There is an important conversation going on at The Public Discourse—two articles with dueling views on transgender. Jennifer Gruenke makes the case for a biological basis for transgender identity. Greg Brown responds with a strong counterargument exposing some critical weaknesses in Gruenke’s essay.
I am with Brown on this one, and I commend his careful response to you. I would add just a few brief observations of my own about Gruenke’s article:
(1) Gruenke admits that she has no evidence to prove a biological basis for transgender identity. Nevertheless, she argues that there’s a strong circumstantial case for it. I think her reasoning on this point is singularly unconvincing. It certainly fails to give the reader a good look at the state of research on this question. I have some differences with Mark Yarhouse’s new book on gender dysphoria, but he at least gives a more accurate assessment of the scientific literature on this point. He shows that the studies that have been done are at best inconclusive and that scientists don’t really know why people are gender dysphoric. Gruenke makes it sound like its conservatives versus science, but it’s really science versus science. There is no consensus in terms of pathology.
(2) The pathological question is really a moot point for Christians trying to render a theological assessment of transgender identities. The existence of intersex conditions doesn’t undermine the norm that human beings are of two types—male and female. Rather, it confirms that norm (as Greg Brown so ably demonstrates). This is the essential sexual binary that is confirmed both in our experience and in scripture. Yet it seems like Gruenke believes that the existence of “mismatches” between sex and gender somehow forces a theological reappraisal of the norm. Even if she were right—that transgender is sometimes due to an intersex condition—her conclusion doesn’t follow. The brokenness of creation does not point to how God wants things to be but to how sin and the curse have distorted the world.
(3) In my book on sexual ethics, I deal extensively with intersex but not with transgender. The reason that I did that is because of arguments like this one. Revisionists view intersex (not transgender) as the more potent defeater of the sexual binary taught in scripture. I wonder if Gruenke realizes how radical her argument really is. From a theological perspective, I don’t believe it is compatible with a biblical view of the human person.