Monday, Sept 10, 2018
Tags: Academic Research, Audio, Brown University, Gender Dysphoria, Homosexuality, India, Transgender
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, September 10, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The transgender revolution: Could ‘gender dysphoria’ actually be fueled by social contagion?
Sometimes an academic dispute is just that, an academic dispute, a dispute amongst academics. Sometimes an academic dispute is far more than that, and we are certainly looking at a case of far more than that when you consider a recent headline in The Economist of London. The headline is this, "Why are so many teenage girls appearing in gender clinics?" Now, what makes this academic dispute so indisputably important is the fact that you are dealing, here, with a major definitional issue of human identity. One of the most basic issues of human self-understanding. We're also looking, of course, at one of the clearest issues revealed in Scripture. That is the fact that every single human being is a creature made by God, for His glory– every single human being in His image and every single human being defined by the making of human beings, the creation of human beings, as male and as female.
We have often remarked that when you look at the LGBTQ revolution, it is the T that is the most explosive. Every single one of those letters is, in itself, a part of this moral sexual revolution. Every single one of those letters is, in a very real sense, a denial of what God has revealed in Scripture and in creation. But the T is the most basic rebellion of all. The T denies the reality of human beings being made as male and female, and that being God's intention, which is revealed even in the chromosomal pattern of human beings at the moment of conception. But as you're looking at the story in The Economist, it's also important to recognize this news article did appear in The Economist. As we have remarked in the past, The Economist is one of the most influential European news sources. Is this a story, however, from Europe? No. This is what's very telling. It's a story from the United States. The epicenter of which is Providence, Rhode Island, Brown University.
The fact that this story seems to be, at present, a greater interest to the foreign media tells us a very great deal about the worldview of the domestic media in the United States. Interestingly, the September 1st edition of The Economist, that's the print edition, begins with an article that has these words, "Janette Miller wasn't exactly surprised when her daughter came out as transgender five years ago. A feminist, who rarely wears makeup or dresses, she brought Rachel up to disregard gender stereotypes (these are not, we are told, their real names). As a child Rachel enjoyed rough and tumble play; as a teenager, she dated a girl. What shocked Ms. Miller was her daughter's declaration that she wanted to make her body more masculine by taking testosterone and having a mastectomy." The mother said, "She had never once said, 'I feel like a boy.' She loved being a girl."
Well, as this self-availed feminist who raised this girl to try to deny any kind of traditional gender stereotypes. As she looked into the issue, she discovered that there is a social dimension, which is now coming to light in what can only be described as a contagion of what's called, gender dysphoria, particularly among adolescent girls. The Economist continues, "Typically adolescents first shows symptoms of gender dysphoria, the clinical term for the distress caused by the feeling that ones body does not match ones gender in childhood. But in the past decade, clinics in Western countries have reported that a growing number of teenagers has started experiencing gender dysphoria during, or after, puberty." Now, the following words are very important, again, "And whereas these young adults used to be predominately male, now they are more likely to be female." Listen to the numbers, "In 2009, 41% of the adolescents referred to Britain's Gender Development Service were female. In 2017, 69% were."
Now, this raises some immediate questions, and to the credit of The Economist, they are one major, very respected, news agency. Very clearly allied, by the way, with the LGBTQ movement that has decided to take this issue on and, apparently, to try to so rather honestly. Because what they demonstrate in this article is that the numbers tell the story that there is something of a social dimension to this kind of adolescent female gender dysphoria. And they are also indicating it tends to come, in what now can be recognized, as a pattern of social contagion. What does that mean? Some listeners may immediately recognize that term, social contagion, and may remember that those very words were used to describe what was then understood to be a pattern related to adolescent girls, and young women, with eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.
The social contagion came down to this, you had a surprising number of adolescent girls, and young women, who tended in the same place, at the same time, within in a definable set of social relationships, who tended to be identified with these eating disorders, roughly, simultaneously. More recently, in the United States, there's been discussion also amongst young people about a suicide contagion. Recognizing that suicide also, at least at times, has a social dimension. If you could map it, you could map intensity in certain places, at certain times, within certain peer and relationship groups. But what makes this article, in The Economist, more interesting is that it is based upon recently published academic research in the United States. The professor behind this is Lisa Littman. She's an Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Brown University.
As The Economist explains, she was curious about what was causing these changes. She had, we are told, come across reports from parents on online forums describing a new pattern of behavior. Adolescents without a history of childhood gender dysphoria were announcing that they were transgender after a period of immersing themselves in niche websites or after similar announcements from friends. She went on to conduct peer-reviewed academic research and her study, as The Economist says, suggests that these children maybe grappling with what she calls, "Rapid onset gender dysphoria." Now, let's just understand the language here. This rapid onset gender dysphoria is the kind of medicalized language that is now employed in this moral revolution and it does point to something. When you're talking about gender dysphoria, at the very least, you are talking about the impression of the individual, at any stage of life, that their gender and their biological sex are not incongruence.
Now, those who are pushing the moral revolution say the problem is not in the self-perception, but rather in the socially constructed understanding of gender as tied to biological sex. Of course, the Christian worldview looks at it very differently, virtually, is the opposite pattern, the problem is the self-perception, not the biological sex. We should also note that there is no evidence, whatsoever, that Lisa Littman, this professor at Brown University, is anything other than totally committed to the entire moral and sexual revolution. But she did have the candor to address the fact that something is going on here, and that something looks very much like a social reality. Now, what happened when she published the article? As it turns out, that's the far bigger story.
Professor Littman's academic research was published in the scholarly journal PLOS One. That is a peer-reviewed journal, which is to say, her article was sent to blind experts, in similar fields, who had the editorial responsibility to supervise, and to check the scholarly veracity, and the scientific methodology of the article before it was published. By the time it was published, it had been peer reviewed. In the article, Littman pointed to the fact, "Peer contagion has been shown to be a factor in several aspects of eating disorders." And she went on to say, "That there are interesting clusters. There is a cluster phenomenon now, as there was then, for eating disorders. Now, amongst some women there are these cluster patterns when it comes to gender dysphoria." "And it appears," as she says, "To come out of the blue. And, in many cases, it shocks parents who had never heard any kind of statement about dysphoria, nor witnessed any kind of behavior, until the social contagion had taken place."
It's also very interesting and, perhaps, this is a bigger part of the story than we even know, that Professor Littman documented the fact that the majority of the young people considered in her large, and expansive study, had pre-identified mental or develop-mental issues often diagnosed, officially and medically, before the onset of this rapid onset gender dysphoria. There's something else that's very clear, implicit, and explicit in this context, and that is the fact that when you are looking at this kind of social contagion, you are over, and over, again looking at behaviors and its sociological realities that, to a far greater extent, effect adolescent girls, and young women, rather than adolescent boys, and young men.
And even as some, in the politically correct class, will immediately say, "That's gender-based and sexist." It's also documentable and scientifically verified and, furthermore, let's just remind ourselves that Hollywood has made this very theme of social contagion among young women and adolescent girls, as a major theme in several big movies that Hollywood, itself, has released and celebrated. It should also be of great interest to parents, and others who care about adolescents and young adults in the United States, that looking at this pattern of social contagion, there was also a very clear tie to exposure to certain sectors on the internet. And, especially, to those sectors of the internet that had promoted the ideology and the personal narratives about gender dysphoria and what then follows, according to the now politically correct medical mainstream.
But it's also really important to recognize that Littman, in the article, documents that in today's moral context of adolescents and young adulthood, coming out as transgender or, for that matter, identifying with any kind of sexual behavior that is outside the norm, or gender identity outside the norm, actually, at this time, increases popularity among adolescents, high school students, and college students. Given the bent of today's culture and to the success of the moral revolution, as Littman points out, coming out in one way, or another, these days can lead to the experience especially by a female adolescent of increased popularity and unprecedented affirmation.
The academic article is 41 pages long, with notes, and it's really interesting to see where Littman concludes her article. She concludes by saying that this appears to be a major issue that might contribute to the well-being, or the lack of well-being, among adolescents and young adults, particularly, female. And it's really interesting that she doesn't even call for any kind of, what you might consider to be, commensurate response. In this article, all she calls for is further research and further analysis.
When an academic controversy is not merely academic: The real life implications of a controversy over scientific research and transgender youth
Well, all that's important enough, but where would the story go from there? Well, it takes us back to the campus of Brown University. Now, we need to remind ourselves that Brown University, like so many of the other major elite private institutions of higher education in America, was established as a Christian institution. It was established by Christians. The most famous early president of Brown University was Francis Wayland, the 19th Century president, who also taught, as most university and college presidents did at the time, moral philosophy. And Francis Wayland was also very important in creating the Evangelical Protestant Intelligentsia in the United States in the 19th Century.
But fast forwarding to more modern times, Brown University probably wins the contest year-after-year for being the most liberal of the Ivies and, especially, having the most liberal student body. And going back to the campus, that's where we find out that the controversy there is revealed in a news release, by the university, with the headline, "Brown," that means Brown University, "Statement on Gender Dysphoria Study." Now, what would be the university's statement? Well, the statement has to do with the fact that its news agency removed a statement indicating a news summary about Professor Littman's research and instead it put up a statement saying that clearly this issue, and the professor, and her research would require further scrutiny.
Now, what's interesting there is that that's virtually unprecedented. For a university to put up a news research note about one of its own professors and then to take it down. And what's also evident in this statement, coming from officials of Brown University, is that they took it down because of sustained outrage and activism coming from those who were greatly offended by this academic research. But it's one thing for those operating from a Christian worldview to understand what's going on here and to call it by its proper name. It's quite a different thing for that kind of criticism and analysis to come from a former dean of the medical school at Harvard University. But that's exactly what we find in a major article responding to this controversy, which is authored by Jeffery S. Flier. He is the Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Higgins Professor of Medicine and Neurobiology, and the former dean of the Harvard Medical School.
The title of his essay, "As a Former Dean of Harvard Medical School, I Question Brown's Failure to Defend Lisa Littman." As Dr. Flier writes, "The fact that Brown University deleted its initial promotional reference to Dr. Littman's work from the university's website. Then replaced it with a note explaining how Dr. Littman's work might harm members of the transgender community." Well, as Dr. Flier says, "That presents a cautionary tale." He goes on to say, "Increasingly, research on politically charged topics is subject to indiscriminate attack on social media which, in turn, can pressure school administrators to subvert established norms regarding the protection of free academic inquiry." He mentions the statement from the scholarly journal PLOS One. That they would subject this research to further scrutiny and the affirmation of the very same point by Professor Littman's employer, Brown University.
Then Dr. Flier writes, "There is no evidence for claims of misconduct in Dr. Littman's case, rather, unnamed individuals with strong personal interests in the area under study seem to have approached PLOS One," that's the journal, "With allegations that her methodology and conclusions were faulty. Facing these assertions," which Dr. Flier says, "Predictably drew support from the social media communities populated by lay-activists. The journal responded rapidly, and publicly, with the announcement that it would undertake additional expert review." Dr. Flier then writes, "In all my years in academia, I have never once seen a comparable reaction from a journal within in days of publishing a paper that the journal already had subjected to peer review, accepted, and published. One can only assume," he writes, "That the response was in large measure due to the intense lobbying the journal received and the threat, whether stated or unstated, that more social media backlash would rain down upon PLOS One, if action were not taken."
But turning to Brown University, Dr. Flier, again the former dean of the medical school at Harvard University, writes, "In her letter, Dean Marcus," that's of the Brown University School of Public Health, "Sites fears that, 'conclusions of the study could be used.'" She italicizes the words, could be used, "To discredit the efforts to support transgender youth and invalid perspectives of members of the transgender community." Now, notice what's going on here. Dr. Flier has pointed to the fact that authorities at Brown University said that their concern was that the scientific research, of one of their professors in a peer-reviewed journal, might invalid perspectives of members of the transgender community. In other words, they are here privileging a subjective understanding, or subjective individual perception, over against the academic research that is supposed to be the very mission of Brown University.
Dr. Flier points out that instead of defending the research, the very nature of research, and the character and expertise of their own professor, they effectively threw her under the bus, instead pointing to the potential harm that might come just by the impression of the research. Here, we have to say, what happened to the supposed academic and scientific ideal of the truth being the truth, as the truth is revealed by the scientific method? Christians applying Christian worldview analysis here, will be deeply troubled by the underlying reality. That's most fundamental. Why? Because we're dealing with human beings made in the image of God. This kind of dysphoria. This kind of misunderstanding. This kind of personal trauma and crisis of identity is something to which the Scripture directly speaks. And it speaks so helpfully, even in the first chapters of the Bible, telling us that we do not have to figure out who we are, but rather the creator, who made us, loves us enough not merely to have made us, but then to tell us who we are.
That includes our biological reality, even our chromosomal structure. But there are other issues of important Christian worldview analysis, and one of those has to do with how the academic establishment, even Brown University, is responding to this controversy. How they are failing to defend their own professor. How the supposedly objective process of scientific inquiry has now been put in the backseat of the subjective experience and political demands of certain constituencies. And we're also watching the relative and very important interest, and lack of interest, in this big story on the part of America's mainstream media. As is so often the case, that is a story into itself.
A clash of worldviews in India: Why the Christian and Hindu definitions of “nature” go deeper than the law
Next, we turn from the United States to India. As the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday, India's highest court, its constitutional court has ruled that gay sex isn't a crime. Now, this is a big story on the international scene. Clearly, it made the front pages of so many of the world's major newspapers, telling us about this decision from India's Supreme Court. And it is a redefinition of India's penal code called, Section 377. As the Wall Street Journal reports, citing the judicial opinion, "The first step on the long path to acceptance of the diversity and variegated hues that nature has created has to be taken now by vanquishing the enemies of prejudice and injustice and undoing the wrongs done." That was in the statement read by the Chief Justice of the court, Justice Dipak Misra.
Now, looking at the story in further detail, it's interesting that a closer look tells us that India's Supreme Court didn't invalidate all of Section 377. But it did invalid the parts related to consensual adult homosexual behavior and, also, relationships. Now, Christians, even conservative Biblical Christians, may argue about just how the law should reflect a sexual morality related to the behaviors covered here. But the most important thing to recognize is that the arguments used in this case are deeply subversive of an entire understanding of sexual reality that has been common to, almost, every civilization throughout the history of humanity. Now, that becomes very interesting here, because almost every major news article on this story blames the criminalization of homosexual behavior, in India, on colonialism and, particularly, on Victorian sexual morality. Which, we are told, was enforced by the British and imposed upon India in the 19th Century.
Now, let's just think about that for a moment. Is that really the case? Well, for one thing, we need to note that there has been constant reference, in the mainstream media, to the imposition of British Victorian sexual morality. Well, where did that come from? The avoidance here is the reference, any overt reference, to the fact that, that was a distinctively Christian sexual morality in this respect. That is the definition of proper sexual relationships and behaviors. We are told, in many of these articles, in the Wall Street Journal, in the New York Times, and the European newspapers, that prior to the British imposition of this kind of Victorian sexual morality, India was a far more open society on issues of same sex relationships and, in particular, the fluidity of gender identity.
Well, that might very well be the case, but it would have to be documented by something other than the kind of off-hand reference found in these news articles. But in any respect, what we need to note is the clear implication, in almost all of these articles, that all right-minded people would simply look at anything like a prohibition upon same sex behaviors as something that is simply a part of an outdated ethic from an outdated worldview from which we, and all others, should be liberated. But there's something else that demands our attention here, and points to the fact that this is a bigger story than the mainstream media may have indicated. In that statement made by the chief justice, you will note a reference to nature, "The first step on the long path to acceptance of the diversity and variegated hues that nature has created, has to be taken now."
That nature has created. Well, that's very interesting. It is an argument that nature includes same sex behaviors and that same sex consensual behaviors among adult human beings is simply a part of the given-ness of nature. What's really interesting is that, that, whether or not it is acknowledged, is a direct rejection of the moral argument behind Section 377. That so-called, Victorian sexual morality, which is rooted in this respect. Not in every respect, but in this respect, upon a very clear Biblical teaching about the given-ness of human sexuality and the morality that is embedded, not only in God's law, but in God's character and law revealed in creation. Thus, as Paul makes very clear in Romans Chapter one, he speaks of behaviors of acts that are against nature, even of passions that are against nature. Now you have India's highest court declaring exactly the opposite. That this is simply a part of the variegated hues of nature.
That raises a host of other worldview issues. For one thing, Christian's understanding what we see in nature also understand that we are observing nature with all of the evidence and artifacts of human sin and fallen-ness and God's judgment on that sin. But we're also looking at something else and that is, that when you look at the difference between the historic Hindu worldview concerning nature, and the Christian worldview concerning nature, you're talking about two completely different understandings of what nature and natural actually mean. In the polytheistic, the extremely polytheistic, culture and theology of historic India, nature means something radically at odds with the monotheistic understanding of creation that is revealed in the scriptures.
As you might expect, there are a lot of issues to which we will turn this week, but at the beginning of the week, these were the two stories that seemed most to demand our attention.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter, by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.