Editors note: the following book review appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Eikon.
Abigail Shrier. Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2021.
“You’re not supposed to pick favorites among the amendments, because it’s silly, but I have one, and it’s the First” (xxv). In the Introduction to her controversial best-seller, Irreversible Damage, Abigail Shrier explains how her commitment to free speech led her to write about a gross violation of it. Her article, “The Transgender Language War,” addressed state laws mandating the usage of an individual’s preferred pronouns and threatening jail time for noncompliance. Shortly after the article appeared, a prominent Southern lawyer reached out to Shrier with a sad but increasingly common tale: her daughter had recently identified herself as “transgender.”
The daughter, Lucy [a pseudonym], “had discovered this identity with the help of the internet, which provides an endless array of transgender mentors who coach adolescents in the art of slipping into a new gender identity — what to wear, how to walk, what to say” (xxxvi). Lucy was not alone, her mother said. There seemed to be a surge of early-adolescent girls who had never displayed any boyish proclivities, now claiming that they were boys all along.
A follow-up article in the Wall Street Journal attracted so many comments, pro and con, that Shrier opened a Tumblr account for them. Comments led to contacts, followed by almost two hundred interviews with parents, school administrators and counselors, “detransitioners,” medical specialists, social-media “influencers,” and Trans adults. In her words, “The responses I received formed the basis of this book” (xxix).
Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, which goes by the unlovely acronym ROGD, had become a hot topic even before Abigail Shrier began her research. Not too long ago, gender transitioning was a phenomenon exhibited almost entirely by males. But since the middle of the last decade, more and more girls began insisting that they were actually boys, and most of them were from white, high-income, progressive families. A majority of therapists and physicians were affirming these inclinations and prescribing hormone blockers, testosterone treatments, and even “top surgery” (the removal of healthy breasts).
These alarming trends deserved book-length treatment, but as Irreversible Damage neared publication, Regnery Publishing faced a storm of demands that it be cancelled for the untold damage it was likely to cause. After the book’s publication, leading review journals ignored it, Amazon refused advertising for it, and the American Booksellers Association abjectly apologized for including it in a monthly newsletter. What was this explosive, lethal content?
Most of Shrier’s interview subjects hold views about Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria ranging from doubtful to devastated (particularly parents whose relationship with their daughters was destroyed). She attempts to be fair to the advocates: the psychologists, social justice warriors, and YouTube influencers who insist every identity claim by a teen must be taken seriously. But the evidence she piles up is decidedly against them.
“Evidence” is a sticking point with those critics of the book who actually read it. They complain that most of Shrier’s research is anecdotal and that she ignored scientific evidence contrary to her thesis. In his review in Psychology Today, Christopher Ferguson disputed some of Shrier’s scientific claims, but admitted the science is unsettled: “[I]n an age of inflamed identity politics, we need more data-based pieces willing to consider the complexities of data and the nuances of difficult situations, and intellectual humility to acknowledge where more information is needed.”
Quite right; more information, and the freedom to evaluate it impartially, are desperately needed. But Irreversible Damage should not be seen as a scientific treatise. It’s a cry of protest from individuals who were swept up, blindsided, shouted down, or simply heartbroken by the peculiar madness of gender identity. The author recalls her own fraught years in junior high as a sympathetic link to anxiety-ridden young girls today. She points out the cultural influences, particularly social media, that make it difficult for teens to cultivate a realistic worldview: “Perhaps we’ve trained adolescents to regard happiness as a natural and constantly available state. Perhaps they’ve come to believe momentary sadness amounts to a crisis” (31).
But she also highlights a trait humans have shared from the beginning of time. Quoting one of her interview subjects, Jungian analyst Lisa Marchiano: “Human beings are susceptible to psychic contagion. We just are. All of us” (136). Or as Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, “The heart is deceptive above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Abigail Shrier is not a Christian. She supports the right of adults to transition and does not question their belief that gender realignment was best for them. She has no problem with homosexual relationships, and interprets the Bible her own way, such as this reference to “Eve, who ate from the Tree of Knowledge only to be punished with labor pains and a domineering husband. Adam’s sin saddled him only with the burden of having to work for a living. (Big deal)” (209).
Shrier’s occasional snark aside, Irreversible Damage is a valuable look into the weird and confused world of gender identity that can threaten even Christian families. In a culture that teaches girls to think of themselves as victims, exhorts women to act like men, and links value to earning ability, she offers a ringing endorsement of women as women: mothers, nurturers, home builders. Her final chapter, “The Way Back,” offers seven practical guidelines for all families, ending with “Don’t Be Afraid to Admit: It’s Wonderful to Be a Girl” (217).
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). It’s wonderful to be what we were created to be, by God’s loving design. In an age bent on thwarting design, Irreversible Damage is a secular wake-up call to the consequences.
Janie B. Cheaney is an author and Senior Writer for WORLD News Group.
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