"People say it's like a mental illness but it's not… It's being your authentic self after being a fake you" VERSUS "I see this as an assault on the minds and morals of our children. It blurs the lines of what is right and wrong."
Last month, a 24-year-veteran high school teacher, for all of those years Mr. Sconce, returned to the classroom as Ms. Scot. The 56-year-old father and former husband claimed that for years he "felt like a female trapped in a male body," and over the past several months has set about changing that through what is dubiously called hormone replacement "therapy." (Therapy, of course, is that which heals. In this case, I argue the person in question was harmed by taking an already disturbed state of being which he describes well, and removing him further from his potential to flourish.) Does one person's belief about what will bring him peace trump the impact it has on his loved ones, workplace and community? I argue, in justice, one person imposing his "rights" in this sort of situation selfishly harms many others.
Throughout the interview with the Fresno Bee , the teacher asserts his sense of relief, freedom and euphoria with respect to leaving behind the life he had built with his wife for 35 years. Undoubtedly, this person was conflicted and did not pursue this course lightly. He argues that his transgenderism was not a choice, and that because he has lost friends, family, home, and endured physical pain, his decision was not a choice. He also claims that he was not intending to push "any social agenda" in the classroom, but the hollowness of such a statement makes it laughable if it were not so tragic.
One who truly wished to avoid impacting others by such a radical, public manifestation of what in truth should be a very private matter, might have simply relocated to a different state and begun a new life. This teacher's choice - and this was undoubtedly a choice - to return to the same school where many students knew him as a male, causes confusion among vulnerable teenagers who are in the natural developmental process of forming their own identity. The process of identity formation (What is my vocation? What kind of person am I as I grow into adulthood apart from my family of origin? With whom do I belong? ...) is a challenging but manageable process for most. But for a minority of youth, the issue of their sexual and gender identity is an additional challenge, made much more difficult when adults in positions of influence are inconstant and unreliable in their mentoring of solid gender identities.
So how are adults in positions of influence responding? By now you may have noticed I have continued to utilize male pronouns for the teacher, not simply to be contrary, but to reflect the truth of how he was born; the Fresno Bee , however, begins and continues its article referring to the teacher by female pronouns. The school Principal stressed at a staff meeting the importance of not harassing or shunning the teacher: "we have to make sure employees' rights are protected," and the school counselor hopes that the school community "can embrace these 21st century issues." When some parents suggested they would remove their children from the school, the legal director of the Transgender Law Center reportedly responded that "Prejudice is not a reason to discriminate."
What each of these perspectives has in common is the complete submission - to the needs of one adult - of the needs of the hundreds of children in the school's charge (not to mention the other teachers whose rights it seems should be protected as well). Even parents who believe it is best for their children to avoid being subjected to the "normalization" of what historically has, in fact, been considered a significant psychological disorder, are not given a say. I have argued previously in these pages that the de-pathologizing of a number of sexual and gender-related phenomena by professional organizations is based more on politics and activism than on scientific fact. Sadly, it appears that in Fresno there is a similar reluctance to stand up for the truth.
Aside from a few passing comments, there is little emphasis or focus upon the tragedy that falls in the wake of one man's arguably-selfish decision to focus on his own feelings, while minimizing or discounting the effects such an action has on others. Some of these effects are readily identified: the teacher's wife of 35 years has been rejected and abandoned; the children born of this union are now without a male parent figure with whom to identify; and we are left to wonder how this is being explained to whatever grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, there might be. The other victims remain to be seen, but it seems likely that the students in Yosemite High School will be among them.
While the teacher and activists rejoice that his presence might make it easier for "questioning" and struggling teens to "come out," they fail to understand that this is the most damaging thing that can happen to a young person struggling with gender identity. No benefits have ever been established from encouraging the exploration of such things in youth. To the contrary, research is clear that the human brain does not finish developing in critical ways until the age of 25, and thus any rush to judgment about what a particular feeling means with respect to gender identity is premature and may well result in a lifetime of regret.
In fact, as I have discussed in a previous article , Dr. Kenneth Zucker of the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health contends that "the majority of children followed longitudinally appear to lose the diagnosis of [gender identity disorder] [by] late adolescence or young adulthood, and appear to have … a gender identity that matches their natal sex." While the teacher speaks firmly about how the recent events have made him feel better (at least for now), there is ample evidence to suggest that non-questioning teens who are attempting to process his change, or questioning teens grappling with their own struggles, all are at risk for feeling worse.
What rights are right? Ethical reasoning and common sense would suggest that when it comes to balancing the interior experience of an individual adult, against the potential havoc wreaked among hundreds of teens and their families, the answer is clear. As much as the teacher has a right to his interior experience and, perhaps , even the manipulation of his biology and chemistry as he sees fit (this is a topic for another day), these are, and ought to remain, private matters. It crosses a line of fairness and justice to impose these changes on others, particularly children who are a captive audience in their school - a school they should not have to consider leaving to accommodate one man's fancy.