RICHMOND, Va. (Christian Examiner) – Amid the demands for transgender rights sweeping the nation from courtrooms to school bathrooms, a gossip news item renewed nagging questions about the transgender movement's claims to normalcy.
Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, one-time Olympic athlete and current reality TV personality, is struggling with "her" transition to womanhood and might return to being a man, reported celebrity biographer Ian Halperin, author of Kardashian Dynasty: The Controversial Rise of America's Royal Family.
"It hasn't been easy for Caitlyn. It's been very hard," Halperin said multiple sources close to Jenner told him recently. "She's thrilled she has raised awareness about how transgender people have long been discriminated against, but I think there's a chance she'll de-transition in the next couple years. I don't think it would surprise anybody in her inner circle. It has been much harder than she anticipated. My heart goes out to her and I know her true friends will be there to support her on whatever path she chooses."
Jenner's camp denied the report almost immediately, calling it "idiotic." But Halperin stood by his story, insisting millions of dollars are at stake as Jenner pushes his reality show and its gender-change storyline.
On one level, the spat involves two pop media mavens promoting their respective products. It also highlights the uncomfortable relationship the LGBT movement has with Jenner, who instantly became the most famous face of transgenderism after announcing his gender transition last year. Both supporters and critics of the movement have questioned Jenner's motives, commitment to the cause and whether he/she is more interested in publicity – the business and lifeblood of the Kardashian clan, of which Jenner is a member – than in real transgender issues.
At a deeper level, however, it raises a question transgender activists seem eager to quash: Even if transgender people are fully accepted by society, do they really accept themselves? If they don't, is it irresponsible to encourage children and young people struggling with gender and sexual confusion to transition, surgically or otherwise?
"Transgender surgery is an attempt to correct a psychological problem with a surgical solution," says Bob Stith, founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, and former national strategist for gender issues for the Southern Baptist Convention.
"The tragedy is that in the mad dash to promote all things LGBT, the deep unhappiness of many transgenders — both pre- and post-surgery — is being ignored. This should concern all of us, Christian and non-Christian. Clearly many do regret having the surgery and the media should be interested in their stories simply from a standpoint of journalistic integrity. Those who are considering such a radical procedure should have all the facts."
IS REGRET REAL?
How widespread are second thoughts among those who pursue gender reassignment? Hard to say. Estimates of "transgender regret" and related problems range from as low as 2 percent of those who attempt transition to as high as 90 percent. One national study reported that 41 percent of transgender people surveyed were so unhappy they had attempted suicide.
Walt Heyer, an author who deeply regrets his own gender transition, points to a 2004 overview by The Guardian newspaper in England that reviewed 100 studies of transgender people. It found that 20 percent of them regret their gender reassignment. A 2011 Swedish study found that people who changed genders had a higher risk of suicide. Other studies found that 90 percent have a "significant form of psychopathology," 61 percent have other psychiatric disorders and illnesses and 50 percent experience depression.
"My life story and the stories of those who contact me speak of regret over transitioning," Heyer writes. "Often, the stories include attempted suicide or suicide ideation. I was a 4-year-old trans kid who grew up with gender confusion and underwent gender reassignment surgery at age 42. I lived for eight years as a so-called trans female named Laura Jensen. But no matter how feminine I appeared, like all transgenders, I was just a man in a dress. I was unhappy, regretful of having transitioned and I attempted suicide. Gender surgery is not effective treatment for depression, anxiety or mental disorders."
Yet the media remain silent about such cases, Heyer charges. "It's so much easier to deliver the LGBT talking point than to dig into the science," he says. "Who's the loser? The transgender who regrets transitioning."
But there's a price to be paid for questioning the status quo, which was codifed in 2012 when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) revised its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to replace the diagnostic term "Gender Identity Disorder" with the term "Gender Dysphoria" – after years of lobbying by gender activists. Their case: Transgenderism is not a disorder to be "cured" but a condition to be accepted and in many cases encouraged.
Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who served on the APA committee that recommended the change, calls transgender regret largely a "myth." He points to studies that find less than 4 percent of people who have transgender reassignment surgery regret it. "Researchers have also found that the surgery dramatically reduces suicide rates among trans people," he states. "This is why the international standard of care for adolescents and adults in many countries is to offer transition services."
Writing in The Washington Post, Drescher even asserted that it's a myth to say "a 5-year-old child doesn't know enough about gender to be transgender." Citing the APA, he claimed "cross-gender behaviors often start between 2 and 4 years old."
BRAVE NEW ORTHODOXY
At best, physicians and therapists who object to this brave new orthodoxy are dismissed as behind the times. At worst they are branded quacks and bigots. Various national and international bodies now seek to legally ban therapies aimed at treating transgenderism as a disorder.
"The transgender lobby actively polices and suppresses discussion of sex-change regret, and claims it's rare (no more than 5 percent)," writes Stella Morabito in The Federalist. "However, if you do decide to 'de-transition,' to once again identify with the sex in your DNA, talking about it will get you targeted by trans activists. So it's a challenge to understand the scope of regret for sex change surgery."
But that hasn't silenced a defiant group of physicians who refuse to go with the flow.
PEDIATRICIANS WEIGH IN
The American College of Pediatricians, a smaller, more conservative alternative to the larger American Academy of Pediatrics, issued a statement in March titled "Gender Ideology Harms Children."
The statement urged educators and legislators to "reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex. Facts – not ideology – determine reality. ... Conditioning children into believing that a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse."
The pediatricians asserted that "no one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept, not an objective biological one. No one is born with an awareness of themselves as male or female; this awareness develops over time and, like all developmental processes, may be derailed by a child's subjective perceptions, relationships, and adverse experiences from infancy forward. ...When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind, not the body, and it should be treated as such."
In addition, up to 98 percent of gender-confused boys and 88 percent of gender- confused girls eventually accept their biological sex, usually after experiencing puberty. To medically or surgically alter them earlier is "scientifically baseless" and deeply harmful to children and their families, according to the college.
The larger issue is a cultural one, says Paul McHugh, University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"The idea that one's sex is fluid and a matter open to choice runs unquestioned through our culture and is reflected everywhere in the media, the theater, the classroom, and in many medical clinics," McHugh observes. "It has taken on cult-like features: its own special lingo, internet chat rooms providing slick answers to new recruits, and clubs for easy access to dresses and styles supporting the sex change. It is doing much damage to families, adolescents and children and should be confronted as an opinion without biological foundation wherever it emerges."
Even more important for Christians, however, is to demonstrate love for the people caught up in the confusion, urges gender expert Stith.
"We cannot overlook the truth that transgender strugglers, especially youth, are very much in need of compassion and understanding," he says. "That doesn't mean we must accede to their demands for what they assume will make them happy. Nor does it mean that the happiness and well-being of others must be sacrificed.
"[But we] need to examine our own hearts and decide whether our response is based on our revulsion at the nature of this struggle or whether we are genuinely concerned for all involved," Stith continued. "We should be slow to speak until we have as much concern and compassion for transgender strugglers as we do for others impacted by this controversy."