The issue of transgender identity polarizes opposing camps so vigorously that we seem to prefer warfare and judgment rather than understanding and compassion. Everybody’s yelling and no one’s listening. Everyone is right and everyone else is wrong. Most people take a hard position defending their conclusions and no one is learning anything. I am concerned about the stagnation that this polarization creates. How do we soften the impasse that locks up human dialog, as though listening might cause us to compromise our most fundamental beliefs? We tend to hurl critical stereotypic slogans across a chasm of division emphasizing the virtues of our own position along with the disastrous aspects of those who differ with us. Do we need to compromise the principles we hold firmly in order to listen to those who differ with us? I don’t think so. But what we desperately need to do first, before we judge and conclude anything, is to search for and find some common ground between to opposing sides. It’s not finding a midpoint and it’s not finding a compromise. But it’s about finding some points of mutual agreement before we discuss points of disagreement. This is how we start resolving differences while maintaining a measure of dignity as we grow. This is how we begin to learn how to be respectful, loving and kind to the people with whom we differ.
My own identity is based in three camps, none of which are doing a very good job of clarifying issues or trying to find any common ground. I identify with the scientific camp, having a couple of engineering degrees and enjoying the objective aspects of the scientific method. I also identify with the psychological camp, having spent the past 40 years as a counselor and having earned a Ph.D. in that specialty. Most of all, I identify with the theological camp which emphasizes timeless and universal Truth (with a capital T), which is primarily relational and absolute in a way that promotes humility and grace rather than arrogance. OK, let’s see what each of these camps present.
The Scientific/Medical Camp is beginning to weigh in on the issue with facts, opinions, and proposed solutions. Scientific American featured an article in the January 2016 issue entitled “Young and Transgender: How Best to Help Them Thrive.” The American Academy of Pediatrics led off their statement with a clear declaration of their conclusions: “Gender Ideology Harms Children.” Here are the highlights of what they said:
- Believing that someone is something they are not is a sign of confused thinking.
- Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait
- Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender awareness is a sociological and psychological concept and is subjective by nature.
- Puberty-blocking hormones can be very dangerous. As many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender-confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.
- Rates of suicide are 20 times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery.
- Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.
The Psychological/Sociological Camp position is best expressed by and article in my favorite journal in the field, Psychotherapy Networker. In their March/April 2016 issue, they featured “The Great Escape: Welcome to the World of Gender Fluidity” by Margaret Nichols which paints a clear picture of the current views of this camp. Here are the highlights of what she said:
- Beginning in 2013, the diagnosis “Gender Identity Disorder” no long exists. The DSM-5 renamed the diagnosis “Gender Dysphoria.” Thus, distress is now the salient feature of the diagnosis rather than identity.
- Social intolerance, not gender diversity, is the basic problem. Thanks to the Internet and television, great progress has been made in providing a tribal sense of belonging for transgender individuals. More forward-thinking therapists, as well as more permissive parents, now create a healthy atmosphere of acceptance and advocacy for these individuals.
- There is no such thing as “the opposite sex.” More accurate new terms are coming into existence such as a gender continuum, a gender spectrum or a gender web.
- Mental health professionals have the responsibility to affirm the self-determination of transgender clients. Parents should take their minor children only to gender specialists for help.
- It remains to be seen if there will be an increase in surgery and hormone treatment. As society changes, our view of what is normal will change and we must all come to terms with this change.
The Conservative Theological Camp
Bryan Fischer, American Family Radio host, took a strong position against transgenderism as though there is nothing more to learn. Like many of my Evangelical, Bible-based friends (and conservative politicians) the strong rhetoric is primarily what is wrong, bad, detrimental, and evil. This position not only polarizes people but also fails to offer well-informed positive alternatives to the problems. Thus, good people with whom I agree theologically tend to marginalize and isolate the bigger and deeper Christian perspective on issues. We are inclined to emphasize what’s wrong with other people more than what we have to offer them to make their lives better. Here are the highlights of what he said:
- “Accepting transgenderism is child abuse.
- “No nation that truly loves children would allow this alarming and disturbing trend to continue for another day.”
- “The biblical truth about gender identity is confirmed by biological science. Human sexuality is binary by design.”
- A person’s view of his/her own sexuality that differs from biological truth is a delusion.
- It’s a criminal act in four states to help a gender-confused teen reconcile his sexual identity with his biological identity. If this trend continues, it will be a blight on the health and strength of our nation.
So what is a guy like me to do? I tend to think analytically like the scientific camp; I treasure the richness of interpersonal relationships like the psychological camp; I am grounded in a biblical worldview so strongly that I’d be willing to die for my faith. Rather than emphasizing the superiority of my point of view and harshly condemning others for their ignorance or evil, I simply ask, “Is there any common ground?” This is not “compromise.” This is not finding a midpoint between positions. Perhaps if we pause to find some common ground, we could stop hurling insults across a chasm of ignorance and begin a more respectful dialog as we discuss our differences.
Here are some of my suggestions of where common ground might exist where all sides could agree as a starting point.
- Life is difficult. Every human being struggles with some internal issue(s).
- Compassion toward other human beings should guide our attitudes more strongly than judgment and condemnation.
- Many issues, like gender identity, are complex and difficult to understand. This should motivate us to seek more understanding of why some people believe differently than we do.
- We have choices in life, which result in both positive and negative outcomes. Some things are not a matter of choice, like what period of time in history will we be born, in what country, to what parents?
- In addition to standing firmly on issues on which we disagree, it’s beneficial to offer some solutions to the problems that we see.
Would you join me in looking for additional common ground between these warring camps? Then we can clarify our contributions in light of our worldview (which also needs to be clarified). Only then can an intelligent discussion result which might contribute to our edification and dignity as human beings?
PS: If you are interested in an intelligent response to those who object to “binaries” (i.e. polarized right-wrong points of view), click here and listen to a 3/14/2016 message by Tim Keller in New York City.