What makes one an expert in a subject? Often it’s credentials, such as degrees or certificates. Often it’s position, such as being the executive in charge of a university department, or a non-profit or business that works in a particular area or field. Often it’s research one has done has done on a subject, such as research for an article or book. Sometimes its personal experience with a subject, such as an alcoholic with alcohol abuse, or knowing about spouse abuse because a person was the victim of domestic violence, or a police officer who’s assigned to the domestic violence beat of his or her city.
There are degrees of expertise, and relative values of expertise. Does one put more weight to what a domestic violence counselor knows about domestic violence, or does one put more weight to a researcher with a Sociology doctorate whose researched domestic violence? It may depend on whether one is gauging the personal pain of domestic violence victims, or gauging the societal costs of domestic violence.
And then there is Appeal To False Authority, where an authority is speaking outside his area of expertise, but still functions as an authoritative speaker. When false authority is coupled with Argument From Spurious Similarity (where it’s suggested that some resemblance is proof of a relationship), or an Appeal To Widespread Belief (which includes the idea that a belief held by many people makes something true), arguments become particularly troublesome.
Recently, I pointed out in In Defense of Harassment: Ex-Gay Opposes Unisex Rest Rooms that self-identified former homosexual Sylvia Bertolini claimed expertise on transgender issues specifically because she is a former homosexual. Her initial piece read to me and others as an Appeal To False Authority, coupled with an Argument From Spurious Similarity; the spurious similarity being that sexual orientation and gender identity are the same thing, or are so intertwined that these two issues have the same root cause or causes.
Now in a similar fashion, Exodus International’s Alan Chambers (in World Magazine’s “Pick and choose; Health: Sex selection in New York City soon will be all about how he — she? — is feeling”), comments on New York City’s now abandoned plan for altering the birth certificates of pre-operative and non-operative transgender people:
Alan Chambers of Exodus International, a Christian ministry that helps people leave homosexual and transgender lifestyles, agrees that the policy [of allowing the city’s residents to change the sex on their birth certificates if they believe they are transgender] is “dangerous . . . especially for the people confused enough to believe they were born in the wrong bodies.”
Chambers, a former homosexual, recalls the anguish of feeling, “I should have been born a girl.” He says society shouldn’t “put a stamp of approval on gender fluidity. . . . The most loving response is to tell people the truth and show them grace.”
The critique of Alan Chambers here in this article isn’t about the merits of changing the gender marker criteria for non-operative or pre-operative transsexuals — it’s not about even about his opinion he expressed on the subject. Instead, it’s about Chambers’ qualifications to be quoted as a subject matter expert on transgender issues — Are transgender and gender identity issues subject matter areas where Chambers can plausibly be identified as an authority?
I’d argue “no.”
Chambers’ authority to speak on gender identity issues as an expert doesn’t seem to be derived from his formal education or formal credentials, as his biography doesn’t indicate he has any formal education or credentials related to the subject. Also, none of Alan Chambers credited published works deal with transgender issues directly, so from the public record it appears he hasn’t done any scholarly research specifically related to transgender people. (And, neither of Exodus International’s uncredited pieces relating to transgender issues — LGBTQ labels and Gender Identity — are scholarly, referenced works.) And even though the World Magazine piece describes Exodus International as “a Christian ministry that helps people leave homosexual and transgender lifestyles,” Exodus International’s Who We Are webpage describes themselves as “…a nonprofit, interdenominational Christian organization promoting the message of Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” Exodus International’s work with transgender and ex-transgender people is only mentioned when a spokesperson from the organization comments on transgender and gender identity issues; Any work Exodus International may do with transgender and ex-transgender people doesn’t appear to be found within the primary mission of the organization.
And, since about 75% of children diagnosed with Childhood GID report a homosexual or bisexual orientation in adulthood, drawing conclusions about to the similarity between adult transgender people and adult gay people based on one’s own experience with Childhood GID appears a suspect means to make an analogy. Although there are similarities of experience (such as shared experiences of societal discrimination), there are dissimilarities in the adult experiences of gay men and transgender women, as well as lesbian women and transgender men. For example, most transsexuals want to express a gender identity different than that of their natal sex, most gays and lesbians are comfortable with their gender identity matching their natal sex. The dissimilarities are significant enough to indicate that just because one is an expert on gay, lesbian, and/or bisexual life experiences, it wouldn’t mean that one is an expert on transgender life experiences, and vice a versa.
It appears to me that what we’re left with then is Chambers’ apparent lack of academic or professional credentials indicating expertise, his personal statement of experiencing Childhood Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in his personal childhood belief he “should have been born a girl,”, his presidency of an organization whose “Who We Are” page doesn’t identify itself as an organization with any distinctively transgender/ex-transgender focus, and his status as a self-identified former homosexual. Given what we know about Alan Chambers’ resume before us, it’s difficult to support recognizing him as an expert on transgender or gender identity issues.
And given what we know about Chambers, we’re left much as we were with Sylvia Bertolini’s claims of expertise — Appeal To False Authority coupled with an Argument From Spurious Similarity. And perhaps in Chambers’ case, an added Appeal To Widespread Belief can be added, in that many in Chambers’ circle of ex-gay, religious right, and anti-gay friends believe sexual orientation and gender identity are tightly entwined in sexual confusion.
For Alan Chambers to be presented as, or present himself as, an expert in gender identity or transgender issues based on his resume seems unsustainable. Since I now see a propensity for Chambers’ overreaching his resume to speak on issues, I, and I hope my peers, will keep their eyes open for other Exodus International false claims of authority.