What is Gender Theory?

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Dr Elisabeth Taylor utilises Safe Schools material to explain Gender Theory, including the proposed continuums of sexuality, gender and biological sex. Dr Taylor describes the history behind Gender Theory, as well the theory’s notions of heteronormativity, transphobia and inclusion.

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In this podcast:
  • 3:01: The heart of the issue: What is the difference between a man and a woman?
  • 3:25: The distinction of sex and gender by feminist theorists
  • 4:31: The emergence of Gender Theory in the early 1990s: gender as action. The basis of contemporary anti-bullying programs such as Safe Schools.
  • 6:00: Gender and Sexuality as taught within Safe Schools.
    • 6:57: Sexuality: Attraction to spectrum of masculinity/femininity, separated by feelings and behaviour. Marginalisation of heterosexuality.
    • 8:26: Gender: Identification on spectrum. High level of fragmentation to a level which makes it very different to gender in feminist theory.
    • 10:36: Biological sex: Three spectra of male/female – hormones, chromosomes and sexual organs.
      • 13:11: Ambiguity in genitalia and “assigning a sex”.
  • 16:00: Heteronormativity and inclusion.
  • 19:33: Discrimination on the grounds of gender: A new meaning.
Show Transcript
Hello, everyone. Thank you for taking time out this afternoon to come and listen to this. One of the things that I want to do today is really just talk you through gender theory because it gets talked a lot about but we don’t actually understand quite often what is being spoken about, why people believe what they believe, and why this is being taught to children in schools, so that’s pretty much what I’m going to try and cover today.

You may have seen the announcement last week from the Edmund Rice Education Australia’s materials supporting a whole school approach to providing safe and inclusive environment for students in Catholic schools. In particular, for same-sex attracted and gender-diverse young people. These materials seek to represent their aims as simply consistent with Christian compassion. Jesus is referred to as the ‘great includer’, and Pope Francis in quoted in support of the cause of anti-discrimination.

We’re going to come back to the word inclusion later. It’s doing a particular office here. They’re using inclusion in a particular way that we need to understand if we’re going to really speak the same language and understand inclusion to mean what the pro-gender campaigners are using it, how they’re using it. Essentially, these materials adopt the same approach used to advocate for the Safe Schools Program, and this approach has proven very successful, precisely because the aims of the programme are clothed in Christian virtue. They promote compassion for the vulnerable, affirmation for the human dignity of all. These are values that all right-minded people would wholeheartedly affirm. In this way, critics of the school programmes that promote inclusion are easily painted as homophobes, haters, and bigots. Who else would oppose a programme that only has noble objectives? This is the dilemma that we’re dealing with.

It’s important to be clear at the outset that ACL and Christians generally, I hope, want to show compassion and support to any child struggling with gender or sexuality issues. Bullying at school can inflict lifelong scars and schools need support in tackling antisocial behaviour for whatever reason that occurs. Schools need to be safe for everybody. However, we don’t believe that teaching schoolchildren gender theory as truth is necessary to achieve that. Children questioning their gender identity and sexual attraction deserve the same protection from ideological indoctrination as any other children at school. Regardless of the guise in which it’s presented, whether it is Safe Schools or the Edmund Rice Education Australia’s materials or respect relationships or whatever programme will eventually be produced here in Australia, it’s been outsourced to working it out, which is an LGBT support group, so it’s probably going to be based on gender theory. Australia’s educators and governments and parents need to be on their guard against the intrusion of gender theory into the school curriculum. I’m grateful for the opportunity today to summarise for you what gender theory teaches in the hope that it will become clear that these programmes contain a great deal more than is declared on the packaging.

Regardless of the guise in which it’s presented, whether it is Safe Schools or the Edmund Rice Education Australia’s materials or respect relationships or whatever programme will eventually be produced here in Australia, it’s been outsourced to ‘Working It Out’, which is an LGBT support group, so it’s probably going to be based on gender theory. Australia’s educators and governments and parents need to be on their guard against the intrusion of gender theory into the school curriculum. I’m grateful for the opportunity today to summarise for you what gender theory teaches in the hope that it will become clear that these programmes contain a great deal more than is declared on the packaging.

At the heart of the question of the issue under debate is this question: What is the difference between a man and a woman? There are many ways of answering this. Ideas about the extent to which the anatomical differences between men and women determine behavioural or social differences has been a subject of intense discussion, particularly in feminist discourse, for at least 200 years. Whereas earlier Enlightenment thinkers understood social differences between men and women as the natural consequence of biological differences, feminist theorists rejected this idea, arguing instead that behaviours resulted from gender norms, from socially constructed behaviours that were associated particularly with men and women.

Feminists distinguish between sex, which is your biological anatomical status and gender, which is socially constructed roles, behaviours, and activities and attributes that are associated by any given society with men and women as separate biological classes. Although feminists have been keen to reduce gender stereotypes that constrain individual choice, feminists until the early 1990s universally recognised that the oppression of women was bound up with their biology. Women and men were still recognised as distinct biological classes, and some feminists like Germaine Greer still adhere to this precept. There’s a group who are called the radical feminists, and confusingly they’re less radical than the liberal feminists, who now support gender theory.

There’s a group who are called the radical feminists, and confusingly they’re less radical than the liberal feminists, who now support gender theory. In the early 1990s, gender theory, or queer theory, as it was first called and sometimes are still called, emerged from feminist theory, particularly in the work of Judith Butler. Judith Butler is an American poststructuralist philosopher who advanced the idea that gender is essentially performative. This was really to explain the experiences and attractions of sexually diverse and gender diverse individuals who didn’t fit into the usual paradigm. According to Butler, being a man or a woman is not something that you are, it is something that you do. Gender is central to identity and essentially individual. It’s the very act of performing gender that constitutes who you are.

In queer theory, gender becomes entirely divorced from biological sex, it becomes fragmented according to who is doing the performing, rather than recognising only two genders, male and female, queer theory allows for an examination of different ways to express gender and sexuality. A range of femininities and masculinities. These exist on a spectrum with an infinite number of points in between. An important hallmark of queer theory is the denial that heterosexuality and gender congruity is normal. Sexuality, gender, and biological sex are separate building blocks of society, of identity, and none can be understood as binary, and everything is normal. This is what modern anti-bullying programmes teach children about sexuality and gender.

The best way to explore these teachings is to take you through some of the Safe Schools materials. Although these particular materials may not be used verbatim in Tasmania, the theory that they teach is undoubtedly going to be regurgitated in some form or other. The Edmund Rice materials copy swaths of the Safe Schools materials, and they articulate the same worldview and quote all the same profoundly flawed research to support their claims. This high degree of consistency in the worldview articulated by LGBT activists means that reference to the Safe Schools materials is not inappropriate in this context.

Also, because they’re designed for schoolchildren, they simplify some profoundly confusing ideas. Since they’ve created a great resource for us, I thought we’d use it. I must apologise in advance, even so, for the mental contortions that the next few minutes will require of you. If you’re still confused at the end of this, that isn’t necessarily a sign that you’ve misunderstood anything, but there will be time for questions at the end. Looking at sexuality first, this is what students are told. This is a screen grab from Safe Schools.

“There are lots of different components that make up your sexuality. You can be attracted to a whole spectrum of masculinity, femininity, both or even none. Your feelings, behaviours, and identity aren’t always the same.”

You see that there are two different spectra here, feelings and behaviour, and it presents a range of sexualities with homosexual and heterosexual feelings and behaviours at extremes of the continuum of possibilities.

The logical assumption from looking at a spectrum is that most people will be somewhere in the middle, bisexual to one degree or another, and this presentation is not accidental. It follows Dr. Kenzie’s hypothesis from the 1940s that if we weren’t all repressed by harmful Judaeo-Christian morality, if we were only open to the full range of available sexual encounters, that exclusive heterosexuality would be highly unusual. I can talk more about that, but Kenzie’s research really informs the whole LGBT rights movement, so it’s quite important to understand that this is – according to their worldview – actually where we would all be if we weren’t just so repressed. The effect of this presentation on sexuality is to marginalise heterosexuality, so looking at this, many students would conclude that they are probably bisexual. This is presented to students in Years Seven and Eight, which is early teens, 12, 13.

Safe Schools then applies a similar approach to understanding the subject of gender. Again, gender is separate from biological sex, and again, it is represented as a spectrum of possible gender identities. Gender isn’t quite as simple as whether you’re male or female. Everyone has their own gender identity in relation to masculinity and femininity. Some identify with both, and some don’t identify with either. It’s up to the individual to describe what gender identity fits them best. There are a huge range of different words people use to describe their gender identity and here are just a few examples.

You’ll see again that it’s represented as a spectrum. Children who have no trouble being a boy or a girl are now faced with a conundrum. They need to work out where they fit on this spectrum, and teachers are instructed, explain that sex is about the body you were born with, male, female, or intersex, while gender is about your identity, how you feel inside.

“Gender might be expressed by how you dress or how you behave. For some people, these things may change over time. For about 4% of people, their gender may not align with their sex that they were assigned at birth, and that’s okay.”

There are a couple of things to notice here. Everyone is on the gender spectrum and it is entirely independent of biological sex, which is also on a spectrum. We’ll get to that in a minute. Male and female don’t align in only 4% of cases, but that surely means that in 96% of cases, actually, their figures are wrong, but being generous, we’ll say 96% of cases, gender and sex do align. This is according to their figures. This isn’t the message that you get from looking at this spectrum.

Second, if gender is so diverse that everyone has their own, we are no longer talking about the same thing that the feminist theorists were talking about earlier. In fact, feminist theorists are one of the biggest critics of this because it reaffirms gender stereotypes. It does all sorts of things that the feminists don’t want it to do, but they’re using gender in a very, very different way, but now it’s fragmented, it’s individual. You may as well call it personality. It doesn’t need to be called gender at all. It’s a completely different concept to what the feminists originally used this word for.

If you thought biological sex would be simple by comparison, think again, because even biological sex isn’t binary, either. Instead, it’s arrived at by a combination of information resulting from three different spectra, hormones, chromosomes, and sexual organs. From the picture, they appear to operate independently of each other, and all of these can be represented as somewhere between male and female and all combinations represent the spectrum of natural variation, and they bang on a lot about the spectrum of natural variation. This is what students are told:

“One of the first questions that people ask when a baby is born is, “Is it a boy or is it a girl?” Did you know that there are a whole range of human bodies that somewhere between what you might expect a boy or a girl to look like? These differences in bodies occur naturally and are called intersex variations. Wouldn’t the world be boring if we all looked the same? Some bodies respond differently to sex hormones. For example, someone might have XY chromosomes but be insensitive to testosterone and their body might develop differently. Remember, this is all part of the natural diversity of human bodies and just some of the ways that your body may look and be slightly different to the person next to you. It’s completely normal and natural and we each have a body that is unique to us, which, of course, is true but it’s not true to say that biological sex exists on a spectrum.”

Intersex is the I in the LGBTI movement and intersex people are often somewhat ambivalent about being included in this movement because their issues are predominantly medical and they sometimes don’t involve gender or sexual diversity, most often not. Intersex is an umbrella term for many different quite rare variations, including a range of disorders of sexual development. Some of these are life-threatening. It’s not a choice, it’s not a natural continuum, it’s a life-threatening medical condition, for some of them, anyway. There’s a whole range, as I said. It’s quite complicated and I’ll leave the medical side of things to Professor Whitehall.

The occurrence of intersex variations does not constitute grounds for suggesting that there is a continuous spectrum of sex hormones as part of a natural spectrum of human variation because 99% of babies will have classic male or female chromosomes corresponding to male or female bodies and male or female hormones. For the purposes of queer theory, it is very convenient to just ignore this entirely, and by teaching that even biology doesn’t support binary understandings of male and female, it becomes easier then to persuade students that binaries in sexuality and gender are also invalid.

One in 20,000 babies might be born with ambiguous genitalia, and though this is ethically questioned now, the standard medical advice in such cases was to surgically resolve the ambiguity by assigning a sex. This practise was founded on the theory proposed by Dr. John Money, who was a friend of Kenzie’s, and he pioneered sex change surgery. His theory was that nurture, not nature, was the determining factor in the development of a gender identity. It didn’t really matter what body you were born with, if you were affirmed as a girl, that’s how you would feel yourself to be and you would grow up to identify as a girl. The only thing was that terrible problems emerged when some of the babies who have been surgically feminised later grew up to identify as boys. Tragic consequences.

Although, on the one hand, this would have disproved Money’s theory, it had sort of got traction by then and by a strange twist of logic, it gave life to the idea that gender cannot be deduced from external sex characteristics, that the two are entirely independent. This theory then fed into parenting practices in some circles, which now discourage narrowing a child’s free expression by constraining them with the imposition of gendered expectations.

When it is understood that a certain percentage of babies will grow up to identify as transgender, the chances statistically are not zero, if the assignment of sex in some individuals can be shown to have been wrong, then doesn’t this call into question the prerogative of any adult to make assumptions about the gender identity of any baby? As one blogger explains:

“The doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion. It’s a boy or it’s a girl based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring’s genitals. As a newborn, your child’s potential is limitless. The world is full of possibilities that every person deserves to be able to explore freely. With infant gender assignment in a single moment, your baby’s life is instantly and brutally reduced from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes and any behavioural deviation from that will be severely punished both intentionally through bigotry and unintentionally through ignorance.”

In this way, the history of surgical sex assignment of intersex infants has developed into an understanding that assigning gender at birth is similarly morally insupportable, and I don’t think we can disregard the connection of the popularity of these ideas in some parenting circles with the spike in the number of quite young children reporting with gender dysphoria.

Parents are being influenced by a worldview, which regards heteronormativity as oppressive and are being told that the compassionate liberating response to their child is to affirm whatever gender identity they declare, since this is who they truly are. I need to explain heteronormativity. This is the word used to describe a worldview that believes that there are boys who have male bodies and girls who have female bodies and that heterosexual attraction is normal. According to LGBT minority groups, these assumptions are inherently discriminatory. Because if we think heterosexuality is normal, then by implication homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuals are less normal or different. This doesn’t include them, you see.

LGBT activists, therefore, believe that you can’t end discrimination against LGBT people without reshaping society to normalise their experiences and eradicate heteronormative assumptions. To this end, inclusion requires not just the acceptance of but the normalisation of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism. What is normal for these communities must now become normal for everybody. Otherwise, they are made to feel different, and that is discrimination. This is how inclusion in schools is being used, you see.

This vision of inclusion is fundamentally incompatible with heteronormativity and this is where it clashes with the Christian worldview. These two worldviews cannot exist peacefully. If inclusion is to be achieved, then heteronormativity must go. According to this doctrine of inclusion, anyone who holds a different worldview is, therefore, homophobic or transphobic. I used to think that a phobia was an irrational fear leading to illogical behaviours but it doesn’t mean that anymore, and I thought at the very least that homophobia referred to people who hate homosexuals, but it doesn’t mean that anymore, either. Now, homophobia just means that you think heterosexuality is normal, and transphobia means you disagree with gender theory.

According to a recent LGBT support guide produced by Harvard University, ‘transphobic misinformation” – I’ll just decode that, transphobic misinformation means you disagree with gender theory – is now a form of violence. Just by thinking differently, you can hurt people, and in this way, disagreeing has become synonymous with discrimination and can legitimately be punished. This is why this area is so political and the debate over it is so intense. Compliance with the new worldview based on gender theory requires the transformation of the entire school community through what is called the whole of school approach, and this effectively recruits staff and students as activists in promoting and policing inclusive behaviour and ensuring that school policies promote diversity.

There’s a long list of things that students must do to be inclusive and an equally long list of things that they must never do, and time will not permit me to explore these lists today, but the effect is to articulate and enforce new codes of behaviour, which signal compliance and acceptance of the teachings of gender theory. Students who hold heteronormative worldviews are not permitted to politely disagree or keep their opinions to themselves. The structure of the lesson plans in the Safe Schools material actually obliges them to expose their thoughts and then subjects them to personal questions as to why they hold those views. So it has been very coercive. The positive agenda of activism is accompanied with strong disincentives and warnings for those who dissent with the result that these inclusive programmes that promote diversity are strongly coercive and intolerant of anyone who is different, unless they’re sexually or gender diverse. That’s the only sort of difference that seems to be allowed.

New understandings of what constitutes discrimination on the grounds of gender, because this is important to the transgender people and it’s really changed in very recent years since about 2013. I think everyone’s really surprised now to understand that the laws have been changed so that in order to not discriminate on the grounds of gender, they’re meaning the new version of gender. Gender being the identity of who you feel yourself to be inside.

These have given the support of law to the requirements that these programmes now make of schools. In order to avoid being discriminatory, schools need to change their policies to conform so that students can wear the uniform that matches their gender identity, use the toilet facilities, and change rooms that accord with their gender identity, play on the soccer teams that match their gender identity, and be accommodated with other students on school camps according to their gender identity rather than their biological sex. Single-sex schools must allow existing members to transition to the opposite gender, and they must admit enrollments from transgender students from outside the school, so that an all-boys school will be required to admit girls to identify as boys as well as boys who transition to be girls. Even in all-girls schools, teachers have been warned not to call the girls, girls, because some of them might identify as boys. You can’t tell and you shouldn’t assume. The list goes on and on.

I think one of the most concerning parts of it is that it cuts parents out of the picture completely. Even after federal funding for the Safe Schools programme finishes, there will continue to be a guide available on the federal government’s hub that states that if a student does not have family or care support for the process of transitioning, a decision to proceed should be made based on the school’s duty of care for the student’s well-being and their level of maturity to make decisions about their needs. It may be possible to consider a student a mature minor and able to make decisions without parental consent. A legal bulletin from the New South Wales Department of Education even hints that parents that do not affirm a transgender identity of their child may be considered abusive and schools should consider their mandatory reporting obligations. You see the strength that is behind this.

Does this still look like an anti-bullying programme? It is amazing to me that such feeble masquerades have continued to enjoy success, can only be from people that haven’t looked up the content, and even Roz Ward, who is the co-founder of Safe Schools, says that her programme, and we might include other programmes based on queer theory, is really about supporting gender diversity and sexual diversity. It’s not about stopping bullying, not just being nice to everyone and saying everyone’s great. I hope that’s given you an idea of what is involved and what people mean when they talk about inclusion and heteronormativity and all of this. Thank you very much for listening.

This talk was part of a presentation by the Australian Christian Lobby in Hobart, Tasmania.

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