The tragedy of transgenderism
Sexuality | The current eagerness to encourage sex-change procedures as an answer to inner alienation is...
by Sam A. Andreades
Posted on Friday, May 6, 2016, at 3:54 pm
This week, the U.S. Department of Justice said that North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill” violates the Civil Rights Act. The state’s House Bill 2 (or “HB2”), as it is called, restricts transgender people from using public restrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their self-chosen gender, unless they have gone through the medical procedure of sex-reassignment and had their birth certificates changed. The Justice Department gave state officials until Monday to confirm whether or not they will comply with their advisory. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory remains defiant.
Whatever your opinion of the bill, the current movement of transgenderism into the mainstream is hard to ignore. Numerous documentaries and news stories now portray emotion-invoking stories of sex-change operations. But they don’t just portray—they emphatically praise. Words like “courage,” “champion,” “trailblazer” are applied with increasing frequency to the experience of those who dress differently, change their names, go through hormone treatment, or finally undergo surgery, which on the high-end has gotten quite good. We can soon expect many more TV shows and movies with transgendered characters, cast in an overwhelmingly positive and charming light.
It is difficult not to respond with sympathy to the experience of those feeling like they don’t fit in. Feeling disconnected with one’s boyness or girlness even has a clinical label: gender dysphoria. According to latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), gender dysphoria afflicts 1 in 10,000 to 13,000 men and 1 in 20,000 to 34,000 women. It makes sense to take some steps to address the problem, but it is sad to take extreme invasive measures that are only dubiously helpful, with little examination of whether sex-change procedures, especially carried out on children, really do end their inner alienation.
The most important question remains unasked. It is an obvious question, when you think about it, but it’s one Diane Sawyer—or any media correspondent praising the courage of those undergoing sex-change operations—will never ask Bruce/Caitlin Jenner. It is the elephant in the room that everyone has tacitly agreed to ignore. It is this: “What is a man, Bruce? How do you know you aren’t one? Or, alternatively, what is a woman supposed to feel like? If you cannot answer that question, how can you know you have ‘felt like one all your life’?”
The question really is: What is gender? As gender studies academics across the land will be happy to tell you, this is not an easy question to answer. Although we might have common sense ideas about it based on physical differences or movie preferences, these ideas do not hold up very well to scrutiny.
Here are some questions that show the conundrum: Is being a man just the obvious physical differences of genitalia (male = masculine)? If that were so, why the myriad sex-specific traits that now fill research volumes, reaching up to the complex functions of emotion and thought?
Or how about: Must you like football to be a “real guy”? Supposing a guy doesn’t—is he less of a man? Or is the woman who does like football less of a woman? The same goes for supposedly gender-specific inherent qualities: Must you be nurturing to be a woman? What about Suzie, who simply isn’t nurturing? Is she not really a woman? Or is Phil, who is a non-aggressive man, not really a man?
Numerous exceptions can be found to all the things we usually think define a man or a woman. It is no wonder that college professors throw up their hands and decide that gender is simply a social construct.
But let me let you in on a little secret: Authorities don’t really know what gender is, no matter how much they impress us with their smart guesses. And their faith commitment to gender as a construct of society has severe consequences. If gender is hardly real, it is no surprise that many believe they can change it by medical acumen (and a great deal of money).
The Bible’s genius about gender avoids all the pitfalls. It does not trip up by casting gender in essentialist terms (“A woman is nurturing, a man is aggressive,” etc.), nor does it sink to endorsing cultural conventions (“A man goes to the hardware store, a woman doesn’t like video games,” etc.). No, the Bible’s definition of a man is in terms of a relationship with a woman and vice versa. As the Apostle Paul put it, “Woman is not apart from man. Man is not apart from woman” (1 Corinthians 11:11). So the Bible never falls prey to the various gender foibles. It also points to a reaffirming response in helping those who feel trapped in the wrong body, to help them see by relational definitions of gender how they are not.
But all this means that, according to Scripture, the current eagerness to pursue sex-change procedures as an answer to inner alienation is misguided. As many parents can testify, gender dysphoria is common in children and usually can be addressed not by changing the body but by dispelling misunderstandings of what they think a boy or girl should be, by clarifying for them the truth of their gender.
That this wisdom seems rapidly evaporating today is the great tragedy of transgenderism. As Richard Raskind/Renée Richards, a pioneer in the sex-change experience once put it, “If there had been a way to save the man, that would have been better.”
Yes, it would have been, and it still is.