Dear Ben,

I recently saw your controversial appearance on “Dr. Drew On Call” in which you refused to refer to Caitlyn Jenner by her preferred pronoun and provoked transgender journalist Zoey Tur by asking her, “What are your genetics, sir?”

I also saw Zoey put her hands on you and threaten you with violence. I unequivocally condemn such behavior.

However, like much of the panel, I was very troubled by your words and demeanor.

On the show, you said that you refuse to recognize the self-identity of a transgender person because you do not want to “mainstream delusion,” “mental illness,” and support “body mutilation.” You based your argument on the idea that anatomical sex (in contrast to gender identity) is biologically determined. Therefore, you said, “How he feels on the inside is irrelevant to the question of his biological self.”

Ignoring the ‘is/ought fallacy’ of your argument, I would like to point out to you that many scientists who study gender identity development do not share your views. Although a great deal is still unknown, and research is in its early stages, scientists believe there are biological contributors to gender identity (some argue that it’s completely hardwired) and that gender identity develops independently from sexual anatomy. In a given subset of the population, a person’s chromosomes, body parts, and gender identity do not align.

Your claim that the biology of a transgender person can and should be reduced to their sex is also problematic. There is more to a person’s biology than their anatomical sex. Recent studies published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research show, for example, that areas of the brain (regions of white matter) of female-to-male transgender people are masculinized, whereas the identical structure in male-to-female transgender people are halfway between that of the males and females.

But let’s put away the science for a moment, and look at the normative component of your argument – the undesirability of “mainstreaming delusion.”

To begin, it assumes that mainstreaming delusion is inherently negative. Yet, life is full of delusions. Psychological research shows that most of us tend to believe that we are better looking, smarter, and will have more success in life than the average person. Moreover, such positive delusions are good for our psychological health and well-being.

Or, take religion. From Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, many have forcefully argued that religion represents mainstreamed delusion per excellence. Psychological research also shows that regardless of its truth claims, a religious led life has many social and individual benefits.         

So, if your delusions make you feel better, and are not hurting anyone, why go bursting bubbles? Why attack people at their core? All the more so, if their core is something that is inherited, benign, and as natural as the color of their eyes.     

Ask yourself, would it be right by me to deny (and call on others to deny) your self-definition as a Jew because I believe you are mainstreaming delusion (hardly harmless), legitimizing body mutilation (i.e. circumcision), or propagating biological falsehoods (still searching for that kippah adorning “J” Chromosome)?

Of course not! It would be wrong, foolish, and unkind.

Apropos kindness, while I do not take the Torah to be a great document of universal morality or human rights, I have always found it interesting that it instructs us only once to love our neighbor, while commanding us in no less than thirty-six places to care for the stranger “because you yourself know how it feels to be a stranger – you were strangers in Egypt.” [Exodus 23:9]

From this perspective to contribute to the estrangement of a people who continuously experience direct, cultural and structural violence is profoundly un-Jewish. It’s not a matter of political correctness, but rather of helping ameliorate suffering in this world.

I have a sneaking suspicion that nothing I wrote above will actually change your mind. Counter-arguments on such issues tend to backfire and cause people to dig in. What I hope is that my letter sparked a little bit of curiosity and perhaps a desire to better understand why your attitude and perception were so offensive to so many people.

If not you, then at least the querying reader.


Roi Ben-Yehuda