Culture,  Politics

A tough critique of transgenderism

Okay, readers. Time to buckle-up your chin-strap and get ready for a stiff dose of common sense. The author is Carlos Flores, and the article is titled “The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern but Necessary Critique.” This is sharp argument for sharp minds. No emoting, just exposing the illogic of embracing a psychological identity at odds with one’s bodily identity. In short, it’s a well-crafted contention that transgender identities inhibit human flourishing and happiness.

Among other things, Flores makes a powerful case that we do not help people if we lead them away from embracing reality. He writes:

Suppose that a seventy-year-old man—call him Bob—comes to identify as a sixteen-year-old. Wouldn’t we think it absurd if people considered it “rude” or “bigoted” to tell the man: “You are not sixteen years old. Your identifying as such doesn’t change this fact, and we will not indulge you in your strange delusions by not calling attention to your old age and by pretending that you really are sixteen years old”?…

Bob and the situations of individuals who believe themselves to be transgender are perfectly analogous. In the case of the transgender individual, he identifies as something he is not—someone of the opposite sex—and seeks to undergo harmful surgeries and hormonal treatments in order to have his physical state match his identity of himself as someone of the opposite sex.

Our mental faculties, like our physical ones, are ordered toward various ends. Among these ends is the attainment of truth. To this extent, it is perfective of our mental faculties to recognize how we truly are (and thus apprehend a truth). It is for this reason that we can make sense of mental disorders such as anorexia nervosa as disorders: they involve persons’ having persistent, false beliefs about their identity or how they really are. In the case of the anorexic, someone who is dangerously underweight believes falsely (but tenaciously) that he is really overweight. It would be a proper procedure of medicine, then, for a therapist to help an anorexic individual to do away with his anorexia, restoring the individual’s mental faculties to their properly functioning state.

This is teleological ethics on fire. Read the rest here.


  • James Bradshaw

    This is going to sound cruel coming from a gay man, but I’ve sometimes considered transgendered individuals to be somewhat delusional. Cutting off (or adding) non-functioning exterior sex organs doesn’t make one a different gender. Although I’ve seen some astonishing results with the use of hormone therapy (particularly for female-to-male), they are functionally still the gender they were born as.

    And yet …

    Isn’t gender more than the sum of the parts? What if there are distinct differences in how the mind and soul operate that transcend or operate outside of mere biology? Isn’t this what “complimentarians” believe, particularly as it pertains to the role of men and women?

    A child once asked, “Am I IN my body, or am I my body?” It’s a brilliant question, really, and one that must be answered for us to really assist the transgendered in achieving a better life.

  • Daniel Moody

    I enjoyed the Flores article. He makes many good points (explaining the nature of Medicine, for example). But…

    Flores is failing to take account of a very simple insight: names are not objects.

    It is contradictory for a man to say “I am a woman” only if by ‘man’ he means something that is contradicted by whatever he means by ‘woman’. When the State says a man can be a woman, it is not lying – it is not using those to names to represent mutually exclusive physical realities (the sexes). It is using them to represent interchangeable legally registered states of mind (Gender identities).

    Flores is arguing against the wrong thing. He should be explaining that Gender/emotional has legally replaced sex/physical, for every body. This is difficult to ‘see’ because Gender uses the language of the body (man, woman, etc).

  • Dean Chia

    It seems like Flores (and Burk and I) are making the assumption that we are both body and soul, and while we can distinguish between the two, we cannot separate them. Thus, the child can be both IN his (or her) body and also his (or her) body. And since we cannot separate them, there shouldn’t be a difference between physical gender and gender identity.

    • David Bruggink

      While I’m no expert on the subject of gender identity, I think there’s a danger in making prescriptive statements along the lines of “because body and soul seem inseparable, there should be no difference between biological sex and gender identity.” To me it seems too similar to the callous dismissal of the legitimacy of someone’s homosexual orientation. It also seems very much a category error to assume that an experience of gender dysphoria is similar to mistakenly believing oneself to be a difference race or a vastly different age.

  • Ryan Davidson

    I too have some misgivings about whether transgenderism is an accurate diagnosis of what certain people are experiencing. Even so, I’m not sure that this is a helpful critique. Like almost everything published by Witherspoon, it rests too heavily on Catholic natural-law reasoning and gives almost no weight to empirical evidence. So, while such arguments may have a certain appeal to conservative Christians, they are unlikely to be persuasive in the broader culture. I’d suggest that there are at least two lines that require further investigation.

    First, research generally shows that sex reassignment surgery does not seem to make much of a difference in transgendered people’s psycho-social health. So, if the symptoms don’t seem to respond to the treatment, it probably ought to make us reconsider how well we understand the etiology of the underlying condition. So, while the psycho-social symptoms people experience are likely real, transgenderism may not be the best diagnosis.

    Second, gender roles are far more narrowly defined and far more aggressively policed in the US than in any other developed country. While this has always been the case here, it seemed to ramp up in the 1990s, especially among adolescents. I think this is probably due in large part to conservatives’ efforts to enhance the sigma of gay sex. Even so, kids who don’t conform easily to the restrictive scripts for normative masculinity or femininity experience some understandable amount of psycho-social tension. For example, I suspect that many adolescents who are coming out of the closet as gay are doing so as a means of easing this tension: It provides them with a script that makes some sense of what they’re experiencing, and provides a measure of acceptance that had been denied to them. In a culture where gender roles are not so narrowly defined or aggressively policed, I suspect that we’d see a much smaller number of people identifying as gay. So, oddly enough, misguided efforts to stigmatize homosexuality have actually led to its mainstreaming, thereby giving cultural cover to the more aberrant kinds of conduct that conservatives had hoped to stigmatize. In my limited experience interacting with transgendered people, it strikes me that transgenderism may trace its source back to some of these same causes. But I think there’s a lot more work to be done.

    So, while I have my doubts regarding the script that’s emerged, it’s still important that we give credence to the underlying psycho-social tensions that are leading some to embrace transgenderism in an effort to make sense of and to ease those tensions. Flores’s article fails in that important respect. If transgenderism is indeed as untenable as Flores supposes, then there we ought to be able to displace that script with something that makes more sense, even as it accounts for the psycho-social tensions that lead some to embrace transgenderism. It’s not enough simply to discredit transgenderism. We have to do the hard work of understanding why some come to view this script as plausible.

    I fear that we have fumbled the ball on homosexuality. We took an approach similar to what Flores takes here: We sought to discredit and stigmatize the script. Meanwhile, we did little to address the psycho-social tensions that led some people to identify as gay. In fact, by going a bit overboard in our efforts to stigmatize homosexuality, we ended up heightening those tensions. And because we failed to offer any way for such adolescents to make sense of the tensions they experienced, we ended up lending credibility to the very script we sought to discredit. We should learn from those mistakes and not repeat them on this issue.

    • Christiane Smith

      I did find this information at the end of the Flores article:
      “Carlos D. Flores studies philosophy at UC Santa Barbara.”

      BTW, I appreciate your tone in the writing of your comment, RYAN. And I appreciate that DENNY has sought to express the need for compassion for transgender people.

      If there is to be any effective Christian ministry given, then it must be given from those who reflect the heart of Christ.
      With Him, there is healing possible for those who are suffering,
      and even for those who, with the humility of Christ, attempt to help them.

      Without Christ, there is only the darkness.

    • Lindsay Parks

      Ryan- I don’t believe anyone’s answers even included the views of the Creator, from the Bible. You said “we did little to address the psychosocial tensions that led some people to identify as gay.” That’s a lot of verbiage- God simply calls it “sin.” Then, you said “we sought to discredit and stigmatize the script.” No- the Word if God did that for us, when it described this lifestyle choice as “against nature, unseemly, improper, unnatural, and an abomination.”

      • Ryan Davidson


        Would you mind telling me where it is sinful to fall outside of the culture’s script for normative masculinity or femininity? I don’t see it. After all, Christian notions of masculinity and femininity have varied widely over the centuries, and varied widely from culture to culture.

        The psycho-social stress that many young men feel is due to a sense that they don’t measure up as “real men”; it often has nothing to do with a desire for gay sex. in an overzealous effort to combat feminism and homosexuality, I fear that we’ve set forth overly restrictive norms for masculinity and femininity that leave many otherwise normal kids feeling unnecessarily marginalized. Many will conform outwardly to the normative script, but be wracked internally by shame and guilt. Others reject the normative script and look for something else. In many cases, they embrace the gay script merely becauses it eases the tension of their former marginalization. Sure, that script comes with a host of other issues. But for someone who’s felt rejected for a number of years, the gay script can initially feel very freeing.

        I’m not suggesting that the church embrace gay sex. Rather, I’m suggesting that we could easily diminish the attractiveness of the gay script merely by embracing a wider range of scripts for how men can be masculine and women can be feminine.

        I say this from personal experience. I was a smaller, skinny kid who had a strong interest in the arts. I played sports, but they were “girly” sports like cross-country, swimming/diving, and soccer. I grew up in a fairly conservative Presbyterian church, where I was marginalized and ridiculed for not conforming to the traditional “jock” norm. This caused me a fair bit of stress. I later came out as gay, and walked away from the church. At first, being gay was freeing because it eased the stress of years of rejection. I later walked away from being gay, which is not all that uncommon. Since that time, I’ve moved among the cognitive elite, where gender roles are much more loosely defined. I’ve returned to the church, albeit a mainline church. I’d like to return to an evangelical church, but have no interest in moving back into a world where I would face rejection for not being manly enough.

        Looking back, I can’t help but think that things would have been much easier if my church had simply not been so obsessed about enforcing a so-called biblical way of being male, which had more to do with flawed cultural models than with anything biblical. I probably would have married and been happy. I would have never ventured out in search of a different script that allowed me to feel normal and accepted.

        I honestly doubt that most who identify as gay got to that point because they had some longing for gay sex. Rather, most of their stories started with an experience of rejection–rejection often having nothing to do with sex, but with certain failures to conform to restrictive cultural models of masculinity. Identifying as gay eased the stress. If they found a partner within a few years, they stuck with it. Others find that the gay script doesn’t fit either. Fortunately for me, I was in a financial position to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for good secular counseling and to get two professional degrees from elite schools. I was able to buy my way into the corporate elite, where gender roles are less of an issue and marriage is conceived of more along the lines of Gary Becker’s reasoning. Most others lack such opportunities. They trudge on feeling confused, finding the gay script to be ultimately unattractive but being too effeminate to be accepted as a “real man.”

        I feel as though evangelicals have created many of the problems they now face on gay issues. That haven’t merely opposed homosexuality, after all. In addition, they’ve promoted overly restrictive models for how men are to be masculine and how women are to be feminine–models that leave many to feel unnecessary stress about their gender and sexuality. evangelicals have tried to address the question of homosexuality by seeking to cram everyone into very narrow scripts for masculinity and femininity. It hasn’t worked. In fact, it’s lent undue credibility to the very scripts that evangelicals were trying to fight. It’s time to find a new approach, and to make space in the church for effeminate men and manly women.

        • Lynn B.

          Ryan: Thank you for sharing your story. I have seen this very thing happen on several fronts. I long ago was close to a man who could have been described much as you describe yourself. He was not a “man’s man,” a musician and not a hunter, etc., and he was greatly hurt by accusations of being gay, and this was long before being gay was in vogue. Thankfully, by the grace of God, he met and married a woman who adored him just as God created him and they had three beautiful children and a great life serving the Lord together.

          I also know a pastor who married a young widow with children including a gentle, soft spoken son who was artistic. When this pastor asked an older man in ministry how to teach his son to be “masculine,” the counselor wisely asked him, “what makes you think God brought this child into your life for you to change the child and not for the child to change you and teach you to be more gentle and sensitive?”

          My late husband, who was small in stature by American standards, and suffered much grief as a result even though he was greatly “masculine” in other ways was often quick to judge another as “gay” based just on outward appearance.

          Sadly, we all judge in manifold ways and hopefully, your story will cause a few of us to consider how our judgments hurt young men in particular and even encourage some of them to enter the world of homosexuality when that otherwise would not have been their inclination.

          God bless you!

    • senecagriggs

      Ryan said: ” it rests too heavily on Catholic natural-law reasoning and gives almost no weight to empirical evidence.” Just a point, the “empirical evidence” is quite plain. There is nothing more empirical then the external genitalia.

      • Christiane Smith

        it is interesting that one of the observations brought forward in the discussion is how what we see empirically trumps how transgender people experience themselves to be.
        And Ryan has mentioned also Catholic natural law, the evidence of which is observed in the order of the universe.
        But I would also bring up that Catholics believe that God is the Creator of the natural world (of all that is seen) and the God of the supernatural world (all that is unseen). So we are asked to accept that there exists that which we cannot experience empirically with our sense using our gift of reason. So we have doubts, like St. Thomas, and Our Lord understood and helped him to touch the wounds that proved the truth. In the case of transgender people, we cannot be ‘reassured’ so simply that they experience something we cannot understand, but we know that they suffer, and sometimes we know they sadly commit suicide in their pain. So we cannot say we ‘don’t see’ what they are going through because of the empirical evidence of genitalia.

        You know, sometimes I think we have people placed in our midst who need us to help them with their burdens and their pain, and yes they are being ‘tested’ in trial;
        but I also have wondered if WE are being ‘tried’ in how we respond to that suffering.
        As a Christian people, the mystery of transgender suffering in our midst calls to us to respond as Our Lord did when He was among us. And that take a grace that IS supernatural, not ’empirical’.

  • Sandra Stewart

    Thou shalt not commit logical falsies!
    Above and beyond ignoring scientific evidence.
    An argument is circular if its conclusion is among its premises, if it assumes (either explicitly or not) what it is trying to prove.
    Weak analogy. Many arguments rely on an analogy between two or more objects, ideas, or situations. If the two things that are being compared aren’t really alike in the relevant respects, the analogy is a weak one, and the argument that relies on it commits the fallacy of weak analogy. I could go on!
    Being transgender is recognized by the major counseling and medical organizations, AMA, APA ACA, NASW…
    Denying this sets you up against science in a mounting body of genetic epigenetic MRI… data. It also sets you up against the Bible, that “born that way” which includes intersex individuals that are XXY, XYY and XXYY as well as chimera’s (I have met examples all of these).

  • Thomas Witten

    When assessing treatment for serious medical disorders we should ignore all the relevant professional medical bodies, and instead take our cues from a philosopher with no medical expertise whatsoever. Got it.

  • Don Johnson

    Before I became a believer in Jesus, I lived with a guy who later transitioned from male to female. I was clueless about this possibility until he was moving out and wanted to tell me why. A few observations from my experience.

    1) He never drank or did anything that might be mind altering, he was concerned that his secret might come out at the wrong time with bad consequences.

    2) At the time, I had an on and off girlfriend which I did not see going anywhere and it did not. But he had a LOT of girl friends and I thought he was the biggest womanizer I knew. He made being with women look easy, when I was a big flop. He later explained that was because he thought like a woman.

    3) Previously, he tried to “man up” and worked on a railroad in Australia, but it did not work. He was miserable but hid it well. He described what he felt as being a woman in a man’s body. It sounded like a horrible situation at the time and still does. Essentially no one chooses this, it is a very sad situation to find oneself in.

    4) After his surgery, she got a job as a waitress at THE ritziest restaurant in the big city, in other words, she was a real looker. She had a modeling portfolio.

  • Katie Leonard

    I am transgender. I also am a person who seeks out the truth. In order to live a life of integrity I must take reasonable arguments into consideration and weigh them in light of everything else.

    Gender is a lot of things. Part of it consist of biology and part of it is a social construct. Our genitalia really has little to do with the way we act or dress or behave, those things are imposed upon us by the culture in which we are born in.

    When it comes to therapy, I don’t think the question is whether or not we should try to conform our identities to our biology, but the way in which one goes about that. Telling anyone that God hates them for any reason is an outright lie and against scriptural thinking. Bringing a person to tears because they spent an hour being torn down is not going to make them “see the light” but reinforce the notion that their assumptions are right and the counselor is evil.

    I am a transgender person who would love, LOVE, love it if my identity and my biology matched and I am not talking about surgery but to identify with the anatomy I was born with. In the transgender community that makes me a bit of an outcast and despised, but I think it is telling that my identity has not changed.

    My opinion is that there is more to gender outside of the 46th chromosome and that there is something else that determines gender identity. Whether that thing happens to be a defect or not, I do not know. On the case of neuroplacicty, consider this, I spent my youth in a catholic home. I was encouraged and participated in male behavioral patterns. I tried my best to conform to what was expected to me. Though I wasn’t allowed toy guns and military toys, I was an active youth, had cars and other typical male toys. In high school I played football and wrestled. In college I competed in wrestling as well under a prestigious coach. None of my attempts to conform to male roles changed my identity though.

    There isn’t as big of a push for surgery as one would assume. For a lot of people it is financially not feasible. As for me, I don’t like being put under for any reason. Also, I don’t know any circle that is recommending surgery for children outside of the book God Bless the Child which tries to tackle gender identity disorder of a minor.

    The arguments put forth are well thought out, but I think that our knowledge of gender is incomplete. Transgender is not something that is new, it has been around as long as there has been human written history.

    • Christiane Smith

      Thank you, KATIE, for sharing this here with us. I often think how it is that we Christians have sought for ourselves to become ‘a new person’ in Christ. And how some, believing themselves to now be that ‘new person’, can then forget that they, too, once suffered discomfort in their own skin prior to repentance . . .

      if these Christians could remember ‘how it was’ when they were broken and lost in the wilderness, then maybe they might realize that there are different kinds of pain and suffering in that vast ‘great empty’,
      and they are now called to come alongside those whose journey is or has been an embodiment of a different kind of crucible, and to LISTEN as DENNY has suggested.

      Recently a transgender person came to see Pope Francis and they spent time talking. We do not know what was said, but we do know that Pope Francis is one who listens, and likely at the end of the meeting, as he almost always does, Pope Francis would have asked the transgender person to pray for him, something many don’t understand.
      We are told there was a hug. From what we know of Francis, I believe that is likely.
      But the meeting was private. We do not know for sure.
      What we do know in the Church is this . . . that in order to hug another person, we must first put down stones

    • Lynn B.

      Katie: Without writing many words I want to suggest that an ACBC counselor could help you answer some of these things from God’s Word. Most counsel for free as a ministry of their church. My personal experience is that not all ACBC counselors are equal, so “if at first you do not succeed, please try again.”

  • Christine Norman

    Katie, thank you so much for sharing what you did. I almost cried upon reading your words. They are important. You are important.

    I’m a Christian, although I don’t tend to conform to what the more vocal populous of my belief system spout. The bottom line is all sin is weighed the same to God. Only one sin makes us worthy of hell. Sin is sin. But, as I recall, it’s His kindness that draws us to repentance. So can we, on every controversial subject please remember that? Not that anyone has gone too strongly in a bashing way here, I just felt inclined to say that.

    This very subject has been on my heart so much. I knew things were deeper than I understood and through reading this article and the comments I have learned so much, thank you all.
    One of my dear, sweet friends has cerebral palsy. By the grace of God she is getting stronger but she has a hard time walking well, she can’t grip things with her hands very strongly and understanding her speech can be very challenging. I can’t imagine what she must feel. I understand that these physical limitations are all she’s ever known but from my vantage point, I’m angry because it seems like she is trapped inside her own body. She has one of the most beautiful hearts I’ve ever encountered and she is so smart. Why did this happen to her?
    Forgive me and please correct me if I’m wrong but perhaps the reality is true for those that identify as transgender as well as my friend. I’m not saying they’re mentally or physically handicapped but that they feel trapped in their own skin. That perhaps in a society that, without right, defines beauty, normalcy and perfection, they, like my friend, have been weighed and found wanting for something they didn’t choose and can’t change.

    I know I don’t have any answers but I do believe that every last one of us was created in the image of God.
    As George MacDonald surmised, let us no longer trust and seek out recycled thoughts but go to the One Who is the Creator and the Origin. I don’t know that in our own wisdom we will ever really be able to know and understand all the ins and outs of this. This issue is like when we ask God why bad things happen to good people, but that doesn’t stop us from asking. So I will start asking God.

    May the love of God find us and transform us all.

  • brian darby

    Dear Dr Burk my last post did not seem to go through, I could be wrong or it was outside the scope of your blog rules. I was neither rude or disrespectful but I will try again. Its your blog and how you administer it is fine with me.
    You mentioned this.
    Dr. Burk said
    “Among other things, Flores makes a powerful case that we do not help people if we lead them away from embracing reality. He writes:”
    One could drive several large trucks through this statement to be honest, given your view of biological science, cosmology, genetics, geology … from what I have read on your blog you hold a Young Earth Creationist view of “reality”. It could be argued that, that leads people away from “reality”. Of course that depends on the perspective one has, which is the point.

    From the article “Suppose that a seventy-year-old man—call him Bob—comes to identify as a sixteen-year-old. Wouldn’t we think it absurd if people considered it “rude” or “bigoted” to tell the man: “You are not sixteen years old. Your identifying as such doesn’t change this fact, and we will not indulge you in your strange delusions by not calling attention to your old age and by pretending that you really are sixteen years old”?…”
    I have taken care of many clients who had a “different “ reality about their believed age vs their chronological age. Some suffered from a variety of cognitive disabilities or alzheimer’s who “reverted” to a young age. Are you saying we should force these people to realize their actual chronological age and not “indulge” their “fantasy”. First, that wont work for the most part and it would also cause a great deal of mental anguish, granted in apologetic terms that really does not matter as pointed out in the article. But in day to day life where I live it makes a great deal of difference.

    “This is teleological ethics on fire. “ No offense but no its not in my opinion.
    Thanks Brian Darby

    • Ryan Davidson

      I’m not sure that I would refer to the Flores reasoning as teleological. It makes an initial teleological observation (regarding the male-female sex binary), but everything else is largely deontological. For example, Flores assumes that the male-female sex binary requires a corresponding masculine-feminine gendder-role binary. But any observation of the human condition suggests that this assumption is unwarranted. It may be partly true in a very fuzzy sense, but there is an immense variety among males and an immense variety among females. This variety counsels against Flores’s thesis. He only gets to his conclusion by ignoring that variety and making a deontological assumption that such a strict correspondence must exist.

      This strikes me as the crucial flaw in how many evangelicals have addressed gender issues. They make the unwarranted assumption that the strict see binary requires a correspondingly strict gender-role binary. Then, faced with the reality that nature gives us a very fuzzy binary as opposed to a strict binary in the latter realm, they set out on some ill-fated quest to recover the strict gender-role binary they suppose must exist. In doing so, they erect socially constructed notions of idealized masculinity and femininity (ie, biblical manhood and womanhood) that often have little to do with anything biblical. In most cases, these scripts borrow more from the cultural iconography of the 1950s than from anything biblical. They, they try to cram everyone into these narrow idealized roles, and marginalized anyone who doesn’t fit or who doesn’t want to fit.

      These practices are neither philosophically necessary nor theologically warranted. They’re simply a rear-guard overreaction to the supposed threats of feminism and homosexuality. The Danvers Statement was borne out of good intentions, but was probably a bit too hastily drafted and a bit too theologically thin. But instead of admitting that and offering some kind of corrective, many evangelicals have simply doubled down, turning the faulty deontological assumptions of the Danvers Statement into a test of Gospel fidelity.

      I admit that there is some broad differentiation between men and women in terms of role preferences, attitudes, etc. But the variance is immense. So, it’s difficult to construct principles that can be applied to individual situations. So, when we try to do that, we end up improperly reading contingent cultural norms into the Gospel. In my PCA upbringing, “biblical manhood” ended up looking a lot like an SEC frat boy. Is that because we’ve drawn such principles from Scripture? Or is it because I was raised in a denomination where, at the time, 85% of its churches were in SEC country?

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