Culture Friday – Executive orders erasing gender

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Friday,  January 29th, 2021.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Last week, President Biden signed 19 executive orders. He signed more yesterday, so now we’re up to more than 30.

Topics range from COVID relief to climate change to undoing Trump’s order to work toward deregulation: in other words, that for every new regulation approved, two had to go.

And then the executive order I want to talk about today.

It’s titled “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.” It lets people with male chromosomes compete against those with female chromosomes. 

Not to be overly scientific: boys against girls. Here’s language from the order justifying this change: 

“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

EICHER: It’s Culture Friday and so let’s welcome Katie McCoy. She’s assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.

REICHARD: Morning, Katie.

KATIE MCCOY, GUEST: Hey, Nick and Mary. Good to be with you, as always.

REICHARD: This seems right up your alley as a women’s-studies professor. I’ve always understood one of the aims of the feminist movement was promoting equality for women and Title IX specifically led to opportunities for female athletes. Do you think that complaints we’ve heard that this is the death knell for women’s sports are a bit overblown? 

Is it really reasonable to believe there’s going to be this rush of born-male athletes identifying as women and displacing born-female athletes from positions in the lineup?

MCCOY: It’s a good question. I think the significance of this executive order is more in the precedent that it sets more so than the number of transgender athletes that will be represented in womens’ sports. Of course, we’re already hearing about teenage girls who have been elbowed out of winning competitions and then consequently I don’t know how that would affect their scholarship opportunities. 

Christiana Holcombe of Alliance Defending Freedom has been defending three different — I believe it’s three — teenage girls. And she had a fascinating observation. She said that here we celebrate the first female vice president and then hours later eviscerate womens’ sports and spaces. It isn’t pro-woman. 

And I would have to agree. It’s entirely not pro-woman. One of the ironies is that second-wave feminism advocated for womens’ expanded rights and social parity on the basis of the belief that they were oppressed because they were born female. And that one’s femaleness was a predictor of one’s cultural and social experience.

And so one of the things that has been reversed in all of this transgenderism and the rise of transgender in the mainstream has been that now a biological male can define what it is to be a woman. It actually doesn’t get more patriarchal than that.

EICHER: Along these same lines, the new president repealed what’s been called the ban on transgender service in the military.

BIDEN: And what I’m doing is enabling all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform, and essentially restoring the situation as it existed before, with transgender personnel, if qualified in every other way, can serve their government in the United States military. So that’s what I’m about to sign.

What struck me as I read the order was this sentence:

“The Secretary of Defense … concluded that it was appropriate to create a process that would enable service members to take steps to transition gender while serving.”

That sounds to me like the military paying for hormone treatments and surgeries. Again, this seems at odds with traditional understandings of women’s rights or a strain of feminism that promoted equal opportunity for women in the military.

MCCOY: Yeah, in fact, I think even expanding that conversation to not just the military covering for hormone therapies and surgical procedures, but I think we’re not too far away from requiring private healthcare providers to cover that as well. 

So I think that we’re probably two, maybe max five years away from almost like an Affordable Care Act 2.0. Here we thought the contraception mandate was going to be this real watershed moment in our culture about religious liberty and healthcare. I think we have just seen the beginning. 

I think it’s reasonable to assume that as gender identity and transgenderism becomes a civil right and increasingly accepted as a civil right for biological males to identify as women and vice versa, that we’re going to see more and more pressure for health-insurance providers to cover hormonal treatment therapies and surgical procedures and to require private companies to subsidize and cover for those treatments as well.

EICHER: Did you see this story from Baylor? A friend of mine put out a Tweet that called the transgender orders and a reversal on a protective pro-life policy anti-science and bad for human flourishing. And a woman who is a lecturer at Baylor basically agreed with it—and said provocatively—what if I don’t want biological boys in the bathroom with my biological daughter? Do the 99 percent of us who do not struggle with gender dysphoria have a voice? No? Cool.

According to the journalist Rod Dreher: “Baylor students … report[ed] her message to Title IX, BU Equity, Baylor NAACP, and It’s On Us BU. It has since been deleted.”

It doesn’t appear Baylor is taking official action and the department chair plans to have her back, but it is one of these issues you want to watch—whether it’ll be a cancel culture moment or whether Baylor will stand for the lecturer’s freedom to speak.

You pay attention to trends in higher education like this. Do you see this one as a bellwether?

MCCOY: Absolutely. And I think the wording in Biden’s executive order sets the stage for that. 

You’ll notice, Mary, when you quoted the exact line it frames the dilemma in terms of children being denied access to the restroom, locker rooms, and school sports. I don’t know of a scenario in which a school administrator is denying a child access to those spaces. It seems like the real issue is they’re being denied access to those spaces of their gender preference. And so it’s really this matter of their preference—the restroom of their preference, the locker room of their preference, the sport team of their preference. And so what the wording in that seems to do—I’m not a lawyer—but it seems to make it on par with denying a child access to any social space. So, in other words, if you’re denying a child access to the social space of their preference, you’re denying them access to any social space. It is tantamount to forbidding a child from going to the bathroom if you tell that child that he or she cannot pick the bathroom of their choice. 

The reason that this is also happening just at this lightning, break-neck cultural speed is that this is the new cultural ethos. This is the new cultural morality. It is the belief that one’s biological sex is irrelevant to one’s identity and one’s gender identity. And that one’s gender identity is actually based on an internal, psychological state. 

So in a culture that values individuality so much that cultural, social, and religious influences are viewed as restraining or constraining someone from being their true, authentic self, then objecting to someone’s chosen gender identity is a cardinal sin. 

And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in this response to the Baylor professor.

REICHARD: You mention breakneck speed of change. How do you address these topics,  and I assume you do as a seminary teacher.  From a Christian perspective, to express empathy for people with gender dysphoria but also we want to stand for what’s true. How do you balance that?

MCCOY: Absolutely. Well, I’m so glad you brought that up because it reminds us all that when we’re talking about these headlines, these headlines represent people. 

And the core problem of our human condition is that we need to be reconciled to our creator. And we Christians have that message. And I think it’s important to go back to the basics that no matter how complicated our world becomes, the solution is actually quite simple. 

The Bible tells us that God created the world and said it was good. God created humanity and said it as good. So our material world, our physical selves are good. The fact that Jesus resurrected bodily and that we, too, will be bodily resurrected reinforces the goodness of our physical selves. So, our personhood is more than our physical bodies, but it isn’t less. And we will never understand the significance of what it means to be male or female and we will never find the inner wholeness of our gender identity as man or woman apart from being reconciled to the Creator who made us. 

And He made us male and female in His image.

EICHER: Katie McCoy, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.

REICHARD: Thanks, Katie.

MCCOY: Always great to be with you.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Joe Biden signs an Executive Order reversing the Trump era ban on transgender individuals serving in military, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021, in Washington. 

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