A Continued Discussion On Transgenderism, Causation, and The Mind

About a week and a half ago I posted an article on Facebook regarding transgenderism and its status as something to be treated rather than something to be indulged.  Here is the Facebook post, and here is the article. I’m very proud of the diversity of my friendships.  I’m friends both on Facebook and in person with several Christians and many non-Christians and numerous people who are not just atheist, but anti-theist.  So, I knew when first posting it that it would not be popular with some of my friends.  As I suspected, a lively discussion was started.  Time brings clarity, and there are some issues I’d like to clear up.  The purpose of this post is to continue the discussion and to address things that I did not address before as well as introduce ideas that are born of the passage of time.  I would definitely suggest reading the article and the comments on Facebook for the best context.

First, I’ll address a small issue.  It was stated in a comment that the article essentially just called transgender people crazy.  Are people who are anorexic, depressed or have other psychological issues just crazy?   I don’t think anyone who knows a person who struggles with depression or anorexia would call that person crazy.  More to the point, indulging these disorders instead of treating them would more closely resemble ‘crazy.’  I understand the idea of likening transgenderism to disorders is something many people will disagree with, but the point was that just because a person thinks or feels something about themselves does not mean that thought or feeling is the truth and is to be encouraged.  This is absolutely the case with anorexia.  It was also argued that in the case of anorexia a person’s health was in danger, but not in the case of transgenderism.  This is naive at best.  Is a person’s health in danger if they are depressed? If not, why do we treat it?  “We treat depression because a person feels bad and treatment helps them feel better!”  Does encouraging a person’s transgender status indeed help them ‘feel better?’   What about instances of suicide and deep depression?  What about cases in which a transgender person wants gender reassignment surgery that will permanently damage his/her body? What about the dramatic increase in the likelihood of suicide for those who undergo such a procedure?  What about children who want hormone therapy that irrevocably changes the course of their physical and psychological development and are obliged?   There are definitely health risks involved.
Next, I’d like to apologize for a misstep on my part and address it.  One commenter posted an article on androgen insensitivity syndrome stating,

“It is indeed possible for a female brain to be trapped inside of a male body as well as the opposite. Androgen Insensitivity is just one example of how the simple X and Y chromosomes in someones cells does not necessarily determine their gender. If you can have major external differences like this between genetics and physical traits, why is it so hard to understand that you can have developmental brain situations that result in a brain forming that has a different gender from the physical body.” 

I must admit I did not really read this article at all.  I just kind of glanced at it and moved on and that was wrong of me. I should have actually read it and addressed it, and would like to do so now.

It’s curious to me that this person posted a medical description of a disorder as support for arguing that transgenderism is not a disorder.  The article describes a syndrome in which “Mutations in the AR gene prevent androgen receptors from working properly, which makes cells less responsive to androgens or prevents cells from using these hormones at all.”   Furthermore, there are actual physical ramifications of this mutated gene.

“People with this form of the condition have the external sex characteristics of females, but do not have a uterus and therefore do not menstruate and are unable to conceive a child (infertile). They are typically raised as females and have a female gender identity. Affected individuals have male internal sex organs (testes) that are undescended, which means they are abnormally located in the pelvis or abdomen. Undescended testes can become cancerous later in life if they are not surgically removed. People with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome also have sparse or absent hair in the pubic area and under the arms.”

I think there is a subtlety here that gets lost in this discussion at large.  There are actual disorders that make gender identity very difficult.  However, there are a multitude of differences between such syndromes and what is currently accepted as transgenderism.  The commenter argued, “If you can have major external differences like this between genetics and physical traits, why is it so hard to understand that you can have developmental brain situations that result in a brain forming that has a different gender from the physical body?”   In the case of the posted article, however, there is a definitive phenotype (abnormal sex organs) for the disordered genotype (mutated AR gene).  This is not at all an example of what he is arguing for.  Perhaps he was referring to my earlier comment of males having a karyotype showing XY and females XX, therefore there is an absolute genetic difference no matter how a person feels.  I will readily admit this misstep on my part in the light of the posted article describing a disorder that changes sex organs and gender identity without being linked to the Y chromosome.  That still doesn’t support his argument that a female brain can be trapped in a male body and merely emboldens the distinction between a person born with androgen insensitivity whose mutated genotype leads to physical abnormalities that are in need of treatment and a person who is born a normal male or female and then later claims he/she is the opposite sex… and then possibly later changes his/her mind.

I’d like to now confront the issue of hormones and brain patterning.  I don’t dispute that there are differences between the brain patterns observed.  The question, however, is causation.  Are these differences causing the feelings of gender dysphoria?  Are the habits and behaviors changing the brain patterns?   Interestingly, in an article regarding the neurological implications of sexual sado-masochism psychiatric professor Aaron Kheriaty notes:

“The modern science of neuroplasticity reveals that our brains continue to change—to be molded—across our lifespan, in response to our behaviors, our relationships, and our life experiences. Our brains obviously influence our behavior. But the reverse is also true: our behaviors influence our brain. So our choices have neurobiological consequences: our behaviors hard-wire, and re-wire, our brain in ways that profoundly shape who we are and how we function.” [Emphasis mine]

From my reading, the question of the brain and causality is still not near being completely understood.  So, differences between brain patterns could possibly be explained, at least partially, as emerging from differences in behavior and brain rewiring.  Dr. Kheriaty also says,

“People mistakenly believe that the mind, the sovereign will, is in complete control. The body is just a tool, a sort of appendage, detached from the mind. …But the mind and the body do not work that way. There is no such mind-body split. Rather, the medical and psychological sciences are increasingly demonstrating that there is a profound and inseparable connection between mind and body. And the body—not just the mind—is obviously involved in sexual encounters. The body has its own laws and its own logic; the body has its own wisdom, and it operates on its own terms. The human body must obey the laws of biology, of neuroscience, and of human psychology. And when we push against these, the body will inevitably push back.”

It seems this is the way advocates of transgenderism treat the body.  The brain state is one way, and the body should be changed to reflect that (whether stylistically with dress and makeup or permanently with surgery).  The person feels a certain way that is opposite from the body, and the body needs to be flipped to reflect the way the person feels.  It just seems very destructive and opposite to the idea that the purpose of medicine is to heal and restore the body.

Finally, a common thought amongst people who oppose my thinking must be, “Do you even know any transgender people?  What if you had to sit down and eat or hang out with a transgender person?”

I think this is a very poignant and justified question for Christians who oppose these ideas and who claim to follow Jesus.  Jesus routinely ate with people who were social outcasts.  People enjoyed eating with and being with Him and you get the distinct picture that He did not make them feel like lesser people but made them feel loved by Him and by God.  It is important that we as Christians do the same.

I have eaten with a hung out with transgender people and I’d like to think they didn’t feel awkward around me and that I treated them like I would any other person.  I won’t deny that at times it’s awkward for me depending on the conversation, but I try to keep this in check by knowing that my awkwardness is mine to own and that these are people made in the image of God just like we all are.

I pointed out at the beginning of this post the diversity of my friends and what they believe.  As a result of this I routinely, almost daily, sit and eat with people who regard my identity as a Christian with enmity.  I have for a very long time.  People who make disparaging remarks about Christians and monotheism.  People who might call me bigot, hateful, deluded, stupid and several other lesser appropriate things.  They might have even done this or do this when I’m not around.  But I really don’t care.  I liked and still like being with them.  I like laughing with them.  I like hearing about their families.  I like enjoying life with them.  I would have it no other way.  We are not told as Christians to distance ourselves from those who oppose us.  We’re told to love our enemies.  We’re led by example to eat with and love those who are outcasts.  We are to tell them that they are made in God’s image and are loved by us and by God.  American Christians fail at this an awful lot as we resist the changing moral norms.   We can be an effective resistance while being effective disciples of Jesus and effective human beings who love other human beings.  It’s not just possible, it’s imperative.

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1 Comment

  1. read your article,and although a lot of it is over my head,I agree very much the Christian community needs a lot of improvement in this area.Reading a book now written by a woman who was a lesbian,a tenured English professor at a major university.She wrote an article for a newspaper,got the usual hate mail,then she received a letter from a pastor asking questions that made her think about her reasons for her choices. Long story short,because this pastor and his wife reached out in a non threatning,non hateful way,this womans life was changed dramatically

    Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2015 04:50:41 +0000 To: wmfergus@hotmail.com

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