About five years ago, a friend took her son with her when she went to a beauty shop to get her hair cut. The hairdresser was snipping away and the boy was engrossed in reading on his Kindle when another mother came into the shop with her daughter in tow. The daughter was carrying an American Girl doll, and the mother announced to the entire beauty shop, “We’re here to get the doll’s hair cut. We’re transgendering her!”
Fortunately, my friend’s son, a big-time reader, missed all this. But if her seven-year old had asked, “Mommy, what’s ‘transgendering’?,” what, my friend asked me, was she supposed to say?
Many people seem tongue-tied when it comes to the “T” in “LGBT.” The virtue-signaling mother in that beauty shop notwithstanding, there’s an intuitive understanding that we’re dealing here with real psychological distress—“gender dysphoria,” in the technical vocabulary—and that this and similar problems ought not be political ping-pong balls, because lives are at stake. Unfortunately, that reticence to discuss the “T” storm inside the broader “LGBT” tsunami leaves the field to partisans of “gender reassignment” in all its forms, which now include prescribing puberty-blocking drugs to pre-pubescent children who claim to be something other than what they are. Moreover, nine states, the District of Columbia, and thirty-three local jurisdictions have laws banning mental health professionals from offering “conversion therapies” to minors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. California, leading the Gadarene rush over the cliff as usual, now provides state-funded “sex-reassignment surgery” to prisoners; the first recipient of this “benefit” was Shiloh Heavenly Quine, a first-degree murderer/kidnapper serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.
No one familiar with the relevant literature denies that gender dysphoria is real, or that the formation of gender identity is sometimes a complicated and tortuous business. In today’s cultural and political climate, however, to suggest that the current stampede to accept claims that a decade ago would have been regarded as signs of serious psychological disturbance—and that are still regarded as such by eminent psychiatrists—is to risk being shamed and cast to the margins of society as a bigot. Like the rest of the “LGBT” phenomenon, the “T” has become thoroughly politicized, indeed weaponized.
For those concerned that men, women, children, and their future happiness are being seriously wounded in all this—and that grave damage is being done to medical ethics and law—a good place to begin examining the whole “T” phenomenon is Ryan T. Anderson’s recently published study, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.
Anderson (whose accomplishments include playing the hammered dulcimer) is one of America’s most engaging young intellectuals. And his virtues as a scholar—solid research, rigorous thinking, careful judgment, and a profound compassion for troubled human beings—are on full display in his book. So is his courage, as he took a public bludgeoning for his defense of marriage rightly understood prior to the Supreme Court’s imposition of “same-sex marriage” on the entire country. Ryan Anderson has now tackled another fevered social issue from what today’s cultural tastemakers and enforcers regard as the wrong side of a red line. He did it, he tells us, because of stories “from people who had detransitioned” (i.e., had recognized that their “sex-reassignment” was a terrible mistake). Those stories, he writes, “are heartbreaking. I had to do what I could to prevent more people from suffering the same way.”
Would that a medical profession increasingly cowed by politically correct bullying would display a similar compassion. Or a similar integrity, for, as Anderson writes, “the largest and most rigorous academic study on the results of hormonal and surgical transitioning … found strong evidence of poor psychological outcomes.” But what happened first with abortion is happening now with euthanasia and “transgendering”: The Hippocratic Oath seems to have fallen into the dustbin of history.
Lent is a good season to reflect on the givens of life, and how denying those givens inevitably leads to unhappiness, sorrow, and even self-destruction. The revolt against Things-As-They-Are began in Eden; it continues today, and it always leads us away from the beatitude for which we were created. Ryan Anderson’s book is a thoughtful reminder of that hard but ultimately redeeming truth, and an oasis of sense in a desert of nonsense.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.