May 30, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, May 30, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Back in the 1960’s, sociologist Morton Grodzins developed the term “tipping point” to refer to the point when a minority reached the status of changing majoritarian behavior, or at least forcing changes in the larger culture. Grodzins borrowed that term “tipping point” from the discipline of physics and later, of course, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell published a book with that title, introducing those Americans not yet familiar with the term to the idea that certain movements could reach a tipping point. At that point, momentum shifted from one direction to the other.
Keep that in mind when you consider next week’s cover story for TIME magazine. TIME declares that the new tipping point is the transgender revolution. The cover features Laverne Cox, who transitioned from male to female and now stars in the Netflix drama “The New Black.” The text on the magazine’s cover read simply, “The Transgender Tipping Point: America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” The cover story is by Katy Steinmetz of TIME magazine. After introducing Laverne Cox, Steinmetz writes:
Almost one year after the Supreme Court ruled that Americans were free to marry the person they loved, no matter their sex, another civil rights movement is poised to challenge long-held cultural norms and beliefs. Transgender people–those who identify with a gender other than the sex they were “assigned at birth,” to use the preferred phrase among trans activists–are emerging from the margins to fight for an equal place in society.
Now one thing we must note immediately is that first sentence that I just read from Katy Steinmetz. She writes, “Almost one year after the Supreme Court ruled that Americans were free to marry the person they loved, no matter their sex, another civil rights movement is poised to challenge long-held cultural norms and beliefs.” It’s that first series of words that is problematic. Back in 2013 in the two decisions having to do with the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, the Supreme Court did not do anything close to what Katy Steinmetz suggests in this very important article in TIME magazine. The Supreme Court did not at that time rule that all Americans have a right to marry whomever they love (to use the expression), no matter their sex. What the Supreme Court did just almost a year ago was to allow the judicial strike down of California’s Proposition 8 to stand—it did that mostly on a technicality—and then in a far more sweeping decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. What the Supreme Court did not do back in June 2013 was to rule that all Americans have a right to marry someone of the same gender. Now it’s likely that that will eventually be a ruling by the Supreme Court, and the momentum since June of last year indicates that, at least in many jurisdictions, federal courts at both the district and the appellate level are moving in that direction even before the Supreme Court has an opportunity to revisit the matter. Steinmetz suggests that when it comes to this revolution, in her words, “The transgender revolution still has a long way to go.”
Now, by the way, she suggests in this article that the transgendered individuals in American society make up only an estimated 0.5%. She says that can make it harder for them to gain acceptance. But she goes on to say the biggest obstacle is that transgender live in a world largely built on a fixed and binary definition of gender. In other words, it’s not the tiny numbers that are the most determinative here. Rather, Katy Steinmetz says it is the fact that most Americans still operate on the basis of a fixed and binary understanding of gender. She goes on to write, “In many places, they are unwelcome in the men’s bathroom and the women’s. The effect is a constant reminder that they don’t belong.”
She offers an historical analysis, which, interestingly enough, dates the beginning of the transgender revolution to the period just after World War II. She points in particular to 1952 when the world was introduced to Christine Jorgensen, a man who had been a soldier named George who was looking for a surgeon to perform a transition from male to female. TIME described Jorgensen back in 1953 after an operation as “a blonde with a fair leg and a fetching smile.” Back in the early 1950s, the word transgender had not even been invented. Instead, Christine Jorgensen was referred to as a transvestite. Interestingly, Katy Steinmetz also notes that in 1980—that’s seven years after the psychiatric and psychological communities removed homosexuality from their list of mental illnesses—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders added the classification of transsexualism. Later, that particular category was changed to be called gender identity disorder. Now it’s called gender dysphoria.
In explaining how current gender theorists and the therapeutic community look at transsexualism and the transgender revolution, Steinmetz quotes Elizabeth Reis, who is a women’s and gender studies professor at the University of Oregon. She said, “Most people are happy in the gender that they’re raised. They don’t wake up every day questioning if they’re male or female.” But Steinmetz goes on to say, “For many trans people, the body they were born in is a suffocating costume they are unable to take off.” She then refers to the entire mentality behind the transgender revolution and writes this:
Understanding why someone would feel that way requires viewing sex and gender as two separate concepts–sex is biological, determined by a baby’s birth anatomy; gender is cultural, a set of behaviors learned through human interaction.
This is perhaps the most important sentence in the entire cover story in TIME magazine. In this sense, Katy Steinmetz is exactly right. The modern transgender theory and, for that matter, the transgender revolution requires a sharp distinction between sex and gender, between biological sex and sociologically-developed gender.
Before leaving that issue, we simply have to recognize that the Christian worldview allows for at least a partial distinction between sex and gender. We do understand—intellectual honesty compels that we understand—that at least some of the things that are associated with being male and female are indeed socially constructed. They also tend, as we note, to follow very similar patterns of social construction, society by society, generation by generation, even millennium by millennium. That points to something that Christians also affirm, and that is that the notions of sex and gender cannot be fundamentally severed. We do not deny that any culture—all cultures for that matter—read onto the notions of male and female certain notions of masculinity and femininity that are not right or true; they’re not biblical or proper. But we also understand that the bottom line is even more clear. There’s an essential link between sex and gender, biological sex and the social understanding of gender, and that’s not an accident. It has something to do with the fundamental order of creation. It draws attention to the glory of the Creator and to the structures he has created that lead to human flourishing. Respecting those structures—including the unity of sex and gender—respecting that leads to human flourishing; severing that, that is, to sever what God has put together, either hampers human flourishing or fundamentally destroys the foundation that allows flourishing even to exist.
TIME’s cover story that will hit newsstands next week is certainly a signal in our cultural development. It is, indeed, a very clear signal of what TIME declares to be a transgender revolution. It’s a declaration, indeed, by the magazine that we’ve reached a tipping point. But TIME is also trying to clarify the issue, and that is a big issue for us because as TIME tries to clarify the issue, it actually points to the fact that it cannot be fully clarified. For instance, consider this paragraph:
Sexual preferences, meanwhile, are a separate matter altogether. There is no concrete correlation between a person’s gender identity and sexual interests; a heterosexual woman, for instance, might start living as a man and still be attracted to men. One oft-cited explanation is that sexual orientation determines who you want to go to bed with and gender identity determines what you want to go to bed as.
Now if you’re confused by that, it’s because you’re fundamentally sane. If, indeed, that makes sense to you, then you’ve adopted a worldview that simply embraces irrationality as a fundamental understanding of both morality and identity. In other words, if you accept the fact that is boldly stated in this article that there is no concrete correlation between a person’s gender identity and sexual interest, then you’ve basically accepted a recipe for total gender and sexual nihilism.
This came to light in terms of a recent controversy having to do with a high school freshman: a child born as a boy that has transitioned to being known as a girl. But as a boy, this particular boy had a girlfriend. Now identifying as a girl, the individual still has the same girlfriend, and according to the logic of the transgender revolution, that simply means that as a boy, the person was involved in a heterosexual relationship, that now with the same person is a homosexual or same-sex relationship. Now remember we’re talking about the two same individuals. In other words, this kind of logic leads to a total moral anarchy, and that is perhaps what at least some people are really aiming for in terms of this larger gender and sexual revolution.
Inevitably, TIME magazine gets to the point of the greatest disagreement in public controversy when it comes to this revolution and that is the use of facilities, most importantly bathrooms. Recently we discussed this in terms of a controversy over a high school in Louisville, Kentucky, but now TIME magazine has to deal with this as the most contentious issue facing this revolution and those who are trying to push it. But as we’ve noted, those who seem to be equally for the revolution are actually at odds with each other over many of the questions related to the use of bathrooms and locker rooms and other intimate facilities, and also, as we shall see, such issues as admission to historically women’s colleges or participation in athletic contests as a woman rather than as a man.
But this also gets to boys and girls, and that’s a particularly poignant section of Katy Steinmetz’s article. She writes about students. She says:
One such student is Mac Davis, an 11-year-old from Tacoma, Wash., who just finished his first season on the boys’ basketball team. Through the window of a gym door, he looks like the other sixth-grade boys playing volleyball in gym class: sporting short, dirty blond hair and baggy jeans, checking his phone and playing rock, paper, scissors for the serve. School administrators have tried to be accommodating, instructing teachers to ignore the name on the roll-call sheet and letting him change in a private area before practice.
In other words, this particular boy identified in the article was born as a girl, still has the body of a girl, and is not going to be allowed to use the boy’s bathroom and locker room, but is instead using a private facility. But that’s not good enough for many who are pressing this revolution who say that whatever the child says the child is, in terms of gender, should determine access to locker rooms and bathrooms. But even parents who consider themselves unquestioned social liberals are often at odds about how to answer that question—which facility should the child use?
The most important aspect of this TIME cover story, however, is the fact that it is a TIME cover story. TIME magazine, going back to the period of the early 20th century, has become a clear cultural barometer for our country. Even in the digital revolution age when print magazines have lost much of their centrality to the culture, TIME magazine, the last of the continuing major weekly magazines in America, is very prized media real estate. It intends to send a signal with this cover story. It’s a signal that it intends to send loudly and clearly. It declares that the transgender revolution has now reached a tipping point. In other words, in its cover story, it says that those who oppose it had better get out of the way. The cultural momentum is now solidly on the side of those who are pressing for the total differentiation between biological sex and cultural gender, and those who are pressing for the kind of moral nihilism and sexual anarchy that this revolution will inevitably spawn. Even as it says this shouldn’t be a difficult issue for society to figure out, when it comes to something as simple as bathrooms, it’s clear that even those who are pressing this revolution aren’t on the same page about how to handle these issues.
And it’s not just bathrooms and locker rooms; it’s even admission to colleges. That’s what makes an important article that appeared in last Sunday’s edition of The New York Times equally important. It’s written by Kiera Feldman, who is a journalist and a reporter for the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute, and she writes an article entitled “Who Are Women’s Colleges For?” And it comes down to the fact that women’s colleges are having a very difficult time handling the transgender revolution. As Feldman writes:
A handful of applications from transgender women have rattled school administrators over the past year, giving rise to anxious meetings and campus demonstrations. On April 29 [of this year], the Department of Education issued new guidance: Transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX.
In other words, these historically women’s colleges now find themselves in grave difficulty. They find themselves in a very difficult position. The federal government has just declared that they can’t discriminate against transgendered individuals. As I pointed out repeatedly, the transgender revolution brings on the secular left a clash of moral absolutes. That becomes very clear in Feldman’s article when she writes:
Administrators fear that admitting students who aren’t “legally female” will cause them to lose Title IX funding. But where the leaders of these schools were once in the vanguard, championing the equal rights of women, they are now in the reactionary position of arguing that biology is destiny. This is a losing battle.
In other words, the very arguments that these feminist colleges have been using about their right to discriminate on the basis of accepting of women and excluding men is now coming back to haunt them because their feminist argument is now seen as a reactionary argument. Because, after all, that feminist argument argues that, as we said earlier, biological sex and that cultural understanding of gender are unified. They’re unified in terms of the historic understanding of these feminist women colleges. But now these colleges are being told they can’t discriminate against transgender individuals and that raises the whole question—well that’s the very title of this article: Who are women’s colleges for? The article gets even more interesting when it raises this complication. As Feldman writes:
Before the recent Title IX ruling, [these historically women’s colleges] were already addressing the issue of transgender students on campus. But the accommodations they have made in housing and bathrooms are for a small but growing number, perhaps a hundred or so, of transgender men — students who enrolled as women and then transitioned in college. This has put the schools in the untenable position of essentially discriminating against women in favor of men.
But then Feldman goes on to say there’s a new wrinkle in all of us; that the biggest challenge of these colleges might not be those who were accepted as women who transitioned to being men, but rather those who were born as man but now have transitioned to being women, who now demand to be admitted to an historically women’s college even as they are in the process—even the early process—of transitioning. Go back to the fact that these gender theorists have simply declared that an individual has a right to state whatever gender that individual claims at any point and everyone else is supposed to respect it. Well now what have with these women’s colleges that have been on the secular left, in terms of pressing a feminist agenda for decades, they find themselves in the position of having their own arguments thrown at them as reactionary rather than as progressive.
If you’re looking for a classic expression of the insanity this breeds, Feldman quotes Audrey Smith, who is the vice president for enrollment at Smith College. She writes:
“Smith [College] was founded for a specific purpose — to educate and create opportunity for women. We don’t define what constitutes a woman — we leave that to other entities or agencies to affirm.” She added: “But we do require that it BE affirmed, at the point of admission.”
One Smith student quoted in the article, Eli Palmer, said, “I want Smith to be a place not just for women as we define them now.” But, of course, the logic of the entire article is this: you really can’t have a women’s college if you can’t define what it means to be a woman.
Well we might look back at next week’s cover story of TIME magazine as an indication of when the tipping point on the transgender issue actually happened. Then again we might not. Beyond question, however, is the fact that this cover story serves as ample evidence that we have crossed the tipping point when it comes to sexual insanity. This revolution is going to require evangelical Christians to respond with the deepest biblical conviction, the strongest and most urgent pastoral ministry, and the most careful worldview thinking.
Finally, as we a close the week thinking about the cultural insanity all around us, consider this story that appeared by David Bauder in the Associated Press this week. He writes:
A television producer is seeking teenagers as young as 13 who like to make their own rules and “party like a rock star” to participate in a reality television series about their lives.
The company is known as Metal Flowers Media. It placed a notice in Hollywood sources saying that it’s going to try to run “My Teen Life.” That’s the name of the proposed program and it’s looking for teenagers to audition for its cast. According to the text:
Parents, teachers and the haters are always in your business, but it’s your life and you live it how you want to. If you’re a modern-day teenage rebel with a hardcore lifestyle, we want to hear your story.
Now keep in mind the fact that this is a casting call for teenagers, that is, those as young as thirteen, both boys and girls, to appear in this oxymoronically named reality television program. One thing is very clear: you can’t have reality and television together as a simple compound.
But something else is very clear when you think about it. This shows the unreality of reality television. Children at the ages that are being called for in this casting call cannot show up as moral agents and economic agents in their own right. Some parent’s going to have to bring them; some parent’s going to have to sign off on their participation in the program. So here’s how it should have been written:
If you’re a teenage rebel or, at least, who considers himself or herself a teenage rebel, and you have parents who are going to celebrate your rebellion by bringing you to a casting call for teenage rebels, so if you’re raised in the kind of household where a parent’s proud that you be declared as a delinquent, then this is the program in which you should show up in terms of the casting call in order, perhaps, to find your way on the cast, in which you can act as a teenage rebel, but you can only do so because your parents cooperated in allowing you the reality television experience of being a rebel.
When you watch what’s advertised as reality television, just keep that in mind.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. Remember the periodic releases of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. The season for the spring of 2014 is over, but we’re still taking your calls and we’ll try to use your question when the series begins later this summer. Just give us a call at 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’m speaking to you from Anchorage, Alaska, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.