When I was in college, I was encouraged to read and to read broadly. I have tried to follow that advice. “Readers are leaders,” goes one saying. Most of the people who have influenced me and whom I respect the most have been readers, so maybe there is something to that. The reviews on this site are for books that I have personally read, were a help to me, and I recommend (sometimes with caveats) to you. I hope they will encourage you to start reading (if you don’t tend to) or read more and more broadly (if you already do).
Ryan Anderson’s book addresses the topic of transgenderism, the belief that biological sex and gender are two separate aspects to a person, that they can be discordant, and that sex can be changed (via surgery) in order to match the discordant gender identity.
Anderson, who at the time of writing was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, begins his book with a “history” of how our society has come to the “transgender moment.” In this brief overview, Anderson discusses how transgenderism has been normalized in pop culture (i.e., actors, television and streaming programs, etc.), reinforced through federal government actions under the Obama administration, and aggressively promoted and defended despite the science against it.
One illustration is Johns Hopkins University. Though being at the forefront of sex reassignment surgery, it abandoned that practice in the late 1970s after it was discovered that
“[Those who had undergone the surgery] had much the same problems with relationships, work and emotions as before. The hope that they would emerge now from their emotional difficulties to flourish psychologically had not been fulfilled.”Quoting Jon Meyer, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at Johns Hopkins, p. 17.
However, “in 2016 the hospital announced that it would start performing sex reassignment procedures again” (p. 19).
“In short, political pressure and a shift in cultural attitudes explain the policy reversal at Hopkins.”p. 19.
Chapter Two hands the mic to the transgender activists.
“It is contrary to medical science to use chromosomes, hormones, internal reporductive organs, external genitalia, or secondary sex characteristics, to override gender identity for purposes of classifying someone as male or female.”Quoting Dr. Deanna Adkins, professor at Duke University School of Medicine, p. 30
Speaking of children, “Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health at the Child and Adolescent Gender Center at Benihoff Children’s Hospital, University of California San Francisco,” says
“[they] are our best teachers in alerting us to the reality that gender exists primarily between our ears–in our brains and minds–and not necessarily by what is between our legs, our genitalia, or in our accompanying XX or XY chromosomes, as many are mistakenly prone to believe.”p. 35-36.
Anderson also deals with the transgender policy push of these activists (see specifically Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools, pp. 37-45), and the affront to parental authority that such policies present.
Chapter Three allows a number of “detransitioners” (those who transitioned into the opposite sex but then returned to their biological sex) to tell their stories. At age 17, after only three or four counseling sessions, Cari was prescribed cross-hormone therapy (for her, it was testosterone) to help her continuing transition (she had already begun “social transitioning” which involves dressing, appearing, and acting as the opposite sex). In her story, she asks a salient question:
“…how many other medical conditions are there where you can walk into the doctor’s office, tell them you have a certain condition, which has no objective test, which can be caused by trauma or mental health issues or societal factors, and receive life-altering medications on your say-so?”p. 53
Beginning with Chapter Four, Anderson unpacks foundational understandings of sex and gender, answering questions such as “What is sex?”, “How does sex distinction begin?”, and “How do sex differences affect our health?”
“Sex, in terms of male or female, is identified by the organization of the organism for sexually reproductive acts… More than simply being identified on the basis of such organization, sex is a coherent concept only on the basis of that organization. The fundamental conceptual distinction between a male and a female is the organism’s organization for sexual reproduction.”p. 79
As it relates to health and medicine, Anderson quotes from The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences entitled Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter?
“There are multiple, ubiquitous differences in the basic cellular biochemistries of males and females that can affect an individual’s health. Many of these differences… are a direct result of the genetic differences between the two sexes.”p. 86
Having laid the empirical and cultural foundations of sex, Chapter Five explores what is meant by transgender identity and sex “reassignment.” Specifically at root of the “identity crisis” is a disorder known as “gender dysphoria.” This is a real psychological condition akin to another dysphoria we are well aware of, anorexia nervosa (p. 96).
“This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken–it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”Quoting Dr. Paul McHugh, former head of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, p. 95
One of the “grim outcomes” to which Dr. McHugh refers is undoubtedly the astronomical attempted suicide rate among transgendered people, 41% compared to 4.6% of the general population (p. 93).
Chapter Six addresses “Childhood [Gender] Dysphoria” and transgender activists’ plan for “treating” young people (social transition, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries to remove/reform primary and secondary sex characteristics) despite the fact these actions radically affect function and quality of life and that “the vast majority of children with gender dysphoria–80-95%–naturally grow out of it, if they aren’t encouraged to transition” (p. 119).
Chapter Seven discusses “Gender and Culture,” the distinctions between the male and female gender, and how our “engendered” existence demands a recognition that the roles we play and what is “good” for us may look different depending on the gender you are.
Chapter Eight concludes with policy suggestions that are in the common interest, rather than those that are ideologically driven.
Anderson’s book is clear, fair (though I wonder if his critics would think so), and highly educational. The fact that he allows the activists to speak for themselves and presents the testimonies of detransitioners is a testament to his hearing the other side.
The gender ideology debate is not new, though the most recent emphasis on transgendered people is. Christians need to be aware of the issues, the claims, and the contradictions of this new attack on God’s good Creation. This book will be helpful for any Christian hoping to better understand the movement, the mindset of those involved in it, and the balanced approach we should have to reaching those who live with such beliefs.