Ben Shapiro announced on December 2nd in a video, that Elliot Page’s choice to identify as a man “conveys zero information”, and that Page’s audience, as media consumers, are being forced to hear nonsense. I believe that Elliot Page’s choice can be interpreted charitably as something meaningful and Shapiro’s assessment is wrong. Elliot’s announcement conveys important information because it is meaningful to both the transgender community and in the context of his personal life. If we as Page’s audience are willing as listeners to admit that gender dysphoria is real and that mental acts of self-identification exist, we will realize how important Page’s statement is.
We understand from the context that Elliot is making an announcement of some sort. This means that the nonsense Shapiro claims, if it exists, is to be found in what it means to be transgender and whether it is possible to refer to oneself as transgender. Shapiro believes Page gave an announcement, so his beef with the announcement lies in what the announcement states. A traditional way to think of meaning is that it must point to ‘something’. Meaning must have a reference. I don’t think this is the best way to describe meaning, but I think it will satisfy to prove against Shapiro’s issue.
When describing the content of the announcement as nonsense, Shapiro misses Page’s constant mental battle over the years, which grants meaning to being transgender. Before being fully out as transgender, Page has had many instances where they evaluated their behaviour as better fitting one gender or another. He had times where he affirmed that his actions at some given moment were either the behaviour of a different gender from what they were at birth. Basically, Page, and all transgender individuals, evaluated their overall behaviour as a gender other than the one they are presently.
To evaluate oneself as being a different gender can present itself as gender dysphoria, which has been shown in research to exist at the brain level. However, the evaluation of one’s gender does not need to be such a negative experience, as gender dysphoria typically is. Moments of self-affirmation can in fact be aspirational (Overall, 2009). Instead of being negative, evaluations can be gradual recognitions of ‘yes, this is who I am’ which happens over many years. If done long enough, frequently enough, and willingly enough, these recognitions can yield a change in self-identification. Shapiro forgets these moments and focuses too much on the single instant where Page makes his announcement.
Due to Shapiro’s error, Elliot’s announcement is well-founded on repeated instances of affirmative mental activity over many years. Recent scientific research supports that it is possible to perform the mental act I have described, and in fact that it is necessary to do so to be transgender. Research shows that there is a distinction between gender and sex-at-birth identification and that gender identity involves “the ongoing perception of one’s own body” (Tacikowski et al., 2020). It must have been the case that a transgender person, prior to announcing their transition, had many instances described above. This is what Ben is missing and so it strikes him as nonsense.
The issue I have covered is whether it is possible to identify as transgender without uttering nonsense and whether being transgender is nonsense. I think it is clear that the longer duration of a confused individual’s mental activity and the following scientific results, being transgender can be granted the meaning that is needed and deserved.
Additional and Paper References
Bettcher, Talia, “Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/feminism-trans/>.
Overall, Christine, 2004, “Transsexualism and ‘transracialism’”, Social Philosophy Today, 20 (3): 184 and 185.
Tacikowski, J. Fust, H. H. Ehrsson, Fluidity of gender identity induced by illusory bodysex change. Sci Rep, 10, 14385 (2020).