We’re often told not to make assumptions because they may be proven to be false. Yet, what happens when false is no longer defined as false?

What do I mean by this? Well let me explain. In my younger years, I was often drilled with the importance of being careful in drawing conclusions based on assumptions. After all, I was told, assuming things without a basis – without proof – as to why we hold such views could not only put us in a position where our assumptions are proven to be wrong, but some assumptions could lead to harmful consequences to either ourselves (i.e. assuming we can handle things that we cannot) or to others (i.e. assuming that individuals wouldn’t mind certain actions we commit).

Assumptions can therefore be dangerous because they can divorce truth from reality. We should, we are often told, strive to come to conclusions based on the facts that can be derived from the objective reality we find ourselves in. However, what happens when assumptions, which have no basis in objective reality, are affirmed? When assumptions are validated, despite the damage that these affirmations cause? This is one of the issues people who experience gender dysphoria face. And it is precisely the dangers involved in affirming these ‘assumptions’ that should seek to give Christians pause as we are forced to ask: are we encouraging individuals towards a false hope, a defective solution, in lieu of the everlasting hope of the Gospel?

 

A disconnected ‘assumption’

Gender dysphoria (sometimes also called ‘transsexuality’) occurs when people experience a conflict between their ‘assumption’, the subjective conviction of their gender, and the objective biology of their body. In the past it was called Gender Identity Disorder and treated as a mental illness. But today, it’s assumed that the person’s subjective sense is somehow more ‘real’, therefore that their gender has been wrongly assigned, or is incorrect – despite the biological evidence to the contrary. The mismatch between their subjective conviction and their objective body causes legitimate distress. What’s interesting is that according to the narrative at hand, when it comes to conflict, the subjective has to win.

Yet, this disconnect between the physical reality and subjective conscious is akin to other disorders where the ‘assumptions’ of the sufferer are not validated by their objective body. For example, Hypochondriasis, where an individual has a debilitating anxiety about their health despite evidence to the contrary, or Bulimia Nervosa, where someone who is dangerously thin believes that they are overweight. In these cases, we assume that the objective reality of the person’s body trumps their subjective anxiety. But with gender dysphoria we assume the opposite – it is no longer seen as a disorder but rather something to be affirmed.

This presents an inconsistency. In all three cases, the person’s internal conviction is opposed to objective physical reality. Why do we assume we should affirm one and treat the others? Where do we draw the line? It becomes progressively difficult to logically be able to do so. If ‘personal identity’ is now fluid – which is increasingly becoming the underpinning argument of the transgender movement – and therefore not constrained by traits of physical reality, such as biology, then we have to likewise assume that both transracial and trans-species identity are legitimate assumptions. After all, if we assume that biological gender is something which should be malleable to our personal preference inclination, and our choice is affirmed no matter how divergent it is to external, objective reality – like our biology – then other traits should be equally malleable in order for our ‘self-truth’ to stand, and these too should be similarly affirmed.

Going back to the other disorders I’ve mentioned – why are these ‘self-truths’ not equally affirmed? The answer that I have heard from others is because the disorders are inherently harmful to the sufferer and thus shouldn’t be affirmed, or that those who struggle with gender dysphoria should be affirmed in order to help them cope with the distress that they feel. However, these answers are problematic. Gender dysphoria is immensely harmful, the distress that an individual goes through is very real. This distress can lead to self-harm, depression, and so forth. However, it is debatable whether the best way to manage the dysphoria is to affirm their subjective conviction. Rather, it is entirely possible that providing affirmation, or encouraging, transitioning or sex reassignment surgery is actually counter-intuitive to the mental wellbeing of the dysphoric person in question.

 

The false hope of transitioning

There has been research conducted in the United States, Sweden, and the Netherlands to this effect, which demonstrate that those who undergo such operations still face notably higher mortality rates.[1]Henk Asscheman et al, “A Long-Term Follow-Up Study of Mortality in Transsexuals Receiving Treatment with Cross-Sex Hormones,” European Journal of Endocrinology, no. 164 (2011): 635–642; Cecilia Dhejne et al “Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery,” PLoS One, no. 6(2) (2011) e16885. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016885; Ann P. Haas et al, “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 2014. The research conducted in the latter two countries is of note, as both Sweden and the Netherlands are highly socially progressive countries. Affirmation of those who seek to transition is quite high in comparison to many other western countries.[2]Saskia Keuzenkamp and Lisette Kuyper, “Acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the Netherlands 2013” The Netherlands Institute for Social Research. 2013; “Working for a Gay-Friendly Sweden” Sweden.se – https://sweden.se/society/working-for-a-gay-and-equal-sweden/  Last updated: 8 January 2016. Accessed: 17 May 2016 Yet the evidence suggest that the distress remain just as prevalent for those who underwent surgery, as for those who did not.[3]Ibid, 1; Pandya A, “Mental Health as an Advocacy Priority in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities.” Journal of Psychiatric Practice, no. 20(3) (2014): 225-227; DM Skerrett, K Kolves, and D Leo De, “Are LGBT populations at a higher risk for suicidal behaviors in Australia? Research findings and implications.” Journal of Homosexuality, no. 62(7) (2015):883-901 Sometimes transitioning has increased mental distress, because the gender dysphoric person pinned all their hopes on their sex reassignment surgery solving their conflicted sense of self – and been let down. While, there has been some evidence to the contrary, the general consensus of evidence either points to, at worse, the damaging effects that transitioning has (i.e. the providing sex reassignment surgery as a viable hope in managing dysphoria is proven to be false) or is, at best, inconclusive. Neither of which support the overwhelming narrative which encourages transitioning. If anything, it reveals that the concept of transitioning provides nothing but a false hope.

The problem is further compounded when we look at the issue of affirming the subjective convictions of children who may be experiencing gender dysphoria. At the age where children imitate being superheroes, soldiers, mothers with babies, and so forth, we assume that those who insist that they are really the opposite sex are taken with uttermost seriousness and affirmed. This is despite the fact that these children are in the stage where they are still developing cognitively, which is a process which will continue up to the end of adolescence. They are unable to think through and rationalise decisions like adults, and they often lack the intellectual capacity of thought for consequences. This is the why criminal justice systems in the West treat children and adult offenders differently: children do not think like adults, and are tremendously more likely to make decisions which are immature or brash. Yet, an inconsistency forms when we assume that on one hand, children are unable to comprehend the ramifications from their decisions when they commit a crime, but that they are able to understand the implications of changing gender.

It’s absurd to assume that we should treat children not as children, but as much more mature decision makers, in regards to this one particular subject. Affirming this kind of conviction while children are still undergoing considerable psychosexual development is tantamount to recklessness – especially as such feelings of distress may not be held in a consistent fashion throughout childhood. A study, released earlier in the year, which sought to examine childhood gender dysphoria concluded, after reviewing several follow-up studies of children with GD, that “gender dysphoric feelings eventually desist for the majority of children with GD”. [4]Jiska Ristoria and Thomas D. Steensma, “Gender Dysphoria in Childhood” International Review of Psychiatry, no. 1(28) (2016): 13-20 Only a minority of children who struggled with some semblance of gender dysphoria actually persisted past childhood. Thus, to affirm the subjective conviction of children who may, temporarily, identify as the opposite gender may be detrimental to their psychosexual development. We are encouraging them to disconnect from their objective, anatomical, reality.[5]I am not seeking to engage those who may also be intersex as well as gender dysphoric, but rather the majority of individuals who struggle with gender dysphoria who are not intersex. Intersex disorders provide an additional level of complexity, and must be treated on a case-by-case basis.

 

The true hope of the Gospel

It cannot be stressed enough that those who suffer from gender dysphoria experience genuine distress. This psychological distress needs to be legitimately affirmed, and needs to be treated. Like others, I think it is beneficial not to adhere to too rigid a structure of ‘gender expression’. This is not to deny biblical notions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, but to say that we should not be pushing particular cultural expressions which are not found in scripture. After all, each individual is different as neurological research has continually evidenced.[6]A recent example includes: Daphna Joel et al, “Sex Beyond the Genitalia” PNAS, no. 5(112): 15468–15473 Some girls may act in ways that a particular culture stereotypes to be ‘boyish’, and some boys, in that culture, a bit ‘girlish’. However, for those individuals who struggle with gender dysphoria, we need to walk with them, sincerely loving them and helping them in the managing this distress with the only thing which ultimately can – Jesus Christ. It is only through Him, that we have a hope of eternal life where our brokenness will be undone. Where we will be raised with perfected bodies, free from the taint and corruption of sin. All distress – all the brokenness in this world – will fade away in the eventual coming to past of this truth: God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).

If we buy into the notion that we should encourage these individuals – especially those who profess Christ — to consider transitioning in order to manage their distress, then we are simply replacing the one, true, hope with a cheap imitation; An imitation marked as solution which can never truly resolve the distress. And judging from the research regarding high mortality rate of those who transition and the numerous stories of those who desire to revert after having undergone such operations, that is precisely what ‘transitioning’ is — a false hope. Christian, I implore you, do not jump onto the societal narrative to encourage the ‘hope’ that transitioning supposedly provides, but instead, point them to the one and only hope that we have, so it may become theirs as well. Let us carry their burdens, helping them to see the finish line which is in Christ, and in Christ alone.

 

Further reading

Brett Lee-Price, “Approaching Transgenderism – Part 1” Thinking of God, 31 March 2016
Brett Lee-Price, “Approaching Transgenderism – Part 2” Thinking of God, 1 April 2016
Trevin Wax, “7 Troubling Questions About Transgender Theories” The Gospel Coalition, 3 May 2016
Kevin DeYoung, “A Transgendered Thought Experiment” The Gospel Coalition, 17 May 2016

References   [ + ]

1.Henk Asscheman et al, “A Long-Term Follow-Up Study of Mortality in Transsexuals Receiving Treatment with Cross-Sex Hormones,” European Journal of Endocrinology, no. 164 (2011): 635–642; Cecilia Dhejne et al “Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery,” PLoS One, no. 6(2) (2011) e16885. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016885; Ann P. Haas et al, “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 2014.
2.Saskia Keuzenkamp and Lisette Kuyper, “Acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the Netherlands 2013” The Netherlands Institute for Social Research. 2013; “Working for a Gay-Friendly Sweden” Sweden.se – https://sweden.se/society/working-for-a-gay-and-equal-sweden/  Last updated: 8 January 2016. Accessed: 17 May 2016
3.Ibid, 1; Pandya A, “Mental Health as an Advocacy Priority in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities.” Journal of Psychiatric Practice, no. 20(3) (2014): 225-227; DM Skerrett, K Kolves, and D Leo De, “Are LGBT populations at a higher risk for suicidal behaviors in Australia? Research findings and implications.” Journal of Homosexuality, no. 62(7) (2015):883-901
4.Jiska Ristoria and Thomas D. Steensma, “Gender Dysphoria in Childhood” International Review of Psychiatry, no. 1(28) (2016): 13-20
5.I am not seeking to engage those who may also be intersex as well as gender dysphoric, but rather the majority of individuals who struggle with gender dysphoria who are not intersex. Intersex disorders provide an additional level of complexity, and must be treated on a case-by-case basis.
6.A recent example includes: Daphna Joel et al, “Sex Beyond the Genitalia” PNAS, no. 5(112): 15468–15473