiced family law in the 2000s. He currently runs a B&B in Stratford, Ontario. 

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