In a column published on November 21, 2014, the American Family Association (AFA) has posted a column written by Bryan Fischer, wherein he attempts to prove that “trangenders” (as he grammatically incorrectly refers to us) are not only going against God’s will, but we are endangering our health. The overarching theme of his message is that transgender persons are not only willfully acting in defiance of his interpretation of the laws of his deity, but also that transgender regret is widespread throughout our community.
Mr. Fischer’s qualifications for saying what he says are that he is Director of Issue Analysis and Host of “Focal Point.” My qualifications for rebutting him are that I am a transgender researcher, scientist, adjunct university professor, and religious scholar. But let’s not appeal to authority here, and instead look at the facts.
I’m going to rebut Mr. Fischer’s claims using bulleted lists, largely because I really enjoy using them, but also because I think it helps to separate and address each point factually, rather than attempt to sway people with an appealing narrative.
1. The Appeal to Deuteronomy 22:5
The first major error which Mr. Fischer makes is in appealing to Deuteronomy 22:5, wherein he reads the texts as a prohibition against transgender persons, via its text stating “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” Sadly, Mr. Fischer in this appeal to Deuteronomy has revealed that he is not in fact a Biblical scholar, or at best is a Biblical dilettante. Mind you, I’m being charitable here, and not bringing up the possibility that Mr. Fischer is either a bald-faced liar, under the influence of St. Glenmorangie, or perhaps insane.
I have written a very lengthy research piece on the true meaning of Deuteronomy 22:5, and if you want to sit back and read a few thousand words I’ve written I really do encourage you. But for those of you ready to click over to something less long-winded than I, dear reader, allow me to summarize. Deuteronomy 22:5 is a passage in a collection of various laws which not only appears historically unusual, but contains Hebrew text which could be interpreted many ways. At best, Deuteronomy 22:5 may be a prohibition against not attempting to avoid military service by pretending to be female (sort of a “no Corporal Klingers” clause), but it may also refer to a prohibition in engaging in Canaanite religious rituals of the day, which involved swapping sex roles and crossdressing.
Mr. Fischer further reveals Biblical ignorance in not addressing how many other parts of the Bible appear to welcome or be accepting to transgender persons, most especially Acts 8:26-40. Did you forget so soon, Mr. Fischer, the message of the Apostle Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch?
36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
You can read all about nearly a dozen Biblical passages, along with my scholarly research on them, on my page regarding Religion, Faith, and the Transgender Person.
2. On the DSM and Transgender Classification
Mr. Fischer then attempts to play psychologist, by bringing up the “scary” fact that “Until 2012, the American Psychiatric Association classified transgenderism as a ‘gender identity disorder.’ It has since relabeled it ‘gender dysphoria’ in an effort to soften the stigma that properly should attach itself to this problematic lifestyle choice.” He attempts to interpret the intent of the hundreds of psychologists and psychiatrists of the American Psychiatric Association by claiming this change was done to “soften the stigma that properly should attach itself.” It’s an example of “hate the sinner, and the sin.” But let’s set that dig he made aside, and proceed to the factual points.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has an FAQ on their interpretation of transgender as a mental disorder. Mr. Fischer could have found this like I did via a 5-second Google search (perhaps 30 seconds if he’s still on AOL dial-up, but I digress), wherein the APA has this to say about the subject of whether being transgender is a mental illness (I shall quote their answer in full, so I cannot be accused of selective referencing).
Is being transgender a mental disorder?
A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder. For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination. Many other obstacles may lead to distress, including a lack of acceptance within society, direct or indirect experiences with discrimination, or assault. These experiences may lead many transgender people to suffer with anxiety, depression or related disorders at higher rates than nontransgender persons.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people who experience intense, persistent gender incongruence can be given the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria.” Some contend that the diagnosis inappropriately pathologizes gender noncongruence and should be eliminated. Others argue that it is essential to retain the diagnosis to ensure access to care. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is under revision and there may be changes to its current classification of intense persistent gender incongruence as “gender identity disorder.”
Please note the first and foremost point which the APA makes, which I have highlighted for emphasis. They clearly state that a transgender person who is happy in their gender role is not mentally ill. Why Mr. Fischer was unable or unwilling to mention this is a subject best left for others to address.
However, Mr. Fischer hoists himself by his own petard in his article. In one breath he refers to being transgender as a “lifestyle choice,” and in the next he refers to it as a serious psychological disorder. Which one is it, Mr. Fischer? It seems he cannot even stay consistent within the context of a couple of sentences.
Mr Fischer shows even more ignorance by apparently blindly linking to the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, claiming that they themselves say that “transgenderism” has a “number of pathologies.” Note his quote – some of the “pathologies” in his link include:
- Poor access to healthcare.
- Keeping good medical records.
- Taking hormones.
- Avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
Tell me this if you please – on what planet are those “pathologies?” Did Mr. Fischer even read his own doggone links, or did he just outsource the entire column to interns? Good grief.
3. Conflating Transgender “Regret” and Suicide
Mr. Fischer then makes a common mistake, or uses a common propaganda technique, by citing the statistics from the National LGBTQ Task Force, which are published in their watershed report Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Mr. Fischer does in fact quote correctly the statistic that 41% of transgender Americans have attempted suicide, and that this rate is at least 25 times that of the general population. But the mistake he makes is in context – in his context that being transgender is a sin, and transition fills most transgender persons with regret, he uses the statistic incorrectly.
The statistic of 41% of transgender persons having attempted suicide is over their entire lifetime as of the time of the survey. It by no means and in no way breaks down the statistics for those who are closeted, partially out, fully out, or fully transitioned. This can easily be seen by reading the original survey questions, which are published at the end of the full report (available above). In fact, Mr. Fischer should have taken the real message from the report – that in part due to the intolerance of people such as him and his organization, transgender persons are one of the most victimized minority populations in the entire world. Most Christians would take this statistic to be a call to action to help transgender persons and fight bigotry against them – rather than sanctimoniously and ignorantly wag our superior fingers at them.
4. The “Just Askin’ Questions” Fallacy
Mr. Fischer then engages in a propaganda technique commonly known as the “just askin’ questions” fallacy, where he writes:
Social research has revealed that 65% of all those who undergo cosmetic surgery live to regret it. How much higher must that figure be for those who have undergone genital mutilation?
This is actually a meaningless, single-source statement which is akin to saying “research has revealed that 15% of Americans don’t like turkey for Thanksgiving. How much higher could it be for those who don’t like ham?” There is no logical connection between the two. Elective cosmetic surgery is an entirely different matter than rehabilitative cosmetic surgery. Transgender persons do not undergo sexual reassignment surgery so they can look good (heaven forbid everyone should walk around pantsless, like Winnie the Pooh). Rather, sexual reassignment surgery is undergone to help a transgender person feel whole, right, and as one with their body. Mr. Fischer may as well damn an Iraqi War veteran who has facial reconstructive surgery to repair burns suffered in combat, because “he might regret it!”
5. The Grim Spectre of HIV/AIDS
Mr. Fischer then attempts to appeal to the masses by the “leper! Unclean!” technique, attempting to inextricably tie HIV/AIDS to being transgender. This really doesn’t need much rebutting, as it’s clear that being transgender in itself makes one no more likely to contract HIV than to contract malaria, dengue fever, or bubonic plague. Now, it is true that transgender persons have a very high rate of HIV/AIDS infection as a population, but if Mr. Fischer was a compassionate Christian, he might have explored why that is. The reason for the high number of transgender persons infected with HIV/AIDS is quite simply sex work.
I sit on the board of directors of a charity which helps sex workers get off the streets and get medical help, out of prostitution, off drugs, and gainfully employed or at least stabilized in their lives. About a third of the women we help are transgender women, and about half of them are HIV positive. Why were these transgender women forced onto the streets into sex work? Quite simply, due to ignorance, prejudice, fear, and discrimination by the public at large. Parents who threw their child out of their house at age 13 because they were a “freak.” Employers who fired a loyal employee when they asked to transition on the job. Ministers and congregations who refused to treat transgender persons as human beings and give them aid. These are the reasons for the high HIV/AIDS rate among transgender persons, and Mr. Fischer should be ashamed of himself for implying otherwise.
6. When all Else Fails, Bark at the Moon and Hope for the Best
Mr. Fischer finally makes a tortured appeal to authority by quoting two self-hating transgender persons. The first is “Well-known transgender[sic] Alan Finch of Australia…” Apparently this person is so well-known that despite my years of research, my enormous transgender bibliography on my bookshelves, my thousands of archived newspaper and magazine and online articles, I’ve never heard of this person even in passing. They have no medical or transgender research qualifications that I can find, so really they appear to be a sample size of one out of millions upon millions of transgender persons around the world. A quick Googling appears to show that Mr. Finch is in fact an intersex person (claiming that a psychiatrist diagnosed them as having a “missing male chromosome”), rather than transgender.
The next “transgender” Mr. Fischer quotes is Reneé Richards. I know quite a bit about Ms. Richards, having read her biographies and researched her sports and personal careers. It’s true that Ms. Richards has spoken out against transgender persons on many occasions. It’s also true that if you read Ms. Richards biographies, you see a person who is profoundly mentally imbalanced, who had a quasi-sexual relationship with her mother and a full sexual relationship with her own sister, went on and off hormones many times, had breast reduction surgery to remove her new breasts, then went right back on hormones to grow them back, had a sex tour of Europe, and generally by her own words can be seen to be somewhat of a first class loon. The last interview I watched of her on ESPN displayed a person who appeared profoundly disconnected from reality.
And this is the spokeswoman that Mr. Fischer wants to back?
Mr. Fischer decides to make it a trifecta of dodgy references by throwing out that “Mike Penner, a sportswriter for the LA Times, famously outed himself in 2007 as a transgendered individual and overnight became Christine Daniels. He then transitioned back to becoming a male in 2008 and finally killed himself in 2009.” My reaction, heartless as it may sound, is “so what?” I know a person who converted to Christianity in college, then climbed into a bathtub with a gun and shot themselves. Should we therefore indict Jesus? Note as well that Penner committed suicide after transitioning back to male, implying (via complete and utter speculation on my part) that perhaps gender wasn’t really their primary problem? The truth is the vast majority of studies show transition results in a net, positive benefit to the quality of life of transgender persons.
7. Putting God in a Box
Mr. Fischer rounds up his somewhat embarrassing column by attempting to appeal to the Ultimate Authority.
No, I don’t mean David Hasselhoff, I mean God.
God knew what he was doing when he assigned each of us our gender at the moment of conception. And he stands ready to help any willing individual come to a place of resolution and acceptance of the gender God assigned him at the moment of conception.
Mr. Fischer has that correct – God created transgender persons to be transgender. He acknowledges the supremacy of his own deity, but then attempts to put him in his own, neat little box by stating earlier that God ONLY and SOLELY creates men and women. No other options. Based on the “common sense” reading of Genesis et al, which I investigate in my links above regarding religion and transgender persons, it’s unclear even from the original Hebrew text that God intended or intends to create ONLY men and women. Mr. Fischer has made a mistake common to most Christians of defining what God can and cannot do based upon Man’s dodgy recordings and translations and re-translations and interpretations of God’s missives.
The very fact that intersex persons exist, and in rather large numbers, proves that God intends to create humans who are other than men or women. Why is Mr. Fischer ignorant of the fact that as many as 1 in 500 “male” births is actually an XXY person? And before you say “they have a Y chromosome; it’s a MAN, BAY-BE!”, note that some XXY individuals have been able to become pregnant and bear children! (see Röttger, S., et al. “An SRY-negative 47, XXY mother and daughter.” Cytogenetic and Genome Research 91.1-4 (2001): 204-207.) Mr. Fischer, God clearly made this woman and her daughter with a Y chromosome. Who exactly is a “man” and who exactly is a “woman,” again?
Furthermore, I’ve written about 10,000 words, along with more than 30 scientific citations, on the subject of how transgender persons have a brain which shows clear physiological differences from those of cisgender persons. I don’t suppose you’d care to read it, Mr. Fischer? If your deity is not responsible for creating the brains of transgender persons, who is? The Easter Bunny?
8. The End
In short, this AFA column (which has their editorial backing, despite their boilerplate disclaimer) is the sort of misguided, ignorant, composed-from-Google-searches piece that we transgender persons expect to see from our opposition. Not only is there no “fire,” so to speak, I’ll be blessed if I can even find much “smoke.” Columns such as this are actually encouraging to me in a manner of speaking, as it shows that the bigots, haters, and opponents of transgender persons really have no factual legs to stand upon. When the primary ammunition of your opponents is to misinterpret their own religious texts, misquote studies, and engage in half a dozen propaganda techniques to perpetuate the “Big Lie,” it should give us confidence that we will win this battle in the end.