August 18, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, August 18, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
"I'm confused"—when it comes to transgender athletes, the confusion points to a collision with reality
We have been watching the fact that we can comment on American culture and necessarily so by saying the intersection of the sexual revolution and blank—you can basically fill in the blank. There is virtually no dimension of American culture that does not belong in that space, and that’s simply because the sexual revolution is so total, it is so comprehensive that there is no dimension of life that is not touched.
We have been looking in recent days at the intersection of the sexual revolution and sport, specifically at the 31st Olympiad, and we talked some days ago on The Briefing about the fact that Nike gained controversy and attention by featuring a transgender athlete—that is, Chris Mosier—and by referring to Chris Mosier as a male member of the United States team in the duathlon. Now here’s something that was largely missed: that isn’t an Olympic sport. It may be true that Chris Mosier is in Rio and at the Olympics, but Mosier is not there as a competitor, and Mosier is not a member of the 2016 United States Summer Olympic team.Show Full Transcript
Chris Mosier is really there as part of Nike’s advertising, and that’s the really big part of the story. That’s the story that was made clear at National Public Radio yesterday in an article that was headlined,
“Transgender Athletes Raise Questions for Future Olympic Games.”
Notice, the tense there, “future Olympic games.” It turns out that this story is a lot more interesting and a lot more complicated than first appeared. Renee Montagne, the host of NPR, began the segment with these words, and I quote,
“Chris Mosier is featuring prominently in Nike TV ads during the Rio Olympics. He is the first transgender athlete to make a U.S. national team in the duathlon, which is not an Olympic sport. So he’s not competing at Rio, but the possibility of transgender Olympians got commentator Diana Nyad thinking.”
Notice again the verb tense in the headline “future Olympic Games.” Notice the contrast of that with the implication that was very clear in the Nike ad. Notice also that NPR introduces the issue by discussing the possibility of transgender Olympians. Diana Nyad is the commentator; she’s a previous host of an NPR program and is very well known for her famous long-distance swims, including efforts to swim from Cuba to the United States. She’s one who knows something about the field of sports and in particular about women in sports, and that’s what makes her comments all the more interesting—also significant, we should note, because they were originally broadcast at National Public Radio.
Diana Nyad at the very beginning wants to make very clear that she is all for the moral revolution, including the sexual revolution. She explains this by writing,
“We, the human race, have lived most of our history in a binary universe. And I don’t mean Democrat and Republican. From the moment a baby bump swells, the first question is, boy or girl? Yet, we have worked hard over recent decades to de-emphasize gender differentiation.”
Now notice that that’s a true statement long before you get to the LGBT revolution. That statement could have its rootage, basically, in the feminist movement that began especially in American culture life to gain traction in the 1960s and 1970s. But she continues,
“Women command capsules into outer space, lead teams of surgeons in the operating room, and – who knows? – maybe become president of the United States one day.”
But she continues,
“Women command capsules into outer space, lead teams of surgeons in the operating room, and – who knows? – maybe become president of the United States one day.”
“One day”—but she continues,
“The one arena where we demand a clear-cut separation of the sexes is sports.”
Now before continuing with Diana Nyad’s comments, we need to recognize that this is a very basic fact, and it begins very, very early. Just look at the organization of sports for children, including very young children, whether you’re talking about soccer or t-ball or anything else, continue through Little League and into organized school sports and club sports and league sports, and you discover a very clear differentiation between boys and girls. That has been basic to the entire project of sport.
Then, furthermore, you look at even the organization of professional sports and the same issues, the same distinctions, the same clarity continues to prevail. This is, as we’ve seen, important in something like the National Basketball Association. The NBA may want to take very progressive stances in order to make clear just how happy it is about the sexual revolution. It may make very clear its endorsement of just about everything that is demanded by those included in the LGBT revolution, but it continues to be a male professional league, and it continues to operate in distinction to the WNBA, the Women’s National Basketball Association. There’s a reason for that clarity and, we might say, there’s a fundamental reason for that hypocrisy, or at least double messaging.
Back to Diana Nyad; she said on NPR,
“Scientists, endocrinologists, gynecologists, gender experts have for years carved out a set manifest standard for what defines a male and a female athlete, ensuring that every person who steps up to the start line is not up against a chemically-engineered specimen quite unlike his or her birth profile. Simply put,”
“The goal of most of the doping cheats in sports is to become somehow more male – the more male the body’s chemistry, the higher potential for brute strength, explosive speed and efficient oxygen utilization.
This is incredibly candid language and it has particular credibility because it’s coming by someone who is internationally known as a female athlete. And she continues to believe that that’s an important issue. You’ll notice that she says that most of these doping scandals, she identifies it as “most of the doping cheats” in sports, have to do with the attempt to create an athlete that is more male. To use her expressions again, “the more male the body’s chemistry, the higher potential for brute strength, explosive speed and efficient oxygen utilization.”
So where’s the problem? She’s noted the fact that there has been an entire army of specialists whose entire endeavor on this issue is to “set manifest standard for what defines a male and a female athlete.”
“Yet today,” she writes, “the mandate of competing in the gender category of your birth is old school. And the Rio Olympics is the first games to accept transgender athletes. No known trans athletes are competing in these games. But in theory, we don’t seem to argue when a transgender male athlete joins a competition. We assume that the once-female body brings nothing superior to the game. It’s the converse situation that’s tricky. If a male has gone through one year of hormone therapy and tests within the accepted range of estrogen-testosterone levels as female, even without undergoing sex-change surgery, she is now female, fair and square, in the world of sports.”
Well, fair enough some might claim, but then Diana Nyad asks the question,
“But is she?”
Now here, we need to pause and note that asking that question is considered by the secular world increasingly an act of moral treason. It is an act of treason over against the moral revolution that the secularizing society cherishes, and it identifies the central contradiction at the very heart of the LGBT revolution, especially when it comes to the transgender revolution: the claim that there is a distinction between birth sex or biological sex on the one hand and gender on the other hand. The LGBT revolution is now pressing forward in terms of policies across the entire spectrum of society that demand that a person who was born biologically male can somehow become declared to be a woman. And yet when you look at this, it turns out to be quite problematic when it comes to sports. Diana Nyad points out that the Olympics think they have become quite broad-minded on the category. But as she implies, it’s only because no actual trans athlete is involved in the games. She’s also amazingly clear in pointing out that in practicality a woman claiming to be a man is not really a threat to the integrity of sport, but a man claiming to be a woman is.
Diana Nyad points to Renee Richards, the most famous of the transsexuals or transgender pioneers when it came to sport. She writes,
“Renee played world-class tennis as Richard Raskind and then successfully sued to play in the 1977 U.S. Open women’s draw as Renee. But there was protest. Some of the women at the time, although respectful of Renee’s personal life decisions, deemed it unfair to face a 6-foot-1-inch athlete who was not long before male, with bigger-than-normal hands, a smaller-than-normal hip girdle.”
Now this is getting somewhat biologically specific. I can assure you that most articles are far more specific than this. But that points to this contradiction and central hypocrisy at the very heart of the sexual revolution: the claim that somehow biological sex can be instantly overcome by declaring a contrasting gender identity. But when it comes to sports, changing one’s gender by declaration does not reduce one’s height, nor does it change one’s basic body profile in terms of the musculoskeletal system.
Celebrating the LGBT revolution, Steven Petrow, columnist for the Washington Post, had written an article I cited days ago on The Briefing asking the question,
“Do transgender athletes have an unfair advantage at the Olympics?”
Petrow would argue that they actually do not, including men who transitioned to the identity of a woman. He says that it’s wrong because,
“The first-ever study of transgender athletes showed that the hormone therapy that facilitates male-to-female transition does more than just suppress testosterone. Published last year in the Journal of Sporting Cultures and Identities, the study showed that as testosterone levels approach female norms, trans women experience a decrease in muscle mass, bone density and other physical characteristics.”
That was presented as simply the evidence of the fact that it really doesn’t matter. Diana Nyad, however, recognizes that it does. And as a matter scientific and medical fact, even though the hormonal treatments may change bone density and to some extent muscle mass—that doesn’t change the basic shape of the human being or the human body.
The National Public Radio story is important not only for the fact that it appeared in the first place, especially with this kind of candor, but also because of the way the argument is presented. Nyad says,
“Let’s look at this as would a statistician. A born male has a range of height, wider shoulders and so on than a born female. So if you were born with those male skeletal characteristics, traits that don’t change with hormonal shifts, and stand within any group of females, you have a likely chance of being bigger than average – an asset in most sports. I’m all for the rights of the transgender athlete. I’m ready to evolve from our binary model. But I admit, when it comes to the female trans athlete, I’m confused.”
Well if Diana Nyad is confused, imagine the rest of us. Because she says that she wants to join this revolution. She’s all for it, she says, and yet in terms of that paragraph in which she said, “Let’s look at this as would a statistician,” there is no denying the math.
The Christian biblical worldview reminds us that God created us for his glory and created human beings as male and female and that the Creator actually exults and glories in the distinction between men and women. And we have also noted that this is not only that which glorifies God, but it is a distinction that is very important to human flourishing. Tampering with that divine pattern will lead not only to confusion, but to worse. It’s very interesting that Diana Nyad concludes her article by saying that when it comes to transgender women athletes, she’s confused.
The confusion points to something; there is something basically wrong with the picture. First, we noted there is something wrong with the picture in terms of the Nike ad and how it was celebrated and discussed in American culture, as if Chris Mosier was an Olympic athlete there in Rio. Something very different is underway. We’ve also been misled by being told that Olympic authorities have figured this out and are ready for transgender athletes. As it turns out, they’re not only not ready, they don’t even have a known transgender athlete competing at the 31st Olympiad in Rio.
Finally, we get down to the fact that the confusion gets so basic that even as a society is determined, it seems, to declare that a male can become a female and a female can become a male, when it comes to how a statistician would look at the sporting reality, it’s not true. It’s not even close to being true. There’s another principle in the Christian worldview, which is human beings in our confusion and in our sinful thinking will try to press back upon reality—yes, revealed reality in Scripture, but also the reality that is revealed in the created order. That’s very clear, even as Paul writes to the Romans in Romans chapter 1.
And now there are none: What a recent Marine Corps report tells us about reality of male and female
So next we turn to an interesting affirmation of the very same pattern on the very same issue, but this time having nothing to do particularly with sports, but rather with the United States military. On Monday, a most important story ran by the Associated Press written by Lolita C. Baldor. It has to do with the United States Marine Corps.
“The U.S. Marine Corps is looking for a few more good women. And this time the campaign is a bit different. Marine recruiters are turning to high school girls’ sports teams to find candidates who may be able to meet the Corps’ rigorous physical standards, including for the front-line combat jobs now open to women.”
Baldor goes on to say that,
“Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller says he wants to increase the number of women in the Corps to 1 in 10.”
The Commandant said,
“I’ve told them that 10 percent is where we want to go and they’re working on it.”
He said to his team,
“Go recruit more women. Find them. They’re out there.”
Remember that just a matter of months ago the United States Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, announced that by Pentagon policy, which he announced under the support of the Obama Administration, all forward combat units would be now fully open to both men and women. That was celebrated as a necessary victory of the feminist revolution, and yet now we have the story coming from the Associated Press this very week that the Marine Corps is going to try to reach a ratio of 1 to 10 in terms of female to males and that part of this imperative is the very rule change that was announced by the Secretary of Defense. And that, specifically, is the rule that included women as candidates for all forward combat positions.
That story was released on Monday of this week by the Associated Press at 4:13 am. Keep that in mind. Because at 4:33pm the very same day, CNN ran a story with the headline,
“Female Marine drops out of infantry course.”
The article is written by Ryan Browne for CNN.
“The only female officer enrolled in the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer’s Course has dropped out after failing to complete two conditioning hikes last month, according to the Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command. ‘At this time, there are no female officers enrolled or slated to attend (the Infantry Officer’s Course).’”
That’s said by Marine spokesman Captain Joshua Pena, according to CNN. Now let’s note something immediately, something very important. Even as we are told here that the only woman officer enrolled in this arduous physical program on behalf of the Marine Corps has dropped out because she could meet at least two of the requirements, the reality is that a vast number of men, male Marine officers, also flunk the program. They do not meet the same physical requirements. But the point here is not that all men meet the requirements, but that some do, and that to date, no woman has.
This sets up a very interesting moral and political situation. It turns out that this particular female officer was the second of only two to have attempted this particular course. This has led the Marine Corps to the conclusion that there will be no women who will successfully pass this course and meet its standards unless there is a lowering of the standards. Back in January of this year, the head of Southern Command for the Marines, General John Kelly, said,
“If we don’t change standards, it will be very, very difficult to have any numbers — any real numbers come into the infantry.”
When the inclusion of women in all forward combat positions was first broached by the Pentagon, it was claimed that there would be no lowering of physical standards for any of these positions. Now it is becoming increasingly clear if there is no lowering of the physical standards, there will be very few if any women in these forward positions. And that doesn’t meet the ideological warfare that is now going on, even as the United States Marines and the other branches of the armed services are supposed to be about military readiness rather than ideological readiness.
There can be no doubt that the two women who thus far flunked this course may be far more remarkable physical specimens in terms of endurance and commitment and strength than many of the men who have likewise fallen out of the program. As these media reports make clear, the problem here is not with the women who are trying to pass this program, but rather the fact that the standards were created in order to present the kind of picture of a combat Marine officer that was expected—and the physical characteristics required are those of men. Thus as General Kelly made clear, there are only two ways to go here: either there will not be women in these units, or there will have to be some lowering of the physical standards.
This points to what we were just talking about in terms of the Olympics and the larger context of sports. There is still and will remain a basic difference between what it means to be male and female that cannot be overcome either by ideology or by what is claimed as the transgender revolution. It simply isn’t going to happen. And somehow reality is going to intervene, here and there, in such a way that even the most ardent proponents of the LGBT revolution are going to be hard-pressed to explain exactly how they’re going to pull this off.
Peak death: When demographics point to a deadly shift in worldview
Finally, we have been tracing and will continue to trace how demographic trends indicate more fundamental underlying shifts in worldview. And we’ve also seen that one of the leading indicators of a change in worldview is birth rate, whether or not people decide to have children. Plummeting birth rates in most of the world right now indicate a fundamental shift in the understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to be married, what it means to receive the gift of sexuality, and what it means to look to the future. Whether or not children are desired and eventually born and then successfully reared—that’s a very important indicator about a society.
Now that points to a headline that appeared this week in The Economist, a major magazine out of Great Britain. The Economist deals with the fact that the nation of Japan, that has one of the fastest aging populations on earth and which also has one of the lowest birth rates on earth, is about to experience what is now identified by demographers as “peak death.” “Peak death” is a term, now newly invented, that points to the fact that every one of our aging societies is going to achieve a certain point in which there is a maximum number of deaths in any given year. That can only take place when a very large generation is followed by a smaller generation and the large generation begins to die. The point at which those trends come together is what’s described by the Economist as “peak death,” and we’re being told here the Japanese society is aging so fast, and especially as Japanese baby boomers enter that equation, the shift towards “peak death” is going to come even earlier than Japanese authorities had understood. And Japan, having such a low birth rate, is in the position that there will be more aged than there will be young people in a nation. And in the history of civilization, no society has survived that.
But this situation is not only seen in headlines concerning Japan. Here’s one in the Financial Times from Germany,
“Young Germans will have to work till 69, Bundesbank warns.”
It’s a short story, but what it tells us can be explained very quickly. It turns out that the German Central Bank, responsible for long-term economic planning and for setting the legal age of retirement in that country, has quietly, almost surreptitiously, moved retirement as projected in terms of next-generation from 65 to 67, now to 69. The last paragraph of the story is a summary of the whole,
“Germany has one of the fastest-ageing societies in the world and economists have expressed concern over how to cover the cost of a large number of retirees and a shrinking labor market.”
At this point, the Christian has to interject. This isn’t just a matter of statistics, it’s not just about retirement age. It’s not only demographics and birth rate, it’s about worldview, because it always matters.