MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 14th of September, 2018.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
Rapid-onset gender dysphoria appears to be a new social phenomenon: In other words, becoming “trans” may be for today’s generation of teen girls what previous generations experienced with eating disorders like anorexia. It spreads among peer groups and it’s reinforced socially.
That’s the preliminary conclusion of an academic paper by an Ivy League professor that now, because of the subject matter, has become controversial.
Here are a few case summaries from the study:
A 14-year-old girl and three female friends took group lessons together with a very popular coach. The coach came out as transgender, and within a year, all four girls did the same.
A 12-year-old girl had suffered bullying and body shaming because she’d gone through early puberty. She reported feeling fat. Then she learned online that hating her body in that way was a sign of being transgender. She edited her diary by crossing out existing text and writing in new text to make it appear she’d always felt that she is transgender.
Another 14-year-old girl had a group of three female friends who spent much of their time discussing gender and sexuality. The three girls all announced they were trans boys and chose masculine names for themselves. That 14-year-old girl followed suit. She, too, announced she was a trans boy.
And it goes on like this. The vast majority of the parents in the study, nearly 70 percent, believed their kids’ so-called “coming out” announcements employed language they found online. Some said their kids “sounded scripted,” “wooden,” “like a form letter.” Some found the language “practically copy and paste” from online sources.
Professor Lisa Littman’s preliminary conclusion: “The worsening of mental well-being and parent-child relationships and behaviors that isolate adolescent and young adults from their parents, families, non-transgender friends, and mainstream sources of information are particularly concerning.” She also called for more research.
Brown University had put up a press release about Professor Littman’s study but has since taken it down. Posted instead, a statement from the dean of the school of public health, acknowledging concerns that “the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.”
It’s Culture Friday. John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and he joins me now.
John, good morning.
JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick.
EICHER: Well, this seems important, John. The professor said plainly the issue needs more study. And unless you’re willing to ask some hard questions, it’s going to be difficult to help people.
Now, you did mention this study a couple days ago on your Breakpoint commentary. What do you think is next here?
STONESTREET: Well, I think what we’re dealing with now is kind of the next stage of what we saw with Mark Regnerus down at the University of Texas when he did his study about how same-sex families do compared to traditionally married families in terms of raising children. I mean, if your research goes against the dominant ideology, then you don’t get to move ahead as a scholar. For him, it meant almost losing his job. Now we have, really, a left-leaning Ivy league school like Brown and Professor Littman who’s got impeccable credentials like Regnerus did as well, but just kind of questioning the transgender ideology.
I mean, this stuff should be obvious to anyone who’s ever worked with teenagers, especially teenage girls. This is how teenage girls do things, they very much identify with each other. They look for tribes, they look for groups. This is a self-reinforcing kind of prediction. When one identifies, then others are going to as well. Not to mention I think you have a reality that’s been a part of our culture for a long time which is we don’t have a culture that has the traditional ways of giving kids identity, of strong families and religious convictions, the things that in times past, in cultures past were kind of identity forming, mediating structures in kids’ lives. Those things have become less and less important in our cultural moment and so identity is not as stable as a concept.
This is something Erik Erikson wrote on years ago and this is certainly something many people have talked about is the struggle to form a real sense of identity in this kind of late modern to postmodern world. Well, if you have people that are struggling to figure out who they are and there is a group that basically has a symptom for everything — it kind of claims all symptoms. If you don’t like your body, if you think you’re overweight, if you never felt accepted and embraced. Well, I mean, those are symptoms for almost everything, but the transgender community claims that as the criteria that diagnoses transgenderism. So what ends up happening is it’s a hammer looking for a nail and I think kids are particularly susceptible to that.
I think anyone who’s ever worked with teenagers would be sensing that this could be a real possibility, even if you don’t have any moral convictions against the kind of dominant transgender ideology. You’d still have to think, well, this is a possibility given the way teenage girls, in particular, but also just young people, adolescents behave. We see it all the time. This isn’t unusual. We see it in media choices, we see it in behaviors, we see it in addictions, we see it in — just go down the line and you see it. So why would we then suddenly say that this sort of thinking is not allowed as we’re really trying to the bottom of this? Well, because when it comes to these sorts of issues having to do with the tail end of the sexual revolution that we’re now living in, to question the dominant ideology is to basically be the new racist and so even somebody like Professor Littman, not conservative, doesn’t have deeply held convictions against transgender ideology, but just to question any of it, now her research is being blackballed. And it should help us understand across the board that on all of these LGBTQIA issues, we’re not being scientific at all. That those days are long gone, if they were ever here.
EICHER: John, on Monday, my colleague and cohost here, Mary Reichard, did a deep dive on that proposal we have talked about before in California that would outlaw “sexual orientation change efforts.” I know you know the story. The bill got pulled at the 11th hour, so it’s a bit of a reprieve for this year. But this is not over, because the sponsor of the bill promised to bring it back next year in some possibly different form.
Now, he appears to be open to listening to people on the other side of the issue, and he certainly doesn’t have to. Politically, there’s not a thing standing in the way.
But what’s your take on this, John? What kind of possible good outcome can you imagine coming from this delay?
STONESTREET: I think the personal relationship side, this is the second time we’ve seen this in California just in the last couple months. I mean, the proposed legislation from Congressman Lara there in California, which would have essentially ended the ability of Christian colleges to remain Christian, again, based on transgender ideology in particular and loss of the Cal-Grant and so on. That was largely ended with Congressman Lara was able to go and see the sorts of students these universities serve.
That’s the story, really, behind here, behind this pool of this sexual orientation change effort bill that basically there was exposure to another group of people. I don’t think that’s kind of the new silver bullet. I think that it’s important. I think it is important that we seek to reach out and talk to those who are across the aisle. Right now we have a political culture that denigrates everybody across the aisle. We don’t have these conversations. We don’t invite people come and see, come and see what we’re doing here. Come and see the sorts of people that we’re serving and come and see the sorts of people who hold the ideas that you think are intolerable and so on. And maybe that needs to happen.
Of course, we see this on a culture wide level after the 2016 election we heard tons and tons of media outlets saying, okay, we’re going to do better, we’re going to speak to all of America not just some of America. And that lasted, I think, for three and a half weeks and now we’re kind of right back to it again. All that to say, I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of being able to look each other in the eye and invite non-believers into our world and to help them see that there’s actually some goodwill behind the positions that are being deemed hateful.
At the same time, I think this — you used the word reprieve — I think that’s probably right. There’s nothing that’s ultimately preventing Congressman Lara from bringing his bill back to target Christian colleges and universities in California. There’s nothing that’s going to prevent this bill coming back and we actually, by the way, have similar legislation about kind of anti-sexual orientation change efforts — you’ve got similar legislation as what California was proposing statewide at the city level in Milwaukee and other places as well. So it’s worth knowing what’s happening in your own community so that we can confront it. It’s not just in California.
EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday, John, thanks so much.
STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.