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FIRST-PERSON: Gender ideology and the silencing of dissent

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Sixteen female swimmers on the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s swim team are asking their university to adopt an NCAA policy that may disqualify one of their teammates. That teammate, Lia Thomas, is a biological male who, up until 2020, competed on the men’s swim team and has since dominated the women’s competitions. The university and numerous media outlets have hailed Thomas’ record-breaking career in women’s sports, as Thomas beat previous race times by a full 7, 12, even 38 seconds.

The 16 women cite Thomas’ “unfair advantage,” noting that when Thomas competed against other biological males, the trans athlete ranked #462. “Lia has every right to live her life authentically,” the letter states. “However, we also realize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.” This shouldn’t be news.

But as collegiate and athletic associations debate the acceptable amount of testosterone in women’s sports and whether a biological male has an implicit competitive advantage over females, there’s one detail to this controversy that UPenn, the NCAA, and USA Swimming seem to have missed. Or worse – ignored.

The letter is unsigned. Not one of them included their names.

And with good reason.

Biological females who question, much less speak out, about biological males in women’s social spheres risk their reputations and their careers. Just last year, Baylor University lecturer, Christina Crenshaw was the target of a student campaign for her dismissal after she expressed dissent over President Biden’s executive order on transgender children. Conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey was temporarily locked out of Twitter for using male pronouns to refer to a trans athlete. And, of course, there’s the revolving door of harassment campaigns against author J.K. Rowling, most recently the publication of her home address on social media.

These events are hardly isolated. Target removed (then reinstated without explanation) Deborah Soh’s book, The End of Gender. Amazon refuses to sell Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally. The American Booksellers Association apologized for sending Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage, to its sellers, claiming it was “a serious, violent incident that goes against ABA’s … policies, values, and everything we believe and support.”

First, language. Then, literature. Now, law.

At the close of 2021, Canadian lawmakers voted unanimously to criminalize what they call “conversion therapy.” The definition here is important. By “conversion therapy” they don’t mean changing one’s sexual attractions to heterosexual preferences, an approach many orthodox Christians denounce. Instead, the Canadian bill penalizes any form of therapy that would challenge a person’s self-perception or attempt to realign that person’s gender identity with his or her biological sex.

In other words, any approach other than unqualified agreement with the patient, known as affirmative therapy, is prohibited. Counselors and therapists in Canada must not simply acknowledge a patient’s gender dysphoria (“I understand you feel like a woman in a man’s body”), but affirm it (“I agree that you really are a woman in a man’s body”). The therapeutic approach is known as gender-affirming care and, as Shreir’s book details, is the “prevailing medical standard” (Irreversible Damage, 97). Gender-affirming care involves agreeing with a person’s stated gender identity and supporting that individual’s choice to transition his or her gender expression.

It is also overwhelmingly promoted and practiced among American child psychologists. Healthychildren.org, the “official parenting website of the American Academy of Pediatrics” claims children have a “stable sense of their gender identity.” An adolescent girl who tells a doctor or counselor she has gender dysphoria would be affirmed in her desire to wear a breast binder, change her hairstyle, clothes and name, and reenter life as a teen boy. She could also expect to receive puberty blockers, then cross-sex hormones, followed by irreversible surgical procedures.

All without question. No query into when the gender dysphoria began. No analysis of other factors that may contribute to a child’s gender confusion. And no warning of the long-term consequences of such treatment plans. Those are silenced as well, and with devastating effects.

Just ask Kiera Bell, a 25-year-old U.K. woman who, as a girl, experienced severe gender dysphoria. Bell received puberty-blocking hormones at age 16, cross-sex hormones a year later, and a double mastectomy at 20. Bell won a lawsuit against her doctors, claiming there was no way she could have understood the gravity of her decisions as a teenager. She has since “de-transitioned” and is living as a woman. While the ruling was overturned on appeal, the case has thrown into question the practice of undisputed, gender-affirming care. “It is a fantasy and deeply concerning that any doctor could believe a 10-year-old could consent to the loss of their fertility,” Bell says. “I was an unhappy girl who needed help. Instead, I was treated like an experiment.”

She is one of many known as “detransitioners,” formerly transgender persons who describe the lack of medical and mental health care they received before starting hormone therapies and entering operation rooms. One young woman recalled being asked why she wanted to get testosterone shots and replying: “Well, being a woman just isn’t working for me anymore.” Four months later, she underwent a double mastectomy, then detransitioned back to identifying as a woman after the hormones and surgery failed to cure her dysphoria. Another young man had two doctor’s appointments before getting a prescription for cross-sex hormones and having his testicles removed three months later. Shortly thereafter he was suicidal. Both were the recipients (or perhaps survivors) of “gender affirming care.”

Canada’s landmark legislation may soon see its counterpart in other countries, including Britain, where a contingent of therapists warn that criminalizing conversion therapy would prevent mental health professionals from exploring treatment options. And here in the U.S., state legislators are working both to ban conversion therapy and to expand the ban’s application to gender identity. Lest you think this occurs only in “blue states,” one of the most recent efforts occurred in Texas.

If we as disciples of Jesus are to be the “light of the world,” we can afford neither ignorance of nor isolation from the ways gender ideology is affecting an entire generation. Loving our transgender neighbor requires us to be the strongest advocates for their comprehensive care and the fiercest critics of all who silence the truth they need. When we advocate freedom of thought, speech and conscience, we advocate for the gender dysphoric and God-given dignity.

    About the Author

  • Katie McCoy

    Katie McCoy is director of women’s ministry for the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

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