when-harry-became-sallyWhen Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Momentby Ryan T. Anderson (Encounter Books, $36.99, 264 pages)

Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has written a new book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. Anderson takes a thorough look at the transgender moment, from physical, mental, and psychological challenges the transgendered face, to legal and social challenges that we all face.

Anderson tackles the sad reality of those who are unsure of their gender (for example, “I am a female in the body of a male,” and vice versa.) and who, with the push of the media, celebrities, family, educators, and others, plunge into a “transitioning” mode seeking happiness in the sex other than their biological one. Today, those who want to transition do not merely change their clothing and adopt a new name; they take beta blockers to inhibit the natural hormonic passage in their body, and have sexual organs amputated or reconstructed to fit their new “me.” Many in the medical community are willing to cooperate and families are urged to give whole-hearted support to the endeavour. However, many of these souls live to regret having subjected themselves to such draconian measures.

Gender dysphoria, as it is properly called, can occur in anyone; sadly there are those who cannot come to terms with the sex they were born with. Anderson calls on work pioneered by Paul McHugh, to give a strong scientific/psychological grounding in the book. McHugh, formerly chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital put a stop to sex-reassignment surgery at that facility in 1979. (It has since been re-instated.) He argued that hormones and surgery cannot actually transform a man into a woman or a woman into a man. A follow-up on adults who had undergone sex-change operations at the hospital to determine whether the surgery was beneficial in the long term concluded that “they had much the same problems with relationships, work and emotions as before (the surgery). The hope that they would emerge now from their emotional difficulties to flourish psychologically had not been fulfilled.” McHugh was convinced that psychiatrists could better help patients with gender dysphoria by “trying to fix their minds and not their genitalia.”

Three chapters, in particular, will help the public to understand the transgender question. Chapter five, “Transgender Identity and Sex ‘Re-assignment’,” tackles the following questions: What causes gender dysphoria? Why does the transgendered population have poor mental health? Should those who treat people with gender dysphoria focus primarily on the mind or on the body?

Physically, surgery does not reassign sex. It is impossible for cosmetic surgery and cross-sex hormones to change the deeper biological reality, which begins with our DNA and fetal development. As philosopher Robert P. George has written in First Things, “Changing sexes is a metaphysical impossibility because it is a biological impossibility.”

As for psychological outcomes, Anderson says that the “benefit is not very great, and this isn’t surprising when the result is so artificial.” Or, as McHugh emphasizes, “Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men, through hormones and surgery. Instead they become “feminized men or masculinized women, counterfeits or impersonators of the sex with which they identify.”

A few brain studies on transgender identity have been carried out, but they are small sample sizes and their conclusions are often “conflicting and confusing,” Anderson reports.  He states that “the brain studies hyped in the popular media do not actually show what transgender activists claim they do. There is no scientific evidence that a transgender identity is biologically determined … If transgender identity were innate and independent of  nurture, then two children who shared a womb and have identical genetic material would both be transgender, or neither would be. But that isn’t what the research indicates.”

Anderson shows that the most beneficial therapies focus on helping people to accept themselves to live in harmony with their bodies. McHugh, and others, acknowledge that “it is important for physicians to establish a relationship of trust and compassion with their patients” but they stress that offering ”proof of solidarity by granting whatever the patient wants, whether or not it is in the patient’s best interests, is a standard of practice far removed from the Hippocratic tradition.”

In chapter six, “Childhood Dysphoria and Desistance,” Michelle Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatricians, a group of doctors who formed their own professional guild in response to the politicization of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that putting a child on a path of social transition and pubertal suppression is a “self-fulfilling” protocol, in which the medical suppression of puberty “prevents further endogenous masculinization of his brain” so that he remains “a gender non-conforming prepubertal boy disguised as a prepubetal girl.” Meanwhile, the boy is more isolated and less able to identify as a male, as his peers are developing normally into men or women. Cretella maintains that “there is not a single, large, randomized , controlled study that documents the alleged benefits and potential harms to gender-dysphoric children. … In today’s age of ‘evidence-based medicine’ this should give everyone pause.”

Chapter seven, “Gender and Culture,” is an important and interesting chapter on the preferences that boys and girls, men and women, tend to show, and how we should order our society in view of demonstrated sex differences. Anderson writes about building a society on a sound understanding of gender; the deepest way in which our sexual embodiment shapes our society and our personal relationships is in our capacity to be husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. He quotes Anthony Esolen, author of Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture: “When we raise boys and girls, we raise them at once in accord with the sexual nature they possess already …The boyishness of the boy is to come to flowering in manhood and fatherhood. The girlishness of the girl is to come to flowering in womanhood and motherhood. This is what the sexes are for.”

Gender ideology has inculcated our culture and public policy. Governments have brought lawsuits against “gender identity discrimination” and corporations are setting hiring quotas for transgendered individuals. American states that do not implement gender-friendly regulations are boycotted. Transgendered individuals and their activists are looked upon as heroes, pushing back against those who hold traditional, moral values. This book is a “must read” for those who want clear, factual information to help them present a credible alternative based on “principle and prudence, compassion and grace.”

The book would be improved with an expanded index, to help readers cross-reference in order to come to grips with the difficult issues presented, but is otherwise an excellent resource for parents, educators, and medical professionals.