October 4, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, October 4, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from the Christian worldview.
An entire moral revolution in a single act: "Modern Family" features 8-year-old transgender actor
When a moral revolution takes place, it is both aided and abetted by popular entertainment and reflected in that very same entertainment medium. No show on any network has been more greatly an evidence of that moral revolution than the ABC sitcom Modern Family. For years now, that program has represented something of a moral barometer, but it has also been a catalyst in terms of moral change in this country. First on issues of gender and sexuality related to a same-sex couple but later, of course, and more immediately, the transgender issue as well. All this arrived just last week on ABC’s Modern Family.
Jaymee Deerwester writing for USA Today tells us,Show Full Transcript
“Two weeks ago, while accepting his second consecutive Emmy for Transparent, that show’s star Jeffrey Tambor pleaded with Hollywood to give transgender talent a chance. But as it turns out, ABC’s Modern Family was working on that. Wednesday’s episode will feature transgender actor Jackson Millarker. The 8-year-old Atlanta native will play Tom, a friend of Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) who comes over for a playdate. According to the episode’s synopsis, her dads,” as they’re identified, “Cameron and Mitchell, overhear their daughter making fun of Tom, prompting them to have an honest conversation with each other and their daughter about acceptance.”
It turns out that the little girl, Lily, actually has not insulted her friend, but that sets up the story line with the central issue being the acceptance of transsexuality. In Variety, which is something of the Wall Street Journal of the entertainment industry, Joshua Terry quotes Ryan Case, a director on the program, who posted a photo of the actor Millarker on a set with the caption,
“This is Jackson Millarker. He’s 8 years old, from Atlanta, and just happens to be transgender. He plays Lily’s friend Tom in this week’s Modern Family and he’s wonderful. One of the many reasons I love being a part of this show.”
Now what makes this so important is not just the fact that an eight-year-old transgender actor appeared on the show Modern Family. Given the cheerleading for the moral and sexual revolution that that program represents, the question is really, how did this wait so long to happen? But what’s more telling than anything else is the statement that has been reverberating through the media without much comment or observation. It’s that quotation from the director, Ryan Case, who pointed to the actor Jackson Millarker and said,
“He’s 8 years old, from Atlanta, and just happens to be transgender.”
That language “just happens to be” is actually one of the most revealing and important series of words we’ve encountered in a very long time. What does it mean that this director for ABC’s Modern Family introduced an actor born a girl, not presented as a boy, as an actor eight years old, who “just happens to be transgender”? What does “just happens to be” mean? Well in the first place, it is an abject lie. If this were an actor who “just happened to be” anything, it’s unlikely that the actor would show up on ABC’s Modern Family, and it is certain that it wouldn’t make this kind of headline. This kind of headline doesn’t follow someone who just happens to be A, B, or C, or anything in the alphabet. It’s rather that this actor happens to be presented as an eight-year-old transgender actor. There is no “just happens to be.”
The sly use of that language “just happens to be” insinuates that it wasn’t even a consideration in the hiring of this particular eight-year-old, that it was something that was evidently just discovered. That is betrayed by the fact that it is the storyline of the entire episode, and ABC has been very quick to go after headlines, headlines that don’t make any sense if this actor just happened to be transgender, not to mention eight years old. When we’re thinking about this moral revolution as reflected in this one episode of ABC’s Modern Family, just consider the fact that something else is really not even a part of our cultural conversation. What would it mean for any eight-year-old to be transgender? That’s a huge question. And then, what would it mean for the parents of that eight-year-old child to present the child as an actor, a transgender actor, to be marketed in the marketplace of modern acting entertainment as basically a commodity to be presented to the public?
An eight-year-old transgender actor, behind all of this, is such a significant set of moral changes that it staggers the imagination to wonder if we can really understand all that is at stake and what is revealed in the fact that there is very little cultural conversation about this. In order for someone to be an actor who shows up on a major network sitcom like Modern Family, there has to be some kind of acting exposure, there has to be some kind of portfolio or resume, there has to be some kind of representation or agency. Furthermore, given the laws of childhood actors, it is necessary that parents or legal guardians be appointed, along with others on the set, who are a part of the child protection network to make sure that child actors and their interests are protected. That kind of representation includes agents who, after all, are the necessary intermediary in most cases for anyone who is a casting director at one of these programs to even know about available talent.
How did all of that happen to such a degree that there could be an eight-year-old transgender actor presented on Modern Family? Again, eight years old—that’s a third grader in most situations. When exactly did this eight-year-old identify as transgender? This is a girl born biologically female now presented to the public as a transgender male. And for how long should we expect that this actor, now declared to be a transsexual boy, will continue to have that claimed male identity as a gender identity? After all, in research we’re about to cite in just a few moments, we are reminded of the fact that most children who present in some way as transgender or demonstrating what is called gender dysphoria outgrow it by the time they are adults. What’s going to happen to this child when the entire acting portfolio is developed with a transgender identity? Does that commit this child forever to that kind of identity merely because the child was marketed as a transgender actor at age eight?
Peggy Noonan, long speechwriter for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, once remarked that sometimes you can see an entire moral revolution in just one act or in just one event. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, and you only recognize once it happens the significance of what it means. I think that’s probably very much the case with last Wednesday’s episode of Modern Family, “A Stereotypical Day” was the title of the episode. But what we’re looking at is an entire revolution in morality, sexuality, gender, and gender identity packaged with a headline about the innovation of an eight-year-old transgender actor or, let’s just remember those words, an eight-year-old actor who “just happens to be transgender”.
New study in the New Atlantis dismantles the foundations of the transgender revolution
Next, we shift to what has to be considered one of the most important research events in recent history, and that is the publication in the Fall 2016 issue of the New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, of a special report on sexuality and gender, subtitled,
“Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences.”
The authors of the study are Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh. Mayer is an epidemiologist and also someone who is trained in psychology. He’s the major author of the report, but the major impetus behind it is the second author, Paul R. McHugh, a psychiatrist, formerly of Johns Hopkins University, whom we have often cited and who is by any measure one of the most influential psychiatrist of the last generation. Paul McHugh was also one of the most courageous men in modern medicine. Writing in articles published in various venues including the Wall Street Journal, McHugh had once directed the first gender reassignment program in terms of surgery at Johns Hopkins University. He has bravely explained why he and his colleagues ceased performing the operation, precisely because they believe there was no scientific basis for the entire claim about transgender identity and, furthermore, because they believed they were doing harm rather than good to the patients who sought this kind of gender reassignment surgery.
In this huge issue of the New Atlantis, Mayer and McHugh go right at what they considered to be the scientific basis behind the claims of the modern sexual and gender revolutionaries. The point of this research, however, and of the two authors, is not so much to make a moral point, but a scientific point. And in order to do so, they’ve looked at the major scientific claims of those who had presented the research on LGBT issues, and in particular issues of gender and sexuality. Mayer has taught as a full-time professor for over four decades. He has taught at Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford Arizona State University, Johns Hopkins, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, and University of Michigan. He is currently scholar in residence at the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He is also professor of statistics and biostatistics at Arizona State University.
In their massive study, Mayer and McHugh do their very best to come to terms with what scientists or those who claim to be scientists have been presenting as scientific evidence for the LGBT claims. What makes this so important is that they look so carefully at the research and reports that were put out by the advocates of the LGBT movement. In the executive summary, they report,
“The understanding of sexual orientation as an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings — the idea that people are “born that way” — is not supported by scientific evidence.”
They don’t actually make their own case about how exactly sexual orientation comes about, but they make very clear that there is no adequate evidence that there is “an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings” that can be described as sexual orientation in the first place.
That’s itself quite revolutionary, but they point to the fact that even the research undertaken by LGBT advocates indicates that at least some people change in terms of their sexual orientation over a lifetime or over a lifespan. They also point to the absence of any compelling scientific evidence for what’s claimed to be sexual orientation as an innate physical property. They also write, and I quote,
“Longitudinal studies of adolescents suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that as many as 80% of male adolescents who report same-sex attractions no longer do so as adults.”
Later in the research they report,
“The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.”
The notion is, of course, supported by a vast social movement, by a revolution in morality and of ethics, and it is supported and aided by an entire cultural revolution that includes media, politics, and, you name it, especially add to the mix higher education. One interesting statistic reflected in the study is this:
“According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.”
Now note, that’s 6/10 of 1% of the U.S. population of adults. Now compare that with the outsized attention given to the transgender movement, remember that Modern Family story we just talked about, in terms of the larger culture. Later Mayer and McHugh write,
“Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.”
They then write,
“Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.”
Keep that in mind, and remember that we were just discussing an eight-year-old young person presented as an eight-year-old transgender actor.
“There is little scientific evidence,”
“For the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.”
Well into this massive report, the authors ask some politically unaskable questions in terms of our contemporary context. They write,
“Are some individuals born with a gender identity different from their biological sex? Is gender identity shaped by environmental or nurturing conditions? How stable are choices of gender identity? How common is gender dysphoria? Is it persistent across the lifespan?”
They then asked the questions that are again considered unaskable.
“Can a little boy who thinks he is a little girl change over the course of his life to regard himself as male? If so, how often can such people change their gender identities? How would someone’s gender identity be measured scientifically? Does self-understanding suffice?”
They then boldly ask the most controversial question of all,
“Does a biological girl become a gender boy by believing, or at least stating, she is a little boy?”
That’s the question. Because what we are now told we must believe is that all it takes even for a child to be considered transgender is for that child to believe or even merely to state that the child is of a gender identity different than biological sex assigned at birth. All the way on page 115 of this report, the authors write,
“In reviewing the scientific literature, we find that almost nothing is well understood when we seek biological explanations for what causes some individuals to state that their gender does not match their biological sex. The findings that do exist often have sample-selection problems, and they lack longitudinal perspective and explanatory power. Better research is needed, both to identify ways by which we can help to lower the rates of poor mental health outcomes and to make possible more informed discussion about some of the nuances present in this field.”
Insert here the fact that the revolutionaries don’t want this kind of scientific scrutiny, and they don’t want these kinds of questions asked. But in what might be the most controversial and most important section of their entire report, they write this:
“Yet despite the scientific uncertainty, drastic interventions are prescribed and delivered to patients identifying, or identified, as transgender. This is especially troubling when the patients receiving these interventions are children. We read popular reports about plans for medical and surgical interventions for many prepubescent children, some as young as six, and other therapeutic approaches undertaken for children as young as two. We suggest that no one can determine the gender identity of a two-year-old. We have reservations about how well scientists understand what it even means for a child to have a developed sense of his or her gender, but notwithstanding that issue, we are deeply alarmed that these therapies, treatments, and surgeries seem disproportionate to the severity of the distress being experienced by these young people, and are at any rate premature since the majority of children who identify as the gender opposite their biological sex will not continue to do so as adults. Moreover, there is a lack of reliable studies on the long-term effects of these interventions. We strongly urge caution in this regard.”
As you might expect, Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh have found themselves at the very center of public controversy since the publication of this research. Writing at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last gets to the essential point here,
“We have reached the point where science—like dissent and free speech—has become useful to the left only insofar as it furthers their political goals.”
Keep that in mind when you are told that science is supposedly always objective, not driven by ideology. Keep that in mind when you note the absolute rejection of scientific credibility when it comes to so many of the central claims of the sexual and gender revolutionaries. Keep that in mind when you understand that there are people who are suggesting and even demanding and recommending drastic hormonal and even surgical interventions in children as young as those before middle school. Or keep in mind the fact that there are now those claiming with a straight face that gender dysphoria can be identified in patients as young as two.
As we have seen verified in just recent days, in a cultural revolution of this scale, everything is politicized that includes even intercollegiate sports and of course ranges across virtually every dimension of life and popular entertainment. It also shows up, but most alarmingly, in modern science or in modern medicine. Keep those words of warning from Jonathan Last very much in mind:
“We have reached the point where science—like dissent and free speech—has become useful to the left only insofar as it furthers their political goals.”
And make no mistake, when it comes to these issues, these are political goals.
Not a reeducation camp? Duke Men's Project and the redefinition of masculinity
Finally, these political goals are being hammered out in many places, but none more effectively than on America’s college and university campuses. Consider an editorial that ran in the Duke Chronicle, that’s the student newspaper of Duke University. It ran just last week. Under the imprimatur of the editorial board, the headline,
“Engendering gender harmony.”
They write about what’s known as the Duke Men’s Project.
“The project, led by a goal of ‘creat[ing] a space of brotherhood fellowship dedicated to interrogating male privilege and patriarchy,’ is both admirable and necessary. We wholly endorse its mission and hope that along with other initiatives, it will move our campus towards a better and more nuanced understanding of the mix of identities that populate Duke.”
The editors go on to say that,
“One of the central goals of the Duke Men’s Project is to explore and tackle certain ‘toxic’ parts of masculinity. If masculinity describes the spectrum of attitudes and characteristics that a society expects men to express, toxic masculinity refers to a harmful narrow band of that spectrum—a band that includes the ideas that men ought to be mocked for being anything but stoic testosterone-bots, that masculinity ought to dominate femininity and that deviation from the norms of masculinity lessen the worth of a man.”
They go on to argue that the Men’s Project at Duke is novel,
“…because it provides males a space (a safe space even) in which they can discuss their own gender. It is not a reeducation camp being administered by an oppressed group in the service of the feminization of American society, but rather a space by men and for men.”
Ironically, it’s sponsored by the Duke Women’s Center. Now later in this particular editorial they write,
“The Men’s Project provides a home for those kinds of discussions, along with a place for males to ask any questions about feminism, gender and intersectionality that they have always wanted to ask, but would have been embarrassed to in a different setting. Among other men in a space like this, there is no threat of judgment.”
Oh yes, there is the threat of judgment; it’s written throughout this entire editorial, not to mention the massive irony of the fact that this is declared to be by men and for men on the campus that is also declaring itself to be absolutely open to a gender fluidity. Here they describe it as an “intersectionality” that denies the objectivity of any kind of assessment of masculinity as tied to being biologically male, or even the status of being a man as being tied to being born biologically male. Here you have a great deal of discussion about what it means to be male, which is absolutely subverted by the worldview that the modern university in general, and Duke University in particular, has chosen to champion.
Thoughtful Christians should join with these sexual revolutionaries and the basic assessment that there are toxic forms of masculinity, and we should note that there are toxic forms of understanding of what it means to be male in the larger society. But what in the world would be the corrective for those toxic ideas of masculinity? It could only be an objective understanding of what it means to be male and what it means to come up with any healthy understanding of masculinity. Once you have the absolute abandonment of everything that was inherited from the Christian tradition, once you have the overthrowing of centuries of moral wisdom, then all you’re left with is the kind of argument that is seen in this kind of editorial in which the editors in defending this very program have to argue, and perhaps this is the point, that this isn’t a reeducation camp being administered by an oppressed group in the service of the feminization of American society.
Maybe, just maybe, if you have to write explicitly that this program is not an ideological reeducation camp, you have already conceded the point. But maybe it’s unfair to point to the Duke Men’s Project as being a kind of reeducation camp on the larger campus. The bigger lesson is this: the entire campus of the modern, prestigious university has itself been turned into one giant, ideological reeducation camp. We’re all forewarned.