America’s abandonment of faith gave rise to a new Woke religion. The Trans Movement is central to that new faith.
America is mired in a deep spiritual crisis. Nearly every movement or development prominent in modern American life—positive or negative, cultural, social, or political—traces to our relegation of spirituality to the outermost periphery of national consciousness. Left unchecked, this spiritual crisis threatens to undermine both the American nation and the American republic. Only a reconnection to the spirit of their founding can restore American greatness and exceptionalism.
That’s a big topic deserving of far greater treatment than a single essay can provide. So too is a second major component of the crisis: “Wokeism” has arisen as a new, dangerous, full-blown religion, responsive to the needs of spiritually starved Americans, and cast in language and metaphor that resonates with its adherents.
Wokeism speaks directly to a flock that is younger, whiter, more credentialed, more affluent, more professional, less likely to live in the southeast, and far more likely to name their religion as “none” than is the overall American population. Wokeism has thus become extremely popular among the parts of the American public most likely to render unmet, unspoken, and unformulated whatever spiritual needs they may possess. Wokeism addresses many of those needs without ever forcing its adherents to confront their own buried spirituality. You can’t make sense of today’s America without understanding Wokeism—again, a topic far too big for a single essay.
The task that I set for this essay is modest by comparison: Zeroing in on the spiritual roots of one specific and important element of Wokeism. This essay will demonstrate that—contrary to what both the fully Woke and their harshest critics may contend—the “Trans Movement” is nothing less profound than the Woke rediscovery of the soul.
Why is such a demonstration necessary? Because gender issues today are central to nearly every discussion about education, public accommodation, health care, manners, and even the evolution of the English language. Discussions and debates incapable of seeing the Trans Movement for what it is cannot provide either its adherents or its opponents with the respect their arguments deserve.
The Trans Movement
It’s important to start such a demonstration with clear definitions. Wokeism, however, is not great about defining its terms. Many Woke definitions are amorphous and laden with jargon. The Woke then accuse all who question such vagueness of acting hatefully or inciting violence. It thus falls upon outside observers to tease definitions and extract categorizations from a collection of worked examples. In a very real sense, this entire essay is an exercise in definitional extraction.
Perhaps the best place to begin is with an explanation of the terms “Woke” and “Wokeism.” I use these terms as umbrellas for the ideology underpinning the sociopolitical policy agenda of today’s American left. In addition to the Trans Movement, its central pillars include apocalyptic climate change, Critical Race Theory, Covid alarmism, and redistributive economics. As a utopian movement that rejects both the Biblical narrative and Biblical morality, Wokeism is generally antagonistic towards both Christianity and Judaism—as well as towards devout, practicing Christians and Jews. Within that framework, Wokeism is the ideology, the Woke are its adherents, and I defer a fuller explication for another day.
As to the specific terms of most direct relevance to the topic of this essay: “Transwomen” are people born genetically and biologically male who declare publicly that their gender is female. “Transmen” are people born genetically and biologically female who declare publicly that their gender is male. “Transes” is a plural term I have coined because there does not seem to be any generally acceptable term for “transmen and transwomen” (the term “trannies” is now considered a pejorative). The “Trans Movement” is comprised of all people who believe that gender declarations, rather than biology, define truth—or in the vernacular, “transwomen are women” and “transmen are men.”
This Trans Movement entered broad public consciousness less than a decade ago with a fight over bathroom signage laws in North Carolina. Today it is unquestionably a mass movement to which millions of Americans belong. As such, it warrants serious consideration and treatment. What is it?
First and foremost, the Trans Movement is not a rights movement. Rights movements—like the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s—seek equal treatment, in law and in fact, for groups recognized as distinct. They do not seek to obliterate distinctions. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not march asserting that he was a white man. He did not ask anyone to acknowledge his whiteness or to ignore racial distinctiveness. He marched as a proud black man shouting the illegitimacy of all laws that afforded him a legal status different from that handed a similarly situated white man.
A rights movement focused on transes would accept that transwomen and women (or transmen and men) are distinct groups. It would focus on the challenges transes face in navigating life and in gaining full acceptance. One faction might argue that any law that distinguishes men from women must group people as they declare themselves to be rather than as they were born. A more moderate faction might accept that there are indeed environments in which the presence of transwomen might cause (biological) women so much agony (e.g., shelters for battered women) that differential treatment might be warranted. Still other factions might believe that the appropriate categorization is not the mere declaration of gender but rather some specific concrete (and perhaps irreversible) step taken towards living in line with that declaration.
No such factions are permitted in today’s Trans Movement. In fact, anyone holding such beliefs is deemed a bigoted enemy of the movement and of transes. The movement’s mantra, “transwomen are women,” reflects its central belief that biology is not destiny. Doctors or parents who preserve the timeless practice of declaring a newborn “boy” or “girl” are reactionary hatemongers, consigning innocent babes to a potentially debilitating lifetime of societally induced stereotyping.
Today’s Trans Movement is a radical departure from the parts of the gay rights movement focused on the accommodation of transes as it existed as recently as a decade ago. Rights-based positions that were long viewed as profoundly open to transes, deeply compassionate, and highly progressive are today deemed hurtful and hateful.
The Trans Movement mandates obliterating genetic and biological sex distinctions as meaningful constructs in any context other than (perhaps) discussions of genetics or biology. In fact, having ushered in a world in which men can menstruate and get pregnant while women can have penises, it is “man” and “woman” that have ceased being meaningful categories. “Transwomen are women” is not an expression of equality; it is a tautology.
Misogyny and Homophobia
It gets worse. Far from being an outgrowth of the rights-based movements seeking equality for women or homosexuals, today’s Trans Movement runs roughshod over those groups. In the Woke hierarchy of intersectional oppression, “ciswomen” (i.e., heterosexual genetic females) and homosexuals are less oppressed than transes. Like all lesser oppressed groups, they must subordinate their own claims and rights to the needs of those suffering greater oppression. Anyone advocating different priorities is, by definition, an oppressor—and thus an enemy of the Woke. As a result—and notwithstanding the insistence of its adherents to the contrary—the Trans Movement has become a hotbed of misogyny and homophobia.
The debilitating effects of inserting transwomen—always with male genetics, usually with male musculature, and sometimes with male genitalia—into women’s sports and previously women-only safe spaces has been reported widely. The consequences of these incursions have been precisely as any advocate for women’s welfare would have predicted: Sexual assaults in high schools, rapes in women’s prisons, discomfort in women’s shelters, and male dominance of women’s sports are among the most obvious.
Women who note these problems—including more than a few feminists with previously-impeccable Woke credentials—are immediately deemed TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists); J.K. Rowling is perhaps the most prominent example. Wokeism casts all TERFs out of the faith, dooming them to wander in the wilderness rubbing shoulders with deplorables, conservatives, traditionalists, and other undesirables. The Woke treatment of TERFs—many of whom advocate strongly for education and public accommodation policies designed to ease life and acceptance for transes—is perhaps the clearest demonstration that today’s Trans Movement is not and should not be viewed as a rights movement.
On the homophobic front, a small but growing number of gay Americans are beginning to awaken to what has happened to their own hugely successful rights movement—and worse, to their reputation. Some are coming to recognize the rush to transition children and teens upon the earliest deviation from stereotypical gender roles as a form of gay conversion therapy: Rather than allowing these children to mature into healthy bodies as gay (or straight) adults, the Trans Movement advocates mutilating their bodies and overriding their hormones.
Other members of the gay community, having spent decades securing acceptance as stable families and contributors to the healthy fabric of American communal life, are still in shock over the transformation of the organizations that once argued for their own equal rights into groups committed to sexualizing and mutilating children—and to undermining the sanctity of the family. Their shock is understandable. Activist groups founded with a firm grounding in the principles of equal protection, civil rights, and the rule of law have become religious organizations promoting Wokeism.
To date, however, few gay leaders have been brave enough to step forward to draw a clear line between supporting stable gay families and opposing the oversexualization and mutilation of children. The current posture of “LGBTQIA+ advocacy” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and more) is giving gay Americans a bad name—at precisely the moment that gay men and lesbians had finally gained broad societal acceptance.
Countering the Cynics
That transformation of gay rights activism in America was so abrupt, so jarring, and so perfectly timed that some contend that it was merely a cynical ploy driven by money, media, and politics. Activism is a business and professional activists want to stay in business. In 2015, the lobby for gay rights committed the cardinal sin of professional activism: It won a decisive victory. In less than fifty years it had moved gay men and lesbians from a despised, openly mistreated minority living largely in the shadows to marriageable members of the societal mainstream. That’s phenomenally successful activism. So successful, in fact, that it threatened to put them out of business. When the Supreme Court declared gay marriage the law of the land in Obergefell, gay rights activism slid from the forefront of America’s expanding constellation of rights into a sideline, policing pockets of anti-gay activity, discrimination, and violence. Its big battles were over. No one reasonably believes that homosexuality is a barrier to a full, open, honest life, career, or family in today’s America.
Cynics can thus easily point to a lobby that manufactured a cause—mere months after scoring a total victory in its previous battle—for the sole purpose of perpetuating its own relevance. The North Carolina bathroom battles erupted before the ink was even dry on Obergefell. To drive the case home even further, there are in fact a handful of prominentbillionaires bankrolling the medical establishment’s enshrinement the acceptance of sexual reassignment surgery as an “affirmation.”
Such cynical arguments aren’t wrong, but they’re narrow. They miss the big picture. Even the best funded campaigns can’t sell a mass market product that no one wants to buy. It doesn’t matter how badly gay rights activists needed a new issue. It doesn’t matter how much money they spent. If they couldn’t craft a message that spoke deeply to the members of their target market, they’d never close the deal. Yet close the deal they did. That’s a success worth pondering. To flourish, the Trans Movement’s message had to touch tens of millions of Americans, most of whom had not previously given the issue a moment’s thought, and few of whom had ever knowingly met a trans. That’s a tall order. Yet it succeeded. How? Why?
Physicality and Psychology
Set those questions aside for a moment to consider another thing that today’s Woke Trans Movement is not. It is emphatically not a movement advocating on behalf of people suffering from a mental illness or a medical condition.
Unlike the concept of a rights-based organization—a characterization that many members of the Trans Movement embrace notwithstanding its demonstrable inaccuracy—the notion that transes may be suffering from an abnormal mental or physical condition is held exclusively by opponents of the Trans Movement. To the Woke, even suggesting such a possibility qualifies as hate speech.
Yet denial, no matter how vociferous and sincere, is insufficient to make a characterization inaccurate. After all, gender dysphoria is a condition in which a person’s psychological and emotional states send messages at odds with genetics and biology. Such a misalignment must be so painful and disruptive that it’s almost impossible for non-sufferers to comprehend. Fortunately, we live in a world of scientific marvels in which surgery, lifelong medication, and counseling can combine to let the afflicted lead fulfilling, productive lives.
By what logic, however, are transes the first and only mentally and physically healthy people whose brains cannot perceive objective reality, and whose bodies require radical surgery and a lengthy, complicated medical regimen?
The answers cannot rest upon a mere redefinition of terms. No one—inside or outside the Trans Movement—disputes certain factual observations. Nearly all humans are born with sex chromosomes that are either XX or XY. Nearly all of those born XX develop reproductive physiology and endocrinology consistent with being a healthy female. Nearly all of those born XY develop reproductive physiology and endocrinology consistent with being a healthy male. While the Trans Movement does include concern for the tiny number of exceptions, its primary focus remains on those whose genetics and biology conform to one of these two basic patterns—yet whose internal states express as something other than 100% female (for those born XX) or 100% male (for those born XY).
There can be only two possible answers as to how an internal state (i.e., a brain) reading genetically and biologically consistent XX signals could conclude that it is something other than 100% female: Either that brain is mistaken, or it is also reading additional signals sending divergent messages. If the brain is making a mistake (i.e., misreading consistent signals), it should seem to qualify as a mental illness—a logical possibility that the Woke reject out of hand. The only possible conclusion is thus that something must be sending the brain a conflicting message signal. The healthy trans brain thus processes multiple messages to arrive at a gender identity that is subtler, more perceptive, and more accurate than the blunt polarity of the 100% male / 100% female gender binary.
Fair enough. But that conclusion merely replaces one set of questions with another. It’s one thing to posit the existence of a source sending signals that differ from those of genetics and biology. It’s another to identify that source. If there is indeed something real, internal to the individual, sending signals that are at least as valid as those emerging from that same individual’s genetic code, physiology, and endocrinology, what is it?
To the best of my knowledge, no one has even posited the existence of an observable physical source sending such messages. Yet only a real source could send a real signal. If not identifiable within the physical realm, where might it be?
Could it lie within the experiential realm and thus be psychological in nature? Not according to the Woke. In fact, a reliance on an individual’s experiences would undermine the entire movement. If a transwoman is merely a genetic male whose experiences to date send a psychological female signal, perhaps some additional set of experiences might alter that signal? Such a possibility seems particularly acute when applied to children whose experiential bases are shallow and whose psychological responses are still in formation. It would also render meaningless the idea that people are born with a gender identity. Experiential explanations make eminent sense if gender is acquired and malleable. They are nonsensical if gender is innate and fixed.
Furthermore, even in adults, were the counter-genetic signals rooted in the psychological processing of experiential data, the front-line treatment would almost certainly involve deep therapy and reprogramming—precisely the opposite of the affirmation, medication, and surgery the Trans Movement advocates. No, the central claim of the entire Trans Movement is that the counter-genetic signal, whatever its source, provides the only accurate defining recognition of the individual’s true gender identity. “A transwoman is a woman!” is a stark declaration that in an individual whose genetics scream “male” but whose internal messaging shouts “female,” the internal voice speaks truth while the genetic externalities present falsehoods. Identifying the source of that true internal signal would thus seem to be of tantamount importance. What is that source?
The Trans Movement thus presents fundamental questions whose answers should inform the behavior and the advocacy of both its Woke adherents and its tradition-oriented opponents: How could an issue that had touched so few lives, and that threatens to undo so many gains for which feminists and gay activists had worked so hard for so long, gain such rapid adherence? Just what is the source of true internal identity that is strong enough to overwhelm all genetic and biological evidence?
The Woke themselves offer few insights. Why? Perhaps because the only plausible answer makes them uncomfortable—and the Woke are hardly known for welcoming their own discomfort. Comfortable or not, however, such core questions underpinning such an important contemporary movement deserve answers. As with all things that seem to make little sense—yet are indeed occurring—the answers must lie where few have been willing to look. Where might that be?
The movement’s appeal provides a clue. A movement that touches so few lives, yet has such broad resonance, must speak to people at a visceral level. It must address a widespread need—albeit one that is rarely articulated and often denied. What unarticulated need might the notion of an internal source of true identity address for the many Woke who are not trans themselves and who may not even know any transes personally?
The answer lies in the spiritual realm. The Trans Movement fills one of the most basic spiritual vacuums created when America’s elite rejected traditional faith. Listen closely, and you can even hear some adherents tell a tale that is both meaningful and beautiful:
We humans arrive in this world with two selves. Our outer selves are physical and tangible, genetic, biological, and sexed. Our inner selves are intangible, psychological, emotional, and gendered. Our outer selves are little more than shells within which our true inner selves must function. Only our inner selves define our true essence. Only the inner self makes us who we are. Only the inner self gives meaning to life. Our task, as individuals, is to align our lives with our essential inner truths.
The majority among us—those of us fortunate enough to have been born with perfectly aligned inner and outer selves—should be grateful for the gift. Those who must alter their outer selves to align their bodies with essential inner truth face a far greater challenge. The Woke believe that a just society must eliminate all hurdles impeding that alignment. A just society must take all steps necessary to ease all transitions from falsehood to truth.
That story is hardly radical. Every faith tradition tells a similar tale. It’s a critical part of our ability to understand our uniqueness as a species and our further uniqueness as individuals. Every faith tradition embraces—as a central tenet—the idea that we are more than our bodies. In fact, such an understanding is almost necessary in contemplating the difference between a living human and a corpse or the miracle of birth.
Traditional faiths also share with Wokeism the belief that only our incorporeal elements are capable of greatness, elevation, or enlightenment. Our physical bodies trap us in the mundane realm. Only transcendence of physicality allows us to access the spiritual or the divine. Only our transcendent elements can know the beauty of love, of friendship, of connection, of belonging. Such beliefs may be metaphysical, but they’re hardly novel. Numerous faiths derived them long before Wokeism gave them its uniquely contemporary twist.
The Trans Movement represents nothing short of the Woke rediscovery of the soul. It provides a story and a belief system capable of elevating the Woke beyond the mundane, physical, material existence many have chosen for themselves. Even better, it does so without resorting to the ancient languages and pastoral metaphors that the Woke disdain. It rests entirely in the legalistic language of rights, the political language of exploitation, and the scientific language of surgery and medicine. In a masterstroke, the Trans Movement provides silent, secret soulcraft to those who could never admit to the existence of the soul or the need for soulfulness.
As an added benefit for the Woke, this rediscovery of the soul also provides a coherent justification for full-term abortion on demand. There’s no reason the Woke should feel bound by the Vatican’s declaration that “ensoulment” happens almost immediately after conception. Perhaps the Woke soul arrives only at the moment of live birth. If so, a gestating fetus—at any stage—really is just a clump of cells. The tension between a woman’s right to personal medical choices and the fetal right to life fades away even in the latest stage of pregnancy. All that an abortion does is eliminate an unfilled outer shell; the true inner essence that would soon define humanity has never comes into play.
That reference to abortion is hardly coincidental. Admission of the truth about the Trans Movement would clarify that nearly all Woke political positions and policy preferences pertaining to life, birth, childhood, parenting, and family, are religious beliefs. Wokeism, however, can concede neither that truth nor its centrality to the faith because doing so would disturb a flock fiercely proud of its antagonism to religion. As a result—and again like some members of traditional religions asked to justify their beliefs using only science or logic—the Woke typically resort to slandering anyone who even dares to ask the most obvious of questions. Proper identification of Woke arguments and policy preferences, however, is critical to informing both debate and resolution.
The question as to whether an assertion constitutes a religious belief is deeply significant under American law. The First Amendment guarantees individuals greater freedom to exercise religious beliefs and practices than beliefs and practices grounded in philosophy, politics, or elsewhere. Religious organizations are entitled to distinctive tax and regulatory treatment. Perhaps most importantly given the current state of debate about the Trans Movement, however, First Amendment law also provides rules concerning the imposition of religious beliefs on those of different faiths. Even a casual government embrace of faith-based principles may run afoul of the Establishment Clause. The political left has won some impressive court victories making precisely that case.
Like all American faith communities, the Woke are welcome to translate their beliefs into persuasive non-faith-based arguments if they want to enshrine them in American law. Americans of all faiths should come to respect the Woke belief that a transwoman—born with a male body and a female soul—is entirely and indistinguishably a female. They should respect that belief, however, as an assertion of Woke faith rather than as a statement of science—much as non-believers can respect the belief that Communion turns a wafer and wine into the flesh and blood of Christ as matter of faith while questioning it as a statement of biochemistry.
No doubt, large parts of the Woke flock will resent having to face the reality of their movement. Their rediscovery of the soul—along with the various other elements of the world’s faith traditions they have remade to suit contemporary needs—may jar their self-images as having evolved beyond the need for superstitious metaphysics. More importantly, it will prove a significant impediment to their political project. The juggernaut that has allowed the Woke to run roughshod over traditional beliefs in remaking America’s cultural and legal terrain would have to pause until they can persuade those of us who do not share their faith to share their policy preferences. Those realities go a long way towards explaining why so few of the Woke are willing to recognize the beauty of the soul story animating their own Trans Movement.
As to the movement’s other apparent anomalies, the Woke will work them out over time. Some will prove easier to resolve than others. Discussions of mental and physical infirmity are as misplaced contemplating the Woke soul as they are when contemplating more traditional notions of the soul. The conflict with non-Woke women and their advocates will persist. When the very definition of “woman” is central to theology, it’s hard to see how permanent reconciliation of those committed to the rights of differently-defined “women” is possible.
Conflicts with the gay community are almost certain to grow. If the purpose of transitioning is the alignment of outer shell with inner truth, can same-sex attraction be anything other than a signal that inner and outer selves are misaligned? How can homosexuals who refuse to transition be seen as anything other than individuals lying to themselves about who they are—and refusing the spiritual challenge of aligning their bodies with truth? It is hard to imagine a more flagrant elevation of the genetic signal over internal truth than an allegedly healthy man exhibiting feminine mannerisms, preferences, behavioral characteristics, and sexual attraction. The logic is inexorable: Homosexuality in the age of transes represents a refusal to transition from a life of lies to a life of truth.
Wokeism is likely to guarantee that the current broad societal acceptance of same-sex couples and marriages is but a short-lived blip. Christians (and Jews) may readily “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Wokeism can brook no such distinction. The centrality of gender identity to the Woke agenda—and faith—guarantees that a Woke obsession with homosexuality will burn far brighter than it ever did in the Biblical tradition. A rejection of truth and a failure to meet a spiritual challenge are central moral failings. Woe to those whose entire sexual identity represents a rejection of Woke truth.
Wokeism is an ingenious response to the deep but unarticulated spiritual needs of America’s fiercely anti-religious young, urban, affluent, credentialed, professional elite. Wokeism addresses those needs while keeping its spiritual dimension cloaked. Not every Woke idea catches fire, however. Those that do are those most attuned to an unmet need. When Wokeism ventures into territory that appears perplexing to outsiders while generating widespread intense passion among the Woke, the message is there for all who are willing to see: It is filling a gaping chasm in the lives of its adherents.
The Trans Movement exploded into public consciousness because it filled a spiritual vacuum with an elegant tale spun entirely in the language that those most in need could hear. As Woke soulcraft, the Trans Movement may provide the clearest demonstration to date of the central role that Wokeism is playing in America’s spiritual crisis. Perhaps, with a clearer understanding of its nature as new religion, Woke and non-woke Americans alike can help Wokeism prosper within the proper bounds American law and society have set for religions and religious community—and only within those bounds. On that front, as on so many others, a great deal of work remains.