In 2018, Ryan T. Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally was published. Because Anderson’s views did not align with those of America’s cultural elites, his book was eventually banned by Amazon; thankfully, there are other places where you can still purchase it, including Barnes and Noble.
There’s a lot that I could write about Anderson’s book, but I’ll focus on three groups of people that Anderson wrote about: women, children, and detransitioners (those who have transitioned back to their original, biological sex). For women, there are at least two primary concerns: safety and fairness. Safety should be obvious: what woman wants to enter a locker room or a public restroom, having to worry about whether a man who “identifies” as a woman will enter? The obvious solution to this in regard to restrooms is single-stall facilities, which are available in some places. In terms of fairness: perhaps you’ve heard of Lia Thomas (University of Pennsylvania) and Iszac Henig (Yale University), who recently dominated in various swimming events at the Ivy League Championships, setting records in the process. Why were they able to do this? You guessed it: they are both trans women, allowed to compete against biological women. There are other examples as well.
Regarding children: let’s start with safety. What I wrote about women in locker rooms and restrooms obviously applies to girls as well. I think most Americans are familiar with the horror of the skirt-wearing boy who entered a girls’ restroom in a Loudoun County school in May of last year and did unthinkable things to her. What I wrote about fairness in sports for women obviously applies to girls as well. Beyond fairness and safety, however, is the oft-quoted statistic that 80-95% of kids who at some point “identify” with the opposite gender never (thankfully) make the transition because they eventually become comfortable in/with their bodies. There are four stages of transitioning for kids:
- Social: giving the child a new name and wardrobe, for example;
- Puberty blockers: these prevent the normal process of maturation and development;
- Cross-sex hormones: estrogen for boys, testosterone for girls (age 16);
- Sex reassignment surgery: completing the transition to the opposite sex (age 18).
Transgender activists have claimed that if kids change their mind at Stage 2, for example, the process can easily be stopped. However, as Anderson points out, it’s not so easy. Once puberty blockers have been started, the physical effects on the body are significant and at best result in a delay of the normal process of maturation. It’s obviously difficult for a girl, for example, to feel more at home in her body when her peers have matured while she has not because of puberty blockers; will she ever “catch up?”
In spite of what Anderson’s critics have said, his compassion is evident throughout the book. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his chapter about detransitioners, meaning those who had previously transitioned to the opposite sex but then transitioned back to their original biological sex. He tells the stories of four women and two men who thought that transitioning to the opposite sex would finally make them feel at home in their bodies. However, that was not the case, and they eventually transitioned back. They now regret ever transitioning in the first place; some expressed regret, for example, about never being able to have children. Most also expressed anger against doctors and other medical professionals who encouraged them to transition, rather than seeking to counsel them about the roots of their gender dysphoria (meaning distress or impairment related to a strong desire to become the opposite sex) as well as giving other options. While their stories are heart-wrenching, in most cases they are more at peace now than they had been before transitioning in the first place; this is at least in part because they have come to understand the roots of their dysphoria.
On a fundamental level, it seems the main reason that our cultural elites hate Anderson’s book is because he reasonably asks that before we push those with gender dysphoria to transition, let’s try to figure out why they are so distressed about their biological sex. I use the word “push” because in some states, there have been bills introduced that would ban so-called “conversion therapy.” As this relates to the transgendered, it would mean that counseling people who have already transitioned to detransition back to their original, biological sex would be illegal; it could even include that counseling those considering transitioning to the opposite gender in the first place to reconsider would be illegal. Thankfully, for example, even though California’s AB 2943 bill was passed by the Senate on August 16, 2018, it was withdrawn for further consideration 15 days later. So far, however, 20 states have banned “conversion therapy.” Canada banned it on January 7 of this year. Note this: Canada’s law makes it a crime to have anyone undergo conversion therapy, regardless of whether they consent. You can read more about it here: https://www.npr.org/2021/12/09/1062720266/canada-bans-conversion-therapy So much for choice.
Anderson is a Christian, but he decided not to give an explicitly Biblical view of transgenderism in his book. Since this blog is devoted to Biblical answers to questions and issues, let’s look at what the Bible says. You don’t have to look very far because Genesis 1:27 says this: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God is the Creator, and He is the One Who makes people as well. Psalm 139:13 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” In effect, when people transition to the opposite sex, whether they realize it or not, they are saying, “God, I don’t like the way you made me at this fundamental level, so I’m going to change it.” I would also be remiss if I didn’t add Deuteronomy 22:5, which says, “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.” OK, so I don’t think Christian women are bound by the first part of that verse (although some would disagree with me on that), but the second part is very different. One of the reasons I mention this, besides its being in God’s Word, is that researchers have found there are a significant number of trans men who have said that as a young boy, they dressed as a girl, even being encouraged (?!) to do so in a couple of cases.
I admit that I don’t feel compassion for transgender activists; the transgendered, however, are usually not the same as the activists. I will close with these words from Ryan T. Anderson: “We should be tolerant–indeed, loving–toward those who struggle with their gender identity, but also be aware of the harm done to the common good, particularly to children, when transgender identity is normalized.” While I would stress the second part of his statement more than the first, Anderson’s book has engendered much more clarity and compassion in me for the transgendered community.