A British newspaper recently ran a feature about a boy who wanted to be a girl. The parents fell in with his wishes for sparkly shoes instead of plain blue ones, for “girly” activities instead of those traditionally associated with boys. When it was decided that he should live as a girl, getting a new name and adopting girls’ clothing, etc., the parents went along with that, too. It was, the author of the feature insisted, only the prejudices or unkindness of outsiders that caused any problems.
But what is the reality? Here is a child, clearly from a well-to-do and affectionate home—gifts, shopping trips, riding-lessons—but confused and worried, rejecting his own identity, saying he wants to be a girl.
There may be many ways in which an unhappy, fearful or angry child manifests his feelings. Rather than attempting to deal with the symptoms, a look for the causes may be important. Is there, perhaps, an older sibling who seems to be more important or valued? Boys have special problems: too often, especially in schools, boys’ activities are simply seen as a nuisance—messy, noisy, territorial, apt to reflect obsessions over football or war-games. Constant chiding in order to achieve quietness, order, and “good” behaviour may be necessary, but can also spell out an unguarded message that girls—being generally more conversational and happier with sedentary pursuits—are nicer and more worthy of praise. In modern Britain, maleness is too often undervalued. Teachers are encouraged to emphasise “strong women” in history lessons, in morning assembly themes, or even in simple story-telling—where does that leave a boy who is struggling to come to terms with his own, masculine, identity?
Children need a sense of self, and of themselves in relation to others. They need a sense of structure and boundaries. Not all concessions to personal wishes are useful. Sometimes it is helpful for adults to make decisions—for example, about suitable shoes—rather than give in to a child’s whims, and this can often be a good thing, giving a child a sense of security, with boundaries in place and family structures secure.
And we all need to help one another. A child who says he wants to change sex is clearly worried and unhappy: what are his real needs, and what are the deeper issues that should be addressed? Mental and emotional health is important, and professional help should be available. The worry is that today, instead of some real assistance, what is on offer is likely to be hormonal drugs and, in the longer term, suggestions about mutilation and surgery, all in an atmosphere of political correctness.
In this situation, the Church can provide healing and hope, being on the side of truth, including truth about the human person. We are male or female. Our human biology is evidence of a loving creator who knows each one of us: we are asked to reflect that love, and to be confident in it. We should not deny our human biology, but rather to glory in it: we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God himself became a man and lived among us, born of a woman, showing us the beauty and meaning of the two sexes and the greatness of it all. Christians over centuries have worked to heal the sick, to conquer diseases, and to help one another. We are not meant to bury problems, but to face them.
Will there be, over the next years, courageous Christians ready to help children—and adults—confused about their identity and in need of counsel and care? Will they be brave enough to speak truthfully? Will they be penalised for doing so?
I recently attended a conference at which doctors and therapists who wanted to explore these issues put the case for greater freedom to break out of the current straitjacket that binds us to the “trans is OK” agenda. The pressure to accept the notion that people can “transition” from one sex to the other has acquired such force that conferences on the subject have to be rather private. The idea that a doctor, psychiatrist, or teacher should raise questions about why someone might have confusion about his or her sexual identity is now apparently regarded as dangerous. It suggests that current official attitudes might be wrong. But these current official attitudes on the “transgender” issue have not been medically tested, and are not based on biological facts. They merit a serious challenge. It is right that doctors and other professionals should challenge them.
In the old Soviet Union, people who opposed the official agricultural policy were sacked from their jobs, imprisoned, sent to concentrations camps, or shot. Collectivising the farms, and following a particular set of ideas about how to plant seeds, caused great famines in which millions died. But anyone who said so faced ghastly consequences. Economists and scientists, along with farmers who knew about their land and about crops and agriculture, were simply deemed to be enemies of the system.
The realities of human biology, and the workings of the human body and mind, merit serious discussion, and over the centuries we have learned a lot. Like farming the land, caring for human bodies and minds involves skills and wisdom that should be expanded and passed on. Crushing this in order to fit an ideology results in human misery.
We can be glad that we are not living in the old USSR. But the desire of officialdom to impose an ideology seems to be on the rise in the West. Let’s open up and allow freedom to discuss the great reality of male and female.