Can we combine compassion and truth in response to transgender?


Andrew Bunt, who is Assistant Pastor at King’s Church, Hastings and Bexhill, has written a fascinating and helpful Grove Booklet on welcoming and supporting transgender people in the Grove Pastoral series, under the title People not Pronouns: Reflections on Transgender Experience. I asked him about the background to writing the booklet, and the interesting approach that he took to this important pastoral question. 

IP: You start the booklet with a very honest account of your own confusion about your sex and gender identity. Do you see this confusion as unusual or quite common? Do you think that it is on the increase now because of current debates about sex and gender?

AB: It’s hard to know how common such confusion is, but I expect it might be more common than we think. Many children experience some level of confusion about their sex or gender identity. That can just be part of the journey of coming to understand the reality that we all have sexed bodies and that men and women are different. Or it can, as it was for me, be a more profound confusion or discomfort with one’s sex identity and sense of self. But for the vast majority of children, this confusion naturally abates as they grow up.

Since talking about the topic of sex and gender, I have met many people who relate to my later experiences of not really feeling they make the cut as a ‘real man’ or ‘real woman’. I think that sort of experience might be quite common.

Right now, we are of course also seeing a huge number of teenagers identifying as trans and reporting discomfort with their sex and gender identity. This does seem to be a new phenomenon, likely influenced, at least in part, by the prominence of the discussion in our society.

IP: You argue that Christians should be active in the debates around gender identity. What do you think makes so many hesitant to get involved?

AB: We all know that debates around gender identity are volatile. We see this in the reactions to statements made by people in the public eye—for example, J K  Rowling—and the debates around matters such as transgender sportspeople. In view of this, a level of hesitancy is probably inevitable.

I think many people are also aware of the complexity of the debates. We recognise that the conversation is about a complex topic that touches on biology, psychology, philosophy, language, and medicine. Many of us just feel very aware of our lack of expertise on these matters. We might also be conscious of our lack of personal experience of the topic. And these are good reasons to think about whether, or perhaps particularly how, we should get involved.

But I still think Christians should be active in these debates. The conversation is volatile and complex because it’s about real life and real people. It’s because of this that we should get involved. We should care about people’s well-being, care about safeguarding young people, and care about people knowing how best to live to experience their best life. Our hesitancy should make us stop and think about how we engage well and in a helpful way, but we should still engage.

IP: I was fascinated that, rather than go straight to the complex issues around gender dysphoria, you focus first on the question of compassion, and our need to love and care for those affected. Why has this become such a priority for you? 

AB: Primarily it’s become a priority for me because I’ve learnt about the lived experience of those living with gender dysphoria. I think we often fail to realise how real, painful, and debilitating gender dysphoria can be. 

I’ve also been provoked by the experiences that trans people have had among Christians. I have heard stories of terrible treatment of trans people in respected UK churches even within the last few years. I’ve spoken to trans people who don’t feel safe to go to any church because of the ways they have been treated. I fear that among Christians today there is still a heart attitude problem in relation to trans people.

I’ve also been struck by the parallels between the experience of people who live with gender dysphoria and my own experience of being same-sex attracted. In Christian circles especially, sexuality and gender are often spoken of as abstract issues. I’ve sat in many sermons and seminars and felt I was being talked about as an issue rather than acknowledged as a person. We often forget that these topics are about real people. But when we do realise we’re talking about people, compassion, love and care should be the obvious right response for Christians, as the example of Jesus shows us.

IP: Having talked about the ‘heart’ issues, you take us into the ‘head’ issues, helping us to think clearly about issues around sex and gender. Do you think Christians should see scientific understanding as an ally here? 

AB: I do think we should see scientific understanding as an ally to biblical teaching. For example, both science and the Bible recognise that there are only two sexes, and that sex is determined by the structuring of our reproductive systems. 

In a summary of the available peer-reviewed research, professors Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh conclude:

It is these reproductive roles that provide the conceptual basis for the differentiation of animals into the biological categories of male and female. There is no other widely accepted biological classification for the sexes.

Only our reproductive systems provide a stable and binary basis for identifying biological sex.

The Bible puts forward the same understanding in Genesis 1. In Gen 1.27 we are told that we are created male and female. The very next verse gives us the command to ‘be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth’. Creation as male and female immediately leads to the command to reproduce because being male or female is rooted in our reproductive system. And as in science, in the Bible we find no other stable binary on which biological sex could be based.

When we think about transition, science again supports this understanding. Medical and surgical transition can, in reality, only make surface changes to an individual. Even if some aspects of a trans person’s body may be altered to appear more like the reproductive system of the sex they believe themselves to be, their reproductive system can never truly be restructured to take on a different role in procreation. No surgery can allow a biological male to produce large gametes (eggs) or a biological female to produce small gametes (sperm).

IP: We live in a culture in which emotions seem to dominate so many debates, especially in this area. Is it possible to engage with the ‘objective’ issues here—and if so, how can we do this constructively?

AB: I’m not keen to ignore emotions. They shouldn’t dominate a debate, but, as a good gift from God, they may have a place. The fact that emotion is often prominent in debates about this topic is a reminder that it’s a topic about real life and real people. We should pay attention to emotions—both our own and those of others—better to understand where we’re coming from, what we care about, and how we might move forward together. But we shouldn’t be controlled by emotions.

For example, a common emotive element of this discussion is the reality of mental health and suicidality among trans people. It is right that people get emotional about that. If we love people, we should care about mental health struggles and suicidality. Emotion alerts us to something important. The next step is to consider objectively where the relationship between trans experience and mental health lies and, on the basis of that, how we can best help people. We engage objectively at this point, not to ignore emotion, but because of emotion, because we care.

Problems arises when we stop at emotion and don’t allow it to lead us to objectively consider key questions. This is where we get the real tensions in the cultural debates. We all agree that we want to find the best way to help trans people. We all agree that we want to help the mental health of trans people and to reduce suicidality. But if we don’t take an objective look at these questions and instead stick with our emotional responses, we won’t be able to find the best answers. We can only debate constructively if we acknowledge emotion but then lay it to one side to engage the key questions.

IP: You make a surprising turn by looking at the question of hope and suffering. How has this changed the nature of the debate for you? What do Christians and the church have to offer here?

AB: I think this is the real crux of different perspectives on trans experience. Some see it is identity and as just part of the diversity of humanity. On this view, it makes sense that transition is the best solution. But I think that the Bible and science suggest that trans experience is better understood as an example of suffering. This is a growing view, especially among professionals reflecting on the huge increase in trans-identifying teens.

If this is so, then Christians and the church are uniquely equipped to help because we are uniquely equipped to handle suffering well and to help others to do the same. We have a worldview—the Bible’s big story—that explains why suffering exists but also why we all know it shouldn’t. That gives us permission to lament over pain and suffering, a practice that itself has power to strengthen us in the face of suffering. Our worldview also tells us there is a day coming when suffering ends. That gives us strength to keep going in the here and now. 

We also have the ability to invite people into relationships that can support, encourage and sustain in the midst of suffering—a relationship with God and relationships with his people. The work of the Spirit and the active love and care of church family are part of what God gives us to help us face and navigate suffering. For those of us who want to support well, that is often as simple as being a good friend, being someone who is present, who listens, and who gently points to the truths of the gospel and the age to come.

IP: Do you think it is possible for Christians in the local church to engage fruitfully with this whole issue? What are the secrets to doing this well?

AB: I do, and I think it’s an area of great opportunity. We’re talking about people experiencing something difficult and distressing, looking for a clear sense of who they are, and, often, looking for a community where they can belong. We’re at the stage where many are noticing that the solution that has often been offered (i.e. transitioning) doesn’t actually bring the hoped-for relief. And sadly, because of that, we now have many people feeling hurt and let down, people who are living with the life-long impact of medical and surgical interventions that didn’t deliver and that should probably never have been offered to them. Against that background, we have the opportunity to be a community where people can experience love, care, and acceptance, can find out who they truly are, and can find support to navigate whatever experience of suffering they may be facing.

To do this well we need to be informed. Learning a bit about this topic is vital. We can’t respond well if we don’t first understand. We need to think in terms of people, not just issues and ideology. We need to think about the ‘why’ and not just the ‘what’. Why does God call us to live out our biological sex? Why might he ask someone with gender dysphoria not to transition? Why can he be trusted on this? And we need to act, not only speak. We can’t just pronounce an answer, we need to be the answer, being the sort of Christians and the sort of churches who can bring real hope and help to those suffering as a result of gender dysphoria.

We have good news for transgender people, good news for detransitioners, and good news for anyone who feels a level of discomfort with their sex and gender. My hope is that the church might become the most obvious place for those for whom these experiences are real-life to turn. I think that would be a good sign that we were becoming more like Jesus.


Andrew Bunt serves as an assistant pastor at King’s Church Hastings and Bexhill, and is also part of the team at Living Out. He studied theology at Durham University and King’s College London and loves helping people to understand and live out biblical teaching. He blogs as a contributor at Think Theology

Andrew’s booklet People not Pronouns: Reflections on Transgender Experience is available from Grove Books, post-free in the UK or as a PDF ebook.


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102 thoughts on “Can we combine compassion and truth in response to transgender?”

  1. Before we treat transgenderism as a brute scientific fact,

    (1) every time the transgender lobby clash with the feminist lobby, self-contradiction in thought comes to the fore, showing that at least one must be wrong.

    (2) consider why this matter does not arise in different ages and cultures but only where it is topical.

    (3) has the distinction ever been made between gender stereotypes and gender?

    (4) define terms – ‘trans’ is used to mean quite different things.

    (5) Re self-identification on the basis of inner feelings – how would one know what it feels like to be a woman if one is not one oneself?

    (6) feelings fluctuate, so theories that say they don’t are not correct

    (7) chromosomal and biological data are more firm, by a considerable distance, than their competitors

    (8) There is the phenomenon of ‘playing up’ and ‘reaction’. If anything is out of kilter in the roots of one’s life and family, one’s reaction to that will manifest in some way e.g. rebellion against biology or some other kind of rebellion. In an age where far more families are wrenched out of shape (meaning human damage) then the number of people who will react or rebel in some such way will accordingly increase. The sexual revolutionaries, eager to cover up the fact that they themselves have caused this disaffection or estrangement from reality and biology, will then leave no stone unturned to pretend that this is a universal phenomenon on the universal-human-rights level. Estrangement is not a universal phenomenon. It depends to a large degree on which norms are being taught in a given society.

    Do we have compassion for such victims of the sexual revolution. Yes, very much so. We have compassion for all the different kinds of victims of the sexual revolution. See Jennifer Roback Morse.

    Reply
      • I think Christopher’s written response is both

        Greiving and lament is a heart response, as is the Goodnews of Jesus both head and heart.
        How any of us reponds to a person before us does not always stringently match our written words.
        But neither should the systems and culture, the sources, which espouse and fertilise the rampant oversexualised destabalising and confusing societal drivers be ignored.
        Even taking this topic out the equation, sucidial ideation is a deep concern, only more so when when it is added back into the multi – facetted dimention of a life not worth living.
        And, this may shock some, while employed for a mental health charity, there are those who would advocate the philosophy of self-determination, so much so that they would not intervene in a suicide. (They weren’t Christians).

        Reply
      • It’s trying to isolate and enumerate the illogicalities, as ever. So a head response.

        Is it heartfelt? 100%. Because good people care and are passionate, and the degree of their care and passion is the degree to which it is heartfelt. I can never understand failure to be passionate about things that matter, in proportion to how much they matter.

        Is it *based* on emotion? 0%. It is contemplation of the logic of the situation that is what generates the passion.

        Reply
        • Yes. Also it is right that logic be ‘cold’ and objective, especially in our postmodern and touchy-feely environs. There are all kinds of logical matters, but it is the ones whose implications touch the heart that we will be motivated to write about.

          Reply
  2. We’re at the stage where many are noticing that the solution that has often been offered (i.e. transitioning) doesn’t actually bring the hoped-for relief. And sadly, because of that, we now have many people feeling hurt and let down, people who are living with the life-long impact of medical and surgical interventions that didn’t deliver and that should probably never have been offered to them.”

    I think this is the most important element of the response and one that frequently gets overlooked.

    We can be very quick to condemn medical professionals, counsellors/psychologists and even the trans community themselves for pushing the route towards surgical intervention*, without reflecting on why it’s so attractive when it carries such great risks.

    For many trans people, particularly the younger ones, the problem is that the choice between transition and (??) is presented as exactly that; a non-choice. You express feelings of gender dysphoria, and boom, he’s your one-way ticket to surgery-town.

    *of course sometimes they deserve the criticism

    Mat

    Reply
        • Yes, that’s very disappointing. I’m sure that the case will end up in the Supreme Court eventually, though, so all is not lost.

          Reply
          • I’m sure that the case will end up in the Supreme Court eventually, though

            I don’t think so — I go the impression that there wasn’t leave to appeal this decision.

            What has been made clear though (paragraphs 92-3 of the judgement) is that this is absolutely not a blanket ruling that all children are to be considered competent to decide for themselves that they want puberty blockers. Rather, it overturns the previous ruling which was a blanket ban the other way, and puts the onus back on clinicians — with a stern warning that they face legal consequences in future cases if they get it wrong.

            If a doctor in future prescribes puberty blockers for a child without recording a serious and thorough investigation into whether that particular child is competent, that they are prepared to stand up and defend in court — and they can show that they don’t just go through the motions and then find every child competent — they will be in serious legal jeopardy.

            This should make them much more careful, and end the ‘automatic affirmation’ approach where any child presenting with gender dysphoria was automatically presumed to be (a) a candidate for puberty blockers and (b) competent to consent to them.

  3. If I have read this correctly, Andrew Bunt has three main points:
    1. Many individuals suffer from gender dysphoria
    2. Some Christians are nasty to them
    3. The solution is to prioritise compassion and creating welcoming an non-judging communities, while holding on to the biblical view, backed up by scientists who hold to traditional biology, that there are only two sexes.
    There appears to be no acknowledgement of the powerful secular ideologies of the sexual revolution, the cult of the expressive self (as described by Carl Trueman), and what is broadly called ‘critical theory’ which identifies and calls for the elimination of ‘oppressive structures’.
    There is no mention of the horrendous effects of surgery on young people, or of the problem of large numbers of teenage girls opting out of womanhood (something which has caused alarm to feminists), except as part of a controversy causing emotional heat.
    There is no mention of the way that trans ideology is being imposed on schools and workplaces, and how dissenters (ie, people with common sense and concern for children and the truth) are demonised and have lost their jobs.

    Mr Bunt seems to believe that “there are no issues or problems, just people”, (the phrase used by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his radical inclusion speech in 2017). There are no dangerous ideologies and false philosophies leading people astray from the truth, in fact ‘grooming’ and catechising us all, there are just suffering individuals with their own internal problems, for whom the response should simply be compassion and inclusion. Perhaps there is no radical Islam, just nice Muslims needing Christian compassion? Any attempt to critique the ideology is seen as an attack on the person, therefore don’t go there.

    Sorry, but I’m with Paul here, in Colossians 2:8.

    Reply
    • Your words are extraordinary in their clarity and wisdom Andrew.
      I have one observation/suggestion. Here are four things which interrelate but which are distinct:
      – people
      – groups to which they belong
      – the ideologies which form the foundations of the groups to which they belong
      – the larger ways of thinking of which those ideologies are an example or subset
      To explain the fourth item and how it differs from the third let me use the ideology you raised – radical Islam. Radical Islam is an ideology – but the larger idea of which it is an example and a subset is legalism. Legalism as opposed to holiness, justice, mercy and grace. Because some have wrong ideas about what makes radical Islam harmful (some may for example be focused greatly on specific Islamic behaviours like covering the bodies of women and therefore imagine that by banning such behaviours Islam is defeated) I think it is helpful to speak about issues by starting at the bottom of the four ideas above and working towards the top. So instead of referring to Muslims – or Islamic groups – or radical Islam – directly we would start by explaining that legalism is an opponent to the gospel – which is reflected in radical Islam – which is followed by many but not necessarily all Islamic groups – which contain people who may or may not in their beliefs actually be Muslims. In speaking in this way we ensure that people not be justified in believing that our battle is against flesh and blood – and we also ensure that people will see that any action that seeks to defeat legalism will uproot Islam without acting directly in relation to it.
      The primary failing in the UK church currently isn’t to treat people as living representations of particular ideologies – it’s to fail to see the way in which ideologies must be defeated for people to be loved as God wishes for them to be loved – expressed in the failure to establish patterns of discipleship in word and action which are counter cultural and gain traction. Since this is so – and as part of ensuring that no-one find excuses for thinking that this is not so – I believe we must make sure that we are carefully to reveal the interrelated but not equivalent nature of the four things I listed.

      Reply
      • Let me clarify one further thing – whilst we must look for where there is separation – not absolute equivalence – between each of the four items I listed I am not saying there always will be distance. For example there isn’t distance where a person has heard the truth – which is merciful and gracious, which enlightens, which empowers, enabling them to repent – but they then refuse to do so. In such a case external influences cannot be blamed for that person’s choices. This is why it was not unhelpful when you quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury without putting his behaviour into some wider context – his beliefs and behaviour are not a by product of anything that is larger and distinct from him. To get to where he is now has taken considerable effort on his part – he had to ignore all of the legacy of influences on the Church of England like Billy Graham’s 1954 visit to the UK, and Martyn Lloyd Jones influence etc. That takes some doing.

        Reply
  4. “But I think that the Bible and science suggest that trans experience is better understood as an example of suffering. This is a growing view, especially among professionals reflecting on the huge increase in trans-identifying teens.

    If this is so, then Christians and the church are uniquely equipped to help because we are uniquely equipped to handle suffering well and to help others to do the same. We have a worldview—the Bible’s big story—that explains why suffering exists but also why we all know it shouldn’t. That gives us permission to lament over pain and suffering, a practice that itself has power to strengthen us in the face of suffering. Our worldview also tells us there is a day coming when suffering ends. That gives us strength to keep going in the here and now. ”

    Yes. But we need to discuss what in the Bible’s worldview ‘explains why suffering exists’.

    My view is – because of the Fall. Which has affected us all. Affected us all in one same fundamental way: we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards. Affected us all in different ways – some much harder to bear than others.

    Phil Almond

    Reply
  5. Compassion for the lost and confused is a priority for us as Christians. But the secular world requires everyone on punishment of committing a hate crime, to endorse and affirm the confusion of gender type. Gender which is a word that did not exist 50 years ago. It always strikes me as incongruous that we try to help an anorexic who looks in the mirror and sees a fat person, even though they are skeletally thin, and yet we are coerced to affirm a person with a male body who says they are a woman, or vice versa.
    My step daughter worked with a “couple” who both felt that they were in the wrong body (so he was she and she was he) – one of them took their own life. Living a lie is a terrible place to be.
    We are called by God to speak the truth in love, but truth is not something that this world wants to hear.

    Reply
    • We hear that disorder is a result of the fall (yes); and also where a society has mixed up and contradictory messages about male and female, then the harvest of that will be predictable.

      Reply
      • My grandson is in Year 9 at a local Academy. He has just come back from Drama Club in the village and reported that a girl in Year 11 made a statement to the group at the beginning of the session that she had changed her name and was non-binary and they should all now call her by this name and use they and them pronouns.
        Why should the majority be oppressed by the minority and conform to someone’s confusion? There is already another person in Year 11 that says they are a boy.
        My grandson is taking up rugby!

        Reply
  6. Another anti-trans approach which looks scientific but isn’t.

    For the record, the ‘summary of peer-reviewed research’ was not itself peer reviewed, and appeared in a conservative right-wing American publication, The New Atlantis. Colleagues of Prof. McHugh distanced themselves from the report: ‘We do not believe that the “Sexuality and Gender” report cited above is a comprehensive portrayal of the current science, and we respectfully disassociate ourselves from its findings.’

    The claim that ‘the solution that has often been offered (i.e. transitioning) doesn’t actually bring the hoped-for relief’ is not supported by any evidence. In fact, transitioning leads to better mental health (see Dhejne et al, 2016). Additionally, those who transition have remarkably low regret rates (less than 2%, with a more recent study showing still lower levels). Gender Identity Conversion Therapy results in higher suicide rates and mental distress (see Turban et al, 2020).

    In short, transitioning leads to better health. Attempted gender conversion leads to worse health.

    Christians are called to truth. I find nothing truthful about pretending that the science isn’t clear.

    Some of the comments show an ignorance of reality, such as ‘You express feelings of gender dysphoria, and boom, he’s your one-way ticket to surgery-town.’ In practice, the waiting list in England is about three years just to the first appointment (at least two years pre-pandemic). The follow-up appointments take another year to 16 months. And, of course, surgery is only carried out on adults.

    The Biblical argument against transitioning is weaker than cheap tissue paper. It appears to consist in waving around ‘Genesis 1’ and hoping no-one notices that this doesn’t address transitioning at all.

    The ‘pastoral’ response here appears to be: you need to suffer. But don’t worry – we know about suffering.

    When there are alternatives that lead to less suffering, then I find both the pretence that these alternatives don’t work and the call to suffering immoral.

    Christians are called to love. I find nothing loving in the article’s proposals.

    Reply
    • Jonathan, can I ask you a couple of questions.

      First, if I cite a peer-reviewed journal, is my comment worthless unless my citation itself is also peer-reviewed?

      Second, in what ways did Meyer and McHugh misrepresent the material they cited?

      Third, if something is published in a ‘right wing’ publication, does that prove it is false?

      Fourth, what do you think is actually going on with gender dysphoria? Do you believe that there is no such thing as biological sex? Or do you think that we have sexed souls, and that ‘transition’ is about making our bodies conform to those sexed souls? If so, what evidence do you have for this? If not, what do you think is happening?

      Perhaps a parallel might help. If some group of people were distressed at having two arms and two legs, and research showed that their distress would be alleviated by having a limb amputated, should we do that? would it be the loving thing to do? If not, why not?

      thanks

      Reply
      • “For the record, the ‘summary of peer-reviewed research’ was not itself peer reviewed, and appeared in a conservative right-wing American publication”

        That statement is simply bigoted.

        Conservative and right wing – in your book that must be bad then. Nothing to see here.

        Reply
        • I do not read it that way at all. And you quote partially. I read Jonathan Tallon giving the context/background to the research cited. Not to dismiss it. But it gives an idea of what line it is likely to be taking. You will not convince me that when you pick up a book, report or research, especially on a contested subject, you do not do the same.

          Reply
          • Gender critical comment is not exclusively conservative or right wing David. When I look at a report or article, of course the writer’s bias will be inherent to a greater or lesser degree but I try to look past that to what is actually being said and and to evaluate it objectively. I don’t get the impression from Jonathan comments that he has really done that.

          • It is one thing to suspect a contributor lacks objectivity. Fine, say so. It is another to call him a bigot. And this while responding to Andrew Bunt who says – “The conversation is volatile and complex because it’s about real life and real people …” For this reason we should “stop and think about how we engage well and in a helpful way, but we should still engage.”

          • I agree David that We should engage in a helpful way. Dismissing an article in part, on the basis that it is ‘conservative and right wing’ is neither objective or helpful and does not contribute anything towards understanding this complex condition. It is a prejudiced statement.

          • David R, you speak as though a few pieces of research were cited. The article aimed to summarise all of the available research. SO how on earth can one generalise about that, as you are doing?

            Of course there are things that one can generalise about because it leaps out from all the research, namely the massively larger rates among homosexual men of STIs, promiscuity, unsafe sexual practices, and lesser longevity.

          • Chris. He did not dismiss the article actually. He just gave some important background to it. I think his response to Ian on this same point makes it clear why it was important to do so. I agree with him. And there is plenty in the contributions here noting the supposed ideological background and biases of those supporting trans issues. But that’s objective is it? I am not sure I can persuade you, but thanks for engaging.

          • David, Jonathan began his comment ‘Another anti-trans approach which looks scientific but isn’t.’ So, yes, quite dismissive.

            He then went on to claim that the citation of science was skewed by the religious/political agenda of the authors, suggesting that he was offering an objective corrective.

            In fact, if you read down, you will see a couple of comments from actual medical practitioners who offer recent studies showing what Jonathan claims is not true.

            So the comment was negative, was itself skewed, and was inaccurate. It is good to have more recent science now available.

            You are right, though: on this everyone has an agenda. The reason I thought Andrew B was someone worth listening to is that, unlike many of us, he has had to wrestle with this personally. I don’t think his testimony should be so easily dismissed.

          • Ian, in reply to your comments on my initial comment:
            Was I dismissive? Yes, of statements that are truth claims not backed up by the science. Frankly, this approach should be dismissed.

            Secondly, yes I do think that New Atlantis article was skewed (as do most researchers working in this field). And I do think details of the organisation and authors are important here. And I do think it important that this wasn’t peer-reviewed, but is treated as the go-to piece on science and sexuality/gender by many in the evangelical community.

            Do I claim objectivity? No, but you can go and check my references yourself, including a peer-reviewed overview of 38 studies, with a clear methodology for which studies were included, which excluded, why, and how the data was assessed. All missing from the New Atlantis.

            You claim that the comments below have studies ‘showing that what Jonathan claims is not true’. Except that they don’t (see my comments on each). Did you read the studies yourself?

            My comment was negative, I never claim to be objective, but I stand by the accuracy of everything I posted.

            Personal testimony is important, and Andrew Bunt’s experience is important, but these are separate issues from the scientific background.

          • Thanks Jonathan. Discussion about the papers is happening on those threads.

            But you appear to continue to avoid the central question: what do you think is actually happening in gender dysphoria? What is ‘gender identity’? If you don’t want to talk of a sexed soul, what is it that is causing people to feel they are a gender in conflict with their biological sex?

            As others have asked: Can someone’s ‘gender identity’ change over time, or is it inherent and fixed? Can someone be ‘cis’ at one time and become ‘trans’ at some point later (or vice versa) or if they are ‘trans’ at one point does that mean they must have been ‘trans’ all their life? Can someone be mistaken about their own gender identity — can they think they are ‘cis’ when they are actually ‘trans’ (and vice versa)?

            These are central questions for anyone claiming support for clinical transition.

            And again, I would pose the parallel question: If some group of people were distressed at having two arms and two legs, and research showed that their distress would be alleviated by having a limb amputated, should we do that? Would it be the loving thing to do? If not, why not?

            I look forward to hearing your answers, so as to understand what your approach is to this vexed issue.

          • Ian. Well I note Jonathan himself is happy to own the word ‘dismissive’. But he has gone to some trouble here to respond and give his reasons why – and to demonstrate a great deal of research and care in forming his views on this difficult subject – whether or not others here agree with him. In doing so he has offered genuine debate here on what is otherwise very one-sided discussion so far. I for one am very grateful. In that sense ‘dismissive’ is hardly a word to use of his contributions here. And still less ‘bigot’ – which only I have challenged.

          • Thanks David. Actually, he was not called a bigot; one statement was called out as bigoted, which is very different.

            Yes, lots of citation of research papers. But no answer at all to the central question: what is ‘gender identity’? Where does it come from? What is its scientific basis? Is it stable? How has it become of such central importance that it trumps biological identity and can lead to the cutting up of the body?

            It would be odd to have a ‘well thought through’ view without these questions being address. Without answers, there is a large hole at the centre.

            And do you have any thoughts on this central question?

          • I agree the questions are important. I am also in no doubt Jonathan Tallon has given them very careful thought. He just hasn’t done so on your blog. An idea. Why not invite Jonathan to guest blog ‘a view from the other side’ on this and debate what comes?

          • These are central questions for anyone claiming support for clinical transition.

            I’m not certain they are, actually. You can support a clinical treatment if you think there’s evidence that it works (however you define ‘works’) even if you have no idea how it works or what is actually wrong with the people it apparently helps. In fact this isn’t unusual: quite a large proportion of prescribed medicines are anti-depressants, and nobody has the first clue how they work (the ‘seratonin imbalance theory’ popular when I was growing up has turned out to be a load of rubbish), but people still use them because they seem to work even if nobody knows why.

            So you could support clinical transition on a purely practical basis without necessarily having any coherent idea of how it helps.

            But if you want to make larger, ontological claims that go beyond practically but impinge on matters of reality and existence, like the existence of something called ‘gender identity’ in anything beyond the most subjective sense, or that people ‘really are’ the sex they claim themselves to be, for instance, then you really do have to have answers to these sorts of questions.

            (And my theory for why advocates of the ‘trans ideology’ always refuse to answer them is that these questions are controversial within the community: for some ‘being trans’ is something they feel they have been all their lives and had no control over, whereas for others ‘gender identity’ is something they experiment with, casually taking on and discarding identities. So to take a stance either way would be to split the movement when its greatest strength is its united front and, what is worse, to be a ‘gatekeeper’ over who is ‘really’ ‘trans’, which is the biggest anathema at all to this new religion of unconditional acceptance.)

          • David, I am glad you are so confident. Yes, I could ask for a blog post—but I have already asked three times here and received no answer, in amongst the other responses.

            I look forward to the response. What about you? Do you have any thoughts on this?

          • ‘So you could support clinical transition on a purely practical basis without necessarily having any coherent idea of how it helps.’

            Yes, true, but that is why I asked my supplementary question, to which I have also yet to hear an answer: If some group of people were distressed at having two arms and two legs, and research showed that their distress would be alleviated by having a limb amputated, should we do that? Would it be the loving thing to do? If not, why not?

          • Ian,

            Gender identity is a person’s innate sense of their own gender. Gender dysphoria is distress caused by a mismatch between this own innate sense and the gender assigned to that person. You use ‘biological sex’, but I’m still waiting to hear what you mean by this. As I have pointed out in a number of places, this innate sense of one’s own gender is at least partly biological in nature (see Diamond, 2013, for example).

            You ask whether gender identity can change over time. Generally, for the large majority (both cis and trans), it is stable, and present from young childhood (four or five upwards) though for a minority it develops later and/or is more fluid.

            I do not see that this materially affects the arguments for clinical transition. Given that regret rates are extremely low, I see no justification in preventing adults from exploring, and if appropriate continuing with, transition.

            As indicated elsewhere in the comments, I find the ‘parallels’ unhelpful, and I shall not engage with them.

          • David R. As Ian notes, I was very careful to call the statement bigoted and not the person. I always try to make a distinction between what is being written and the person themselves. I do not consider Jonathan personally to be a bigot. From what I have seen of his writings on this blog he writes with knowledge, coherence and with passion on transgender issues and his assertions which challenge accepted evangelical thinking, are worthy of a considered response. I find his writings give me insights into the ‘other side’ as it were, even though I disagree profoundly with much of what he writes -particularly his definitions of sex and gender and how scripture understands these terms. I think at times, we are all capable of making statements with prejudice- but that does not mean we are inherently bigoted.

            What I would be interested to learn from him is what he thinks about Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) where people perceive that parts of their body are somehow wrong and do not match their perceived identity and seek to have surgery to remove or alter their appearance. I think this is what Ian was referring to in his response to Jonathan who stated that he wished not to discuss issues like this as he thought it would be demeaning to people who are transgender.

            Surgery for BIID was carried out in the UK until quite recently but was stopped due to disquiet from the medical profession. I recall reading in a medical journal (which I can’t trace at the moment), where medical practioners in thie field noted that the behavioral responses and perceptions of patients with BIID were strikingly similar before and after to those undergoing transgender surgery.

            While some expressed regret in being surgically altered in appearance, most found improvement in their mental health and were satisfied with the outcome. So I do think that Ian’s question in this respect is a perfectly valid one and has some connection with treatments for transgenderism.

          • Ian – losing track of where to post responses. Thank you for inviting me to write on this. You honour me. But I am not ready to contribute in that way – still seeking here and elsewhere to listen and learn on this complex subject.

          • Well, always good to listen and learn. But in the meantime we have these horrific things happening to children:

            ‘I know of parents who have only found out their children are identity as the opposite sex when a letter has come home referring to the child with a different name and pronoun! I spoke to parent (not a Christian) whose daughter (on the autistic spectrum) had suddenly identified as non-binary after becoming friends with another girl who identified as trans!’

            Children are being harmed, and parents distressed, by an ideological movement which appears to have little justification in reality. It is all very well avoiding the language of a ‘sexed soul’ and ‘not discussing parallels’, but the issue is real and pressing.

          • Gender identity is a person’s innate sense of their own gender

            Is this ‘sense’ like the sense of sight, or the sense of one’s internal temperature, that is, a perception of something beyond itself, something else, something objective?

            Or is it a ‘sense’ like a sense of wellbeing or a sense of dread, that is, the sense is itself the entirely subjective experience?

            When someone says they have a ‘sense’ of their own gender, is that like me saying I have a sense I have a fever, or is it more like me saying that I have a sense of foreboding when I hear the government is to make another coronavirus announcement?

            If the former and it is a sense like a perception of something objective and outside itself, what is that thing is a sense of?

            If it is the latter and the sense is itself just a subjective experience that doesn’t relate to anything outside itself, then surely it can’t in any way be related to what sex someone ‘really’ is?

          • As indicated elsewhere in the comments, I find the ‘parallels’ unhelpful,

            What do you mean by ‘unhelpful’? Do you think they are not good parallels, so they do not help us get closer to the truth of what is going on?

            If so, could you explain why you do not think they are good parallels? Because prima facie there seem to be a lot of points of similarity, so I don’t think you can just dismiss it out of hand without an explanation.

          • Jonathan, theories’ accuracy is measured by their success in answering questions. But the parallel adduced you do not answer. Worse, you do not even address it. This has implications for anyone’s assessment of the degree of accuracy in your theory.

          • Ian,

            Can I check – are you saying that people don’t have an innate sense of their own gender? Because I’ve given a pretty standard definition of gender identity, and I’m bemused as to what more you want.

            Where does it come from? Probably largely from some combination of genetics and in-utero hormones (as suggested, though the data is still not conclusive, by work on brain structure). This is also why it is a false dichotomy to place gender identity on one side and biological sex on the other. Gender identity is (at least partly) biological.

            Does it really exist? Yes – you partly inherit it. If it didn’t exist, then you could form babies into whatever gender you wanted without any trouble. But that’s not the case (you can even check out the New Atlantis article for this bit – the case of David Reimer. It shows the stability of gender identity and the difficulty in trying to change it). Gender identity is real and powerful.

            Given that we would (I hope) agree that people have an innate sense of their sexual orientation, I don’t see why saying we have an innate sense of our gender should be controversial.

            And I don’t see why talking about gender dysphoria is an issue. Most people have various markers of gender which align (whether chromosomal, hormonal, body shape, brain structure, gender identity). When these don’t all align for people, and there’s a mismatch between how others have assigned their gender, and that causes distress, then that’s gender dysphoria.

          • Can I check – are you saying that people don’t have an innate sense of their own gender?

            And can I ask again — is this ‘sense’ a matter of perception, like the sense of sight, or of touch? Is someone’s ‘own gender’ a real thing that exists objectively and independently of their perception of it?

            Or is it an entirely subjective feeling, a ‘sense’ like a ‘sense of fulfilment’ or a ‘sense of anxiety’?

            Most people have various markers of gender which align (whether chromosomal, hormonal, body shape, brain structure, gender identity)

            This is interesting because again I got the impression that those in the ‘trans community’ were very much against the idea that there could be ‘markers’ of being ‘trans’, whether chromosomal, hormonal, or to do with body shape or brain structure, because if any such were identified they could be used as a ‘gatekeeping’ test to classify ‘real’ ‘trans’ people as those who had such markers, and as I wrote elsewhere, such would be the greatest sin in the new religion.

          • (In case you are interested, I think Gina’s research is seriously flawed.)

            So do you think there are differences in brain structure between men and women, or just that that particular research doesn’t prove there aren’t?

            It was my impression that, given a random extra-cranial brain, no coroner would be able to say with accuracy better than chance whether it had come from the head of a man or a woman; is that not the case?

          • If you told a coroner a person’s height, they could not tell you whether that person was a man or a woman. Does that mean men are not taller than women? It is this kind of failure of basic understanding that cripples her arguments at every point.

          • If you told a coroner a person’s height, they could not tell you whether that person was a man or a woman. Does that mean men are not taller than women?

            It means that height is not an essential difference between men and women.

            The differences between men and women fall into categories of essential and accidental differences. Both sides of the argument affect to ignore this for their own purposes, either claiming that the fact there are some accidental differences mean that there are no essential differences and therefore sex is not binary but a continuum; or that the fact there are essential differences means that all differences must be meaningful.

            In order to fulfil the function Mr Tallon wants about being a ‘marker’ that can be ‘misaligned’, brain structure would have to be an essential difference. If you don’t believe me, consider how ludicrous it would be to suggest that another accidental difference, like the one you mentioned, height, could be so misaligned such that tall women were in fact likely to be ‘really’ men. That’d be a surprise to, say, Maria Sharapova.

            But the fact that brain structure isn’t definitive means that it’s not an essential but an accidental difference. There’s no such thing as an essentially male brain, so there’s no such thing as a mismatch between a ‘male brain’ being trapped in a female body, for example. That would be as ridiculous as suggesting someone had a ‘male height’ trapped in a female body.

          • Some people love Marmite and some people hate Marmite.

            You can’t explain that by looking at the structure of the brain, but it’s demonstrable that the opinions on Marmite are often opposites, and that is an outcome of the operations of the brain.

            The operations of the brain also vary when it comes to identification with a female or male personality. That, too, is a demonstrable fact and reality.

            This identification with a female or male personality sometimes clashes and is incongruous with the chromosomes and reproductive systems a person is born with.

            It doesn’t mean the identification with a female or male personality is untrue, any more than love or hatred of Marmite are untrue. It is just what it is. And the outcome for some people is extreme internal suffering… and sadly an inability of some groups in society or a religion to accept they should experience themselves in this way – the brain’s operations just make a person love or hate Marmite, or identify and feel more like men or women in their lives.

            For people like myself, the incongruity and psychological conflict were resolved by simply transitioning my life and my hormones and my body and my expressions and my presentation, in such a way that how my (biological and real) brain operated in side my head no longer conflicted with the life I lived, or the body I lived in.

            My testimony is that the resolution brought psychological ease, far deeper happiness, improved productivity, and deeper spiritual relationship with God. That is the testimony of thousands of other people, similar to myself.

            The love or hatred of Marmite is not made up, is not an act. Neither is the sense and experience of gender identification. If I forced myself to eat Marmite, I would be sick. If I forced myself to ‘act out’ a masculine gender identity I don’t actually experience, that too would make me sick. It did, until I resolved the incongruence.

            I deeply appreciate the grace shown in discourse with a couple of people here. We have spent dozens of hours in discourse offline and it has been a blessing, spiritual as well as objectively. Being honest, I do find the hostility to the realities of my life can be distressing and wearing, so I’m not engaging in ping-pong discussions with everyone, (though I would with the Hostmaster in private offline correspondence).

            My life is incredibly happy and blessed at this stage in my life. I have a wonderful caring wife. I have three children who are committed Christians who love me dearly as I love them. After transition, my life took off and flourished, as I retrained as a nurse. I do not have a problem. (Well of course, apart from the little selfishnesses and mistakes we all make, myself, yourself.)

            The real question is not for me: it is will you (like the Law, like the NHS, like countless colleagues and friends, like hundreds of organisations) accept my lived experience is real, and look past that to God’s value of my life and the whole of who I am… and exercise kindness, grace, welcome, and the maturity to accept that’s just how some people’s brains operate, without in any way making them sinful… and are you willing to really see past an issue which might actually be YOUR issue… to the whole gift and givenness a transitioned person may offer to your community?

            Many people can handle that step beyond a single issue to the whole of who a person is and what they offer, and I’ve been incredibly grateful to colleagues and patients and some of you (privately) here, and to the waitress or shopkeeper who shrugs and says, ‘If you are happy, well as far as I’m concerned it seems to me you’re a woman, and what’s wrong with that’ and they see past one issue and are still able to be decent and accepting of the totality of me.

            Throughout 12 years since I transitioned, only a few people have acted with unnecessary repudiation or rudeness. My experience is that all my colleagues and patients have treated me in line with my gender identification and lived out life, and I find it really sad that the people supposed to be tasked with ‘The Good News’ of the gospel are sometimes the ones who remain entrenched, dismissive, critical, denying the realities I have successfully dealt with, and attributing ‘sin’ to the realities of how my brain has operated, and the undoubted happiness of my life now. I find that really sad,

            Thankfully, plenty of Christians actually listen, and respect, and see past some fiction of gender incongruency being ‘sin’. The wonderful nuns who nursed me for 10 weeks after gender surgery. The Christian fellowships who are radical in their inclusion to all kinds of diversity. The priest who married us, the PCC and congregation who helped with the service, dressed the bridesmaids, served at the reception, and felt *proud* of their community for accepting people for who they are, and seeing what diverse people offer.

            As my priest said to my wife and I: “How can we not celebrate your marriage, like anyone else’s. You bring gift to our community, and because of you, we grow a bit more.”

            Anyway, I respect your right to your own consciences, and the choice is yours. The choice is also the wider church’s.

            But please, no marmite sandwiches.

          • The operations of the brain also vary when it comes to identification with a female or male personality. That, too, is a demonstrable fact and reality.

            How do they vary? I mean presumably you don’t mean ridiculous stereotypes that female brains like playing with dolls and make brains like playing with toy guns; or that female brains are interested in fashion but can’t do maths, while male brains can parallel park but can’t do small talk. So what do you mean?

            This identification with a female or male personality

            Again: what is a ‘female personality’ and what is a ‘male personality’? I don’t suppose you mean old, tired sexist stereotypes; so what do you mean?

            The love or hatred of Marmite is not made up, is not an act. Neither is the sense and experience of gender identification.

            As I asked someone else who has not yet answered, perhaps you can help. Is this ‘sense […] of gender identification’ a sense like the sense of sight or the sense of temperature, that is, a perception of something external to itself? That is, is ‘gender identification’ a thing external to the sense of it, which you perceive by means of this ‘sense’? Or is it like a ‘sense of wellbeing’ or a ‘sense of dread’, that is, the sense is itself entirely a subjective experience?

          • I hope this comes out in the right place on this thread. I want to thank Susannah for sharing of her story here – and so graciously (and bravely) . ‘Always with, not about’ is the working principle the CofE is committed to in such discussions. Suzanna has made that possible here, alongside Andrew Bunt. Thank you to both.

      • Ian,

        I’m not at my desk, so can’t answer all the questions. With that said:
        1. If you cite a peer reviewed article, that’s helpful. I can go and check it out, and it has passed some type of quality threshold. Citing an overview (as in the article) which isn’t peer reviewed is much less helpful, particularly when one of the authors has ‘history’ in this area. Best of all is citing a peer-reviewed overview (like Dhejne et al, 2016).
        2. This would require more time to answer. But if you ignore studies which don’t support what you want to say, you can present a misleading picture of what the science says. This is the type of stuff that would be picked up by peer review.
        3. No, it doesn’t mean it’s false. But for transparency it’s better and fairer if it’s clear that this was an article published by an organisation linked with Heritage and with an existing particular agenda in this area.
        4. Define biological sex. (I see particular issues with those who insist on a type of chromosomal fundamentalism. If you need to know chromosomes to know sex, then we have no idea whether, for example, on this definition Paul or Jesus were male or female). I prefer to leave discussion of souls aside. I see no issue in using gender identity as the appropriate term (which is at least partly biological in nature). Gender dysphoria is when the various markers of gender do not align neatly, and there is a mismatch between the person’s gender identity and how they have been previously identified, causing that person distress.

        Reply
        • Thanks.

          1. You appear to believe that no conversation in this area is possible unless it is academic and peer reviewed. That is an odd approach to conversation—especially when most published research findings are false! https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124

          2. Yes you can. But I am not sure they did.

          3. Sorry—do you not ‘have an agenda’ in this area? Does anyone??

          4. I don’t need to define biological sex. I simply asked whether you believe there is such a thing.

          It is odd that you ‘prefer to leave discussions of souls aside’. Why? Where does gender identity come from? You appear to think it is of critical importance. So what is it? To say dysphoria is ‘there is a mismatch between the person’s gender identity and how they have been previously identified’ is disingenuous, not the usual definition, and avoids the issue. It is a disparity between ‘gender identity’ and biological sex. What do you think gender identity is, and why do you think it is more important than biological sex? You must know, in order to hold your position.

          Again, to repeat the illustration: If some group of people were distressed at having two arms and two legs, and research showed that their distress would be alleviated by having a limb amputated, should we do that? Would it be the loving thing to do? If not, why not?

          Reply
          • Hi Ian

            Some quick responses:

            1. I do not claim that ‘no conversations in this area is possible unless it is academic and peer reviewed’. However, where scientific truth claims are being made (for example, ‘We’re at the stage where many are noticing that the solution that has often been offered (i.e. transitioning) doesn’t actually bring the hoped-for relief’) then yes, I do think that we have a duty to include academic and peer-reviewed evidence. I am glad that some contributors lower down have done this. (The particular article to which you refer has been critiqued by the scientific community; in brief, the headline is not true).

            2. It is easier to let his colleagues and peers do the critiques. For example, Dean Hamer (geneticist) called their description of sexual orientation ‘pure balderdash’ and noted that of six important studies in one area they had omitted five while focusing on the one giving the lowest genetic component to orientation. They had also omitted a large scale meta-analysis. Hamer has further criticisms (source: https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2016/8/29/new-scientific-study-sexuality-gender-neither-new-nor-scientific).
            An open letter sent by researchers in the field (something which neither Mayer nor McHugh are) said: ‘Although the “Sexuality and Gender” report cites many peer-reviewed scientific articles, the interpretation, analysis, and summary of the scientific evidence in the report has not been peer reviewed. As scientific and medical experts, we affirm that the report’s conclusions do not reflect current scientific or medical consensus about sexual orientation or gender identity research findings or clinical care recommendations. As such, the report’s conclusions should not be viewed as a source of scientific or medical justification to support any legislation, judicial action, policymaking or clinical decision-making affecting the lives of LGBTQ people or their families.’ (Source: https://medschool.vanderbilt.edu/lgbti/files/lgbti/publication_files/ExpertLGBTIConcensusLetter.pdf).

            I do have my own criticisms from my more limited knowledge. It is strange that, for orientation, the fraternal birth order effect is only mentioned in passing in a long piece on a study which failed to find the effect, but ignored a number of more recent studies that did find it (and more careful analysis of that study also found the effect). As Bailey et al (2016) point out, this is an important piece of evidence that sexual orientation has a large non-social element, alongside a genetic element.

            3. Yes I do have an agenda in this area, as do we all. And I am at pains to make it transparent. For example, whenever I teach in this area I make my own position clear to students. I consider transparency to be important; too often, agendas are hidden away. So I consider it right that people should know in what type of publication the Mayer & McHugh article came from, and the background of the authors.

            4. ‘Biological sex’ can mean a number of different things (as can ‘soul’). If you are asking me whether I believe in something, I’d like to know what that something is meant to be. Physical body, hormones, gender identity, chromosomes, brain structure are all ‘biological’ to a greater or lesser degree.

            I was, as I say, away from my desk when responding. A more careful response about gender dysphoria is that it is distress caused by a mismatch between a person’s gender identity and the identity assigned them at birth. This is, I believe, a more usual, neater definition though my attempt above is along the same lines.

            I find comparisons to other, different situations generally unhelpful for this issue as for issues around orientation. Whatever the original intention, the illustrations end up demeaning a group of people who are already marginalised and facing discrimination.

          • A more careful response about gender dysphoria is that it is distress caused by a mismatch between a person’s gender identity and the identity assigned them at birth.

            Sex isn’t ‘assigned’ at birth though. It is recognised at birth (albeit, in rare cases of certain developmental disorders, wrongly).

          • It is recognised at birth

            In fact actually these days it’s more often recognised well before birth by a foetal DNA blood test, which is, I think, more accurate than visual inspection at birth in the cases of certain developmental disorders.

        • I see no issue in using gender identity as the appropriate term (which is at least partly biological in nature).

          Can someone’s ‘gender identity’ change over time, or is it inherent and fixed? Can someone be ‘cis’ at one time and become ‘trans’ at some point later (or vice versa) or if they are ‘trans’ at one point does that mean they must have been ‘trans’ all their life?

          Can someone be mistaken about their own gender identity — can they think they are ‘cis’ when they are actually ‘trans’ (and vice versa)?

          Reply
      • In your last paragraph, I think what you are referring to is Body Integrity Disorder. Patients with this condition could elect to have perfectly healthy limbs amputated and removed as it improved their mental heath and made them feel ‘right’.
        However, I believe this type of surgery has now been discontinued in the UK and is no longer offered.

        Reply
      • Chris. Yes I accept I quoted inaccurately. Apologies and thank you for clarifying. Though given the respect you have for Jonathan Tallon’s learning and views as ‘worthy of a considered response’ – though strongly disagreeing – I am the more surprised by your use of the word here. It tends to generate more heat than light. And far from the closed minded narrow opinion the word commonly describes he has engaged here with some care to clarify the basis for his views. Thanks again – and ‘Runcorn – read more carefully’.

        Reply
        • Thank you David, and given your long and distinguished pastoral experience l hope you will take up Ian’s offer of a opening post on these issues in the future.

          Reply
    • “Some of the comments show an ignorance of reality, such as ‘You express feelings of gender dysphoria, and boom, he’s your one-way ticket to surgery-town.’ In practice, the waiting list in England is about three years just to the first appointment (at least two years pre-pandemic). The follow-up appointments take another year to 16 months. And, of course, surgery is only carried out on adults.”

      My comment was not so much about speed (I’m well aware that the process is drawn-out and, in Britain at least, extremely slow to start ), but rather that the process was/is inexorable. Even if it is slow and if there are many pauses, it is still extremely difficult to go back and undo or reverse things that have been done, much moreso than forwards. And I don’t just mean surgical intervention, but hormone therapy, puberty-blockers and other treatments.

      I take the rebuke for being blaze about it, but I do stand by the comment. I think the perception from people approaching the process is that there is a clear, liner progression towards a ‘goal’ of some form of transition, and the pressure to conform to that is one of the most common themes among people who’ve de-transititioned, especially stateside.

      On your other points, aimed at the author and host of the article, I will leave them to respond.

      A pleasure,
      Mat

      Reply
      • Mat,
        Many thanks for your response. But what objective basis do you have that the process is ‘inexorable’? You focus on the irreversible nature of interventions, but to compare like with like, let’s stick to surgery. Surgery of all types tends to be irreversible. Some people will regret this. Surgery for transitioning has a regret rate of 2% or lower (from memory 0.3% in a large scale Dutch study). Surgery generally has a regret rate of around 14%, or 1 in 7 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28243695/). Why prevent adults from surgery which results in much greater satisfaction than most other surgeries?

        Reply
    • Just commenting on the science, the recent understanding of long term efficacy of Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) is not positive (although short term there are high levels of self-reported satisfaction). Branstrom and Pachankis published a paper in 2019 claiming that SRS led to a decrease in transgender people seeking treatment for mental health problems (e.g. depression), especially when the individuals were a number of years past surgery. This was widely reported in the media as proof of the effectiveness of SRS. However, after the paper was published, some academics challenged the conclusions of the study observing problems with its methodology. In August last year a correction was published (appi.ajp.2020.1778correction) which acknowledged the methodological weaknesses o and the fact that these meant the conclusions drawn were ‘too strong’. They acknowledged that further consideration of the data ‘demonstrated no advantage of surgery’ in relation to mental health.

      Secondly, Konrad and Kostev published a study just last year (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032720317432?via%3Dihub) looking at rates of depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders in those who have undergone SRS compared to a control group who hadn’t had SRS. They found significantly increased experiences of mental health problems among those who had undergone SRS, suggesting that the treatment may not be as effective in producing positive outcomes as has sometimes been claimed.

      It’s clear that detransitioners stories are coming out more and more – the 2016 study you quote is well out of date and given the small sample sizes and numbers lost to follow up is likely far, far higher than the figure you quote. See the Detransitioners Advocacy Network (https://thedetransitionadv.wixsite.com/detransadnet) for stories to go alongside the emerging statistics. Furthermore, if you comment on McHugh’s political / theological leanings, let’s be consistent and remember the public rap given by the Justice in the Kiera Bell case where the Tavsitock haven’t even been recording basic information to enable proper follow up – or James Caspian isn’t allowed to pursue a rigorous study on detransitioners by the University of Bath – numbers may be small because no-one is bothering to record them. This is, to put it politely, inexcusable.

      We actually must say, with humility, that the Science really ISN’T clear as much as folk on either side of the debate may want it to be. Good medicine would suggest we don’t plough on when there is genuine concern about whether we are doing no harm here, with small studies showing inconsistent findings but enough to suggest caution at the very least.

      The above relates to adults. I work as a paediatrician. The data for children is hugely (and I would argue even more) disturbing but should be dealt with separately to that which consenting adults can submit themselves to.

      Reply
      • Hi John

        To reply to each point:
        First, the Branstrom and Pachankis paper is just one of many studies examining the effectiveness of transitioning. The particular issue they faced is that their study was incapable of determining whether or not transitioning improved mental health, as the control group could not provide a proper comparison (they sate in trying to create a stronger control group they ‘found the options unsatisfactory, if not impossible’. The paper therefore neither gives evidence for the benefits of transitioning, nor provides any evidence against the benefits.

        The paper I cited (Dhejne et al, 2016) was a review of 38 studies, rather than just one. This is why I chose this rather than some other single studies.

        The Konrad and Kostev paper again gives no evidence either way on the effectiveness of transitioning. It compares people who have transitioned to people in the population generally, matched in a variety of ways. Unsurprisingly, it finds higher mental distress in those who are transgender. The paper itself cites Krell (2015) for good reasons for this higher distress: transgender people fear rejection by friends and families and face difficulties in a variety of settings including work.

        On regret and detransitioning: one of the biggest studies is Wiepjes et al (2018). This examined the entire Amsterdam cohort from 1975 to 2015. The clinic treats 95% of people in the Netherlands. 0.6% of transwomen and 0.3% of transmen were identified as expressing regret. The study covers a cohort of nearly 7,000 people. Of the 14 people out of this cohort who expressed regret, five did so for social reasons: ie, because they found they were not accepted by friends or families.

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        • The paper itself cites Krell (2015) for good reasons for this higher distress: transgender people fear rejection by friends and families and face difficulties in a variety of settings including work.

          Speculative. A just as, or more, likely explanation is that psychological disorders have are often correlated, so someone with gender dysphoria is probably quite likely to have other (possibly underlying) disorders as well, that may not be cured by surgery.

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          • (Indeed that’s even assuming, that gender dysphoria is always a distinct, discrete condition, rather than, which seems more likely, often the particular symptomatic manifestation of an underlying issue in the same way as, say, anorexia nervosa is often a symptomatic manifestation of an anxiety disorder such as OCD)

  7. Jonathan’s comment ‘In short, transitioning leads to better health’ seems rather questionable in the light of a recent article in the Journal of Homosexuality (peer-reviewed and not right wing) which documented the experiences of 237 detransitioners who clearer did not find better health from transitioning. The article concludes ‘These accounts are concerning and they show the urgency to increase awareness and reduce hostility around the topic of detransition among health care providers and members of the LGBT+ community in order to address the specific needs of detransitioners. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2021.1919479

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    • Hi Trevor,
      I am quite in support of ensuring that those who do wish to detransition receive the best possible health care, including mental health care, and that such people should not face hostility for their decision. The journal article quite rightly investigates what support those in this situation might need.

      This is an entirely separate issue from whether transitioning is of benefit for the majority of those undertaking it. With any type of intervention, a small minority will find it unhelpful or even harmful (consider the recent publicity over vaccines). This does not mean that the intervention is not best practice, and the journal article made no claims in this area.

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      • This is an entirely separate issue from whether transitioning is of benefit for the majority of those undertaking it.

        Can we just be clear though that even if you’re right about the benefit of transition surgery, that would be no evidence whatsoever for the existence of ‘gender identity’?

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      • Hi Jonathan,
        I am glad that we agree that detransitioners should also receive the help they need. My point was that hundreds of such in just one small study indicate one should not simply say “transitioning leads to better health”. It may be correct to say that transitioning leads to better health for the majority. What needs further clarification (as indeed with those harmed by Covid vaccine in children) is what is the ratio of harmed to helped in the long term? I agree the Vandenbussche study does not help to clarify that as we have no idea for example what percentage of the total detransitioners in the US, the 120 of respondents from that country in the study represent overall.

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  8. I find this deeply unsatisfacctory from JT even as a none scientist, none scholar.
    1 There is really no indication that we are not here comparing apples and pears.
    2 Methodology and sample size may vary greatly. Some procedures may be elective, others not.
    3 Qualitative analysis is highly dependent on methodoly, questions asked and ignored, when where and how and by whom ; the values of the researcher.
    4 I can recall some mind numbing NHS sponsored research after a stroke. Could I do xyz? Without even asking whether. I could do them before and to what level of competence.
    5 Sir Muir Gray was instrumental in setting up the Cochran Library for the NHS due to his concern over the poor quality of what passed as peer review. None disclosure is a live issue in any research and reviews. As is getting funding for the research and whether that leans heavily in one direction.
    6 To me JT himself is hoisted by his own petard in not citing anything in opposition to the position for which he advocates. It is not even handed.
    8 Good quality peer review seems to be hard to come by, currently, even in the field of epidemiology and hard science as opposed to social science.

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  9. Thankyou Ian for facilitating this discussion and introducing this booklet
    A plea please to remember we are discussing persons not ideologies.

    We must not move so quickly to crusades against ideologies, cultural marxist agendas, radical gender politics. They may be in the background, but in the foreground are people who are often confused, pained, frightened and feel rejected.

    The transgender friends I have knew nothing of cultural marxism, radical feminism, or gender identity politics, nor knowingly had they ever heard of, read about, or met someone transgender or even ‘LGBQTI’ when over 5 decades ago they began experiencing deep inner trauma and conflict around gender and identity.

    Truth – of course – let us humbly pursue the whole truth: theological, biological, psychological – but Compassion for the person must surround this.

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    • Thanks Simon. I agree that this is about people.

      But even if ‘The transgender friends I have knew nothing of cultural marxism, radical feminism, or gender identity politics’, it does not prevent their outlook being shaped by these things, even if unwittingly. Fish are the last ones to know about water.

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      • Thanks Ian – but given transgenderism is found in ancient cultures and in many different cultures, the idea that the sexual revolution or cultural marxism is somehow the source of the stream is called into question.

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        • Here the issue is whether it has been happening at the same rates in different cultures and times. Because we are in a large world, most things will be attested at least once or twice wherever and whenever one looks. So it is perfectly possible that people are doing the same as what they have always done and at the same time doing so at a rate that increases by multiple thousands of percent. Which effectively means that things are not the same as they have always been in this respect, but very different.

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        • Yes, I am aware of that. But it is a different phenomenon in our day, not least because of the way this difficult issues, which affects a minuscule number of people in the population, has come to dominate eg our media. That will not leave people unaffected.

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  10. How do we turn the transgender debate away from being a question of ‘what helps me feel and function better’ to ‘what does God think of my transgender aspirations’? The latter question is more penetrating as does not assume transgender inclinations to be merely a therapeutic question – what makes me feel better (for a time at least). It takes us to ontological questions – what is man and what is woman and is this identity indelible? It raises gospel issues – is cross-dressing legitimate for a Christian? It takes us to pastoral questions – how do I help someone live with transgender temptation? For a Christian these are a little easier to grapple with than ‘does transition help’ type questions for they are more firmly grounded in Scripture.

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  11. “A plea please to remember we are discussing persons not ideologies.”
    I wonder if it’s possible to separate the two, Simon.

    “the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph – the normalisation of transgenderism – cannot be properly understood until it is set within the context of a much broader transformation in how society understands the nature of human selfhood”.
    Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, p20.

    Has it not always been the role of the church both to minister pastorally with compassion to hurting individuals and communities and also to try to address some of the wrong thinking prevalent in society which causes or contributes to the suffering?
    Or to use an analogy, to care for those who appear to have the same kind of unusual sickness in increasing numbers, while also investigating and doing something about the poison that is entering the drinking water from upstream?
    Or to use a contemporary example, in a discussion with someone from an opposing point of view in the LLF process, to engage fully with them with love as a person, while at the same time being aware of the source of his/her ideas?

    Where does this idea come from, that true ‘compassion’ means we don’t ever ask questions about a person’s culturally conditioned belief system even though it may be that belief system which is contributing to confusion and suffering?

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    • well, as I said, we pursue the truth in the context of grace
      it is not an either/or as you imply I am positing
      I am merely asking we adopt a posture exhibiting more compassion, more grace, more truth

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      • Simon and Andrew, I think this is why Yarhouse makes such a helpful distinction between our position and our posture.

        Are we in the right position, in terms of our understanding of the issues, including the ideological ones that Andrew highlights?

        But are we also in the right posture, one of love and welcome and Simon advocates?

        Or as Andrew B puts it, are we engaging both heart and head? And in the booklet he deliberately puts heart first.

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    • Yes. Thanks, Geoff, for drawing attention to this link. And I welcome Ian’s supportive comment Though I am not sure whether his comment is just about the Apologetics or also includes the Full Report alluded to, which includes views on original sin which I am not sure he agrees with.
      But in any case, the Apologetics include many of the points which the LLF Project should include in the strongest case from the ‘conservative’ view. My aim is to make sure that happens. But I am struggling to make it happen. Are you confident, Ian, that it has or will happen?

      Phil Almond

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  12. Ian,

    re Yarhouse. I have said before (in my review of his Grove book) that I don’t think he is a reliable guide any more for faithful Christians in this discussion.
    https://anglicanmainstream.org/pastoral-care-for-transgender-people-does-it-require-acceptance-of-lgbt-ideology/

    I think we have to accept that evangelicals are now divided on this issue – not on whether to show compassion to individuals, but on our attitude to the enormously powerful secular ideologies around sex and gender now accepted by the majority, certainly the elites, and increasingly by church leaders.

    Do we compromise and collude as Yarhouse appears to do – perhaps because of pressures around funding and reputation? Do we retreat into a kind of pietism where we minister the gospel compassionately to individuals and pretend that the wider cultural context is benign and/or irrelevant? Or do we continue wise and compassionate ministry to individuals while at the same time taking a stand against false and destructive ideologies and the principalities and powers behind them?

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    • In my view the LLF Project is the moment of truth for conservative evangelicals in the CofE:

      “With the publication of the LLF material the Church is about to spend considerable time and effort on the Human Sexuality disagreement. This disagreement is important. But it is definitely not “The Thing that matters Most”. What matters most is that the whole Church should believe, teach and preach both parts of her core message, the terrible part and the wonderful part, and the serious failure, as I see it, of the majority of the Church to preach the terrible part – the warnings.
      The LLF disagreement and this more fundamental and more important (as I see it) failure are linked: by the doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin. So I think that the present LLF situation is an opportunity for those who agree with me to challenge the rest of the church, both evangelicals and non-evangelicals about this most serious failure. I realise it is easy for me to suggest this challenge – I am not dependent on the Church for my livelihood and I have not promised to be obedient to any Bishop in all things lawful and honest. But I want to see that challenge take place, because I want those I dearly love to hear that warning, not just from me, but from the whole Church, before there is any talk of going separate ways on the sexuality disagreement. Put it this way: suppose at the end of the LLF process the church reaffirms the ‘traditional’ view on Human Sexuality. That would leave this most fundamental and most important failure unaddressed.
      According to General Fuller’s account of the battle of Waterloo in ‘Decisive Battles…’ there came a moment when ‘Napoleon still had in hand eight battalions of the Old Guard and six of the Middle, and had he sent to Ney but half this force, Wellington’s centre must inevitably have been overwhelmed…..’. But the decisive moment passed.

      I suggest that if evangelicals are ever going to challenge the rest of the Church about what she believes and preaches about Original Sin, the need to preach the warnings as well as the Good News, about wrath and retribution – this is the decisive moment to do it, by pointing out in the LLF debates that LLF is part of a wider, deeper issue. I suggest writing an Open Letter to challenge all ordained Ministers, including Bishops and Archbishops, and please, please, let the ensuing debate be on the internet open to all, and not behind closed doors. Let us all continue to pray that God in his grace and mercy will revive and rebuke the world-wide Church to focus on the thing that matters most, the Day of Judgment and the eternal life (or eternal retribution) which awaits each of us after death. Let us all also continue to pray that God will convict us all that God and Christ are both terrible and wonderful.”

      Phil Almond

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  13. Far too highly selective and, dare it be said, with no compassion! How about enemies?
    Are any of your prayers to dead saints and Mary, Susannah? Just asking.

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    • You make a good point Geoff, and God made the point to me as well, when I prayed before sleep. I assure you my prayers were sincere, and I ended up praying for everyone, not just individuals who have privately helped me a lot. Also to add, it was a special time and privilege for me, because I had this strong sense that prayers were also being said for me last night, and the quiet time was unusually precious.

      In response to your other question, no, I didn’t pray to dead saints or Mary, Geoff. I was having quiet time with Jesus. I was also praying for my children, and an elderly aunt in the Highlands. It was just an ordinary prayer time, except I had this strange and unexpected impression someone was praying for me as well. That sometimes happens. I expect others here have had that experience as well.

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        • We are all dressed in rags compared to God, and I know I have failed God and people I love in ways I can never defend. Thankfully we have a God who offers to cleanse us and restore us and clothe us with Christ’s righteousness. Thank you for your grace as well. You were right to call me out, and God did too in my prayers last night. And you are not my enemy. I know you love God.

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  14. My view, right or wrong, was that the prayer was seeking to make a point in its well determined narrowness. So my comment was made in the direction of a corrective. The last sentence was perhaps unecessary.

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