The BBC has released a new documentary that has raised the ire of transgender activists because it is entertaining the evidential claims of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, former director of the Child Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) at Toronto’s CAMH (Centre for Addictions and Mental Health). Zucker was dismissed from his 30 year post at the GIC due to increasing pressure from transgender activists who were labeling the GIC a “conversion therapy” clinic.
Zucker and his colleagues have consistently denied that caricature but affirm their therapeutic approach which considers it to be in the best interest of children that therapists “be optimistic, not nihilistic, about the possibility of helping the children to become more secure in their gender identity.”1 His approach is based on the evidence and outcomes of his research and work with gender discordant children and youth over 30 years which shows that with therapy most children (as many as 80%) who struggle with gender identity issues find resolution of those struggles by adolescence. These resolution rates are also stated clearly in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM-5)2
Zucker is also under fire because in the documentary he confirms a growing body of research that links an abnormally high correlation between gender identity disorders and autism among children. In the documentary Zucker states: “It is possible that kids who have a tendency to get obsessed or fixed on something may latch on to gender.”3 A study published in 2014 by Dr. John Strang, of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. reported that gender variance was eight times higher in children with autism and seven times higher in children with ADHD.4 What the correlation means or what might cause it is unclear since the field of research is so new, but what is troubling is the reaction by transgender activists. A petition was launched on change.org that called for a delay in BBC’s airing of the documentary until it could be “independently reviewed by an expert.”5 (Presumably one that would disagree with Dr. Zucker, himself a world recognized expert in the field.) The fear being expressed by those in the transgender activist movement, such as Jennifer Lynn (who transitioned from male to female) is that the presentation of evidence to suggest that gender identity disorder is closely associated with other mental disorders, or that the majority of kids overcome gender dysphoria by adolescence “could potentially mislead people or misguide people in the truth because it’s showing our lives as something that’s a mental illness.”6
The basis of the objection is that those in the transgender movement no longer want gender dysphoria in children (or anyone) to be treated as a mental health issue. The battle to silence those in the medical field from treating it as such is ongoing, but Ontario is probably gone the furthest down the road of making that a reality. The closing of the GIC in December of 2015 was a huge blow, effectively eliminating one of the most well staffed resources for families dealing with gender discordant children. But even more alarming was the passing of Bill-77 on June 4, 2015 which effectively makes it illegal for any health or mental health care professional to assist anyone under the age of 18 in changing their sexual orientation or gender identity.7
The speed at which the transgender movement has reshaped our culture’s accepted view and understanding about gender is staggering. In truth the church has been caught totally unprepared to deal with the issues. Unfortunately in many cases Christians have tragically adopted the culture’s assumptions which define the categories of gender and sex based on people’s experiential realities rather than God’s truth. What is more they have bought into the cultural myths that considers self-proclaimed gender identification as a declaration of one’s ‘true’ self, when even secular science (to say nothing of God’s authoritative Word) does not bear this out.
In a comment article on the National Post website yesterday, Susan Bradley, founder of Toronto’s GIC, former chief of psychiatry at Hospital for Sick Kids and head of child and adolescent psychiatry at U of T made this statement:
“Activists would have the public believe that anyone who expresses a wish to be the other gender should be allowed and encouraged to do so. Credulous politicians have translated their demands into law. To date, however, there is no evidence [emphasis mine] that there is such a thing as a “true” trans, just as there is no marker that would identify a “false” trans.”8
Last fall in The New Atlantis, Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, published a report on the findings of the available research from the fields of Biology, Psychology and the Social Sciences. In it they state clearly that “some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence.”9
Specifically, when it comes to the transgender narrative that cross-gender identification is an expression of a person’s “true” self, and that such is grounded in their very biological make up, Mayer and McHugh had this to say:
“In reviewing the scientific literature, we find that almost nothing is well understood when we seek biological explanations for what causes some individuals to state that their gender does not match their biological sex. The findings that do exist often have sample-selection problems, and they lack longitudinal perspective and explanatory power.”10
When it comes to the treatment of children they express their deep concern over the now almost universally accepted therapeutic approach of administering puberty blocking drugs and hormone therapy to children sometimes as young as 10 years hold who express a desire to be the opposite gender.
“Yet despite the scientific uncertainty, drastic interventions are pre-scribed and delivered to patients identifying, or identified, as transgender. This is especially troubling when the patients receiving these interventions are children. We read popular reports about plans for medical and surgical interventions for many prepubescent children, some as young as six, and other therapeutic approaches undertaken for children as young as two. We suggest that no one can determine the gender identity of a two-year-old. We have reservations about how well scientists understand what it even means for a child to have a developed sense of his or her gender, but notwithstanding that issue, we are deeply alarmed that these therapies, treatments, and surgeries seem disproportionate to the severity of the distress being experienced by these young people, and are at any rate premature since the majority of children who identify as the gender opposite their biological sex will not continue to do so as adults. Moreover, there is a lack of reliable studies on the long-term effects of these interventions. We strongly urge caution in this regard.”11
I take the time to point out the scientific illegitimacy of pursuing the kinds of radical gender transition therapies being prescribed in the mainstream medical and mental health community because there are Christian parents who are or may face the frightening challenge of a child who struggles with gender identification issues. For such parents the pressure is enormous to affirm the self-declared gender identity of your child and become an advocate for their transition. In terms of professional help there seem to be very few (perhaps no) professional avenues to pursue where the prevailing ideology of transgender activism has not already determined the necessary outcome of pursuing and embracing transition. Affirming a child’s self-declared gender choice and taking therapeutic steps to help them make that transition are the ‘marching orders’ of the day and are protected and even encouraged by law in Ontario. Perhaps it will be of some help to you to know that the scientific community does not substantiate these steps nor establish the fact of any biologically ‘true’ trans-identity.
Christian families and churches have a great challenge ahead in order to compassionately but truthfully serve and help those who struggle with gender identity issues. The first step is to reclaim the truth, accepting that as created beings our identity is determined not by our feelings or our experiences, but by God. As Paul said, our fundamental problem as human beings is that our sin has alienated us from God our Creator (Col. 1:21). Consequently, we are alienated from ourselves because who we are is grounded in our nature as image bearers of God. We may only know who we truly are by truly knowing Him, and that can only come through personal faith in Jesus Christ. Attempting to construct our own identity through sexual orientation, gender identification or anything else will only result in further alienation. Our identity is found first and foremost in Christ.
The second thing Christians need to affirm is God’s revealed truth about humanity as a sexually differentiated being. The male/female distinction established by God is clearly seen in our biological realities that fortunately even those within the secular scientific field still recognize. The created order still reflects the Creator’s design that male and female exist as separate and distinct. This is not to dismiss the very real conflict that many may experience within themselves where their sense of self does not accord with their biological reality. However, we serve no one (especially our children) by helping them deny the good gift of a gendered body given to them by God in order to satisfy a feeling (even a strong feeling) that they were given the wrong body in the first place. We cannot yield to the severe social pressure to accept the trans-narrative. Lives are being ruined as a result.
The title of this post is “Where Do Parents With Gender Struggling Children Turn?” Presently, I don’t believe the answer is the church, but it needs to be. The loving, supportive, prayerful fellowship of the body of Christ is what families with such struggles need. This isn’t to say it is only the church, for God knows we need some Christian professionals gifted to address such issues, but I would argue it should be mainly the church. Since the scientific findings are that 80%+ of children who experience gender dysphoria will resolve by adolescence, Christian families need a caring and supportive Christian community to make that journey in all the while being encouraged to not give in to the lies of culture. Perhaps resolution doesn’t come, and the adolescent child continues to struggle with feelings of gender incongruence. A loving, supportive Christian community devoted to God’s truth and the hope of Christ’s redemption is where that adolescent needs to work through their struggles. I don’t think there are any easy answers, nor clear cut paths on the road to redemption. Indeed we need churches with an unwavering commitment to God’s truth, but also that allow gracious space for the spiritualy wounded and limping who “face trials of many kinds” (cf. James 1:2) on the road to having their faith perfected.
1Kenneth J. Zucker and Susan J. Bradley, Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents, (New York, NY, Guildford Press, 1995), 282.
2DSM-5, p. 455. “Rates of persistence of gender dysphoria from childhood into adolescence or adulthood vary. In natal males, persistence has ranged from 2.2% to 30%. In natal females, persistence has ranged from 12% to 50%.” This means that depending on which study is being referenced, as many as 97.8% of boys and 88% of girls who experience gender dysphoria (discomfort with their biological sex) no longer do by the end of adolescence.
7Bill 77 (Chapter 18 Statues of Ontario, 2015) An Act to amend the Health Insurance Act and the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 regarding efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity.
Section 2.29.1 Subsection (1) states: “No person shall, in the course of providing health care services, provide any treatment that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person under 18 years of age.” While some provision is made in Subsection (3) for a person to consent to such treatment, this effectively offers no help to families whose children present with gender identity conflicts.
9Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, “Special Report: Sexuality and Gender – Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences” in The New Atlantis: Journal of Technology and Science, Number 50, Fall 2016. p. 1.
10Ibid, p. 115.