Trans Kids and Other Moral Panics

transkids

Buzzfeed writes

Two Parents’ Legal Battle Over Whether Their 7-Year-Old Is Transgender Has Drawn A Child Services Review. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is reviewing “possible child abuse” allegations stemming from a drawn-out custody battle between Anne Georgulas and Jeffrey Younger over their child’s gender identity.

A few signs that this should not be a culture war battle. It’s a divorce case. It’s  “drawn out custody battle.” I don’t know these individuals, I do not know the child in question, nor the parents. But I have reason to believe that weighing in on a side is unwise. Making a child a national test case for our divides over gender cannot possibly help anyone involved.

Conservative blogs and social media users accused (the mother) of wanting to “mutilate” her child, a common allegation in anti-trans circles. A Facebook group with a graphically violent name circulated what they claimed was Georgulas’ address and phone number, and encouraged people to leave negative reviews for the office where she works as a pediatrician.

That would be a good reason to avoid making this a national case. The safety of folks involved matters. The personal hatred against people that are unknown can easily spiral out of control. But since it has become one, I want to focus on an article by Andrew Walker, the Director of Research and Senior Fellow in Christian Ethics at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Commission.  that uses anti trans tropes but in particular makes claims about health care and trans kids that simply are not true.

Chemically castrating a child who does not have the cognitive maturity to understand the gravity of his actions is not a condition of justice and liberty; it is a perversion of it. This is a form of abuse.

That is not what is happening in this case or with any case involving kids that may be trans as this piece by the Washington Post makes clear:

But as Younger turned the parents’ fight into one over irreversible medical procedures, experts on health care for transgender children told The Washington Post that Georgulas’s approach to the child would not involve any kind of surgery or hormones for years.

“Many people wrongly assume that prepubescent transgender or gender-diverse children will receive medical interventions,” Katherine Kuvalanka, a social work professor at Miami University in Ohio, said in an email to The Washington Post. “The only interventions for young children is affirmation and acceptance for who they are.”

Laura Edwards-Leeper, a clinical psychologist at Pacific University, said that for someone of Luna’s age, gender-affirming care would not include any kind of medical intervention until they hit puberty. Even then, she said, it’s not an automatic procedure.

After a mental-health evaluation and discussion with parents, it might encompass a range of activities to help “the child to live as their authentic gender, and with their preferred gender expression, at any given point in time, without a presumption about their future gender identity,” she said.

For a 7-year-old, that might mean speaking to experts and potentially helping them through a social transition, which might include changing their clothes, hairstyle or pronouns. At around ages 10 to 13, parents, health professionals and the child might decide to take puberty blockers, which delay the development of secondary sex characteristics, like facial hair or breasts.

Those can be stopped at any time, and puberty continues as it would normally. “It is only irreversible if the adults in the child’s life make it irreversible,” Edwards-Leeper told The Post. “If the adults can stay open to whatever trajectory the child has, then it’s completely reversible.”

Younger, however, said that a tactic of “watchful waiting” would be more prudent for Luna instead.

There is no castration, no medically irreversible decisions made, no decisions even made about a child’s gender at all. There is simply support for children to negotiate these areas with no expectation that a decision has to be made about their gender. I honestly don’t know the objection to be had in this kind of care.

The assertions that this child must be a boy or must be a girl both puts too much weight on a child. If this was about a child and not our culture wars, that kind of weight would not be put on them. But Andrew Walker already knows this child is a boy, must be a boy, and anything short of that is “gender madness” or “gender subversion”. When your ideology overrides a child’s health and mental well being, this is a problem. Kids who receive support in their gender identity and even in the exploration, simply do better in life.

LGBTQ youth with affirming families reported higher levels of self esteem and overall health. For transgender children and youth, family and community support makes all the difference. Although research has repeatedly found that transgender children experience mental health problems, including suicidality, at high rates, a recent study found that transgender children whose families affirmed their gender identity were as psychologically healthy as their nontransgender peers.

As a Christian that should be enough right there. But besides well being and flourish, Andrew Walker gives us different standards

This means a biblical view of what defines a man and woman must be defined according to God’s design in creation: (As a created being, humanity’s ontology and teleology are divinely fixed by God who created humanity in his image). A man and woman are image-bearers of God whose biological design is oriented to fulfill a creational mandate of subduing creation by his and her covenantal marriage union with their sexual counterpart. This definition applies to the unmarried, too, because a man or woman’s reproductive organs are built toward a particular purpose—reproduction—regardless of whether every man or woman actually reproduces.

Gender essentialism is the standard. And notice who this ropes in. Certainly trans folks. Also gay and lesbians. As a gay man I will not be producing children with my husband. I may adopt and the need is great. But it won’t be because of my biology. I have an uncle who married his wife late enough in life that they couldn’t produce children. Presumably they are a problem too.

I mention my uncle because as my aunt suffers through alzheimers, he has sacrificed everything for her care and well being in the end years of her life. Emotionally, psychologically he has given everything to be with his wife in these difficult years. But such a union doesn’t fit biology to Andrew. The love and care expressed in their union doesn’t come up when it comes up to biological determinism.. And of course the love I have of my husband would not either.

When you start asking what families do: love, care, support, growth, mutuality, sacrifice, the building of a home, these do not get considered either. But that isn’t true. Evangelical churches spend a lot of time on these very subjects when they seek to buttress heterosexual marriages. It just never comes up when LGBT folks are to be cut off from the means of their life and well being.

Which brings us back to the gender essentialism that Walker uses against LGBT folks. When this is made central to Christian faith, we don’t have to wonder why the rise of the nones. But when we see the harm being done to LGBT folks, and yes Andrew the teaching you propose is harmful, we are dealing with an idol. Idols are not just false ideas that are given ultimacy, they require sacrifices to maintain them.

Reuters reports that LGBT youth who are raised in religious homes show a 52% increase in suicidal ideation. Another study by the Albert Kennedy Trust shows that 45% of those homeless LGBT youth were homeless because of the rejection of religious family members.

and

LGBT people have frequently been shown in previous studies to have poorer mental health outcomes than their heterosexual counterparts, resulting in part from the stress that prejudice and anti-gay discrimination can cause.

But in the new study, published this week in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, researchers from Macquarie University found both LGBT and heterosexual people who were exposed to even subtle religious anti-gay prejudice, such as disapproval of same-sexuality among religious groups, displayed higher levels of stress, shame, depression and anxiety.

And the shame of the culture wars is that we have resources in the Bible which should reject these kind of positions. Galatians 3:28 “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” To make gender the essential feature of human life and of Christian life ends up side stepping the very resources the Christian tradition. Resources that can dethrone gender and any other essentialisms that would alienate us from ourselves and one another. 

“Human identity, thus, is rooted in being an image-bearer of God.” What if we agreed on this and said that freely supporting each other as we piece together out identities is a way one can reflect that of God in us? And if so, that can be the gift we bring to the world.

Dwight Welch is the campus minister at United Campus Ministry at Montana State University Billings

 

 

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