The Story: A new study finds that an increasing number of Americans support hormonal and surgical interventions for adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria. How should Christians convince them to oppose this harm to children?
The Background: In the latest issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers Mark Regnerus and Brad Vermurlen published a study titled, “Attitudes in the U.S. Toward Hormonal and/or Surgical Interventions for Adolescents Experiencing Gender Dysphoria.” Regnerus and Vermurlen examine a survey that asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement, “It should be okay for adolescents to ‘transition’ with hormones or surgery if they identify as another gender.”
What they found was that perspectives on medical transitions for adolescents fit the “culture war” framework and are “largely polarized between a ‘progressive’ worldview of bodily autonomy and an ‘orthodox’ worldview of bodily integrity.”
For instance, evangelicals are the group most likely to oppose gender transition procedures (81 percent), followed by Mormons (80 percent) and those who say religion is more important than anything else (80 percent). Those who identify politically as conservative or very conservative (70 and 72 percent, respectively) were about as likely to oppose such procedures as Pentecostals (69 percent) and those who say they attend religious services weekly (about 70 percent).
Those most likely to agree with the treatment approach were those who are very liberal politically (72 percent), those who said “marriage is outdated” (52 percent), those who don’t completely identify as heterosexual (50 percent), those who are politically liberal (50 percent), and those who are not religious and who think religion is not important (47 percent each).
Curiously, more than 1 in 4 adults who self-identify as transgender (28 percent) oppose such treatments, while another third (29 percent) neither agree nor disagree; only 42 percent agree or strongly agree. Those who identified as politically liberal, as a “Liberal Protestant,” as Jewish, or as nonreligious were more likely to agree than those who are transgender.
Overall, a little more than one-quarter of Americans aged 20 to 65 agree such medical interventions for adolescents who suffer gender dysphoria are acceptable, while about one-third (31 percent) seem to be undecided on the question.
What It Means: Based on the survey, evangelicals are the primary group that allows their faith beliefs to lead them to oppose the procedures. About one-third of every other religious grouping neither agrees nor disagrees: Mainline Protestants (29 percent), Liberal Protestants (32 percent), Catholics (35 percent) and the “spiritual, but not religious” (33 percent), those who are somewhat religious (37 percent), those who are not very religious (35 percent), and adults who are Jewish (30 percent). They are thus unlikely to be persuaded by religious-based arguments—especially coming from theologically conservative evangelicals.
How then can we persuade the undecided? One possible line of argument is to appeal to their natural, commonsense intuitions by asking, “Would you be in favor of allowing children to make similar irrevocable life-altering decisions?”
To see how this might be applied, let’s create a thought experiment. James, an 11-year-old boy, decides he wants to be a secret agent (a survey found that of the top 20 childhood dreams jobs, being a spy/secret agent came in at #13). The government passed a law that gives James and other children the ability to push a button and lock in their preference for their dream job. Pushing the button does not assure James he’ll get the job, or even make it more likely. All it does is prevent him from choosing any other option later. Should we encourage or support James’s decision to push that button? Would we support our own child in making a similar decision?
Or consider this alternate example. At 9 years old, Charlotte decides she wants to marry her classmate, Elijah. She’s given a choice to push a button and lock in her preference that completely and irrevocably binds her future adult self. She can, in the future, either abide by her preference to marry Elijah or she can never get married at all. Would we be in favor of giving her the choice to push that button? What if Charlotte’s desire is persistent and she has the same feelings at age 13. Would we then allow her to lock in that preference?
Most reasonable adults, of course, would not support giving children the ability to make irrevocable decisions about their vocations or marital prospects. Why then do they support irrevocable decisions about gender transitioning that will also affect them for life?
Many who support such procedures are likely unaware that studies have shown that 60 percent to 80 percent of adolescents who suffer from gender dysphoria (i.e., a strong desire to be of another gender) do not identify as transgender when they reach adulthood. If more than 60 percent are likely to change their mind, why allow them to make unalterable changes to their body before the age of 18?
They also may not realize, as the study points out, that puberty-blocking treatments begin at around the ages of 9 to 11, that double mastectomies are being done on children as young as 13, and genital reconstruction surgery is performed on kids as young as 15.
The purpose of these reductio ad absurdum examples is not merely to point out inconsistent thinking but to get people to think in the first place. As the surveys show, most adults are answering the question based on political allegiances rather than considering what’s at stake. If we could convince the currently undecided to be consistent in how they view decision-making by adolescents, we might be better able to protect America’s children.