Responding to the Transgender Moment: A Conversation with Ryan T. Anderson

This is Thinking in Public the program dedicated to intelligent conversation about front line theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I’m Albert Mohler, your host and President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Ryan Anderson is the William F. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, he’s also the Founder and Editor of Public Discourse, that’s the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton New Jersey. He received his own Bachelor of Art Degree from Princeton University and his Doctoral Degree in political philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. His research has been often sited even at the U.S. Supreme Court and his books have been rightly influential. His latest book is entitled, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. The transgender revolution is just that, it is a revolution not only as we think about issue of gender and sexual identity but as we think about an entire civilization that requires distinctions. Distinctions that have been for all of human experience based in what was understood unquestionably to be reality. So, what we’re looking at now is a very challenge to whether or not there is a reality or a reality we can know when it comes to what it means to be human and what it means to be male and female.

Ryan Anderson, in your new book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, you are responding to a moment that would not have been conceivable in any previous age of human existence.

Ryan Anderson: That’s exactly right. We’ve always had people who struggled with their gender identity, people who experienced a gender identity disorder, a gender identity conflict, what’s now called gender dysphoria. But never before have we entertained the idea that, that meant someone was the opposite sex. Never before have we really entertained the idea at a popular societal high level that a boy could be trapped in the body of a girl, that a girl could be trapped in the body of a boy. And so this really is something new under the sun and we now need to really wrestle with this. How do we understand what’s going on and how do we respond to what’s going on?

Albert Mohler:   Well the answer to the last question on the part of many people is to do their vest best not to respond, to try to act somehow as if we can live apart from this transgender moment.

Ryan Anderson: Yeah many people want to ignore it in the hope that it will go away. That if I ignore it, it will ignore me. And unfortunately that just isn’t going to be the reality here. Erick Erickson says, “You might not be interested in the culture war but the culture war is interested in you, you will be made to care.” Is Erick’s catchphrase there. I think for better for worse everyone of our listeners will have to wrestle with this question in one way or another they will have a family member or a friend who experiences gender dysphoria or a classmate who experiences it, or a teacher, or a colleague, someone somewhere in their lifetime it’s highly likely that this is going to be coming up. And so, we need to know what’s the truth of the matter. How do we properly understand human nature and what the human costs are of getting human nature wrong? How do we compassionately respond to people who are struggling with their bodily identity? And what should our law saw about these issues? What should the government be saying? What should public policy be saying?

Albert Mohler:   Yes, I mean to take nothing away from Erick but that quote has to be tracked back to Leon Trotsky who originated saying, “You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you,” and as you said, “You will be made to care.” And I think that rootage is important because at least Trotsky understood himself to be a revolutionary. A revolutionary if anything more revolutionary than Lennon. And what we are looking at even though this is often not acknowledged is the now culturally mandated overthrow of an entire way of looking at reality in the world, and that’s I think what’s largely missing from a lot of this conversation is that when you’re talking about LGBT the T isn’t like anything that comes before, even in the LGB, those are issues that human beings have struggled with and tried to define for a long time that clearly all civilizations have understood to be outside the norm and thus to be sanctioned. And now of course we’re looking at the normalization of L and G and B, but T is a different thing altogether, because it raises even more fundamental questions about what it means to be human.

Ryan Anderson: Exactly, these are getting at anthropological kind of metaphysical questions and what’s interesting is that the activists on the left want to present these things as if they’re merely scientific and merely medical because in our culture the high priests they’re not the philosophers and the theologians, the high priests in our culture are the doctors and the scientists.

Albert Mohler:   And the psychotherapists.

Ryan Anderson: And the psychotherapists, and the psychiatrists, and psychologists, but what is fundamentally here a metaphysical question, what is the nature of the human person? Is being presented as if it’s merely a scientific or a medical question. And so people who have MD and PhD after their names are being given an authority to answer these questions smuggling in the authority of science and medicine when really what we’re considering are two radically different ways of understanding human nature.

Albert Mohler:   I hope that’s what unfolds in this conversation, and I don’t schedule these conversations except with authors and about books I consider to be of consequence, and your book is uniquely timely and I think extremely well argued. There is a history behind it and as you introduce your argument you talk about gender dysphoria, I think it’s important for all of us to recognize that, that term did not emerge as a bit of vocabulary to normalize a transgender world view. It emerged out of a psychotherapeutic attempt to understand what was going on with people who experienced some kind of … well you used the term discordant gender identity. But what’s important to recognize is that gender dysphoria as a term emerged from the psychiatric construct as a way of describing a set of mistaken beliefs that an individual might hold, that is the mistaken belief that one might actually be a gender other than one’s sex.

Ryan Anderson: That’s right and what I do in the book, at one point I tell a narrative of how historically gender dysphoria was responded to within the medical profession and how new therapeutic approaches have really been pioneered within the past decade or more. In particular, it was only a decade ago that the first pediatric gender clinic in the United States opened, but the history of this is much larger that than that and I start the narrative in the ’60s. This is when Johns Hopkins opened its gender identity clinic and they started doing sex reassignment surgeries. They thought that the appropriate response was to try to change someone’s body.

Ryan Anderson: And then in the 1970s Dr. Paul McHugh who had been a Harvard undergraduate, he then went to Harvard Medical School, he was then appointed to be chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital and at the Medical School. So he was the psychiatrist and chief at the hospital and the chair of psychiatry at the Med School, and he asked one of his colleagues to do a study, what was the long term outcome of these patients who had, had surgical reassignment of their sexual identity? And what he found was that while they were happy with the surgery as a cosmetic matter, has gone well in like that technical sense they didn’t really show any signs of increased psycho social outcomes. The struggles they had with anxiety or depression or suicide ideation or suicide attempt, or even completed suicide those struggles persisted.

Ryan Anderson: And so McHugh back in 1979 shut down the sex reassignment clinic at Johns Hopkins. He said that it was a misdirection of medicine, that there were people who were coming to Hopkins with a psycho social struggle and they were trying to treat it with surgery directed at the body and he said it’d be much better to have the therapy directed at the mind and at the emotions. What can we do to help people align their thoughts and their feelings with reality, including the reality of their bodies rather than trying to realign their body to their mistaken thoughts and feelings? He thought this was turning the nature of medicine upside down.

Albert Mohler:   But mistaken thoughts and feelings there, that’s where I want to zero in for just a moment to interrupt your narrative here.

Ryan Anderson: Sure. No, that’s fine.

Albert Mohler:   Because I hold as a Christian theologian and a cultural observer to what I would describe as a steady state theory of moral outrage, which is to say we just shift the objects of moral outrage, society generally distributes moral outrage in something of a steady state. Now, my argument would be this. The question is, who has the mistaken and harmful beliefs that ought to be eradicated and dealt with? Until very recently it was someone who believed their sex and their gender to be different that was suffering from harmful and mistake beliefs, but now it’s the rest of us who will not get with the program who are believed to hold to the mistaken and harmful beliefs. And so, when you’re looking at someone like Dr. Paul McHugh for whom I have tremendous respect he is now believed by many others in the official medical establishments regardless of all evidence and research to himself be an agent of harmful and mistaken beliefs, but everybody believes somebody’s mistaken in this question. Everybody believes that the issues are so important that somebody’s beliefs are harmful in this equation, but we’ve just seen a revolution in which that entire world’s been turned upside down whose mistaken.

Ryan Anderson: There’s quite a bit there that’s exactly right is that we all have an assumption or an underlying conviction about what human flourishing looks like. And so, some people are now arguing that it’s normal variation on human development that some boys identify as girls and that some girls identify as boys. One of the doctors that I quote in the book says, “Just like we have left-handed people we also have transgender people.” And that this is a normal development of human development, a normal variation of human development and so, that human flourishing would be to help that boy transition to be a girl, to help that girl transition to be a boy.

Ryan Anderson: Now another way of looking at this would be that this is a disordered form of development, disordered not being used in some pathological sense but just saying that we have orderly and disorderly forms of development. Development that is ordered towards its proper end. And so, there where would see the trajectory as that a boy develops to be a man, to become a husband and a father, like that’s where our sex identity matters most. It puts us on a trajectory for a certain developmental pathway. And so, flourishing is when you reach those final kind of end states. And so, right now we have in I believe it’s nine or ten states where a physician like Dr. McHugh could lose his medical license for what the government claims is “conversion therapy” if he tries to help a boy who feels uncomfortable being a boy identify as a boy. They claim that’s conversion therapy, but in all 50 states if you’re a doctor who helps a boy transition to be a girl that’s not called conversion, that’s called affirmation and they call it gender affirmation to transition a child. And so again, working in the background are certain assumptions or core convictions about human nature, human flourishing and the trajectory of human development. What’s normal human development and what’s abnormal or disordered in a certain sense?

Albert Mohler:   So the average person in the year 2018 looking at the conversation, and the state of affairs as you just described it would assume … at least many assume that it must always have been this way or should always have been this way. And as you say they look to medical authorities as kind of the high priests of the current operational religion, but the problem is the medical establishment doesn’t tell one story about this and it certainly doesn’t tell a consistent story. Not only do you have the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association both describing homosexual orientation as disordered and as pathological in the sense you mean, that it’s a pathology of something that needs to be described and diagnosed, and that was changed in 1972. In 1973 the Psychiatric and Psychological Associations just reversed their course and each in one meeting, one year after the other.

Albert Mohler:   But on the transgender issues the gender identity issues the very same thing has happened. And so, what was described as a problem that would inhibit human flourishing it was described as gender dysphoria now it is an uncomfortability with gender dysphoria that is the diagnosis, that needs to be resolved by as you say transitioning that is often referred to as affirmation. And the same thing happened on the sexual orientation front, it’s right there in successive additions of the diagnostic and statistical manual kind of the regulatory book of the therapeutic industry. Sexual orientation that was homosexual and erotic feelings that we homosexual were described as the diagnosis, which meant the problem say in 1971, but after this revolution the psychiatric problem or the psychological problem is merely feeling uncomfortable probably because of social pressures it’s implied with one’s sexual orientation. It’s really difficult to underestimate the scale and power of this kind of moral transformation. It’s turning the world upside down.

Ryan Anderson: And it’s trying to silence anyone who doesn’t see things the way that the political and increasingly the medical elite see things. So what’s interesting is that you mentioned the trajectory of how the DSM has changed on this issue, but many psychologists and psychiatrists think that the proposals to put a five year old boy on a course of social transition, and a 10 year old boy on puberty blocking drugs, and to give the 15 year old boy estrogen, and the 18 year old boy surgery. They think this is a radical untested experimental form of care but they’ve largely been intimidated into silence because it’s been linked to identity politics.

Albert Mohler:   Absolutely.

Ryan Anderson: And linked to the gay rights movement. And they saw what happened there and they don’t want to stick their heads up just to have their heads chopped off.

Albert Mohler:   And it is really interesting though that the L the G and the B required a transformation of psychiatry and psychology and other therapeutic modalities but this is requiring a redefinition of surgery and pediatrics, that’s a very different level of change here.

Ryan Anderson: And many people are hoping that they can avoid being caught in the cross hairs. They got into medicine not because they’re an ideologue they want to heal people, they want to help people feel whole and to flourish, and they don’t want to have to fight a political battle like this if they can avoid it. Whereas the other side many of them went into gender studies or they went into a specialty of gender care precisely because they have a certain world view precisely on these questions that they want to advance, that they want to promote. And then all of the cultural rewards and costs support a certain outcome here.

Ryan Anderson: Your career will not be promoted within a major research hospital if you oppose a transgender treatment protocol for a child, but if you support it that will help you, that’s why we’ve seen 45 pediatric gender clinics open within the past decade and many of them are at the most elite of American institutions, Duke, Boston Children’s Hospital, The UC San Francisco Children’s Hospital and these are where the gender experts are telling parents that, “Oh yes, your child might have been born in the wrong body. Their sex assigned at birth, the new term of art it was miss-assigned at birth and therefore we can reassign it later in life through hormones and surgery.” And so, many parents who aren’t ideological they’re being caught in the cross hairs ’cause they were just doing what they’re told by the experts is best for their children and they may come to regret that later in life.

Albert Mohler:   Indeed, and by the way that term of art you refer to as the sex assigned at birth at least metaphysically, physically it’s assigned at fertilization.

Ryan Anderson: And it’s not even assigned it’s determined at fertilization.

Albert Mohler:   Right.

Ryan Anderson: No one assigns it at fertilization it’s determined based upon the chromosomes that we inherit from our parents, our mother and our father the sperm and the egg that fuse to form us. At that moment, that determines our sex, those chromosomes then give rise to the production of certain sex organs, which then produce certain sex hormones, which then organize the developing body along either a male or a female trajectory so that an ultrasound technician at week 20 can recognize the sex of the child.

Albert Mohler:   Absolutely.

Ryan Anderson: The ultrasound technician isn’t assigning it they’re recognizing something that was determined at conception and then developed.

Albert Mohler:   Right, and I understand the natural argument you’re making, I am making a theological argument that there is someone who assigns that sex, so it’s a theological definition of assignment but I understand arguing from a natural perspective, yes long before anyone says it’s a boy it’s a boy, and likewise for a girl. As we’re looking at this unfolding and I think this is really important as we seek to understand why the discussion in 2018 is not as the discussion was in 2016, and is not as the discussion will be in 2020, and you can bank on that. I want to read your own words back to you. Early in the book you write, “Three realities about transgender activists will become clear. First, they are always changing their creed and expanding their demands: yesterday’s mandatory vocabulary will become tomorrow’s epithets; yesterday’s enlightenment will be tomorrow’s benighted bigotry; yesterday’s requirements of Science and Medicine and Justice are tomorrow’s suicide-inducing oppression.” That’s saying a lot in just a few words.

Ryan Anderson: Yeah, I guess that’s in a summary portion of the book and it’s meant to kind of show you what’s going to come, but in some of the subsequent chapters I try to illustrate that by showing even what various LGBT groups said a decade ago they now claim is an unjust form of transphobia. Many of these LGBT groups didn’t even include the T in their initial names so actually I point at various times in the book to two different groups that left out the T, and so now they just go by the acronym. The acronym doesn’t stand for anything because it was something like, Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians and then they realized that leaves out transgender and so now it’s just PSLAG but it’s an acronym that stands for nothing. They used to use language saying someone who is transgender is biologically one sex but identifies as the opposite sex. And I quote one of the activist groups from a 2005 document more or less saying that, and then I quote from their 2016 document something they had for journalists saying, “It’s insensitive and it’s harmful to say that a transgender person identifies as the opposite sex, they are the opposite sex.” And that’s another major development in the claims that they’re making.

Albert Mohler:   Sure. Absolutely.

Ryan Anderson: It’s no longer about how someone identifies it’s about who someone is.

Albert Mohler:   But that is a key issue right there because what we are looking at is the sexual revolution fueled by this massive presumption of individual autonomy, and the self as a project and self identity as the primary task. But the use of the verb to be, this is who an individual is, that brings ontology.

Ryan Anderson: Yep.

Albert Mohler:   Which is unavoidable. The Christian world view is based in a primary affirmation of ontology, of being and one of my primary arguments throughout all of these discussions is that eventually ontology wins, ontology trumps autonomy every time. Ontology is prior to every other question, and it eventually is unavoidable, but for that matter it’s also undeniable. So, Ryan let me just put it this way. In describing why ontology always wins in the end I’m just going to imagine that someone is exhuming a community centuries from now and looking in the cemetery, and finding DNA. The ontology is going to find a xy chromosome and is going to say, “That is a male.” Now during that person’s entire lifetime from as you sketch the story from preschool all the way through puberty suppressing drugs, and all the way through cosmetic surgery as Dr. McHugh calls it, a mutilation cosmetic surgery all that can be successful, and the society can say for decades, you are a woman you are not a man but that anthropologist or archeologist is going to find male DNA and a male skeleton by the way and is going to say, male. So, this use of ontology or at least the attempt to say that someone is, I am this or that, that’s not going to win over the long haul.

Ryan Anderson: No, and that’s one of the reason why in the subtitle of the book I say Responding to the Transgender Moment, none of us know how long this moment is going to last, but it’s not the right side of history, it’s not the next wave of the future preciously because it gets human nature wrong. It gets the nature of reality wrong. It gets ontology, and metaphysics, and anthropology wrong. And in the long run you can’t sustain a lie indefinitely. In the long run the truth wins out because it’s impossible to constantly be warring against nature including against human nature. And one of the things that I point out in the book is that the entire purpose of life rightly understood is to align our thoughts, our feelings, and our beliefs to reality.

Albert Mohler:   Absolutely.

Ryan Anderson: And I make this parallel with the religious life. Part of the religious life isn’t to believe whatever we want to believe about God but it’s to conform our beliefs to the truth about God. And then the same way when it comes … and so I say if you call that religious identity, Jesus either is or is not the Messiah regardless of what any of us believe. And Al Mohler either is or is not a man regardless of what any of us including Al Mohler believes. And so, the purpose here would be for Al Mohler to believe the truth about Jesus and the truth about Al Mohler. And his beliefs don’t determine reality but he should try to align his beliefs with the truth about reality and his feelings, and his thoughts, and his actions. This is what Agustin points to when he says we try to have rightly ordered loves, rightly ordered desires, and the problem is that we don’t have rightly ordered loves, or rightly ordered desires. And the moral life is all about rightly ordering our loves and desires.

Albert Mohler:   And you know those who say they hold so tenaciously to this current ideology they can’t keep a straight story. I have written and spoken so often about these things, and so much engagement with actually the figures in the psychiatric community who’ve been debating this and even, I guess the best words pioneering this for some time, they can’t keep their story straight and I find this constantly in the media because I’m so regularly addressed with one of these questions.

Albert Mohler:   And so, sometime back I was contacted by a reporter and asked to respond to the pregnant man. The reporter is the one who slipped up because the reporter could not keep even his questioning straight. As much as he was emphatically trying to make clear, I’ve joined this revolution and you’re the outlier he could not keep man and woman straight talking about a single individual who by the way is pregnant and is a woman. But you had TIME magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post just about everybody running this story about the transgender man who is now the pregnant man. But you know I think that’s still with a wink and nod. I just don’t believe these guys. If they weren’t being observed by others, and they weren’t worried about losing their jobs I don’t think for a minute they’ve bought into this. And as you said there are a lot of surgeons and psychiatrists and others they clearly have not bought into this, but they’re being coerced and some of them are quite open about speaking about the coercion. And then you documented in the book what I’ve talked about on the briefing and that’s the human rights campaign even providing an index of how LGBT emphasis on T friendly medical institutions are. This is an open threat.

Ryan Anderson: Oh it is and they went after Johns Hopkins because Johns Hopkins refused to publicly criticize Paul McHugh for his writings on gender identity, but what Johns Hopkins did do just a year and a half ago now is that they reopened their gender identity clinic, and they relaunched surgical sex reassignment. It had been shut down for 30 some years and that was one of their responses to the HRC pressure, but they’ve never formally distanced themselves from Dr. McHugh and that’s partly because McHugh has many students who agree with him on this. They’re silent but they know that Dr. McHugh is right. And I think increasingly what we’re seeing is that there’s a lot of people who are not comfortable with what’s going on, especially when it’s with children. If Bruce wants to become Caitlin it’s a free country and he can make his own mistakes. He has to make his own decisions. But when it’s children adults shouldn’t be making mistakes on behalf of children.

Albert Mohler:   Right.

Ryan Anderson: We should be giving children the time and the space to develop and to mature in a healthy and sound environment.

Albert Mohler:   And that’s exactly where I wanted to lead the discussion.

Ryan Anderson: Sure.

Albert Mohler:   On page 35 in your book you raise this sighting declarations made in a federal court case by a Dr. Scott Leibowitz he said, and I quote, “Peer reviewed research demonstrates that pre-pubertal children asserting a different gender identity from the one they were assigned at birth are cognitively capable enough to be aware of the gender they are asserting.” He went on to say, “The meaning of a child’s gender identity assertion at a younger age is no less valid than the meaning of a gender identity assertion of an older child.”

Albert Mohler:   I wanted to rip the page out, but the next sentence you wrote, “On what other subject is the assertion of a two-year-old no less valid than that of an older child or an adult?” This is horrifying, and I want to reverse this and say, what we are doing … and we’re doing this also when we are told we’re supposed to ask preschoolers their preferred personal pronoun, what we are doing is mistreating children by telling them they have to decide or discover if they are a boy or a girl.

Ryan Anderson: Yeah. About two weeks ago I was in New York City and I was leading a discussion of the book for a group of young professionals in Manhattan and so I gave a lecture and then over dinner we were doing a group discussion, and I asked a series of questions. I said, what does it mean to be a man or to be a woman? And I said … next set of questions, what is it to feel like man or feel like a woman? Next set of questions. What is it to act like a man, act like a woman? And we had a wide ranging discussion, lots of disagreement, lots of confusion about I don’t even know how to answer this question. I don’t even know what it means.

Ryan Anderson: And when I was done with it all at the end of the day I was like, “And how do you think a pre-pubertal child is supposed to know the answer to these questions? When the doctor says that they’re cognitively capable enough to be aware of what it is to be a man or a woman or to feel like a man or a woman, or to act like a man or a woman. When here we have a bunch of elites in Manhattan in professional jobs who aren’t even clear about these things. Why would we defer to a child and then start radically transforming their body through hormones, puberty blocking drugs, and possibly one day surgery, rather than trying to help them develop a mature and nuanced understanding of sex and gender? What they mean what they don’t mean. So many children have a very limited knowledge and understanding that they have limited experience on these issues.

Albert Mohler:   Perhaps one of the most immediate issues that comes to our mind in this kind of conversation, a conversation today with Ryan Anderson about the transgender moment that realization is the fact that even in attempting to begin to talk about these issues we find ourselves talking about the deepest questions of human existence, of human identity, and the meaning of what it means to be human in the first place. When looking at the transgender revolution those most basic questions cannot be avoided, for that matter they can’t be avoided even at the beginning.

Albert Mohler:   A thousand questions that you emerge from all of this and necessarily so. And so, I have to be selective in trying to think about the issues that we ought to talk about of greatest importance, but you’ve done an awful lot of work not only in this book and it’s really in the background of this book. In the foreground of some of your other writings you really put an incredible amount of energy into making natural law defenses of marriage and sexual morality. But this gets to something that I find most people don’t want to talk about and it’s not directly addressed in your book but when we are talking about this transitioning surgery or what’s now called euphemistically gender affirmation surgery. We are talking about something that is still inherently cosmetic.

Albert Mohler:   So, just the other day I was looking at some of the literature from the transgender movement and it was talking about … here’s the part people don’t want to talk about, genitals. Okay I get that. I understand and even Bruce now called Caitlin Jenner says that one of the frustrations how many people want to say, “Have you had the surgery?” Well okay, so let’s just understand genitals are the issue here. But genitals imply the very Latin word generation, the generation of a species. Genitals imply reproduction. And again, ontology just comes through to say, that’s not going to happen. You can say I’m a woman … and by the way, one obstetrician pointed out to me it’s not just as if you could say just the lack of a uterus and everything else is also required for a woman to carry a baby to term after conceiving, it’s also the fact that the male pelvis would not allow any kind of baby to pass through. Again there’s ontology, but I looked it up just before this conversation, there is the use of the phrase genitals in sexual reassignment surgery but there’s no generation.

Ryan Anderson: Yeah. This is what you pointed at, look at the entomology of some of these words and think you have genitals, gender, generosity, generations. They’re all built on the same prefix there.

Albert Mohler:   Absolutely.

Ryan Anderson: That it’s based upon we have two different set of genitals, which is why there is a gender binary.

Albert Mohler:   That’s also why there’s a human race, but yes.

Ryan Anderson: But when people say there’s no such thing as a gender binary there’s male and there’s female preciously because there are two sexes, there are two sex organs, there are two sex chromosomes, there’s two sex gametes, sperm and egg. And it’s when these things unite so when a man and a woman unite as one flesh that then sperm and egg confuse that then that act of generosity can create the next generation. All these things are springing forth from the same basic reality that we’re created male and female, we’re male and female are created for each other in an act that can be generous that will then create the next generation. Apart from this understanding there is no way of understanding sex or gender. Everything else will just be stereotypes.=

Albert Mohler:   Yes.

Ryan Anderson: And that’s why it’s not surprising that you see that if you have a boy who plays with dolls they’ll say that’s a sign that he’s actually a girl. Or if you have a man who wants to wear a dress or who wants to wear lipstick. When Bruce became Caitlin that cover photo on Vanity Faire was a very stereotypical pinup.

Albert Mohler:   You think?

Ryan Anderson: Image.

Albert Mohler:   Yeah, absolutely.

Ryan Anderson: Once you get away from the underlying realities … and one of the realities here that you can’t reassign sex because sex wasn’t assigned by a human being in the first place, and so there isn’t a way of modern medicine reassigning it.

Albert Mohler:   Yes.

Ryan Anderson: And that’s one of the reasons why a physician like Dr. McHugh would say that it’s so difficult to live as if the opposite sex.

Albert Mohler:   You know there are two issues that emerge immediately out of this one of them going back to Jenner. There again the transgender activists aren’t telling one story because some of them are very frustrated with the definition of trans gender that became associated with the social construct of Caitlin Jenner, because this so stereotypical. First of all it implies race and class and social status to be able to afford … I mean Vanity Faire is not out there taking photographs of most people, it represents a celebrity culture. And so, there are some in the transgender activist community who are saying, “Look, this is just too stereotypical.”

Albert Mohler:   But others are saying, “Well wait just a minute this is exactly what we’ve been arguing is every individual’s right and responsibility, and furthermore this is incredibly useful to us at the moment.” I think the phrase transgender moment was TIME magazine largely talking about the claim of the Jenner transition. So, that’s one way in which it’s cultural useful, but it’s not entirely ideologically consistent even with the transgender activist.

Ryan Anderson: Not at all and what’s interesting to watch are some of the intramural skirmishes that are taking place. One of them is taking place between feminists on the left and LGBT activists on the left, and these are sometimes referred to as the TERF wars with TERF being an acronym for trans exclusionary radical feminists, TERF.

Albert Mohler:   Yes.

Ryan Anderson: And their basic claim is that being a woman is a lot more than just cleavage and lipstick, and that part of what’s going on with transgender ideology is that you say if you feel like a woman, whatever that means, that, that makes you a woman. And then you identify with many of the most stereotypical aspects of what it is to be, or to feel like, or to identify as a woman. No one that I know of went along with the Rachel Dolezal claim that she was actually an African American. Remember this is the white woman who was heading up the NAACP chapter.

Albert Mohler:   Oh absolutely.

Ryan Anderson: To my knowledge there wasn’t any prominent figure that actually said, “Yes she is African American.” And yet for some reason on questions of sex and gender elites are wiling to go along with this.

Albert Mohler:   Yes. You might call this the ultimate cultural appropriation.

Ryan Anderson: To just be able to appropriate the opposite sex’s identity …

Albert Mohler:   Yes.

Ryan Anderson: I mean one feminist said it’s so ridiculous men are now even better at being women than women are when Jenner won the Woman of the Year award.

Albert Mohler:   Yeah.

Ryan Anderson: And I forget which feminist said that but she has a point. Men can now even be Women of the Year.

Albert Mohler:   Yes, and by the way that was the second conflict I wanted to raise and you raised it already, and that’s between the second wave feminists and the transgender activists. And so, trying to put feminism is where I wanted to press you a bit on the book actually because feminism’s not one argument and never has been monolithic, but it’s gone through at least three waves with the first wave feminism mostly about women’s suffrage, and second wave feminism being the Betty Friedan movement of … I just mention her as one figure, Germaine Greer also in this and you could just go down a long list, but they were arguing that home is a place it’s a domestic concentration camp as Betty Friedan said. You point out in your book that a part of what they were arguing … this is also central to the argument behind the Roe v Wade decision is that a woman having this reproductive function and vulnerability to pregnancy is forced upon her in a way that’s unequal with men, and the only way to be equal is to have complete reproductive control. But they did know what a woman was when they needed to know what a woman was. For instance who could enroll in Historic Women’s College and who would be covered by the newly established non-discrimination legislation, especially going back to the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Albert Mohler:   But now you’ve got the millennial feminists kind of a third wave of feminism and they’re doing their very best to figure out a way to live in two places at the same time even though their internal contradictions between feminist claims, especially gender feminism and the transgender movement, but I see this more classically right now in one place than anywhere else and that’s the Historic Women’s College, so I’m holding an article in my hand here Ryan it’s from a very recent edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the headline is Women’s Colleges Evolve on Transgender Applicants. It’s the most incoherent mess. I could just imagine someone trying to even translate this into aa foreign language, it would be impossible. The internal contradictions, the vocabulary confusion it’s not survivable.

Ryan Anderson: No, and what’s really interesting about the history of this is that Americans are probably at the culturally weakest spot to be wrestling with these sorts of questions about gender dysphoria and gender identity because we don’t really know what our sexed bodies are for. And we oscillate between two extremes. There’s an extreme of androgyny on the one hand that wants to deny that there are any differences between male and female, and that in laudable attempts to embrace equality they end up embracing sameness. So they turn something that’s laudable, a search for equality and they turn it in a bad direction, that means we must be the same, and so, they end up with androgyny.

Ryan Anderson: But then the opposite extreme that we also sometimes oscillate to are kind of rigid sex stereotypes in which boys are supposed to play with trucks, and girls are supposed to play with dolls. Rigid sex stereotypes in terms of male and female cognitive abilities or things like this. And the virtue being a mean between two extremes and want to say that men and women are equal in dignity but complimentary in gifts, and would then try to articulate where do our male and female identities make a difference, and where is this a difference that makes a difference? And how to raise boys to see themselves as future men, husbands, fathers. Girls to see themselves as future women, mothers, and wives. And this is our weakest cultural moment to be thinking about our navigating those questions. And so, imagine how much more difficult it is if you’re a young person who doesn’t feel comfortable in your own body.

Albert Mohler:   Yes.

Ryan Anderson: And how much more difficult it is if you’re a parent of a young person struggling in this way to find professional assistance to help your child.

Albert Mohler:   Or even pastoral assistance. Yeah, even pastoral assistance this raises another question that I had from your book and in order to get there let me ask you, to whom were you writing this book? Who was the primary audience of this book?

Ryan Anderson: I would say primary audience here are people who have a gut feeling that something is wrong with thee transgender ideology, but they can’t quite articulate it. The primary audience here is to help people articulate the wall that’s written on their heart. And they have this intuition but it’s not quite full cognitive, it’s not quite fully articulable and this is meant to help crystallize some of their kind of initial insights and some of their initial senses. But then tertiary audience and secondary and tertiary audience would be people who aren’t quite sure what they think.

Albert Mohler:   Yes.

Ryan Anderson: People who disagree but who are open to persuasion, and then of course the realities, there are a lot of people who disagree who aren’t open to persuasion. There are a lot of people who didn’t arrive at their view through reason in the first place and so they’re not going to be reasoned out of their view, and those aren’t the audience of the book. I make no claims about being able to reach those people.

Albert Mohler:   Well the reason I ask that question is, because of not what is in the book but what isn’t in the book, and that’s much of the acknowledgement of what’s now not only inevitable but clear and present collision between the transgender claims and religious liberty. Because I mentioned that even finding Christian counseling or even finding a church speaking clearly on these issues, or finding a Christian college or university that operates on the basis of historic biblical Christian conviction and the consistent teaching of the Christian church for two millennia. There’s a vulnerability that is very present there, and one the one hand it’s the cultural coercion, the we will shut you down or to put it another way you’re not going to be able to recruit millennials if you hold such a position. But the hard fists of the law and the threat of the courts … or for that matter, what the Obama Administration did through it’s Dear Colleague Letter. That’s very clear. You site that letter by the way but you really don’t deal much with the religious liberty challenge in the book.

Ryan Anderson: That’s right, and partly that’s intentional. My two previous books were both explicitly on religious liberty.

Albert Mohler:   Right.

Ryan Anderson: And I didn’t want people to think primarily about the transgender topic as a religious liberty topic, because before we get to … The religious liberty conflicts will only arise if we lose on the underlying substantive issues. And so, there’s a fear that I have that some readers would say, “Well so long as the church maintains its freedom. I don’t care about what happens in the broader culture. I don’t care what happens to my neighbors kids. Before we even get to the religious liberty debate I think we should actually have a debate about what is the truth about gender identity, and gender dysphoria, and human nature?

Albert Mohler:   Yeah I don’t think we have a choice here to be honest. As President of an academic institution we don’t have a choice to decide how we want to sequence this.

Ryan Anderson: No, I think that’s right but I think the religious liberty debate will largely be dependent on how the largely debate plays out. And what I mean by that is this. What sorts of religious liberties do racist bigots enjoy in the United States? If the other side frames our core convictions about the human body and human identity as the functional equivalent of racism. Bob Jones University tells us a lot about what our future looks like.

Albert Mohler:   But that’s not just true of the T, that’s true of L, G, and B and Q and everything that will follow.

Ryan Anderson: Yeah.

Albert Mohler:   That’s where the cultural strategy has been stunningly successful even at a velocity that the early gay rights activist as they were known couldn’t have predicted.

Ryan Anderson: And that’s why so much of my previous work was focused on how to properly understand the nature of marriage. One possible outcome is the analogy to racism, the other possible outcome is an analogy to pro life medicine. Activists have tried to claim that pro life medicine is sexism, that it’s discrimination on the basis of sex and therefore shouldn’t be permitted. But we’ve been able to say that, “No, pro life medicine is eminently reasonable.” What motivates the pro life doctor or nurse, or pregnancy center or hospital it’s not an anti-women view but it’s a pro child pro woman view that abortion harms both the baby and the mother. I think we need to be able to articulate what it is that we’re in favor of for someone who struggles with their gender identity. What type of therapeutic response are we I favor of for someone with gender dysphoria if we hope to maintain the freedom to exercise those therapeutic responses, to exercise those pastoral responses. That’s the strategy. It’s only the 8th chapter of the book that deal with public policy.

Albert Mohler:   Right.

Ryan Anderson: And it’s only one of those sections within the 8th chapter that deals with religious liberty, but the rest of the book I wanted to highlight there are real human costs in this set of issues. The third chapter just tells some of those personal stories and I think most people are entirely unaware of the lives that have been ruined because of the activists and their treatment protocols.

Albert Mohler:   No, it’s a very moving … I mean your critics would say that you selected those stories but of course everybody selects the stories but for your book a lot of folks would never have contact with or knowledge of those stories. And some of the most important of the narratives you tell are the de transitioning accounts of persons whose gender dysphoria was only increased by following the ideology of the transgender activists and their medical colleagues.

Ryan Anderson: Initially the way that I started writing all these issues was on the public policy side of things. I work at the Heritage Foundation it’s a public policy think tank, it was the Dear Colleague letter, it was Obamacare, the transgender mandate in Obamacare, it was bathrooms, locker rooms, it was things like that. And I was just dealing with policy papers and op eds. It was only after I saw some of these YouTube videos and some of the blogs of people who transitioned thinking that it was a solution to their problems and then five or 10 years later de transitioned because transitioning brought them greater struggles that, that’s really what convinced me that I had to do an entire book project on this topic. It was what convinced me that it wasn’t just a debate about bathrooms, or locker rooms, or religious liberty, it was really a debate about human nature and human flourishing. And as a result it was a debate about human lives. It’s what I try to capture in the book that there’s a lot more at stake here than what many in the media just kind of like dismissively refer to as, “Oh there’s a bathroom bill, or oh it’s these uppity Christians who are always in someone else’s business,” in a very dismissive tone. Well no, we care about other people because we care about their flourishing, their happiness, their wholeness, as we should.

Albert Mohler:   Yes, as we must, and we are in debt to you for the book, it’s provocative as you intended to provoke, it’s very thoughtful. I can see on every page it was written with tremendous care, and by that I mean careful writing but I also mean care for very real human beings whose lives are at stake, who’s flourishing is at stake, and as we understand whose ontology is at stake.

Ryan Anderson: Thank you. Thank you.

Albert Mohler:   Now what is your next project, what are you working on after this?

Ryan Anderson: That is to be determined. I wrote a dissertation five years ago, which was titled Neither a Liberal nor a Libertarian: A Natural Law Approach to Social Justice and Economics, and I still haven’t turned that into a book and published it as a book. And so, part of me wants to turn to that next and revised the dissertation and publish it as a book. There’s another part of me that wants to wade into some of the debates that are currently taking place between critics and defenders of liberalism understood not as left wing politics but as the John Locke and Littman Project. And so, I don’t know. Right now the book came out three months ago now so it’s mainly just been talking about the book and kind of helping people understand what’s in the book. But at some point probably later this summer I will really set my sights on what the next big project is.

Albert Mohler:   Yes, and Patrick Deneen with whom I had a great conversation for this program just a matter of weeks ago has perhaps more than anyone else sparked that ladder conversation.

Ryan Anderson: He’s excellent.

Albert Mohler:   Yeah.

Ryan Anderson: He’s the best representative of that viewpoint that there is, yeah.

Albert Mohler:   Absolutely. Yeah. Oh, I look forward to seeing your contribution but in the meantime Ryan Anderson thank you for joining me for Thinking in Public.

Ryan Anderson: Thank you.

Albert Mohler:   A conversation like this comes with both promise and frustration, the promise is that we are going to talk about issues that really matter and truths that are eternal. The frustration comes in understanding that there is no way in such a conversation we can deal with all of the most pressing and urgent issues that come upon us in something as significant as this transgender moment as it is called.

In his book When Harry Became Sally, Ryan T Anderson has drawn many of the most important issues together and he has considered them carefully. It’s one of those books that basically dares for refutation. It’s going to be very, very difficult for anyone to refute the book and its arguments, whey? Because the book’s arguments are grounded in reality, and eventually reality trumps unreality. But it is interesting and revealing to see that a lot of the discussion about the book is really about dismissing the very existence of the argument preventing culturally speaking especially in the larger conversation in the media and in academia and public policy preventing any consideration of the fact that the claims, and that means the very current claims of the transgender activists might not be worthy. Or to press the argument even further that their truth claims are simply untrue.

What is revealed in this particular moment and in this cultural conversation is a confusion so deep that it threatens the very existence of human civilization. If that sounds to be a strong statement then just consider the civilizational portrait we have on America’s most elite college and university campuses, this is clearly a culture experiment that is doomed to failure. But for Christians considering these issues there are fundamental theological and Biblical issues that are at stake, issues prior even to any public or cultural conversation about the entire range of issues related to the LGBTQ revolution, a revolution to which many other letters are almost assuredly to be added.

But for Christians this kind of book is a very good resource, a very good place to begin thinking through some of these issues, the very issues of current debate in the culture. But that debate is going to move forward and move forward with a tremendous speed such that we don’t know the kinds of questions we’re going to be asked, and the kinds of issues we’re going to be confronting right around the corner. And in this case we’re not talking about in the next generation we’re talking about perhaps within the next week. But as I argued in my 2015 book we cannot be silent speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, and the very meaning of right and wrong in dealing with these very same issues about three years before the emergence of Ryan Anderson’s book.

I wanted to take Christians back to a certain very important place to conclude. I wrote this, “Christians need to remember that the sufficiency of scripture gives us a comprehensive world view that equips us to wrestle with even the most challenging ethical dilemmas of our time. Finally, the gospel provides the only true remedy for sexual brokenness. The theological and pastoral challenges we face in the transgender revolution are indeed enormous, but they are not beyond the sufficiency of Christ’s cross and resurrection. As much as Christians need to enter into and understand the secular conversation for Christians we can’t end with a merely secular affirmation. At the end of the day human flourishing cannot be separated from the Creator and from the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Again many thanks to my guest Ryan Anderson for thinking with me today. For more information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College go to Thank you for joining me for Thinking in Public, until next time keep thinking. I’m Albert Mohler.