Ryan T. Anderson is no stranger to controversy. A scholar at The Heritage Foundation, he came to public notoriety when he and allies Robert George and Sherif Girgis penned a philosophical defense of marriage right as the Supreme Court was on the verge of redefining it. Since then, Anderson has been on the front lines, and in the crosshairs, of America’s culture war on issues ranging from bioethics to religious liberty.
Now comes Anderson’s latest book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. This cheekily titled book offers a substantive treatment on virtually all aspects of the transgender movement—from the historical developments that sparked the rise of gender fluidity, to the policy implications for society when it discards the idea of gender being determined by biological sex.
Though Anderson is a devout Catholic, When Harry Became Sally is not a religious work—at all. That said, nothing in the book is hostile to the religious reader. Though accessible, the book is at times complex with sophisticated philosophical argument and statistical analysis.
The book evaluates the transgender movement in light of psychology, philosophy, biology, and public policy. This is important to note because it shows the many horizons implicated by transgenderism’s advancement in the culture. It also means that Anderson’s work is substantively different than my own book, God and the Transgender Debate, which was a lay-level pastoral and ethical response encouraging the church to biblical fidelity in a hostile culture.
Anderson distills the problems that issue from transgenderism down to ones of equality, liberty, privacy, safety, and ideology. He does all of this judiciously and with careful reasoning. One of the most intriguing elements of the book is Anderson using the language and arguments of transgender activists against themselves. For example, Anderson demonstrates how activists flagrantly contradict themselves from statements made in 2005 about “birth sex” to current language of “sex assigned at birth.” This shows the nebulous, shifting-sand nature of transgender activism. Another compelling aspect of the book is Anderson’s rigorous interrogation of transgender studies that are used to bolster unquestioned support for it.
Five particular areas in Anderson’s work stand out, and they make the book an important contribution and asset in Christianity’s understanding of, and response to, transgenderism.
First, Anderson utilizes natural law theory in his argumentation. In my view, Anderson’s arguments give natural explanation to theological categories that Genesis addresses. For example, what does it mean to be made male and female in God’s image? How central is reproductive organization in defining manhood and womanhood? Anderson’s comments on teleology and design, which issue from his understanding of natural law theory’s “basic goods” premise, should be particularly satisfying to evangelicals looking for rational explanation of biblical truth.
Second, Anderson’s book does a good job explaining the concept of gender and the ways rigid gender stereotyping can actually contribute to gender identity confusion.
Third, though “Gender Identity” is an almost ubiquitous and unquestioned concept in our culture, Anderson does a good job explaining the philosophical problems with it. How, for example, can a biological male really understand what it “feels” like to be a woman? On what basis or standard can that judgment or feeling be made and authenticated? This is not to discredit the reality and pain of gender dysphoria, where individuals perceive an incongruence between their biological sex and gender identity, but to question whether those psychological perceptions are in any way accurately depicting what it is to objectively feel like a member of the opposite sex.
Fourth, contrary to the claims of transgender activists, Anderson’s book is thoroughly compassionate, balancing sensitivity for those with gender dysphoria with truth about the problems plaguing the transgender worldview. Anderson is charitable toward those who disagree with him and insists, unequivocally, that all persons are made in God’s image and deserving of respect and kindness.
Fifth, Anderson includes narratives of those who have “de-transitioned” from a transgender identity, individuals who previously “transitioned” to living as a member of the opposite sex but whose lives remained unfulfilled. This is without doubt the most heartbreaking part of the book and should awaken readers to the exploratory and, frankly, dangerous medicine done under the umbrella of political correctness.
Any reader who is suspicious of the claims made by transgender activists – or who think society has moved too rapidly on this debate – should welcome Anderson’s book. Anderson has done vital work that gets to the heart of the transgender debate: providing a defense of manhood and womanhood that comports with biological reality, not ideology.
Andrew T. Walker is the Director of Policy Studies at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is a doctoral candidate in Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of God and the Transgender Debate.
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