Published March 1, 2021
Of course they are banning books. If you missed it, Amazon has banned Ryan Anderson’s excellent book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. And, of course, the writings of some of history’s greatest monsters are still available on Amazon. The behemoth bookseller is fine with Hitler, Stalin and Mao, but it considers Anderson’s respectful, scholarly critique of transgender ideology too much.
In the short term, Amazon has brought attention (and brisk sales at other outlets) to Anderson’s book, which is good news for my friend and colleague. But as Abigail Shrier, whose books have faced similar cancelling, notes, the cancellers may succeed in the long run. Anderson’s book may do well now, but the next such book may never be written because few publishers will want to risk bringing out books that Amazon might exclude. Amazon’s dominant market share, combined with its opaque book-banning process, will deter writers and publishers from offending the orthodoxies of the ascendent cultural Left.
Indeed, their power, and that of their allies, is so great that banning books may seem like overkill. Supporters of transgender ideology dominate education, big business, finance, big tech, entertainment, the legacy news media and the Democratic Party—why bother trying to squelch one dissident book?
The obvious initial answer is to reverse the question: why not use power to punish enemies, as well as to reward friends? Why should bigots be given any quarter? This reasoning is natural, and no doubt the Amazon commissar who purged Anderson’s book took self-righteous pleasure in doing so.
But such people also feel impelled to preclude debate and silence dissension because of their position’s frailty. The (current) core claim of transgender ideology is that we are possessed of an innate gender identity that may not match our biological sex—as if we are gendered souls inserted into sexed bodies. We are told that mismatches are to be treated by allowing people to live as the sex they identify as, often with surgical and chemical treatments to remake their appearance to better match their identity. Dissenters, such as female athletes who object to competing against males, or abused women who do not want biological men to share a shelter with them, are labeled as bigots and told to shut up.
This ideology has powerful supporters, but it is also weak. The experiential reality of bodily sex is foundational to who we are. Most of us experience our male or female bodies as so intrinsic to our identities that we hardly even think about the matter. If we do reflect on it with any seriousness, we realize that to be the other sex would be to be a completely different person. The claims of transgender ideology are unsustainable; we cannot be born into the wrong bodies, for we are our bodies.
Furthermore, not only is the experiential reality of bodily sex woven through out our existence, it is what begets our existence. All of us were conceived through the sexual dimorphism of the human species. Even in vitro fertilization requires gametes from men and women; and the resulting human embryos can only develop inside a woman’s womb.
In addition to these experiential difficulties, advocates for transgender ideology have to contend with the obvious truth that much of the current transgender moment is the result of social contagion acting on vulnerable adolescents. Recent explosions in gender-dysphoria and LGBT identification, especially among young women, are socially driven—aided and abetted by organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which has added gender transition to its abortion business. Theories about innate, immutable gender identity do not explain why entire cliques of teenage girls are suddenly declaring themselves to be transgender.
But there are some people who do experience deep and persistent distress over their sex, and wish for another, alternatively sexed, body. Those who experience such suffering need a sensitive and compassionate response, which Anderson’s book provides. To speak and write on these subjects with truth and kindness requires good judgment as well as good character. We must strive to be respectful while insisting that the culture should not celebrate transgender ideology and that the law should not enforce its dictates.
Understanding how we should respond to those suffering from gender dysphoria necessitates reflection on the apparent paradoxes of our existence. To be human is to be embodied, but our bodies may betray us. Thus, our bodies and bodily systems, including our reproductive systems, may be disordered, disrupted or damaged in ways that inhibit normal development and function. But these conditions do not produce alternatives to human sexual dimorphism, they merely deform.
The allure of transgenderism is in its promise, through transition, of release from the givenness of the body. Through scientific intervention and social engineering, the too solid flesh of a psychologically distressing body is reshaped via drugs and plastic surgery. The remaking of one’s body into a facsimile of the opposite sex holds out the prospect of becoming a new person. This may tempt some, but it is, as Anderson skillfully showed, an illusory hope based on an incoherent ideology.
But that does not mean that there is no hope. In asserting the truth that we are made male and female, Christians must also declare the Gospel’s promises of liberation from the suffering, disorders and decay of our bodies. Christians, of all people, should understand what it is like to struggle with the flesh, and to hope for its regeneration into new life. In these Lenten weeks we are especially called to mediate on our sin and Christ’s sacrifice, thereby preparing ourselves for the celebration of Easter and Christ’s triumph over death and sin.
At the heart of these contemplations are the mysteries of the Incarnation and Resurrection. The first contains the scandalous declaration that the divine Word (logos) became flesh (sarx). The second assures us that Christ’s resurrection prefigures our own. Transformative renewal is available for everyone in Christianity. Our bodies, as well as our souls, are redeemed and raised again in glory through Christ’s atonement. The proclamation of this truth shall prevail even against the gates of Hell. It shall certainly not be vanquished by the machinations of an overgrown online bookstore.
Nathanael Blake is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He lives in Missouri.