The transgender issue is omnipresent today. I’ll confess, I try not to write about this issue as it could alienate people or put my reputation in jeopardy. Expressing even mere disagreement on this issue could incur serious ramifications—something that shouldn’t be the case in the 21st Century. That’s the world we live in today, sadly. However, I wanted to read and review When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Momentby Ryan T. Anderson, Heritage Foundation’s William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow, to show what thoughtful commentary on the issue looks like.
From shows like Lost in Transition to I Am Jazz, popular culture has portrayed transgenderism as commonplace and acceptable. Former Olympian Bryce Jenner—who now goes by Caitlyn Jenner—is perhaps the most noteworthy example of a public figure transitioning from one gender to another. (Defector and traitor Bradley Manning—who now goes by Chelsea Manning—has also traversed a similar path like Jenner.) In fact, if you fail to address someone by their preferred pronoun, it can incur a serious penalty and subsequent ramifications. Voicing any opposition to this or expressing doubts about it, moreover, can cost you your career or reputation. In addition, children who aren’t fully developed are being coerced into this issue without parental consent. It concerns more people than one would think.
If you’re unfamiliar with Ryan’s work and haven’t heard him lecture, you may think his latest work When Harry Became Sally is bigoted, insensitive, and right-wing hatred manifested in a book. Assuming this would be a grave mistake. Critics of the transgender moment like Anderson aren’t imposing their ways when articulating concerns; they are displaying sincerity and compassion for those who struggle with whether they’ve transitioned, contemplated transition, or struggle with their gender identity. I would urge even the most avowed critics of writers like Anderson to set aside their biases and read his book. Like me, you’ll find it to be a thoughtful, nuanced, careful examination into the transgender moment.
Anderson Notes Not All Medical Professionals Share a Consensus That Sex Equals Gender Identity
Throughout the book, Anderson relies on medical, psychological, and biological expertise to demonstrate the debate over whether sex can be equated to gender identity. He notes that the transgender moment came to be realized due to medical practice. He notes that some medical professionals at John Hopkins University advanced the notion that gender is a social construct without any ties to biology.
We have all heard this notion advanced in the media, scientific journals, and other mediums that purport these very ideas. In the last 50 plus years, this has become mainstream and gone unchallenged. However, another individual at JHU, Dr. Paul McHugh—professor of psychiatry—disagreed with the colleague who pushed this notion by urging caution over affirming transgender-affirming treatment and “sex reassignment” surgeries. What McHugh concluded is that enhanced hormones and reconstructive surgery cannot transform a man into a woman or vice versa. Despite his convictions, McHugh wanted to understand if those who transitioned surgically felt any different than before. As Anderson notes in his book, McHugh concluded that “while they surgery may have provided some subjective satisfaction, it brought little real improvement in well-being,” (17).
Medical consensus on transgender-affirming procedures isn’t unanimous, and Anderson highlights this. Does that mean those who question these procedures are heartless? Quite the contrary. Medical professionals like McHugh seem to care about the well-being of their patients.
Anderson Has Thoughtful Consideration for Trans People, But Showcases Detransitioners Who Still Struggle Post-Transition
Transgender activists are keen on portraying a one-sided, positive view of the process of transitioning, but the stories of those with botched procedures—including individuals who still hold gender fluid perspectives—never gets equal consideration. Medical professionals like McHugh have noted that most surgeries provide momentary comfort, but have done little to improve mental wellness of those struggling with their identity.
Anderson notes a transgender man—born a woman, who exhibited tomboy tendencies—came to regret the procedure since they didn’t get the proper counseling needed beforehand. A 2017 op-ed in UK’s Guardian from this individual said, “I had assumed the problem was in my body. Now I saw that it wasn’t being female that was stopping me from being myself; it was society’s perpetual oppression of women” Once I realised this, I gradually came to the conclusion that I had to detransition.”
Anderson cited other stories of other individuals who similarly struggled with their gender identity who felt rushed into transgender-affirming procedures or surgeries and came to regret it. With each example, the author was thoughtful and careful to showcase what happens when individuals are rushed into transitioning without consultation from medical professionals or getting treatment for overarching mental health attributed to gender dysphoria.
Readers of all political stripes and views on this issue cannot help but feel sympathy for individuals who struggle with their identity. Even more so, readers will feel greater empathy for those who tried surgical means but suffered more in the long run. They deserve our respect—a notion Anderson emphasizes without belittling their dignity. You can disagree with this but still feel concern for them. That’s an important takeaway from the book stressed on various different pages.
Anderson Notes That Individuals Will Exploit Transgenderism to Inflict Harm Onto Women
What I found to be surprising about this book is seeing unified opposition to extending female protections to transgender women —men who identify as women—from radical feminists and Christian conservative women.
That is not to say transgender individuals aren’t entitled to legal protections; they certainly are. But for women, Title IX — which was originally intended to provide equal educational opportunities for women—can be threatened when sex is redefined to mean gender identity, Anderson argues. And he’s not incorrect in this assertion.
Anderson notes, “An amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Women’s Liberation Front highlights the strange transformation of Title IX into a means to deny privacy, safety, education opportunity, and equality to women…””The idea that women and girls must surrender their rights and protections under Tiel IX—enacted specifically to secure women’s access to education—in order to extend Title IX to cover men claiming to be women is a jaw-dropping act of administrative jujitsu.”” (190-191).
He further explained that WLF joined together with Family Policy Alliance in a joint amicus brief because “both recognize that the reinterpretation of “sex” to mean “gender identity” in Title IX and other anti-discrimination policies marks “a truly fundamental shift in American law and society,”” (191). He notes that this joint amicus brief was filed by these two polar opposite groups because they want to maintain the legal category of “woman” without further diluting it.
Like many others, I assumed this issue to be divided along partisan lines. However, that shouldn’t be presumed given the aforementioned example from Anderson’s book.
When Harry Became Sally is not for the faint of heart, but shouldn’t be ruled out of your reading list. If you want a comprehensive, objective, and thoughtful look into the transgender moment, Ryan T. Anderson’s book is an invaluable read on the subject.