Intelligent Public Discourse on Transgenderism – Able to Moderate the Current “Bathroom Battle”?

10 May
Are there limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?

Are there limits to our interpretations of reality or to what our imaginations can construct and build?


If you are a serious Christian – or even if you aren’t – and you feel like you could use a good primer on the issues transgenderism presents, I wrote this article for you. And… I even revised my initial draft with the help of this article by David Blankenhorn about being an effective de-polarizer (learned about it here). We’ll see if it works. : )

One can rest assured that most traditional Christians think that the new progressive (will refrain from putting that in scare quotes!) demands regarding “bathroom laws” are both a bad and unnecessary idea, even if they don’t speak out about it.

And why might they not raise their voices?

When even professors from Harvard University now suggest treating conservative Christians, the losers in the culture wars, the way that America treated Germany and the Japanese after World War II, one might begin to understand such unwillingness on the part of some (others might have other reasons as well). On the other hand, Christians can always hope and pray that some of our other liberal friends will take the tack of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof instead. In any case, we who just celebrated Ascension Day are confident that Jesus reigns already, even as “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him”, as the author of the book of Hebrews (2:8) put it.

On to the specific issue at hand.

Some Christians, like Aaron Wolf for example, make a case that making an effort to win this battle is a losing cause. As Wolf puts it, “When we as a society accepted the notion of transgenderism itself, we lost the bathroom battle”. Based on what I have read, I am not sure that is right and want to lay out some of the more interesting content that I have found on the very helpful website Public Discourse, which

is an online publication of the Witherspoon Institute that seeks to enhance the public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies by making the scholarship of the fellows and affiliated scholars of the Institute available and accessible to a general audience.

What follow, therefore, are clips from a few of the articles on the website dealing with transgenderism that I found particularly helpful and interesting. I’ve divided the concerns into a few main categories.

I. What can account for the transgender inclinations some persons experience?

Gregory Brown writes in his article, “Conservatives and Transgenderism: A Response to Jennifer Gruenke” (see Gruenke’s Public Discourse piece here) the following:

I welcome Jennifer Gruenke’s recent essay in Public Discourse, wherein she describes the rare intersex condition “from a biological point of view” and argues that, given the scientific facts surrounding many of these cases, conservatives should take a more tempered approach toward transgenderism. As long as other possible explanations of gender dysphoria are ruled out, she argues, conservatives should give transgender people the benefit of the doubt and take their introspective reports at their word. Because there is a plausible genetic account of transgenderism, conservatives should assume that the transgender person’s professed divergence between bodily sex and reported gender is a result of some variety of intersex condition.

Unfortunately, I do not find Gruenke’s case convincing…

This account of sex.. has much in common with the account of sex identity that Christopher Tollefsen recently introduced at Public Discourse. Because human beings reproduce sexually, human beings are either male or female in the typical case, and their sex corresponds with the function that their reproductive organs can play in coitus. There is no other principled way for picking out the sexes.

As Tollefsen argues, sex being so defined, it is not even possible to change one’s sex, and attempts to do so will mutilate otherwise functional organs. So long as the practice of medicine is correctly understood as the practice of restoring human bodies to their proper functioning, gender-reassignment surgeries will fall outside the domain of medicine. The conservative can happily grant Gruenke’s biological account, for the sake of argument if not because it is true—there is a fair bit of disagreement over the science and how best to interpret it, after all. But Gruenke’s account, in what it presupposes, offers only reasons to accept Tollefsen’s argument, while offering nothing to resist his conclusion…”

To another of Gruenke’s objections, Brown writes:

“It would be silly to doubt the honesty of an anorexic person; though we think there is something wrong with her introspective report, we do not doubt that there is something behind it, that she makes it for some reason. The anorexic person might have brain chemistry similar to that of someone who is overweight. In fact, the chemical imbalance might be a result of some heritable mutation, shared by one’s identical twin. But an anorexic person’s introspective report is nevertheless incorrect.”

Consider reading the whole thing.

II. Concerns about the mental health – and lives – of the transgender community

Walt Heyer, in his article “The Danish Girl: People Aren’t Born Transgender, But Playing Dress-Up Can Spark Psychological Problems”, writes the following:

The usual diagnosis for patients who identify as transgender is “gender dysphoria.” According to the DSM-5 (the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), gender dysphoria is characterized by a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and one’s biological sex, lasting at least six months. Although it isn’t talked about much, studies show a majority of transgender patients suffer from other comorbid (co-existing) disorders.

A 2011 survey found that 41 percent of transgender people reported attempting suicide at least once. Unhappiness and suicides were first reported in 1979 by a doctor at Harry Benjamin’s gender clinic, endocrinologist Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld. After six years administering cross-gender hormone therapy to five hundred transgender patients, Dr. Ihlenfeld said that 80 percent of the people who want sex-reassignment surgery should not have it. The reason? The high rates of suicide among the post-operative transgender population. More startlingly, Dr. Ihlenfeld stated that transgender surgery was never intended to be a life-long treatment solution, but only a temporary reprieve.

In another article titled “50 Years of Sex Changes, Mental Disorders, and Too Many Suicides”, Heyer writes…

… Charles Ihlenfeld administered hormone therapy to some 500 transgender people over a period of six years at Benjamin’s clinic—until he became concerned about the outcomes. “There is too much unhappiness among people who have the surgery,” he said. “Too many of them end as suicides. 80% who want to change their sex shouldn’t do it.” But even for the 20% he thought might be good candidates for it, sex change is by no means a solution to life’s problems. He thinks of it more as a kind of reprieve. “It buys maybe 10 or 15 years of a happier life,” he said, “and it’s worth it for that.”

But then, Ihlenfeld himself never had a sex change. I did, and I disagree with him on that last point: The reprieve is not worth it. After I had a reprieve of seven or eight years, then what? I was worse off than before. I looked like a woman—my legal documents identified me as a woman—yet I found that at the end of the “reprieve” I wanted to be a man every bit as passionately as I had once yearned to be a woman. Recovery was difficult

…two powerful and influential doctors were early pioneers in the treatment of transsexualism. Dr. Ihlenfeld is a homosexual psychiatrist; Dr. Paul McHugh is a heterosexual psychiatrist. Both came to the same conclusion, then and now: Having surgery did not resolve the patients’ psychological issues.

… A 2014 study found 62.7% of patients diagnosed with gender dysphoria had at least one co-occurring disorder, and 33% were found to have major depressive disorders, which are linked to suicide ideation. Another 2014 study of four European countries found that almost 70% of participants showed one or more Axis I disorders, mainly affective (mood) disorders and anxiety.

Again, suicide rates of this group are very high:

… Transgender people report attempting suicide at a staggering rate—above 40%. According to, 90% of all suicides are the result of untreated mental disorders. Over 60% (and possibly up to 90% as shown at Case Western) of transgender people have comorbid psychiatric disorders, which often go wholly untreated.

His conclusion is devastating:

Allowing a political agenda to override and silence the scientific process will not prevent suicides or lead to better treatments for this population. It’s not compassion; it’s reckless disregard for people’s lives.

Also in this article, Heyer links to a piece that Paul McHugh, mentioned above, wrote about these issues in the magazine First Things. In the article, titled “Surgical Sex: Why We Stopped Doing Sex-Change Operations”, he concluded as follows:

I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. Their parents usually lived with guilt over their decisions—second-guessing themselves and somewhat ashamed of the fabrication, both surgical and social, they had imposed on their sons. As for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their “true” sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it.

III. Concerns about the encroachment of these issues into the lives of children

In her article, Transgenderism Has No Basis in Science or Law, Margaret A. Hagen writes:

While no one is yet publicly advocating the surgical alteration of children, loud voices in the media and among advocates—even at Boston Children’s Hospital—have called for and have even implemented hormone therapy to delay the onset of children’s puberty in order to facilitate gonadectomy later in their teens or young adulthood. Research on the sexual development of children who at some point are seen to be nonconformist shows that more than 80 percent of such children outgrow their “transgenderism” by the end of their teens. Interference with the normal sexual development of children on the basis of political ideology is not just unethical—it is child abuse. It is not only past time for an extensive public discussion of this practice; it is past time to put an end to it.

In light of this, might progressives better understand the position taken by the state of North Carolina namely that of “allow[ing] accommodations based on special circumstances, including but not limited to transgender individuals”? I thought “hard cases ma[d]e bad law”.

Another very interesting point in this article (not related to children) is the following:

The conviction that one is a “one-limbed person trapped in a multi-limbed body” is now being treated as an actual mental disorder called “Body Integrity Identity Disorder.” Seven such patients are reported as having had an arm or a leg electively amputated as “treatment” for this disorder. Immediate post-operative reports seem to be positive, but what about follow-up reports on life as a voluntary amputee ten and twenty years after the surgery? How about an extensive social discussion of the ethical limits of elective amputation—both for the doctors and for the society at large?

Some other good articles at Public Discourse you might want to check out include the following:

An African-American Woman Reflects on the Transgender Movement by Nuriddeen Knight

Is Christian Teaching on Sexuality Psychologically Harmful? by Andrew T. Walker and Glenn Stanton

Sex Identity by Christopher O. Tollefsen

Gender Identity by Christopher O. Tollefsen

“Sex Change” Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, and You Should Know by Walt Heyer

When My Father Told Me He Wanted to Be a Woman by Denise Shick

The Girl in the Tuxedo: Two Variations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by Jean C. Lloyd

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme by Paul McHugh

The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern but Necessary Critique by Carlos D. Flores

Our Great Sexual Adventure: Where Does It End? by Jeremy Neill

The End of Single-Sex Higher Ed by Kelsey Paff

Freedom to Change Your Life: Why the Government Shouldn’t Ban “Reparative Therapy” by Walt Heyer

North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill and the Constitution by E. Gregory Wallace

And one of my favorites: The New Dignity: Gnostic, Elitist, Self-Destructive Will-to-Power by Roberta Green Ahmanson

My conclusion is that we do not need to deny that there may very well a biological component to transgenderism. In any regard, I think based on what was said above, it makes sense to be opposed to progressive bathroom laws for reasons other than concerns about enabling male predators, as Wolf also points out. There is also a good case to be made that the government should not give the impression that transgenderism is a good thing. In any case, I think it is certainly right for us to have compassion for those who deal with these issues, while at the same time remembering that “hard cases make bad law”, as many in the legal profession put it.

Of course, for the Christian, there is a wider concern about what all of this means in the big picture. First, there are the concerns that are raised, and second, there is, in light of this knowledge, the hope that we gain. Here, Scripture can give us the clue that even much that seems to occur according to nature has to do with the Fall into sin, and this presents us with the opportunity to talk about the promise of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Christ and His redemption help us to address the nagging sense we all have that the world is not the way it is supposed to be – He saves us not only from our sins (and death and the devil), but also the effects of the sin which manifests itself differently from person to person (more on that here).





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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in Uncategorized


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