When Harry Became Sally | Book Review


“America is in the midst of what has been called a ‘transgender moment,’” writes Ryan T. Anderson in When Harry Became Sally. “Not long ago, most Americans had never heard of transgender identity, but within the space of a year it became a cause claiming the mantle of civil rights.”

The inflection point was probably Diane Sawyer’s April 2015 interview with Bruce Jenner, in which he said, “for all intents and purposes I’m a woman,” taking the name Caitlyn a few months later. A judge legally approved Jenner’s name and gender change in September of that year. In October, Glamour magazine named Jenner a “Woman of the Year.”

Jenner’s transition put a well-known face on America’s transgender moment, but actions by the Obama administration gave the moment legal muscle. In a series of “Dear Colleague” letters, first the Department of Education (2010) and then the Department of Justice and Department of Education jointly (2016) redefined the word sex — i.e., biological sex — to include “gender identity.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (2016) similarly proposed expanding the meaning of sex to include “gender identity.” Various federal laws ban discrimination based on sex (e.g., Title IX), but Obama administration actions required schools and hospitals to act as if there were no legal difference between a biological female and a biological male who identifies as a woman. (The Trump administration reversed many of these executive actions.)

Popular culture and political action may have normalized transgender identity, but Anderson reminds readers how radical it is. “At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person — in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence. A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy.” This is a metaphysical claim, one that needs to be subjected to more scrutiny than it has been. When Harry Became Sally offers a multidisciplinary critique of transgender identity.

Chapters 1 and 2 describe our transgender moment and the ideology of transgender activists, respectively.

Chapter 3 then turns to the personal narratives of transgender people who subsequently detransitioned to their birth sex. Anderson argues that these stories “tell us, at minimum, that transitioning is not the ‘only solution’ to gender dysphoria.”

Chapter 4 examines “what science tells us about the biological basis of sex.” Anderson writes, “The fundamental conceptual distinction between a male and a female is the organism’s organization for sexual reproduction.” Indeed, he argues that “sex is a coherent concept only on the basis of that organization.”

Chapter 5 then explores the nature and treatment of gender dysphoria. Anderson understands it as “incongruence between biological sex and experienced gender.” How one defines gender dysphoria determines how one treats it. “The central debate in treating people with gender dysphoria is whether therapies should focus primarily on the mind or on the body.” Anderson argues that treating the feeling of incongruity between biological sex and gender identity has better therapeutic outcomes than gender reassignment.

Chapter 6 examines gender dysphoria among children. Experts agree that between 80 and 95 percent of kids who experience gender dysphoria naturally resolve those feelings in favor of their biological sex. Because of this, Anderson argues, “We need medical professionals who will help them mature in harmony with their bodies, rather than deploy experimental treatments to refashion their bodies.”

Chapter 7 outlines a view of gender that Anderson believes is preferable to transgender identity theory. It is a “nuanced view of gender.” It avoids rigid gender stereotypes, even as it acknowledges that “gender norms” are not merely “social constructs.”

Chapter 8 concludes the book by examining transgender identity from the standpoint of public policy. Anderson’s primary concern is that “commonsense policies regarding bodily privacy and sound medicine are now being labeled discriminatory.”

In my judgment, When Harry Became Sally makes a persuasive case against the idea of transgender identity, as well as the medical and public policy practices that flow from that idea. Five or ten years ago, Anderson’s arguments would have been noncontroversial. Today, however, as popular culture and presidential politics have mainstreamed transgender identity, those arguments have become a matter of great controversy.

The value of When Harry Became Sally lies in its multidisciplinary arguments. If you’re looking for a book about what to do if you personally experience gender dysphoria, or how to help a friend or family member who experiences it, this is not the book to read.

Similarly, it is not a religious book. I read it from the perspective of a Christian minister interested in how the Church should respond to transgender persons. Though Anderson is Catholic, his arguments are secular in character, depending on biology, psychology and philosophy, not Scripture and theology. He helped me understand the nature of transgender identity, but he didn’t outline a uniquely pastoral response to it.

In sum, When Harry Became Sally is the reasoned judgment of a public intellectual on an important matter of current controversy, well worth reading.

 

Book Reviewed
Ryan T. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (New York: Encounter, 2018).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Mere Sexuality | Book Review


How should Christians think about human sexuality? That is the question Todd Wilson asks in his new book, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality. Wilson (Ph.D., Cambridge University) is senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, and cofounder and chairman of The Center for Pastor Theologians. His is a timely book, given the sea change of opinion and practice that has washed over Western culture since the middle of the 20th century.

“Did you know,” Wilson asks, “despite a genuine diversity of views expressed along the way, the church has held to a coherent view of human sexuality for centuries?” With a nod to C. S. Lewis, he calls this view “mere sexuality,” that is, “what most Christians at most times in most places have believed about human sexuality.”

The book touches on “a whole range of biblical, theological, cultural, and practical questions.” These include biblical and theological reflections on biological sex, gender identity, marriage, sexual intercourse, celibacy and homosexuality.

For example, Chapter 2, “The Sexuality of Jesus,” looks at what the Incarnation says about sexuality. Many who write on this topic look at Jesus’ words and actions for guidance. What did He teach about sexual immorality? How did He interact with sexual sinners?

This is appropriate, of course, but Wilson thinks we ought to look deeper at what Jesus’ person teaches us about human sexuality. He writes:

The Son of God, though biologically sexed, lived a sex-free, fully contented life. Not an easy, pain-free existence, but a whole and deeply and richly human life. This is a remarkable fact — one that confronts all of us, whether we’re same-sex-attracted or straight, married or single. It also confronts our secular culture and the evangelical church culture as well — I suspect in some uncomfortable ways. I find it’s easy to forget (and tempting to resist the idea) that I don’t need sex to be satisfied. Jesus didn’t, and yet he was supremely satisfied in God…

One of the main claims of mere sexuality, as it has been articulated and practiced throughout the church’s history, is that while sexuality (our being biologically sexed as male and female) is central to what it means to be human, sexual activity is not. If we want to be fully human, we have to embrace our sexed bodies. But we don’t have to engage in sexual activity to be fully human. The life of the Son of God makes that perfectly clear.

The Incarnation itself, in other words, challenges the “pervasive and powerful cultural myth” of “our hypersexualized contemporary culture,” namely, that “sexual activity is essential to human fulfillment — that you can’t be human without it.”

I quote this particular passage not because it is the end of Wilson’s discussion — the book goes on for five more chapters — but because it is a badly needed example of how doctrine can inform practice. We cannot present a Christian view of human sexuality unless we have examined it through a theological lens. What we believe about Creation, the Fall, Christ, the Resurrection, and eschatology shapes — at least, it should shape — how we think about and practice sexuality.

Mere Sexuality is written for a broad audience, so it can be read profitably by pastors and laity alike. It would make a good text for discussion in book clubs and small groups. I highly recommend it.

 

Book Reviewed
Todd Wilson, Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Dr. Todd Wilson | Influence Podcast


In this episode, I talk to Dr. Todd Wilson about the Christian church’s historic consensus about human sexuality, bringing Christian theology to bear on a controversial topic.

Wilson is senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, as well as cofounder and chair of The Center for Pastor Theologians. His newest book is Mere Sexuality: Rediscovering the Christian Vision of Sexuality, which will be published on October 9th by Zondervan

To learn more about Mere Sexuality, visit MereSexuality.com. The website of The Center for Pastor Theologians is PastorTheologians.com.

Review of ‘Sex Scandal’ by Ashley McGuire


Men and women are different. The extent and significance of their differences has long been a matter of considerable dispute. If Ashley McGuire is to be believed, some now deny that any meaningful differences even exist.

A 2014 article in the online magazine Slate, for example, was titled, “Don’t Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn.” The author, Christin Scarlett Milloy wrote, “Obstetricians, doctors, and midwives commit this procedure on infant every single day, in every single country. It reality, this treatment is performed almost universally without even asking for the parents’ consent, making this practice all the more insidious.”

What insidious procedure was Milloy talking about? “It’s called infant gender assignment: When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It’s a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring’s genitals.”

Look, I get that a person’s sex should not trap them in rigid gender roles. I’m the son and brother of strong women, I married a strong woman, and I’m raising my two daughters to be strong women. I’m even an ordained minister in a Pentecostal denomination that ordains women. I get that society places constraints on women that are rooted in cultural traditions and prejudices rather than in realities about their sex.

By the same token, however, a doctor looking at a baby’s genitalia is looking at a biological fact, not just a social construction or a parental fantasy. It’s foolish to deny this. Unfortunately, as McGuire points out, “we live in a world of sexual denial. We are increasingly trying to treat men and women as if they were exactly the same. And then we’re surprised by the growing sexual confusion.”

Milloy’s article is just the opening example in an example-rich book. As the examples pile up—from infant gender assignment to gender-normed firefighting tests to transgender youth athletics—you begin to see McGuire’s point. And as a parent, I’ve got to admit that it’s not an encouraging one.

Men and women are different. Rather than denying this elementary biological fact, let’s celebrate it. After all, without those differences, none of us would be here today.

 

Book Reviewed:
Ashley McGuire, Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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