Gender Dysphoria vs. Gender Ideology
The two are very different, says Ryan Anderson, author of When Harry Became Sally
In the introduction to When Harry Became Sally, a book on the insidious influence of transgender activists, author Ryan Anderson writes that the idea “a person could have been born into the wrong sex (called gender dysphoria) and might be transformed into the other sex” was always a fringe notion and anathema to serious medicine and human nature.
Now Anderson, the William E. Simon senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says that this view has moved from the fringes into the mainstream, offering solutions that often lead to tragedy. Worse, activists have trapped children in their net.
In 2007, there was a single pediatric gender clinic in the country; now there are 45. Anderson says the activists have gained enormous power to the point in which good physicians have lost their positions for relying on science and not half-baked ideology, especially when it comes to the care of the young.
We are now in the “transgender moment,” Anderson says. It has been brought on by the likes of Bruce Jenner’s very public transition to Caitlin Jenner and a mainstream media that has gotten behind gender ideology.
Anderson echoes Catholic teaching that says those who suffer from gender dysphoria must be treated with respect and love. Their issues, though, can be dealt with most often without dangerous hormone therapies and, in the extreme, so-called sexual-reassignment surgery. Those who take the radical step can easily fall into lifelong brokenness, depression and even suicide. But it does not have to be when common sense prevails.
Anderson spoke recently with Register correspondent Charles Lewis.
Why do you think the activists pushing the transgender agenda, especially for children, have so much power?
This is partly a result of activists who were successful in redefining marriage. As soon as that became a fait accompli, they pivoted to the transgender issue. These issues have always been percolating under the radar for years, but it really became a front-burner issue when the Obama administration forced public schools to make bathroom, locker room and shower facility policies based on “gender identity” instead of biology. The activists gained their power by developing political and elite connections in the media and Hollywood. And because of their success in the debate over same-sex “marriage,” a lot of people were intimidated into silence. Very few are the people who want to speak on this issue, because they may pay a cost.
Does changing the language around gender dysphoria play a role in this new power?
Language is huge. First, the activists began working on redefining sex and gender. For example, instead of biological sex, they call it “sex assigned at birth.” And they no longer call say “sex-reassignment surgery”; they call it “gender-affirming care.” And note it’s not “transgender-affirming,” but just “gender-affirming.” Meanwhile, if you have a grade-school boy who doesn’t feel comfortable in his body and you help him feel comfortable in his body, the activists use the pejorative “conversion therapy.” But if you help that boy transition to a girl, that’s called “affirming.” It’s a remarkable Orwellian use of language.
To be clear, you are not attacking individuals with gender dysphoria.
Of course not. I distinguish between ordinary people who might have gender dysphoria and those who are promoting a certain worldview or ideology, which is very detrimental to human flourishing. It’s the worldview I’m taking issue with.
What motivated you to write this book?
I began the book when I started seeing some of the heartbreaking testimonials from people who had transitioned and at times attempted to de-transition. These are people who were not ideologues. They were feeling uncomfortable in their own bodies, and the experts told them they would feel whole and happy if they transitioned. And it didn’t turn out that way.
So what should parents do when they think their children are questioning their sexual identity?
My heart breaks for the parents who have a child struggling with this because they don’t know what to do. The basic treatment protocol that many therapists use is called “talk therapy.” That helps to find out what the underlying issues are. They find out from the child what his or her expectations are about being a boy or a girl, or about the role or assumptions of their own sex that they find distressing or uncomfortable and what about being the opposite sex they find appealing or attractive. And it tries to address these underlying concerns.
You give some examples about this in the book that you took from a Canadian clinic.
One case involves a boy who was being bullied by other boys in his class. As a result, he felt that he wasn’t living up to the expectations he thought boys were supposed to meet. And that’s what he found distressing about being a boy. He thought that by being a girl he wouldn’t be picked on and would then be accepted. The parents were told to get their son out of the bullying situation, help him form new friendships with boys like him who will accept him, and make sure he knows it’s okay to be who he is.
Is the way we think about “male” and “female” part of the problem?
Definitely. I think that, to a certain extent, American culture has oscillated between two extremes: On one side, there is androgyny, that denies there are any differences between boys and girls and men and women; and, on the other extreme, rigid stereotypes about how each sex is supposed to behave.
What is the best way to think about the roles of male and female and how they relate to each other?
Aristotle said that virtue was the mean between two extremes. And that applies here between the extremes of denying any differences and distorting those differences. We want to see that the two sexes are equal in dignity and complementary in gifts. Equality does not require sameness.
I sense that some parents and doctors are not guiding their 8-year-olds, but instead being led.
Some doctors now say our kids are our best teachers. They say gender only “exists between the ears” as a social construct and not “between our legs or in our chromosomes.” In other words, we have to affirm whatever the child wants. But instead of being led by the young patient, doctors and parents have to guide these young people through this difficult process. Maturation and puberty are difficult processes. We need to help them navigate their healthy true identity.
You say, in 80% to 95% of cases of children, that if left to their natural development, their gender identity will align with their biological sex, particularly when puberty hits. What happens to the ones who don’t, and what should parents do or not do in those cases?
Some will have lifelong struggles with their gender dysphoria. Some will transition, because that’s what they think will be in their best interest — so they give up on alternative treatment or alternative treatment wasn’t ever offered to them. And they think they will feel whole. There are gradations short of a full transition with transition surgery. Some will cross-dress on the weekends at home. And sometimes the best you can hope for in this lifetime is to manage the symptoms.
But they are not alone. It’s similar to other body-image struggles such as anorexia.
But no one in his or her right mind would suggest liposuction for anorexia, right?
Finally, what is the best response for Catholic parents?
I would say the virtue of patience.
Charles Lewis is a Toronto-based reporter and speaker.