Article Apr 16, 2015

5 facts about transgenderism

Earlier this month the White House designated a gender-neutral restroom for visitors and staffers in order to express solidarity with transgender activists. Several states are also debating bills in their legislatures that would prohibit individuals who identify as transgender from using public restrooms of the opposite sex. Here are five facts you should know about the increasingly controversial topic of transgenderism:

  1. Transgenderism is an umbrella term for the state or condition of identifying or expressing a gender identity that does not match a person's physical/genetic sex. Transgender is independent of sexual orientation, and those who self-identify as transgender may consider themselves to be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual. Approximately 700,000 individuals in the U.S. identify as transgender.
  2. Transgenderism differs from intersex, a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Intersex is a physical condition while transgender is a psychological condition. The vast majority of people with intersex conditions identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual. (The term “hermaphrodite” is now considered outdated, inaccurate, and offensive as a reference to people who are intersex.)
  3. The terms transgender, transsexual, and transvestite are not synonymous. Transsexualism refers to a specific condition in the transgender realm. Transsexual is a narrower term used to refer to people who identify as the opposite of their birth gender designation, regardless of whether they have undergone or intend to undergo hormone replacement therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery. A transvestite is a person who cross-dresses, or dresses in clothes of the opposite sex, though they may not identify with, or want to be the opposite gender. All transexuals identify as transgender, but transvestites do not necessarily fall into either of the other categories.
  4. In the 1960s Johns Hopkins University became the first American medical center to offer “sex-reassignment surgery.” But they later stopped performing the procedure after a study on transgendered people in the 1970s. The study compared the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as “satisfied” by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn't have the surgery. As Dr. McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, explains, “at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a “satisfied” but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.” At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered, says McHugh. “'Sex change' is biologically impossible,” he adds. “People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.”
  5. When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London's Portman Clinic, 70-80 percent of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25 percent did have persisting feelings, notes Dr. McHugh, but what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned. Despite such studies several states—including California, New Jersey and Massachusetts—have passed laws barring psychiatrists, even with parental permission, from striving to restore natural gender feelings to a transgender minor.

Image credit: Mike Gifford

What is transgender and gender fluidity? What does God's Word actually say about these issues? How can the gospel be good news for someone experiencing gender dysphoria? How should churches respond? To learn more be sure to check out Andrew T. Walker's book God and the Transgender Debate