A few weeks ago I spoke for a large group of therapists, teachers, and administrators about the state of transgender affairs in the world, the challenges of providing care to individuals with gender dysphoria, and the ways in which fundamentalist religion gets in the way of that treatment. It was a six hour training session for which the therapists received ongoing licensure credits.
When I began, most of the therapists wore expressions I have when I attend such trainings. I am ready for a boring day, with marginally helpful information presented perfunctorily. I wondered how long it would take to win them over.
I had prepared a 30-minute introduction to make the audience comfortable with my presence and style, and help them see it would be a good day to pay attention. I’m relatively well-versed in transgender issues, though the horrific statistics related to anti-transgender laws are getting worse literally every day. The first half of the day was focused on transgender issues. The second half was focused on religion.
On the subject of why the fundamentalist forms of the desert religions are so opposed to transgender rights, I could talk off the top of my head for an entire day. I’ve been studying religion for five decades, since I took my first course in church history in 1971. I am endlessly fascinated by the ways in which religious people figure out how, generation after generation, to ignore Jesus’s instruction to love God, neighbor, and self. They get caught up in the identity of Jesus, and are not particularly concerned about the way of Jesus.
The audience to whom I spoke was for the most part secular. There were a dozen or so pastoral counselors, but they are all affiliated with mainline Protestant denominations and are theologically liberal. The rest of the audience was fairly unaware of the religious landscape in the US. I find that to be the case in the northeast, the Pacific northwest, and in college towns. Twenty-eight percent of Americans are unaffiliated with any religion. Most of those people are highly educated, and many live in those regions. They are as shocked at the anti-trans laws as they were at the election of Donald Trump. Unaware of just how much power evangelicals hold in conservative regions, they are aghast at the laws being passed to remove the rights of transgender people.
Kentucky and Florida now have laws that not only affect transgender children, but adults as well. The religious right has gone on record saying they want to end all medical treatment for all transgender people. They want a theocracy and want all scripture interpretations to come from conservative theologians. To date, over 500 anti-trans laws have been introduced in state legislatures in 2023. Seventy-one have been signed into law, with another eight sitting on governor’s desks awaiting signatures.
Last fall I was able to spend an evening speaking with television writers, talking about how transgender characters are portrayed in television series. We have passed the period in which a trans character was a curiosity, and moved into a period in which the fact that a character is transgender is incidental to the storyline. That is very positive progress, and helps the cultural normalization of trans people.
Next month I will be speaking to another group of national influencers about ways in which they can shift the narrative about trans people. When it comes to gender issues, young people have moved on. Millennials and Gen Z are over it. It is primarily Baby Boomers and to a lesser degree, Gen X, that are initiating these anti-trans laws, and yes, an inordinate number of them are Evangelical Christians.
I do not like that I have felt the need to write about this subject so often recently, but these are frightening times. We need allies who will stand up for the rights of trans people. We cannot do it alone. The best thing you can do is correct inaccuracies about trans people when you hear them. When someone says high percentages of transgender people detransition, tell them the facts. The truth is that 92 percent of trans people are pleased with their transition. Of the 8 percent who are not, only one in twenty-five of those people actually dislikes their new body. The other 24 do not like the rejection they experience as a transgender person. Transitioning isn’t the problem. The negative response of their environment is the problem.
While it is true that many older adolescents who identify as trans or non-binary change their minds after a period of experimentation, that is normal differentiation, and it is a good thing. It is not something to fret over or fear. Individuation demands a period of experimentation. Young people who have consistently and persistently identified themselves as transgender since early childhood almost never regret transitioning genders. Their gender dysphoria is hard-wired. They are not experimenting. They are trans, always have been and always will be.
It is difficult to have large segments of the population deny your very identity. I had a lot of decades of privilege and entitlement I brought with me when I transitioned, so it is not as hard for me to handle the current political environment. But I am concerned for others, and particularly for our children.
I know this crisis will eventually pass, but I hope it doesn’t take the death of an entire generation of Baby Boomers to get it done. This negative narrative has grown up over just 6 or 7 years, and it can wind down just as quickly, but only if we work together to shift the narrative.
And so it goes.