Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, Ryan T. Anderson, boldly ventures into territory few scholars dare to probe, much less challenge—the socially and politically-correct sacred space of “gender dysphoria” and transgendering.
While social conservatives will likely hail his contribution as a definitive debunking of transgenderism and social liberals will decry it as unsubstantiated pseudo-scientific transphobia (as they have at Amazon.com and elsewhere), the work actually deserves an objective and measured hearing if for no other reason than that the truly penetrating philosophical questions Anderson advances (as well as his exposé of the confustication inherent in the promotion of “gender dysphoria”) bear directly on fundamental issues of human identity, the integrity of modern medicine and scholarship, as well as psychiatry and public policy. When Harry Became Sally isn’t about scoring points or winning an argument, nor is it a conservative diatribe against progressives. Instead, it is a well-articulated and legitimately documented solicitation (and, in his last chapter, a compassionate plea) to soberly examine contemporary claims about gender dysphoria, treatment protocols, goals, and outcomes, and the disproportionately high suicide attempts and deaths among transgenders, as well as being an assertion that there are better, safer avenues of treatment that would both respect privacy and aid in the formulation of policy in the public interest.
The book opens with Anderson chronicling the meteoric rise of the transgendering phenomenon (“our transgender movement”) and pondering the lack of caution that has not only jettisoned two generations of psychological research and psychiatric treatment but that also has been aggressively promoted by agenda-driven organizations (such as Human Rights Campaign and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health) toward hormone therapy, surgeries, sweeping legislation, and the ontological redefinition of personhood. Behind this headlong incaution, argues Anderson, are radical ideas and a contradictory ideological framework that does not stand up to sound reasoning, biology, good medicine, honesty, perhaps even love.
Chapters that follow allow trans activists to speak for themselves in the unfolding of a worldview that holds that “real self” is fundamentally separate from the material body, and yet insists that transforming the body is crucial for personal wholeness. This competing worldview promotes a radical subjectivity in which individuals should be free to do whatever they wish and so define the truth as they choose, all the while calling for enforced conformity of belief in transgender dogma.
The third chapter gives a voice to those Anderson calls trans activist victims—people who have transitioned and regret it. Chapter 4 lays out a foundation for understanding why the “reassignment” approach is ill-advised, especially and always in the case of children (as further substantiated in chapter 6). The fifth chapter explains why attempts to find biological explanations for discordant gender identities have been unsuccessful—“there is no solid scientific evidence that transgender identities are innate or biologically determined” (5). Chapter 7 traces our cultural gender confusion to its roots in gender theory and certain strains of feminist thinking, with a resultant culture of androgyny and confusion, while Chapter 8 rounds out the book by considering law and public policy, covering issues like access to single-sex facilities, pronoun policing, and health-care mandates. Anderson believes there are five distinct areas of concern surrounding such policies: “(1) privacy interests when men who identify as women can enter female-only spaces; (2) safety concerns when predators abuse gender-identity access policies; equality concerns when biological males can compete against females in sports and other areas where sex differences are relevant; (4) liberty interests when people are forced to speak or act in ways contrary to their best judgment and deeply held beliefs; and (5) ideology concerns about confusing messages that schoolchildren receive when they are taught that gender is fluid, falls along a spectrum, and is essentially detached from bodily sex” (6-7).
Perhaps the weakest link in Anderson’s otherwise credible work emerges from a statement in his Introduction: “the best biology, psychology, and philosophy all support an understanding of sex as a bodily reality, and of gender as a social manifestation of bodily sex” (2). Given the emotive and subjective nature of transgender proponent assertions, the author should have given space to explaining what makes these studies “the best” in each case, rather than assuming the effectiveness of the logic of non-contradiction, the clarity of sound syllogisms, and the givenness of the natural law paradigm. In this light, another twenty or thirty pages of explanation from the author’s various premises to their conclusions throughout the book (as he brilliantly does outlining the biological foundation of sex and gender) could have helped proponents and those sympathetic to transgendering better understand Anderson’s work as truth as compassion.
As one example, Anderson highlights the court testimony of a Duke University School of Medicine professor, Deanna Adkins, to substantiate his contention that LGBTQ ideology influences both medical and psychological professions. Adkins testified that gender identity “is counter to medical science to use chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, external genatalia, or secondary sex characteristics to override gender identity for purposes of classifying someone as male or female.” Under oath, Adkins then claimed gender identity to be “the only medically supported determinant of sex.” When asked to explain gender identity for the court, astonishingly, she defined it as “a person’s inner sense of belonging to a particular gender.”
Anderson rightly identifies this definition as purely subjective and emblematic of transgender activist thought as an attempt to revolutionize the philosophical, social, cultural, and scientific understanding of biology and its relationship to sex and gender. But in critiquing Adkins’ position, Anderson does not explain, step by step, why this constitutes a radical and incoherent devaluation of biology, even while noting it clearly subordinates sexed biology to one’s “inner sense” and depreciates biology as a discipline. Anderson could have explained that Adkins’s position exhibits commitments to flawed Cartesianism, where the subject defines reality and then superimposes it upon others who cannot verify the perspective. Whatever this may be, it is neither the analytical or scientific method and need not be legitimized through public policy since it isn’t logical or medical. That could have been clearer for his detractors, that is, to actually identify the origins of transgendering world building and articulating their philosophical insufficiencies.
Notwithstanding this caveat, When Harry Became Sally, although flawed and perhaps overwrought in some places, unquestionably posits an important contribution to the discourse surrounding transgenderism with a serious voice of caution that critically evaluates the demands and dogmas of a megashift impacting normative human identity and civic policy. With transgendering matters now classified within public schools not as a sex education topic but as an issue of tolerance ethics poised to indoctrinate children as young as kindergarteners (pace: Rocklin Academy Gateway School, Rocklin, CA, and elsewhere), this book must be read and discussed by all parents, teenagers, clerics, medical professionals, educators, legislators, and every counselor, before the near de facto loss of human identity becomes de jure.
John Bombaro is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in San Diego, CA.