Few issues these days inspire agreement among large swathes of voters from both parties, but one notable exception appears to be gender-identity policies.
Last April, a Marist poll commissioned by the organization Do No Harm asked 1,377 Americans about their views on the infiltration of “social justice” ideology into medicine. One question asked whether “minors who identify as transgender and want to undergo hormone treatment or gender transition surgery” should be able to do so “without parental consent,” “only with parental consent,” or not until adulthood (regardless of parental consent). Only 10 percent of all adults surveyed said that minors should be able to access these interventions without parental consent. Twenty-five percent said that parental consent should be required, and 60 percent said minors should never be subject to hormonal or surgical interventions in this context (5 percent were unsure). These findings more or less track with those from a recent New York Times/Siena Poll on (among other things) teaching “sexual orientation and gender identity” content in elementary schools, and it is reasonable to assume that the same people who believe it’s unacceptable for teachers to introduce first-graders to, say, the concept of “non-binary” also think that 12-year-old children should not be given puberty blockers for feeling like they were “born in the wrong body.”
It’s useful to compare the Marist poll with yet another recent poll, this one by Pew, which deals with gender-identity issues, as a way to illustrate the importance of how questions are phrased. The Pew poll asked whether it should be “illegal for health care professionals to provide someone younger than 18 with medical care for a gender transition.” Note how this phrasing avoids specifying the procedures (hormones and surgeries), uses terms like “professionals” and “medical care,” and shifts the focus from the procedures themselves to the issue of state involvement in the doctor-patient relationship. Unsurprisingly, public opinion was more evenly divided in the Pew poll, though a plurality still favored restrictions: 46 percent said they support making it illegal for providers to administer medical intervention, 30 percent opposed it, and 22 percent were undecided.
Lawmakers who believe that the field of pediatric gender medicine is a Wild West badly in need of accountability and discipline can take a lesson here: focus your message on the procedures themselves, don’t shy away from specifying what they entail, and avoid using inherently disputable terms such as “health care” and “professionals.” Whether “gender-affirming care” is in fact “health care,” and whether doctors who adhere to this model are acting “professionally,” is precisely what is at issue. Unlike the Pew poll, the Marist poll’s language is precise and unambiguous and avoids politically loaded terms. For this reason, it arguably comes closer to capturing voters’ true beliefs on the matter.
This difference in how poll questions are phrased mirrors a broader trend in the rhetoric of the transgender movement, which prefers euphemistic abstractions to plain language. Some examples include:
“Hormone replacement therapy.” A person administered cross-sex hormones (testosterone or estrogen), usually through periodic injections, is not having his or her hormones “replaced;” rather, hormones are introduced to counter the effects of the body’s natural hormone production.
“Gender dysphoria.” For those going through or after puberty, the relevant experience here is usually a strong aversion to one’s body parts (such as breasts) or to the body’s natural processes (for example, menstruation).
“Cisgender.” Activists define this as “identifying with the sex one was assigned at birth,” but what this word really means in practice is the lack of debilitating distress associated with one’s sexed body. To be “cisgender” means to feel comfortable, or comfortable enough, with your body and its natural processes such that you don’t seek to make it appear like that of the other sex.
“Children know their gender identity.” This language obscures the key question of whether even sincere and stable cross-gender feelings—or indeed any feelings—in fact amount to “knowledge.”
“LGBTQIA+.” The sole purpose of this acronym is to enable activists making radical claims about human nature and society to piggyback off the far more broadly accepted claims of gay rights.
The Pew poll yielded some additional noteworthy findings. For instance, it turns out that 60 percent of Americans don’t think that government documents such as drivers’ licenses and passports should indicate a sex other than male or female. In March, the Biden administration decided to allow Americans who self-identify as neither male nor female to have an “X” on their passports. Meantime, the percentage of Americans who say that “our society has gone too far in accepting people who are transgender” ticked up slightly since 2017, from 32 percent to 38 percent. Considering how loaded this question is—what exactly counts as “accepting,” and what happens when “acceptance” involves infringement of the interests or rights of women or violations of the bodily autonomy of minors?—one suspects that a more accurately phrased question would find even more public skepticism of these issues.
Candidates running for office in the 2022 and 2024 elections should take note of the breakdown in personal-background information of respondents to polls on gender-identity policies. In the Times/Siena poll, women were slightly more likely than men to support “classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity [SOGI]” in elementary school. This is an important finding considering the importance of suburban women to the Democratic Party’s base. Surprisingly, considering their relative social conservatism, African-Americans were slightly less opposed to SOGI instruction than whites, though clear majorities of both races—71 percent of whites and 57 percent of blacks—are against the practice in the context of elementary education. When asked about middle/junior and high school, blacks supported SOGI instruction by 62 percent and 74 percent, respectively, while whites opposed it in middle/junior high by 58 percent and supported it in high schools by a narrow 51 percent.
Americans who voted for Joe Biden were more evenly divided (51 percent in favor versus 45 opposed) on elementary school SOGI instruction, whereas among Trump voters it was not even close (97 percent opposed versus 3 percent in favor). Fifty-three percent of Democrats favor allowing it, while 42 percent oppose it. Among Republicans, the figures are 96 percent against to 3 percent in favor, and for independents, 71 percent against versus 21 percent in favor. Overall, 70 percent of respondents said they did not want SOGI instruction in elementary schools, compared with 27 percent who want it.
Respondents were generally more willing to allow SOGI instruction in middle schools or junior high schools (sixth through eighth grade): 44 percent in favor versus 54 percent opposed. Broken down by voter preference and party affiliation, Biden voters favored it by 75 percent to 21 percent, and Trump voters opposed it by 86 percent to 11 percent. Democrats favored it by 76 percent to 20 percent, whereas Republicans opposed it by 86 percent to 11 percent. Independents were more evenly split at 46 percent in support and 52 percent opposed. Only when it comes to SOGI instruction in high school does a slim majority of the public seem to be in support: 56 percent in favor versus 42 percent opposed.
Yet even here, caution is warranted. By asking respondents about “classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the Times/Siena poll likely underestimates the level of opposition to gender-identity instruction in particular. Teaching sixth-graders that some children have two fathers or two mothers is (or can be) innocuous; teaching them that every person has an internal gendered essence that has nothing to do with their body and that can be “affirmed” and made a reality through social and medical transition is dangerous pseudoscience—even and perhaps especially when taught to those already in the throes of puberty.
When Florida passed its Parental Rights in Education Act, the Democratic establishment and left-of-center media environment immediately labelled it the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The reason for this was obvious: left-of-center Americans were more likely to oppose a law that they saw as threatening the advances in gay rights, but less likely to oppose it if they understood it to restrict gender-identity instruction. This is another example of the “T” piggybacking off the “LGB.” As I’ve written, the framing here was both disingenuous and cynical, considering that most children with cross-gender identification will, if not “affirmed,” grow out of it by puberty, and of these, most will realize that their cross-gender feelings were early indications of same-sex attraction.
In short, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike should not hesitate to regulate gender-identity instruction for elementary, middle, and junior high school children. And they can dismiss complaints about “book banning” as hyperbole and hypocrisy. Few people who level such charges would support, for instance, putting in school libraries books like Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage or Matt Walsh’s Johnny the Walrus—each of which is critical of gender-identity ideology in its own way. More broadly, the act of selecting certain materials but not others is essential to all education, and books or lessons about “gender” are no exception. There is a reason, after all, why history teachers don’t show pictures of the Nazi concentration camps to second-graders, why secular liberals oppose teaching the Bible as anything but a historical text, and why some movies are rated “R.” It is ludicrous and disingenuous for progressives to suggest that excluding from school libraries books, such as Gender Queer, that contain graphic depictions of oral sex is an unprecedented form of state censorship.
Whether these regulations should include instruction related to sexual orientation is a more complicated issue, of course, because sexual-orientation teaching can include anything from introducing elementary-school students to the idea that some children have two fathers or two mothers to teaching middle-school students about anal sex. The federal or state levels are most likely not the best venues for working out these questions; they require careful attention from teachers, administrators, and, most importantly, parents in local school districts. The challenge for current and aspiring representatives is to campaign on a platform that clearly distinguishes gender identity from sexual orientation and emphasizes the dangers of instruction in the former. Our political system’s heavy reliance on voter primaries and mainstream media to define policy choices and frame candidate positions has had the unintended consequence of giving the fringes of each party outsize influence over elections. Nevertheless, with careful framing and campaigning, Democrats in all but the most progressive districts can overcome the radical elements in their coalition and embrace policies that would seriously bolster (or at least not hinder) their chances in the general election.
The situation is quite different when it comes to regulating pediatric gender medicine. The Marist poll (which asked specifically about eligibility for hormones and surgeries) found bipartisan opposition to medical transition for minors. Only 16 percent of Democrats said that minors should be allowed to undergo these procedures without the consent of their parents; these results should serve as a warning for proponents of measures like California’s SB 107, which essentially sets up the Golden State as a sanctuary for “gender-affirming care” and is designed (in conjunction with other state laws and under certain circumstances) to enable minors to obtain hormones without the consent of their parents. Even in a progressive state like California, it is doubtful that the public would support such a referendum if the question were phrased in simple and precise language and without abstractions or euphemisms.
Thirty-four percent of Democrats said that minors should be able to obtain hormones and surgeries, but only with the consent of their parents. Meantime, 45 percent of Democrats agreed that people should have to wait until adulthood to undergo medical transition. Among independents, the figures were 8 percent (no parental consent), 24 percent (only with parental consent), and 63 percent (no procedures, even with parental consent). Among Republicans, the numbers were 1 percent, 12 percent, and 84 percent, respectively. Assuming an electorate that is 30 percent Democrat, 24 percent Republican, and 43 percent independent (as per a recent Gallup poll), that means that just over 60 percent of American voters oppose using hormones and surgeries to “treat” minors in distress over their bodies, even if their parents agree to these procedures; 23.4 percent are in favor of allowing these procedures under parental consent; and only 8.5 percent believe minors should be allowed to obtain them without parental approval.
While it is hard to extrapolate from these figures to specific campaigns in states or districts, Democrats can, on the whole, be confident that including in their platform a commitment to restrict gender-identity instruction in elementary schools and “gender-affirming care” in medicine—thus bringing the U.S. more in line with Sweden, Finland, and the U.K.—would be a winning political message. More importantly, it’s the scientifically and ethically right thing to do.