Transsexuals as evolutionary threat

For eugenicists like J. Michael Bailey who believe that "counting number of descendants one leaves" is the ultimate measure of human worth, transsexuals are among those who are "evolutionary mistakes." [1]

In fact, as scientific heterosexism takes hold, we will be seeing much more of this sort of thinking about people who pose a threat to the "straight-boy separatists," who see new reproductive technologies and family structures as leading to their ultimate irrelevance.

The following was sent to me by Sonia John.

Transgenderism: Fertility and the Ancient Texts

For a number of years I had a friend from Germany living in my city while she was pursuing a degree in International Relations.  A philosophical type from an early age, when she was about ten she asked her grandfather, who raised and butchered pigs for a living, what was the purpose of life.  He answered, "reproduction." 

I think that one of the reasons GLBT people threaten the world view of the conservative sectors of societies is because of low GLBT reproductive rates.  The imperative to reproduce, to assure the survival of the ego, family, clan, tribe, nation, etc., is so firmly ingrained in our biology and culture that most people scarcely think about it.  This is scarcely surprising, because through most of human history survival was often in doubt, but this is not a threat that has obtained in most of the world in modern times.  Nonetheless, lowered fertility is one tangible and emotionally-felt answer some would give to the question, "what harm do GLBT people really cause society?"  

Although ZPG (zero population growth) as a political movement has always been very marginal, invisible almost everywhere, its goal has nonetheless been met--and very alarmingly to some, exceeded--in a few European countries, and that goal is close at hand in some other Eruopean countries as well.  If it weren't for the influx of immigrants, who have higher fertility rates than the native-born, the US and Canada would probably also be at or on the verge of ZPG.  All of this fertility reduction has occurred by voluntary action, without the assistance of plagues or war, and unlike most previous fertility declines, it has occurred in an environment of peaceful prosperity.   

As usual, a trend such as this has first been manifested in the "advanced" societies.  Many people assume that a decline in fertility will also eventually occur in the less-advanced societies but that strong population growth will still be the norm there for at least a number of decades.  This situation is tailor-made for xenophobes, whether grounded in fears of racial, cultural, military or economic eclipse.  Up to this point, it has mainly been conservative religious groups, abetted at times by ultra-nationalistic political elements, that have labored in vain to limit the use of fertility-reducing technology, finding their justifications in ancient religious texts.  But a wider variety of conservative groups are also pro-natalist because they--and a great many others who would not necessarily identify themselves as conservative--view perpetual population growth as a fundamental requirement for the financial well-being of businesses, governments, and eventually, according to the rosy scenario, individuals.    

Although the bulk of the decline in population growth in the developed countries can be attributed to popular birth control practices, a certain amount of it is also likely the consequence of greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people--and now, the transgender.  Given the more relaxed contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality, marriages of convenience (and whatever children are thereby produced) occur much less frequently.  The same is increasingly true for transgender people, especially as they are now coming to understand their own nature at earlier stages of their lives.

It is perhaps understandable that the emergence and acceptance of transgender individuals, above all the others in the GLBT grouping, would most viscerally alarm fertility advocates because the chemical and surgical interventions transpeople typically undertake significantly impair or destroy their procreative capabilities.  If it were possible to change one's genitalia and body chemistry and not lose the natural ability to procreate--as in some distant imagined future--transpeople might be much less alarming to the overall pro-natalist society.

The concern about fertility also is important in understanding resistance to liberalizing marriage laws.  The purpose of the institution of marriage is seen by many people as primarily a framework and an incentive for reproduction.  For many, a childless marriage is still seen as an unfulfilled and pointless one, just as is sexual intercourse with no immediate procreative purpose.  Childlessness after a certain age--regardless of marital status--is still often seen as tragic and as an affront to established norms of masculinity and femininity.  These attitudes easily find their way into legislation, such as that which narrowly restricts the definition of marriage and which furnishes significant tax incentives to child-bearing.

It's also understandable that some biologists would become involved in the debates about GLBT people.  The persistence in the population of GLBT individuals--long viewed as a relatively inconsequential minority--has been a puzzle for biology because it seems to contradict Darwinian tenets.  But now, with growing awareness of the true number of GLBT people and the "problem" they represent for fertility, the concerns of biologists with conservative leanings have acquired an additional urgency.    

The controversy over the causes of GLBTism, which is likely to continue apace over the next decades, informs the attitudes of various interest groups that are concerned with public policy on GLBT issues.  There is some tantalizing but as yet no conclusive evidence that the presence or expression of GLBTism is caused principally by genetic or biochemical factors, but some features of the gender-variant landscape are well-established:

1.  GLBT individuals are generally the offspring of non-GLBT parents;

2.  GLBT parents are likely to give birth to non-GLBT children;

3.  GLBT individuals exist in all societies and represent approximately the same proportion of populations everywhere;

4.  GLBT individuals, in their majority, can be induced by the forceful application of social, legal, etc. pressures to conform to societal norms, including procreation.

Point #4 above is crucial because it has almost always been the means by which  societies, absent until recently any knowledge of modern genetics, have handled their "undesirable" GLBT members.  It is a major point of agreement by all who object to GLBT expression, whether they view it as an innate characteristic or as a sinful choice inspired by some devil figure. 

It is likely that some dream of having the potential to intervene in genetic processes to reduce the number of GLBT individuals who are born, and this capability may emerge during our lifetimes;  whether its application would ever become accepted as ethical is an open question.  It may also be that there are extremists plotting organized genocidal strategies against GLBT people, but such plans stand, in my opinion, little chance of success in the constitutional democracies that govern in most developed countries today.  This is not to say that these eventualities are impossible, and so it is worthwhile to have alert sentinels who are willing monitor the activities of fringe groups as well as the progress and application of potentially unethical scientific research.

In a political environment that forecloses options of being able to directly control the number and specific types of people who are to be born, traditional and conservative elements are limited to advocating general pro-natalist policies that reward those who express a preferred behavior, along with repressive and stigmatizing policies to deal with those whose behavior they do not sanction.  The struggle over these policies represents the working out of social and cultural evolution rather than of biological evolution, which requires many millennia.

It may be true that the majority of people everywhere resist change in their lives, particularly when they believe that change will degrade any advantaged position they may hold.  In the early days of NASA, during a congressional hearing on the possible benefits of including women in the astronaut corps, John Glenn stated, "The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order."  Note that he did not say that this was a happy or unhappy fact, nor did he justify the status quo by appealing to any authority to rationalize it;  he was like many complacent advantaged people who simply say "what is, is."  However, it would not technically be correct to say that conservatives always resist change, because many desire to change back to the way things were in the past (one may pick from a wide variety of defunct utopian eras).  Also, conservatives heartily endorse evolution in the labor market of capitalist economic systems.  What conservatives rarely ever do want is a forward movement of social evolution, even though it is in social evolution that the human race excels as a means of confronting the unpredictable challenges of life on this planet.  The main reason for this is that social evolution has the greatest potential for altering the existing power structure, which continues to involve men holding most of the power and women performing most of the duties of reproduction and child-rearing.

It has never been enough for conservatives who are attempting to influence social policy to state, as John Glenn did, that a particular status quo merely exists and therefore should be preserved;  with all of the urgent attacks on the contemporary social order, an appeal to a higher authority is necessary.  For the religious side of the conservative house, the ancient scriptural texts suffice as unassailable authority, but belief in religious authority is not what it once was--for many people it has been supplanted to a significant degree by a belief in science.  The challenge thus for conservatives is to find scientific authority for their wish to preserve the social status quo, and certain biologists have heeded their call by appealing, in a very biased way, to the most ancient text of them all--the human genome.
But what does the human genome really say about how human beings should evolve?  Does the genome have an intelligence, does it have preferences?  Is this much different from asking if the earth "cares" about whether its atmospheric composition is X or Y, or whether it is the home to a greater or lesser number of plant and animal species?  These are, in the end, unresolvable theological debates that obscure the reality that imputed evolutionary preferences are nothing more than the preferences of individuals living today.  The important debate is about the kind of people and society we want to have in the future, and this debate can't be limited to self-appointed scientific or theological Brahmins--everyone, especially the members of the GLBT communities, must participate in it.

We do know that the human genome is an extraordinarily complex system and that we have only just begun to grasp a few of the mechanics of its functioning.  We also know that it is intricately connected by an ecological web to the genomes of other organisms and also to the physical environment, all of which also change over time.  Then, we know that it is the nature of the genome to produce an enormous diversity of individuals and that this contributes greatly to its stability and capacity to adjust to changing circumstances--the vulnerabilities of monocultures are well-known.  Finally, we take as a given that the genome ought to be allowed to continue to evolve, but the main question here has become, "under whose guidance, if under anyone's?"

With the advance of technology, our species' potential to effect change in the biosphere--which includes the human genome--is increasing more and more rapidly.  Decisions about whether and how to employ this potential have typically been made by those who possess the technology, for the primary benefit of their own groups and  in view of their own short moment of time.  Long-term considerations have frequently been neglected, as have been considerations of impacts on human outsider groups, non-human groups, and the physical environment.

There has been a genetic experiment of significant scale--an intervention in the human genome--proceeding for a number of years now in several Asian countries.  Using simple technology, many families have been selectively aborting female fetuses to the extent that in some areas of India, for example, 55% or more of the children being born are male.  This means that for every thousand children born in these areas, there is an excess of one hundred males who will not be able to find mates, assuming the continuation of the prevalent social norms of monogamy and heterosexuality.  Though the government in these areas opposes this sex-selection, the majority of the populace does not, and so it continues, albeit in the shadows.  Does anyone have a clear idea of the full ramifications of such an unbalanced ratio between the sexes?  To a greater or lesser degree, a preference for male children characterizes most human societies in the world today, and far more advanced (as well as less brutal) technology for sex-selection of children is available in the developed countries, though at a price most in India cannot afford.  Even granting that preferences for male children are less pronounced here than in India and the technology less-often utilized, what justification is there for allowing (or alternatively, banning) this technology which contravenes the genome's natural output of an approximate parity between males and females?

I would suggest that society has a serious and legitimate interest in limiting or even prohibiting the use of technology in this way.  Furthermore, I would view this technology as "a solution in search of a problem," whose application is driven mainly by the profit motive.  Maintaining parity in the sex ratio of newborns is viewed by most as beneficial for societies, but individuals desire exceptions for themselves because of social and cultural beliefs that can also have financial implications;  this is where individuals' rights must be weighed against the collective long-term well-being of societies.  This situation also illustrates the folly of necessarily equating a beneficial collective genetic outcome with the sum of the genetic outcomes preferred by the individuals within that society.  A much more satisfactory solution to the "problem" of those who desire to avoid having female children (and one far less fraught with unforeseen consequences) involves addressing the societal reasons that male children are so inordinately preferred, even if the required adjustments to the social status quo might be temporarily wrenching.

In a similar way, many of the thoughts and theories emanating from confederations such as the Human Biodiversity Group seem to be "solutions in search of a problem," appealing to popular prejudices and dislikes such as the Indian parent's dislike of having "too many" daughters.  With respect to GLBT people, once more the question has to be asked, "what harm do they really do to society?"  Clearly, on the positive side, they have made innumerable brilliant contributions to society.  On the negative side, is there evidence that they are particularly given to destructive or criminal behavior?  This is a case that cannot be made, especially with the understanding that the HIV pandemic is not solely a GLBT phenomenon.

Consider, then, a research or position paper outlining the present scientific understanding of the etiology of disease (regardless of whether the focus is on genetic or microbial causation, or both), continues with speculation about what this might mean for ameliorating an additional disease or social problem, and then selects the existence of GLBT people as that single important problem (disease).  Given the lack of any creditable evidence that GLBT people constitute a societal problem, this selection is tantamount to simply saying "we don't like them."

Ordinarily in the modern world problems come to light and are assessed for their severity by considering the cumulative costs associated with them--costs borne by individuals and society as a whole.  In some respects an analysis of dollars-and-cents costs may be a crude way to measure a problem, but  it is a tool that most people can agree on as a starting point.  Preliminary conclusions can thus be reached about the relative importance of any number of social or medical problems--obesity, drug addiction, or violent behavior, for instance.  These three are fine examples to contrast with the alleged "problem" of GLBT people, because they too are all considered to have at least some roots in genetic predisposition.  In the case of violent behavior, which psychologists are apt to categorize under headings such as "anti-social personality disorder" or "explosive anger syndrome," enormous costs result, including physical damage to individuals and property, psychological damage to individuals, lost employment productivity, and the expense of treatment, law enforcement and incarceration.

What are we to make of those who pursue an interest in ridding the world of GLBT people when there are so many more serious problems that might be confronted?  Is it a simple phobia based essentially on a primeval antipathy toward non-procreative individuals?  I believe this to be true, but there is also a related and highly emotional secondary issue in play--the extreme malleability of human sexual and gender behavior.  Humans have, in common with other primates, far more sexual energy than is required merely for reproduction, and this energy is often expressed in non-procreative--including same-sex--activity depending on the individual and the social situation.  Likewise with gender, given the notoriously arbitrary and shifting precepts of gender normality, variance in this dimension occurs in all shadings depending in part on the time and place.  In effect, it's entirely likely that the majority of the human population is "queer" to some extent.  If this is true and it becomes common knowledge, both the technical and political feasibility of a genetic intervention fades to nothing.  This is the principal reason that anti-GLBT eugenics advocates place such great emphasis on minimizing the count of GLBT people and on denying the existence of bisexuality:  their program requires a small and very clearly definable minority.

Despite their different belief systems, in the end what the restless conservative scientists object to is the same as what religious conservatives object to:   not wayward genetic evolution, but "undesirable" social evolution.  Both groups abhor the idea that society could change so as to include and accommodate GLBT people.  For them, this means the end of the world as they know it.

Sonia John also contributed Bailey Debases Social Science In Quest For Celebrity

I received the following from Kristina-Maia DeMott:

Reproduction rates cycle up and down regardless of popular, political, socially conscious, and religious movements to manipulate them. Julian Huxley predicted in the 1930s ("What Dare I Think" was the book) that the reproductive rates of the UK and Western Europe would hit a low in the 1970-80s. Many things were factored into Huxley's work, along with all known earlier reproductive data curves. Indeed, we are now at the bottom of this predicted curve, if a bit beyond the date horizon. Still, pretty good work for 70-odd years ago.

Social factors and cycles have much to do with declining birthrates in the general populace as technology succeeds, including the Veblenian concept of conspicuous consumption by the upwardly mobile (the 'me' generation DINKS, for instance) leading to a disapproval of large families, since urban-dwelling children cannot lend functional support to the family in leaner times as a pig-farmer's children would, with their ability to take on crucial farming chores at an early age. Having large families decreases the financial ability to amass physical tokens that emulate the trappings of a higher-class lifestyle (these days it's imported autos, technical toys, expensive pets, vacation properties, designer clothing, etc.). Still, the drive to reproduce emerges later, leading to things like the current upsurge in 50-something parents with only-children in 1st grade. These longer generations of well-off children will function as a gene-preservation vehicle, something unforeseen, but also create social consequences in a decade or so when children reared under "Me Generation" home attitudes find themselves in college with the children of Generation Xers. Hmm ... I feel a movie script coming on: "Escape from the Gated Community"? In any case, mid-20th Century ponderers could not have foreseen GLBT people as a factor in any population trend, although it had been noted that 'dandyism' (covert homosexuality) and other factors such as inbreeding did lead to low birthrates among the Euro nobility, and even in much earlier times, as in the population decline in upper classes of the Roman Empire.

What we ARE in the midst of, during this "population bust," is a swing upward of the fundamentalist religious and nationalist pendulum worldwide. Fundamentalists of nearly all religions, along with zealots for national and racial supremacies, will support a strong mandate for reproduction of their OWN kind. This always seems to happen around the time reproductive rates hit a low, like a spark plug starting a motor. These groups will push, in competition with others, for having as many children as they can, in order to increase the influence of their own "correct" offspring -- this was the gist of the National Socialist "Bund Maedel" agenda, it also appears to be a component of the "family values"-fixation being promoted in the US.

While it may be handy propaganda to stigmatize GLBT individuals in general for not following "God's laws," for not being reproductively active, still, as a whole the socially ultraconservative are not in favor of reproduction by the "godless" or the "inferior." Whether they believe in Darwinian evolution or not, most fundamentalists do accept the gene theory of inherited traits. GLBTs represent for them the kind of people that they -- and here add the social Darwinist eugenicists, devolutionists, etc. -- would rather see thinned out of the gene pool. It follows that what upsets them is not GLBT individuals' low birthrates, rather it is the potential of sperm-donor babies and surrogate births to married gay, lesbian, and transgender couples that will pass the "nonconformist gene" (of whatever kind) down the generations, compounding the "problem" as they see it.

What they don't want to accept is the fact that the human race is slowly becoming gender-depolarized, on a grand evolutionary and genetic scale, despite attempts to continue the increasing sexual polarization of society in media. Why do the conservative-owned media (don't whimper, they really are ... conservative-owned that is) care so much about, put so much money into, establishing cookie-cutter supergendered figures like Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears, Brad Pitt and George Clooney? Because they preserve remnants of an image that is passing away. Schwarzenegger as Saviour. To take another small example of the kneejerk reaction: to see the hand of the would-be social engineer at work, one has only to look at the public-relations hoopla surrounding the resurgence of the "man's man image" in the supposed rebirth of the conservative Brooks Brothers clothing stores. What was different? They make more women's suits now. Wish I could afford one.

But it won't last. This is the tide they cannot hold back, and cross-gendering will become so much more common in the future that today's anti-GLBT bigots will seem as silly as the farmer yelling at the automobilist, "Get a Horse!"


1. Bailey interview on KOOP-FM, Austin, TX May 2003.